Category Archives: Review Copy

REVIEW – Fancy Pants Poetry 2 – Agostino Scafidi

FANCY PANTS POETRY 2

Recently I reviewed a book of poetry by Agostino Scafidi. No sooner had I pressed publish, then he let me know that the sequel had become available.

While there are no major stylish or drastic format changes, this is a very different book from its predecessor. The original was dark, cynical and sarcastic – caustic in tone. This – while retaining the quick sharp observations that seem to typify Agostino’s writing – is much more cheerful in general with a greater focus on positive (or at the very least more neutral) interactions and experiences.

Whatever the situation, Agostino appears to be tackling his challenges with a different viewpoint, one that is less stung by rejection or betrayal and more capable and confident of his own worth. For me, this was a far more pleasurable read (though I greatly enjoyed the first!) as it better suits my point of view.

 

So Many

There’s always more than one,

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,

It’s not like I can help it,

However there still might be one.

 

One who I’ll always come back to,

Who I’ll hold above all others,

I just hope that won’t die either,

Because quantity doesn’t comfort me.

 

Today,

Each moment,

I’ll cherish it,

While it’s here.

 

Reminders

Petty and grand,

Mostly pretty,

Little itches,

Nothing to scratch with.

Can’t scratch it,

Just ignore it?

Can’t ignore it,

Just watch it?

Yes,

That feels better,

I think I’ll do this more often,

And have faith.

The Hermit Rant

Agostino’s STORE

Agostino’s TWITTER

Agostino’s FACEBOOK

 

Review – Fancy Pants Poetry

Review – Fancy Pants Poetry 2

REVIEW – Fancy Pants Poetry – Agostino Scafidi

Fancy_Pants_Poetry_-_600_x_831Recently Agostino Scafidi left a message on the blog about his new book of poems. As I’m always on the lookout for new authors and poets, he sent me a copy to review.

Laid back, contemporary and bitingly sarcastic, these poems are a mix of specific and stipulated themes and vague concepts and thoughts – allowing the reader to follow the thought train or to project their own interpretations as they wish. Agostino is a poet, no doubt, but I suspect that he is a bit of a philosopher also.

While the poems themselves are predominantly quite dark and cynical, the language used is deceptive. Just when you feel that the sun will never shine again, there are flashes of an uprising – of a soul and spirit that isn’t quite ready to throw the towel in just yet. Of most importance to me; these poems do not read as poetry – they are accessible and feel real world relevant.

Honestly, I looked forward to the sparse cheerful poems dotted throughout by the end. While there are quite a few gems tucked away in this short book; the mood is almost unremittingly bleak. My personal favourites include ‘Let’s be Irrational’ – which feels like a standing truth – and ‘Do it’ – which feels like it could not have been written at any point in time but now!

According to his twitter feed, there will be a follow up – Fancy Pants Poetry 2 – in the near future which I look forward to reading!

Let’s Be Irrational

Honesty,

Certainly a punishable offence.

No matter what anyone says about how admirable honesty can be,

Don’t risk it.

There’ll always be repercussions,

Honesty is hated,

You’ll only bear the brunt of the derision.

Heed these warnings at your own peril.

You might be strong enough for this crusade,

Just be sure before you ship out,

Some people won’t ever forget their face to face with truth.

The Hermit Rant

Agostino’s STORE

Agostino’s TWITTER

Agostino’s FACEBOOK

 

Review – Fancy Pants Poetry

Review – Fancy Pants Poetry 2

Mini-review – SurviRal by Ken Benton

BLURB

The deadliest flu season in a hundred years is about to turn a whole lot deadlier. When an accident at a famous medical research facility lets a mutated avian flu strain out, a nightmare scenario unfolds. Before authorities can react, millions are infected—and that’s just the beginning. The mortality rate exceeds 80%. Leaders and elected officials soon learn the man-manipulated virus respects neither rank nor stature. The resulting chain reaction leads to a collapse of modern society—even in Colorado, where no cases of the killer strain have yet appeared.

Clint Stonebreaker, a happily-married software engineer living in Denver, doesn’t like watching the news. He especially doesn’t let Jake, his wacky doomsday-prepping brother, watch it when he visits. But when chaos goes viral through the entire country, Clint and his wife Jenny are forced to acknowledge reality. They find themselves hitting the road with their gun-enthusiast neighbor to escape the deteriorating city. Their goal? Reaching Clint’s hunting cabin in Southeastern Colorado and trying to make a homestead of it.

They don’t get far before running into a gauntlet of obstacles. Colorado seems to have become a giant sociological experiment, with dire consequences for making the wrong decisions. The spirit of American resolve is pitted against the ugly realty of criminal opportunism in every direction they turn. Ironically, Clint isn’t sure which is worse: being forced to survive in the midst of civil unrest, or knowing he’ll have to admit to Jake that he was right. Assuming he can find him…

surviral

About the Author

Ken Benton appears to be your run-of-the-mill city slicker at first glance, blissfully playing with his iPhone at the bar of the local barbeque joint while sipping on craft-brewed IPA. But he has a secret passion: doomsday survival prepping. And if you ever snuck up behind him to see what he was reading, it would likely be one of those apocalyptic-survival stories set after the collapse of modern society. Yes, he’s one of those nuts. But someday soon, Ken believes, those nuts may become the new upper class in society. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with story-telling. And preparing.

This is his first work of fiction.

Mini-Review (very minor spoilers – I make sure not to give too much away)

Though I’ve read a number of dystopian and post-apocalytic books in the past (LBCDystopia); this is my first ‘prepper’ story. Preppers or survivalists are people or groups who actively prepare for emergencies – be they social, political, economic or medical. One of the primary goals seems to be becoming self sufficient with regards to medical care, shelter building and food storage to ensure survival should SHTF  (s**t hit the fan) scenarios arise. Though this is a worldwide phenomenon, what little knowledge I have is orientated around the US – primarily via (I suspect) terribly inaccurate and sensationalist ‘documentaries’.

In the main, I enjoyed this story. Ken Benton is very detail orientated and clearly really loved writing the initial disaster scenario. Perhaps it was a strength that this scene plays out so quickly – it definitely left me wanting more! So many of the books that I’ve read have focused on society forming long after the initial disaster point that it was very interesting to read one focused on the actual crumbling infrastructure and societal melt down.

For the first few chapters, it was primarily exposition via dialogue. To be honest, this is a style that leaves me cold and here I found Clint and Jenny to be pretty willfully ignorant, which is hardly a good start for the primary protagonists. I mean, yes, fair enough, keeping up with the news is stressful but after a couple of pages, I started to hope that they were going to be victims of the virus – they seemed so determined to stick their head in the sand and avoid learning ANYTHING AT ALL about what was happening. I appreciate the idea behind passing along exposition in this way but it seemed that every person they interacted with was better informed so frankly I had very little time for them.

While I grew quite frustrated with Clint and Jenny, the few chapters that dealt with their brother Jake and his conflict with the more grasping aspects of the government was FAAAR more interesting to me. I was delighted that there was more development of this aspect as the book progressed. Similarly the emergence of a brutal gang of ‘savages’ was quite out of the blue – I didn’t expect the ‘bad guys’ to have an origin story featured in this way – and equally captured my attention.

Clint, Jenny and Harold are forced to navigate cross country to attempt to find safety and encounter a number of challenges that kept my interest up. This is a book that is *very* located in the US, as evidenced by the proliferation of arms (not to mention the near reverence for them as demonstrated by every second character) and via an interesting exchange where help is turned down because the group offering it are the wrong sort of Christians. Very different mentality to the bits of Europe that I’ve been exposed to…though my gut response was to suspect that we either have fewer cults, or they are better at subterfuge… At every turn there were challenges, including one or two that I genuinely didn’t see coming – always good!

Politically, the author pulls no punches, he appears to be equally disdainful of the two major parties in the US. The somewhat amoral but fundamentally decent character of Congressman Wade Bennett was probably the best developed outside the primary three and was definitely the most delightful character for me. I’ll be signing up for the newsletter just to discover more about his story! By the time the divergent strands come together, it feels like quite a well explored world – albeit a slightly more brutal version of one than I am familiar with!

