Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Month in Books: March & The Orange Prize

Can you believe March has almost been and gone, is it me or is this year going incredibly quickly? So as with February here is my review of the month as a whole. It has to be said on the whole it was a really good reading month, a very diverse range of authors and genres of books. March has been quite influenced by Richard and Judy looking back, mind you now their reads are over next month will be quite different, I still have The Cellist of Sarajevo to go though. I have also travelled a lot going to Los Angeles, New York three times, Russia under Stalin’s regime and the aftermath, Germany during both wars, in the land of theatre twice, strolled through Paris with Edmund White and been to Wonderland. It’s no wonder that I am shattered.

Books read: 12 which I think is a record.
Books added to the TBR Pile: 46 though I have absolutely no idea how that happened.
New author I tried and want to read ‘the works of’: Tom Rob Smith, and I did, all two.
Character of the month: Lilly Aphrodite
Best crime: Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
Best non-fiction: The Flaneur – Edmund White
Surprise of the month: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Book of the month: Ok this month there are three. The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and The State of Happiness by Stella Duffy which you all have to read.

I am excited about what April will bring. It already seems a promising month as I have started The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and it seems like its going to be a complete corker what more could I ask for at the start of the month. Now this leads on to the next topic of my blog The Orange Prize. The long list has been announced and I have one (Blonde Roots) and heard of three others (Burnt Shadows, Girl in a Blue Dress and The Lost Dog – the latter two were long listed for the Man Booker last year) here is the full long list.

The Household Guide To Dying – Debra Adelaide (Harper Collins)
Girl in a Blue Dress – Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
Their Finest Hour and a Half – Lissa Evans (Doubleday)
Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo (Penguin)
Scottbro – Ellen Feldman (Picador)
Strange Music – Laura Fish (Jonathan Cape)
Love Marriage – V.V. Ganeshananthan (Orion)
Intuition – Allegra Goodman (Atlantic)
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt (Vintage)
The Lost Dog – Michelle De Krester (Vintage)
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Diedre Madden (Faber & Faber)
A Mercy – Toni Morrison (Vintage)
The Russian Dreambook of Colour & Flight – Gina Oschner (Portobello Books)
Home – Marilynne Robinson (Virago)
Evening Is The Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan (Fourth Estate)
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
American Life – Curtis Sittenfeld (Doubleday)
The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews (Faber & Faber)
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree – Ann Weisgarber (Pan MacMillan)

They sound like a real mixture of books and I so want to read every single one. Is anyone planning on doing the Orange Challenge and reading the whole long list or will people be waiting until the short list is announced?

8 Comments

Filed under Beatrice Colin, Book Thoughts, Edmund White, Sebastian Barry, Stella Duffy, Tom Rob Smith

Blackmoor – Edward Hogan

I was bought Blackmoor for my birthday and even though I have a huge pile of books to read this one instantly sang out to me for several reasons; the cover has the feel of a dark brooding more, there is mystery involved and I was born in Derbyshire where it is set so I think though this book would always have been an instant read or a must have for me. Seeing Dovegreyreaders review of it clinched the deal I was actually going to treat myself to it until someone treated me first.

Oh hang on I should mention that I am fifty pages off finishing the novel but believe me I can still rave about it until the cows come home. If the ending is a dud then I will add an additional note, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case. Plus I don’t want to leave blogging any later as I like to try and have one out at the same time everyday. Unfortunately most of the day has been taken with a hospital visit and do you know what, I have discovered that I cannot read in a waiting room which was very annoying with so much time to kill waiting. It is also annoying considering this. Anyway enough about me and onto the book…

Blackmoor is set in a village of the same name in Derbyshire, where I was born, and tells two stories. The first is the story of Beth “an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye” and her sudden death in the village (that’s not giving anything away it’s in the blurb). Beth is a mystery to the villagers, she doesn’t act like everyone else and doesn’t try to fit in, the people of the village believe something dark emanates from her and naturally they all gossip. When things start to go wrong in the village of Blackmoor people slowly but surely start to blame Beth’s presence.

The second narrative through the book is the tale of Beth’s son Vincent a decade later. His mother died when he was very small and his father George left Blackmoor soon after with him. George doesn’t discuss Vincent’s mother or like to hear her mentioned, and in some ways treats his son like the reason for the past being so shut out. However when Vincent makes a new (and it seems his only) friend they start working on a school project all about Blackmoor and Vincent starts to learn all about his mothers life and her secrets.

What did surprise me was from the cover and the blurb I had imagined that this book was set in the late 1800’s one of my favourite era’s to read. However when I opened it up I found it is set in the 1990’s and 2003. I felt a bit disappointed for a moment until I started reading it and within about ten pages I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully written book and keeps you turning the pages partly from the mystery but also because of the tales of all the villagers in both Blackmoor and also Vincent’s new home town of Church Eaton as you read you know the characters so well, particularly the nosey busybodies. The setting in the 1990’s looks at the mining industry and its closure and how that affected the villages like Blackmoor (which of course is fictional) and its inhabitants. It’s quite a bleak and dark novel, if like me that is the sort of story you enjoy you will absolutely love this.

I think this is one of the most accomplished debut novels I have read in a long time, a dark twisting tale of prejudice, misunderstanding and misfortune. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read so far and in fact I found it hard to tear myself away from the climax that appears to be brewing long enough to write this. So really I must get back to it!

8 Comments

Filed under Edward Hogan, Review, Simon & Schuster

Time… For Your Thoughts!

Does anyone else feel a little bit cheated today? Does anyone feel like they have lost an hour this morning to enjoy a delightful read in bed, in the bath or just with your elevenses? Yes me too. I am enjoying Blackmoor so much that frankly this spare hour that has vanished has thrown me into a small sulk. I know it’s Sunday so it’s a nice relaxing day anyway but still, I want that hour back. It’s some kind of time stealing skulduggery that’s what it is.

Mind you it did get me to thinking about Time both reading wise and book wise. Can you believe that some people actually think that reading a book is time wasting, there have been a few books that I have felt that way about, but reading as a general rule I think is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time. So now its time for you feedback (do you see what I did there) I thought I would ask you all some questions relating to time and see what you all come up with. I shall also have a go too. So here are ten time based questions with my answers beneath each and I would love you to all have a go…

What time do you find the best time to read?
Hmmm, I could read all day but I have four main reading times. Thirty minutes when I get up, on the tube, in the bath and an hour or two before bed.
What are you spending time reading right now?
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, already am deeply entranced by all the mystery in the book which being set in the 1990’s I didn’t know if would grip me but it has.
What’s the best book with time in the title you have read?
Without question for me it’s The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I actually want to read this again before the movie comes out.
What is your favourite time (as in era) to read novels based in?
I would say Victorian and Tudor are my two favourites with Victorian novels being my very favourite as it’s such a dark point in history. I also like books set around The Plague, is this making me sound strange.
What book could your read time and time again?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
What recently published book do you think deserves to become a classic in Time?
I think it would have to be The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer or The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin.
What book has been your biggest waste of time?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which actually has a time theme, I insisted on finishing it but don’t know why I did.
What big book would you recommend to others to spend time reading if they haven’t?
I would have to recommend that anyone who hasn’t read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins must, or Darkman’s by Nicola Barker which is huge but well worth it. I on the whole prefer shorter books as you can read more of them.
What’s your favourite read of all time?
That is a really hard one I could list about five that tie for this however as have only one choice it would be The Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes by the great Arthur Conan Doyle which you can read in parts or simply devour.
Who is your favourite author of all time?
Hmmm that’s a tough one I can think of three, but again as only one choice I would say Daphne Du Maurier, as yet I haven’t read a book of hers I haven’t like and two of her novels would make it into my top ten books of all time.

I look forward to hearing all your responses! So let me know either in my comments of by leaving a link if you decide to do it in your own blog and get other people you know doing it as I think the answers could be very interesting, even if I do say so myself.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Audrey Niffenegger, Beatrice Colin, Daphne Du Maurier, Edward Hogan, Mary Ann Shaffer, Nicola Barker, Wilkie Collins

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll

I have one particular person to thank for my reading of this classic, even though when I said I was going to read this many of you delightfully said that I simply must in your comments, and that person is a fellow book mad blogger of the name Simon… Simon Stuck-in-a-Book. Had he not done his post on the wonderful images taken from various imprints of the book then it wouldn’t have become such a need to read it so soon. That and the fact I managed to find such a wonderful old copy (I have pictured the Vintage one because I think out of all the modern covers it’s the best) in a second hand store within days of his post made it all feel like the reading fates were trying to tell me something.

Now believe it or not not only have I never read these two tales of Alice before, I have also never seen the Disney version. I know it appears I had a very bereft childhood, I didn’t actually I just wasn’t really a very Disney kid and I read lots but not children’s classics oddly as my mother is an English and Classic teacher. I do remember reading a lot of Greek Myths as a child though. Anyway, I digress.

For those of you who like myself have somehow missed the treats that are Lewis Carroll’s stories of Alice I will try and sum up what happens, though if you have read the book then I am sure you will appreciate that it is quite some feat to some it up easily because frankly both stories are quite crazy. As I think is Alice. Her first Adventures in Wonderland start when out with her sister she sees a white rabbit running and talking to itself. Bizarrely not thinking anything much the matter with that it takes him pulling out a pocket watch for her to take interest and follow him down a hole which ends up in the bizarre and brilliant Wonderland. Through The Looking Glass sees her return to Wonderland… through a looking glass, I didn’t need to explain that so much, where she becomes a pawn in a very bizarre and entertaining game of chess across endless lands.

Now though I had never read the books before I found myself knowing the characters and some of the crazy plot lines and can only think that randomly throughout my life somehow I have taken these all in by osmosis. I don’t think that I can say I originally knew how unusual the book would be will plots, characters and settings changing in a sentence or even in mid sentence. Despite it being slightly confusing you understand that its because Wonderland is a place of no rules where things don’t make sense and I was totally drawn in and can see why so many children (and adults) have enjoyed it so much.

Amongst all of the nonsensical there are lessons being taught and games being played by the author. He plays with words and meanings. “Don’t all authors do this?” I hear you cry, no actually they don’t. He looks at language and plays with it turns it on its head and makes it even more bizarre and interesting all at once for example how many ways ‘I beg your pardon’ as an expression can be taken. I did feel there was a darker side to the book, the Cheshire Cat for example in my mind is frankly up to no good and shouldn’t be trusted an inch. That for me really was what made the book, I loved the characters some were rude, some were delightful but all of them were wholly believable, be the a wailing unhappy Mock Turtle, a rude Queen, a Mad Hatter, or the terrible twosome Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum I wanted to join in with Alice on her adventures.

Oh just for Simon’s benefit here are some lovely pictures from my version of the novel, sorry they arent amazing quality…

Overall if you haven’t read this book then you should I cant see anyone not falling in love with it though I would say it will be most enjoyed by those who like escapism, can completely suspend their believes and have a high imagination. If you have all those as a reader then I defy you to dislike it. It’s also getting the movie make over and as we all know that means next year everyone will be reading it and re-reading it so do it before the trend sets in. I only hope they don’t give it a new horrible movie tie-in cover, but then the idea of that happening is far more unlikely than any of Alice’s Adventures.

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Filed under Lewis Carroll, Review, Vintage Classics

Belated Birthday Boys Birthday Books Blog

I wasnt going to blog today as have been on one of the shortest but most important deadlines of my writing career today and been literally sat at my computer pulling my hair out, fortunately it has all turned out very well the piece is loved by all. Enough of that though one thing I forgot to blog about (because I was busy being a birthday boy) was whether I got any books for my birthday on Tuesday the answer was yes… three!

