Happy Easter

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As my daughter is spending the rest of Easter with her father, we did our Easter Eggs on Good Friday. I hid loads of little ones all around the house in places that the cats couldn’t get to, and that kept her occupied for ages finding them – with additional cryptic clues from me for those last few difficult ones – we do this every year, and the challenge is to think of some new places!  Juliet also did a little treasure hunt with riddles for me, with some Malteaster bunnies and mini-eggs at the end of it – Yum, yum.
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Happy Easter everyone.

Annabel Elsewhere … again …

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This post refers to my last new fiction reviews for Shiny New Books’s debut issue.  If you haven’t done so already, do pop over to the website, (and sign-up for the newsletter).  Thank you, and feel free to leave comments there or here.

THE-MADNESS

The Madness by Alison Rattle

This is a cracking YA novel set during Victorian times about a doomed between the classes romance.  Loads of authentic period detail about the Victorian seaside (that’s Clevedon pier on the cover) and bathing couple with a well-written main character made it a fantastic read with echoes for me of Andersen’s Little Mermaid. (8.5/10)

and …

one-plus-one-186x300The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Commercial women’s fiction as they tend to call it these days rather than chick-lit, is something I rarely read, yet – when I pick a good ‘un, I can’t get enough of it. I devoured this novel in one sitting, staying up in bed until after 2am to finish it.  The complications of modern family life with extended and split families living on the poverty line made this totally compulsive. (8/10)

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Source: Publishers – Thank you!  To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Madness by Alison Rattle, Hot Key Books, March 2014, paperback original 208 pages.
The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, pub Feb 2014, Penguin hardback, 528 pages.

My Les Mis-full day – not glum at all

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Les Misérables – On Film and Stage

Over the years, the one musical that didn’t appeal to me was Les Misérables. In fact, I turned down free tickets back in the early 1990s, such was my lack of enthusiasm for it – the very thought of having to sit through it made me feel glum.

But, dear readers, I am cured!  Vivent Les Misérables!

My daughter, for reasons I’ll come to later, was desperate to see it.  I said I’ll book for the summer. ‘No, can’t it be Easter?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll see what’s available.’ I replied, and found us tickets for yesterday evening – good seats at a price, but as an irregular theatre-goer these days, I’m willing to pay out a bit for a good view, (I chose the 2nd priced stalls at £67.50 each!!!).

les mis movie posterHowever, as my daughter likes to understand what’s going on before seeing shows, (something that spoiled seeing War Horse for her with her old school – she hadn’t read the book, and they didn’t explain the play at all) we watched the DVD at the weekend as Les Mis is a complicated story, (I benefitted from that too).

I loved it – especially Hugh Jackman of course, who has a great pedigree in musicals (my late mum saw him in Oklahoma and fell for him). Even Russell Crowe wasn’t so bad, and was suitably brooding, and Hathaway we know can sing and was so brave getting her real hair cut off – and her collarbones made her look skeletal as the dying Fantine. The naturalistic singing, which was live rather than dubbed as I understand, made it seem so much more … miserable.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter (SBC and HBC!) were great comic relief as the money-grabbing Thénardiers. I cried like a baby at the end.  I went through the story with my daughter and we were prepared for our trip down to London.

20140415_192219_resizedWe had a good afternoon shopping in Covent Garden, then a burger and shake at Ed’s Diner in Soho before the theatre.  Our seats were great (no need to pay £20 more for that prime central block).  Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was smaller than I expected, but very plush.

On time, the orchestra struck up and we were transported to 19thC France. The staging was wonderful – using a surprisingly quiet revolving stage and clever lighting which allowed both props and actors to keep the action always moving.  Originally staged by the RSC at the Barbican, you expect the slickness and clever use of backdrops and props. An American party sitting behind me, although they loved the traditional theatre, had been expecting something on a bigger scale ‘like back in Boston’ (yawn!).

My daughter (left) gets Carrie's (middle) autograph

My daughter (left) gets Carrie’s (middle) autograph

None of the cast (except one) were familiar to me, but they were touts merveilleux! I  did have a sniffle when Eponine died, and could see lots of hankies being dabbed to eyes then and at the end.

Eponine was the reason for going at Easter, she was played by Carrie Hope Fletcher (sister of McFly’s Tom) and my daughter follows her on the web. So afterwards, we quickly went round to the stage door and found ourselves in a small cluster of waiting fans and she kindly signed our programme which made my daughter’s day.

Les Mis has now trumped both Oliver! and Matilda as her favourite musical and film. My favourite will always be the original Jesus Christ Superstar, but Les Mis will now vie with Oliver! for my second spot.

Victor Hugo’s story is epic in its scope, I started reading it around two years ago, and ought to resume – I got as far as Jean Valjean being given the silver, i.e. not very far, and paused. Seeing the musical twice has renewed my enthusiasm for it.

Musically, Les Mis is sung-through; there is no dialogue at all, and the score relies on recitative to link the main scenes. I was fascinated by the way there are really only about eight (guessing here) musical themes which get mixed up and reappear throughout the show, most obviously the Thénardiers’ comic song, and Javert’s brooding one, but they all blend together and never appear repetitive at all. This made it feel less of a musical, more an opera.  I loved it.

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Here’s links to Les Mis at Amazon UK, in case you’re interested:
Les Misérables [DVD] [2012] starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway etc
Les Miserables 25th Anniversary [DVD] the concert at the RAH with Alfie Boe etc.

Getting back to Banks…

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The Quarry by Iain Banks

 

SNB logo tinyI was saddened at Iain Banks’s untimely death last year, and although I added his last novel The Quarry to my collection, I couldn’t read it straight away. Nine months later, it was an opportune time to read it – coinciding nicely with the paperback issue and the launch of Shiny New Books.

QuarrySo, you can read my review here.  It’s not his best novel but it is made all the more poignant in the fact that at its heart is a man dying of cancer and Banks himself didn’t know he was in the same predicament when he started writing it.
I shall be linking my review to my Banksread tab at the top of the page. I also hope that having read The Quarry will kickstart my (re)reading project.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Quarryby Iain Banks. Pub 2013. Abacus paperback 384 pages.

Inspired by David Garnett

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Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall

mrs foxIt is not often that a short story will get published as a standalone book – but just occasionally they do. Sarah Fox, (author of How to Paint a Dead Man – my review here) won the BBC National Short Story Award 2013 with Mrs Fox, and Faber have published it separately.  At a scant 37 pages, a fiver is a lot to pay for even an admittedly nice edition of a short story – but, it is a rather wonderful one.  (The Kindle edition is less at £1.71).

It’s about a professional couple.  He loves her more than she loves him, yet she stays, until one day she becomes ill, and then a couple of days later transforms into a fox. He takes her home and becomes an emotional wreck – what can he do? …

But wait – I hear (some of) you saying. We’ve read that before!

Yes, indeed you have – you’re thinking of Lady Into Fox by David Garnett (my review here) – a novella from 1922.  In fact Hall’s story was inspired by Garnett’s, and is a contemporary reworking of it.  Hall is renowned for her slightly detached protagonists and for the depth of nature and landscape in her writing and that is all present here.  Like Garnett’s story, Hall’s one too shows that anthropomorphism is a mere fantasy, but that man and animal can form different bonds.

I’m glad this caught my eye. I really enjoyed it, finding the contemporary reworking more to my taste than the original. (9/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further at Amazon UK, please click below:
Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall, Faber paperback 2014.
The BBC National Short Story Award 2013, intro by Mariella Frostrup – contains all 5 shortlisted stories.
Lady Into Foxby David Garnett, other editions available.

The Divine Rev. Adam Smallbone …

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The Rev. Diaries by The Reverend Adam Smallbone, (by Jon Canter)

rev diariesNow into its third short series on BBC2, the sitcom Rev continues to delight. It is simply hilarious, and absolutely hits the spot every time without being sacrilegious or blasphemous.  What is so lovely about it is that doesn’t make fun of faith per se; its targets are the people and organisations who practice it.

For those who are not so familiar, Rev. is about a young Anglican country vicar who transfers to a church in the tough, multi-cultural inner city in Hackney, East London, and the trials and ordeals he faces as a priest in an old church with a dwindling congregation and a management and money-oriented Anglican hierarchy. Added to which, he and his long-suffering wife (the brilliant Olivia Coleman) are trying for a baby, and their relationship is always under pressure from the needs of his parishoners. Is it any wonder that the Reverend Smallbone is always on the brink of a crisis of faith – although his talks with to God usually bring him around, (good psychiatry on God’s part that – make them talk it out). He has some regulars though – from Colin the drunk and smoking partner, to Mick the crack-head, from Adoha the adoring widow, to Ellie the headmistress of the local C of E school, plus curate Nigel. Archdeacon Robert can always be relied upon to turn up at inopportune moments too.

Rev was created by Tom Hollander (who plays Adam) and James Wood and is directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty).  Now, inspired by the first two series, Jon Canter who is one of the show’s writers has written Adam’s diaries with Hollander’s cooperation. Canter has written scripts for many a comedian – he writes for The News Quiz on Radio 4 for instance, and he has authored a fine comic novel too - A Short Gentleman  (see Kimbofo’s review here) thus he has a good comedy pedigree.  Books inspired by or based on TV programmes can often fall flat, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Rev. Diaries.

