Annabel's House of Books

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

Month: September 2012 (page 1 of 3)

The fun stats of blogging …

Itry not to look at my blog stats too often. Outwardly I don’t worry about rankings and the number of page views, it’s not my primary motivation for blogging. Internally, of course I’m always flattered when the blog get lots of hits and good rankings – who wouldn’t be?!  What is always fascinating though, is how people get to your blog. Some of the search terms can make you giggle…

One such search phrase was “Jumping sex”well I can work that one out.  I posted about Jilly Cooper’s Riders back in January. Lots of variations on that search lead to the same post too. Another search which included the words “Knickers Off” led back to my post about the first two volumes of Charlie Higson’s zombie series – I’d called the post Zombie Mayhem to Scare Your Pants Off. I bet that was different to what the searcher expected!

Having said I wasn’t interested in page views, I am really – but not in the way you’re thinking – I was just looking at those posts that have historically got the most visits in total.

Top of the list by far is my post after seeing the film of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It’s a shame in a way it was the post about the film, rather than the book. It’s followed by: a post on the first graphic novel I reviewed on the blog – The Crow by James O’Barr; then An Evening with Toby Mundy a talk I went to by the boss of Atlantic Books – strange it still gets a lot of visits; and then a post entitled My Life in Comics and Magazines.

Notice how they’re all posts that are not about conventional books. The most recent of them was the Salmon Fishing one which was published this May. The others are over a year old, the Toby Mundy one was in December 2010, yet somehow they are still getting hits, and still registering in my most viewed posts. When I work out the secret I’ll let you know!

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By the way, if you’ve enjoyed these lovely drop capital graphics, they come from a site called Daily Drop Cap and are free to use in personal blogs etc.

I gave in to the hype …

The Casual Vacancyby J K Rowling

So I’ve given in to the hype and got me a cheap copy of JK’s new adult book, and it will be my weekend reading…

I see the knives are already out on Amazon with 50% of the 50+ reader reviews so far being negative.

I’m really hoping that it’ll be better than that.  It’s 500 pages though.  Fingers crossed. Report back next week.

Crime always soars in a heatwave …

The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

translated from the Spanish by Laura McGloughlin

Inspector Héctor Salgado is a hot-blooded Argentine working in Barcelona. As the book opens, he has recently returned from enforced leave after he beat up a suspect in a Voodoo/paedophile trafficking ring.

Investigation 1231-R
Resolution Pending

Three short lines noted in black felt-tip pen on a yellow post-it note attached to a file of the same colour. So as not to see them, Superintendent Savall opened the file and looked over its contents. As if he didn’t already know them by heart. Statements. Affidavit. Medical reports. Police brutality. Photographs of that scumbag’s injuries. Photographs of that unfortunate Nigerian girls. Photographs of the flat in the Raval where they had the girls corralled. Even various newspaper cuttings, some – very few, thank God – deliberately narrating their own version of the facts, emphasizing concepts like injustice, racism and abuse of power. He slammed the file shut and looked at the clock on his desk. Ten past nine. Fifty minutes. He was moving his chair back to stretch out his legs when someone knocked on the door and opened it almost simultaneously.
‘Is he here,’ he asked.

Still suspended from active police work, Salgado’s boss asks him to unofficially look into the death of a teenager from one of Barcelona’s richest families. He quickly finds that there are many skeletons to be pulled from their closets, whilst the fallout from the Voodoo case continues.

I liked Salgado – he’s rarely called Héctor. Being an Argentine, he’s an outsider, divorced with a teenaged son and living on his own. He’s obviously a bit of a maverick, and he has vices – all good things for a fictional policeman!

I wasn’t so taken with the two policewomen working with him on the two cases though – I tended to get confused between them – they blended into each other. Salgado’s boss is unusally not a caricature either which, funnily, still makes him a little one-dimensional – but he’s only a bit player.

The book was terribly slow to get going – stifling itself in Barcelona’s heat, and then once on the move, there were twists and turns galore. A bit more pace in the early stages would have made it a more gripping read. Considering that the novel is set over just five days, the first couple seemed more than twenty-four hours long. One day I long to visit Barcelona, but its attractions barely featured in this novel which could have been set in any Mediterranean city.

I enjoyed the book enough to finish it, and would probably read another Salgado mystery, hoping for more development of character and setting in subsequent outings. (6.5/10)

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I received this book to review via the Amazon Vine programme. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, pub May 2012 by Doubleday, Hardback 320 pages.

A body’s life, a life’s memories

Winter Journal by Paul Auster

I’ve been an Auster-fan ever since I first read The New York Trilogy in the late 1980s, which I re-read and reviewed here a couple of years ago. Between writing his novels, Auster also writes essays and volumes of memoir.

Winter Journal is a memoir largely told through the things that have happened to his body.  In his early sixties, Auster has become preoccupied with the first signs of old age – something his 74 year old actor friend Jean-Louis Trintignant put into perspective for him when Auster was 57…

“Paul, there’s just one thing I want to to tell you.  At fifty-seven, I felt old. Now, at seventy-four, I feel much younger than I did then.” You have no idea what he is trying to tell you, but you sense it is important to him, that he is attempting to share something of vital importance with you, and for that reason you do not ask him to explain what he means. For close to seven years now, you have continued to ponder his words, and although you still don’t know quite what to make of them, there have been glimmers, tiny moments when you feel you have almost penetrated the truth of what he was saying to you. Perhaps it is something as simple as this: that a man fears death more at fifty-seven than he does at seventy-four.

Auster starts by tellling his story through the things that have happened to his  body, an inventory of its scars – the one on his cheek which he got aged three and a half caused by having such fun sliding along a shiny floor that he never saw a protruding nail in a table leg; numerous other sporting ones – but only one broken bone.

He tells us everything, not sparing the details however painful –  the panic attacks that started after his mother’s death in 2002, and the car crash later that year that could have killed him, his wife and his family – he hasn’t driven since.

The other parallel track running through this memoir is a catalogue of all the homes in which Auster has lived his life, twenty-one of them, and thinking about the memories they invoke, about his parents, his friends, his girlfriends, his first wife, his second (author Siri Hustvedt), his children, but most of all his mother, whom he obviously adored, and simultaneously wished he’d known better.

The book is written in the second person – addressing himself; it gives a real sense of intimacy to his story. We frequently pop backwards in time as he remembers new things, but the general impetus is forward towards Auster as he is now at sixty-four looking forwards to the rest of his life.

Auster is an unconventional, analytical and eloquent writer, and this unconventional memoir was a delight to read, he can look with humour at himself as well as being serious.  He is one of those writers whom I always enjoy whether in novels or other forms, regardless of the critic’s views, but I have to say this memoir was one of the very best I’ve read. (9.5/10)

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I was sent a US copy of this book by its publisher Henry Holt & Co. Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Winter Journal Pub 6 Sept by Faber, Hardback 240 pages.
The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass”, “Ghosts” and “Locked Room” by Paul Auster

Weekend musings & Giveaway results

This week has been rather busy physically and mentally; although I’ve been reading I haven’t had been in the right mind for blogging – so a big thank you again to my friend Julia for her midweek review for me.

Yesterday I did have a bit of a break, and filled it with a spontaneous garage sale – which meant my daughter and I carrying 400+ surplus books downstairs and setting up our stall augmented with some DVDs, CDs and other bits and pieces. Then we waited anxiously (in my daughter’s case), and reading a book in the sunshine in my case, for passers by. We made 10p short of £30 which is wonderful, and I will donate £5 of that to Helen & Douglas House children’s hospice in Oxford.

I’m still sorting out more books to go, and the next sunny, dry Saturday when we’re free we’ll do it again, then the remaining books will go to the charity shop. I also still have some more interesting/collectible/out of print books for sale – see the tab above.

