Thursday, 30 June 2011

Help! My wish list #29

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Seven Days in the Art World
By Sarah Thornton

Amazon's product description: The art market is booming. Museum attendance is surging. More people than ever call themselves artists. Contemporary art has become a mass entertainment, a luxury good, a job description and a kind of alternative religion for atheists. Art receives the sort of breathless media attention that was once reserved for celebrities and royals. But the art world is still opaque to outsiders. In Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton takes us on an unusual journey, exploring the most puzzling aspects of buying, selling, creating and exhibiting contemporary art. In a series of beautifully paced, fly-on-the-wall narratives, we witness the drama of a Christie's auction, the high jinks of Takashi Murakami's studios, life in a notorious art school seminar, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the back rooms of the Turner Prize and the watery wonderland of the Venice Biennale. Thornton's exceptional access never compromises her critical eye, making this book more than just a glancing survey or a simple gossipfest. Instead, she offers a rigorously researched and often funny account of the global marketplace-cum-playground of an ever-expanding number of artists, collectors, dealers, curators, and critics.

Why I want to read this book: I love art and this sounds like a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book review: Why Girls Are Weird

By Pamela Ribon

Reviewed by Natazzz

A few years ago I discovered the blog Pamie.com by writer Pamela Ribon, which I have been reading ever since. Here she shares personal accounts of her life as a writer, as well as what she gets up to in her spare time. The blog is quite popular and was already around ten years ago, when having a personal blog was still something unique. During those early years Ribon decided that her blog and the traffic it created might be an interesting topic for a novel and that's when Why Girls Are Weird was born.

Why Girls Are Weird (2003) tells the story of Anna Koval, who decides to start a personal blog. To make it more interesting, and mainly to entertain herself, she starts making things up. For example, that she is still together with her ex-boyfriend, whom she broke up with ages ago. Little does she realize that thousands and thousands of people are reading her blog every day, and believing her every word. She soon starts to receive tons of e-mails from her followers, whom she gets into complicated correspondence with. After all, it's not easy trying to remember what is her real life and what is her blog life. This only gets more complicated when she decides to meet a few of her readers, not to mention when her ex-boyfriend finds out she's been writing about him.

This novel is a collection of blog posts and e-mail correspondence, connected and brought to life by an accompanying story of Anna's daily life. I thought it made for a very interesting read. I love the different formats that were used, the general topic of the story behind one girl's blog and her online life versus her real life. It also helped a lot that both the Anna in the blog and the Anna behind the scenes are interesting, funny characters. She gets up to lots of stuff that seemed very recognizable. Not that I have ever made up a blog and spread lies about people, but some of the things she worries about and the trouble she gets into because of her blog are things that anyone can relate to.

After reading this novel I haven't figured out just exactly why girls are weird, although weird is a label that can certainly be applied to the main character. If you are looking for a modern themed novel, that will make you laugh as well as cringe, you should definitely check this one out.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Book review: Italian Neighbours

By Tim Parks
Published by Vintage Books

As an Italian who has been living in the UK for several years I have developed an ambiguous relationship with my home country: I have little praise for Italy but will defend it with fervent national pride if foreigners say anything negative about it. Unless the negativity is aimed at the current leadership of the country… but that’s another story.

So, when I decided to read Tim Parks’s Italian Neighbours – An Englishmen in Verona as part of the Italy in Books reading challenge 2011, I thought that I’d have to sigh and tut frequently at all the clichés I was sure to find. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I grinned, I chuckled, I laughed out loud and not one single frown crossed my face.

In Italian Neighbours we follow the writer and his wife during the difficult months of being the new people in town, which in this case is an Italian village nestled among the hills of the beautiful Veneto region. A witty and inquisitive observer, Parks’s descriptions of people and places are a pleasure to read and wonderfully evocative.

The characters that populate the pages of this book – from the local greengrocer to the lady who every morning sweeps the street in front of her house with a twig broom – are vividly portrayed. They are not caricatures but I am sure that anyone who grew up in a village with strong ties to its rural past will know someone just like that. I know I do!

Tim Parks does not offer an idyllic picture of Italy but certainly an endearing one, even when talking about potentially inflammatory topics such as public sector employees, taxes and private healthcare, which, in a different kind of book, would be at the centre of heated discussions.

