Friday, 26 November 2010

Book review: Back Row Brighton

Published by QueenSpark Books

Back Row Brighton – Cinema-going in Brighton & Hove is a glossy paperback that should feature in the library of anyone who’s interested in the history of cinema or in the past of this vibrant city. And if you’re interested in both, you will be amazed by the amount of information provided.

Chapter after chapter, we learn about the cinemas that have graced the streets of Brighton & Hove from 1909 to the present. Some have had a short life, while others have lasted longer. Some have changed name an innumerable amount of times. Some were considered classy, while others were places that parents forbad their children to go to. Going to the cinema, however, whether shiny or shabby, was always considered a treat: an almost magical experience that most of the uninspiring buildings that host our cinemas today are unable to offer.

The only cinema that is featured in the book and that is still operating today is the independent Duke of York’s Picturehouse, which celebrated its centenary this year and maintains the reputation of classic cinema-going. What has happened to the others? The answer to that can also be found in the pages of Back Row Brighton, whilst enjoying photographs of how they looked then and how they look now.

The book is brought to life by the recollections of the residents of Brighton & Hove and includes a useful list of 25 films – from the 1948 Brighton Rock to the 2008 Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging –that give us a glimpse of how the city has changed through the years. Your “to watch” list might suddenly get longer!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Book review: The Winter Ghosts

By Kate Mosse
Published by
Orion Books

Expanding an idea that she previously explored in The Cave - a novella that was part of the 2009 Quick Reads initiative - Kate Mosse has created an evocative ghost story that I just could not get enough of.

In 1933, Freddie Watson travels to Toulouse in search of Monsieur Saurat, a known translator of Occitan, an old Romance language. Presented with an antique parchment written in this ancient tongue, the French librarian enquiries about its origins. And so the tale begins…

It’s 1928 and Freddie, still unable to cope with the loss of his beloved brother during the Great War, has been recommended a change of scenery by his doctors. He sets off to the South of France and, while travelling through the Pyrenees, he gets caught up in a snowstorm and loses control of his car. Surviving the crash, he walks in the woods until he arrives in an eerily quiet village where he takes refuge at the pension run by Madame Galy and her surly husband. Despite being tired, Freddie accepts the woman’s invitation and decides that he will join her later in town to celebrate the fête de Saint-Etienne. By this time, he has forgotten all about the female voice that seemed to be whispering in his ears while he was driving through the mountains. On his way to the village hall, Freddie gets lost in the maze of narrow streets but, in the end, he is welcomed by the villagers and starts talking with Fabrissa, a fascinating young woman who, to his surprise, seems to know everything about him and understands him like no-one before. Her voice… has he heard it before?

Freddie is extremely touched by the encounter with this mysterious woman who nobody seems to know. Her voice, whose memory he clings to, is the only certainty amid the feverish delirium that follows the night of the party. She had told him her story – the story of her people – and had asked him to find her. He intends to honour his promise, even if it means risking his own life. Only by bringing to light the truth, will he be able to come to terms with his own loss.

The Winter Ghosts is not a ghost story of the “scary, can’t bear to put the lights out” kind. The wintery landscape of the French Pyrenees is an important presence and the perfect setting for the inexplicable events that Freddie experiences. The words have been so carefully chosen that it’s almost as if you can feel the snow underfoot and the cold air touching your face. It’s as if you can distinctly hear the crystal-clear voice carried by the wind.

I would have certainly loved for the main characters, as well as some of the minor ones, to be further developed but I believe that the delicate structure of this novel would have suffered under the weight of details. As it is, it is a perfectly formed story, as light as the snowflakes that decorate the pretty cover of its paperback edition.

Bookish bites

In her autobiographical first novel, Wild Swans, Jung Chang narrates the story of three amazing women: her grandmother, her mother and herself. A fascinating account of Chinese history that spans from 1909, when the country was ruled by warlords, to the 1990s and the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.

