Monday, 28 October 2013

Book club choice for November

Have a look at the books up for vote this month. Pick your favourite and vote on Facebook, Twitter or comment below this blog. Feel free to add yourself to the Facebook group.

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J K Rowling)
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Octobers book of the month was the Booker winning The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. If you're reading that then you have til Sunday 3rd November. The vote for this months choice closes THIS FRIDAY Nov 1st.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

What have I been up to lately?

My last few blogs have mostly been reviews so I think it's about time I had an update on what has been going on with the shop and I.

Fargo Village has finally started. It has been on the drawing board for quite some time now and it's a relief to see a digger actually on site. It has begun. I was getting a little worried it might be quite some time before the doors are open, but now, since the start of October, it's a go!
OK, so it may still be a while yet, but hopefully if the winter is kind and I cross all fingers and toes I could open mid next year. That's probably the best case scenario. It is such a large project with several spaces being developed for all the new businesses occupying the village. My building is one of the first to be worked on. The question that needs to be discussed a little further is does Fargo Village, and my shop in particular (along with those in the same complex) open when our part is complete, or do we wait until all other areas are complete? I am firmly in the 'I WANT MY SHOP OPEN NOW!' camp. Whilst the building is complete, and the area around safe and fenced off, why wouldn't I want to start getting people in the shop? Those I've spoken to have the same feelings too. The people at Fargo, both tenants and project managers are very keen to do it right, and are open to many ideas so I can't see it being too much of a problem (famous last words?!).
Last night was the second FarGo Village tenants meeting held at The Tin in Coventry's canal basin. It was nice to speak a little more to the other tenants and get some info about setting up as a Social Enterprise. I've never owned a business before so it's all new to me and the options are quite confusing sometimes so to have a little more detail was appreciated. Ian Harrabin, the man who's idea FarGo was, graced us with his presence and told us a little about the entire Far Gosford Street, Gosford Street area and I was stunned hearing the history of the area. I had absolutely no idea the importance, globally too, of Coventry. I am planning on investigating further so that I have more details to pass on to you and the shop customers, and maybe have some history events going on in the shop. I'll be wondering a little more around the area that is for sure.

At the meeting, Hannah from Urban Coffee Co, one of FarGo's tenants, gave us a little talk on her business and how they have grown and adapted. They only set up in 2009 in Birmingham but have already 3 stores open with FarGo being the forth. Even though I will also be selling coffee and cake, I will be along to Urban Coffee to learn more about coffee beans and to take part in their events too! It's all a happy family at FarGo! Hannah brought along Steffan from Droplet. Droplet is a mobile app that lets you pay without using cash or card. It's like a wallet. FarGo is being talked about using this type of payment (along with Cash and card too) as another way to be forward thinking. Droplet is new and is being used in Birmingham and areas of London. I for one am championing the design and inventive new ways that the Village hope's to take.

As well as Fargo I will be attending a few local craft fairs. Both are at Stockingford Sports and Social. The first is on October 27th and the second on 8th December. I'll have books and hopefully some homemade Christmas decorations and cards for sale, all book themed, mainly thanks to my wife Heidi.

It has been quite difficult to get the website getting hits as bookshops are overtaken by Amazon, not to mention other online bookshops. I started adding my stock to the website about a year ago now, and that was my day-job, with about 50-100 added daily. I added every single book I had which I see in hindsight wasn't a great way. A lot of generic books, some worn quite badly, have been added. I have looked recently at just adding those that I think are something of a find. I have a mass of sci fi and fantasy books that are not your everyday find, plus I still have about 80% of my stock to even look through. From now til Christmas I'll be streamlining the site a little with quality rather than quantity. Please take the time to have a look at the shop website. If there is a book you want, or a certain author then I will do my best to find it for you.

Finally it was the Man Booker Prize last night. I love the prize as it showcases books I would not have heard of before and gets people talking about books. In the book club I run (join for free here!) we picked The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton as our book of the month to read and it just so happened to have won last night! I am able to get The Luminaries at a special price of £16 with free postage so if you fancy it, please let me know.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett is the 19th novel in the Discworld series. I am a massive Discworld and Pratchett fan and have read the Discworld novels in publication order (apart from Jingo, which was the 21st published) so this was my 20th Discworld novel and it was based on The City Watch, my favourite group of characters from the series. I'd even go as far as to say it was one of my favourites so far.

The City Watch is the Police Force of the main city on Discworld, Ankh-Morpork. Commander Vimes, Captain Carrot, Nobby, Colon, Detritus and Angua round out the main characters from previous City Watch Books, with a new recruit in the dwarf Cheery Littlebottom. Each one of these characters lives and breathes on the page, and they have done since his first book and Littlebottom is no different.
The City Watch

If you have never read a Discworld book before then try to imagine Monty Python in a fantasy land with wizards, trolls, humans with a tongue firmly in a cheek. Several times I laughed out loud (I always do with Pratchett).

