Friday, 31 May 2019

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald


The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
First published in America by Charles Scribner's Sons in April 1925. Audiobook narrated by Frank Muller published by Recorded Books in 1984.

My 1920s read for my 2018-19 Decade Challenge and one of my Classics Club reads

How I got this book:
Bought the audiobook from Audible

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


No one fictional or factual embodies the Jazz Age as completely as F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. First published in 1925, this legendary novel continues to enthrall generations as it serves as a lens to view our not so distant past. Many of our notions about that period are taken from the pages of this book. Bathtub gin, flappers, and house parties that last all week enliven Fitzgerald's classic tale. Stylish and engaging, The Great Gatsby is also a startling literate portrait of Gatsby's search for meaning in his opulent world.

With his sharp social insight and breathtaking lyricism, Fitzgerald stands out as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century. Frank Muller's timeless interpretation enhances the imagery of Gatsby's stylish and unfulfilling world with brilliance and insight beyond the printed word.

I first listened to this audiobook of The Great Gatsby in April 2010, so nine years ago, and see from my Goodreads that I rated it 4 stars. Frank Muller does a wonderful job of the narration for my edition. His laconic style perfectly suits the story. This recording is no longer available through Audible though so the Amazon links above go to a Jake Gyllenhaal narrated edition instead.

Listening to the story again now I'm wavering between a four and five star rating. I absolutely love Fitzgerald's prose style which is clear and elegant, yet beautifully richly detailed. His portrayal of these essentially unlikeable selfish people is redolent with jazz age atmosphere and I am in awe of his ability to actually get me to care deeply about what happens to them and the catastrophe they create for themselves. What I didn't like however is Fitzgerald's casual racism and antisemitism. I am not sure whether readers were supposed to empathise with Tom Buchanan's racist comments, and I was quickly upset by Fitzgerald's need to repeatedly draw attention to Jewish character Meyer Wolfsheim's nose. That said, I did enjoy the storyline and wasn't prepared for all its twists and turns. I did even feel a little sorry for Gatsby by the end. And what did become of the puppy?

Etsy Find!
by Pimlico Prints in
London, England

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Thursday, 30 May 2019

Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy by Barbara Casey + #Giveaway


Velvalee Dickinson: The "Doll Woman" Spy by Barbara Casey

Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 184 pages
Genre: True Crime / Historical / Biography
Publisher: Strategic Media Books
Release date: April 2019
Tour dates: May 27 to June 7, 2019
Content Rating: PG - Velvalee Dickinson is appropriate for all ages.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads



Velvalee Dickinson was born in Sacramento, California, graduated from Stanford University, married three times, and then in the early 1930s moved to New York City where she eventually opened her own exclusive doll shop on the prestigious Madison Avenue. It was there that she built her reputation as an expert in rare, antique, and foreign dolls. She traveled extensively around the country lecturing and exhibiting her dolls while building a wealthy clientele that included Hollywood stars, members of high society, politicians, and other collectors.

​When medical bills started to accumulate because of her husband’s poor health and business started to fail with the onset of World War II, she accepted the role as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Government. By hiding coded messages in her correspondence about dolls, she was able to pass on to her Japanese contacts critical military information about the US warships. After surveilling Velvalee for over a year, the FBI arrested her and charged her with espionage and violation of censorship laws. She became the first American woman to face the death penalty on charges of spying for a wartime enemy.

Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy is a carefully researched glimpse into the “Doll Woman’s” life as a collector of dolls, and as the highest paid American woman who spied for the Imperial Japanese Government during World War II.

Perhaps unsurprising for a wartime spy, Velvalee Dickinson was a quiet secretive person. Little is known about her life other than her infamous trial and the events immediately pertaining to it so Barbara Casey had her work cut out here to create this biography. I thought she did well in putting across the wartime paranoia about all things Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbor, especially the suspicions surrounding the five Doll Letters. They would certainly have looked completely innocuous to me without the code having been explained. It was also interesting that Velvalee managed to become quite the celebrity expert for a few years - her fame transcending just doll collector circles - despite aspersions being later cast on just how much knowledge she actually had of antique dolls. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Casey spreads her net far and wide to flesh out this biography so we also get information about warships for example, and brief potted biographies of other people connected with Velvalee or with the espionage case. I appreciated the breadth of information although I would have liked more details on Velvalee herself. Sometimes I felt as though perhaps there wasn't enough known to justify this length of book. Overall The Doll Woman Spy is a satisfactory glimpse into a little known aspect of 1940s America.


