Monday, 25 September 2017

Guest Review: Grace In Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon


Grace In Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon
Self-published next week on the 1st October 2017.

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Guest review by Trix Wilkins
Trix Wilkins is the author of The Courtship of Jo March (my review here) which she wrote partly out of love for her best-friend-turned-husband, partly out of love for Jane Austen, and partly because she read Eve LaPlante’s Marmee & Louisa. She holds degrees in journalism and international relations and worked for Australian Associated Press before the kids made her a better offer.

Trix's rating: 5 of 5 stars

Physiotherapist Esther Macdonald is living the Australian dream, and it doesn’t surprise her. After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when he doesn’t?
Has she offended God? Is her faith too small?
So many conflicting explanations.
Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?

Trix says: From the opening chapters you might get the impression that this novel is either a) a really depressing book about dying or b) a really cheesy book about being miraculously healed BUT this book is neither of those things. It isn’t even really about death. What it’s really about is The Question. The Question about what life is about and what is most important – and what really is not.

Esther is a twenty-something who seems to have everything –when in actuality she is not only afflicted by her health but also troubled relationships and theological questions…I tend to prefer a faster pace with something dramatic happening in the first chapter, but I’m glad I pushed through the wedding planning and visits to doctors because the conversations later in the novel were gold!

That’s the strength of this novel – the theological analysis, and not the kind that reads like a sermon in quotes. In-depth wrestling with hard questions that have even harder answers. I like characters having lengthy discussions of huge ideas so this was a plus for me as a reader – I enjoyed the exploration of complex ideas in plain conversations that one can actually imagine taking place.

This novel is for people who claim to be Christians, people who are Christians, people who really don’t like Christians, people who really like Christians, people who are appalled by the church, people who love the church, people who are just using the church for self-promotion…If you have really strong feelings either way about Jesus and Christianity, this book will stir your pot a good deal more.

Favorite quotes from the novel:
“Good news is like a diamond. It shows up best against a black background.”
“I’m a follower of Jesus,” Esther said. “I don’t believe in avoidance.”
“I came because of the easy access to books. I’m careful to only choose the best ones.”
“Bother, why did she keep saying ‘blessed’? Stupid word to use in ordinary conversation.”
“You’ve introduced me to your best friend and He’s worth knowing.”


Thank you Trix!

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Books by Christine Dillon / Religious books / Books from Australia

Sunday, 24 September 2017

What's Wrong With The Street by Andy Carrington


What's Wrong With The Street by Andy Carrington
Self published in August 2017.

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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roads closed / leading no- where we carry on through the thick haze and fog shrugging off the false promises and hope it’s pissing it down with rain (again) and every direction seems wrong. In it for the long haul fighting with others and ourselves [caught up in traffic] while the piti- ful screams “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!” can be heard from up top as the cameras monitor / GPS tracks our every move - I’m just trying to make it through.

Andy Carrington returns to the fervent anger of his previous poetry collection, Apathy Will Kill Us All, for this newest publication. For me, the poems felt like segments of an epic work rather than individual pieces because of their overlapping subject matter and recurring themes. The sheer energy Carrington maintains throughout the book is exhausting! He vividly illustrates his experience of life in modern Britain, specifically Bradford, through stream-of-consciousness rants and tirades against pretty much everything from the realities of scraping by on a pittance to the gentrification of local pubs. If you want to understand the deep divisions across contemporary British society, read Andy Carrington.


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Books by Andy Carrington / Poetry / Books from England

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A Journey Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre


A Journey Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre
First published in French as Voyage autour de ma chambre in Russia by Joseph de Maistre in 1794. English language translation by Henry Attwell published in the UK by Hurd And Houghton in 1871.

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How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Journey Round My Room is a parody set in the tradition of the grand travel narrative. It is an autobiographical account of how a young official, imprisoned in his room for six weeks, looks at the furniture, engravings, etc., as if they were scenes from a voyage in a strange land. de Maistre praises this voyage because it does not cost anything, for this reason it is strongly recommended to the poor, the infirm, and the lazy. His room is a long square, and the perimeter is thirty-six paces. "When I travel through my room," he writes, "I rarely follow a straight line: I go from the table towards a picture hanging in a corner; from there, I set out obliquely towards the door; but even though, when I begin, it really is my intention to go there, if I happen to meet my armchair en route, I don’t think twice about it, and settle down in it without further ado." Later, proceeding North, he encounters his bed, and in this way he lightheartedly continues his "Voyage". This work is remarkable for its play with the reader's imagination, along the lines of Laurence Sterne, whom Xavier admired.

I learned about A Journey Round My Room by reading Traveling In Place by Bernd Stiegler (my review here). I read that book a couple of years ago, not getting around to downloading its predecessor until recently. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed!

De Maistre's book is a series of short self-indulgent essays tediously strung together by the Journey concept. Some are humorous and I can imagine that, for people who actually knew de Maistre, his chattering might have been amusing, but overall I found this book dull and I couldn't see why it has endured so long. I am not sure I will go on to read the sequel.


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Books by Xavier de Maistre / Biography and memoir / Books from France

Friday, 22 September 2017

Traveling In Place by Bernd Stiegler


Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel by Bernd Stiegler
English language translation by Peter Filkins published by University of Chicago Press in October 2013.

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How I got this book:
Received free book download from the publisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Armchair travel may seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t travel require us to leave the house? And yet, anyone who has lost herself for hours in the descriptive pages of a novel or the absorbing images of a film knows the very real feeling of having explored and experienced a different place or time without ever leaving her seat. No passport, no currency, no security screening required—the luxury of armchair travel is accessible to us all. In Traveling in Place, Bernd Stiegler celebrates this convenient, magical means of transport in all its many forms.

Organized into twenty-one “legs”—or short chapters—Traveling in Place begins with a consideration of Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 Voyage autour de ma chambre, an account of the forty-two-day “journey around his room” Maistre undertook as a way to entertain himself while under house arrest. Stiegler is fascinated by the notion of exploring the familiar as though it were completely new and strange. He engages writers as diverse as Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Cort├ízar, Kierkegaard, and Borges, all of whom show how the everyday can be brilliantly transformed. Like the best guidebooks, Traveling in Place is more interested in the idea of travel as a state of mind than as a physical activity, and Stiegler reflects on the different ways that traveling at home have manifested themselves in the modern era, from literature and film to the virtual possibilities of the Internet, blogs, and contemporary art.

I enjoyed this odd book even though I had slightly misunderstood its synopsis. I expected a short story collection of micro-scale travel writings. Traveling In Place is actually a scholarly survey of many examples of the genre written over the past two hundred years.

I had not previously thought about my room - or my caravan as it was at the time of reading - in the same way as I appreciate it now. Stiegler has studied dozens of novels, essays and memoirs, mostly by French and German authors, who have chosen to look at the everyday and the mundane through the eyes of a visitor and a tourist. Apparently the original example, 1794's Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, is quite famous and extensively quoted.

Traveling In Place is not an easy read, especially as the only one of the quoted writings that I knew of is Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. I admit to being at the limit of my comprehension when we got to early twentieth century experimental film making. However, I am quite taken with the basic premise. The examples of 'flanerie' - exploring one's own familiar environment with new eyes - struck a chord with our current travels around our own country and also reminded me of a character in Bleeding London who resolves to walk every street in the London A to Z. Stiegler's extra reading suggestions at the end of each chapter are a great touch and I am inspired to seek some out. I have already found the Xavier de Maistre in English on Kindle and will be joining his journey around his room very soon.


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Books by Bernd Stiegler / History books / Books from Germany

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen


Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen
First published in America by Jonathan Cape in October 2013.

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How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Eminent Hipsters, musician and songwriter Donald Fagen, best known as the co-founder of the rock band Steely Dan, presents an autobiographical portrait that touches on everything from the cultural figures that mattered the most to him as a teenager, to his years in the late 1960s at Bard College, to a hilarious account of a recent tour he made with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald.

As a Steely Dan fan - we even got to see them play in Hammersmith several years ago - I was pleased when Dave got Eminent Hipsters for his Kindle. The then-new Amazon sharing system means we each get to read the other's purchases, a system which I admit benefits me far more than Dave!

