Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Discordia

Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple journey to Greece to cover the state of the nation following financial collapse. Discordia reports on the struggle of normal people who have gone from living comfortably to the other side of the poverty line. They look at the failings of the government and austerity measures that are making things worse and the rise of fascism and violence towards immigrants.

It’s an eye-opening look at a country many of us wouldn’t hesitate to go to on our summer holidays. Perhaps it is a little one-sided but it’s a side we don’t really get to hear about. My heart goes out the people of Greece whose lives have been ruined by economics and the innocent who are blamed in the backlash. It’s also quite critical of traditional press, both in Greece and at home, looking at the natural evolution of reporting in the digital age but Laurie also explains how it’s hard making a living as an independent journalist. Sometimes she is not welcomed on either side of the picket line.

Of course, what sets Discordia apart from other pieces of journalism is Molly’s wonderful illustrations. The ink and pencil drawings are the perfect medium for ebooks, something that the eInk renders well. I will admit to reading it on my iPad for the subtleties of colour but really, they don’t need to be seen in colour to be appreciated. They are a mix of sketches on ruled notebooks, made on the spot, and more considered drawings done from photos and memories. Laurie’s text and Molly’s drawings were done independently of each other but they fit together seamlessly, drawn from the same experiences.

I’m not sure if it was a compatibility issue or a formatting error with the ePUB but there were some duplicate images. This could be on purpose, but the illustrations are placed at relevant points in the text, and where the duplicates appeared they just didn’t seem to correspond. I would be interested to know if anyone noticed this on the Kindle version.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Mad River

It starts with a robbery gone wrong. Jimmy, Becky and Tom are three teenagers with no future. When Jimmy kills Agatha O’Leary, daughter of a wealthy family, the trio go on the run, leaving a swathe of murders in the wake. Virgil Flowers of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is called in to track them down before anyone else is harmed. Soon he discovers there’s more than meets the eye.

Mad River is the 6th book in the Virgil Flowers series however this is the first book by John Sandford that I have read and it worked well as a standalone novel. At first glance this book sounded like an episode of Criminal Minds; there are killers on the loose and we and the authorities know perfectly well who they are. The race against time across Minnesota was gripping and kept good pace. What it was lacking was the more psychological aspect. What really tipped them over the edge other than a crappy life? I did start to feel a little sorry for Becky, and perhaps even Jimmy at the end, enough to care what happens to them.

I didn’t find Virgil a very engaging protagonist. Perhaps reading the series from the start gives him more of a personality and the character development has already been done but, other than his job, I couldn’t tell you much about him. There’s a sort of on/off relationship which seems to just be plonked in and doesn’t have much relevance to the plot.

Despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable read and whilst I wouldn’t run out to read the whole series, I wouldn’t avoid his other books in future either. I just need a bit more character to my characters.

Mad River is published by Simon & Schuster and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Monday, 29 October 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey

I lost my reading mojo in the last fortnight but it's picking back up now. Really feel like I've a lot of unfinished books on the go that I do want to finish at some point but now isn't the right time. Although I can't put my finger on what books are working for me right now, which doesn't help!

A few weeks ago I joined Gav and Simon on The Readers podcast to talk about Lucy Wood's wonderful short story collection, Diving Belles. Yes, I did forget to include it in the last update! I'm also on the Curiosity Quills blog spotlight answering a few questions about books and blogging.



Read last fortnight:
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen
The Guard by Peter Terrin
The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson
Mad River by John Sandford
Discordia by Laurie Penny

Also reviewed:
Dark Lover by J.R. Ward
Pantomime by Laura Lam
The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon
The Calling by Kelley Armstrong

Currently reading:
Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman
Kept by Shawntelle Madison

Upcoming reads:
Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

Also on the blog:
Catalogue Spotlight: Quercus | Vintage Books Readers' Day
Incoming | Catalogue Spotlight: Gallic Books
Literary Giveaway Blog Hop | Incoming!



