The Town Of Books: A Literary Guide To Hay-On-Wye

Hay-On-Wye, aptly named Britain’s ‘The Town of Books’ is a reader’s paradise. It seems to be immune to the dying-bookshop trend, as it has 21 bookshops filled with rare editions, recent releases, poetry, and so much more.

I’ve visited twice now, my bank account crying both times, and I can’t wait to go back and add to my reading pile. It’s just a never-ending world of books, and I never seem to walk away from there feeling like I bought everything I wanted – there are always more books to discover!

My favourite bookshops in Hay-On-Wye

Hay Cinema Bookshop

So this bookshop has 200,000 books!! Renovated from a restored cinema, Hay Cinema Bookshop contains every genre you can think of, non-fiction titles like art, music, history and zoology, stunning editions of classics and even a few rare finds. It’s the longest established bookshop in this little town, and you can see why it’s been so successful. I actually got lost in here; my sister came in to find me, and suddenly we had no idea where the exit was, wandering around and just finding more bookshelves – I encountered so many more sections that hadn’t explored yet, so I will definitely be returning soon!

Richard Booth’s Bookshop

Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed ‘King of Hay,’ is known for partly setting up Hay-On-Wye’s second-hand bookshop success. He opened his bookshop in a building that was previously a fire station, purchased books from the deteriorating libraries in America and used them as the beginning stock of the newly opened Richard Booth’s Bookshop. The shop has a quirky atmosphere, comfy seating, and three floors rammed with wooden bookshelves and displays. There’s also a cafe and cinema, but I am yet to take a look at these.

Addyman Books

Addyman Books is divided into three separate shops throughout Hay-On-Wye, and each one caters to different tastes. This one, located on Lion Street, is painted in a beautiful blue colour with intricate patterns that made it feel so luxurious, and the floorboards creaked, and it just smelt of books (obviously), and oh my god I didn’t want to leave. There is a small room dedicated to Penguin Random House, with elaborate shelves filled with vintage Penguin Classics. I had never seen so many vintage Penguins in one place before!

Addyman Annexe

The second out of the three Addyman bookshops (I still need to visit the third – Murder & Mayhem bookshop), it can be considered to be one of the more insta-worthy in Hay-On-Wye. This particular bookshop isn’t just about celebrating the stories told through the written word, but it also celebrates the beauty that books themselves have. The books are organised by colour, and there are little reading nooks dotted throughout the shop.

The best thing about this place, though? The sign outside stating that Kindles are banned.

Hay-On-Wye Booksellers

Hay On Wye Booksellers is one of the most memorable bookshops in this small town, and that is partly due to its unique style. It has a vintage appeal – black and white wood panelling, two floors of wooden-shelving and a little swinging sign; it certainly stands out from the rest of the street. The books range from well-known bestsellers, rare editions, and beautiful covers, you will definitely need to set aside some time when visiting this one. There are sofas and plenty of space to move about, so you’ll feel right at home.

Green Ink Booksellers

Green Ink Booksellers is the newest bookshop to open in Hay-On-Wye, joining the town of books in 2018. I love that in a world where bookshops are becoming a dying trend, there are exceptions like these that give hope for the future of bookselling. The outside of the shop is beautiful: painted in a vibrant teal and gold lettering for its name, you really can’t miss it. The shop focuses on history, philosophy, and literature, spanning over two levels. If you go down the creaky steps, you’ll find editions of memorable classics – an entire shelf dedicated to Enid Blyton was the highlight for me.

The Bookshops I still need to visit

The thing with Hay-On-Wye is that there are just so many bookshops, each requiring a decent amount of time to look at every bookshelf, that it’s impossible to see them all within one or two visits. There are still a few bookshops I need to see, such as:

Murder and Mayhem

This bookshop sells exactly what the name says. Filled with solely crime, thriller, and horror books, it’s high on my list for my next trip to Hay-On-Wye. As the same owner runs it as the Addyman bookshops, I have high expectations.

Poetry Bookshop

It’s strange for me to put this on my list as I don’t love poetry that much. However, as it’s the only bookshop in the UK dedicated solely to poetry, I am curious to see what’s on offer. There are a few poets that I like (Christina Rossetti is my favourite!), so I might surprise myself and find some hidden treasures hidden amongst the shelves.

Honesty Bookshop in Hay Castle

There is a bookshop on the castle grounds!! Hay Castle is currently under construction, so it’s closed until 2020. If only I had realised that Honesty Bookshop is still open! Definitely need to go back soon. This bookshop consists of open shelves against the walls of the castle grounds and has been there since the 1960s. There is a payment box there, all books are £1, and all money goes towards the castle. It’s a beautiful idea that allows you to read a book and enjoy the small bustle of the town centre, and I cannot wait to see it for myself.

