This weekend I went to Gladstone Library for my birthday. It is the UKs only residential Library and I definitely wanted a holiday where I was reading all day long!
The building and layout
On arrival, the building was simply breathtaking and it reminded me of Oxford and that sort of architecture.
Gladstone library has two reading rooms, but one is at the back of the other through a side door, and then through to the archives so it’s a little tricky to find at first.
The upstairs of the reading rooms are so amazing, just be careful though as the stairs are incredibly steep and anyone who is wobbly on their feet might struggle. Once up there, I found lots of little desks with lamps tucked away between the bookshelves and I absolutely loved sitting up there.
Unfortunately the common room was closed during my stay which was a great shame, as I’d have loved to have read in there or play a game of chess!
The rooms were lovely and clean, and the bathrooms big with a nice bathtub for soaking. Mine, however, was very warm and so pack lighter pjs or ask at reception for a fan. I’d recommend staying in an en-suite room as it makes it that bit nicer.
The lack of plugs are an issue, there are non by the bed and so it was impossible to put my dvd player on. I believe this is to dissuade people from watching TV but it would be nice to have the option when bringing your own items.
The cakes are absolutely amazing here. I would recommend the scone and cream as the scones are freshly made (mine was still warm! Beautiful!)
Mistakes I made -so you don’t have to!
The breakfast that is included is only continental so you will have to pay extra if you want a full breakfast. Otherwise, if you’re on a budget, you’ll have to fill up on croissants and cereal and wait till lunch!
Water -a bit sparse! There’s no option to buy bottled water. You would have to keep going to the cafe bit and requesting a glass. There is no water in the rooms so I would recommend taking bottles with you.
Check in time is at 2pm, so try and get there for then! I got there before 12 and couldn’t have a bath or a rest after a long journey until check in time, so I am definitely planning my journey better next time.
Would I stay again?
Definitely! Though I am going to have to look at a better route down, a couple of days reading in the library, surrounded by old books, is such a good holiday. It’s quiet and peaceful and not overly bright, so gets the thumbs up sensory wise!
I also think the prices for everything are pretty good and so it’s not overly expensive to go a few times a year.
Gatty the village girl – steadfast, forthright, innocent and wise – has never been further than her own village. But when she is is picked by Lady Gwyneth of Ewloe to join her band of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, Gatty’s previously sheltered life changes forever.
Tea pick: Earl Grey, a classic tea with notes of cornflowers to give it an adventurous kick.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane’s beloved classic brings one of the greatest romances to life. Whilst society tells her she must marry for money, Elizabeth Bennet wants to marry for love whilst keeping her strong morals and loyalty to family.
Tea pick: a Rose tea with flowery notes, but strong in taste and quality…just like Lizzie!
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Pauline, Petrova and Posy are orphans determined to help out their family by attending the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. But when they vow to make a name for themselves, they have no idea it’s going to be such hard work!
Tea pick: Moondrop Dreams, after reading this fantastic novel, may you drift off and dream of your own adventure!
Paper and Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie
Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in with her classmates. She doesn’t want to go to parties at the weekend – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people …That is until she moves to a new town where a book club, The Paper & Hearts Society, is recruiting. Tabby might just be in luck. Enough of her old “friends” who only talk to her when they need something. It’s time for Quidditch themed fancy dress parties, games like “shut up and Shakespeare” … and LOTS of chocolate.
Tea pick: chocolate digestives! Though if you have a friend like Ed, don’t show him this tea as it will be gone IMMEDIATELY.
Just Another Mountain is definitely one of those you will hold to your heart after you’ve read it, and feel a myriad of emotions.
With stories from childhood to adulthood all joined by the love of nature and walking, I haven’t felt as much about a book, than i did when I read this, in years. It felt an honour to read what Sarah had shared, like a friend passing you her diary.
Her mum’s cancer battle, and then hers, had my grieving alongside her. Recently a good friend passed away to cancer and I haven’t spoken to many about how I’m feeling. Sarah’s recap of watching her mum fight the disease, and what she herself went through, was so true to my own experiences that I felt comforted.
