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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)
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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
by Fredrik Backman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sad and truly heartwarming., 30 Jun. 2015
“…storytelling is the noblest profession of all. The currency there is imagination; instead of buying something with coins you buy it with a good story. Libraries aren’t known as libraries but as ‘banks’ and every fairy tale is worth a fortune”

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is the second novel by Swedish blogger, columnist and author, Fredrik Backman. As with his previous bestseller, this book is flawlessly translated by Henning Koch. Every seven-year-old girl needs a superhero of their own, and Elsa (almost eight) has one: her grandmother. Unfortunately, Granny has cancer and dies just a few days before Christmas and Elsa’s eighth birthday, leaving her rudderless. But before she left, Granny charged Elsa with a mission: a treasure hunt of sorts, involving letters of apology to be delivered to some of the many people Granny has offended over the years. Elsa may feel overwhelmed by her task, but Granny made her a knight in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, so she tries to be brave and fearless. And after a while, Elsa realises that Granny has equipped her with what she needs to face the future without her.

Backman has peopled his novel with a wonderful cast of characters, often quirky yet familiar and appealing for all their faults and imperfections. The banter between the characters is enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud funny. Backman’s plot is so cleverly devised that the reader can see events from the perspective of a seven (nearly eight) year old who believes in the fantasy world her granny has created for her, and from the point of view of the adults around her. And that fantasy world, the Land-of-Almost-Awake, is a wonderful thing in itself, with its parallels in the lives, loves and losses of the real-world characters.

Backman given his characters many words of wisdom and insightful observations: “People who have never been hunted always seem to think there’s a reason for it. ‘They wouldn’t do it without a cause, would they? You must have done something to provoke them.’ As if that was how oppression works” and “…sometimes the safest place is when you flee to what seems the most dangerous” and “When it comes to terror, reality’s got nothing on the power of imagination” are examples. He also gives Elsa some excellent retorts to adult statements: for ‘It’s complicated.’ Elsa has ‘Yes, until someone explains it to you!’ and for ‘It’s hard to help those who don’t want to help themselves’ she cleverly objects ‘Someone who wants to help himself is possibly not the one who’s most in need of other people’s help’.

Backman’s second novel is another winner, and readers will be eager to know what he can come up with next.


A Cure for Suicide
A Cure for Suicide
Price: £7.12

3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, 28 Jun. 2015
“Time passed. After some number of days, one particular day arrived, and in the midst of that day, it was midday. The sun was shining so brightly overhead it seemed that every blade of grass could be made out, each from the others. It was a sort of harmony – nothing could be hidden, nothing at all beneath the sky”.

A Cure For Suicide is the fifth novel by prize-winning American author, Jesse Ball. It begins with a nameless man (the claimant) who is living in a house in a village (Gentlest Village) where he is taught the basic activities of daily living by a doctor/guide (the examiner). The claimant is told he almost died, and is now being healed. The Process of Villages is the treatment he will undergo, the cure for suicide. Set somewhere far into the future, or in a parallel universe, Ball’s world, and certainly many of the character names, have a slightly Scandinavian feel to it (perhaps not surprising, given his Icelandic wife).

If the reader can get past the first (somewhat bizarre) two thirds of the novel, then the discussion between the petitioner and the interlocutor forms an explanation of how the nameless man came to be going through the Process of Villages. While the lack of quotation marks for speech can be irritating, it is generally not a barrier to understanding who is speaking, except during the discussion with the interlocutor, when conversations reported at third or fourth remove create quite complicated sentences.

Ball’s style is simple and stark, but his descriptive prose is, nonetheless, evocative: “She sat at a desk with her back to him, writing long into the night as she always did. The light from the fixture in that room was shabby. It fell very bitterly over the room, and some of the light from a lamp in the street contested with it. The effect was: as she sat at her desk she looked like a figure in a woodcut. And she sat as still” and “The manager, a yellowed, rancid sort of man, the type who seldom clip his nails, who believes they need be clipped less often than you and I do….”are two examples.

