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The dark side of Twitter Towers

One of the most popular blog posts I’ve written to date was a post I wrote in 2010 asking Does Twitter sell books?  I posted a picture of my Twitter Towers (all the books I’d heard about through the social networking site) and categorised them, and generally thought that Twitter was pretty good at selling books. To me, at any rate!

Three years on and I am still getting book recommendations through the social networking site, while also sharing my own favourite reads and joining in conversations about books I’ve read, am reading or want to read. Some of the discussions I enjoy the most are those where Twitter or a book blogger gets excited about a book.

But by its very nature, social networking wouldn’t be social if all I did was scour Twitter for book recommendations and run away to read them. You follow people and they follow you and you chat and connect. Sometimes you even become friends and not just people chatting on virtual coffee-breaks in 140 characters. And because some of those people on Twitter are authors, you may get friendly with one or more of them and want to read one of their books or they might even ask you to read one.

And this is where I run the risk of crossing over to what I see as the dark side of those lovely Twitter Towers and entering Bookish Mordor. Read more

Book review: The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick

When my family moved back to the UK from Germany, shortly before my baby brother was born, my Welsh father and Scottish mother couldn’t agree where to live, so they looked to England as a compromise solution. And (for any English people reading this) a very fine compromise it was, too! Dad had always loved Cornwall and would have loved to have lived there but he didn’t quite make it. He was offered a job in North Devon, which he accepted happily enough because it put us close enough to the Cornish border to make forays over it at weekends and during the school holidays. And so, my childhood was filled with places such as Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! and Clovelly, the ‘Lorna Doone’ country of nearby Exmoor and trips over the border to King Arthur’s reputed birthplace at Tintagel and Daphne du Maurier’s Fowey. And growing up in a small fishing village, with cobbled streets and narrow alleys that seemed to echo with the ghosts of smugglers and seafaring men, it’s little wonder that I devoured books filled with the stories and legends inspired by the country around me.

I think that’s why place is still every bit as important to me in books as are the characters. The best books are the ones where the place a story is set is just as much of a character. I want to feel wholly immersed in the world the writer’s created, to the extent where I could be sitting in the same room as the characters or walking along a step or two behind them. So opening a book like Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House and having not only Cornwall but Trevenen, the house of the title, so effectively realised was wonderful. It felt like coming home. Every time I opened the book, I was sucked in and that, in turn, made me feel more involved with the lives of the main characters Maddie, an artist, and her step-daughter Hannah. Read more

Book review: Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown

On the day that Isabel Ashdown’s third and latest novel launched, London enjoyed the first real heat of the year. For a lot of people at the event, it seemed as if the weather had been specially ordered. There we all were, sweltering away, while celebrating the launch of Summer of ’76, a book set in the summer of record high temperatures and a severe drought that brought with it water rationing and standpipes and heat that made Brits and their gardens wilt.

Until that week, I think most people in Britain would have said that it hadn’t been a good year for weather, unless you’re the sort of person who likes every kind of weather on the same day and is fit enough to carry all the accompanying wardrobe changes that might necessitate. All of which leads me to think that there is perhaps some wizardry at work when Isabel Ashdown takes up her keyboard – or pen, if she still writes her first drafts longhand. The release of her novel about the summer of a famous heatwave seems to have heralded in another one, just when Brits were beginning to despair that this summer might turn out to be another washout like last year.

I believe it entirely possible that Isabel Ashdown is capable of conjuring up a heatwave. She does just that within the pages of Summer of ’76. Met Office reports at the start of every chapter give us the raw temperatures but its her deft prose that really makes you feel the heat of that long hot summer and how everything and everyone suffered, browned and some others even unravelled under it. I think I drank more (water!) while reading this book than I’ve ever drunk for any other book. And Summer of ’76 made me thirsty in other ways. I found it almost impossible to put the book down once I started it and managed to read it in what was an incredibly busy weekend for me. Read more

Book review: Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma by Kerry Hudson

As unusual book titles go, Tony Hogan bought me an Ice Cream Float before he stole my Ma is right up there. Team that with a distinctive cover showing the silhouette of a jumping girl holding a red balloon on a blue background and I knew I wanted to read this debut novel even before its author, Kerry Hudson, dropped by here last year as part of her blog tour for the book’s publication.

Given all that ‘new book from a new author’ excitement, I can’t really explain why it then took me almost a year until I finally got around to reading it. Part of me is still kicking myself for the delay and that lost time in which I could have been getting to know such a captivating character as the narrator of Tony Hogan.

You see, as great as the title and cover are, it’s only when you start reading Tony Hogan that the real magic happens.

Every so often you come across a distinctive new voice in a novel. There’s something about it that really speaks to you: you can hear it even when you put the book down for a break, so you re-run snatches of dialogue, quips and anecdotes and laugh or wince at them again. That voice grabs your attention and, once it has you, you’ll pretty much follow it anywhere it wants to take you. Even if that’s to somewhere unfamiliar or uncomfortable, worse than anywhere you’ve ever known or are used to, places you may never have been to in real life or those you might well want to shy away from, even when they’re safely contained within the pages of a novel. Read more

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