Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Books through my lens #2

I've recently discovered how much I enjoy visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum! This picture was taken last year and shows the new V&A Bookshop, which opened in 2009 and is so much more than a place that sells books. It is an art installation in its own right and I highly recommend a visit!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Help! My wish list #32

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. **

Fun Home
By Alison Bechdel

Amazon's product description: One of the most eagerly anticipated graphic memoirs of recent years, Fun Home is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, it's a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form.


Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned 'fun home', as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive.

Why I want to read this book: Having enjoyed Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For strip, I'm curious to see how she deals with the portrait of a dysfunctional family.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

In conversation with... Jeremy Duns

To celebrate the new release of Song of Treason - published this month by Simon & Schuster - author Jeremy Duns kindly agreed to answer a few questions on Book After Book.

Enjoy...

Hello Jeremy! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your latest release. After Free Agent, Song of Treason is the latest novel in your Paul Dark series. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Yes, Song Of Treason (which was published in hardback last year as Free Country) is a spy novel set in Italy in 1969. It follows my protagonist, Paul Dark, a reluctant double agent, as he tries to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to alter the course of the Cold War. In the meantime, he has to avoid being killed by both the British and the Russians.

Where did your interest in the Cold War era stem from?

A: I’m not sure, really. I liked reading spy stories when I was young, and then enjoyed Len Deighton and John le Carré in my twenties – I even wrote one of my dissertations at university partly about le Carré. But it was really pure chance. I was early for a meeting with someone and wandered into a second-hand bookshop, where I found an old copy of a Sixties spy novel, The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall. Something just clicked, and from then on I really got into the genre, especially spy fiction from the Cold War. And then, slowly, I started wondering what it would be like if someone were to write that sort of novel today, with the knowledge we now have about the Cold War from declassified files and so on.

The Paul Dark series is often referred to as the Paul Dark Trilogy. Are you really going to make Dark retire after his third adventure or can your fans hope to read more about him?

A: It is a trilogy, but it’s not the last Paul Dark novel. I have signed a new contract with my publisher and have started work on the next one, which takes place in 1971. The first three books take Dark on a particular journey, one that I had roughly mapped out in my head when I was writing the first one. The fourth book takes Dark on a new, but I hope rather different, journey.

What kind of research do you carry out and how much of it goes into your novels? Do you complete all of your research in advance so that you can then dive into the writing process undisturbed or is it more a research-as-you-go sort of process?

A: I spend a lot of time on research – I wasn’t even born in 1969, and I want it to feel as real as I can make it. With Free Agent, I researched for about a year before I started writing, but then did a lot more as I went along and questions I had cropped up. And that year of research has also fed into the other books. Some of it is reading declassified documents – an enormous number have been released in the last decade or so – but I also spend time tracking down guidebooks from the era, as well as magazines, memoirs, maps and that sort of thing. I spent some of my childhood in Nigeria, where Free Agent is mostly set, and my parents had kept a lot of material about the country, and of course I asked them lots of questions. For Song Of Treason, I went to Rome for a week and checked out some of the things I wanted Dark to do. For example, there’s a pivotal scene in the modern art museum so I went there and found some information about what it had been like in 1969 – what works of art were on display, what the benches in the rooms looked like, and so on. I spent an afternoon in an amazing bookshop in Rome being shown all sorts of pamphlets from the time by the very patient owner. I also do interviews, and try to pick the brains of people who I think will be able to help me on some of the more esoteric material. Philip Willan, who was The Guardian’s Rome correspondent for many years but who also writes for The Times, wrote a great book about terrorism in Italy that was central to my research for Song Of Treason, and he very kindly read a draft of the book and gave me some pointers. For Free Agent, I spoke to a journalist who, unknown to me, had been with MI6 in Africa in the Sixties – that was useful! For the next book, The Moscow Option, I did a lot of research on a real event that took place in 1945 on a tiny island in the Baltic, the recovery of the body of a U-boat captain. I interviewed some people who had been around when it happened, read the police report, visited his grave and pored through local newspapers. Then I threw Paul Dark into the mix and built a thriller around the facts.

Your novels would translate incredibly well into films. Would you like to see Paul Dark on the big screen or are you protective of your creation?

A: Thanks for saying that! The books have been optioned by the BBC, and a script for a TV series is being written at the moment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. All writers are protective of their work, of course, but I don’t think I’m overly so – it would be fantastic to see it adapted. I watched the first episode of The Hour the other day and felt a terrible yearning for them to do something similar with my novels! We’ll see if it happens.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: They do disrupt my schedule a bit, but that’s entirely my own fault. When I get close to deadline, I get my wife to physically disconnect the internet and hide the modem from me. On the other hand, I sometimes find that I get more work done when I flit between things – writing articles on my blog has certainly helped with my other work. In general, I think the internet can be extremely useful for getting feedback from readers and generating interest, but there’s no magic button you can push and then everyone will buy your book. I perhaps went slightly bonkers with social media when I started. I remember someone telling me a while ago that they’d been into a bookshop in New York and asked for Free Agent and the bookseller had said: ‘Oh, I know all about that guy – he won’t stop spamming me on Facebook!’ Which I think was slightly unfair, as you have to sign up to my group to get any messages from me, but point taken. I send fewer messages now. I find Twitter fun, and find that it’s usually when I’m not trying to promote my books that people buy them. People who don’t use Twitter seem to think it’s just people saying what they had for lunch, but that’s like saying everyone on Facebook plays Farmville. Like any medium, it depends what you do with it. I’ve had a lot of great contacts via social media, with readers as well as other writers. As long as you don’t go crazy and start irritating bookshop-owners in New York, you’re probably doing it right.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: Don’t follow too close or I’ll spot you! First rule of surveillance. Seriously, I think if you want to be published my best piece of advice would be to keep writing more words, rather than continually fiddling with the first two chapters trying to make them perfect. I think it’s relatively easy to write a couple of great chapters – it’s much harder to write 80,000 to 100,000 words in a coherent narrative, and that’s the job. So write a really bad novel first, but make sure you finish it. Then you can go back and make it a great one.

And lastly, is there anything that we should know about Jeremy Duns that we don’t know yet?

A: I’m a brilliant dancer. Nobody else knows that but me.

Thank you for your time!

A: Thank you for having me.

I hope you enjoyed reading Jeremy's answers as much as I did. And it only gets better: Jeremy is generously offering five signed copies of Song of Treason! For a chance to win, all you have to do is click here and complete the form. The competition is open to European readers only and will close on 31st August at 1pm.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... The Bells Tell Me Where I Am

It's still August, but already I find myself thinking ahead. Autumn is coming soon, bringing with it longer, cooler nights, brisk and breezy days, and skies of moody, mottled grey or the clearest blue one can imagine.

Unfortunately in Italy – at least in the part where I now live – autumn is quick to pass. I sometimes joke that no sooner have a few leaves turned color than they're being blown about by the wind or steeping in a rainwater brew on the sides of the road. Here and then gone in what feels like an instant.

Along with winter, this is my favorite season. One of the things I love most is how the sounds of everyday life change. With the crisp, fresher air everything resounds somehow sharper and more clearly than just a few weeks – or even days – before. What was once humid and distant is now close by. What was muffled and hazy has become familiar and vivid once more.

Darkness falls early and the church bells ring deeper and deeper in the night even though their appointed hour doesn't change. I often hear them whether I'm strolling through the parking lot outside a Modena shopping center with my husband or if I'm home in Reggio Emilia, where the sound carries clearly from the chiesa at the end of my street.

The memory comes over me, an almost primal feeling, one without a proper context since the sound of these bells so different from the churchbells I heard in my childhood and my youth. The melancholy they carry goes to the heart of me and pulls me closer to my new home.

They chime for mass on Sunday as the sun rises clear of the buildings across the street from me. They resound in the morning after the rest of the city is awake – my cue to get up and out of bed when I've slept in too long. They call the evening hours as I pass through the piazzas on my way from one lesson to another. When they do, I feel as though I'm right where I should be.

In short, though I've never really known them before, they're welcoming me home.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Help! My wish list #31

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. **

Hold Tight
By Harlan Coben

Amazon's product description: Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they'd become the type of overprotective parents who spy on their kids. But their sixteen-year-old son Adam has been unusually distant lately, and after the suicide of his classmate Spencer, they can't help but worry. They install a sophisticated spy program on Adam's computer, and within days they are jolted by a message from an unknown correspondent addressed to their son: 'Just stay quiet and all safe.' Meanwhile, browsing through an online memorial for Spencer, Betsy Hill is struck by a photo that appears to have been taken on the night of her son's death and he wasn't alone. She thinks it is Adam Baye standing just outside the camera's range, but when Adam goes missing, it soon becomes clear that something deep and sinister has infected their community...

Why I want to read this book: I don't read enough thrillers and this seems like a good start to rectify the situation!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Books through my lens #1

I can't remember which airport I took this picture at but it was a good three or four years ago and it was the first time that I had ever seen books and magazines sold in a vending machine.

My first thought was: "What a wonderful idea!"
My second thought was: "Will the books be damaged by the fall?"

Good idea in case of desperate need but I'm not in a rush to try it out!

Monday, 15 August 2011

LGBT reading challenge - August 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 August (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. Lucy read and reviewed Wilde's Last Stand by Philip Hoare.
02. Juliet read and reviewed Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

Don't forget, one August reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica, edited by Barbara Cardy and courtesy of Constable & Robinson!


Saturday, 13 August 2011

Book review: Inkariy - La profezia del sole

By Hernàn Huarache Mamani
Translated into Italian by Anna Montanari

Published by Edizioni Piemme

Atao is a curandero - a traditional folk healer or shaman in Latin America - invited to hold a seminar in Milan. Aurora, a young Italian doctor interested in alternative healing practices, is a member of his audience. As soon as their eyes meet, they feel a spark of recognition. It is not clear why or how they’re meant to be together but they know that they have to.

The passion that Atao awakens in her is so strong that, when the curandero returns to his home country, Aurora decides to leave everything behind her and follow him to Peru. What comes next, however, is not a love story in the strictest sense.

What they embark upon is a path of discovery. Atao, more experienced in the rituals and the symbolism used to thank and revere the land, the water and the other elements, is a great source of learning for Aurora. In turn, she soon finds a certain predisposition and affinity with the mysteries of the universe that will complement and enhance his knowledge.

I first learnt of Hernàn Huarache Mamani and his book - whose title translates as The Prophecy of the Sun - during an interview with the author that I followed on Twitter. He was talking about the new era that we are approaching and the way we need to change, which immediately caught my interest. I simply had to read the book*.

Now that I have, I have mixed feelings about it. The narrative is easy to follow – even though at times I found it too unbelievable to take it seriously - but it raises questions rather than giving answers, which is what I was personally hoping for. It is a book that I will definitely give as present to friends who have yet to question the way we are leading our lives but not to others who, like me, are now looking for more.

It is clear that the author knows his subject inside out - which often gave Atao an air of know-it-all that didn’t help him be a very lovable character - and I would be extremely interested in reading a work of non-fiction by him. Despite there certainly being a right audience for this book the way it is, I think that, with a different format, it would have ticked more of my boxes.


*The book doesn't seem to be currently available in English.

Friday, 12 August 2011

"Italy in Books" - August 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 August (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 Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissinotto.

02. Lindy read and reviewed Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie.
03. Parrish read and reviewed Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco.
04. Lindy read and reviewed A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari.
05. Jeane read The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato. Scroll down to read her review.
06. Juliet read and reviewed History by Elsa Morante.
07. Tina Marie read and reviewed A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi.
08. Gretchen read and reviewed The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarty.
09. Maggie read and reviewed Dolci di Love by Sarah-Kate Lynch.
10. Maggie read and reviewed Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver.
11. Pete read and reviewed A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen.
12. Lara read Un amore di zitella by Andrea Vitali. Scroll down to read her review.

Reviews by non bloggers


The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato. Read and reviewed by Jeane:
The beauty she discovers around her, touching it, hearing it .... the knowledge that something like it exists and that it is there, where she is. The tears that the realization of its existence brings.... she wrote so beautiful, so real... so close to how those creations make me feel. The smile it brings on your face.
That is how reading The glassblower of Murano made me feel. The story of Leonora moving to Venice to find out about her ancestors. The past and secrets of the Manin family. The beauty and returning events being told in such a beautiful way by this author.
I remember visiting Murano, one of the smaller islands near Venice. I saw the glass that was sold there, where they made it. But after having read the story, I want to leave immediately and see the real fornaci of Murano. To walk around the islands and see, tocuh and feel the wonders they created decenia, centuries ago.
Venice has a past so important and full of secrets that the story about the best glassblower, Corradino, blends in with a grace that makes me remember the beauty which remains there and was told beautifully in this story between two times, connected by the art of glassblowing.

Un amore di zitella by Andrea Vitali. Read and reviewed by Lara:
“Un amore di zitella”, written by Andrea Vitali, takes place in Bellano, nice village in front of the Lake of Como and author’s birthplace. We can almost see the lively atmosphere in the village as soon as we start reading this book or, better, this novel, since it is so short that it ends as soon as all the characters have been depicted!
The protagonist is Iole Vergara, a quiet woman who works at the town hall. She lives a relatively boring life: no men in her life, no family, no one to care about; she spends her evenings with a cup of coffee with milk. That’s a pity anyway, because Iole is, overall, a nice woman, very kind with everyone, even with Iride, her colleague at work. Iride is getting married (so she is still “spinster”, as Iole): contrarily to Iole, Iride is resentful, likes rumors and gossip and is envious about Iole, so lovely in every circumstance. She does not want Iole at her wedding and does not invite her: Iole, however, decides to buy the same a wedding present for her colleague, a precious edition of “La Divina Commedia”, and sends it to Iride writing a note “Best wishes from me and Dante”. Dante? Who is Dante? Iride does not realize that Iole is referring to Dante Alighieri, and fantasizes about a mysterious man for Iole. So the famous “spinster” is not spinster anymore?
At the beginning Iole likes the rumors and behave as if there is really a man in her life: she goes at the hairdresser’s, buys new clothes... At the end, however, she starts feeling guilty about the whole situation. She will receive help and advice by the secretary at the town hall, her boss, who understood the whole story about the mysterious man.
I would recommend to read this book because, as I said, it is really short and easy to read; it is remarkable the author’s ability in constructing a whole world made of people, landscapes and events, apparently not significant. However, we should remind how in small villages as Bellano, only events concerning common people can happen, and each one will be crucial for their lives.

