Tag Archives: Bloomsbury Publishing

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

I have been meaning to read Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of The Flood for ages. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get around to opening the first few pages. I think part of it was the question as to whether or not you have to read Oryx and Crake first which I haven’t done. Some people say you do and some people say you don’t. Margaret Atwood herself has said you don’t need to, so I went with her opinion as apparently this is a ‘sister’ novel.

The Year of the Flood is set in the future, though quite when I wasn’t sure I personally felt it wasn’t too much in the distance and yet not in the next decade. The book is told through the experiences and life’s of two members of what people deem the cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ who await ‘the waterless flood’ which will kill out most of mankind. Here their leader Adam One teaches the followers of this mix of science and religion in a slightly free spirited way. After all this is the man who says ‘it is better to hope than to mope’ also showing some of Atwood’s wry humour. Two female members who come into this cult are Ren as a young girl when her mother runs off with her and one of the other members of God’s Gardeners, the other is Toby who is literally though never quite spiritually saved by Adam One.

The book alternates between the voices of Ren in second person and Toby in first person both in the times before ‘The Flood’ and in the times after interspersed with the preaching’s and hymns of Adam One and the God’s Gardeners (which I did find a little irritating – tiny bit – but could see their purpose). Ren has become a dancer and worker in a high class sex club and Toby has been living out of a derelict AnooYoo Spa living off the edible treatments. The question of what the flood is and if human kind, green rabbits and liobambs (dangerous creatures half lion half sheep) can survive is one that you will have to read the book to find out.

Now I don’t want to give anything away but I do need to give a little to explain further why I thought this book was so brilliant. Atwood uses the way the women enter the world of God’s Gardeners in a really interesting way in aspects to their views on it. Ren is brought there as a child and so really knows no better than the confines she is in until she leaves them (I won’t say why or when or how) and has to be a child in the ‘real world’ a world where SecretBurgers are made from just that… secrets ingredients, and if you are a cat fan beware of this chain and where the CorpSeCorps rule everything. Toby herself is rescued from that world and though joins the God’s Gardeners and becomes an Eve herself she is never quite sure if she believes all that she is meant to.

I found these different outlooks on the cult group fascinating and also their reactions to the fearful world outside the God’s Gardeners habitats. It’s also these differing pasts before The Flood that make how both women survive the initial time after when we join them so interesting and so utterly opposite. Mingle in Atwood’s dark tales of urban life, her wry humour, a death scene which made me cry and her thought provoking plot and you can’t really go wrong. Can you tell that I really, really loved this book yet? It’s a speculative spectacle.

So do you need to have read Oryx and Crake first? I hadn’t before I read this, though I will be reading it very soon I can assure you, and I didn’t feel that I was confused by the book as its wonderfully drawn for you with Atwood’s prose and is so rivetingly readable. Maybe I will read Oryx and Crake and think ‘oh no… I know how this ends’ but time will tell. Have you read either of these books?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review

The Brontes Went To Woolworths – Rachel Ferguson

Now I mentioned earlier that I would be popping up a post of one of the books that has been one of my favourite books of the year so far. Now by favourite I don’t mean “best literary read” of the year in this case, though that’s starting to sound negative and I couldn’t be negative about this book if I tried, what I mean by favourite is that its been one of the most funny and barmy reads that I think, as yet, I may ever have read… seriously its just cuckoo but in an utterly brilliant way.

The Bronte’s Went to Woolworths, originally published in the early 1930’s and now brought back by The Bloomsbury Group, isn’t a book about the Bronte sisters being whisked in a time machine to the 1990’s and ending up working for the now defunct chain of shops. What a good premise though, maybe I should write that book myself? It is however a quite brilliantly bizarre tale of the three Carnes sisters, even if the first line in the book is one of them saying they hate books about sisters – its that sort of book.

Katrine is studying to be an actress though for the main ends up playing characters who invariably mislay their virtues. Deirdre, who narrates part of the tale, is a journalist and is now trying to become a novelist. The youngest of the sisters is Sheil who is still studying though seems to have her head in the clouds. These girls along with their mother seem to be living in a world that is half made up with talking nursery teddy bears and dolls accompanying them wherever they go or inventing characters based on people they read about in the newspaper and having them around the dinner. This is all under the watchful and long suffering eyes of Agatha Martin who also narrates the tale and helps you see the fact from the fiction.

However one day at a charity function Deirdre meets the wife of Judge Torrington someone Deirdre read about and has made an imaginary best friend of. What happens when the character she has created genuinely becomes a friend and therefore needs to fit in with the life that has been fictionally created for him? If not it may shatter the fantasy illusions that these sisters seem to have created since the death of their father with their mother playing along. It’s a surreal, very funny in parts and quirky book that if you give it patience will pay of in dividends.

