Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Book Review: Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Lord knows I love short chapters. Therefore I knew this book would please me. And lo, so it did.
Like it’s chapters, this book is very slim. Yet somehow, through the brilliant, subtle writing, this novel has an epic quality of huge scope as the main character, a French silkworm merchant, travels between France and Japan. It is on a trip to Japan that our silkworm merchant sees and falls in love with a woman he sees there. Infatuation ensues and what comes next challenges ideas of loyalty, desire, love and betrayal. Read it. End of story. Read it.

Blurb please and thank you:

 “This sensual and hypnotic novel tells a story of adventure and obsession. In 1861 French silkworm merchant Herve Joncour travels to Japan, where he encounters the mysterious Hara Kei. He develops a painful longing for Kei’s beautiful concubine – but they cannot touch: they do not even speak. And he cannot read the note she sends him until he has returned to his own country. But the moment he does, Joncour is enslaved.
Subtle, tender and surprising, Silk is an evocative tale of erotic possession.”

Book Review: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

            Apparently Scandi-Crime is o-v-e-r. It’s all about French Crime now. And you heard it here so give me credit when it happens thank you please.
Hold on to your wig and definitely don’t read after a meal because you will probably gag. This book is incredibly raw, violent and gory so be prepared, but don’t let that put you off because it’s a really good story. There are twists and turns galore here, from the first page to the big reveal twist at the end. There is a really good and even mix of the story of the victim – Alex -, and the story of the police who attempt to help her and solve the mystery of what happened.
If you don’t usually read crime novels then I really recommend this title because I did actually really enjoy it. Then again, if you do read crime novels then give this a go – apparently there’ll be plenty more in the series – and I think they will be a really good series to invest yourself in.

Back blurb time:

“Alex Prevost – kidnapped, savagely beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a wooden cage – is running out of time. Her abductor appears to want only to watch her die.
Apart from a shaky eyewitness report, Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven has nothing to go on: no suspect, no leads. To find the young woman, the detective – a man with a tragic past and extraordinary abilities as an investigator – must first understand more about her.
Beautiful, tough, resourceful, always two steps ahead – the enigma that is Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing till the bitter, bitter end. Before long, saving Alex’s life will be the least of Verhoeven’s considerable challenges.”

Friday, 23 August 2013

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

            So last week I took my partner of a year to London to see Wicked The Musical. And oh my goodness it was absolutely incredible. So I managed to cram reading the book into the week before that because I always like to read the book first (you know so that I can judge how different it is and sit there all judgmental, constantly saying “well that didn’t happen in the book”). I was surprised, as I’m sure you can imagine, when I didn’t even say it once! I was too awestruck because it was AMAZING!
            The musical is very different from the book because, well, it’s a musical and they need to jazz things up and make them family friendly and what-not. Which was why I was so curious to see how they would adapt it for the stage because the book is very adult and there are some very prominent themes that are almost political and there’s a lot about equal rights in there too.
            I really enjoyed Maguire’s take on this story of how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West and the most hated person in Oz. the depth to which Maguire went was very impressive, and apart from that he just simply writes very well. Oh, oh, and also, if you enjoy this you’ll be pleased to know it’s only the first in a series! It’s oz-mazing.


            “When Dorothy triumphed over The Wicked Witch of the West in the classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we heard only one side of the story. But what of her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch?
            Long before Dorothy drops in, a girl is born in Oz with emerald-green skin. Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous witch, is a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived ideas about the nature of good and evil.
            Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world, Gregory Maguire’s novel is a rich and triumphant feat of imagination and allegory. It is an acclaimed New York Times bestseller and the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical, and has sold over two million copies.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

In the immortal words of one Ms Oprah Winfrey... “GAAAAAAAAAAHH!”
The only way I can start this is by saying - this a bloody brilliant book. Not only is it so pretty (!) but omg the story, the writing, the everything is amazing.
            The story follows a very narcissistic man who is involved in a car accident that leaves him horrifically burnt all over his body. While he spends a long time recovering in hospital, a woman named Marriane Engel comes into his room, befriends him, and tells him that they were once lovers in a former life. What happens next is a beautifully told, with a real sense of intuition and imagination. This novel is so wonderfully epic, its hard to believe that it is all kept within the pages of a book and I love that about reading. Davidson does a great job of then guiding the reader along as we follow our nameless main character, as well as the story that Marriane Engel gradually unfolds.
            The only negative I can find with this book is that it does take a while to get into. But, good lord, if there’s ever a book that you just need to invest a bit of time in, this is it because you will be so rewarded in the end. I finished this with a mixture of every different feeling and it is definitely one I plan on rereading again and again!

