Bookish Chat About: Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize – Sponsored by Agora Books and Peters Fraser & Dunlop.

I am super excited to finally be able to tell you all about an exciting new project I will be working on.

Agora Books and Peters Fraser & Dunlop have set up a writing community called Lost The Plot, which is a space for aspiring authors to gain knowledge surrounding navigating the sometimes confusing world of publishing.

The concept is simple really, Lost The Plot is a community bringing writers together to connect in one space.  A hub of very useful, important and necessary information that any aspiring author might need.  Inspiration in the form of writing prompts, advice and industry insight including how to access resources, connect with other authors, find representation and navigate the waters of publishing.

Joining the community could not be easier, click here to sign up! What are you waiting for?

As if this is not awesome enough, they are running a writing competition with some amazing prizes. Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize, is open to anyone with a manuscript they want advice and possible representation on. The idea is that you will submit the first 3 chapters of anything you have been working on and you could potentially win:

  • A consultation with an Agora Books editor

 

  • A PFD agent

 

  • Feedback on your manuscript

 

  • A Writers Survival Kit

 

FABULOUS!

Two runners up with also receive feedback on their manuscript and a Writers Survival Kit, and two honourable mentions will receive a Writers Survival Kit aswell!

I think this is such a fantastic opportunity for any writer who is maybe unsure of how to get their work out there.  Imagine being able to get input and feedback on the work you have been putting your heart and soul into.  Professional advice like this is invaluable.

Details regarding how to enter the competition and full T’s & C’s can be found here.

It’s all really rather simple and you have absolutely nothing to lose!

The competition is open from Monday 1st July to Wednesday 31st July.  After this is where myself and my fellow panel judges do our bit. Exciting!

So who makes up the judging panel?….

We have Kate Evans Agora Books publisher, author Laura Pearson, literary agent Marilia Savvides and little ‘ole me! We will get our reading and judging heads on and come up with our winner and runners up ready to be announced on 28th August.

I feel really honoured to have been asked to part of the judging process, it’s nice when competitions like this can include a book blogger, not to blow my own trumpet, more blowing the trumpets of us all as a collective, but we do have important input! We fly the flag for great books, get a buzz going around great stories and just generally share the book love far and wide!

I am braced and ready to read some corking work! So get submitting!

Please also get following the Lost The Plot Twitter account here and the Instagram account here and the private Facebook group here, to keep up with all the news!

Exciting times are ahead, so don’t be shy, show us your work!

See you all soon.

 

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

 

 

 

 

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Others – Edited By Charles Fernyhough

Publisher: Unbound

Publication Date: 11th July 2019

The lovely Becca from Unbound contacted me to see if I would be interested in reading and reviewing Others edited by Charles Fernyhough and to be honest I very nearly said no.

I had recently read and absolutely ADORED Common People, a collection of short stories, memoir, and poetry edited by Kit De Waal on the subject of what it means to be working class and I was unsure whether I could enjoy another anthology or collection as much as this one. Could I really strike gold a second time?

Others is a collection of stories, poems, memoir and essays around what it means to be ‘other’ and the power of words to allow people to step into the shoes of people who are considered ‘other’ in some way, be that through disability, race, sexual orientation, mental health issues etc. Also it addresses this very interesting idea which has garnered some attention over the past few years that authors cannot write a story about a group of people or types of people that they have no experience of themselves.

I have to be completely honest and say that when I see the word ‘essay’ or even ‘poetry’ I doubt myself and have a real dose of imposter syndrome.

If it’s essays and poetry I won’t be able to understand it, will I?

I’m not clever enough.

It’s not a book for the likes of me.

I’ll have to pretend I understood it.

And herein lay the crux of my reticence with this book.

But I gave myself a shake when I read the list of amazing writers who have contributed to the book.

Sam Gulani

Damien Barr

Louise Doughty

Kamila Shamsie

And many more.

To be honest they were the only impetus I needed to say yes.

I’m so glad I did.

Others is split into 3 sections. The first entitled The Stranger Self which explores how meeting people with ‘otherness’ in whatever way, is a driving force for shedding light on how we ourselves appear to other people.

In this section we hear from someone who interprets an encounter in a pizza fast food chain as a casual act of racism against himself, and his assimilation of feelings on that. We hear from Colin Grant who is black but does t sound black and how the response from others in this regard has made him perceive his own identity.

