Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Poem of the Month - August: In Memory of Edwin Morgan

This is definitely one of my favourite poems by Edwin Morgan. I remember reading it in my early teens and being quite flushed by it. Enjoy.

The Apple's Song

Tap me with your finger,
rub me with your sleeve,
hold me, sniff me, peel me
curling round and round
till I burst out white and cold
from my tight red coat
and tingle in your palm

as if I’d melt and breathe
a living pomander
waiting for the minute
of joy when you lift me
to your mouth and crush me
and in taste and fragrance
I race through your head
in my dizzy dissolve.

I sit in the bowl
in my cool corner
and watch you as you pass
smoothing your apron.
Are you thirsty yet?
My eyes are shining.

Monday, August 30, 2010

For Review: My Friend Jesus Christ ~ Lars Husum

Lars Husum read aloud in English for only the third time earlier this month. When he signed my book he admitted that sometimes he didn't even know what a word meant, he just read the translation anyway. It was a good effort. Husum read the first chapter and I was happily satisfied by the appearance of 'the c word' (and I don't mean Christmas) on page four and a suicide attempt on page five. By now it's apparent that these kinds of stories really get me going.

But My Friend Jesus Christ is far from being one of those modern novels of the torturous self. Niko's parents die in a car crash when he's a teenager and his older sister takes it upon herself to look after him. They're not lacking in money, seeing as their mother was Denmark's biggest popstar. But eventually Sis has to lead her own life and sets up family, a happiness that Niko ends up completely ruining. He ruins his own life, he ruins the lives of those he loves.

Then he meets Jesus. Jesus recommends that Niko moves to his mother's home town of Tarm where he collects together an unlikely band of friends. Jesus advices Niko in sorting his life out via helping the lives he essentially destroyed. Niko's difficult journey becomes one of redemption, a topic that is so often neglected in the modern novel (at least in many of the books that I've read).

The cast of characters in My Friend Jesus Christ are all loveable each in their own particular way. Some of them, such as Niko's best friend Jeppe, have nasty habits to overcome. There's a lot of violence in this book, but it doesn't seem to aim at gore. Violence is a result of Niko's turmoil, rather than unnecessary happyslapping.

It's a tender book in many ways, celebrating friendship and the ability of a person to achieve when he is supported by loved ones. Despite the dark offset and the difficulty of things to come to terms with, My Friend Jesus Christ is also a very funny read. It manages to encompass so many emotions in such a short space - definitely worth the read. So glad I found this! (So thanks Edinburgh Book Festival for giving me the chance to hear him!)

Alphabet Thursday: V

(This Alphabet Thursday is brought to you by bank holiday Monday. Last Thursday was far too crazy to consider writing any blogs. Phew.)

Victor Mancini is a sex addict. He spends his evenings trying (or not so much) to kick his addiction while his mother is dying in hospital. He fakes choking in restaurants to pay for his mother's care bills; someone saves your life and they feel responsible to you forever, always sending cheques to be sure that you're getting along just fine. And so goes Victor's life.

Chuck Palahniuk's Choke explores Victor's relationships with other people. Victor spent his childhood being tossed between foster families. His mother was far from mentally capable (among other things) of looking after him, but she always managed to smuggle him away from his foster parents. Until he ended up back in their care. A nice little vicious circle.

In his adult life, Victor seems to need nothing more than stable relationships, a part of his life obviously lacking from his childhood. Hence the restaurant scenarios, getting attention from many people. Hence the sexual addiction support groups where he can be wanted by several women at any one time. Hence trying so hard to keep his mother alive on expensive health care.

Much of the time Victor can come across as very arrogant, and he's definitely not everyone's favourite Palahniuk character. But I like him, perhaps because I can pity him. There was understanding of his broken ability to communicate and relate to others and at points I was very sad for him. Poor Victor.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hopping Back into the Blogosphere!


At long last I have myself a brand new laptop. It's sleek, easy to use, light and lovely. Such a beauty compared to that other hunk of junk I used to call my laptop. Without this bad boy I've been writing my novel on paper. It proved interesting, mostly because there are things scored out and asterisks everywhere - there is much to be said for the ability to edit on word processing software. I may have slipped online on occasion to post new reviews but stuff round here has been really slowly in terms of interactivity, comments, fun postings in between. That, I've missed out on everyone else's blogs. Blogsphere is circular because that's how it works - I comment here, and read there, and people comment and read in return.
So it's blog hop time again, thanks to Jennifer at Crazy-For-Books. This week she's asking about whether or not bloggers use a rating system on their blog, and why.

I think it's immediately obvious round here that there's no rating system in place. I never intended there to be, and there never will be. There is too much to say about a book to allow it to be simplified by numbers, without even going into the complications of a rating system (one person's 3 might be much better than another person's 3). That, and I personally find it incredibly childish. The last time I gave any book a number out of ten (or five, whatever) I was probably about 10 years old. Beyond that I realised how stupid it is to just donate a number to a book.

So how do you know what I think? You read the review. The whole point in a review is to weigh up the pros and cons of a particular book and come to a conclusion. There are far too many 'reviewers' floating around the web that give a summary of the plot and then say, 'I liked this. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.' That is NOT a review. No amount of reviewing has gone into that.

So, my reviews offer what I enjoyed about the book and what I didn't enjoy about the book. No doubt in the words I've used it will be obvious whether or not I liked it. Based on my pros and cons, ups and downs, a reader can decide for themselves what they think. I'm not going to recommend anything on the basis of stars or numbers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

For Review: Secrets of Eden ~ Chris Bohjalian

Alice Hayward is murdered on the night of her baptism, found in her home with her abusive husband who has shot himself with a handgun. And that's just the start of things. Secrets of Eden shares the consquences of the event and how it affects four different people.

One: Stephen Drew, Alice's minister and former lover. He's a logical man, clutching at his disappearing faith and trying to come to terms with his guilt over the situation - could he have potentially saved Alice?

Two: Catherine Benincasa, working on the case of the crime and suspecting that there is far more to this than a simple murder-suicide.

Three: Heather Laurent, author of books about angels and current lover of Stephen Drew. She was orphaned as a teen due to similar circumstances and as such feels a connection and a need to help.

Four: Katie Hayward, Alice and George's fifteen year old daughter. She's got a lot to deal with and a lot to think about, naturally.

Each part of the book is set up distinctly, each recalling the events in different ways and focusing on various parts of Alice's life, or of Alice's death. Four very different voices with very different experiences of life make the novel quite interesting - after all, everyone reacts to tragedy in various ways.

On the back of my copy, Jodi Picoult is quoted to say that there is, 'a  twist that will knock you off your feet.' First off, I hate such claims about books. It takes a lot to catch me out at the end of a book and I've been disappointed several times. This was another such time. There was absolutely nothing that knocked me off my feet at the end, so glaringly obvious in my eyes that there was no such twist. So, the book was a bit of a let down towards the end. In fact, it almost felt like it had ended as soon as it had begun - there was nothing to surprise me or shock me anywhere in this book.

Besides this, Secrets of Eden was an enjoyable read. It was nice, brainless fun. Though I can't see it winning any literary prizes, Bohjalian has far more talent than the majority of writers at his game.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing this book.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Five Books to Read or Else

I was recently asked to write a little something for the Edinburgh libraries newsletter. Naturally, I agreed, despite the shameful fact that I'm not signed up to any library anywhere. (Boo, hiss, I know).

So I wrote on five books to read before you die. Here they are:


What do you think?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Alan Bissett and Lars Husum 18 08

There is no doubt in my mind that Alan Bissett easily has a spot in my top five favourite writers. Yes, of all time. The man is genius, and everyone owes it to read at least one of his books at least once. My introduction to Bissett was back in 2005 when Adam Spark came out. I had tickets to go see him read at Waterstones but I was ridiculously sick that night. Alas. Since then time and time again I've had stupid things get in my way of seeing/hearing the man. But, many thanks to the Edinburgh Book Festival, this year was just my luck.

I've only been to one reading before (Ian Rankin) and it was quite an overwhelming affair; a posh school filled with lots of old ladies. Nice and all, but quite scary. This felt much more casual, and was more cosy in any case. Lars Husum read first from his debut novel My Friend Jesus Christ. It was the third time he'd read in English and I think he did a great job. He was lovely, amusing, and after his reading I bought the book immediately.

Then Bissett read. My goodness, what a performer. This is a man who knows what he's doing, and a man who quite clearly enjoys what he does. After remarks about superheroes a jet flies past, after mentioning Boyracers some cars rush outside. All very amusing coincidences. In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event. Signing time afterwards, and I joined the queue to have my copy of Death of a Ladies' Man signed. There's always the anxiety of meeting some you idolise admire. There's every potentiality that they'll be an idiot, for lack of a better word (and in the name of censorship). But he was genuinely very nice and we had a lovely chat involving my love for Charlie Bain (a rarity among women, apparently!).

And that will end there before I type: squeee.

Last night was Bissett again performing his one man woman show, Moira Monologues. A hilarious insight into the life of a working class woman from Falkirk (a life that I understand only too well). When he told me that Charlie would feature I knew it would prove interesting. Suffice to say that it's been a long time since I have laughed so hard. Perfect start to my weekend! I only wish I had known about this sooner because I would have recommended this show to any person that I bumped into - and during festival time that's a lot of people. Got my eyes peeled for STV installments and new releases etc etc.

Okay, raving over!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For Review: Double Fault ~ Lionel Shriver

Warning: Ramblings Ahead
(though they may be reasonably coherent)

Pickled. I'm in two minds about how to continue with this review; I strugglede with so many mixed feeling reading Double Fault.

Willy (Wilhemena) has devoted her life to tennis since the age of five. At twenty-three she's ready to break into the top 200 rankings. But then she meets her husban Eric who, though a late starter, is showing promise as a pro player. Their relationship is competitive from hte off; over who is most affectionate, whose family has achieved more, who can win at Scrabble. Soon enough, Eric not only catches up with his wife's tennis career, but betters it.

Willy struggles to come to terms with losing, especially agtainst her husband. I'm personally pretty certain that Willy never really loved Eric, which makes her bitterness towards him all the more fatal. She becomes riddled with jealousy to the point of self-destruction. At some moments I wanted to giver her a good slap, but other times there was a more genuine sympathy.

So what's the problem? Sometimes it felt like Shriver had a thesaurus always to hand and sometimes the narration was very confusing: they are on a bus, they appear off the bus, but are actually still on it. I have no idea where the whole Underwood thing sprung  up from since Eric introduces himself as Oberdorf in the first place. Double Fault was also full of ramblingly long sentences that I struggled to figure out. The latter is something I'm pernickety about given that I can be guilty of it in my own writing. In short, I'd happily go through an edit several paragraphs.

However, as much as the above would normally turn me away in disgust, there is something very compelling about Double Fault. As much as I am firmly team Eric, I needed to know how the relationship would span out, or what Willy may or may not do to salvage her career. There's an interesting story being told here and, despite the occasional glaringly obvious arguments over femininsm, the novel was very enjoyable. This is really no We Need to Talk About Kevin and written long before hand, this book only offers some glimpses of what Shriver can be capable of. All the same, Double Fault does include the curious characters and insight into relationships that Kevin was much loved for.

Alphabet Thursday: U

Alphabet Thursday has been on hiatus several weeks while I was on holiday to Germany. But it's back, and it's coming towards the end now (has this blog really been going on that long?). So here goes.

Pre-P.S: Alan Bissett was incredible last night, and I'm also very excited about Lars Husum. I fully intend to write about this event, but only when I can get over my gushing fungirling. Let's not be too silly about this, kids.

Uriah Heep is probably the only thing I enjoyed about David Copperfield. Don't get me wrong, Dickens is great and all, but that book...*yawn*

Obsequious is a great word, and it's one that comes instantly to mind about this character. I think everyone has met a Uriah at some point in time. I've been unfortunate enough to have come across several: Oh, I'm so humble and lowly and woe is me. Actually, you're a meanie and you know it, but you think that people won't notice if you're being a doormat. Dickens' Uriah Heep slithers and jerks and fidgets; like a slippery eel. It's almost as though his body language portrays some kind of discomfort.

Uriah does get his comeuppance for being corrupt and manipulative (as per Dickens novels) but that sickly, false humility stays with him. Yuck. I can't stand people like that; faking levels of self-esteem to get what you want is never attractive.

Monday, August 16, 2010

For Review: Daddy-Long-Legs ~ Jean Webster

Jershua Abbott spent her childhood in an orphanage and looked likely to spend her adult life likewise when she was chosen by a trustee to go to a college for young women. At 17 she embarks on an education she could only have dreamt of before, suddenly immersed into a world of the middle-class and their pre-occupations with clothes and leisure. However, she's not to know her trustee's name but is requested to write to him to give details of her progress. Daddy-Long-Legs, as she nicknames him, is given a series of letters through which this story is told.

Perhaps it's supposed to be part of her upbringing, but there's something impertinent and not entirely likeable about Jershua. In some ways she seems to have that Tracy Beaker rebellion going on. Despite being overly wilfull in her ways, there's also something endearing about her. Jershua (re-named Judy) grows into a refined young lady over the course of her education, yet she remains independent both of creativity and thought. As the novel progresses, so do her letters. There's an obvious development through the stages from nervous orphan to intelligent woman.

However, despite being a strong and independent woman of her time (book written 1913), she is still flattered by gifts and money. More to the point, though she claims that literature is her great love, she is only fully satisfied by marriage. Grr. The ending is ridiculously obvious (again, a novel of its time) but that doesn't spoil the novel. Just don't expect any great twists. The ending is thoroughly frustrating and I was quite fuming in suffragette mode by the end (which is highly unusual for me). It was a cute little read, all the same. After all, what girl doesn't want spoiled with jewellery, silk and flowers?

Read 08 August, to and from Hameln (home of the pied piper).

For Review: Goodbye Mr Chips ~ James Hilton

It's amazing how such a huge story can be told affectionately in such a short space of pages. Goodbye Mr Chips recalls the story of a school master; a lifetime that spans several decades. Mr Chips witnessed the change of a century, taught through a variety of royal and political times and was prominent during the Great War. It seems only fair that Mr Chips should be so highly revered by his students.

But his love and respect is far more deserving than that. The man has lived through his own share of heartache and despair. Despite grieving through tragedy, Mr Chips continued to teach and to give. While he may not necessarily be the most qualified teacher in the eduaction system, he never relenquished his well-loved authority and was always ready to pull his boys through any trials they came across.

James Hilton's story is tender, sweet and altogether has a very 'cute' feel about it. The book is filled with a nostalgic (and sometimes beautifully sad) recollection of a schoolmaster who taught generations of young men.

Read 07 August, in stunning weather at the freibad (outdoor pool).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

For Review: Bad Day in Blackrock ~ Kevin Power

The nature of Kevin Power's novel is ubiquitous: young man killed after a drunken night out. So many times I hear similar stories being broadcast and it's always sad to hear about them. My reactions vary from a well-he-probably-had-it-coming to some-people-are-horrible-bullies. But although these events are central to the story, Bad Day in Blackrock is about much more.

The novel follows the narrator as he tries to figure out the circumstances surrounding Conor Harris' death, seeking to reach some kind of closure. As such, the story draws upon the lives of the three accused of manslaughter; part of Dublin's upper-middle class system of Ugg boots and rugby. Power allows the reader a frank view of these young people's lives. Having gone to Edinburgh University, it was amusing to completely understand at once what kind of world these people come from - Power's selection of details is acute. Other than Conor Harris and his friends, the novel deals with the families of those involved. Conor's singular death proves to have implications on so many lives; those close to both the victim and the 'criminals'.

The narrator is nameless for the most part of the novel which leads to a variety of questions; how reliable is he? how is he able to gain inside knowledge? These questions puzzled me thoroughout but eventually things fall into place to make sad sense. But the narrator stresses that there are still so many unanswered questions - there is no catharsis to this story, much as there is none to be had for the loved ones of any murder victim.

Bad Day in Blackrock is  presented almost as a portfolio of evidence. From the very start of the book the narrator claims just to be trying to figure out what really happened August 2004. Data is presented through anecdotes and stories: who was where, when and why? Who said what? Power's book isn't verbose and the writing is often very matter-of-fact. But it is this tone that sets the startling contrast to the horrors of the story. Told in vivid phrase yet presented as faithful truth, Bad Day in Blackrock is an engrossing and thought-provoking read.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing this read.

Finished 07 August.
Read on the train journey from Bunde to Cologne and back again.

Friday, August 13, 2010

For Review: Death of a Ladies' Man ~ Alan Bissett

Alan Bissett's computer screen must have been full of those horrible red and green squiggly lines while writing this novel. If his laptop/PC/weapon of choice has auto-correct, the effort must have been amazing. One of the immediately striking things about Death of a Ladies' Man is Bissett's use of space. Words aren't always completed, sentences appear in bold amid a cloud of other sentences, lines break between immediate consciousness and flashbacks. Amazingly, none of this is confusing. Everything flows naturally in this stream of consciousness, and the whole effect is very exciting. For this aspect along I envy Bissett his clever brain.

Charlie Bain is (surprise) a self-confessed ladies' man; teacher of English by day, bad boy and lover by night. Of course, his seductive charm and witty intellect bleed into each other to create what is quite honestly a very attractive character. But in several ways, Charlie has his flaws and downfalls: struggling with divorce, trying to stay rooted and connected with his family, not to mention the questionable morals in sleeping around. Charlie is the kind of guy that you genuinely would find down your local indie club and perhaps this is why he is so intriguing.

Through the narration of Death of a Ladies' Man, the reader is exposed to the hidden and alien parts of the woman eating heart throb. At several points across the novel his intregrity and morals were questioned, but insight into his behaviour is peppered in flash backs. Beneath the smooth interior is an essentially depressed and stressed young man. The way he behaves and reacts becomes destructive, especially where relationships are formed. The tragedy was knowing and understanding Charlie and being able to predict his unforunate short comings. Ruining your life from the inside is very sad indeed.

All the same, Bissett has entertained with yet another immensely funny book. It's clever, witty and seductive while being very reflective of itself. Thoroughly enjoyable on several levels, Bissett is proving to move from strength to strength.

Finished - 04 August
Read on the journey from Edinburgh to Germany and in the garden of my family's new home.

P.S This is my 100th post. Hip hip!
P.P.S It's sad to see my blog lacking in pictures but my laptop is dead and I'm too scared to download anything on my boyfriend's computer in case my head gets bitten off. Ouch!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

For Review: Eleven ~ Mark Watson

Hallo! Back from Germany and just in from a Scottish storm following a ten hour shift at work. Phew. Long day. Had a wonderful time on holiday visiting my parents and my sisters and it's horrible to think that it's all over. Such a lovely and relaxing time crammed full of icecream, walks and reading.

There are many comedians who I groan out loud to see on television, there are those that I actively look forward to, and those that I'm always very pleased to see popping up from time to time. I'd never heard of any of his previous books before, but after happily seeing Mark Watson appear randomly across the television I was keen to give Eleven a shot.

Xavier Ireland moves to London from Australia and works his way to becoming a late night radio DJ. In his early morning slot he listens and empathises with his listeners. They appreciate both his witticisms and his advice. But Xavier struggles to extend these traits into his personal life and his decision (or lack of) surrounding one event causes an interesting chain of consquences in the lives of others. I've become a bit of a consequentialist as of late and the whole concept was fascinating. The consequences were subtle or slight, but the differences that they made were life changing.

Eleven exemplifies much of what I like in Mark Watson's comedy; clever, witty and honest. Each of the characters in the novel could be anyone living in your street - all their desires, all their failures, every aspect of their personality. There are no heroes, no villains, no prejudiced ideas. Just people. It's very refreshing to read about people who are just people. And that's exactly what makes the novel work. The narrator tenderly tells the story with full omniscience; he is able to tell us how the characters are connected, what will happen to minor characters. The foretelling of events of people that don't really 'matter' to the story was hugely interesting: essentially, every person mentioned in the novel matters.

While not necessarily always a laugh out loud read, Eleven was witty and thoroughly amusing. More than that, it was thoughtful, encouraging and life-affirming in the most intersting of ways.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen

Off in a couple of hours to catch my flight to Germany! Whoo hoo!~ Almost two weeks ahead of me with no work whatsoever; my longest holiday in about five years. So, so very exciting. Flight from Edinburgh to Dusseldorf then my parents will come pick me up and drive me to their lovely new home. Lots of sight seeing to look forward to and lots and lots of time for relaxing, reading, and writing. Mmm. Perfect.

Reading material?

Just started Death of a Ladies' Man - Alan Bissett.
Bad Day in Blackrock - Kevin Power
Eleven - Mark Watson

Slightly concerned that this might not be enough, but I've only got hand baggage and I can always steal a book from my mum!

In other news, my laptop has died a very horrible death. Poor Heathcliff. Logged on the other day to discover that my desktop was full of links to dodgy websites and there were a bunch of trojans and spammy things installed. Ouch. It was dying a death anyway. But that accounts for my slowness of updates.

So, I'm away for two weeks now. I may or may not get a chance to update, but either way auf wiedersehen, enjoy your weeks. See you soon!

Poem of the Month: July

John Donne is a good friend of mine.

The Flea

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
    And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

For Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower ~ Stephen Chbosky

Yet another book I wish I'd read in my early teens. I connected with The Perks of Being a Wallflower immediately and, without this sounding too morbid, I identified my teenage self with Charlie in many ways. There's fear, wonder and confusion in growing up. Always wondering about childhood, always worrying about the future, continually questioning relationships and the world; Chbosky has created a true coming-of-age novel.

Protagonist Charlie narrates through a series of letters addressed simply to 'Dear Friend'. There's an immediate relationship that comes from letter writing and the reader is at once enveloped in Charlie's world. In many ways Charlie is a 'typical teenager'; discovering himself through the songs he hears, the people he meets and, more importantly, the books that he reads. But still, Charlie's character is complex in a way the majority are not. While nothing is ever explicitly told by Charlie, his narration of events show his vulnerability, his anxiety and depression. As the story unfolds the reader learns more about his mind and his past and with a number of doctors and psychologists, it's clear that Charlie hasn't had it easy, even at the age of fifteen-sixteen.

There are so many YA or 'teenage' novels that boast angsty, rude and ridiculous characters and reveal inane high school plots. But The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so tenderly and beautifully written and reaches out to any reader who has ever experienced that teenage loneliness. In fact, at many points throughout the novel the word that came to mind was 'tender'. An adorable and heartfelt read, it aches with honesty in the gentlest of ways.