Sunday, 30 June 2019

Mind Is The Ride by Jet McDonald

Mind Is The Ride by Jet McDonald
Published in the UK by Unbound on the 16th May 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Jet McDonald cycled four thousand miles to India and back, he didn’t want to write a straightforward travel book. He wanted to go on an imaginative journey.

Mind is the Ride takes the reader on a physical and intellectual adventure from West to East using the components of a bike as a metaphor for philosophy, which is woven into the cyclist's experience. Each chapter is based around a single component, and as Jet travels he adds new parts and new philosophies until the bike is ‘built’; the ride to India is completed; and the relationship between mind, body and bicycle made apparent.

The age of the travelogue is over: today we need to travel inwardly to see the world with fresh eyes. Mind is the Ride is that journey, a pedal-powered antidote to the petrol-driven philosophies of the past.

Mind Is The Ride is an inspirational memoir of Bristolian Jet McDonald and his girlfriend Jen's epic cycle journey to India and back. Alongside a selection of travel anecdotes, mostly self deprecating, Jet uses this memoir to impart philosophical ideas about how we identify our places in the world and our sense of ourselves. The narrative is cleverly linked by way of each chapter explaining a particular bicycle part - the Saddle, the Head Tube, the Star Fangled Washer, ... - and how their connections can be seen to reflect society. I loved the gradual build-up of a bicycle diagram which ended each chapter. As each part is discussed, it is added to the diagram so, by the end of Mind Is The Ride, we have a completed journey and a complete bicycle.

I did struggle to understand some of the philosophical sections because I felt the book jumped around too much. It's perhaps ironic that a book which talks extensively about meditation and allowing our minds to focus more deeply, actually didn't do that itself. Trying to keep up the three narratives of the journey, the bicycle and the philosophy meant that one often seemed to me to be overly rushed. I do now have an extensive bibliography of other books to track down though. I did think some of the cycling metaphors were too forced, but several did get me giggling. I like McDonald's sense of humour.

However, I did appreciate the breadth of ideas that McDonald touched upon. Mind Is The Ride fits nicely in between other books I have recently read such as The Art Of Travel, Where The Wild Winds Are and In Love With The World. Most of all, I felt energised by reading Mind Is The Ride. McDonald's enthusiasm for cycling in all its forms from an alternative to the daily car commute, to a leisure activity, to a long-distance travel solution, is absolutely infectious. Personally my confidence levels put me far more at Danube cycle path level than Mumbai traffic warrior, but I'm now wanting to unfold my little bike and just get out riding somewhere!

Etsy Find!
by Temple Cycles in
Bristol, England

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Books by Jet McDonald / Philosophical books / Books from England

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Upperdown by David Brennan

Upperdown by David Brennan
Published in the UK by Epoque Press on the 27th June 2019.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Blood, a 2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Things in the town of Upperdown are not as they seem. The Professor struggles with his devotion to proving the Riemann Hypothesis and he walks the streets seeking a solution whilst battling his own deeper preoccupations. The appearance of a stranger in town, the Piano Man, leads to the resolution of the long-term rat infestation but when the town's children start to go missing it is clear something darker has been set in motion.

I've loved previous Epoque Press publications including the incredible El Hacho by Luis Carrasco so I was keen to read their newest offering, Upperdown by David Brennan, a retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale. Retellings can be a bit hit and miss for me. However I didn't remember seeing a Pied Piper one before so was happy to try Upperdown.

The story is narrated in the first person by a maths professor. He speaks in a stylised 'olde worlde' way which took some getting used to but, once I did, I liked the effect especially in its contrast with the otherwise modern day setting. Upperdown itself is a large town beset with a terrible rat problem. The professor doesn't seem to mind the rats and, at times, almost seems to identify with them. He is a loner who spends much of his day simply walking around town observing its people or yearning for the attention of Beatrice Nolan, a younger woman with whom he is obsessed. I could have done with less of his agonising over this unrequited love! I did like the frequent inclusion of numbers in the narration. I didn't feel Brennan always gave enough focus to character development so this was a way to understand how the professor saw the world around him.

Upperdown diverges from the traditional fairytale into a delta of storylines which I felt had a good sense of atmosphere but, unfortunately, I didn't always understand what was going on. The professor's determination to crack the 'Riemann Hypothesis' (which is a real mathematical conundrum) was probably relevant but it makes no sense to me so I imagine I didn't pick up correctly on the frequent prime number references either. Having taken few dozen pages at the beginning to get into the style of the story, it was disappointing for me to then be bewildered by much of the ending. I'll be interested to read other reviews of Upperdown because the novel does have its good points, but maybe I just wasn't in the right place to fully engage with the story.

