The Last Rituals

Just to let you know that The Readers Book Club #5; Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is now live. Simon and I loved talking to Yrsa about her book. You can have a listen to the episode here:

I’ll have a review of Last Rituals up soon (I haven’t forgotten about Cold Days and The Body Snatchers they’ll be live soon too).

If want you can subscribe to The Readers on iTunes.

Check out episode 56 of The Readers:

http://bookbasedbanter.co.uk/thereaders/2012/12/25/the-readers-episode-56-merry-christmas-and-our-books-of-2012/

You don’t have to listen to the show if you don’t want you (though it’s quite good) as my Top 5 are in the show notes. 

A slight caveat: This has not been my biggest year in terms of books read so you might think there are some notable omissions. That doesn’t make my choices any less worthy ;) 

Happy Christmas!

The last werewolf

As this is the first book on the list I should be praising its brilliance and saying ego inflating things about it but that’s not my style. In fact, I’ve struggled with it, which is what a book club book should make you do I think?

Where is the struggle? Well a literary author has delved into genre and by his own admission only has the foundations of the genre to build from (think Dracula). Though Duncan is a big horror film fan (think American Werewolf in London) so it doesn’t veer that far away from what you’d recognise as werewolves and vampires.

But it feels like a literary novel as it’s told in diary entries (again think Dracula) as Jacob Marlowe discovers that he is the last werewolf on Earth. And that WOCOP (think Team Van Helsing) plans to kill him on the next full moon. And its focus is on Jacob as he goes from not caring that he’s the last werewolf and he’s about to be killed to really wanting to live.

It’s an exploration of what it’s like to live for 200 years and kill people once a month rather than a battle for survival though Duncan does chuck in plenty to keep the plot moving along. And that’s the struggle as it does feel on occasions that things happen just to move the plot along and seem disconnected from the struggle that is going on inside Marlowe. Though he isn’t struggling with his inner beast as he’s come to accept it and accept that he is something ’other’.

And this is where it gets interesting again as Marlowe as a narrator is very graphic in his language and descriptions. Not only do you get a good slice of gore but it’s sexually graphic and animalistic with the type of focus and description that you don’t get in a typical genre novel. And it certainly raised this reader’s eyebrows. So it might make for uncomfortable reading for some and you might want to be choosy about whom you recommend it to.

Without giving too much away the fact we find out that he isn’t the last and that love is the one thing that is worth living for does feel a very literary device. The genre fan in me wanted to explore more of his history and what Marlowe has done with his life. Having time seems to equate to being able to get hold of money in vast quantities. Being fair he was an aristocrat when he was human so breeding could have helped. As will the need for survival.

But because he’s relating his own tale this aspect just felt too easy to come by and too convenient but I am looking at it as someone who has read plenty of genre novels that pay attention to world-building.

Ultimately what this is a good barrier novel that will introduce literary readers (its prime audience) to genre ideas, moved on from Dracula-esque school reading, but not much and conversely for ardent genre readers they get a chance to experience a werewolf tale at a deeper level than they are used to.

The Summer Book Club is happening on the The Readers, a podcast that I co-host with Simon from the blog Savidge Reads, right now and the plan is to review each of the eight books we’ve selected. If you want to here an interview with the author, hear Simon and I discussing each book and hear what others thought please head over to the blog.

 

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I’m sure you’ve already listened to this weeks episode of The Readers but if not here it is!

28th May – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
4th June – Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
11th June – Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
18th June – Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo
25th June – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2nd July – Now You See Me by S.J Bolton
9th July – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
16th July – Pure by Andrew Miller

I’m really looking forward to recording these – not only do I get to read a few books away from the norm for me I also get to speak to the authors and then chat about the books with other readers. Very much looking forward to it!

Well I’m back. Missed me?

The place has been given a bit of a spring clean with a new logo and theme. I’ve finally turned off nextread.co.uk and moved a few of its articles and all its reviews over here (though some of the covers might be missing).

It’s been a little quiet around here anyway as mostly I’ve been distracted by twitter my podcast project with Simon of SavidgeReads. And yesterday on The Readers we announced these:

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You wouldn’t believe how excited I am to be doing a book club. It’s already caused some encouraged comment and reaction. It’s not a list of books you’d immediately thing of as a GavReads ™ list but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a list of books that encourages Simon and I as well as our guests to challenge ourselves as readers and for me that’s encapsulated in Now You See Me and Half Blood Blues but they’ve made the list because of that not in spite of my uncomfortableness with gore and stories set around the two World Wars.

One reason we haven’t read them is that we want the book club feel where a group of people come to a book so they can discuss it together rather than have ‘we think this is good and so should you’  tone. And it’s worth noting that I think a few of the publishers were delighted (if a little surprised) by the choices because we’re hopefully looking from a different angle.

Moving away from the fringes back to something a more central to SFF though very much related. I’ve just come back from Olympus 2012 aka Eastercon and had an amazing time with other fans of SFF fiction. One of the agendas of Eastercon is to address certain entrenched positions in fandom. One that’s really hit me sideways incapsulated in my own revelation. One twitter today I posted:

After #eastercon I’m never going to see world building in SFF as incidental – and I’m not sure I’ll tolerate stock setups in the future. Realistic fiction has little choice in challenging the status quo – SFF should every time!

