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Saturday 28 March 2009

Old Man On A Bike

by Simon Gandolfi

Mr Gandolfi has had ten other books published and the reason for his success was obvious to me before I had finished giggling my way through the prologue of Old Man on a Bike.

With his remarkable insight and searing self awareness, Mr Gandolfi reminded me, time and time again, of my grampie Kirkby. Once the patriarch of our family, always my hero, a man who died having forgotten more than I am likely ever to be able to learn.

This book is singularly unique in that it draws the reader inside an older person's mind. I found it an enriching, often comforting and pleasant place to be.

The writing style in Old Man on a Bike is mature and mischievous, gritty, factual and witty. The book is filled with concise, clipped sentences of professional brevity:

'Although travelling, I am on familiar territory. We are always on familiar territory, all of us. Yet we divide ourselves from this reality by erecting fake barriers and boundaries of nationality and race and religion.'

'They infuse their finds in hot water and insist I bath the burns. They are small commanding women. They cook, clean and do the laundry. Disobedience would be foolish.'

'For the past few days I have been pursued by a middle-aged hen. Today the hen slinks into my room while Nora collects my laundry. I discover the hen on my bed. She has laid an egg.'

The book also regularly offers flowing paragraphs of perfect descriptive indulgence. I savoured every word.

I read the last page of this book with a smile on my face and a sense of regret that I had reached the end of this enthralling paperback.

Simon’s blog url is: http://simongandolfi.blogspot.com/

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby

Saturday 21 March 2009

From Zaftig To Aspie

by D J Kirkby

Denyse Kirkby's vivid memoir about her childhood experiences not only gave me an enthralling insight to her fascinating lifestyle and of those around her, but also took me back to those carefree days of my own youth. Despite having enjoyed a completely different childhood to hers, that didn’t even inhabit the same continent, reading this book evoked long-forgotten feelings, of fears and hopes that we have as young children.

This book is beautifully written. Each chapter covers a different memory, with every story as fascinating as the next. She describes her surroundings with such clarity that I felt sure I was there with her, so much so that it was almost like watching a film I didn’t want to end.

I couldn’t bear to put this wonderful book down, and longed to keep reading and learning more about how it was to grow up with a hippy mother, in Canada in the early seventies. Learning about the various places they lived, how she coped with experiences, both wonderful and tragic, whilst being able to almost smell the heat and the scent of the air around her.

Denyse describes how it felt to be different, not only in the way that her mother chose to live, and the friends and relatives that shared their lives, but also with her understanding of her surroundings and contemporaries.

She explains what it was like, and her reaction to being diagnosed at the age of forty with Aspergers Syndrome. My nephew has Aspergers, which made reading the book, and seeing her childhood through her eyes, even more riveting. I should think that anyone hoping to be transported into someone else’s colourful and beautifully depicted childhood couldn’t ask for a better and more fascinating read.

This is a book that I shall keep to read again.

Reviewed by Deborah Carr

Thursday 19 March 2009

Orange Prize longlist

The longlist for the Orange Prize 2009 has just been announced and can be seen here.

I'm not familiar with any of the books, but if you have read one and would like to write us a review, we'd love to hear from you!

Thursday 12 March 2009

Twitter Titters

Compiled by Linda Jones and Louise Bolotin in aid of Comic Relief. Available from Lulu.com for £9.00 plus P+P Buy it here.

A book so funny you laugh out loud is a rare beast, at least for a dour Glaswegian like me, but TwitterTitters had me snorting into my Value Price beer, for these are hard times right?

Right. And that’s why buying a book stuffed full of witty, original and down right hilarious new writing is the perfect double whammy. You feel good because you’re actively raising money for Comic Relief and having a damn good giggle at the same time.

TwitterTitters is not part of Twitter, it’s a project put together by independent fundraisers and doesn’t purport to represent Comic Relief. I can tell you though, that the fab comic strip design and the sheer quality of the contributors’ writing, places it up there with greats such as The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. These comedy shows raised heaps of dosh for Amnesty International over the years and I remember spending long hours in smoky Soho cutting rooms helping to edit them as, in another life, I worked as an assistant film editor on the Comic Strip series along with numerous rock videos.

Making people laugh proved to be a winner in the charity funding raising stakes and after this came Comic Relief. The rest is history.

Choosing submissions for this book must have been hard. Jayne Howarth writes that she and the other judges were blown away by the number of entries and standard of writing. There were no prizes for winners. Indeed, I was pleased to hear they even had to pay for their own copies.

I have tried to pick out my favourite stories but you know what? It’s impossible; they all take your breath away with their sharp, cutting edge humour and well, their funniness.

Go buy. They’re worth it.

Reviewed by Fiona Mackenzie

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Losing You

By Nicci French

I found it difficult to put down Nicci French’s Losing You. The book spans a twenty-four hour period, giving the reader the impression that it was written in one sitting and the pace is reflective in the story. I could almost hear the clock ticking,

In Losing You, the setting is an imaginary strip of land off the bleak coast of East England that becomes an island at high tide. It is just before Christmas, where mud and water surround the insular mistrusting small community, all adding to the eerie atmosphere. This is where the main character, Nina Landry, has recently settled and the reader finds her facing the nightmare that most parents dread – her daughter, Charlie, has gone missing.

Nina is desperately alone in her frantic search as those around her – friends, family and even the police, consider Charlie’s disappearance to be fuelled by adolescent angst (she is almost sixteen) rather than anything more sinister.

As the reader, I found myself bumping along with Nina, upending drawers and searching in cupboards for leads and strips of dry (and wet) land for clues, whilst re-tracing Charlie’s footsteps. As if the story line and setting is not intense enough, the book is also written in the first person- that of Nina. The voice, feelings and movements of Nina race across the page and whirl endlessly within the readers’ mind. I found myself consumed with suspicion of all the characters within this close-knit community as I entered Nina’s terror-filled mind.

For people unfamiliar with Nicci French, the name is a pseudonym of Nicci Gerrad and her husband, Sean French. Whilst they have and indeed continue to write independently, they also pair up to write crime fiction. This in itself is an intriguing concept and technique for fiction writing. As their fiction is concerned with the victim rather than the criminal, they provide us with psychological journeys, full of credible characters that the reader will connect with. It is virtually impossible, as a parent, not to relate to Nina Landry in Losing You, as the duo that is Nicci French has found yet another subject that people rarely dare to ponder over but all secretly fear.

Reviewed by Angie Bartoli