Monday, June 30, 2008

Breaking The Book Ban Once More

Oh dear... Its happened again. I was merely walking past the Aladdin's Library near the gym in Tooting Bec (so far my better/less bookier half hasn't noticed this flaw in the gyms location) and it happened all over again. I was better this time though. I only bought two... for me.

Don't Tell Alfred - Nancy Mitford
I have to admit I debated this one, not because its Nancy Mitford as I am growing to truly love her (via Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely that I am slowly devouring and have been for some time) it was the cover, which yes is a kitsch Penguin classic but for some reason makes me think of old peoples homes, sadly was too tempting and matched another purchase. I am looking for The Pursuit of Love everywhere.
The Woman In Black - Susan Hill
This was a gift for Polly, isnt it great when you can buy books that form your friends personal library, not in a pushy way. We both read Turn of the Screw and were left cold by it, so I got her this as its a real ghost story with chills and one of my favourite books.
Shameless - Paul Burston
I actually need to re-read this as I know I loved it, but read it when it came out, thats one to dig out and put on the TBR pile. This was another book for Polly.
Love In A Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford
I know I bemoaned the previous Nancy book's cover, but these are wrong, so hideous. Why do publishers need to make (the did it with Austen too) books look chick lit when they arent, I have nothing against chick lit by the way, am I being picky? Anyway been wanting this ages so for me a real gem was found. I do kick myself I didnt get the fabulous 70's BBC cover of The Pursuit of
Love & Love In A Cold Climate from Oxfam for 99p a while back, but then I didnt appreciate who Nancy Mitford was then. Shocking I know.
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
I bought this for the non bookish member of my household, one because they like travel books (who'd have guessed), two because they not being British might find this a funny account of Brits and how quaint, daft and delightful we can be.
See technically I only bought two!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Foundling Museum

Tonight was the TLS (Times Literary Supplement) Summer Party and I had the honour of being invited to a wonderful event in the most amazing venue. The party was in full force when I arrived at The Foundling Museum with various authors, journalists and then the likes of me (ha) enjoying canap├ęs, alcohol and the fantastic art in an amazing historical building. I managed to hold my own happily discussing The Mitford Sisters and of course Unity (those of you who know me well will know why her in particular). It was like on of those gallery openings or fabulous parties you get in Sex & the City… sort of. We weren’t allowed red wine as apparently it can destroy paint, you learn something random every day.


I have to admit had it not been for going tonight I would have had no idea that The Foundling Museum existed and certainly not in the centre of London. It looks on approach like one of the houses that you would get in Pride and Prejudice, one that belonged to a wealthy family. The history of the building is in fact that it was once part of a hospital and home for the children left unwanted that building was sadly mainly demolished in 1926. Its estimate at the time of the hospitals opening in 1793 that up to a thousand babies and children or more a year were left deserted in London.

Like most galleries and museums today it now houses its permanent galleries and its temporary ones, the current temporary exhibition is the works of the Italian painter Giuseppe Fioroni and the paintings are absolutely beautiful. It was actually artist William Hogarth who started the museum “encouraged leading artists of the day to donate works to the children’s home, with the aim of attracting wealthy potential benefactors” and you can still see some of these works today. One particular Hogarth Painting located on the ground floor has a brilliant story behind it, I will leave that for your visit and the guides to tell you but it involves prostitution, persecution and some very good luck, sounds like a novel.

What amazed me was the free reign that we had in the venue (which can be hired out obviously), three floors of fantastic art work and on the fourth floor is an amazing collection of Handel’s original music compositions and books, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I should really have written more about the party but the building was the star of the show for me. You can find out much more about it at http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/ it’s honestly worth a visit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Apprentice

I know some people can be really snobby about books and I know that one author who occasionally has fallen prey to this is Tess Gerritsen; she is seen as the perfect flight read, the perfect holiday read. Or, as my friend Polly thought, ‘the perfect hospital read’ when she bought me The Surgeon a few years ago. Fortunately at that time the nerves pre-op meant that I had not the concentration to read it, as frankly a book about a mad surgeon who goes on a murder rampage might not be the best read when you’re waiting for a date with a scalpel. I did read it in recovery and loved it; it’s a fast and furious book and a definite page turner.