The piece which really took me aback in this section was ‘Fast As Lightning’ by Peter Ho Davies in which he recounts a very high profile racist attack in which one man dies and his friend is left questioning his own loyalties not only to his friend but to his own race.

The second section is entitled ‘Not Like Me’ and here the pieces deal with how we react to people who don’t conform with what we consider to be ‘normal’ in our culture, whatever that may be.

In this section Damian Barr’s story ‘Look Not With The Eyes’ tells of a young man on the periphery but trying to conform until he gets drawn into the mesmerising world of a group of travelling actors and coming to terms with his potential ‘otherness’. In ‘Excuse Me, Your Otherness Is Showing’ Joanne Limburg deals with being given a late diagnosis of Aspergers and making sense of this. Almost giving people a reason to react the way they do to something being ‘not quite right’ about her and in the absence of any obvious disability as such, being able to label her.

The final section ‘A Tardis Of Souls’ celebrates how literature can force us into different shoes, different experiences and different points of view. In ‘Tuesday Lunch’ a young girl struggles against the differences between her school life, her home life and her religion. In A L Kennedy’s ‘Points For Lost Children’ a suffering homeless woman experiences the human kindness of a complete stranger who empathises with her struggles.

Kamila Shamsie’s piece ‘The A-Z Of An Earthquake Zone’ is extremely hard hitting in not only it’s content but the way in which brutal facts and deep human suffering are laid out in the form of a simplistic A-Z list. The two almost jarring against each other to elicit such an emotional response.

In fact many of the pieces in this collection made me feel emotional. As I reader I was almost whipped up and placed down firmly in the shoes of these ‘Others’. Just when I thought I was getting to grips with one persons story or message I was whisked away to another setting, another point of view, another struggle, another triumph.

I will be entirely honest and transparent and say that not all of the pieces resonated with me, particularly the pieces surrounding politics, and some of the poetry which I found slightly difficult to understand. I’m not great with poetry but I could appreciate it for what it was and I don’t think it was necessary for me to have understood it completely.

I enjoyed the wide ranging view points, be they in terms of race, disability, mental health, heritage, culture etc. This collection is a fascinating insight into what it means to be considered ‘other’ either be society or by yourself. How people react to otherness that they don’t quite comprehend and how this affects their behaviour.

It’s a highly emotional collection. A piece to get you thinking, empathising and understanding what it means to be ‘other’.

I read it in 2 sittings and can thoroughly recommend it. A very cleverly curated collection and the great thing is that after publication costs all net profits from the book will be donated to Stop Hate UK which works to raise awareness of hate crime.

Thank you to the lovely Becca at Unbound for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx

Bookish Chat About: My Favourite Books Of The Year So Far….

We are nearing the end of June and it seemed only fitting that I check in and do a Favourite Books Of The Year So Far post.  Its nice to do this at the halfway point in the year so that at the end of year I can look back and see if any of them make the overall final cut in the Favourite Books Of The Year post.

It has been a happy coincidence that I have chosen ten books for this list, which is a lovely round number.  I selected them by the very scientific method of scrolling through my Goodreads and assessing my gut reaction to the book.  I know, complicated right!

I am pleased to say that there is a non-fiction book and three short story collections/anthologies on this list, something I wouldn’t have thought would happen this time last year but you all know I’ve found an affinity with short story collections this year.

So without further ado or preamble, lets get stuck into the Top Ten of 2019 so far….

(These are in a loose date of reading order, with the oldest one first)

First up we have:

When I Had A Little Sister by Catherine Simpson – Fourth Estate 7/2/19

This book is the only non-fiction book to appear here.  It tells the story of Catherine Simpson’s sisters mental health issues and ultimate suicide.  It totally broke my heart.  I’m not a huge crier but I do remember finishing this book in the bath and sitting there crying until the water went cold.  It totally drained me and wrung me out.  I still often think about it now. My review is here.

 

Dignity by Alys Conran – W&N 4/4/19

This is a book that had the potential to fly under my radar were it not for being a book blogger.  It’s books like this that make me forever grateful that I get sent books unsolicited.  This book has a carer/patient relationship at it’s centre which is something I always love in books, so much so that I plan on doing a blog post about this whole dynamic soon.  However, it is also much much more than this.  We flit backwards and forwards in time and meet some phenominally strong female characters.  It totally blew me away and my review is here if you want to check it out.

 

Its Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mothers by Lisa Blower – Myriad 11/4/19

This is the first short story collection to appear on this list and is a book that will always have my heart due to the nostalgic nature of not only the title but the stories contained within it.  These stories based around the Stoke Potteries area have strong working class values threaded throughout.  We are introduced to some extremely strong, gutsy, northern matriarch voices that I for one will never forget.  My review is here.  Please do check it out.

 

Common People edited by Kit De Waal – Unbound 1/5/19

I have bundled Common People into the three short story collections but that isn’t strictly true.  It’s an anthology of poetry, memoir, and essays surrounding working class writers and what it means to them to be working class. I absolutely devoured this collection and as with Its Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s it was absolutely dripping with nostalgia.  I could draw so many parallels with my own working class northern upbringing that I could identify with elements of each and every piece.  The calabre of writers who contributed was astounding and I discovered some new favourites aswell.  My gushing review is here.

 

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal – Picador 2/5/19

Now you should all know by now that I love historical fiction.  Not only that, I love dark, gothic, historical fiction and The Doll Factory is an exquisite example of this.  This is a book I would like to put into everyone’s hands and say ‘Just read it!’.  In fact when I see people reading it for the first time I get jealous! I have a beautiful Waterstones copy with the sprayed edges sitting proudly on my forever shelf and there it shall stay.  Check out my review here

 

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson – Faber & Faber 5/6/19

Another perfect example of historical fiction with an educational edge! Not so far back in time this time though, Bedford in the 1920’s and the Panacea Society is the subject matter.  I found this book fascinating and it led to me doing lots of Googling throughout! My review is here.

 

Some New Ambush by Carys Davies – Salt 1/10/2007

I picked this short story collection up from Salt when they were doing a 20% off offer.  I had heard great things about Cary’s Davies’s novel West but hadn’t read it at the time. What I loved about these stories was the fact that they were a little ‘off’, some elements of magical realism, modern fairytales and fable-esque qualities. I read a fair few short stories and can sometimes get them mixed up in my head with other collections, however I can bring these stories to mind so effortlessly.  A real stand-out collection.  I have now reserved her second collection The Redemption Of Galen Pike from the library and I’m really looking forward to it.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Fourth Estate 28/1/2020

This was the first 2020 proof I received and I did toy with the idea of saving it until closer to the publication date but I ain’t about the delayed gratification life so I jumped right in! I know that this book will become a HUGE talking point next year on it’s release.  It covers the very difficult subject matter of sexual abuse and coercion between a male teacher and an underage female pupil at an american college. The protagonist, Vanessa has a relationship with her English teacher Mr Strane which disturbingly carries on in secret throughout her adult life even when he is accused by another former pupil of his of sexual misconduct.  Its a tough read and one that will prompt a lot of discussion.  It’s timely and compelling and raw.  It was a real eye opener for me and I have yet to assimilate my thoughts coherently enough to review it! So watch this space!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – Orion 1/11/2007

My first Diane Setterfield book was her most recent one Once Upon A River, which I just adored and reviewed here. When I posted pictures of The Thirteenth Tale EVERYONE and I mean EVERYONE said how great a book it is. It seems to be a story which has stood the test of time, with lots of people choosing to re-read it. It seems to stick with people in their minds and I know for sure it will stick with me forever. A perfect piece of historical fiction with a dual timeline narrative. So atmospheric and just stunning.

 

Finally we have The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns – Virago 1981

I have chosen this one having just finished it today.  It will be interesting to see if it makes the final cut at the end of the year after some time away from it.  At the moment I can safely say it has blown me away.  I am not going to say much more than that because I am in the process of writing the review which will be up soon.  Suffice to say that since closing this book a few hours ago I have been online buying and reserving from the library any Barbara Comyns books I can get my hands on!  A true testament of a great author!

So there we have it.  My half way Top Ten. Any surprises there?

Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts? and what will make in into your top reads at this half way point of the year?

See you all soon!

 

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Sweet Home By Wendy Erskine – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 27th June 2019

You all know I love me a short story collection, and Sweet Home with its quotes from the awesome Sarah Baume and Nicole Flattery is no exception.

These ten short stories set around a contemporary Belfast are sharp, incisive and chock full of emotion, but in an entirely understated way.

In Inakeen we meet a lonely widow who develops an obsession with her new neighbours, the fact they wear Niqab’s and their comings and goings.

Observation tells the story of a young girl who watches her friend steal her mother’s boyfriend, a mother unlike any other in the area, glamorous, fit and almost in competition with her own teenage daughter.