The blurb now I’ll stop blurbing myself:

“A young man is fighting for his life.

Into his room walks a bewitching woman who believes she can save him.

Their journey will have you believing in the impossible.”

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Book Review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Every now and then, you want a book that’s a bit spooky. Look no further than Susan Hill. She’s probably the Queen of Frights in the literary world and when you read any of her books you’ll see why! Again, I’m not going to give away any of the plot, suffice to say there’s a guy who loses his way and finds himself at an old derelict house. There he feels a small hand put itself in his and from here some weird stuff begins to happen.
Hill is very, very good at bringing suspense yet her writing is subtle and understated. This book manages to really grab you from the offset, and in my opinion rivals The Woman in Black. It’s not as terrifying as this other great novel, however I think it is more moving and spine-tingling than the actually scariness of The Woman in Black. It’s even quite sad actually… I thought it was good, so if you are in the mood for a bit of Susan Hill, this is a great one to go for.

Blurb, if you will:

            “Late one summer’s evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn. He stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house and, compelled by curiosity, approaches the door. Standing before the entrance, he feels the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, ‘as if a child had taken hold of it’.
            At first he is merely puzzled by the odd incident but then begins to suffer panic attacks, and to be visited by nightmares. He is determined to learn more about the house and its once-magnificent, now overgrown garden but when he does so, he receives further, increasingly sinister, visits from the small hand.”

Book Review: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

There are a few books that we have in the shop that customers tell us they loved – not just simply liked it. This is one of those books. Every colleague I have who has read it says they loved it – not just simply liked it. And I am telling you now that I loved it – not just simply liked it.
The narrator of Zusak’s brilliant novel is Death. The descriptions of Death “collecting souls” are both poetic yet tragic, and Death’s voice is extremely successful in lulling you into actually liking him – a bizarre thought in itself. He tells us the story of Liesel, who has been sent to live with a foster family, after her parents are sent to a concentration camp. I never want to ruin the plot for you in these reviews so lets say that from there, the story follows her as she grows up and that’s all I’ll say.
On the surface, this is simply a fantastic read, but if you look at what Zusak’s subtext is, I think there is so much that one can get out of this novel. It’s a real “actually, I really appreciated what I have right now” book. I’m so pleased I read this – it is moving, expertly crafted and utterly engrossing. Enjoy.

Blurb from the back:

“Here is a small fact: You are going to die.
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
Some important information: This novel is narrated by Death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.
Another thing you should know: Death will visit the book thief three times.”

Book Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

            This book has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, which I was really pleased about and not a little bit surprised.
            This is only a short little book but it is so good! It is the story the events that lead to the end of Jesus’ life, but told from the perspective of his mother, Mary. Tóibín does a flawless job of getting inside the mindset of a mother, and this is such an interesting take on probably the most famous story that everyone knows. It’s heart-felt and engaging, completely powerful and it has such a great sense of realness.
If you are in a book club this is a perfect pick because there is so much to talk about – I was looking around for people to talk about it with when I finished it and I think discussion would easily flow. It has huge scope and showcases Tóibín’s brilliant writing style.

Back blurb time:

“From the author of Brooklyn, in a voice that is both tender and filled with rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief. For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now, living in exile and in fear, she tries to piece together the memories of the events that led to her son's brutal death. To her he was a vulnerable figure, surrounded by men who could not be trusted, living in a time of turmoil and change.
As her life and her suffering begin to acquire the resonance of myth, Mary struggles to break the silence surrounding what she knows to have happened. In her effort to tell the truth in all its gnarled complexity, she slowly emerges as a figure of immense moral stature as well as a woman from history rendered now as fully human.”

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Book Review: The Misunderstanding by Irène Némirovsky

Yet another book where I was seduced by the cover (yes, I’m aware of “never judge a book by it’s cover” but I always do…), The Misunderstanding tells the tale of a man who embarks on an affair with a married woman. Their infatuation, however, soon turns slightly sour and relationship takes twists and turns that are completely out of the ordinary. It’s only a short novel, but that doesn’t mean it loses any of the depth of a longer book…
I loved Némirovsky‘s glamorous and evocative writing style that beautifully manages to flesh out well-rounded characters and create a fantastic sense of place. Better yet, it’s the subtle desperation and tensions that bubble underneath this alluring façade that grab you so deeply as you navigate the plot line. Put simply, this is a great novel, and a really interesting take on a story that has been done a hundred times. Némirovsky has made it fresh and exciting and it only made me want to read more of her work, and for me that is the mark of a truly great author. I want you to read it. Now. Then tell me what you thought.