Search terms:*

"french for rabbits"
A very specialised language course.

"curiosity killed your virginity"
That's a harsh way of putting it.

"dead people in my photos and trees and clouds"
*backs away slowly*

"scary clowns at doorsteps"
This is something I'd like to avoid this Halloween.

"me before you by jojo moyes philippe pozzo di borgo"
Not the same story guys!

*Idea stolen borrowed from Amanda's Clock Rewinders feature.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Haunted Book

When Jeremy Dyson is contacted by journalist Aiden Fox to uncover Britain’s hidden ghost stories, he embarks a hardened sceptic. As he sets off around the country he learns how the mundane can turn terrifying in an instant.

The success of many of these stories is the complete normality running up to the ghost encounter. One minute you’re reading about the minutiae of everyday lives and the next an edge of fear has crept into the text. The fear that a noise or a touch can bring is somehow much more real than monsters that lurk in the dark. Hardened horror fans may find the pace a little slow but I found several of the stories really gave me the creeps.

The Haunted Book is rather ambiguously marketed, presented as a collection of ghost stories from around Britain sourced by Dyson. It is left up to the reader to decide the truth but inevitably it becomes clear it if fiction masquerading as non-fiction. Even if you are inclined to believe in the stories themselves, the fact that there’s a book within a book, within a book would leave very little that could be genuinely attributed to Dyson.

Like many short story collections, there are hits and misses and I found myself skipping over a few. Yet there was always the feeling that you could turn the page to be confronted with something terrifying and the lack of it just adds a little to the tension. What really lifted the book for me was the end; hidden away in those black pages. If you are a book geek you will love it. Maybe every book should end that way!

The physical hardback is certainly one of those books that begs to be picked up. Indeed, when reading at my desk during lunch (because I’m a big wimp and need to read scary things in daylight) several people came and leafed through it. The designer has managed to replicate the old journal look perfectly.

The Haunted Book will be published by Canongate in hardback and ebook editions on 1st November 2012. Jeremy Dyson is better known as co-creator of The League of Gentlemen and the West End show Ghost Stories. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

Contrary to what this may look like, I am trying to cut down on books between now and Christmas. Which is quite hard when there are lovely publicists waving proofs around on Twitter but I have mostly been restrained! There may have been some accidental clicking in the Kindle sale too but they don't count... Do they?


For Review:
Doppler by Erlend Loe (Head of Zeus)
The Sentinel by Mark Oldfield (Head of Zeus)
The Twyning by Terence Blacker (Head of Zeus)

Bought:
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (book group)
Betrayal by Gregg Olsen (newbooks magazine)
Lily Vanilli's Sweet Tooth
Discordia by Laurie Penny
The Vampire Shrink by Lynda Hilburn
The Mall by S.L. Grey
Home Improvement: Undead Edition




Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop

Welcome to the 6th Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Leeswammes! There are 50 blogs taking part and each one is giving away something bookish (with the emphasis on literary fiction). The hop runs until 31st October so there's plenty of time to visit all the blogs (see linky list at the bottom of this post).


So, onto my giveaway. I can never decide on just one book so the winner will have a choice between Liz Jensen's The Uninvited or Peter Heller's The Dog Stars. Both are 2012 releases that I loved and I hope you will too. The giveaway is open internationally (providing The Book Depository ship to your country) and entry is via Rafflecopter. If you don't want to follow me in any shape or form, you get one free entry but there are bonus entries for followers and sharing.



Friday, 26 October 2012

The Confidant

When Camille receives a letter describing events from pre-war France, she is sure that the writer has got the wrong address. When the letters continue to arrive, she starts to suspect one of her authors, pitching a new novel in a different yet sneaky manner. But as the letters keep coming, they tell the story of Louis and Annie, struggling with their own personal drama against the back drop of war. Camille becomes wraps up in the story as she slowly comes to realise that she is not a random recipient.

When the novel opens, Camille’s mother has just died and the last of the condolence letters had dropped through the door. Set, in part at least, in 1970s Paris, this allows the letter format to be less out of place than today. An untraceable correspondence full of secrets and lies; a confession on behalf of others.

When the letters start, they sound like a very normal tale of a boy and a girl in rural France, but soon artistic Annie is whisked off to Paris by a glamorous woman merely known as Madame M. In her naivety, on learning of her friend’s infertility, Annie offers to bear a child on her behalf. In the years after the Great War, there was a huge push to repopulate France and having children was practically their patriotic duty. But as you can imagine, a simple act of kindness can soon turn nasty and The Confidant soon turns into a gripping tale.

Just as Camille starts to crave the next instalment, the reader will want to keep going until the shattering end. It’s one of those books I instantly wanted to go back and read again. Whilst the modern day story was relevant, it didn’t take over and didn’t leave me feeling it was getting in the way of the historical one. Overall it’s a wonderfully well balanced time-slip novel. Camille’s circumstances mean that the unfolding story resonates with her and there are some connections, perhaps more would be made on a re-read. Hindsight is such a useful thing!

Originally written in French by Hélène Grémillon, The Confidant has been translated into English by Alison Anderson and is now available in paperback and book editions from Gallic Books. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. But before you go away, Hélène also took the time to answer some of my questions on The Confidant

What was the inspiration behind The Confidant?

My wish from the start was to write a conflict between two women.

What drew you to WWII as a back drop for The Confidant?

I was trying to work out what the issue between the two women could be, knowing that I didn’t want to just be a fight for a man. At the same time, I was looking for a birthday present for a friend who is a doctor, and I was in a bookshop of ancient “medical” books. I was intrigued by the title of a book on a table in front of me: Hygiene and physiology of marriage, natural and medical history of a married man and woman. I flicked through and read the chapter on sterility and in that moment, I knew that my story would centre around this problem, and during the Second World War.

Do you feel that letter writing is a lost art and did that play a part in setting the “modern” part of the novel in the 70s?

Of course we write fewer and fewer letters today, even I don’t write any, it’s a genre that terrifies me, now that we’re keeping what we having to say short and quick. I felt a renewed love for the “art” whilst I was writing The Confidant, even if we can’t say that they’re typical letters. I had in the corner of my mind Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos in the corner of my mind whilst I was writing. It’s a wonderful epistolary novel.

What involvement do you have in the translation process? Is it different depending on the language?

The cases have been different. Some translators contacted me, or asked to meet me to ask questions, and to produce the best work, hand in hand with me. I’m thinking primarily of my Dutch, Chinese and Hebrew translators. I loved meeting them; it was very exciting and very rewarding. I love the human contact through the text. But as I don’t speak those languages, my involvement stopped there. The translation on which I worked the most was the English text, and I read the different versions. The Americans too kept me informed when they wanted to make adjustments. I never thought about translations when I was writing The Confidant, yet it’s one of the best things to happen to me with this book.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Belgravia Books

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Catalogue Spotlight: Gallic Books

Gallic Books is a small, independent publisher dedicated to bringing French fiction to an English reading audience. They also run the wonderful Belgravia Books (where you can often pick up their titles for a bargain price). 2013 will mark their 6th year in business.

The A26 by Pascal Garnier
February: paperback / ebook

For someone who isn't a huge fan of noir, It's off that I am always drawn to Pascal Garnier's books. They always sound like they have an interesting twist and a hint of dark humour. I do already have The Panda Theory on my TBR so I should really read tha first but Gallic have several of his titles translated in their noir collection.

The future is on its way to Picardy with the construction of a huge motorway. But nearby is a house where nothing has changed since 1945.

Traumatised by events in 1945, Yolande hasn’t left her home since.

And life has not been kinder to Bernard, her brother, who is now in the final months of a terminal illness.

Realizing that he has so little time left, Bernard’s gloom suddenly lifts. With no longer anything to lose, he becomes reckless – and murderous …

Helena Rubenstein: The Woman who Invented Beauty by Michèle Fitoussi
March: paperback / ebook

Not a particularly French sounding book, although I'm sure she was quite influencial in French fashion circles, but it seems like a facsinating story of an incredibly successful woman in time when they usually had to bow to male counterparts.

Helena Rubinstein was born into a poor Polish family at the end of the nineteenth century; by the time of her death in 1965 she had built a cosmetics empire that spanned the world.

When Rubinstein opened her first salon in Melbourne, her scientific approach to beauty was an instant sensation. Women just couldn’t get enough of her innovative advice on skincare, and her beauty products were constantly sold out.

Having conquered Australia, Rubinstein went on to open salons in Europe and America, at a time when women were barely seen in business, let alone running their own multinational companies.

Dressed by Chanel and Yves St Laurent, painted by Salvador Dali and Picasso and mingling with Colette and Proust, Helena Rubinstein not only enjoyed unbelievable success, but was also instrumental in empowering and liberating women.

Helena Rubinstein was a total original, and her legacy can still be seen today in the methods used to market and manufacture cosmetics.

This is her amazing life story.

The President's Hat by Antione Laurain
April: paperback / ebook

A quirky sounding modern fairy tale. It's a magic hat!

Like Cinderella’s glass slipper or Aladdin’s lamp, the hat is a talisman which makes its wearers’ dreams come true.

Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterand’s black felt hat has been left behind.

After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel Somehow … different.

The Angel's Call by Guillaume Musso
May: paperback / ebook

This sounds a bit like a French version of Sophie Kinsella's I've Got Your Number although I'm sure the style will be completely different. I always like to see what other countries' bestsellers are like.

By the time total strangers Madeline Green and Jonathan Lempereur realize they’ve got each other’s mobile, they’re on different sides of the Atlantic.

And who could resist peeking at the contents of someone else’s phone, especially when it reveals the mysteries in other people’s lives?

What caused the sudden collapse of Jonathan Lempereur’s career as world-famous chef? What are the locked files on Madeline’s phone that suggest she’s more than just a Parisian florist?


Gallic Books have also given a lot of space to their backlist titles in this catalogue including Gallic History, French Noir and Gallic Life. It's lovely not to forget about books after they've been around a year or two and this is something that smaller publishers can excel at. You might also want to search my blog for mentions of Gallic Books for my thoughts on some of their other titles.

View catalogue online.

If you're a publicist with a catalogue you'd like featured, please send me a link to the PDF or get in touch to send me a paper copy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Guard

Harry and Michel are the only two guards in a luxury apartment block. The never leave the basement and their number one priority is keeping the residents safe. Who knows what dangers lurk outside the apartment rules. They spend their days on a strict routine, sleeping in shifts and eking out their rations, awaiting the day a third guard joins. But one day the residents leave on mass. What do they do without any word from the organisation?

In part, The Guard is a brilliant study of the effects of boredom and paranoia. The first half, I loved. There’s the mysterious organisation that put them there and Harry has all these theories of the elite; the role he is destine for. He seems to have developed a whole fantasy to keep him going and it slowly takes over, this desire to be chosen, the escape their life in the basement through promotion and recognition. There’s a sense that it is set in the not too distant future and that something bad has happened outside. What, we don’t really know, but Michel’s speculations add to the atmosphere and suspense.

Michel starts to come across as incredibly dependent on Harry, as if brainwashed. Perhaps as Harry was the first guard he sees him as an authority figure but I was disappointed that Michel didn’t stand up to him or question his actions. The thought may cross his mind but it never seems to be spoken. I started to have a real problem with Harry as a character, which would be fine if he was an obvious villain but I don’t know what I was meant to think. He does some pretty horrible things in that basement but Michel doesn’t respond in any way.

My main problem is that I have no idea what happened at the end. Maybe it’s supposed to replicate disorientation but I couldn’t separate what was real and what was in Michel’s mind. Maybe he was just crazy for the whole book, I don’t know and I so wanted answers about the organisation, what they were doing in the basement and what had happened outside. I wonder if it’s the sort of book you really need to sit down and concentrate on rather than reading on the go as I did. It had a lot of potential but I felt like I had missed something important by the end.

Translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer, The Guard is published by MacLehose Press and is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Street Cat Named Bob

James Bowen is living in sheltered accommodation when he discovers a ginger tom sat in his hallways. Convinced the cat must belong to a neighbour, and wanting to avoid trouble, he leaves the cat be until her sees him day after day; and the poor thing isn’t in good shape. Taking the cat in, is more responsibility that James wants but he can’t just leave him and takes him along to the RSPCA vets. He names the cat Bob and once nursed back to health, Bob decides to repay James his kindness.

At the heart of A Street Cat Named Bob is a lovely, heart-warming story of one man and his cat. One day Bob follows James to his busking spot, across London and travelling by bus. Bob turned out to be quite a hit amongst Londoners as well as playing a huge part in turning James’ life around. It gives some insight into life on the streets, although it’s not particularly gritty or enlightening to anyone already familiar with the topics.

To be honest, I would have enjoyed the tales of James and Bob in a shorter format. The writing isn’t particularly accomplished, with simple sentences and quite a bit of repetition. The lack of skill probably contributes to the feeling of moaniness throughout. Now I’m sure it’s been tough and there is a lot of negativity on the streets, but briefly telling the reader how horrible someone/something is without the supporting evidence of a developed description of their actions, doesn’t create the empathy needed for the book to be moving. Yes, James has been on the streets and doesn’t have the benefit of education, but that doesn’t mean his editor couldn’t have worked with him a bit more on improving the prose.

I did get the feeling that James makes just as many assumptions about the people walking past him as some people make about the homeless. Later on, he does acknowledge that people can be annoying on the streets, especially when he moved to Islington and competes with chuggers and tells us about some of the problematic Big Issue sellers. Yet some of his comments are a bit off-putting. Just because I don’t give to everyone that asks for money, does not mean I think they’re less than human. I would be horrified to see a man kicking a cat in the street and picking a fight but would I try to break it up? No, because I’d be too scared to. Not because I don’t care. I might attempt to rescue the cat though. Just seems to be an accusing tone throughout but that might just be down to the basic writing style.

So it annoyed me a bit but I did like the parts about Bob and on occasions there was a real sense of tension, like when James is wrongly arrested. I know loads of people love this book and Bob is an internet sensation but it just fell flat for me. I kind of feel a bit mean saying this now because I do think James has done a great job sorting himself out.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

Welcome to this week's edition of Book Hoarders Anonymous confessions! At the beginning of the week I told myself I had to make a concerted effort to reduce the number of books coming in. I'm planning to have a big sort out and give away loads of books and generally find some sort of organisation within the chaos that is my bookshelves. But my colleagues wanted to do a Book People order and well, I'd been holding off buying books from them for ages. The five books (only £12!) I did order are a fraction of the ones I've been tempted by over the last few months.

Then I won a book on Twitter. Seriously, non-bloggers need to retweet more; it always seems to be the same faces winning things, people are going to start getting suspicious. I don't even enter that many as I don't really need them and I still win stuff. At least my review book this week doesn't need to be read for a while as it's for a blog tour in January (I like advance warning - just don't let me forget).

I'd just like to say a quick word about the Vintage 21 editions. Vintage turned 21 last year so they're not new but I hadn't realised what they'd done with the 21 titles they released as birthday editions. Each book is a different colour and the edges of the pages have been spray-painted to match. They look so pretty! You can view the list here and you can read my wrap-up of the Vintage Books Readers' Day where I got the lovely purple book.


For Review:
The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner (Hodder)

Bought:
The Accident by Ismail Kadare
The Ghost Rider by Ismail Kadare
The Siege by Ismail Kadare
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Won:
Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Freebies:
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.