In The Soul Has No Skin we meet Barry, a man who is wrongfully accused of being involved with the abduction of a young girl in his late teens.

In Lady And Dog we meet Olga, an old-fashioned teacher with tragedy in her past who becomes obsessed with the young Gaelic football coach at her school.

A story of class distinction is brought to us in the title story of Sweet Home. Two couples from different social backgrounds are connected through one couples need for working income and the other couples loss of a child.

Last Supper is the understated tale of the manager of a Christian coffee shop covering up for his staff when they are caught having sex in the coffee shop toilets.

These stories give us insights into ordinary lives behind closed doors on ordinary streets. The characters are people who are either just trying to get by, or attempting to make something of their lives. These are people who could be living in your street.

What ties these characters together is that each of them has suffered a tragic or pivotal event in their past, be that loss or grief or violence. We then see how this has impacted on them in their current lives. I always enjoy this element of any story, be it in a novel or short story format. Seeing how an event however simple or life shaking can have repercussions, be they small ripples or echoes from the past or earth shattering consequences.

The characters in this collection are so well developed and engaging. I imagine it is no mean feat to write fully rounded characters that the reader becomes invested in when a story is only 20 or so pages long. In fact a couple of the stories I could imagine as full length novels. I experienced just enough of each of the characters to be satisfied with their story but also was left wanting maybe a little more…..which is a feeling I relish with short stories. I enjoy being left with a sense of ‘I wonder what happened to them after that’. There is a real sense of ‘reading between the lines’ and making assumptions about events and characters based on the feelings that you are drip fed, rather than being told explicitly.

The writing is quite anecdotal and conversational. Many of the stories feel like you are sitting down with a friend and chatting about other people’s lives. The dialogue is unpunctuated which is something I don’t always get on with, however in this case it works perfectly.

I am always a fan of making the ordinary extraordinary and in this collection Wendy Erskine has done just that. That sense of the mundane mingled in with the exceptional is one I really enjoy experiencing.  There is a hint of darkness in some of these stories, something else I enjoy, theres always something so propulsive about a hint of the sinister.

All in all this is a very accomplished short story collection.  I believe it is a debut, which only serves to make me very excited about Wendy Erskine’s work in the future.

If you’re a short story fan then this book is an absolute must for you.

Thank you to Alice May Dewing and the publisher for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish  Chat xx

Bookish Chat About: The Big Ten

At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post about blogging goals for the coming year. I wanted to be able to showcase some of the books I already have on my shelves and not just the lovely brand spanking new proofs that arrive through the door.

I have a few ideas of how I can theme these blog posts, the first of which is this one, right here, right now.

Kicking it all off with showing you lovely lot the 10 biggest books on my shelves. And by ‘biggest’ I simply mean the longest in terms of page count. I think I’ve got them all, I don’t think there are any chunky books still lurking that I’ve overlooked!

I do love a big book, but since life in the book blogging world has cracked on at a pace, I find myself less and less inclined to pick up the big books due to time constraints. Which lets face it, is a damn shame.

Now some of these ten books I’m going to talk about, I have actually read. Most however I haven’t. I will probably include blurbs for the books (even though I don’t like blurb heavy blog posts!) it’s better you find out what they are about from a synopsis rather than me trying to fudge my way through it! And for the books I’ve read I will include a link to my review if I have one.

I will start with the shortest book first and make my way up to the longest.

Sit tight.

And we’re off!….

The Parentations by Kate Mayfield –  Published by Point Blank  (496 pages)

 

BLURB:

Eighteenth-century London – the lives of the sisters Fitzgerald, Constance and Verity, become entwined with the nearby Fowler household, charged with providing safe harbour to a mysterious baby from far away.

Camden, London, 2015, December 17th – the lives of the sisters Fitzgerald, Constance and Verity, are consumed by the wait for this boy, who may or may not be dead. There is no way of knowing.

Deep within the savage beauty of Iceland, a hidden pool grants those who drink from it endless life. For those that have, their secret must remain held close for two hundred years, but time is slipping away, and malign forces are gathering.

And for those who have sipped from the pool, they discover all too quickly that immortality is no gift, because in the absence of death, true darkness emerges.

To be honest ‘Eighteenth-century London’ was pretty much all I needed to read to draw me into this book! However, I have also heard good things about it, (mainly from Simon over at Savidge Reads) and so I knew this book could be potentially a ‘me’ book. Sounds fab!