Etsy Find!
by Jessies Button Box in
Bristol, England

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Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The Storyteller's Secret by Sejal Badani + #Giveaway

The Storyteller's Secret by Sejal Badani

Category: Adult Fiction, 399 pages
Genre: Literary
Publisher: Lake Union
Release date: September 2018
Tour dates: June 3 to July 12, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 (There are some non-explicit sex scenes)

An Amazon Charts, USA Today, and Washington Post bestseller!

From the bestselling author of Trail of Broken Wings comes an epic story of the unrelenting force of love, the power of healing, and the invincible desire to dream.

Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past. Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation.

​Through her courageous grandmother’s arrestingly romantic and heart-wrenching story, Jaya discovers the legacy bequeathed to her and a strength that, until now, she never knew was possible.

To read reviews, please visit Sejal Badani's page on iRead Book Tours.

​Watch the Book Trailer:

Meet the Author:

​A former attorney, Sejal Badani left the law to pursue writing full time.

She is a USA Today, Washington Post & Amazon Charts bestselling author, Goodreads Fiction Award Finalist and ABC/DISNEY Writing Fellowship Finalist.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ​~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

Enter the Giveaway!
Win 1 of 3 paperback copies of The Storyteller’s Secret, another winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card
(4 winners / open internationally)
Ends July 20, 2019

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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

My Past Is a Foreign Country: A Muslim feminist finds herself by Zeba Talkhani

My Past Is a Foreign Country: A Muslim feminist finds herself by Zeba Talkhani
Published in the UK by Sceptre today, the 27th June 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

27-year-old Zeba Talkhani charts her experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia amid patriarchal customs reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale, and her journey to find freedom abroad in India, Germany and the UK as a young woman.

Talkhani offers a fresh perspective on living as an outsider and examines her relationship with her mother and the challenges she faced when she experienced hair loss at a young age. Rejecting the traditional path her culture had chosen for her, Talkhani became financially independent and married on her own terms in the UK. Drawing on her personal experiences Talkhani shows how she fought for the right to her individuality as a feminist Muslim and refused to let negative experiences define her.

For all the fuss made in the UK about Muslim women's lives and choices, it seems rare for any to actually get an opportunity to put across their own point of view. Boris's casually misogynistic racism was widely reported, but responses from the women he insulted were not. This prevalent attitude is what, for me, made reading Zeba Talkhani's memoir such a refreshing experience. My Past Is A Foreign Country is open and honest - a Muslim woman speaking her mind.

Talkhani grew up within the strict patriarchal interpretations of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia but, as she later learned living in Germany and Britain, assumptions of male privilege are by no means restricted to Muslim countries. Personally I would ask whether a woman who feels she cannot leave her home without covering her face with cosmetics is more free than one who feels she must cover her face with fabric. In both cases the question of individual choice should be paramount. 'I want to ...' rather than 'I must ...'. One of the most interesting parts of My Past Is A Foreign Country, I thought, is when Talkhani discusses what drives women to perpetuate discriminatory patriarchal systems. Her understanding of both social and personal pressures is certainly thought-provoking.

I hope My Past Is A Foreign Country is widely read and appreciated by women and men regardless of their faith or politics. Talkhani's feminism chimes strongly with my own ideas on the subject and I felt that a lot of what she has to say transcends divisions of gender, religion or nationality.

Etsy Find!
by Sootmegs in
Brighton, England

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Books by Zeba Talkhani / Biography and memoir / Books from Saudi Arabia

Monday, 24 June 2019

Burton Blake by Robert Tucker + #Giveaway

Burton Blake by Robert Tucker

Category: Adult Fiction, 518 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing Group LLC / Wise Words Publishing
Release date: 1/06/2019
Tour dates: May 27 to June 28, 2019
Content Rating: G (Depictions of violence are minimal. No bad language, religious expletives, sex scenes, drug use or underage drinking.)

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In this sequel to the well-received The Revolutionist, the American journey of three generations locks the neophyte company president, Burton Blake, in a vicious struggle with corporate intrigue, financial greed, and social corruption. Born to a taxi dancer at the beginning of the Second World War, Burton’s father, Elias Blake, never knows his natural father, who is killed in the South Pacific. He is raised by his mother and stepfather from her second marriage who makes his fortune during the post-war real estate boom of the ’50s. Their untimely death by his business partner leaves the boy Elias in the guardianship of his mother’s best friend and her marine vet husband who introduces him to the macho culture of guns and hunting.

Elias’s youth is influenced by the adult world’s drive for personal material gain. Over the next decades, he expands his parents’ original real estate empire into the diversified multi-divisional, multi-national corporation that he leaves to his son, Burton. Upon his forced return from traveling and working with oppressed third world people, Burton learns increasingly more about the true nature of his deceased father as he undertakes the challenges of leading the company in a new direction.

Watch the book trailer: 

Meet the Author: 

Robert is published by Tell-Tale Publishing Group LLC / Wise Words Publishing under a multi-book contract. The author of four previous earlier novels, Robert infuses his books with unique dynamic stories and characters that portray social and cultural conflicts of their time. His career encompasses many years as a business consultant that have given him access to a wide range of organizations and an appreciation for people in all areas of society. His life experience is reflected in the literary quality of his work. Born and raised in the Middle-West, he has traveled throughout the United States and abroad.

Now retired, he resides with his wife in Southern California where he devotes full-time to writing. Robert is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Masters Degree in Communications at the University of California, Los Angeles where he received the Samuel Goldwyn and Donald Davis Literary Awards.

An affinity for family and the astute observation of generational interaction pervade his novels. His works are literary and genre upmarket fiction that address the nature and importance of personal integrity.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Enter the Giveaway!
Win 1 of 4 ebook copies of both The Revolutionist and Burton Blake. One winner will also get a $30 Amazon GC (4 winners total /open to USA and Canada)
Ends July 5, 2019

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Books by Robert Tucker / Historical fiction / Books from America

Sunday, 23 June 2019

David P Abbott in The Open Court + #FreeBook

David P Abbott in The Open Court, edited by Katherine Nabity
First published in America in The Open Court magazine between 1905 and 1919. Collection edited by Katherine Nabity republished by Entangled Continua in 2016.

One of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1905 to 1921, magician David P. Abbott wrote articles for The Open Court. about the methods of fraudulent spiritualists. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Abbott focused on explaining the tricks of mediumship to his audience rather than haranguing the cheaters. Included are "Half Hours with Mediums," "The History of a Strange Case," and "The Spirit Portrait Mystery: Its Final Solution."

This collection of a dozen essays was a fascinating read for me. Abbott was a magician himself so publicly performed many of the tricks he was later to explain via his The Open Court essays. The difference, he is often a pains to point out, is that his performances are physical tricks and clever misdirection - with absolutely nothing supernatural going on at all - and he always stated this. At the time he wrote, spiritualism was very fashionable though. Convincing mediums, of whom there were thousands touring America alone, could make themselves very wealthy from presenting exactly the same tricks as true communications from the dead and it seems that deception without audience consent is what Abbott really disapproved of.

I loved the inventiveness and ingenuity of many of the illusions. In fact I am sure I've seen some being performed by TV and stage magicians over 100 years later, and still to great effect. In several cases I was more impressed by knowing the skill needed to convincingly perform a particular effect than I might have been just by witnessing the trick itself. I can only imagine the effect on an audience of true believers at the time. Abbott's essays aren't an instruction manual although they do give a good sense of each trick and I liked his authoritative but enthusiastic writing style. Abbott obviously thoroughly enjoyed deciphering the tricks just for the joy of knowing how each worked and it's wonderful that Katherine Nabity has taken the time to collect together and republish his writings on the subject.

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Books by David P Abbott / Nonfiction books / Books from America

Saturday, 22 June 2019

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
First published in America by Random House in 1965.

My 1960s book for the 2018-19 Decade Challenge (now completed!), a Classics Club read, and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. 

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

I only rarely pick up true crime books these days because I devoured so many not-so-well-written examples as a teenager that they quite put me off attempting any more. That said, a friend offering to lend me his vintage edition of In Cold Blood together with it being a Classic and of the right era to complete my current Decade Challenge - how could I turn it down?

