Friday, 25 February 2011

Book review: The Gift

By Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan
Published by Barefoot Books

After falling in love with Another Night Before Christmas, I knew that I had to find anything that had ever been created by the joint efforts of Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan.

When a poet and a paper-cut artist meet, magic ensues!

The Gift narrates the tale of a little girl who, while collecting flowers in the woods one day, comes across a plot of land so beautiful that it makes her wish she could be buried there when she dies. No sooner than this strange thought crosses her mind, an old woman appears. In exchange for the girl’s flower necklace, she promises that her wish will come true. A moment of distraction and the older lady has vanished.

Was it just a dream? Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan conjure up sweet words and images to tell the story of a girl who becomes a woman, a wife, an artist, a mother, a grandmother. A girl that, despite all the changes in her life and all the responsibilities that her ever-changing roles require, never stops cherishing the plot of land she once found in the woods.

A delicate account of the cycle of life for all ages with illustrations so detailed and extraordinarily beautiful that you’ll wish you could trace their intricacies with your fingertips.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Help! My wish list #13

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Mr Dick or the Tenth Book
By Jean-Pierre Ohl

Dedalus product description: Jean-Pierre Ohl's brilliantly inventive debut novel is inspired by Charles Dickens's last work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, left incomplete, and the mystery unresolved, on the author's death in 1870. Ohl’s narrator, Francois Daumal nurtures a passion for Dickens. From the moment his young eyes first light on the opening line of David Copperfield - ‘Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages will show’ – he is addicted. He systematically devours everything Dickens ever wrote, and develops a particular obsession with Edwin Drood. He becomes an expert on the subject, steeped in Dickensian studies, commentaries, critiques of all kinds, from the most specialist to the most exotically alternative. His discovery as a student that his obsession is shared by another, the smoothly urbane and ruthlessly ambitious Michel Mangematin, marks the beginning of a deadly rivalry that will be pursued over the following years with not only academic and worldly success at stake but also love, self-estem, and even personal identity. Mr Dick or The Tenth Book is an exhilarating entertainment, a homage to Dickens and to the creative power of literature to animate and illuminate our lives.

Why I want to read this book: I like reading fiction about people whose lives are changed or inspired by other books!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Kimbery Menozzi and... A Nodding Acquaintance

No more waiting! Here is your monthly treat signed by Kimberly Menozzi

When we meet, we always meet on the same corner. We wait for the traffic light to go from rosso to verde, and then at almost the same moment, we step out onto le strisce which define the crosswalk. After a couple of years of these inadvertent meetings, he now acknowledges me with a quirk of the corner of his mouth or a slight nod in my direction before we take that first step together.

The first time I saw him is still clear in my mind, though I couldn't say when it was. It was cool outside though. I know this because he wore a lavender sciarpa around his neck and a black velvet baseball cap. His thigh-length overcoat looked like a wool blend – I can't be sure because there was no way to touch it without being obvious – his dress slacks were dark grey, tailored to break perfectly where they touched his black leather shoes.

It shouldn't have worked, but it did, on him. Even from where I stood behind him, I could see that much.

Some time later I arrived at that corner, the one where I'd first seen him, and he was there again. The weather was warmer. No baseball cap hid his precision-cut dark hair. No scarf obscured the sharp line of his jaw. I stood beside him that time, watching out of the corner of my eye, wishing I could just turn and face him directly to admire his dark eyes. Other pedestrians stepped up behind us and we waited for the light to change, he and I standing side by side, so close it was as if we knew each other.

I thought maybe I recognized him. Did he work in the bank where I taught English? Had I passed him in the corridor sometime recently? Or on the sidewalk near my house?

No. I only knew him from this spot.

The light changed and we stepped forward together. We walked nearly side by side for a short while. After the first block I turned to cross the road and he continued walking. I had time enough to wonder if he noticed my absence. Not if he cared; just if he noticed.

Weeks passed. The weather turned warmer still. I stood at the corner, waited for the light and considered my schedule while checking my watch. I noted the time only because I was making sure I wouldn't be late for my appointment. When I looked up, he was there, this time on an ancient-looking bicycle.

I smiled in spite of myself and focused on the light a moment before it turned green.

I was there at the same time the next day. So was he. We didn't look at each other. We stepped off the curb together, strode forward and I took the lead this time. I turned after a block and crossed the street, then watched him from across the street until I turned down another route.

Walking home one afternoon, I found myself at the opposite corner. He was in his usual place, only now he was across from me – it was our usual time, after all. He watched the traffic, I watched him and I realized familiarity made his face a little less perfect, but no less handsome. For a moment it seemed his eyes met mine, but they skimmed over the people standing next to me and continued on, making no obvious note of my being there.

When we entered the crosswalk, his eyes met mine. Only for a second. I smiled and his head tilted briefly in my direction, and then we were past each other and crossing in opposite directions.

From that point on, he noticed me. I'm starting to think he always did.

Monday, 21 February 2011

My favourite quotes

Buying books isn't shopping, it's breathing.

Kathryn Flett in an Observer Magazine article

What are your favourite quotes? Send them in and I'll share them with the readers of Book After Book!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Help! My wish list #12

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Still Alice
By Lisa Genova

Amazon's product description: When Alice finds herself in the rapidly downward spiral of Alzheimer's Disease she is just fifty years old. A university professor, wife, and mother of three, she still has so much more to do - books to write, places to see, grandchildren to meet. But when she can't remember how to make her famous Christmas pudding, when she gets lost in her own back yard, when she fails to recognise her actress daughter after a superb performance, she comes up with a desperate plan. But can she see it through? Should she see it through? Losing her yesterdays, living for each day, her short-term memory is hanging on by a couple of frayed threads. But she is still Alice.

Why I want to read this book: Having experience of Alzheimer's Disease only through films (Iris, The Notebook), I'd like to see how it is portrayed in writing. And probably cry a lot.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Book review: Bella Tuscany

My “Italy in Books” reading challenge continues with Frances Mayes. She is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, a book made famous by its film version starring Diane Lane in the role of the American writer who, during a holiday in Italy, falls in love with a thirteenth-century house and decides to renovate it.

I saw the film when it came out in 2003 and then forgot everything about it until, on a recent holiday, I found the written sequel of that first book: Bella Tuscany. Subtitle: The Sweet Life in Italy. Sounded good as a light beach read! And it was. It didn’t impress me a lot though and I’m not sure how I’d feel about reading her latest book, Every Day in Tuscany. Let’s face it, there are just so many times that you can get away with describing in such detail any flower, plant and crumbling wall that you come across. And I think that they were exceeded by chapter three of Bella Tuscany!

There is no denying that, seen through the eyes of Frances Mayes, Italy is an extremely beautiful country! And I’m not saying that it isn’t. I’m just saying that it’s not all so idyllic and unspoilt. But then, this isn’t a book about Italian society and history and it doesn't intend to be that either. These are the memoirs of a foreigner who is deeply in love with a country. When you're in love with a concept, it is difficult to be unbiased.

Supposing that the arduous process of renovating an old house was detailed in Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany narrates the hardships of maintaining the building and surrounding land in perfect order despite being a part-time resident, the beauty of the countryside, the joys and sorrows of gardening, the excitement encountered when discovering new places and foods. There are also chapters about her life in San Francisco, her passion for monogrammed linens and majolica, her favourite recipes as well as her attempts at learning Italian.

I enjoyed her anecdotes about her life in Italy and the people whom she encounters but sometimes it made me wonder whether they were all authentic or whether there was a good dose of pastoral fantasy. I have experience of living in the countryside and of having neighbours unload the occasional crate of grapes or whatever their gardens produce on your doorstep, without asking for anything in return. The world she lives in, however, seems to be a world where people shower you with unexpected gifts every day, even if they have only seen you a couple of times. A place where, no matter if a castle is closed to the public or a church is closed for renovation, you’ll always find someone who will help you get in. Just like that.

Maybe I am too sceptical. Maybe she’s just one of those people who have a gift to attract all this. I would have just found it all a little more believable if she had recounted at least one not-so-perfect experience. I do think that anyone with a passion for il bel Paese and a tendency to daydream will thoroughly enjoy this book. Personally, I need a less biased and idyllic point of view.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Tips for aspiring writers – part 1

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Characterisation.


Characters drive a novel and it is important that novelists know their characters almost better than they know themselves. A writer must know where and when their characters were born, what they like and dislike, what kind of childhood they had, where they’ve lived, what they fear and how they react in a crisis.

In order to hold the reader’s interest, the characters need to be interesting. Though it is not essential that the reader likes them, there must be something about them that makes the reader want to find out what happens to them.

Some novels have an innumerable amount of main characters (Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is an example), but it is probably easier to work with three or four. It is the main character(s) that form a novel and I spend a lot of time thinking about them before I start writing. In a novel, there are usually minor, walk-on characters too; sometimes they can be stereotypical of a certain kind of person and, unlike the main characters, which must be three dimensional, they can be ‘flat’.

All characters are moulded by the events that have happened to them before the novel starts and it is the writer’s job to know why a character is how she/he is. What are their failings and what are their best aspects? Everyone has habits that are particular to them; they have ways of carrying out tasks and using phrases and mannerisms when they talk. As writers, we have the privilege of seeing into characters’ minds and knowing their inner thoughts. This knowledge is exclusive to authors and can lead to interesting dilemmas. Characters do not always act in a way that corresponds to their thoughts and may act in a way that conflicts with what they really want. This may be because of adhering to social expectations, or because of a fear of change. These are just two examples. However, giving a character conflict(s) can create tension.

Individual writers have their own methods for character building. Some use Post-its and whiteboards, others carry out conversations with their characters, others write lists and flow charts.

Sometimes a photograph can be useful if you want to be able to see a character. It is not always necessary to describe how a character looks in a novel. Only do this if it is necessary, otherwise it can appear contrived. But the writer must have both a clear sense of how the characters look as well as their dress sense.


Questions? Comments? Please feel free to post them below. And come back on March 11th to learn about first person narrators…

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Help! My wish list #11

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel
By Lucinda Hawksley

Amazon's product description: The supermodel did not arrive when Twiggy first donned false eyelashes; the concept began more than one hundred years previously, with a stunning young artists' model whose face captivated a generation. Saved from the drudgery of a working-class existence by an astute young Pre-Raphaelite artist, Lizzie Siddal rose to become one of the most famous faces in Victorian Britain and a pivotal figure of London's artistic world, until tragically ending her young life in a laudanum-soaked suicide in 1862. In the twenty-first century, even those who do not know her name always recognise her face: she is Millais' doomed Ophelia and Rossetti's beatified Beatrice. Her image haunts the viewer and has become the globally recognised incarnation of Pre-Raphaelitism. This colourful and emotionally-charged biography takes Lizzie from the background of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's life and, finally, brings her to the forefront of her own.

Why I want to read this book: Because I love Pre-Raphaelite art and I want to know more about the person behind that beautiful face.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Book review: The Love of Good Women

By Isabel Miller

Alma Routsong, an American novelist who came out as a lesbian writer under the pen name Isabel Miller, is the author of the classic Patience and Sarah. The Love of Good Women, which I chose to read as part of the LGBT reading challenge 2011, is also one the novels that she signed as Isabel Miller – apparently a combination of an anagram for "lesbia" and her mother's birth name.

First published in 1986, The Love of Good Women is set in America towards the end of World War II and is centred on two main female characters, Gertrude and Millie. Married respectively to brothers Earl and Barney, they are both unhappy - even though for different reasons.

Having married across class lines, Gertrude is an extremely insecure woman. She looks up at her husband, who, in her eyes, could do nothing wrong. Ever. If he’s mean to her or is impatient, she thinks it’s her fault for being a woman and as such, in his words, a “stupid and inferior creature”. She believes that being a grown-up means having to think about others and never about yourself. I must admit that all this self-flagellation and the excessive revering of Earl irritated me considerably at first.

Millie’s husband is the gentle and understanding Barney, who loves her so much that he married her despite knowing that she is attracted to women. They both hoped that their marriage would help her become a “real woman” - rather than the “pervert” Earl thinks she is - but things are not turning out that way. In fact, Millie is so desperate to love and be loved by a woman that, as we learn at the beginning of the book, she is “in danger of loving any woman who held out her hand and some who didn’t”.

And then things change! Encouraged by Earl, Gertrude starts working in a factory to raise more money. The new independence and the friendship of the women whom she works alongside give her more confidence and the courage to stand up to her mean husband. At the same time, Barney goes to war and Millie finds herself free to pursue her desires and find the companion she had longed for.

Despite the initial annoyance at Gertrude’s self-inflicted humiliation, I highly enjoyed this novel. I can see now how that first part was essential to better appreciate the change in her behaviour but I still think it could have been kept a little shorter. In any case, it was so rewarding to see her transformation, page after page. Not to mention the development of her attitude towards Millie - not quite in the way I had imagined when I picked up this book but not, for this reason, any less pleasing.

All in all, a sweet story with very credible characters and an ending that will leave a smile on your face!

Monday, 7 February 2011

My favourite quotes

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
Robert Frost

Poetry is what is gained in translation.
Joseph Brodsky

What are your favourite quotes? Send them in and I'll share them with the readers of Book After Book!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

LGBT reading challenge - February reviews

Thanks again for joining the LGBT reading challenge 2011! If you haven't joined yet, don't worry: there is still time.

Below is a list of all the book reviews that have been submitted in February (via this link). Hopefully you will all find new and interesting titles to explore - I, for one, am sure to gather another few books to add to my TBR list!

Whether you already know the books that are being discussed or not, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the other blogs. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not simply a competition, more of an opportunity to share ideas and bond over our common interests!

And so, let's begin!

01. Natazzz read and reviewed Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite.
02. Dante read and reviewed Drag King Dreams by Leslie Feinberg.

03. Orange Sorbet read and reviewed Yes Means Yes! by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti.
04. Juliet read and reviewed My Alexandria by Mark Doty.
05. Irene read and reviewed The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines.
06. Irene read and reviewed Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.
07. Dorla read and reviewed Unspeakable Horror edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder.
08. Saranga read and reviewed Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga.
09. Saranga read and reviewed Midnighter: Anthem by various writers and artists.
10. Irene read and reviewed Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.
11. Orange Sorbet read and reviewed Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson.

Don't forget, one February reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of Wavewalker by Stella Duffy, courtesy of Serpent’s Tail!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Book review: Fiere

By Jackie Kay
Published by
Reviewed by Juliet Wilson

Jackie Kay is a talented writer, a novelist, a short story writer, a playwright and a poet. I recently really enjoyed her book of short stories Wish I Was Here and her brilliant novel Trumpet. I was therefore looking forward to reading her new poetry collection Fiere, which is described on the book jacket as ‘her most accomplished, assured and ambitious collection of poems.’

Fiere (the title means friend in Scots) is billed as a lyric counterpart to Kay’s Red Dust Road (the story of her search for her birth parents) which I haven’t read, but the collection stands alone. It is full of the different voices that make up the poet’s heritage, so Scots poems such as Body o’ Land are found alongside poems set in Nigeria such as Egusi Soup. There are poems about ancestors and children, adopted parents and birth-parents; poems inspired by paintings and poems about love and friendship. All are heartfelt, simply written and accessible.

The theme of identity runs through many of the poems. The Nigeria-set poems trace Kay’s experiences in that country as she visited her birth father for the first time. In Ukpor Market she recognises her own facial features in the women around her and is starting to feel proud to be discovering her heritage when:

Oyinbo! They say to me. Oyinbo’.

she nods excitedly until her friend tells her:

‘Oyinbo is a pidgin word
for white woman’

By Lake Oguta could be seen to draw a parallel between cultural differences and the river that run into the lake:

‘The river ran into Lake Oguta

but did not mix its waters,
I could see as clear as clear

the tea-brown of the Orashi River
the bright blue of Lake Oguta’

The Scots poems mostly explore friendship and love and the area between:

‘Fir I will bring ye marigowds, my fiere –
ye who whaur there when I needed ye,
ye who are still hale and fere
though you’ve had a rough auld year.’

(from Marigowds)

Readers who are not familiar with Scots will be grateful for the glossary at the back (Marigowds – marigolds; hale and fere – healthy, sturdy).

Many of the English language poems follow the same theme of friendship and love, though often, like the Scots poems, these seem somewhat superficial. The Marriage of Nick and Edward must have been a loving gift to the couple, but doesn’t feel insightful enough to merit inclusion in a poetry collection. This is something I felt about a lot of the poems here, they seem to skate over the surface, and lack the vitality, insight and depth of Kay’s earlier poetry, particularly her 1993 collection Other Lovers. Even though the collection covers a lot of ground, it doesn’t feel as though it really goes very deep.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Help! My wish list #10

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

The History of Love
By Nicole Krauss

Product description: We first meet Leo Gursky when he believes he is nearing the end of his life, living alone in a tiny apartment in Manhattan. He is an elderly Jew who came to America from Poland after the second world war, having survived the Holocaust. [...] Although he seems to be a man without much of a life, we soon learn that he was once rich in art and love. He loved a woman, Alma, in Poland, but because he took too long to get to America she married somebody else. He also wrote a great novel in Poland, The History of Love, but entrusted it to a friend who later told him that it was lost. [...] We soon move from Gursky's empty little apartment to a more lively home, a family where a widowed mother, Charlotte, is bringing up a young boy and a 14-year-old girl who was named Alma after the heroine of a book her father loved. Gursky's novel was not lost. It was published in Spanish in Chile, passed off by Gursky's childhood friend as the friend's own work. And Alma's mother, Charlotte, is now translating the novel for an unknown correspondent. -- Read Natasha Walter's full review

Why I want to read this book: because I love novels within novels, translation and love!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"Italy in Books" - February reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011! What? You haven't joined yet? No worries, there is time to sign up until the very last day of the year...

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in February (via this link). I am sure that everyone will find it useful to learn about new and interesting reading ideas - in fact, I suspect that as a result of this challenge my TBR list will expand dangerously!

Whether you know the books that are being discussed or have never heard of them, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the blogs themselves. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not a mere competition, rather an opportunity to share ideas and bond over common interests!

And so, let's begin!

01. Monica read and reviewed The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric.
02. Stuart read and reviewed The Leopard by Tomasi di Lampedusa.
03. Stuart read and reviewed If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.
04. Stuart read and reviewed The Lueneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig. (Not set in Italy and not eligible towards the prize draw but listing it anyway as it sounds like a good read by an Italian author)
05. Barbara read and reviewed The Defector by Daniel Silva.
06. Ceil read and reviewed Hemingway in Love and War by Henry S. Villard and James Nagel.
07. Roberta read and reviewed Diario di una donna: inediti 1945-1960 by Sibilla Aleramo.
08. Roz read When in Rome by Gemma Townley. Scroll down to read her review.
09. Jeane read The Death of a Mafia Don by Michele Giuttari. Scroll down to read her review.
10. Coffee and a Book Chick read and reviewed The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland.
11. Scribacchina read and reviewed Archanes by Valerio Massimo Manfredi.
12. Lynn read and reviewed Summer in Tuscany by Elizabeth Adler.
13. Scribacchina read and reviewed Friends in High Places by Donna Leon.
14. Juliet read and reviewed In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore.
15. Dorla read and reviewed Baudolino by Umberto Eco.
16. Gretchen read and reviewed Rambling on the Road to Rome by Peter Francis Browne.
17. Christy read and reviewed Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley.
18. Patricia read and reviewed The Almond Picker by Simonetta Agnello Hornby.
19. Laura read The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri. Scroll down to read her review.
20. Lindy read and reviewed A Party in San Niccolò by Christobel Kent.
21. Parrish read and reviewed Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino.
22. Kathy read and reviewed Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant.
23. Lara read La Mennulara (The Almond Picker) by Simonetta Agnello Hornby. Scroll down to read her review.

Reviews by non bloggers

When in Rome by Gemma Townley. Read and reviewed by Roz:
This is a form of International ʺChick Litʺ; a very predictable story of a broken-hearted Amercan woman seeking adventure and love in Rome. I found the story of a very immature female's escapades in Rome be very non-engaging and on the verge of complete boredom, therefore difficult to complete. There is very little to learn of Italy or the Italian culture from this blah-zay novel.

The Death of a Mafia Don by Michele Giuttari. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
My second Giuttari book about the head of the Squadra Mobile in Firenze, Michele Ferrara, was even better than the other one. It had me completely in control and I was excited even jsut thinking about reading on! Michele Ferrara lives in Firenze with his German wife and is head of the Squadra Mobile. It isn't much time after airplanes flew into the Twin Towers, the whole world is thinking about terrorism but at least Firenze goes on in its daily way. Michele Ferrara locked up a mafia boss not long before, but mafia wars haven't happened for some time and stay in the South of Italy instead of spreading to the North. During another normal morning, Michele is brought to work by his driver, who chooses different streets every day. On his way, Michele receives a phone call from the lawyer of the locked up mafia boss .... at the same moment as a bomb goes off in front of their car. Some Arabs around the place of the bomb lead thoughts to terrorism. But then, a second bomb goes off and everybody starts to understand that they aren't accidental bombs going off without real targets. Many ideas are heard, many paths followed but only on the last pages the key of the puzzle is found. This story had Michele Ferrara loose almost two important people in is life, maybe it is time for him to retire?

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri. Read and reviewed by Laura:
‘The Shape of Water’ by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli, is the first of several Inspector Montalbano mysteries. Set in Sicily, they are a slightly sardonic take on Sicilian life. In this novel, the Inspector works to solve the murder of a local politician whose body was found by local garbage collectors in a compromising position in a car in a questionable part of town. The coroner rules that the man died of natural causes, despite evidence to the contrary. However, against the wishes of his superiors, the Inspector refuses to sign off on the investigation, until after another murder, this time of a corrupt lawyer, brings things to a head. Inspector Montalbano’s character is a mix of humour, cynicism, and compassion – he is a bit of a maverick with a love of good food. The novel is funny and fast-paced, and with a cast of eccentric characters (including the two garbage collectors who have PhDs).

La Mennulara (The Almond Picker) by Simonetta Agnello Hornby. Read and reviewed by Lara:

I have chosen to review this book because it takes place in the island where I live, Sicily, and because, as a Sicilian, I can say that Simonetta Agnello Hornby, the author, has perfectly described passions, faults and weaknesses of people living in a small village, Roccacolomba.
“La Mennulara” means “the almond picker”: who is this mysterious woman, protagonist of the story (even if she has just passed away)? She might be an ambitious woman, originally servant for the Alfallipe family and then administrator of their fortune; she might be simply a faithful servant, who remained close to her lady, Adriana Alfallipe, till the end of her days. Everyone, in the town talks about her; everyone keeps a different memory. She is admired, respected, hated. Why has she succeeded in becoming so important in the Alfallipe family and, overall, in the Roccacolomba life?
The writer is extremely skilled in coordinating different rumors about the mysterious Mennulara: yes, because this is the true protagonist of the story. It’s not the servant-administrator, it’s not the family, not other people, but the so called “curtigghiu”, in Sicilian dialect, the bad and, at the same time, funny habit that people living in small villages, especially in Southern Italy, have.
Let’s imagine I want to practice the curtigghiu…what should I do? Well, it’s easy: I simply have to observe something or someone and fantasize or, better, give my interpretation about what’s happening or what that person is doing.
In this story, the Mennulara has just passed away: who was her, is the dilemma to solve. The curtigghiu starts in the town … She was involved with mafia – someone says -, she was the lover of someone important – someone else suggests -… it’s difficult to admit she could be an intelligent and smart woman, who did her best to preserve her family wealth and to realize her dreams!
This novel is original and full of colors like a fresh painted fresco. Sicilian sceneries are made of smells, sounds, colors, people and curtigghiu.
Why did we, Sicilians, love so much this book, and give our appreciation to Simonetta Agnello Hornby? The reason is that we recognized us, our habits, our way of thinking in the book, and even if the story takes place in 1963, so almost 50 years ago, it is still incredibly authentic.

And remember, one January reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of this mouth-watering book! Buona fortuna!

LGBT challenge - Link for February reviews and prize draw

It’s February and the LGBT reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of Serpent’s Tail, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Wavewalker by Stella Duffy.

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:
  • Read a book - fiction or non-fiction - whose author is LBGT, whose topic is LGBT and/or whose characters (even minor ones) are LGBT
  • Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Happy reading!

LGBT challenge - January winner

12 reviews. Books that I have already read, books that were already on my wish list, books that I didn’t even know existed… if every month is going to be like this, it’s going to be a great year!

Did you miss the reviews? Don't worry, follow this link and catch up with all the bookish goodness! And if you’ve just come across the LGBT reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Duckworth, will receive a copy of Putting It On: The West End Theatre of Michael Codron by Michael Codron and Alan Strachan is:

J Seth, who read and reviewed Gay Bar by Helen Branson.

"Italy in Books" - Link for February reviews and prize draw

It’s February and the “Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of Duckworth, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Why Italians Love to Talk About Food by Elena Kostioukovitch. Sounds mouth-watering, doesn’t it?

To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

  • Read a book set in Italy or about Italian culture & language
  • Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking here

Easy, isn't it?

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Buona lettura!

"Italy in Books" - January winners

16 reviews: books that I have already read, books that were already on my wish list, books that I didn’t even know existed… if every month is going to be like this, it’s going to be a great year!

Did you miss the reviews? Fear not, follow this link and catch up with all the bookish goodness! And if you’ve just come across the Italy in Books reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The two lucky reviewers who, courtesy of the independent publisher Diiarts, will receive a copy each of Ask Me If I’m Happy by Kimberly Menozzi are:

Jeane, who reviewed The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Kathy, who reviewed The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

Book review: Moonlight in Odessa

By Janet Skeslien Charles

I first became acquainted with Janet Skeslien Charles’s debut novel at the beginning of 2010, when it was featured on BBC Radio 4 as Book at Bedtime. For two weeks, every day I looked forward to my 15-minute escape to the Ukraine and the world of Daria, via the voice of Jane Collingwood. I wasn’t expecting to read the book as well – in the same way that I tend not to read a novel when I have already seen the film version – but when I saw it by chance on a bookshelf in the library I couldn’t resist.

And I’m glad I didn’t.

Moonlight in Odessa is the story of Daria, a smart Ukrainian girl who lives in Odessa with her grandmother, Boba. She loves English and, despite having to dodge the advances of both her boss and a local mobster, she is happy to work as a secretary at an Israeli shipping company where she can use the language on a daily basis. Daria has also a second job as interpreter at Soviet Unions, an online matchmaking service for Western men looking for an Eastern European wife.

Despite witnessing all that is wrong with the mail-order bride system, Daria is encouraged by her grandmother to move to California and to marry Tristan. He seems dedicated and reliable, everything that she is looking for in a relationship. However, crossing oceans and diving into a new culture with a heart full of enthusiasm might not be enough for Daria to distance herself from the life she left behind. Especially from the men that she left waiting for her.

Having listened to an abridged version of the book, reading the book was a little like meeting old friends and getting to know them better, with all their quirks, beliefs and dreams. I also enjoyed taking a virtual tour of Odessa, whose beauty Daria never stops to praise, and the cultural differences that she encounters in California are portrayed in a very clever and funny way.

In fact, humour is a strong feature throughout Moonlight in Odessa. This is often dark humour, which makes you smile but, at the same time, allows you to recognise the surrealism of the situations or the weaknesses of the people described.

An added bonus is the respect that Janet Skeslien Charles shows towards translators, whom she gives space on her website to talk about their experiences working on this novel:

Translating Daria by Manon Smits, the Dutch translator
Odessa on my Mind by Astrid Arz, the German translator
Traveling to Odessa by Ylva Stålmarck, the Swedish translator