Friday, 20 October 2017

What are you reading (1) ...?

By Gillian Hamer

Writers are first and foremost readers. Some of the best books I've read (The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell and All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr) to name but two have come to me through suggestions or reviews from other readers whose opinions I value. And both examples would most certainly have passed me by without this as they do not come into my usual choice of books or genre.

In the hope of discovering a few more masterpieces, this is the first in our regular feature where we'd like to share our current reads with you - and ask for your latest hot reads in exchange. Please join in the discussion and let's spread the word about some of the great books out there - whether classics or latest finds.

OCTOBER - What are you reading?


LIZA PERRAT

Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands


Headline: The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself…

Quote: … life on a manade, a traditional ranch where black Camargue bulls were raised … men, the gardians, on the back of wild white horses, riding through the surf and herding the bulls, evoked romantic images of a way of life that was quickly disappearing…

GILLIAN HAMER

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Headline: A 19th century tale of passion, injustice, hypocrisy, betrayal, seduction and murder.

Quote: ... Tess Durbeyfield, the daughter of a poor farm labourer, learns she may be descended from the ancient family of d'Urbeville. In her search for respectability her fortunes fluctuate wildly, and the story assumes the proportions of a Greek tragedy.

It explores Tess's relationships with two very different men, her struggle against the social morals of the rural Victorian world which she inhabits and the hypocrisy of the age.

Once you get used to the language, this book will fill your soul and touch every emotion.


JILL MARSH

We Are The End by Gonzalo C. Garcia

Headline: It’s an ARC from Galley Beggar Press. I always get excited when they publish a new book, because their writers never disappoint. This looks to be another winner.

Quote: ... Set in Santiago, Chile, Tomás is stuck. His girlfriend dumped him with the cryptic line, “I didn’t know I could do better. And now I know”. He can’t sleep and even if he could he hasn’t fixed the bed up in his new flat. He can’t come up with any ideas for his job as a video game narrative designer, he drinks coffee through a straw and the staff at Domino’s Pizza call him by his first name. Not only that but the Serge Gainsbourg vinyl album is stuck on the same track. It’s dry and lonely and funny and has a meandering internal voice which is oddly hypnotic and you just know you’re going to miss it when it’s over.

CATRIONA TROTH

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola, published by Cassava Republic.

Headline: Two friends so close they are like twins. One who never stops talking. The other who never stops running. In the summer before their eighteenth birthdays, their lives pull them in different directions. Karl flies to Nigeria in search of a father he never knew existed. Abu stays behind, in a London about to explode into riots.
Quote: ... This is a coming-of-age tale that explores friendship and trust, sexuality and gender. It touches, too, on the long legacy of slavery and colonialism to be found in both London and Nigeria. The voice is unusual, almost as if you’re overhearing a story one friend is telling another, and they’re not going to wait for you to catch up or fill in the gaps.
The sort of book that opens a window in your mind and lets in a breath of fresh air.












Friday, 13 October 2017

Who’s Afraid of a Nobel Prize Winner – a Celebration of Kazuo Ishiguro

By Catriona Troth

Stop the average reader in a library or bookshop and ask them to name five winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and many would struggle. Ask them to name one that they’ve read, and they might struggle even more. The impression, however unjust, is that the prize is given to the obscure, the difficult – to authors you certainly wouldn’t think of taking away on holiday.



This year’s winner is different. Even non-readers are likely to know of Kazuo Ishiguro, through the films of his books Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

I remember shortly after reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), I was in Cornwall. Walking along a cliff path, I came upon one of the stewards of the Boardmasters Festival. She was sitting on a stile, a book in her hands. I recognised the cover of Never Let Me Go and had to stop and talk to her. It was that sort of book. One you wanted to share with everyone. Even if the book infuriated you, you had to talk about it.

Ishiguro’s first two novels, A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986) were set in Japan. In an interview in the Paris Review (2005), Ishiguro talks of how writing about Japan freed him from the constraints of everyday life in London. It seems those two novels allowed Ishiguro to find his own voice, because Remains of the Day (1989) which won the Booker Prize, is set in an English country house and is narrated by a pitch-perfect English butler.