Isabel’s Daughter, written by Judith Hendricks, focuses on Avery James and on her journey from a founding home in Colorado to the art élite of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s there that, piece after piece, she puts together the puzzle of the mother she never knew.

Two books, five strong women – it doesn’t matter whether they are real or fictional. And again: two book and two authors who, with their skilful words, are able to bring times and places to life.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Competition time: 1 copy of Another Night Before Christmas

For a chance to win a copy of Another Night Before Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy you need to fill out this form and be a follower of this blog.

For one extra entry, follow me on Twitter too and RT my competition-related messages:
www.twitter.com/BrightonBlogger

One copy available. The competition ends on December 13th at 14:00 GMT. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted on the same day.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Book review: Another Night Before Christmas

By Carol Ann Duffy
Published by Picador

Christmas is approaching. Never mind presents and roast turkeys, it’s time for another magical tale penned by our Poet Laureate! For the joy of children and adults alike, Carol Ann Duffy takes the Christmas Victorian classic and transforms it into a modern, yet timeless, story of hope and belief.

Late on Christmas Eve, a child creeps down the stairs and hides behind an armchair. She is determined to find out whether Santa Claus is real. As a shooting star high up above starts to take the shape of a sleigh pulled by reindeer, she falls asleep by the fireplace. Will she wake up in time to see the man dressed in red from head to toe who suddenly stands in her living room?

Rob Ryan’s gorgeous illustrations, appearing like dreams in black and white vignettes enriched by golden details, are a perfect accompaniment to the beautifully rhyming verses of this cute, little hardback.

Book review: R2D2 Lives in Preston

By Shaun Keaveny
Published by
Boxtree

Do you live in a small village in the middle of the British countryside? In a moderately-sized town? Or in one of the big cities? Have you often boasted a famous connection to the place you come from? Or, perhaps, always wondered if anything interesting had ever happened there?

If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to at least one of these questions, go and get this book. But then, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in geography and historical anecdotes! A dose of national pride wouldn’t hurt either because Shaun Keaveny, helped by the faithful listeners of his BBC 6Music show, aims to do exactly that: Toast the Nation.

Helpfully divided into six regions, the featured places come with lists of wittily compiled ‘Favourite facts’ and ‘Local heroes’. In some cases, there are even a Playlist and comments by both Keaveny and his radio listeners. All of this in a refreshing font and layout that set an extremely playful tone.

And why not, you could use the book as an alternative travel guide too!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Book review: Mock the Week: Next Year’s Book

Published by Boxtree, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, this new and colourful hardback is an explosive collection of one-liners from the successful BBC2 comedy show.

With its compact and immediate format, it’s a perfect gift for humour lovers and a great tool to lighten up a bad day – or to make a good day even better!

As a bibliophile, my favourite categories are: Lines you won’t find in an Enid Blyton book, Unlikely things to read in a romance novel and Things you wouldn’t read in a children’s book. The absolute winner, though, would have to be: Unlikely things to read on the back of a book.

Mock the Week has something for everybody but it comes with a warning: contains strong language – and your stomach might hurt from laughing too much!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Book review: I have waited , and you have come

By Martine McDonagh
Published by
Myriad Editions

With her début novel, Martine McDonagh delves into the hotly debated topic of climate change. And what a dark world she envisages: submerged lands and isolated territories where death and hunger are common realities.

Rachel, the post-apocalyptic heroine of this book, avoids human contact as much as possible and finds comfort in a solitary life, far away from the communities that have sprung up to help people cope with the new and disastrous state of affairs. What pushes her then to make a first step towards another person? Whatever it is, it unwillingly develops into an obsessive search for the elusive Jez White, who is in turns the hunter and the hunted.

In this ominous future, the landscape is not just a background rather a heavy presence, one of the main characters. It shapes the way that people think and behave; it decides where they can go and what they can do. McDonagh’s skilfully chosen words almost have a palpable structure, wet and cold to the touch.

The pages burst with psychological tension and the secrets they carry are slowly revealed as the readers are drawn into a bone-chilling dystopia. With echoes of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this is a masterfully written warning.