I mention patience as at the start I was worried (oddly after discussing this yesterday) that I wasn’t going to gel with this book at all. The line between what is fantasy and reality can be quite confusing and it did take me about thirty pages or so until I worked out what was what, who was real and who wasn’t. If you don’t like books that need some hard work for great reward or aren’t a fan or the surreal then maybe skip this one. If like me you enjoy both those things, the era of the 1930’s and the writings of Nancy Mitford then you will lap this all up once you have set it straight in your mind and be carried away with it all. Brilliant.

Rachel Ferguson’s not a novelist that I had heard of until I started reading The Bloomsbury Group’s reissued classics but she is definitely be intrigued to read much more of. I have seen that one of her novels ‘Alas, Poor Lady’ has been published by the lovely Persephone and so I think that will be my next port of call for all things Ferguson. Have you read The Brontes Went to Woolworths, if so, what did you make of it? If you haven’t would the slight craziness put you off? Whats the most barmy book that you have read? Do you think we sometimes have to put hard work in as the reader (I do) or should the author make it plain sailing?

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Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt

Sorry… this should have gone up yesterday but as wordpress drafted it rather than scheduled it didn’t show up and as I was working a 15 hour day for a charity fashion show I could do nothing about it, its all here now though.

Have you ever been in a bookshop and seen a novel with the quote “the worldwide bestselling classic” only to then think to yourself “I have never heard of this book before in my life”? Well that is exactly what happened with me when I saw Tuck Everlasting one a shelf a few weeks ago. I honestly had not heard of it before however I have mentioned it to a few people in passing and they have got all excitable about it and so the other afternoon I decided to sit down and have a look at the first few pages. Two hours later the book was finished…

Tuck Everlasting is the tale of both the Tuck family and Winnie Forster. Winnie Forster is a very precocious ten year old girl who is slightly fed up of being at home and is starting to test her freedom. In fact she is resolute that she will runaway as she is always telling the toad at the bottom of the garden and yet inevitably putting the event off. One day after a man in a yellow coat comes to the house they hear what Winnie’s Grandmother says is elf music and the next day a highly dubious Winnie goes off into the woods her family own, but are out of bound to Winnie, to try and find the source of the music. I utterly loved Winnie as a character and could have happily read much more of her than the 140 pages of this book.

Winnie did not believe in fairytales. She had never longed for a magic wand, did not expect to marry a prince, and was scornful – most of the time – of her grandmother’s elves. So now she sat, mouth open, wide-eyed, not knowing what to make of this extraordinary story. It couldn’t – not a bit of it – be true.

What she finds are not elves but instead a young boy, Jesse Tuck, who is drinking from a stream hidden in the wood. When a thirsty Winnie goes to drink from the stream he won’t let her and once his family arrive so worried are they that Winnie has seen the stream they kidnap her. The reason is she now knows of the stream that once you drink from makes you live and stay the same age forever and never die. Once Winnie knows the truth she thinks it would be wonderful, however as the Tuck family show her living forever has its dark and downsides too.

This book is actually a children’s classic, it is one that is definitely is a cross over book though. I am unashamed to add that I was completely and utterly spellbound by the book. It has all the makings of a modern fable and fairytale; you have the inquisitive young girl, the water of eternal life, a boy who can live forever, a very good-in-a-dark-way baddie (beware men in yellow), a few twists and of course a toad.

I really liked Natalie Babbitt’s writing style from the line “the house was so proud of itself that you wanted to make a lot of noise as you passed and maybe even throw a rock or two” it just made me chuckle. Though there are a few laughs in the book, generally with the wonderful Mae Tuck of Winnie, there are some very dark and very sad moments. In fact how children cope with the ending I don’t know as I will admit it left me shocked and with a tear in my eye, I will say no more. This is a wonderful book and will take you on a wonderful journey, not only into the magical and fictional but back to the wonderful fables and fairytales of your youth.

It took me back to when reading for me was a lot more “magical”. I know that sounds corny and I don’t mean that now books I read don’t keep me spell bound but this brought out my inner child I guess. Back when I was young books seemed much more gentle in terms of magic than the full on style that a Harry Potter (I like Harry Potter just so you know) can deliver. I suppose the best way to describe this would be ‘simply spellbinding’ there’s no gimmicks just wonderful story telling. For a small book it also certainly packs one heck of a punch!

Its made me wonder if I have now missed a huge amount of children’s classics that are considered cross-over’s as I never read books like this when I was younger as I really went off reading during school and am now wondering if I am too old for Five Children and It, The Wizard of Oz and children’s classics of old though I did read Alice in Wonderland earlier in the year and really enjoy it. Maybe it’s too late now? Maybe I am too old now to play catch up; hmm it’s a difficult thought that one and a slightly depressing one too! Have any of you read this? What other children’s classics would you recommend? Is there an age where we just shouldn’t be reading children’s books anymore?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Natalie Babbit, Review

Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

Do you ever have the inkling that a book might just be so completely and utterly ‘you’ that you actually put off reading it for quite some time as you are scared of being right? Now I know that sounds a little bit crazy but once you have read that book there are two outcomes. You may either hate it and end up being deflated and forlorn possibly never wanting to open a book again… ever! Or there is the possibility you will love the book so much you wish that you could un-read it and have the pleasure of that first read all over again? Joyce Dennys ‘Henrietta’s War’ is definitely the latter for me, utterly delightful. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me

Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book.

Henrietta is a ‘doctors wife’ (which all the local women think is very important in a slightly unconvinced way) to Charles and mother to Bill and Linnet living in Devon. As we meet her World War II is raging though where she lives the only real way that war is effecting them is the rations and ‘people are talking cockney up and down the high street’. Having home help she spends most of her time trying to join in the War Effort, joining local clubs, doing good, gossiping with her friends (wonderful characters like the bossy Lady B and Mrs Savernake and the flirty Faith who ‘The Conductor’ is in love with) sunbathing on her roof, writing letters to Robert and getting a lot of bed rest.

To have visitors during a Day in Bed is a grave error. It means getting out to do your hair, make up your face, and have your bed made. A little talk on the telephone with a sympathetic friend who is really interested in your symptoms is the only social intercourse that should be allowed. A good deal of pleasure can be derived from asking for your fountain-pen and notepaper, and then not write any letters…

For some people the war wasn’t all bombs and terror, for some in the middle of nowhere it must have felt somewhat removed in many ways and Dennys addresses this. She also looks at how these people lived, admittedly in a comical tongue in cheek way, when the greatest crisis they had was not having enough sugar to make marmalade for the villages ‘Marmalade Week’. We see how the villagers coped and in some ways continued as normal, or as normally as they could, having jumble sales to raise money, joining drama clubs and even at one point getting arrested as Henrietta does.

Most war novels focus on the awful things that happened during that time, what Dennys does with these fictional letters is try and see the light in these dark times and to look for a way to entertain people during the difficulties with laughter.

But now such is Hitler’s power, this evil influence has begun to effect even the residents, and it keeps breaking out in the most unlikely quarters. Miss Piper, the girl in the greengrocers, has gone into jodhpurs; Faith, our friend, looks quite superb in a pair of pin stripped flannels; Mrs Savernack, though I can hardly expect you to believe this, saw fit to appear in a pair of khaki shorts (we all consider her excuse she is digging her way to victory a poor one); and I tell you frankly, Robert, only my love for Charles has kept me out of a pair of green corduroy dungarees.

I haven’t smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite sometime. A perfect and delightful book and if that wasn’t enough there is more… the lovely illustrations that Dennys also put into the letters.  

Images & Words of Dennys

If you love books by Nancy Mitford, or that show WWII from a different view point, or have you laughing out loud on public transport, or like books set in villages that house wonderful quirky characters (or all of these) then this is most definitely a book for you. I was also in many ways reminded of Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter Downes which I loved earlier in the year. I am so pleased that this gem has been brought back by Bloomsbury and into the mainstream for people to enjoy. I can think of three people instantly I will be buying copies for. I am only hoping, with everything crossed, that Bloomsbury decides to release ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ which would just be wonderful.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Group, Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Joyce Dennys, Review

The House At Midnight – Lucie Whitehouse

I had mentioned in a previous post that I really wanted to read a book set in a grand stately home whilst I myself stayed in the same setting. Now my intention was to read the book, which was Lucie Whitehouse’s debut novel ‘The House At Midnight’, while I was there but being busy took over and so its taken me a fair while to actually sit down and read it. In fact actually until Thursday I was only about 25 pages in, which then having book group meant it was held off an evening. Last night I finally got myself all curled up on the sofa and before I knew it five hours had gone by and the book was finished.

‘The House At Midnight’ is a tale set in Stoneborough Manor, in deepest Oxfordshire. In these grand surroundings a group of friends meet after Lucas Heathfield inherits the property from his uncle Patrick. Lucas’ grand scheme is to use this house as a weekend retreat for all his university friends to escape from the hustle and bustle of their city lives now most of them are in London. However within days of their first stay at the Manor things start to change between them.