Other Things To Do In Hay-On-Wye

Hay-On-Wye is the town of books, but there are other places to see for those who aren’t so interested in the bookshops (probably those who have been dragged there against their will – apologies to my boyfriend). What makes Hay-On-Wye so sweet is that there is nothing but independent shops and eateries – not a single branded in chain in sight (Other than a small Co-Op and Spar).

Here are other places of interest:

Hay Castle

Right now, as I mentioned earlier, the castle is closed for renovations until 2020. This beautiful building is under threat – the walls are collapsing, there are signs of extreme deterioration, the Norman Keep is severely unstable. However, part of the grounds themselves are still open, and they are lovely to walk around if you need a break from all those bookshops.

Independent Shops

Bookshops aren’t the only shops available in Hay-On-Wye. As we walked around the cobbled streets, we found CD and DVD shops, antiques, shops selling costumes, crafts, fudge, anything you can think of.

Another notable store

Another shop that I visited that deserves a mention in this post is Bartums & Co. It’s a beautiful stationary shop that spans across two floors and supplies a range of stationery and writing instruments, such as fine pens and calligraphy, pots of ink and quills, high-quality paper and notebooks, office supplies, bookmarks, letter writing sets, files and folders and so much more. It even smells like an old, traditional stationary shop – it’s a writer’s haven!

On the second level, there is a desk with paper and different types of fountain pens and ink so you can see which pen is right for you. I came out of there with a new bucket-list bookmark (lists all the must-read books of all time) and a letter writing set, but I also almost came out with a set of temporary book tattoos, a new notebook, and a handful of pens. I had to be stopped as by the time I had reached this shop, my bank account was crying…

Eateries in Hay-On-Wye

I have to admit, I wasn’t blown away by the selection of eateries in Hay-On-Wye, but that’s because I couldn’t see that many to choose from, so I’m sure there’s plenty there to find.

For lunch, we went to a cafe called The Shepard’s Parlour, which served freshly made sandwiches, ice cream, soups, and more. The iced coffee was amazing, and my mozzarella sandwich tasted lovely. Will be returning to try the cakes though!

We went to the restaurant at The Three Tuns, a pub with a cute little courtyard at the back, fairy lights running along the wooden staircases. It was an Italian menu, I had crab tagliatelle, and it tasted delicious. However, the brownie was the best part of the meal by far!

If you’re a bookworm, you NEED to visit Hay-On-Wye. It’s a book paradise, filled with rare treasures and well-known favourites for half the price you would expect to pay at Waterstones; safe to say, you will never want to leave.

(I recommend going once you’ve been paid though – your bank account will be very empty after your visit!)

Books that should be in every library

This post was inspired by The Librarian, in which the protagonist is a children’s librarian. Throughout the book, so many children’s’ books are mentioned and how amazing they are. It made me think about books that have impacted me, and why they should be read by pretty much everyone on this planet. I’ve tried to stick with children’s books, but it’s turned out to be an even split between them and adults books. It was so hard to leave any out!

Let me know which books you would include in this list!

To Kill A Mockingbird

It’s a heart-wrenching book that oozes powerful themes such as racism, prejudice, adolescence, cruelty – ideas that are still relevant today. The life lessons that Atticus preaches (and practices himself – one of the many reasons why he is the best character in the novel) are just priceless.

Alice in Wonderland

It’s not hard for a child to become wrapped up in Lewis Carroll’s fantasy world of Wonderland. It’s a whimsical yet incredibly-crafted tale in which Alice gradually learns to see things in different perspectives. The book is filled with charming and memorable characters whom Alice doesn’t judge, but she accepts that each one is different, even if she is taken back by this whole new world at times.

Carroll also comes up with some beautiful, relatable quotes. Here are two of my favourites:

‘Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality’ – Cheshire Cat

You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution for their problem and everyone refuses to believe in magic.’ – Mad Hatter

I feel that it’s worth reading this book for statements like this alone.

The Great Gatsby

Another adult book, but seriously, if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby yet, why the hell not? This book provides a timeless insight into society and the people who are part of it, even if Fitzgerald’s novel is set in the 1920s. The issues explored are still relevant today. It’s a love story, a rags-to-riches tale, a warning of corruption and money. Also, yes, it’s 10000x better than the Leo DiCaprio film.

The Secret Garden

There’s just something magical about The Secret Garden that keeps you entice for pretty much the rest of your life. Whenever the title pops up, you instantly think of the thousands of roses, the determined character of Sarah, who learns to take care of herself and eventually discovers the magic of the natural world. Also, you cannot forget about Martha, the Yorkshire servant who is possibly the sweetest character in the novel. It’s a different kind of book in which the goodness of seemingly unlikeable characters is revealed without the guidance of adults.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

No matter how old you are, I think that every person alive should read this book. Anne was an extraordinary girl with a good way of thinking. Through her diary, not only do you get a first-hand account of the effects that WW2 brought, but you also experience her adolescence, her perseverance to get through this haunting period and her desire to live life the best way that she can.