Capote certainly did his research for In Cold Blood. I wasn't expecting such an incredible depth and breadth of information, and especially not for so many pages of small font (it's an old book) to grip my attention for hours. This is excellent reportage journalism of a kind I feel we rarely encounter any more (although I was strongly reminded of One Of Us: Anders Breivik by Asne Seierstad which I would happily recommend to other fans of In Cold Blood. Truman not only recounts in graphic detail the events immediately surrounding the Clutter murders, but also goes back in time to explore the culprits' pasts and follows the Dewey investigation until the ultimate conclusion of the court case. Extensive recounting of interviews and statements allowed me to feel as though I got a good sense of Holcomb town and of the main people involved in the infamous murder. In thinking about the murderers themselves, I am glad to be separated from them by thousands of miles and several decades. That kind of senseless violence is truly chilling to contemplate and I could understand how it was so destructive to the small town community, especially during the weeks in which many Holcomb inhabitants were looking to cast blame towards each other.

I appreciated Capote's level headedness throughout this book. He avoids sensationalist gimmicks and I never felt as though I was being manipulated towards a particular point of view in the way that present-day journalists usually do. Instead In Cold Blood came across to me as a masterpiece of  impartial factual reporting which I am glad to have read.

Etsy Find!

by Dolmen Graphic Studios in
Florida, USA

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Books by Truman Capote / Reportage / Books from America

Friday, 21 June 2019

A Feast of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj + #Giveaway

A Feast of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Self published in America in April 2019.

I linked this post to June 2019 Foodies Read linkup at Based On A True Story

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via Rachel's Random Resources

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Feast Of Serendib

Directly From

The Author



Dark roasted curry powder, a fine attention to the balance of salty-sour-sweet, wholesome red rice and toasted curry leaves, plenty of coconut milk and chili heat. These are the flavors of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was a crossroads in the sea routes of the East. Three waves of colonization—Portuguese, Dutch and British—and the Chinese laborers who came with them, left their culinary imprint on Sri Lankan food. Sri Lankan cooking with its many vegetarian dishes gives testimony to the presence of a multi-ethnic and multi -religious population.

Everyday classics like beef smoore and Jaffna crab curry are joined by luxurious feast dishes, such as nargisi kofta and green mango curry, once served to King Kasyapa in his 5th century sky palace of Sigiriya. 
Vegetable dishes include cashew curry, jackfruit curry, asparagus poriyal, tempered lentils, broccoli varai and lime-masala mushrooms. There are appetizers of chili-mango cashews, prawn lentil patties, fried mutton rolls, and ribbon tea sandwiches. Deviled chili eggs bring the heat, yet ginger-garlic chicken is mild enough for a small child. Desserts include Sir Lankan favorites:  love cake, mango fluff, milk toffee and vattalappam, a richly-spiced coconut custard.

In A Feast of Serendib, Mary Anne Mohanraj introduces her mother’s cooking and her own Americanizations, providing a wonderful introduction to Sri Lankan American cooking, straightforward enough for a beginner, and nuanced enough to capture the flavor of Sri Lankan cooking.

I had never tried eating or cooking Sri Lankan cuisine before being offered this opportunity to review A Feast Of Serendib. There are similarities to Indian cookery in some of the cooking methods Mary Anne Mohanraj suggests so I wasn't completely at sea, but I also appreciated the distinctly Sri Lankan ideas and recipes I discovered in this extensive collection. I loved the clear colour photographs which helped me to understand how each each completed dish should appear, although I am still rather confused by accompaniment suggestions such as Stringhoppers and Pittu. I think I need to eat expertly made versions of these before attempting to create my own! However, the three dishes I did choose to make from A Feast Of Serendib were all resounding successes and I enjoyed my own not-so-little Sri Lankan Feast as pictured below:

My Sri Lankan Feast! 
I learned from Mohanraj's interesting essays, dotted through the book, that Sri Lankan cuisine is a real fusion of historic and geographic influences. It apparently does lean more towards fish cookery because of Sri Lanka's being an island so fish were in plentiful supply. As a vegan though, I still found lots of recipes here to inspire me, especially the new-to-me ways of presenting vegetables such as the Poriyal and Varai. I chose to make a Carrot Curry, a Brussels Sprouts Poriyal and a Green Bean Varai, and served them with steamed wild rice. Absolutely delicious! All three cooking methods were clearly explained with easy to follow instructions. Ingredients for these were easy to find too, in fact I already had the significant spices on hand.

I particularly liked the versatility of these recipes. Different vegetables can substituted depending what is in season and the three contrasting textures of the dishes I chose made for a very satisfying meal. The techniques are simple enough for even our caravan kitchen to accommodate, yet the results were rather impressive - if I do say so myself. Thank you Mary Anne!

