Saturday, 18 April 2015

Author Visit: Renee Knight

Guess what people. Today is an exciting Saturday because I’ve got the lovely and super talented Renee Knight – author of the thrilling Disclaimer - here to chat about all things bookish. Hurrah! I have been excited about this post for quite a while, just so you know…


Renee! Hello!  Thank-you so much for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere; grab a coffee and a piece of cake and make yourself at home – in fact it’s imaginary cake, take two pieces.

Before we get started, let’s warm up with a quick fire round.

Ready, steady, GO:


  1. Coffee, tea or…?   Ummmm....both
  2. Favourite film?       Can't commit but I loved 'The Lives of Others'...
  3. Favourite book?     I have a serious commitment problem but recently read The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante and was stunned by it.
  4. Summer or winter? Summer
  5. Favourite Colour?   Green
  6. Last thing you ate?  Penne with Bolognese
  7. Dream holiday destination?  Iceland (but I said I liked summer...)
  8. If you could jump to any point in history, who would you have dinner with?  Orson Welles before he dressed in kaftans. 
  9. How do you like your steak?  Medium
  10. What are your pet peeves?  People assuming authority when they don't have it...

And now that’s done, on to the serious stuff –a serious interview on a serious blog because clearly that’s what this is. Honest.

Let’s get started.

Firstly, I’ve read Disclaimer and I loved it – I read it seven hours straight one Saturday because I couldn’t put it down - but for anyone who’s yet to get acquainted with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

A)  Thank you so much for that.  Well, Disclaimer is a psychological thriller about a woman who picks up a book from her bedside table hoping it will lull her into sleep.  Instead she discovers that she is a central character in the book and that it describes an event from her past which she has kept secret, even from her husband and son.  As her life begins to unravel we slowly discover what it is she has been hiding. 

Where did the idea for Disclaimer come from?

A) I had a written a novel before Disclaimer which described an incident from my adolescence involving a good friend of mine.  As I neared the end of it I began to think about how awful it would be if it was published and she read it and I hadn't told her about it.  Of course that didn't happen.  I sent it to her and got her blessing and then no one wanted to publish it anyway.  It gave me the idea for Disclaimer though so nothing is wasted. 

The book tells a story from the point of view of two characters: Catherine and Stephen. Who did you find easiest to write, and why?

A) I found Stephen easier to write because he was further from me and so I had to dig deeper, which made him more satisfying and so easier. 

And is the answer to that question the same as the answer to ‘who is your favourite character’ and if not, who is your favourite character?

A) No it's not the same answer. I like both Catherine and Stephen equally.  I think they are more alike than they would at first appear. 

If the book was a DVD what would the special features be – are there any scenes that ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that you can share?

A) There weren't any particular scenes that were dumped although everything was trimmed and edited many times.

Did the title come first, or last, or at some point in the middle?

A) The title came last.   Before I started writing I had a working title of 'Privacy' which I knew I would never use, then I had 'Any Resemblance to Persons living or Dead...' which I knew was a too long and then just before I finished I decided on 'Disclaimer'. 

Tell us about how you write: do you prefer a loud room or a quiet room; is your manuscript typed or handwritten, do you write during set hours or as the word comes, and at home or some place else? What works best?

A) I can't manage with noise around me, I become too easily distracted, no music, no radio on in the background.  I type straight into the computer but I might work out the structure by hand first to force me to take it slowly and not rush too much.  I always work in the mornings.  If I leave it too late then I've blown it, unless I'm editing - that I can  do in the afternoons.  I write at home and I've now graduated from the kitchen table and have my own room.   

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

A) I'm working on the screenplay for Disclaimer and also my second novel. 

What’s the oddest thing on your desk? (I have a Clanger on mine that makes a noise when you press its middle. I liberated it from the desk of my boss….)

A) It's a fake gold duck's head with a blue glass eye (rather evil-looking) and beak which opens and keeps papers together.  I gave it to my dad when I was about eight.  It sat on his desk and now it sits on mine.  

What’s the best writing tip you’ve been given?

A) Take your time between drafts.  Put it away and then leave it for as long as you possibly can before reading and working on it again.  It really made a difference to me - you see things with a fresh eye.   

What do you wish you got asked in these interviews but never do?

A)  To be honest with you I haven't done many yet and so the questions feel fresh to me.  I liked your one about the oddest thing on my desk.   

& because I’m always on the look out for new book recs, what are you reading right now?

A)  I'm reading The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer which I am really enjoying.  Thank you so for taking the time by the way to read my book.  So glad you enjoyed it. 


