An Evening with Arundhati Roy

Twenty years ago, Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things , took the world by storm, winning the Man Booker Prize and receiving the acclaim of readers and critics alike. After two decades in which she focused on her powerful non-fiction work, Arundhati Roy has finally returned to fiction with her long-awaited second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness . Join us for an evening of unforgettable literary discussion with this extraordinary writer.

A monumental new novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, to be published on the 20th anniversary of that landmark book ‘How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.’ In a city graveyard a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet between two graves. On a concrete sidewalk a baby appears quite suddenly, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. In a snowy valley, a father writes to his five-year-old daughter about the number of people that attended her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, watched over by a small owl, a lone woman feeds a baby gecko dead. And in the Jannat Guest House, two people who’ve known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another as though they have only just met. Arundhati Roy’s new novel gives us a glorious cast of unforgettable characters, caught up in the tide of history, each in search of a place of safety. Told with a whisper, with a shout, with tears and with a laugh, it is a love story and a provocation. Its heroes, present and departed, human and animal, have been broken by the world we live in and then mended by love. And for this reason, they will never surrender.

On it’s global release date of Tueday, 6th June 2017, Foyles bookstore had arranged for Arundhati Roy to be in conversation at Town Hall Symphony Hall in Birmingham. Due to my knowing the staff at the Birmingham Grand Central Foyles store, I had a comp ticket and trade paperback (review to come later), in an exchange for a short-ish post about the evening. Photography was banned in the hall, so there will be few photographs of what went on, sorry. I was joined by Lindsey Bailey as another Foyles blogger member.

The moderator did start the evening by introducing herself, but I didnt catch her name, so can’t introduce her here. There was also a lady who stood on the side of the stage, providing sign language interpretation, but she wasn’t introduced throughout the evening.  I’ve been at the THSH before, and they’ve had Sign Languague provision, so I dont know if this was specific to THSH or to this event specifically, but I do like the idea.

The evening started with a short video, which included excerpts of Roy reading from her book (she also did the audiobook), written words and images that all added together to give an impression of India, and Kashmir in particular. Roy then came on stage and read from the book for about 20 minutes before entering into a conversation with the moderator for about 30 minutes. Roy proved to be funny, and occasionally managed to slip in the odd rude word, but that’s ok.

The floor was then opened up for questions from the audience, which proved to be very political (not surprising considering what Roy has been writing in the last 20 years), but a little disappointing as I considered the evening to be about the launch of the book. Only one person managed to keep his question remotely tied to the book – showing he had at least read the first chapter- however Roy managed to be dignified and pleasant throughout, answering questions (even if I wasnt entirely sure that a question had been asked by the audience member).

After approximately 15 mins of questions, all of them political, it finished with another 5 minute reading, and then a standing ovation (where I grabbed the attached photograph, haha).

Those who had the higher priced ticket got a signed copy of the book included, and books were also on sale by the Foyles staff after the talk.

Overall it was an enjoyable evening and I hope that Arundhati gets the chance to talk to her audience about the book more!

There’s an author interview over at Foyles website  http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Biblio/AuthorDetails.aspx?authorId=85845

Book Review: Lord of Pleasure by Erica Ridley

In the Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind romance with rollicking adventure.

Nondescript “good girl” Miss Camellia Grenville only ever opens her mouth when forced to sing at her family’s musicales. That is, until the night she infiltrates the ton’s most scandalous masquerade ball on behalf of her sister, and finds herself in the arms—and the bed—of the one man she’d sworn to hate.

Irresistibly arrogant and unapologetically sensuous, infamous rake Lord Wainwright always gets his way. When he accepts a wager to turn his rakish image respectable in just forty days, he never anticipates falling for an anonymous masked lover…or that discovering her identity would destroy them both.