The episodes from the first two series form the backbone of a year of Adam’s diaries. Adam arrives at St. Saviours at the beginning of Advent – a rather busy time for a new vicar – and he soon meets Colin…

Colin’s a serious drinker who tends to think of my home as a pub, The Reverend Adam. He doesn’t really have a home of his own, so I don’t want to judge him. The church itself is sort of his home, which is as it should be, that’s our purpose. Rev Roy, my mentor, used to call the drinkers who came to his church ‘alcoholys’. They were people in need of booze and God, and a priest was there to minister to human need. Alcoholys were trouble but a priest didn’t flinch. ‘Jesus loved trouble,’ he told me.
People in need. That’s always the problem. There’s the lost and the lonely and the sick and the dying and the homeless and the unlucky. But there’s me too. And Alex. We have needs as well.

You can imagine Adam finally getting a moment’s peace at the end of a long day and having a chat with God as he writes his diary can’t you, expressing all his hopes and fears and getting things off his chest.

Along the way he has to cope with parents who’ll do anything to get their kids into Ellie’s school, the opening of a lap-dancing club, and accidentally pinning to the ground the mugger who had stolen Adoha’s handbag amongst many other escapades.

Already being a huge fan of the TV series, I relished reliving it through the pages of this book.  Being a TV tie-in, it probably helps if you’ve seen the programme, but the main cast characters are all pictured on the back if you need an idea.   Adam is a wonderful character; for the most part his faith is unswerving and his love for his parishoners is paramount, but he smokes, he swears, he watches The Wire – he is a modern man underneath the bumbling vicar and that is why I adore him.

This book probably would stand up on its own, but why not watch the TV series too – it’s subtle and clever, wonderfully acted by everyone and there have been some great guest stars – Ralph Fiennes, Richard E Grant to drop just a few names.  The book, however, captures both the comedy and the heartache of Adam, perfectly developing his character further, and I’d heartily recommend it. (9.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Rev Diaries by Jon Canter, pub March 2014 by Penguin Michael Joseph, hardback 320 pages.
Rev – Series 1-2 Box Set [DVD]

Annabel elsewhere – Jill Dawson & Val McDermid

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Today I’m going to share links to two more of my reviews over at Shiny New Books. We’re still sending out the first newsletter to new subscribers, so click on the logo to your right and it’ll take you there. We also have a giveaway and an ‘Ideal Library’ competition running – details in the newsletter and on the SNBks front page.

The Tell Tale Heart - UK hardback coverThe first book I’d like to highlight is Jill Dawson’s wonderful new novel The Tell-Tale HeartMy Shiny New Books review.  Dawson is an author whose novels I always enjoy, (my blog review of her previous novel Lucky Bunny is here).

The Tell-Tale Heart is the story of a university professor and professional reprobate that needs a heart transplant, and his teenaged donor. This book is by an author writing at the height of her powers.  Full of hearty references, humour and sadness, and I loved it.

You can also read the SNBks interview with Jill Dawson here.

northangerThen we have something completely different…

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid is the second novel in a series of modern retellings of the works of Austen - My Shiny New Books review.

You never have paired Austen and McDermid together, but she has done it proud, producing a frothy teenage novel for the Twilight generation that keeps all the essential plot elements in, but works perfectly in the world of dating and texting, txtg.

Please feel free to comment on either of these novels here or on Shiny New Books.

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Source: Publishers – thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Tell-tale Heart by Jill Dawson, pub Feb 2014 by Sceptre, Hardback 256pages.
Northanger Abbey (Austen Project 2) by Val McDermid, pub Mar 2014 by The Borough Press, Hardback 352 pages.

Thoughtful and funny – that’s this Noah (No, not that Noah!)

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The Flood by David Maine

floodI introduced this book to you a few posts ago here, where I explained why I wasn’t going to go and see the film Noah. Now I’ve finished it, and I found it to be a delight from start to finish.

You all know the basic story so I won’t bother with that – and Maine remains true to the essential narrative in Genesis (chapters 6-9 plus the begats in chapter 10), indeed many of the chapters are prefixed with the appropriate verse from the bible.  Where this book really succeeds is in how Maine fills the basic tale out, so we get the back stories of Noah/Noe’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet (here called Sem, Cham and Japeth), and their wives. The three sons are very different – Sem, the oldest is the stay at home farmer and married to Bera, Cham is a shipbuilder who lives by the sea married to Ilya, Japeth is only sixteen (with a fourteen-year-old wife Mirn), and thus being still a teenager needs his sleep, or is lazy depending on how you look at it.

Genesis 6.4 says “There were giants in the earth in those days,” and Maine takes this phrase literally, having Noe visit the giants to ask for help in supplying the gopher wood and pitch needed to build the ark, and we get a poignant moment:

The dimpled one, not smiling now asks, If we are to be destroyed, then why should we help you?
For a moment Noe wonders how to answer. Then something tells him.
- So you are not forgotten forever, he says. – So that when we survive to tell our story, and our sons and grandsons do the same, your memory will live on within us.
No one speaks for a while then, while the sun rains down on everything.

The chapters alternate between the different voices with Noe, his wife, the sons and their wives all taking their turns to move the story on.  I particularly liked Ilya and Bera, the wives of Sem and Cham who are sent north and south respectively, back towards their homelands to collect animals. Both are strong independent women, Ilya especially:

Men are so amusing. Show them a pack of wolves, dominated by the males, and they will say, See? It is natural for men to rule.
Fine. But produce a beehive, controlled by the queen, with males used for menial labor, and they protest, Human beings are not insects.
Yes, well.
Show them a she-cat nursing her kittens, and they will say: Ah ha! Women are meant to care for the children. But remind them that that same cat ruts fifty different males in a three-day heat, and they will answer, Would you have us live like animals?

Noe however is weak and indecisive, but he is six hundred years old. It’s actually amazing that everything comes together, the ark gets built, the supplies get loaded, the animals arrive – and then the rain comes and they’re away.

They settle down to life on board the ark. Noe’s wife cooking, Cham checking the boat, Japeth being seasick or rutting his wife (rutting being Maine’s preferred term). Ilya and Bera look after the animals mainly. As for Noe, he gets ill after staying on deck for a week – and Sem stays by his side praying. It may rain for (just) forty days and forty nights, but it will be weeks more before the waters start to recede. Life on board gets very smelly and cramped, Sem updates us:

The whole ship is starting to crumble. There are lizards sunning themselves up on deck with the birds. A drowned rabbit in one of the water barrels. A tortoise in the family cabin one morning, two cubits across at least. How on earth did a tortoise climb the ladder, I would like to know…
We try and keep things in their places but it’s not easy. There are spiders in every corner, salamanders between the boards, tadpoles in the drinking water. Raccoons have claimed one corner of the chicken stall, while Japheth and Mirn have taken to sleeping in the chryalis room. What next? Cham and Bera in the elephant stall, I suppose. Mother and Father with the baboons. Everything is starting to break down, the barriers are coming unglued. Any way you look at it, this is not a good sign.

One thing I really loved about this book was that it wasn’t a satire; it did respect its source material, yet added to it in a way that was supportive, even introducing a moment or two reflecting our modern knowledge about the evolution of the earth and all its creatures.  It is whimsical and funny – never before has a family had so many pets to care for.  As we’ve seen, it also has many moving moments especially as Noe’s faith is tested, and his wife (never named) is always there to ground him.

The Flood is Maine’s first novel (published as ‘The Preservationist’ in the US in 2004). He’s gone on to write two more biblical-themed books and a handful of others. I’d definitely like to read more. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Flood by David Maine, pub Canongate 2005, paperback 259 pages.

Annabel elsewhere – The Gospel of Loki

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For the past couple of months, book reviews have been a bit thinner on the ground because I’ve been reading a lot for the first issue of Shiny New Books. In subsequent issues, we hope to spread out the reviewing a bit more amongst a whole host of wonderful bloggers who are also writing for us. (If you’d like to join the gang, do send an email to info@shinynewbooks.co.uk).

gospel-of-lokiBut I can now do some linky posts … Today I’d love to direct you to my review of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris (yes there is an ‘M’, and yes it’s the same Joanne Harris as Chocolat). Click here to read the review and feel free to leave comments here or there or both.

The Gospel of Loki is a really fun take on the Norse Myths and I loved it. It is totally different to A.S.Byatt’s Ragnarok which I recently read and reviewed here.  For all it’s lightness in the way Harris tells the story of Loki, Odin, all the other Norse Gods and Ragnarok, the underpinning myth is all there though.  It also has the most gorgeous cover with a myriad of little gold leaf highlights which don’t show up on the picture. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own bought copy. To explore more about this book on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, pub Feb 2014 by Gollancz, 320 pages, hardback.

 

Shiny New Books is finally fully open for business!

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Today I am even more excited than last week – for Shiny New Books is now open for business!

My co-editors Victoria, HarrietSimon and I had a rather special Skype call at breakfast time this morning to turn all the menus and pages ‘on’ so you can all see the full content of the site.

So I will finally be able to post links to all the books I’ve read for SNB over the past couple of months and not been able to write about here. We’ve had lots of other lovely bloggers writing reviews for us too, and we want to involve even more in subsequent issues, as the challenge now will be to keep it up. Thank you to all those who have helped.

We’re also very proud of the BookBuzz section having managed to get several major authors, lots of talent – both new and established, and a specialist publisher to write articles or be interviewed for us.

We’ve also got a competition and a giveaway too – phew!  The SNB newsletter will follow shortly.

The good news is that although our main issues will be quarterly,  we will be adding some new reviews and articles in between which will be highlighted in the newsletter.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has sent messages of support since last week – now skedaddle over to Shiny New Books! You did all sign up for the newsletter didn’t you?

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