***

How much fun was that?! Thanks Renee, you’ve been a gem and I am SUPER excited at the thought of both a Disclaimer film and your second novel. Hurrah for both of those things.

Disclaimer was released on April 9th so you know, go get a copy. It’s a really great read, I promise. You can catch up with my review of it here (spoiler alert: I liked it a lot.)


Friday, 17 April 2015

Review: The Snow Kimono



So, The Snow Kimono

Well, I’ve never read any of Mark Henshaw’s stuff before this one, which appealed to me for the main part I think because it’s set (partly) in Japan, and Japan says to me Murakami, which in turn says to me yes. That was pretty much it, really, initially.  I read the blurb (and did a small grin to myself because the main chap’s called Jovert which obvs put me in mind of Javert of Les Mis fame) and thought yep, this is a book that sounds like me.

Which it was.


The premise is this: Retired police inspector Auguste Jovert gets a letter from a woman who says she’s his daughter and then goes home to find an old Japanese chap waiting in his apartment. He begins to tell Jovert a story of love and loss, of friendship and betrayal and of The Snow Kimono from the title. Professor Omura’s story is eerily similar to the tale of Jovert’s own life – also a story of love and loss, friendship and betrayal and ultimately built around a lie so you know, you have Omura's story and you have Jovert's story and you have all the parallels and it's all going on against these really excellent backdrops of Japan and Paris and Algeria.

I know, sounds fascinating, right?

The thing about The Snow Kimono is it's interesting because it’s a story within a story; Jovert’s story is playing out in the background as he spends time with Omura who tells his story, essentially that of his life with this guy called Katsuo Ikeda (a writer, with the same initials as Kazuo Ishiguro. Also there is a character in the book called Mr. Ishiguro. An intentional tip-of-the-hat? I reckon so!), who I guess you’d call Omura's friend but I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate. 

It’s a book that's all about seeing yourself how other people see you I think, at it’s heart, an exploration of identity and perception and the reliability of a person narrating his own story. 

In Japan, we have a saying: If you want to see your life, you have to see it through the eyes of another.

There’s a lot going on in this book and I mean a lot. So many layers, it’s like one of those giant delicious layer cakes. 



Yum. Cake. 

I am so bad at analogies good heavens, I just, those cakes always look so delicious and good and layered. That’s what this book is: delicious and good and layered and also incredibly fragmented. Like how a cake crumbles when you bite into it? DOES THIS STILL WORK (DID IT EVER?) Whatever, I’m running with it, leave me be. 

The way this book is written felt kind of familiar.  Which, oh God, again with the no sense. I mean, Henshaw’s Australian, but the way he writes gives me the same sort of feeling I got when I was reading – for example – Norwegian Wood
I mean I’m not comparing Henshaw to Murakami, or even this book to Murakami’s work, it’s just that something about it felt familiar.  I think it's perhaps something about the writing style; the imagery in this book, it’s so subtle and yet at the same time it kind of smacks you in the face you know? That, and the whole Japan of it all. Anyway, there was this sense of familiarity that settled over me as I read it, and I liked that.
The descriptions are stunning, and so very vivid, particularly the parts of the book set in Japan. Those are the parts I felt most engaged with, to the point that I almost wished Jovert would go the same way as his almost-name-twin so that I could spend more time in Japan where the characters felt so real and the descriptions were so colourful and there was this awesome correlation between descriptions of like, nature and  in fact the whole world Omura inhabited and the events that were unfolding. I loved it.  

I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job of this. 


This book is a hard book to review. I don’t quite know what to say about it, and that may well be because I am writing this review on almost zero sleep. I think I should stop trying and say that basically, it’s clever and it’s sort of poetic and it’s absolutely worth a read.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Throwback Thursday: Josephine's Book Edition



Today I wish to talk about My Girl 2, mostly because when I was looking for my Sense and Sensibility DVD last week I came across My Girl and was hit with all the Vada Sultenfuss feels. I loved that film, so hard, even though it broke my tiny little girl heart.

I never saw the second film. I had the book though, because, well, bookworm and I read it so many times.

Everyone knows My Girl, right? Vada Sultenfuss is an undertaker’s daughter, her Mum died and her Dad is seeing someone new, she’s a total hypochondriac (growing up in a funeral home would do that to a kid), has a crush on her teacher and is terrified she killed her mother (who actually died in childbirth). She's a really cool kid, our Vada. I loved her, I wanted to be her friend.



Vada’s best friends with this cute kid with glasses called Thomas J and it’s the cutest friendship EVER IN THE WORLD. And then, he dies and it’s the worst. Seriously, so much sad.



You say that line to anyone my age and I can pretty much bet you: instant teary eyes. SO MUCH SAD.

 
Anyway, My Girl 2 picks up the story 2 years later: Vada’s stepmum is preggers, and Vada’s still really missing Thomas J, and, she’s growing up. She always wanted to be a writer more than anything but now she kind of just wants to be kissed. She heads off to visit her Uncle Phil in LA (we meet him in My Girl) and find out more about her Mum. Which would be the best ever except her tour guide is Uncle Phil’s stepson Nick, and he’s not the best, at all…..

Oh god, doesn’t it just have pre-teen perfection written all over it??

I just, I loved it. I wanted to be Vada, I did. & I remember thinking the whole getting on a plane by yourself and flying all the way to LA sounded like the coolest thing. I thought the whole book, all of it, just sounded so cool and so many million miles away from my own life where there were no super cool dead relatives and no cute boys to hatelove and no scorching hot summers. Plus there’s the fact that I watched my video of My Girl so many times that I felt like I knew Vada, I felt like she was my friend and God, it wasn’t very often that I got to find out what happened to my fave characters after the book had finished or the end credits rolled and suddenly here it was: this look at Vada’s life, post Thomas J. I loved it, I ate it up and I wanted more. I kept wishing and hoping for a My Girl 3 and making up stories in my head of what might have happened. It makes me wonder actually, whether the part of me that’s always had those fangirl tendencies began with My Girl.   


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

(Belated) March Book Haul



Goodness gracious. How is it even mid April already? It’s my Granny’s birthday today (happy 83rd Granny, thank you for being excellent) and I plan to head over after work with a card and some flowers and wish her Many Happy Returns before I head over to Helen’s for Chinese with her and our other pal Clare. Marvellous. I see chicken in my future. I do so love chicken. The point of this post however is not my love for Chinese food or my Granny, but to talk about my March Book Haul which OMG SO OVERDUE. I instagrammed a photo, because that’s how I roll, but I never made a post, because currently I fail at life blogging. March and I were not friends.

I’m really amused actually, because in February I was all ‘ALL THE BOOKS’ and now looking at the size of my March haul, I realise that February was rather meagre. April will be better, I swear. I say this knowing full well that my birthday is this month and Jen already sent me a bookish birthday package. *cue manic laughter*

If I talked at you about the delights of all these books we would be here for all of time, so I’m not gonna. I’ll link you to them, in case you want to buy your own copies, and I shall tell you a little bit about the ones I am the most excited about and that will be that.

So, as detailed on that photo above, in March the following books came to live on my already overflowing bookshelf:

Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (I talk about my excitement for that one here)

Hausfrau which I review here

The Time in Between which you all need to go and read RIGHT NOW and I tell you why here

Red Queen I received a review copy of and I'm super excited to read it because it sounds excellent. It's all about a world divided by blood - Red blood (commoners) and Silver blood (the super-powered elite) and a girl who doesn't fit into either box. yep, lemme at it.

Jakob’s Colours which I loved and which you can read all about over at this blog post. 
 
Little Black Lies is another ARC on my TBR and it's released in July. 

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is out in early May and sounds like it's going to be one of those unputdownables. 

The Snow Kimono is what I'm reading now and it's lovely. 

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful INever Would have Let You Go has the best title ever, right? It's out in paperback in June.

The Mountain Can Wait is out in May and is all about fathers and sons and heartache
.
We Live In Water was the book I bought for Sarah's book challenge so it'll get it's own post v soon!

Half Bad has been everywhere lately. The bandwagon? I jumped on it.

Poison because I am totally a Sarah Pinborough fangirl right now.

Elizabeth is Missing because it won All The Awards.

Last Night in Montreal which God, so much pretty I swear. I get excited about it here

Mrs. Hemingway because why would I not want to read this?

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is another book I bought for my book challenge. One of the ICE envelopes. March was a bad month. It felt like an emergency.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is a rather pretty looking proof copy of a book that's all about identity and the idea of home and it sounds fabulous. I can't wait to read it. 

Holy Smokes.

I am mostly looking forward I think to reading Mrs Hemingway because Hemingway. That whole time just fascinates me, and I’ve heard such good things about this book and just, I want to read it. I can't wait. I’m also super excited about Bobbi Lomax which is all about cults and bombs and a prom queen and a rare book dealer and sounds super cool and also Poison purely because a: gimme all the fairy tales and b: I absolutely loved The Death House

All of these books look awesome though, there's not one of them that I'm not a little giddy about and probably you should check them all out.