There is a deep honesty to this book that I appreciate. The vulnerability is so beautifully human that I respect it greatly, but despite the heavy topics and life experiences there isn’t a loss of humour or lightness. The fun and sweet moments are still prominently there and I enjoyed every moment of getting to know Sarah and her life.
Reading this has helped me feel more connected, and every scenic moment is described so beautifully without embellishment that I had to get outdoors myself and be reminded just how freeing it is.
Thank you for sharing your life with me, Sarah, I am truly grateful.
“Turning up at a friend’s house, she was promptly given a pair of socks and shoes. I wished I could have known her then.”
“She was more than just a mum. She was my very best friend, the person I knew I could always turn to.”
I couldn’t NOT buy the Sally Rooney box by Books That Matter. She has had my heart ever since her novel Normal People made me weep a billion times over.
My box arrived in pretty good time, which was awesome as I was frantically looking out for the post person every day (I had it delivered to work as I was too impatient to have to wait till I got home).
It arrived in BTMs new style boxes which I LOVE. It is very chic and modern and I love the message inside.
Ripping open the tissue paper (are you one who rips into it or carefully opens so as to save it for later?) I practically screamed in delight at seeing the book and immediately grabbed it to hug it to my chest.
It was in the middle of TWO snack packs (thank you BTM they are much needed) and underneath was a gorgeous print and two bookmarks.
Finally, underneath that later, was the anticipated tote bag which I will absolutely be using daily (though I may also use it to carry Sally’s books around.)
There was also this month’s magazine with a Sally Rooney feature and some amazing recommendations.
This month’s box is of course perfect for Sally Rooney fans, but I do utterly love how carefully curated each box is to follow a colour scheme and have each gift incorporate the book so well. Having been a subscriber to BTM before I can definitely say this is my all time favourite box and I would love it if they did more author themed collabs in the future.
You can subscribe to Books That Matter and check out their boxes HERE!
Quenby Olson is the author of the soon to be released Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide (to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons). After kindly letting me read and review her absolutely FANTASTIC book, she then answered my questions on her novel, which is going to be an incredible addition to everyone’s bookshelves.
So, 19th century England and dragons. Where did that idea first come from?
Q: I want to say that the idea of plopping dragons into Regency-era England had been in my head for some time, but not really.
Naomi Novik already did it wonderfully in her Temeraire books, but that focused primarily on dragons in the Napoleonic wars, and this is… definitely not looking at it from that angle.
Growing up (and now, let’s be honest) my favorite movies and shows – and books – have always been the Jane Austens, the Elizabeth Gaskells, the Brontes, and so on. But I also adored things like Good Omens and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so something just popped in my mind about wanting to somehow combine that small, English village feel, with bonnets and manners and sheep… and also with the fantasy and magic (and all the potential for humor) of dragons.
I love how Mildred and Mr Wiggins are not your typical 19th century romance trope. I love how they are both past what was considered the age for marriage and yet fit together so comfortably. Was it always your intention to have an older couple as the main focus when it came to the romantic side of the story?
Q:Absolutely and 100%. There are so many fantasy and sci-fi stories out there that focus on the young kid, the young boy, that chosen one (especially if they’re about nineteen-ish and attractive) that shows up over and over.
And I understand that, showing the world through the eyes of a character who is adventuring out into the world for the first time. But I bristle at the idea that adventures are only for younger people, that romance is for younger people.
A lot of the main and supporting cast of Miss Percy are middle-aged or older, and being able to write about people who would most likely be set aside as too old to participate in a book about baby dragons coming back into the world was just tremendous fun and did my heart good.
You have such talent for making a sentence as witty as it could possibly be, was this pre-empted or random?
Q: Ah, thank you! And definitely random. Basically, I just leaned into the “voice” of this book while writing it, which latched onto me from the very first line and wouldn’t let go.
I’ve never written anything quite like this before, but just throwing a lot of the writing “rules” out the window and letting Miss Percy tell her story the way she wanted made for a fantastic time.