It’s a statement whose basis is too complex and nuanced to explain in detail here but I think it stands on its own. Though I will say that I now realise why people spend so much energy pursuing novels that don’t use the opportunity which reinvention of a world offers and why this suggests that they are happy with the status quo either consciously or subconsciously. And by not seizing  their chance they are making their own  political statements.

Both the book club and the point about world building highlight some inner challenges I’ve been facing with my reading and I’m not sure how all this is going to play out. But it does feel like a new stage of something hence the title of this post. It definitely feels like I’m going through a bit of a reading evolution. Something I’m nervous and excited by all at the same time.

The Somnambulist

Just after I finished reading The Somnambulist I was lucky enough for Essie Fox take part on The Readers podcast. Having Essie on the podcast was the reason I finally took The Somnambulist out of the TBR but it wasn’t the reason why I fist noticed it, neither was its inclusion in this year’s TV Book Club though I can’t pin down when I came across it but I have a copy since the middle of last year.

Why the background? This is going to a positive review (aren’t they 99/100 anyway?) but I wanted to say as lovely as a guest Essie was the book is entirely enchanting on it’s own. And I really was enchanted. I don’t think I’ve ever read what you’d call a ‘sensationalist’ novel, which I’m told by Simon these books are called. Though I do like Sherlock Holmes and stories that borrow that historical background and twist it like Steampunk does. Though I do usually like them with a twist say in the form of a ghost story.

The Somnambulist isn’t an entirely ‘straight’ novel but any unexplained elements are more due to a reflection of the sentiments of the time rather than an intention of the author to add any mystical uncertainties.

We follow Phoebe Turner as she breaks out of the cotton wool that her mother has placed around her and discovers a world of guilt and deception. Her exposure starts with something small, a visit to Wilton’s Music Hall but a couple of chance encounters will affect her relationship with her mother, Maud and her Aunt Cissy and the secrets they hide.

There are some books that hold an x-factor. Something that you can’t quite place your finger on. It doesn’t matter they aren’t perfect as they will captivate you with their story and the carry you along on a wave. And that’s how I’d describe The Somnambulist.

I was captivated with Phoebe; there was something in her innocence and the way that the people around her manipulated her that I felt compelled to keep reading in order to find out in the end what the fates (and Essie Fox) had in store for her.

It wasn’t a pleasure in her pain, it was a sense of background hope that everything was going to was be alright and I wanted to be right. Now this is where it gets tricky. It’s such a close knit tale that’s set up in such a way that saying too much with start pre-empt events.

And as I’ve said it’s the fact that Phoebe is starved of knowledge that makes it an absorbing read. Though what I can say is that Essie Fox has placed on her stage vibrant and  fitting (if not always totally realistic) characters that act out this gothic tale of woe.

It sounds cruel describing them as actors but they larger than life that it would be doing the book a disservice to describe it as realistic. And it’s more fun this way. Being larger than life the characters can get away with behaviour that would have felt out of place if Essie Fox had muted and mellowed their personalities.

This is proper escapist fiction. It’s a place and a world that is familiar though told in a contemporary way with real emotions and a main character you feel for. You also get distinctive secondary characters. But most of all you get twists and turns that keep you wondering what else is left both to discover and to throw on poor Phoebe’s shoulders.

Ultimately, it’s an accomplished debut novel that I greatly enjoyed and drew me in to a type of novel that I don’t normally read. If you fancy a gothic tale about guilt, deception, regret and lost love this is for you.

Out now in paperback and as an ebook

Now you may know that I have a side project called:

The Readers Podcast

Now episode seven is all about:

 

Who has been revived  by:

Who has written:

It’s a book I’m listening to at the minute read by the one and only Derek Jacobi.

The interview with Anthony Horowitz is charming and insightful in no small part to the questioning by Simon Savidge. But the part that is the cherry on top is Horowitz’s top five Holmes short stories.

If you love Holmes or want to find out more please check out The Readers Podcast.

The Readers

Simon and I have done our difficult second episode of The Readers podcast. We talk about The Literature Prize causing Simon to have a little rant, the book of the year IQ84, a visit to the book barge in Manchester and we’ve been talking about books we’ve been reading and books we want to read.

Surprisingly I don’t sound like I’m smoked a box of cigars as last week I’ve been all bunged up with cold & flu. Hopefully will be ramping up the posts on the blog soon.

Everyone else having fun?

I seem to have a few little breaks on the blog but during this break I’ve been working with Simon Savidge from Savidge reads on a new podcast. We’ve talked about it podcasts for a while and we did one to celebrate the announcement of The Green Carnation Prize. We really enjoyed doing it and we’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about it and preparing for our new podcasting project.

And I’m very pleased to present:

Book Based Banter

The Readers is a podcast of book based banter we are going to fill it with news from around the book world, bookish debates and discussions, interviews with authors, bloggers and people in publishing. The funny thing is that if you have a look at Simon’s blog and then compare our tastes we do touch in a few places but our passions vary and I think that’s going to bring a bit of spice to our discussions.

I’m really looking forward to catching up on my lit fic and converting Simon to the dark side.

Episode 1 is already up on iTunes and you can also listen to it on the blog. Though in episode 2 I’m going to try and sound less god-like (too much reverb!)