With regards to the survivalist aspect, it was apparent that the author felt very comfortable exploring and developing his ideas. On the one hand, this was a strength – the research shone through and I felt like I learned quite a bit behind the psychology of ‘prepping’ vis a vis the do’s and don’t. Do keep seeds. Don’t hoard, it’ll attract scavengers and so on. On the other hand, I felt like this was all predetermined and designed to fit an agenda – I have a feeling that in this book, none of the characters ever moved in a direction that the author hadn’t planned for…which is a bit of a shame really.

However, it’s worth noting that this is the first foray into fiction writing for Ken Benton. At points, it did feel like he was experimenting with different styles of storytelling and this was a touch distracting. However it also left me feeling like he is still finding his feet and personal approach towards fiction.

Certainly, this is a strong and solid initial effort and I look forward to seeing what he tackles next.

 

Visit his website – Survival Tales – HERE

Sign up for the newsletter and be send a free short story featuring Congressman Wade.

 

Dead Heads (Gloomwood)by Ross Young – Review

FULL DISCLOSURE – Ross Young is a friend of a friend, who happens to be a writer. Actually, it’s a neighbour and friend – if we’re going to get nit-picky about it – who asked if I’d be interested in checking out this new novel. As he is a chap with impeccable taste, I enthusiastically agreed and then forgot all about the book for a ~mere~ matter of months…because I’m awesome like that.

Dead Heads is the first in the Gloomwood series by Ross Young.

THE BLURB

Augustan Blunt is a washed out cop with a bad attitude, a drinking problem and a troubled past. Oh, he’s also dead but that’s okay – so is everyone else. Other than that things are just peachy.
Someone has stolen the Grim Reaper’s head and Blunt has been told to find it. In a new city where the rules of the living don’t apply; Blunt’s up to his neck in the brown stuff and he’s never been much of a swimmer. With the aid of a woman who keeps turning involuntarily invisible; a journalist who hasn’t written an article since she died and a bureaucrat who can’t say no to anyone – Blunt’s got to stop whoever is stealing the heads of the city’s elite.
As he begins his investigations he finds things aren’t all they seem. Who are the Gloomwood Youth Order? What do you call the murder of someone already dead? Why are people having their heads chopped off? And what is in the hot dogs? With time slipping away he needs to learn what makes the city tick before there’s no city left.

*****SPOILERS*****
 

Gloomwood is a city for the dead – founded by no-less illustrious a personage than the Grim Reaper* himself – as the final resting places for dead people, gods, ideas and concepts. The Grim Reaper is the de-facto ruler, key holder and all round nice guy. His very visage stirs fear in the hearts of the newly dead and respect in those a little better acquainted, so it comes as a bit of a shock to the Office of the Dead when someone decapitates him and steals his head.

Augustan Blunt – an old school detective with a bad attitude, a nasty case of alcoholism** and a propensity to hate everything and everyone – is promptly recruited by Crispin Neat to find the Grim Reapers head and the culprit before any of the Gloomwood residents cotton on…about 12 hours after Blunt’s own untimely demise.

Gloomwood is grey, unsatisfying and decidedly weird.It’s also proof positive that death isn’t always the worst case scenario.

Blunt is a joy! I kept waiting for him to grate on me; as his rudeness, dissatisfaction with the world(s) in general and entitlement alienated him from everyone in the book…but it didn’t happen. Though he is Obnoxious (capital O there); I really enjoyed his cynical and bleak view of the world. It’s hard not to feel a certain degree of sympathy for someone who has had every negative assumption he’s ever made in life confirmed…and then has to do it all over again in death! Even better – he knows that he’s a jerk and takes his various snubs, beatings and general abuse as his due with a wry stoicism.

Blunt finds himself in Gloomwood to solve a very particular crime. Though it’s not really alluded too in much detail; I think that his demise felt a little too convenient and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out there was some hanky-panky relating to the how’s and the when’s in future stories!

