Book Awards: A Challenge Completed

I was delighted this morning when I discovered that Paperboy by Christopher Fowler had won the inaugral Green Carnation Prize.

It’s a lovely book more than worthy of prizes and attention.

And it brought me up to the total of ten books read and written about that I needed to complete the Book Awards IV Reading Challenge.

I’ve been rather lackadaisical in my approach to reading challenges this year. Signing up and making book lists was lovely, but I’ve read the books that called and they weren’t always the books on the lists or books that fitted the challenges I’d signed up for.

I’ll wind up a few more before the year ends, but a few I’m afraid have fallen by the wayside. I’m not going to name names, I’m just going to say that I mean no disrespect to the hosts and that I do appreciate all of the thought and hard work that they put in.

But back to the one I have finished – here are the books:

  1.  The Tin-kin by Eleanor Thom (Saltire First Novel Award) 
  2.  The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (Barnes & Noble Discover Prize)
  3. Paperboy by Christopher Fowler (Green Carnation)
  4. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (SIBA Book Award)
  5. Haweswater by Sarah Hall (Commonwealth Writers’ Award)
  6. Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin (CWA New Blood Dagger)
  7. After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (John Llewelyn Rhys Prize)
  8. I Coriander by Sally Gardner (Nestlé Smarties Book Award)
  9. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini (Orange Award for New Writers)
  10. Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (Scott Moncrieff Prize)

Some I picked from prize lists, some I read and they just happened to have awards and, maybe best of all, two I read and loved and then they won awards.

And now I’m off to read my final book for another challenge …

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

“I am Coriander Hobie.

 I was born in the year of Our Lord 1643, the only child of Thomas and Eleanor Hobie, in our great house on the River Thames in London. Of my early years I remember only happiness. That was before I knew this world had such evil in it, and that my fate was to be locked up in a chest and left to die.

This is my story. This is my life.”

And it is a wonderful story, quite beautifully told.

Coriander writes her story of life in 1650s London by candlelight, with each of her seven chapters ending as one of her seven candles burns out.

It’s a fascinating era, under-represented in fiction. The Civil war is over, the king has been executed and the monarchy has been replaced by a commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector.

That world comes wonderfully to life on the page, and an engaging heroine, with a fine supporting cast, keeps the pages turning.

Coriander had a happy childhood, but then her mother died and her father was quickly remarried, to a strict Puritan widow.

It’s shocking, but understandable. Remember that England was in  turmoil with suspected royalists being denounced, and Puritans  holding sway. And Thomas Hobie was a silk merchant, allied with the losing side. Maybe he thought he was doing the best thing for his child, ensuing her safety in the new world order.

But he wasn’t. When he had to go away his new wife called in a fundamentalist Puritan preacher and the pair of them waged war on the frivolities of the household. They to take away the name that Coriander’s beloved mother had given her, and re-christen her with the more suitable, plain and sensible, name of Ann. Villains indeed!

Horribly believable villains, and they allowed Sally Gardner to say an awful lot about politics, religion, and the wrongs that may be done in their names.

It’s fortunate that Coriander had good friends to show that there was love, understanding and tolerance in the world too.

Coriander stood up for herself, but she could not win. Eventually she would be shut away in a chest and left to die.

But she didn’t die. She escaped into the fairy world that her mother had come from years earlier.

Yes, Coriander’s mother was a fairy. I might have mentioned it earlier, there were signs that Coriander was being called to her mother’s world, but for me it was the least interesting element of the story.

She meets a handsome prince and she learns more about her past, why she has been called into that world, and what she must do when she returns to her own world.  

It’s lovely, beautifully written and cleverly constructed, but just a little under-developed. And the rest of the story was so good that, I’m afraid, nothing less than perfect would do!

Coriander returns to her life six years after she left, causing much consternation. She is changed, the world is changed, and events build to a fine conclusion in two worlds.

A fine conclusion to a wonderfully rich and absorbing story.

Not quite perfect, but perfection was so very near.

Library Loot

I’m still being restrained – though I did break my ordering ban briefly to order two books from the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers – and my library pile is shrinking.

I have room on my ticket and I have time to read my own books!

But that doesn’t mean books didn’t come home. Of course they did!

So here’s this week’s loot:

The Wilding by Maria McCann

“17th Century England. Life is struggling to return to normal after the horrific tumult of the Civil War. In the village of Spadboro Jonathan Dymond, a 26-year old cider-maker who lives with his parents, has until now enjoyed a quiet, harmonious existence. As the novel opens, a letter arrives from his uncle with a desperate request to speak with his father. When his father returns from the visit the next day, all he can say is that Jonathan’s uncle has died. Then Jonathan finds a fragment of the letter in the family orchard, with talk of inheritance and vengeance. He resolves to unravel the mystery at the heart of his family – a mystery which will eventually threaten the lives and happiness of Jonathan and all those he holds dear.”

