Author Archives: jesshaigh

The Rosie Project-Review

The Rosie Project

Every now and then I get sent books that already have a fair bit of hype attached. Some of this you can ignore as publicists being good at their jobs, but when two days after receiving The Rosie Project I read in the paper that it had netted debut author Graeme Simsion a very cool £1.2 million advance and produced frenzied bidding from publishers world wide you have to start to think-is this book I’m holding something that’s going to be big?

The answer is yes, yes it is. Look at this cover, because I guarantee in three months time you’ll be seeing it everywhere. A wonderful, life-affirming book that will appeal to millions this is the story of one mans mission to find happiness, or at least to figure out what happiness actually means.

Don is the thirty-nine year old genetics professor who knows exactly how long it takes to do anything, has his meal time schedule written on his whiteboard and only ever listened to Bach in order to calculate the mathematical irregularities in it. Living alone, with few friends, when his neighbour Daphne finally succumbs to her Alzheimer’s and tells him he should look for a partner as he would make a wonderful husband Don takes her literally, Don takes everything literally, and begins a quest to find a wife.

Potential candidate Rosie is immediately stricken off Don’s list. She smokes, she’s always late, she works in a bar and she rips up his schedule. However she is also beautiful and fun and as Don’s carefully managed and structured life begins to unravel she encorages his journey of self discovery as Don slowly figures out why exactly he feels so alone and different to everyone else, why emotions confuse him and why no one else seems to live as logical a life as his.

This beautiful book is simply told, with Don’s character spot on. Readers will be reading in quiet frustration at Don’s seeming inability to do anything as he should; in first chapter, where Don goes to lecture on the genetics of people with Asperger’s. The dramatic irony of Don telling a crowded room that most adults living with the condition have no idea that they are makes this book a clever commentary on our perceptions of neurobiological disorders and how we treat those different to ourselves.

The will-they-won’t-they romance between Don and Rosie is sweet and lingering, but it is Don’t relationship with himself that leaves the lasting impact. Everyone will compare this with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which I believe is an unfair comparison-whereas Christopher is aware of his limitations and is also a teenager with a family and social networks, even if he doesn’t necessarily participate in them,  this is a grown man with a successful life who is confused by the world he wishes to be more involved in this is a grown up book about grown ups and, rather than Christopher grown-up, Don is such a good character in his own right I hope he becomes just as famous.

The book is in places charming, hilariously funny (the comic timing to some lines is impeccable) and very very readable, the first third is the slowest but as soon as Rosie, who is a bit mixed up and annoying in places-very Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook (who will probably get the part as soon as America nicks it and gets film rights and turns them all into from California), and Don get together everything becomes nose-to-spine. If you have ever shipped Penny and Sheldon, you will love this book.

This is going to be a massive bestseller, because it is the sort of book that you will read and then recommend to all your friends, so I wanted to get in there first and say YES it is worth the hype, I loved it, I loved Don and I can’t wait for the world to meet him.

The Rosie Project is out in April, you should pre-order, it is marvellous.


Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Stella Duffy

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora   I had never read any Stella Duffy, despite her being a prolific writer of Stuff I Like, before being heavily recommended Theodora by @sianushka a couple of years ago. I promptly went out and borrowed it from Leeds Library, as I did with this book, and fell in love with her.   The Purple Shroud tells the second half of the story of Theodora, who started life as a prostituted child and circus performer, became a religious convert and finally Empress of the Byzantine empire, part of the August couple made of herself and Emperor Justinian. They lived in Constantinople around 500AD and she is seen as one of the most important women in the history of the Roman empire.   The first book, Theodora, was wonderfully written and captured brilliant a sense of place and time. What Duffy does so well is to show a city and way of life very different from our own, but make her characters real people who just happen to live 1500 years ago, as opposed to some historical fiction which creates flat stereotypes of kings and queens and courtiers. Although parts of Theodora dragged, her epic religious conversion in the desert especially (though it is quite hard to write about someone sitting in a cave doing nothing but pray for weeks on end and make it sound slightly interesting…) the character of Theodora herself, passionate and prone to acting before thinking, was a delight.   In The Purple Shroud, Theodora has grown up. She has power and status, and is not about to lose. them. I liked her less in this book, she is cruel and vindictive and jealous and spiteful, but she is also wild and fun and very very bold and you can’t help but admire her. Her relationship with Justinian was something I especially enjoyed seeing evolve. The city is more the focus of The Purple Shroud, she isn’t wandering around the desert any more and the book is all the better for that. Seeing events such as the Nika riots between the various factions against the Emperor destroy the city Duffy managed to capture Theodora’s sens of loss, not just at the buildings and the dead, but of her trust for the people, perfectly.   This book reminded me a lot of I Claudius by Robert Graves, and would make a cracking TV series, just like I Claudius did in the 70s. If you like your historical fiction to be less soppy heaving bosoms and a bit more bite, this is for you.   So that’s it! All the writers on the panel I’ve now read and reviewed. I am ridiculously excited about next week, three whole days of books and feminism and lovely lovely women. If you fancy a jaunt, why not join me? Bristol is a fantastic city and well worth a visit. The festival is on for two days and includes a variety of events. See you there?!

Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Beatrice Hitchman

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Beatrice Hitchman lived in Paris for a year after her MA, and then worked as a documentary film editor, writing and directing her own short films as well. Its no surprise that film is the subject of her debut novel, Petite Mort, which is published on the 7 March and which you should definitely pre-order.   Sarah Waters meets Kate Morton, and if you’re a fan of both these writers you’ll know how glorious that would be. Petite Mort is part sexual coming of age story, part mystery, part homage to the silent film but most of all a macabre tale of lies and deceit with more twists than her publisher’s logo.   When I received this book in the post (thank you), I thought to myself ‘Lovely vintage cover about earlier twentieth century Parisian film industry with title that’s a metaphor for orgasm? If you must’. Maybe part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was that is encapsulated all my favourite kinds of fiction, but what’s wrong with enjoying what you like?   In 1913 Adele Roux, a 17 year old country girl who has fallen in love with cinema and is encouraged in her dream to become an actress by her local parish priest, runs away from an abusive father to Paris, to a life considerably less rosy than she thought she would find. Eventually finding work in the Pathe Films factory sewing costumes she finds herself under the eye of production genius Andre Durand. However Andre has his own secrets, and his wife, the great actress Terpsichore, is hiding even more. As Adele becomes more and more involved with the Durand family she finds herself in a web made up of the glittering Parisian society and the volatile world of early cinema, can she ever escape, and does she even want to?   Fifty years later and the ‘forgotten’ reel of the film Petite Mort is found in a Parisian basement miraculously unharmed. The film was supposedly destroyed along with everything else to do with the film in a great fire in 1913. Juliette, a journalist reporting on the discovered film, becomes involved in piecing together the mystery of the Pathe fire, Petite Mort itself and the history of Adele Roux.   Interspersed with this story are those of Andre and Terpsichore, the history of cinema is told along the way. Although the books main plot is rather weird and meandering in places, these little snapshots of other lives make this a macabre, but fascinating book.

This book is slow in places, and rather farcical in others, but that is for me part of its charm. The complete lack of subtlety in the title, and the wonderful blurb, “this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose”… make this a publicists dream. But the writing itself is worthy of praise in how addictive a read this is-I finished it in two days on the bus and at lunch hour and it isn’t a short book. If you’re a fan of the early twentieth century, cinema, Parisian elegance or slightly sapphic flavours then I’d give this debut a go. I also can’t wait to see what else Beatrice Hitchman has to offer and very much look forward to meeting her at this event.

Women’s Literature Festival-Women’s Writing Today-Selma Dabbagh

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

This book, the debut novel by British Palestinian writer Selma Dabbagh, who has previously published short stories in several Anthologies and along with Festival Chair Bidisha has appeared at PalFest, the Palestine Literature Festival, described in her book Beyond the Wall .

Out Of It describes the longings of Palestinian academic Rashid, who sits on the roof of his home, the only brick building left in the middle of a field of tents, getting high and dreaming of his British girlfriend and ultimate do-gooder Lisa. As he watches bombs fall on Gaza, Rashid is secure knowing soon he will be gone, to study in London and be away from the horror of the bombings and the pressure from his family and friends who run a humanitarian centre.

Rashid’s sister Iman, meanwhile, feels torn between wanting to do “something”, not quite knowing what that would be or involve, and also flee the chaos of Gaza, and the various intrigues of the different factions and groups, both secular and religious, that compete for the hearts and minds of the people.