Mrs Babbington is the grandmother we all want. Please tell me she is in fact based off a real person who makes butter biscuits and plum cake (and, if so, can I please have an invite to tea?)
Q: She is not, unfortunately! There’s a touch of my maternal grandmother in there, who always made sure everyone was well fed and had a knack for conjuring up huge meals out of what seemed like scant ingredients.
But aside from that, she’s pretty much just the person I want to be, the one who takes charge and has enough common sense for a dozen people (at least)!
Are there any plans for a particular guide, one full of illustrations, maybe a few drawings done by Nettie and Matthew?
Q: Oh my gosh. That would be amazing. But no, the most of the “Guides” anyone gets to see are the excerpts from them at the beginning of the chapters. So you’re reading snippets of Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide while reading a book called Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide and… it’s all very Bookception, I think. But no, no plans for anything more than that. Yet.
The detail of an old English village really is brilliant. I imagine you trawling up and down the countryside for inspiration! Or did you have a particular place in mind which inspired the setting?
Q: I’ve always lived in small towns. I grew up in Liverpool (not the English one) in Pennsylvania, which is tiny and rural and surrounded by fields and rolling hills and it’s just always been my favorite place to be. So the English village in Miss Percy’s is kind of an amalgam of my hometown mingled with… oh, let’s say Cranford. Yeah, that’s pretty much where it came from.
Lastly, this isn’t a question but I have to say how much I utterly adore Fitz. He’s officially my favourite dragon.
Q: I love him so much. I’d say 90% of his behavior is based on my first cat (Nermal Dog Olson – my dad called her Nermal and I called her Dog.
She didn’t care for either name and only came when we ran the electric can opener.) who was a fuzzy, long-haired terror. I miss her, so Fitz is my tribute to her.
Release date: 26th October. You can preorder Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide HERE.
When our mutual friend, Tessa, introduced us by announcing I’d be a good reader for Chris’ book, I was definitely intruiged. Cut to a couple of days ago when I was holding my kindle, having finished said book, almost giddy with many emotions. It was fantastic to say the least.
Chris was even kind enough to agree to an interview about Each Little Universe and we had such a brilliant chat!
I have to ask, what were the thought processes when writing this book? (Any scribbling with crayon on a laminated blanket?)
Honestly, I don’t really know! I don’t think there was much of a process with this one at all – it emerged kind of from a few specific scenes I wanted to include, and then I just had to fill in the gaps… which I did by working in as many bad puns as possible, basically.
If I have a process it’s a kind of oversaturation of specific vignettes; I just jot down little exchanges, concepts, things that don’t really make much sense, and when I have a whole lot of them I look for ones that seem like they fit together in a theme and go from there!
The names make me laugh, were those picked at random?
I would say… probably 75% of the names have some significance. I can’t say all of them do – some definitely were just ‘that sounds funny’ – but the majority of ’em have at least some rationale behind them. I can explain in more detail, but it’d be spoilers!
Ziggy is a little ball of adorableness at one point, then a fierce firecracker the next. Tell us more about what went in to making her character.
So I think all of the characters are me to some extent, different bits of me expressed in different ways, and perhaps that’s true of any character ever written by any human. Ziggy is the bit of me that desperately wants to just live the most authentic human life, but doesn’t really know what that looks like.
I think there’s something really special about being a person living a person life, but I don’t think I’ve ever quite worked out how to feel like that applies to me! She can come off, I think, as kind of quirky for quirk’s own sake at times, but in my head she’s a bit of a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope – y’know, the very outgoing love interest who comes along and is just sort of unreasonably exciting in an unattainable and maybe even slightly annoying way.
Ziggy’s odd because she really, really wants to fit in and understand what it means to be a person, so she throws as much out there as she can and hopes some of it sticks. That doesn’t always work out, though; she picks goals on a whim in the hopes that it’ll help her feel she’s experiencing something, but realising she didn’t know why she wanted it is kind of devastating for her.
I think that’s profoundly human, though: getting something you thought you wanted and then realising you aren’t sure what you actually wanted it for.
Life is weird and complicated and important, and I think Ziggy was born a little bit out of my attempts to make sense of that!
You get likened to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, how does that feel?
Y’know, I think I’m the one who started that comparison by including their names in the blurb as, like, ‘if you like X maybe you’ll like this!’.
I am unbelievably flattered any time anyone actually agrees with that, though, and there have been a few reviews (your lovely self included) who have made really complimentary observations about the style being similar to Pratchett or Douglas Adams, or the storytelling being like something Gaiman or Murakami might do.
I never quite know how to handle it when people sincerely suggest that I deserve to be compared to writers like that, except to go ‘OH HECK THANK YOU’!
If your book was ever made into a movie, who would you want to cast?
I actually did a hypothetical casting a while back, when the novel was a little bit different from how it ended up, but here are a couple I would still stand by..!
TM – Alfred Enoch
Veggie – Clark Duke or Evan Peters (but British, of course)
Ziggy – Chloe Bennet or Jessica Henwick
O’Ryan – Angela Scanlon or Karen Gillan
Al Tyer – Clark Gable (time travel required, naturally)
TM’s dad – Terry Crews or Selasi Gbormittah.
I’m not a massively visual person, I don’t think, so I tend to think of the characters much more in terms of who they are and how they behave than what they look like, but based purely on appearances I think those would match pretty closely to what I have in my head!
There is a LOT of role-playing in this book, are you yourself a gamer?
I am! I don’t get to do as much tabletop gaming as I’d like, but I am a big video gamer. I actually just released a book about video games! The games depicted in the book are based on real games (Dungeons & Dragons, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, Dark Souls, etc) but are not actually those games – partly so I don’t get sued and partly because I didn’t want to have to get all the details right!
Hero’s Adventure is very D&D-ish, but because it’s a fictional game I get to make up all the rules however I like rather than have to stick to the actual ones.
The opening of the book is definitely bizarre, where on earth did you get “octobike ” from?
I have absolutely no idea. The opening is the first thing that sparked it all off; I had to write a scene of dialogue for a creative writing class, where the only real brief was just to make the voices distinct and make it entertaining, and that initial exchange between TM and Veggie is what happened. It’s pretty much unchanged since then, in fact!
I think that’s something I used to do a fair bit: just make up something that made very little sense and write an interaction of people trying to make sense of it. Stumbled across something the other day that I must’ve written years ago in which two characters somehow rationalise ‘cheeseburgers therefore the government’, so… yeah.
That’s just how my brain works, I guess! Sometimes it yields useful stuff, sometimes not so much.
Would you ever write another book like this?
Ooooooooooooooooooooooooh. Another book like this? That’s a heck of a question. I don’t know, to be honest. I guess it depends by what you mean by ‘like this’! I think the prose style is probably going to be something that you’ll see again, ‘cos that’s just sort of how words come out for me so there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.
I think there’ll probably be more of this sort of urban fantasy magical realism ish vibe going on, too, but I think exploring different things.
I have this idea for a book (it’s been germinating in my head for years and one day I will write it but it’s very important to me so I’m terrified of getting it wrong D:) that I think of as kind of a spiritual successor to ELU that explores identity in the same way ELU explores love (which is to say by looking at as many versions of it as possible through as many lenses as possible), but… something tells me nothing will ever feel quite the same as ELU. We’ll just have to see!
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Chris! And if anyone would like to read Each Little Universe, you can order the book here:
There is no way I can write an “about this book” section, as there aren’t the words to sum up what this is about. There are two inventors, cats, a bread heater that catches fire and using role-playing games to pull off a real heist.
Oh and there’s a star (one from the sky) who is a person. Like Stardust, but less white gowns and angelical and more gen z art student who is freaking adorable.
Whatever you do, do not read the blurb just so you can experience first hand the crazy magic coating the pages of this book. Chris has written something so spectacular that there isn’t a single sentence that could be classed as basic or simple. It’s as if Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett sat down and played a “who could be the most strange” word game and wrote it all down: and I mean this in the best way. I was snorting with laughter by page 2.
