Sociable Reading: Don Tillman’s Cocktail Party

InvitationThe Ivy Club, LondonThe Rosie Project by Australian Graeme SimsionThe Rosie Project

Event: ‘Don Tillman’s Cocktail Party’ at The Ivy.

Who: Michael Joseph, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group and FMcM (PR and Communications consultancy) and Author Graeme Simsion – of course.

What: Pre-publication launch of Graeme Simsion’s debut novel ‘The Rosie Project’

Where: The Ivy Club 9 West Street London WC2.

When: Monday 25th February, 6.30-9pm.

Review:

I had never been to The Ivy, and to be honest I never thought I would (be able to afford) so when the opportunity knocked to attend the pre-publication party for the newest literary phenomenon The Rosie Project who was I to disappoint?

The Book: This is the debut novel from Australian author Graeme Simsion. The protagonist is Don Tillman, he is a socially challenged genetics professor who’s decided the time has come to find a wife. He just doesn’t know who she is yet but he has designed a questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman.

Graeme, who was present at the party, kicked-off the evening with a witty speech about how meeting people like his main character had inspired his novel, and the journey undertaken by himself and his wife since then. He was funny and engaging and clearly thrilled at leaving his IT career behind him to embark on an exciting and hopefully successful literary one – he even signed my book, which is a massive tick from me!

Drinks – Where do I begin about the joy that was the cocktails?! We were presented with a nice menu which detailed the four main characters of the novel and the cocktail that summed up their character. Since it was Don’s party I had to kick-off with his cocktail which was a rather delicious take on a margarita – it packed quite a punch! The next one to be taste-tested was Gene, he was a a hearty dark rum combination with a sliver of orange peel – we liked Gene we had three of him. Unfortunately, the girls got a little left behind Rosie a classic Peach Bellini, seemed to run out quickly so I could only look at her and poor Claudia, the non-alcoholic, wasn’t even getting a look-see! All in all a rather tipsy school night.

Food – When this started discreetly emerging I was very excited. The first foray into the food was a moorish beef carpaccio in what looked like a parmesan basket (?), then came the lamb balls which were superb with a minty dip. The one that fell a bit short, and revealed my plus one’s juggling skills as to be lacking, was the gnocchi – it came on a plate with a spoon, it ended up on the floor… However, the trophy went to the salmon fishcake which was in short a triumph for the taste buds.

I had a very fun evening the food and drink were both fabulous, I had a little shmooze amongst members of the publishing world and got my (free) book signed by the author – in conclusion a rather top-notch Monday night.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – book review to follow!

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Book Review: Citadel by Kate Mosse

Citadel by Kate Mosse

Title: Citadel

Author: Kate Mosse (not Moss as I had to explain to people when asked what I was reading!)

Genre: Historical Fantasy Fiction

Publisher: Orion

Publication Date: 25th October 2012

Hardback: 704 pages (quite a weighty one.)

Stand alone or series: Stand alone. Although the last episode in her Languedoc Trilogy, which included both Labyrinth and Sepulchre.

Why did I choose to read this book? I loved the other two of Mosse’s Languedoc stories and this one concerned the Nazi occupation of France during WWII so it ticked a lot of boxes for me.

Where to read: In a comfortable chair in a quiet living room. It’s a heavy book so not ideal for commuting although my biceps certainly benefited from the daily workout.

Refreshments: Red Wine, it’s set in the South of France enough said.

Review:

Mosse’s third outing into the history of the Languedoc is set during World War II, specifically in the zone non-occupé in Carcassonne in the south of France.  Similar to Labyrinth and Sepulchre the story is a dual narrative set in two very different lifetimes this one is divided between the fourth century and 1942-1944. The story focuses on a network of women, resistance fighters codenamed Citadel, whose strength and determination to resist the Nazi threat leads to the unravelling of a forgotten mystery that reveals a well-hidden and powerful secret.

The main protagonist is 18yr old Sandrine who finds herself thrust into the limelight after saving and meeting a young man, at first it appears chance circumstances brought her to this moment but as the story progresses history reveals that it was her destiny all along.  She is supported by a varied cast of women, my favourite being Lucie, who is often disregarded as ignorant but is in fact the most useful and inspirational of the team in terms of strength of spirit. Alongside the women we have a diverse cast of males:  Raoul Pelletier, who ends up on the run after his network has been infiltrated by the spy, Leo Authié, who moonlights as a French intelligence officer but whose main driving force is finding and destroying the codex.

Love and betrayal are obviously the prevalent themes throughout the entire novel, which isn’t a huge surprise given that the story is juxtaposed between the Nazi regime and French resistance. It’s refreshing to read, that when faced with such a horrific period of history, Mosse doesn’t shy away from the brutality and manages to create a realistic account of resistance groups and the fear and repercussions that went with their activities. Plus, even though, this novel does focus on love and the bonds of friendship it certainly doesn’t kowtow to a chocolate box finale but manages to create a satisfying and moving ending.

Mosse’s multiple narratives are by now a familiar feature of her writing. She weaves the lives of Sandrine and her friends as they attempt to find the codex, with Arminius a young, fourth-century monk risking death to save the heretical text from the flames. The characters from each thread are successfully woven together thought the chapters as their family history is revealed. I was also thrilled when the enigmatic and ageless character of Audric Baillard reared his head for a third time, Mosse once again uses him to fuse the past and the present and keep the momentum of the plot going.

What I admire about Mosse’s writing is her commitment to carrying out thorough research on her chosen area of France and its history.  She creates characters like Authié who represent the opposing forces, although not himself part of the SS, his ruthlessness and levels of brutality he will use to get results are precise in detail in terms of the mindset of the Nazi regime.

With equal accuracy she depicts the daily life of the zone non-occupé in terms of fear, hardship and the difficulties of communication, not to forget the atmosphere of condemnation and the twitching curtains next door.  And there is no shortage of descriptive passages of daily round-ups and beatings or simply the disappearance of neighbours and loved ones. This is yet another clever balance between historical and fantasy fiction.

I was relieved that Mosse’s final addition to her Languedoc trilogy did not disappoint. After reading both Labyrinth and Sepulchre I was worried that she would have lost her ability to completely ensnare me in her protagonist’s adventures, a fear that was unfounded. I did prefer her first two novels, however, I thoroughly enjoyed Citadel and the fact it covered a part of history that I have particular interest in was simply a bonus to what is already a captivating and thrilling story.

Rating: 8 out of 10 – not as good as the other two, but do read them all!

Roaming Review: Bookmongers, bookshop – Brixton

Bookmongers - Brixton

What:Bookmongers, second-hand book shop.

Where: 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LN – Map

Who: Book lovers who buy and sell books.

Why: Stumbled upon it by accident one Sunday morning – it looked shabby and fully of books so how could I not go in?

Refreshments: Not really relevant, however, I went in after having an amazing brunch at ‘The Duck Egg Cafe’ across the road – (Duck) Eggs Forestiere was delicious and not too expensive for London.

Review:

I was delighted to happen upon this shabby looking bookshop after brunch one Sunday. The dilapidated frontage suited the fact it was for buying and selling your own second-hand books and it beckoned me inside. I entered the Aladdin’s Cave, it had a musty smell and was literally top to toe with books, this place was not for the faint hearted. I tripped into the first section which after a bit of browsing revealed itself to be Biographies, before I knew it I had four bargains in my hand which I whittled down to one:

Mr Blue: Memoirs of a renegade, by Edward Bunker which appealed thanks to a blurb detailing his colourful life, ranging from being an inmate in San Quentin Prison from the age of 17yrs old, to becoming a famous crime writer. In addition I was intrigued by the fact that the title of the book came from him being the inspiration behind Tarantino’s Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs – all that entertainment for the sum of £2.95!

Next stop took me through a maze of book towers, clearly there was a surplus of product since the majority of books wouldn’t fit on the shelves, in my opinion this added to the charm of the place. There were faded, coloured pieces of paper blu-tacked to some of the shelves attempting to indicate the genre you were looking through, this I think had been of little use for a while. However, I was a little more preoccupied with not banging into anything and causing a literature avalanche. In my quest to make no sudden movements, I found another interesting read… my second purchase, which was to be ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman. This just sounded like such a ridiculously entertaining book that I couldn’t not buy it for £2! Anything with someone called Dread Pirate Roberts should probably be read by everyone.