Undecided upon what to read after the epic and confusing God Of Small Things I thought I would turn to Tess for something that ‘thrilled’ me, and she did once again. I was up until 2am simply having to get to the end unable to stop reading.

‘The Apprentice’ takes place a year after ‘The Surgeon’ and said criminal is locked up when similar, but not the same, murders start again in Boston. Detective Jane Rizzoli, who The Surgeon is obsessed with after the previous summers events, is called in to help Detective Korsak before heading up the case herself alongside the FBI who rarely get involved in such cases. Only when The Surgeon escapes and teams up with the new murdered does Rizzoli realise she might just be the next victim.

Tess Gerritsen is making a great heroine in Rizzoli; she’s smart and ballsy but a flawed workaholic who cannot help being the black sheep of the family. She’s believable, which isn’t always the case in this genre of fiction. This book also sees a new female character arrive on the scene Dr Maura Isles (she deals with all the dead bodies) or as she’s called ‘The Queen of The Dead’ who is going to feature future novels that seems like she has hidden depths and a slight dislike of Rizzoli.

The book surpasses The Surgeon (which was great) in gore, thrills, spills, story and character and I think Tess Gerritsen just gets better and better. So forget holiday’s reads and hospital reads just read this you’ll be hooked.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The God Of Small Things

I have had a copy of this book in my ‘to read’ boxes for absolutely ages, for some reason despite what I think is quite a stunning cover, I have never really had the urge to read it. That’s another reason why Book Group is so good, sometimes you have the books on the list you just haven’t gotten round to them so you get a little extra push.

I had heard mixed reviews on this Man Booker winner, some people (my Gran included) have said it’s one of the best books that they have read. People on Amazon, which I sometimes check to gage how good a book may or may not have been, are very mixed about it. Some say that the prose is some of the most beautiful that they have ever read, others say that it is over done and far too ‘flowery’. So I was intrigued as to what I would make of it.

As it goes I am very much in a confused state about this book, I would say 75% of me loved it and overall feel it is one of the best books I have ever read and the other 25%? To be honest I think there are far too many characters and too little concise clear explanation of who they are in relation to whom. I mean for most of the book I just could not work out who ‘Baby’ was, I have to say she is a brilliantly written mean bitter old woman. There were also various neighbours of the main family who actually had no bearing on the book and therefore seemed to be ‘fillers’ to the book and added to my state of confusion.

The story centres on the childhoods of Estha and Rahel (for ages I kept getting the boy and girl mixed up) and a certain few months that on several levels change their lives forever. You have flashbacks into the family before the twins were born and in their infancy and also the future and the aftermath of events at the start ‘unknown’. Its not written in chronological order which ordinarily I would not have a problem with, I managed fine with the epic craziness of ‘The Book of Dave’, I just found that where Roy is fantastic at her descriptive similes, she is not so good at letting the reader know where in the order of history there are. No the author should not do all the work for the reader but they should help.

Here descriptions are amazing ‘history the smell of old roses on the breeze’ and ‘dark blood slipping from his skull like a secret’ are examples of where it works, there is also the brilliant scene where they park a car amongst others in a car park which is compared to ‘gossiping’. The problem is that there seems to be a simile in every sentence and occasionally it gets too much and doesn’t quite work ‘Margaret Kochamma found herself drawn towards him like a plant in a dark room towards an edge of light’ it appears like Roy is trying too hard and that she is over comparing and it put me off occasionally. The Man Booker judges seemed to like it though.

However despite the slightly confusing story and over egging off descriptions when I had finished the novel and let it settle with me a while I started to marvel at how clever, well written, moving and beautiful a book it was. The more I thought on it afterwards the better I think it was a very confusing place to be in after reading a book.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Casino Royale

With all the fuss and fever that Sebastian Faulks has brought with the new Bond book ‘Devil May Care’ I have been itching to follow the trend and run out and buy it. However I thought it wasn’t really fair to do that until I had actually read Ian Fleming myself. I did debate for a while which one to read as ‘Casino Royale’ was fresh in my head from the movie. I thought about ‘Quantum Solace’ so as to be ahead of everyone before that film comes out, I have since found out that this is a cheeky new collection of short stories from previous novels. Plus at the moment there are so many different editions of all the novels! It truley is Bond Fever. In the end I thought ‘start at the beginning’ and so I did.

