Annabel's House of Books

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

Category: Authors R (page 1 of 10)

Shiny Linkiness

I reviewed loads of new fiction titles for Issue 7 of Shiny New Books, so I think it’s time to give some of them a plug. Do pop over to read the full reviews – we’d appreciate it, and love it when you leave comments too (same goes for here of course).

Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_eight_month_and_twentyeight_nights_0I haven’t read any Rushdie for a while, so had my fingers crossed with this book. No need, I enjoyed it a lot, although it turned to be more a philosophical fantasy than I was expecting.  Entering the world of the jinn was fascinating, and Rushdie’s modern take on the 1001 nights was fun although the little digressions keep you on your toes to re-find the main story sometimes.

Rushdie at his most playful, and restrained in length too. Definitely a thinking person’s fairy tale.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

* * * * *

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

hrbekHrbek has written one other novel, The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which I had to order once I’d read this book.

Set around twenty years into the future, Not on Fire, but Burning starts with a stunning visual prologue in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, and San Francisco is irradiated – (we’re never sure by whom or what). It then settles into a disturbing story in which the USA is segregating Muslims and one brave old army veteran decides to adopt a Muslim kid from one of the camps – to do his bit for liberalism and making amends. He doesn’t realise that the twelve-year-old boy, Karim, who comes to live with him is already radicalised.  When a fight is engineered between white kid Dorian next door and Karim, it starts off a whole chain reaction of events.

This was a really thought-provoking novel that imagines possible futures that we hope will never happen.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

* * * * *

Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

kauthar-195x300 (1)Meike’s third novel Kauthar is another tale of radicalisation. It is about a white British girl who converts to Islam, marries and Iraqi doctor, following him out there after 9/11 only to find that life there has a different set of rules and expectations that will try her devoutness. In emotional turmoil, she turns to God, but the distorted answers she finds set her on an extreme path.

Full of strong imagery, we flip between Lydia as a child, who is desperate to be a gymnast and the devout Kauthar she becomes. Told in the present tense, it is very immediate and we are really taken into Kauthar’s mind. As in Meike’s first novel Magda we are helped to understand, without condoning her behaviour.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

wilckenIt’s the late 1940s, or early 1950s. A psychiatrist takes a phone call to be told his ex-wife has died. A while later, he’s called on as a police surgeon to section a man in custody in a seedy apartment. Not thinking straight he does as asked, but later regrets this and sets out to find out more about the man.

The Reflection has all the hallmarks of a classic noir novel: a narrator in crisis, a psychological drama, a femme fatale (or two), a whole string of coincidences that are anything but and a sense that everything is being stage-managed to turn the protagonist into one of his patients, which he must resist, whatever the cost. The main character was a little boring but, The Reflection is an interesting exercise in which nothing is actually in black and white, less noir, more grey.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

Such good cheesy fun

Emperor Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

emperor-fu-manchuBeing a huge fan of adventure and James Bond type novels, you might expect me to have read the Fu-Manchu books too, but somehow I never did. Until now – and having read this one, which happens to be the penultimate book of the series, I want to go back to the beginning and read the lot.

Sax Rohmer was the pen-name of a former civil servant from Birmingham called Arthur Henry Ward. He turned to writing in his twenties and published his first Fu-Manchu story in a magazine in 1912 becoming very popular in the 1920s & 30s.  He wrote fourteen Fu-Manchu books in total, from that date until his death in 1959. Emperor Fu-Manchu is the last full novel, the final book in the series being a collection of shorter stories previously published.

Dr. Fu-Manchu is the archetype of the evil genius, and is surely the inspiration behind Dr No.  Fu-Manchu is an Oriental megalomaniac scientist who uses fantastical means to achieve his ends. He was created as a response to the perceived threat to the West of Chinese domination, which as you may imagine was controversial even at the time, and by our modern standards quite politically incorrect.

As the books go on, the political stance changes, and by Emperor Fu-Manchu he shares a common enemy with West – the Communists. Of course Fu-Manchu’s way of going about ridding the world of them, with his organisation the Si-Fan, is more akin to the aims for global domination of SMERSH/SPECTRE in the Bond novels and films, than that of the Western establishments.

Of course every evil genius has to have the authorities constantly on his tail. The British spymaster in charge is Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, who despite getting on in age in the later books, appears to have lost none of his faculties and be as sprightly as ever he was. Nayland-Smith is clearly inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and has his own version of Watson in the early novels.  In this late novel, as it starts he is instructing an American agent born in Hong Kong named Tony McKay that he will work with about his role in the mission. McKay, who can pass for Chinese is to penetrate the ‘second Bamboo Curtain’ to confirm that ‘The Master’ deep in the province of Szechuan is Dr Fu-Manchu.

