Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Man Booker Prize Longlist

2006 is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Tiger Woods' reputation is entirely untarnished and the English Defence League does not exist yet. Storm-clouds of a different kind are gathering above the bar of Luton's less than exclusive Thistle Hotel. Among those caught up in the unfolding drama are a man who's had cancer seven times, a woman priest with an unruly fringe, the troubled family of a notorious local fascist, an interfering barmaid with three E's at A-level but a PhD in bullshit, a free-thinking Muslim sex therapist and his considerably more pious wife. But at the heart of every intrigue and the bottom of every mystery is the repugnantly charismatic Stuart Ransom – a golfer in free-fall.


When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing
that could ever happen to anyone.

If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't.

But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid.

From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.


Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of the slaves. Philida decides to risk her whole life by lodging a complaint against Francois, who has reneged on his promise to set her free.

His father has ordered him to marry a white woman from a prominent Cape Town family, and Philida will be sold on to owners in the harsh country up north. Unwilling to accept this fate, Philida continues to test the limits of her freedom, and with the Muslim slave Labyn she sets off on a journey across the great wilderness on the banks of the Gariep River, to the far north of Cape Town. Philida is an unforgettable story of one woman's determination to survive and be free.

It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child.

There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation's annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming -- not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation's guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser.

Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality -- everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science...

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.

All he knows is that he must keep walking.

To save someone else's life.

Swimming Home is a subversive page-turner, a merciless gaze at the insidious harm that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams. Deborah Levy's writing combines linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be alive. Swimming Home represents a new direction for a major writer. In this book, the wildness and the danger are all the more powerful for resting just beneath the surface. With its deep psychology, biting humour and deceptively light surface, it wears its darkness lightly.

The sequel to the Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall.

By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.

The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.

At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.

A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella. James Joyce, Ulysses Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community - the so-called Concept House in Willesden - maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. He has every intention of avoiding controversy, but then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades. A socialist, a feminist and a munitions worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey fell victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War and, like one of the subjects in Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, has been in a coma ever since. Realising that Audrey is just one of a number of post-encephalitics scattered throughout the asylum, Busner becomes involved in an attempt to bring them back to life - with wholly unforeseen consequences. Is Audrey's diseased brain in its nightmarish compulsion a microcosm of the technological revolutions of the twentieth century? And if Audrey is ill at all - perhaps her illness is only modernity itself? And what of Audrey's two brothers, Stanley and Albert: at the time she fell ill, Stanley was missing presumed dead on the Western Front, while Albert was in charge of the Arsenal itself, a coming man in the Imperial Civil Service. Now, fifty years later, when Audrey awakes from her pathological swoon, which of the two is it who remains alive?

Wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my...

Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. A young woman holds a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her eyes. Men sprawl and mutter in the gloom. Here, they say you introduce only your worst enemy to opium. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. In the broken city, there are too many to count.

Stretching across three decades, with an interlude in Mao's China, it portrays a city in collision with itself. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.

‘Have you noticed how each of us conjures up our own city?’

Every city is made of stories: stories that meet and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters.

This is the story of a city.


The 2012 long-list includes four debut novels, three small independent publishers and one previous winner. Of the 12 writers, seven are men and five women; nine are British, one Indian, one South African and one Malaysian. The eldest on the list is Andre Brink at 77 and the youngest is Ned Beauman at 27.

In a world of self-published eBooks, erotica in the best-sellers charts, do you think there's a place for book prizes? 
Do they have any effect on the books which you read?

// bloglovin' :: goodreads

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Hangover

I'm glad there's a name for this. Don't suffer in silence, let me know which book you're struggling to get over.

// bloglovin' :: goodreads

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks --
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me
To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

I love poems which you think of years after reading because you come across, in this case, a big bush of blackberries. 

// bloglovin' :: goodreads

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Out Of Print Clothing

Out of Print clothing has been a favourite of mine for some time now - they take classic book covers and turn them into fantastic clothing or accessory items.  And as if that wasn't good enough, Out of Print also have a scheme wherein for each item sold they donate one book to a community in need.



"Out of print celebrates the world's great stories through fashion....For each product sold, one book is donated to a community in need through our partner Books For Africa" Out of Print Mission  
// bloglovin' :: goodreads

Monday, July 9, 2012

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Honesty time: I am a bit of a book-store snob.  I always find that book stores in train stations or airports are littered with celebrity 'novels' or just books which aren't good and yet they're £££ (and I just get annoyed that they know you need something so will pay).  I found myself, however, in a bit of a rare situation for me.  I normally have a book somewhere on my person and yet that day I was stuck with a flat iPod, no kindle, no book, nothing but a three hour train journey ahead, so I begrudgingly headed in and finally settled on All That I Am and was actually pleasantly surprised.

The novel tells the story of life before, during, and after Hitler's rise to power and the effect that the historic events had on the group of intellectuals forced out of their own country, but mostly of the effects it had on the four friends.  The story itself is narrated by both Toller and Ruth - each chapter telling events from their own perspectives as they settled into life as refugees in London, fighting Hitler through propaganda newspapers they printed themselves.  Toller, a successful playwright is enraptured with the dynamic, yet forgotten by history Dora, and promises to add her into his autobiography, thus insuring that her brave efforts are remembered.  As she risked her life to save his satirical plays which had placed him high on the Nazi's hit-list.  Ruth tells her story from Sydney as an elderly woman sent a copy of the final proof of Toller's autobiography, as she reads his words she remembers her past so much more vividly than her recent history, as she sleeps she is transported back to that time and remembers how although she herself was not something special, yet the nurses whisper around her - she was in the resistance.

For its author, Anna Funder, this is her first novel, her previous book Stasiland is the winner of the 2004 Samuel Johnson prize.  She is praised for her ability to personalise the facts and events which occurred in the former German Democratic Republic, a skill which she has honed with All That I Am, with its real people, events, with a bit of padding by Funder.  I can see why some might quibble that it isn't technically fiction throughout being based on real events, real people, based on real letters and diary entries.  There were times when the characters, supposedly isolated in England knew statistics and facts which seemed unreasonable.  Some have said that this is just another reason why Funder should stick to non-fiction since she thrives in the genre.  Speaking personally, however, I found the facts added to the tension, the bits I do remember from history lessons came alive when I became so involved with the characters.  Knowing that Toller's work had been a part of the massive pile of books burnt just, for some reason, made it seem more shocking, more unfair.

Hitler and war-torn Germany has hardly been an untouched area when it comes to 'fiction'.  There is a plethora of films, and books, dedicated to the time-period.  This book seemed much more focused on the human side of the war.  Hitler himself was barely mentioned - it isn't the story of the people at the top, but rather the uncles and aunts who you suddenly found that what once was a disagreement over politics meant that they were now handing you over to the police.  It has a power which resonates - that this could have happened to anyone, and that the lessons, and the moral struggles which the characters face are fascinating, relevant, and dealt with in such a mesmerizing manner by Funder.

I did find, however, that the ending was disappointing.  Considering the novel is supposedly told from the perspective of Ruth and Toller I loved that some aspects of the story remained unknown.  For much of the novel this remains the case and yet at the end suddenly there's a few sloppy chapters full of 'unexpected letters' or sightings which recount exactly how certain events unfolded.  I, personally, preferred not knowing. (If you've read the book, or end up reading the book, let me know if you feel the same!)

The book is full of intrigue, suspense, relatable and fascinating characters, and is a mini-history lesson, what's not to love?  It's so easy to read - it draws you in, you feel and fear for the characters, I loved it!

// bloglovin' :: goodreads

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Fast approaching her 30th birthday and finding herself not married, not dating, and without even a prospect or a house full of cats, Renee Greene, the heroine of Click: An Online Love Story, reluctantly joins her best guy pal on a journey to find love online in Los Angeles. The story unfolds through a series of emails between Renee and her best friends (anal-compulsive Mark, the overly-judgmental Ashley and the over-sexed Shelley) as well as the gentlemen suitors she meets online. From the guy who starts every story with "My buddies and I were out drinking one night," to the egotistical "B" celebrity looking for someone to stroke his ego, Renee endures her share of hilarious and heinous cyber dates. Fraught with BCC's, FWD's and inadvertent Reply to All's, readers will root for Renee to "click" with the right man.

-- Goodreads Synopsis
Click by Lisa Becker is set out as a set of emails between four friends, our protagonist Renee and her closest friends Shelly, Ashley and Mark. Becker's email format worked surprisingly well, however, it did mean the supporting cast were not as fleshed out as I would have liked. Also, initially I questioned whether their discussions would be more likely discussed in person or over the phone, but considering the busy cosmopolitan lives workers lead these days, where a lot of work places do not allow a steady stream of gossipy phone calls, emails are a perfectly reasonable medium of discussion for work hours.

The novel begins with Mark convincing Renee that she needs to sign up to dating sites with him so they can encourage each other through the process. Renee's adventure through a series of steadily less horrendous dates are consistently amusing, and you long for her to meet a nice young man (or in my case, hook up with Mark). Its representation of online dating felt, generally, realistic - there really are some weird men out there, but it also demonstrated that there are some good guys too. What did frustrate me was that Mark and Renee, for the majority, had more respondents than they made contact; other than setting up her profile Renee only browsed the site for potential mates at odd hours of the morning - as if to suggest she only wanted to look secretively when she was feeling depressed or lonely. This, while a typical action for Renee as a character, did not feel like an accurate representation of the majority of women (or men) on online dating sites.

While character wise, there was not one I disliked, I would have enjoyed knowing more about Shelly, Mark and Ashley (another three books perhaps?). And unfortunately there was a shadow of Sex and the City hovering over Click, particularly as we get to know the characters; Renee/Carrie, Shelly/ Samantha, Ashley/Charlotte and Mark/Miranda. I do think this shadow is inevitable comparison considering the cultural impact SatC has, but I do feel more could have been done to lessen the stereotypes this presented.

Renee felt sufficiently vulnerable as our heroine on the search for love; I did not feel connected to her but found her easily sympathetic. She is perhaps rather middle of the road personality wise, but I know many girls I could find as a real world comparison to her. Renee is overtly insecure in her emails; however, this was not off-putting as Click documents private conversations between very close friends.  Shelly, while the second most prominent character felt the most underdeveloped, limited to her sexual predator persona. While this clearly masks deeper insecurities, as she dissociates herself from the men she seduces with amusing nicknames, the format of the novel unfortunately removed the possibility of seeing more of this. Ashley, the subtle undermine-er and Mark the anal workaholic are also somewhat two-dimensional in their portrayal but read as wonderful accompaniments to the story. Ultimately these characters are fantastic in their love for each other; supportive and caring, they look out for Renee and carry her through her moments of happiness, sadness and madness.

I thoroughly enjoyed Click (it is impossible to dislike a book you cannot help but consume in a matter of hours). While it was not perfect it was intensely addictive


Todays review comes courtesy of Alice.  Alice is a 20 something literature addict from the UK, you can find her at her blog or over at twitter @contrarywise_

© Ginger and Pickles | All rights reserved.
Blog Design Handcrafted by pipdig