Book Launch: ‘Half Bad’ by Sally Green

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Event: The book launch of Sally Green’s novel ‘Half Bad’ (part of a trilogy

Who: Penguin Publishers, FMcM & Sally Green

When: Tuesday 19th November 2013.

Where: The edgy, cool ‘Secret Garden Bar’ in the private members club of Shoreditch House, Shoreditch (naturally)

Refreshments: To kick of the evening me and my plus one were invited to drink the ‘Half Bad’ cocktail which was made up of lemon vodka, cointreau, lemon & cranberry juice – it wasn’t half-bad ahmmm then after a couple of these it was on to the white wine

The canapés were delicious (with the exception of the pork terrine that was a really weird texture, a bit like chewing on some undercooked meat fat), I enjoyed sampling mini scotch eggs, aubergine pizza, lobster and avocado tartlet and crab crostini, yummy!

Review:

The Book: In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans both good, evil and Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel of the witches and his mother is dead. Hunted by everyone, Nathan must escape before he turns 17 years old at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

After walking around Ebor Street for the best part of 10minutes, it should be noted that Ebor Street is very short so this was a fair few laps, I finally followed the small crowd to the entrance of Shoreditch House – seriously Shoreditch sometimes it’s kinder on the casual east-end tourist to indulge in a sign or two. Straight to the 6th floor my companion and I shot, with a small glimpse of floor 4 & 5 on the way up (gym and private members bar for £700 thank you very much), past the outdoor swimming pool and into the secret garden bar where we were met by the Half Bad party and a male model, in a cage, naturally.

Having not read the book, I was informed by the author herself that it was incredibly symbolic and central to the story. Nathan (the model inside) is placed in a cage for two years by the white witches in the community until they can decide his fate – his Dad’s the baddest of the black witches hence they don’t trust his true nature

Amongst the canapés and cocktails we had a speech from the author, who quite frankly came across as extremely humble and also very inspiring. Having started her professional career in accountancy then moving on to motherhood (children and chickens) she had become rather bored of her routine. One day to battle the boredom she began writing. An afternoon hobby that soon turned to obsession and a very very long novel. Considering herself an amateur she enrolled in a creative writing course and proceeded to edit and evolve her story into a professional manuscript. Being exceptionally character driven in her style the story remained consistent but a lot more concise.

After receiving a host of rejections, it was finally purchased by Puffin & Viking in the USA, this triggered a snowball effect as agents and publishers caught on to her unique voice. And although her book has not yet been officially released the rights have already been bought by 20th Century Fox and will be produced by the brains behind the twilight film franchise

Finishing her speech, shouting due to a small microphone malfunction, she likened her whole experience to winning the lottery, you play the game but you never really expect to win.

The evening was rounded off with, more wine, and an invitation into Nathan’s cage to receive a copy of Half Bad, this was sightly disconcerting as he wouldn’t speak so I ended up grabbing the book mumbling ‘sorry you’re in a cage’ before hot footing it out of there and off to get it signed by the lovely Sally.

All in all, a very delightful evening.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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Book Review: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

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Title: Labor Day

Author: Joyce Maynard

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (Harper Collins Imprint)

Publication date: August 3, 2010

Paperback: 272 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? It was on my radar due to the promotion of the upcoming film release by the BFI, and then I was sent a copy by the lovely team at Harper Collins – result!

Where to read this book: Somewhere quiet.

Refreshments: I am never averse to wanting pie, being born and bred in the North of England, therefore in true keeping with this story a peach pie should be your perfect accompaniment to this book, homemade of course. However, if you find yourself reading this out of peach season any pie will suffice. To drink perhaps a root beer float (whatever that is coca cola & ice cream?!!) or just fresh coffee – that might be less stressful and confusing for those of us not au fait with American tastes!

Review:

Set to be a record hot Labor Day weekend in the small town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, socially awkward, 13 year old Henry and his lonely and fragile mother Adele make a decision that will change their lives forever. After a chance meeting with a bleeding stranger at the local supermarket Henry and his mother offer him a lift and refuge in their home. Soon they discover Frank is a murder convict, escaped from prison after leaping from a hospital window, strangely this information and the subsequent news footage covering his escape don’t set any alarm bells ringing. Instead they settle into a pseudo family picture of domestic bliss. Frank teaches Henry how to play baseball, bake peach pies and fills the gap left by his part time dad, who has a new family and lives elsewhere. To Adele, Frank becomes a lover and husband figure, someone to depend on and someone who she gets swept away by. However, Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart. This is an eerily captivating story of love, adolescence, and betrayal.

Our narrator is an older Frank looking back on the experience that changed his life. The observational style and purity of his adolescent eyes at the time lend a rather chilling quality to the story, told almost like a diary. His honest accounts of his adolescent yearnings and the way he had to alone deal with his sexual desires, and the subsequent results of this are at times shocking and refreshingly frank. The fact he lacks any real strong role model or parental guidance is heart breaking in its brutality. As are the burdens and responsibilities he feels he needs to bear, in terms of supporting his mother, only to be left even more isolated and lonely with the appearance of Frank.

In addition, the drawn out detail of the Labor Day weekend and the events that take place almost make you forget that only a few hours of one day had occurred. At times when reading I got the feeling that days had passed only to be brought back with a careless remark about the percolating of the morning coffee. In reality the story only deals with six days of these peoples’ lives.

I found Frank an exceptionally menacing character. The finer details of his behaviours; the silk scarves, the knife that he retains once he’s finished cooking, keep you on edge throughout the story. As a reader you never know whether something bad will occur, in a way it’s a bit like reading a psycho-thriller but an extremely sedate and matter of fact one.

This novel has evoked comparisons with 13 year old Briony Tallis from Ian McEwan’s story, Atonement and Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. After having read both of these there are definite similarities but Maynard’s novel, for me, was a lot more chilling and methodical in the detailing and weaving together of the lives of her three central characters.

Now the book has been adapted for cinema starring Kate Winslet (one of my favourites) and Josh Brolin and is being played during the British Film Festival thereafter to be released theatrically worldwide. This is definitely a production I look forward to seeing and one which I hope they manage to capture the eerie and disturbing atmosphere of the exceptionally well written story.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Book Review: The Appointment by Herta Müller

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Title: The Appointment

Author: Herta Müller (translated by Michael Hulse & Philip Boehm)

Publisher: Portobello Books

Publication date: 2010

Paperback: 214 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I noticed the unique front cover (it looks like it’s made of cardboard) when browsing in Foyles bookstore on the South Bank. Then after reading the blurb on the back it was ridiculous to think I could walk out without purchasing it.

Where to read this book: On a journey, preferably a train journey when you’re on your own and you can read whilst at the same time people watch and observe all walks of life roaming around you.

Refreshments: This was a strange one. The subject and the chilling nature of the story doesn’t really prompt one to reach for the biscuit tin however, a cup of tea would probably help.

Review:

The Appointment is a clever and chilling monologue told from the voice of a young Romanian, clothing-factory worker during the period of Ceausescu’s* totalitarian regime. She has been summoned at 10am sharp and it’s not the first time. Her crime? Sewing notes into the linings of men’s suits bound for Italy begging the question, ‘Marry me’, with her name and address. As she rides the tram towards her interrogation the story circumnavigates throughout her life and how she ended up in her situation. There’s her best-friend Lilli, shot while trying to flee to Hungary; her violent first husband, Major Albu, her interrogator, who begins each session with a painful wet kiss on her fingers and Paul, a woeful alcoholic but her lover and the one person she can trust. In her distraction and due to the unpredicatability of her fellow passengers, she misses her stop and finds herself on an unfamiliar street. It is here the fear of the appointment is put into perspective as she realises how endless the oppression is of the Ceausecu regime.

Strangely as I am just about to write this review I’ve only just realised I don’t think you’re ever given our narrator’s name, which is, I can only presume, a conscious decision of Müller and one that puts the totalitarian Communist regime into even more of a chilling perspective.

The style of writing that Müller adopts, and by this I mean the detailed descriptive passages, provide you with an exceptionally visual experience whilst reading. The exact detailing of our narrator’s superstitiouns and resultant habits that she carries out before each ‘appointment’ is an education in fear. Similarly the frequent return to the event of Albu’s kiss, “Paul and I have rehearsed the kiss…I learned not to crook my hands…the knuckles can block his gums… then the pain at my fingernails and slobber on my hand aren’t so humiliating.”

This is a novel that takes you on a fractured journey, instigated by the tram ride, jumping between memories and time without any clear distinction or indiction of where you’ll end up next. Throughout the novel she remembers her father’s indiscretions with a person Müller calls “the woman with the braid” and how she wished to take that woman’s place, she remembers her own indiscretions with Nelu, the garment factory supervisor, how she met Paul, at a flea market where she sold the wedding ring her first husband had given her, her former father-in-law, a man she refers to as “the Perfumed Commissar.” The list is endless and with each piece of shrapnel taken from her fractured memory a beautifully woven and rather harrowing story is created

It’s refreshing that this story doesn’t shy away from unpleasantness, this might be quite obvious from the subject matter, however, Müller throws out unexpectedly frank statements and ideas that are often shocking. The idea I found the most astute when describing living in this type of society was a rather unpleasant public toilet scene; “I could here the people outside…In here it was safe… not until I was back outside did I become a piece of human filth.” A second passage that was equally poignant for me was a conversation she has with her late father when talking about kissing a statue of Jesus, “They light up around your mouth when you die…you can enter paradise…and the kisses we give each other?… they don’t light up because they do go away.”

If you are a fan of stories with a clear plot, story line or even a real hero then this is definitely not for you – however the rest of you I can say with confidence will find it to be unnervingly brilliant.

Rating: 9 out of 10

* Nicolae Ceausescu was born on January 26, 1918. He met future Romanian leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in prison, and succeeded him after his death in 1965. He ruled Romania according to orthodox Communist principles, causing food shortages by forcing the export of most of the country’s agricultural products. The resulting unrest led to the collapse of Ceausescu’s regime and his execution in 1989.