Category Archives: Jake Arnott

Mini Review Madness Part I; Arnott, Sloan, Grimwood & Richards

So as Christmas is now only a week away it means that New Year is a mere fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them will be available below. For the first instalment (seeing as some of you have said they would like to see more ‘meh’ thoughts on books) we have two books I really wanted to love but sadly didn’t and two books I really, really liked but wasn’t in the best frame of mind to write about? Intrigued? Read on…

The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott (Sceptre, hardback, 2012, fiction, 403 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I have had an interesting relationship with Arnott for quite some time. His books either leave me feeling he is an absolute genius or they leave me feeling quite cold. The House of Rumour is a book which left me feeling both. It tells multiple tales which all interweave in various ways from a group of cult sci-fi writers in California to Ian Fleming as he spies for his country and is embroiled in an operation to use occultists against Hitler and the Nazi’s across the water. It sounds bonkers and indeed it is bonkers and I really should have loved it but overall I was just really, really confused. Initially I couldn’t work out how all the strands interlinked and started to resent Arnott for being too clever and showing off with it frankly. A shame for me as the story of Fleming and his days in the secret service which inspired Bond was absolutely blindingly brilliant and I could have read a whole book of. I just didn’t care about the rest, even when Arnott includes some brilliant short pieces of gender bending they lost their sheen when he almost repeated his tricks over and over again. Many people will love this, I just wanted the Fleming sections sadly – it is where the heart of this book really lies.

You can hear myself, Rob, Kate and Gavin discussing this on the second episode of Hear… Read This.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (FSG Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 288 pages, bought by my good self)

A book about a bookstore, or bookshop as we Brits like to call them, should be the perfect read for me and initially this one was. Who could fail to fall for a book that centres around a mysterious bookshop and its mysterious owner, who Clay comes to work for after the recession hits his career, open twenty four hours with some members who take out the strangest books from the most secretive section of the bookshop? I know, sounds amazing. Until Sloan goes all modern world and technological on us, gets the object of Clay’s desires, Kat, to help him solve a mystery and the book then seems to be sponsored by Google every sentence as that is where Kat works. It began to get on my nerves, I wanted less about this one dimension modern youths and more about the strange old people reading the mysterious books in a certain order. Wholly unsatisfying and a wasted opportunity if you ask me, many people LOVE it though.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Kate and Rob discussing this on the first episode of Hear… Read This.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (Canongate, hardback, 2013, fiction, 359 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

The first of the two books that I really wish I had been able to write about after reading them, but Gran was sadly so poorly, is The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood. Set in eighteeth century France, which I know nothing about, I thought I would struggle with the life story of Jean-Marie d’Aumont but I was completely immersed as we followed him begging on the streets, and eating dung beetles (wonderfullt described), to his rise – through patronage and the military – to becoming one of France’s best diplomats and a spy. The period, especially all the shenanigans going on in Versailles, are brought vividly to life without ever having any ‘research’ or showy off detail being banged over your head which I think Grimwood is rather a genius for. The prose is as brilliant as the story, which I thought the ending of was superbly done, and Grimwood creates a heady atmosphere all through the descriptions of food. Subtly and deftly done, marvellous!

You can hear Gavin and myself talking about the book with Jonathan Grimwood on The Readers Book Club (rest its soul) here.

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (Sceptre,hardback, 2012, fiction, 343 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I feel doubly bad about not mentioning Snake Ropes more as not only have I not given it a full review, I also couldn’t record the full episode of The Readers Book Club with Gavin, but family had to come first. Let’s not get maudlin though. So, Jess Richards’ debut is a tale set on an island somewhere just off the edge of any map where all the boys are disappearing. As the novel opens ‘the tall men’ come to the island bringing trade after which Mary, one of our two gutsy narrators, soon discovers her brother is missing and decides she must find him. Elsewhere on the island Morgan tells us of her life locked away from society, but how are the two stories linked? The mystery and tale that follows involves selkies (I loved the heartbreaking selkie tale so much), crows that turn to stone and the Thrashing House, one of the most scary and creepy created building houses I have fictionally stepped into. A wonderfully written, and incredibly emotive, magical tale for adults, highly recommended.

You can hear Gavin and I in conversation with Jess Richards about the book on The Readers Book Club here.

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So that is my first mini-review madness of the week. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Jake Arnott, Jess Richards, Jonathan Grimwood, Mini Reviews, Robin Sloan

Should Have Reads 2009

It’s odd to believe that we have two weeks left of the year to go. It is especially irksome when I look at my shelves and see the wonderful books that came out in 2009 that I simply haven’t read yet. I feel most shameful. Then I think hang on a second I have two weeks to go, I can probably polish off another five or six of them by then and that is where you will be coming in shortly!