 

The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar – Harvill Secker  (496 pages)

BLURB:

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock finds one of his captains waiting eagerly on his doorstep. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society, where he meets Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course.

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the legendary destructive power a mermaid is said to possess?

This book will always have a piece of my heart.  It was one of the first books I was granted permission to read via Netgalley, one of the first books I reviewed and of course it was the shadow panel’s winner of  The Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year Award 2018 and yes I was on that panel.  An experience and a book I will never forget.  My review and details about the award if you are interested are here.

 

Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones published by Faber & Faber (544 pages)

BLURB:

Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950’s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves an invaluable asset.

Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

This is another book I discovered via BookTube and have only heard great things.  I do enjoy books set in the 1950’s and I have always had a fascination with how homosexuality was addressed in those days.  I really do need to head to this one soon.

 

Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly Published by Unbound (640 pages)

BLURB:

If you tell a story oft enough
So it become true

As the nineteenth century draws towards a close, Mary Ann Sate, an elderly maidservant, sets out to write her truth.

She writes of the Valleys that she loves, of the poisonous rivalry between her employer’s two sons and of a terrible choice which tore her world apart.

Her haunting and poignant story brings to life a period of strife and rapid social change, and evokes the struggles of those who lived in poverty and have been forgotten by history.

In this fictional found memoir, novelist Alice Jolly uses the astonishing voice of Mary Ann to recreate history as seen from a woman’s perspective and to give joyful, poetic voice to the silenced women of the past.

This book caught my eye when it was nominated for The Rathbones Folio Prize. I was very kindly sent a copy by Unbound and when I received it I have to admit that on looking at the layout of it, I was a little intimidated!  It looks like poetry on the page.  Poetry scares me!  I know that it isn’t actually poetry and I have heard some amazing things about it, so the intimidation has changed to excitement with this one.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne published by Black Swan (736 pages)

BLURB:

Forced to flee the scandal brewing in her hometown, Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant and alone, in search of a new life at just sixteen. She knows she has no choice but to believe that the nun she entrusts her child to will find him a better life.

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery, or so his parents are constantly reminding him. Adopted as a baby, he’s never quite felt at home with the family that treats him more as a curious pet than a son. But it is all he has ever known.

And so begins one man’s desperate search to find his place in the world. Unspooling and unseeing, Cyril is a misguided, heart-breaking, heartbroken fool. Buffeted by the harsh winds of circumstance towards the one thing that might save him from himself, but when opportunity knocks, will he have the courage, finally, take it?

This is another book which very much has a piece of my heart.  This was my first John Boyne and undoubtedly my favourite.  It is soooo worth all of those 736 pages! My review is here.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova published by Sphere (752 Pages)

BLURB:

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. 

This book was one of my Mr B’s Emporium monthly book subscription books. When I posted a picture of it on both Instagram and Twitter there were so many people singing it’s praises! You will know that I love me a bit of historical fiction and the reaction this one elicited has given me high hopes!

 

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates published by Fourth Estate (752 pages)

 

BLURB:

Who was Norma Jeane Baker?

In ‘Blonde’ we are given an intimate, unsparing vision of the woman who became Marilyn Monroe like no other: the child who visits the cinema with her mother; the orphan whose mother is declared mad; the woman who changes her name to become an actress; the fated celebrity, lover, comedienne, muse and icon. Joyce Carol Oates tells an epic American story of how a fragile, gifted young woman makes and remakes her identity, surviving against crushing odds, perpetually in conflict and intensely driven. Here is the very essence of the individual hungry and needy for love: from an elusive mother; from a mysterious, distant father and from a succession of lovers and husbands. Joyce Carol Oates sympathetically explores the inner life of the woman destined to become Hollywood’s most compelling legend. ‘Blonde’ is a brilliant and deeply moving portrait of a culture hypnotised by its own myths and the shattering reality of the personal effects it had on the woman who became Marilyn Monroe.

I saw this book on somebody else’s Instagram account and immediately got the ‘I NEED that!’ vibe! I have always had a little fascination with Marilyn. I’ve watched a fair few documentaries about her and I think she was far shrewder than the masses believe her to have been. I also love a bit of Fictionalised Non-Fiction so I know that I will love this one.

 

The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber published by Canongate (864 Pages)

BLURB:

‘Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them . . .’

So begins this irresistible voyage into the dark side of Victorian London. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge.

This book is my FAVOURITE book of all time. It is just utterly perfect. I read it a couple of years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. It is just my kind of historical fiction, grim, dark, gritty and fantastic! If I could press just one book into every readers hands it would be this one. Check out my thoughts here.

 

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell published by Pan Macmillan (992 pages)

 

BLURB:

Tomorrow is another day . . .

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell’s magnificent historical epic is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and a people forever changed. Above all, it is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

Since its first publication in 1936, Gone With The Wind has endured as a story for all our times.

Talk about intimidating! I have no idea what it is about this book that really scares me! I’ve never seen the film and have only ever read really glowing reviews of the book. I think maybe there’s a lot of pressure to love it because it’s a classic? What do you think? Have you tackled it?

 

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser published by Penguin (1248 pages)

BLURB:

The Quincunx is an epic Dickensian-like mystery novel set in 19th century England, and concerns the varying fortunes of young John Huffam and his mother. A thrilling complex plot is made more intriguing by the unreliable narrator of the book – how much can we believe of what he says? First published in 1989, The Quincunx was a surprise bestseller and began a trend for pastiche Victorian novels. It remains one of the best.

I picked this up secondhand when a fellow historical fiction lover recommended it to me over on Twitter. I know very little about it aside from the brief blurb and at a staggering 1248 pages it really is the daunting big daddy of the bunch!

I’m sure one day I’ll get around to reading the behemoths I haven’t read yet! I may have to do it in stages!

I’ll still always be attracted to a big book, what are your thoughts? And more importantly, can you recommend any other stonkers to me?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Red Circle Mini’s – Mini Reviews

Publisher: Red Circle Authors Ltd

When Richard at Red Circle Authors emailed me to ask whether I would be interested in reading 3 short stories written by Japanese authors and translated into English, I said yes please for two reasons.

One, I have read very little translated fiction. As I write this I am racking my brain to try and think whether I’ve actually read ANY translated fiction….if I have then it was completely inadvertently and that’s a crying shame.

Secondly, if you’ve been around here for a while, you will undoubtedly know that I LOVE a short story and take great pleasure in treating myself to a soak in the bath and good little blast of fiction.

Richard very kindly sent me a trio of short stories, two of which have been translated from Japanese. The premise of each of the stories (after a little googling) sounded intriguing and I was hopeful that I would be in for a treat.

First up we have Stand-In Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi.

This little gem stands at 43 pages long and tells the story of the marriage of Hayato and Yutori, a couple struggling with fertility issues at a time where IVF is no longer approved aside from special cases. Black market IVF is available at huge cost, not just financial, if a pregnancy resulting from IVF is discovered, an abortion is ordered.

This is a dystopian tale of their love, loss, jealousies and fertility struggles. When they divorce and lose each other, stand-in companions are requested to take each other’s place. Essentially this is an AI unit which looks exactly like them and which has their memories downloaded into them. Amazing right?!

However, these companions are meant only as a temporary salve for the loss of a loved one and usually assigned to the bereaved and have a life span of only 10 years. After this their signal is interrupted and they cease functioning.

What I loved about this quirky dystopian story was the real heart stored within its brief number of pages. Despite being centred around technology and ‘robots’ if you will, it was absolutely drenched in human emotion. A story that packed a huge punch and had me thinking about advancing technology and the way the world could be in the future. It’s amazing that such a brief story can really get you thinking!

Next up we have Tokyo Performance by Roger Pulvers. This one is the only one originally written in English and therefore not translated (obvs!). This tells the story of television celebrity chef Norimasa ‘Nori’ Inomata in the pre-internet age. A man who has revelled in his fame and relished it for decades. A man who has personality and charisma in abundance and who is capable of having the middle aged ladies eating out of his hand with his smooth talk and slightly racy innuendo. When Nori takes a phonecall from his ex-wife live on air, his life and celebrity status begins to unravel. Told through the eyes of his overlooked female producer this is a fascinating insight into the notion of ‘celebrity’ and the very public breakdown of a much loved star live on TV.

The format in which this story is written was a large plus point for me. Alternating between the narrative of Nori’s producer between ad breaks and the live dialogue flow of Nori as he presents his cooking show and talks to his studio audience. (I must admit the food descriptions drew me in too!).

A quirkily told tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lastly in this trio we have Backlight by Kangi Hanawa. I knew this was about a young boy going missing in the mountains but I didn’t realise it was based on the true story of the 7 year old boy who was kicked out of his family car into bear inhabited mountains by his parents as a punishment. When they returned some ten minutes later, the boy had disappeared. This happened in 2016 and the boy was eventually found alive and well (if a little hungry!) six days after he disappeared. Interestingly this story is told from the perspective of various psychologists who were working on the case and trying to decipher how the boy would have felt and how he would have been thinking and therefore which actions he took and where he could have possibly headed.

This trio of short stories felt very fresh and unique, I was interested to not only read the stories themselves but the story behind how they came to be published and the background of the three authors who have won numerous literary awards between them. They are books that I perhaps wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up to read, but they have made a very welcome home on my bookshelf.

Thank you very much to Richard and Red Circle Authors for sending me the books and allowing me experience some great translated fiction.

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Diary Of A Somebody By Brian Bilston – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 13th June 2019

I have been following Brian Bilston over on my personal Twitter account for a good while now and I have always loved his poems.  He is great at reading the mood and putting out a little poem to put a smile on people’s faces.  As most of you will already know, I like to occasionally pen a few lines myself, nothing on the scale or quality of Brian’s poems but it’s something I find satisfaction and enjoyment in.  Anyway, what I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that I was excited to get my hands on a proof of Brian’s book as I knew I stood a good chance of really enjoying it.

And enjoy it I did!

It’s the start of a new year and Brian is hoping to gain some clarity and perspective in his tricky life.  He decides he will write a poem a day for a year as salvation from his problems.  His wife has left him for a man who can do no wrong, he is trying to forge a relationship with his teenage son who he seems to consistently disappoint.  He is drowning at work in a sea of management speak and indecipherable spreadsheets, barely keeping his head above water.

His saving grace is the poetry club he belongs to, but even that is proving to be difficult to navigate as he clashes with poet extraordinaire Toby Salt.  Toby is on the up and up in the poetry world and has even achieved the holy grail of having his work published.  Toby is not only Brian’s nemesis in terms of poetry, he also has his eye on Liz, a woman who Brian has a growing affection for.

But when Toby goes missing and Brian is firmly in the frame, he must think on his feet and deduce what has happened to Toby in order to clear his name.

This book was such a treat to read as I knew it would be.  Brian is such a great character, he’s, dare I say it, a bit hapless but entirely loveable.  There were times when I was cringing at some of the things he says and does, particularly involving his interactions with Liz.  You can see as an outside observer that he is unintentionally pushing her away but he’s oblivious to it.  Poor Brian!

The relationship he has with Toby Salt is wryly humourous, I can fully imagine how annoying and insufferable someone like Toby could be.  The one person in the poetry group who is successful, and feels it necessary to critique the others work and belittle them, particularly our lovely Brian.

In fact, all of Brian’s relationships are very engaging.  The sometimes faltering bond between him and his son is so touching. Brian is just trying his best in the shadow of Stuart, his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, a man who seems too good to be true.  It seems as if Brian is always swimming against the tide.

For me the crowning glory in the book, (and the real draw for me if I’m honest) is the actual poetry.  I am in awe of the skill and wit Brian incorporates when he is crafting his poems.  I could read them over and over again and still take such pleasure in them.  I was constantly taking pictures of the poems and sending them to my Husband.  There were a few times that I wanted to stand up on the bus and just say ”’Ere, shut it everyone! listen to this, it’s brilliant!”.  Alas, I’m not brave enough!

Another great thing about this book is how it makes poetry so accessible.  I don’t know about you but there are certain types of poetry that go straight over my head, there can often be a slight apprehension around it, at least it feels that way for me.  However, the poetry in this book I feel would be appreciated and understood by everyone.  Although it is so sharp and cleverly constructed it is still packed full of humour and relatability.

I saw Brian Bilston put a tweet out on the day he went to record the audiobook, saying that he was going to have to come up with interesting ways to read the poems, given that some of them are pictorial and rely on a visual image to make sense.  For example:

I think I need to listen to the audiobook now to see just what ingenius ways were invented to get around this issue!

All in all this book was a joy, it has heart and emotion but isn’t too deep.  It has wry humour and clever poetry to make you chuckle (or in my case, make you think ‘I wish I could write poetry like that!’).

If you love wordplay and poetry you can relate to and absorb then I would most heartily recommend this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thank you to Camilla Ellworthy and the publisher for my proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx