Sunday, 31 August 2014

Book Review: Of Things Gone Astray

Of Things Gone Astray
By Janina Matthewson
Published by The Friday Project
Published in hardback and ebook.
Paperback will be available in 2015.

There are only a handful of authors who I like so much that I become impatient to read their next book. Janina Matthewson is one of those authors. A couple of years ago I read in one sitting Matthewson's short story, The Understanding of Women and absolutely loved it so much that I read it from the beginning straight away. Last week saw the publication of Matthewson's debut novel, Of Things Gone Astray, published by the fantastic The Friday Project. I loved it.

On a normal morning in London, a group people, not yet connected to each other, awake to find something is lost, something precious. Mrs Featherby, an almost recluse, is missing the front wall of her house - she is exposed to the world. Cassie has lost her girlfriend who has not arrived back in the country. Robert, a life long famous musician, has lost the piano keys to the piano he built with his father. Marcus has lost his place of work, while Delia has lost her sense of direction. But there is one character, Jake, who has lost his mother in an earthquake, and is now living with his father, who is collecting the things people are losing.

Of Things Gone Astray follows the characters as they try to find the things they have lost. This means facing up the the unhappiness in their lives, having to deal with a life that has been put on hold, being pushed into the unknown. All the characters have one thing in common - the need to move on with their lives but they are unwilling to take that leap of faith. These events of losing things is the catalyst that these characters need.

Matthewson has created a fantastic bunch of characters who must face up to grief, the relationships in their lives, the inability to make life changing decisions. For me, the stand out character was Cassie, who gradually turns into a tree as she stands waiting for her girlfriend to arrive at Heathrow. Matthewson blends together the fantastic with reality to create Cassie's story line that is both full of imagery and emotion.

This is a book full of sadness and loss but it is also a book full of hope and determination. The way Matthewson is able to create a book that makes the reader want to cry with sadness and with happiness reminded me of Andrew Kaufman's The Tiny Wife and Aimee Bender's short stories.

I could have easily read this book in one sitting but I didn't want to let go of these characters so I stretched out my time with them. This is a fantastic, magical book that makes you want to hug the characters and makes you appreciate the life you have.

You MUST go and buy this book. NOW.


The Friday Project kindly sent me a copy.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Book Review: The Future for Curious People

The Future for Curious People
By Greg Sherl
Published by Pan Macmillan
Available in paperback and ebook

If you could see your future with someone, would you want to? This is the question that Greg Sherl tackles in his debut novel, The Future for Curious People. This is a intriguing story with quirky, hipster characters worrying about their lives and futures.

Tucked away, down side-streets are clinics, ready to provide any willing customer a glimpse into their future. The 'Envisionist' can tell you, for a fee, whether your partner is the real deal. The two protagonists - Evelyn and Godfrey find themselves strapped in, ready to see a snapshot of their futures. Evelyn, a librarian wants the perfect live - family and kids all in a neat package. But she's not sure if Adrian, her boyfriend, is the one who can deliver her this life. Godfrey, is prompted by his partner, Madge to go and see an Envisionist just to make sure their life is definitely on the right track after he proposes to her.

The Future for Curious People could almost be a sequel to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the way the whole looks normal on the surface but lurking around the corners is a slightly different version of reality (this almost reminded me of the fictional worlds of Andrew Kaufman and Aimee Bender). You will just need to squint your eyes and ignore the fact that this doesn't have the original characters. Eternal Sunshine looked at the concept of deleting memories of loved ones while The Future for Curious People looks at future.

The Future for Curious People does have a the predictable 'girl meets boy' plot but Sherl puts a twist on this by looking at the way the past and the present can affect the future of Evelyn and Godfrey as they search for perfection.

I have seen this book compared to the television show Girls but I'm not sure if it should be compared to this TV show. If anything, it could be a negative. Yes, at times the characters are so caught up in their own worlds that they are blind to the events in the 'real' world but Girls is such a marmite programme that it could potentially put people off from reading The Future for Curious People. And it shouldn't - this is a warm, witty book full of interesting concepts.

Fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will definitely enjoy this book as well of fans of Andrew Kaufman and Aimee Bender.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Guest Post: Ian Thornton's Imaginary Bookshop


Today's guest is Ian Thornton, the writer of The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms, which I reviewed the other month. I really enjoyed it and I really think you should buy it.

Ian has kindly agreed to be the next author to take up the Imaginary Bookshop challenge. I'm already liking the sound of Ian's bookshop - it's going to have a fish and chip shop within book throwing distance....

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What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Trenches Full of Poets. It's from Spanish Bombs by The Clash. It seems appropriately romantic and subversive.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Close enough to an English cricket ground to hear, with the front and back doors open, leather on willow, polite umpirical appeals and gentle applause. An old school low ceilinged boozer and a proper fish 'n' chip shop within yards.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
A heavily shaded English garden with gardenia, tuberoses and hammocks, in which readers are encouraged to read and sleep. Oak trees with hidden, 22nd century speakers, turned up for the BBC Proms on Radio Three, the shipping forecast on Radio 4, Wimbledon, Test Match Special and some thumping vintage island reggae. Technics 1210 and massed ranks of vinyl at a late Victorian serving hatch.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
Liberal marijuana use. I'm not a smoker myself as I'm not constitutionally built for it (I wish I were), but, in general, I firmly believe that almost everyone should be off their chops most of the time. This would also call for a busy kitchen, providing a cash cow to help fund the literary venture in tough times. Buttery low grade THC hash cookies for free, a grand piano and chess sets. All phone and internet coverage would be blocked.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
First-class cricket, chess and musical libraries would be a must. I would ditch celebrity anything, cookbooks, memoirs of those under 60 and ghost-written guff. As Gore Vidal once said, "That isn't writing. That's typing."

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
Regulars could own this for a week at a time with a "My favourite book" display or whatever they want. Jam tarts or coins; football programmes or Scrabble. Why? I want to see in the deranged minds of my twisted clientele.

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?
Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price helping with the readings. Or Emeric Pressburger talking about the movies.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
They will be welcome to sit in our hammocks under an oak tree for the day, reading, listening to Rachmaninov or Ludwig van, being fed and watered and having to move for urinary and defecatory reasons only.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
The illegal-in-48-States variety.
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You can buy Ian's book via this link > The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms

Ian tweets from @IanThornton_

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Living in a Tetris House

At the moment life is like real-life Tetris. Except there are no techno sound-effects or points. Just boxes. Boxes in every corner - mostly books and car parts.

By posting a picture of my boxes I am hoping to start a new trend. The 'shelfie' took over from the 'selfie' and now I'm hoping the 'boxie' takes over from the 'shelfie.' I doubt it but lets give it a go...
















Don't you just love it when you read several great books in a row. You never want it to end. And it also makes you nervous about starting the next book - what if it isn't as good as the other books I have read?
This happened recently with three fantastic books (you can see them posing below on my desk chair) and I'll be reviewing each of them pretty soon. However, you should buy them now. I'll be reviewing Brick Mother by S.J. Bradley and Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson on my blog. Who Are You? by Elizabeth Forbes will be my last review for The View From Here Magazine as they are closing the doors at the end of November.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review: Last Bus to Coffeeville

Last Bus to Coffeeville
By J. Paul Henderson
Published by No Exit Press
Published in Paperback and Ebook

The Last Bus to Coffeeville, J. Paul Henderson’s debut novel, is a book about endings, beginnings, and trying to find your way in life.

This is the story of Gene and Nancy who are on the slippery slope of growing old with Nancy having dementia and Gene having to face up to the realities of retirement. The time has come for Gene to stick to his promise, made back when they were at college and were lovers, when Nancy watched her own mother develop dementia – the promise: help when the time comes for her to die.

The book is in two parts – the first section explores the relationship of Gene, Nancy and their close friend Bob, back when they were at university and were involved with the Civil Rights  Movement and how they ended up becoming separated from each other. 

The reader learns that Gene, although the main protagonist has probably had the most boring, normal life and is also the least likable character – a doctor with no bed-side manner in a small American town (although the death of this wife and child are brushed over in a couple of sentences and I would have liked to have known more) while Nancy becomes a teacher even though she doesn't want children (because she doesn't want to pass on any genes that may cause them to have dementia) and marries a man who keeps a tight rein on the purse strings. Bob, the most interesting character in this book, starts off as a sniper for the American Army, ends up faking his death, hiding out in Cuba with Che Guevara, battling in the Civil Rights Movement and ends up working in a launderette that doubles as a place to get fake documents, money and even weapons. I could have happily read a whole novel just about Bob. Henderson does a great job off creating interesting and intriguing characters.

While the second half is Gene, Nancy, Bob and Gene’s merry band of followers – an orphan boy who is on the run from his boarding school, Gene’s godson - a disgraced weatherman and Bob, on the run from the law and who can count Che Guevara as a friend, all packed inside a tour bus, stolen from Paul McCarthy, touring through America, taking in the sights and getting themselves into trouble. I think it would have been nicer to have started with the excitement of breaking Nancy out of the nursing home and the start of their journey at the start of the novel. The background of Gene and his friends would work better as flashbacks throughout the novel – rather than building up the reader with an intriguing prologue and then cutting off to explain the back ground of the three main characters. But this is just my personal taste. I was eager for the journey to begin after the prologue and not have to wade through the back stories of the three characters (even though it was interesting).

