Lately I’ve been reading a LOT. In January, it seems I was going through a bit of a French phase, but also found myself reading around the subject of happiness too. Top reading spot of the month? My bath (no books dropped).
This whimsical French story was a throwback to life as a less-than-popular teenage girl, except that we thankfully didn’t have prizes for being the ugliest when I was at school. The playful pink cover and French appeal led me to buy this YA novel last winter, and it became the perfect pick-me-up on the darkest January nights.
The story follows Mireille (voted third ugliest in her school) and her brand-new friends on a bicycle and sausage fuelled journey to Paris. Trailing behind them is a gaggle of reporters and fans as the mystery around the purpose of their trip escalates in the press.
A journey in multiple senses, this transformative tale has nothing to do with making girls pretty, and that’s exactly why I loved it.
The front cover of this book may lead you to take the title’s meaning in a more literal sense, yet ‘These Dividing Walls’ opens up a door to political Paris, and the side that the tourists don’t see.
Being one of those readers settling down for a night of Parisian joviality and expecting a humorous take on the relationships between neighbours, I was a little unprepared for the themes explored as the pages turned. Yes, the story of the suburban Number 37 brings alive the conundrums and emotions of the inhabitants within, not forgetting Josef who resides with his trolley on the street outside. But it also reveals the terrifying escalations of French neo-Nazism, a melting pot of terror that is bubbling under the surface of daily life in Paris.
More so than that, the book also puts the reader in the ever so slightly unsettling minds of people dealing with grief, relationships, joblessness, homelessness, and niggling thoughts of self-harm. Despite the aggravations of the far right outside, it was the troubles behind closed doors that felt much more real and threatening. The story of young mother Anais made me put this book down more than once as she edged closer and closer to absolute breaking point, right in front of her cutlery drawer. And, the sense of discomfort, although not out rightly expressed, felt by the inhabitants as they encountered Josef on the street outside was handled cleverly by Fran Cooper.
I could write a whole blog post about this book, but for now I’ll just say that it challenged my thinking, made me face things I don’t feel comfortable with, and that’s why I’d say I’m curious to give it a second read.
I’ll put my hand up and say no, I did not read ‘The Little Book of Hygge’. In Scotland, we have this thing called Còsagach; and no, I won’t be reading that book when it comes out either. My preferred concept, or word, is simply cosiness. I like to be cosy. That being said, I quite like the word ‘lykke’, mostly because I’m fed up of the word ‘happy’. It’s too much like snappy, get on with it, cheer up. Nah, thanks, I’d rather be lykke. If that sounded like an unfinished sentence, you’re pronouncing lykke wrong.
This book took me the full month to read, mainly because I dipped in and out of it, usually when I was in the bath. It’s full of great graphs, case studies and numbers if you’re into that sort of thing (which I am), and it’s quite simply, totally fascinating. I’d happily recommend.
Having waited to read this book for months, I was so happy to unwrap it on my birthday last year! It was one of the first books I read in 2018, and one I couldn’t seem to put down.
My favourite chapter had to be chapter nineteen: ‘you can’t fast-forward the scary parts’, and what Laura writes is so true, and felt so relevant to my mood at the time of reading. Reading this book is a bit like having a responsible yet sassy older sister sit you down, give you a little shake and tell you how it is. Although I’d choose pizza for breakfast, not ice-cream.
Not a happy book, or set in France, The ‘Silent Companions’ is a chilling Gothic story about trust, madness and a ghostly English mansion. It’s the kind of book that has you glancing up from the pages at a shadow passing by, or tentatively pulling a scarf over your shoulders as the cold settles in…I loved it!
Gothic has always been a favourite genre of mine, and the author is massively skilled at transporting you right into the terror-filled rooms of The Bridge, a perfectly described haunted house. For me, it was the description of unknown noises and claustrophobic darkness (imagine not being able to switch on your bedside light?) that unsettled me the most; but just wait until the horrifying Silent Companions begin skulking around doorways and creeping up on Elsie and her servants.
Without giving too much away, this was one of those books that left me wondering: did any of it really happen? Did Elsie trust the right people? Or was this all really witchcraft? Part eerie ghost story, part psychological Victorian thriller, ‘The Silent Companions’ is just what you need to stay awake at night.