These characters are not just random, they are kind, weird to the point of it being the norm (you’ll get used to it), wordy (I had to Google some of the words used) and creative (whiteboard blankets just made playing noughts and crosses whilst having a sleepover easier). If anyone wants campaign ideas for DnD or other role-playing games then this will definitely provide you with a few. The creative detail is absolutely on point and I’d like a tour around Chris’ mind just to see what other golden ideas he’s got in there.
Unsurprisingly I kept expecting a dragon to just crash through the ceiling without anyone reacting.
The best part? The pure nostalgia. Reading about this awesome friendship group and how they act reminded me of holing up in hotel rooms at conventions and talking till 3am, or the time I had a sleepover in an attic and woke up with two of my friends stuck to me. These characters remind you to breathe, love and live and remember the true meaning of friendship. The fact there are nonbinary and LGBTQAI characters and absolutely no toxic masculinity just makes me feel all the warm fuzzies of a VERY happy reader.
My favourite time period in novels is the Regency/Bronte era, with their customs and manners and ways of being…and then go and throw some dragons into the mix and I am HOOKED.
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide (to the care and feeding of British Dragons) holds all the nostalgia of my childhood favourites (The Secret Garden, Pride and Prejudice, Narnia) and all the thrills and hilarity of a genius piece of work. To start with, Mildred is an absolute delight of a character, reminding me of the sensible Mary Bennet but with the wit and sarcasm of Mary Lennox. I loved reading about a character who was a) as much of a fan of cake and sugary treats as I was and b) a really unique heroine who had me snorting with laughter many times.
“Are you labouring under the belief you’ve just hatched out a demon on your drawing room floor?”
“Her body behaving in the most traitorous manner to a mind determined to huddle beneath the covers and not come out until such things as bread and chocolate and afternoons were on offer.” (MAJOR MOOD)
When Mildred and Mr Wiggan come into possession of the dragon, its absolutely hysterical how Mr Wiggan has a breakdown and then proceeds to treat the dragon as his smol son. Known fondly as Fitz (Agents of Shield fans will be pleased) the dragon now has a doting father and grandmother (you cannot tell me Mrs Babbington doesn’t make Fitz his favourite meal).
Mildred herself is more wary at the start, and I think she just wants someone to tell her that yes, Fitz is actually just a cross between a chicken and a bat, rather than accept he is a dragon. However as soon as there is a hint of Fitz been found out, the love she has for him is so clear and she’s a brilliant and protective dragon mum (Khaleesi, move over). That been said I do appreciate the scenes with Mildred where Fitz will make his presence known and she reaches for the cake to eat her feelings. We’ve all been there.
Of course, every fairytale needs a villain, and Mr Hawthorn is definitely an interesting character to say the least. He’s a good story teller, I’ll give him that, but so as not to spoil anything I’ll just say I’m glad for Mildred’s instincts (and my opinion of Belinda is so low, I past Hades on the way down.)
All in all I’m utterly delighted to have read this book, it is funny, creative and ingenious at times with an adorable romance weaved in, and a lot of originality. The pace is good and it’s definitely one I’d want to re-read.
Thank you so much to Quenby for the advanced reading copy! This was given in exchange for an honest review.
Favourite character: Fitz of course.
Emoji response: 😍👀😂🐉😲💘
Would I recommend?: I would be very offended if you didn’t buy this book.
A girl’s quest to find her father leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it intrudes on the modern world. From the bestselling master of fantasy, Garth Nix.
The Left Handed Book Sellers of London by Garth Nix is delightfully crazy, confusing in the best way, packed with energy and as if Narnia, Supernatural and Sherlock Holmes had a love child.