This book is extremely complex, and assumes an awful lot of pre-existing knowledge of the history of Palestine, the social mores of the country and how all the different leaderships and UN declarations relate to each other. Despite learning a little more about the situation in Palestine since since Beyond the Wall I started reading this and almost instantly completely lost where I was or what was going on, Wikipedia’d it, and still didn’t really know what was going on, to be honest if I was coming at this book knowing nothing of Palestine I would have got very lost very quickly, and there isn’t the gripping plot behind the themes and characters to have kept me interested.

More than anything whilst reading this book, which follows Rashid and Iman from Gaza to London and the Gulf and back again, I thought ‘wouldn’t this make a great play?’. I would love to have seen this on stage, rather than in prose, as what Dabbagh is describing and saying would make much more of an impact I think that in its current form. Rashid and Iman’s struggle to discover the truth behind their parents, who were actively involved in the Outside Leadership, who I think were the PLO but am not absolutely sure, and to figure out their place in the world was interesting but, and this is going to sound really harsh, they are my age, have lived all over the world including a war zone and still to me eyes seemed incredibly immature. I didn’t like them, and found it hard to sympathise with them.

This book is very well written, she has an excellent voice and it is an important one to hear. How exhausting it must be to live in the conditions described, and the difference between a Gaza and London or the Gulf is striking, and wonderfully done-if you ever wanted to feel real guilt about being able to get a bikini wax or walk alone when only a few hundred miles away there are people cowering in fear this book’ll do it. There were also some excellent moments of comedy-Lisa the aid worker who organises petitions and protests, but has no actual human emotions past self-interest, on stage with an elderly pipe smoking politician, would 150 years ago have probably been saving fallen women in Whitechapel, inviting prostitutes to tea in order to look even more caring about her projects. I’ve met quite a lot of Lisa’s in my time and Dabbagh gets her spot on.

I couldn’t get on with this book, but if you’re not as ignorant as me or enjoy writing that makes your head tense then you’d enjoy this. I am however really looking forward to seeing her speak, as judging from her material here she has a lot to say.

Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Helen Dunmore

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the word of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore
Photo by Caroline Forbes

I first discovered Helen Dunmore as a young teen with her collection of short stories ‘Love of Fat Men’. I can’t really remember any of the stories themselves, but I do remember being transfixed by the writing, which was sensual and elegant and probably far too old for me. When I was a little older I read Burning Bright, and properly fell in love with her. The story of a sixteen year old run away, abused by her much older boyfriend, who ultimately forms a strange friendship with Enid, a sitting tenant in the house she is kept in. I remember reading her descriptions of Enid, an elderly lady, in the bath and Nadine’s body and becoming aware that actually older people have bodies, and feelings, and we are all human and touch is the same or different for everyone and how marvellous and extraordinary that is and isn’t it amazing the feeling of breath.

Helen Dunmore is a naturally gifted writer who can turn her hand seamlessly to any genre, any form. She wins poetry prizes anonymously, writes YA, young children’s books, new introductions to classic texts, historical fiction, fiction about grief, fiction about dubious sexuality, horror, romance, everything.

She is also incredibly pleasant, knowledgeable, and from Yorkshire, and I therefore love and admire and kind of want to be her. I’ve seen her speak before at the Ilkley Lit Fest, and was lucky enough to interview her on the publication of her latest book The Greatcoat, which is a spooky short read perfect for a cold night in front of the fire, and she was entertaining and witty on both of these occasions.

Helen Dunmore was also the first recipient of the Orange Prize (now the Woman’s Prize for Fiction) for A Spell of Winter, which is truly creepy, and always praises the prize and what it has done for women’s fiction, especially in bringing new writers much needed publicity.

I love Helen Dunmore, and am really looking forward to hearing her speak. If you are new to her, there are several books I’d recommend, as well as her poetry collections (as you know, poetry ain’t my thing, but LeedsBookClub would probably do well to investigate as I know they love it).

If you like historical fiction, The Siege, followed by The Betrayal.
If you like Jodi Picault style stuff, Mourning Ruby
If you like Joanna Trolloppe/Deborah Moggach style stuff, Your Blue Eyed Boy


Women’s Literature Festival-Women’s Writing Today-Bidisha

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the word of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panal. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.