The story of the first Bond sees him having only just recently become a double-O and is sent to gamble against and hopefully bankrupt Le Chiffre, a French Communist labour leader, who was embezzling union funds to purchase a string of whore houses only to have them closed when they are outlawed by a new law. He is now looking to make money for other ruthless ventures and must be stopped.

This is the first novel in the James Bond series originally published in 1953 and it actually hasn’t dated very much which is quite impressive in the light of how the world has progressed since then. Bond is a steely character, a womaniser, and killer and has serious grudges with the world; he is not yet the suave Casanova that is depicted in later yarns and films. In fact forget the films and in particular the recent one though the character that Daniel Craig plays is pretty spot on.

If you are looking for ‘shaken not stirred’, Q and his gadgets or Moneypenny and her flirting you are going to be reading the wrong book. In Casino Royale what Fleming was doing was creating the character of Bond; he is much more questioning in this novel and a lot more aggressive and ruthlessly sexual even describing one moment having ‘the sweet tang of rape’. There are only a few main characters along side Bond and Le Chiffre one being his MI5 right hand woman (something that displeases the woman hating Bond no end) Vesper Lynd, can she tame Bond?

I really enjoyed this novel, I was however glad it wasn’t too long as with a premise of gambling and bankruptcy there isn’t too much more to this novel. The start and ends of the book are brilliant it’s the middle that goes on a little too long. I found myself a tiny bit bored by the endless explanations of how to play Baccarat which while were important to the story didn’t need to be discussed so endlessly. This is a brilliant spy novel and I am really glad I have given Fleming a go; I have already got my hands on ‘Live & Let Die’ and will be devouring that in the none too distant future.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking The Book Ban

So much for me not buying any more books as was my orders (see previous Book Ban blog) and intentions. These were ruined when I went to a charity shop that I had forgotten existed. Now this shop is like an Aladdin's Cave only recently it seems to have had a makeover into Aladdin's Library with over 15 shelves of books at 50p each, or 6 for £2. So naturally I bought six, I could have easily bought twelve, but was restrained as knew that would be wrong and the look I would get when I got through the door at home would be murderous. I can say only five were for me... does that make it better? So my treats were...

The Bird of the Night - Susan Hill
I have no idea what this is about as I still haven't read the blurb, I have heard of it before and heck its Susan Hill so it is bound to be brilliant. I love, love, love the cover am hoping its quite a twisted tale which is what the cover seems to suggest. Anytime I see a Susan Hill novel I dont have and is hard to get its a MUST have.

Vanish - Tess Gerritssen
I said I would wait until had actually read its predecessor 'Body Double' until I bought this but what can you do when its sat there tempting you with a 50p price tag. I have a feeling I will have read all of her novels in this series by the end of the year. Addictive. The fact it opens with a body in the morgue waking up sent a horrid chill down my spine... genius.

Back When We Were Grown Ups - Anne Tyler
I have only read Digging To America by Tyler so far but every review read of her books on other peoples blogs suggest shes an author to get the collection of. This was a debateable one between 'Falling Leaves' there were so many copies of the later will wait for another trip.

Once in a House on Fire - Andrea Ainsworth
I hate, hate, hate these 'tragic life stories, and the fact that these things (they are not books) have their own section in book shops now bugs me no end. However this is one of those with a twist, the author had made it more fictional and my Gran and Aunty Caz have both said its great, so will try and see.

Not The End of The World - Kate Atkinson
One of the few books that I dont have of hers and I am trying to get more into short stories and can imagine that hers are fantastic.

Star People - Paul Burston
This wasn't for me, this was for Polly. She's been determined to read one of Mr Burston's books ever since we started going to Polari. This is fun read about a man in the closet in Hollywood and I think Polly will really enjoy it, I have a copy already.

So thats that!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Defeated By Zorro

Yes, sadly this has happened, I have been defeated by a book and after trying so, so hard to love it I have had to quit the novel, and it’s one that I actually really wanted to read and an author I have been meaning to read for quite some time.

