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Showing posts from 2012

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

...And to apologise for the slight delay in reviews. I do have plenty to catch up on, but it's been a busy few weeks. I have another couple of very busy weeks ahead, then it's all change for me. My branch of Waterstones is closing tomorrow, which is incredibly sad. I've worked there since it opened in 1995, with only a brief foray into the Piccadilly shop during 1999-2000. So, it's a huge emotional thing, to say goodbye to this part of my life. Tomorrow will be my last bookselling shift for the foreseeable future. We have a little time after Christmas to pack up the stock, then that's it, the end of an era. But, change also creates opportunities. I'm planning to spend more time working on my thesis, and I have a couple of little projects up my sleeve. I will definitely be reading and reviewing. If I get a mo, I'll post a review before New Year, otherwise I'll be back very shortly afterwards. I have …

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

I love December, I really do. The dark wintry nights lend themselves to snuggling up on the sofa with a good book. The days are full of Christmas planning and shopping - the only shopping I enjoy except for book buying. It's a twinkly, sparkly month culminating in that most perfect of days, Christmas Day itself. For me and mine, it's a family day first and foremost, full of pleasure and good cheer. In amongst all the present-giving, eating, playing and watching Doctor Who there's not much room for thinking about the family upon which the Christian festival itself is based. This year I may just take a moment to ponder the lives behind the legend.

The Testament of Mary is a slim volume. As the title implies it is narrated by Mary, as she tries to understand the events surrounding her only son's crucifixion and her own actions and reactions. It is not a straightforward recounting of the steps towards a necessary and determined sacrifice. Rather it is a series of memories, …

Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal

Last month I spotted an intriguing tweet from new publisher Head of Zeus. Book bloggers who liked historical fiction were encouraged to get in contact about a history mystery project. It sounded very intriguing, and something that might suit me very well indeed. So I did get in contact. This was very much the correct move to make. Head of Zeus are publishing three series of historical mysteries, all of which look great. The first that caught my eye is the Medieval Mystery series by Priscilla Royal. Wine of Violence is the first book, set in a religious house in 1270. I love the medieval period, and think it makes a great setting for a murder mystery. Think Ellis Peters' Cadfael novels and you're not a million miles away. But, the extra twist here is that Tyndal Priory is a joint house, home to both monks and nuns, and it is presided over by a Prioress. A female main character is manna to my soul, and Prioress Eleanor is a worthy lead. Despite her youth she is wise, thoughtful,…

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

It's the nativity, but not as we know it.

As you may well expect from the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this is a rather different version of the Christmas story. Instead of the three wise men we get three thieves. Yep, thieves. Not kings or holy men or even noble men, but lowdown dirty thieves. Fabulous. The trio meet up in a dungeon, awaiting execution. It is a complete accident that they become mixed up with Mary, Joseph, and the little baby Jesus.
The brains behind the escape plan is Balthazar, or the notorious Antioch Ghost, a nickname in which he takes some pride. He's been the scourge of the rich for years, stealing whatever and wherever he wanted, then vanishing without trace. The story opens with a brilliant chase sequence as Balthazar is pursued across the desert by 'a cloud of indeterminate wrath'. He can't tell exactly how many soldiers are after him, but it is a lot. Too many even for an escape artist of his calibre. And so he ends up in t…

Desert Angel by Charlie Price

'He is waiting. He is watching. He will hunt her down.'
Desert Angel is a seriously terrifying and tense story. Angel is a teenager whose whole life has, so far, consisted of moving from one place to the next as her flakey mum works through a succession of abusive relationships. The only constant in her life is her relationship with her mother, but even that has been taken away from her by Scotty, her mum's last boyfriend. Last ever boyfriend that is, after an argument got even more heated than usual and Scotty's bloodlust ended in murder.

Angel knows something terrible has happened as she follows Scotty out into the desert. There she finds her mother's shallow grave, her body hurriedly hidden. There's no time for Angel to grieve, Scotty is dangerous and she needs a plan. My heart nearly broke as Angel stuffs down the pain she feels:

'Angel could feel the cry coming, bad, huge, and it scared her. What if she couldn't stop? What if she broke apart? She pu…

Research Trip

I'm in Edinburgh this week on a research trip. The Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh has a splendid library, and it holds the William Cullen archive. Cullen was a physician of some repute in the eighteenth century. People wrote to him from all over Britain asking for his help with their various ailments. I am particularly interested in stomach problems and people asking for advice about their daily regimen. I've had a great afternoon today reading through lots of letters, and I'm here for another two days.

I might not get any book reviews done until the weekend, but I read Salley Vicker's The Cleaner of Chartres on the train on the way up north, and it is fantastic. I am really looking forward to writing a glowing review as soon as I can.

Laura Lamont's Life In Pictures by Emma Straub

The bright lights of Hollywood had always been beckoning Elsa Emerson. Growing up in a small-town theatre run by her parents, the stage was her home. That she would leave the idyllic surroundings of her childhood became inevitable once the security she had known was destroyed by a family tragedy. So, at the first opportunity, Elsa flees, searching for a new and bigger life.

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures tells the story of Elsa's transformation into Laura, the glamorous film star. Her decision to leave home, with the first opportunity in the form of Gordon-from-Florida, to pursue her dreams sets her on a tumultuous journey. Elsa goes from teenager to wife and mother rapidly, and her dreams seem further away than ever. Gordon finds work at the Gardner Brothers Studios, whilst Elsa is left behind to look after the family and home. Her lucky break comes at a studio party, where she is spotted by studio boss Irving Green. She leaves with a new identity and a promise. But her good …

Downstairs at Picador

Last night I was lucky enough to attend an event Downstairs at Picador. It was an evening showcasing and celebrating the publisher's hottest new authors. It was amazing! Six authors read from their books, all due to be published next year, and we had a jolly good chat with lots of book-loving folk. It really was such a lovely evening. As a result of all this fun I now already have six book I absolutely have to read in 2013...

How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

I think this is going to be a creepy and disturbing story of a marriage, in which the wife is oblivious to some terrible secret. Marta and Hector have been married so long that Marta has trouble even remembering the time before they were a couple. It sounds great, and the extract Emma read last night gave a taste of Marta's unease.

It's not too long to wait for this one, it's published 3rd January 2013.

Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler

I could have listened to Sarah read from her book all eve…

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork is a very entertaining look at the history of the equipment with which we have cooked and served food. I realise that, on the face of it, not everyone will be jumping up and down with excitement about this topic, but you would be rather mistaken to think this a dry survey. As anyone familiar with Bee Wilson's food column in The Sunday Telegraph knows, she is an engaging writer. The book skips along taking in a whole range of objects that help make the food on our plates more tasty and appealing.

The book is divided up into eight sections, each one discussing a particular type of kitchen technology, be it pots and pans, knives, ice or fire. Wilson examines the influences on the development of gadgets and styles of cooking. As in so many other areas of everyday life, some inventions are the by-products of military research. Other changes have been stimulated by sweeping social changes. During the middle ages it was usual to carry one's own knife for use at the t…

Through the Eyes of Formula 1

This is such a good idea - drivers and team members from up and down the pit lane were given cameras and told to photograph things that meant something to them. The result is a eclectic mix of pictures. There are some great photos taken during Grand Prix weekends; I especially like Lewis Hamilton's shot of his view from the cockpit of his car. There are some stunning landscapes too. Kamui Kobayashi might consider a second career as a photographer; his picture of Mount Fuji is breathtaking. There's also a few unusual choices scattered throughout the book - who knew Damon Hill was so into surfing? It's good to see some devotion to dogs in evidence here too. It's not surprising that Mark Webber loves going home to his two gorgeous dogs, and Sergio Perez's hound is a joyous sight!

I think this is an excellent Christmas present idea for F1 fans. The photos all have little captions explaining why the person chose that particular shot, and the book is a who's who of …

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

The Feathered Man by Jeremy de Quidt

I must advise you right at the start to beware this book. It's a scary little devil that must be approached with extreme caution. Now I have forewarned you, it's only fair to say you have to read it. This is tip-top horror for older children upwards.

In Germany, in days gone by, Klaus ekes a miserable living as a tooth-puller's boy. It's an unenviable job, but marginally better than living on the streets. His main task is to stand outside the tooth shop banging loudly on a drum whilst his master pulls rotten teeth from the mouths of his clients. He also gets to wash away the blood from the floor. As I said, marginally better than begging on the street. His master is the brutal Kusselmann, a repulsive man without any discernible positive qualities. He makes, as well as pulls, teeth - crafting new sets for those that can afford them. He takes teeth from the dead and the living. There's money in teeth.

One particular corpse presents more financial  reward than usual. …

Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand

This is a gloriously crazy mix of religion, anthropology, and archaeology bundled up in a supernatural thriller. It's mad but I loved it. Sweeney is out of her depth at the University of the Archangels and St. John the Divine. It's an old campus with gothic architecture and an arcane atmosphere. As she tries to settle in, Sweeney catches a glimpse of something almost supernatural about the place.The other students seem destined to be here, born to some greater purpose than an university degree. Sweeney feels too normal to fit in at first,  but quickly bonds with two fellow students, Oliver and Angelica. Oliver is a fey, dissolute young man, teetering on the brink of sanity. Him and Sweeney spend their first term stoned and drunk, dancing and talking. They are connected, but not together. Oliver is in demand from Angelica, a beautiful force of nature. The three of them make a compelling but disjointed trio. 
The quirks of their relationship are nothing compared to the strange go…

Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

Katya'sWorld is published by Strange Chemistry, the teen imprint of Angry Robots - which is shaping up as the must-read list for young adult fantasy/scifi/supernatural. They have already released Gwenda Bond's spooky supernatural Blackwood, Kim Curran's time-bending Shift, the teen-witch Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings and the perilous pirate adventure TheAssasin'sCurse by Cassandra Rose Clarke. All of them are blinders; exciting, edge of your seat, care about the characters stories. And now, with Katya'sWorld, we have another brilliant novel that both teenagers and those slightly older (ahem) can enjoy. Oh, Strange Chemistry, you are spoiling us!

Katya'sWorld is set on the distant planet of Russalka, named by its new inhabitants from Earth. The colony hail from Russia and are inspired by the sea-covered planet to name it after a faintly remembered mermaid creature from their mythology. Only time will tell whether invoking the name of a creature that lured men to t…

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

TimeBetweenUs is described by the blurb as TheTimeTraveller'sWife for teens. Anna and Bennett are separated by sixteen years, never destined to meet, but something draws them together. Bennett is an interloper in Anna's world. He belongs in San Francisco, living his teenage years in the twenty-first century. He shouldn't be enrolled at the same Chicago school as Anna in 1995.

Their first meeting happens whilst Anna is out running before school. One moment he is there, the next he's gone. When he turns up at school he seems to know who she is, but denies ever being at the track that morning. So begins a somewhat frustrating relationship between the pair; Bennett blows hot and cold with Anna. Despite her suspicions about him, Anna can't help falling for him. They obviously have chemistry together, but Bennett tries to hold back to protect his secrets. A life-threatening incident for Anna forces him to make a decision; to protect her means telling her everything.

The f…

The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher

Oh I had such fun reading this, Philip Hensher made me giggle on more than one occasion with his no nonsense dismissal of stupidity. It was also genuinely educational. I'd never really given the history of handwriting much thought before, despite wading through some pretty difficult early modern hands for my thesis. I am much better informed now.

There's a little bit of a lot of different things here. Its partly a lament for the decline of handwriting in the face of modern social media. It is also a personal memoir and series of informal  interviews about learning to write. Handwriting history is in here, as is graphology, and the rituals surrounding and technology of pen and ink. It also includes things that drive Hensher's crazy, such as people who dot their "i" with a little heart - seems reasonable that one!

I guess it's true that handwriting is a less frequently practised skill than it once was; Hensher was prompted to write this book by the realisation …

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Now this is a novel to get your teeth stuck into. Paul and his brother Serge have an uneasy relationship. Serge is a big-time politician, and in Paul’s opinion lays it all on a bit thick. The novel opens with Paul dwelling on their dinner date that evening. Serge has made the reservation, too easily, at a flash restaurant, flaunting his name and position and perceived good nature. It irks Paul, having a brother who’s a somebody, yet still able to communicate with the ordinary people. It irks him greatly. He takes great pleasure in going to a café before dinner, without Serge, to spend some with his wife chatting and enjoying her company. He seems OK, Paul, a regular bloke with an over-achieving slightly annoying brother. Until his wife mentions their son.

It quickly becomes apparent that Michel, their son, has done something very bad. That’s why the dinner has been called, to do something about the situation. Serge’s son too is involved. The two sets of parents gather uneasily in the …

Just in case...

Just in case you have not seen the previous Carol Ann Duffy Christmas poems, here they are.

Wenceslas by Carol Ann Duffy