TLC Book Tours: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

 

 

I would like to know – is there anything that Neil Gaiman cannot write?

From fantasy to fairytale retellings to children’s to bestselling novels and comics. He seems to have done it all. Even Dr Who episodes. And he’s got the awards to prove it!

He has written one of my all-time favourite comic series, Sandman, but I believe the very first book of his that I read was Stardust.

And here he is with a collection of non-fiction writing, from introductions to speeches to tributes. Some are insightful, such as his  “All Books Have Genders,” others are just simply inspiring, like “Telling Lies for a Living… And Why We Do It: The Newberry Medal Speech 2009”. Others are very specific, such as his thoughts on Doctor Who or G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown – and may require some previous knowledge on said topics.

The best of his pieces are the more personal ones, like when he talks about how libraries were his second home when he was a kid. Or when he writes about his dear friend Terry Pratchett, whom he interviewed in 1985 – Pratchett’s first ever interview. Or those words he wrote for Tori Amos’ tour book:

“Tori is wise and witchy and wickedly innocent. What you see is what you get: a little delirium, a lot of delight. There’s fairy blood inside her, and a sense of humor that shimmers and illuminates and turns the world upside down.”

And that rather awesome piece for Time Out (‘Six to Six’) where he just wanders the streets of London late at night, writing about whatever happened (hint: not very much – but because it is Neil Gaiman I will still read it). This is the guy after all, whom people will pay money (specifically, donate to a good cause) to hear read the Cheesecake Factory menu out loud. His piece on attending the Oscars is another fun one.

I love reading all those bits and pieces about his life, and especially the way libraries and librarians were such a big part of his world.

The thing with a smorgasbord like this is it’s not meant to be read in one gulp. It is a book that takes time – and with 502 pages (not counting the index), a good amount of time. It’s a good palate cleanser – for those days when you’ve finished an intense (or agonizing or just plain unforgettable) book that you cannot let go of, and you are in a book hangover and feel unable to pick up anything new. Read one of Gaiman’s essays, especially one of those that talks about writing or a writer or reading or libraries, and I think it would inspire you to read again. 

Neil Gaiman – curing book hangovers one essay at a time. 

 


 

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour here. 

You can purchase this book via HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on FacebooktumblrTwitterInstagram, and his blog.

TLC Book Tours: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

“What a burden it is to be born a woman.”


What Zeba is:

  • a loving mother
  • a loyal wife
  • in prison

Her husband Kamal has been found murdered, with a hatchet, in their courtyard.

And Zeba – covered with blood.

She is sent to Chil Mahtab, the women’s prison in Kabul, while the judge tries to figure out what to do with her.

Her brother has hired her a young lawyer, Yusuf, a recent returnee from the US where he has lived for many years and where he went to law school. He’s a little naive but his colleague soon sets him straight about how things work in Afghanistan:

“the justice system, if you can even call it that, is as twisted as a mullah’s turban. There are ways to work with what we have, but it takes creativity and patience.”

Unfortunately he has a difficult task ahead of him as Zeba herself refuses to help in her own defense. Her refusal makes him wonder, what is she hiding? Whose secrets are she keeping?

It was especially interesting (and painful) to learn about Zeba’s fellow inmates.

“Because of their various improprieties, many had been convicted of the broad crime of zina, sex outside of marriage. Some were convicted of attempted zina or imprisoned for assisting another woman to commit zina.”

Sadly, for many of them, prison is a safer place than their own homes. Isn’t that just heart-breaking?

This book was a difficult read, a difficult topic but one that hopefully raises more awareness about women’s rights around the world.

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I received this book for review from its publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour. 

Pick up this book: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Connect with the author: WebsiteFacebook, and Twitter

 

I’m using this for “Central Asian MC” for #AsianLitBingo

TLC Book Tours: Mercury by Margot Livesey

I confess. I forgot about this book. Not that I read and forgot it. But that I received it from the publisher some months before and then left it lying around and it got lost in my stacks of books. So I panicked when I got the email about the blog tour – and my post was due in four days!!

Luckily, I found the book. It was in the pile of books by my table that I thought I had looked at, but it turns out I didn’t really and there it was, right at the bottom, where it really didn’t belong.

And also, it was such a great read that I blew through it effortlessly, after an initial slow start. I had struggled with my previous book tour (The Yard – you can read my review), so I was just relieved that this one was more readable.

evamoves

I requested to be on this book tour because I remember really liking one of Livesey’s previous books, Eva Moves the Furniture, a strange ghostly read about love and loneliness.