I can appreciate that this bookshop won’t be for everyone. And if you’re someone who likes there shopping to come easily with a perky assistant on hand to help – I struggled to find the cash desk – I urge you to avoid at all costs! It’s a labyrinth of literature that I could happily lose myself in for hours, so only go there if you have the time and the patience for a good browse and hopefully like me you’ll find a couple of previously unknown bargains.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Sociable Reading: Book Slam presents ‘Love Bites’

book slamFrancesca BeardDan RhodesKatie & RichardAidan MoffatTim Key

Event: Book Slam presents ‘Love Bites’

Who: Book Slam is the brainchild of cultural aficionados who mix together the best in books, music and theatre in one big melting point to produce the best and only literary nightclub (usually) on a monthly basis.

What: ‘Love Bites,’ an anti-valentine’s day themed evening centered around Dan Rhodes’ new novel Marry Me .

Where: The Clapham Grand – old theatre, new nightclub – excellent live venue.

When: Thursday 7th February 7.30-10pm (usually events take place the last Thursday in the month)

Refreshments: A bottle of Becks. Plus a chicken, pepper & caramelized onion ciabatta doused in balsamic vinegar for the bargainous sum of £3.

Review:

I had never been to a Book Slam event or The Clapham Grand so I didn’t know what to expect from either. I was pleased to enter a venue that still had the remnants of an old theatre and was set out as-if for a stand-up gig with a mish mash of tables and stools. The stage also had some great alphabetical visuals to enjoy before the acts started. Stool picked, beer bought (shocker – friendly bar staff) and sandwich eaten I was ready to be entertained.

Francesca Beard – A self proclaimed poet and our slightly intense Master of Ceremonies for the evening. We were treated to three of her poems which I enjoyed and also taught the Book Slam rules which were’ Mobile phones off’ and ‘Shut the Fuck up’ – both these rules were perfectly fine and abided by.

Dan Rhodes – Author of many humorous books who was reading sections from his new book ‘Marry Me’. I was pleased to learn that Rhodes is a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, less happy about his penchant for spaghetti sandwiches. I enjoyed his dead-pan delivery and the stories ranged from the depressing to downright ridiculous. There were some genuine laugh out loud moments but some did fall short – at one point there was an awkward silence when there should have been laughter. He was an entertaining performer, although not sure I’ll be buying the book.

‘Dirty Great Love Story’ –  Performing duo Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh treated us to a snippet of their poetry-prose fusion dealing with the modern day question of, ‘can a one night stand turn into true love.’ Bonna was brilliant in her role as heartbroken girl and uber posh ‘totes, amaze horse horse rah rah,’ friend, and Marsh was endearingly lovable as her slightly nerdy and awkward male counterpart. The scene played on relationship stereotypes and doffed a cap to the hell that is Hen and Stag parties. They’re performing the full version of this theatrical treat at the Soho Theatre in March – I will be going buy your tickets and join me.

Sam Smith – The surprise guest of the evening was a twenty-something musician. He could sing, however, personally, the style wasn’t too my taste and was slightly reminiscent of a cruise ship entertainer. It wasn’t the best venue for the strength/volume of his singing and it was slightly painful on the ole eardrum at times. He was accompanied by a guy on the keyboard and a cellist – who looked unimpressed at being there but was actually my favourite part!

Tim Key – Performance poet and genuinely entertaining buffoon. To my shame I’d never heard of Tim Key but now I’m a fully fledged fan, I will stalk him on the comedy circuit or in life I’m not sure which yet. My favourite of his jokes, if you can call it that, was ’24 million gentleman squabble over 40 hats‘ which in itself is random at best – however, Key’s delivery was comedy genius, another was about owls, but I’ll leave you to discover that one for yourself. His performance was perfected to a tee from the awkward placement of his feet to the frequent conversations with his musical maestro ‘George.’ If you get the chance go and see this man!

Aidan Moffat – Scottish musician, who I’m sure I saw perform at Apple Cart Festival in 2012?! His gritty voice and lyrics are both thoughtful and bloody funny, I especially enjoyed his soul search into whether Danny and Sandy’s love lasted after Grease Lightening landed. Moffat’s closing poem about ‘The Lavender Blue Dress’ was a heart-warming addition to a somewhat cynical program of performers.

Overall regardless of the minor musical blip and slightly intense master of ceremonies this was a bloody fantastic evening with A-star entertainment and genuine laugh out loud moments for the bargainous price of £6 – I will definitely be going to another Book Slam event!

Extras: The cloakroom is £2 per item – bit annoying when you have motorbike helmets, ended up costing £6 before we’d even got in!

Rating: 9 out of 10