The main character, Susan, is so hugely relatable due to the simple fact she has no clue what is going on, just like myself as a reader who was turning the pages, baffled but hugely entertained. The concepts are so out there, they couldn’t be anything other than fascinating. Book Sellers who are also some kind of secret society who carry weapons. Book Sellers who have ghosts (sort of ghosts?) Of their grandmother in their basement. There is magic in places where magic hasn’t even been used and some great bits of humour including the fact that this isn’t some rich society but a group of booksellers who are every bit as broke as each other.
Also, can we all just appreciate the Jaffa Cake addiction? I definitely appreciate that, so much.
One thing that got me squealing with happiness was the absolute obliteration of gender binary and how inclusive this book is. I mean, Merlin being soft and femme and wearing a dress and his sister wearing the suit. Susan appreciating Merlin in both female and male form. Merlin asking Susan which bathroom she wanted to use instead of assuming.
Reading this book was like stepping through a door. I would walk to work whilst listening to the audio book and have to check behind me just to see if there were any goblin children waiting to dance me away to the May Fair. The writing is so believable I could see and sense everything and I don’t think I’ll be able to look at fog the same way again! It is a brilliant way of bringing all the old myths, legends and beliefs to life but putting them just behind the curtain to create a world where the supernatural and magical is right there, but ordinary people might never know about it.
I have to say, if this doesn’t end up being a movie or TV show then I will be absolutely devastated. I definitely want to see this phenomenal work on the big screen.
Though there is magic, there is also terror. The type of terror you are both scared and excited by. Goblin dances that whisk you away before you can blink, huge hounds that bare their teeth, statues that walk (still not over the weeping angels from Doctor Who) …it is both dark and brilliant and I am definitely a Garth Nix fan.
Katherine Shaw is a multi-genre author and is also a genuine and down to earth person. When I reviewed Gloria, I was a) absolutely thrilled to be reviewing such a brilliant and vibrant book and b) full of joy to be working with a fellow writer and book fan from Yorkshire!
Her characters leap off the page, the setting is tangible and the dynamics strong. Katherine kindly took the time today to answer my questions on her new novel.
Where did the idea for Gloria come from?
KS: I came up with Gloria and the opening scene for the book during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when I was looking out over the Humber Estuary near my house. I was thinking about the ferries which would usually be coming and going, and who might be on them, escaping to a better life. A week or so later, I saw a man and his daughter walking along the riverbank. As they looked out over the water, they became Elias and Iris and the story came together from there.
What made you choose Amsterdam as a pinnacle setting?
KS: I knew Gloria would be escaping the UK, and having travelled the Hull to Amsterdam ferry route myself in recent years, I wanted to draw on some of my own experience for that aspect of her adventure. I’ve visited Amsterdam a few times myself, and it’s a wonderful, vibrant city that fit perfectly with the life Gloria truly wanted.
What was your favourite part to write?
KS: Ooh that’s a tricky question! I think my favourite scenes were either the ones with Meryl (my favourite character!) or, strangely enough, the ones with Greg. I like creating tension, and each scene with him gave ample opportunity for that.
Meryl is such a lovely character, so well rounded and maternal -is she based off anyone you know?
KS: No, but she was by far my favourite character to write! I love that she’s so maternal and caring, but also a super stylish badass. She was a dream to write.
What’s your typical day like when you are writing?
KS: I have to get into a routine to hit my writing goals, so I aim to write at least 500 words a day when I’m working on a longer piece like Gloria. I work full-time alongside writing, so this typically means I have to slot in writing sprints in my lunch breaks or after work. It can be tricky to fit it in, but thankfully I work quite well in short bursts so I always get there in the end!
Where’s your favourite place to write?
KS: People may be surprised to learn that I actually do most of my writing on the sofa! I have a writing desk upstairs for when I really need to concentrate, but for day to day writing I’ll sit comfortably on the sofa with my laptop on my knee and get stuck in.
I’d have loved to read more about Katie and Gloria’s adventures together-do you plan on writing a prequel/novella?
KS: How did you guess?! I really want to write a companion novella which focuses on Gloria and Katie’s time together before she moved back to the UK. I have a couple of ideas rattling around in my head but nothing fixed yet. Watch this space!Well, I am definitely excited!