Book Review: The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber

the fire gospelTheo Griepenkerl is a modest academic with an Olympian ego. When he visits a looted museum in Iraq, looking for treasures he can ship back to Canada, he finds nine papyrus scrolls that have lain hidden for two thousand years. Once translated from Aramaic, these prove to be a fifth Gospel, written by an eye-witness of Jesus Christ’s last days. But when Theo decides to share this sensational discovery with the world, he fails to imagine the impact the new Gospel will have on Christians, Arabs, homicidal maniacs and Amazon customers. Like Prometheus’s gift of fire, it has incendiary consequences.
The Fire Gospel is an enthralling novel about the power of words to resonate across centuries, and inspire and disrupt in equal measure. Wickedly provocative, hilarious and shocking by turns, it is a revelatory piece of storytelling.

This is a short book, at 210 pages (Ironically – perhaps knowingly – matching the book’s internal publisher who states that “The Fifth Gospel …. with wide margins and large spacing”).

Theo is an academic, a translator of Aramaic, who believes – rightly or wrongly – that he’s the best in the West, and probably the East too. He is remarkably un-self-aware, whilst also self-centred, so does not care for the curator of the Mosul museum, even after the man gets himself blown up whilst escorting Theo round the damaged museum. He doesnt really care that (rather why) his girlfriend has dumped him before he even returns to Canada. He cant understand why all the major publishers wont touch his translation, but gets angry when a small publishing house offers him *only* 250,000 dollars to publish what is, in effect, stolen goods.  All he cares about is the translation of the 9 scrolls he found hidden in the belly of a pregnant woman statue.

Theo goes from zero to a sensation in the matter of weeks, and the effect of the book on the general population has unpredictable results.  The scrolls found in the Mosul Museum, once translated, tell the story of Jesus from a first hand witness and it’s not what people expected or hoped for.   Jesus was a man, who was crucified, and died on a cross having emptied his bowels and bladder down the cross. He didn’t die surrounded by his apostles, just with a number of lesser known women who turned up each day. He wasn’t buried in a stone covered grave, and wasnt resurrected on the third day. The scribe of the scrolls was a gossip and a spy, who didn’t really follow Jesus and was a sick, boring man when he wrote his story.

Theo goes on a promotional tour, and becomes almost Christ like (if you believe Malachi) in what happens: his word and fame spreads out of control; his Amazon reviews and unbelievable (and as badly spelt as you would think); people are prepared to kill others and themselves over what they believe the message is; and Theo finds himself captured, tied up, covered in crap and forced to denounce his work before being shot and let outside to die; thankfully he gets on his way to the hospital where it seems he dies, only to be brought back to life.

Not a laugh out loud book, but one that passes a day in reading and has some decent analogies of living in a modern world where you can make friends and enemies without ever meeting them, and things are often outside of you control and that can have devastating results.

Don’t Panic! Reading when you have too many books

212_2112x2300_all-free-download.comOn my ipad I have several reading applications – primarily Kindle and Kobo software. Having flirted with a Kobo for several years, and having multiple books still on it, the majority of my ebook reading is done on my kindle software.

For several years I’ve been reading books from Netgalley, but have received books from other sources, including LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers. In the back of my head I’ve known I have at least one LTER book that’s sitting in the Kobo queue that I’ve had for longer than I admit. I started reading that the other day, and out of curiosity looked for any other LTER books I’ve not read yet. Whoops! There’s about 8, going back into 2013 that I haven’t read and reviewed. Damn!

First reaction? That I need to drop everything and read them. Now. It took me a while to calm myself down and not derail myself. First things first – I havent been chased for the reviews by anyone. I no longer ask for LTER books, recognising that I have too many books already in my possession, and therefore shouldn’t be asking for more. I therefore dont get turned down for any for not having written reviews recently!

The next thing I’m trying to keep to: read the books on my shelves before purchasing any more. Whilst this includes ebooks, it is primarily directed at my paper books. These are spilling out of the bookshelves and are now covering tables. This is not good. I need to shift some of the paperbooks to free up some space and shouldnt be derailed from this goal.

So, it has reminded me to expand my reading back out to not only netgalley books. I’ve also identified some things that can be done differently/better for my reviews. The world won’t end if I don’t to a review the week I get the book. The only one keeping me to this expectation is me and I’m the only one that can give me permission to do something else.

After writing this post initially, I found this post from Estella’s revenge about “We’re not WonderWomen” which I think ties in with what I am trying to say here too – we dont have to (be) set standards that are TOO high, then get beaten up when we dont reach them.

Anyone else get these feelings, and how do you deal with them?

 

Sunday Salon: Size Does Matter…?

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Size Does Matter … or does it? Do you only buy paperbacks or hardcover? Consider the number of pages before reading a book? Have the same size grouped together in your bookshelf?

I have a mix of hardbacks and paperbacks on my bookshelf: the hardbacks are my “permanent collection” and are there for keeps. I rarely, if ever, lend these out. Paperbacks are there to be read once and most are passed on when I’m done. There are a few paperbacks that are kept in the permanent collection; these are books such as the Persephone Greys, which are of such delicious presentation (down to having their own individual bookmarks) that they dont get leant out once you get your hands on one!

