Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Christmas competition - 1st bundle

To celebrate Christmas, this year I’m offering you the chance to win a bundle of gorgeous and exciting gifts! Knowing me, this mostly means lots of wonderful books (!!) but I’m sure that you’ll be delighted by the little extras. Literary and not!

Before scrolling down to check out the pictures and the list of prizes, please join me in thanking the generous sponsors that agreed to donate all these goodies… In no particular order, a massive THANK YOU to:

teNeues Puffin Thames & Hudson Bloomsbury Publishing Fourth Estate
Picador Barefoot Books Bookish Brighton Peach

And now, without further ado, this is what you could win!

teNeues Art Nouveau 2012 Deluxe Diary

Postcards from Puffin
An irresistible set of 100 postcards, each with a different iconic Puffin cover, in a beautifully designed box.

Stone: Andy Goldsworthy
In Stone, Andy Goldsworthy presents a remarkable collection of photographs of his work and reveals through his own words his uniquely personal relationship with nature.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.

SEXY Scrabble Brooch

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
A story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, ageing, wisdom and humanity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.

My Former Heart by Cressida Connolly
With a large cast of fascinating characters, this is an outstanding novel about families and their ability to adapt. It surely marks the beginning of a long career as a novelist for Cressida Connolly.

Ampersand Necklace

ABCs and 123s Gift Set
Develop counting and alphabet skills with these fun and educational books. Featuring board book editions of Alligator Alphabet, Counting Cockatoos, One Moose, Twenty Mice and Zoë and her Zebra. Packaged in an eco-friendly, reusable green tote bag with a gift tag.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Based on blow-by-blow newspaper reports of the 1864 Codrington Divorce, The Sealed Letter, full of sparkling characters and wicked dialogue, is a thought-provoking mystery and gripping drama of friends, lovers and marriage.

bookish Star Christmas Card

The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy
A new tale celebrating the magic of Christmas from the Poet Laureate, illustrated by David Roberts. This brilliant new poem celebrates the miraculous truce between the trenches, when enemy shook hands with enemy, shared songs, swapped gifts, even played football, and peace found a place in No Man’s Land.

Honey and Camomile Soap (200g)
Nourish your skin with this moisturising soap made with Sussex honey and camomile.


Woodland Bluebell Soap (200g)
No need to wait for spring - just close your eyes and experience the wonderful scent of a bluebell wood.

And, last but not least, a Ladybird Notebook from BookishEngland.co.uk

Happy? The competition is open world-wide and will close on 15th January 2012.

How to enter:

1. Become a follower of this blog by clicking on the “Join this site” button (shown below) that you can find in the sidebar on the right.
2. Fill in this form so that I have all the details I need to send the bundle of prizes asap.

3. Leave a comment below.

4. Optional for one extra entry: if you use Twitter, please tweet “I’ve just entered @BrightonBlogger’s Christmas competition: http://bit.ly/usfBnV. Please RT!”

HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND GOOD LUCK!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In conversation with... Araminta Hall

Hello Araminta! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your first novel, Everything and Nothing. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: It is the story of a couple run ragged by work and children – one of whom doesn’t eat and one who doesn’t sleep. Into the chaos comes Aggie, a seemingly perfect but very flawed nanny. My initial idea was to write a story about modern marriage and parenthood, but after a while I wondered if it would be engaging enough and so I introduced the character of Aggie. She was meant to shine a light on to Ruth and Christian, but ended up becoming a main character herself. I tried to explore themes of madness and responsibility and your past catching up with you. It is basically about a family imploding and trying to understand what they want out of life.

How does it feel to be a published author? And not just a published author: you were also selected for Richard and Judy's Autumn Reads 2011!

A: It feels really great and Richard and Judy has been the icing on the cake. You work so hard on your own when you’re trying to get a book written that you stop believing anyone will ever want to publish you. I think I went into a state of shock after Harper Collins offered me a deal and kept having dreams in which it was discovered that I hadn’t written the book! And now of course Richard and Judy have such a massive influence I keep seeing it everywhere I go, which is a fantastic feeling.

What inspired you to write Everything and Nothing and what kind of journey led you to its publication?

A: I was really inspired by the life I was living – a mother of three young children (well, only two when I started writing it) and a husband who worked away a lot. Not that any of the events which happen in the book are true to my life, just the general feelings. You have such a dichotomy of feeling as a mother, this intense love for your children, but also a complete loss of self, which can be very damaging. I had been a journalist for ten years and I’d always wanted to write novels, so after the birth of my second child eight years ago I decided to dedicate a bit of time to actually doing it. I ended up taking an MA in Creative Writing and Authorship at Sussex University, which was amazing and taught me so much not just about writing, but also about the world of publishing. After it had finished I spent about a year re-writing and then sent it to two agents, one of whom was interested, but took so long to make a decision, I sent it straight to Harper Collins and was amazed to get an offer within a week.

I almost neglected my job to finish your book as quickly as I possibly could and I can’t wait to read your next novel. Have you already started working on anything new?

A: Thank you, that’s very kind. I am working on something new. Strangely I know exactly what my third novel is going to be about, but am having more trouble with my second! It is coming together at the moment though and I hope to have it finished in the next couple of months.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Before I was published I was a complete luddite when it came to social networking, but now I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t think I’m very good at either of them – I should probably buy a book on how to increase your followers or something, but I can absolutely see what a brilliant tool they are. There are writers out there with thousands of followers and they are able to talk directly to their readers, which is a wonderful experience. Like everyone else, it’s easy to get lost in the Internet when you should be working!

What is your one fundamental piece of advice for aspiring writers?

A: To keep going and develop a hard skin! I do think that people who end up getting published are often those who have persevered. It takes years to get published, unless you are ridiculously lucky, and those years will be spent earning little money and being rejected by agents and publishers. I always wanted to write and I think I would have gone on forever. Doing the MA however made me take myself seriously and think that I actually had a chance, which made a massive difference. I would also recommend subscribing to a magazine dedicated to writing like Mslexia. They always have a section listing competitions – entering them is great as it focuses your mind and gives you a deadline and, if you win or get placed, it’s a great calling card to take to agents. It’s also essential to read as much as you can. I think if you’re not in love with reading you probably won’t ever be a writer.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: Just that Brighton is a brilliant town to be in for anything creative and there are lots of writers living here. It’s great to get involved with all the things that go on – there are two great nights I go to regularly and sometimes read at – Speaky Spokey at The Latest Bar and Short Fuse at Komedia. And of course the Small Wonder festival at Charleston each year is fantastic. And there are so many writers groups, it’s really worth joining one, as it can be a lonely process doing it all on your own. I still meet up regularly with two good friends I made on the MA and in the course of a couple of hours we can often solve problems in each others writing which seem insurmountable when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen on your own.

Thank you for your time!

And now, for a chance to win one copy of Everything and Nothing, click here and complete the form. The competition is open to UK readers only and will close on the 12th December at 1pm.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

LGBT reading challenge - November reviews

Thanks again for joining the LGBT reading challenge 2011!

Below is a list of all the book reviews that have been submitted in November (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!

Let's begin!

01. Juliet read and reviewed Zami by Audre Lorde.

Don't forget, one November reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe, courtesy of Serpent's Tail!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Reading challenge 2012: first prize draw!

To encourage you to join my new reading challenge for 2012, all those who will sign up by the 31st December 2011 will be entered into a prize draw to win a

GBP 30 gift voucher to redeem on Amazon.co.uk

(or the equivalent sum to redeem on any of the other Amazon sites, depending on the location of the winner).

Wait no longer: click here, scroll down the page and submit your details.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... Day Trip

Yesterday, my husband, Alle, and I accompanied his sister and her family and another friend for lunch in le colline di Canossa, the foothills of the Apennine mountains which surround the Canossa castles in the Reggio Emilia province.

We left home around 11:30, under grey and gloomy skies, with a mist drifting around the tops of the palazzi of our neighborhood. As we drove out toward the hills, Alle and I chatted about the scenery, how nice it was that the colors of the trees had turned and not fallen immediately, and how I am strangely appreciative of the grey, cold weather. As we approached Puianello, the fog began to break and allow the first hints of sun to shine through.

We drove on through the outskirts of the town where a small market was open for the coming holidays. It seemed that everyone for miles around was coming to sample the wares on offer, but we continued on our way, following his brother-in-law's car as it bypassed the town, continuing for the hills.

Soon enough, we were ascending narrow, steep roads which made my ears pop and my sinuses press uncomfortably against my skull (not the best idea to travel these roads when one has a slight cold, I've duly noted). Some of these roads are barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another without "kissing" (which is how some call it when the rear-view mirrors on the driver's side doors touch), some are, in fact, not wide enough, which forces one driver to back up to a wider spot in the road so the other can pass. Luckily, Italian drivers are, as a general rule, skilled enough to manage this, even on the twisting mountain roads.

I usually just close my eyes and pray while Alle maneuvers the car in these instances.

We climbed ever upward and the panorama spread out below us in rich browns, reds, yellows and the last vivid greens, until the scene faded into the fog still covering the plains. The switchback roads in many areas of the hills are amazingly steep and tight turns, leaving little or no room for error, and frequently leading to motion sickness for passengers regardless of where they sit in the car.