For me, the most saddening thing about her life is that Anne died only months before the camps were liberated.

Harry Potter

I feel like pretty much 90% of the population has read the Harry Potter books, so in this case, I’ll keep it short. This isn’t just a story about wizards and witches; it’s a tale of bravery, friendship, and childhood – there are so many life lessons hidden amongst the magical tale. It amazes me that someone could conjure up a world as intricate as this, so many details that create this illusion that there really is a Hogwarts nestled in Scotland.

Macbeth

I think that everyone should read a Shakespeare play at least once in their lives. Not just study it, but actually read it. And not only because of the supernatural elements that make it a perfect read for autumn. There are so many themes throughout this play that have captured readers since the dawn of time – thirst for power, the meaning of life, and what lies within people’s hearts. The characters themselves are based on real people, And, most importantly, behind the fancy language, there’s a fast-paced, enticing story!

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice isn’t just a love story. It explores the stereotypes that people are constantly faced with – it’s literally about people who are proud and prejudiced. Characters judge each other thanks to influences around them, and they find that they’re wrong, once they’ve taken the time to actually get to know each other (if you’ve read this book, you’ll know that it’s not that simple, but it’s the best of way to explain it without any spoilers!). It’s a message that can still be applied today.

Wuthering Heights

I couldn’t write this list without featuring one of my all-time favourite books. Wuthering Heights is great because the characters in this are flawed; Heathcliff is cruel and horrible, and Cathy is selfish af. But yet, Heathcliff loves her anyway. I won’t call this book realistic because it most certainly isn’t and dark as hell in some parts, but the fact that you can’t decide on which character to like as your opinion of them changes throughout the story is something that we should learn to expect in real life. That, and Bronte’s writing is brilliant.

Book blogs that I love

Just in case you haven’t already caught on, my favourite thing to do in this world is read. But, there are times when I fancy nothing more than lying in bed with a cup of tea and seeing what my favourite book bloggers have been posting.

Most of my favourite book bloggers, I have found through Instagram. Before I even realised bookstagramming was a thing, I was following book accounts simply because I loved their photos, and then I slowly started reading a few of their blog posts. Now, there is a handful whom I follow religiously; I will read any post that they have published and like every single one of their photos. They were the first accounts I followed when I started my bookstagram and the inspiration behind my blog.

I’ve compiled this list for anyone wanting to up their TBR list, are looking for ideas for their blogs, or are wanting to be blown away by more beautiful book accounts. I’ve only written about five, but there are so many more out there that I love.

Books and Quills

 Image by  booksandquills
Image by booksandquills

This is one of the first book blogs I followed. Books and Quills moved from the Netherlands years ago, and now she shares her adventures on her blog. Books aren’t the only thing that she focuses on; you can also find food and travel bits as well. She also has a YouTube, which is where I often turn to if I’m in need of career motivation or reading inspiration (she used to work in publishing), and her posts range from reviews to reading lists to travel diaries – she covers pretty much everything you need.

Simone and her books

 Image by  Simone and Her Books
Image by Simone and Her Books

Simone is another blogger whose posts I have spent hours reading. I’m pretty sure she has read every book imaginable, and if not then she certainly has them all ready to go in her TBR pile. I like how varied her reads are; they’re not all just bestsellers or classics that everyone already knows and love. Her reviews are insightful, and her bookstagram photos will undoubtedly leave you craving a cup of tea.

Wandering Bibliophile

 Image by  Wandering Bibliophile
Image by Wandering Bibliophile

Another blogger who I have been following for a while. Her photos are so cute and creative, and some of her recent ones are incredible; they feature floating Owlcrates and literary clouds! Her blog, Paperback Passport, focuses on not just books, but travel and lifestyle as well, plus she has her book club and newsletter. I love the names of her accounts, ‘Wandering Bibliophile’ and ‘Paperback Passport,’ as they represent the many magical worlds one experiences when they open a book.

The Aze Reads

 Image by  The Aze Reads
Image by The Aze Reads

Above is one of the photos that I’ve encountered on Instagram which inspired my account. Any blog that is run by a uni student automatically appeals to me, because their content can sometimes relate to the books their studying, or what they’ve learned, and I love hearing about what people discover. What is particularly relatable, is that Erika also wants to work in publishing and loves writing as much as reading, so her account is right up my street!

Whatshotblog

 Image by  Whatshotblog
Image by Whatshotblog

This is one blog whose posts I never miss. I love her content, my recent favourite being The Ultimate Guide to Alice in Wonderland in Oxford. While this blog is more of a travel blog, it is filled with book content also, featuring reviews, bookish guides and lists, and book locations. She’s also a massive Harry Potter fan and creates stunning flatlays, the perfect blogging combination.

Are fairy tales sexist?

This is a debate that keeps popping in and out of social media, the news, classrooms, pretty much anywhere you turn. I was reminded of it when reading Little Women, in which the girls tell stories that reminded me of fairy tales.

