Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Literary Blog Hop Giveaway! – 8th-12th of February 2014

literarybloghop_februaryPlease note that this competition is now closed.

Over the next couple of days I will be taking part in The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, which is kindly hosted by Leeswammes’ Blog. This time, 42 different book blogs will be offering giveaways of various literary delights, and all of the treats on offer will be literary fiction.

From today (Saturday 8th of February) until Wednesday the 12th of February, you can hop on over to the different book blogs which are all taking part in the giveaway too. Click on the links in the list at the bottom of this post to see what they’re offering and discover some brilliant new book blogs!

My Giveaway

I will be giving away a copy of one of the books below. The competition is open to readers worldwide, so long as The Book Depository delivers to your country (check here to see if your country is one of them). The books you can choose from are three of my favourite books by female writers from my top 13 books of 2013 *cue drumroll*…

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Life+After+Life+Cover
From my review: ‘Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night, and as the cord is wrapped around her neck she draws what will be the first of her last breaths. This is a story of multiple chances at life and explores that notion of ‘What if?’ which I find fascinating…’

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
9781447212201
From my review: ‘Nick and her cousin Helena open the novel in a heatwave, dancing and drinking on their lawn as they look forward to their lives restarting. From the offset, the book is sultry, you can feel the heat and imagine the moonlit nights and salty air and feel the women’s excitement… It’s a heady book to get wrapped up in…’

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
panopticon
From my review: ‘The novel opens with fifteen-year-old Anais Hendricks on her way to the Panopticon, a care home for young offenders in rural Scotland somewhere… [but now] Anais is fighting back, trying to reclaim her life and live out opportunities that never seemed to be available for her.’

I will be giving away one book from the selection above to the lucky winner so please do let me know which book you would like to receive in the comments below. To enter, please leave a comment below with your email address – after the competition closes I’ll pick a winner using Random.org and notify the winner by email.

As for other requirements, please read the following rules:

The Rules

1. You do not have to have a blog to enter this giveaway – it is open to everyone.
2. You need a post-office recognised address where you can receive packages, in a country that The Book Depository delivers to.
3. You do not have to be a follower or become a follower, although if you like my blog I hope you will! You can follow by email (see the Follow button in the side bar on the right).
4. Leave a comment below – please include the title of which book you’d like to receive in your comment and an email address where I can contact you if you win.
5. You can enter the giveaways until Wednesday, February the 12th, after which I will close my giveaway.
6. Please note that double or invalid entries will be removed.
7. I will notify the winners by email. If you’re lucky enough to be a winner please answer my email within 3 days; if no reply is received by then I’ll announce a new winner.
8. The books will be sent out from The Book Depository.

I think that covers everything – good luck, thank you for dropping in on my blog and I hope to see you again soon!

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska’s Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia’s Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog
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Book Review: Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

HEATWAVEInstructions for a Heatwave is another book that seemed to have a lots of buzz about it in 2013 when it came out (see my recent review of Stoner by John Williams for all the buzz about that). Originally published in hardback at the beginning of the year, the paperback followed fairly quickly and was published in the same year (it was picked for the Richard & Judy Autumn 2013 Book Club). Maggie O’Farrell is a writer that, for me, seems to straddle the gap between chick lit (brr, horrible term) and literary fiction – I read her novel The Hand That First Held Mine (which won the Costa Novel award in 2010) a few years ago and although I enjoyed it, I found it lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. I’m sorry to say that Instructions for a Heatwave left me with a similar feeling of ‘meh’.

Blurb from the publisher

‘It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children – two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce – back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.’

The story starts out well, setting the scene as Robert disappears, a normal morning, except the heatwave has been going on for weeks and people are starting to go crazy. The children start to gather back round the family home, and I particularly enjoyed the parts concerning Aoife who returns home from New York. It wasn’t a surprise to me after reading these sections that O’Farrell had been inspired and influenced by Colm Tóibín’s wonderful novel Brooklyn.

The other characters just didn’t feel fleshed out enough however, and I wanted more depth to them. For example, Michael Francis’s relationship with his wife, and in particular her breakdown, just didn’t seem real to me – it felt like his ‘problem’. Because each of the characters has to have a ‘problem’. For Aoife, it’s her learning disability which she feels ashamed of and tries to hide; for Monica, (she gets two) it is her struggle to endear herself to her stepdaughters, and the secret of why she split from her first husband, Joe; and for Gretta, it’s a secret that she’s been hiding from everyone for quite some time and isn’t ready to reveal yet. I wanted there to be fewer characters to focus on, or more time to spend with them to find out what made them tick. I wanted the heatwave to make them act crazy, to do things they wouldn’t normally do and for the reader to be challenged a bit more.