Lucas declares his love for his best friend Joanna (who is also our narrator of the novel) something the group of friends has been expecting for years. There are the old sayings though that ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ and that ‘friendships shouldn’t become relationships’ and as the lines, not only between Joanna and Lucas but within the rest of the group too, blur between friendship and more things becoming increasingly more complex and darker. Throughout the year that follows desire mounts, sexuality flows and a whole mix of emotions arise all under the confines of a Manor which slowly but surely seems to be having a strange effect on Lucas who becomes more and more obsessed about his past and the dark secrets that lie in it and also the secrets that lie in all of his friends lives.

I admit I was expecting from the cover that this would be an epic chilling, thrilling ghost story. It’s not. What it is in fact is a domestic drama about a group of people as they reach their thirties and how emotions, desire and greed can push people together and pull them apart shattering relationships and friendships as they go. In many ways it reminded me of a British middle-class homage to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, I could also see shades of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in terms of the relationships between the younger generations in that novel.

I was really impressed with Lucie Whitehouse’s debut, and though I ended up reading something quite different from what I thought I was getting, I honestly couldn’t put it down. Even though this wasn’t a ghost story it’s incredibly gripping and has one heck of a twist in its tail for you. Through out the book you’re constantly wondering where the next twist and drama is going to come from. Though it isn’t technically a thriller either the way that Whitehouse writes she doesn’t need to leave a cliff hanger at every chapter ending to make you want to read the end. I found this an immensely enjoyable read and look forward to whatever Lucie writes next, highly recommended.

And speaking of houses at midnight, I will be shifting between houses at midnight tonight I am moving house this weekend! It’s all been quite sudden and I have been keeping it close to my chest as didn’t want to jinx it. I love the new place, its great and its also HUGE… all the more room for more books!!!

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Daphne – Justine Picardie

I have had this book on the TBR pile for quite some time now and though have picked it up on several occasions I have never ended up reading as I have been slightly in fear of it. Not in fear of the size or subject matter, more in the fear that I wouldn’t like it and that no book could do justice to the life of my favourite writer. I also had the thought that if I read something which had been so thoroughly researched about Daphne I might not like her and that could tarnish all my reading experiences of her in the future and from the past. So with trepidation I opened the first page and…

I could barely put ‘Daphne’ down! The book is of course mainly about Daphne Du Maurier, though this is not a fictionalised life story which some people might assume. This is actually set in the late 50’s when Daphne herself was herself 50. It was a turbulent time in her life and actually inspired the collection of short stories in ‘The Breaking Point’ which I read only the other week. Her husband ‘Boy’ Browning was in a nursing home after a breakdown and so Daphne moved for a while to London and into Boy’s cramped flat where she was then confronted by his mistress ‘The Snow Queen’ who asked Daphne to free ‘Boy’ and that hiding his affair was clearly killing him.

Desperate to save her marriage despite her own affairs Daphne tries to turn Menabilly into the perfect ‘family’ and ‘marital home’ only not only does thoughts of the Snow Queen take her over but also the ghost of her own fictional creation Rebecca haunts and taunts her in her lonely hours. She then decides to throw herself fully into her latest project, the biography of Branwell Bronte. In doing so she strikes up a correspondence with scholar and Branwell expert Alex Symington who seems to have some secrets when it comes to all things Bronte especially after being ‘let go’ from the Parsonage Library itself because of the dealings of himself and his previous colleagues.

There is also third strain to the story as a young woman in Hampstead whose current situation seems to bear similarities to both Daphne in her 50’s but even more so to the ‘unnamed’ narrator of Daphne’s most famous works ‘Rebecca’. To escape the problems of her own marriage and her unhappiness by burying herself in a thesis on Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte’s and their writings and also what she believes is a 50 year old literary mystery.

After taking a few pages to get used to reading one of my favourite authors as a character and as fiction (though quite clearly Justine Picardie has researched Daphne Du Maurier to the nth degree) I literally couldn’t stop reading the book. Though there are three narratives, and frankly I myself could overdose on all of the parts told through Daphne’s eyes, this is essential to the movement and mystery of the story as a whole. We get extra insights into the whole scenario through these different eyes and we piece the whole mystery together ourselves.

I imagine many people who haven’t read any Du Maurier (shame on you all) or any of the works by the Bronte’s (which includes me apart from having read Wuthering Heights, though I have been to the parsonage) would possibly think this book would leave them alienated, I honestly don’t think it would. As a stand alone book, though it’s a complex tale Justine Picardie tells, yet it all weaves together effortlessly. It is beautifully written too, the prose is quite stunning and in some parts poetic. I think this book must have been a true labour of love to write (the details have all been immaculately researched) the results are fantastic. This is an ideal book for any ‘bookworms’ out there without question.