Now I have to say that one of the ones I was secretly hoping for but didn’t get was The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie BUT I think until I have conquered Midnights Children I shouldnt be allowed to read it. Now please have in mind that I didn’t have a list of books that I wanted and the Non Reader doesnt really like books or reading when you see what was unwrapped…

What a great selection of books! I was really impressed. I asked how these were chosen and after I put the blurb of each one below I shall then put the Non Readers reasons. I was secretly quite, quite touched. So here we go…

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Blurb Says: Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he’s sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love. Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku – the curse that has haunted his family for generations. With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family’s uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humour, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a literary triumph, that confirms Junot Diaz as one of the most exciting writers of our time.
Non Reader Says: It has won one of the biggest book prizes, and a prize you say is much more reliable than the Man Booker in terms of actual winner. It sounded a bit obscure whihc is very you, whist at the same time being modern. You have also picked this book up and ummmed and ahhhed about it every time we have been in the book stores in the last month.

Blackmoor – Edward Hogan
Blurb Says: Beth is an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye. Her neighbours in the Derbyshire town of Blackmoor have always thought she was ‘touched’, and when a series of bizarre happenings shake the very foundations of the village, they are confirmed in their opinion that Beth is an ill omen. The neighbours say that Beth eats dirt from the flowerbeds, and that smoke rises from her lawn. By the end of the year, she is dead. A decade later her son, Vincent, treated like a bad omen by his father George is living in a pleasant suburb miles from Blackmoor. There the bird-watching teenager stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother’s life and death in the abandoned village. It’s the story of a community that fell apart, a young woman whose face didn’t fit, and a past that refuses to go away.
Non Reader Says: It’ set in your homelands of Derbyshire and a place that we both think is stunning and has a dark side. This book looks like it might be mysterious and spooky and I actually might want to read it after you.

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Blurb Says: The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, “The Name of the Rose” is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.
Non Reader Says: You like murder mysteries and crimes and always saying that you can guess the outcome. You like history but don’t understand religion so I thought this might teach you something. It’s meant to be a ‘classic’. Plus you have been saying to yor Gran that you really want to read it quite a few times on the phone.

Has anyone helped the Non Reader without me knowing… most puzzling!

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Filed under Edward Hogan, Umberto Eco

Supposedly Bad Books

So on today’s Booking Through Thursday we are being asked the opposite question of last weeks. This week the question was “What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?” This is actually an incredibly hard question to answer and means that you need to think what constitutes a bad book. I have actually had some heated debates at previous book groups over this one when I claimed that I thought that Martin Amis’ London Fields was possibly one of the worst books I had ever read. I was asked “what my criteria for a ‘bad book’ was?” and I was stuck.

Some times it can be the writing style that I simply don’t enjoy. The plot might not go anywhere. I could be reading that specific book at the wrong point in my reading life (for example I think had I read Wuthering Heights at a younger age I would have enjoyed it more). I might not have gelled with the characters or the voices in the book, I don’t agree with ‘if a book has awful characters it’s a bad book’ as not all books should be happy and not all characters should be likeable or nice. It could also be that it’s simply not my genre or my taste, some people don’t like crime or thrillers – I love them, I don’t like science fiction and fantasy but that doesn’t mean every book in that genre is bad. I may not relate to any of the characters, sometimes you might totally empathise with a character because you have been through what they have for others it might leave them cold.