Last year I did a list of the books at the end of the year that I had meant to read but hadn’t and ten seemed a huge amount to me then. I think this years list will exceed that, we will see when I compile it below, which is odd considering I have read more books this year than I have any other year. I blame a new love of all classics in particular sensation novels partly and the fact that I still had so much I wanted to read at the end of 2008. From my should have read list last year I have only read two of the books I intended to in 2009 (though lots more I didnt intend to), it’s not promising is it?

So now I will hand it over to all of you as you were so helpful with my Gran’s list last week. Which of the following books published in 2009 that I have on the TBR must I really try and read before the year is through?

  • The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
  • All The Nice Girls – Joan Bakewell
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave
  • War on the Margins – Libby Cone
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
  • The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
  • The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • A Beginners Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi
  • Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link
  • Hells Belles – Paul Magrs
  • One Day – David Nicholls
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith
  • Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler
  • Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

Actually that’s not as bad as I thought it would be. So over to you… which of these books must I try and devour by the end of the year and why? Which books published in 2009 have I missed and should have tracked down? I am looking forward to your thoughts as ever.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Books of 2009, Jake Arnott, Kate Grenville, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah

Taking On My Travels

It’s all going a little bit wrong in the land of Blogger which I am finding quite annoying as it isn’t seeming to let me do any blogs before today when I want it to (additional note this should have been posted successfully at 11am not almost 11pm) and I am fairly unimpressed as I am desperately trying to get my Orange thoughts to you before tomorrow. Burnt Shadows finally seems to be up but it’s not letting me do two more which is really irritating! What I may have to do is put the reviews up in advance and you can get my full thoughts on the list on Wednesday and reviews of the final two afterwards, that cant be considered cheating as frankly I have read them and done the time. It is also annoying when you are trying to write a week worth of blogs so that while you are away magically there is something fun for your readers daily! I have to admit I am seriously thinking about moving blog provider when I come back from Switzerland or will that confuse things even more? Any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated.

Anyway onto happier things I am off on holiday, in fact by the time this goes up I will be there… or even back who knows (I mustn’t think of that or I will worry while I am away and am on an internet break) and so of course I need to have some books to take on my travels. I think I have shown you how I do this before, in fact I have, but I base my travelling choices like this…

a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime

Now because I am away for a week and doing a lot of train travelling across the Swiss landscape there will therefore be a lot of dragging of suitcases, so I have limited myself to five but some of them fit in several categories! So my Swiss TBR pile is looking very much like this…


Vanish – Tess Gerritsen
I love Tess as and author and frankly I have been holding of the next in the series for as long as physically possible. She’s becoming less and less of a guilty pleasure and more and more of an open obsession plus its crime and something that should keep my mind off being up in the air in a plane which I hate with a passion.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy
You know that I love Stella’s work and this is the second in her crime series. I really enjoyed the first and so have high hopes for this, I will be saving it for my flight back as think it will take my mind of being in a tin can so many miles above the earth. Moving swiftly on…

Daphne – Justine Picardie
I have now said I will take this with me and read it on three holidays and its getting out of hand. A book all about the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier and The Bronte’s really is a must read, shame on me. I have just realised I still haven’t done a review of the new Daphne short stories so I will sort that out when I am back.

The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
This sees Jake leave the crime Genre and go all historical on us. I don’t have too much of an insight into what it’s about as I am desperate for it to be a surprise. It’s also been on a travel trip with me and come back unread, second time lucky let’s hope.

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
How could I not, I have managed to hold of the whole way through the Orange shortlist and I refuse to hold off any longer. That is all I have to say on it for the matter. A few of you seem quite divided on this book which has made me all the more intrigued.

…Now tell me London City Airport doesn’t have a book shop does it that could be lethal with time to kill and nerves galore!?! Oh and additional comment, please don’t be offended if I don’t visit your blogs or comment back on here while I am away, I will do so with gusto when I am back!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Jake Arnott, Justine Picardie, Sarah Waters, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

Travel Companions (and a hard but worth while competition)

So by the time you read this I shall probably be on a train going halfway up the country to my homeland, that’s right the blogs you get over the next few days are timed and have been written in advance so I have been less reading and more typing the last few days. It is a mixture of sadness and happiness that takes me up as I love seeing all my family but sadly we are doing my Granddad’s (or as I called him Bongy) ashes, it would have been his 70th birthday on Sunday. Now that may get you all doing some maths, my Mum had me when she was 16 and my grandparents helped raise me when she was at University (well in the holidays – I was with her in term time) so as my Dad wasn’t around Bong was actually the closest thing to a Dad I had. Sadly almost two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and died within seven weeks, and I think the shock, plus logistics of the Savidge Tribe (we are having a close family dinner Sunday and its 20 people) have held us off doing this sooner. I think it’s quite nice it’s his 70th seems timely. Anyway enough doom and gloom this is a book blog not my online therapy outpourings.