A sort of survival manual, Italian Neighbours is an excellent read for both people who don’t know the country that well and for those who think they know it inside out.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Help! My wish list #28

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

We Are a Muslim, Please
By Zaiba Malik

Amazon's product description: For Zaiba Malik, growing up in Bradford in the ‘70s and ‘80s certainly has its moments – staying up all night during Ramadan with her father; watching mad Mr Aziz searching for his goat during Eid; dancing along to Top of the Pops (so long as no-one’s watching). And, of course, there’s her mother – whether she’s writing another ingratiating letter to the Queen or referring to Tom Jones as ‘Thumb Jone’. But Zaiba’s story is also one of anxiety and seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Growing up she is constantly torn between two identities: ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’. Alienated at school and confused at home, the racism she encounters as a child mirrors the horrors she experiences at the hands of Bangladeshi interrogators as a journalist years later. Five years after the 7/7 attacks galvanized debates about Muslim-British identity, We Are A Muslim, Please is a stirring and enchanting memoir. We see, through Zaiba’s childhood eyes, the poignancy of growing up in a world whose prejudices, contradictions and ambiguities are at once distressing and utterly captivating.

Why I want to read this book: It sounds like a witty and truthful account of what it means to grow up with two apparently opposing identities.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... Italian Summers

The only time my life in Italy seems to come close to the usual images most people have of it is in the summer. Though I spend most summers away – my teaching work ends for the season and I usually go to the US to visit my family – I still carry the memories of the summers I've spent in Italy. One memory in particular stands out:

One a.m. on a mid-summer night. I lay sprawled atop the bed, alone. My husband was asleep in our other bedroom because his proximity in our bed seemed to increase the temperature of the room. The heat was too intense, the fan blowing on me providing precious little relief from the all-enveloping warmth. The zanzare – the mosquitoes – tormented me, buzzing past my ears whenever sleep beckoned, alighting on my too-sensitive, exposed skin until I was forced to take shelter beneath a bed sheet in spite of the heat.

Facing toward the wide-open window, desperate for some sort of breeze, I found myself distracted anew. A bright light shone in my direction in spite of the late hour, coming and going – not only flickering, but interrupted regularly enough to be noticeable. The light originated from a flat two buildings over, catty-cornered to my own. In the middle of such a restless night, it was more than enough to keep me awake. Without my glasses, I opened my eyes and squinted into the light as it came and went yet again.

With my imperfect vision, I could barely make out the shape of someone on their balcony, moving to and fro. Curious in spite of myself, I sat up and squinted harder, trying to see what they were doing. It seemed that they were doing chores – mopping floors or ironing clothes – and passing in front of the television from time to time. That seemed to explain everything.

And still, I was even more curious. I got my glasses and put them on, then turned to watch my neighbor once more. Now that I saw clearly, I spied a middle-aged woman, clad only in her bra and a gauzy slip, ironing clothes on her balcony. The light from the television would be blocked when she passed in front of it to hang the freshly-ironed clothes up on the edge of the living-room door frame. Sometimes she folded them and stacked them neatly on her sofa, always passing in front the television, always blocking the light for a brief moment as she did so.

I was both embarrassed at having seen her in such a state of undress – I am American, after all, and such things are not the norm where I'm from – and pleasantly surprised by her cleverness. Of course, she probably didn't expect that anyone would see her there, and she was just doing what she needed to do to get that unpleasant chore done.

Still, I admired her ingenuity. What better time was there to do the ironing, anyway? It was a chore I hated with a passion, because of the heat and the sweating and discomfort it brought me. Maybe it was the same for her, too? At any rate, I knew I'd probably never be able to do that. The idea might occur to me, but I doubted that I'd have the nerve to go through with it. I'm too reticent, too shy and frankly, too insecure about my physical appearance to risk being seen that way.

I made a point of lying down again, taking off my glasses and trying to sleep. The effort was futile for some time. It wasn't until she was done, the clothes ironed and the television and lights of her flat switched off, that I was able to find something close to slumber. The middle hours of the night passed, cooled slightly, and then around four-thirty a.m., the birds began to sing and the sky started to lighten.

