Category Archives: Jonathan Grimwood

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