Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Palace of Strange Girls – Sallie Day

I had the joy of reading this for New Books Magazine which was not a hard ship, last year I had to do a review of The Falling Man by Don DeLillo last year reviewing is something I could definitely get into more, how does one go about it with all the big publishers? I may have to do some research into that, if anyone knows please let me know. Sorry I digress… onto The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day.

Do you remember the old I Spy books you used to get? Well these feature, one in particular, in the novel greatly as in some ways they help to tell the tale and are in fact the title chapters. The Palace of Strange Girls is the story of the summer holiday in Blackpool 1959 for The Singleton family. There is seven year old Beth who is just out of hospital, she is wonderfully written by Day, and who first appears in the book saying ‘bugger, bugger’ which for some reason really made me laugh. Helen is her older sister who has a very healthy (though unhealthy to her parents) interest in independence and boys. Their parents, mother Ruth who is both uptight and strict as well as a bit of a killjoy, and their father Jack who has a big secret all the way in Crete and is depressed.

What should be a nice sea break away from the Mills and Mines back home turns into a family breaking down and rebelling against one another in any way they can. Amongst the cream teas, circus acts, promenades and sandcastles lie’s some deeper darker undertones and actions that show a family falling apart. Sallie Day has been compared to Kate Atkinson with this novel and I think as a storyteller the comparisons are not far off, both have great prose and pace and both are great tellers of how humans are and what makes them who they are. I didn’t like ‘Behind The Scenes at the Museum’ which people seem to be comparing this too, this is a great book, I can see the resemblances however I don’t think its fair to compare Day in that way as this is HER novel and not a copy of anyone else’s. The one negative, the title, though it is in the book its not as exciting or as mysterious as the title suggests. This is a great debut regardless of that.

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Filed under Harper Collins, Kate Atkinson, Review, Sallie Day

Reading To Review

So today has been busy. For lots of reasons some of which I cannot divulge (the BIG meeting) but some I can (what will probably be just a dull blog hahaha). I have been reading like a maniac. I am very privileged to be someone who gets paid to do reviews of books, I love books anyway and so it’s not really a hardship. I do this for New Books Magazine, and free ones for Waterstones all good on the CV (fingers crossed another paid job in a very literary mag is coming soon) and as you know I like books.

The current read is Sallie Day’s ‘The Palace of Strange Girls’ which is happily finished and on the bedside table now. It is a really good read and though I can’t give you a copy of my review I will say it’s a very good read and would be a good addition to any bookshelf. Bookshelves… I so need to get some at the moment in my flat there are 4 piles of lots of books and another 6 flat pack boxes. I can’t resist. You know this. Mind you I have been very good on the book buying front of late. They are comparing The Palace of Strange Girls to Kate Atkinson’s ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ I personally didn’t like that book, though I love all the authors others, so I would say its better.But more of that when I actually review the book.

The other thing I have been doing is brainstorming ‘The Bent Book Group’. This hasn’t been given the official ‘go ahead’ green light but I am desperately trying to make my editor see why I want to do it, any good arguments are most welcomed, I need all the help I can get! I am thinking how to do something from a monthly mag. It is proving difficult, my thoughts are a forum on the Bent website and maybe a group on myspace and facebook where people and give their feedback, if any of you can think about this and how else it could work again suggestions welcomed.I think first author would like to feature is the lovely Mr Paul Burston, and then the delightful Stella Duffy, we shall see. The idea is then to also have a running interview or piece on the author and why they write there favourite books etc, what I basically want is to be Mariella Frostrup on The Book Show, which would be my dream job. So a creative, if a little dull to read back I am sure, day!

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Filed under Kate Atkinson, Review, Sallie Day

Service Wash – Rupert Smith

One of the regulars at Polari is Rupert Smith and I decided that I should give one of his books a go, and Service Wash was the first on the list in Amazon. So I bought the book a few weeks ago and have been waiting for the perfect time to sit back and enjoy it, and after the Holocaust and beheading of Anne Boleyn I thought it was time for a book about celebrity.

I would just like to say I love the cover, though it has nothing to do with the actual story, I just think it’s a brilliant retro cheeky cover. Sorry I digress. This is the story of Eileen Weathers (who would be played fabulously by Ann Mitchell of Widows fame) who is like a younger Vera Duckworth kind of soap legend. She is at the peak of her fame and writing an autobiography that’s going seriously wrong, so Six Books part fo the soap franchise hire Paul Mackrell to ghost write it, Paul isn’t having much luck with literature and so decides to give it a go. What follows is a farce of mayhem, money and murder.

