Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Books through my lens #4

Known to walk with my nose in the air, I often come across little gems that would normally pass unnoticed. In this case, an unmissable Waterstone's shop located in a gorgeous building on the corner of Gower Street and Torrington Place, in London. Look at the smooth stone! Marvel at those carvings! It speaks of beauty inside and out!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kimberly Menozzi and... Late September Notes

To my initial dismay, September arrived late, this year. The blessedly cool air -- which normally follows close after my return to Italy from the US -- took its time, this time around.

This year, it almost felt like the cool weather would never arrive. This struck a chord of fear within me, foolish as it sounds, but I really was worried for a while. I worried most when the heat had me up in the wee still hours of the night, unable to sleep but too tired to do anything productive.

You see, I've never dealt well with heat and humidity. Either one is a problem for me, particularly at night, but heat is probably the worst. I get rashes on my skin; itchy, flaky, painful rashes. I toss and turn when it's too warm, unable to keep cool so I can rest well. We've all been there, of course -- but to go from an air-conditioned environment over the course of the summer to a more, shall we say "natural" existence, was a bit of a shock for me.

I spent several sleepless nights this month, thanks to the heat. Some of these nights were spent fussing with my husband (who hates my oscillating fan with a passion), some of them were spent listlessly recovering on the sofa from my usual jetlag, still others were spent debating with my cat over who owned that sofa and who had dibs on the breezes coming through the living room window at four a.m.

At times, it got ugly.

Even though I lived without central air when I was growing up, I can't cope now when it's stiflingly hot. My hubby, on the other hand? He's used to it. He suffers when he's in the US, though: all that air-conditioning is a form of torture for him. Like many other Italians, he longs for warm summer nights and languid days -- the better for socializing and living outside the house.

I don't get that. I don't understand that at all.

Instead, I yearned for the Italian autumn: the shortening days, the cool nights, the gentle light which softens the hills and blends the all-too-brief flashes of red and gold in the trees. I love the sight of the trucks -- from pickups to three-wheeled service vehicles -- their truck beds and trailers laden with green, red and deepest violet bunches as they make their way to the vintners to turn those sweet globes into the many varieties of local wines.

There is something so earthy, so sumptuous, about that sight: the opulent colors; the plump, tempting spheres still dusty from the harvest, heavy with sunlight. When I see them I want to reach out and touch them, to feel the weight of them in my palm, their reassuring roundness, the heat of the fading day still present in their cores.

Every time I catch a glimpse of those grapes -- no matter how fleeting -- I'm seized with an almost primal desire for wine. Me, the one who doesn't even like the stuff! A strange, deep-seated urge to savor this part of the autumnal bounty washes over me and the craving settles into me with a momentarily maddening insistence.

That never happened until I came to Italy.

In the weeks to come, the vineyards will be picked clean. Sunlight will find its way through spare vines, the last, inferior grapes lingering on them and drying out before they fall to the heavily-trodden soil at last. The fields will be emptied of their final gifts, squash and corn and all the rest, and then the remainders will be plowed under, pulling rich earth to the surface to face the winter again.

The weekend meals will grow heavier, more substantial, so that one never leaves the table without feeling satisfied. Tortelli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli), pasta with walnut or boar sauce, and various arrosti appear on family tables throughout the region. Limoncino moves aside for nocino, its autumnal cousin.

In the city, the trees will be trimmed down almost to their trunks alone, even as the last leaves fall to the ground around them. The buildings will seem somehow more substantial with the bright blue sky reflecting off the windows, and then the cool grey sky shading them with a gentle hand.

The managers of the ristoranti will bring out the heaters for their smoking patrons to use when the nights get colder. Soon, they'll cluster around them beneath clouds of grey-blue smoke, the conversations they started indoors will finish around the artificial warmth. Then they'll carry new topics inside with them to enjoy over their meals, where they'll also complain about the cold.

The older ladies of the town will don their furs at the first sign of crispness in the air, and younger women will stroll the crazy-paved streets in high heels, full-length coats and hats as they do their shopping or stop by the bar to drink an aperitivo. The younger businessmen will pretend not to notice them as they rush from one meeting to another. The older men will be present too, in jackets and fedoras, standing in the center of the piazzas while they debate the chances of their favorite teams or less favorite politicians.

The youngsters will flirt and play as they always do, no matter the season.

As for me, I'll go back to teaching soon. I'll be walking deeper into the darkness with every advancing night, loving the feel of nightfall while all around me, my friends and peers will protest and yearn for the summer again.

I, for one, won't miss it one bit.

Help! My wish list #36

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 Reluctant Fundamentalist
By Mohsin Hamid

Amazon's product description: At a cafe table in Lahore, a Pakistani man begins the tale that has led to his fateful meeting with an uneasy American stranger...Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. He thrives on the energy of New York, his work at an elite firm, and his budding relationship. For a time, it seems that nothing will stand in the way of his meteoric rise to success. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his relationship crumbling and his exalted status overturned. Allegiances are subsequently unearthed, proving themselves more fundamental than money, power and maybe even love.

Why I want to read this book: This sounds like an interesting, fictional take on the post 9/11 world and the way that one event changed the way we see things.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

In conversation with... Isabelle Grey

To celebrate the release of Out of Sight - published this month by Quercus Books - author Isabelle Grey kindly agreed to answer a few questions on Book After Book.

Enjoy...

Hello Isabelle! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the release of Out of Sight. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Out of Sight is a novel of psychological suspense. Patrick Hinde is a good man whose coping strategy is to compartmentalise and ‘forget’ the things that upset him. Following a difficult visit from his parents, his failure of memory causes the death of his beloved son, Daniel. Struggling to accept his wife’s forgiveness, his avoidant behaviour becomes worse, leading him to hurt those closest to him. The novel is also a love story; in France five years later he meets Leonie, who cherishes the romantic belief that love can heal his damage. But will Patrick be able to change his destructive behaviour?

This is your first work of fiction after a series of non-fiction books written as Isabelle Anscombe. Do you feel any different about the publication of Out of Sight?

A: I wrote most of my non-fiction books a long time ago, but I remember how, when I first made the jump from non-fiction to TV drama, the freedom to make things up was wonderful! Now the big jump is from screenwriting to fiction, where it’s possible go inside my characters’ heads and describe their thoughts in as much detail as I want. In a script, you’re placing those internal thoughts in an actor’s close-up or reaction shot. The biggest personal difference is that I feel much more exposed as an author than as a screenwriter. An audience rightly identifies with the actors, and the writer can remain pretty invisible, which suits me; but readers of fiction like to know about an author, and I’m still getting used to that!

What kind of research, if any, have you carried out while you were writing Out of Sight?

A: The story was built around newspaper reports of two unrelated but near-identical tragic incidents that occurred within a week of each other in France in 2008. In order to make sure I was getting things right in terms of how such deaths would be handled here, I spoke briefly to a former detective, a coroner, a forensic psychologist, a family law barrister, and even a childhood friend who’s now a judge. I was a journalist, so it’s still important to me to check my facts before turning them into fiction, although some details don’t matter - in TV crime drama, for instance, it’s an accepted convention that DNA and toxicology results always come back the same day! I can write with greater confidence if I know what would happen, but I don’t feel obliged to stick to anything other than my fictional ‘truth’.

You have extensive experience as screenwriter. Would you like to see Out of Sight adapted for the TV? If so, would you be happy to let another screenwriter work on it?

A: Of course I’d love to see Out of Sight as a TV drama or a movie! And I certainly wouldn’t say no if I were asked to write the screenplay; but I enjoy the fact that film is a collaborative medium, involving many different skills. I’m happy when I hand a script over to the director, actors and production team, so in the same way I’d be happy to see another screenwriter adapt my novel. A fresh eye may well find something different in the story and make it their own, which would be exciting to see.

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: Yes, they do! Plus I’ve recently started a blog. But writing a novel is a big and time-consuming task, so having some social life on Twitter without leaving my desk is very tempting. And I’m so impressed by the knowledge, generosity and humour out there - after all, I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it weren’t for Twitter - and I look forward to ‘meeting’ more readers.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Keep writing, get to the end, then work out what the story is and do some re-writing. The real writing starts at the second draft when you can see what you’ve got.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: Do watch out early next year for my episode of The Accused on BBC1, which I’ve been writing with Jimmy McGovern.

Thank you for your time!

Isabelle's publisher has generously offered two copies of Out of Sight! For a chance to win, all you have to do is click here and complete the form. The competition will close on 3rd October at 1pm and is for UK readers only.

Monday, 19 September 2011

"Italy in Books" - September 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 September (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 Scarlett Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis.
02. Jeane read Ask Me If I'm Happy by Kimberly Menozzi. Scroll down to read her review.

03. Gretchen read and reviewed Venice by Jan Morris.
04. Juliet read and reviewed The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert.
05. Patricia read and reviewed Falling Palace by Dan Hofstadter.
06. Christie read and reviewed The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle.
07. Lindy read and reviewed The Summer House by Christobel Kent.
08. Pete read and reviewed Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi.
09. Lara read Io ci sto by Marco Zarfati. Scroll down to read her review.

Reviews by non bloggers

Ask Me If I'm Happy by Kimberly Menozzi. Read and reviewd by Jeane:
I’ve started reading ‘Ask me if I’m happy’ this morning and am enjoying it a lot already. On page 26 and before she realizes what the last reason is why he watched her… I think I realized it too and went to check in the previous pages. At the moment I have this joy of what might come going through me … and instead of preparing to go out and buy groceries, clean the flat….. I continue reading and enjoy being in Bologna at least in the story if not in real life. I guess it is a compliment if you feel like you are there or feel sad not to be there, where the story is happening …. It just feels so real and I can feel, smell the atmosphere of Bologna.
What a hard story to read this one is going to be for me….. Needing to close the book, wanted to read on and not wanting to read on because each page I read is one less to read. It is like eating a home made mascarpone dessert. Following Emily on her way through Bologna, being in one of the stations of Milan with her, while she is dealing with a painful past and a very special guide filling her present.
Emily or Emilia like Davide calls her in Italian, is leaving Italy after having lived there for ten years. She can’t wait to leave Italy, the Italians and everything else around her and go back to the States. That special day in Bologna where a typical Italian train strike makes everything go wrong, will also change her life in a huge way.
Back in the States, back where she should feel home Emilia can’t stop thinking about Italy, the Italians or a certain Italian and like the author writes it so correctly, she feels a nostalgia not only for the coffee at the bar in the morning but also for the typical things you don’t have in Italy which could make you go crazy. Those typical, in some way negative, Italian things like shops closed on Sunday or long closing hours during noon … they make her want to go back. But what can she expect back in Italy? She left Italy after ten years, being married and divorced … now she goes back to finalize the sell of the house. Back to Bologna, to where a day, a year ago, everything changed for Emilia.
Her visit back in Italy is like coming home and she knows she made the correct decision, but ten every story has a ‘but’. The but for Emilia is that suddenly everything goes unexpected, her visit back goes like a whirlwind of emotions, unexpected situations. The end of the story felt so intense that I was scared to learn how it would happen.
Kimberly, thank you so much for sending me your book. I absolutely loved it. I loved the story and the feeling it gave me of really being in Italy. Next time I see Neptuno on the piazza in Bologna… I might watch for the ring! Oh and, I loved the creation of Davide. Who wouldn't?


Io ci sto by Marco Zarfati. Read and reviewed by Lara:
Io ci sto, by Marco Zarfati, is the story of three young guys, who met by chance, become friends and share some formative experiences.
Tito, Lele and Matteo spend every day together: it is summer, holidays have just started. The three guys repeat themselves their motto, that is the title of the book: “Io ci sto”, I agree. Someone of them can suggest something, even crazy, to do: “Io ci sto”, I agree, is the magic formula to transform any suggestion in reality.
The story takes place mainly in Roma and its surroundings: the guys move by car, bike, motorbike, explore new places, practice sports. Life is easy for them, who have finished high school and wait for the university to start. There are no worries about the future, since days are suspended in a continuous present.
One day they even decide to go to the beach to a natural reserve, owned by the Italian president. The experience revealed to be extremely fascinating: only wild nature surrounding them, who would not allowed to be there.
However, their lives change, as soon as holidays end, the university start and girls arrive in the story. Stella and Ludovica. Stella is Tito’s girl, but she ended up with Matteo, Ludovica betrayed Matteo with Tito, Matteo, who had always been attracted by his friend, kisses Lele… The harmony between the three friends is broken… What remains of their friendship? They discover they are different, but the link among them is still so strong that, at the end, they agree to meet up and greet each other by saying, as usual, “Io ci sto”.
I bought and read this book, written by a young Italian writer, after having met him personally at the bookshop: I admired his enthusiasm towards his new career as writer. However, I have to raise several criticisms to the author. Although there is a good narrative rhythm at the beginning, the story slows down: the reader realizes soon that there is not anything else to discover and loses interest in the three guys and their adventures. The style is too easy and characters and places are not so accurately depicted. As a curious reader about new narrative proposals, I did not find the story so promising as I was expecting.
It is too early to express a judgment about the young author: I prefer to wait for another book, that, maybe, will be more mature than this one, easy as its leading motto “Io ci sto”.


And remember: this month, courtesy of author Betsy Hoffman, five of you will have the chance to win a copy of Dreaming of Sicily!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Book review: The Brave

By Nicholas Evans
Published by
Little, Brown

Borrow it from the library, buy it online or in a bookshop. Do whatever you have to do to get a copy but make sure that you read The Brave by Nicholas Evans. It’s amazing.

If you want to read on, be warned that this is a biased review!

Once upon a time, I read The Horse Whisperer by a certain Nicholas Evans, an author whom I had never heard of before. I don’t know what happened. I was suddenly under a spell. Nicholas Evans’s books, however, can literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. It was thus with great joy and expectation that I recently picked up The Brave, published this year after a (not so) patient wait of 6 years.

The only disappointment of The Brave is that, once you start reading it, you know that it will inevitably have to end.

So, what is so good about The Brave? First of all, a brief outline of the story. The chapters alternate between the childhood and the adulthood of Tom Bedford. As a child, Tom grows up in the Midlands (UK) and then moves to Hollywood to leave in a dream world with his sister Diane and her boyfriend, TV cowboy Ray Montane. Tommy, who is a huge fan of ‘Cowboys & Indians’ shows, couldn’t be happier. That is, until one tragic event turns his world upside down.

As a grown-up, Tom lives in Montana, has an ex wife and a son who hardly speaks to him. He has never told them the truth about his past and he lost them both. Life, however, is unpredictable and his son, a US Marine serving in Iraq, is suddenly in trouble, trouble that could have serious consequences all too similar to what happened so many years ago in Hollywood.

To answer my previous question, The Brave is an excellent example (and much needed reminder) of Evans special storytelling skills. He is able to completely draw readers into any story. You can be anyone when you open the book but you will soon become one with the people who populate his pages. Evans’s characters are well-rounded and extremely real. Settings are described so vividly that your surroundings will change as you read. Without being over-the-top, he easily sets whatever mood the story needs.

And what a good story it is too. When a book is divided in two storylines, I normally become more interested in one of the two, looking forward to pick the thread again as soon as one chapter or section ends. In this case, I found that both storylines were equally fascinating, which only made me read faster!

And now, I have to be brave myself and wait for the next work by Mr Evans.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Help! My wish list #35

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 Michael Field
By Emma Donoghue

From the back cover: For the first time, Emma Donoghue tells the story of two eccentric Victorian spinsters; Katherine Bradley (1846-1914) and her niece Edith Cooper (1862-1913); poets and lovers, who wrote together under the name of Michael Field. They wrote eleven volumes of poetry and thirty historical tragedies, but perhaps their best work - richest in emotional honesty and wit - was the diary that the two women shared for a quarter of a century. Donoghue's groundbreaking Outline is based on these unpublished journals and letters. The Michaels lived in a contradictory world of inherited wealth and terrible illness, silly nicknames and religious crises. They preferred men to women, and yet their greatest devotion was saved for their dog, Snobbish, arrogant eccentrics who faced bereavement and death with great courage, and never lost their appetite for life or their passion for each other.

Why I want to read this book: Eccentric spinsters who loved each other and wrote together. Lives of women who came before us and need to be recognised: I couldn't ask for more!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

And then there was a house

In the past few months I have read three works of fiction whose stories evolved around imposing houses. All highly recommended, here they are:

The Little Stranger
By Sarah Waters

Hundreds Hall is the crumbling Georgian house at the heart of this unsettling story. It is the home of the Ayreses, mother, son and daughter who struggle to keep up with a changing society and the financial difficulties resulting from the Great War. Fascinated by both the house and its inhabitants, Dr Faraday becomes increasingly involved with life at Hundreds, a house that seems to have a life of its own.

We Are All Made of Glue
By Marina Lewycka

Canaan House, a decrepit mansion in North London, is at the centre of this charming novel. It is the home of Mrs Naomi Saphiro, an old lady who lives with dozens of cats and who strikes up an unlikely friendship with neighbour Georgie Sinclair, a lonely mother of two. When Mrs Saphiro ends up at the hospital, a war breaks out among estate agents to seize possession of the house and Georgie finds herself involved.

Bel Canto
By Ann Patchett

The vice presidential mansion in a South American country is the setting of this novel. In order to attract investors from abroad, a birthday party is organized for an important Japanese industrialist. That’s how eminent politicians, rich businessmen and a world-renowned soprano come to be together and held hostage by a group of armed men. During the forced co-habitation, friendships and relationships are formed. Can something that started with violence end in peace?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Books through my lens #3

Last summer I went to see an Antony Gormley exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea and came across a temporary art installation entitled "Introspective Retrospective". The artist is the Japanese Tomoko Takahashi, who is known for her "playful recycling of everyday detritus of everyday life into illuminating works of art". Needless to say, I felt a stabbing pain in my chest when I saw a copy of Moby Dick "playfully recycled" as pictured above!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Book review: Maybe This Time

By Alois Hotschnig
Translated by Tess Lewis
Published by Peirene Press

First published in German in 2006, Maybe This Time was published yesterday in English thanks to the efforts of translator Tess Lewis and enlightened publisher Peirene Press.

The author, Alois Hotschnig, is considered to be one the most important contemporary short story writers in the German language and his books have won several literary prizes. This little volume, which, like all other Peirene titles, promises to be “thought-provoking, well designed and short”, doesn’t fail to deliver.

To properly savour each short story, I set out to read only one each day rather than one after the other. I did well but didn’t always succeed because some of the short stories just made me want to see what else Hotschnig had in store. Which boundaries he would break next.

I normally get frustrated by short stories because I feel that – despite the clue being in their name – they end too soon, just as I’m getting involved and want to know more. This collection of short stories has nothing conventional about it. Not even frustrations! Here, Hotschnig doesn’t really develop his characters and doesn’t explain what is happening. Or why. This goes beyond frustration; it makes you think, it makes you question the things you’ve always assumed and, more often than not, it leaves you totally confused.

But it is a good kind of confusion. I finished the book about two weeks ago and I’m still carrying with me stories like Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut, The Beginning of Something and You Don’t Know Them, They’re Strangers, trying to make sense of them. My favourites are also still lingering – they’re those stories that sometimes I think I can start to comprItalicehend: The Same Silence, the Same Noise, Two Ways of Leaving, The Light in My Room and Morning, Noon and Night.

Not to forget Encounter and Maybe This Time, Maybe Now, which are vaguely reminiscent of respectively Kafka and Beckett.

Alois Hotschnig’s Maybe This Time is a feast of surreal situations that will challenge the way people see themselves and those who surround them. Highly recommended to both short story lovers and beginners!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Help! My wish list #34

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 Ringmaster's Daughter
By Jostein Gaarder

Amazon's product description: Panina Manina, a trapeze artist, falls and breaks her neck. As the ringmaster bends over her, he notices an amulet of amber around her neck, the same trinket he had given his own lost child, who was swept away in a torrent some sixteen years earlier. This tale is narrated by Petter, a precocious child and fantasist, and perhaps Jostein Gaarder's most intriguing character since Sophie. As an adult, Petter makes his living selling stories and ideas to professionals suffering from writer's block. But as Petter sits spinning his tales, he finds himself in a trap of his own making.

Why I want to read this book: It's been a while since I've entered Jostein Gaarder's fairytale world and definitely need some magic in these tough times...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

In conversation with... Lilian Harry

To celebrate the release of Secrets in Burracombe - published in August by Orion Books - author Lilian Harry kindly agreed to answer a few questions on Book After Book.

Enjoy...

Hello Lilian! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your latest release. Secrets in Burracombe is the latest novel in your Burracombe Village series. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Secrets in Burracombe follows the story of the villagers of Burracombe from the end of the previous book, An Heir for Burracombe. It continues the story of the French boy, Robert, who appeared as the possible heir to the estate, disrupting the life of his aunt, Hilary Napier, who had expected to inherit. Hilary’s life takes a further surprising twist later, which will have repercussions for some time to come. Meanwhile, there are American visitors at the Tozers’ farm, who cause their own disturbance in the settled lives of the village. But everything else is set aside when an accident befalls some of the most popular people in the village, and everyone draws together to help those they had taken to their hearts.

I know that you have recently been busy promoting it in England, meeting readers and signing books. What kind of reception have you received from the public?

A: I’ve had a very enthusiastic response from readers. The Burracombe series seems now to be as popular as the ‘April Grove’ series, set in wartime Portsmouth, and the other books, such as the ‘Corner House’ and ‘Thursday’ series, which also had a wartime setting. There does seem to be a desire for more April Grove stories in particular, however, and I hope to return to this one day – after at least two more Burracombe books!

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page 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: I use Twitter, which I like very much, but not Facebook, which depends on ‘mutuality’. It certainly eats into the writing time, but the advantages of being able to communicate so readily, and the information one receives through social media, make it very worthwhile.

Despite having just released a new novel, I expect that your fans are already looking forward to the next instalment in the series. Are you already jotting down new ideas or will this be the end of the Burracombe adventures?

A: My goodness, no! I am already two thirds of the way through the next book, which will be called Christmas In Burracombe, and will be available in November 2012, and I hope this will be followed by the eighth in the series, probably entitled Weddings in Burracombe. After that, anything might happen…

Which of the Burracombe characters are you fonder of? Are there any characters in the series that you don’t particularly like but that you think the fictional Dorset village wouldn’t be the same without?

A: I have a very soft spot for Felix, the young curate who becomes a vicar, and of course for his sweetheart Stella who first appeared in the April Grove series. I try not to dislike any of the characters – they are all human beings, flawed one way or another, and I try to understand them even if they aren’t particularly likeable. Jennifer’s father wasn’t a nice man, but when you knew about his past you could see reasons for his bitterness, and Joyce Warren, who is the village busybody, will be showing a different side in the next book.

You wrote two non-fiction books aimed at aspiring writers: How To Write Stories For Magazines and Teach Yourself Writing Romantic Fiction. What is your one fundamental piece of advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: Start small. I began with articles for local newspapers and magazines and worked up from there. It’s easier to get published that way and build a track record, and you’ll learn a lot in the process, as well as gain confidence. If you start with a novel, it takes a long time to write, and a long time to get published – if you ever do.

And lastly, is there anything that we should absolutely know about Donna, Nicola or Lilian?

A: I think I have now written one book for every year of my life!

Thank you for your time!

And now, the icing on the cake: Lilian is offering one copy of Secrets in Burracombe! For a chance to win, all you have to do is click here and complete the form. The competition is open to UK readers only and will close on 17th September at 1pm.

Monday, 5 September 2011

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

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

This month, courtesy of author Betsy Hoffman, five of you will have the chance to win a copy of Dreaming of Sicily.



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 September reviews and prize draw

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

This month, courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton, one of you will have the chance to win a copy of Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult.



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!

"Italy in Books" - August winners

12 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
Profile Books, will receive a copy of Pompeii by Mary Beard are:

Parrish, who read and reviewed Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco, & Tina Marie, who read and reviewed A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi.

LGBT challenge - August winner

Only 2 book reviews this month... summer is taking its toll!

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
Constable & Robinson, will receive a copy of The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica, edited by Barbara Cardy, is:

Juliet, who read and reviewed Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Help! My wish list #33

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 Yacoubian Building
By Alaa Al Aswany

Amazon's product description: An international bestseller, The Yacoubian Building is a mesmerising and controversial novel that is at once an impasssioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption. The Yacoubian Building -- once grand, but now dilapidated -- stands on one of Cairo's main boulevards. Taha, the doorman's son, has aspirations beyond the slum in the skies, and dreams of one day becoming a policeman. He studies hard, and passes all the exams, but when he is rejected because his family is neither rich nor influential, the bitterness sets in. His girlfriend, Busayna, finds herself unable to earn a living without also providing sexual services for the men who hire her. When Taha seeks solace in a student Islamic organisation, the pressure mounts, and he is drawn to actions with devastating consequences. The Yacoubian Building follows Taha's trajectory from innocence to tragedy. The people whose lives orbit his -- the inhabitants of the building -- are also facing their own difficult choices. From those living in squalid and cramped conditions on the rooftops, to the homosexual editor of Le Caire newspaper and a womanising aristocrat, all of the contradictions in Egyptian society are here. Religious feelings live side by side with promiscuity; bribery and exploitation alternate with moments of joy and elation; modernity clashes with the vision of a more ancient society. Alaa Al Aswany's mesmerising novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was published in Egypt. It is at once an impassioned celebration and a ruthless dissection of a society dominated by bribery and corruption.

Why I want to read this book: If well written, I enjoy books that follow the stories of different characters. In this case, I'm also interested in reading about everyday life in a culture that is different from mine.

Book review: There But For The

By Ali Smith
Published by Penguin

A simple story: during a dinner party at Gen and Eric Lee’s house in Greenwich, Miles enters the guestroom, locks the door and refuses to come out. Possibly, ever again.

What follows is a procession of acquaintances, who, some in indirect and others in more direct ways, allow us to catch a glimpse of the person behind the locked door.

There is Anna, who met Miles during a trip to Europe when they were teenagers. There is Mark, a gay man who met him at the theatre and invited him to that fateful dinner. There is an old lady whose daughter died at an early age. And, last but not least, there is Brooke, the young and inquisitive neighbour of the Lees.

Miles, who becomes a kind of hero for hordes of followers, is an invisible main character. Action is also almost non-existent while the novel fluctuates back and forth in time, in the same way that young Brooke hops on either side of the Greenwich meridian line.

The main dimension of this book is found in language. Ali Smith is a skilled wordsmith and regales us with puns, metaphors, rhymes and beautifully clever arrangements of words which, in the end, make one feel that it doesn’t matter that we’ll never know why Miles locked himself in a room and it doesn’t even matter if, by the last page, he will have come out of it or not.

Towards the end of the book, Brooke is looking at the river Thames, thinking:

It is a different possible river every second, and imagine all the people under the water walking across to the other side and back to this side in the tunnel right now, because under the surface there is a whole other thing always happening.

This sentence precisely summarises my experience of There But For The: don’t look just at the surface (the plot) because there is so much more going on beneath it (the language).

Is this an easy book with a conventional storyline? No. Does it matter? No.