From the publishers via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

Michael Rutland, Lord Wainwright wearies of the erroneous reports and daily cartoons in the press that have him as a rake, all too willing to dispoil young virgins. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy female company – he certainly does – but he has dalliences with older, more experienced women, usually widows, who have little reputation left to protect. Fed up with the cartoons being collected, even by his apparent best friends in his favourite pub, he enters a wager that that he could keep his “hands” clean for forty days. He is determined to win that wager, no matter how boring it will be.

Camellia has spent  her life doing what she believes is right in order to protect her reputation, even if it means having no fun, in the hope of landing a decent marriage. It’s meant that as the eldest of three daughters, her days happily spent on the shelf may be coming to an abrupt and not pleasant end. In order to open the doors to getting her two younger sisters married off, her father has struck a deal for her marriage to an older gentleman she barely knows who has little to interest or excite her. Her parents see her as the quiet mousey one, unlikely to cause a stir, so even as she protests about the match, she is ignored and dismissed.

When an opportunity arises to attend a naughty masquerade ball, incognito, Camellia jumps at the chance.  As the balls are masked, this is the only opportunity that Michael can have some enjoyment, whilst keeping his name out of the scandal papers. Here Camellia meets Lord X – in reality Michael – and both find that the masks and the rules of the ball allow them to be themselves, with no questions asked.

Outside of the balls, Michael and Camellia keep running into each other, especially since the Grenville soirees are one of the few that Michael can attend without causing scandal. Unfortunately Camellia detests Michael (or at least what appears in the press and the rumour mill) and makes sure she lets her feelings known. Michael feels aggrieved at finding someone who doesnt fall at his feet, but begins to realise that his reputation is not completely undeserved.

A rather intimate moment at one of the balls is destroyed by a rather unfortunate and inopportune identification but which gives Cameilla the resolve to stand up for what she wants, and call off the unwanted betrothal. Finally the pair make up and come together as per all good romances.

Not having read the first in the series is not a hinderance, though I get the impression it’s slightly spicier that this one. The main characters get to flirt and show their true selves, whilst feeling constrained by the reputation that their outside personas have generated. Both get the chance to change and show their true selves. There’s only one, slightly sexy scene, so nothing too scandulous! As with many series like this, the book concentrates on the two primary characters with the seconday characters being almost one dimensional – the Grenville sisters are perhaps the most rounded, but are still missing for much of the book, and the brother isnt even named! This is to allow for other books in the series to expand on these other characters.

In Summary: fun, light book; flirtatious in all the right parts; tension between the main characters as necessary, with personal growth on both sides.

 

 

 

Book Review: Aura of Magic: Unexpected Magic Book Four by Patricia Rice

Brighid Darrow, Countess of Carstairs, has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. Yet once she is widowed, the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft—vilifying her unique gift of reading auras. Released from past restraints, Bridey rebelliously embraces her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.
Having spent his life being all that is proper in hopes of earning a title in return for services to the crown, Aaron Pascoe-Ives, illegitimate son of a marquess, is ordered to Northridge to save the royal mines from rioters. Any hope of aid from the beautiful but aloof countess is dashed when his incorrigible twins endanger their young lives by following him, mystifyingly insisting that the Countess of Carstairs is their new mother.
Bridey and Pascoe face ghosts, assassins, and riots—but nothing as perilous as the irresistible attraction between them. With hard-fought goals at risk, they must make the ultimate choice between achieving dreams—or losing each other. 

Received from Librarything, in one of their Early Reviewer Batches. I’ve dipped into this series before, and I think the last attempt was a Did Not Finish (Whisper of Magic). However, even though this is now book 4 in the series, this was easier to read, in part because I’m now getting comfortable with the Malcolms, and all their illegitimate cousins, uncles etc.

Before this book starts, Brighid Darrow has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to the older Carstairs in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. When she is widowed (again, before this book has started), the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft – misunderstanding both her education provided by her Grandfather, as well as her gift of reading auras.  The new Carstairs, a week and cowardly man that is manipulated by his brother Oliver incites the hatred even more by claiming that all that has gone wrong on the estate is as a result to Bridey’s talents. With only her brother Fin still living in the area, Bridey looks to embrace her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.

Meanwhile, two of the Malcolm women are due to give birth any day now, and Bridey is staying at Wystan in order to provide midwifery support. It is here that she meets Pascoe, the King’s problem solver, when the latter is sent to deal with a mining and steel production issue in Northridge. Pascoe needs information but is saddled with two four year olds that keep disappearing and who seem to be in conversation with the spirit of their dead mother. He is hoping that he can offload the twins in the house and under the auspices of the extended family whilst he sorts out the issues with the Carstairs mine and furnace.

Wystan is traditionally used for confinement for the Malcolm women, and has its own secrets and traditions – one of which being that unmarried men are not allowed to be residing there when a child is born, as they have a tendency to get a girl pregnant and fall in love (in no particular order). This allows for Rice to allow for her main characters to have Sexy Time in many of her books and this book is no exception.

Back to the story: the miners and foundry workers are on the verge of rioting;Carstairs is blaming Bridey for witchcraft, especially when an axe falls on his head, almost killing him; Carstairs younger brother Oliver seems to have a deeper influence in the situation than anyone realises, and there’s a banshee in the chimneys that is a little more real than anyone gives credit for.  Ultimately, despite all the supernatural talents of the Ives and the Malcolm families, it is a far more “normal” answer to the problems, and one that everyone has to work together to securing a decent resolution.

Pascoe also finds a way of getting what he realises he wants from life – the girl he loves, a new mother to his children, and making her happy (even if it’s technically illegal).

An easier read than the previous book, and I was much happier in completing!

 

Book Review: Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, Divya Srinivasan

A talking tiger is the only one who may be able to get a princess to speak in this beautiful picture book set in a mythic India by Newbery Medal-winning and New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, illustrated in bold colors by Divya Srinivasan.

Previously available only as an audio book, Cinnamon has never been published in print before, and Divya Srinivasan’s lush artwork brings Neil Gaiman’s text to life.

This stunning picture book will transport readers to another time and place and will delight parents and children alike.

Picked up in Foyles, Grand Central, Birmingham.

I didnt know this was coming out until I saw it displayed prominantly as I came in – I know that at least one member of staff is a Gaiman fan like me, so I wasnt surprised it was out, front and centre.

The text for this was originally released in 1995, according to the copyright, but I understand this is the first time it’s been released in print. This is, in effect, a children’s picture book, much lighter in text and visual than the author’s The Sleeper and the Spindle (for instance). Therefore this is little character development (though the Rani’s aunt is annoying in only a few lines).

However, this is really a vehicle for  Srinivasan to perform some illustration. It’s laid out in what I take to be (near to) traditional Indian style, with large scale landscapes in fairly 2D format. Cinnamon is a blind princess who hasnt talked in her life – her parents offer incentives for the person who can teach her to speak – only for that “person” to be a tiger, which is the first one to be successful. Naturally, the parents are not pleased, especially when they find out what the tiger really wants in compensation…….

Book Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmener

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

 

 

I picked up the ARC for this at a Blogging event at a local bookstore back in January 2017. I’m not a huge YA fan, and only make occasional forays into this genre. I always have a fear that YA books will be too ernest and patronising.

Thankfully this wasnt the case here. It’s written in an interesting format, where POVs change between chapters, sometimes even during chapters. Letter and emails are exchanged, as well as IRL interactions between the main people and it’s always interesting. The stories are told from the POV of the youngsters involved – I was going to call them “Children” (patronising? moi? nah!) but that is perhaps the one thing that’s hard to bear in mind: The story is set in an American High School, and I found it hard to remember that the two main characters were both aged 17 – sometimes I thought they were perhaps 15 or 16.

Juilet’s mother – a war photographer – died several months previously in a hit and run accident on her way home from an assignment. Juilet has subsequently carried a certain level of guilt along with her grief, as she had requested her mother come home early and if she hadn’t, her mother wouldnt have been in the taxi that got hit.

Declan is doing community service, having gotten drunk at his mother’s second wedding and crashed the car – his father is in prison, having been drink driving and crashed the car that killed Declan’s younger sister – not only does he now have a record and a reputation, but is he following in his father’s footsteps as the drunk driver in the family? His stepdad is very strict, and Declan is angry with the rules that are being put in place, thinking them unfair and too harsh (and why should it be Alan imposing them and where is his mother in all this?).

Juilet and Declan muddle through a difficult year, their own issues and guilt, and somehow (through their letters and emails) help each other out, so that their year isnt as bad as it started out.

On the whole this was a strong book in the YA genre (with a little romance thrown in for good luck!).

 

About this author

Brigid Kemmerer is author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

Inspector Montalbano: Equal Time, Collection 3, Episode 2

This is based on another short story, and therefore not based on a complete book.     

The episode starts with two men pulling up in a car, with one getting out and approaching a young blond girl on a moped. Scared, she throws her helmet at him and rides off, with the men giving chase. She nearly loses them a couple of times in the narrow backstreets, but decides to ditch the moped once out in the countryside. The men fire at her as she runs across the fields, missing her, but letting her go.

Caterella is at a quarry where a dead body has been found, Mimi’s baby has been born so he’s on leave, Fazio is on patrol, so Caterella calls Salvo. There is some great shots of the quarry, with huge gaps where the stone has been carved out.

The victim, Angelou Bonpensiero, was shot in the face mafia execution style and is known to be one of the Cuffaro family.  Married to Mariccia, the only daughter of the head of the Cuffaros, he rapidly became the right hand man to the father

Salvo and Fazio go to the church to see who goes to the funeral. We get introduced to the big hitters in the Cuffaro family, plus the fact that one of the Sinagra boys go to offer his condolences.

Fazio and Salvo discuss the murder and how Salvo doesn’t think it’s a mafia execution…..there are too many unanswered questions

We see Caterella out picking snails before he goes to work when he comes across the abandoned moped. Rather than calling it in, he pushes the bike away to go to the garage

Salvo gets devastating news…Calogero is closing the restaurant on health grounds and Salvo has no idea what he’s going to do for his lunch. It’s when he’s discussing his options with Mimi, that Fazio tells him that the Cuffaro have retaliated with the death of Michele Zummo, a Sinagra man.

Salvo visits Don Sinagra, who assures him that the Sinagras didn’t start this, and the head of the Cuffaro said wouldn’t have killed his Son In Law, even to blame the Sinagras. There is no one to follow the aging head, and the daughter is apparently not very bright. She comes into the station to be interviewed, is not upset at her husband’s death. She reports that he went out late the evening of his death, and she knows that he was killed by the Sinagras.

Fazio and Salvo go to visit Mr Scozzese who is too old and infirm to go to station. He’s reporting the disappearance of young Eva who rides a scooter and has been missing 3 days.

There’s a 3rd murder, this of Fichera, married to a Cuffaro. Salvo gets called to see the superintendent, who tells him the case has been handed over to Trupiano, the head of the flying squad. Feeling down, Salvo goes to Calogero, who despite being closed, feeds him anyway.

Afterwards, Salvo goes to docks to talk to some Russian girls esp.  Anja and Alina who were the last people to see Eva 4 days previously. Back at the station, Anja recognises the moped that Caterella brought in as Eva’s.

Caterella takes Fazio and Salvo to where he found the moped, and they find a nearby house, but the inhabitant, Biagio, is not very bright. He refuses to recognise Eva, despite her jewellery being in her house. He makes reference to “The puppeteer” who took the girl and threatened Biagio

Sinagra calls Salvo, annoyed that his son has been arrested for ordering the death of two Cuffaro men. Sinagra says only one death was ordered and it wasn’t Bonpensiero.  Meanwhile, two men are massacred whilst driving through a tunnel with roadworks.  Bonpensiero’s widow is seen at the hospital visiting Zaccaria.

The police are searching Bagio Cocuzzo’s land for bodies….he was questioned over the disappearance of another girl previously….waiting in the lane, Caterella spots there are too many sheep droppings for the number of sheep Cocuzzo’s keeps. How and why are they there?