Bidisha is a writer and critic whose writing covers a range of issues, from gender and sexuality to international affairs. Often outspoken and unfliching in her opinions, espescially regarding the treatment of women and children, Bidisha’s first book, Seahorses, was written as a teenager and she has since presented Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 and is a regular guest on Newsnight.  She is chairing the Women’s Literature Festival.

I don’t agree with everything Bidisha has ever written, but I enjoy her writing, it is sparse and to the point and doesn’t pull any punches, and she massively bigged up ForBooksSake last year, so is obviously in my good books.
Beyond the wall

This Christmas I recieved her latest work, Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path Through Palestine. This short collection of happenings follows Bidisha and a group of other writers as they try to navigate the West Bank to various locations during the 2011 Palfest cultural festival. Bidisha, as a reporter, is completely unflinching in her descriptions of how utterly claustrophobic living in an occupied territory can be, in concrete blocks surrounded by soldiers with tanks at the end of your street and nets thrown over the yards surrounding your home where settlers can throw their rubbish, including their excrement. Some of the most heart rendering stories are those of the children living in the ghettos who are routinely harassed and antagonized by soldiers until they fight back and throw stones, giving Israeli forces justification for further fighting.

What stands out most from this book is how frustrating a life living in such an area must be, being constantly searched, interrogated, having to stand for hours at checkpoints to get anywhere, how bored you must get. And no culture, or very little, other than the minimum that is allowed to you-books have to be smuggled into the country, Palestinian writers receive so very little support and cannot promote their work to a more Western audience.

I know so very little about the situation in the West Bank. I have very good friends who campaign for both sides, which causes me horror when I hear about the bombings and the desolation in the news. Reading books like this, which give small bitter tastes of the lives of the people who live in the area and those who campaign for better lives for the children of Palestine (parts of the book are a little ‘won’t somebody think of the children’, but to be honest in situations like those described they kind of have to be) makes me ashamed of my ignorance and the need to actually occasionally read the papers and the blogs rather than live forever in my nice warm cave of ignorance.

A version of this piece was orginally published on

Tan Twan Eng Q&A

Tan Twan Eng was my ‘discovery of the year’ for 2012, after reading both his first novel, The Gift of Rain, longlisted for the Booker in 2007 and his second The Garden of Evening Mists, shortlisted last year, in December. Both long, but worth while reads I love his lyrical writing and tightly woven plots. I was so please to be given the opportunity to ask Tan a few questions about his work-so thanks to him.

Garden of mist

Both your books deal with the relationships between students and teachers. Have you had an inspirational teacher and what was the greatest lesson they taught you?

My teachers are all the writers I’ve ever read and still read: Vladimir Nabokov, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Somerset Maugham, and many, many others. They taught me the different ways one can view and describe the world.

I felt when reading your books very ignorant about the part of the world you come from; do you feel that your books are helping to educate people around the world about the history of Malaysia? What sort of responses have you had from Western readers and how do they compare with readers in your country?

They seem to be helping to educate people around the world, although that isn’t my main purpose or intention when I write. Western readers have more questions about all aspects of my novels, from the setting and factual background to the characters. Readers in Malaysia are more interested in the characters than anything else, because they’re already familiar with the setting of my novels.

Your writing is so full of lovely metaphors and descriptions, are you a notebook-on-you-at-all-times kind of writer or do they just come to you as you’re writing?

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, a part of me is always noting down whatever I find interesting, describing them in my mind. It’s the writer’s mind-set, to filter everything I observe, experience and hear through this sieve, hoping to catch something that can be used later. I do it almost without being aware of it.

In the past I didn’t take notes but remembered the descriptions I’ve come up with. These days I tend to jot them down in my phone.

One thing I loved about The Gift of Rain was how multicultural it was-do you find the blending different cultures and attitudes easy within your writing? How much does this reflect your life?

I grew up in a multicultural country, and the world has also become very multicultural too, so my life is reflected in my writing. It’s something I don’t even really think about. It’s made me adaptable and to be able to respect the different cultures I’ve experienced around the world.

You now live in South Africa, how did you find yourself there? Would you write a book set in that part of the world? How does it differ from Malaysia (I know that might be quite a lot of things!).

I obtained my Masters in Law in Cape Town. I liked the place so much I decided to live there for part of the year. It’s a beautiful city, and the people are very welcoming, very friendly. It reminds me of Malaysia in many ways. I’ve thought of setting a book there, but it’s a complex, complicated society, and I’m not sure I can be objective about it at this stage of my life.

Your writing deals with occupations, colonialism and other global migrations both aggressive and economic. Do you find yourself bitter after researching these events?

Sometimes I get enraged by what I find out in my research, but I tell myself it’s in the past. We tend to evaluate the past through the filters of present day ethics, knowledge and morality, and that skews our judgment.

There were a lot of unfairness and oppression and exploitation in colonialism. But, like so many of my generation, I’ve only reaped the benefits of colonialism, so to get angry about it seems hypocritical to me.

The 2012 Booker prize shortlist was notable for its inclusion of titles several independent publishers, including your own Myrmidon Books, what were your feelings about this? Are you purposefully with an independent publisher and how important are the standards of your publisher to you?

I’m very glad for my publisher, and for the other independent publishers, that they received this extensive, worldwide recognition and exposure. There was an article in a British newspaper praising the courage of these small publishers, for the way they took risks in signing on unknown authors. The article noted that ‘It’s only these independent publishers who can afford to run these risks.’ I feel it’s not true – in fact it’s completely wrong – these independent publishers cannot afford to run these risks, yet they still do it, because they’re passionate about the books they want to publish.

Being with an independent publisher, I can communicate directly and immediately with the primary decision makers if I have any problems. We usually solve our issues very quickly and pragmatically. We discuss everything, from the book cover to the blurb, to marketing and promotional plans.

The standards of my publisher are very, very important to me. It has to have highly experienced and discerning editors and designers – I want my books to read well and to look elegant. The content and form of my books have to be produced to the highest standards possible – I don’t want to be ashamed of them when I walk into any bookshop anywhere in the world. My publisher has recently issued a limited hardback edition of The Garden of Evening Mists to celebrate the Man Booker shortlisting, and I must say my publisher has done an extraordinary job on it. Extraordinary. People who’ve seen it agree completely.

2007 Longlist, 2012 Shortlist…you must be feeling so much pressure for your next novel! How do you relax? Does your first two books gaining so much acclaim change the way you approach your writing?

I relax by reading and exercising, by meeting friends for drinks or a meal. Or by going out into nature: to a park or the beach or the mountains. I walk a lot too, on my own.

I push myself to constantly improve as a writer, so my first two books receiving so much acclaim hasn’t really changed the way I write. Every book that I write has to be much better than the previous one. And to my horror I realised that the writing isn’t going to get easier with time.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng is published in hardback and trade paperback by Myrmidon Books.

BookElf Reads 2012

In the tradition of the last few years…
Not PUBLISHED this year, READ this year, savvy?

Oh God this list has caused me some heartache! What a cracking year for reading this has been for me! I know that the LeedsBookClub itself has had some wonderful discoveries over the past twelve months, but these are what I personally have awarded, I did it in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and I’m doing it all again today, M’Ok?

Discovery of the Year
The Garden of Evening Mists
Tan Twan Eng-The Garden of Evening Mists, The Gift of Rain
See, this is why I don’t get those there book bloggers doing their ‘lists of the year’ at the beginning of December-you never know what’s going to happen in the last month of the year and this is a case in point. I got The Garden of Evening Mists in the post (thank you, more please) at the beginning of December and spent a long week seeped in its beauty. His second novel, set in Malaya from the Second World War onwards this is just such a beautifully written book, its just such a shame it wasn’t written twelve years ago or so when everything was set in Asia as it would have been a massive best seller. The story of a Chinese woman living in Penang, captured by the Japanese and held in a concentration camp throughout the war at terrible cost to herself and her family, who decades later returns to the mountain province and the garden Yugiri, where she stayed for years during the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s, in her  South African friend’s tea plantation, this book is big, complicated and multi cultural. You think you in a multi cultural society, you ain’t got jack on 1940s Malaya, the setting also of his first book, The Gift of Rain, which I am currently ploughing through. The writing is exquisite and the plots fascinating. The amount of detail poured into the books shows just how clever and committed a writer Tan Twan Eng is and with his first longlisted and his second short listed for the Booker, I have massive hopes for his third novel. Fans of metaphor ridden prose and history should wake up and get into these books. Its a teeny tiny publisher as well, which is always nice.

Series of the Year
The Eye in the Door
The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
I had to review Pat Barker’s latest novel Toby’s Room this summer, so thought it might actually be a good idea to read one of the five of her novels cluttering my shelves first and boy am I glad I did. This kick-started a good three month period where I apparently read nothing but books set in the First World War, always a treat, and I was so happy with the massively positive response I got off people who loved these books as much as I do. The second one, The Eye In The Door, is just spectacular and was robbed of glory by the weaker third book The Ghost Road which somehow managed to claim all the prises. With the anniversary of the beginning of the war in a couple of years, you need to get into Pat Barker, her detailed descriptions and psychological analysis of the soldiers who fought and the people back home are extraordinary.

Up All Night Award
The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Oh this book, this beautiful beautiful book. My favourite by far of the Orange Prize (or whatever its called now) winners, this re-telling of the Iliad is sexy and sublime, you need to speed read it because you literally will not be able to put it down. Myself and a whole load of other people cannot wait for her next one. Also, do a big of background reading on Madeline Miller herself, as she is pretty damn ace.

Best Debut
Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I’ve read this book twice this year, recommended it to pretty much every reader I know, gone on and on and on about it on the Twitters and Facebook and pretty much every other place I can, wept over it, sighed over it and lamented frequently that Katey Kontent isn’t real, and I can’t actually get twatted on gin with her. This is literally the saddest of thoughts as I have never loved a fictional character as much as I love Katey Kontent and that includes the otherwise LOML Ralph Leary from Ralph’s Party.
Set in 1938 New York, if you have any sense whatsoever you will buy yourself two copies of this book because the first will be saturated with tears. If you are twenty seven, you owe it to your future self to read this book NOW. If you are younger than twenty seven, buy it and put it in storage, if you are older, buy it, read it and feel whimsical. I will blattos be re-reading in the new year, if it wasn’t completely socially unacceptable I’d blow off my party and re-read this book tonight. This book is my new Persuasion and you KNOWS I don’t say things like that lightly.

The I-Know-I-Know-Its-Brilliant-But Award
Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
I know, I’m a failure as a human being and an utter utter thickie. I couldn’t get past about 300 pages. I was bored, and I’m sorry. I will try again next year.

Best Recommended Read
Frenchman's CreekMoon Tiger (Penguin Modern Classics)
SHARED between Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier and Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Both of these books are @sianushka’s fault, and it would be impossible and wrong of me to pick from between the two. Again, this goes to show how December reading can make or break your year. From the moment I read Frenchman’s Creek back in the spring I had this on the list, but Moon Tiger, which I read in four hours on the 20 December figuring if the Apocalypse was to come the next day at least I’d spend my last night doing something magical as opposed to Management Theory Homework, was such an experience I needed it on the list.
Frenchman’s Creek has already had my splurge treatment, but I haven’t been able to do the same with Moon Tiger so I’m going to do so now, and apologies for the twenty or so people on Twitter who were following by reading of the book and are subsequently buying it already.
Read it. Read it now.
Winner of the 1987 Booker again this book would have completely passed me by had it nt been for a recommendation. I was reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (and how the hell it took me so long to get round to that I’ll never know) and @sianushka suggested that I follow it with Moon Tiger as a lovely companion read. What an understatement. I’m not going to say exactly what reading this book reminded me of but let’s say I started the evening with questioning worrying doubt, then experienced true love and complete euphoria, followed seamlessly by an hour of relaxing into acceptance of a life well lived. Bloody hell this is a well written book. The structure of it, it’s tighter than Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. The main character is a posher cleverer version of me, which always helps in relating to a history, and the way it portrays a life as lived by a particular kind of person at a particular time is spot on. I’ve read a lot of books set during various wars and this one gets the grief part right. I was weeping so much by the end of this book and it was by far my favourite pre-Apocalypse evening I’ve ever spent. If you are a speed reader, you need to experience this in a night, it is worth it, but take tea breaks because it does get a bit heavy at times.

Worst Book of the Year
Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend
Nine Uses For An Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning
This pissed me off because I really like Sarra Manning’s writing, she used to write for J17 and now writes YA chick-lit, some of which is really really good. I’ve read other stuff she’s done for ForBooksSake and the Graun and she’s a witty funny clever woman. This book however is a exercise in patience as the most neurotic and boring narrator navigates her way through what is obviously a horrible long term relationship and evil friendship with an annoying bint. Surprise surprise bint and boyf end up shagging, but instead of having some sort of St Paul revaluation and dumping his ass Hope tries to patch things up for another 300 pages. The actual hero is crap, her parents are Comedy Sidekicks from Hell and the whole thing is just a big mess. You wouldn’t get pissed with Hope in real life and it therefore fails in the fundamental law of chick lit-you have to like your protagonist, not just want to shake her. Shame as the cover is beautiful.

WBN 2013-The Books BookElf’s Verdict

Once again, World Book Night managed to send me my ‘apply to be a giver!’ email a whole days after I had already done so, but apart from that this year I’d like to say BLOODY WELL DONE. From a reading for pleasure promoter’s (working on the job title…) point of view this is a fantastic list, one I can definitely work with and it shows that they are listening, and have learnt. Two biographies, an accessible classic, more YA, and a Graphic Novel (that’s also about to be a film), this is a list that might not get already avid reader’s hearts singing, but as a way of introducing people to reading for pleasure as a socially acceptable activity, or enticing people back into reading this is perfect.
What to do
1) look at the list of books below, try not to make my massive ranting cloud your judgement.

2) choose your top three
3) go to the World Book Night website and register yourself as a giver.
4) join me and some other book lovers, as well as the regulars and not-so-regulars of my local, Arcadia, on the 23 April to a celebration of reading for pleasure!

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
The 50th Anniversary of the first James Bond film, this book is a timely inclusion that should be quite popular. I’ve never actually read a James Bond book, but it is a good choice.
Damage by Josephine Hart
To be honest, I’ve never heard of it and know nothing about it. Anyone read it? Any good?
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde’s fans are legendary in their commitment to this series, and their love for his quirky style of writing. Myself personally I couldn’t get into this and abandoned half way through, but I know of a LOT of book lovers who I know will be applying for this book and enthusiasm is always the best way to promote so go go gadget fans!

Girl with a Pearl Earring-Tracy Chevalier
I went through a really big Travy Chevalier stage in my Youth, and loved her historical fiction, and this is by far her best. A nice plot, lovely writing and also handily links to an alright film, this should be popular.
The Knife of Never Letting Go-Patrick Ness

My love of Patrick Ness knows no bounds-he supports libraries, he is tireless in his promotion of reading with younger people and is a multiple winner of the Carnegie Prize and other various prizes-this one won the Guardian’s Children’s Prize, which I REALLY hope they don’t put on the cover of the WBN version. This is the first in a spectacularly epic trilogy which, to be honest, I haven’t read because they are all about 400 pages long and never stay on my work library long enough. Dystopia fans should get into this.

Last Night Another Solider-Andy McNab

There’s a Quick Read!!!!!!!!!! This is fantastic news, and yes it might be Andy McGuns, but this is the sort of thing that gets especially older people reading-I know this from experience. This isn’t the best of the Quick Reads and I’d have much rather seen Chris Ryan’s war one but anyone living in squaddie towns would be well off thinking about using this.

Little Face-Sophie Hannah
I’ve read one Sophie Hannah (The Point of Rescue) and it scared the bejaysus out of me. Her books, psychological police thrillers, are very accomplished but also accessible, and fans of Scando Noir would enjoy her. This is her debut and I should look out for it.
A Little History of the World-E.H. Gombrich
I’ve never heard of this book but upon some investigation I’m now fascinated by it. A best seller in Vienna in 1935, written in six weeks by the then 26 year old Gombrich who had been commissioned to write a history of the world for younger readers, this tells the story of mankind from the stone age to the modern age.  The reviews of it are consistently wonderful, I’ve already ordered a copy for work and it just sounds lovely. If I had already read it, I would probably go for this as I like this sort of book quite a lot!
Me Before You-Jojo Moyles
Oh how much do I hate this book! I got so cross with it, I had to stop reading it and throw it at the wall a couple of times. However. This book has been borrowed more from my work library than any other book this year. I’ve had a million conversations with students recommending it to their friends and it never ever stays on the shelf. I put it on display and it’s out in half an hour. It was a massive bestseller, was in every single shop window for about six months and people love it. I strongly suspect, however, that the reason they’ve said ‘yes’ to putting it on is that they’ve already made as much money as humanly possible from this book and she’s got a new one out next year and a re-release of her back-catalogue, but that’s me being cynical…
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency-Alexander McCall Smith
This book is yet another example of why I don’t have a soul. I don’t get the obsession people have with this series at all. My mum loved them, my boss eats them. I find them boring and twee and completely lacking in substance, but not crap enough to constitute a guilty pleasure. BUT again, they are incredibly popular, and I’ve seen a lot of people take them as their first book on the various reading challenges I do, and the Travelling Suitcase Library never keeps them in for the same session. Will be a popular choice, so get in there quick.
Noughts and Crosses-Malorie Blackman
The World Book Night people should receive a massive big up for including this one, which I’ve chosen in my application. A brilliantly written, intense book about race in a dystopia which makes you think and cry and fall in love. The characters are two young people from opposite sides, but they are real teenagers, not this glittery feisty vampire nonsense, and their problems are so well described, whilst being totally accessible. I love this series of books, and again this never ever stays on the shelf and every single young person I recommend it to loves it. Not sure how it’ll go down in a pub but hey ho, I don’t care, it’s ace.
Red Dust Road-Jackie Kay
One of the two memoirs included, I’ve never read this but ForBooksSake love it, so I’m guessing it is going to be pretty good. It also won Scottish Book of the Year, so guess where this is going to be popular…
The Secret Scripture-Sebastian Barry
My second choice, because I loved this book. The story of a woman labelled ‘mad’ in a world that hates mental illness, this is beautiful a sad story and anyone who loves Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing of Esme Lennox, or historical fiction in general, should read this. Again, it was a huge bestseller, and deserves its fame, and I would recommend it, more to people who already read a bit for pleasure but aren’t ‘avid’ readers.
The Dark Judges
It’s a graphic novel, which is amazing, but I’d love to see how they publish this in the current World Book Night paperback format. I’m not a graphic novel expert but I know a lot of people who are and are excited by this one’s inclusion. Plus, film’s out this year.
The Island-Victoria Hislop
I am so surprised this hasn’t been included before now, I think I already sort of presumed that it had. We read this Back In The Day when the book club was just the three of us in my kitchen, and all of us loved it. It was huge, and again might have already made as much money as it can-I see this a LOT in my charity shop hawls and book swaps so maybe it has already had its moment, hence the inclusion, but if you were giving your books out round the office say, this would be a lovely one. Great beach read.
The Reader-Bernhard Schlink
Never read it, heard only good things about it.
The Road Home-Rose Tremain
I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for the past five years or so and really really should read it because it looks ace! Shall bump up to the top of the pile and review asap.
Treasure Island-Robert Louis Stevenson
I love this book, Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing is extraordinary, he really sucks you into the adventure. Yes, it is slightly old fashioned, but it is also 130 years old and if they had to choose a classic, they couldn’t have picked a better one. I really now wnat to re-read this and I hope that people give it a chance.
The White Queen-Philippa Gregory
There had to be a Philippa Gregory at some point, and whilst this isn’t the one I’d have chosen (The Queen’s Fool is her best one), it is the start of a series they are still promoting so, like the Bernard Cornwell one last year, is probably a tactical choice on behalf of the publisher. It is good, but I can imagine a lot of historical fiction fans will be diasappointed.
Product Details
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?-Jeanette Winterson
This one will be huge, as I know a lot of people who love this book and Jeanette Winterson in general. I read it last Easter and enjoyed it for the most part, though I did skim parts as it (sorry) goes on a bit in places.

Wighill Book Exchange!

A friend of mine emailed me a little while ago about a little book swap shop with a difference that he located in Wighill. 

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We went for a cycle ride this morning 
and visited Wighill on the way, where 
– inside an old phone box – 
they have a swap shop for books!”
Credit to Michael
Credit to Michael
What a wonderful way to share books!
Have you spotted any weird and wonderful book distribution ideas near you?
Do take a picture and share it with us!*

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Visit Michael’s Blog HERE
*Obviously with full credits and so on!
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