To read more reviews, please visit Barbara Casey's page on iRead Book Tours.



Meet the Author:  ​


Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, as well as book-length works of nonfiction, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Her nonfiction true crime book, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned for a major film and television series. Her nonfiction book, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave, is under contract for a major film. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency.

Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2018 Barbara received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband, and three pets who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix; Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.

Connect with the author: Website


Enter the Giveaway!
Win 1 of 2 $20 Amazon gift cards (USA & Canada) + 1 of 2 print copies of Velvalee Dickinson (USA & Canada) and 1 of 2 gifted Kindle copies (USA) (total 6 winners)
Ends June 14, 2019


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Etsy Find!
by Gothic Moppets in
Scarborough, England

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Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano


The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
First published in Spanish as Los detectives salvajes by Editorial Anagrama in Spain in 1998. English language translation by Natasha Wimmer published by Farrar, Straus Giroux in 2007.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Winner of the Herralde Prize and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize. Natasha Wimmer’s translation of The Savage Detectives was chosen as one of the ten best books of 2007 by the Washington Post and the New York Times.

New Year’s Eve 1975, Mexico City. Two hunted men leave town in a hurry, on the desert-bound trail of a vanished poet.

Spanning two decades and crossing continents, theirs is a remarkable quest through a darkening universe – our own. It is a journey told and shared by a generation of lovers, rebels and readers, whose testimonies are woven together into one of the most dazzling Latin American novels of the twentieth century.

I really wanted to like The Savage Detectives. Apparently it is a Latin American classic and it would have been the fifth book for my Chilean WorldReads, but after 120 pages (of 577) I am already so bored that I can't bear to read another word. There's no characterisation, no descriptions and nothing is happening. Now I don't always mind nothing happening, but I am getting no sense of the supposed 1970s Mexico City setting and all the characters are just names without any degree of personality. In fact the women don't even warrant being more than abused sex objects if they are teenage, or mother figures if they're much older. I really can't understand how The Savage Detectives managed to garner such praise as is quoted on its cover. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone!


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Books by Roberto Bolano / Historical fiction / Books from Chile

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold


Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold
First published in Danish as Vintermaend in Denmark in 2014. English language translation by K E Semmel published by Amazon Crossing in March 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Denmark

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s hateful agenda brings about unspeakable atrocities, they find themselves with innocent blood on their hands.

Following Germany’s eventual defeat, Karl and Gerhard are haunted by their insurmountable guilt, and each seeks a way to escape from wounds that will never heal. They survived the war and its revelation of systematic horrors, but can they survive the unshakable knowledge of their own culpability?

For me Winter Men was an interesting counterpoint to Alone In Berlin which I read earlier in the month. Both novels portray aspects of the Second World War from a German perspective, but Alone In Berlin concentrates more on the civilian experiences whereas the leading protagonists of Winter Men are soldiers. Karl and Gerhard, and Karl's son August, find themselves drawn into a war that they don't really support, but which they find it impossible to avoid. Gerhard is coerced, Karl yearns to return to his Great War soldiering, and August has grown up as one of the Hitler Youth (membership is compulsory) so isn't really aware of any other choice.

As Germany begins to annexe parts of Czechoslovakia and then declares war on Poland, the three men's lives diverge. Each is sent to a different theatre or war therby enabling Kold to show readers the full horror of Germany's war from the Kristalnacht to the concentration camps, and from the bitter winters in Russia and the Ukraine to the destruction of French village 'Balfour-sur-Roche' (which I can only think is a renamed Oradour-sur-Glane as the events are practically identical). The scope is ambitious, but unfortunately I felt that by trying to include so many events, the effectiveness of each was diminished. Winter Men isn't a particularly long novel so it all felt too rushed. I think I would have preferred to have followed only one man's story and in greater depth.