A slight breeze blew through my flat, making the air from the oscillating fan seem a degree or two cooler as the mosquitoes ceased their fly-bys. I drifted off to sleep at last.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Book review: Teach Us to Sit Still

By Tim Parks
Published by Harvill Secker

In Teach Us to Sit Still - A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing, British novelist, essayist and translator Tim Parks describes his difficult path to wellbeing – both physical and mental.

Page by page, Parks details a long series of hospital tests and discussions with doctors and specialists both in Italy and in the UK, he takes us to India for a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor and, after sleepless nights of Internet research, he shares his enthusiasm for finding a book that seems to promise an end to his pain.

The authors of this book, two Californian doctors, suggest that the discomfort in the pelvic area might be caused by muscle tension. Having found nothing wrong with his bladder or prostate – but still in excruciating pain - Parks is willing to believe this new possibility and the more he thinks about it, the more he realises that he’s been thinking too much his whole life. He’s hardly ever felt thoroughly relaxed.

He thus embarks on a journey of mental rediscovery. He starts a programme of breathing exercises in the comfort of his home. Still relatively sceptic about anything remotely “New Age”, he then goes on to see a shiatsu practitioner and, in the end, he gives in to meditation and joins those retreats that he had always sneered at.

It is a winding path of taking one step forward and three steps backwards but it is a path, nonetheless, that allows Parks to find a balance between the daily needs of his working and family life and the equally important necessities of his mind and body.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting but I extremely enjoyed it. Though I can see now that this was the most logical approach, I thought that Parks would concentrate on different kinds of alternative therapies without including his experience with Western medicine. I think I was sidetracked by the book cover!

A journey that starts in the middle wouldn’t be that much of a journey. And I feel almost guilty but I did find the description of the medical staff and their attitudes funny – despite, of course, sympathising with the fact that, in the grip of his pains, Parks might not have found them amusing at all. Perhaps I could have done with knowing less about the writer’s bowel movements and similar, rather intimate, details but, hey, writing is an intimate experience, right?

I had to chuckle and completely empathise with the account of Parks’s first attempts at meditation. Who hasn’t been sitting there, trying to empty their head of any thoughts and ending up having a silent but verbose fight with themselves to achieve that, only to fail? What makes this book such a pleasure to read is that Parks is not trying to show us the way, he doesn’t portray himself as an enlightened and holier-than-us person who we can only look up to. He’s simply sharing his experiences. It’s up to us if we want to learn something from them.

What I also wasn’t expecting – but then, I wasn’t familiar with Parks if not only by name – were his reflections and musings on authors, politicians, art and, generally, culture. A very educated man, Tim Parks is able to draw the most interesting conclusions and ask the most curious questions, linking subjects that you would not normally associate with each other, such as a painting by Velázquez and the prostate!


This book has the potential to teach a number of things. Sitting still is only one of them!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Tomorrow Pamplona Blog Tour 2011, Gig 4

Jan van Mersbergen and Laura Watkinson, respectively author and translator of Tomorrow Pamplona, are on a blog tour organised by Peirene Press.

Here is what I asked them...

To what extent was Jan involved in the translation process and what do you both feel has been gained and/or lost during the transition from Dutch to English - both linguistically and culturally? Perhaps you could give us an example of a particularly successful solution or of a compromise that had to be reluctantly made.

Jan:

In the first place I think a translation is wonderful, because readers now can read the novel in English. My English isn't good enough to write a novel, that would be a disaster, so I only can write in Dutch and our language is really small. I guess about 25 million people read Dutch (Holland, Belgium, Surinam, Antillen). English is big!
It's hard for me to judge if the translation is ok. When I read my novel now it's like reading an English novel. It feels English. That's a good thing.
Laura did a great job and worked on her own for most of the time. She had some clever questions about the story, about the boxer, about the conversations in the car. I really gave her my Dutch novel and hoped for the best. I've heard writers can stick to their book and their language. I didn't. Dutch is my language and I know how to say things in Dutch. In English, millions and millions of people can do a lot better... and a few can turn my book into an English book. Thanks Laura!