I buy hardbacks if I know I’ll be wanting to keep it. There are only a small number of authors that I will still fork out the money to get a hardback, and have them taking up the space. Otherwise I will wait for the paperback to come out and get that. It actually helps me save money in the long run, because by the time it comes out in paperback, I’ve forgotten the initial urge to buy it, and know that if I was meant to read it, it would come across my path some other way (usually through Bookcrossing).

I don’t generally worry about the size when buying a book, but can be when I am reading it – sometimes I need or want to read a short book because I’m not in the mood for a longer, more challenging book. Sometimes I need one that will fit the handbag when commuting.

The larger books (e.g. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and the larger Ken Follett books) are becoming more prevalent now as I’m rotating the smaller books off. I will read them when I have time to concentrate on them, and when I don’t have to keep them in my handbag in order to get a few minutes on the train.

As for shelf stacking – the books have previously been  ordered in size of height rather than colour, alphabetically or in thickness etc. This is because I find it more visually appealing to have it tidy. It also allows me to stack more books into what is, essentially, a smallish shelf space. Currently they are grouped in themes (author etc) regardless of height, but I dont know how long that will last!

So what about you – how are you with book size?

Friday Salon: Tips for New Stitchers

What tips would you give to a new stitcher to help her stitch faster and neater while still keeping it enjoyable?

Don’t run before you can walk – whilst it’s great to be working on the large, impressive designs, you need to start slow, with the right sized smaller designs.

Don’t be afraid to experiment on fabrics and find the ones that work for you

Ensure you have good lighting. You need to see where you’ve been and where you’re going. Ties in with….

Do your best to keep all your stitches going in one direction. Sounds daft. Sounds simple. but it’s more complicated to achieve than you would think. Once in a while, you’ll stitch a whole bank of stitches, then look back and go “D’oh!”.

Don’t get too worked up about the back of your design. Most of the time the item will be made up into something else (framed, as a cushion etc) and you’re there to enjoy yourself. If a person is rude enough to look and then comment on the back, then they’re rude enough to be told to go stitch it themselves.

So you have any tips for new stitchers? Anything you wish you’d been told when you started?

 

Book Review: Cannonbridge by Jonathon Barnes

cannonbridgeSomething has gone wrong with history in this gripping novel about a lie planted among the greatest works of English fiction.

Flamboyant, charismatic Matthew Cannonbridge was touched by genius, the most influential creative mind of the 19th century, a prolific novelist, accomplished playwright, the poet of his generation. The only problem is, he should never have existed and beleaguered, provincial, recently-divorced 21st Century don Toby Judd is the only person to realise something has gone wrong with history.

All the world was Cannonbridge’s and he possessed, seemingly, the ability to be everywhere at once. Cannonbridge was there that night by Lake Geneva when conversation between Byron, Shelley and Mary Godwin turned to stories of horror and the supernatural. He was sole ally, confidante and friend to the young Dickens as Charles laboured without respite in the blacking factory. He was the only man of standing and renown to regularly visit Oscar Wilde in prison. Tennyson’s drinking companion, Kipling’s best friend, Robert Louis Stevenson’s counsellor and guide – Cannonbridge’s extraordinary life and career spanned a century, earning him a richly-deserved place in the English canon.

But as bibliophiles everywhere prepare to toast the bicentenary of the publication of Cannonbridge’s most celebrated work, Judd’s discovery will lead him on a breakneck chase across the English canon and countryside, to the realisation that the spectre of Matthew Cannonbridge, planted so seamlessly into the heart of the 19th Century, might not be so dead and buried after all…

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Matthew Cannonbridge appears to be at every significant moment, or interacting with every significant literary character in the 19th Century.  He arrives in the Italian Villa on a dark and stormy night as Byron and the Shelleys are telling each other ghost stories. He meets Charles Dickens as a young child in the blacking factory. He is a suspect in the Ripper slayings. He talks to Marx whilst the latter is on holiday. Many years after their first meeting, he attempts to fund Charles Dickens’ tours, only for Dickens to ask his friend Wilkie Collins to return the money. Each time we encounter Cannonbridge, we learn a little more, and each time is a little more disturbing.  Cannonbridge has massive blackouts, has no idea when or where he is, and each encounter shows him to be a little more deranged and threatening.

All these touch points are interspersed with the “now” and Dr Toby Judd who is a middle ranking unexciting professor with some experience in Cannonbridge. However, at the start of the book he loses his wife to J.J. Salazar (the Cannonbridge scholar who ends up with the book, the publicity and the girl), and Judd is on a descent into hell. He believes that Cannonbridge is too neat a character, and must have been invented by a much later – and very talented – scholar.  After a very public breakdown and a video of the lecture is loaded to youtube and goes viral – a policeman advises him to get away as he is in danger. Less than 24 hours later, the policeman is dead, and Judd is on the run.

Judd hooks up with a waitress – Gabrielle – who inexplicably believes him and she goes on the run with him. Unbeknownst to him, she is also ex-army, a fact that comes in useful when things (and killers) start catching up with the pair of them.

Judd’s travels take him to a small island off Scotland, where he makes a disturbing discovery that underpins and ultimately proves his theories. Unfortunately he is found by his pursuers, and is returned to London in time for the bicentennial party on the banks of the Thames, the site of Cannonbridge’s death by drowning. However things don’t exactly go according to plan, and it comes down to a near broken Judd to face off against the nightmare that has been a long time coming (I am trying to avoid too many spoilers!).

As the narrative changed between timeperiods there was a change in writing style, with the earlier writings being much more Gothic, flowery and melodramatic.  The modern period was written in a much crisper, shorter style. The significance of the island wasnt over-egged and the importance of Reynolds bank and the generational support was suitably threatening.

Smallish issue (but big enough to mention): Whilst the majority of the formatting was decent, there was “issues” at chapter and narrative breaks where the font suddenly changed, or the tExT weNT A bIt PeCuliar.

Author website

Jonathan Barnes is the author of two novels, The Somnambulist and The Domino Men. Cannonbridge is his third novel. He contributes regularly to the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review and is the author of several scripts for Big Finish Productions. He is currently writer-in-residence at Kingston University.

Book Review: Deeds not Words by Katharine D’Souza

deeds not words #'birmingham #suffragettesMuseum curator Caroline thinks history is safely in the past, until a century-old family secret collides with problems at work and upsets her plans for a quiet life in Birmingham. Why has nobody mentioned Great Aunt Susannah before? What does Caroline’s old flame want from her? And are any of the paintings really what they appear to be? As she battles professional rivalries, attempts to contain family dramas, and searches for historical treasure amongst the clutter, Caroline is forced to decide what she holds most valuable and exactly what she’s going to do to protect it. Deeds Not Words. Because actions speak louder.

Katharine is a Birmingham based author who enjoys writing about her home town (which is also where I live!). Her website can be found here.

Caroline has returned to Birmingham after her marriage has failed (her husband being offered a job in New York, which was too much of a risk for Caroline – something she begins to realise is a recurring theme in her life). The job she has at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is not exactly satisfying and challenging, and the office politics eats away at her – especially when someone comes in with a potentially ground breaking piece, that could challenge anything the recent Staffordshire Hoard could present.

Meanwhile her grandmother, Beth, ends up in hospital with a broken hip after a fall, and Caroline has to tread carefully. Caroline has her own issues with Alice (her mother, Beth’s daughter) and Beth doesnt want Alice to know about her looking to change her will, or the appearance of previously unknown cousin Richard.  Ray, Caroline’s father, only makes the occasional appearance, but Caroline begins to appreciate his quiet dependancy when things come to ahead and her mother seems to fall apart.

As Caroline begins to check out the history behind Richard’s family and what he could possibly want with her grandmother, she becomes focussed on Susannah, whose paintings are on Beth’s walls, and who seems to have the strength of character (and ability to take risks) that Caroline fears she is missing. It also highlights a part of womens’ history left very much undiscovered.

Olly – with who she had a short fling when they were much younger – is back on the scene, expecting to pick up where things were left off. It presents Caroline with another safe harbour after her divorce, and his knowledge and contacts in the antiques world allows Caroline to investigate Susannah and her paintings more.

In the end, Caroline has the chance to make certain decisions that could affect her life forever, both personally and professionally.

I don’t always like books set in places I know fairly well, as sometimes there are glaring errors that could have been easily avoided with a little research. However, I had no issues with this book – probably because Katharine lives in Birmingham (and what artistic licence she took still made things fairly realistic).

I seem to have come late to reading this book, and I know of at least two other reviews, one by heavenali, the other by Liz over at librofulltime.

The title “Deeds not Words” is taken from the motto of the more militant Suffragettes.  The National Portrait Gallery has some additional information here.

Print copies of this book can be ordered through Waterstones here

Book Review: The Quilt Fairy by Beverly Farr

quiltfairy“If a fairy falls in love, it’s going to be bad for the fairy.”

Her mother warned her, but Margaret doesn’t worry. She’s never found a human attractive . . . until now.

When her elderly landlady dies, Margaret, a house fairy and quilt expert, moves in with her landlady’s single grandson Jonathan. As long as she stays small, this tall, handsome human will never notice her. Or will he?

The Quilt Fairy is a sweet romance — a modern-day fairy tale. It is 12,000 words, technically a long short story or novelette.

This is a short story where Margaret finds her landlady on the bathroom floor, and she gets involved with Jonathan, the banker grandson. Edie dies, and Margaret realises she needs somewhere else to stay. Jonathan finds Margaret mysterious, beautiful and a little kookie – she claims to be a fairy, in order to explain why she doesnt seem to know or do certain things.

Margaret decides that the best thing to do is that she move in with and look after Jonathan, and wonders how long it will take for him to notice that his house is tidier than before, and there’s a reason why his dinner dates go wrong……after several months, they realise that they really are in love with each other and each has to make compromises to be together.

It’s clean, short, inoffensive and a quick read to pass away a few hours.