So like I said when you read this I will be on the train and what does one need for all good train journeys? No not a book… books. I see the books I travel with as being almost as important as whom I am travelling with. You need something for every possible eventuality; therefore I don’t take a book I tend to take two or three for each direction the ones I don’t read on the way to my destination I can read when I am at it if that makes sense? So I always take about six one of each of the following catagories;
a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors (like we discussed on Thursday)
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime
This so far has stood me in good stead (though do note this isnt the order I read them in) and ok so my bags might be a bit heavy (I always get a tut from the Non-Reader over the amount of books I “need” when we go on trips) but should the train breakdown in the middle of nowhere or we get stranded at a station hey I am all sorted thank you very much.

So for this trip I have enclosed in my luggage in reference to the above formula:
a) Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie (and the latest Savidge Big Reads which you can join in with, I think some of you are already?)
b) Angels & Demons – Dan Brown (as The Da Vinci Code was a complete cheap thrill page turner and also because I am also going to a special screening with Q&A’s with the stars and director next week)
c) Behind The Scenes At The Museum – Kate Atkinson (must try and love this book)
d) The Earth Hums in B Flat – Mari Strachan (and I am taking part in a blog on someone elses site where we get to ask the author lots of questions and you can join in – more of this on Wednesday)
e) The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah (because her books are just superb)
Now what about f? I was stuck I simply had too many contenders. Eventually I managed to whittle it down to five…

If you cant see the picture very well the five are; Daphne – Justine Picardie, The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday, The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott, The Road Home – Rose Tremain or The Secret River – Kate Greville!

So which one did I pick? Well I thought I would leave you guessing and see what you come up with, which one would you have taken? Which one do you think I will have taken? I can’t wait to read your thoughts… and also if you have any particular ‘books for travel’ rules yourselves?

I was going to dish up the results of my nosey findings of what people have been reading on the tube as it fits well with this but as this blog looks a little like a business report I shall hold off with any more lists and bullet points! I am going to run a little competition though… As well as telling me which one I picked from my five and your travel reads habits, if you can guess how many of the books I actually read (and which books they were) from what I have taken I will send you a very special book filled parcel! Adds to the May Bank Holiday Fun for you all I think! You have until 9am Tuesday…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Jake Arnott, Justine Picardie, Kate Atkinson, Kate Grenville, Mari Strachan, Salman Rushdie, Sophie Hannah

Latest Reading Arrivals…

I thought as I have gone a fair few book reviews in the last two days that I would put up some pictures of the latest arrivals here in Tooting Towers. I have had some lovely parcels (some people call them promotional items – I call them presents) from some of the publishers which I always greet with great excitement. You can see these below…

The First Person & Other Stories – Ali Smith (Penguin)

I had the pleasure of reading Girl Meets Boy earlier in the year and so far its still one of my favourite reads in ages, I also loved The Incidental when I read that a few years ago. A collection of short stories that are “always intellectually playful, funny and moving’ should be a joy to read.

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton (Penguin)
The cover (or covers… more when I review) of this makes it look like a gothic mystery novel and I adore those. I have high hopes for a debut which seems to have a massive marketing campaign going and took fifteen years to write. The line “and out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us” sounds deliciously dark. I have to admit I have started this it just looked to good to savour.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (Harper Perenial)
Another one of the Richard and Judy Books of 2009 for which I am doing the challenge. This one is the one that in all honesty (and I will always be honest) has the least appeal to me initially as it seems to be about cricket which I am not a fan of. However its also a book about ‘belonging and not belonging’ which sounds unusual plus it was longlisted for the Man Booker and didnt win which is a good sign. I am more of a fan of the longlisted or shortlisted than the winner.

The Devils Paintbrush – Jake Arnott (Sceptre)
I meant to re-read his novel The Long Firm earlier but didnt manage to get round to it (don’t worry though I will) which is part of his trolgy about gangsters. This scandalous tale is set in Paris in 1903 and is Arnotts first foray into ‘historial fiction’.

