Monthly Archives: July 2008

Crocodile Soup – Julia Darling

If I could sum this book up in two words it would be ‘wonderfully bizarre’. Julia Darling’s novel ‘Crocodile Soup’ is a very clever piece that leaves you wondering if the storyteller Gert is mad or if in fact real life is mad. This has taken me a little longer than I thought, but this was good in two ways, firstly I wanted to savour the writing and secondly the surreal qualities of the novel do mean you need to read this carefully to piece it all together, it’s worth it.

Gert the unlikely likeable heroine of the novel is unfulfilled; she works behind the scenes of a museum (I think this is where the Kate Atkinson similarities have started) in the Egyptian Department. The museum has just been funded by the lottery meaning jobs are unstable and in the midst of this an infatuation starts with her over Eva the girl in the canteen. In her modern life she starts to unravel, partly after receiving letters from her estranged mother. She starts going back over her turbulent childhood as well as her adult years and it appears she is having some kind of breakdown.

The surreal is not in the modern part of the book, more in her childhood. Her twin brother Frank makes it clear she hasn’t always been the best truth teller. You hear wonderful stories of her childhood, the ghost in the house, the flasher by the pond, her fathers and the nannies separate disappearances and your left wondering if this brilliant surreal stories are true or not. All in all it doesn’t matter because they are fantastic stories which more seem to explain the mental and emotional journey of a young girl becoming a woman and a gay woman whilst being totally alienated by her mother. This is a coming of age tale unlike I have read in a long while.

This could have been a harrowing tale of the breakdown between a mother and daughter and I must admit the ending was more positive than I expected, that doesn’t give anything away. I think the thing I loved most about this book though was the humour, Darling’s voice as an author is wonderful. There are lines such as ‘Barbara’s face was smeared with gin. She looked liked the type who cried if you showed her affection… I did and she cried for weeks.’ This is a moving, sometimes slightly disturbing, surreal funny novel that has made reading a pleasure. Sadly Julia Darling died in 2005 aged 48 of breast cancer and only wrote two novels, a voice truly lost, I will be getting the man booker long-listed ‘The Taxi Drivers Daughter’ as soon as I can and I am sure devouring that too.

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Filed under Julia Darling, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review

Whoops More Book Ban Breakage

I don’t normally count readitswapit books as part of the book ban as to me its simply an exchanging of the number of books I already own, in fact on occasion I have swapped on behalf of others decreasing my numbers, I’ll admit this is rare! I have however included one on here as two arrive in the post today along with some that arrived via me and the shops, oops, the latter were meant to be 5 for a pound… I got 7 for a pound. Charity shops are making life hard for book lovers of late.

West of the Wall – Marcia Preston
I didnt buy this or readitswapit, this is a book for review for New Books Magazine and I will be cracking on with this on the weekend. The guys there have sent me some good (The Palace of Strange Girls) bokos to review and some not so (Tales of Kipling Audiobook) so will be interesting to see how this fares.

Beneath The Blonde – Stella Duffy
The third Saz Martin novel in the series of lesbian crime or if we arent going to pigeon hole it, bloody good fiction with a criminal hint! Have started the series this month and now have this so am very excited.

The Untouchable – John Banville
I already have this biy bought it for Dom. Gay spies who work for the Queen in a novel based on true events, sometimes you couldnt make it up, eager to try a Banville this year.

Calendar Girl – Stella Duffy
This is another book for Polly, she really is a lucky madam, read it this month and its grand.

Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
I have mentioned the love of Digging To America and how I am determined to read more and more, this one won the Pulitzer Prize winner so thought it would be worth ago frankly. My mum really loves Anne Tyler.

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
I have been recommended this book so many times that I think I need to knuckle down and read it. I have to say Artist of the Floating World was one of my lesser favourite book group books, but the man wrote Remains of the Day (also on my TBR pile) so am hoping this lives up to the hype.

Out – Natsuo Kirino
You are so right, I wasnt the biggest fan of her second book ‘Grotesque’ this month however this has won so many crime awards I thought would give her a go. This was my readitswapit book, am actually looking forward to this one a lot.

Book Of Evidence – John Banville
Loved the blurb, the idea of someone being a ‘murderer second’ I think sounds very clever, plus would like to try a shorter Banville first I think as though he is highly recommended have heard that he can be quite difficult. We’ll see if its true.