His right hand man – Ralph Mortimer; I was a bit more up and down about. Initially I just loved him, but his meek manner did slightly irritate me in the middle. Nevertheless, I was delighted to find that he had a spectacularly glorious looking wife. Hey, I’m not saying that they’re happy, but it was so satisfying that Ralph had *something* in his life that left everyone around him speechless with envy and surprise, as he is portrayed as such a worm.
There are also hints that Ralph might have more to him than meets the eye…though I’m not sure he’d enjoy the realisation that it is in fact Blunt that brings out the best in him.

Sarah Von Faber – the barely there forensic expert – provides the final member of Blunt’s working crew. Her intangibility aside (an unfortunate side effect of an experiment gone awry), Sarah is easily one of the more intelligent members of the Gloomwood community and her astute observations and sarcasm ensure than she is a vital team member, rather than a conveniently creepy plot device. Indeed her special skills are far more often a hindrance than a help.

Quite a bit of writing is devoted to setting the scene and Gloomwood is more than a mere geographical oddity – the land is as much a character within this book as Sarah or Ralph or the Reaper. For Blunt, solving the mystery depends on his rapidly coming to terms with his new environment. I wish so much that I had one of those special edition illustrated hard back versions because I would have LOVED to see long lost hopes and dreams (such as the perennially depressed embodiment of the Earth is flat belief or Petal) illustrated! eBooks are awesome… but those colour plates of my youth are hard not to miss!

It’s a great initial idea, – a murder set in the afterlife – and is well executed for the most part, though the pedant in me has to point out that in the kindle edition I read, there were a few grammatical errors and structural mis-fires that interrupted the narrative flow. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the main wasn’t written so well.

I found the first few chapters to be gripping but also utterly discordant – I couldn’t understand how they would all link up to one another, or if indeed that was even the goal of the book! While it all works out beautifully – I think that it would have been a bit off-putting if I hadn’t been so cheerful in general that week! Talk about feeling thrown in the deep end from the first page.
Perseverance brings rewards and joy, boys and girls!

The mystery is very well drawn out indeed – while this is ostensibly a straight-forward whodunit; the set up of the world and the potential abilities of the plethora of very individualistic characters ups the game considerably. Once you read the ending you immediately see the sense of it, but I hadn’t a clue what was coming – my favourite state to finish a book!

For all that; this is a book that I would only carefully recommend. If you’re a fan of Tom Holt, Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett – you’ll probably do just fine. However, it is as weird as it is wonderful and I don’t think I’d pass onto someone morally opposed to SF or fantasy!

Two sentence summary:
Despite the weird and wacky sounding set up outlined above; this read to me as primarily a character driven SF book. The mystery is – you know – the point, but it’s the humour and drive of the characters that keeps you reading.

The second in the Gloomwood series – Get Ted Dead – will be out soon…

* * * * *

Check out our Podcast with Ross HERE
Visit the Gloomwood website HERE
Stalk…Chat with Ross on twitter HERE. He’s very friendly.

* * * * *

*Best. Backstory. Ever.
My new definitive history for the Grim Reaper.

**I assume that future books are going to explain where the heck the food and drink turns up from?! Although maybe I’d be better off not knowing. The possibilities are rather grotesque. The hot dog question I think I’ll avoid! *shudder*

Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan

SWEET TOOTH
IAN MCEWAN

There are some mild spoilers in this review, though I refrain from revealing the major plot points or ending. If you’ve read the novel and want to have a proper gab about it, please contact me on twitter (@LeedsBookClub) or via email!
This book was sent out to me for review by Waterstones. Visit their profile page for Sweet Tooth HERE!

BLURB (from Amazon)

Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere.

Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a ‘secret mission’ which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one.

McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.

 
I can’t quite decide if Sweet Tooth is a novel or the literary equivalent of a bowl of chocolate* for book lovers!
Ian McEwan is often loudly hailed as one of the finest of his generation. This novel would certainly seem to cement his position. Indeed he is becoming part of a select stable of authors whose prowess only increases with each release – Margaret Atwood, Iain (M)Banks – his contemporaries are few and far between. 
This novel has been widely sold as a spy thriller. However, that’s not how it read to me. It’s the oldest tale of them all – a love story. A classic girl meets boy. There are somewhat convoluted complications and the inherent will they won’t/they story wrapped up in political intrigue and espionage. 

This is compounded I think by the authors side references to the social and economic upheaval occurring in 1972. However, as the main character has no real interest – outside of impressing a boyfriend – we never focus on them. This was a feature of #LBC3Reads book The Paris Wife and was something that frustrated all discussing it. Here however, I found myself wracking my brain (more frequently wikipedia) for more details of some throwaway background news story. 
I loved the contrasts delicately described within Sweet Tooth. The differences between Serena and her sister were deftly drawn without prejudice for either lifestyle choice. Similarly, the contrasts between the comfortable middle-class lifestyle that Serena had been raised in with the love nest she enjoyed with Tom. The modesty of their lives – painstakingly detailed by McEwan – really captured my imagination.    
A slow burner, the author effortlessly creates the era and setting for the novel. Certainly with regards to the position that Serena finds herself; everything feels very authentic. Her flatmates and work friends are always secondary to the action, yet the author seems to create fully rounded out characters despite their brief appearances. Of particular interest to me were the friendly exchanges between Serena and the girls. It sounds ridiculous to be impressed that a [insert gender here] author could write the [insert opposite gender here] character so well. But it’s true!! These conversations seemed to be bright spots for me throughout the book.    
The protagonist Serena is all I find annoying and frustrating in fiction. Weak, easily lead and rebellious only over the superficial of issues, Serena finds that her early academic promise does not sustain her university years. 
She is propelled through life by…her looks. 
Lucky cow. 
I have to admit; I found her ambitions to be refreshingly predictable and fitting to her upbringing. This is not a character who sets out to change the world, or make a political statement. Serena reads as an every young-woman archetype, not a ‘girl’s girl’ perhaps, but nevertheless feasible regardless of the time period. 

An affair with a married man thrusts her into the not-even-a-little-bit glamorous MI5. Here her middling talents do *not* set her above her peers. Her mentors unsavory connections – brought to life after he left her –  have soured the brass and Serena is uninspired at work, though she does seem to make a few solid friends. 
Yet she is not utterly revolting. Though I could see that I was being manipulated; I couldn’t help but warm to her passion for reading. I was slightly concerned at her seeming inability to seek out different interpretations within the literature, but a reader is a reader is a friend, you know?
I’m usually very lucky in fiction, finding aspects of most protagonists that I can bring into my heart. It’s rare that I care so much about what happens to a person when I don’t actually like them at all. Never have I experienced this as much as while reading this.

When she is finally offered the chance to work with an asset – the rising young author Tom Haley – it was so frustrating to know in advance that it was all going to end in tears. 

A trick that McEwan uses especially well across his novels is to present us with a stated fact, then later offer context that changes the meaning of the interaction utterly. In Atonement, this hook was the point of the novel, rather than a writing technique. There are hints of this again in both Saturday and Solar. 
Here however, there are two characters who change completely from one end of the novel to the other. The fist I delighted in; recognizing the technique as soon as it appears and kicking myself from falling for it once again. The second occasions occurs much more organically and is all the creepier for it.  

Yet for all that – Sweet Tooth is not without its faults.
It could be argued that this is a large book based on a somewhat slight premise, once all the bells and whistles are taken away. 
The characters are insular and rarely seem to interact with the outside world. Serena and Tom lost contact with everyone and everything – or so you could easily believe – as soon as they find one another. 
Secondary characters are developed then abandoned early in the book, not to reappear until many chapters later – sometimes a touch conveniently. It wouldn’t be so obvious except the characters are often so beautifully drawn in the first place.
And yet, perhaps such nit picking misses the point of this subtle, subversive story.
Serena of the pretensions sounding surname was *never* for a fraction of a second a spy in my eyes…though indeed the whole boy of staff at the back-stabbing and directionless MI5 seemed unsuited for espionage.
Everything – from her recruitment (bonked an ex-employee) to her eventual disgrace (bonked a special project – relax that’s not a spoiler. In fact, it’s almost embarrassingly signposted. She loves his fiction. Of course she’ll love the author. Obvious really.) was ridiculously trite. Once again, McEwan demonstrates his mastery within the sub-genera. In his hands, these ridiculous realities make a sort of fatalistic sense within the narrow vision and scope of the organisation described. 
The only aspect that I truly didn’t respond to postively was the casual sexuality constantly expressed by Serena. My objection is not that her father was a bishop or that it was unseemly or anything moral. I just can’t understand why anyone would sleep with a woman so lacking in substance. 