As to which of the three, the brothers at least are pretty much interchangeable characters. We are repeatedly told that, despite being brothers, Karl and Gerhard are complete opposites, but I didn't feel that this really came across in their personalities and I often lost track of which I was reading about. I was also unsure as to whether I was supposed to empathise with their actions? We see the men witnessing, abetting and then committing one violent act after another and we are told that they are opposed to what is happening, yet I didn't feel I actually Saw this opposition. I was left feeling uncomfortable about being encouraged to feel sorry for the Winter Men when it seemed that so many people with whom they had contact came out of it far, far worse.


Etsy Find!
by Undone Treasures in
Tennessee, USA

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Monday, 27 May 2019

The Lady Raven: A Dark Cinderella Tale by Rebecca Henry + #Giveaway + Excerpt


The Lady Raven: A Dark Cinderella Tale by Rebecca Henry
Self published on the 5th December 2017.


Add The Lady Raven to your Goodreads

In The Lady Raven, Rebecca Henry tells the tale of Zezolla, a little princess abandoned by her father into the hands of her evil stepmother and wicked stepsisters. A familiar fairy tale you may think but all is not as it appears. The reader is soon drawn into a web of witchcraft, lies and deceit, and gradually realises that this is no typical fairy tale but a dark and macabre take on one. Zezolla is treated with the utmost cruelty, neglected and vilified, and left to live in the damp cellars of the castle. The only friends Zezolla has are her beloved raven and her pet wolf. Her only comfort lies in the loyalty of the creatures of the forest and her mother's hazel tree. Will Zezolla have the power to escape her torment and ultimately save herself from the unscrupulous clutches of the king? The Lady Raven is a compelling tale and one that is not for the faint-hearted.



Excerpt

Baldric bent down, whispering into his wife’s ear. “I am going to drown you in the river, my love. I want you to hear my words and know that it is I who will kill you.  Do not think that I do not know what you did.” Before Avelina could protest, her face was plunged into the icy water. She tried pulling her head up, but Baldric was too strong. She began to buck her legs around like a mule, desperate to make contact with Baldric, anything to weaken his grip. Baldric climbed on top of her and pinned her body beneath his. “Die, Avelina.” he growled. Hands were flying all around him as he drowned his wife, the only woman he ever loved. Princess Avelina was a fighter and she determined to stay alive, but it was to no avail.
Baldric kept her head under the water well after her body stopped moving. Avelina’s betrayal caused Baldric’s love to turn to hate, just as water turns to ice in the frozen kiss of winter.
“Die, you lying witch. Die! You do not deserve the life you have. You do not deserve me. You have taken everything I’ve loved away and now I will take everything from you.” Baldric’s hands trembled with rage as he dismounted his wife’s limp body. Baldric arose, looking around the grounds to ensure that no witnesses could testify to his crime. Still, he would not suffer the consequence of murdering his wife. To seal his innocence, he gathered heavy rocks from the bank and shoved them in Avelina’s robes.
“They will think it a suicide and my hands will never be traced to her death.” He bent down to see her face one last time before kicking her corpse into the lake.
“I loved you mind, body, and soul. I would have loved you until my dying breath, but I will never think of you again. From this day forth, you no longer consume my heart. May you rest in hell, my love.” He watched her body sink; he was triumphant, sentencing her to the punishment that fitted the crime: death. 
Before her body disappeared into the ultramarine water, he spat on her. One final act of defiance.

Meet the Author 

Rebecca Henry is a newly published author. Her debut novel is The Lady Raven, A Dark Cinderella Tale, which was published in 2017. The Lady Raven, is for those who have an affinity for fairy tales retold with a link to witches, magic and the macabre. Her second novel, Louisiana Latte, a chick lit comedy was released February 28th 2019. Louisiana Latte, is a feel good comedy that focuses on the bonds of sisters, and how audacious life can be when you have a diva for one! Both books are available on amazon as well as Barnes & Noble.

Rebecca Henry is a world traveler living abroad in England. Besides being an author of two published books, Rebecca is also a podcast talk host on the show The Latte Talk. The podcast was inspired by her latest novel, Louisiana Latte and her diva sister Deb. She is a serious vegan, gardener, crafter, wife and mom who practices yoga. She loves to laugh, her drug of choice and loves all things witchy with a hint of the macabre. Her favorite holiday is Halloween and her favorite movie of all time is Practical Magic.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a Spell Bag with Pendulum.
Open Internationally until the 30th May.

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Etsy Find!
by Love Beyond The Moon in
Manchester, England

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Sunday, 26 May 2019

Shantallow by Cara Martin + #Giveaway + Excerpt


Shantallow by Cara Martin
Will be published by Cormorant Books on the 24th September 2019.


Add Shantallow to your Goodreads

Tanvi isn't the girl of Misha's dreams; she's the girl from his nightmares. She has appeared in his chilling dreams before he even meets her; when he DOES meet her, he falls for her. Their relationship turns stormy, bordering on abusive, and takes a dramatic turn when they are held captive by a group hoping to extract money from Tanvi's wealthy family. But there is something more sinister at work, and the kidnappers and their victims find themselves struggling for survival as a supernatural force from Misha's nightmares makes itself known in the real world.


Excerpt

She wasn’t a dream. We weren’t standing in the clearing in the woods, the sky as black as dirty oil and gloom pressing in on us from every angle. She was a regular teenage girl next to me, one of her overalls straps threatening to slip off her shoulder.

Tanvi shifted into park and furrowed her eyebrows. “You like what you see?” she asked pointedly, right hand firmly clutching the gearshift. Brown eyes stared at me appraisingly, a current of antagonism headed directly for my forehead while I refused to duck.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“You’ve been staring at me practically the entire ride. I figured you must like what you see.” If she’d seen me in her nightmares she would’ve stared too. On the lawn and again in her car. No matter how she tried to stop herself.

“I do,” I admitted. I like it a lot. The hairs at the back of my neck stood on end. My calf muscles clenched and my jaw along with them, the falling sensation expanding inside me like a mushroom cloud, annihilating everything else.

A sour smile skimmed across Tanvi’s lips, only to be replaced with a frown. “What if I followed you inside?” she asked. “What would you do?”

That wasn’t a fair question, and I frowned back. Outside a dog was barking wearily, as if purely by habit. Arctic air from the car vents brushed my arms like invisible fingertips.

“You don’t want me to?” Tanvi asked, leaning back against the headrest.

Then her cellphone chirped, demanding her attention and giving me extra time to work out her desired reaction. Was she messing with my head? Baiting me so that she could relish shooting me down? What could I do or say that wouldn’t be the wrong thing? Who the hell was this girl? Why was she stalking my nightmares?

Tanvi fished her phone out of her overalls pocket, biting the side of her lip as she glanced at the screen. “My friends back at the movie theater,” she volunteered with a glance. “They realized I was gone.”

“Why did you leave?”

Tanvi shrugged, her dusty pink lips drooping at the corners. “I didn’t want to be there.”

“Because of your bad day?”

“Uh-huh.” Any anger coming off her had dissolved, sadness gusting in to take its place. My defensiveness began to fall away as the change registered.
“I don’t think you really want to be here either,” I observed, heart punching against my rib cage. “Why’d you drive me home?”

“I don’t know.” She laid a finger against the amethyst centerpiece of her bracelet. “Don’t you ever do something without really knowing why?”

“All the time,” I replied. Not the whole truth, but it made Tanvi smile.

“Actually, I do know,” she admitted with an incline of her head. “I didn’t want to think. I wanted” — her lips lingered, blooming in slow motion — “a break. But I don’t want to talk about what from. That defeats the purpose.”

“Okay,” I said quietly, the ground beneath us shifting and whatever was going to happen between us tonight beginning to come into focus. “Then … come in if you like.” I unbuckled my seatbelt, the joint pain and headache worse now that I was opening the car door and stepping onto the asphalt. Nervous energy collided with the flu symptoms, struggling to overtake them. Leaning down, I peered into the car. “I do want you to,” I said.

Meet the Author 

Cara Martin is the author of several acclaimed novels for young people published under the name C. K. Kelly Martin. Her most recent novel, Stricken, was released in 2017. A graduate of the Film Studies program at York University, Cara has lived in the Greater Toronto Area and Dublin, Ireland. Within the space of 3500 miles she's worked a collection of quirky jobs at multiple pubs and video stores, an electricity company, a division of the Irish post office, a London toyshop, and an advertising analytics company. She's also been an image editor for a dot-com startup that didn't survive the 90s, and a credit note clerk for Canada's largest national distributor of General Merchandise. Cara currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband and is still afraid of the Child Catcher from the film adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Author links:

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card plus a signed copy of Shantallow.
Open Internationally until the 6th June.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



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Saturday, 25 May 2019

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi


Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Published in the UK by OneWorld Publications on the 23rd May 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



A stunning new story collection from Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, acclaimed author of Kintu and winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014 and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction 2018 

Manchester Happened is a masterful collection of short stories by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, whose debut novel Kintu was published to great acclaim earlier this year. Set in Manchester and Kampala, the stories form a moving and powerful work about the experience of immigration and about how we treat each other as human beings, and makes an important contribution to one of the most pressing societal and political issues of the day.

This collection of short stories includes the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014 winner, Let's Tell This Story Properly. I loved how all the tales overlap by way of their country settings, and also in other more subtle ways such as shared specific locations and characters. It reminded me of From An-Other Land by Tanushree Ghosh and helped to reinforce the idea of the Ugandan diaspora being connected. Having the British parts of the stories take place in Manchester appealed to me because it makes a refreshing change to literarily explore British cities other than London!

I wasn't so keen on the shory about the two dogs, but otherwise I enjoyed reading Manchester Happened. Makumbi explores different aspects of Ugandan immigration to Britain from the 1950s until the present day. Through these insights into the characters' lives I was able to view British society from the other side of the lens, so to speak, sometimes in a positive way but unfortunately mostly in the negative. Careless comments and attitudes abound. That said, Manchester Happened didn't come across to me as an angry demand for change. In fact its title is taken from an almost-weary comment in one of the stories where a character sums up her experience with the phrase 'Manchester happened'.

Etsy Find!
by Girl Gang Manchester in
Manchester, England

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Books by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi / Short stories / Books from Uganda

Friday, 24 May 2019

Robot, Take The Wheel by Jason Torchinsky + #Giveaway


Robot, Take the Wheel: The Road to Autonomous Cars and the Lost Art of Driving by Jason Torchinsky

Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 207 pages
Genre: Automobile Technology, Car enthusiasts
Publisher: Apollo Publishers
Release date: May 7, 2019
Tour dates: May 6 to 24, 2019
Content Rating: PG (this book is accessible to everyone)



From the witty senior editor of Jalopnik, Gizmodo Media’s acclaimed website devoted to cars, technology, and more, comes a revealing, savvy, and humorous look at self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars sound fantastical and futuristic and yet they’ll soon be on every street in America. Whether it’s Tesla’s Autopilot, Google’s Waymo, Mercedes’s Distronic, or Uber’s 24,000 modified Volvos, companies across industries and throughout the world are developing autonomous cars. Even Apple, not to be outdone, is rumored to be creating its own technology too.

In Robot, Take the Wheel, Jason Torchinsky explores the state of the automotive industry. Through wit and wisdom, he explains why autonomous cars are being made and what the future of automated cars is. Torchinsky encourages us to consider autonomous cars as an entirely new machine, something beyond cars as we understand them today. He considers how we’ll get along with these robots that will take over our cars' jobs, what they will look like, what sorts of jobs they may do, what we can expect of them, how they should act, ethically, how we can have fun with them, and how we can make sure there’s still a place for those of us who love to drive with manual or automatic transmission.

This unique and highly readable volume is brimming with industry insider information and destined to be a conversation starter. It’s a must-have for car lovers, technology geeks, and everyone who wants to know what’s on the road ahead.


About the Author:

JASON TORCHINSKY is senior editor of Jalopnik, a website devoted to news and opinions about all things automotive. As a writer and artist, he is known for his articles, artworks, talks, and videos about cars, technology, and culture. He has raced cars, wrecked cars, and driven possibly one of the most dangerous cars ever made with the King of Cars on the Emmy-winning Jay Leno’s Garage. He lives in North Carolina.

Connect with the author: Twitter


Enter the Giveaway!
Win a print copy of Robot, Take the Wheel
(5 winners / open to USA only)
Ends May 31, 2019

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