In an era of #metoo, people have been finding issues with fairy tales, claiming that they are offensive towards both men and women as they encourage gender stereotypes. It was recently brought to light once again by Keira Knightley, who refuses to let her daughter watch Disney’s Cinderella or The Little Mermaid. While her comments focused solely on Disney, many people have been considering fairy tales in general as well, with one mother wanting to ban the story of Sleeping Beauty in schools.

In all fairness, you can see why people view fairy tales as problematic. In most, women are damsel in distress’ who wait for their princes to save them, and in both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, they are both kissed while unconscious (in the original Sleeping Beauty, the prince rapes her, and she wakes up to give birth to twins!). Ariel gives up her voice for a man in The Little Mermaid, and in Cinderella, only by marrying the Prince can Cinderella escape. I mean, none of this screams female empowerment to me.

Also, they don’t exactly set good examples for men either. Fairy tales glorify the ‘perfect’ man who is strong, handsome and able to defeat any villain that he encounters. He is fearless and doesn’t appear to have tear ducts. And with suicide being the most common cause of death for men in the UK, being reminded of these emotionless expectations aren’t exactly ideal.

I personally love fairy tales, from the originals, retellings and of course Disney films. They are ancient stories that have lived through centuries. They’re great for quick reads, and I like to think of them as a reminder of the progress we have made when it comes to gender equality.

Fairy tales are pieces of history. Cinderella was first published in 1697, with many other stories published in the 1800s. They are old stories, and folktales passed through the ages. If we were to ban these, we would be erasing evidence of the ideas people used to have. They belong to a time where people were not encouraged to question what they read like we are now. People were less skeptical; they followed what was written. We can see glimpses of this in classic literature. To ban fairy tales would be like banning Little Women or Taming of the Shew, or any Austen novel. They are going to be seen in a different light; much loved at the time of their release, now the flaws in society during the time are exposed. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate them as what they are: iconic pieces of literature.

Furthermore, if we’re looking at ‘modern’ fairy tales, we can clearly see that they too reflect the social values at the time – of our time. Dark retellings are extremely popular, and often the author reverses the roles in the story, so the ‘princess’ saves herself. The remake of Beauty and the Beast portrays LeFou as a gay character (not focusing on it too much of course, so that the attention remained on the film itself) which deters from the heroic male stereotype and Frozen, which is based on The Snow Queen, focuses on the love of two sisters. Angela Carter’s collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, even though it was published in the 80s, takes the tropes in fairy tales and turns them around, such as the protagonist’s mother rescuing her from her husband’s (Bluebeard) castle instead of her brothers. And that was written decades ago! Writers for both fiction and film are listening to what our society is saying, and it shows. Children having access to both the originals and more modern takes of these tales will show them just how far we’ve come regarding gender ideals, and they will be encouraged to continue this progress.

Also, let’s give people, no matter what age, a bit of credit. The fact that people believe that children will grow up still thinking that they should spend their lives waiting for their Prince Charming to find them. I can remember Holly Willoughby saying that banning fairy tales is insulting to women as it suggests that we can differentiate between fact and fiction, and I agree. It creates the impression that we’re as stupid as they make out in the stories. We’re going to go out and work, see our friends, build our own lives, and Prince Charming can arrive whenever he wants to. But we’re not necessarily going to drop everything for him and succumb to a life of domesticity.

Times change, ideas change, and so does society. But stories stand the test of time. If we were to ban a piece of literature just because it doesn’t agree with our views, then we would eventually ban every book out there. And who would want to live in a world with no books? I certainly wouldn’t. History has never been completely moral, but I’d rather accept that any misogynistic line that’s crept its way on to a page is nothing more than a sign of its time, instead of erasing a beautiful story from the world.

My favourite books of 2018

Today I’m going to post my favourite books of 2018. Not all of these were necessarily published this year, although there are quite a few on this list that were. This list is in no particular order; I feel that choosing my number one book of 2018 would be an impossible task. Every time I think I know the answer, I suddenly discover a new book that I love just as much!

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell

“Death, once conceived, was rapacious. It took all with it .”

If you follow me on Insta, I’m sure you’re sick of me talking about this book by now. So I’ll make it short. If you like historical fiction, gothic horror, or are simply looking for a book that you can’t put down, then this is the one for you. It’s set in an old mansion filled with dark secrets, the main character is forced into a lonely and horrific situation and any person that lives in that house is far from safe.

The Corset – Laura Purcell

“But then I have noted that murderous thoughts seldom trouble the pretty and the fashionable.” 

Again, once I have raved about far too many times. But the second novel by Purcell is just as dark and terrifying. This one starts with a young woman, Ruth Butterham, who has been accused of murder. This Victorian gothic tale explores her life leading up to this point, uncovering a sad and dark past, while the second narrator, Dorothea is determined to help her as much as she can.

You can read my review of these two books here.