Ball describes a world where depression and heartbreak appear to be eliminated by amnesiac treatments: what led to the nameless man’s therapy is a moving tale, and perhaps Ball is leading the reader to consider the ethics of medicalising grief. The conclusion will leave the reader wondering about the sincerity (or otherwise) of a key character. An interesting read. 3.5 stars


Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes
Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 27 Jun. 2015
Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes is a kindle short story by popular American author, Karin Slaughter. It details the events of a fateful spring day in the life of nineteen-year-old Julia Carroll, an attractive (blonde hair, blue eyes) student of journalism at University of Georgia, Athens. Her attention has been caught by the report of a college student, also nineteen, also blonde-haired, blue-eyed, now missing for five weeks: Julia may be a features writer for the UGA campus newspaper, but she wants to write a news story drawing attention to this possible abduction, and others like it.
This short story allows the reader to get to know a character who is conspicuous by her absence in Slaughter’s latest book, Pretty Girls, and witness some of the family dynamics before tragedy struck. The events of this story dovetail neatly with those related in Pretty Girls, and enhance that reading experience. It can be read as a stand-alone (without spoilers) before or after Pretty Girls, and is the perfect complement to that book. Excellent!


Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab
Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab
Price: £21.18

4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read., 24 Jun. 2015
“Everybody did everything right….from the author who researched his market and plotted his whodunnit carefully, to the publisher who packaged an attractive product and marketed it with real brilliance. As a result, Hansom Cab became a fad, the book everybody had to read, commodity capitalism at work”.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is a non-fiction book by New Zealand-born researcher, editor, writer and literary archaeologist (who ever knew there was such a person?), Lucy Sussex. In the late nineteenth century, Dunedin émigré, Fergus Hume wrote a detective novel to try to interest Melbourne theatres in his work as a playwright. That book, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, became the biggest and fastest-selling detective novel of its time, outselling Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes book: a literary blockbuster.

As well as touching on Hume’s own story, Sussex’s meticulous research examines lives, fortunes and ultimate fates of those involved in the writing, publication and marketing of Hanson Cab: readers, reviewers, investors, supporters and publishers, to name a few. The impersonations, scams and fraud that resulted from this publishing phenomenon are also described. Each chapter is prefaced by a relevant quote from one of Hume’s later works, showing how incidents in his life became inspiration for these.

Sussex also provides a selection of reviews of the Hansom Cab, four pages of relevant colour plates, an extensive bibliography and comprehensive end-notes and index. She discusses the likely fate and provenance of the few remaining (and very valuable) copies of early editions. This is a book that will appeal to readers who like to get behind the story.

Sussex tells us just how important this book was: “Above all, the work consolidated detective fiction as a publishing genre, one with a mass readership of avid fans……others had shown that the market existed for tales of crime, but it took the blockbusting success of Hanson Cab, achieved by Trischler’s brilliant marketing, to prove how lucrative crime fiction crime fiction could be. Publishers took note and, over a century later, detective fiction is still a marker leader”. A very interesting read.


Let Me Die in His Footsteps
Let Me Die in His Footsteps
by Lori Roy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.57

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant novel, 24 Jun. 2015
“She wore her hair down this morning even though I told her it would be best if she’d bind it and cover it over. Being as it was a solemn day, I thought there would be something almost obscene about the beauty of her hair when it catches the sun. Falling down near about the center of her back, it glows. No other way to put it. Folks can’t help but stare, even though she’s not new to them, even though they don’t want to look. They’re afraid to look. They’re afraid of those black eyes. But she’s wrapped up in a kind of beauty most folks will only see once, maybe twice in their lives. They stare because they can’t resist”

Let Me Die In His Footsteps is the third novel by award-winning American author, Lori Roy. The story opens in Hayden County, Kentucky, where, even in 1952, folks put great consequence on signs, superstitions and rituals. Thus, at age fifteen and a half, at midnight on the eve of her ascension to womanhood, Annie Holleran climbs over the stone fence marking the edge of Holleran land, to gaze into the Baine’s well, where she is meant to see the reflection of her intended. She is not expecting to find a woman’s body among the tomato plants.

In 1936, Joseph Carl Baine was hanged, and there has been hatred between the Hollerans and the Baines ever since: angry old Mrs Baine sits on her porch with her shotgun, seeing off trespassers. Annie’s Aunt Juna is to blame: Juna has the “know how” (a form of precognition) and many folk believe her to be evil. Annie too, has the “know how”, as does her Grandma, who coaches her in the benign use of her power. But now, Mrs Baine is dead, and secrets, long-held, about the events of sixteen years ago begin to be revealed.

The story is split into two alternating strands: Sarah relates the events of 1936 while a third-person narrative from Annie’s perspective covers the incidents of 1952. Roy’s story is inspired by the last lawful public hanging in the USA. Her prose skilfully evokes the mood of Depression-era Kentucky and feel of the early fifties in the Upland South. Her characters are complex and multi-faceted: Annie is a spirited heroine, determined and a bit rebellious, while Juna’s true nature eventually becomes apparent. Sarah says “It’s what Juna does. Ever so slightly, she turns folks in the direction of her liking”. This is a page turner: it has a tension-filled, gripping plot with quite a few twists and a heart-stopping climax. A brilliant novel that will have readers seeking out earlier works by this talented author.


The Brass Bed
The Brass Bed
by Jennifer Stevenson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars OK, 18 Jun. 2015
The Brass Bed is the first book in the Jewel Heiss series by American author, Jennifer Stevenson. Jewel Heiss is an agent for Chicago’s Department of Consumer Services. Her boss, Ed Neccio has her permanently assigned to cases involving magic: the Mayor gets upset when magic hits the news. But on the side, Ed wants her to find out what his wife, (and her best friend) Nina, is up to: he’s convinced this “therapist” she is seeing is her lover on the side. Clay Dawes runs a sex therapy service involving a brass bed. Jewel is sure it’s a scam, so she goes undercover as a client, and is surprised to have the best sex of her life, alone, in said bed. This brass bed, it seems, has been haunted for two hundred years by a cursed English Lord.

The alternate reality where apparently anger causes a pink mist, genies are addicted to Drambuie and pigeons steal cigarettes to smoke, is never really explained, and the reader may well feel like they have been thrown into the middle of a sitcom. But there is plenty of humour and the scenes with Randy are good, although the story drags a bit in the middle. An excerpt of the second book, The Velvet Chair, is included.


Blackwattle Creek
Blackwattle Creek
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent crime fiction., 15 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Blackwattle Creek (Kindle Edition)
Blackwattle Creek is the second Charlie Berlin Mystery by Australian author, Geoffrey McGeachin. It is some ten years after the events of The Diggers Rest Hotel, and Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin, while still a misfit, is now very happily married to the smart and beautiful Rebecca, and father of two: he has only rare flashbacks to the war, even if he still holds quite a bit of anger inside him. On a ten-day enforced break from work, he looks into an irregularity in an ex-soldier’s funeral, at Rebecca’s request. But things don’t add up, people are telling him lies, and when Senior Constable Rob Roberts does some research as a favour, a severe beating lands the young man in the hospital.

Berlin’s investigations lead him from a funeral parlour to Blackwattle Creek, an asylum for the criminally insane, to a St Kilda café, to the library and even to a brothel. Disturbingly, people who talk to him seem to suffer intimidation, injury and worse. Just who is watching him from the dark green Ford Zephyr? What have Special Branch got to do with it all? An arson attack at his home has Berlin fearing for his family, and what he eventually discovers is so shocking, he breaks his ten-year sobriety AND resorts to violence.

Once again, McGeachin gives the reader an excellent plot with the odd red herring, a slow reveal of the facts and an exciting climax. Charlie is, of course, restricted by having only basic resources like index cards and the library: computers, the internet and mobile phones are all far into the future. McGeachin expertly captures the feel of late 1950s Melbourne and the moods and attitudes of the people; his characters are believable and their dialogue is natural. Berlin is a character with depth and appeal, so readers will be pleased to know that he appears in at least one further book, St Kilda Blues. Excellent crime fiction.


