Book Review: The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

a to zA striking literary debut of love and mortality perfect for fans of quirky, heart-wrenching fiction like Nathan Filer, David Nicholls and Rachel Joyce.

Ivo fell for her. He fell for a girl he can’t get back. Now he’s hoping for something. While he waits he plays a game:

He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away. He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.  But he doesn’t have long.

And he still has one thing left to do ..

Received as an uncorrected proof from Doubleday in exchange for a review. Expected publication date: 1st April 2015.

We find 40 year old Ivo in a hospice, dying of something only alluded to (diabetes? his kidneys?). As he stares at the ceiling, with little energy or will to do anything including having visitors, Shelia (his carer) challenges him to a game: take each letter of the alphabet, and name a body part starting with that letter, and tell a story.

As the book continues, we get snippets of Ivo’s previous life, ranging from the relationships he has with his parents, with his sister Laura, his friends Becca, Kelvin, Mal and ultimately Mia, his girlfriend. We also have a window on his current life, including Amber – the daughter of the woman in the room next door – who is in university and trying to deal with a mother who is dying and a father who seems disconnected from the situation. In turn this allows Ivo to move forward in coming to terms with his own dying.

Ivo was diagnosed as a diabetic quite young, requiring him to do regular injections, but as he comes into his twenties, he is skipping injections on an almost daily basis, skipping out late at night with Mal, Becca and Laura and ingesting various forms of drugs, most notably Heroin and alcohol, usually supplied by Mal.

There is chopping and changing about time periods within each chapter, with some pieces only lasting short paragraphs, some whole chapters. It’s a pleasing way to recognise that some memories can be simple impressions of a moment, some that are whole days or weeks. There’s been a rift between him and Laura approximately 8 years before the now, which has resulted in people taking sides, and Ivo unwilling to accept visitors or work on recovering his relationship with Mal, who seems to have gone missing after leaving prison.

As things progress we find out why Ivo has cut himself off from his friends and family; what hold the crocheted blanket means to him after so many years; and ultimately why he fears Mal more than he misses him.

This is one of those books that is apparently simple in it’s structure, but delivers so much more and gives a sucker punch at the end. Things aren’t always explicit especially in the final act when Ivo is full of morphine, but you get the indication that this is the only person Ivo ultimately trusts to do this one thing for him, no matter what the cost might be or what has gone before.   Certainly a book to have the hankies out for when you finish!

About the author

Author Website can be found here

James Hannah divides his time between London and Shropshire, UK. He has a Master’s degree in Beckett Studies from the Beckett International Foundation at Reading University.  ‘The A to Z of You and Me’ is his first novel and published by Doubleday in 2015

Spring #Bloggiesta 2015 – Summary

Spring 2015 Bloggiesta

Last week I set myself a “To Do List” to do as part of Bloggiesta, and this is the summary post of how I think I did against those challenges

  • Register outstanding books on Bookcrossing….DONE
  • Make sure that reviews are synced between my blog, librarything, goodreads and bookcrossing – I dont want to get to the point as last year, where LT and GR were 4 books off and I had no idea which books were missing….DONE
  • Set up twitter pushes for 2 weeks worth of posts (about 7 posts). I’ve been very lax, and now when they get set up, they have to fight with all the other scheduled tweets. It should be the other way around…mostly done – not necessarily a whole two week’s worth but I’m getting there!
  • Take part in at least one twitter chat….DONE
  • Take part in at least one challenge….DONE
  • find at least one new blog to follow. Not Done
  • Comment on as many posts as possible, not just from the people I already follow, and where the comment would be relevant…Tried to comment on several (at least 3) only for comment moderation to drive me demented enough to give up. Blogger’s “I am not a robot” a notable mention.
  • Review some scheduled posts (that I wont have looked at for a few weeks or months) and make sure I’m still happy with them. Any spelling mistakes, grammar errors etc that should be rectified before they go out?  ….Downloaded some free images to support some of ongoing posts. I now have some media images “in stock” that I can use for upcoming posts. Also found a few posts that made me go “Whaaat?” before doing a rewrite.
  • Write any outstanding reviews…   Two reviews still to write, one for a book that I finished before the challenge

 

Book Review: A White Room by Stephanie Carroll

a  white roomAt the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review

It’s 1900 America, and Emeline’s father is dying of stomach cancer. Emeline has hopes to return to college to train in nursing, but these hopes are dashed when her father dies, and the family are forced into bankruptcy. Emeline takes the unusual step of approaching the Dorr family and asking if she could marry the son John, an up and coming lawyer.

