Monthly Archives: June 2015

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson – Review

Orenda Books

Publication date – 15 June 2015

Source – Publisher

Translated by Quentin Bates

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Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via my blogging friend Liz Barnsley at Lizlovesbooks and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Ari Thor, about to graduate from the police academy, accepts a job from the chief of police in Siglufjörður. Leaving behind his disgruntled girlfriend, he finds himself in a place surrounded by mountains and edged by the sea. The only exit, a narrow mountain tunnel. He finds it hard to settle, being told that nothing ever happens; everyone knows each other and doors are kept unlocked. The only thing to sort out are the occasional speeding tickets or the odd drunk. So when an elderly local celebrity is found dead after a fall in the local theatre Ari Thor is soon told that this is nothing more than accident. Doubt nags at Ari Thor and when a young woman is found bleeding in the snow things it soon becomes clear, things aren’t all as they seem.

I don’t want to go into too much detail as to the mystery side of the story. To do so would spoil the enjoyment of finding out for yourself and runs the risk of me giving too much away.

The chapters alternate between characters which enables the story to be about more than just Ari Thor. The fact that the story is not told solely from his viewpoint works well. The reader is invited into the lives of the residents in a way that Ari Thor, an outsider, is not. This gives even more of a sense of danger and menace to the story but also a different dynamic.

There is something almost hauntingly melancholic about this story. The claustrophobia felt by Ari Thor is palpable. You can almost feel the walls of snow caging you in and the sense of almost perpetual winter darkness makes you reach for the light switch. There is also an air of menace which is juxtaposes the almost ‘cosy’ feel to the mystery. The tale is set in a small town, where doors are kept unlocked and everyone knows everyone else. Yet secrets lurk behind those unlocked doors and outsiders like Ari Thor sense what is almost hidden from view.

The imagery used in the book is immediate. Though I read this in June I found myself shivering and the descriptions of the unremitting darkness of the 24 hour ‘nights’ are superbly effective, making me forget that around me the days were the longest they are all year.

Quentin Bates’ translation is outstanding. Again I forgot I was reading a piece of translated fiction and I’ve said before that I believe the sign of a great translator is that you cannot tell the work you are reading is translated. Nothing felt jarred or out of place. The sense of tension, danger and oppression flowed throughout.

I was easily transported to Iceland and the book left me a longing to return. There is a desolate beauty to the country which is echoed in Snowblind.  I eagerly await Ragnar Jonasson’s next book, Nightblind, out later this year.

 

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Baking my troubles Away by Ann O’Loughlin – Guest Post

Today’s I’m pleased to welcome Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ballroom Café, to the blog.

Ann has written a wonderful piece on the  soothing properties of baking.

BAKING MY TROUBLES AWAY

Some opt for a spa treatment; others walk the dog. I like to bake a cake.

While most of my friends walk their troubles away; I bake them away.

There is something so calming when you run flour through your fingers, measure out the sugar and whip up a cake.

So it was hardly surprising that some of my favourite cakes made it in to The Ballroom Cafe.

In fact, it was baking I turned to when the plot ground to a halt and the warring sisters Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan refused to do what they were told.  Baking was my salvation when Muriel Hearty decided to have a sea change and forget to gossip and when May started to fret too much over her fruit cakes.

It was to baking I turned after writing the saddest scenes in The Ballroom Café, to clear my head and reassure myself that all was right with the world.

Ella O’Callaghan in The Ballroom Café finds the same solace in a baking session when times are tough.

Times get very tough for Ella and the bank threatens to repossess, so she set up a café in the upstairs ballroom, serving her scrumptious homemade cakes and tea in a china cup.

Ella not only loves baking, but is a natural at it. My mother loved to bake cakes too. She never seemed to have to take out a recipe book; it was all in her head. She always said if you kept key ingredients in the food cupboard, you would never be stuck.

 Flour in those days came in large white cloth sacks and it was my job to scoop it out with a big metal scoop and weigh it.

 I know now she only got me to set it on the scales to humour a young helper. She herself could throw the ingredients together and whip up a cake in no time.

We made lemon cakes, coffee cakes and the rich family chocolate cake for special occasions. The chocolate cake with ground almonds and good quality chocolate is my all time favourite. It features in The Ballroom Café. And no, I am not going to reveal the secret ingredient; you are going to have to read the novel to get to that one.

Back to baking proper, my one piece of advice which comes – you guessed it – courtesy of my mum.

 “Concentrate, block out everything else, enjoy doing it and it will all show in the cake.”

 She is right of course. Ever tried to bake when the world is wrong for you and unhappiness gurgles through you; you end up with a stodgy, flat offering. Be happy and make a nice, light, fluffy cake; it works all the time for me.

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The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent – Review

Mantle

Publication date – 4 June 2015

Translated by Ros Shwartz

the-reader-on-the-627-978144727646301

“The irresistible French bestseller about the redemptive power of books – Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amélie

An irresistible French sensation – Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amélie – The Reader on the 6.27 explores the power of books through the lives of the people they save. It is sure to capture the hearts of book lovers everywhere.

Guylain Vignolles lives on the edge of existence. Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, he has but one pleasure in life . . .

Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. And it’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life.

For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie. A woman who feels as lost in the world as he does. As he reads from these pages to a rapt audience, Guylain finds himself falling hopelessly in love with their enchanting author . . .

The Reader on the 6.27 is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. This captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest review of the book.

Guylain Vignolles dreads the journey to work every day. Working at a book pulping plant it breaks his heart to destroy the books that arrive by the lorry load. Each day on his way to the plant he reads aloud pages that he has saved from the machine. His fellow passengers have come to eagerly await Guylain’s latest discoveries. One day he finds the diary of Julie. As he reads these he finds himself falling for the mysterious Julie. But can he find the woman behind the words?…

I loved the premise of this book so when I heard about it I was eager to give it a read. I wasn’t disappointed. I was soon drawn into Guylain’s world. The book pulping machine, the bane of Guylain’s life, is aptly described as ‘The Thing’ by Guylain. It takes on a personality of it’s own, becoming a malevolent presence and leading to the reader to easily distain it as much as Guylain.

There is a magical quality to this book, one that I have noticed is present in other French literature I have recently read. It casts a lovely spell over the reader, delighting them as Guylain does with his fellow passengers on the 6.27. That magic is transported to the retirement home where Guylain reads, waking up the residents from their stupor. Similarly the words of Julie open up Guylain’s world, making him realise his lonely existence may not be a permanent one.

Ros Shwartz again does a fantastic translation. My opinion is that if I forget I’m reading a translation then the translator has done their job perfectly. The magic that was behind the author’s words has been retained and it is that which holds the story together.

This book celebrates the magic of words and of story-telling. It’s a beautiful tale about the love of books and how they can open up new avenues and adventures for readers. Perhaps even leading to love.

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Julia Kelly – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Julia Kelly, author of The Playground, to the blog. Julia kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about the Playground

It’s a novel about a single mother trying to protect her child in a world populated by people who are parents when they haven’t quite grown up themselves. 

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book? 

The idea came to me during a tearful conversation with my agent. I was in my sitting room looking out the window at the playground across the road listening to all the reasons why she felt a draft novel I’d submitted wasn’t working. She asked if I had any other ideas and, needing to say something, I said I could always write about the Playground (God knows I’d spent enough time there since I’d had my little girl). She loved the idea, as did my publisher, and I got down to work straight away. 

3. What is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

The best and the worst for me are being my own boss. While I love the freedom and independence of working for myself, writing requires discipline, focus and organisation – none of which are innate skills but the pressure of deadlines and financial commitments help to keep me at my desk.  

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I’m a combination of both. I write a first draft without having any formal structure or clear idea of what shape it will take. When this is complete I will then map out a plot and narrative arc using index cards and a cork board. I have tried to begin the other way around but I find it too dull and uninspiring. I like to get all my ideas out unedited first and then put a shape on them.  

5. How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I write very slowly; my first novel took three years, my second, four. But I want to become more prolific and am aiming to have a first draft of my third ready by this Christmas.  

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I live in a beautiful coastal village outside Dublin and love walking in the hills and along the beaches with our dog, friends and my daughter. And a deep bubble bath with a great novel and a large glass of wine is bliss for me. I also love Italy, Italians, driving around the Irish countryside, running, reading, going to the movies. 

7. Who would you invite to your fantasy literary dinner party?

Bill Bryson, Alan Hollinghurst, Jonathan Franzen, David Sedaris, Lorrie Moore, Zoe Heller and Dorothy Parker, if she were still alive. 

8. I like to end my Q & A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Can you tell me seven random facts about you: 

1) I once took a large bite out of the passenger seat of my aunt’s car (I had quite a taste for leather and rubber when I was twelve). It went down very well. Though not so much with my aunt. 

2) Bank holidays depress me. I hate being put under pressure to have lots of fun plans.

3) The words ‘moist’ ‘more-ish’ ‘panties’ and ‘awesome’ among others make me squirm. It even hurts to write them down. 

4)  I’ve always wanted to be a farmer’s wife though I am vegetarian, cry if I’m woken earlier than seven and love, but am nervous of, nearly all animals so it may not have been a happy marriage. 

5) I like Dunnes Stores but I hate their vomit-coloured carrier bags. 

6) And I truly hate when people tell me I look tired/shattered/knackered/worn out/f**ked. I know I do. Pointing it out is not sympathetic, empathetic, helpful or kind. It just makes me feel like going back to bed. 

7) I have the world’s scariest knees. But that’s nothing new.   

About the book

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“A funny and moving novel about a single mother finding her independence.

Eve is starting again.

Newly single, unemployed and with a baby daughter, she joins the local mums trying to make their nearby playground the heart of the community. But not all games are innocent – and not all friends are true. When the rules change, Eve must forge her own independence – and realise that the playground is no place to hide from adulthood.”

The Playground by Julia Kelly is out on June 4 (Quercus, £7.99).

 

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