Mercury was a rather different read. It opens, slowly, with Donald, an optometrist recounting his move from Scotland to Boston when he was a child, his relationship with his wife Viv and her running of Windy Hill, a riding stable, where Mercury, a dapple-grey Thoroughbred, “the most beautiful animal Viv had ever seen” has just been boarded.

Donald’s words have a bit of an ominous tone:

“Looking back over the months following his departure, I can see that I lost track of certain things.”

And the truth is, I wasn’t really sure where Livesey was taking us, where she was bringing Donald and his family. But just as his part of the story is ending and Viv takes up the narration, things all click into place. And there it is, the something that happens (no I’m not going to tell you more than that), and the way it plays with their lives. Regret. Hesitation. Uncertainty.

The synopsis (you can read it here at Goodreads) describes the book as an “emotional thriller” but I feel like putting the word “thriller” tends to make one think of life and death situations, lots of screaming and chasing and mayhem. So if you’re coming into this book thinking “thriller! Yes!”, well sorry, that’s not really it.

But to me, this book was, in its own way, thrilling, it had a quiet intensity to it that hit home because it was a book about consequences, about how the  actions (or non-action) of ordinary people can lead to such unexpected results. There are a lot of nagging ‘what if I had done this’ thoughts throughout the story. And it made me wonder, what if this were me? What if a loved one had done something like this? What would I do? Could I still love that person? Would that even matter?

Mercury is an unforgettable story about relationships and second chances, about desire and ambition. It is thrilling and haunting in its own way, and hits home in its sharp look at moral dilemmas.

In a conversation with author Lily King for Literary Hub, Livesey says:

For me, the deeper meaning of a novel often emerges slowly. I try to make the characters and the situations vivid and gradually, as they come into focus, I begin to understand what it is I’m moving towards, what lies at the heart of the novel.

And that’s the beauty behind Mercury.

margot-livesey-ap-photo-by-tony-rinaldiMargot Livesey is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Find out more about Margot at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher HarperCollins, as part of a TLC Book Tour

 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops

TLC Book Tours – The Yard

yard

This is a book with such potential.

I was immediately drawn to it by its setting – Trinidad and Tobago. And a wealthy Indo-Muslim  family whose ancestors first settled there as indentured labourers.

It opens intriguingly. Father Khalid visits an old relative, discovers she is long deceased, but there is a strange young boy sitting in her house, covered with flies, scared, alone. He brings him to his home, to his family of a wife and young daughters, adopts him and gives him the name of Behrooz. But the families of Father Khalid’s siblings, who also live in the Yard, are wary and unaccepting of Behrooz.

Behrooz develops a friendship with Father Khalid’s second daughter Maya, rebellious and headstrong. This turns into something a bit more than a friendship and after a night together, Maya flees for the anonymity of London.

This dramatic story is an exploration of religion, tolerance, of keeping a family together.

When I say this book has potential, I meant that while it is set in a very different place, that is, of Trinidad and Tobago, and from the perspective of an East Indian Muslim family, the story takes place largely within this compound of The Yard. The family rarely ventures out, and as a result, the reader doesn’t either. And that is such a pity, as this is one of the few novels that are set in Trinidad and Tobago, but other than an introduction to the family’s history in the country, I felt like the story was too enclosed in the Yard.

I understand what the writer is trying to do with the book, that is, the Yard, the family, that isolation. But I think in this case, too much happens within the Yard. People arrive, people disappear. And with so many characters, a family tree would have helped sort them out better.

I feel like I am being very critical of this book. I am not a professional book reviewer. I accept these books for review on my blog but I never know if anyone reads these reviews. And I do want to be honest, especially with a story that has potential. It could have used a more experienced editor who could have guided this debut author with a more confident hand, pointed out some awkward turns of phrases, and tried to rein in some tropes and constructed a more solid character in Maya.

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Check out the rest of the tour stops here
aliyyah

Aliyyah Eniath was born in Trinidad and Tobago; her ancestors hailed from Uttar Pradesh, India. She’s a director at Safari Publications, a magazine publishing house, and founder/editor-in- chief of Belle Weddings (Caribbean) magazine.

Her debut novel The Yard (literary, romance) is published by Speaking Tiger Books in both paperback and ebook formats.

She explores the ideas of breaking free from imposed boundaries (familial or otherwise), understanding and feeling supported in who you are, overcoming self-doubt, and finally being true to yourself. Her writing looks at strict religious ideologies and their potential consequences and begs for a softer approach and innate understanding and compassion towards every human being.