Feather Man – Rhyll McMaster
So many people were saying that this should have been on the Booker Longlist, plus it has an amazing cover. This will be read very soon I think, I dont want to be the last to be raving about a book, that happens far too often on this blog. They had another copy maybe should run and get Polly one?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marcia Preston, Natsuo Kirino, Stella Duffy

The Man Booker Longlist Announced…

So the results are in, the Man Booker Longlist has been announced and it is…

Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold – Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry – The Secret Scripture
John Berger – From A to X
Michelle de Kretser – The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh – Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant – The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif – A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher – The Northern Clemency
Joseph O’Neill – Netherland
Salman Rushdie – The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith – Child 44
Steve Toltz – A Fraction of the Whole

So here come the questions I am asking myself today.

Am I surprised by any of the entrants?
Yes and no, I have hardly heard of any of them, looking into it however I like the fact that there are so many new writers in this. Shock horror Salman Rushdie has been nominated again. Thrilled ‘Child 44’ is in the mix though as it stands out due to genre I guess but have heard some great things about that book. I can imagine there will be fury over this from certain quaters/snobs. I havent heard a bad review of that book.
Did you guess this would be the longlist?
I actually guessed that 3 of these would be in the longlist so am feeling slightly pleased, yet also totally inept.
Have you read any of them?
No. Which makes me feel like a complete fraud of a book lover I should be ashamed shouldn’t I?
Which is your favourite to win?
No idea. I’d have to read them to answer that one, it might help.
Will you be taking part in a reading Booker-a-thon?
I would absolutely love to, sadly I don’t think the bank balance would allow it, however if there is anyone who wants to sponsor me to do this or just wants to send me the longlist do get in touch. I would be totally up for it.
Oh is that my first meme? I dont really know what one of those is lol. Right am off to read books that I can afford lol!

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Filed under Man Booker

Gold – Dan Rhodes

I love a freebie and the latest Dan Rhodes novel ‘Gold’ was one I picked up for free in a coffee shop, which must do some promotions with publishers, in Angel after a book group meeting a while back. Randomly they were shutting so we got the books and left, the waiters didn’t mind apparently they were disappearing like ‘God Dust’ we got the joke but didn’t really laugh. This had been recently put into my TBR boxes only to be dug out again after it was chosen as the next Book Rabbit (www.bookrabbit.com) book group, I have never done one of these online but have decided to give it a go as I quite fancied this book… today, right now. I am so glad I read it.

‘Gold’ starts when Miyuki Woodward arrives in the same seaside village in Wales that she comes to every year. She has made a pact with her girlfriend that they sped a month a part each year and her two weeks is always spent by the sea in Wales, she likes the routine. During the day she walks and reads, reading a book a day over two weeks so she has read the equivalent of over one book a month every year. In the evening she can be found mainly at The Anchor (but occasionally at The Boat Inn which has a hilarious tale of a landlord, brilliance) sitting reading and watching a whole host of characters. The most prominent of these are Septic Barry, Mr Puw, short Mr Hughes and tall Mr Hughes; the latter provided me with several hysterical outbursts as tales of his past and present unfolded during the book. One scene involving him in the pub steals the entire show from everyone and instantly you know it won’t ever be a film sadly as its brilliant.

Here’s a small part of a conversation between himself and Miyuki early one morning on a beach.

Tall Mr Hughes didn’t seem to react to this. ‘Sometimes I lie on the grass and fall asleep, and hope by the time I wake up I’ll have been torn to pieces by vultures.’
Miyuki swallowed hard as this image appeared before her. This wasn’t the type of talk she expected from tall Mr Hughes.
‘You don’t get many of them round here,’ she said.
‘Puffins, then
.’

The dialect is always quite witty and punchy but there are some wonderfully tender moments amongst the humour. Also the characters are so real. Every single one you know you could easily meet in a seaside town in its quite winter periods, with their in jokes, obsessions about alligators and routines. Nothing much happens in the book, but it doesn’t need to and one thing it definitely isn’t is dull. This was the most fun I have had reading for two hours in a long time, with tears of laughter streaming several times. I recommend this book to EVERYONE as a MUST READ; the title is perfect as this book for any reader is pure gold.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review

My Man Booker Longlist Guess

I am always a bit fuzzy on the rules with the Man Booker Award and which writers are and arent allowed, I know I should hang my head in shame as an avid reader. Its not like I am ever going to judge them though is it? Mind you wouldn’t that be brilliant? The Longlist is revealed tomorrow and I thought I would have a very uneducated guess at what might be in the final thirteen.

So here are my Man Booker Dozen for you (based on what everyone else is raving about I havent read and some rogue contenders I doubt will be in the longlist but should be)…

1. The Behaviour of Moths – Poppy Adams
2. Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie
3. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
4. The Story Of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block
5. The Outcast – Sadie Jones
6. Alfred & Emily – Doris Lessing
7. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
8. Broken – Daniel Clay
9. A Case of Exploding Mango’s – Mohammed Hanif
10. Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh
11. The Butt – Will Self
12. Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith
13. Remember Me – Melvyn Bragg

We will see tomorrow… I will be discussing I am sure.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker, Stella Duffy, Will Self

Little Face – Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is an author that I was introduced to this year whilst competing with Polly in our favourite game in Borders/Waterstones/Foyles (delete as appropriate) where we compete with who has read the most on each table of books. I am sure I have blogged about this somewhere at some point. So anyway we found her collection of short stories called ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’ which was right up our alley as we are both complete nosey parkers. Once I had devoured that I looked into what else Hannah had written and saw that she had written crime (as well as poetry) and as soon as I knew there was a crime series well I was on readitswapit before you can say readitswapit.

Little Face is the first of a series of three (so far) crime novels. Now I have to say I wouldn’t totally put this book in the crime section, I love the fact that crime and fiction are in some ways merging in some ways I would compare Hannah to Kate Atkinson with her crime; however this is more of a psychological thriller more than anything and not your stereotypical detective crime story. It’s a refreshing modern thriller that creeps (and in some places becomes extremely creepy) up on you and has a slight gothic feel to it.

Alice Fancourt comes home from a day checking out a spa as a treat from her mother-in-law Vivienne not long after giving birth. When she comes home she finds the door open and her husband asleep, she runs upstairs and screams, not because the baby is gone but because the baby in the crib is not the baby Florence that she gave birth to.

The story is told in two parts. There is the story of Alice and the disappearance (or swapping) of her daughter, is she mad, will anyone believe her? Why has her husband David suddenly become cruel and possessive and why cant his mother Vivienne (a fantastic character who reminded of me oddly enough of Mrs Danvers from ‘Rebecca’) decide who she should believe. The other side is told from the Detectives on the case Simon and Charlie who get the case, they have personal issues to contend with as Charlie is in love with her number two Simon, they also wonder if there is more than meets the eye with the Fancourt’s as David’s wife was murdered outside their picturesque house ‘The Elms’ did they get the right killer?

Hannah makes quite a complex clever story a breeze to read. It’s really original, I didn’t guess the ending at all, bar one bit, and you find you’re trying to solve more than the one mystery you thought that you were originally getting. This is a brilliant book for crime fans, people who like a page turner, people who like good writing and those who gently want to ease into crime. Really it’s a book for anyone and everyone.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

Die A Little – Megan Abbott

Have you ever heard someone say “they don’t make noir crime novels like they used to anymore”? No I dont often either, but actually they do and I have to say the first Megan Abbott to get released in the UK is some of the best ‘noir’ I have read. I was sent this by the lovely people at Simon & Schuster to review as its not out right now but it will be soon and I think that everyone should pop this on their to read pile. Can I also at this point add… how fabulous is the cover, very glam.

In case you are wondering what noir crime fiction is here’s a lovely definition from Wikipedia “In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation.” Noir was also big from the 1930’s until the 1960’s and this book is set in the fantastic era of the 1950’s Hollywood glamour era, with some scenes featuring Doris Day in the background.

In this story the protagonist is Lora King, a school teacher who is quietly happily sailing through life with her brother until he meets and marries Alice Steele. Alice is a beautiful Hollywood wardrobe assistant, but for some reason Lora doesn’t trust her and even thought her brother (a junior investigator for the District Attorney) trusts her and misses Alice’s inconsistent tales of her past, Lora believes there is more to meet the eye. Lora decides to investigate her sister-in-law herself taking her into Hollywood’s underbelly a world of sex, murder, drugs and prostitution.

I absolutely loved this book and happily devoured it in two small sittings. I like a good crime and this had lashings of murder, mayhem and mystery. The other major thing, bar the era in which it’s set, that I loved was the characters. Lora starts of as a sweet teacher who is drifting merrily like a Doris Day character through life but as she uncovers more and more of Alice’s past an inner femme fetale is released inside herself which is an interesting tale along side the mystery. Alice is amazing, I loved the fact that she had this dark past that you felt she was still visiting every now and then but the rest of the time she was getting involved in charity gala’s and cake baking alluding to the perfect wife. A character that I particularly loved was Lois, a friend from Alice’s past, who is hapless and always almost lets something slip, and I loved her story. The men in the book take a slight back seat Bill is a besotted man who cannot see anything wrong with his wife, however Lora’s lover becomes quite a rogue love interest that you don’t quite trust with his hidden depths.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves great writing, noir fiction, crime or just a really good story. Yes this ticks all the boxes and hopefully Simon & Schuster will bring the rest of Megan Abbott’s novels over to the UK as soon as possible.

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Filed under Megan Abbott, Review, Simon & Schuster