The Eve of Man – Tom and Giovanna Fletcher

“Against all odds, she survived. The first girl born in fifty years. They called her Eve…”

I love the world that the Fletcher’s created in this book, as well as the characters. The second book is currently being written, and after the ending in the first, it better come soon. It’s a book that I wouldn’t usually pick up, but once I started reading, I could see why so many people were raving about it. It’s the story of the first girl to be born on Earth in fifty years, and it’s one you definitely want to read.

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

“So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.” 

We are incredibly lucky to have the NHS. Adam Kay kept a diary when he worked as a junior doctor, and now he’s published it so we can all experience his ups and downs. From unbelievable patients and funny remarks, this book provides an insight into the work of a doctor, in a witty and sarcastic way.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”

I’m not one for books about motivation, sorting out your life, etc. because frankly I find them quite dull. I just can’t get into them, I don’t find them interesting or motivating, and I just end up putting them aside. But Big Magic is a different kind of motivational book. It is aimed at creatives, helping you work towards your goals and whatever it is that you are passionate about. Gilbert explores the concept of ‘inspiration’, and gives us insight into her creative process. If you are struggling to make a start with your creative endeavors, this book will provide you with the kick that you need.

Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi

“I may have implied on several occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am.” 

I read this book as for university, and it is one that has stayed with me. It’s an account of the case and trial of Charles Manson, as told by the persecutor, Vincent Bugliosi. While it did take me a while to get into it, I still learnt so much about Manson, and it was interesting to see the amount of work that went into the case by the police.

All That She Can See – Carrie Fletcher

“To the voices in our heads that tell us we aren’t good enough: do be quiet.” 

My friend recommended this book to me and I’m so happy she did. It’s such a sweet book, where the protagonist has her own little bakery (you will get very hungry when reading this!) and just wants to make people feel better with her sweet treats – and her ability to see emotions. But of course, nothing ever goes to plan, and she runs into some trouble along the way.

The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

“While I was repairing a broken shelf in the crime section, I overheard an elderly customer confusing E. L. James and M. R. James while discussing horror fiction with her friend. She is either going to be pleasantly surprised or deeply shocked when she gets home with the copy of Fifty Shades of Grey she bought.”

I have this thing for books that are set in bookshops and libraries, so of course I bought this one as soon as I saw it. Shaun Bythell is blunt and sarcastic, and is filled with details about the book-buying process, the customers that he encounters and his not-so-reliable staff. It sounds like he wants to put people off running a bookstore, but strangely, it made me want to own one even more?

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

“How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?” 

This book is so cleverly written, it just had to be featured in this list. Full of traditional crime-noir motifs, complex characters and inner battles between the protagonist and the bodies he inhabits, it’s a read that you will not want to put down. It’s long, over 500 pages, but that’s because there are so many events and little details that all add up to the novel’s conclusion, nothing could be missed out. I did struggle to get into it first, but after the first few hosts, the situation is explained and the rest of the book is clear.

Read my review for this book here.

The books I found at Cardiff Castle

A couple of days before Christmas, I visited Cardiff Castle to see the Christmas lights and take a look around, as I’ve never been before. It turns out it has a beautiful library stocked with hundreds of old books! There was artwork along the walls, and the bookcases themselves were decorative as well. The fireplace was huge (I wish they had lit it though, it’s hard to keep warm in a castle!) and a rather elegant-looking Christmas tree had been put up. There was also a wedding taking place at another part of the castle and were due to have their drinks in the library, so at the entrance was a table with champagne flutes on top. Safe to say, I have now chosen a venue for my future wedding.

I’ve tried to find the exact names of the editions of the books mentioned (some you aren’t allowed to touch), but unfortunately, I couldn’t find them all. So this post is more of a cry for help than anything tbh :L If anyone knows anything about them, please let me know!

william shakespeare

 

 

When I searched for these Shakespeare editions, Howard Staunton came up many times. The only issue is, there are lots of different Shakespeare collections by this publisher, and these never came up in my searches. Most of the ones that did though were published in the 1800s, and to me, these look like they come from the same era. I couldn’t see the first volume of this collection in the library either.

alfred tennyson

 

 

These books are a twelve-volume set of The Life and Works of Tennyson, published in 1898 by Macmillan & Co. They are incredibly decorated hardbacks, with green cloth and gilt on the spine. It annoyed me how two of the books have been placed the wrong way round!

victor hugo

 

 

Look how beautiful these Victor Hugo books are! I found these on Abebooks, but most of the publishing details on in French, and Google wouldn’t translate the whole page. From what I could work out, these editions feature black and white illustration amongst the text and have a hard leather cover. They were released sometime in the 18th/19th century and published by Ollendorf (?).

jane austen

 

 

I can’t actually find any information about these. At the bottom of the spine it says ‘Edinburgh MCMXI’, which I typed in to Google, and could only find different editions of Austen novels. If anyone knows anything about these, please let me know! I love the blue covers.

charles dickens

 

 

Again, I couldn’t find any info on these books, which are old editions of Charles Dickens. I searched the exact wording that’s on the spines, but nothing. Any ideas?