“There’s some number one top secret being hidden in Szechuan. Miltary Intelligence thinks it’s a Soviet project. I believe it’s a Fu-Manchu project. He may be playing the Soviets at their own game. Dr. Fu-Manchu has no more use for Communism than I have for Asiatic flu. But so far all attempts to solve the puzzle have come apart. Local agents are only of limited use, but you may find them helpful and they’ll be looking out for  you. You’ll have the sign and countersigns. Dine with me tonight and I’ll give you a thorough briefing.” (p12)

No sooner does McKay infiltrate his way towards the Russian ‘leprosy centre’ posing as a fisherman looking for his missing fiancée, than he ends up in a Chinese cell. While nearby, the new governor of the province is meeting his old friend, ‘The Master’…

The man seated there wore a loose yellow robe. His elbows rested on the desk, and his fingers – long, yellow fingers – were pressed together; he might have reminded an observer of a praying mantis. He had the high brow of a philosopher and features suggesting great intellectual power. This aura of mental force seemed to be projected by his eyes, which were of a singular green color. As he stared before him as if at some distant vision, from time to time his eyes filmed over in an extraordinary manner.
The room, in which there lingered a faint, sickly smell of opium, was completely silent. (p18)

I’m not going to expound on the plot much further, suffice to say that Nayland-Smith’s local agents free McKay who escapes to a nearby moored sampan only to discover a girl on board, also hiding. At first he’s not sure he can trust Yueh Hua – but of course he falls for her. There’s lots of back and forth between various safe houses of friends of Nayland-Smith, who pops up all over the place, as they try to find out more about the army of ‘Cold Men’ that Fu-Manchu has working for him as his private army. Essentially frozen zombies, this introduces the mad scientist with a fantastical process to reanimate corpses element to the story. There is spying, fighting, capture, escape, romance and more as Nayland-Smith and colleagues try destroy the top secret Soviet centre before Fu-Manchu can get his hands on it.

Fu-Manchu and Nayland-Smith made fascinating adversaries – and the strangest thing was that both were men of their word, neither will lie to each other. This means that some things cannot be said and McKay has to keep Nayland-Smith in the dark on one matter, because McKay knows that Nayland-Smith would feel compelled to tell Fu-Manchu if he knew. Honour amongst thieves and spies eh!

These books were written in English by an Englishman. The new editions are global but made in America, and some Americanisms have crept in to spellings, e.g. color, etc. While this is annoying, you don’t really notice it once hooked by the plot. It is great to have the full set nearly back in print (one more to come), and I enjoyed the fun cheesiness of this adventure a lot. (8.5/10)

* * * * *

Source: Publisher – Thank you.

Sax Rohmer, Emperor Fu-Manchu (1959). Titan books paperback, 2015, 240 pages.

The Newbery Medal winner from 1979

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

westing gameOne of the boxes on my BookBingo Card is ‘A Newbery or Caldecott winner’.  These are roughly the US equivalents of the UK’s Carnegie and Greenaway Medals, awarded annually by librarians to the best novel and illustrated book for children.  I found I had a copy of The Westing Game on my children’s shelf, I’d obviously been recommended it for my daughter years ago – but now she’s 15, it’s YA all the way so she’ll never read this, but it was a timely discovery for me.

The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!

Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shore five stories high. Five empty stories high.

Then one day (it happened to be the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

The delivery boy was sixty-two years old, and there was no such person as Barney Northrup.

The chosen ones all decide to move in.
Some months later, some of the children of the tenants are out playing on their bikes, and they see smoke coming from the chimney of the Westing house on the hill. Otis Amber, the 62-year-old delivery boy, tells them a tall tale of how old man Westing’s body is:

“…sprawled out on a fancy Oriental rug, and his flesh is rotting off those mean bones, and maggots are creeping in his eye sockets and crawling out his nose holes.” The delivery boy added a high-pitched he-he-he to the gruesome details.

Naturally, one of the kids gets dared to enter the house an Halloween at $2 a minute… Turtle lasts eleven minutes before running out screaming. She discovered a corpse tucked in a four-poster bed.

This mysteriously puts old man Westing’s will into action. He was a millionaire who had made his fortune in paper towels. The sixteen people invited to gather in the Westing house comprise members from families of the chosen tenants of Sunset Towers. Westing’s will challenges them to play a game to unmask his murderer. The sixteen are paired up and given $10,000 incentive to play. The winning pair will inherit his fortune. The pairs are all given different sets of clues which are all single words. Thus begins a madcap competition between the players to find out each others’ clues and solve the mystery.

The 16 heirs are an odd assortment, including the Sunset Towers cleaner and doorman, Alice ‘Turtle’ Wexler, a very intelligent girl aged 13 who is prone to kicking people’s shins, her older sister Angela, her mother Grace and Angela’s fiance Dr Denton Deer, plus a high court judge, the owner of the penthouse Chinese restaurant in Sunset Towers, Otis the 62-yr-old delivery boy and a couple of others – their connections to Mr Westing will be revealed as the book goes on.

The players are gathered together again some weeks later to give their answers – and get another surprise, which I won’t spoil. The closing chapters concentrate on what happened next and
how the lives of the heirs were affected by playing the game.

This was a fun read – it would have been even more fun if I had realised where all the clues emanated from – being an American novel, I imagine that the average American eleven year old would probably start to recognise the source of the clues long before it is revealed in the text, so this element went straight over my head!

The Westing Game did remind me of a book long out of print that I’d love to read – one of my father’s favourites – The Tontine by Thomas B. Costain – a two volume, 1000 page, Regency/Victorian epic about a lottery in which the last living participant wins the jackpot.  Obviously, The Westing Game is a children’s book, so no-one had to die!  (7/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy.  
Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game (Puffin Classics US, 1978), paperback, 182 pages.

The Westing Game (Puffin Classics)

A Books Into Movies Day Out near Watford

Harry Potter – Warner Brothers Studio Tour

I didn’t fool you for a minute, did I? It could only be the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour – my first visit, a return for my daughter, and I think I was more excited than she was! I feel compelled to share some of it with you. It was utterly fabulous, and in comparison with places like Madame Tussaud’s which has similar entrance prices – much more worth it! Even better, is that apart from the mannequins wearing some of the costumes, everything you see was really part of the films – no reproductions. We took copious amounts of pictures, you could just treat it as one long photo op – but I tried to spend time reading at least some of the explanatory texts and watching snatches of video around the tour – but my inner big kid took over a lot of the time… here’s a few snaps of our favourite bits:


Hermione’s ball dress from HP IV

You go through the huge doors after watching a short video introduced by Dan, Emma and Rupert into the Great Hall with its real Yorkstone flagged floor. From there you pass into the Aladdin’s cave of props, costumes and smaller room sets. The level of detail in everything is fantastic!

My daughter still loves Hermione’s ball dress from the Goblet of Fire.  I was fascinated by the wigs:

DSC_0099 I think Snape is my favourite character of the whole series, doubly so because of Alan Rickman, but I love Snape on the page too.

We did some obligatory selfies in the mirror of Erised – it didn’t show anything different, but maybe as we were enjoying ourselves so much …

P1020640You could spend hours looking at all the items in Dumbledore’s study, but we did spot the Sorting Hat lurking on a high shelf. Likewise the kitchen in The Burrow (home of the Weasleys) complete with all the animated gadgets.  Juliet spotted their cereal box – Cheeri-owls! I marveled at the green tiles of the Ministry of Magic, of my favourite sets.

P1020684New for 2015 at the studio tour is the arrival of the Hogwarts Express. (Engine plus one carriage on the full platform 9 3/4)

We went through the carriage – which is a revamped original – I remember those compartmented carriages as a child.

I took an obligatory photo of Juliet pushing her trolley through the wall, but we decided not to pay £14 for an official photo of us sitting in the train carriage.

DSC_0134Then it was time to pause in the cafe for a Butterbeer. We had to try this bizarre beverage, which looks like cider, but tastes a bit biscuity with butterscotch froth on top. The froth is essentially unfrozen ice-cream and was a bit sickly sweet, but it was all part of the fun.

Out onto the backlot to see the Knight Bus,  and the exterior of No 4 Privet Drive etc.  I loved the rickety Hogwarts bridge – they only ever made the one section, special effects made it span the valley.

Then I indulged in a photo op instead of my daughter, getting behind the wheel of the Weasley’s Ford Anglia! This vehicle is the subject of one of my favourite HP film quotes.  The Weasley boys  are being told off for using Mr Weasley’s car to rescue Harry:

P1020726Molly Weasley: “Your sons flew that enchanted car of yours to Surrey and back last night.

Arthur: “Did you really? How did it go?


Next came the animatronics and special effects section. All kinds of servo-driven creatures and things were on display – from Buckbeak, to Hagrid’s head, presided over by Aragog hanging from the ceiling!

P1020751Then through a gallery of architectural and technical drawings and card models. It’s a shame that some of the drawings weren’t available as prints – I’d have bought one like a shot, but sadly the only art print in the shop was a small sketch of Hogwarts castle for £40 unframed.

The final highlight of the tour is the huge model of Hogwarts Castle which gets a whole room to itself.  A spectacular end to a wonderful experience (although the shock of the prices in the shop is a whole other level of experience!)



A brilliant trip!  Have you been? If not, I’d recommend it to all Harry Potter fans, young or old.

Shiny Linkiness

SNB logo tinyThe sixth issue of Shiny New Books came out last Thursday. As always it’s packed full of goodies from the latest bestsellers to hidden gems that need more publicity.This issue, I only reviewed three books, two non-fiction and one fiction, so I shall indulgently point you in their direction here. Please do click through to see the full reviews (and I hope once there you’ll find more to interest you).

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

i saw a manYou may remember that earlier this year I had a bit of a fangirl moment with the handsome Welshman at the Faber Fiction Showcase. It was finally time to read the book, (carefully given my unique inscription from him) and I really enjoyed it. The story of three men and how bereavement and grief affects their lives, it has a thriller-ish feel to the plot, but has a style that owes much to Sheers’ poetic side.

Read the full review here.

Instrumental by James Rhodes

instrumental james rhodes A memoir of ‘music, medication and madness’, this is not for the faint-hearted, and had me in tears regularly all the way through. Classical pianist Rhodes was terribly abused as a child and this book spares no punches in telling us what happened and the consequences that still affect his life today. However, it’s not all bad, for Rhodes has a mission to interest younger generations in classical music and its power to transcend the horrors of life; it saved his. Powerful and shocking, yet hopeful too.

Read the full review here.

Spirals in Time by Helen Scales/

Spirals-in-Time-small-440x704 I love to read popular science books, but rarely venture into the natural world. To find a book that is so much more than just a biological survey of a particular animal group was a joy, for Helen Scales’s book on seashells also explores their place in culture and mythology, and she has some amazing stories to tell there – from their use as currency to the Victorian collectors and the harvesting of the elusive ‘sea-silk’. These all run alongside the marine biology of the shell-forming molluscs. Told with wit and wonder, it’s fab.

Read the full review here.

Fiction Uncovered

fiction uncovered logoTwo trips into London in one week (see here for the other), is going out a lot for me! I wouldn’t have missed last nights Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize at the Jerwood Space in Southwark for the world. Many thanks to the enterprising Simon Savidge, (I’m calling him that as he loves projects) who was not only one of this year’s judges, but was able to invite a group of fellow bloggers. So I caught up with Kim and David, but finally got to meet Simon’s OH ‘The Beard’, Eric, Rob and KateNaomi and Nina. Rob & Kate, Naomi and David have all been guest columnists on the Fiction Uncovered blog too – it was great company.

But the evening was really about the books and their authors. The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize is five years old this year, and is the only prize to solely award British writers, celebrating great British fiction. There were 15 novels longlisted and the prize-money was spread between eight of them, each receiving £5k plus a handbound edition of their book thanks to the generosity of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, and the winners were:

DSC_0051 (1024x576)

L-R: Bethan Roberts, Carys Davies, Jo Mazelis, Grace McCleen, Lavie Tidhar, Susan Barker, Emma Jane Unsworth, David Whitehouse. Photo: A Gaskell

  • The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Transworld)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)
  • The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)
  • Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)
  • Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador)
DSC_0053 (1024x576)

Bethan Roberts with the judges L-R: India Knight, Matthew Bates, Bethan, Cathy Galvin and Simon. Photo: A Gaskell

A special mention from me must go to Bethan Roberts, who comes from Abingdon where I live and has many a fan in the local literary community. I reviewed Mother Island for Shiny New Books and interviewed her about it here. I was so delighted for her to be ‘Jerwooded’.

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View east down Union St, Southwark. Photo: A Gaskell

It was also lovely to meet Emma Jane Unsworth and her wonderful mum!  I’m so looking forward to reading Animals now.

What a fabulous evening – and a glorious sunset was just beginning to envelop the Shard as I left just after 8.30pm to go home.


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