Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Small Worlds (Caleb Azumah Nelson)

This novel = vibes, tears and sunshine

★★★★★ – CALSPIE 9.86

Title: Small Worlds
Author: Caleb Azumah Nelson
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 11 May 2023
Edition:  e-ARC, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

FROM THE BLURB: Set over the course of three summers, Small Worlds follows Stephen, a first-generation Londoner born to Ghanian immigrant parents, brother to Ray, and best friend to Adeline. On the cusp of big life changes, Stephen feels pressured to follow a certain path—a university degree, a move out of home—but when he decides instead to follow his first love, music, his world and family fractures in ways he didn’t foresee. Now Stephen must find a path and peace for himself: a space he can feel beautiful, a space he can feel free.


Though having had the author’s debut novel Open Water on my radar for the longest time, I have not gotten round to reading it yet. When there was the chance to read this early, I jumped at the chance, with the gut feeling I was going to love it. I was right, I did absolutely love it.

At the heart of this novel is the relationship between Stephen and his father, but this is not only a story about a father and a son, it’s a story of growth and love in many forms. And maybe above all, it’s a story of first and second generation British Ghanaians, the hope, the reality, the smells and the sounds. It was absolutely beautiful!

The writing is exquisite. The author uses repetition of phrases to perfection and every time certain sentences were repeated they buried themselves deeper into my heart and feels. He manages to get across the vibes perfectly; the heady feeling of summer, when everything feels possible, the frustration and love you can only have with family, the grief of loss. There was poetry in the words and he managed to created imagery in my head seemingly effortlessly.

This book made me smile and made me cry. It made me bathe in the summer sun and crushed my heart, only to make it whole again.

I will absolutely buy a copy of this book, as well as his debut novel.

5 out 5 stars



  • Characters: 10
  • Ambience: 10
  • Language: 10
  • Story: 10
  • Pacing: 9.5
  • Interest: 9.5
  • Enjoyment: 10

Books · Poetry · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Pablo Neruda)

A Chilean poet who knew how to paint pictures with words

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.14

Title: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
Original Title: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada
Author: Pablo Neruda
Narrator: W S Merwin (from Spanish)
Genre: Poetry
First published: 1924
Edition: Paperback, published in 2004 by Penguin Classics

FROM THE BLURB: Drawn from the most intimate and personal of associations, Pablo Neruda’s most beloved collection of poetry juxtaposes the exuberance of youthful passion with the desolation of grief, the sensuality of the body with the metaphorical nuances of nature.


This is a little book of poetry that is well worth reading. I went into it expecting to love it a lot as I had loved a larger selection of poetry that I read a while back. And I did like it, but I did not fall in love with this, his most famous work.

Reading back my review on his other work that I read, I think I understand why. I write that it took me a while to get into his work, that his work is very visual for me and that I need to let those images tell the story, rather than the words. I think this collection was a little too short for me to properly get into the vibe of his poetry, or maybe it was not quite the right moment, eventhough I did enjoy it quite a bit. I think at another moment, it may hit more of the right snares.

Still, Neruda wrote poetry with a clear passion and a love for words and imagery that I appreciate. I think this small collection has a clear purpose, to celebrate love and longing. I like that, but it also made the poems themselves not really stand out from one another. They tell a story, or rather an emotion, a vibe, as a whole.

So yes, I liked it, even loved parts, but it did not quite make my heart sing. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it will do so on another day at another time.

On a side note, the added images by Pablo Picasso were a nice touch, as well as the fact that this is a dual language edition, which is always my preference with translated works.

4 out of 5 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 3 May 2023

The days are FINALLY warming up and I am doing a quick WWW this morning as we’re going away for a couple of days. Much needed!

WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?



My main read at the moment is Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I kept meaning to pick up Open Water by the same author as I had heard such good things, but I just never got around to it. When I saw this one up for request at NetGalley I jumped at the chance. I am about a third of the way in and so far I absolutely love it. The writing is wonderful and just jumps off the page.