Review: Coram Boy

SPOILERS AHEAD

Winner of the 2001 Whitbread Award, Coram Boy relates the intertwining stories of Meshak Gardiner and Alexander Ashbrook, two young men of different abilities and backgrounds who nonetheless find their fate inextricably linked. Meshak, the mentally handicapped son of Otis Gardiner, helps his father dispose of unwanted children; generally infants whose mothers think that Mr. Gardiner will transport them to Coram Hospital, a newly-created facility to care for abandoned children. Able to convince the distraught mothers that their newborns will be well-cared for in exchange for a small fee, Mr. Gardiner later hands the infants over to Meshak, who then buries the children in the woods. Years of burying infants and selling older ones into slavery have made Mr. Gardiner rich, but one day he is accused of blackmailing the wealthy mothers of these children. Everyone believes that he was hanged for his crimes and that his son, Meshak, quietly slipped away. Not until years later do people realize what happened to the Gardiners and all of the abandoned children.

***

Historical fiction is my favourite genre. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and so reading stories that allow me to live the lives based upon past events excites me so much. I’m currently writing a historical fiction novel myself, and for the setting, I’ve been inspired by the Forest of Dean, my home, and its surrounding areas. Coram Boy takes place in Gloucester as well as London, so it was nice to read a book of this genre that’s set in the same county as mine. I could see how Jamila Gavin captured two 18th century cities, both of which were clearly researched in meticulous detail, in their dirtiest light, exploring the lives of the lower classes instead of just focusing on the more privileged.

One of the things that stood out for me was the character of Meshak. He is described as a ‘simpleton’ and is treated poorly throughout the novel, particularly by his father. He has a strong moral compass, even though there are times when it becomes a bit warped (trying to keep Aaron from his parents to protect his ‘angel’s’ son, for example). He is plagued by the voices of the children that he buries, feeling guilty over the fact that he didn’t save them. Gavin capture this with chilling sentences like ‘He feels the need to be dead.’ For a boy as young as Meshak to think something like this is just heartbreaking.

While the story is told through an omniscient narrator, the majority of the events are experienced through the children’s perspective, which, in a way, makes some of the horrific events seem worse. When Meshak sees black slaves, for example. ‘It was human, wasn’t it? He licked his finger and smoothed it over the baby’s skin to see if the black would come off.’ The way that this baby is alienated because of his skin colour is shocking, and the way that Meshak innocently rubs him with his finger to see if the colour would come off shows the severity of the racism during this period.

Racism is also explored through Toby, a black orphan and Aaron’s best friend. Toby’s treatment at Mr. Gaddarn’s party is exceptionally saddening, as ‘the ladies adored him, and loved to bounce him on their knees, feed him sweets, and push their fingers under his turban to feel his extraordinarily crinkly hair.’ I never knew that black children were hired to be poked and prodded simply for entertainment during this time period, and, to say the least, it was appalling.

The characters of Alex and Thomas are two of my favourites in this novel. They both come from different worlds and yet are united through their love of music. I felt so sorry for Alex, as his father forbids him to follow his passion. I have to say though; there were times when I forgot Alex’s age and thought him as older, so the times when I was reminded of his age completely changed my image of him.

I also felt this way with Melissa, who, at the start of the book, is fourteen years old. She acts her age at the beginning, from joining in with her sibling’s games and experiencing her first period, but then also sleeps with Alex and gets pregnant. I could not imagine characters as naive as these having sex. Also, the fact that Melissa was able to conceal her entire pregnancy and birth is hard to believe tbh. There were moments when her youth was highlighted, such as when she thought she could raise her child at home without her parents noticing, not realising how noisy a baby could be, her focus on knitting cute little clothes for it. Not to mention her reaction to her growing ‘roundness’ and her disbelief when her maid informed her of her pregnancy. If anything, moments like this made it so much harder for me to believe this subplot.

I enjoyed Coram Boy, mainly because of the amount of history intertwined in this novel. Gavin covers a range of diverse perspectives when it comes to 18th century London, allowing the reader to explore this world in so many different ways. It’s a dark book that features some appalling attitudes amongst the characters, and Gavin conveys their beliefs in such a gripping way that you can’t help but feel shocked at some of the events. Aside from the issues regarding ages, I think this novel is beautifully written and an incredible read for both adults and children.

A Christmassy time in Bath

Bath is probably my favourite city that I’ve been to. I love its appearance and the fact that it’s full of creative people. The coffee shops aren’t bad either! It’s also known for its Christmas Market, and it isn’t hard to see why. With over 200 chalets, fake snow drifting over Southgate and a variety of carol singers, it’s hard not to get into the Christmas spirit.