Muse
Muse
by Jonathan Galassi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.89

4.0 out of 5 stars quite a debut novel, 14 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Muse (Hardcover)
“It was not where or who you came from but what you did with your own grab bag of advantages and disadvantages that made you remarkable. He’d learned early on in his work that the real writers hadn’t gone to Yale or Oxford; they came from everywhere - or nowhere – and their determination to dig down, to matter, whatever the odds against them, was the only key to their succeeding”

Muse is the first novel by American poet, translator and publisher of iconic Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jonathan Galassi. The only literature-appreciating member of his decidedly non-literary family, a teen-aged Paul Dukach takes refuge in Pages, the local bookstore. When proprietress, Morgan Dickerman introduces him to the poetry of Ida Perkins, it is the beginning of a life-long passion. He devours her work and becomes a fanatical expert on all there is to know about this elusive woman who was”… literally enamored with art – arguably less so with the individuals who created it, who often turned out to have inconvenient needs and egos of their own, which on occasion dwarfed even hers”

On graduation from college, Paul eventually finds employment with independent publisher, Purcell and Stern, learning a great deal from his boss, the brash but knowledgeable Homer Stern: “Sexual activity for Homer was an index of moral fallibility and vitality at one and the same time. It didn’t matter what people did; he was sure they did something illicit. It meant they were alive, like him. Maybe he was simply looking for companionship in transgression”. Paul also gets to know Stern’s arch-rival, Sterling Wainwright, Ida’s second cousin and publisher of all her works.

On the way home from a European book fair (“Frankfurt [Book Fair] was anything but social; it was carnivorousness at its most rapacious, with a genteel European veneer. The dressy clothes, the parties, the cigars, the jacked-up prices in the hotels and restaurants, the disappointing food were all of a piece. It was exhausting and repetitive and depressing – and no one in publishing with any sense or style would have missed it for the world”), Paul finally gets the opportunity to meet his idol, now reclusive for many years in Venice.

He finds that Venice “… wasn’t dead at all. Venice was a Platonic beehive buzzing with covert vitality. Its fabulous gilt-encrusted past wasn’t the point; it was how the past kept gnawing away at the present, digesting and fermenting and reforming it, and extruding it into the future”. And for some reason, Ida takes him into her confidence, entrusting him with an explosive secret. “Ida had surely been no saint…Ida had been guileless and wilful, passionate and snobbish, generous, great-hearted, self-seeking, myopic, petty” This he knew, but now he faces a dilemma.

Galassi’s extensive experience in both the publishing industry and as a poet are apparent on every page. He peoples his novel with a cast of highly believable authors, editors and publishers that, no doubt, bear more than a passing resemblance to figures in the actual literary industry. Of his publishers, he says: “Their authors and their work had been the ultimate raison d’etre for whatever they themselves had done. Beyond their petty self-aggrandizing, Homer and Sterling and their kind had been true to their writers’ gifts. …Their authors were their gods…”. He completes the effect with a bibliography of Ida’s works and books about her. This is quite a debut novel, one that will have a broad appeal, but in particular to those involved in the industry. Outstanding.


The Truth and Other Lies
The Truth and Other Lies
by Sascha Arango
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning debut, 13 Jun. 2015
“The belief in human goodness is a prejudice hard to refute. Wouldn’t it be more sensible, Henry wondered, …..to believe in the self-evident badness of human beings? In his case, for instance, sporadic acts of goodness….were nothing but brief interruptions to his innate wickedness”

The Truth and Other Lies is the first novel by German playwright, Sascha Arango. Henry Hayden is a best-selling author of crime novels, happily married to Martha (even if he also sleeps with his editor, Betty), generous with friends and pleasant to his fans. But Henry has a secret (or two), and when Betty announces she is pregnant, the façade of his comfortable existence threatens to collapse. Henry acts to preserve the status quo, but things don’t quite go to plan.

Arango gives the reader an intriguing plot with plenty of twists, wrinkles and complications. His novel is riddled with delicious ironies, misdirection and plenty of black humour. Arango manages to include a synaesthete, a troublesome marten, a failing fishmonger, a not quite tenacious enough detective, an envious class-mate, unrequited lovers, an almost-finished manuscript and a very big “oops” moment. While Henry’s lies and his sheer audacity will leave readers gasping, many will find themselves almost wanting him to get away with it, or at least, feeling some sympathy for him.

Arango gives his characters some astute observations: “You don’t have to be famous to be happy, especially as popularity is all too often confused with significance” and “Men are never more cowardly and their lies never more pathetic than when they’re caught with their pants down” and “Martha had warned him that success was a mere shadow that shifts with the moving sun” are examples. Also a succinct definition: “If I see or hear something and everyone else pretends there’s nothing there, then I know it’s a conspiracy”

The reader is also treated to some marvellous descriptive prose: “The chapter fell seamlessly in line with the previous one; the story flowed towards its climax with such assurance that it was as if, instead of having been thought up, it had emerged from itself, like a plant from a seed” and “The cataract of words poured out of …’s brain and straight through the machine onto the paper; not a single word got spilt” on writing; also “A secret like this is a parasite. It feeds on you and grows bigger and bigger. It wants to get out of you, it gnaws its way through your heart, it wants to get out of your mouth, it crawls through your eyes!”

This aptly titled novel is flawlessly translated from German by Imogen Taylor, and the Text Publishing edition has a colourful and imaginative cover by W H Chong. They offer a money-back “Love it” guarantee, and while this book is probably not for everyone, that guarantee would seem a fairly safe bet with many readers. This is a stunning debut and readers will look forward to more from this talented author.


Flood of Fire (Ibis Trilogy Book 3)
Flood of Fire (Ibis Trilogy Book 3)
Price: £7.47

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant read, 12 Jun. 2015
Flood of Fire is the third and final book in the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. Where readers of River of Smoke may have wondered what happened to the major players in Sea of Poppies, those questions are answered by Flood of Fire. Characters from both previous books reappear, along with new characters. Neel continues his account of events, much of it in the form of a journal. Zachary Reid has a narrative role, as do Kesri Singh, older brother of Deeti, and Shireen Moddie, widow of Bahram. Well into the tale, the voice of a young boy, Raju, is added.

While a newly exonerated but penniless Zachary tries to put his life back together, Neel uses his linguistic talents to help the Chinese war effort. Kesri heads a team of sepoys who form part of the fighting force on the English side, and Shireen heads to Canton in an attempt to gain compensation for Bahram’s lost opium cargo. Once again, the Ibis seems to draw the characters to her. As the Ibis, Anahita and Hind converge on the Pearl River Delta, many of the characters from Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke find themselves in close quarters.

Against a background of the battles of the First Opium War, Ghosh demonstrates the depth of research done (which he attributes to his ancestor) in the detail he provides on a multitude of topics: the composition of fighting forces involved in the wars, what comprised their uniforms, the important role of the army followers, the restrictions on travel into Canton, the power of translators, Victorian sex therapy, futures trading in the nineteenth century, and, of course, the Opium Wars. He includes a wealth of information in easily digestible form by weaving the facts into an absorbing tale full of interesting characters.

Ghosh also gives the reader plenty of humour: he subjects poor Zachary to all kinds of indignities and gives the reader plenty of laughs at his expense. Who knew there were so many euphemisms for sexual terms in Victorian times? Double entendre and innuendo abound. Reunions, too, are plentiful, some less friendly than others. There are dramatic battles, more than a few deaths, a marriage proposal, quite a bit of impersonation, some secret assignations, and an act of piracy. Characters develop, but not all for the better.

In his Epilogue, Ghosh explains that the story could continue, but having spent ten years on the trilogy thus far, and unwilling to abbreviate the tale as would not do it justice, he leaves it with, what no doubt many readers will feel, much unsaid. The final moments of the main story hold a delightful twist that will have many readers laughing out loud. At over six hundred pages, this may be a brick, but it is a brilliant read.
With thanks to The Reading Room and Hachette for this copy to read and review.


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