You’re welcome.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Author Guest Post: The Joy of Cake




It’s one of those super exciting Fridays here today, because instead of me talking nonsense about books and whatnot, the blog is being taken over. Yup, that’s right, today’s post comes not from me (apart from this bit, obvs,) but from the fabulous Jesobel Jones, star of Anna Mainwaring’s novel The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones. I’m thrilled to be a pit stop on this super fun blog tour, and am absolutely a fan of Jesobel’s policy on cake, because, as I’m sure anyone who reads this will agree, why would you not be? Girl talks sense. 

So, let's talk a little bit about the book first shall we: 


Summary


Jesobel Jones can bake. In a truly triumphant, appearing-on-TV kind of way. But this means nothing to the rest of the world, because apparently all that cake mix is starting to show – in all the wrong places. So when she lands an invite to the Party of Year by the Boy of Her Dreams, she wonders whether it’s time for a new, improved Jess. But will life still taste as good?

Anna Mainwaring's debut is a light-hearted and sometimes poignant take on the pressures that face teenage girls. It's hard to smile in all those selfies when you don't like the girl who looks back at you. But which is more important - looking perfect or being happy?


 

I know, you want to read it, right? & you can because it was published on March 25th (by Portal Press if you were interested) - if you want some more info then you can find it on Goodreads and Amazon. And with that, I shall leave you to read all about Jesobel's theories on The Joy of Cake.



The Joy of Cake: Why is cake important to me.

By Jesobel Jones as told to Anna Mainwaring

Cake is a very important part of my life. End of. What do you mean I have to explain more? Isn’t it completely obvious? No? 

Fine.

Well then, let’s start with one of the most stupid expressions of all times. “You can’t have your cake and eat it.” I beg your pardon.  What kind of weird and wonderful logic is that? What on earth is the point of cake if you can’t eat it? What else are you supposed to do with it? Wear it as a hat? Use it a navigational device? Build a rocket to the moon out of sponge and try to find out whether said moon is made of green cheese? 

No. That is not the purpose of cake. Let’s be very clear here. Cake is for the following reasons:

      1) For celebrations. Parties without cake are like parties without friends. Pointless. And failing to fulfil the definition of the word ‘party’. Birthdays, anniversaries, even weddings, all focus round a cake. Okay, you might decide that you don’t actually want any cake (a strange decision in my book but I respect the rights of all in the world, cake lovers and non-cake lovers) but you would EXPECT a cake to be there.
      2) To cheer you up on a bad day. We all have them. Those days which don’t match up to expectation. Those days when you don’t match up to expectation. And those days when those around just let you down. What do you reach for? A friend, a hug, a chat? All good things. But all of those things could be improved by a slice of very lovely cake.
    3) As expression of art. Okay, I know that sounds pretentious but I take cake very seriously. Yes, some cakes are just vanilla cupcakes that my baby sister Lauren could make. But there are also cakes out there that are just things of beauty: a plate of perfect hued macaroons; a pile of neatly constructed mille-fueille; profiteroles structured to form a turret; sugar spun into the finest filigree. Cake can be basic; cake can be complex. That is the Joy of Cake: it can be whatever you want or need it to be.
      4) A sign of friendship or love. Basically a cake is a hug in the form of butter, flour, eggs and sugar. It means you care about someone enough to make them something. I tried this recently when me and my friend Izzy fell out. It didn’t quite go as planned but at least no one can say I didn’t try.
     5) Cake brings people together. You walk into a room. People are spread around; no one is talking much; the mood is low. You bring out a rather tasty looking cake. Voila! Those people, once sedentary, are now rushing forward to eat the cake. They begin to talk to each other in excited tones. They eat the cake and then begin to compare notes. The mere presence of cake has transformed a boring room into something special. Cake seems to have almost magical properties. 

So that’s all the amazing stuff about cake.  Are there any down sides? Can I eat all the cake I want all the time? Well you can but it’s not really advisable. Whilst cake can and indeed should be a part of daily life, I think I better follow the words of the Great Baking Goddess herself, the one and only Queen Mary Berry. Look at her! She has spent her life making and eating cakes. She’s in her eighties, looks amazing and is a national treasure. She says she just has small slices every day. I personally prefer a few big slices a few times a week but that’s what suits me. Like most things in life you should do what makes you happy!

To conclude, cake is one of life’s most reliable pleasures. Cake never lets you down. So don’t listen to the cake haters, the no-carbers, the dieters, the calorie counters! Join me in the great cake revolution and learn to appreciate The Joy of Cake.


Author Information

Anna Mainwaring first read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ when she was seven and she hasn’t stopped reading since. 

Her debut novel, “The Lives and Loves of Jesobel Jones”, follows Jess through the joy and pain of being a teenager in the modern world; first love, friendship, embarrassing families, and asks the big questions in life: how much cake is it really acceptable to eat?

After studying English at university, Anna made the foolish decision to work in corporate finance, not the best career choice for someone who a) is number dyslexic b) hates anything corporate. After travelling, Anna re-trained as an English teacher and works in a girls’ school in Cheshire. When not writing, teaching, or looking after her children, Anna can generally be found walking up a big hill, looking for inspiration.









Thursday, 9 April 2015

Review: Jakob's Colours



I think it was pretty much a given that I was going to love Jakob’s Colours. I mean, let’s be honest here, it ticks pretty much all my boxes, all of them; everyone knows I love a book that makes my heart hurt. Jakob’s Colours made my heart hurt. I didn’t cry, but then I didn’t cry when I read The Book Thief either; it made me too sad to cry. This was kind of the same thing, I had that kind of hollow feeling at the end, that weird kind of emptiness that comes in part from the end of a book that you’ve just let absorb you and in part from the fact that said book has made you feel too many things to really know what to do with. I didn’t start another book as soon as I finished this one, like I would normally. I kind of just needed some time.


Jakob’s Colours is set for the most part in Austria in 1944 and is about Jakob, a little gypsy boy, running like his father told him to do, running because he still just about can, although he has nowhere to run to and is unable to feel anything really, but fear.  Jakob’s father told him not to be afraid, to see the colours, and Jakob does, so brightly that it almost hurts your eyes.
Mixed in with Jakob’s story we get ‘Before’ when Jakob and his Mother and his brother and sister are lost and alone and hiding and searching for his father and we get ‘Long Before’ where we see Jakob’s mother growing up in England, the events that result in her being sent to an asylum where she meets Jakob’s father (a gypsy boy) and how they manage, despite the odds being stacked against them, to build their life together, interspersed with little bits where the family is together that leave you with a knot in your tummy and all of it, it’s all kinds of beautiful. This Day, Before, Long Before, all of it, it’s just stunning; it goes backwards and forwards, from this time to that with a pace that leaves you breathless, as breathless as Jakob is, as he runs.
In the present day Jakob meets Markus – you need to be prepared for that. You just, you really do. If you’ve read The Book Thief then I’m just going to say to you Liesel and Max and leave it at that, because whilst this is in no way the same, the relationship between these two characters invokes the same sort of all-encompassing hurty feeling that you don’t quite know how to express.
  

In a complete contrast to the hollow feeling I got at the end – the last 40 pages or so sat heavy on my chest and although the ending didn’t surprise me, it winded me all the same. STAMP ON MY HEART WHY DON’T YOU LINDSAY HAWDON (I love you) – the whole book was infused with a weird kind of heart, like, it was constantly heartbreaking but not always despairing. Does that make sense? Let me try and explain what I mean. Bad stuff happens in this book, it’s about a holocaust, let’s not be na├»ve, bad stuff happens and it tears you apart but it’s kind of balanced out by the other stuff, by the beauty, by the colours, by the love. The thing is, I’m not sure if that balance is a good thing, I mean it’s a good thing, but from the point of view of my fragile emotional state perhaps not so much because when Markus is so unbelievably tender to Jakob, when his Mother wraps herself around him at night, when his Father tells him see the colours, my boy, well I’m not entirely convinced that all of that tenderness doesn’t make the hard stuff harder.

This is a book that is full of colour and full of faith and wonder and it hurts. It opened my eyes to gypsy life and culture, and to the gypsy holocaust, which we hear so little about when really we should because, I don’t know, because it matters. They mattered. Up to 1.5million gypsies were killed by 1945 and it went unrecognised until 1982. Just, how? It blows my mind in the worst way possible that just when you think WWII can’t have been any worse, you find out something new and horrific and so terrible you can barely believe it happened at all, except it did and you have to believe it because to not, to shy away, is to do the memory of those people a disservice.  

Jakob's Colours is incredibly beautifully written, the characters so real they made me ache, the descriptions so vivid, and the emotions so raw and honest. This is a book that is going to matter, it’s a book that’s going to open eyes and raise questions and it’s book that should, really, win All The Awards. I didn’t enjoy it because it’s not the kind of book you enjoy, but I loved it. Also, I don’t know what the finished cover looks like, but the proof copy is so damn beautiful good gracious. 

It's out today. Read it.