For those interested, I give you the back blurb:

"Yves Harteloup is a disappointed young man, scarred by the war. He returns for the summer to the resort where he spent blissful childhood holidays and immediately becomes infatuated by the beautiful, bored Denise, whose rich husband is away on business. Intoxicated by summer nights and Yves' intensity, Denise falls passionately in love, before the idyll has to end and Yves returns to his mundane office job. In the mournful Paris autumn their love founders on mutual misunderstanding and Denise is driven mad with desire and jealous suspicion until, acting on her sophisticated mother's advice , she takes action...which she may regret forever..."

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Book review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Forgive me for this, because I am going to totally relish this post. For anyone who has ever spoken to me directly about books before, you may ignore this because you already know how much I adore this book, so continue on down the page to the next literary genius that I am serving.
Anyway, for those of you who are new, firstly welcome, and secondly I am demanding that you go now and buy this book. And I will tell you for why...
One perk of being a bookseller is proof copies!! And for anyone who doesn't know what that means, it is simply the manuscript of the book before the publishing date. So when the longlist for the Orange Prize came through to us lovely booksellers, this title jumped out at me because I love anything Ancient Greece. Essentially The Song of Achilles is a reworking of The Iliad that took Miller 10 years of research and love to craft and you really get a feeling of this in the writing. Every sentence is there because it needs to be and you can literally feel the love that she has poured into every character and every scene in this novel. It's the story of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, who narrates the book, from when they meet each other as young boys to when they go off to Troy.
Miller beautifully manages to capture the essence of first love, through young love and on to legendary love. Her characters are truthful and solid, and her story is fleshed out, thought through and well informed. You can tell Miller has put all her love into this.
Since I read this book, I recommend it to everyone (I literally mean everyone) who is looking for a good read, and as I say - that's a great part of my job. What makes it brilliant is that, and this still happens to me now, people come back to me to tell me how much they have enjoyed it. And that is down to the book, not my recommending skills (even though they're good too).
This went on to win the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012, and I was absolutely thrilled. Congrats on the win Madeline, and congrats on giving me a book that I will treasure.

The back blurb if you please:

"Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear."

Me In My House

'Nuff said...

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Emse Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Good, sweet lord above. Do not read this if you are even slightly sad (the picture above is all you will need for this reading experience… and remember that’s a TWIN PACK of the man-size tissues… actually you may need bottled water to replenish your fluid levels). Having said that, make sure at some point you do read this. I cannot describe to you how much of a brilliant author Maggie O’Farrell is – as soon as I finished her newest book Instructions for a Heatwave, I went straight for this title, recommended to me by my colleague, Rach. No word of a lie, I read this from start to finish in one go – reading while I ate, brushed my teeth, got ready for bed and got into bed.
As I say, this is incredibly sad, so be aware, but please make sure you read it. The premise is Iris receives a letter from a psychiatric unit telling her that her great-aunt Esme Lennox is to be released. But Iris has never heard of Esme, so what happened all those years ago, and why has Iris never heard of her great-aunt? There is a fantastic sense of loss that oozes from this novel, as strands of plot-line from ‘now’ and ‘then’ are weaved expertly together to form the story. O’Farrell does a great job of giving her characters a real soul; I just loved it. This is a really gripping read and honestly so well written I can’t even say. It’s tense, haunting, heart breaking and ultimately brilliant. All praise O’Farrell.

Here is the blurb as usual:

"Edinburgh in the 1930's. The Lennox family is having trouble with its youngest daughter. Esme is outspoken, unconventional and repeatedly embarrasses them in polite society. Something will have to be done.
Years later, a young woman named Iris Lockheart receives a letter informing her that she has a great-aunt in a psychiatric unit who is about to be released.
Iris has never heard of Esme Lennox and the one person who should know more, her grandmother Kitty, seems unable to answer Iris's questions. What could Esme have done to warrant a lifetime in an institution? And how is it possible for a person to be so completely erased from a family's history?
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a stunning depiction of a life stolen, and reclaimed."

This Is My Life...

The Man Booker Prize 2013 Longlist

The Man Booker Prize 2013 Longlist has been announced!

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
Harvest by Jim Crace (Picador)
The Kills by Richard House (Picador) 
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
Unexploded by Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton) 
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury) 

Some of them aren’t even published yet… But that doesn’t stop me – I have 9 at the moment and 2 of those are already read so only 11 more to go. I’m determined that this year I will get through them all… Wish me luck!

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

OMG stop. Wait. Have you heard?? Robert Galbraith IS JK Rowling! No way! What, you have heard? Eugh I’m always late on the gossip…
Being honest here, I totally read this book because JK wrote it – I’m a huge fan (I will review The Casual Vacancy soon as well…). In a way I think it’s good that she was busted for writing this because, and I am a perfect example of this, it encourages people read a certain genre that they wouldn’t normally go to. I’m not really a crime fiction and it’s always good to try new things #somethingnew. I genuinely think that she has a very good writing style and I think this book is another testament to that. Rowling achieves a really good balance of description, characterization and dialogue that sustain the 450 pages that start this “classic detective” crime series. I say series because you really get the sense that there is so much more for her to give us. The “who-dun-it?” plot line is laced with the personal life and history of the private detective main-character - an ex-war-hero who has lost the leg below his knee. He’s got a famous rock-and-roll father and an infamous mother too and I’m sure that we’ll get a lot more of that in the other books…
So to summarize the plot, a model falls from the window of her very swanky apartment. Did she jump? Was she pushed? Why? And what? So many questions! Enter our detective to solve the mystery, hired by the model’s adopted brother.
I really enjoyed this book, and the twists and turns are great leading you on piece by piece to the satisfying conculsion. I loved the writing and the whole mystery of it, and even keeping up with all the characters and all their different stories through the middle section completely maintains the interest in the story. It’s like a modern-day classic reworking of an Agatha Christie-esque novel. So get involved – I, for one, am looking forward to the next one…

The back blurb...:

"When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model's complex world, the darker things get - and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .
A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London - from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho - The Cuckoo's Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith."

Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers is a man who definitely lives up to his name; producing what could only be described as a truly power-ful (see what I did there?!) novel.
Powers himself served as a machine gunner with the US Army in Iraq and this experience really seemed to translate through the construction of the text, reading this book about a veteran during his time in Iraq and his coming home to the States, you really get a sense of truth and even an almost semi-autobiographical quality.
The story of the veteran retuning to society is inter-laced with what actually happened to him whilst he was serving. There’s a really nice balance of  the ‘now’ and the reflective within the story which makes his storytelling, at the book itself all the more compelling. I need to take a second out here for just one thing. I need to say to you that for a first novel Powers needs to be given every award going because his prose is absolutely outstanding. Honestly if you want to read an amazing book this year, this is it. As the story unfolds, and you learn everything this character has gone through, you are left with a beautifully told harrowing, tense, raw and tragic account of a life that most of us will never encounter.
As an avid reader, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, I am not always looking just for enjoyment and fun out of books. I am looking for books that change my thinking, that open my eyes, that move me in indescribable ways. This is one of those books. 

The back blurb for those wanting more is:

"Kevin Powers served as a machine gunner with the US Army in Iraq. On his return, he was asked one question more than any other:
'What was it like over there?'
In his attempt to answer that question. Powers has written one of the most haunting, true and moving novels of our time. It offers a powerful insight into the impact of war on both soldiers and their families, ultimately revealing how it feels to return home, but never be able to leave the memories behind."

This Is Me

I’m Rob, 24 and I love books. Seriously, I really love books. Books cover every surface in my house; the bookcase is just not enough, and neither was two, or even three for that matter. I’d try to tell you how many I have; but in all honesty I lost count after I hit 500. It’s good (although not in terms of my bank account, or ability to move around my house) that I actually work with books, I’m a 9-5 bookseller, a cog in one of the nations biggest, and only surviving, bookstores. I’m not going to tell you which one because I don’t want to get in trouble, but for the sake of the blog lets just refer to it as ‘Wet Rocks’. In my job I get to talk to people about books all the time, quite frankly whether they like it or not. It’s what I love to do, and I hope that if you’ve stumbled across this site then its what you like to do too. So here’s a blog, which eventually will contain the highs and lows of my literary experiences. I don’t want this to be just like work though - me expressing my opinion over enthusiastically whilst I see the light dimming in the backs of your eyes - so I henceforth proclaim this an open forum: tell me my opinions are stupid, share yours, recommend books to me, or tell me what to avoid. I hope you enjoy my site as much as I intend you to.

If you have any questions, queries or want to get in contact (I’ll always never say no to a free proof copy) get into contact at theperksofbeingabookseller@gmail.com

Rob – The Perks of Being a Bookseller
(yes, it’s a deliberate play on the Chbosky novel...!)