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Louise Ward (Dublin, Ireland)

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Secrecy
Secrecy
by Rupert Thomson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History and Mystery, 7 Sep 2013
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
Rupert Thomson, the author of this most excellent novel Secrecy has passed completely under my radar. It's always exciting to find an author you like and Thomson's writing is sublime. His bibliography is wide; the author of nine novels. The fourth The Insult was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, his sixth The Book of Revelation was made into a film and Death of a Murderer (2007) was shortlisted for Costa Novel of the Year. His foray into non-fiction with his memoir This Party's Got To Stop won him the Writer's Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. So with all that going on how have I missed him!?
Thomson studied Medieval History at Cambridge and he draws on his historical expertise in the telling of this story which is based on the life of the Sicilian wax artist, Gaetano Zumbo. Zumbo is famed for his plague pieces, wooden cabinets containing wax creations of the dead and dying which can still be seen in particular in the scientific museum La Specola in Florence.
Set in Florence, this novel is about Zummo's wax art works but it is primarily about his relationships- with his family, with his patron the Grand Duke, with a young boy who assists him and with his lover. In fact, although Zummo is a very solitary man when he works, his life touches many people and Thomson weaves this mysterious story with his rich and evocative prose. The descriptions are always enough to conjure an image, sometimes exquisite and sometimes painful, but never too much to take away from the tale he is telling, never too much to distract from the character we are following, Zummo, as he finds his place and works to establish relationships to hold him there, only to often have them questioned or pulled out from under his feet often due to his identity as a Sicilian in Florence.
The descriptions of the techniques used to create the wax artworks are fascinating in themselves. But it is the characters that hold the story together so well, maintaining the readers interest right to the close of the story, still uncertain of how it will end. A well written historical novel, alive with the sights and sounds of seventeenth century Italy and the rotten smell of corruption.


The Round House
The Round House
by Louise Erdrich
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Stroy-Telling at it's Best, 7 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Round House (Hardcover)
There are a lot of platitudes banded around when it comes to book reviews and we have all been misled by quotes on books about it being "the best book I've read this year" etc. as we make a rushed purchase at the airport bookshop. In the case of Louise Erdrich's most recent novel, two giants of literature are quoted on the front cover;
'Louise Erdrich is the most interesting American novelist to have appeared in years.' Philip Roth and 'Louise Erdrich is the rarest kind of writer; as compassionate as she is sharp-sighted.' Anne Tyler.
Well in this case we can believe the hype, because The Round House is superb. Unusual, educating, sad, uplifting, frustrating ...I could go on, but this is just to illustrate the extent of emotions Erdrich is able to draw from her reader as we follow the story of young Joe and his family and friends.
The Round House is set in North Dakota on a reservation in 1988. An attack has taken place but the details are slow to emerge as a result of the trauma suffered by the victim, Geraldine Coutts. Both the police, her husband Bazil, who is the tribal judge, and Joe her thirteen year old son want to know what happened but Geraldine shuts everyone out and takes to her bed and from this one incident the family's whole world is changed. It is Joe who tells the story and it is Joe who is determined to avenge his mother's attacker. He becomes part of the adult world overnight, a world that he finds ineffectual in its methods of justice, undertaking his own investigation along with his trusty posse of friends-Cappy, Zack and Angus. What he finds causes a separate chain of events to occur alongside the original one, events he is not able to control.
This superb tale, set in the little known world of the Indian tribes has tragedy alongside great humour. Erdrich manages to bring in historical political injustices that the Indian people have suffered without the reader feeling pity but more admiration for how they have held their heads high over hurdles that could have knocked them down. But even though the identity of the peoples is tantamount to the story, the real tale is with Joe, a teenager who takes on the challenge of tracking down his mother's attacker, becoming an adult before he is ready and learning many of life's lessons in a very short space of time. The characters are richly drawn and we believe in them from the start. We want justice for the crime and are behind Joe even when his choices seem foolhardy. The drawing in of ancient Indian tales is a fine technique, adding weight and extra interest to the text.
The Round House won the US National Book Award. Erdrich has written thirteen books, her previous book being The Plague of Doves, winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


The Wild Pupil
The Wild Pupil
by Kathy D'Arcy
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A talented poet, 1 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Wild Pupil (Paperback)
The Wild Pupil is the second collection of poetry by Kathy D'Arcy, a talented poet from Cork who originally trained as a doctor. She uses this background in her work, in both a technical and literary way. The title of the work is both enigmatic and Yeatsian alluding to the scholar, rebellion and youth. It is also the title of one of the poems in the collection, one that gets right to the centre of the living body "as your thorax springs open/ like an eye,/ your heart/ the wild pupil."
The collection of over fifty poems has several themes to it. The reader will come across the subjects of family, the sensual and the physical aspects of the body, ageing and death and also animals. Many touch on aspects of life that may make us feel uncomfortable in their bluntness and reference to the more unpleasant side of illness, or just the body in general, but they reinforce the power of the word. In fact, the sparseness of D'Arcy's language, maybe a hangover from her technical training, adds to the edginess of the poetry.
The opening poem `First Furniture' talks of "the trail of hair I leave/ on every surface..." referring uncertainly to ageing or maybe the hair loss of cancer and is referred to again in `Christmas'. Other poems reference an ageing mother, as a daughter attempts to clear away long-kept and forgotten childhood books or even the sharing out of crockery after a death in `Good China'.
However, throughout the collection, it is the keen paring back of language to the bare requirements to put across the message, even to the extent that many carry a mysterious uncertainty of meaning, is the feeling that is left with the reader after exploring this collection. This feeling of uncertainty means that poems can be revisited over again to reveal maybe more or maybe to stay hidden, just holding back enough on their meaning to have something deliciously `not-quite-there' that draws you back to see if there is any reveal since the last visit. This is the real appeal of D'Arcy's poetry.


The Hive
The Hive
by Gill Hornby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.31

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars School gate politics plus a ladle of humour, 1 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Hive (Hardcover)
The Hive is Gill Hornby's first novel. No stranger to the publishing world, Hornby is married to the author Robert Harris and sister to Nick Hornby. Released to great excitement, it had been subject to a seven-way bidding war and the rights to the film were sold before it was published. Straight into the top ten bestselling books list it is one of those books that for a certain reader will hit a spot where they are saying, "oh yes, I know someone just like that!"
'The Hive' of the title is the collective of women amassed at the school gates who make up the committees and organise the bake-sales. The mover and shaker of this little political circle is Bea (the Queen 'Bea') and all her worker bees flutter around her being allocated tasks. But this book is not all 'yummy mummy'. We have Georgie, a very appealing character, whose house is an absolute tip but is at heart an earth mother and has a romping relationship with her farmer husband Martin. Rachel is/was Bea's best friend, a children's illustrator recently separated from her husband who is quickly realising her status with Bea is changing. Heather is desparate to be 'part of the gang' and then there is Deborah or Bubba who is on a career break and doesn't quite get the politics of the school gate yet.
The characters are very well drawn and will and have already entertained many. In fact as you read it, once you come to know that it is to be made into a film, you can absolutely see how each of the mum's (and some dad's too) will be portrayed (Georgie is Felicity from The Good Life!) It is much more than chick lit but at the same time it will be hugely appealing to women (and men?) of a certain age, that is those with children in primary school who recognise and identify with the characters.


Exodus
Exodus
by Lars Iyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for a niche readership, 1 Sep 2013
This review is from: Exodus (Paperback)
What to make of the two shambling philosophers we come across in Lars Iyer's latest book Exodus,the third book in Iyer's trilogy following Spurious (2011) and Dogma (2012). Lars, our narrator and his fellow academic W, are off on a lecture tour to investigate the destruction of philosophy (and their jobs) in the universities of Great Britain. As Lars records W's ramblings, much is made of Lars half-Danish descent and much reference is made to philosophical scorn about the world at large. The extent of this large reference condemns the book to a niche readership. Now, not all books are for all readers, but this book has a very specific appeal and it ain't gonna be to everyone's taste! I found myself equally veering between smug giggles at intelligent insights and exasperated sighs at the indulgent wanderings of the text.
There is no doubt that Iyer has his fans will revel in the continuation of themes present through the now three novels but for readers new to the philosophy bro's it is sometimes an uphill struggle to decide whether it really is worth the effort of continuing. You'll have to try him yourself to see which camp you fall into.


A Hologram for the King
A Hologram for the King
by Dave Eggers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A Likeable Loser, 1 Sep 2013
This book had me under it's spell from the start. The main character, a fifty-something divorced and nearly bankrupt businessman is banking on the success of his most recent project with a Saudi Arabian King. With his daughter's place in college under threat if the fees can't be paid and with friends and businesses owed money, the importance of this last ditch attempt is clear. But despite being sure from early on that this is a rocky road with little chance of a good outcome, we are behind him and feel protective when he is put down by his father on a long-distance phone conversation. His exhaustion with the path life has dealt him as manufacturing in the modern world moved rapidly to where it could be produced most cheaply brings a feeling of sympathy from the reader. Sure he's a bit of a loser, but we want to like him anyway. Tom Hanks is to star in the film version of this book and he is sure to be able to bring a convincing hang-dog element to this role.


Life After Life
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Life Re-written, 1 Sep 2013
This review is from: Life After Life (Hardcover)
A clever concept, the main protagonist Ursula Todd born in 1910 during a snowstorm has multiple chances at life. The baby dies at birth, but no, the next chapter rewrites her fate in life and she lives to take her next risk in life. This double, sometimes triple take on one event is surprisingly easy to adjust to in the reading of this novel. Set at a turbulent time in history, all these major events are brought to the tale. The characters are masterfully drawn and the reader is quickly sure of the personality of the Irish housemaid, the cook, Ursula's siblings and her parents. Kate Atkinson fans will not be disappointed.


How Should a Person Be?
How Should a Person Be?
by Sheila Heti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You'll love it...or hate it!, 1 Sep 2013
An unusual memoir style book, Heti ruminates in a philosophical way on her life as she contemplates how it should be lived. She does this through the 'character' Sheila, a playwright with a failed marriage who searches to find herself again with arrival in her life of artist friends Margaux and Israel. Oftentimes crude in her very personal revelations, it is obviously the voice of a young woman who considers life in her own very unique way. Heti herself calls it a "novel from life". It was first published in 2010 in Canada before it was revised to be published in the U.S in 2012 and in UK/Ireland in early 2013. It was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction.

Heti's book identifies that uncertainty of identity that lurks in us all, seeing how a friend behaves and wanting to emulate them or seeing someone pass us on the street and thinking that we'd like to dress like them. And it challenges that aspect of our insecurity. But it is the disconcerting openness in her talk on sex, which is in no way sexy, that sometimes just takes away from the real argument that Heti puts forward which is ultimately one on art and ugliness. There are many ideas to consider in this book, and it is a challenging read, but the author's voice sometimes just jars too much.


Night Film
Night Film
by Marisha Pessl
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.54

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start it and be hooked!, 1 Sep 2013
This review is from: Night Film (Hardcover)
It's not often that a book comes along where you genuinely don't want the story to end, but Night Film is one of them. It is an edgy, dark and thrilling read.
A middle-aged investigative reporter and his two cohorts, Nora- who has a touch of the Holly Golightly crossed with a punk about her, with her aged parakeet that travels everywhere with her in its cage, and Hopper, a disheveled but none the less still glamorous loafer, who between the three of them are determined to get tot the bottom of the mystery of Ashley Cordova's death. Pessl tells the tale in a assured and confident voice with a strong blast of creativity that shows itself by the use of media to add depth to the story. In her acknowledgements Pessl thanks those who helped her "to push book design in a new direction" and this has been done by the inclusion of web pages, emails, newspaper reports and photographs. It makes for fascinating reading.
Referencing the poetry of Eliot, in particular 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', Pessl also makes frequent reference to the use of social media in our lives now; texting, updating our status and the one way relationship dealing with a screen- indirect comments on the state of modern society.
Night Film is as addictive as the very films and the director that the reporter is chasing. It draws you in and the story builds in strength like a river as its tributaries add more to its size until it bursts into the open sea. And, like Scott the reporter, just when you think you have the mystery explained she brings more mystery to the tale to take you deeper down again. Unsure of where the real world and the imagined draw their lines the reader is brought on a chase to find an elusive person, a director who stays in the shadows, Hitchcock-like but with a darker twist.
Possibly the best book I have read this year, it follows Pessl's best selling first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Don't let the size (599 pages) put you off- you'll find yourself loath to put it down as you race to its thrilling and equally mysterious close.


Royal Babies: A History 1066-2013
Royal Babies: A History 1066-2013
by Amy Licence
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than the cover tells you, 1 Sep 2013
Amy Licence's timely publication of Royal Babies: A History 1066-2013 will fill a gap in the book market for all the lovers of all things royal, but also for those with a general interest in history. Because of course marriage and royal births in history past were deeply political, drawing countries together with the pacts that they created.
Nowadays a royal birth is considered a public interest story, and there is no doubt that the young couple William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have brought a new injection of hope to the flagging British royal family. But Amy Licence's book is not really about the most recent birth. Covering a grand total of twenty-five royal births from Matilda in 1102 up to what Licence calls 'Baby Windsor' due to the baby not having been born when her final chapter was written, this is an interesting look at the story of the impact a royal birth has had on European history down through the ages.
Of course, the interest in the new royal birth is that this newborn will inherit the throne; third in line, and the first time since 1894 the British monarchy has had three generations of heirs in waiting. Amy Licence's book is an informative and enjoyable read.


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