I was hoping this book would be like Little Miss Sunshine but I found it to be more like Forrest Gump with the quirky, over the top characters all brought together to help Nancy reach the place she wants to die, making their way through the major twentieth century events in America’s history – the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Crisis and the rise of Hershey chocolate.


Although this book is about Nancy’s decline with dementia, Henderson does a good job of exploring the power of friendship, love, determinism, and the notion of family as well as keep the humour simmering in the background. If you’re looking for a light-hearted book full of big themes, or you’re looking for a ‘road-movie’ book then this one is for you.

Last Bus to Coffeeville is available to order from your favourite bookshop. You can also buy Last Bus to Coffeeville on Kindle for a bargain price of 99p but that offer won't last for long!

This review is part of the Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour. The next stop will be The Reading Thing.


I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Guest Post: S.J Bradley's Imaginary Bookshop

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

My review of Brick Mother will be appearing in the next month or so but I can tell you that I am half way through it and its great.

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Picture taken by Ricky Adam

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Hello! Thanks. My bookshop would be called 'The Accidental Bookshop'. It would be half bookshop, half art-party.

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
My bookshop has a front and a back door, and they're in unexpected places. The front door is up a cobbled backstreet, and on the way to it you walk past half a dozen unchained pushbikes, and a tea room, and the front windows are bowed and leaded. It's not really in the central part of town, and it looks like a tiny place from the outside.

Then there's a sort of magic as you walk through the shop, because there are a load of secret staircases and passages. Though the bookshop feels quite compact, it actually covers a lot of ground – and the back door goes out into an industrial estate under a motorway flyover.

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
Yes! There are lots of secret doors and revolving shelves. If you come in through the back door, in the industrial estate, you go up a set of steps, past something that you're not sure whether is a scale model of an brutalist shopping centre, or a piece of junk somebody left there by accident. The stairs turn around and back on themselves, and you come out on a little wooden landing, with two doors. Should you take the left door, or the right?

Well the truth is, it actually doesn't matter. One day, the left door might bring you out in the reading room – a large oaky room, with comfortable chairs, and a huge desk. On another day, the left door might bring you out into the cat petting part of the bookshop (Jessica - this is such a great idea. This bookshop needs to happen!) – a small, light room, with lots of cushions, and dark corners where cats can sleep. The secret passages in the Accidental Bookshop rearrange themselves all the time. That's part of what makes it such a wonderful place.

The other thing is that some of the books trigger other sets of secret shelves. So if you pull a certain book out – London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century, maybe, or Animal Farm – the first shelf disappears, and in its place appears another. So if you don't like the book you've chosen, you end up putting it back on another shelf, and finding something altogether different, and new.

It's a wonder for anybody who doesn't know what they're looking for, and a nightmare for anybody who loves order and alphabetisation.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
One thing that is special about the 'Accidental Bookshop' is that it doesn't have any real classification system. The reason for this is that it's fun to stumble upon something you didn't know you would like. So, instead of keeping all the fiction and non-fiction seperate, or having a seperate 'women's fiction' or 'fiction in translation' shelves, everything's all jumbled up together.

You might come in thinking you're looking for a book about the Vietnam war, and end up picking up a second-hand version of one of your childhood favourites, instead. It's not what you think you came in for, but you love it just the same. The bookshop is a wonder of discovery and accident.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I would have lots of fiction in translation, lots of children's fiction, and lots of story-books for adults. There would be a lot of graphic novels, and little self-made biographies and picture books. The obscure and the artistic would be encouraged.

What wouldn't be sold in the Accidental Bookshop? Business books, and political biography. I wouldn't sell the kind of books that allow politicians to rewrite their own history, and represent themselves as important, or justified, figures. Instead, I'd have a large section of historical and political books written by people whose voices aren't often heard – groups involved in grass-roots struggle. Workplace organisers, anti-globalisation activists, and the like.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
The display table would be a bit of a shambles. The cats keep getting up on there, and knocking things over. It's probably best to draw a discreet veil over the display table, to be honest. It's got paw prints all over it.

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'd like to get Harvey Pekar in to do a graphic novel writing workshop. He can come in and tell all the visitors a story, and they can all have a go at drawing it. Afterwards, the results get pinned up on a bunting line in the study.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Brick Mother and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I'd say that it engages your emotions in a realistic, and non-dramatic way, in a tale about institutions, and life, and loss. I'd say that it'll draw you in and make you think about things you've never considered. It's a serious book, but also a book that's very human, and touching.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I love all types of cake so I found this question very difficult. It's generally true that people will go anywhere for cake, me especially. The trouble would be in me not eating the cake before everybody arrives...

I'd probably serve a dairy-free cherry chocolate cake, with lots of pink icing – and a cherry on the top!