Laura:
Jan was the perfect writer for any translator. He made it clear that he was available to answer any questions I might have, but that he was going to leave it up to me to get on with the job. I worked through the book until I’d reached a point where I had just a few points I wanted to talk through with Jan and then we met up in a café in Amsterdam to discuss them. I’m sure he thought that some of my questions were pretty odd! When you’re translating, you sometimes get hung up on tiny details. The meaning seems perfectly obvious to the author, but when you start to put something into English, you might find that you’re not quite sure of the tone of voice, for example, or you can’t exactly picture how a particular conversation or sequence of actions works or if perhaps there’s more significance to a certain line than just the literal meaning. The answers might have no impact on your final translation, but sometimes it’s just good to know for yourself. It was great to be able to talk through those points with Jan and some of the queries resolved themselves quite simply as I was talking to him. Jan also read the translation before publication – I was really relieved to hear that he was happy with it.
Meike from Peirene Press was also a great help, as we had a number of useful chats and exchanges of emails. Translating can be quite a lonely experience, so it’s great to be able to talk things through with someone you trust.
As for whether anything has been gained or lost during the translation, I can’t really judge that, as I think I’ve been buried too deeply in the words to have an overall picture. On a very micro level, I will say that the English text has gained a ‘please’ where the Dutch had none. Conversely, it lost a low metal bar or guardrail along an Amsterdam canal. Any Dutch reader knows these guardrails, but when I found myself starting to explain what they were in the English translation, I decided that the guardrail didn’t in fact need to be there. Oh, and the waffles that Danny eats right at the end of the book? They are in fact ‘gevulde koeken’ in the original text, a Dutch treat that the Van Dale Dutch-English dictionary describes as ‘almond paste cakes’. Mmm, tasty! So, rather than explain, I turned them into waffles, something that’s just as likely as a snack in the Netherlands, but which is also recognisable to English-speaking readers.

Click on
this link to follow Jan and Laura on their tour!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Help! My wish list #27

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy
By Rachel Cusk

Amazon's product description: When prize-winning author Rachel Cusk decides to travel to Italy for a summer with her husband and two young children she has no idea of the trials and wonders that lie in store. Their journey leads them to both the expected – the Piero della Francesca trail and queues at the Vatican – and the surprising – an amorous Scottish ex-pat and a longing for home – all seen through Cusk’s sharp and humane perspective. Exploring the desire to travel and to escape, art and its inspirations, beauty and ugliness, and the challenge of balancing domestic life with creativity, The Last Supper is a wonderful travel book about life on the most famous art trail in the world, from one of Britain’s most pre-eminent writers.

Why I want to read this book: I'm always interested in seeing my country through the eyes of foreigners, even in writing.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Book review: Sing You Home

By Jodi Picoult
Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Being a fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels – and having always received positive feedback from friends whom I had recommended them to – I couldn’t wait to read her latest work, Sing You Home. Now that I have, I remember all that makes her a great writer: an elegant style, thorough research, tri-dimensional characters and, last but not least, a good story.

Always thought-provoking, Sing You Home is no exception.

At the beginning of the novel we meet Zoe and Max Baxter. They have been married for nine years and have spent the best part of them trying to conceive a baby; naturally at first and then through assisted conception methods. Zoe’s last miscarriage, however, marks a turning point for their relationship. Zoe wishes to undergo a new cycle of IVF treatment, while Max is unwilling to face further stress and disappointment. They divorce.

At this very delicate time in her life, Zoe - a professional music therapist - is asked to help with the case of a suicidal teenage girl by Vanessa, a high school counsellor. Vanessa quickly becomes a trusted friend. One that Zoe doesn’t seem able to spend a single day without. One that makes her laugh when she most needs it; one that is always there for her; one that she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

And that’s how Vanessa Shaw, former business acquaintance-cum-best friend, becomes Zoe’s wife in the best of happy endings.

The only thing that would make this beautiful couple even more perfect would be the addition of a child to their family. Suddenly, Zoe remembers the three frozen embryos left over from her last IVF cycle: having had a hysterectomy after complications arising from her last miscarriage, her only chance to becoming a biological mother is to have Vanessa carry her baby. All she needs is the authorization of her ex husband to use the embryos.

In the meantime, Max has been going through some radical transformation. Following a spiralling descent into the depths of alcoholism and an alcohol-induced car accident, Max decides to join his brother’s church and follow the leadership of Pastor Clive. The conservative Eternal Glory Church couldn’t be more set against the “deprivation” of the “homosexual lifestyle” and does all that it can to persuade Max that giving his consent to have his “pre-born children” raised by a lesbian couple would be a mistake.