My audio book is The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I am really enjoying that one, but I have not been listening to my audio book much as my daughter is on her school holidays.


In the past week I did not finish much. I read On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, which I loved. I started reading Dragonfall by L R Lam, but I did not get on with it and ended up DNF 25% in. Finally, I read two poetry books; District and Circle by Seamus Heaney, which I was not that fond of, and Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda. I have not written my thoughts up for the latter yet. I will likely do that when I come back from our trip away. However, the gist of my thoughts on that one is that I did really like it, but that I wasn’t blown away by it.


I will mood-read off my TBR, so I don’t quite know which one I will pick up yet.


Have a great week!

Books · Poetry · Reviews

(poetry) Book Thoughts: District and Circle (Seamus Heaney)

For now these poems are mostly not for me

★★★☆☆ – CALSPIE 6.36

Title: District and Circle
Author: Seamus Heaney
Genre: Poetry
First published: 2006
Edition: Paperback, published by Faber & Faber

In their haunted, almost visionary clarity, these poems assay the weight and worth of what has been held in the hand and in the memory. Scenes from a childhood spent far from the horrors of World War II are colored by a strongly contemporary sense that “Anything can happen,” and other images from the dangerous present–a fireman’s helmet, a journey on the Underground, a melting glacier–are fraught with this same anxiety. 


This is my fourth work by this poet and my thoughts remain pretty much the same, especially compared to his other poetry collection that I read (Wintering Out).

There are aspects of Heaney’s poetry that I like and some of the poems do speak to me, but the majority leave me completely cold. Often the subject matter is not quite as interesting as I want it to be or I struggle finding the rhythm in the words.

Still, the poems I like I actually really like, but I am not sure whether that is enough to see out more of his work.

For now, I think Seamus Heaney and me are not quite getting on. Maybe another time, another day, I may try again. I will keep this on my shelf just in case.

3.25 out of 5 stars

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: On a Sunbeam (Tillie Walden)

A wonderful graphic novel with stunning artwork!

★★★★☆ 1/2 – CALSPIE 8.79

Title: On a Sunbeam
Author/Artist: Tillie Walden
Genre: Graphic Novel / Fiction / Science Fiction
First published: 2018
Edition: Hardback, published by Avery Hill Publishing in 2018

Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.


When I struggled to keep my mind focused on an ordinary format novel, I decided to pick up this graphic novel that was waiting for me in a pile. It was the best decision I could have made. The beautiful art kept my attention, whilst the story was strong enough to read almost in one go. Absolutely just what I needed!

So, the best thing first. The art – absolutely stunning! The colours were perfect and I especially loved the full page artwork scattered throughout. It was a simply a joy and looking at it made me very happy.

As for the story itself, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was confusing every now and then and you are just dumped into the story having no idea what the world is all about, but I think that is half the fun. I decided to just go with it and not even try to understand how the hell this universe would work. As obviously it doesn’t really matter. It really is a story about relationships and belonging and the world that surrounds the main characters is the just the beautiful, fantastical backdrop.

Graphic novels will never be my favourite format, but I do feel like I should dip my toe in a bit more often, especially when the artwork is this beautiful.

This was a joy to read and gawk at.

4.5 out of 5 stars



  • Characters: 8.5
  • Ambience/Art: 9.5
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 8.5
  • Pacing: 9
  • Interest: 8.5
  • Enjoyment: 9.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Apothecary Rose (Candace Robb)

A re-read of a medieval murder mystery set in York

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.00

Title: The Apothecary Rose (Owen Archer #1)
Author: Candace Robb
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
First published: 1993
Edition: Mass Market Paperback, published by Arrow Fiction in 1997

Christmastide, 1363-and, at an abbey in York, two pilgrims die mysteriously dead of an herbal remedy. Suspicious, the Archbishop sends for Owen Archer, a Welshman with the charm of the devil, who’s lost one eye to the wars in France and must make a new career as an honest spy.


I really needed the comfort of a re-read and I had been meaning to re-start this series to finally read the series as a whole for ages. It felt like the right time!