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Picture taken by Ricky Adam
Bio: SJ Bradley is a writer from Leeds, UK, whose short fiction has appeared in various publications. In 2013 she was shortlisted for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize and her novel, Brick Mother, is out now on Dead Ink Books. She is the curator and organiser of the non-profit literary social Fictions of Every Kind, which aims to give support and encouragement to anyone engaged in the lonely act of writing. Her blog is at www.sjbradleybooks.blogspot.com

Brick Mother is available from your favourite bookshop.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Book Review: The Lying-Down Room

The Lying-Down Room
By Anna Jaquiery
Published by Mantle
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

The great thing about book reviewing is that you might be sent a book in a genre your would not normally read and it turns out to be a fantastic read. The Lying-Down Room by Anna Jaquiery falls into this category. I don't normally review crime but when the chance came up recently to get my hands on an advanced copy I said yes. It was time to try something new and I'm glad I did.

The Lying-Down Room, the first novel in the psychological crime series, tells the story of Commandant Serge Morel, who can only piece together the clues of the crime as he does origami in the early hours of the morning with a glass of red wine as his side during the sticky, stifling summer heat of Paris.

Elderly women are being targeted and murdered in a strange way. First they are 'baptised' in the bath and drowned. Afterwards the murderer, whilst listening to the soundtrack of Faure's Requiem is covering them in make-up and putting on a red wig, before placing them into their bed. The only clues that link together the murders is a man and a young boy, handing out religious pamphlets a couple of days before the murder.

The investigation into the murders is an important plot line but for me the most enjoyable part of this story was the characterisation. Jaquiery had chapters told from the viewpoint of Morel as well as the main suspect. We learn through these chapters that none of the characters are what they seem. There is no clear-cut 'goodies' and 'badies' even the people investigating the case operate on the edges of the law. Morel watches his ex-wife from a distance, observing her every day life as well as having an affair with his friend's wife and one of his officers, Lila tries to involve herself with the domestic matters of one of the victim's family.

This book isn't simply about the police investigating a murder. There are many strands to this novel and Jaquiery explores these with great detail. As well as exploring the morals of the crime and its affects on the investigation team and the families, The Lying-Down Room also explores the prejudices of small communities around homosexuality, the attitudes in Russia to mental health and orphans and also the way society treats the elderly.

The Lying-Down Room isn't a book full of twists, turns and car chases but, instead slowly unravels. This is an absorbing read, and do you know what - I think I'll definitely read the second in the series.

The Lying-Down Room is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Guest Post: J. Paul Henderson's Imaginary Bookshop

Today J. Paul Henderson has popped over to answer the Imaginary Bookshop questions as part of his Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour.

I will be reviewing Last Bus to Coffeeville later this month.

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1. What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop? The Trouser Press 

2. Where would your imaginary bookshop be located? Next door to a Bang & Olufsen dealership; we’d arrange things so that each store could get a 50% discount on any items bought from the other.

3. Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage; a cocktail bar, etc. A Passport Photo Booth – You can never find one when you need one.

4. What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones? It would be on stilts and have no mobile phone reception. 

5. What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch? I’d ditch the Mind Body & Spirit section, liberate the shelves of all celebrity autobiographies and then throw out the Booker Prize winners. I’d then divide the shop into Good Books and Bad Books, and probably make a living from selling the bad books.

6. Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why? Dictionaries – they’re overlooked and under-used; every person should own at least one.

7. 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? Richard Brautigan (deceased). A girlfriend once bought me a copy of Trout Fishing in America for Christmas. I thought the book was about trout fishing in America and so we broke up. It turned out to be the most unusual and enjoyable story I’d ever read; it started me reading fiction again and led me to believe that maybe one day I could write a book. The event would be fun, intimate, and eventually be broken up by the police.

8. A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel, Last Bus to Coffeeville and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say? I’d say it had 383 pages and was therefore perfectly formed. It’s probably a Zen or feng shui thing; we’d probably know for sure if I hadn’t closed down the Mind Body & Spirit section.

9. What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop? Chocolate Cake: the king of calories and the queen of diabetes.


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Author biography: J Paul Henderson was born and grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, gained a Master's degree in American Studies and travelled to Afghanistan. He worked in a foundry, as a bus conductor, trained as an accountant and then, when the opportunity to return to academia arose, left for Mississippi, returning four years later with a doctorate in 20thC US History and more knowledge of Darlington Hoopes than was arguably necessary. (Hoopes was a Pennsylvanian socialist and the last presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party). American History departments were either closing or contracting, so he opted for a career in publishing, most of which was spent selling textbooks, in one position or other, for John Wiley & Sons. He lives in a house in England, drives a car and owns a television set. And that's about it.

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Last Bus to Coffeeville is available from your favourite bookshop. Last Bus to Coffeeville is also available as an Amazon Kindle ebook is currently 99 pence.

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The next stop on the Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour will be at Page to Stage on Monday 4th August.