Zorro by Isabel Allende is a new addition to my ‘must read’ pile as for work I am off to see the show in July and I thought that I would read the book before I saw it, a bit like with the cinema. I always find the book is better, though some films like ‘Atonement’ and ‘The Kite Runner’ come pretty close. So in advance I got a copy through Read It Swap It.

I have never read Isabel Allende before and have always picked up her had a read or the blurb and then put it back, never actually buying one. I thought that Zorro out of all the books ‘a swashbuckling yarn’ would be an adventure filled romp that could break me into Allende before maybe trying House of the Spirits which some people I know have raved about.

By page 80 I had kept putting the book down and not picking it up, this is part one of the tale of Zorro’s youth in California and deals with his parents, his father a Spanish aristocrat and his mother a warrior woman. This part did have a large battle and a love story, it all seemed very contrived and the battle scenes confusing rather than thrilling, you could also guess very swiftly where this was going. I decided to carry on as part two started on page 90 and was more about his schooling and would hopefully finally kick the story into some sort of stride. I was wrong.

By page 123 I was bored, unbothered and knew it was time to shut the book and move on. Nothing had really started some new characters had been drawn into the life of Diego de la Vega (the young Zorro) and were boring me to tears. Enough was enough. The sad thing was that I really wanted to enjoy the book, it just fell flat, for me, and some other people clearly have loved it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

When We Were Bad

People ask how sometimes you can hear of a book and I heard about this one in two ways. Charlotte Mendelson was up for the Orange Prize for this novel and also because she was going to be giving a reading at Polari, the monthly event I go to. So instead of doing what I normally do, which is buy the book on the night, get the author to sign it and read it afterwards. This time I thought I would do my homework first.

‘When We Were Bad’ is primarily a tale of a near perfect family as it falls apart all around a wedding. I loved this book from the start ‘the Rubin family, everyone agrees, seems doomed to happiness’. I think it was the characters which actually if you look at them separately are a bunch of individuals with very few redeeming features, or so I thought at first, that make the novel such a joy to read. To start with I wanted to dislike them all in the end only two of them I couldn’t bare.

The head of the family is Claudia Rubin who not only is wife, mother and writer, she is also the first female Rabbi and has a sort of fame that though doesn’t get her invited to all the best parties and events puts a certain amount of pressure on r and makes her the woman everyone wants to be with. Her pride and joy is her family and as it falls apart so does she. I have to say I found her domineering character a little hard to take to at first but when you realise its because her family means so much to her you warm to her somewhat. Her husband Norman is a frustrated writer who lives in her shadow, however he is close to a major breakthrough that could make her the second most famous person in the family. There relationship is an odd one.

The children consist of Leo the golden boy who within chapter one has become an outcast of the family and the black sheep. Frances who appears happily married to an exceptionally boring husband soon follows suit to become the next black sheep of the family. The younger two Simeon and Em I couldn’t warm to at all throughout the book he was a lazy layabout bum and she just cried and whined a lot. That was there role throughout the novel and slightly enraged me. I actually sulked with the book and Mendelson for sometime over these two questioning if such bad characters can turn a novel sour, they don’t in this case.

I love a good family drama; my family have theirs continuously so it’s nice to read others. Mendelson seems to have an eye for a great set of storylines and an ear to listen and then create people who are ordinary yet flawed and colourful like normal human beings, this book never went into melodrama which I was grateful for. Though the ending actually made me cry, I liked the fact its all left to the reader decide what could happen to each character, some authors are scared of doing that or just feel their ending is the way it should be, end of. My first Mendelson read won’t be my last.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mister Pip

I think I have just read one of my favourite books of the year. I could have devoured this book in 24 hours partly because its not the longest book but also because it’s a book you simply don’t want to put down, I was restrained as I wanted to savour the whole story and live with it for as long as possible. That for me is the sign of a fantastic book.

The novel is told by Matilda a young woman (she starts the novel aged 14) who lives on the island of Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1991 when it is amidst war. Her school has been closed for quite some time due to the fleeing of several members of the village. One day her mother (a fabulous but difficult character) announces she is going back to school, the only white man in the village ‘Pop Eye’ or ‘Mr Watts’ is opening up lessons once more. What follows is a wonderful tale of a young girl, her life questions and the relationship she has with ‘Pip’ (who though imaginary becomes a friend in a confusing world) the main character from Great Expectations the book which Mr Watts teaches them from reading a chapter aloud a day.

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece and is perfect for any booklover (like myself showing the importance of reading aloud, reading and books in general. One of my favourite lines in the book has to be 'You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.' It unquestionably deserved to be on the Man Booker Shortlist as well as the Richard & Judy Book Group

Lloyd Jones writes in such a way that you almost cannot put the book down, the book flows wonderfully through the joys of the children learning ‘Mr. Dickens’ to the harsh realities of war, including a scene which was horrific yet told in a very matter-of fact way and moved me to tears, now a book has not done that to me in a long time.

This is simply a book for book lovers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Diving Bell & The Butterfly

If it hadn’t been for my Gran mentioning this on the phone and the fact that I was looking at Love Film and saw this was coming out on DVD soon, so I thought what better time?

Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief at Elle Magazine until he suddenly became a victim of Locked-In Syndrome. This left him with the ability to move only one eyelid to communicate. The novel was written through this form of communication which must have been painstaking and was a mission of love. One he couldn’t see the extent of its success as he sadly died three days after it was published.

What I loved about this book is yes, it’s a sad story and Jean-Dominique tells it in heart breaking truth; however he also has humour, dignity and even irony with this book. One minute he will be talking about the heartbreak seeing his children can be, or listening to loved ones on the phone but being unable to respond, the next he says ‘to find I couldn’t even pronounce ‘l’, I couldn’t pronounce the place I edited’ with wit and charm that you don’t find in these ‘Real Life Tragedy’ books that are all the rage and I cant stand. This book is deep, moving, profound and in places funny and that’s what real life can be like.

This is a quick read, you can read it in a few hours (its a mere 144 pages and they whiz by) which are exceptionally worth while and you come away thinking ‘bloody hell I’m lucky’. It doesn’t change your life however it definitely makes you appreciate your life, and what more can you ask from a book?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Crimson Petal & The White

For the last week and a half I have been lost in Victorian London and it's been fabulous. I have one man to thank for this and that’s Michel Faber. ‘The Crimson Petal & The White’ comes highly hyped and recommended as a modern classic and for once I think this is a title that deserves the praise.

The tale is based around Sugar, a prostitute and the brothels and back alleys she frequents at the beginning to the upper classes she climbs too. Firstly I must say she is a fantastic heroine, she isn’t the prettiest prostitute in the land but she is certainly the most favoured. She’s intelligent, witty and certainly has her wits about her. It tells of her meeting William Rackham, a Perfumery Owner, and all that befalls them and a host of wonderful characters during Sugar’s rise.

I have to say I am not the best with long books, I love reading them but find them daunting however this book draws you in from the first lines. ‘Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them.’ It’s compared on several sites to a Dickensian masterpiece, having not read on of Dickens novels (the shame) yet I cannot compare the two authors. I can say that Michel Faber writes with a fantastic descriptive prose and makes his background characters (such as Mrs Castaway) as fascinating and interesting as the main.

I think what I loved about this was for a historical novel it was real. In fact in some parts quite graphic, I found it quite odd to think my Gran had read these words and that my mother is currently reading them, I’m not sure if some of the language will be discussed in upcoming phone calls. It’s not a book for prudes, or maybe actually it should be. From reading past historical novels not from the original era this had a real heart in comparison. Faber doesn’t try to be really clever by intertwining royalty or well known names (other than Pear’s) or using the powerful tool of hindsight to make him seem a clever writer. He simply uses the Victorian world he has clearly researched in depth to create a fantastic landscape in which his characters inhabit.

Are there any negatives? Not really, I did find some of the occasional business/perfumery descriptions a tad too much and wanted to skim them, I didn’t. Also the end… I didn’t want the book to finish. I have now fortunately remembered that I did a swap for ‘Apple’ Faber’s collection of tales from the characters after ‘The Crimson Petal & The Rose’ part of me wants to dive straight in, however I shall restrain myself and leave Sugar where she is, plus ‘Mister Pip’ has been sat tempting me on the top of my to read pile for a while now.