Monday, September 26, 2011

Florence & Giles by John Harding

I decided to read Florence & Giles by John Harding for the  R.I.P. VI Challenge because it's described as a retelling of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The latter is one of the scariest stories I know and it was also filmed as The Innocents (1961) one of the creepiest films I've ever seen.

In 1891, in a crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. She learns to read on her own and narrates her story in a unique language of her own invention. After the sudden drowning of the children's first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives. Florence is convinced that the new governess is the spirit of the first governess and means to kidnap her younger brother Giles. She must find a way to foil Miss Taylor's plans before it's too late.

I found Florence's narration and her invented language extremely engaging. The first governess was “tragicked in a boating accident", a house is "uncomfortabled and shabbied", "the floors are left unbroomed, for unfootfalled as they are, what would be the point?" When she moves a book in the library it releases "a sneezery of dust."  You can see how the language takes some getting used to at first but it didn't take long to win me over.

The plot was creepy indeed and there were several scary scenes. Miss Taylor is able to malevolently appear in every mirror in the mansion, just behind Florence's own reflection. One night Florence catches Miss Taylor leaning over her brother and saying "ah my dear, I could just eat you." I actually had a nightmare involving the governess, Miss Taylor. Yes, it's true, this book is that spooky. My only complaint is with the ending which I thought was rushed and too open-ended. So it's definitely not a perfect book but if you're in the mood for a chilling read this Halloween then I definitely recommend Florence & Giles.

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Cassandra of Indie Reader Houston. You've just won a copy of Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen was my book club read for September and by coincidence Rachel at  Book Snob is currently hosting a read-a-long. It was actually my first time reading Persuasion though I'm familiar with the story because of the BBC adaptation. It is a lovely book. I'm glad I finally read it and that I got to experience Anne's emotions together with her. The regret of a lost love, the 'what ifs?' The return of that person and 'oh, does he still feel the same?' or 'oh no he doesn't.' The excitement of just being in the same room with him. The slight jealousy and wondering if he now loves another. The 'butterflies in your stomach' feeling of walking beside him but not knowing what he is thinking. And yes, the letter! The beautiful letter that can make even a reader blush. The thrill of finally knowing you are loved by the person you love. Persuasion is wonderful and very different from Austen's other books. It has so much depth, emotion and wisdom. In the end, there is no regret for the past but only joy for the present.

My book club loved the book and we surprisingly had quite a lot to discuss. In fact too much to write about here. Whilst discussing and remembering Jane Austen's other works, I was reminded of the film Sense & Sensibility and Emma Thompson's acceptance speech for the Golden Globe award for best adapted screenplay. It was delightful to see this again. How would Jane Austen herself have accepted the award? Click on play to find out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Interview with Samantha Sotto

Samantha Sotto is the internationally published Filipina author of the recently released book, Before Ever After. It's the story of Shelley who lost her husband Max three years ago to a terrorist bomb. She is still in the throes of grief when Paolo, a man who looks like Max knocks on her door. Paolo claims to be Max's grandson and he goes on to show the disbelieving Shelley pictures of a man who may be Max living on Boracay island. Can Max live forever? Shelley and Paolo fly to the Philippines to find out and along the way Shelley relates the story of how she met Max in an alternative tour group in Europe. She recalls Max's stories of Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, Swiss hideaways and Roman boathouses. But were these just stories or was Max recounting his own life?

I read this book in just two days. I was quite impressed with the scope of Samantha Sotto's imagination and all the little historical anecdotes she dropped here and there. Before Ever After is also filled with many nuggets of wisdom about grief, loneliness, love, life and death. But ultimately it is about love in all its myriad forms - the love of a widow for her dead husband, the love of an elderly couple, the love of a grandson for his grandfather, the love of a young husband for his dying wife and the love of a father for his children. Before Ever After is not just one story, it's several stories in one book.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview the author though she's been quite busy zipping in and out of the Philippines to promote her book. She's also agreed to be a guest at my book club meeting in December. Based on our email exchanges, Samantha Sotto appears to be just as charming as her book.

How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write Before Ever After?
Before Ever After was a product of necessity. I had three hours to kill at Starbucks while my son was in school. Compared to shelling out P100 an hour for Wifi or making the one and a half hour trip back home, writing the book was the most wallet-friendly way to spend my time.  

Did you always want to be a writer?
Not really. I dabbled in writing when I was features editor of my college paper but I never thought of pursuing it as a career. I didn't enjoy the part where I needed to churn out columns and articles to meet a deadline.

Being a mom myself, I know how many daily distractions there can be even when the kids are busy at school or doing other activities. How were you able to concentrate and write in such a public place such as Starbucks?
Writing the book was like taking a three hour European vacation everyday. The minute I opened my laptop, I was transported into Max's van. I was barely aware of the people around me in the cafe - except when they asked me to watch their things when they went to the restroom.

Your descriptions of the supporting characters in the tour group were so realistic. Did you draw from a tour group you've known in real life?
I wish I did! It would be wonderful to travel with a group like that. They are my ideal traveling companions. 

Your novel seems perfect for adaptation. Is there a movie in the works? Who would you like to see play the parts of Max and Shelley?
To be honest, I really don't think it would translate well as a movie. There are so many "mini" stories in the book that I can't imagine how it could work as a film. An HBO miniseries, however, is another story
(Paging the universe...). As much as I'd  love to share who I imagined as the characters in the book, I can't. I prefer readers to cast the story on their own. It's more fun that way.

Your book has been compared to The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (a book I actually didn't like). I enjoyed your novel more and I think the flashback scenes flow much better than the confusing ones in Niffenegger's book. I also think your book is definitely funnier! Did that book inspire you?
I'm glad you enjoyed the book! Thank you. I'm a sucker for unusual and high concept books like The Time Traveler's Wife. I liked that book a lot. The ending resonated with me. In terms of inspiration though, I would say that Doctor Who was a much bigger influence. I love how the show balances humor and darkness.

There are indeed funny parts in your novel. Is it difficult to write comedic situations? 
I like writing humor more than I like writing dramatic scenes. I actually started writing Before Ever After with the intention of writing a straight out comedy. The story, however, had other plans. I just slipped in funny scenes when it wasn't looking.

What are your favorite novels?
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is my all time favorite. I also love Memoirs of a Geisha, the Harry Potter series, the Belgariad series (by David Eddings), Anne Rice's vampire series, Flowers for Algernon, Wuthering Heights, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot books -- the list goes on.  The book that has provided me with my guiding principle in life is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. It's become a rule in my family - you can't say no to something you haven't tried before. That rule applies to everything from broccoli to surfing.

Do you think book blogging is relevant to the publishing industry? Do you ever read what people thought of your book or is it something you avoid?
Book blogging is extremely important. I cant' think of a better way to get the pulse of readers or to interact with them. All that's missing are the cappuccinos.As for book reviews - I used to read everything, but now I'm more selective. I read the constructive ones and try to learn from them. I think of it as free advice.

A little bird told me that you are already working on your next novel. Can you give us a hint of what's to come? 
Let's just say that I've been eating a lot of poffertjes lately - all in the name of research. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

Just wondering - in the book Max loves to cook baked eggs and cheese. Is this one of your favorite dishes?  
It is! My hubby is great in the kitchen and indulges my cravings. It's a calorie grenade but soooo worth it.

Thanks so much for your time Samantha. Now I'd like to give away a signed copy of Before Ever After to one lucky reader of my blog anywhere in the world. Please leave a comment below with a link to your blog or email address and I'll be picking a winner in a week's time. Good luck!

Monday, September 12, 2011

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VI Challenge

The ber- months have begun as we say in the Philippines, which means we're getting slightly cooler weather, and we're gearing up for Halloween and then Christmas. It's getting cozy enough to take part in some reading challenges. I thought it would be the perfect time to join the  R.I.P. VI challenge. In my almost two years of blogging, I've never taken part but I'm definitely in the mood right now for reading more mystery, gothic, suspense and yes, even horror novels just to get into a Halloweenish mood. R.I.P. VI officially runs from September 1st through October 31st.

I'm not sure how many books I'll be reading for the challenge but I'm going to try to complete the Peril the First level which means completing four or more books of any length, that you feel fit R.I.P. literature. Right now I've started reading Florence and Giles by John Harding and so far it's riveting.

Here are some other ideas I have. Have you read any of these? Are they any good?

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Observations by Jane Harris
The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks

Are you also taking part in the challenge? If you have other recommendations for novels in the mystery, suspense, gothic, supernatural, thriller, dark fantasy and horror genre then I'd love to hear what they are so please leave a comment below. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

I'm not a big fan of short stories but I'm a big fan of Ishiguro. After recently having an enlightening text conversation with a friend about Never Let Me Go (see here), I decided to read Nocturnes, Ishiguro's latest release which is a collection of five short stories about music, musicians and the close of the day.

Each story is told in the first person by either a musician or a music lover. The settings are Venice, London, the English countryside, Los Angeles and then back to Venice. There is a recurring theme among all the stories - love and the passage of time. If you look up the exact English definition of nocturne, it means 'an instrumental composition of a pensive, dreamy mood, especially one for the piano.' Dreamy and pensive are exactly the words I would use to describe these stories. Although all the stories were quiet and understated they were rather engrossing.

I usually just dip into short story books but I read Nocturnes from cover to cover in just a few days. It has Ishiguro's usual sensitive, beautiful and yet self-contained writing style. I suppose he also drew on his experiences being a musician himself and a former chorister. What makes this book special is the writing. It's not surprising that soon after this I decided to read another Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Man Booker Shortlist Predictions

I thought I'd join in the fun and predict the Man Booker Shortlist which will be announced today. I was eager to read as much of the longlist as possible but truth be told, I've only read two of the 13 books. However, they were two very good books - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. It would be wonderful if they both made the shortlist.

Though The Sense of an Ending left me somewhat unsatisfied, it's without a doubt an excellent book which will stand the test of time. With regards to Snowdrops, it surprised me that not many book bloggers rated it very highly but I truly enjoyed reading it. If I had to choose just one, then right now I'm rooting for Miller's riveting noir novel. I also tried Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers but I abandoned them early on because they failed to captivate me. So my shortlist consists of the two books I've read and the four I'd like to read after trying out samples on my Kindle and based on reviews I've read.

My Shortlist:
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (my review)
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller (my review)
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor
Far To Go by Alison Pick

Do check out other shortlist predictions at:
Kevin From Canada
Farm Lane Books
Savidge Reads

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Moomins

"The Moomins? What's that?" friends ask when I mention these books. I've been recommending the Moomin books to everyone and interestingly enough no one seems to have heard of them. To be honest, I wasn't familiar with them either until recently. I kept coming across the Moomins' books by Tove Jansson while researching for appropriate books for my almost 6-year-old son so when I saw them at my local bookshop, Fully Booked, I just couldn't resist.

The Moomins are happy and whimsical characters in a series of books and comic strips written by Swedish-Finnish author, Tove Jansson. They were originally published in Swedish in Finland. They are a family of trolls but far from appearing scary, they are white and roundish with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotamuses. They are carefree and adventurous and live in a house in Moominvalley in the forests in Finland. Fun and delightful things seem to always happen to the Moomins and their friends.

The Moomins are characters that are so well loved by those that were lucky enough to read them as a child. Many fans claim that they've never forgotten these books. The Moomins have stayed with them through the years and they've been an integral part in shaping how they see the world and certain things such as family, friendship and even hospitality. Yes, the Moomins are hospitable creatures and welcome just about anyone into their home.
"Moomintroll’s mother and father always welcomed all their friends in the same quiet way, just adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining-room table. And so Moominhouse was rather full — a place where everyone did what they liked and seldom worried about to-morrow. Very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had time to be bored, and that is always a good thing."
Right now we are reading a chapter every night of Finn Family Moomintroll and I can happily report that our whole family is completely charmed by the Moomins. They are simply adorable!

Some lovely quotations from the Moomin books:

It looks rather ordinary," said the Snork. "Unless you consider that a top hat is always somewhat extraordinary, of course.
At times he thought he could clearly see the trail that Snufkin had made on the sodden ground. The tracks skipped and danced here and there, and were difficult to follow. On occasion they took great leaps and even crossed paths. "He must have been feeling quite happy," thought Moomintroll. "I believe that right here he has even done a somersault."

"What is it?" said Moomintroll. Discoveries were his very favourite thing (after mysterious paths, swimming and secrets, that is).
"I think I'm beginning to understand now," said Moomintroll slowly. "You aren't a collector any longer, are you? Now you are just an owner. That's nowhere near as much fun." "No," said the Hemulen thoroughly dejected. "It is most decidedly nowhere near as much fun." 
Moomintroll closed his eyes and surmised, "How different we all are, really."

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