Eminent Hipsters is a book of two uneven halves. The first section contains essays written by Fagen about his childhood and adolescent musical influences and I very much enjoyed reading these. I was too pleased with myself for recognising names such as Bill Evans, but was mostly ignorant and scribbling down suggestions for later YouTubing. I think that the book really needs to come with an accompanying music download! Still, it is interesting to understand where Fagen's music comes from and his self-deprecating humour is entertaining to read.

I presume that the selected essays were deemed insufficient in volume for publication though because the book's second half consists of a tour diary. Unfortunately this doesn't bear much relation to the first half so I found the mid-way swerve disconcerting. Here we meet cantankerous old git Fagen who basically complains a lot about a touring lifestyle which he must surely not actually be forced into. Personally, I would have preferred more of the thoughtful essays and none of the diary.


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Books by Donald Fagen / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman + Giveaway


When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman
Published in the UK by Austin Macauley in February 2017

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Add When Darkness Falls to your Goodreads

Follow the amazing journey of Tracy Bennett an average middle of the road girl working on a make-up counter in a York department store with her close female friends. Or is Tracy quite what she seems……

When Darkness Falls is a gripping account of a psychopathic killer. Written from the killer’s perspective, the intent and desire is perfectly compelling and holds the reader enthralled.

Make assumptions, draw your own conclusions and then find your theories debunked as the story unfolds.

This book is a testament to the human fascination with the criminal mind and the debate over whether serial killers are either evil or mad.




Meet the author:
Kathleen lives in York with her husband, two children, cat and dog.

Kathleen has always had a love of the written word from a very young age, from being read to as a child. Reading fabulous authors such as Enid Blyton, and Roald Dahl, has been inspirational.

Kathleen attended a creative writing course, which led to her write her first book The Other Side of the Looking Glass.


Her second book When Darkness Falls is a psychological thriller, which looks into the mind of a psychopathic killer. There is always something quite remarkable and captivatingly interesting about the human mind. And it is this that Kathleen tries to merge into her writing.

Author links: 
Website ~ Goodreads ~ YouTube ~ Twitter


And now for the giveaway!
Open worldwide until October 4th, the prize is a signed copy of When Darkness Falls sent to the winner by Kathleen Harryman.

When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman signed book giveaway

Good luck!


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Books by Kathleen Harryman / Thrillers / Books from England

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Aquarium by David Vann


Aquarium by David Vann
First published in America by Atlantic Monthly Press in April 2015.

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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publisher, via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aged nine, Caitlin spends almost every afternoon at the local aquarium while her mother works overtime at her construction job. Caitlin's whole world is her school, her mother, occasionally her mother's boyfriends, and the fish at the aquarium. She has no friends at school, apart from Shalini, who is making a paper mache Hindu reindeer with her, and no other family. But Caitlin has made a friend at the aquarium; an old man who seems to know something about Caitlin, something she doesn't even know about herself.

Aquarium is set in Seattle and tells of a short period of the life of a young girl, Caitlin, who lives with her mother, Sheri, a woman struggling to make ends meet by working long hours in a dead-end job. They have a poor standard of accommodation and Sheri's work means Caitlin is often left alone for several hours, time she chooses to spend at the local aquarium gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of rare fish. I liked the inclusion of line-drawn fish illustrations throughout the novel. Caitlin's meeting there with an older man is the catalyst for the events that drive the novel, but Vann does not take us to obvious territory.

This is not an easy novel to read. By that, I mean that the themes it examines are heavy and dark. The writing is superb - spare and frequently brutal and impossible to look away from. Vann has created perfectly believable characters that really got through to me. The destruction of a family by fear then poverty is graphically portrayed and the carry-though to the next generation is frightening to comprehend. My favourite character, I think, is Sheri although I didn't actually like her or many of her actions. This woman has fought incredibly hard to escape her past and her sheer rage at finding herself flung backwards absolutely crackles off the pages.

I will definitely be looking out for more David Vann novels in the future and will be adding his existing titles to my Goodreads TBR list.


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Books by David Vann / Young adult books / Books from America