This is a book anyone could enjoy not just the die hard Daphne fans like me, some of whom (cough) might have been both excited and worried about it, though if you loved Rebecca this is a great accompaniment. Justine Picardie handles this like a true master, you can also tell she completely loves the subject, I will definitely be reading more from her in the future. This is highly recommended reading, I have probably left something out I could praise this book till the cows come home.

I would love to do a Savidge Reads Grills with Justine only I dont know how to get in touch with her… if any of you do, do let me know!

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Daphne Du Maurier, Justine Picardie, Review

Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

This was actually the book that the person who was once named The Non Reader, and has now become The Converted One (thanks to Books Psmith - Brighton Rock in the post) bought me quite a while back. In such an effort to find a book that I liked and didn’t own, The Converted One checked in all my TBR boxes and piles, on my shelves, even asked a few friends and then made sure the reviews in the press and some of my favourite authors quotes we all good before buying.. I have to say The Converted One’s research would have culminated into one of my favourite books of the year… only for the book to then turn up three days later in the post from the people at Bloomsbury! It’s the thought though that counts!

Burnt Shadows for me has been a complete and utter joy to read. In fact I could go as far as to say its one of the rare books that you pick up, devour, put down and then get itching to start at again. It’s going to be a hard book to review because there is so much to encompass and so much to praise but I will do my best.

The story follows possibly my favourite character of the year so far (and there have been a few contenders) Hiroko Tanaka on August the 9th 1945 in Nagasaki just before they dropped the bomb and ‘the world turns white’. Though Hiroko survives her German lover Konrad is killed. Two years later as India declares its independence she turns up on his half-sisters door step in Delhi with nowhere to stay and becomes attracted to their servant Sajjad and all this is in the first 60 pages. The book then follows Hiroko’s story and the story of people around her (that’s all I am saying trying not to plot spoil) through more pivotal times in history such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and America post 9/11.

Burnt Shadows as you can probably tell is an epic novel. However despite the subject matter, which is dealt with in a thought provoking, shocking, touching and yet tactful the book never feels heavy even though at times it is wrought with emotion. If I had one small complaint it would be that I could have read another 200 pages easily. In keeping the book just over 340 pages long Shamsie does hurry slightly towards the quite amazing climax.

Hiroko herself is an additional reason that you should read the book. A quirky sparky victim of her times at no one point does she ever complain she just keeps trying and hoping (this isn’t a woe is me tale because Shamsie doesn’t ever let it be) and most importantly observing. Some would say that to cover all the different era’s, cultures, and issues of this time span would be far too ambitious for any writer and yet I thought that Shamsie did this effortlessly, there must have been hours and hours of research that went into this book and without question it has paid off. I can unashamedly say that I think this is one of my favourite books of the year so far no question.

I don’t feel that I have written enough to justify what an amazing book it is, but then I don’t really think I could if I wrote for about ten pages of praise for the novel. I will simply say please read it. Do I think it could win the Orange Prize? Yes I do and part of me thinks that it definitely should however it has one contender which I haven’t reviewed yet which I think is the other most deserving winner and in fact I am hoping that both of these books make it onto the Man Booker list later in the year, but more of that another time…

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Kamila Shamsie, Orange Prize, Review

The Flaneur – Edmund White

I used to read quite a lot of Edmund White when I was younger and have been meaning to read some of his newer stuff ever since Bloomsbury sent me a few of his latest works. I didn’t know what The Flaneur would be about but it sounded a little different and was something non fiction so I thought I would give it a go.

With The Flaneur what Edmund White gives us is essentially his guide through the city of Paris. By actual definition a flaneur is someone who walks the streets and observes life as it passes, watching the world go by in all its wonderment. Now if this (like it does with me) describes you and you are indeed someone who loves to stroll and people watch this is a book for you.

What Edmund White has as an edge is the perspective of someone who has lived in Paris for years and knows the ins and outs of its history backstreets and where those who know Paris like the back of their hands go to. It’s like a much more personal and interesting Rough Guide in some ways, not that I am saying rough guides aren’t well written. I just think this has an edge in terms of being a much more personal stroll through the streets.

Not only are you told the hotspots to go and where to visit for history that isn’t in the Louvre or on the tour guides, you are given various histories of Paris. The book is quite short (I wish I had had this when I went to Paris last year) so is perfect to take with you should you go away but is also incredibly easy to read and wonderfully written. There are only six chapters in the book and each one seems to be an essay on a specific side to Paris. If the word ‘essay’ makes it sound like its boring then ignore the word because it is far from it.

The first subject rightly so is simply just Paris and a kind of love letter to it. There are also chapters on the immigration of all different nationalities coming into Paris and making it the racial and cultured mix that it now is where as once it was a predominantly white city. I found this chapter fascinating especially in terms of the black soldiers in the war which made me think of part of the story in Hillary Jordan’s wonderful ‘Mudbound’. Part of the book is dedicated to the literal ‘gay Paris’ and looks at that side of the city and its flamboyant and yet very dark history. My favourite parts of the book were actually the literary history of the city. White wrote a biography of Genet and he is mentioned in this book too alongside the stories of writers like Colette, Balzac, Flaubert, Bechet and many, many more.

All in all if you enjoy White’s work anyway you will love this book especially as it gives you even more insight into his life. If you are a fan of Paris then this is also definitely a book for you. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the history of cities, watching life pass by, literary history, travel and wonderful writing. It was a wonderfully surprising treat to read.

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The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale

So I am on time for the second of the Richard & Judy Books of 2009, and it is the superb The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. Nothing to do with the fact that I had in fact read this book last year and it was in fact in my Savidge Dozen, ok it’s sort of cheating but not really. I mean be fair, with the amount of books arriving at the moment I need to keep ahead. So here is the review from when I read it back in November…

The subtitle of the book refers to the fact that this is not your normal gothic Victorian murder mystery; it’s a real murder mystery. In fact ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ somewhat gripped the nation back in 1860 and saw the dawn of the detective in the form of Jack Whicher. This murder mystery in a country house where one of the occupants definitely did it sparked imaginations of the greats and inspired novels by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins over the years. The case took place during the night in Summer 1860, the next morning the body of a young boy was found having died in tragic circumstances, the police couldn’t work out who had done it and so Scotland Yard were called. The case became huge news and in the small town of Road there was uproar and unwanted attention with the whole world guessing ‘whodunit’.

Now I am not a massive fan of non fiction, I love diaries and letters but with most non fiction I tend to wander and read it alongside my fiction, the fiction taking priority. Not when this book was around it wasn’t. Summerscale makes all the facts and theories turn into a wonderful and spellbinding read that could put to shame some crime fiction around at the moment. The research she has done is incredible down to the trains caught on what dates, the timetables from the time to match the possible escape of the killer. Clothes worn, movements of every member of the household and makes it come to life effortlessly. You really could have been a member of the public at the time following the case, making your own assumptions and falling for the red herrings along the way.

The book does also deal with the time significantly after the murder and looks at the future of all those involved including the murderer themselves. What is also fascinating with this book is that Summerscale shows how the best writers of that era and just after used various parts of this story and its characters to create some of the masterpieces still being read today such as the ‘Moonstone’ so it’s a fascinating look at the history of crime fiction and the ‘sensationalist’ novels that became so popular following, and of course left me with a list as long as my arm of books to read in the future.

This book is nothing short of pure brilliance, and will appeal to so many people for so many reasons. If you love books then you can learn about the history and add another twenty to your TBR. If you love crime then read the murder that helped establish the genre. If you love a good yarn this ones brilliant and its true. If you like non-fiction then the research and facts you’ll read and learn without even knowing is unbelievable. Yes you might have guessed that this book is one of my very favourites of the whole year, simply a must read.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Kate Summerscale, Review, Richard and Judy

A Perfect Waiter – Alain Claude Sulzer

I have to say until about three quarters of the way into this I wasn’t sure how much I liked this novel. Now I do not mean I thought it was a bad novel. The writing is beautifully the setting is wonderful but I didn’t like the characters of which for a lot of it there are only two. However with the arrival of the third character the plot suddenly speeded up and produced an ending that I hadn’t expected at all. Isn’t it funny how a character can make you feel about a book? In fact I think that could be a future blog… anyway the book.

The novel begins with Ernest who is work obsessive, he never really speaks to his family, bar his cousin Julia, and isn’t particularly friendly with any of his co-workers he likes to keep his life a solitary one (the whole way through I wanted to know what had made him that way) out of the blue he receives a letter from an old friend Jakob. He hasn’t seen Jakob for over thirty years since the mid 1930’s when he came to work in the same hotel in the Swiss mountains.

What follows is quite a sad and desolate study of love. From when they meet Ernest is uncontrollably taken with Jakob to the point of nearing obsession and when they do become lovers he becomes like an addiction. However we know from the start that suddenly Jakob left what we don’t know is why. You need to read the book to find out that part. I found the relationship between the men incredibly well written; I thought the insight as to what it was like to be gay in that era was quite insightful as well. I would have liked to have seen more reaction to it as the book focuses in a very insular way on just the two men at first.

Jakob I have to admit I didn’t like to read, I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t take to him at all. He isn’t a particularly nice character however sometimes we all love a good villain. I didn’t understand why he was the way he was, in fact that could actually be applied to Ernest and his background too, I wanted to know a lot more about them than I was given. I loved the parts with Ernest’s cousin Julia in, but they still didn’t open up his past or nature of his character any further which was saddening for me. Three quarters of the way through the book another character is introduced a long with a quite sudden and shocking twist to the plot who is a character with real background and who I enjoyed reading more.

The final quarter of the book is what made me think that this was something special as I had been on the fence with this novel until then. The pace suddenly picks up, I don’t know if it’s the original or the translation but though the prose is stunning it’s actually quite repetitive in parts. I would recommend people give this a go as its something different. I saw a review that this is a gay version of ‘Remains of the Day’ I wouldn’t say that by any means (because I haven’t read it – shocking I know), I think from what I do know of them, they are quite different. What it is however is a look at how love can go wrong, become obsession and the consequences of that.

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The Tales of Beedle The Bard – J.K. Rowling

One of the most eagerly anticipated books of the year that is quite sure to become on of the biggest sellers of the year popped through my door (with a couple of others that I will write about tomorrow) and landed on my matt today. Yes the latest of J.K. Rowling’s books ‘The Tales of Beedle The Bard’ has come out. After the success of the Harry Potter novels could something different do as well?

The answer is… for children and hardcore fans definitely. It doesn’t really qualify as a book of totally new works because of the fact that Dumbledore runs a commentary throughout the whole book, so actually the book isn’t as full of tales as you would believe, and it is also translated by Hermione, so still has masses of Potter running through it.

The tales however are brilliant and Rowling seriously knows how to spin a tale be it long or short. Having read Perrault’s fairy tales and re-embracing my love of them earlier in the year this was another joy to read and I can imagine if Rowling made more they could become the fairy tales of future generations. My absolute favourite, though I thought it was a bit gory for children, was ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ I just thought it was simply brilliant.

All five stories are great though be it for morals such as ‘The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’ which teaches you about greed, ‘The Fountains of Fair Fortune’ which had a lovely moral to it that I wasn’t expecting and wont give away. You can find something scary in ‘The Warlocks Hairy Heart’. A brilliant main character and almost traditional fairy tale in ‘Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump’ and another almost traditional tale in ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ which I think was my least favourite.

Potter fans and children alike will absolutely love this. It’s also for charity so if you want to remember when you were a kid and someone sat down and told you a good story then pick this up and curl up on your sofa.

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The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

With a superb title like that how could you possibly not want to read this book? The reviews through the blogosphere had been fantastic however with a huge TBR pile I wasn’t sure whether I should take a risk on it or not. Well after receiving a copy in the post recently it went almost straight to the top of my TBR and having just put it down I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The novel is set in 1946 and the author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams a Guernsey farmer. He has found her previous address in an old copy of Charles Lamb and has written to her to find out if she knows any more on the author and if she can recommend anymore reads for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Juliet is naturally, as you would be, intrigued by the society and the people of Guernsey who have joined it and how it was formed. This sees the beginning of letters between the members of the society and Juliet. It also sees letters between her and her publisher, possible wooer and best friend as she embarks on a journey of discover of Guernsey after the occupation of the war. What exactly is the society; well you should read it to find out!

Juliet is a fantastic lead character. Having spent the war writing ‘Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War’ under the pseudonym she now wants to start writing something new and more importantly as herself. She is a real sparky and unconventional character for her time. She has previously dumped a former fiancé because when she came upstairs he had packed all her books away into the basement and filled her shelves with his trophies. She isn’t afraid of wicked journalists throwing a kettle at ones head ‘though it was empty and didn’t do any damage’.

The characters of the society almost, almost steal the show with their own tales, some funny and some incredibly moving especially the story of Elizabeth who was sent to prison leaving her daughter behind who the rest of the society look after. Of course you are taken a long and educated in it all through Juliet’s journey, I learnt so much about Guernsey and the occupation I had no idea about. I frankly wanted to pack my bags and head of there myself to take in the atmosphere and history further; you can see why Mary Ann Shaffer fell in love with the area on a visit and wanted to write about it.

Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer died before she could see her books get published although she knew it was going to be published. It’s a real shame as her voice was wonderful, managing to mix tales of deadly wit (I was reminded of Nancy Mitford when reading some of the book) with some harrowing tales and takes you along the emotions of everyone involved. Sometimes I had to remind myself it was fiction.

This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year. I was worried a book of letters would become complicated especially with the amount of characters that this book contains but every voice is unique and I whizzed through the letters, I couldn’t wait to hear the latest from all the characters. Why has letter writing gone out of fashion it’s such a shame I think it needs to come back, maybe I should start a letter writing group for book lovers?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2008, Mary Ann Shaffer, Review

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale

You know when you keep seeing a book and you pick it up four or five times in the space of a few weeks and you think you want it, people have said you should read it and you just think you have too many books? If this is the case just buy the blinking book, as this is how I have been feeling about Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ as it suggests, and frankly I think this is one of the best books that I have read all year. So I must say a thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this.

The subtitle of the book refers to the fact that this is not your normal gothic Victorian murder mystery; it’s a real murder mystery. In fact ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ somewhat gripped the nation back in 1860 and saw the dawn of the detective in the form of Jack Whicher. This murder mystery in a country house where one of the occupants definitely did it sparked imaginations of the greats and inspired novels by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins over the years. It all started on an unremarkable evening during the night in Summer 1860, the Kent family went to bed a s normal however the next morning the body of a young boy was found having died in tragic circumstances, the police couldn’t work out who had done it and so Scotland Yard were called. The case became huge news and in the small town of Road there was uproar and unwanted attention with the whole world guessing ‘whodunit’.

Now I am not a massive fan of non fiction, I love diaries and letters but with most non fiction I tend to wander and read it alongside my fiction, the fiction taking priority. Not when this book was around it wasn’t. Summerscale makes all the facts and theories turn into a wonderful and spellbinding read that could put to shame some crime fiction around at the moment. The research she has done is incredible down to the trains caught on what dates, the timetables from the time to match the possible escape of the killer. Clothes worn, movements of every member of the household and makes it come to life effortlessly. You really could have been a member of the public at the time following the case, making your own assumptions and falling for the red herrings along the way.

The book does also deal with the time significantly after the murder and looks at the future of all those involved including the murderer themselves. What is also fascinating with this book is that Summerscale shows how the best writers of that era and just after used various parts of this story and its characters to create some of the masterpieces still being read today such as the ‘Moonstone’ so it’s a fascinating look at the history of crime fiction and the ‘sensationalist’ novels that became so popular following, and of course left me with a list as long as my arm of books to read in the future.

This book is nothing short of pure brilliance, and will appeal to so many people for so many reasons. If you love books then you can learn about the history and add another twenty to your TBR. If you love crime then read the murder that helped establish the genre. If you love a good yarn this ones brilliant and its true. If you like non-fiction then the research and facts you’ll read and learn without even knowing is unbelievable. Yes you might have guessed that this book is one of my very favourites of the whole year, simply a must read.

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In The Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami

After having read a few ‘ropey’ books that were not exactly my sort of book but also not really ones that I have particularly enjoyed ‘In The Miso Soup’ by Ryu Murakami. Bizarrely this wasn’t actually the book that I had originally wanted, I wanted ‘Piercing’ which is a shocking tale of a man who stands with an ice pick above his child’s crib every night. But you don’t want to hear about that story you want to hear about this one.

The story is told by Kenji, an unlicensed tour guide of Tokyo, however this isn’t the normal tourist traps, he is a guide of the darker back streets and red light district. He is a sex tourist guide. We first meet him as he first meets his latest client an American called Frank. However there is something odd about Frank, he has a slightly inhuman quality and he lies, not just ashamed business man lies, but lies that sink deeper. There has also been a murder or two in Tokyo of late and evidence seems to point to Frank, but is Kenji’s client a psychopath, and if so will Kenji survive three nights or be an accomplice to murder?

This book was fantastic. At only 180 pages it manages to pack a real punch. You have a meaty and clever story line that not only studies the minds of psychopaths but also looks at the sex industry in Tokyo in modern times. I found the character of Frank fascinating and incredibly creepy. While there are some seriously gruesome scenes this book is more creepy and sinister than all out gore, a dark and disturbing modern thriller all in all.

This is the book that Grotesque really wanted to be but in about 300 less pages and with much greater pace and intrigue. The more Chinese and Japanese writing I read the more I love it. So with that I am really looking forward to reading more of it, and will be ordering ‘Piercing’ as soon as possible. Though this may not be the sort of subject that you may want to read, try, its great writing and you’ll manage it in one sitting I promise, it also has an ending that seriously makes you think.

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