Friday, August 31, 2012

The Baggage Handler by Colin Browne

Paperback: 249 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher:  West St. Floyd Books 2011
Source: The author in exchange for an unbiased review.
First Sentences: Martin White looked at his watch. All around the floor of the open-plan office, people gathered in groups, then split into others, mingling through the murmur of after-work plans that had thankfully long since stopped involving him.

Favourite Quote:  'Literature will teach you that dancing around the issue of love until you've worn each other out before you declare it is a modern concept. 
My Opinion
: Romance and Humour, I liked this because it was written from a male viewpoint.
My last read was a serious and somewhat sad one so I felt I needed a complete contrast. In choosing The Baggage Handler I certainly found something that made me smile, romance and relationships from a male point of view. Not yet to the standard of Nick Hornby or Tony Parsons but he could be one day as this is after all a début novel.

pleasant enough easy read but it is not going to be a memorable one as I felt the storyline was all very superficial, never allowing the reader to really get to know the characters in depth. Although all of them were well depicted, there was so much more I would have liked to have known. I almost felt that I read the book too quickly because it was character rather than plot based and therefore a little shorter than it might have been.

I did not really like the protagonist Martin to start with but that may have been something to do with his work and the fact that he came over as such a pathetically weak man. A real loner he keeps everyone including his Mother at a distance whilst on the other hand he is the person that everyone seems to seek out for emotional advice. It is rather amusing though to think that his Shallow Book Reviews based on what books celebrities are reading rather than if a book is worthwhile or not, brings a certain media led trilogies popularity to mind!

The reader soon realises that despite Martin's isolated and simple uncomplicated life style when it comes to relationships he is happy in his own way. At least until he meets Kasia, a young pretty Polish work colleague, that he finds himself attracted to.  He discovers that his social ineptitude makes it almost impossible for him to strike up a friendship with her, let alone a romantic connection. This is where the humour comes in as Martin's attempts at romance will have you laughing, yet also feeling sorry and angry for him all at the same time. 

Martin discovers that falling in love is far from easy but as to if he is eventually successful or not, read the book to find out.

I am grateful to Colin Browne for the opportunity to read and review 'The Baggage Handler' and I am already looking forward to reading his next novel 'The Ninth' due out later this year.     

    Author Profile

Colin Browne was born in Northampton, England on February 1st 1970 rather than précis his biography I am publishing his Goodreads Author Profile below as he says it all perfectly.

'I don't know where I'm from, but my best guess is that I'm South African though that's really a twist-of-fate rather than a birthright. Born in England, I moved to Belgium when I was two, South Africa when I was 12, Dubai when I was 25 and back to South Africa when I was 31. Nowadays, I call London home.
I've done some fun stuff. I helped start a successful business in South Africa which I still part-own and I spent a lot of years before that writing articles for magazines around the world.
My first attempt at a novel happened in 1995. It was laughable. My second happened once I'd got over myself, in 1999. Not a lot better. But since then I've made writing a big part of my life and The Baggage Handler is the first one I've had the guts to put out into the world as grown up enough to take its own reviews. I really like it. I hope you will too.
I'm still writing so there are more books on the way.
Other authors talk about their awards and their accolades, so I suppose I ought to do that too. I won two white mice at a school tombola once. That's kind of it. My mum made me donate them to the school which is just as well because the cat would probably have eaten them anyway. He was a monster, that cat ...
Other than that, I'm just a guy who loves telling stories, loves language and respects both enough to know that if I'm going to ask readers to trust me with their time, I ought to do my best to make it worth their while.'

Photo and Biographical Information is with thanks to the following sites where you can also find out more about the author and his writing.

Goodreads Author Profile   Colin Browne - Official Website
 Colin Browne - Facebook

Linking to Literary Friday

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Paperback: 407 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Henry Holt USA 2012
Source: Advance Readers Edition from Marketing and Promotions Manager in exchange for an unbiased review.
First Sentences: His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood filled gaze.
Favourite Quote: 'For once, Jane Seymour has a blush of colour in her cheeks; or perhaps it is reflected from her gown, the soft clear rose of quince jelly.'
Review Quote:  ‘Picks up the body parts where “Wolf Hall” left off … literary invention does not fail her: she's as deft and verbally adroit as ever’ Margaret Atwood, Guardian
My Opinion: It may be fiercer but I enjoyed it even more.

An important update I read about today is that Wolf Hall/ Bring Up the Bodies is to be made into a television drama. Read the article here

If you read my review of Wolf Hall you will already know that while I eventually found it engrossing it took me awhile to get into, it was not the case this time as I was immersed from page one. Hilary Mantel's chronicle of one of the most well known periods in English history is meticulously researched as is shown in the tremendous attention to details. Tudor England comes alive on the page, the places, the people, as her enthralling writing works its magic on this sad tale.

The story picks up where Wolf Hall finishes, having followed Cromwell rise from his humble beginnings to becoming the right hand man of Henry VIII and concerning his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and the fall of Thomas More. 'Bring Up The Bodies' the second in the trilogy covers a much shorter time period, just about nine months in fact from the autumn of 1535 to the following summer. Henry is tiring of Anne and Katherine is seriously ill, dying in isolation. The action is much fiercer and intense as England struggles with the politics and conspiracies that seem to surround the Tudor court, making it an unhappy and sinister place. His subjects do not like the thought of more change and are still hoping that Anne may produce an heir to the throne. In contrast to the court Cromwell's home life is depicted as a very happy and settled one.

Most of us know what happened in those final weeks of Anne Boleyn's life but it is none the less an enthralling telling of the tale, incredibly sad as none of her plans to save her marriage seem to be working. Her husband is bitter that she has failed to produce a son and she knows that he is considering Jane Seymour  as her replacement. She must have known what her fate was to be, but right to the end she seems to have faith that she will win Henry round, to what I am not sure.

The fall of the House of Boleyn as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, the man we learnt at school was Henry VIII's hatchet man, is seen as much more human than one would have ever expected. It may not be true of course, this is fiction after all, but it is history approached from an angle that is refreshingly different. For this reason alone I am very much looking forward to the final part of the trilogy to see where Hilary Mantel takes the character of Thomas Cromwell next.

Macmillan Audio sent me this link to an Audio Clip Bring Up The Bodies Audio Clip which may tempt you.

Hilary Mantel discusses 'Bring Up The Bodies' - Courtesy of YouTube

Author Profile

Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s, where she still lives. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah, and she was film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991.  She is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books.  Wolf Hall (2009) won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the sequel to which Bring Up The Bodies was published in May 2012.

Photo and Biographical Information is with thanks to the following sites. 

If you would like to know more about the woman behind the writing, I recommend you check out this interesting interview published in her local paper earlier this year, The Globe and Mail

        Linking today with Literary Friday

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui

Paperback: 311 pages
Genre: Fiction (Tranlated from the Chinese)
Publisher: Robinson 2002
Source: From a fellow Bookcrosser as a Birthday Gift.
First Sentences: 'My name is Nikki but my friends call me Coco after Coco Chanel, a French lady who lived to be ninety.
Review Quote: '
According to the Chinese authorities, Wei Hui  is "decadent, debauched  and a slave of 
foreign culture" In fact, Wei Hui is intelligent and a passionate spokesperson  for the women of modern China.' Marie Claire 
My Opinion: 
 I found it interesting to compare with the last novel I read.

This novel seemed an appropriate choice to follow on after my last read My Favourite Wife as it is also set in Shanghai and has a surprisingly similar theme, except this time seen from a Chinese girl's point of view.  Causing something of a stir when it was first published in China it has been translated into English by Bruce Humes, this autobiographical novel  does feel contrived, but this may be just caused by the difficulties in translating. If I had not already a little understanding of the lifestyle of a concubine I am sure I would have found this novel even harder to read than I did. I found it very interesting to compare with the last novel  as the same sort of situations arose, the background of Shanghai was familiar and the descriptions of the city bring it alive. A female perspective about a society that is still undergoing great changes. Coco our heroine was not a character I took to as she came across as extremely egotistical. 

The storyline is very simple, the protagonist Coco as she calls herself, has despite not completing her education dreams of becoming a writer. She lives with her boyfriend Tian, Tain, a strange young man, unemployed, a drug addict and unable to consummate their sexual relationship. It is no surprise really then that not satisfied with the platonic love he provides that she has a fervent affair with Mark, a married German. Why an earth did her boyfriend put up with this behaviour when it seemed so obvious to us the reader that she was still with him thanks to a personal allowance he had, a relationship of convenience. The love triangle created is hopeless with Tian Tian sinking fast from his drug abuse and Mark has a wife and daughter to consider. This young Asian woman seems to want both love and sex but sadly not necessarily from the same man. 

In conclusion as literature this did not entertain me at all and I do not think my age was a factor, however from the cultural aspect I found it interesting enough. I think you can guess from my comments that I preferred My Favourite Wife and of the two that is the one I would direct you to if you do not want to read both.

Author Profile

Wei Hui  as she is known in the west,( Zhou Weihui) was born on the 1st of January 1973 in Ningbo, China.   She studied Chinese Language and Literature at Fudan University in Shanghai, after a year of military training. Her first short story was published at the age of 21. Her first novel Shanghai Baby, was a local bestseller in Shanghai. Soon after its publication, the novel was banned by the Chinese government, because of the novel's explicit sexual scenes and bold portrait of China's new generation. The publishing house that published the novel was temporarily closed for 3 months. Shanghai Baby was published overseas where it became an international bestseller. Shanghai Baby has been translated into 34 different languages and has sold over six million copies in 45 countries. Shanghai Baby has sold more copies than any other work of Chinese contemporary literature.
Her novel Shanghai Baby  was banned in the People's Republic of China as "decadent" and Her next novel  Marrying Buddha was censored and published in China under a modified title.
Wei Hui now works as a writer and divides her time between Shanghai and New York, where she has been regarded by international media as a spokeswoman of the new generation of Chinese young women. She has presented her work in a large number of Western publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, CNN, USA Today, the BBC, The Times, The Sunday Times, the Economist, Stern, Welt am Sonntag, Asahi Shimbun, NHK, Yomiuri Shimbun, Le Monde, Le Figaro and more.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads Author Profile    Wei Hui - Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Favourite Wife by Tony Parsons

Paperback: 405 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Harper 2008
Source: Oxfam Charity Bookshop in the UK
First Sentences: Bill must have fallen asleep for a moment. He was jolted awake by the limo hitting a pothole and suddenly there was Shanghai.

Review Quote: 
`He takes as his specialist subject contemporary emotional issues which almost every other male writer has ignored'  The Guardian
My Opinion: 
The descriptions of modern day Shanghai and other parts of China were fascinating.

A male writer of chick flicks for men is how I have seen Tony Parsons described, I prefer to think of him as a male writer of Contemporary Fiction which can be enjoyed by both male and female readers. I happen to enjoy his take on relationships and have read four other novels of his, although this is the first time I have reviewed one here. It is unusual to read novels about such emotional issues as families and parenthood that are written by men and this author does it well.  This is may not be his best work but it is four years since I last read one and I found this much as I have his previous novels an easy read. Not great literature but that was not what I was looking for and I do not think that is what his writing is about, it is relaxing entertainment. The descriptions of modern day Shanghai and other parts of China were fascinating, he describes well how easy it can be for a Westerner to only see the good side and forget how there are many millions of Chinese still suffering in appalling conditions.

Relationships are hard in the fast moving world of expat society in Asia and this is where Bill Holden, a young London based lawyer decided to take his wife Becca and four year old daughter to try and fast track his career.  They find themselves out of their depth in the city of Shanghai, where there are such contrasts of wealth and poverty. 
The family finds themselves living in an apartment building where newly rich Chinese business men set up their second wives that their wives do not know about. Or if they do it is best left unsaid, they are of course not official wives but the I guess the modern day version of  Concubines. Bill meets one of the  neighbours JinJin Li who is kept in this way and it is inevitable that when his wife and daughter return to London for a period that he finds himself spending time with her! He thinks she deserves better than the millionaire who keeps her but how can he really expect to be able to give her anything better, he already has a wife and young family he claims to love. This part of the story does feel rather weak but then I thought both Bill and Becca were rather pathetic in that they seemed unable to make clear choices. 

A story of obsession and sex, romance and love in society that is undergoing great changes. If you enjoy contemporary romantic fiction then then I think you would find it interesting to read this novel written from a male point of view and the East meets West storyline also creates a different angle.

An interview with Tony Parsons about his writing and in particular My Favourite Wife.
Link to watch on YouTube

Author Profile

Tony Parsons is an award winning journalist, broadcaster and best-selling novelist. Born in Romford, Essex, on November 6th 1953, he was the only child of working class parents. He spent the first five years of his life in a rented flat above a shop in Essex, before his family moved to their own house in Billericay, Essex.

His father was a former Royal Naval Commando who won the Distinguished Service Medal in World War Two. After the war, he worked as a lorry driver, market trader and greengrocer. His mother was a school dinner lady. Parsons attended a grammar school but dropped out when he was 16 years old and worked in a series of low-paid, unskilled menial jobs. 
Parsons married fellow New Musical Express journalist Julie Burchill they have one son together and divorced in 1984. Parsons became a single parent caring for their 4-year-old son. The experience of being a young man caring for a small child was to later influence his best-selling novel, Man and Boy. Parsons' father died of cancer in 1987 and his mother died of cancer in 1999, just weeks before the publication of Man and Boy. The book is dedicated to Parsons' mother.
In 1992, Parsons married his Japanese wife, Yuriko. They have one daughter, Jasmine. He now lives with his wife and daughter in London.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.

 Goodreads - Author Profile    Amazon - Author Profile   Tony Parsons - Wikipedia 
 My Favourite Wife - YouTube

I have chosen to read this title as the letter M for The A - Z Book Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

Paperback: 418 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Two Roads (First Published in GB) 2011
Source: From a Bookcrosser as the result of a Bookmooch
First Sentence: Prologue 'Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me and the fry cook.'
Favourite Quote:  
 “Life is the most spectacular show on earth ”  
Review Quote: 
'Trust us, Water for Elephants is going to be one of the surprise hits of 2011. Sara Gruen's very readable novel is a story of impossible love set in the circus world during the 1930s and is set to be made into a blockbuster film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. You heard it here first.'
'Good Housekeeping' 
My Opinion:
Exceptional read
The last novel I read and reviewed was also about animals but this could not be more different and after struggling to get into the last one, I loved this from the minute I picked it up and found it to be an exceptional read. The authors love of animals and the tremendous research she did for this novel make it not only a fascinating portrayal of life, ugly and vibrant in the American circus of the 1930's but a beautiful and tender love story. I had never even heard of circus trains until I read this either and learning a little something when I read also appeals to me.

The title had been on my wishlist for awhile so I was delighted to obtain a copy recently and wanted to get on with reading so that I can see the film, which has been recommended to me. 
Since seeing elephants up close in Thailand, I also have more understanding of just how intelligent they are. Wonderful creatures which will treat humans well if they are given the respect they deserve. Sara Gruen portrays the nature of the elephant perfectly, for me Rosie was the real protagonist of the novel. The novel is told as two separate but connected stories, as well as being immersed in the circus world, we are also given an inside view of a home for the elderly where the hero of the story Jacob is now living. Again the author has done her research as the scenes in the nursing home were poignant and all too familiar to me in many ways. 

When the novel starts Jacob Jankowski is in his nineties and living in a nursing home and the imminent arrival of the circus in town revives some very stirring memories for the old man and it is these that are told in the other storyline.
It is the American Depression and when Jacob's parents die while he is studying veterinary science at university, he discovers that they were in dire financial difficulties and he cannot even afford to complete his studies. Confused and bewildered with no plans for his future he finds himself hitching a ride on a circus train and in that moment his whole life changes. By the following morning he finds himself working for the travelling circus and by that evening he has met and fallen for the woman who will for evermore be the love of his life. Marlena, the star performer, however the love should remain unrequited as she is married to August the strangely mad animal trainer.  Of course it is not long either before he also meets my particular favourite, Rosie the elephant. Whilst struggling to survive in the world of this second rate travelling circus this young couples love overcomes obstacles that you can not begin to imagine. 

The two stories are ultimately woven together but to find out just how you will have to read for yourself. I highly recommend you read this if you have not already done so. I think most avid readers will find something they like about this one.

Water For Elephants - Movie Trailer - I do not personally feel there are any spoilers in this video.

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, James Frain

Based on the acclaimed bestseller, "Water for Elephants" presents an unexpected romance in a uniquely compelling setting. Veterinary school student Jacob meets and falls in love with Marlena, a star performer in a circus of a bygone era. They discover beauty amidst the world of the Big Top, and come together through their compassion for a special elephant. Against all odds - including the wrath of Marlena's charismatic but dangerous husband, August - Jacob and Marlena find lifelong love.

Water For Elephants trailer courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Author Profile

Sara Gruen is a Canadian-born author with Canadian and U.S. dual citizenship. Her books deal greatly with animals and she is a supporter of numerous charitable organizations that support animals and wildlife.  She now lives in America with her husband, three children, two dogs, two cats, three goats, and a horse. She already has her eye on another horse and a donkey.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.