She writes from the perspective of East Indians whose forefathers were brought to Trinidad from India through the British colonial indentureship scheme in 1845.

Find out more about Aliyyah at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

TLC Book Tours: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

 

 

Another Brooklyn cover

Jacqueline Woodson is best known for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. 

Her latest book, Another Brooklyn, isn’t in verse but it somehow reads like it is. 

In other words it is lyrical and it is stunning. 

Running into an old friend on a train triggers memories, both good and bad, for August, who is in Brooklyn to bury her father.

In 1973, aged eight, August, her four-year-old brother and her father move from Tennessee to Brooklyn, New York, after her mother starts hearing the voice of her dead brother Clyde, who was killed in the Vietnam War. In a new city, a new apartment, August and her brother are friendless, unsure of themselves. But she soon falls into a group of three girls: “Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone.”

And they navigate their world of growing up as girls, trying to find their place in this world, in 1970s Brooklyn, with absent mothers, drugs, uncertainty, and changing times. 

Another Brooklyn is a collection of memories and a wonderful freeflow of vignettes past and present. 

I may not have grown up in 1970s Brooklyn but a story like this, told with such grace and power, with brevity and confidence, just carries the reader in, fills her with emotions, and doesn’t let go. 

 

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops!

Jacqueline Woodson AP

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.

TLC Book Tours: Run the World by Becky Wade

Run the World cover

Let’s begin at the beginning. Here is where I tell you I don’t run.

(And there you go, with a horrified “what?” and go find a book blogger-runner whose review you’d rather read.)

Yes I don’t run but I sometimes read running-related things. So this is a review from a non-runner’s point of view. I hope you will bear with me!

So Becky Wade is an American. A young American runner. Who has never left the country. I always am fascinated by that. But that’s probably because the country I’m from is so tiny you can drive from one end to the other and still be in time for breakfast.

But Wade is a resourceful one. She gets hold of a yearlong fellowship (the Watson Fellowship) which gives its recipients money and then tells them to get lost. Really. As in they are not allowed to enter the US (or their home country if they’re not from the US) for a year. They don’t get a whole lot of money though so it’s not about living it up in fancy hotels but it’s enough to buy some plane tickets and do some traveling and pursue their interests. What a truly amazing thing to be able to do!

It is brave of her to do this. Not everyone would be willing to give up a year in which they could be starting a career for instance, which most college graduates are looking to do, or, in her case, putting her training on hold, to go out into the world for a year. When I first heard of this I had thought woah how fantastic, wish I could have done this! But as I thought about it more, traveling the world for a whole year isn’t easy. You have to be able to adapt to your always changing situation, to be ok with living out of hotels/motels/strangers’ homes. And be content living out of a backpack. I can imagine that being extroverted would really help too! (So not me).

Also here I should add that Wade was a very successful athlete already when she left on her yearlong adventure. She had multiple NCAA All-American Honours and two Olympic Trials qualifiers to her name. But she wasn’t contented with that. She wanted to learn how runners in other countries train.

So Wade wants to Run the World. She visits 22 countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland and more over 12 months.

Runners will definitely gain some insights from this book. When she runs with some Kenyans, they start off at a stroll, oh about 20 minutes or so, then a leisurely jog, not much faster than a walk, then all of a sudden, break into a run. That is, they run by feel and warm up naturally, something that Wade wasn’t used to at first. It is interesting to learn of how runners are so well-respected in Japan, how important races are broadcast on public TV, and some athletes and events can even bring Super Bowl-like ratings.

But non-runners like me will also find it a pretty good read as she delves into different cultures, learns about different cuisines around the world, and even provides some recipes from her new friends, like brown soda bread from Ireland, Rosti from Switzerland, and Anza biscuits.

I especially enjoyed reading about her stay in Ethiopia, where running is once again, by feel. Time, distances, speed is rarely predetermined. And the line leader uses snaps and finger points to warn of obstacles such as roots and cracks were in the way. And their coffee ceremonies, a wonderful tradition that revealed their communal culture.

I was a bit disappointed that her stay in Japan was mostly via Japanese expatriates. She did stay with a Japanese family in Kyoto  for a few nights but her experience in Japan was largely through the expat (i.e. white) scene. It sounds like it may have been hard for her to break into the Japanese running scene and that is a pity.

Five months after her year-long world adventure, Wade  won the California International Marathon in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 48 seconds, gaining her a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and a sponsorship from Asics. So all that knowledge and insight she gained from her world tour may have helped in her success!

