Books et al's Blog

All about books, reviews, thoughts and more

Book review: Worms on Parachutes – mystical allies in my battle with cancer November 10, 2012

I have been meaning to blog for ages but life keeps getting in the way – work, part-time study, family commitments, travel and reading! My apologies readers – if I have any left!

In the end it took a very special book from a very special person to drive me to write again.

I love books and I am a huge reader, often reading more than one book at a time. Generally it’s fiction. I prefer the world of imagination  magic, discovery and wonder than the world of pampered celebrities or of real-life disturbing evil. As it’s my form of escapism from the stresses and strains of daily life, I never read what are condescendingly known as ‘Misery Memoirs’ either.

However when someone I knew, Sarah-Jane Phillips, offered me the chance to read the true story about her life and intimate struggle against her battle with two different types of cancer, in her youth and then as an adult, I was touched and resolved to read it immediately.

I was glad I did. Worms on Parachutes is a story of success and bravery through terrible adversity. Whilst it deals with struggles and familial issues as a result, during very scary and painful times, the reader is reminded throughout of the power of positive thinking.   I won’t lie, it’s a tear-jerker, but by the end you feel that even in reality, the good guys can and DO win. This is no spoiler, readers. I did say the author herself gave this to me to read. The story is not about the outcome, but about the experience Sarah went through, and how she has changed as a result.

It is an inspiring and moving personal journey fighting against a disease that sadly affects most of us, directly or indirectly.

Amazingly Sarah has written her story in order to raise money for the hospital team and the institution that got her through it all – the NHS. In Sarah’s opinion an undeservedly maligned healthcare system that we all depend upon.

Unfortunately you won’t be able to get this book in the stores yet. Sarah is still waiting on a publisher with vision and the understanding that many will want to read about the indomitable human spirit’s struggle against survival and what that teaches us. I am sure that it won’t be long before you see it on Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones. In the meantime you can hear more from Sarah-Jane Phillips herself on her Worms on Parachutes Facebook page.

I will let you know when this is available to purchase, and as always if you have been inspired by any personal memoirs or by people’s struggles, I would love to hear about them too.

 

What’s your desert island book? March 8, 2011

During World Book Day I was asked what would be my desert island book. If I was to be whisked away to a tropical, exotic island without any external contact or communication, for an indefinite amount of time, what book would I take with me?

Books trigger memories for me, each one has a specific place, emotion or atmosphere associated with it that is evoked when I recall the story, or hold a copy in my hand… they have the same effect as music or scents. Each one is precious. (Well, most. I have read some duds with no value whatsoever!). Therefore leaving any behind is almost the same as leaving behind important parts of my life. I moved from Australia to the UK and I brought as many of my books with me as I could. I still mourn the ones I left behind.

I am a huge bibliophile and will devour most things put in front of me. When asked what my all-time favourite book is, I usually list about ten and my Top 10 book list usually has about one hundred books in it. With this in mind, I am sure you can understand how hard I found it to answer this question. I responded based on the idea that I had plenty of time to pack books. Being as my house is groaning from the weight of overloaded bookshelves it took me a little while to come up with books I couldn’t live without.

The list? It goes like this, in no particular order:

1. The Map of Love by Adhaf Soueif
2. Jane Eyre: the Complete Novels – Jane Austen
3. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (I would try to include all his books)
4. Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
5. Baghdad Without a Map – Tony Robinson
6. Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (added bonus of also referencing 3 of my favourite poets: Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth)
7. Birth of Venus -Sarah Dunant
8. The Dragonrider series – Anne McCaffrey
9. The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas
10. Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Nifenegger
11. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
12. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
13. Out of Africa- Karen Blixen/ Isak Dinesen
14. Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon
15. Lost in a Good Book and all the Thursday Next series- Jasper FForde
16. Blackberry Wine- Joanne Harris
17. The Summer Tree (and the rest of the Fionavar Tapestry series) – Guy Gavriel Kay
18. 1984 – George Orwell
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
20. The Shardlake series – C.J. Sansom
21. I would take my Amazon Kindle – its cheating, and it would only work for a few months with the wi-fi switched off, as that’s how long the battery lasts, (unless I can find a solar powered charger!)… but it means I could have 1000s more books at my disposal…and there are so many, many more!

As you see, I find it difficult to choose just one. I had to stop myself at twenty because it was in danger of becoming a list of every story that ever touched my life, which could end up being a very, very long list. I hadn’t even mentioned my childhood books.

So if I had to try and narrow it down to one? Well, it would have to be something that could keep my interest for a long time, so probably something that would teach me about the world around me, and which I would enjoy re-reading. Maybe something like Brian Cox’s “Why does e=mc2?” or Stephen Hawking’s “Grand Design”; Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” could be a contender…Can I narrow it down to one?

I just couldn’t, it’s a horrifying notion.

 

Writing and Blogs – My Shame July 19, 2010

OK, I know I haven’t posted anything in a while. The truth of the matter is, my blog has been a victim of the London commute. It seems the only time I get a chance to write my blog these days is the few times I have been on a train on the way to, or returning from meetings, courses, exhibitions. It’s a great way to use up time which I would otherwise spend reading (not that there is anything wrong with that, I love reading on trains, in fact anywhere). The problem has been when I go to save or update my work on my iPhone, it always happens to be just as I encounter an Orange signal black spot, and somehow, rather than keeping everything I have written as a local draft, it just disappears into the ether somewhere never to be found or recovered again. It doesn’t even make it to my blog so I really am at a loss as to what happens to it. Nothing on my iPhone either. This is particularly frustrating because they happen to have been my best writing and reviews yet. I promise you, you would have loved it, or at least found it mildly relevant, perhaps even witty. Why? Because for some reason I find it easy to zone out on the train and concentrate on just this. No other distractions. Perhaps I should make a habit of travelling around the countryside on trains, never getting off, never looking out the window, just writing and making social commentary on my fellow passengers as appropriate – without being derogatory of course. That’s not my bag. I could even ramp it up and include writing my novel on the train, maybe finally get it finished in record time, and the other passengers could be my muses, my character and event inspiration.

Then it occurred to me. I am making excuses. If I can zone out on the train then I can zone out at home. All I have to do is be disciplined. I can do it when I work from home, why can’t I do it when I am creative writing? I need to lock myself away instead of trying to write in the front room with the television on, no more sitting in communal spaces where my husband can always find a reason to distract me from my writing – do my share of chores, friends to call or visit, dinner to help with, family duties to take care of and gardens which need tender loving care. The truth is, locking myself away when my house is not empty feels like I am being socially ostracised, like I may be missing out on something. The fact that it is through my own choice makes it easier for me to keep putting off the writing. I am the victim of my own nosiness and curiosity, my need to be a part of a social group, and unfortunately my need to create something wonderful, something I can leave behind for the enjoyment of others, just doesn’t have as stong a motivational pull at the moment.

It will come though, I know it will. I just need an impetus, a reason to knuckle down and then all the ideas floating around my head will come pouring out again into something that will be my magnum opus…though I will settle for a finished novella at this point!

If you have any exercises you use or any tips on how I can regain my lost momentum and motivation, I would love to hear it. How do you push yourself to write, what do you do to make yourself sit and concentrate?

 

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe May 18, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
This book was a joy to read. I had no expectations other than to be transported to another time and place – a pretty big expectation actually – and Howe’s book definitely did that.

The story revolves around a girl who has great academic career aspirations, she succeeds in her trials and gains a world-famous and respected mentor. Things are looking up until the day she discovers an old scrap of parchment and a key in an antique bible within her deceased grandmothers house. The quest to understand its meaning turns into a quest to understand herself and her roots, as well as the nature of the world around us, and a race to save the life of her new-found boyfriend.

A great book set in Salem present and the Salem of old. I loved that the book really told the tale of a whole Salem bloodline. The way the story jumps between times, bringing Deliverance and her descendants to life really vividly, whilst showing us that human nature has its inherent evil, and its redeemable good qualities, makes it a very involving plot line.

Great atmosphere and well worth a read. I finished The Physick Book if Deliverance Dane it in two evenings I got so involved in it.

 

Book review – The Infinities by John Banville May 9, 2010

I had high hopes for this book when I saw it in Foyle’s Bookshop in St Pancras Station. I have never read any John Banville books but the premise is brilliant – the ancient Greek gods are real and begin meddling in human lives once again, with one family in particular, resulting in a darkly comedic story. That sounded like something I would really enjoy.

However I didn’t feel that the book lived up to its promise. I found it slow going, and perhaps it’s a reflection of my personality that I didn’t come across any parts that I would call darkly humorous or even slightly amusing. There are sections that are described beautifully, in particular when following the past life of the comatose father, Adam Godley, who is such a large presence – positive or negative – within each character’s life. The depictions of Adam’s past and the narration by the messenger god, Hermes , putting up with his father’s whims and moods, are well done and the most enjoyable part of the story.

All in all a little disappointing, but nonetheless a well written book.

 

Book review: Cleopatra’s Daughter, by Michelle Moran May 4, 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle MoranI first fell hard for Michelle Moran’s historical fiction books when I picked up Nefertiti a couple of years ago. Her writing transported me to Ancient Egypt, and I found myself instantly connecting with her 3000 year old characters. Moran’s next book, the Heretic Queen had the same effect. So it was with excitement, high hopes and some trepidation that I grabbed her latest book: Cleopatra’s Daughter, Princess of Egypt, Prisoner of Rome.

My fears were unfounded. In this latest book she does not disappoint.

Michelle Moran has a true storytelling gift. She has the ability to develop her characters so they feel very real to the reader (of course many are real as she bases them on historical characters). Moran brings the characters to life – their everyday lives, their emotions, their thoughts and agendas, their passion, drama and intrigues, in the main using true historical events and places. The sign of a great historical fiction book.
Set during the rule of the Roman Octavian (later will be known as Augustus), at the beginning of the Roman Empire, the main character Kleopatra Selene, daughter of the famous Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and the Roman, Marc Antony, finds herself bereft of home, parents and her older siblings. She is forced to leave Egypt for Rome with her brothers Alexander and Ptolemy, as Octavian’s prisoners of war.

She soon learns that life in Rome is both vicious and indulgent, a life where politics and intrigue rule and one must be careful what they say , and indulge the seemingly insecure and iron fisted Octavian, leader of Rome. She fears for her and her brother’s life, for anyone that threatens Octavian’s position with a claim to Roman rule, no matter how tenuous, is quickly and quietly disposed of, never to be seen again.

She sets about making herself useful to Octavian through her radical apprenticeship with the great Roman architect, Vitruvius, (Roman women were not workers, but tools for political alliances through marriage) in order to stay alive, but Selene despairs of ever seeing her beloved Egypt again until the arrival of the enigmatic Red Eagle, instigator of a slave rebellion and her chance at freedom.

This book has everything you could wish for, drama, sorrow, romance, joy, social commentary, and the draw of true events, albeit thousands of years ago. If you are like me and cannot resist books that bring the wonderful past to life through strong characters, and vivid portrayals of scenes and politics, then you will love this book. I still find myself thinking about it even a week after I had finished the book and about to finish the next.

 

Book review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova April 21, 2010

The Historian

The Historian

I meant to read this book when it first came out. In fact every time I went into a bookstore I would pick it up but then put it back down again when I had to narrow down the amount of books I had in my arms.

It wasn’t until I found myself in a very rainy Spain, with a friend who had a copy with her, that I finally began to read The Historian. It wasn’t long before I realised what a fool I had been.

It has all the elements of a good read: troubled souls, mysterious pasts, good versus evil, a motherless girl in search of her father, a mystery that must be solved before its too late. The book travels backwards and forward in time, opening up the atmospheric European and Academic worlds it is set in, both past and present, in a slow yet captivating fashion, revealing something new in each chapter. I found myself rooting for the young girl who has lost her father, and for the father who has lost his way… To tell you more would kill it’s magic.

A remarkable book, definitely worth a read, and then another, and then another…