All this leads the way to court, where Max and Zoe will be at the centre of a history-making legal battle for the custody of the frozen embryos.

I have tried to be brief but Sing You Home is such a richly structured novel that it is hard to not want to disclose more. Narrated from the alternating points of view of Zoe, Max and Vanessa, readers will have a full understanding of all the emotions and circumstances that make each character think and behave in a certain way. While reading this book I cheered, I felt contempt, I got angry, I cried. Picoult deals with a number of contemporary issues – from IVF to same-sex relationships – that are unlikely to leave you indifferent.

Ultimately, Sing You Home is a novel about passion, be it for the freedom of being who you are or for the belief that you can control who you are.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tips for aspiring writers – part 5

Amanda Sington-Williams on: The first chapter.

***
Right, so - you’ve got your main character(s) and you’ve decided which is the best type of narrator to tell your story. You’ve either got a chapter by chapter plot with a detailed plan written out with military style precision or you’ve got an idea running round your head that you want to explore. Perhaps your novel plan exists somewhere in between: notes on the back of an envelope or a spidergram.

Anyhow, there you are with a blank screen/paper in front of you and you’re trying to think of that winning first line. But the time spent in this task might be better spent writing. So just write. Let the words flow and imagine that you are the character. This will be the first of many drafts so there is plenty of time to think of the opening sentence and it’s always a possibility that once you’ve finished the first draft of the novel, it will be apparent that it needs to start either earlier or later in the plot.


So, how to start? Firstly, locate your main character, somewhere in the first page, if not the first paragraph. Your reader will then be able to create a picture in their mind of where the story opens. Location refers to anything from the grander scale of a particular country or to the box room in a terraced house. It also refers to time. If the novel is set during a particular period this should probably be clear by the end of the first page.

Locate the character and where possible, without using adjectives and too much description and through the voice of the narrator, tell the reader a little about the main character. This can be done through their body language, how they view the world, what they are thinking and how they communicate.

Without giving the story away, seed clues about what lies on the pages ahead so the reader will be compelled to find out what happens next. What is the dilemma? How will the character deal with the issue that the narrator is hinting at? This is what you want the readers to be asking themselves and this is why they will keep reading.

As a rough guide, it is a good idea to have introduced all the main characters by the third chapter. But there are no hard and fast rules in writing fiction. If you want to introduce another main character in Chapter Eleven, for example, that’s fine as long as you know the reasons behind the decision.

***
Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And don’t miss the next instalment on August 11th: Dialogue.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Help! My wish list #26

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

The Secret of Lost Things
By Sheridan Hay

Amazon's product description: A stunning debut from a new Australian writer -- the story of a treasure hunt through a vast New York bookshop. At eighteen, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little more than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city she's read so much about. The moment she steps into the Arcade bookstore, she knows she has found a home. The gruff owner, Mr. Pike, gives her a job sorting through huge piles of books and helping the rest of the staff -- a group as odd and idiosyncratic as the characters in a Dickens novel. There's Pearl, the loving, motherly transsexual who runs the cash register; Oscar, who shares his extensive, eclectic knowledge with Rosemary, but furiously rejects her attempts at a more personal relationship; and Arthur Pick, who supervises the art section and demonstrates a particular interest in photography books featuring naked men. The store manager Walter Geist is an albino, a lonely figure even within the world of the Arcade. When Walter's eyesight begins to fail, Rosemary becomes his assistant. And so it is Rosemary who first reads the letter from someone seeking to 'place' a lost manuscript by Herman Melville. Mentioned in Melville's personal correspondence but never published, the work is of inestimable value, and proof of its existence brings the simmering ambitions and rivalries of the Arcade staff to a boiling point. Based on actual documents the author found while doing research on Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure that captures the excitement of discovering a long-lost manuscript, and an evocative portrait of life in a bookshop.

Why I want to read this book: If you know me at least a little by now, you should now that a novel featuring books, people who love books, people who sell books and long-lost manuscripts is exactly my cup of tea!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

LGBT reading challenge - June reviews

Thanks again for joining the LGBT reading challenge 2011! If you haven't joined yet, don't worry: there is still time.

Below is a list of all the book reviews that have been submitted in June (via
this link). Hopefully you will all find new and interesting titles to explore - I, for one, am sure to gather another few books to add to my TBR list!

