Tag Archives: Liza Klaussman

Literary Blog Hop: And the Winner is…

9781447212201

I am so pleased to announce the winner of my giveaway for The Literary Blog Hop!

Diana S. won a copy of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman. Congratulations! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I had such an amazing response to the giveaway with over 80 entrants and lots of lovely comments – thank you to everyone who took part. Life After Life was definitely the most popular choice (with almost 50 entries), but I was pleased to see so much interest in The Panopticon as well.

And one last thank you to Judith over at Leeswammes Blog for all of her hard work making the blog hop happen!

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13 Best Books of 2013

You know it’s that time of year when all of the ‘Best of’ lists start appearing… I love browsing the lists, getting ideas on what to read next, ideas for gifts and just generally having a nosy to see if some of my favourite books of the year feature. I thought it would be lovely to do my own as I haven’t done one before – since I’ve read 53 books so far this year, a bit of a record for me, I’m having trouble narrowing down my list of favourites… So, with this in mind, I’ve gone for my 13 favourite books read in 2013 (in no particular order). I’m hopeful that next year I read as many wonderful books!

Top 13 of 2013

Click on the links to see my original review

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How could this not make my list? I absolutely loved it, and found it equally gripping and infuriating with all of its twists and turns! I read along with my book group, and have since lent my copy to many people, all of whom have really enjoyed it. It’s an intelligent thriller – hopefully I’ll find something as good to kick off next year with as big a bang as this felt like in 2013.

LIfe After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

I absolutely loved this book as well, the way Atkinson had structured her novel, giving main character Ursula repeated attempts at life, events repeating and changing thanks to the tiniest details and circumstances. I love the way it highlights how changeable life can be, and how each small moment can have a great effect on later events. It’s on a lot of the ‘Best of’ lists I’ve seen so far and I certainly think it deserves its place.

Burial_Rites_HBD_FCBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book was part of a very good run of audiobooks I listened to in the autumn, a début novel set in Iceland in the 1800s. It describes the last few days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I thought it was really evocative, and I loved listening to it as I think the narrator did a wonderful job capturing the tone of each of the characters and the pronunciation of all of the Icelandic names and places. I look forward to reading her next book!

The-Presidents-HatThe President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (Paperback)

This was such a charming book, all about former French president Mitterand’s hat, and how it was found by a stranger and started to have a magical positive influence on his life. The hat flits on to other holders and casts its same spell on each of them – it’s such a lovely evocative story of France in the ’80s – I’ve passed this on to several family members and each one of them has been as charmed as I was!

9781447212201Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman (Paperback)

I adored this book, it was one of our book club choices and I think everyone really enjoyed it. It was part family saga, part murder mystery and I thought it’s sense of time and place was so evocative – I really felt as if I was back in the ’50s, sipping cocktails on a moon-drenched lawn. Another great Book Club read from 2013 – I’m not sure what 2014 has in store for the Book Club next year yet but I’m hoping there’ll be some more gems.

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans tells the story of an alien sent to earth to assassinate a mathematics professor who has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, by an alien species who don’t think humans are quite ready to handle that information. What follows is a series of hilarious events as the alien tries to understand human culture; a love letter to what it means to be human and observations on just how ridiculous we really are. It’s warm and funny and intelligent and I would recommend it to all fellow humans.

vile bodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I read this as part of my Evelyn Waugh Month, as a way to get to know the work of a particular author I hadn’t read much by before. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more – it’s a comical, light-hearted satire of the young and beautiful of London in the ’30s. I think it’s my favourite of Waugh’s books and it had me giggling away to myself. I’m thinking of doing the same again for next year with a different author – I haven’t decided who that will be yet so please watch this space!

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Yes, it took me years to get round to reading this, and no, it did not disappoint. Most people know the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy but Jane Austen’s prose is the best way to discover it. It’s a witty classic, and one that deserves its place on best read lists. A book I imagine I will read again and again throughout my life and never tire of.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is all about Death, and his grip on people as the events of World War II unfolds. It’s such an original way to tell the story and I became quite attached to the characters, even though I knew all could not end well. This book had me wailing, one of just a handful of books to affect me so. The film adaptation is coming out at the end of January next year so I will be looking forward to seeing it!

pereiramaintainsPereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Set in Lisbon in the late ’30s, this novella demonstrates how even the most unassuming of people can have the courage to disagree with what is going on around them. There is an undercurrent of menace in the novel, as the effects of the Spanish Civil War and the onslaught of World War II make their presence known, that Tabucchi builds and builds into a tense and devastating moment. One of those books that stays with you long after reading.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I have praised this book to practically everyone who has asked what my favourite book of the year was. It’s a sharp, intelligent and warm account of young offender and foster child Anais, who is moved into a home for troubled teens, known as The Panopticon. The language in this book rings out and Anais is such a compelling character, who has experienced far too much already in her 15 years, leaving her jaded and cynical. I can’t wait to see what Fagan writes next.