Naturally – inevitably – I found myself a tad woozy, but there was no opportunity to go slower as we were trying to keep up with the other car. I found my bearings soon enough, and for a while the roads smoothed out and followed the ridges of the hills, jumping from one to another, rising, falling, swooping and climbing along until we had covered nearly thirty kilometers and had passed alongside the Canossa castle ruins, skirted the area surrounding Castello Rossena, and then, around one p.m., we found ourselves in the tiny town of Vedriano. The roads into Vedriano are fairly straight, especially compared to those we'd traveled to get there. However, they also plummet quite straight down from the crest of the hill, toward Pietranera, which was our ultimate goal.

Or, rather, Trattoria Pietranera, was.

The restaurant was busy – almost fully packed – and our group of six people was seated immediately. The service was a tad slow compared to many other places, but I can only say this:

The wait – any wait – was worth it, here.

Our meal was simple, really, but didn't feel as though it was. Everyone could order individually (some places offer "family-style" meals, with a common serving dish), so we got to sample a wider variety of dishes – and every dish was shared.

First dishes included: cappelletti in brodo, tortelli verde (ravioli with green filling made with spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano, mostly), tortelli di radicchio, and pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (wide flat pasta with wild boar sauce).

The pappardelle were mine – and the sauce was the best ragù I'd had in a long, long time. I could have eaten another plate of the pasta, easily. Having been slow-cooked, the boar was tender and so savory I wished I'd set aside more of my bread so I could get every last drop of the sauce. Alas, I had to leave some behind on my plate.

Second dishes included: cinghiale in umido (stewed wild boar) and faraona arrosto (roast guineafowl), with salad, deep-fried zucchini and potatoes on the side.

At this point, I thought I'd cry "Uncle!" – or, should that be "Zio!" – but then the desserts were offered. I chose torta cioccolatino (that's not an error, that's what they called it), a moist, almost wet chocolate cake with powdered sugar and a rich chocolate sauce drizzled over it. Alle and his sister both chose the torta di tagliatelle, a cake made with almonds and, yes, the pasta in the name. Her husband chose the zuppa inglese (English soup), a layered dessert with chocolate cream, egg custard and a sponge cake layer which has been soaked in a dessert liqueur called Alchermes.

We sat and talked after our meal, some of us having a small glass of nocino (a walnut-based liqueur), the others simply drinking water and allowing ourselves to digest before we had our caffè and made our way home.

As usual, we stood around outside, enjoying the cold air and allowing it to further invigorate us. Even in the hills, evening starts setting in early at this time of year, so we chatted and let the three-year-old work off some excess energy before packing ourselves into our vehicles and making the long drive home.

We wound along a different route this time, one a little more direct and slightly less inclined to induce motion-sickness. As we descended from the hills, the fog reached out for us once again, and our new route took us along the river, through Ciano d'Enza, skirting the hills, now shrouded in early evening mists. By the time we got home, it was nearly dark, the fog now swirling ghostlike around the streetlamps when we got out of our car and went inside for good.

I found myself at the window while I brewed some tea, watching the night settle, the headlights of the cars fanning out ahead on my street, people bundled up against the cold and damp while they walked their dogs or strolled home.

Every year when the long nights come I fall in love with this place all over again. I can't help myself: this is when Italy is at her most beautiful, for me. The sumptuous meals, the jovial conversation, the brisk, refreshing air – what more could I possibly ask for?

If I ever think of something, I'll be sure to let you know.

Books through my lens #8

With its narrow alleys, imposing castle and beautiful architecture, it's no wonder that Český Krumlov, in the Czech Republic, has been elected UNESCO World Heritage Site. This picture was taken in the summer of 2011 to capture the ubiquity of the Bard! The sign leads to Shakespeare and Sons. I must admit, to my utter shame, that I did not go and investigate. If any of you have comments on this bookshop, please feel free to share them below.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Book review: The Empty Nesters

By Nina Bell
Published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown

Big family drama is what Nina Bell is famous for writing about and rightly so. At first I was attracted by the beautiful cover of The Empty Nesters. My interest was piqued by the blurb. The book then proceeded to conquer me. What a cleverly-plotted novel!

To make it really simple: Clover and Laura became friends when their children started school and have spent years sharing school runs, sleepovers, holidays etc. Alice is their friend too but – as a single mother trying to build a successful business – she’s mostly been receiving the two women’s help while unable to give much support in return. But helping each other out is what friends are for, right?

