Friday, August 27, 2010

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks


I found this title rather different to the previous novels I have read by Sebastian Faulks in that this one is a thriller which initially surprised me.

I thought the characterisation of Mike Engleby was excellent.  A student at Cambridge when the action, that he narrates to us takes place, he came across as an intelligent young man who is terribly unstable. He unsettled me and I thought he seemed creepy, with his strange behaviour and stalking of Jennifer. Mike is definitely a social misfit who was not accepted by his contemporaries, although he seems to remain completely unaware of this fact.

Jennifer disappears but as Mike is the storyteller you are never really sure about the facts as he presents them. Has he or has he not something to do with her disappearance?

Sebastian Faulks certainly created a tormented character with his invention of Mike Engleby. I might not have found this a five star read but it will certainly remain in my thoughts for awhile, a chilling not easily forgotten narrative.

I do try not to write reviews with spoilers so without giving away the ending, it left me feeling very uncertain.If you have read this do let me know what you think.

Sebastian Faulks

I have posted links from the authors website of the other titles I have read so far by him, most of which I read a long time ago before starting to write my own reviews. I also have his most recent novel on my Wishlist, the paperback is due out next month.

Just click on the book titles or links below to take you to the relevant websites for more information.  I think they are all worth reading.

A Week In December       On My Wishlist.

Engleby                           Just finished.

Human Traces                  My Review

On Green Dolphin Street   I read in 2001 before I started writing reviews.

Charlotte Gray             My favourite, read in 1999.

Birdsong                         I read in 2000 before I started writing reviews.

A Fool’s Alphabet             I read in 2003 before I started writing reviews.

Finally one must mention   Devil May Care  of which I had this to say at Bookcrossing.

I have added yet more links below if you want to find out more about this author and his writing.

SEBASTIAN FAULKS was born in 1953. After graduating from Cambridge he became a journalist, and was the first literary editor of the Independent. In 1995 he was Author of the Year at the British Book Awards and in 2003 Birdsong was voted number 13 in the BBC’s Big Read list of the nation’s favourite books. He lives with his wife and three children in London.

Sebastian Faulks Wikipedia Info.

Lovereading - Sebastian Faulks

I have had to remove the link to Sebastian Faulks official website as it was Random House Group a website I have had a malware warning for this site and it is safer to remove until they sort the issue their site has.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marcus of Umbria



I felt the title and the blurb were somewhat misleading as I was expecting more about Justine's relationship with the dog a female called Marcus, yes really and less about Italian culture. In fact I was unsure if I was even going to like the book as I am not a doggy person and would have been happier had it been publicised as yet another Life in Italy story. As really that is what it is, dressed up as a doggy tale to maybe attract a different readership, no idea why though. It was no surprise to me therefore to read a review where the reader was disappointed as there was too much culture and not enough about Justine's relationship with Marcus.

Despite not agreeing personally with the way the book has been marketed I did enjoy it especially as there was an awful lot I was able to empathise with as an expat in Italy myself.

Justine whilst on holiday in Italy starts a relationship with a local man, Emanuele, and barely knowing him decides to give up the New York lifestyle that she is already disillusioned with to live with him in Collelungo. His family the Crucianis accept her as one of the family, despite the fact that due to the culture shock she is experiencing she finds it very difficult and never truly feels she belongs. I don't think Emanuele ever really felt she did either, when you read that he had a key ring engraved with words from a Bob Dylan song as a gift for her. 'Justine, I love you but you're strange'

The relationship with Marcus comes about because one of the things that Justine found hard to cope with was the rural Italians behaviour towards their dogs. It is not usually that the dogs are treated cruelly it is just that they are not seen as pets, but as animals that have to earn their keep and certainly would not not allowed indoors. It has been like this for generations and is not something that Justine was likely to be able to change overnight.

Unable to adapt to Italian rural life and realising that  she and Emanule, as much as they had been good friends to each other, it was never going to be a lifetime commitment.  With the relationship as good as over she makes plans to return to the USA along with Marcus. What a culture shock for her, the dog I mean, that must have been!

Can I recommend this well it really depends what you are expecting. If you are hoping that her relationship with Marcus will be thoroughly explored and that you might actually learn something from the lessons she learnt, you will I think be disappointed. I never did discover what that lesson was. That is No then but Yes if you want to read a story that despite, the title is focused on Justine's I think realistic portrayal of life in rural Umbria.

As a point of further interest Collelungo is a real place a very small village near the town of Todi in Umbria and I wonder how they feel about the possible publicity for them that this book might lead to.  I have no idea if names have been changed to preserve identities but with a population of less than 200 not sure this would work anyway.

Collelungo.JPGCollelungo courtesy of Wikipedia

I rarely include personal detail about people I mention on my blog as I feel it is an intrusion into their privacy. Maybe it is different if you write a book I wonder how the people concerned felt?  I do not think I have ever considered this aspect before when reading the many other living abroad tales from expats, but somehow this time I was thinking about my neighbours and how I hold back from writing about them in my News from Italy blog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris


This sequel to 'Chocolat' was published in the USA with the title 'The Girl with No Shadow'

It does not actually matter if you have not read 'Chocolat' as this novel stands alone ok, but I do think you are missing out as I personally feel  'Chocolat' is better than this sequel and you are also missing out on having got to know the characters of Vianne and Anouk already. 

'Chocolat' made it into a top ten titles of the decade that I wrote about on this blog. Lovereading Books of the Decade. Also see my review here Now you know that I recommend you read 'Chocolat' first on with what happens in the sequel!

Life has moved on a few years and Vianne and her daughters are now living in Paris using different names to protect themselves from the past.  Narrated in the voices of the three main protagonists, Vianne, Anouk and Zozie the stranger that infiltrates herself into their lives with evil intentions. They tell a dark anxiety driven story that although it ends well is full of magic, worries and fear.  The magic content is a much stronger presence this time although when the novel starts we find that Vianne Rocher now known as Yanne Charbonneau has all but given up her special skills as she no longer trusts herself. Her daughter Anouk, or Annie as she is now known finds her mother a much changed person and it is for that reason that she so easily becomes attached to the flamboyant and magical Zozie.

If you do not mind books that are full of occult and you want a story that has some mystery and intrigue, along with mouth watering descriptions of chocolates then this is definitely worth reading.

I have read and enjoyed all, I think of Joanne Harris's novels up to and including Gentleman and Players.  I will now be on the look out for her most recently published novels.

Runemarks - 2007 - About the book

blueeyedboy - 2010 - About the book

If you want to learn more about 'The Lollipop Shoes' you can do so here on Joanne Harris's Official Website

This interview with Joanne Harris is also worth listening to, it will only take a minute of your time and give you further insight into her as an author.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tropical Connections by Susie Vereker


With the very hot weather we had been experiencing recently this novel with its bright cover and its warm sounding title jumped out as the next to be read. Time for reading has been in short supply recently, but when I did finally get around to pick it up it was the perfect read to wile away a hot sunny lazy afternoon.

I first discovered this author via the publishing house Transita, sadly no longer in existence, whose by-line was contemporary women's fiction for the more discerning woman and definitely not chick lit.  Although I have  enjoyed all her novels  the last title she published 'Paris Imperfect' I was a little disappointed with compared to the previous two.

However I felt that 'Tropical Connections' was so much better, a return to the style I  had previously appreciated.   Susie has a talent for writing a story, with as I have mentioned elsewhere before now, all the elements of a traditional romantic novel but written to appeal to the modern independent woman.  Her characters are always very realistic personalities and having read more about her background, it is clear that she draws on her own fascinating life experiences.

In this story the protagonist is Claire Downing an art historian who to escape a failed relationship accepts a job cataloguing a businessman's collection of Buddhist Art on a tropical island in the South China Seas. It is no coincidence that she has been drawn to accepting the post in Maising due to the fact that a friend Howard Gillespie is a banker on the island and he just happens to love her! Things are not that simple though as Claire finds herself drawn to another expat she meets, the handsome and elusive Australian Drew, currently working on the island as an agricultural aid advisor.  The two females she also befriends have their own problems Deborah, a young American mother with a ghastly husband,  takes a young lover. Then there is Lucy the young bride of a much older highly ranked British Embassy official, struggling to cope with what is expected of her in her new role. The three girls become friends and this story of their loves and problems adjusting to an expatriate lifestyle also leads them into mystery and danger as they become involved with things they may well have been better off leaving alone. All because Claire is drawn into the intrigue surrounding the man she is working for.

Of course it is this intrigue that makes this novel into a page turner for the reader, although  sometimes I was a little annoyed by some of the characters decisions. I think this was because they seemed like real people and I wanted to warn them. To sum up then this is worth reading at any time but perfect for holiday reading and in its genre a five star read.

I am going to send this book out travelling via Bookcrossing - Tropical Connections. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to join in with this Bookring.

Links below to my Bookcrossing reviews for Susie Vereker's earlier novels, about which more information can also be found on Amazon

An Old Fashioned Arrangement

Pond Lane and Paris

Paris Imperfect


Photo courtesy of Susie Vereker's website.

To learn more about Susie Vereker visit these links. In particular her own website which is well worth reading.

Susie Vereker - Website

Transita - Susie Vereker