I think my feelings for this book have not changed. It has flaws, but I just enjoyed the read. Mostly. The only thing that bothers me in a real sort of way is the way the author portrays being gay in this book. It really comes across as a bad thing. I guess it would have been in this time period, so the way she wrote it may well have been accurate to the time, but it still rubbed me up the wrong way.

Apart from that, I just kind of really enjoyed the read. I didn’t have to think too hard, but it was still intelligently written. I will definitely be continuing the series.

4 out of 5 stars


CALSPIE*: 8.00

  • Characters: 8.5
  • Ambience: 8.5
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 8
  • Pacing: 7.5
  • Interest: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 8
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes (James Acaster)

Just a fun listen – just as it should be!

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.14

Title: James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes
Author/Narrator: James Acaster
 Non-Fiction / Memoir / Comedy
First published: 2017
Edition: Audio

James Acaster is a man perpetually getting into trouble. Whether it’s disappointing a skydiving instructor mid-flight, hiding from thugs in a bush wearing a bright red dress, or annoying the Kettering Board Games club, a didgeridoo-playing conspiracy theorist and some bemused Christians, James is always finding new ways to embarrass himself. Appearing on Josh Widdicombe’s radio show to recount these stories, the feature was christened ‘James Acaster’s classic scrapes’.


I just fancied something light and fun to listen to and although I had this one on my Kindle, I figured it would make a good audio book. I am happy to say I was right!

This was the perfect palate cleanser inbetween classics. I generally enjoy Acaster’s comedy and personality, so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. It is basically just him telling the reader about his life through a series of anecdotes about all sorts of trouble that he got himself into.

I liked the tone and stories. Nothing too crazy or over the top. Just a really fun listen. Basically just what I expected. Nothing more and nothing less. I guess that is a good thing?!

4 out of 5 stars


CALSPIE*: 8.14

  • Characters: 8
  • Ambience: 8
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 8
  • Pacing: 8
  • Interest: 8.5
  • Enjoyment: 9
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Drinkers of the Wind (Carl R Raswan)

A memoir about horses, travel and adventure in the Arabian desert

★★★★★ – CALSPIE 9.86

Title: Drinkers of the Wind
Author: Carl R Raswan
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Travel
First published: 1942
Edition: Hardback, published by Creative Age Press in 1943

Carl Reinhard Raswan (7 March 1893 – 14 October 1966), born Carl Reinhard Schmidt, was one of the greatest connoisseurs and patrons of the asil Arabian horse. He authored numerous books on Arabian horses and the Bedouin people who raised them. He advocated tolerance and understanding of Bedouin ways of life and culture in Arabia. This is an exciting yet moving true story of this man’s life and travels with nomadic Arabs and their world famous Arabian horses.


This book sat on my shelf for close to twenty years, waiting for the time to be right to read it. I knew I would love it, that it would me kind of book, perfectly aligning with my interests. Why did I wait so long to read it? I don’t know. I don’t regret that I did, because right at this moment in time it was just what I needed.

This book follows the author as he leaves his home in Germany to pursue his fascination with the Arabian world and more specifically the Arabian horse. What follows is an account of travel in the 1920s and details of his stay in Egypt and later with Bedouin tribes in the Arabian desert.

Raswan writes beautifully and romantically and I could almost see and smell the desert. Although this book is about horses, it is more so about the way of life of the Bedouin. You get a sense of the kind of people they are and the way they live their brutal lives. There are passages that would not have been out of place in an Indiana Jones movie!

Even for someone without much affinity for horses, but with an interest in travel, this would be a great. You really get a sense of wonder for seeing new countries and cultures in a time when travel was still an adventure. There’s something very romantic about trains and steamers and camels.

I adore this book as much as I expected to and I will treasure it always. Now it’s for me to go on a hunt for his other (out of print) books. I don’t think I will forget his account of these tough desert people, camels and horses. I wonder how much of this way of life still exists, if it does at all.

5 out of 5 stars


CALSPIE*: 9.86

  • Characters: 10
  • Ambience: 10
  • Language: 9.5
  • Story: 10
  • Pacing: 9.5
  • Interest: 10
  • Enjoyment: 10

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Silver Under Nightfall (Rin Chupeco)

So there are vampire novels out there that I do like!

★★★★★ (4.75) – CALSPIE 9.36

Title: Silver Under Nightfall
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2022
Edition: Hardback, published by Saga Press in 2022

Remy Pendergast is many things: the only son of the Duke of Valenbonne (though his father might wish otherwise), an elite bounty hunter of rogue vampires, and an outcast among his fellow Reapers. His mother was the subject of gossip even before she eloped with a vampire, giving rise to the rumors that Remy is half-vampire himself. Though the kingdom of Aluria barely tolerates him, Remy’s father has been shaping him into a weapon to fight for the kingdom at any cost. When a terrifying new breed of vampire is sighted outside of the city, Remy prepares to investigate alone. But then he encounters the shockingly warmhearted vampire heiress Xiaodan Song and her infuriatingly arrogant fiancé, vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who may hold the key to defeating the creatures—though he knows associating with them won’t do his reputation any favors. When he’s offered a spot alongside them to find the truth about the mutating virus Rot that’s plaguing the kingdom, Remy faces a choice. It’s one he’s certain he’ll regret.


I was a little hesitant going into this one. I had heard such good things and had been persuaded by good reviews and the stunning cover, but well aware that I normally do not get on that well with vampire stories. You can imagine how glad I was that me taking a chance on this book had been completely the right thing to do!

I loved this book. The fact that this vampire story is set in a fantasy world rather than a contemporary urban type setting really helped me I think. It meant I could just submerge myself in the world and the story and not worry about the details that don’t make sense to my strange brain.

It took me about 30 pages to get into the story, but I soon really enjoyed Remy as a main character as well as his vampire companions. A minor complaint is that I felt their characters could have been fleshed out a little bit more, but with the way the story was written it did work.

There were horror elements in this book, but though some of it was a bit gross, it was nothing I could not handle. The same could be said for the sex in this book. Not it was gross at all, but just that it didn’t go over the top. In fact, there was more description regarding the horror elements than the sex, something I actually really appreciated. Definitely bonus points for non-cringy sex scenes that weren’t overly descriptive. It’s a fine line! As with horror. It’s a fine line between what I can handle and what I can’t! This was fine.

I will definitely be reading the next book, which I think is due out some time this year.

This was a really fun novel that worked surprisingly well for me.

4.75 out of 5 stars



  • Characters: 9
  • Ambience: 9.5
  • Language: 9
  • Story: 9.5
  • Pacing: 9.5
  • Interest: 9.5
  • Enjoyment: 9.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell)

Just a tad boring

★★★☆☆ – CALSPIE 6.21

Title: Cranford
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
 Prunella Scales
 Fiction / Classic
First published: 1853
Edition: Audio book & paperback

Mary Smith and her friends live in Cranford, a town predominantly inhabited by women. The return of a long-lost brother named Peter is the most dramatic event to occur over the course of the sixteen tales that comprise the novel. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford is an ironic portrayal of female life in a secluded English village.


Maybe after really enjoying Wives and Daughters by the same author my expectations were higher than they should have been, but still, this shortish novel was really disappointing to me. I kind of liked the ending, but apart from that this one was (surprisingly) not for me.

I tend to like quiet stories, but the tone of this one just did not work for me. It was very gossipy, probably not helped by the narration, and instead of a nice quiet book about a mostly female community, it just felt like women nattering, and not in a good way.

The ending was actually fine, some of the characters were actually quite likeable, but it lost my attention too many times and overall it was just a little boring.

I guess this classic was just not for me.

3 out of 5 stars



  • Characters: 7
  • Ambience: 6
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 6
  • Pacing: 6
  • Interest: 5.5
  • Enjoyment: 5.5