The story of Feet of Clay revolves around a double murder. It's implicated that a Golem has killed the duo, but how can a Golem, who has no 'life', it's simply a machine, have any murderous tendancies? At the same time the marvellous Patrician (One of Discworlds rare sensible beings) has been poisoned. It's up to Vimes and The City Watch to find the culprit and bring them to justice.

In each Discworld book several figures pop up from time to time and new ones appear. I loved the introduction of a new character called Wee Mad Arthur, a 6 inch hard-as-nails Ratkiller gnome, with the face off of him vs a bull a hoot.
The Discworld - Great A'Tuin

It really was a joy to read, more so than normal. I've given it a huge 8.5 on the comfometer.

I urge you to read a Discworld novel. Publication date is not a great way to start tobe honest but I'm half way through now so I'm not stopping! The books are all in series eg The City Watch books, The Witches books, Wizards books etc, but they are all set on the Discworld, with characters appearing in other series. Have a look at the Terry Pratchett site for more.

One of my favourite Discworld books.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The local scene of Coventry and Warwickshire

In yesterdays Telegraph it was brought to my attention that there is a new book showing the UK's crappest towns. You know the type, the books that end up in The Works for £1.99 in a year. Well Nuneaton and Coventry both make the top 10 crap towns at 8 and 7. I also accidentally ended up on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire breakfast show on Thursday too as a local lady had stated she would never go to Coventry in a million years and I tweeted that I'll be moving my business there soon due to Fargo!

I'm going to start a new regular piece on the blog about what is GREAT about the area. From buildings and musicians, to parks and shops, to show that Coventry and Nuneaton isn't all concrete and charity shops.

As I live in Nuneaton it is actually a pretty sad state of affairs with no real new direction being made (new KFC! *sigh*), but the old Ritz Bingo hall is being talked about becoming a theatre or community space so hopefully soon will turn a corner.
It has only been in the past 2 years where I've seen a little more of Coventry and I, like the lady on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, thought it was a bit of a dump at first, but after spending a lot more time there, there is so much to do and so many great shops, all independent, it's an exciting time. Fargo Village will be the go-to place too.

In the shop I will have local acoustic music, or any music really, just not loud rock bands! My first 'Focus on' piece is on a band close to my heart.
It's me.
I've started with me just to get it out the way, and when I say me, I actually mean Jonathan Coates and I, also known as Barricades Rise.

We've been playing together over half our lifetime and mainly in and around Coventry and Warwickshire and we've played some magnificent venues. We'll no doubt grace the Bookshop stage a few times so here's a little song by us to show you what to expect.

For more on us visit, follow on twitter @barricadesrise and like on Facebook.

I'll be focusing on loads more musicians in later blogs, but just wanted to ease you in.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong - Guest blog by Rachel Ritchie

When I was about fourteen, I read an article in Cosmopolitan that mentioned Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I had never heard of the book, nor of Jong, but thought it sounded interesting, particularly as it was being held up as a feminist classic. A day or two later, I came across another reference to Fear of Flying and took this as a sign that I must read it. I duly checked a copy out of Nuneaton library. I noticed the librarian looking at me a bit askance while she stamped it (remember the days when library books were stamped by a person, not scanned by a machine?). By the time I’d settled down that evening and read a few pages, I realised why she had cocked an eyebrow at me and my book choice: Fear of Flying was rude! Well, it seemed ‘rude’ to my rather green teenage self as its pages are peppered with strong swear words and discussions of sex. Despite my shock, the journey of the protagonist, Isadora, had me hooked. I wanted to know more about her life. I needed to see where Jong would take her. So I continued, albeit with the book held so close to my face that my parents must have thought I was developing long-sightedness; I was worried that they would glance at it over my shoulder and decide that it was unsuitable, so I took to surreptitious reading and vowed to not mention it to anyone – especially family members or teachers.

Many reviews of Fear of Flying concentrate exclusively on what I naively labelled ‘rude’ elements. Whilst acknowledged as a key text in second wave feminism, it is also pigeon-holed as being all about sex. Recent editions have played to such assessments, using images such as a half-unzipped banana on the cover. In an updated introduction, Jong recounts an incident when her daughter confronted her with classmates’ accusations that she wrote pornography; Jong gives her a copy and tells her to judge for herself. She does not share what her daughter’s assessment was, but there is no doubt in my mind that there is so much more to Fear of Flying than titillation. Accusations of pornography have long been thrown at any expression of women’s desires and sexuality, usually in an attempt to silence voices that threaten the gender status quo.

Focusing solely on its visceral aspects is simply one way to avoid the more challenging aspects of this novel, particularly its questioning of marriage, an institution that dominates Western understandings of love, intimacy and family as much now as when the book was first published in 1973. Fear of Flying tells the story of Isadora’s flight from her marriage and her ensuing jaunt around Europe, largely but not exclusively in the company of her older lover. In the course of her travels, we also learn of Isadora’s life up until that point. Whilst sexual encounters are undoubtedly a fundamental part of this recounting and her European adventure, Fear of Flying is also a broader exploration of female identity, freedom and independence. It is ultimately about Isadora’s voyage of self-discovery. Unlike in comparable novels such as Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, the central protagonist is not punished for transgressing acceptable feminine norms, yet at the same time Fear of Flying offers a conclusion with no easy answers for either Isadora or the reader. The unflinching deconstruction of so-called ‘romantic love’ evident from the outset continues even on the last page, with Jong eschewing the conventional happy ending and instead providing an ambiguous final scene. Almost twenty years after I first read it, I still struggle with this. I don’t want ambiguity; I want a definite answer as to what happens to Isadora in the end. Perhaps, though, this is the point: in our journey to find ourselves, there is no definitive ending until we die.

Many thanks to Rachel Ritchie for this great post! Go and visit her website at and follow her on twitter at @rae_ritchie_

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My first foray into Audiobooks was the children's classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Frances Hodgson Burnett

The beauty of the audiobook is that I can 'read' it whilst I'm doing other things, mostly driving, but you knew that anyway. Yes I'm late to the game. I only put it on when I knew I'd be listening to it and not concentrating on several things at once. I came across this audiobook via the app simply called Audiobooks and streamed it direct from my phone. It is part of the huge library on

It was read by Kara Shallenberg and as my first audiobook I found her tones were simple and didn't take me out of the story, although an American woman pulling off an old man's Yorkshire accent was startling at first! But she did it!

I picked The Secret Garden first as I always remembered a film version of it from my childhood but I could never reach those memories, and it turns out I made a lot of it up in my head.
The brash, rude 10 year old Mary is our eyes into her new English world, having been brought up in India by maids. Left alone in her new surroundings she is expected to live life like a child yet, she is so used to everything being done for her including dressing that it's a shock. The idea of 'playing' is alien to her but bit by bit she investigates the huge mansion and gardens, and one such garden in particular.

The garden has been locked up for 10 years and the mystery awakens Mary's sense of adventure. In India she had no friends and no inclination to speak to anyone but now in England she is slowly warming to becoming a child, and finding her childlike tendencies of inquisitiveness.
Leaves and things. It's a garden. And looks secretish.
These tendencies leads her to the young boys Dickon, the maid Martha's brother and keen gardener and later on, Colin, the master of the house's sickly demanding son. There is almost a chain in the relationships with Dickon very placid and calm, teaching Mary how to grow, both in the garden and emotionally, then Mary doing the same to Colin.

I enjoyed the book very much. At around two thirds of the way through I became a little frustrated at the pace, as I was enjoying the relationship between Mary and Dickon but it focuses more on Colin. It was written for children and if I'd had read it when I was 10 or so then it would have captivated me all the way through.

A healthy 6.5 on the comfometer


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The great thing about running a book club is that I get to pick the book, or at least have it up for vote. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a book I've wanted to read for ages yet never got round to but with it being victorious in the vote, I gladly sat down and devoured it.
The Book Thief by Dean the cat
One reason for picking it is also there is a film version out very soon and i didn't want to taint my experience of the source material. The book is based in Germany at the start of World War II but instead of focusing on the army or the war, it picks it's lead as an 11 year old girl off to live with her foster parents. The war is simply a backdrop to her life. Another expert twist is that the whole book is seen through the eyes of, and narrated by, Death.

Liesel, the girl in question, has a wicked start to her story, with her younger brother dying in the first few pages and her distant yet lovable mother leaving not long after. Her brother leans heavily on her conscience and moulds her character throughout the book. At her brothers funeral she comes across a book, The Grave Diggers manual and, unable to read but wanting to find something to hold on to, she takes it. The first of many.

When Liesel finally arrives at her adoptive parents this is where the book takes off. The characters are full of life. Her 'Father' Hans and 'Mother' Rosa create a world of discipline, safety, love and freedom, with Liesel's love growing each day for Hans, who each night helps Liesel read. Rudy, the boy a few doors down and best friend is captivated by Liesel and the pair are in love more or less from the start, but the young love that children find. Although with little food and in the slums of Germany, the pair, along with other kids, make the best, with Rudy and Liesel becoming expert thieves, plotting schemes, capturing adolescence perfectly.

The war is far away from her home of Himmel Street but at several points it creeps in with a procession of Jews appearing more often, and Hans's son putting all his faith in the Fuhrer. Promises made 20 years ago haunt the family but also open them up to a life much more colourful and rewarding.

I loved this book from page 1. It was harrowing, tense, depressing yet uplifting too. I have never cried at a book but I had a lump in my throat at one specific part. It is a book that, very cleverly, revealed everything about Liesel's future life due to the narration from Death, way before the book was over, in fact about a third of the way through we find out the ending. Even when we know what's coming, the way Markus Zusak pulls no punches and uses symbolism choked me.

I've given The Book Thief a massive 9 cushions on the Comfometer. I miss these characters.


PS The trailer for the film is a bit too syrupy for me.