Salvo uses Anja to try and get Biagio to say the name of his boss, but all he admits to is a man comes to visit, stays the night and goes with his sheep.

Salvo explains his theory to the team that he  believes Eva stumbled across Biagio at his house and goes in, thinking she will be safe, not knowing what she’s getting herself into.

The team narrow down the shepherds to one Alfaro Selia and pay him a call. Caterella, needing the toilet, stays behind as the others search the farm, which means he gets to save the day when Selia starts shooting.

The team rescue Eva. Whilst at hospital, Anja hands over photos of Eva with Bonpensiero and it’s clear they’ve been having an affair.

Salvo visits Mariccia, Bonpensiero’s widow, who is working in a great looking room, with high, high ceilings – she’s taken over her husband’s job in the firm. He tells her that they have reopened file on the death as they don’t believe it’s a mafia job – also that Eva is still alive.

The next shot is of cars  pulling into an abandoned quarry cave that is now being used as some form of auditorium. Salvo has called the heads of both families together. Salvo explains his theory then tells the families what he wants: the war to stop, Bonpensiero’s killer, and Mariccia to hand herself in.  The two old men embrace, ending things their side. Cosimo Zaccaria, the killer, gets delivered to Salvo in the precinct, still alive but following a chat.

They find Mariccia at the quarry, she admits to killing Bonpensiero herself by pulling the trigger of Cosimo’s gun. Before Salvo can stop her, she pushes herself off the edge, falling multiple stories to the ground.

The story finishes on a lighter note, with Mimi’s son being named, and the family are all together including Francois, who is rapidly growing up. He still loves horses, but is now interested in computers too. Hearing that Salvo is off to pick up Livia from the airport, he begs a lift to meet her.

The On Screen Sicily of Inspector Montalbano

Book Review: The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

The bestselling author of Richard & Judy Book Club hit The Cold Season returns with a chilling mystery – where superstition and myth bleed into real life with tragic consequences

Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away

From Netgalley in exchange for a review, this is very much in the style of a Gothic Novel, with the potential for the “hidden people” to be influencing events at every turn.

Albert (Albie) Mirralls is working at his father’s firm in the city, and he goes to the Great Exhibition of 1851, where he meets  his  cousin, Lizzie, and her father. Despite them only meeting the once, Albie convinces himself that he is in love with his first cousin, and that they would someday meet again and marry. However, a decade passes, Albie has married Helena, and is stunned when he hears of Lizzie’s violent death at a still relatively young age.

Helena can’t understand her husband’s distress over the death of a distant relation he met only once. When he hears that  Lizzie was  killed by her husband, who had come to believe that she’s a changeling, Albie sets off for the Yorkshire village of Halfoak, to investigate…

Lizzie is found to be still unburied, her burnt and putrid corpse not even laid out properly. Albie arranges for the funeral to take place, but the locals that do attend do it pitifully, and the rest of the locals simply don’t turn up either at the church or the graveside. As a rationalist from the Big City, Albie makes a point of not believing in or not understanding local superstitions, such as that Lizzie shouldnt be buried in green (it’s their colour) or on a Friday (because it’s unlucky) etc.

Helena arrives from London, seemingly still upset that she is still being ignored in favour of this distant relative. She often comes upon her husband, only for him not to recognise her – is she bewitched somehow, or is she even a changling herself? Despite her objections, rather than leaving after the funeral, they move into the house left behind by Lizzie and her now imprisioned husband as Albie begins to investigate what has lead to this horrible situation.

To be honest, this is as far as I got. I’ve read other reviews that say that pacing was patchy and/or slow, only to pick up in the second half and I hope that this is true. Littlewood has produced what was a very good Gothic-esque story that I was just not able to complete. Even the secondary characters (such as the Innkeeper) were well drawn, even in his apparent shiftiness.

 

So I seem to have been one of those people that didn’t push through to the end, but I hope others get to persevere!