And remember, one August reviewer is in for a chance to win a copy of Pompeii by Mary Beard, courtesy of Profile Books. Buona fortuna!


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Tips for aspiring writers – part 6

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Dialogue.

***
Dialogue plays an essential part in novel writing. Dialogue can move the story on and can be used as a tool for informing the reader about one character’s backstory. Dialogue also develops characterisation and can add tension to the narrative.

Your characters will all have different ways of speaking, have individual turns of phrase and use certain words more than others. When writing dialogue, make sure each character sounds different. Unless it is important to the narrative or characterisation, it is a good idea to cut out all the frills like greetings, enquiries about cups of tea/sugar/milk, the weather, traffic on the road, the inconsequential chit-chat that we spend time on in real life. Too much of this will slow down the narrative. When writing dialogue, use different ways of telling the reader what is the mood of a character. Rather than saying he/she said angrily/tearfully which describes the character’s emotions, you could show the emotions through the action. E.g. ‘Close the door.’ He banged his fist on the table instead of he spoke angrily. ‘Close the door,’ He wiped his eyes instead of he said tearfully. You could just use simple speech tags (he/she said) or if the dialogue is rapid, simply rely on the voices to tell the reader who is saying what.

Use body language to tell the reader what mood the character is in. Tell the reader where the character is looking when they speak. If they are avoiding eye contact, perhaps they are lying. On the other hand a character who is gazing at another character as they speak means something else entirely.

Dialogue can be used to create tension too. Think of ‘the elephant in the room’. It is not unusual, especially within families, for there to be a subject which is avoided at all costs. Also, people don’t listen to one another. People have their own agendas in conversation. They butt in and don’t finish sentences. They hesitate when they’re thinking of something else or they want to avoid responding. There can be misunderstandings in conversations. Sometimes people do not say what they are actually thinking. You need to make your characters as realistic as possible. And if you’re writing from one person’s perspective, neither the narrator nor the reader will know what’s going on in another’s character’s head. All these tactics can add tension in your writing.

And it’s probably a good idea to get the layout right. Copy the layout from any contemporary work of fiction.

***
I hope you enjoyed this short series of writing tips! Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Help! My wish list #30

After a short summer break, here's 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 Wilderness
By Samantha Harvey

Amazon's product description: It's Jake's birthday. He is sitting in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life - his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Now he is in his early sixties, and he isn't quite the man he used to be. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison, and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer's. As the disease takes hold of him, Jake struggles to hold on to his personal story, to his memories and identity, but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive, or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what exactly do they mean? As Jake, assisted by 'poor Eleanor', a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, fights the inevitable dying of the light, the key events of his life keep changing as he tries to grasp them, and what until recently seemed solid fact is melting into surreal dreams or nightmarish imaginings. Is there anything he'll be able to salvage from the wreckage? Beauty, perhaps, the memory of love, or nothing at all? From the first sentence to the last, The Wilderness holds us in its grip. This is writing of extraordinary power and beauty.

Why I want to read this book: This sounds like a moving and beautiful read about identity and the loss of it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

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

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

This month, courtesy of Profile Books, two of you will have the chance to win a copy of Pompeii by Mary Beard.
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!

LGBT challenge - Link for August reviews and prize draw

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

This month, courtesy of Constable & Robinson, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica, edited by Barbara Cardy.


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!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

"Italy in Books" - July winners

13 reviews this 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 reviewers who, courtesy of Hersilia Press, will receive a copy of Inspector Cataldo's Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi are:

Patricia, who read and reviewed The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena di Blasi & Lara, who read and reviewed La curva del latte by Nico Orengo.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

LGBT challenge - July winner

Only 2 book reviews this month... must be summer, eh?!

Only 2 reviews but not to be missed! 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 Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas is:

Juliet, who read and reviewed The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica edited by Lawrence Schimel.