Whether you already know the books that are being discussed or not, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the other blogs. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not simply a competition, more of an opportunity to share ideas and bond over our common interests!

Let's begin!

01. Natazzz read and reviewed Pages for you by Sylvia Brownrigg.
02. Dorla read and reviewed Room by Emma Donoghue.

03. Juliet read and reviewed The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.
04. Lucy read and reviewed Carol by Patricia Highsmith.
05. J Seth read and reviewed Men Who Love Men by William J. Mann.

Don't forget, one June reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of
Flick by Geraldine Meade, courtesy of Little Island!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

"Italy in Books" - June reviews

Thanks again for joining the "Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011! What? You haven't joined yet? No worries, there is time to sign up until the very last day of the year...

Below you can find a list of all the book reviews submitted in June (via this link). I am sure that everyone will find it useful to learn about new and interesting reading ideas - in fact, I suspect that as a result of this challenge my TBR list will expand dangerously!

Whether you know the books that are being discussed or have never heard of them, I strongly encourage you to leave comments below and on the blogs themselves. I want to hear your voices! Despite its name, the reading challenge is not a mere competition, rather an opportunity to share ideas and bond over common interests!

Let's begin!

01. Barbara read and reviewed The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.
02. Scribacchina read and reviewed Pompeii by Robert Harris.

03. Juliet read and reviewed The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.
04. Maggie read and reviewed Recipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino.

05. Gretchen read and reviewed The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe.
06. Patricia read and reviewed Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon.
07. Dorla read and reviewed The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi.
08. Jeane read Casa Agnelli by Marco Ferrante. Scroll down to read her review.
09. Roberta read and reviewed Casa Nostra: Viaggio nei Misteri d’Italia by Camilla Cederna.
10. Tina read and reviewed Eat Love Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert.
11. Scribacchina read and reviewed The Art Thief by Noah Charney.
12. Pete read and reviewed See Naples and Die by Penelope Green.
13. Laura read and reviewed The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner.
14. Laura read and reviewed The Italian Quarter by Domenica de Rosa.
15. Laura read and reviewed The Lovely Shoes by Susan Shreve.
16. Laura read and reviewed Frederico, the Mouse Violinist by Mayra Calvani.
17. Kathy read and reviewed The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri.
18. Lindy read and reviewed Ask Me If I'm Happy by Kimberly Menozzi.
19. Lara read Una barca nel bosco by Paola Mastrocola. Scroll down to read her review.
20. Lynn read and reviewed Tuscany for Beginners by Imogene Edwards-Jones.

Reviews by non bloggers

Casa Agnelli by Marco Ferrante. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
Even though I am not Italian and didn't grow up in Italy, I did grow up surrounded by Italian cars, Italian football..... Fiat was a standard thing in my life, which I 'embraced' and went crazy for Alfa Romeo. Juventus I didn't embrace and became Milanista. But the Agnelli family has always been around in some way.
So reading this book about this huge family was an interesting thought and in the end was very good. The family was walked through member by member in an interesting way which linked one to another in a story. Different sides were shown and the Agnelli life was explained from the beginning until the present.
It is a very interesting, easy and fast-paced book to read.