just kidsJust Kids by Patti Smith

This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to this year and it was the perfect introduction. An autobiography of Patti Smith’s younger years in New York with lover and struggling photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this was narrated by Smith herself and it was so moving. You could hear the emotion in her voice as she read certain passages – if you are planning to read this at some point, I would highly recommend the audiobook.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

I remember watching the BBC adaptation of this book a couple of years ago and being blown away by a new take on Victorian fiction, with its gritty detail. The book is even better, leading you through the London streets as you follow Sugar from brothel to ale house to higher places. You can practically smell what is being described. Sugar is an unforgettable character and I loved diving into her world. I have just finished reading Michel Faber’s début novel Under the Skin which was also brilliant – hopefully a review of that to follow soon.

For a full list of all of the books I’ve read this year, have a peek at my Books 2013 page.

We Love This Book have been asking book bloggers for their pick of 2013 books – read all of their recommendations here! What are your favourite books read in 2013? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2014? I’ve still to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Aside from that, I will be sweeping my bookshelves and reading what I already own as well as getting stuck into my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge, to expand my horizons a little and read one non-fiction book a month. Does anyone else have big plans for their reading next year?

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Book Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Pa`nop´ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]

panopticon

The premise of the book reminded me at first of Sarah Waters’ Victorian novel Affinity which also features a panopticon prison – I was recalling lectures about this from Uni and that creepy feeling you get when you learn something new that just won’t keep clinging to the back of your mind. Imagine having someone watching you, 24 hours a day.

The novel opens with fifteen-year-old Anais Hendricks on her way to the Panopticon, a care home for young people in rural Scotland somewhere (hidden away, more like). She can’t remember what has happened to her, but is told that she attacked a police officer who now lies in a coma. She is kept there with other young offenders and becomes part of a pseudo-family, the young adults forming bonds, looking after each other in ways that their care workers and parents are unable to do. Anais feels herself to be some part of an experiment, that not only is she being watched but her actions are being judged. The irony is that Anais is not being watched closely enough. She has spent her life drifting from one foster home to care home to another her whole life, with the most stable period in her life living with prostitute foster mother Rachel and living amongst her clients drug-dealer friends. For me, it seems that her obsession with an experiment hinges on her need to believe that there is some purpose for all that she is going through, that it is not all just random. She cannot believe herself to be insignificant.

I loved the idea of the game Anais plays – the ‘birthday game’ – where she invents a different beginning for herself, born into a rich family, or born into a family living in Paris, or born into a ‘normal’ family. The book breaks your heart in many ways. Anais seems so grown up and street-smart, although there are instances, and one particularly upsetting thing that happens to her, that show how vulnerable she is, how in need of proper care she is. Anais has been let down by everyone, her mother, her foster parents, her carers and care workers. It is a sorry depiction of what faces so many young people and how they must struggle by themselves to forge their own future. Anais is seen as a write-off, any more offences and she’ll be in juvenile detention and then, most likely, prison.

The characters around Anias all have their issues as well but none of them are quite as fleshed-out as Anais. Of course, Anais has to be something special to be the focus of this book – she is intelligent, she dresses differently, wearing vintage clothing and retro make-up so she doesn’t look like your ‘stereotypical’ young offender. From the blurb she is described as ‘Smart, funny and fierce, […] a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat.’ It makes her cool which annoyed me a little – there was a falseness to her character, as if it was intentional to set her apart from others, and meant she was above the others around her and that the fate that had befallen her was an injustice. It is, of course, but no more so than anyone else sharing their time with her in the Panopticon.

I really enjoyed this book, I thought it was intelligent, and the dialogue was in Scots so I loved the dialect of it. There is a lot of swearing in it, but you become sort of immune to it, you put up a barrier between the words and it makes you numb to them – you begin to accept it, a sad mirroring of how the young offenders become immune to all the bad things they witness. As I said, I enjoyed the book but on writing my review I find myself getting quite fired up by it, incensed by the story and what it says about our society, and our care systems. They are distinctly lacking.

There were elements of this that I think J.K. Rowling was trying to capture in The Casual Vacancy and her character Krystal Weedon who had a tough time of it with school, looking after her malnourished and neglected toddler brother and trying to keep her junkie mother off the drugs. The Panopticon says a lot more in a more interesting way and it is almost less depressing for it. Anais is fighting back, trying to reclaim her life and live out opportunities that never seemed to be available for her.

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The Panopticon was included in the Anobii First Book Award nominees in 2012 (which I talked about in my review of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman) and was announced last week as a nominee for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards 2013 in the First Book category. You can see the rest of the nominees over on Creative Scotland’s website, although I am disappointed to see that Fagan’s book didn’t win its category.

