Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: March 2011 (page 1 of 3)

A young man and his dog against the world

God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin

Sam Marsdyke is nineteen, and due to something that happened in his past, is stuck working on his family’s sheep farm on the North York Moors instead of getting a life.  Virtually ignored by his parents, he wanders the moors with his dog looking at the world from up there with a mixture of amusement, detachment and resentment.

One day life starts to get more interesting for him.  A family of ‘towns’ moves into the farm next door; moved out from the city to get a better life. He sees them arrive, and watches the teenaged daughter laughing with the removals men…

She’d know about me before too long. Not me, course, but my history, painted up in all the muckiest colours by some tosspot, gagging to set her against me. A piece of gossip travels fast through a valley. The hills keep it in. It goes from jaw to jaw all the way along till it’s common news, true or not. Specially when the valley’s full of tosspots, such as this one.

It’s obvious right from the beginning that Sam’s resentments run far deeper than just the incomers, he has little time for anyone except his dog.  It’s also obvious that he’s going to fall for the girl, and she too, appears to be interested in this lanky young man – or is she just using him?  ‘Ere long, they get into some scrapes together, and you know it will all go very, very wrong…

The entire novel is narrated entirely by Sam, and scattered finely with lovely Yorkshire dialect words such as fettling, trunklements and blatherskite – all good woody words, (to quote Monty Python).  Unusually for me I didn’t find that the dialect got in the way, Raisin has a light hand with it and gives Sam a distinct voice.   Underneath it all Sam is shy; his schoolmates all called him ‘Lankenstein’; he tends to blurt and lash out, making decisions that he played out totally differently in the fantasies in his head, making him a rather unreliable narrator.  You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next, as his thoughts and the reality of his actions are often very different.  It was this duality to Sam that absolutely gripped me from the start.

I really enjoyed the scenery too tramping over the moors with Sam, who is quite the nature boy. There is a fair bit of humour in the novel, but as you might expect, it gets darker as it goes.  I found this novel ‘reet gradely’ (well my maternal grandmother was Yorkshire-born), and thoroughly recommend it. (9/10)

I had the pleasure of meeting the author last week at the Penguin blogger’s event.  We talked a little about the use of dialect, and I said I thought he had a light touch with it. He told me that this hadn’t gone down so well in America, (where the book is published as Out Backwards), which is a shame.

His next book Waterline is set in the shipyards of the Clyde in Glasgow, and will also be full of rich regional language. He’s going to have some lessons in Glaswegian for readings when it comes out!

See what others think – read John Self of Asylum’s thoughts from 2009 here and Dovegreyreader’s review from 2008 here.

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I bought this book.  To buy from, click below:
God’s Own Country – paperback
Waterline – will be published in July.

A bit of Brideshead with lots of sex and astral projection …

Farundell by L R Fredericks

I was immediately drawn to the cover of this book, and indeed the blurb promises much too…

There’s an enigmatic book, an erotic obsession, magic both black and white, a ghost who’s not a ghost, a murder that’s not a murder, a treasure that’s not a treasure.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by that.  The blurb also mentions Brideshead Revisited, and there are superficial similarities – the book is set in an ancestral pile and features an eccentric family into which an outsider is invited, but that’s where the parallels end really.  The mystery of it made me hope for something akin to Lindsay Clarke’s wonderful novel The Chymical Wedding which delves deep into alchemy and the hermetic tradition,  a book I must re-read soon – but it wasn’t as profound as that novel.  It was, however, an enjoyable debut, and I gather it is to be the first in a series featuring the characters within.

Let me tell you a little about the story… Set in 1924, Paul Asher is at a loss what to do after his wartime experiences, he is still somewhat shell-shocked and estranged from his father.  He accepts an invitation to Farundell from a friend to help the renowned Amazon explorer Percy Damory, now old and blind, to write his memoirs.  There he meets the eccentric Damory family – a rather Bohemian clan.  Of the Damory children, teenager Alice is the most interesting at the start. She is always curious and wants to be grown up.

Paul starts off well at the house – he feels at home.  Then one day he sees the family ghost and this will be the start of surreal experiences to come.  It turns out that several of the family regularly see Francis the ancestral ghost and have out of body experiences (they call it their ‘moon-bodies’) communing with him.  Then Percy’s grand-daughter Sylvie arrives down from London and Paul instantly and totally falls in passionate love.  Sylvie, gratifyingly for Paul, consents to fall totally in love lust. They can’t keep their relationship secret, indeed Sylvie’s parents and grandfather thoroughly approve, and there’s soon a lot of sex going on.  At the same time, Paul, having had his eyes opened to the ghost, begins to use his moon-body too.

Interspersed with this are Percy’s memories of his explorations and encounters in the jungle with fearful tribes and potent drugs and associated out of body experiences; the precocious Alice seeking answers; and a mysterious book that Paul becomes obsessed by – it is reputed to hold the secrets of the Farundell treasure that great-great-grandfather Francis had brought back to the estate. The ghost Francis isn’t telling though, he continues to play mind-games with them; all except Aunt Theo who has chosen not to use her moon-body – hinting of the dangers to come.

There’s a lot in this book, although at times it can be quite rambling and at the start all the family characters can be rather confusing.  There are a lot of different sub-plots going on which I haven’t mentioned above.  I did need respite from Paul and Sylvie’s rampant rutting though, so they were necessary after all!

I did like the setting, the grand country house is very alluring with its secret passageways and wonderful views.  The grounds complete with huge lake, island, chapel and Greco/Egyptian temples, and not forgetting its own model village, feels like a theme park you need never leave.  The period is also potent; people are just starting to find themselves again after the Great War, and letting go one by one with abandon.

I couldn’t decide whether this book was wanting to be a family drama or a surreal fantasy.  I though it ended up trying to be both and not quite succeeding. There was much to like and I enjoyed it, but was left slightly disappointed. I would however, probably read more by this debut author. (6.5/10)

See what Simon at Savidge Reads thought here.  I chose this book from a list sent by Amazon Vine to review.

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To buy from, click below:
Farundell by L R Fredericks
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke

A thoroughly modern road trip & coming of age story

The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed

Shame about the cover, my proof copy had a colourful wraparound parchment over the plain cover with a collage of American bald eagles, stalactites and vampire’s fangs amongst the images portrayed.  Underneath the bland exterior of the published book is a rather good debut.

The story is narrated by a seventeen year old girl; we never learn her name, or how she got where she is, her story starts from the day she meets Gunther and takes a lift from him.

Gunther is enigmatic, he doesn’t appear to do anything except drive around mid-America, an ageing hippy, or maybe more of a rocker type, but with a girlfriend in every state, and friends all over too.  He always has money and weed – we don’t know how he gets it – maybe he’s a dealer?.  He obviously has charisma – the girl is attracted from the off even though he’s old enough to be her father.  She fantasises that he’s a vampire, submitting to his icy stare and pointed bite.  Indeed like vampire and it’s food-provider, the pair seem to have developed a similar symbiotic relationship, apparent right from the start of the book…

He’s wondering where to drop me. And he can’t find a place. The world is too ugly, too plain. Every town is an empty blank. And the cities, well, they’re full. As long as Gunther’s acting like some weird detached dad, I’m his little girl. He says it’s a sad state of affairs when the apparent predator is the protector. I don’t understand what he gets all heavy about. We like it here with each other. I don’t want the world to close in, but if they do, surely they’ll see the innocence. Who said ‘All’s fair in love and war’? I hope that applies here. I don’t want him to give me up.

At times the girl seems old way beyond her years, so much so she tempts Gunther into bed.  Their relationship completely changes, but old girlfriends are calling. Gunther doesn’t want to hurt her, he didn’t really want to change their relationship from a paternal one to that of lovers, he leaves her behind at a friend’s house.  She wants to get back at him, but it goes badly wrong, and she has to become a young girl again.  Back on the road she still dreams of reaching New York though …

The girl has to grow up fast as life overtakes fantasy. Gunther as an older man could have been rather creepy, instead he was more of a catalyst. He means well for her, but he changes her life without changing himself – his influence being both benign and negligent. He’ll eventually drive off on the road again. She’ll no doubt be added to the list of his girlfriends in time.  This was an engaging debut with strong characters. (7.5/10)

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I got this book as loot from my Mostly Bookbrains quiznight.  To buy from, click below:
The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed

An evening with Penguin

Living in a town near Oxford, it takes a lot to tempt me into London midweek during term-time – but when an invitation came to attend Penguin’s General Bloggers Evening in the swanky surroundings of a private room in a dining club in Soho, with a fantastic line-up of no less than seven authors attending, plus the lure of goody bags – I quickly made arrangements for a friend to pick up my daughter from school and feed her until hubby got back from work, and yesterday afternoon, off I went to the Big Smoke for my first publisher’s event.

Along with my book-acquiring habit, I’m also chronically early for everything – I tend to get stressed if I’m running late.  The evening was meant to start at 6.30, but I was getting footsore with wandering around and went up about ten minutes early, but the Penguin crew didn’t mind, so phew!  Around ten minutes later, a horde of other bloggers arrived including Jackie from FarmLaneBooks, Sakura from Chasing Bawa, Simon from Stuck in a Book, Claire from Paperback Reader, Hayley from Desperate Reader, and David from Follow the Thread, all of whom I’d met before. It was also lovely to meet Jess from Park Benches and Bookends, (all links on the Blogroll to your right).

Each of the authors read or talked about their latest books for a short while, then afterwards there was loads of time to chat with them and the Penguin crew.  The authors were:

  • Joe Dunthorne – author of Submarine and the upcoming Wild Abandon.  Joe read a hilarious scene from his yet to be published novel set in a commune, in which a meditating eleven year old boy talks to his sixteen year old self to find out what happens in the future.  Very funny indeed.  Can’t wait, and I already had Submarine in the TBR – in the news as Richard Ayodade’s film based on the novel has just come out and got a great reception.
  • Luke Williams – a debut author of the upcoming The Echo Chamber.
  • Jean Kwok – author of Girl in Translation, in which a family from Hong Kong comes to New York and ends up living in a roach-infested apartment in Brooklyn, working in sweat shops.  Although a work of fiction, there were definite parallels between Jean’s life (she comes from Hong Kong and moved to Brooklyn when she was five and had a hard life for some years.)  She was fun to talk to and loves bloggers.
  • Ross Raisin – author of God’s Own Country and the upcoming Waterline.  I read Ross’s first novel recently (review coming up soon), but I loved it. Set in the North York Moors, it is a tale of a young farm lad who runs off with the new nextdoor neighbour’s underage daughter.  His new book is ‘much sadder’ he said, all about the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the effect on families.  I chatted to Ross for ages afterwards, and telling him how much I’d liked God’s Own Country, he admitted it was funny to hear people talking about the book still, as he’d handed it in two years ago and started work on the next soon after.  He was also really interested in blogging and asked us lots of questions about why and how we got started.
  • Rebecca Hunt – author of Mr Chartwell.  I’ve yet to read this book, but after last night it’s gone right up the TBR pile.  Set during Winston Churchill’s latter years in which his ‘Black Dog’ of depression becomes reality – a talking big black dog!  Rebecca read a passage in which the dog was trying to wheedle his way onto the bed of a local widow he lodged with, and naturally she was more than a little creeped out by the prospect. She got the voice of the Dog so well! I’m very much looking forward to reading this book.
  • Helen Gordon – author of the upcoming Landfall.  Another debut novelist, Helen’s book is set in the home counties and features an art critic and a precocious young teenager.  I couldn’t help thinking that Helen looks slightly like a younger Elizabeth Moss (Peggy in Mad Men).  I grabbed a proof copy of this one to read.
  • Hisham Matar – author of Anatomy of  a Disappearance, and the Booker nominated In the Country of Men.  I’m currently reading In the Country of Men and am enjoying the exquisite writing very much.  Hisham read from his latest book (see a wonderful review by Dovegreyreader here), and his mellifluous Mediterranean tones really brought to life the first chapter in which a man remembers his father from the smell of his watch-strap – lovely.  Earlier I talked briefly to Hisham and when I said I worked in a school, he told me a little of his work with the charity First Story in which authors go into school to do creative writing projects with the children.

Thank you to Penguin, and especially the authors who made time to come and talk to a group of bloggers.
It made my day.

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To buy any of those available books from, click below:
In the Country of Men, Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar
God’s Own Country, Waterline by Ross Raisin
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

The Grand Cull Commences!

Having written an impassioned piece a couple of weeks ago about my dilemma on which books to keep once I’ve read them, I’m starting a grand stock take of all my books, and in particular my humungous TBR (to be read) piles.  Before any book goes back on the shelves, I will decide whether to keep or cull.

For old classics that I’ve not read yet it’s straight-forward – unless they’re collectable or have particularly good supporting material, as long as there’s a cheap e-book version, I don’t need to keep a copy.  I’ve sent two bags full mostly of these books to the charity shop already.  Modern classics are more difficult though, I’ve inherited a pile of paperback novels from my late Mum by authors such as John Steinbeck – but as the Kindle versions are expensive I’m loath to let them go. However, I may not get around to reading some of them for years.  A quandary beckons …

Then what to do about books like these two?

The Iron King is about Philip IV of France, set in the 14th C, by Maurice Druon and translated from the French my Humphrey Hare (1956), billed as a ‘blood-curdling tale of intrigue, murder, corruption and sexual passion’.

Thomas by US author Shelley Mydans was published in 1965 and is a novelisation of the relationship between Henry II and Thomas A’Becket.

Both are manky old paperbacks, but could be good fun reads – both about periods of history I’m very dodgy on (I know they are fiction, but they are based on fact so I would learn something!).  Also being totally O/P I’d never find them again – is that enough?  Should I …

Keep or Cull?

Another area where I’ve been more successful is in culling doubles (or sometimes trebles).  Over the years I’ve treated myself to some collectable or luxury hardbacks – Folio Society editions for the most part.  As they’re almost too nice to actually read (I know!) I had kept my paperbacks too, but they are going – so out go paperbacks of Suetonius, I Claudius, The Once & Future King, F.Scott Fitzgeralds, amongst others.

Another nice thing to emerge from sorting out my books is the possibility of having a bookcase of themed reading – books on Arthurian and related myths and legends, and also fairy and folk tales for instance, will fill shelves on their own and mix fiction and non-fiction happily.  I’m normally a strict Fiction A-Z by author, Biography A-Z by subject, and Non-Fiction A-Z by author kind of indexer!

I have a long way to go, but today I’ve filled another bag for the charity shop and listed some others on Amazon to sell, so I am making some progress towards bringing my home TBR library down to more manageable proportions.

How do you decide what to cull from your TBR?


…and the winner is …

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

My daughter drew a name from the hat, and the winner of a signed paperback of Jasper Fforde’s wonderful novel Shades of Grey is …


I’ll be contacting you soon to get your mailing address. Thank you to everyone else who entered, and enjoy your weekends.

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To buy from, click below:
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

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