I returned to Bath for two days to see the market, as well as some of my favourite places. I left feeling excited and Christmassy, a little nostalgic as well.

So, because I’m not quite finished with Bath yet, here’s a few of the places we visited.

Boston Tea Party

The entire two days were pouring down with rain, so when my boyfriend and I arrived, we hurried to one of my favourite coffee shops – Boston Tea Party. We visited the one on Alfred Street as it’s larger. I ordered the Raspberry Mallow Hot Chocolate, part of their festive menu, and my boyfriend had a mocha. And we both ordered brownies, as BTP’s brownies are the best, no question. The hot chocolate was incredible! The marshmallow-base made it thick, and it wasn’t too sweet either. I’ve never had anything from BTP’s Christmas menu before, but if they’re all as good as that hot chocolate, then I’m definitely going back for more.

Topping & Company

Bath has plenty of bookshops, which is one of the reasons why I love it. My favourite has to be Topping & Company. It’s jam packed with books, plus wheelie ladders to help you reach the top. They offer hot drinks while you browse, and sell signed editions of some of their books. I found a signed edition of The Penguin Classic Book, which is on my Christmas list! There was also a beautiful edition of Black Beauty that I found and was so tempted to buy. We sheltered from the rain in here, with a pot of Earl Grey and coffee.

The market

The market is spread throughout the streets of Bath, lights glowing in the evening sky. The chalets range from homeware to skincare, cheese to chocolate. Obviously, the latter two were my highlights. I bought two boxes of brownies from Chatley, vanilla fudge and honeycomb. The honeycomb brownies are incredible (I’m eating them now while writing this!), they are so chewy (the best type of brownie) and have large chunks of honeycomb, in each piece.

I also tried my first Baileys hot chocolate. I’ll admit it wasn’t my favourite; I didn’t understand the hype. At first, all I tasted was the burning taste of alcohol, but after a while, it calmed down, and the thick chocolate flavour took over. I did enjoy that part, but wouldn’t necessarily repurchase.

There was a beautiful stall, Meticulous Ink, that sold wax seals, bookmarks and fountain pens, to name a few. The woman running the stall was lovely, and I bought a beautiful bookmark based around Oscar Wilde. She has a store on Walcot Street, and I’m going to visit next time in Bath.

As expected at a Christmas market, we sampled a variety of vodkas (and my boyfriend tried quite a bit of gin as well), a chocolate flavoured one was my favourite. One of my highlights was that my twenty-six-year-old boyfriend, four years older than myself, got ID’d, had no ID, and so was not allowed to try any. More for me I guess?

Cosy Club

I went to Cosy Club so many times during uni. It is so sophisticated – expensive but worth the money. The cocktails are amazing, and the food is to die for. The staff are always cheery; you can’t leave here in a bad mood!

We came here for breakfast (although by the time we got there it was more lunch) and had the shakshuka, which is one of my favourite items on the menu. It’s warming and comes with toast, the perfect thing for a cold morning. Accompanied by excellent coffee, of course

Marina Cottage

A quick note on our b&b, Marina Cottage. Although we didn’t spend much time there, it was amazing. Underfloor heating, a breakfast bar, and books! There were little bookshelves next to the sofas with old editions of Penguin Classics. Including Wuthering Heights! I was so excited, and I hope to stay there again so that I can have more of a good read.

There was also a dishwasher, and the kitchen was stocked with tea, coffee and fresh milk in the fridge. It wasn’t adjourning any other building which was lovely, and we had two floors that we didn’t have to share.

Bath is still one of my favourite places to go, and I hope to return soon. Also, I’ll be visiting the market next year…hopefully (fingers crossed!).

The Diary of a Bookseller: my perfect bookshop

Where I live, there aren’t really a lot of options when it comes to bookshops. There was one, The Forest Bookshop, but that closed down, and other than that it’s just libraries. But even then they don’t have the greatest stock. Each city near me has a Waterstones which I love, but it’s not the same as an independent store full of hidden gems.

When I moved to Bath, I fell in love with the number of bookshops that I found. Topping & Company is my favourite, books of every genre imaginable, signed editions, events, all complete with a cup of tea to drink while you browse. It is the closest to my perfect bookshop that I’ve found so far.

I recently read The Diary of a Bookseller, and it got me thinking about what it’d be like to own a bookshop. How big would it be? Would it be second-hand, which genres would it sell? What would it look like?

I’ve written down some of the key characteristics that my bookshop would have, but I’m pretty sure they’ll change over time. Right now though it sounds like the perfect place for me to be right now, so warm and cosy and, of course, filled with books!

Tea and coffee station

There is a well known quote, ‘The secret to a well balanced life is a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other’, and it’s fair to say that no truer words have been spoken here. I want my bookshop to feel cosy and inviting, and the ultimate way to welcome someone is with a hot beverage. Served in the prettiests cups, all mix and match and related to books one way or another, in a variety of sizes (the biggest mugs will always be used for hot chocolates, served with cream and marshmallows, obviously) with a few biscuits or chunks of chocolates. Teapots for tea, and cafetieres for coffee.

Unless it’s a latte, in which case it shall be made with the most instagrammable coffee art ever.

Armchairs

One cannot be expected to walk around trying to carry a handful of books and a hot drink in my bookshop. Soft armchairs complete with throws will be dotted throughout the store.

A fireplace

I’m that type of person who is always cold, and so a fireplace is essential. My bookshop would be quite big, so there will be some heaters here and there as well, but the main space will have an extravagant fireplace to keep my bookshop warm. There wouldn’t be any music, so the crisp snap of a blazing fire will add to the cosy atmosphere. And it can easily be decorated for celebrations, like a wreath at Christmas or ‘cobwebs’ at Halloween.

Ladders

My bookshop will have more books than anyone can imagine, and visitors will need to reach them all.

One of my favourite scenes from Beauty and the Beast is when Belle is in the bookshop on a wheelie ladder that glides along the shelves. I think having a few of those will be perfect in my shop, and I’m sure bookworms would be very excited to see them. It adds a fun aspect to my bookstore.

Second hand books

My bookshop would consist of both new and used books. Even though I’m not a fan of used books myself just because I don’t like folded pages, creased bindings, etc, I love the idea of a book being passed from person to person in its life. And I don’t write in my books, but sometimes seeing other people’s annotations can be cool, especially if it has some sort of meaning.

Plus, coming from someone who has way too many books, second hand bookshops are a great way to get rid of books that you don’t have room for, so I’d love to help people clear their shelves!

Book recommendations

I love book recommendations. When it comes to finding a new read, blurbs aren’t helpful. I prefer it when someone says to me ‘If you like so-and-so, you’ll love this book!”. I’d have little signs or posters dotted around, swapping them regularly for different books. I’d also include one in every online newsletter that I’d write (Customers can sign up to them so they can hear about the bookish events I’d hold!).

Open from early in the morning until late in the evening

I’m talking maybe 8am-10pm. I remember at Bath leaving work at 6pm and everything would be closed. For those who have busier lives than me, how do they find time to run to their local bookshop? Plus, imagine spending a cold winter evening sat in a bookshop, next to the fire surrounded by endless cups of tea and books. I’d never leave.

Now that I have a plan, I just need to win the lottery to get the ball rolling.

Do you ever consider running a bookshop? What would it be like? What are your favourite stores to visit?

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald

The Christmas lights have switched on, and I was cradling a hazelnut and praline hot chocolate from Costa while on my way to consume my body weight in Wagamamas. I then followed this by watching one of the most anticipated films of the year; Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald.

Taking place not long after its predecessor, Grindelwald opens with an aerial chase through the night sky, complete with a carriage led by Thestrals and vicious thunderstorm. This dark and ominous scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, and I’m already excited to see what happens next.

I wasn’t sure what to think when I first heard that Johnny Depp was starring in Fantastic Beasts. I just couldn’t picture him as part of the Harry Potter franchise. To me, he belongs on The Black Pearl or at the tea parties in Wonderland. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald was hauntingly captivating, and he suited the character well. This role was not as out there as say, Jack Sparrow and the Mad Hatter; this was more solemn and serious. Depp did succeed in bringing out his darker side. I really liked his portrayal of the villain, and I look forward to seeing how he goes in the next film.

On the other hand, Jude Law as Dumbledore was nowhere near as convincing in my opinion. I found myself struggling to forget that this man was not the great and powerful wizard that we all know and love, but that famous actor from Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t learn anything new about Dumbledore nor was I taken back by any of his decisions. There was just no connection. Also, the fact that he was playing opposite Depp, who did an incredible job, made it slightly more noticeable.

The relationship between Queenie and Jacob remains one of my favourite parts of the saga. They’re just adorable! They’re delightful characters who offer a light break from the dark storylines, and, even when they are apart, they’re still enjoyable. Jacob and Newt’s friendship is sweet and comedic in places. Newt and Tina’s plotline is also refreshing, and watching Newt trying to make sense of his feelings, with the help of Jacob, is probably one of the cutest things to happen in this film.

As for the supporting cast, I did like them, but a few were standing out for the wrong reasons. I was looking forward to seeing Nagini and learning more about her, but she didn’t do much in the end. She was hanging about in the background, which rendered her completely unnecessary. There was no development, and I know no more than I already did.

I can also say this about Credence, who makes a return in this film. His character was flat. At first, I could understand his emotional state after what he endured in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but after a while, it became boring and repetitive. I felt that there needed to be a change in him somewhere, but I remained disappointed.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, but I’m not sure if I prefer it to the first one yet, I was moved and excited throughout, especially when Hogwarts appeared on the screen! Despite the few negatives, I still highly recommend it, even if its just to see Eddie Redmayne in his cute little bow tie again.