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And, not forgetting that Jenni Fagan was on Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists earlier this year (full list of authors here), an accolade which comes but once a decade. Fagan is an author to watch out for, and I am sorely disappointed I missed her reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year with Sarah Hall and Evie Wyld (also on the Granta list).

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Book Club Read: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

The UK cover of Tigers in Red Weather

The UK cover of Tigers in Red Weather

I think I first heard of Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather last year, when Klaussman was at the Edinburgh book festival and this was up for Anobii’s First Book Award. It immediately caught my eye – first of all, the cover is stunning. It already seems like an iconic book cover to me, and after reading the book I think it strikes the mood just perfectly. I prefer the UK cover to the US edition, which seems a bit staged to me, and doesn’t quite capture the effortless glamour of the UK one.

The novel is part family saga, part murder mystery, set after the Second World War in the idyllic Martha’s Vineyard. 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. Helena will be setting off to LA to live with a new husband, while Nick is awaiting the return of her husband Hughes from duty. 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.

The novel is split into five sections, each told from the point of view of one member of Nick and Helena’s family, flashing back and forward in time, spanning across several decades and continents, always returning to the same focal point. The centre of the family is the house in Martha’s Vineyard, Tiger House, and the narratives centre particularly around the events of one summer when Nick’s daughter, Daisy, and Helena’s son, Ed, stumble across a young Hispanic maid who has been brutally murdered.

Circa 1950s - Couple walking with picnic basket on beach - this is how I imagine Nick and Hughes...

Circa 1950s – Couple walking with picnic basket on beach – this is how I imagine Nick and Hughes…

We start with Nick, who is intriguing, smart and intelligent, but also bored and prone to acts of defiance, such as strutting about her rather prim and proper neighbourhood in a revealing swimsuit, or getting drunk with the band she has hired to play at a party she is hosting. She describes her frustration at the husband the War returns to her, so different and distant from the man he was before, spending her days lazing around waiting for him to come home from work, worrying about what meals to make. Then her daughter, Daisy (then 13), picks up the narrative, skipping through a summer when she is intent on winning the junior tennis tournament and spends days in training. It is also the summer when she will first experience love and heartbreak, and this summer will have devastating effects on her life many years later.

I found Helena’s part the most difficult to deal with – she does not have an easy life in L.A. and I found myself wanting more for her, and desperately wanting her to wake up to the realities of life. When it is Hughes’ turn to pick up the thread, we see him in London during the War, at New Year, at a time when home, and Nick, seem very far away. I loved hearing his side of the story, but it is Ed’s narrative that you really wait on – he is like a shadow throughout the book, people are constantly accusing him of creeping up on them, and when he is caught in compromising situations, he describes his interest in people and their misdemeanors as ‘research’. He is a troubled character, feeling the effects of his mother’s passivity, having grown up watching his father as he obsessively collects film and photographs of an ex-girlfriend in the hope of making a film about her. There is something brooding about him that seems to hang over the family.

I didn’t appreciate at the beginning that there would be concurrent narratives from different points of view and I really enjoyed it as it gives you each member of the family’s side of the story. At the end, though, there are still mysteries, family secrets that are best left undiscovered. It highlights the connections that hold a family together that outsiders aren’t privy to, and that even at the worst of times a family will always look out for their own.

The US cover for Tigers in Red Weather

The US cover for Tigers in Red Weather

It is certainly a book that will stay with you. I was chatting about this with my Book Club friends at the beginning of the week and we all loved it. We all discussed how lovely it would be to drink gin cocktails from jam jars and laze on the beach. There are elements of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night in the glamour that surrounds Nick and Hughes, the appeal they have to others and the bond between them. With a little bit of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby in there too I imagine (and of course Klaussman gives Nick and Hughes’ daughter the name – not a coincidence I imagine). And the summer seaside glamour of Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan is also in there too, and the complexities of adult relationships, their children trying to comprehend the secrets between a husband and wife. It’s a heady book to get wrapped up in, and I really cannot wait to see what Liza Klaussman comes up with in her next book.

First Book Award

The other nominees for the Anobii First Book Award in 2012 can be seen here. There are some great books on the list, many of which I would love to read. That said, there are also several that I have never heard of and I wonder if being nominated for the Award has much influence on the visibility of the books and if sales go up much. The Award was won last year by Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan which I’ll admit is one I hadn’t heard of before.

firstbook

The First Book Award is now sponsored by ebooks by Sainsburys – the nominees for this years’ award are listed here, with the announcement of the winner to be made after voting closes on the 14th of October. If you want to vote, you can do so here. There are 42 books on the list and I have to admit that I haven’t read any of them so I won’t be voting this time round. There are quite a few that I haven’t heard of – although I have heard that The Fields by Kevin Maher (about a 13-year-old Irish boy growing up in Dublin in the ’80s) is very good – I actually heard Kevin Maher talking and reading from the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival and thought it sounded dark but funny too so will hopefully read that soon.

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