Meet the author

Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and thirteen other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages. The Stars Change was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards.

Mohanraj founded the Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning speculative literature magazine, Strange Horizons, and also founded Jaggery, a S. Asian & S. Asian diaspora literary journal ( She received a Breaking Barriers Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women for her work in Asian American arts organizing, won an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose, and was Guest of Honor at WisCon. She serves as Director of two literary organizations, DesiLit ( and The Speculative Literature Foundation (  She serves on the futurist boards of the XPrize and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Mohanraj is Clinical Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lives in a creaky old Victorian in Oak Park, just outside Chicago, with her husband, their two small children, and a sweet dog.  Recent publications include stories for George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series, stories at Clarkesworld, Asimov's, and Lightspeed, and an essay in Roxane Gay’s Unruly Bodies.  2017-2018 titles include Survivor (a SF/F anthology), Perennial, Invisible 3 (co-edited with Jim C. Hines), and Vegan Serendib.

Author links: 
WebsiteFacebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Serendib Kitchen

And now it's time for the Giveaway!

The prize is an ebook copy of A Feast Of Serendib.
Open Internationally until the 5th July.

A Feast Of Serendib by Mary Anne Mohanraj cookery ebook giveaway

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Books by Mary Anne Mohanraj / Food and cookery books / Books from Sri Lanka

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw

The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw
Published in the UK by Accent Books today, the 20th June 2019.

A 2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth... 

Emma Maria Rossini appears to be the luckiest girl in the world. She's the daughter of a beautiful and loving mother, and her father is one of the most famous film actors of his generation. She's also the granddaughter of a rather eccentric and obscure Italian astrophysicist. But as her seemingly charmed life begins to unravel, and Emma experiences love and tragedy, she ultimately finds solace in her once-derided grandfather's Theorem on the universe.

The Space Between Time is humorous and poignant and offers the metaphor that we are all connected, even to those we have loved and not quite lost.

I loved Charlie Laidlaw's previous novel, The Things We Learn When We're Dead, so was delighted to be offered a review copy of his newest offering, The Space Between Time. This story follows the apparently charmed life of Emma Rossini as she grows up in a seemingly picture perfect family which is soon revealed to us readers to be anything but perfect. I admit to being frequently baffled by the astrophysical diversions although I think I understood enough to appreciate how the scientific theories reflected aspects of Emma's life - or vice versa, perhaps! Overall though, I was happy that I didn't need a physics degree here, and soon found myself completely swept up into the story.

Laidlaw's humour is, again, pitched just at the right level to keep The Space Between Time from becoming a depressing drama. The novel does explore heavy themes of mental illness and family relationships, and ideas of personal responsibility, but Laidlaw's eye for the absurd and his dry turn of phrase really appealed to me. Each of the characters are fully-rounded nuanced people and Laidlaw is just as accomplished with his portrayals of female characters as with males. We see everyone slightly differently as Emma grows from child to teenager to adult and her perceptions change with her increased understanding of what had passed. This is cleverly done and felt very real throughout the novel. I now want to visit several of the stunning locations too, especially that North Berwick coastline which sounds bleakly wonderful.

I think The Space Between Time would be a great book club choice inspiring lots of animated discussions of the ideas it raises! I felt that it has important things to say about the way we see ourselves and the assumptions we often make about other people without any sense of their internal lives. It is also simply a great story and an engrossing read which I hope will have a wide appeal.

Etsy Find!
by Shenova in
California, USA

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Books by Charlie Laidlaw / Contemporary fiction / Books from Scotland

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Confessions Of Zeno by Italo Svevo

Confessions Of Zeno by Italo Svevo
First published in Italian as La coscienza di Zeno by L Cappelli in Italy in 1923. English language translation by Beryl de Zoete published by Putnam in 1930.

A Classics Club read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1907 novelist James Joyce was engaged as Svevo’s English tutor in Trieste, and in the process they developed a friendship. When Joyce read Svevo’s novel La coscienza di Zeno (Confessions of Zeno), he was so impressed with it that he encouraged the writer to publish it, and later helped to promote it. 

While Joyce became enthralled with the latest novelistic techniques —particularly the stream of consciousness and indirect free style— to get inside the mind of his characters, Svevo accomplished the same thing without the new tools. Zeno’s consciousness is not the flowing of a stream, but the cascading, torrential avalanche of details that is the essence of humanness in all aspects: from low double entry bookkeeping, business, and economics, to manipulations of the Stock Market, to moral dilemmas, and raw passions.

Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno belongs to the comic tradition of Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, though not in the realist manner, but rather in a psychological vein. After a reading a few pages the reader will have no doubt that he is confronting a paradoxical juxtaposition between things of the mind and things themselves. 

Zeno —the narrator and eponymous hero— on the surface is a hypochondriac, neurotic, quirky, solipsistic, self-examining and self-serving bourgeois; deep down, however, he is love and goodness incarnate, not by design but by the whims of life. 

On the face of it, Confessions Of Zeno begins in a similar way to The Savage Detectives in that a young man, relatively incapable yet convinced of his own importance, is running around town to no great purpose whilst trying to catch the eyes of as many young women as he can. In the case of the latter book, I soon got so exasperated by that man's antics that I DNF'd the book. Confessions Of Zeno on the other hand so endeared its narrator to me that I've enjoyed the read and awarded it five stars! I can understand why it is considered a classic of its time.

Zeno is a thoroughly hapless young gentleman on independent means who, despite his frequent and repeated efforts to screw up his life, always manages to land on his feet. His efforts in business inevitably go very wrong, yet right themselves as soon as he stops trying. His dreams of marriage are ground into the dust by the first two women to whom he proposes, yet his third proposal results in a long-lived and happy marriage. He is about as self-involved a narrator as I've ever met and is always complaining of some illness or another, yet I loved spending time in his company. Svevo had the talent to evoke both sympathy and empathy in his readers, and to perfectly tread the line of making his protagonist just believable enough while still bizarrely entertaining. Confessions Of Zeno is 377 pages of small yellowed print and it took me several months to actually embark upon its reading, but I am now glad to have done so!

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Books by Italo Svevo / Historical fiction / Books from Italy

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

A Knife For Harry Dodd by George Bellairs

A Knife For Harry Dodd (The Inspector Littlejohn Mysteries Book 20) by George Bellairs
First published in the UK in 1953. Republished by Agora Books on June 13th 2019.

A Classics Club read and one of my 2019 COYER Summer Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a Crime Classics Review Club review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, the women hadn’t believed Dodd was dead. They had put him in his pyjamas, fixed up his wound with plaster and lint, and put him to bed. Then, they’d realised he had died quietly whilst in their hands.

When Harry Dodd calls Dorothy Nicholls for a ride home from the pub, she and her mother think he’s just had too much to drink. Little do they know that he’s dying of a stab wound to the back. By the time they get him home, he’s dead.

Who would want to kill Harry Dodd? When Inspector Littlejohn is called in to investigate this murder, he uncovers the dark side of the power-hungry Dodd family. Perhaps Dodd’s life was not as simple as it seemed…

Bogged down with jealousy, greed, and spurned lovers, Littlejohn has more suspects than he can handle. And as the body count rises, it seems there might be more than one murderer in his midst…

I recently signed up for the Crime Classics Review Club which offers a newly republished classic crime novel bimonthly for review. I hadn't read any George Bellairs novels before so jumped at the chance of this one. A Knife For Harry Dodd is the twentieth of Bellairs' Inspector Littlejohn series, but I found no problem with not having read the previous books. In fact, I thought the Inspector was the least of all the characters and he didn't seem to have much of a personal story arc at all. Obviously the unravelling of the murder - or murders in the plural as it soon becomes - revolves around the lynchpin of Littlejohn's investigation and deductions, but he is generally a quiet, unassuming sort of man, overshadowed by other wonderful creations.

From the Nicholls women, a mother and daughter, the younger of whom had been Dodd's mistress, whom we meet in the first pages, to Sergeant Cromwell, to asylum inmate Mr Glass, to put-upon pet shop proprietor Ishmael Lott, I loved Bellairs' eye for character detail and human foibles. Even the briefest of cameo roles are wonderfully well observed and add a great sense of depth to the intricately plotted mystery. Perhaps some of the comments dismissing women's abilities are too dated now (the book was first published 66 years ago), but the roles allocated to the female characters generally transcend their initial stereotyped appearances. I won't describe the narrative itself other than to say I found it compelling reading with a satisfying conclusion. I look forward to reading more George Bellairs novels soon and already have another downloaded to my Kindle!

Etsy Find!
by The Story Gift in
Bath, England

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Books by George Bellairs / Crime fiction / Books from England