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Books to snuggle up with

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We've had the quintessential British summer (rain interspersed with shortlived heatwaves) and we've now moved into September and the slow, inevitable decline into winter. But it's not all doom and gloom! Autumn is perhaps the prettiest time of year, what with the falling leaves and the dwindling sun, but it also provides a wonderful excuse to cosy up in bed with a cuppa and a good book. Which begs the question, which new releases should we be saving our pennies for?

If you're like my dad, it's a good thriller that you want on a cold night. After the death of Stieg Larsson, David Lagercrantz stepped in to continue the Millennium series; a daunting task but one which he seems to have managed admirably. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye sees Lisbeth and Mikael back together for the fifth book in the series, and should be a gripping read throughout. The Girl... is published on 07/09 by Quercus.

Sometimes reading can be a great escape; sometimes it's needed to un…

Treading the same ground

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Fans of M.R. Carey's wonderful The Girl With All the Gifts would have been forgiven for thinking that they were done with that particular story. The way it ends leaves room for a sequel, but it would require a very different focus, moving away from trying to save the world to finding ways to cope with the new one. The film adaptation is also such a fabulous rendering of the story that it makes Melanie's tale feel complete, like this world of hungries, junkers, and feral children can be left behind.

Yet here is The Boy on the Bridge.

It's not quite a sequel. Rather than following the events of TGWATG (catchy, no?), it's actually a prequel, although the hints at this might pass an inattentive reader (me, I mean. I found the chronology took a while to pin down). Anyhoo, a small group of soldiers and scientists leave the relative safety of Beacon in a large tank to test biosamples in the hope of finding something to at least retard the progress of the sickness that has wip…

In defence of The Dark Tower

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Warning: this contains spoilers for both the film and the books.

Many Stephen King fans watched with despair as the terrible reviews for The Dark Tower movie started coming in. Generally considered a garbled attempt at adapting the popular fantasy series, the film has received lukewarm reviews at best. Personally, I kinda liked it. It's far from perfect but, and here's the controversial point, so are the books.

It took me a couple of goes to get through The Gunslinger. For a writer whose prose is usually silky smooth, King's foray into fantasy felt stilted and derivative. As the series goes on, the writing gets a lot more confident, but it is not the strongest start. And there are other issues too. There are long sections where the progress of the story is horribly slow. The Blaine the Monorail plotline would be a fun subplot but is far too insubstantial to justify an entire book. Ditto for the backstory about Roland's tragic love life. The forward momentum of the story …

Volunteers: You're not actually helping...

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I was reading in The Guardian the other day about the increase in volunteer-run local libraries. As someone who has worked in both community and academic libraries, it's a trend that really worries me.

The obvious argument in favour of volunteers is that the council may well close down libraries entirely if they have to pay staff. However, there is a (somewhat wishy-washy) law requiring a certain amount of library provision, so this is debatable. But there's no doubt that free labour is very much appreciated by councils who are feeling the squeeze. The Economist reported earlier this year that spending on public services is expected to be 22% lower in 2017 than it was in 2010 so, with the cost of social care increasing year-on-year, the money for "non-essentials" just isn't there. If that's the case, why aren't volunteers the heroes that we need?

Well, first of all, the idea of the library as a non-essential resource only makes sense if you are wealthy e…

Less than persuasive

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It's hard not to enjoy Jane Austen, but Persuasion is definitely the weakest of her main novels. (FYI, I'm a Northanger Abbey girl.) I'm about halfway through a reread at the moment and it has been a struggle. Perhaps reading it on Kindle doesn't help, as I find myself an inattentive screen reader, but I keep getting the characters muddled up and I'm certainly finding Anne a bit of a wet blanket. With her broken heart and gentle ways, there is little of the feistiness of Austen's best characters. 

I wonder if there is a problem in rereading Austen once you're out of your twenties anyway. For most keen readers, of the female flavour anyway, Austen is a treasure you discover in your teen years. With her sparkling wit and her romantic dramas, books like Pride and Prejudice are perfect for hormonally-challenged youngsters. We might not be awaiting a proposal from a Mr Darcy, but we're certainly mooning over the cute guy in our English class or hoping to be a…

Murdering the King's English

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Kingsley Amis's The King's English is not an easy book to write about. It concerns the correct way to speak and write in English, after all. For the careful writer, suddenly every clause is suspect. The pronunciation of the simplest word is called into question. What if I've split an infinitive? So many things to worry about.

Thankfully, while Amis does have some serious pet peeves when it comes to misuse of the language ("casual. Only a wanker makes three syllables of this word."), he is generally tolerant of the variety of pronunciations and forms that make up English. To his mind, worrying about a split infinitive is more likely to result in some linguistic barbarity than just writing as it comes naturally, and many of our more pedantic rules are more to do with asserting one's intellectual superiority than protecting the language. We all know pedants like that, right?

That's not to say that Amis has a lackadaisical approach to matters of grammar and lan…

When supernatural and real-life horror collide

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At one point while I was reading Adam Nevill's No One Gets Out Alive, I tweeted that I was reading a horror so poor that even Garth Marenghi would have been ashamed of it.

For those not in the know, this is Garth Marenghi:


As a comedic creation, Marenghi is a legend; if he were a real writer, there would be... issues. And the opening chapters of NOGOA have more than a hint of Slicer to them. There is definite tension and intrigue as Stephanie takes a cheap room in this Birmingham house, only to be plagued by strange noises and the suggestion of something in her room, but by throwing the reader into the story in media res and starting with a pretty hardboiled account of scratching under the bed and a drop in temperature, it feels like the work of a hack. 
In truth, I would have given up on the book at this point if I had had anything else to read. But I was in France at the time, and the other book I had taken with me had been left on a table in a cafĂ© that I was never able to redisco…