Wednesday, March 28, 2012

For Review: Under The Same Stars ~ Tim Lott

Give me a novel where the characters names are Salinger and Carson, and I'm pretty much definitely going to read it. Under the Same Stars features said two brothers on their road trip across the States to find their estranged father. Salinger travels from London to meet Carson in New Orleans, the two brothers already worlds apart as they try to figure out family truths.

There are so many books out there about mother/daughter relationships, about sisters doing things together, women familial relationships. Maybe I've just not noticed all the ones where the guys are at it, but there's something very interesting about a brother relationship, and between brothers and fathers. Probably, that's because I've never been a male, so I've never known exactly what that is like. My own brother has three sisters, so, in fact, maybe I just like reading about brothers because it's not something that I know so well. Suffice to say that Salinger and Carson have a really gutsy relationship. Carson left England to persue the American dream, and so far so very good for him. But Salinger stayed in London where he struggled with mental illness and an artist's temperaments. Under the Same Stars shows well that funny way that something tragic, or potentially so, can throw two people together and make them realise things about themselves and each other. But it's subtle, and the tensions exist in small unexpected places.

The novel itself is, despite some of bizarre mishaps along the way, very real and honest in how it deals with family relationships. Their father is always somehow absent leaving the reader to speculate how the reunion might work. There were so many ways it could go, and while the whole ordeal isn't quite cathartic, it is definitely satisfying. That said, the book is based on Lott's memoirs of a similar experience he had with his own brother.

Still, Under the Same Stars is fiction. It reads like fiction, and it's full of some gorgeous landscapes that really make me want to take the same trip across the South West of the USA. The book definitely appeals to my sense of wander lust, and some of the food sounds great too. It's exotic,  hot, sweaty, and different; the perfect background for this brother story.

Friday, March 23, 2012

For Review: Pyg ~ Russell Potter

The Memoirs of a Learned Pig. What's not to love?

Toby was a prizewinning pig, sold away to the slaughter. But with the help of a human boy, Sam, they run away and find themselves part of Mr Bisset's performing animals. Toby, however, is far more than a dancing turkey. Mr Bisset shows him how to fetch letters to spell words like YES, NO or MAYBE (he's a fortune telling pig, don't you know?) but Sam teaches him how to read. Toby becomes a very learned pig indeed with studies at Oxford and Edinburgh. The world doesn't seem entirely ready for a clever pig, however, and Toby finds himself subject to slander and mischief.

Born in 1781, Toby's memoirs are very much in the style of late 18th/early 19th century literary writings. There are captialised words, italicised words, and the general tone is as you would expect a scholar of the 1700s to sound. But for all that, it's an amusing and heartfelt read. I'm not the biggest fan of the 18th century, but Toby's telling of his life is very enjoyable. He meets Robert Burns, after all, and that's pretty great.

What's important to remember is that these are memoirs, only edited by Russell Potter. There's an editor's note before the start, and a series of notes at the end to reference Latin phrases and the various characters that appear throughout. It's all very legitimate, and all very charming.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...



- Ira Glass

(on the odd occasion, the internet reveals things that are useful)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For Review: Losing Clementine ~ Ashley Ream

Clementine Pritchard has decided to end her life, but she's decided to take a month to do it. In thirty days, Clementine has to sort her life out before it ends, which means road trips to Mexico with her ex-husband, seeking out her estranged father, and finishing her final work of art.

Clementine herself is a woman to be reckoned with - an artist with an I'll Do What I Want Cause I'm Dying attitude, matched too with dry humour and interesting ideas about people and the world around her. While not initially the kind of woman I wanted to spend thirty days of narrative with, there was a curious charm about her that kept me reading. She's plenty flawed, and as the book goes on, there are some horrible truths to her past revealed; I was entirely sympathetic of her decision to die.

Ashley Ream tells her story from Clementine's point of view, and the narrative is sensitive to the ways that she sees the world. Losing Clementine is a sensual read - Clementine is a mixed media artist, and she notices the quality of cardstock of a business card, or a menu. But my favourite parts have to be the descriptions of food. Ream does this so fantastically well that I spent a lot of time reading this with a hungry tummy. It's just so delicious, the tastes and the smells and the sounds of the diners/restaurants. Mmm. It makes me wish I ate out more often, but I'm not a rich artist living in Los Angeles.

Of all the relationships in the novel, the strongest (and most authentic, probably) was that between Clementine and her cat Chuckles. Such is actually the saddest crux of the book. But it's through all these various relationships with family, friends, faux-family and faux-friends, that Clementine makes her ultimate decision to die. Then we read the end point and the actual end of the novel, and I'm not really sure how I feel about all of this. Maybe just a paragraph or two more, and I'd be much more satisfied. On starting a book about suicide, there's the inevitable Will She/Won't She, and my decision was made at the start, though it changed throughout, but remained the same at the end. Still, not sure what I think about that.

All in all, though, Losing Clementine is an entertaining debut and it can be refreshing to read a book that is so focused on character rather than plot. There are various stories and plotlines going on here, but the focus is on Clementine and the people she knows. For a book on mental illness and suicide, it's quite a delight!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Had We But World Enough, and Time

This week's Literary Blog Hop question ponders how I manage to fit reading into my life:

How do you find time to read, what's your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society's priorities?

1. I don't find time to read. I have the time to read, and I fit my life around that. Yeah, I work full time in a job that... well, it's a job, and I'm writing a novel, and I do have friends that I socialise with. But there's always reading. I read during my lunch breaks at work (but never to the point of being rude or ignoring people - who are we to understand any stories when we don't communicate and live?), and I read on my days off for long hours at a time. And I read after work, or before work. I don't read in bed, unless I'm sick, but that's because a) I'm falling asleep and don't pay enough attention and/or b) psychologically I like to think of bed as sleep space, rather than reading space.

2. Reading style? I open my eyes and I read the words.

3. Literacy for all! Whether you love literature or just need to spell good for a job, reading is very important. That's why it's taught at school. But, in terms of society (if we're going all Plato's Republic on this) can you imagine the state of the world if everyone was a huge book lover and just read books all day?! That, and if there wasn't a horrible society where a large portion of people didn't care about books, I'd have nothing to fight for or scream about. I might have to take more interest in...stock markets or something. Imagine a world full of book lovers... Crazy!



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bookish Gifts for a Cause!

Not that I'm complaining, but book tokens are a definite gift every birthday and Christmas. Definitely not complaining. But friends have said, "But I don't want to just get you a book." I'm not hard to buy for because if it's cute or kitsch then I'll love it. Still, the world does need bookish gifts for bookish people.

GoneReading.com has a bunch of fun present ideas for book readers, from tshirts to bookplates, and even games. My personal favourite is the It Was A Dark & Stormy Night game (hint, hint, my birthday is only several months away...)

Better still, your bookish consumerism helps to fund a good cause. Gone Reading has its own Philanthropic Mission:

We believe that when people have open access to great reading materials, life always changes for the better. When libraries and reading materials are made available, people and their communities thrive through increased opportunity and self-empowerment.
That’s why Gone Reading International donates 100% of our after-tax profits to provide new funding for libraries and reading-centered non-profits.  By purchasing GoneReading brand gifts and merchandise, you’re treating yourself and the world at large to a wonderful gift.  All purchases from GoneReading help contribute to our philanthropic work.

I'm always a fan of spreading the love of the written word, and hence a mention of their cause here!

AND

They've given me a 25% discount coupon for my lovely readers. Whoo! So if you fancy some readerly tshirts or a new reading light, then use MELODRAMA25 for your percentage off - you can use it for anything on the site, except for the bookends (which are very cute).  Think of all the birthdays and things coming up - this might come in handy!

So many nice things.

Friday, March 09, 2012

For Review: Boxer, Beetle ~ Ned Beauman

A nine-toed gay Jewish boxer in the late 1930s and a 21st century collector of Nazi memorabilia - how was that not going to be a great book? Just the idea strikes of something brilliant, which is how it ended up on that long to be read list, and it was exciting to see it as this month's Scottish Book Talk read.

Kevin collects Nazi stuff as a hobby and his employer rewards him with items for doing various errands. At the start of the novel it leads to him discovering a dead man and a letter from Adolf Hitler to a Doctor Erskine. The book is peppered with chapters surrounding an investigation into who this Erksine is, and what discovery he made that so impressed Hitler.

But the best bits? The best was Seth Roach and Philip Erskine, two completely opposing worlds coming together in the most unlikely of relationships. Seth, or Sinner in the boxing world, is a short, stocky guy, but very tough, and very beautiful. Erksine is an aristocratic enthusiast of entomology and eugenics. He wants to use Seth as an experiment of sorts, part of learning how to sift how out the good genes of a person and carrying them on without all the bad characteristics that come with being a Jew. Their way of interacting with one another is fascinating, and highly unpredictable, not least because of the sexual tension between them.

Seth is brash, a born fighter, and an alcoholic. He's selfish, has no consideration for anyone but himself, and he likes to steal what he can for his own hedonism. I hesitate to say that I like him... but I didn't dislike him. He's a tricksy kind of guy with (for all his seventeen years) an unpleasant family childhood, but sometimes that didn't excuse him of the way that he treated others. Or maybe, it's just that I felt a particular inclination for Erskine. Maybe I'm just biased. Erskine is by no means perfect - eh, hello, that kind of science is racist and outdated - but I'm always partial to a tortured or confused soul. There's something so simple in his search for new species, something so exciting about his discovery of the swastika, but something so lost and disappointing in his understand of his sexuality. Yes, he could be a bit of a twat, but I really like him. Beauman's acute ability to cast together such odd characters in such odd circumstances is brilliant. It's all quite bizarre, but in a way that's very readable.

The narrative moves between storylines and timelines, and there were times I wanted just to go back to Seth and Erskine. There's a huge list of characters here, and they're introduced and abandoned. There's a: Here is Tom. And here are several pages talking about his life but actually it doesn't go anywhere and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the book. Not that these little narratives weren't interesting, but the most engaging thread of Boxer, Beetle is the Sinner/Erskine plot.

Beauman tackles a lot of ground with his debut and again, there are parts I loved more than others, but it's a properly decent read, and if any of the above sounds remotely interesting, then I'd give it a go.

There's another great podcast over at the Scottish Book Talk website - click here, and listen here.

- Interestingly enough, they talk about the 'strong content' of the novel. Perhaps it's the kind of book that I read, but that never occurred to me. And, as a Sinner x Erskine fan, I think much of the visceral stuff was important. I'm never one to shy away from that kind of content and personally, I wouldn't say it was very strong at all. But I'm twisted that way in my fiction.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Welcome to SubtleMelodrama.com!

My beautiful baby blog is two years old today! That's two years, a lot of reviews, plenty followers coming and going, 2552 comments have been made, and 86, 387 looksies on the site. Phew.




As a present, I've bought Subtle Melodrama Book Reviews her very own web domain, so say hello to

www.subtlemelodrama.com

Whoo!~

So thanks very much to everyone who's flitted around my little corner of the web these past two years!

xx

Thursday, March 01, 2012

For Review: Bed ~ David Whitehouse

Last summer I did an internship at Canongate books. That was an amazing experience. I was part of the marketing and publicity folks, doing press releases and emailing famous people. One of my jobs was going through newspapers and magazines looking for reviews of Canongate releases. Bed by David Whitehouse was a constant winner and it was one of the many books that I had to take away with me. And wow, I'm glad I did.


Malcom Ede decides one day that he's never getting out of bed. He stays there twenty years, growing morbidly obese, and then some. The story is told by Mal's younger brother who recalls awkward childhood memories while considering the fraternal relationship. Initially, I was just concerned about what a jealous younger brother might have to say, and how bitter feelings might manifest themselves. That was very much a strand of the narrator's story, but what struck me was how immediately I was sucked into their world. It's a very real world that I think anyone in any family can recognise, despite how bizarre and heartbreaking some events may be. The narrator is so honest about many things, especially the disappointments of childhood and they're retold with feeling as raw as the day they were felt. And yet there was always such a sense of comfort to it all. Bed included what I like to call the Lolita effect (and I'm not for any moment equating those crimes with morbid obesity): that way of making something that seems so instinctively wrong feel okay, totally natural. Like it or not, there is something disturbing and grotesquely fascinating about the idea of a fifty stone man attached to his bed. But the narrator makes the reader really feel for him, for his family, for Mal, and for the whole situation.

The first however many pages were spent wanting to know why, really wanting to find out what would possess an attractive and successful twenty five year old to go to bed and never get out. And without giving too much away (because I really enjoyed that slow 'what is it?' looming), I get it. I turn twenty five in July and really, I totally get it. Part of me is with Mal, and I think a lot of readers could say the same.

Bed was a great read, fascinating because it was both surreal and real at once. Each of the characters was brilliantly drawn, and my heart went out (sometimes very achingly) to all of them. I've read some books this year where I didn't give two whatevers to some of the characters, but here I really found something to love in all of them. Bed seems to be referred to as a coming-of-age novel, and it many ways it is, only that the coming-in-age keeps on going, two brothers in their forties still learning so much. Tender and clever; yeah, I liked this book a lot.