The book is dotted with sex scences – no that’s not quite right. This book seems to chart the evolution of the sexual relationship between Serena and Tom Haley, from the particularly un-erotic to love making to the passions felt once the hint of betrayal is in the air. Its rather lovely, but a touch cold. Serena isn’t the warmest of people and sometimes it was difficult to evaluate what she was really feeling. Certainly, her realisation towards the end of the novel that her deception may be revealed, came far too late for me. I mean, she wasn’t daft. How could she not see past the present moment so totally?   

By no means my favourtie of his novels, nevertheless; I’d definitely recommend Sweet Tooth to an established reader and/or a fan of the crime/thriller/romance genera.
The size may appear a touch alienating, but this is worth the effort. It’s remarkably easy to read – preferably in longer stretches as there are some very subtle interactions that deserve full attention. Curious till the end, I did sometimes wish that there had been a bit more humour. Still, a very enjoyable week was spent immersed! 

6/10
*Think of your own favourite treat here!

The Mystery of Mercy Close Review

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love Marian Keyes. I’ve been reading her since my early teens, and her mix of brash humour and unfailingly honest outlook has always worked for me. Whether or not you like the whole ‘chick-lit’ thing, you can’t deny she’s had a massive influence as a writer, her books are incredibly popular and get people reading, which is the most important thing.
Her last book, The Brightest Star In The Sky, was published five years ago. Since then, Marian has openly talked about her depression online, which is remarkable. This book, the fifth focusing on the Walsh family, is partly about that, and is so incredibly truthful about what it is like to live with this disease day in day out that it marks her as one of the best writer’s dealing with real life issues in a open and accessible way.
Marian Keyes’ writes about the history of her country through the narratives of the people who are from it, in paticular its women. In Sushi for Beginners we had the Celtic Tiger, the boom period that had property developers become multi millionaires overnight, designer everything and credit galore. Mercy Close is set in the bust, and what a bust it is. The recession has been a horrible horrible time but it is only when you read a fiction book that recounts the struggles of people who have lost everything thanks to the greed of the few and a stupid system based on imaginary assets that makes no flipping sense, you realise you how much this has ruined lives.
Helen Walsh was never my favourite of the five sisters who now have a book each (my favourites have to be Rachel’s Holiday and Angels, the story of the middle child Maggie). To be honest, I’ve never really got the whole ‘Walsh’ thing, so the companion eBook novelette coming out this month Mammy Walsh’s A-Z is sort of lost on me. I never really warmed to Helen, she’s the sort of women who I tend to avoid as being a smart arse pain, she “doesn’t believe in hot drinks”, and puts everyday sentences on her synonymous “Shovel List”. She also likes black a LOT, and seems to be a walking advert for Diet Coke, who I strongly suspect sponsored this novel. She is, however, a very well written woman whose life is falling apart. Her Private Detective business has collapsed, she has lost her home and is forced to move back in with her parents at the age of 33. On top of all this, her reoccurring depression is rearing its head yet again after a two year hiatus and her ex-boyfriend has barged back into her life. Good job she’s got a sexy Viking policeman lover with a massive willy, even if his teenage son looks like he should be singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me.

The day after she runs out on her mortgage, Helen receives an offer she literally cannot refuse. Her ex, Jay Parker, who was by all accounts a bastard, is now managing 90s boyband Laddz, who are staging a series of come back concerts. They are going to make everyone rich and famous again, only problem is that Wayne, the ‘wacky’ one, has gone missing, walking out on rehearsals and cannot be found anywhere. Helen’s detective skills are called in and soon she finds herself zooming around the East coast of Ireland on the not particularly hot trail.

During her search for Wayne, Helen runs into the usual Keyes Variety of scrapes, some of which are very sad, others very very funny. Helen’s family, her boyfriend and the media circle surrounding the Laddz aside, it is her constant battle to keep from feeling bleak that marks this book out.
Helen is suicidal, dependent on her meds to the point of obsession. Her recounting how her depression started, and the attitudes of others had me nodding in agreement and rethinking how I treated others with the disease. Over all it is Helen’s insistence that it is a disease, just like any other, and that some people get better and some people don’t that really struck a chord. There is a lyric from a Kimya Dawson song ‘The Competition’ that goes ‘I got good at feeling bad, and that’s why I’m OK’. I think Kimya and Marian would get on well.
Although the stigma surrounding mental illness is gradually corroding, it is still very rare that a celebrity will speak about how they are feeling whilst they are feeling it, and as someone who has bouts herself I feel grateful (wrong word I know, but I cannot think of a better one) for Marian’s opening up.
This book is another doorstopper, but her quick, banter style of writing means it isn’t a laborious read. The ‘mystery’ part of the book isn’t that important compared to her wonderful characters (my favourite is the precocious but very cute nine year old Bella as I know a wonderful little girl just like her) and her depictions of an Ireland that is slowly getting its breath back after a very large punch to the gut.

One of the first things I was asked when I fangirled on Twitter about getting this book to review (eeeeeeeeee) was ‘is it as good as her older stuff?’. The answer is yes, yes it is. Welcome home, Marian, it’s good to have you back.

5/5 and a lovely pre-Autumn treat. Beautiful book as well.

The Book Lovers Companion Review

Deciding what to read next can be a daunting task for a lot of us.

It’s hard if your last read was a stinker –  though at least you’ll know feeling that the only direction left is up! 


It’s especially tricky if you’ve just finished something wonderful. You want a book that’s different enough that it won’t suffer from a comparison but that meets the standards set by the previous author. 
 
 
While books and stories can be social; reading itself is a very individual process. There are a plethora of factors that impact on reading. Mood alone can change how you respond to a book. 

Getting recommendations from friends and family is probably considered the safest route to sourcing your next read – you’ll have a first hand positive review to work from. 

As long as the person involved share your reading interests. 

I couldn’t count for you the amount of times I’ve read a book – having heard it hailed to the skies by a mate – and HATED it – the subject matter or writing not to my taste AT ALL – then wondered how best to break that news diplomatically!
 
So when Michael O’Mara Books – HERE – tweeted me to say this was ‘A book designed with book clubs in mind’, safe to say I was very excited. 
THE BLURB (from MOMBooks)

With so many fantastic books out there, it can often be difficult to choose what to read next. Thankfully, The Book Lovers’ Companion is here to help, bringing together a huge range of the best and most loved titles in one comprehensive guide. 

Featuring a diverse selection of books to choose from, from Pride and Prejudice to the modern classics as well as the latest bestsellers, the guide includes interesting discussion points and facts that will be indispensable for book clubs as well as potential companion books with similar themes, honest opinions from readers and razor-sharp reviews from critics, so you’ll know you’re making the right choice every time. 

Compiled by a range of English literature experts and avid readers, and with a foreword by Lionel Shriver, author of We Need To Talk About KevinThe Book Lovers’ Companionis sure to inspire any book lover. You need never read a bad book again!

 

The book opens with an introduction by Lionel Shriver – author of ‘We need to talk about Kevin’. I’ve recently read this book for MedusaLBC and loathed it with a passion I usually reserve for matters of life and death or Whedon cancellation. Here however, we became fast friends. I caught myself nodding emphatically on the bus, particularly in response to how they are often perceived by the  literary. I couldn’t agree more with her assessment and with her enthusiasm for the creating of literate societies/comunities via book clubs. 

 
In fact, going through the table of contents actually feels a little bit about being at a book club. Some of the choices made me beam with delight; others left me spluttering with disbelief! A good book club discussion can be the forging of a new friendship. A really great book club discussion can change your entire perspective on life, the universe and everything! 

There are over 200 entries, including many of the usual suspects – Pride and Prejudice, Brick Lance or The Great Gatsby – but there are also little gems that don’t normally make there way into an anthology of this type – Perfume and The Story of Lucy Gault – a personal favourite. 

Each entry is divided up into sections including some variation of spoiler-free summary, discussion points, reader’s notes, background information and similarly regarded titles to try next. I started off with the books that I’d read. There were a number of reviewers involved in the compilation of this book resulting in a diverse range that are humourous, personal and topic specific. Nothing worse than reading a review that is blatantly inaccurate or written without having actually read the source material!

Of particularly interest to me were the thematic list choices dotted throughout the book. Initially disgruntled to see that there was a list for men yet not one for women; I was appeased and very much enjoyed the explanation offered on that page! I love top tens and look forward to spending a bit of time contrasting theirs with my mental lists. 

In short – I’m a fan. There is a great range of books reviewed. More importantly each review reads honestly, albeit briefly. It’s particularly enjoyable to pick out the entry of a really weird book and watch the struggle to succinctly condense it into a few sentences. 
Perhaps the greatest attribute of this book is that it slightly alters the way you think about the books you’ve read recently – providing an easy template format that allows comparative reflection. I’m hoping that if I continue to reference the book regularly; this logical layout will become habit to me, providing structure to my often meandering thoughts!

However, I would have loved for each entry to be a page longer – allowing for a slightly more in-depth look at each book. Perhaps a spoiler section at the back could be included. This would be terrific for people who have already read the book and could see another persons assessment of the plot and twists. Otherwise, there is a sense that this book is a starting point and merely that. Its actually a credit to the book that I wanted more. Had the summaries not been so impressive; I probably wouldn’t be craving their opinions on the end. 

I can think of so many friends that would love to receive this and indeed I plan on putting it to good use this Christmas – matching readers to books rather then buying them something that I want to read and hoping I can borrow it. 

Kidding, of course. I’d never do anything so churlish. 

I read them before I wrap them 
Obviously. 

*FYI – as a collective LBC has read at least nine books on the list! Expect that to increase in 2013! 

    
Kemit.
The most awesomeness Muppet of them all.
 

Mothers and Daughters

MOTHERS IN FICTION
CARRIE DUNN
Journalist and feminist Carrie Dunn has taken on 20 of fictions most divisive characters. Offering a fresh perspective on their motivations and actions; she re-examines their roles in the book and as part of a broader societal picture. 
 
While a few of these essays are ‘merely’ delightfully universal; others turn societal expectations on their head. 
From Lady Capulet to Marmee Marsh, not one but two Jane Austen creations and mothers from ‘high’ fiction to beloved children’s classics – Dunn sets out her stall and jumps right in. While some of her choices are well known to fiction fans; others have been paid scant attention in the past. 


I must admit to a certain trepidation when I spotted certain names in the index. What if Ms Dunn had got it all wrong? What if she didn’t agree with me! 
Anne Shirley, The Chalet School, Jane Eyre – these aren’t just books to me – they are lifelong buddies! Within moments my fears were allayed. Where I agreed; I tended to do so whole heartedly. Where I didn’t, I could feel myself forming mental arguments in defense of/or against/or from a different perspective – especially when the phrase ‘awakening feminism’ appeared!

At no point was I ever indifferent. Which is surely the point – Dunn encourages active involvement from her readers. She’s done the writing, but we’re supposed to join in with regards to the thinking!

From the sublime to the sickening – Mothers in Fiction is a great read; a good giggle and a talking point! Certainly, I’m very motivated to seek out those books I haven’t already read! 
It’s one you’ll dip in and out of time and again. I can’t wait to recommend this to my friends and family. 

Image courtesy of Crooked Rib (@Crooked_Rib) Publishing

Say hi to the author @CarrieSparkle
Or visit CarrieDunn.net

Notes for the author:
Might I beg that Lady Catherine DeBurgh be similarly assessed for a future book? As an aunt – she was intimidating – as a mother she must have been frightful!

Great Expectations – does Miss Havisham count as a mother figure? That’d be a very interesting one to pick apart!

What of Vivianne Abbot Walker from the Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood? Or any of the combo’s from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe?

Virginia Andrews Flowers in the Attic though – that’d be a hard write.

Oooooh – I bet fairy tales would also throw up some fantastic characters to pick apart! 

%d bloggers like this: