Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Book Review: The A-Z of You and Me

The A-Z of You and Me
By James Hannah
Published by Doubleday
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming

James Hannah's debut novel, The A-Z of You and Me seems rather depressing on the surface - Ivo, in his 40's, is in a hospice, refusing visitors, waiting to die. Yet, this book is full of life and life affirming.

Ivo is full of regrets, as he stares out the window of the hospice, watching the garden and life carrying on without him. His carer, Sheila suggests he plays the 'A to Z game.' This involves making your way through the alphabet, thinking of a body part and a story associated with that part of the body.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see why Ivo's life is full of false starts, broken relationships with friends, lovers and families. He has drifted through life, not appreciating the relationships and life around him and in behaving like this he has lose the love of his life. Hannah creates characters with flaws making blunders, trying hard to fix problems but finding themselves spiraling away from an ideal they hold in their head. Yet Hannah makes sure there are sprinkles of comedy.

One of favourite things about The A-Z of You and Me is the rhythm of the sentences. I found myself on several occasions reading it out loud because the pace and the rhythm galloping along, whisking me up into the story.

There is no happy ending. There are no perfect characters. This is a novel where the protagonist stays in bed, refusing to let go of the past, wanting to stew in the tragedies in his life. This is a book that makes you realise that you don't want to end up like this character.

You can The A-Z of You and Me from your favourite bookshop.

This was the second book in the Curtis Brown Book Group.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Guest Post: Hannah Fielding's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Hannah Fielding, as part of her blog tour for her new novel, Indiscretion, has popped over to answer the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A.

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Hi Hannah, congratulations on the publication of your novel, Indiscretion and thank you for popping over to Writer’s Little Helper and becoming the latest author to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
The Book Emporium: I’ve always loved the connotations of ‘emporium’ – sort of magical and olde worlde.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
In the village near my home in Kent (because an imaginary bookshop doesn’t need to worry about location in terms of commercial viability). In a beautiful old building with lots of quirky historical features and little nooks and plenty of light cast from higgledy-piggledy windows overlooking fields stretching all the way to the sea.

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Oh yes! Plenty of comfortable armchairs to read in. A log fire crackling away in winter, and a courtyard garden at the back open to all in the summer. Artworks inspired by works of literature – from paintings to book sculptures. Gentle acoustic music. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and baking cakes emanating from the little cafĂ© onsite. A dedicated events space continually humming with activity: signings, readings, talks, meetings, screenings of big-screen book adaptations. A second-hand book-swapping programme.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
It would be a true destination for book lovers – a place to visit and stay for an hour or more.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I’d have every kind of book, to attract every kind of reader – a fully inclusive shop. But I’d have one creative area where I departed from the usual approach to sectioning by genre, organising by theme, perhaps, or style, or cover. It would be the ‘discovery zone’ – a place a reader would go to find a new writer’s work, rather than just sticking to browsing the usual genres.
Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
An eclectic mix, changed daily to accommodate plenty of authors and encourage readers to visit the shop often. I’d have one table with books I chose, and another that visitors to the store were encouraged to place their own choices upon.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
A reading from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. To hear Cathy and Heathcliff’s story from her own lips – I can imagine how silent the events space would be as the guests hung on her every word.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Indiscretion and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
Well, there’s plenty I’d love to say, but I wouldn’t want to scare them off with a long speech. So I’d simply say, ‘It’s a passport to another time and another country and a whole host of emotion – most of all, love.’

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Chocolate, definitely, and plenty of it! Romance novels and chocolate cake go together like sunsets and dreams.

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Hannah Fielding was born and grew up in Alexandria, Egypt. Her family home was a large rambling house overlooking the Mediterranean where she lived with her parents and her grandmother, Esther Fanous, who had been a revolutionary feminist and writer in Egypt during the early 1900s.

Fluent in French, English and Arabic, Hannah’s left school at 18 and travelled extensively all over the world. Hannah met her husband in England and they lived in Cairo for 10 years before returning to England in 1989.  They settled in Kent, bringing up two children in a Georgian rectory, surrounded by dogs, horses and the English countryside. During this time, Hannah established a very successful business as an interior designer renovating rundown cottages.

With her children now grown up, Hannah now has the time to indulge in her one true passion, which is writing. Hannah has so far published two novels Burning Embers set in 1970s Africa and The Echoes of Love set in 1980s Venice. Her romance novels are adored by readers all over the world.


Friday, 27 March 2015

The Crappiest Eclipse Picture...Ever

In the UK, we had a solar eclipse last week. There was lots of hype because the last one we had back in 1999 was fantastic but it was in the middle of the summer. They even did a special solar eclipse Eastenders special. I'm not sure if they did a special episode this time as I don't watch soaps.

This eclipse, however, was mostly concealed behind the clouds and we only got a small glimpse. Below is my picture, taken on my phone, standing on the roof at work.

You're going to need a magnifying to see the little speck but trust me it does show the moon starting to move across the sun...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

February

Only three books were read in February but hey, February is a very short month!
My Heart & Other Black Holes isn't picture

The Room - Jonas Karlsson
I won a copy of this via a competition. Bjorn, an office worker, finds a room that nobody else floor can see. This is a quick read and anyone who has felt disillusioned with the world or questioned the nature of reality then they would definitely like this book.

My Heart & Other Black Holes - Jasmine Warga
You can read my review here.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell - Nadia Hashimi
You can read my review here.

Two authors come over to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A both had some great answers! Jasmine Warga's ideal bookshop would serve cocktails and ice cream cake. Nadia Hashimi also popped over to talk about her ideal bookshop with cozy rooms for readings and book clubs.

Writing
Redrafting my novel has progressed but I am currently working on a few flash fiction pieces. Some are very short, so I might put them together and create a sequence of flash pieces.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Book Review: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
By Nadia Hashimi
Published by Hapercollins
Available as a paperback and ebook

Nadia Hashimi's extraordinary debut novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, looks into the harrowing experience of being a woman in Afghanistan through the eyes of two young women, both living a century apart as they try to take control of their destinies.

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a book about women who already have a pre-defined role in society, as dictated to them by men, but both protagonists dare to dream about a life beyond child rearing, and being invisible from the outside world.

The Taliban rule the streets, controlling all of the lives of the people in the village. Rahima, along with her sisters, rarely leave the house along with their mother. Their father, a drug-addict, and local fighter, is bitter because all of his children are girls and their punishment for not being boys is to be banned from school. But there is hope in the ancient custom of bat posh, which allows Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she hits puberty, and is ready for marriage. Her freedom - playing in the street, going to school, running errands, having a job is juxtaposed against her sisters who can only venture to the edges of their courtyard and must do the housework.

Yet Rahima is not the first girl in her family to adopt this tradition. Alternating chapters look at Rahima's great-great-grandmother, Shekiba, an orphan who goes from barely surviving on her family's farm to being a guard at the King's palace. She must stand her ground and fight for what she believes in no matter the cost.

Hashimi does hold back in The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. This book looks at child marriage, the pressures of religion on everyday life, domestic violence and the struggles of women for freedom. The restrictions and limitations place on women is juxtaposed by the freedoms of the male characters - powerful, dominate, violent. At times this is an uncomfortable read but these themes can't be sugar-coated and be all fluffy for the audience. This book is thought provoking (I know this is a cliche but it really is) and is makes you appreciate life a little bit more.

This is a gripping, and inspiring read. I found The Pearl That Broke Its Shell was a real eye opener into the treatment of women in Afghanistan. This book is about survival, and its an essential read for everybody.

You can buy The Pearl That Broke Its Shell from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy.