Mini-review: The Strangler Vine, by MJ Carter

Really enjoyed this – the level of research about India in the early 19thC was evident in the rich detail, and the precarious relationship between the main characters, although a little formulaic in the early sections of the book, developed nicely. The story itself is somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, with plenty of intrigue, jewels and flashing swords. Recommended.

(Review also posted on Goodreads and Litsy)

Book swaps – my new thing?

I’ve never done an online book swap before. I have done other online exchanges, but they were quilting/fabric related, back when I was doing a lot of sewing; I haven’t had the time for much of that for a number of years (I miss it…), so no swaps or exchanges either. I’ve never really been pricked to sign up for book swaps; I have participated in a number of reading challenges, but usually come to resent reading stuff because I have to, or to make up numbers, or whatever. I’m also quite bad at deadlines aside from work, which doesn’t help.

So I don’t really know how/why I came across Bex and Hanna‘s Ninja Book Swap, or why I signed up. But I did, and I’m so glad.

First I had the joy (and panic) of buying and acquiring items to send to Callie – panic caused by ordered items not arriving as scheduled, meaning the parcel went off on the deadline day, a bit light of items, containing a scarf from my wardrobe rather than the lovely new one I’d sourced, and without other treats because I ran out of time.*

Then, after a short wait, my own parcel arrived today, from Sprite – and what a corker it was! So much joy, such a lovely thing (pile of things) to receive – I think this may become my new hobby.

IMG_20160401_1756285_rewindThank you so much, Sprite – I’ll be in touch personally very soon. And as an extra note – my two daughters were so impressed and delighted with my swap goodies that they both want to sign up for the Ninja Book Swap next time it runs. Spreading the joy!

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*See above re deadlines. Sorry Callie – first book swap, I guess I didn’t know the form. After my huge haul from Sprite I feel humble, and promise a further parcel of goodness at some point soon to make up for it. Paying it forward, and all that…

Books I’m loving right now

I’m useless at reviewing books. There, I’ve said it. I love to read them, I love to talk about them, I love to recommend them, but reviewing them is … not a chore, exactly, because it’s writing about books, and what’s not to like with that? (Apart from actually doing it, obviously.)

I think it’s more that when I’ve read a book it’s gone, and I want to move on to the next one, and if I’ve taken on a duty to review a book it hangs around and becomes a bit like the friend you invited over for coffee, and who you enjoyed seeing but now they’re still sitting in your living room chatting about nothing, and they won’t leave, and you’ve got somewhere else to be but they WON’T GO, dammit.

Also, the title of this post might be slightly incorrect – I haven’t quite loved all the books I’ve listed below, but they have affected me in different ways. So in lieu of reviews, here’s a list of stuff I’ve read recently. Not reviews, honestly.

  1. The Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. I’m a little in love with Jimmy Perez, but the one in the books, not the one in the tv series. Just finished Raven Black and White Nights, got Red Bones on order; the prose is clean and spare, the islands are as much a part of the narrative as any of the characters, and I want to go there.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. Bonkers, and I’m not sure in a good way, but I’ve tidied some drawers in my kitchen. So there’s a start.
  3. Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn. A useful basic introduction to the business of publishing one’s own words, by way of preparation for a possible venture I might or might not be considering – some way to go, and people to consult, and stuff to learn, but watch this space. Maybe.
  4. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Didn’t want this one to finish – I genuinely did love it. Read it.
  5. Perfume by Patrick Suskind. A little late to this party, but I also loved this, although it was deeply unsettling. Perhaps because.

I’ll do this again when I’ve read some more stuff. In the meantime, re item 3 on the list, if you can offer any thoughts or experiences of self-publishing, do get in touch. I have some ideas.

Nottinghamshire Dialect Event

Belated shout out – this is happening this evening. I’m going, should be interesting – and there might even be a few of my dialect books on display! A Nottinghamshire dialect even organised by Bradwell Books, with local experts in attendance (not me), in Waterstones Nottingham, 6pm, £3 entry – come along if you’re in the area, see you there.

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Sunny sneak peek…

Less than a month now until Edge-Lit, the sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction convention held annually in Derby (conveniently, about ten miles from my house). I’ve bought my ticket, I’ll be there – partly to see/hear loads of excellent speakers and to stock up on books (obv),  but mainly because Sunny with a Chance of Zombies (published by Knightwatch Press, including my story Run, Rabbit)  is being launched there. Yay!

To whet your appetite (and because I found it online today), here’s a sneak peek of the cover art, by Stephen Cooney:

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The book features stories by some fabulous authors – and me, who somehow snuck in there. If comedy zombies are your thing (and let’s face it, what’s not to like?), get in touch with the editor Dion Winton-Polak to preorder your copy. If you do it before Edge-Lit, the attending authors will even sign it for you. (Well, I will, anyway. Possibly whether anyone asks me to or not.)

Test

Ok, so this is kind of by way of a test, to see how things post from Hootsuite. Since I do most of my online updating via Hootsuite these days, it would make sense to blog from there a bit too. It might make me do it more regularly.

Hm.

Sunny with a Chance of Zombies

For the last week I’ve been hopping about with excitement, desperate to celebrate and start shouting about something, but not quite sure whether it was allowed. I hung on, biting my lip, hugging myself with glee and squeaking quietly every so often, waiting for permission – until now, when, with great joy and a nod from the editor, I can announce that I’ve had a short story accepted into an anthology! Sunny With a Chance of Zombies, published by Knightwatch and edited by my online chum Dion Winton-Polak, comes out in July (announced here), and my story Run, Rabbit made it into the final choice of twelve.

Utterly delighted by this – Dion and I have known each other for a while (he used to run the Scrolls podcast at the awesome Geek Syndicate, and I contributed from time to time), and I’m so chuffed to be a part of his latest literary venture, I can’t even tell you. Run, Rabbit is the first properly creative thing I’ve written for ages, and I very nearly didn’t send it off – but so glad I did.

And the best thing of all is that the antho is being launched on 11th July at Edge-Lit 4, Derby’s annual sci-fi, fantasy and horror literature event – which is taking place at Derby Quad, a whole 25 minutes away from my house! I’ve been invited, and I’ll be there with knobs on and a massive stupid grin on my face. In fact, the massive stupid grin is already in place, and will probably stay until July.

Book review: The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

I’m learning Danish. There, I’ve said it. I have no excuse, other than an obsession with Nordic Noir literature and television, stemming largely from The Killing but encompassing Steig Larsson, Jo Nesbø, The Bridge, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Henning Mankell, Håkan Nesser and Borgen along the way – along with quite a large proportion of the rest of the UK, my last three or four years have been punctuated by immersions in Scandinavian culture, although to be fair this has mainly been the rather grubby underbelly of said culture (Kurt Wallander, Sarah Lund and Lisbeth Salander don’t exactly hang out with the Women’s Institute).

So in an idle moment just before Christmas I thought, I know, it’d be great to be able to watch a bit more Scandinavian TV – Arne Dahl, say, or The Legacy – and understand at least a little of the language. Probably Swedish would be a good place to start. I signed up to Duolingo years ago in an abortive attempt to revise my rusty school-level French before a continental holiday, so I fired up the app on my iPad. Lo – no Swedish course*, but there was Danish. And before you could say “Hej hej!” I was off, learning how to say “The man eats the sandwich” and “A boy drinks the bird’s water”**.

Inspired by this, I started casting around for other ways to learn about Scandinavian culture – because, you know, I didn’t really have that much of a clue about it, beyond some vague ideas about snow, blond people and Vikings. So I poked about vaguely on NetGalley and found The Almost Nearly Perfect People.

And … I learned a lot. The author, Michael Booth, is an English journalist who has lived in Denmark for a number of years, and who set out to provide a foreigner’s account of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) to set against the almost entirely positive but largely content-free depiction of these nations in the British and American media. He took as a starting point the universally high happiness and quality of life ratings achieved by Scandinavian countries (even bankrupt Iceland), and set out to investigate what makes the Scandinavian countries such apparently great places to live.

He devotes a section of the book to each country, travelling there and interviewing public figures as well as casting an outsider’s eye over customs, traditions and stereotypes. Denmark is characterised by its high taxes and hyggelig, Iceland by its buccaneering banking practices and belief in elves, and Norway by its oil wealth and attachment to its national costume. Finland, Booth’s favourite of the five nations, is nevertheless characterised as alcoholic and obsessively macho, while Sweden is conformist and bound by social etiquette.

The tone throughout is humorous and light, but there is a wealth of information tucked away – some trivial facts, some historical, and some downright bizarre (did you know that in the 1970s the Swedish army bought hairnets for its long-haired soldiers? No, neither did I). Booth is clearly very fond of his new Scandinavian countrymen (he should be; he’s married to a Dane), and he uses journalistic licence to poke gentle fun but also raise some significant issues (failures of justice systems, opposition to immigration, poor ecological footprints). The exemplary Nordic education, social welfare and health systems are set against the crippling taxes needed to pay for them, and Sweden’s vaunted neutrality is contrasted with its collaboration with Nazi Germany and its ever-increasing arms export trade.

Overall this was an enjoyable read, although the schoolboy jokes occasionally grated. As an English person I find Bill Bryson’s ‘amusing’ accounts of funny little England rather embarrassing to read, and I suspect Booth’s book might have a similar effect on Scandinavians of all stripes – but there’s nothing wrong with occasionally holding a mirror up to national foibles, and overall the book left me with no less of a desire to watch the second season of Wallander or learn how to conjugate the definite article in Danish, and with rather more of an idea of some of the realities underlying our rose-tinted view of our Nordic neighbours.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth was published by Jonathan Cape in the UK in 2014, and will be published in the US by MacMillan-Picador on 27 January 2015 (UK Amazon link here, other booksellers are available). My review copy came from NetGalley.

*Before anyone starts, I know that Duolingo does actually have a Swedish course, but it wasn’t available on my iPad app at that time, so there.

**Manden spiser sandwichen. En dreng drikker fuglens vand. In case you were wondering.