There are some nice episodes in it, and I do enjoy O’Farrell’s style of writing as it’s both lyrical and accessible. But the plot seems to get a bit lost in the characters’ various ‘problems’, and it seems to get completely forgotten at points that their father has gone AWOL and, in fact, there seems to be a general lack of sentimentality when they talk about him, poor man. He is but a plot device to bring the family back together and to bring their secrets out into the open. What was his name, again?

The ending in Ireland is a bit twee and inconclusive. It doesn’t really give many answers, not in that good way where part of the fun on the reader’s part is deciding what happens for yourself, but in an ‘oh well, that’s that over I suppose’ kind of way that fails to leave much of a lasting impression. I feel like I’m being rather hard on it, it’s not really a bad book (and an awful lot better than a lot of fiction out there marketed to women), but it just falls a bit flat and I had expected a lot more given the buzz. All that said, I really did love the cover! (I never know if you’re meant to consider that in a review…)

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Autumn Reading Round-Up, part 1.

Jeezo, is it November already?! I’m quite behind on my reviewing and didn’t seem to notice the time flying by. I’ve read some great books over the past couple of months and even though I don’t plan to write a full review of them, I still wanted to write down some thoughts. Here’s the first batch…

colm-toibin-the-testament-of-maryThe Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
I love Colm Tóibín. I loved his book Brooklyn and listened to a brilliant interview on the Guardian Books podcast which really brought the novel alive. The Testament of Mary was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year (which was won, in the end, by The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton). It’s a novella, a short little book that is more a monologue than a story as such. Everyone knows the story of the Crucifixion, but no one has really given Mary a voice before. I thought this book was very evocative, and perhaps it deserved more time than I gave it (I hurried through it all in one go one Saturday morning). The time and the place felt real and you really got a sense of the pain and miscomprehension Mary felt watching her son grow from boy to man to Son of God, into someone she could barely recognise. Part of me thinks this book went over my head a little bit, as so many people I’ve spoken to have thought it was wonderful. One to revisit and spend more time savouring, I think.

the-shining-girls-book-cover-2The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
I bought this book as I thought the idea of a time-travelling serial murderer being hunted down by the one victim who managed to get away sounded great. It was such an interesting idea and there were parts of it that I really enjoyed, the murderer Harper was intensely creepy, the house he lived in shifted and changed and spurred him on to kill more ‘Shining Girls’, and the stories of the murders were quite harrowing. The story was clearly well-researched and the Boston setting from the Depression era to the nineties changed and evolved. There was an intricacy to the plot, with clues and symbols dotted throughout the text, linking the women and the different times and places. Despite that, I was overall pretty disappointed by the novel as I found the main character Kirby (the one who got away) a little irritating and I found the love interest to be utterly pointless – it just didn’t serve the plot at all. This could have been a great book but the narrative featuring Kirby wasn’t as strong as the narrative with Harper and that really let it down as about half of the book was dedicated to each of them.

may we be forgivenMay We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
This book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (also up were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which I loved and will talk about in my audio round-up still to come). The action of May We Be Forgiven centres around one man, Harold, who is thrown in at the deep end when his brother is involved in an accident, his marriage breaks down and he has to look after his brother’s family. I don’t want to say too much more and give the story away, as the story was pretty crazy. It keeps you on your toes and the storyline goes down unexpected routes, involving family betrayals, adoption of an orphan and an elderly senile couple, trips to Disneyland, a gay love affair between a teacher and pupil, and a covert criminal rehabilitation scheme. It sounds mad when you write it down like this, but it works. There is something uplifting about the novel, in the way that Harold manages to pull together a family of sorts after his own have come undone, and the characters begin to find peace after some pretty traumatic events. I’ve heard that A.M, Homes earlier novel This Book Will Save Your Life is even better so I will look forward to reading that at some point soon.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
I have been meaning to read this book for soooo long. Ever since I saw the BBC TV adaptation and loved it, and then I started working at Canongate this still gleamed down at me from my bookshelf. I absolutely loved it, and it was just the type of thing I was looking for, a long weighty Victorian novel to get stuck into as winter starts to set in. I knew the story already but very much enjoyed the novel, it is the way the story is told that makes it so special, the way the narrator invites you in, whispering lasciviously in your ear and letting you peek through the keyholes into the underbelly of Victorian life that society tried so hard to keep hidden. The world that Faber creates is wonderful, bringing to life all of the sights and smells of all parts of London. The wordly-wise and smart Sugar (the prostitute at the centre of the novel) is an unforgettable character, and the innocent and dreamy Agnes (the wife of the man who hires Sugar as his live-in concubine) equally so. I’d also highly reccommend the BBC TV adaptation as it was wonderful too, and quite true to the novel.

the appleThe Apple by Michel Faber
I rattled through this the couple of days after I finished The Crimson Petal and the White, as I wanted to know more about what had become of the characters. There aren’t any huge revelations, just a few little teasers and these short stories are a pleasing way to dip back into the Crimson Petal world if you’ve been missing it. I’m looking forward to reading Faber’s first novel Under the Skin very soon – there’s a film coming out of it next year starring Scarlett Johansson which has been getting very good reviews!

I’ll have the next lot up tomorrow. What have you all been reading this autumn?

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On Audiobooks

cassette-001

A few months ago I entered a competition run by Granta on twitter to win an annual subscription to Audible, the distributor of audiobooks, and won!

I’m so pleased as I had been looking at audiobooks on Audible and the Apple Store recently as I walk to and from work and would quite like to listen to audiobooks to make the journey more entertaining. I went through a phase of listening to podcasts (The New Yorker podcast and Guardian books podcasts are particularly good) and it’s funny how I still associate certain places with the short stories and excerpts I listened to. There is one part of Glasgow that every time I walk past it I have Colm Tóibín’s soft voice in my head, reading a passage from his wonderful novel, Brooklyn and I love how much his voice and the story stick in my head. This has gotten me to thinking about voice, and how the person reading a book influences how we experience it. I remember a foray into the free audiobooks available on the Apple Store a few years ago and being over the moon at finding Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities on there. Unfortunately, this was read by an American woman which was just completely jarring, especially the dialectal speech which just could not be carried off by her at all. Needless to say, I abandoned that before I reached the end of the first chapter.

the-remains-of-the-day

I have already started listening to books on the daily commute, beginning with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a bit odd getting used to someone talking right into your ears and I find it harder to keep my place than with a physical book but it certainly makes the walk pass more quickly. It does take a while to get through though – I think I started listening to The Remains of the Day several weeks ago now. The book is read by Dominic West, and his voice is just perfect for it, the tale of a rather too serious butler between the wars, discussing what qualifies someone as a ‘great’ butler. I found the audiobook a little dense I must say for my walk first thing in the morning and I actually think I would have enjoyed this particular book more in print. On a side note – does one ‘read’ or ‘listen to’ an audiobook? Not quite sure which verb to use here…

point horror

I remember when I was younger and I would get audiobooks (on cassette!) from the library and listen to them while playing or colouring in. I seem to remember enjoying several Point Horror books and Little Women too this way. I’m sure I will be plugged in to my headphones around the house more often now too – I’m happy I can fit in even more reading time into my life!

There are lots of books that I want to read, but the tactilian in me wants these to have and to hold and the audiobooks (or audio digital downloads) are by their very nature intangible. I think there will be several factors influencing what I pick to listen to.

just kids

My first pick from my shiny new Audible Gold subscription is Just Kids by Patti Smith. I have been wanting to read this for some time and as Patti Smith reads it herself I am even more keen – I read a review somewhere (but sadly cannot for the life of me find where it was) that details the emotion in her voice in certain passages and how much this adds to the experience of reading the book. I am already halfway through and loving it, Patti’s voice and tales transporting me to Brooklyn in the late ’60s.

I have also discovered that my library has an audiobook service – I will be raiding their catalogues too I’m sure.

What are your thoughts on audiobooks? Are there any where the narrator has completely brought the book to life? Or even put you off?

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A Book That Will Take and Break Your Heart – Book Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Publisher: Penguin
Selected Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-14-101997-0
Published: 2005
No. of Pages: 252
Price: £8.99
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION 2006

I had heard good things about Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love and it had been on my To-Be-Read list for a while, so when I stumbled across it last week in my local Oxfam bookstore I grabbed it greedily off of the shelf. I was not disappointed. In fact, I think it might be one of my favourite books of the year so far, and that it has changed the way that I feel about reading and writing. But first, what is the story of The History of Love?

SYNOPSIS

In New York, Leo Gursky, a Polish immigrant is living each day as it comes, trying to survive in a lonely world, spending his days going out just in order to be seen and prove to himself that he still exists in the world. He passes the time thinking about his first and only love, Alma, and desperately trying to hold on to anything that connects the two of them.

Meanwhile, Alma Singer, a fourteen-year-old girl is trying to deal with her own loneliness and grief after losing her father, and help her mother through her grief. She spends her days researching how to survive in the wilderness, keeping her father alive in her memory as he had been a bit of an adventurer. Her brother, Bird, is losing himself in Jewish religion and clinging to a janitor as a replacement for the father he barely knew.

Alma’s mother is a translator and has recently received a request to translate a book called The History of Love, written originally in Spanish by a Polish writer living in Argentina. The book had been given to her by her husband in the first days of their relationship and feeling a special sentimental attachment to it, she agrees. What follows are stories of lives that intersect and influence each other, leaving behind a trail of coincidences, contradictions and fictions.

Continue reading

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