I really enjoyed this novel it made a nice break to have a book on the go that made me laugh and was all about the complexities and materialism of celebrity not some harrowing complex tale of loss love and betrayal – which I love you just need a break sometimes. Some people call this throwaway literature or a ‘good holiday read’ I call it entertainment as it entertained me for a good several hours.

Smith writes this book with a knowing edge, he has indeed ghost written an autobiography, written several TV-tie-in books and other novels you feel there is a lot of him in Paul. I would recommend this when you want some frivolous fun.

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Filed under Review, Rupert Smith, Serpent's Tail

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Well I have just put this book down and honestly I think it is fantastic, this is another book I will be raving about for absolutely ages. I had never heard of the author John Boyne before but I think for this book he deserves some serious recognition. This is another tale of the Second World War aimed at the cross over market of young and older readers. I didn’t think after The Book Thief, which was one of my favourite books last year and I will undoubtedly read again, that you could get another amazing story based on that era. I was wrong.

Bruno is nine years old, his family have moved from their idyllic home to a place called ‘Out-With’ and Bruno tells the subsequent tale with the innocence and naivety a child that age has. What happens? Well sadly this is going to be a very short review as I simply can’t tell you. There has been no blurb on the back of the book and its all very secretive (I actually wonder whether this has stopped the book selling in its thousands) and there is a reason for that, to give anything away would spoil the story and also spoil what is an amazing ending and one that may leave you shell shocked. Like The Book Thief I think that this is a must have in schools, its just superb. I don’t think I can rave about it anymore than that. Ten out of ten, nothing less would be fair

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Filed under Books of 2008, Books To Film, John Boyne, Review, Transworld Publishing

The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory

This has taken me quite a while to read, not because it’s too complicated or too heavy but because I just wanted to savour every last word of this novel. This is my first Philippa Gregory and was the latest book group choice; I had wanted to read it anyway before the movie comes out (as you will note I have not bought the movie cover version as you will all know I loathe them). The story is that of Mary Boleyn, no not Anne Boleyn the famous wife of Henry VIII but Mary her sister and Henry’s lover. Naturally the story also heavily features Anne who for some reason I have always been drawn to and as my favourite periods of history are Victorian and Tudor this was perfect.

We all know the fate of Anne Boleyn, what we don’t know is the story of her sister Mary which Gregory has based on as much fact as she could as she actually came upon the story after seeing the boat the Mary Boleyn in a history book and researching it thinking it was a mistake. Research is something that you can tell Gregory has done endlessly. From Tudor birth control to the ways of court not a single detail of costume or of scenery is missed and not in the over descriptive style I hate either, just very well written. The scene is set wonderfully from what it would be like as a youth in the court of Henry VIII up to being Queen and the ins and outs of Henry’s favour.

I thought that Gregory really brought to life the characters, none of them were depicted thinly they had depth even if nearly every character was selfish and out for themselves. I thought Anne was wonderfully calculating and malicious. I also thought the way Katherine of Aragon was written was very interesting, I have heard one of Gregory’s other novels concentrates on her and will probably give that a go at some point. A few moments made me laugh, the hindsight effect I called it, such as when Jane Seymour passes Anne and she says ‘I curse her I hope she dies in childbirth’ which of course she did it does add to the myth that Anne was a witch. It never mentioned her six fingers and yet dealt with incest and homosexuality interesting that.

I do wish there had been more of the end of the novel rather than so much of the beginning as suddenly it was all over and all too soon. It is a long book and does meander along here and there but never drags and when you’re reading something this good you don’t really care. Yes I am officially a fan of Philippa Gregory and unashamed.

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Filed under Book Group, Books To Film, Harper Collins, Philippa Gregory, Review

Death of a Murderer – Rupert Thompson

I wasn’t alive when the awful things that happened with Myra Hindley on the moors, it is something that I have always grown up knowing of and not being interested in but wondering what happened exactly. This book deals with the events after Myra Hindley’s death and is based around the night when she is put in the morgue. However don’t expect that this is a novel about what happened on the moors or that you are going to get a gritty dark and disturbing tale even though the ghost of Myra does turn up further along the tale. Oh hang on he never mentions her name, which is odd as she has been put on the cover of the book. I do hate it when book covers and blurbs are misleading, it can actually completely put me off a book.

So the premise of the novel is that PC Billy Tyler is called to look after the dead body of a ‘famous female child killer’ in November 2002 which pretty much says what a name wont, and the female in question has the exact looks of the murderess that cannot be named, what a coincidence. It sounds like I am slagging the book off and I am not as in other ways it is accomplished and well written.

PC Billy is not a hero of the novel, there isn’t one. What you have is a man in a difficult marriage who has secrets from his childhood that haunt him and make him the man he is today, these secrets are also linked to the woman in the morgue and her ghost comes to haunt him during the long night as do his childhood memories he has been trying to hide. There is a very surreal feel to this novel no characters are the lead character and they don’t seem to communicate to one another other than the occasional short sharp five line conversation. There is also the ghost herself not quite the novel you expect it to be but gripping none the less.

Yes I picked up the book because the cover led me to believe it was going to be something else. What I didn’t get was a dark crime novel that I expected, instead I got a novel that looks at how a killer can effect a generation of children, why they might do what they do and what leads them to it and the aftermath it leaves. Fascinating and very well written.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Review, Rupert Thomson

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

I do not understand how this novel has had such negative reviews? It’s had some good ones but very few and far between. I think after ‘Atonement’ and ‘Saturday’ have both been such successes that anything that Ian McEwan released next would have a lot to live up to. I need to point out here I haven’t read Saturday, I am a McEwan fan. So far I have read ‘Cement Garden’, ‘Atonement’ and now Chesil Beach. Atonement is by far my favourite because of the epic feel of it, however this is firm second and Cement Garden is another one of my favourites. (Oh I should say that this was my book group choice, my second McEwan novel for Book Group in fact.)

Chesil Beach is short, people have berated it for this and said it doesn’t deserve its Man Booker short listing; however people do forget that if you actually look at McEwan’s back catalogue most of his novels are short, in fact Atonement and Saturday are the two longest ones he has done. But this is where McEwan is a master of prose and story telling, after the full 166 pages of Chesil Beach there is nothing more to be said, and wow has he filled those 166 pages with as much as he can.

In 166 pages we have a tale of a newly married couple Florence and Edward which starts on their wedding night in 1962, a time when people weren’t as sexually educated as they are now (on the whole), and the wedding night is indeed becoming more of a wedding nightmare. With both of the couple inexperienced and shy it all goes wrong and changes their relationship and their lives forever. It’s actually quite heartbreaking. You also learn more about their opposing backgrounds and how they got together which only makes it all the more distressing.

This has to be one of my favourite books I wasn’t expecting anything this moving or enjoyable from the title. It may not be the normal length that people expect from a Man Booker nominee (is there a rule) but it certainly is the quality of a Man Booker winner. Without a doubt my favourite read of 2008 so far and I can tell you I will be scouting around for the rest of McEwan’s novels anywhere I can get my mitts on them. This is the closest I have ever been to declaring a read-a-thon of any author. I am mulling the possibility over.

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Ian McEwan, Man Booker, Vintage Books

The Instance of the Fingerpost – Iain Pears

Sometimes a book comes along and you think ‘wow that ticks all my boxes’. Take Iain Pears ‘Instance of the Fingerpost’, it has a wonderful dark cover with a skull and a tattered worn book – already this is so me, it’s a story of murder set in 1665 (not my favourite period in time but not far off) so we have history, we have a gothic dark undertone and the promise of thrills and spills. So why did this book fall flat with me? Why after reading well over half did I put it to one side with the prospect of an Oxfam run looming?

I got bored. Very bored. This I am sure will outrage many a reader as I have hardly heard a bad review of this novel (oddly another reason I thought I would love it), other than my Gran who has read it for book group and wishes she had done as I did and put it down and not bother.

The tale is set in 1663, in the backdrop we have King Charles II whose thrown is restored though all is not well, in Oxford Dr Robert Grove is found dead in his chambers, the suspected murderer is a servant girl Sarah Blundy. The tale of the murder and the subsequent events which are neither haunting, thrilling nor really that interesting are told by four separate accounts and this is where my first problem lay I think. I didn’t really need to spend over 200 pages a go being told ‘inconclusive biased’ accounts of the same incidents over and over; it didn’t do anything for me. I did like the character of Sarah Blundy; I also like the first narrator of the tale Marco da Cola. But once his version was questioned and I felt I had put so much time and effort into him and his past to be told it was probably all lies I felt angry and cheated.

Maybe that’s what Pears was aiming for, maybe I should have read on and found Marco de Cola had been right all along. What it did instead was infuriate me and leave me reading Jack Prescott’s version of events half heartedly and eventually I just gave up. There ended up being far too many characters and by this point Pears had lost me and so had 1663 Oxford. A shame as from the start I wanted to love this book, maybe its me? Maybe I hype a book up in my own head and then am left disappointed I hope not. This sadly is an author and a book I don’t think I will be giving a second chance, maybe I am just bitter?

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Filed under Iain Pears, Review, Vintage Books