In another interview from 2015, widely quoted since the Nobel Prize announcement was made, Ishiguro gently mocked those reviewers so taken up with the novelty of a Japanese-born author heritage writing in English they couldn’t avoid clichéd Japanese-y metaphors.
They would talk about a still pond. With carp.” 
I will try not to fall into that trap! But it is certainly true there is a stillness and quiet on the surface of Ishiguro’s writing that he uses to conceal underlying turmoil. It draws you in, only slowly revealing what lies beneath.

In Remains of the Day, that stillness conceals both the narrator’s own emotions and dark political secrets. In Never Let Me Go, the characters appear to move almost placidly from childhood innocence towards their inevitable fate. But pay attention! The anguish is there. You just need to listen for it in the quiet.

Here are some other comments on Ishiguro’s writing:

JJ Marsh on Nocturnes


Occasionally, you come across a piece of art which creeps up on your emotions. Kazuo Ishiguro is a master at that with his novels, but can also pull off a similar feat with his short stories.

 In Nocturnes, literature and music intertwine. A collection of short stories, which feels like a full concert in five movements, changes mood and tempo with great subtlety, leaving a melancholy resonance behind.

This is about relationships, both between characters and with music, all in a minor key. Classic Ishiguro understatement leads to achingly poignant moments, but he also demonstrates his sense of humour with a few well set up moments of pure farce. As the title suggests, there is darkness, but also moonlight, laughter and that quiet magic which happens when you catch a lovely refrain carried on an evening breeze.

Gillian E Hamer on Never Let Me Go

One of the most poignant and thought provoking novels I have ever read. One of the only books on my shelf I've read more than twice! There's something unique in the writing of this novel that as a reader I find captivating and as a writer fills me with jealousy. The characters are so real, vivid and engaging - and yet the narrative is a plethora of questions and confusion.

It's very difficult to describe the storyline without giving too much away, and I don't want this to be a plot synopsis, but what seems like a story of innocence and adolescence through the eyes of a group of youngsters, always has a dark, ominous cloud hanging over the story, and, as the truth is gradually revealed the reader is pulled through every feasible emotion. And it also contains one of the strongest plot twists that stays with me still.

If you want a book that ticks every box and ties up every loose end, this isn't for you. But if you want a book that will turn your world on its head for a while I would highly recommend Never Let Me Go. I am so glad a writer like Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize - for ordinary readers like me it's a justification somehow that our feelings count too!

Sheila Bugler on When We Were Orphans


I read the final section of When We Were Orphans on a London bus, travelling from my job in Oxford Street to my home near Tower Bridge. I spent the entire journey weeping uncontrollably, devastated by the haunting sadness at the heart of Ishiguro’s fifth novel.
Like many of my favourite books, When We Were Orphans was recommended to me by my father. I had already read – and loved – The Remains of The Day (another ‘dad’ recommendation) so my expectations were high. 

The novel is narrated by Christopher Banks, a famous detective in 1930s England. Through the gradual unfolding of his memories, Christopher’s early life is revealed to the reader – an expatriate childhood in Old Shanghai, boarding school in England and on to the privileged world of high society London.
Although he’s a top detective, Christopher has never been able to solve the central mystery that has shaped his life – the disappearance, in Old Shanghai when he was still a young boy, of his parents. As the novel unfolds, it becomes painfully clear that this loss is at the heart of everything Christopher does. It defines him and renders him incapable of moving past this tragedy. 

Believing his parents are still alive, Christopher returns to Shanghai, a city on the brink of war. By now, it’s apparent that the great detective’s image of himself is at odds with the impression others have of him. The more he is drawn into the catastrophic events of the Sino-Japanese War, the more he loses sense of what is real and what isn’t. 

The moment Christopher finally learns the truth about his mother’s terrible fate, and realises how much she loved him, is unbearably moving. Although it’s too late to free him from the ‘emptiness’ that has been with him since he lost her, he realises too that ‘Her feelings for me, they were always just there, they didn’t depend on anything.’

When We Were Orphans is a devastating tale of the unconditional nature of parental love. Having spent over half my life in a different country to my own parents, the novel reminded me that afternoon on the bus that I should never take that love for granted.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Beauty of a Boxset

As the nights draw in, curl up in front of the fire and dive into a boxset. Binge-reading is good for your health, mind and brain, thus heartily recommended by all great authors.

Here are two crime series and two historical fiction sets for you to devour. Plus there's more where they came from ...

The Gold Detectives

By Gillian E. Hamer

Includes the first three crime novels of the series in one handy boxset.

Encounter the dark underbelly of North Wales and the island of Anglesey - featuring DI Amanda Gold and her team.


What readers think:

If you like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves or Peter May you’re seriously going to love Amanda Gold and her team.

I've become addicted to Ms Hamer's books! After thoroughly enjoying the first in this series, I read her other books before coming back to the Gold Detective books. The characters are complex, with their strengths, foibles and personal problems making for a realistic -though gruesome! - story. As usual, the body count is high, and there's some painful detail, but it kept me hooked to the end. And what an ending! 

Hamer does something quite special with her writing. She manages to combine glorious descriptions of Anglesey with quite gruesome murders. These combined with a pacy narrative, make her novels a compelling read indeed. 

The Beatrice Stubbs Series 

By JJ Marsh

Meet Beatrice Stubbs, your new favourite detective.


For lovers of intelligent crime fiction, three heart-racing adventures through Europe
Beatrice Stubbs: detective inspector, metaphor mixer and stubborn survivor.

What readers think:

For those who like their crime with a lighter, less gruesome touch. - The Bookseller

If you've not yet read a Beatrice Stubbs book, I envy you. What a treat you have in store. - The Bagster

My favourite thriller / procedural novel type has a strong female lead. One that is convincingly human and real, who isn’t the classic maverick detective, but works as a cog in a team, supporting her colleagues, just like in real life. Oh, and she needs to have some flaws. I need them to be written honestly, with interactions, opinions and emotions that echo people I know. Beatrice has all this in spades. - Dawn Gill

Overlord 

By Jane Dixon Smith

My name is Zabdas: once a slave; now a warrior, grandfather and servant. I call Syria home. 

I shall tell you the story of my Zenobia: Warrior Queen of Palmyra, Protector of the East, Conqueror of Desert Lands …

What readers think:

JD Smith's wonderful characterisation and meticulous research paints a vivid and dramatic picture of Syria in the 3rd Century AD at a time when Rome is disintegrating under the weight of its own corruption. The early years of Zenobia, one of the great enigmatic figures of history, are seen through the eyes of her cousin Zabdas, a slave who becomes a general. Zabdas is the perfect narrator and his story follows Zenobia from clever, precocious young girl to imperious manipulator of kings and emperors, from the desert kingdom of Palmyra to Rome and back. Full of passion, intrigue and drama it draws the reader in and holds them to the very last page.
Douglas Jackson, author of Caligula

Syria's Boudica [Boadicea], self-styled Cleopatra, and real-life Daenerys Targaryen.


Zenobia, Queen of Palymra, can now take her place beside a couple of other picturesque and photogenic fictional queens - Danerys and Maergery from Game of Thrones. The difference is, Zenobia really existed.

Historical Fiction at its best.


The Bone Angel Trilogy

By Liza Perrat


Three standalone stories exploring the tragedies and triumphs of a French village family of midwife-healers during the French Revolution (Spirit of Lost Angels), WW2 Nazi-occupied France (Wolfsangel) and the 1348 Black Plague (Blood Rose Angel) in one boxset.

What readers think:

Olga Núñez Miret, author/translator (English/Spanish), psychiatrist, book reviewer:
 … a must for lovers of historical and women’s fiction. Beautifully written, carefully researched, and emotionally charged, the three books are connected by an amulet
and the female legacy it represents … adventures of strong, brave, and
determined women who will pull at your heartstrings.


Terry Tyler, author: An intricately researched and beautifully written series that artfully shows how the threads of the past link generations together.

C. P. Lesley, author of The Golden Lynx and other novels: Three compelling heroines linked by a bone angel with a mystical past—a French village struggling with revolution, world war, and Black Death. Follow Victoire, Céleste, and Héloïse as each undertakes a richly imagined, emotionally complex journey toward a definition of womanhood that is uniquely her own. This trilogy--on my list of Hidden Gems--is one not to be missed.

Josie Barton, Book Blogger at JaffaReadsToo: … grips your imagination from the very beginning and the momentum doesn’t stop until all the stories are completed.

Cathy Ryan, Book Blogger at Between the Lines: … a sweeping saga following the fortunes of three strong women bound together by a bone angel talisman, passed down through the generations. Fascinating, moving and realistic - a must for lovers of historical fiction.