The Dog – Kerstin Ekman (Sphere)
Dovegreyreader reviewed this recently and I would never have heard of it if not for her… and the people at NewBooks Magazine who have asked me to review it. It sounds a bit sad though, a puppy getting lost in the wild and having to fight for its survival. However this may actually make the dog loving Non Reader pick up a book after I have finished one for once.

The Prophet Murders – Mehmet Murat Somer (Serpents Tail)
A crime which has the wonderful subtitle of ‘a Hop Ciki Yaya Thriller’ – I am already sold.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon (Harper Perennial)
I cannot count the times that people have told me ‘you will love that book’ its huge so I will be saving it for some very long train journeys I have lined up in a few weeks. The fact its a “heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic” does sound like quirky brilliance so I may very well love it.

King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes (Serpents Tail)
This book has caused quite a lot of controversy of late (well in the broadsheets at the weekend anyway) and has made me want to read it and from the chapter titles (oh its short autobiographical stories) which I shant print just yet I can see why. Its also very short and short reads are the way forward after Mr Toppit I think.

I also went second hand shopping yesterday and found…

The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff (Phoenix)
After the thought provoking The 19th Wife it seemed like fate when I saw this for 50p. The story is again based on real people this time the “story of Danish painter Einar Dresden, this is a strange and eerily haunting novel about a very unusual love affair between a man who realizes he is really a woman and his remarkable wife” sounds unusual and is currently being made into a film with Nicole Kidman and Charlie Theron in it!

The Leopard – Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Vintage)
I have seen this book listed in so many ‘books you must read’ lists and the like that again for 50p how could I say no? I had no idea what it was about but apparently its a materpiece “is set amongst an aristocratic family, facing social and political changes in the wake of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily in 1860” time will tell I sometimes have issues with masterpieces. Love the old Fontana edition I got will feel cultured andretro reading it on the tube.

The Secret River – Kate Grenville (Canongate)
I had been out shopping second hand especially for this. It’s for this reason that charity books are brilliant, money to a good cause and also when your unsure of an author its a good way of trying them before you become addicted and buy everything they do th moment it comes out… or never read them again. I heard Grenville on the Guardian Book Group podcast and despite the fact it pretty much gave everything away (I shant dear readers) I thought I should try it. It is another Man Booker nominee that didnt win so the signs are good I will like it.

As for what I am specifically reading this week after Mr Toppit… mainly short reads including The Dog as mentioned. After a few heavier novels I want some faster fiction plus I had a readers block for a while and short reads are the best medicine for that. I might recah for another Capote maybe. I have also promised Novel Insights (who is on a world tour so wont be blogging till the summer now – selfish) I will read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for our mammoth Rogue Book Group and shes stared already!

Any short read recommendations out there? What are you all reading?

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Filed under Ali Smith, Book Spree, Charles Elton, David Ebershoff, Jake Arnott, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Grenville, Kerstin Ekman, Virginie Despentes

Thingbooks

So yesterday was my first foray into a book group where I didn’t know anyone. I have Cornflower Books book group later on in the week but being online you kind of have your profile or simply your name to hide behind, with a real live one it’s not quite the same. I didn’t realise when I arrived that this was the first Thingbooks book group. Though a few people knew each other most of us didn’t know anyone else and that made me feel some what better as most of us where in the same boat.

The book had been Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and the discussion was very lively. I wont give to much away as will be doing the book review for you tomorrow, but what was nice was that no one stole all the conversation, no one laughed if someone said something a bit silly – unless that person (possibly me) was laughing as well. What I do love about book groups is the fact that you can hear so many different insights into a book. I found myself thinking ‘blimey I never thought that, but yes that’s right’ and also on occasion thinking ‘absolutely not, no way’.

I am really pleased I decided to go, I did actually when arriving at the right Waterstones think briefly about turning round and going home as give me a celebrity to interview and I am fine, give me a room full of strangers and I am absolutely hopeless. One thing that happened which did bond us all as a group, well I thought so, was a woman joined us having no idea what book we had read or who the group was. As Waterstones had simply left a sign saying ‘Sunday book group’ up on the wall she had decided to pop a long. We had just started to discuss some of the graphic scenes in the book and how they made us feel (mainly uncomfortable and nauseous) she suddenly jumped up said ‘well this doesn’t interest me at all’ and marched out. We were all a bit speechless and then dissolved into laughter. Would I go again? Of course, in fact I am when next months book is Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm which I read years ago but can’t remember. I think I liked it but found it confusing. I guess time will tell!

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Filed under Book Group, Brett Easton Ellis, Jake Arnott