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Lots of interesting books have arrived at Gaskell Towers recently – it’s always a dilemma of what to read next – as I still want to reduce the TBR piles, and not just read the latest new arrivals. Here are a few of the new ones though…

  • All Quiet on the Western Front – I’m an addict to the lovely tomes from The Folio Society, and am delighted to have been offered a free book by a publicist working for them. I chose this one as I’ve wanted to read it for years.
  • The Sacrifice (The Enemy) the fourth in Charlie Higson’s wonderful zombie series for older children, which I reviewed the first two of here.
  • The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers. A supernatural story set in 1816, the year that Byron and Shelley and co had a momentous house party on the shores of Lake Geneva. The Romantic poets get caught up in an adventure with a man whose wife was murdered on their wedding night as she slept beside him. I couldn’t resist this – just the thing for autumnal nights!
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner arrived yesterday from Simon & Schuster. Set in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of terror, it tell of seven year old Raami’s fight for survival. I know this is going to be gripping and tragic to read, but I do hope Raami survives.

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And finally, I have giveaway results – Thank you to everyone who commented and entered.

Firstly, the Sophie McKenzie giveaway of Missing Me.

The winners, picked at random were:

Rosie & Rosie Herridge

A total coincidence – two Rosies!
The books will come direct from the publisher.

Now for my 4th Blog-birthday giveaway – the winners, drawn randomly again, are:

Well done to you all. As none of you expressed a preference over which of the four books on offer, I’ll send a random pick, unless you change your mind when you send me your addresses. To remind you, the books on offer were:

  • Waiting for Robert Capa by Susanna Fortes (Review)
  • On the Cold Coasts by Vilborg Davidsdottir (Review)
  • The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark (Review)
  • I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh (Review)

Guest review of Ash by James Herbert

A few weeks ago I accepted a copy of British horror-meister James Herbert’s new novel ‘Ash‘ to review. I loved reading Herbert when I was younger, and thought it would be really fun to revisit him.

But I haven’t had time to fit reading it in yet, so I lent it to my good friend Julia, and today I’m turning over my blog to her for a guest post. Julia is a bookseller at my fab local indie bookshop Mostly Books and she specialises in SF&F, paranormal and YA books, and is a big fan of historical novels too…

Ash by James Herbert

James Herbert was one of my favourite authors in my teenage years and I spent many sleepless nights first reading his books and then hiding under the covers from the ghosts, rats and monsters he described so well. I was very excited to hear he had written a new book and clutching my copy of Ash I rushed home to read it and was not disappointed, the long wait was worth it.

In this book we revisit David Ash, the parapsychologist from Haunted and The Ghosts of Sleath, for a third installment of hauntings and mystery. Set in the Scottish castle of Comraich, run by the mysterious Inner Circle, sinister paranormal events, which culminate in the discovery of one of it’s residents hanging from a wall severely wounded and attached only by his own congealing blood, prompt the I.C. to contact Ash and ask for his help in investigating the strange occurrences.

To read a very gory quotation, highlight the text below! It’s not nice – you have been warned…

In sheer desperation Ash pushed his free left hand into his assailants snarling, brutish face. He thrust two stiffened fingers directly into the madman’s right eye, wincing as they passed through the half-closed lids and pushed against the repugnant softness of the eyeball itself. Then beyond, his fingers slithered over the white globe until they reached the hard matter behind.
Lukovic screeched as blood gushed from the ruined eye socket, a sound amplified by the limited confines of the lift, and instinctively yanked his head backwards. But the tips of Ash’s gore-sodden fingers had curled behind the eyeball, and when Lukovic pulled his head back the eyeball popped as through sucked out and dropped against his upper cheek, held there only by thin bloody tendrils.

The castle is home to a mixed bag of people all of whom have paid a great deal of money to permanently disappear and their individual stories interwoven with the history of the old castle make for a truly spine tingling read. Royal mysteries, war criminals and insane inmates not to mention political intrigue and conspiracy theories are all included in this fantastic novel from one of the masters of horror.

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Thank you Julia. It sounds intriguing, and … um, suitably gory! Looking forward to reading it though.

This book was kindly supplied by the publisher. Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Ash by James Herbert – pub Aug 30th by Macmillan, Hardback 600 pages.
Ash – Kindle version
Haunted, The Ghosts of Sleath both by James Herbert, paperbacks.

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