Una barca nel bosco by Paola Mastrocola. Read and reviewed by Lara:
The protagonist of “Una barca nel bosco” (A boat in the wood) by Paola Mastrocola is Gaspare, a teenager from Southern Italy. Gaspare is such a skilled student that his teacher encourages him to move to Torino together with his mother, and to study at the Liceo Classico.
The contrast between the quiet environment of the island where Gaspare has lived all his young life and the chaotic Torino could not be greater. He is alone, at the beginning: he likes poetry, translating from Latin and Greek; he cannot be accepted by other teenagers, who prefer uncomplicated life and isolate him. Gaspare understands what he has to do: he stops to get good marks at school, learn how to play with videogames. He wears a mask and immediately is a part of the group…but this is not enough... all his life, his choices are conditioned. He has to play a role: he is like “a boat in the wood”, outside of his environment, and cannot escape.
After the high school the University starts: Gaspare graduates in Law, in spite of his secret dream, to study as a Latinist. Life is always disappointing, with not so many friends and arising difficulties: nature could constitute a pleasant environment for him, but there are no colors and oxygen in Torino, as it was in the island where Gaspare lived his first years. His father is still there and he often thinks about him, about the blue of the sea and the sky.
Life will lead our protagonist towards the right decisions for himself: after his mother’s and aunt’s deaths, Gaspare has to run the family activity. Since he loves nature and gardening, he has transformed his house in a wood: trees and plants will be companions in the “Bosco Mondo”, a magic world where he is surrounded by real friends and where he does not feel discomfort and disappointment.
At the end, Gaspare talks about his life and expectation with his father, and here we discover what happened years before, and why he had to remain in Torino. Gaspare’s father died when he still was at the Liceo: how hard life had been with our protagonist… However, this is only apparently a cruel conclusion: Gaspare has grown up and he is now a mature guy. He knows what he wants and needs, and he has not to wear anymore a mask to be part of a group…he is now part of his “Bosco Mondo”.
I would recommend to read this book: the reader will appreciate the simple language and the vivid descriptions of Gaspare’s life. But, as soon as the reader proceeds in the reading, the true meaning of each episode, object, action, will be clear. Gaspare is alone against all: the town, the family, the world itself: anyway, he learns from his mistakes and discovers how to re-invent his life or, at least, how to accept it.


And remember, one June reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of Roma by Steven Saylor, courtesy of Constable & Robinson. Buona fortuna!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Book review: Tomorrow Pamplona

By Jan van Mersbergen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
Published by
Pereine Press

Were it a film, Tomorrow Pamplona would keep your eyes glued to the screen. Being a book, it keeps your eyes glued to its pages and makes your fingers itch with anticipation!

To celebrate its publication day, here is what some lucky readers had to say about Jan van Mersbergen's enthralling novel...


Sonya from London said:

This is the first time in a while that I have read a book written by a foreign author. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I would enjoy it but I really did, so much so that I found it extremely hard to put down. Praise has to be given also to Laura Watkinson who made a really good job of translating this novel into English.

The storyline follows a professional boxer who is fleeing from an unhappy love and a family man who likes to escape his dull routine once a year by going to the annual Pamplona Bull Run. These are two strangers who meet on the road and end up travelling together. The boxer doesn’t really know where he’s going, just that he has to escape. So when the family man asks him if he wants to go with him to the Pamplona Bull Run, he does. They both know that eventually they will have to return home though.

This book was cleverly written and I certainly found it to be thought provoking. It’s not very long either, which is good sometimes when you don’t have too much time to read. It’s given me a taste for European Literature now and I hope to get the chance to read more books like this.

David from Bolton said:

I have to admit that Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan Van Mersbergen probably wouldn't have been my first choice of book but I'm glad I was offered the opportunity to read it. It's a short novel which could easily be read during a long train journey or a day on the beach.

Without spoiling anything, Tomorrow Pamplona is the story of two men's road trip to the famous Pamplona bull running. Robert, a family man, attends every year, and on the way picks up a bedraggled hitchhiker called Danny, a boxer running away from something. As the book progresses we learn more about the Running of the Bulls from Robert and we learn Danny's backstory and the reason for his flight.

The book is short but is fast paced, tying in with the idea of the speed of the bulls, and Van Mersbergen doesn't overload us with too much of the actual journey, instead using it as an opportunity to introduce us to the outgoing Robert, secretive Danny and the growth of the friendship between them.

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting the story to twist the way it did and for my opinion of the characters to change, which is a credit to the skill of Van Mersbergen.

I'd also like to give some praise to the translator, Laura Watkinson. I've read some translated books before where the conversations can be stilted and it is obvious a translation has taken place. Reading Tomorrow Pamplona, I forgot it was a translated novel and this greatly adds to the pleasure as you aren't constantly mentally correcting errors.

I'd rate this book as 4/5. There were still some unanswered questions at the end which always tends to frustrate me but I'd certainly read another of the author's books if I saw one.

Alice from London said:

De Morgen tells us to expect ‘an intense reading experience,’ and Van Mersbergen doesn’t disappoint. This is the story of two very different men both looking for an escape; however fleeting. Their destinies collide when paunchy family man Robert decides to stop for Danny Clare, a professional boxer, whom he finds standing on a roadside, hitching a lift in the pouring rain.

