March 2023 in Books

March 2023 in Books

I need to read a little faster or slow down the book buying (maybe a bit of both!). I bought more books this month than I had realised.

Books Bought

Having dropped Mum off at an appointment, I decided to pop into The Bookshop in Montgomery. It’s only a small bookshop, but I rarely come out of there empty-handed. Sometimes I come out of the bookshop with a greeting card or two, sometimes I come out with a bag of books… This time I came out with a bag of books! It was a few days before Mother’s Day so one of the books was for Mum (though I’m hoping to borrow it after she’s read it), but the other two were for me. For myself, I bought Sarn Helen by Tom Bullough and The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn. I hadn’t heard of The Smallest Man before, but the story (inspired by a true story) had me intrigued, and Sarn Helen had been on my radar for a short while as it’s about a journey through Wales. Oh, and while I was in The Bookshop I grabbed a copy of Booktime – a free magazine for independent booksellers to give to their book-loving customers (so UK readers, go to your favourite independent bookseller and get your copy!).

A stack of books.
Books I bought in March 2023:
The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
Sarn Helen by Tom Bullough
Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch
Limitless by Tim Peake
Plus e-books:
The Auschwitz Photographer by Luca Crippa & Maurizio Onnis
Landlines by Raynor Winn
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

British astronaut Tim Peake has been touring the UK with his My Journey To Space show so I took Dad to see it at Shrewsbury on Sunday, 12th March. It was very interesting to hear Tim speak about how he got to be an astronaut (his life began mirroring a series of Tom Cruise films, from Cocktail to Top Gun!) and about his time on the International Space Station. I took the opportunity to buy both a signed programme and a signed copy of his Limitless book while I was there.

My Tim Peake signed programme, hardback book and ticket.
My signed programme, signed hardback book and ticket from Tim Peake’s My Journey To Space show.

I then went on an e-book shopping spree having spotted some bargains on Kindle (I paid no more than £1.99 per book). I got The Auschwitz Photographer by Luca Crippa & Maurizio Onnis, Landlines by Raynor Winn and The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

It was just the one charity shop bargain book this month. I bagged a copy of Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch at a charity shop in Oswestry for £1.50. Not only is it signed, but it also includes a short story called ‘Favourite Uncle’. It’s not my first signed book of Ben’s though as I’ve been lucky enough to meet him a few times at various book events.

Books Read

Books I read in March 2023:
Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins
Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth
The Auschwitz Photographer by Luca Crippa & Maurizio Onnis

Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth
(Published by Hutchinson Heinemann)

Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth
Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth

“Behind the spectacle there are always secrets.

Unruly crowds descend on Crillick’s Variety Theatre. A black, British actress, Zillah, is headlining tonight. An orphan from the slums of St Giles, her rise to stardom is her ticket out – to be gawped and gazed at is a price she’s willing to pay.

Rising up the echelons of society is everything Zillah has ever dreamed of. But when a new stage act disappears, Zillah is haunted by a feeling that something is amiss. Is the woman in danger?

Her pursuit of the truth takes her into the underbelly of the city – from gas-lit streets to the sumptuous parlours of Mayfair – as she seeks the help of notorious criminals from her past and finds herself torn between two powerful admirers.

Caught in a labyrinth of dangerous truths, will Zillah face ruin – or will she be the maker of her fate?

A deliciously immersive tale, Theatre of Marvels whisks you on an unforgettable journey across Victorian London in this bold exploration of race, class and gothic spectacle.”

Theatre of Marvels is Lianne Dillsworth’s debut novel, but I would never have guessed that! The story immediately drew me in with its atmospheric nature and I felt I was there experiencing it all with Zillah in Victorian London. The book touched upon topics such as racism, class, poverty, colonialism and slavery, and has a diverse cast of characters (some you love, others you hate!). 

Whether you enjoy historical fiction or theatre, Theatre of Marvels is a thoroughly good read!

The Auschwitz Photographer by Luca Crippa & Maurizio Onnis, translated by Jennifer Higgins
(Published by Transworld Digital)

The Auschwitch Photographer
The Auschwitch Photographer

“When Germany invaded Wilhelm Brasse’s native Poland in 1939, he was asked to swear allegiance to Hitler and join the Wehrmacht. He refused. He was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp as political prisoner number 3444. A trained portrait photographer, he was ordered by the SS to record the inner workings of the camp. He began by taking identification photographs of prisoners as they entered the camp, went on to capture the criminal medical experiments of Josef Mengele, and also recorded executions. Between 1940 and 1945, Brasse took around 50,000 photographs of the horror around him. He took them because he had no choice.”

I did not doubt that this would be an emotional read from the moment I picked it up. My love for photography and an inability to turn away from the atrocities of the Nazis meant this was a must-read for me. It is not for the faint-hearted.

One story of a man whose tattoo Wilhelm was ordered to photograph caused me to pause and contemplate the horror of it all. The Holocaust is incomprehensible and no matter how many books I read or documentaries I watch about it, it never fails to shock me.

Please read The Auschwitz Photographer. The Holocaust should never be forgotten.

Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins
(Published by Doubleday)

Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes
Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins (Waterstones Deluxe Signed Exclusive Edition)

“At the time of his death in 2015, award-winning and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett was working on his finest story yet – his own.

The creator of the phenomenally bestselling Discworld series, Terry Pratchett was known and loved around the world for his hugely popular books, his smart satirical humour and the humanity of his campaign work. But that’s only part of the picture.

Before his untimely death, Terry was writing a memoir: the story of a boy who aged six was told by his teacher that he would never amount to anything and spent the rest of his life proving him wrong. For Terry lived a life full of astonishing achievements: becoming one of the UK’s bestselling and most beloved writers, winning the prestigious Carnegie Medal and being awarded a knighthood.

Now, the book Terry sadly couldn’t finish has been written by Rob Wilkins, his former assistant, friend and now head of the Pratchett literary estate. Drawing on his own extensive memories, along with those of the author’s family, friends and colleagues, Rob unveils the full picture of Terry’s life – from childhood to his astonishing writing career, and how he met and coped with what he called the ‘Embuggerance’ of Alzheimer’s disease.”

I remember where I was when I heard that Terry Pratchett had died back in 2015. Earlier that day I had been looking at a couple of his Discworld books in Goldsboro Books in London. I’m still working my way through the Discworld series, not really wanting it to end.

Anyone who’s read any of the Discworld books will be familiar with Terry’s love of using footnotes throughout the books, and, of course, the use of them in his biography is no different. In fact, footnotes take up a good 10% of the book! Rob knew Terry so well that this almost felt like an autobiography.

A Life With Footnotes is a rollercoaster. It’s touching, amusing, interesting and just so Terry. Towards the end, I knew what was coming and yet the tears streamed down my face as I read it. Still, through the tears came the laughing. Yes, Terry can still make me laugh even after he’s taken Death’s arm.

Terry’s imagination was outstanding. Even suffering from the “embuggerance” of Alzheimer’s disease, Terry’s imagination shone through. This is such a cruel world that it would take away such a talented man before his time and with so much more to share with us. However…

In Reaper Man, Terry wrote “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away” and so Terry lives on in his 40+ books and the memories and minds of his family and friends.

Books Listened To

Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain’s Top Forensic Pathologist by Dr Richard Shepherd
(Published by Penguin Audio)

Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd (Audiobook)
Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd (Audiobook)

“‘The dead do not hide the truth and they never lie. Through me the dead can speak….’

He solves the mysteries of unexplained or sudden death.

He has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including investigating some of the most high-profile cases of recent times; the Hungerford Massacre, the Princess Diana inquiry, and 9/11.

He has faced serial killers, natural disasters, ‘perfect murders’ and freak accidents.

His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads.

Yet all this has come at a huge personal cost.

Written and narrated by Dr Richard Shepherd, Unnatural Causes tells the story of not only the cases and bodies that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.”

Unnatural Causes is a great insight into the life and work of a Forensic Pathologist. I had heard of many of the cases which Dr Richard Shepherd had worked on, but there were others that I had not heard of. He explains the process he goes through to determined how each person has died, as well as how he comes to his conclusions (for instance, he can work out whether a person has been stabbed by someone else or if they have done it to themselves!). I cannot imagine what he must have seen during the course of his work, but this book tells of the toll that it has taken.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in true crime or forensics!

———

Still Standing by Paul O’Grady

Sadly, once again I’m ending this with a tribute. On Wednesday morning I woke up to the sad news that comedian, presenter and drag queen, Paul O’Grady (and alter ego Lily Savage) had died at the age of 67.

I was lucky enough to meet Paul in 2012 at An Evening with Paul O’Grady for the release of the third instalment of his autobiography, Still Standing: The Savage Years. Paul was one of a kind, good-natured and hilarious, with many stories to tell. If you’ve never read his books, start with At My Mother’s Knee… and Other Low Joints, then The Devil Rides Out: The Second Coming, followed by Still Standing: The Savage Years and Open The Cage, Murphy, but don’t forget Paul O’Grady’s Country Life! He really did lead an interesting and varied life.

37 comments

  1. Carol says:

    You collected an interesting assortment of books this month. I would have enjoyed hearing the astronaut speak too. I hope April is a wonderful month for enjoying spring and a few books.

  2. I agree Paul O’Grady was one of the good ones. I haven’t come across The Auschwitz Photographer, but last month’s book group discussed A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal about surviving Auschwitz as a child. Because he wrote it through the eyes of his younger self it came across as strangely detached and matter-of-fact.

  3. A great eclectic selection this month.

    I have actually had to stop myself going into either bookshops or charity shops in the past few months, as I have more than enough books to read to last me a lifetime. That doesn’t stop me looking longingly through the windows as I pass by, but so far I have stayed strong 🙂

    There was one book in particular from your pile which caught my eye, and that was ‘The Lost Apothecary’ by Sarah Penner. The premise sounds really good, as does her second novel ‘The London Seance Society’ Both are heading for my ‘wish list’

    Thanks for sharing and happy April reading 🙂

    • Nikki says:

      I’ve got tickets for a couple of author events this month, so there’s definitely going to be more books bought this month (the one ticket includes a book!).

        • Nikki says:

          Yes! Most of Booka’s events include a book in the ticket price, but they also do tickets without a book (in case you’re going as a couple and you just want the one book between you).

  4. Kris P says:

    I think I “need” to read ‘Theater of Marvels’ 😉 Visiting book stores has always been an expensive proposition for me. Purchasing digital books online has reduced the amount I spend, even though I average at least one book every 2 weeks. The only books I buy in hardback now are garden-related, which is good as my book shelves are already full. I used to borrow “audible books” from the library in massive numbers to accompany me on my long commutes to and from work – I miss them as these days my commutes are generally both short and irregular.

  5. Kelly says:

    I’m intrigued by Theatre of Marvels and Unnatural Causes. I’ll have to see what my options are for both.

    I’m curious about a couple you bought, too, so get busy reading so I can hear more about them next month!

  6. What a lovely – but sad – coincidence that you have featured Paul’s third book. A while ago I got all five books to read in sequence, got halfway through this one and didn’t pick it up again as I really have to be in the mood for reading. I was stunned when I learned of his death, I so wish I’d had the opportunity to meet him. His books are on the shelf in front of me now, I think I’ll read the first two again rather than pick up where I left off.

    • Nikki says:

      Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, the narrator of the Rivers of London series, was at a book event with Ben Aaronovitch at Piccadilly Waterstones a few years back. He signed a book for me, alongside Ben.

  7. Lorrie says:

    So many interesting books! One of our Canadian astronauts, Chris Hadfield, spoke at a teacher’s conference I attended. It was fascinating. He also wrote a book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Becoming an astronaut is not for the fainthearted.

  8. lisl says:

    What an interesting article, Nikki. It is always enlightening to see what others are reading. Like you, I am an avid reader, and can never catch up with all the books I buy.

  9. Jo says:

    I always enjoy reading a book review, I end up putting so many more books on my wish list from the reviews I read on blogs. Unnatural Causes sounds right up my street, I love true crime and how it’s solved. Very sad about Paul O’Grady, gone far too soon.

  10. Anca says:

    I loved Unnatural causes, a fantastic book. For me, explaining what happens after death helped me when my dog died and he looked like his lips were moving. The doctor said it is a natural reaction and I immediately remembered what I read in the book. It helped me in a very emotional and sad time to come to terms faster.

    The Auschwitz Photographer sounds really good. I read maybe a bit too much on Auschwitz and I feel I need a break before reading another book. I would like to read stories from other camps too, as they differ.

  11. Ann says:

    You still read way more than I did, and I too keep on buying more books and building a high-rise tower for reading material!
    Theatre of Marvels definitely sounds like my cup of tea, and I will keep a look out for The Auschwitz Photographer too. You’re so right, the Holocaust simply cannot be forgotten! xxx

  12. Lauren says:

    I haven’t heard of any of these. I like to get recommendations. However, I have to finish reading what I already have first.

    Thank you for sharing. Have a great April!

    Lauren

  13. Barbara says:

    Hi Nikki
    You have a great selection here. I‘ve just added The Auschwitz Photographer and The Smallest Man to my wanted books list. I had not heard about either of them previously so thank you.
    I wonder if you’ve read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn? It’s about a journey through Cornwall. I loved it so much that I finished it and immediately read it again.
    Hope you are well. Barbara x

  14. What a wonderful and varied selection of books you have to read and have read. I am intrigued by Unnatural Causes I will look that one out. Have you read Written in Bones by Sue Black I read that recently, fascinating book.

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