So in looking at all that it very much down to peoples own specific opinion. I love reading peoples reviews on blogs, in the press, on Amazon etc but when I do I always remember that this is one person’s opinion. I might write a review on here raving about a book that everyone else could loathe, it doesn’t mean either opinion is wrong it just means that we have differing tastes and differing factors that make us enjoy a book a specific way. If a review is completely and utterly glowing then I admit I am more likely to want to read the book and of course there are some reviewers, friends and bloggers you begin to trust because they seem to like all the books you do and any they recommend you whizz through. There is a very good piece that The Times ran ages ago on books that were so bad ‘burning is too good for them’ I think I would read any book deemed dreadful if it meant it would be saved from this…

As for my own Best Worst Book of all time, I am still struggling. I googled ‘Worst Books of All Time’ and laughed at some of the titles suggested on various different sites and also agreed with some. I didn’t like ‘Wuthering Heights’ which some people love, some people loathe ‘Pride & Prejudice’ which I think is a marvellous book. I think that if some of you saw my shelves would wince (in fact people have) at certain authors they don’t deem as being ‘literary’ for me books are about escaping and like I discussed with my review yesterday it could be a masterpiece in the depths of war torn India, or a page turning serial killer on the loose in Boston if I escape and if I enjoy it how can either be bad?

18 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts

No Time For Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages and ages and finally have gotten around to reading it as I needed some serious escapism. Escapist reading for me can be one of a few things, a comedy, a who-dunnit or indeed a gripping page turning thriller. Everyone has different escapist reading, I know on person who can find no finer escapist reading than Mills and Boon. So as it was also one of the books on mine and Novel Insights books to read (I still have to conquer The Blind Assassin yet to have caught up) I decided that this would be my next read.

Linwood Barclay’s debut novel No Time For Goodbye is definitely escapist reading. It is also a very thrilling read with possibly one of the most unpredictable plotlines that I have come across (bar the immense Child 44) in some time. One day a fourteen year old girl wakes up to find her entire family have vanished. There are no traces of them anywhere they have simply disappeared. Come forward twenty five years and Cynthia is still none the wiser to what has happened, however when a TV show decide to pick up the story again things slowly but surely start to unfold and Cynthia may begin to wish that she remained in the dark.

I found this a real thriller, it’s a proper page turner and you are thrown some big red herrings and then random possible theories that turn up later to make much bigger plot twists. I have seen reviews of this that state ‘this is no literary masterpiece and doesn’t deserve the sales’ and I have to disagree with that. I am not a literary snob, I like what I like some of it isn’t literary and some of it is, it’s the same with books I don’t like. No Time For Goodbye is a book that I enjoyed thoroughly because the plot and pacing are fantastic. I quite liked the characters without being attached to them but most of all it did what I wanted and drew me in, took me on a thrilling mysterious adventure and most of all I escaped.

What I will say was a slight issue for me was that despite the blurb, I have issues with blurbs that don’t tell the truth (this one says a letter arrives that changes everything – that doesn’t happen), the book isn’t actually written from Cynthia’s point of view. The thrilling tale itself is told through her husband Terry’s eyes. I really wanted more insight into how she felt about it all rather than what she told him she felt throughout it all if that makes sense? He was a great narrator and got fully entrapped in the whole situation and scenario and I enjoyed reading it from his perspective I just think hers would have given the book an extra something.

I thought that the plotting was brilliant, the end of every chapter makes you want to read on. Yes, there are parts that go slightly beyond coincidence and what is and isn’t believable but that’s what makes a great thriller and also some things that happen to people in real life you couldn’t make up, I never myself stopped believing that the whole situation could have happened.

Other reviews I have seen say that the plot is over the top. Yes it is, that tends to happen in most thrillers and if you don’t like that then don’t you tend to stay away from these types of books? I mean I don’t believe in goblins so I have always avoided J.R Tolkien. In the same vain don’t we all like to have the realms of our beliefs pushed I don’t really believe in magic but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books. Sorry I have gone off on a bit of a tangent.

Overall I found this a ‘thrilling’ thriller. I became completely engrossed in the whole story line and though I predicted some of the ending there were still lots of twists that left me reeling. I can understand why this book has sold so well, I think the fact it was a Richard and Judy Summer Read (which I can find hit and miss) probably helped, but even without that I think this book would have done well. It has a very original and unsettling storyline, and you simply cannot stop reading it… well I couldn’t anyway. 4/5

6 Comments

Filed under Linwood Barclay, Orion Publishing, Review, Richard and Judy