Maria McCann’s first book was extraordinary and so I ordered this, her second, as soon as I knew about it.

A Pound of Paper by John Baxter

“By the 1960s a copy of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock without its dust jacket was worth about #500. But with its dust jacket more like #2,000 – if you could find one. The last copy with a perfect jacket to come on the market changed hands at #50,000. Brighton Rock was a high-point, but first editions of other early Greene books weren’t much less valuable. And then there were signed copies, foreign printings, limited editions, numbered and signed…John Baxter caught the collecting bug in the winter of 1978 when he found a rare copy of Greene’s children’s book The Little Horse Bus while browsing in a second-hand market in Swiss Cottage. It was going for 5p. It would also, fortuitously, be the day that he first encountered one of the legends of the bookselling world: Martin Stone. At various times cokehead, pothead, alchoholic, international fugitive from justice and professional rock musician (said to knock Eric Clapton into a cocked hat), he would become John’s mentor and friend, and a central figure in this book. nIn this brilliantly readable, stylish and funny book John Baxter introduces us to his world, the world of the fanatical book collector: not only the kind who buys from catalogues or at auction and takes away the booty in bubble wrap to store in metal filing cabinets – but also the sleuth, the one who uses bluff and guile to hunt down his quarry. “

I’ve picked this one up and put it down a few times since I first spotted it. Points for: it’s a book about books, lovely lists at the back. Points against: book collecting isn’t the same as book reading, the author’s taste isn’t mine. In the end I read the first few pages and the love of books was so transparent that I just had to bring it home.

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

” Coriander is the daughter of a silk merchant in 1650s London. Her idyllic childhood ends when her mother dies and her father goes away, leaving Coriander with her stepmother, a widow who is in cahoots with a fundamentalist Puritan preacher. She is shut away in a chest and left to die, but emerges into the fairy world from which her mother came, and where time has no meaning. When she returns, charged with a task that will transform her life, she is seventeen.”

This looks wonderful and it’s been on the “one day I’ll bring it home” list for ages. This week that day came!

The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck

“Monsieur Claude Reynaud is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly make the pilgrimage to the cobbled village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor in the cluttered studio by the century-old apple tree. Claude can take a measurement at a glance, stores everything in his head, and fashions each dress by hand. And, despite his ex-wife’s protests, he refuses to be lured by the promise of the Parisian fashion industry. He is too old change and certainly too old to fall in love: his only passion is his studio. Then one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude’s doorstep. She commissions him to create her wedding dress. But before the first stitch has even been made, Claude realises that for the first time in his life he has fallen passionately in love and, very quickly, the seams of both their lives begin to unravel…”

 I needed a gentle book and this one caught my eye. The back has a recommendation from Beth Gutcheon, very soon to be a Persephone author, and so it definitely had to come home.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.

Once Upon a Time

“Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time IV criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.”

I couldn’t possibly  say no. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this challenge, pondering books for ever.

And here are the books:

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. That secret – and her vocation – is witchcraft, and with her cat and a pact with the Devil, Lolly Willowes is finally free.”

Witchcraft may suggest another, autumnal challenge, but this definitely feels like a magical springtime book.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

“Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where it seems that everyone has a story to tell about the Waverley women. The house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, the rumours of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic.”

I have heard so much good about this book, and I think that this is its time.

I Coriander by Sally Gardner

“Her idyllic childhood ends when her mother dies and her father goes away, leaving Coriander with her stepmother, a widow who is in cahoots with a fundamentalist Puritan preacher. She is shut away in a chest and left to die, but emerges into the fairy world from which her mother came, and where time has no meaning. When she returns, charged with a task that will transform her life.”

This has been waiting for me in the library for a while. Another book that has found its time.

The Mermaid’s Child by Jo Baker

“Growing up motherless in an isolated community, Malin Reed has always been made to feel different from everybody else. The fact that, according to Malin’s father, the absent mother was actually a mermaid only makes matters worse. When Malin’s father dies, leaving behind nothing but his stories, Malin’s choice at last becomes clear: stay, and never feel at home, or leave and go in search of mermaids and the fantastical inheritance that, up to now, has always seemed completely out of reach.”

I live by the sea, so there had to be a mermaid somewhere.

Iron & Gold by Hilda Vaughan

“Lured from her underwater home, to become a farmer’s wife in the Brecon Beacons, the fairy bride discovers that both her difference and her acquired familiarity breed marital breakdown and tragedy.”

I’ve been promising myself this book for this challenge for ages.

Five wonderful books. What could be better?