Within months they are married and on the way to Labellum, a small town setting, where John has been sent to prove himself. The house they move into has been left fully furnished, and despite Emeline’s disquiet and dislike of the furnishings, John refuses to let her redecorate.

Emeline finds that married life is not what she expected – she finds her husband remote and unreachable, the house disturbing and frightening, and the day to day housework unrelenting and unappreciated.  Lottie, her one housemaid, can only work 3 days a week and “lives out” as they cant afford to have someone living in. Not only that but she is heavily pregnant.

Emeline’s behaviour is soon marked as “hysterical” – she imagines people inhabiting empty rooms, the furniture moves of its own volition and there is a monster that lives in the woods. She is also confronted with the women of the town, few of whom are welcoming, and some are domineering and expect to be followed.

Rescue comes in the form of Emeline finding a purpose outside of the home – helping the poor with non medical issues (usually teaching people about germs). However, it’s not long before it becomes dangerous – she ends up performing an abortion on Lottie, which doesnt go well and everything comes to a head.

The source of Emeline’s “hysteria” isnt fully explained, and you are not entirely convinced she isnt making at least some of it up – however, there is a hint when her brother James comes to visit that she has done similar things before and essentially overreacting to new experiences where she’s out of her comfort zone. The relationship with her husband John isnt all her own fault, as he’s performing how he believes a new husband with a new job should act. It’s only after returning from a trip to St Louis where his behaviour changes for the better, but it only makes Emeline’s suspicions worse.

Had the book continued in the gothic style of her hysteria, I suspect I wouldnt have finished the book – it would have suited a much shorter book. However, once Emeline got out of the house and found something useful for her to do, it became much more interesting.  There are some flashbacks to when Emeline was slightly younger that shows her desire to help people, no matter if you have to do something legally wrong in order to do something morally right.

Author website http://www.stephaniecarroll.net

Book Review: Instant Karma by Donna Marie Oldfield

instantkarmaDo you believe in karma? Materialistic, selfish estate agent Siena Robinson doesn’t – until she hits a disastrous run of bad luck that makes her wonder if she has brought it upon herself.

In Instant Karma, Siena moves to the quiet village of Fenville, where the locals are opposing a development that will see a beloved hall and library replaced by new flats and shops. What her neighbours don’t know is that she is one of the developers and stands to make millions from the deal.

But then Siena discovers that her high-school sweetheart, Aiden, is leading the protest and she finds herself acting as a double agent who is torn between her neighbours’ plight and making lots of money.

Will Siena betray her new friends and let greed ruin a second chance with Aiden? And will she ever find out who or what is behind her run of bad karma?

Given to me by the author in exchange for a review. Author website here.

Siena is working for an Estate Agents, and she has brought and moved into a house in Fenville, partly in the expectation she will be the project manager for a new development that replaces a library and old house with new shops and flats.

However, things dont quite go according to plan – the house starts falling apart as soon as she moves in, and her car is totalled within days. She meets her ex-flame Aiden, only to find that he is the leader of the opposition to the planning.  She agrees with her colleagues that she will go undercover to see what likely things will slow things down.

As the story progresses, we get to understand Siena a little better – she was ditched by her fiancée days before the wedding; her parents died less than a year before, leaving her with a large inheritance; that this inheritance has contributed to allowing Siena to be the 60% stakeholder in the development plans.

With all the bad things happening to her, and remembering her love of writing and Aiden years before, she comes to see herself through Aiden’s eyes and she realises that she doesn’t like herself any more. Meanwhile her next door neighbour, Mrs North, has some disturbing news for her that will ultimately change her life.

The “bad karma” Siena experiences is almost farcical as it ramps up and you might just laugh if it happened to you. It does mean that it can be difficult to take the book too seriously at times. Siena’s behaviour now does make you wonder what Aiden saw in her before, but you could understand why he wants nothing to do with her now.

It’s a novel about getting your just deserts, how your behaviour can affect the things that happen to you – surround yourself with vile people, and you will become just like them (lay down with dogs and you get up with fleas). I didnt hate the book, but I didnt love it either, and I’m not entirely sure why. Siena is not a particularly nice person – I think that’s the point – and being written in the first person it means that much of the book is as shallow as Siena is. Perhaps some of the backstory could have been expanded out a little more to evoke some more sympathy? The fact she got dumped by the man she cheated on Aiden with elicits little “poor me” reactions but had her relationship with her parents been expanded out…? Or perhaps the fact they weren’t was to indicate how shallow Siena had become in that she could apparently wipe them away so blithely…..

Spring #bloggiesta 2015 – Best Blogging Advice

Bloggiesta put a call out for contributors to write about “best blogging advice” and here’s my thoughts

  • Write about what you know and enjoy. Readers will be turned off if they think you’re not sincere. It will also make it easier to keep going when it seems you’re posting into the void
  • Spell check your posts before they go up
  • Keep going!
  • Be regular with your posts, even if it’s once a week, or once a month. People wont come back if they don’t know when you will post next, but they just might if they know there will be a post on the third Friday of each month. I post every other day, but that’s because I’ve had the opportunity of building up a decent backlog of posts and have them scheduled
  • Don’t expect to quit the day job tomorrow. You will not generate enough money to be your sole income in the next 6 months. Or perhaps ever.
  • Benefits come in more shapes than money. Making new friends even if it’s “only” online; Free books; free random gifts (I’ve had knitting needles and a ball of wool from a publisher before now); free beauty products for beauty bloggers. If you are talking about something you’ve received free in exchange for a review, you need to disclose the fact in your post. Mostly it’s good manners but in the US I think it’s a legal requirement that you do so.
  • Keep some kind of tracking tool going. I have a basic spreadsheet that I got free off the internet, where I track which posts are scheduled when – which is really useful as I am currently scheduling posts 2 months or more in advance. Other people track how diverse their reading is (I think there is a mini-challenge out there for this very topic). I really should track which books I have to read that I have received as ARCs, from publishers, authors etc, but havent, so I’ve been caught out more times than I care to admit
  • You don’t live in a vacuum. Get out and socialise in the internet community. Take part in challenges like Bloggiesta; follow other people’s blogs; Comment, without spamming (no “nice post, please follow my blog” type of comments); Tweet; use Facebook including group pages; use Google+, including communities; Pinterest, Instagram.
  • Make it possible for others to share your posts. Include social media buttons on your posts so that others can tell their followers about what you’ve written. 
  • Include a “sign up via email” option for those who dont use the same blogging platform as you do.
  • Join a bookgroup, either in person or online. I’ve been a member of Bookcrossing for more years then I care to remember, have swapped books in more countries than I care to admit, and have picked up a host of books and authors (widening my horizons in the process) that I would never have come across if I hadn’t met the people I had. I’ve been a member of other book groups in my time, not all have worked out (some are far too strict and regimented for my tastes) but if you find one that works for you, then stick with it! If all else fails – set one up yourself and make it work to your rules!
  • Follow your favourite publishers and authors on what ever social media works for you. Many of them will have promotions and offers on and you can pick up more than just books – see the above.
  • Remember to include publishers or authors when sending a review out. If they thank you for the review – have the decency to thank them back, at least for the book. You never know where the conversation may take you!
  • If you’re looking for a source of books to read, check out sites like Netgalley, edelweiss, bookbub, Librarything (who have a monthly Early Reviewers offer, as well as plenty of communities), Goodreads (who do a regular “giveaways” on certain books as well as plenty of communities); even your local amazon (and search for “zero” price or “special offer”). Look to Project Gutenberg for free copies of the classics.  Sites like Kobo will also have free books, not always classics – check their site out on a regular basis (you don’t necessarily need a Kobo ereader as ipads have kobo software).
  • Unless you have a massive following (and even if you do), your voice will be very quiet in a very big room. Use software like Hootsuite, tweetdeck or Buffer to schedule your updates and promotion links at times when people are likely to see it (Follow the dawn and dusk?)
  • Subscribe to sites like Problogger and DailyBlogTips. Not all tips will be appropriate to you, but once in a while you’ll find some tweak that’ll help you out.