Now that the kids have all grown up and are leaving their parents’ homes to go onto university, Laura and, especially, Clover are looking forward to a more equal relationship with Alice. Now that she has found success and her daughter is away at Oxford, though, she doesn’t seem concerned in keeping in touch with her two friends. In fact, she seems to be ignoring them, while planning something that goes against all notions of friendships.

If it sounds like there are too many characters and you think that you might get confused, please don’t worry. It’s true that there are a lot of characters – and I haven’t even mentioned half of them – but each of them is outlined in such a clear and distinctive way there will be no doubt as to who’s who at any point during the narrative.

What Nina Bell does make us wonder is what is going on! In the hands of the wrong author, it’d be possible to foresee the ending of the book by reading the prologue only. Not in this case. Readers are bound to form theories like they’re bound to have those same theories challenged as the novel takes unexpected twists and turns.

Smart and well-written, The Empty Nesters tackles important issues – motherhood, friendship, love and illness – in an engaging and original way. And you don’t need to be a parent or ‘empty nester’ to enjoy this novel. I’m neither and I loved it!

***

If you missed my interview with Nina Bell, please follow this link.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

"Italy in Books" - November reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011!

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in November (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!

Let's begin!

01. Gretchen read and reviewed The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson.
02. Juliet read and reviewed Roma by Steven Saylor.
03. Gretchen read and reviewed Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks.

04. Barbara read and reviewed The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato.
05. Pete read and reviewed A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari.
06. Lindy read and reviewed Passeggiata by G.G. Husak.
07. Jeane read Letters to Juliet by Lise and Ceil Friedman. Scroll down to read her review.
08. Lara read Il tribunale delle anime by Donato Carrisi. Scroll down to read her review.

Reviews by non bloggers

Letters to Juliet by Lise and Ceil Friedman. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
My feelings towards the book Letters to Juliet were influenced by having the front cover picture of the actress and having recently seen the movie. So I started reading it thinking it would be a light, fast and probably commercial kind of 'story'.
From the first pages I have been dragged instead into the words. Trying not to become part of the words through my well-known feeling when reading something very well written about Italy, I tried to stay objective. But around page 34 I admited I was lost and well into it.
Letters to Juliet gives historical facts about the story, Verona and more importantly it captures so well that amazing feeling that I have only found in things linked to Italy.
If I would be better in cooking delicate things like Baci di Giulietta, I can promise you I would be preparing them right now. The whole recipe is in the book, so I hope someone will make them and let me know how they are! :-)
This book brings me back to my visit to Verona, from where my dear friend is. She showed me around her city and it made me feel the wonderful Italian beauty. Reading this book, I am back at casa di Giulietta, walking a bit further in the narrow street towards casa di Romeo which has kept all the secrecy in the marvellous building like the legend around his name has kept and passes on to each new generation.
This book is mainly about the tons of letters which are sent yearly to the secretaries in Verona, tells about the universal thing in everybody's life 'love', Shakespeare's part in all this and the ones before him and so much more.
I went through the book in one day and loved it. What I thought would be a commercial, only facts about the movie and legend, empty telling was such a good and informative book. It felt lively even if it was about the past and at the same time present and future as love will be always around every second of everybody's life in whatver way.
I know it is a bit empty and commercial, but I watched Juliet+Romeo, the modern version, just before finishing the book.... to hear the words.

Il tribunale delle anime by Donato Carrisi. Read and reviewed by Lara:
When I read Il tribunale delle anime by Donato Carrisi, I had a strange feeling. I know very well Rome, in my opinion one of the most fascinating, brightest, most vivid town in the world. Here I discovered an unusual Rome, dark, mysterious, scary.The story starts in an ancient coffee-bar close to Piazza Navona. It is raining. Two men are discussing about a girl’s probable kidnapping. It is necessary to intervene before it is too late. One of the two men, Marcus, is the only person who could interpret the clues that a criminal mind is spreading around. Marcus is a hunter: he detects the traces of evil and fights against them. But he suffers from amnesia, since he was involved in his mentor’s murder, month ago: his mind cannot see clearly as it was used to, because of the shadows from which it is surrounded.Sandra is a policewoman, specialized in taking photos of crime scenes. She has recently lost her husband, who was found dead in Roma, and refuses to see reality as it is. David, her husband, used to recommend her to look carefully at anomalies, that allow to get a different perspective of facts, but Sandra looks indifferent at the beginning. She receives an unexpected phone call: someone asks her about his husband’ bag. Has he been killed for something he had discovered? What had he discovered?Sandra and Marcus are the two leading characters of a multifaceted story that takes place in the eternal city. Around them, plenty of events happen: some people are murdered, some mysteries are cleared, a terrible scenario, made of lights and darkness, candles and night, is depicted, like a Caravaggio’s painting. We are guided by Donato Carrisi into some well-known Roman places, that we now perceive as completely unfamiliar: each of them is hiding something. For example, the Caravaggio’s paintings in San Luigi dei Francesi church, whose details will remind Sandra to look at anomalies; the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where the ancient order of “Penitenzieri”, to whom Marcus belongs, was instituted; Via dei Serpenti, Via dei Coronari, quiet streets in the town centre where Marcus lives and where the young girl has been kidnapped.Many crimes happened in the past and are still unresolved, and many crimes continue to happen, calling for law trials in front of an invisible court of justice: who is called to be the judge? Sandra and Marcus are called to be witnesses of a scenario where the only possible options are revenge or forgiveness.I missed the first book by Donato Carrisi, “Il suggeritore”, that I want to read, after having discovered his stories and experienced the sense of uneasiness and tension that “Il tribunale delle anime” communicates. I would recommend this book: the writing is fluent, the rhythm of the story exciting. Maybe there are too many characters and sometimes the reader cannot get easily oriented about what is happening. However, I did not notice this difficulty, as I was so captured by the story that I finished the book in a very short time!

