Monday, 30 June 2014

Book Review: Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke

Vulgar Things
By Lee Rourke
Published by 4th Estate
Available in Trade paperback / ebook

Lee Rourke's latest novel, Vulgar Things is full of secrets, lies and the things we do to create a reality of truth.

Jon Michael is divorced, sacked from his publishing job and disillusioned with London life when he gets a phone call to say that his uncle Rey has been found dead in his caravan on Canvey Island. Jon agrees to clear out the caravan and sort out his uncle's belongings. Maybe this could be the thing he needs to get him out of a black hole...

A disorientating week in Southend sets Jon on a mission to solve the mystery about his disappearing Mother, find out the truth about his Uncle and his collection of home movies and an unfinished novel and a mystery woman who he meets at the end of a pier. The trip doesn't seem to be setting his life back on track but rather knocking Jon completely into a downward spiral of chaos and confusion.

Rourke creates characters that at many moments are not likable. Jon is a character that the reader likes and hates in equal measures and usual both at the same time. Does this make the novel unappealing if the character is not likable? No, the plot and the intrigue keeps the reader going. There are times when Jon needs someone in his life to support him. That person is the reader.

Vulgar Things reads like a Richard Yates novel mixed with Zach Braff's Garden State with touches of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies but set in Southend, Essex. Jon suffers from disillusionment, meandering through life, trying to escape the pull of everyday commitments and routines but he is unable to pull himself out of the banality of his life. Jon must untangle the secrets and lies built up around his life by his family to find out who he really is. In this process he must learn not to build up his own unreal reality to deal with past.

Rourke creates a great sense of place within Vulgar Things ranging from the expansive sea full of shipping containers which are just out of reach as well as the claustrophobic space of the caravan, trapping Jon within the mess of his uncle's life and the thin walls. Canvey island, adrift from the mainland is a bit like how Jon is adrift from the expected path that his life should be taking.

Vulgar Things is an intriguing novel and I am definitely going to add Lee's previous novel, The Canal to my wish list. This book has the potential to become a cult classic.

Vulgar Things will be published later this week and will be available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Guest Post: Steve Stack's Imaginary Bookshop

Today we have our latest victim, I mean author, taking part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. Steve Stack's 21st Century Dodos is finally out in paperback along with additional dodos from readers. 21st Century Dodos looks at technology and inanimate objects that have become extinct. This is a funny book and you'll be reminiscing in no time! You can read my review here.

Steve Stack aka Scott Pack also stopped by back when the hardback come out so you may want to also have a read of this post too.


Congratulations Steve on the paperback publication of 21st Century Dodos. I really enjoyed the hardback version and I even bought it as a Christmas present for many people. I know they have enjoyed it too! Thanks for popping by and taking part in the Imaginary Bookshop series.

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
All The Books I Love (and some I hate)

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
As close to my house as humanly possible.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
It would have tea-making facilities. But no coffee. I hate coffee. There would also be cake. Obviously.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
I would only stock books I am passionate about except for a very tiny section containing books that I can’t stand. This would have such wastes of time and paper as Midnight’s Children, London Fields and Mrs Dalloway.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I wouldn’t really have formal sections, I think I’d be a bit more random. Keep moving things round a bit.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I suspect I would keep the display table for cakes.

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?
I would have Homer come in to perform his complete works. Extra teabags may be required to keep everyone going.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your book, 21st Century Dodos, and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I would show them a photo of my children and point out that their getting fed that evening depends on the successful sale of my book.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
All the cake.

You can buy 21st Century Dodos from here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Book Review: With a Zero at its Heart by Charles Lambert

With a Zero at its Heart
By Charles Lambert
Published by The Friday Project

The search for the 'book of the year' is over.

The winner is Charles Lambert's latest book, With a Zero at its Heart. This book should win the Booker Prize. It is an engaging, thought-provoking book with an innovative structure.

Lambert explores the way memories fragment and form a life story within 24 themed chapters, each with 10 numbered paragraphs, each paragraph 120 words long. These poetic chunks make up the life of the narrator, unnamed, from childhood to present day. This is a life broken down and re-pieced together in themes.

This book is not about numbers or being crafty with the structure. With a Zero as its Heart is not a gimmick. Lambert has created a book full of passion and full of life. This is my type of book because it doesn't look down on the reader. Lambert hands over the reins to the reader for them to piece together the overall narrative.

Each chapter tackles a major theme - death, money, the body and art. The reader starts of with the earliest memory right up to the present day of the narrator's life for each section. My favourite chapters are death and home as these sections are beautifully observed. The observations of life are elegant and full of emotion - from the heart breaking to tender, to funny in a matter of pages.

This book has been written to be flexible - you can either read it from cover to cover (which I would recommend for the first time reader) or you can dip into the chapters and read them out of order. You could always read the paragraphs individually, dipping in and out. This book is built for every lifestyle - a quick paragraph while you wait for the veg to boil or a whole chapter while you skin wrinkles in the bath.

With a Zero at its Heart is a fantastic book and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible. Not just once but several times.

You can buy a copy (and you must buy this book because it's brilliant) from your favourite bookshop.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Book Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers

By Emma Straub
Published by Picador
Available in Paperback and Ebook

The Vacationers is one of those books that deceives you. The blurb on the back cover makes The Vacationers sound rather ordinary - an American family jetting off to Europe along with their emotional baggage... but this book is more than just an average summer beach read. This is an intelligent character driven novel.

The Post family are jetting away from their New York life and heading to Marjorca. Franny, Jim and their two children, Sylvia and Bobby are joined by Bobby's girlfriend, Carmen as well as Franny's best friend Charles and his husband, Lawrence. They are all confined together for two weeks in paradise. Will two weeks be enough for this struggling family to deal with with the fractures in their lives?

Straub successfully write realistic, flawed characters with spot-on observations of family life. All of the characters are trying to jet away from their problems and have come to a cross-roads in their lives. Jim is trying to escape the scandal of losing his editorial job at a men's magazine by sleeping with one of the assistants, Franny is running away from the fact that their nest will be empty once Sylvia heads to university and the fact that her husband has sleep with a younger woman. Bobby and Carmen must decide if they have a future together and all Sylvia wants to do is lose her virginity before heading to university. Charles and Lawrence must decide if they want to adopt a baby and become a family. Each one must face up to reality and make a choice of their future. Straub seamlessly shifts between each perspective so the reader can see the inner conflicts each character. At least they get to face with their problems in paradise in a fantastic villa on a remote island.

Straub makes sure the plot doesn't verge on the melodramatic by keeping the writing witty, charming and funny. The Vacationers may be full of betrayal, agony and disappointment but it is also full of hope, forgiveness and the support you can only get from family members.

Straub's smart and witty novel is absorbing and I couldn't put it down.

You can buy The Vacationers from your favourite bookshop.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy of The Vacationers.