Robert is driving from Amsterdam to Pamplona, Spain, for the annual Bull Run. It is the one weekend a year that allows him to break free from the confines of his suburban family routine and experience life at its most exhilarating. As Robert explains to Danny: ‘It’s a celebration. It’s danger. It’s real life.’ Danny is running away from something and with a little persuasion and macho-banter from Robert, quickly decides to join him for the journey and experience the heady rush of Pamplona for himself. The two-day road trip takes them through France, to the wine regions of the South and into Spain. Despite being forced into such close proximity, the two men reveal very little about themselves; the oppressive silence seems to drag on indefinitely, the atmosphere in the car becoming stomach-churningly tense as they speed towards Pamplona.

We learn about their characters from Van Mersbergen’s acute and delicate observations and Danny’s frequent and vivid flashbacks. Through these we eventually discover the source of his emotional turmoil - Danny’s beautiful and mysterious lover Ragna and her villainous wheel-chair bound boss, Gerard Varon. Outwardly blank, and consistently defensive, Danny is struggling to contain the raging whirl of emotions which threaten to capsize his world. Robert is not given an internal monologue and as a result sometimes seemed almost two-dimensional; a little more detail about his past and personality would have allowed a reader to feel something other than indifference towards him. However Van Mersbergen’s sparse yet concise prose style is pitch-perfect; unaffected and unassuming. He skilfully builds the tension, layer upon layer, until the reader is writhing in anticipation.

My favourite scene was a brief interlude, an overnight stop in the South of France where Danny encounters an elderly woman taking her nightly swim in the river. Her character was superbly drawn and the scene provided a much-needed glimmer of beauty in what is essentially a bleak novel. Nonetheless, it is a masterly exploration of the shifting dynamics between strangers, the destructive nature of obsessive love and our perceptions of modern masculinity. I would recommend reading it in one sitting to fully appreciate the tense cinematic qualities it conjures.

Friday, 3 June 2011

LGBT challenge - Link for June reviews and prize draw

It’s June and the LGBT reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of
Little Island, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Flick by Geraldine Meade.


To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

• Read a book - fiction or non-fiction - whose author is LBGT, whose topic is LGBT and/or whose characters (even minor ones) are LGBT
• Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking
here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it
here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Happy reading!

LGBT challenge - May winner

6 interesting reviews this month!

Did you miss the reviews? Don't worry, follow this
link and catch up with all the bookish goodness!

And if you’ve just come across the LGBT reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking
here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of
Serpent's Tail, will receive a copy of Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett is:

Natazzz, who read and reviewed Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter.

"Italy in Books" - Link for June reviews and prize draw

It’s June and the “Italy in Books” reading challenge 2011 continues!

This month, courtesy of Constable & Robinson, two of you will have the chance to win a copy of Roma by Steven Saylor.


To participate in the prize draw, all you have to do is:

• Read a book set in Italy or about Italian culture & language
• Share your review (or opinion, if it sounds less intimidating!) by clicking here

Easy, isn't it?

IMPORTANT! Please note that you need to have signed up for the challenge to be eligible for the prize draw. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do it here (full instructions here). If you can't remember whether you have or haven't signed up, you can check whether your name is listed here.

Buona lettura!

"Italy in Books" - May winner

15 reviews: mostly books that I wasn't familiar with. Another good month!

Did you miss the reviews? Fear not, follow
this link and catch up with all the bookish goodness! And if you’ve just come across the Italy in Books reading challenge 2011, you can find all the information you need by clicking here. Joining couldn’t be easier!

And now, the long-awaited moment of the prize draw!

The lucky reviewer who, courtesy of Glen Grymes Husak, will receive a copy of
Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy is:

Maggie, who read and reviewed Summer School by Domenica de Rosa.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Help! My wish list #25

One more title from my ever-expanding reading wish list.

** The cover image is for illustrative purposes only. If you are a publisher and would kindly like to offer me a copy of this book for review, I will change the cover so as to reflect the edition received. **

Strangers
By Taichi Yamada

Amazon's product description: Middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter Harada returns one night to the dilapidated downtown district of Tokyo where he grew up. There, at the theatre, he meets a likable man who looks exactly like his long-dead father. And so begins Harada’s ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they had died so many years before.

Why I want to read this book: It sounds mysterious and it's set in Tokyo, a city that constantly fascinates me. This books ticks two big boxes!