 

 

Book Review: The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn

the queen of SubtletiesAnne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and confectioner, fatefully linked in a court rife with intrigue and treachery. She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favor. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

From my bookshelves. This edition is a “Not for resale” that looks like it was a freebie with a copy of Red magazine. I (attempted to) read this slim novel immediately after The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. The latter is twice the size of the former, and whilst The Constant Princess is focussed on Catherine of Aragon, The Queen of Subtleties book tells of Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn

Whilst in The Constant Princess, the first affair acknowledged by Catherine of Aragon is Anne Boleyn (thus setting up the rest of the Tudor series) The Queen of Subtleties presents that Catherine knew of previous affairs and attended the baptism of the illegitimate Fitz, even if she never formally acknowledged him.

The book starts the day before Anne’s execution and she’s looking back on where it all started, as a letter and a warning to her daughter Elizabeth. As with other fiction books about Anne Boleyn, she is betrayed as scheming, manipulative, but ultimately rather naive and deluded.

Henry didnt divorce Catherine because of me. For me, yes; in the end, yes. But not because of me.

It is interspersed with the narrative Lucy Cornwallis, the King’s confectioner, whose narration covers 1535 – 1536.

The following from an article in The Scotsman about this book makes both Lucy – as the maker – and Anne as the received, both Queen of Subtleties

Subtleties are, or rather were, intricate sugar sculptures and statues created as beautiful centrepieces for Medieval feasts – the beginnings of modern-day sugar craft, although this was rather more like sugar art. The exquisite adornments are thought to have been created in the early 15th century with subtleties appearing at the coronation feast of eight-year-old Henry VI in 1429.

I have to admit this was a Did Not Finish. I got about 50% through (bearing in mind this was a very short book) before the anachronistic language was simply too much. Anne called her parents “mum” and “dad”. When angry she said words like “fuck” and “Christ”.  I know this is classed as a “reimaging” but Dunn and her publishers would do well to look at books like Longbourn by Jo Baker (loved the story AND how it was told) or Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James (not so sure about the story, but liked how it was told). In other words – you shouldn’t sacrifice the way the book is written in order to get attention….I do wonder whether the book or the deal with Red’s publishers came first, and am I being snobbish about Red’s circulation?

Sunday Salon: Adding to my blog

The Sunday Salon

I am an old fashioned kind of girl so do the majority of my blogging using a laptop – mainly because it has a keyboard.  I’ve been using Windows for years, but with the introduction of Windows 8 I have decided that on my next upgrade,  I will move over to Apple products going forward (hint: I dont like Windows 8).

I also use my iPad mini to read and comment on other blogs, but still like the use of a keyboard when typing.

I use my iPad and my digital phone to take photos (will even use a camera on occasion!), and use my main computer to upload the resulting pictures, but it’s always back to the main computer to do the final bits – it’s just the way I’m used to working.

I dont use my phone or other technology to read or write – I dont like all the small buttons and the fiddling (I blame Fat Fingers!).  Also, many pages render really small on phones and ever since an eyesight problem a few years ago, I’ve always been aware of tiny text….

What is your favourite electronic device to use to add posts and content to your blog?