And remember: this month, courtesy of Fourth Estate, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

In conversation with... S.G. Browne

Hello Scott! First of all, thank you for agreeing to join us on Book After Book! You have two published novels so far, Breathers and Fated. What does it mean to you to be a published writer?

A: It means I get the opportunity to share my sense of humour and stories with others and hopefully make them laugh. It also means I’ve been able to be my own boss for the past three years, which is nice. Though I’m thinking I need a raise.

Breathers follows Andy while he adjusts to his new existence as a zombie. Where did your interest in the undead stem from?

A: I saw Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead on TV when I was 12-years-old. This was before cable and videos, so they edited out the eating of human flesh and the naked zombie. But it was still a highlight of my limited horror film exposure at the time. The film had this mystery and intrigue built up around it and from that point on I was a zombie fan. Though I’m not obsessed with them. I have other interests, too.

Our screens have recently been stormed by zombies, vampires and the like. Is Andy going to make his cinema or television debut soon?

A: I hope so. The film rights for Breathers were optioned by Fox Searchlight Pictures a couple of years ago, but even though the script has been written the film is spinning its wheels in development waiting for a director. So we’ll see what happens.

In Fated, instead, we meet Fabio, who works as Fate and gets in trouble for getting involved with Sara, a human. Destiny and Death are among the other characters of this quirky comedy. How did the idea for this novel come to you?

A: I was sitting in a shopping mall watching people walk past and wondering what they would be doing in 20 years. So I got out my journal and wrote a scene about a character who doesn’t wonder about these people but instead knows what they’ll be doing in the future because he’s Fate. I didn’t do anything with the idea until more than two years later, when I was trying to figure out what to write a few months after I’d finished Breathers. The scene in the shopping mall ended up being the genesis for the first chapter. The rest of it just kind of flowed out of that.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: While social networking sites can be beneficial when used properly, they are definitely a time suck from writing and disruptive as hell. As a writer, you have to try to limit your time on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to an hour or two each day, otherwise it’s easy to get sucked into a black hole of status updates and 140 character replies. Striking the right balance isn’t easy. Sometimes when I’m involved in a project I completely forget to blog or interact with readers on the social networking sites. Other times, you just have to unplug. After all, we weren’t wired to communicate electronically.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Write something that matters to you and that affects you on some emotional level. Something that makes you laugh or makes you cry or sends chills down your spine. Something that resonates with you. Because if it doesn’t resonate with you, it’s not going to resonate with anyone else.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: Well, since you mentioned it… my next novel, Lucky Bastard, is due out in April 2012. It’s a dark comedy and social satire about a private investigator who was born with the ability to steal luck and what happens when he has to deal with the karmic consequences of his genetic opportunism.

Thank you for your time!

Thank you, Silvia.


Well, I don't know about you but I'm already looking forward to April 2012! In the meantime, why don't you fill in this form for a chance to win a bundle of S.G. Browne's novels? Thanks to the generosity of Little, Brown, three lucky UK readers will win a copy of both Breathers and Fated. The competition will close on the 28th November at 1pm.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Book review: Out of Sight

By Isabelle Grey
Published by Quercus

The book opens with the daily life of the Hinde household: Patrick, his wife Belinda and their little boy, Daniel. Their routine is somewhat disturbed by a visit of Patrick’s parents: anxious and fretful, they have the ability of pushing their son to the edge. They work him up in such a state that, after he says goodbye, Patrick is not quite himself as he drives to drop off Daniel at the childminder’s en route to his homeopathic clinic. In retrospect, Patrick won’t be able to say what happened. Except that it shouldn’t have happened.

Five years later, an Englishwoman working in a small French village comes across a fascinating man. He’s a homeopath from England but he goes under the name of Patrice. Taciturn and introvert, he leads a fairly solitary life. Leonie is instantly attracted to him and, guessing that his reticence must derive from a traumatic past, she is not put off by his unwillingness to talk about himself. Likewise, fascinated by her openness and vitality, Patrice seems to enjoy Leonie’s company. When Leonie gets pregnant, though, Patrick disappears without a trace.

What went on in Patrice’s mind to make him leave without a word of explanation? What past trauma can justify his attitude towards Leonie? What will she do without the man she loves? This and many other questions will be answered as, one piece at a time, the big picture takes shape and we learn about the consequences of that fateful ride with his son.

Out of Sight is Isabelle Grey’s debut novel and, possibly because she has extensive experience as a screenwriter, it is one that would translate incredibly well into a film. The dialogues are well-written and fast-flowing; settings and actions accurately described. The characters, with all their flaws and weaknesses, are totally credible, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are universally likeable.

Personally, I couldn’t warm to either Patrick/Patrice or Leonie. On one hand, I thought that - because of the trauma he experienced - he should have been able to treat Leonie better instead of acting in such a selfish way. Leonie, on the other hand, should have known that you can’t change people. She also clearly doesn’t believe in feminism as, most times, she seems to take the blame for each and every one of Patrice’s faults!

Far from being a negative point, my reaction to the main characters only shows that this novel - and the complex issues that it explores - is able to engage readers and stir up emotions. I can easily imagine that Out of Sight will become a favourite of book groups.


***

If you missed my interview with Isabelle Grey, please follow this link.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Books through my lens #7

Strolling around Bexhill-on-Sea on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I walked past a shop whose autumnal window display caught my attention. It included books, yes! I’m afraid to say that, apart from knowing that it’s located on Sea Road, I don’t know what this shop sells. Vintage furniture and accessories, perhaps? No idea. It was closed and I was too busy trying to take a picture of this beautiful, rustic arrangement to investigate!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Write What You Wonder - by Laura Lee

Write what you know. As aspiring writers we had this drummed into our heads. Write what you know.

I took this advice literally when I sat down to write my thankfully unpublished first novel. It was the story of a person like me (an introverted, slightly intellectual, average looking suburbanite), in a situation like mine, whining about the things that were bugging a person just like me and arguing that the reader should take her side. It was dreadful stuff and I thank God every day that I could not find a publisher for it and that print-on-demand and Kindle did not yet exist. I would never have lived it down.

Plumbing my own life for interesting narratives never yielded much. That is not to say I did not try. Oh I tried. I tried. I tried to make a novel out of a painful, but in retrospect silly, one-sided love affair. I started one on my dabblings with Eastern religion. I tried to turn my professional radio experience into a humorous novel. I tried to write about what it felt like to be in a legal battle with a Russian ballet company over producing a tour of Swan Lake. Yes, I really did have this experience in my life. On the surface it seems as though it has all of the elements for a great drama, exotic foreign characters, legal wranglings, an inside look at the world of ballet, high stakes and hard emotions. Yet I never could really get it off the ground. I was too close to it.

Here is the problem with writing “what you know.” You are limited. You know what happened in life, and you stick to it. Your imagination has no room to play. Your personal relationships and your desire to see yourself in the best light color your story telling. You also feel the drama so keenly that you tend to assume readers will also, so you forget to actually spell the emotions out. You think they’re there because just mentioning the situation may make your emotions soar or drop, but that doesn’t mean a reader will feel the same.

There is a personal danger in writing what you know as well. To grow as a human being, you need to move on from your past. Rehashing the drama of your past instead of living your life in the moment is not the healthiest thing for the writer as a person. Contrary to the suffering artist mystique – I’m going to bust all the myths today - you really do better work when you are healthy.

I never quite succeeded in producing a novel until I stopped trying to write about what I knew, and started to write about what I wondered.

It began in 2000 when I took a bus tour of the beautiful Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. My tour guide was an entertaining middle aged man who described the mountain in poetic terms and kept talking about burning out on his old job. Towards the end of the tour someone finally asked him what his old job had been. He said, “a minister.”

What would cause a burned out minister to leave the church for a job as a tour guide? Was there something that connected religion and natural beauty that appealed to him? Why had he left the ministry? Was his new setting a form of worship? What about the fact that the mountain was actually a sleeping volcano waiting for its next eruption? How could a story about a minister leaving the ministry be related to that?

There were so many questions that my mind could not help coming back to. “Why did the minister go to the mountain?” was a writing prompt that never failed to get me going, thinking, exploring. I used it for ten years. That prompt produced another complete novel (as yet unpublished) that spun off in a surprising direction. (The final version has no minister or mountain.) And eventually it produced Angel.

The answer to the question of what metaphorical volcano shook the minister’s comfortable church life finally came in the form of a man whose beauty captured my imagination. His face reminded me of the angels in Renaissance art, and I wished I could paint. This, too, ignited my curiosity.

What was it about beauty that called out to our creative urges? Was it a desire to capture something that we know is transitory? Is there a spiritual element to the appreciation of beauty or is it mere objectification? What exactly is it that is pleasing about a beautiful face?

Suddenly my two curiosities collided and created a third question: What if the minister fell in love with a beautiful man? What if that was the thing?

From that point I wrote in flow as though the characters– the minister and the beautiful young man– had independent existence and I simply had to take dictation. My novel, Angel, was released by Itineris Press on September 27 and has been getting over all favorable reviews. My life is in it, of course, but there is nothing autobiographical about it.

Write what you know, yes, if by that you mean ground your story in reality. Draw on your experience and your life and make it all truthful and real. But if you want to be inspired, write what you wonder. Write about
what piques your curiosity. Keep exploring the questions you can’t let go.

***

Learn more about author Laura Lee by connecting with her on Twitter and by reading her blog.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

NEW! Reading challenge 2012

2011 marked my debut as reading challenge host and it couldn’t have been better! I discovered new book blogs, new authors, new titles and, generally, felt enriched by the whole experience. Reading books is a pleasure, sharing your thoughts on them is an even greater one!

Now that the new year is approaching at the speed of light, I don’t want to be caught unprepared. It is therefore without further ado that I invite you to join the…



Having chosen a specific subject for my previous reading challenges, all the books already waiting on my shelves have been kept waiting some longer. That’s why I decided not to set a theme for the new reading challenge: you can read what you want and as much as you want.

The rules:

1. The challenge will run from January, 1st 2012 to December, 31st 2012. You can join at any time from today but only reviews of books read in 2012 will be counted.

2. Read as many books as you like! You don’t necessarily have to set a goal but you can if you want to. In this case, please leave a comment below to share your target.

3. All genres are permitted as long as the books are commercially available, i.e. the books need to have been printed (no matter how long ago or if they are now out of print) and can be purchased (or borrowed), regardless of how difficult it is to track them down.

4. You don't need a blog to participate. Posting your reviews on GoodReads, Amazon or similar websites is also accepted.

5. You can post your reviews in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish.

6. Please share the details of this challenge by talking about it on Twitter and Facebook, by posting these rules on your blog, by displaying the logo on your sidebar etc. The more, the merrier!

7. There will be prize draws and competitions throughout the year. A book (possibly more) will automatically be awarded to the most prolific reader.

Please sign up below and come back in January to submit your review(s)…






For a list of all reviews submitted in January, please click here.
To submit your FEBRUARY reviews and/or check what the others have been reading, please click here.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Book review: One Day

By David Nicholls
Published by
Hodder & Stoughton

One Day. The number of prizes that it was shortlisted for or which it won is countless. One Day is one of those novels that, over the past year, everyone seemed to be reading and talking about at one point or another. It might make not much sense but, for this very reason, I was slightly put off.

How wrong I was. I am so grateful to all the friends that nagged me until I read it and I hope that this review will help any of you sceptics out there to pick up this novel.

Made even more famous by its film adaptation, One Day narrates the rollercoaster relationship between Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew. Intellectual and idealistic the former, fun-loving and commitment-phobic the latter. We meet them as they spend their first night together on 15th July 1988 - the night before their graduation - and we follow them as, year after year, they become best friends, fight their mutual attraction, fall out, make up again and, basically, do all those things that are generally described as “growing up”.

The two main characters are so well-rounded that, like with normal acquaintances, you’ll go through times of being totally supportive of them and times of being extremely annoyed by their behaviour. Nicholls made Emma and Dexter so real that letting them go at the end of the novel was very hard.

Credible characters and an intriguing narrative are complemented by the unusual format. We meet Emma and Dexter for the first time on 15th July 1988 and then every year after that on the same day. Every time a chapter ends and a new one begins there is the thrill of not knowing what happened in the intervening year and the excitement at finding out.

Finishing with a twist that I absolutely didn’t see coming, it’s no wonder that One Day became the big success that it is.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

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

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

This month, courtesy of Fourth Estate, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli.




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?

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. If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Buona lettura!

LGBT challenge - Link for November reviews and prize draw

It’s November 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 Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe.


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. If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

"Italy in Books" - October winner

7 reviews this month!

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.

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

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Diane Saarinen, will receive a copy of Solitaria by Genni Gunn is:

Barbara, who read and reviewed The House in Amalfi by Elizabeth Adler.

LGBT challenge - October winner

And again... only 2 book reviews this month. This reading challenge had started out so well!

Anyway, 2 reviews are still something! 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.

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

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Serpent's Tail, will receive a copy of Quicksand & Passing by Nella Larsen is:

Lucy, who read and reviewed Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In conversation with.. Ali Harris

Hello Ali! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your first novel, Miracle on Regent Street. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you so much! I still can’t believe it’s actually happening and that people might (hopefully) buy it! Miracle on Regent Street is a story about a sweet, unassuming stockroom girl called Evie Taylor who works in the basement of Hardy's, a faded, forgotten old department store that has seen better days. For the past two years she's lived an invisible life in London, sorting endless boxes of archaic stock by day and looking after her sister’s two young children at night. Her neighbours think she's the hired help, her self-obsessed shop floor colleagues mistake her for her stockroom predecessor and even her manager doesn't know her actual name. But despite all this she loves working at the store. So when she overhears that Hardy's is at risk of being sold unless it seriously increases its profits she hatches a secret plan to save it. Evie and Hardy's are both looking for a Christmas miracle to turn their fortunes around. The question is will they find it?

I definitely look forward to reading it! Is Regent Street a place where readers can frequently spot you? I used to work nearby and it has definitely an aura of past grandeur that other shopping streets seem to have lost.

A: I utterly agree! I adore the faded splendour of Regent Street. It’s home to my favourite shops like the utterly divine Liberty and (now sadly no more) Dickens and Jones. It’s definitely the place I know best in London. In fact, most of my working years have been spent around there. I used to waitress in a steak restaurant just off Regent Street, my first magazine job was just a quick hop, step and jump away (when I was wearing flats. Which to be honest, wasn’t often) and I spent nearly two years at Glamour magazine which was right round the corner on Old Bond Street (another favourite street and which also features in the book). I’ve spent too many lunch breaks to mention ambling up and down, gazing at the beautiful buildings, and peering in the hallowed windows of Hamleys, particularly at Christmas. Plus it’s always been the street I buy first in Monopoly!

Readers will be able to close their eyes and step into Hardy’s, the department store created by your pen, feeling like they’re really there. Would you say that it is as much a main character as Evie is?

A: Absolutely! I actually see Hardy’s as a reflection of Evie herself. And I love the fact that no male love interest features on the cover, because truthfully, I see Evie’s love affair with Hardy’s as the most important one of all (although never fear - there are a couple of dashing leading male characters too). I really hope the readers will care as much about Hardy’s journey as Evie’s.

You have written for publications such as Red, Cosmopolitan and Company and were a deputy features editor at Glamour. Do you think you will you now dedicate your time to writing fiction only?

A: I really hope I’ll be able to juggle both as magazines will always have a special place in my heart. But writing books is a childhood dream fulfilled and I’m currently dedicating most of my time to writing my second book, The First Last Kiss (which will be published early in 2012) as well as looking after my two children who are 2 and 6 months. But once the first draft is finished I’ll definitely be picking up my journalist pen again!

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I love twitter and Facebook and I think it’s brilliant that authors can communicate with readers every day. I literally can’t wait to hear from people who’ve read (and hopefully liked!) my book. But equally I’m the queen of Write one sentence, look at ASOS, write another sentence, go on twitter. If I actually finish a chapter I figure I’m pretty much due an hour long Net a Porter shopping spree (if my husband is reading this - not really! I’ve never even seen that website!) So, I think my only hope of actually getting any writing done is to do what I do with my two year old son’s TV viewing which is to only allow it to go on twice a day, for an hour maximum. Or put myself on the naughty step if I look at it too much…

What is your one fundamental piece of advice for aspiring writers?

A: Find your own voice. Don’t try and be anything you’re not as people will instantly see through it. I have tried (and failed) to get books published before where I was trying to second guess what the industry wanted, or follow a trend. But I’m a total, unashamed hopeless romantic and I’ve finally found a way to harness it!

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: I think you’ve covered everything wonderfully. Thank you so much for having me!

Thank you for your time!

And now, for a chance to win one copy of Miracle on Regent Street, click here and complete the form. The competition is open to UK readers only and will close on the 14th November at 1pm.