Run the World is a bit of a different read for me, and while I may not really fall into its target audience, it was an enjoyable read. It allowed me to marvel at the passion people have for running. And to realize that what had always seemed to me like a simple sport can differ in so many ways around the world. From the way warmups happen, to the food that fuels runners, to the different styles of running. It was definitely an eye-opener.

Go Becky!

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops

Becky Wade AP photo by Deborah Kellogg-1Becky Wade is a professional long-distance runner who competes for Asics. At Rice University she was a four-time All-American and the winner of the Joyce Pounds Hardy Award, Rice’s highest athletic honor, and the Conference USA honoree for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Rice with a triple major in history, psychology, and sociology, Becky traveled the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and visited 22 countries to explore long-distance running cultures.

In her 26.2-mile debut in December 2013, Becky won the California International Marathon, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Currently, she is fulfilling her dream of running professionally and chasing Olympic aspirations, while coaching and working part-time at a shelter for homeless youth.

Connect with Becky on Instagram and Twitter.

 

TLC Book Tours: The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

 


Don’t you love it when a book just completely takes you by surprise, just wows you and leaves you sitting there, unable to stop thinking about what you read?

All I knew heading into The Summer Guest was that it was by Alison Anderson, who translated Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog which is such a fantastic book that I hope you have read (or will now go and read!).

Its synopsis begins:

What if Anton Chekhov, undisputed master of the short story, secretly wrote a novel—a manuscript hidden long ago that might have survived?

And that may have plenty of people going ooh. And… here is where I admit to you that I have not read Chekhov’s stories. This probably will appall some of you. You’re wondering, what business do I have reading this book?

antonchekhovBut here’s the thing, it’s not all that  important to have read Chekhov’s work to enjoy The Summer Guest. Sure, you may have a better understanding of things but it’s ok. I still really liked reading the book anyway. And it has also made me want to read Chekhov now, whom, you have to admit is quite a dashing man.

The Summer Guest unfolds from three different perspectives.

We have the diary, a newly uncovered diary from the 19th century, written in Russian by Zinaida Mikhailovna, a young woman trained as a doctor but recently blinded by an illness. She keeps the journal to fill her hours, now that she is unable to work. Anton Chekhov and his family rent the guesthouse on her family’s country estate and they become friendly.

Then we have Katya Kendall who runs a small publishing company with her husband Peter in London in 2014. Their business isn’t doing well so they hope that this diary by Zinaida Mikhailovna will help get them back on their feet. Their marriage isn’t doing very well either.

Ana Harding is a translator who lives in France, and who once worked with Katya’s company. Her Russian “was perfectly adequate, but she didn’t go looking for translations from Russian; they found her.” She takes on the project, as she had no reason to refuse, a job is a job, she needs the money. But she soon “befriended the diarist in that odd way translators sometimes have,  if they are lucky, of knowing their authors through a text, of inhabiting their identity and seeing through their eyes”.

Anderson, as a translator herself as well as a novelist herself, fully understands the difficulty of being one.

“She had had enough of being invisible, of slipping inconspicuously behind the more glamorous author whose photograph beckoned from the back cover of a book they had both written. As translator, she mused, she was no more than the lining of the dust jacket. This substance she craved – beyond meaningful texts, beyond creativity – should lead to an identity.”

There are long excerpts from the diary, observations about country life, conversations between Anton and Zinaida, Zinaida’s reminisces about her life. But there is also talk about alcoholism, consumption and other problems of 19th century Russia. And of course, the sad fact that Zinaida, the young and intelligent Zinaida, is wasting away from her illness.

In the bed I inhabited a warm, safe place. The sound of my breathing lulled me into memory: childhood. Papa, before. With us still. Outings to the islands on the river. Games in the field. Snowdrifts against the house where we hid. Sleigh rides. The thaw, Easter. The kulich and paskha and brightly colored eggs: the days of feasting and dancing. The priest blessing the house. The visitors, telling us how we’d grown.

The Summer Guest is a quiet novel. It is gentle and feels like it should be read sitting on a riverbank, under the shade of a willow tree, with some cold lemonade swigged from a bottle and strawberry sandwiches wrapped in brown paper. But gentle does not mean easy or simple. It has such beautiful, elegant prose, a well-constructed plot, complex characters and an ending that made me sit up and rethink the whole story. It may not be a book that you race through, but it is a book that stays with you, that makes you consider the importance of translators. And now I am so completely intrigued by Anton Chekhov, who, as Alison Anderson writes in a blog post:

“Chekhov had a very interesting love life, but one which could only be supported by speculation and conjecture, since many of the more explicit letters he wrote were destroyed either by his sister Masha in her task as guardian of his literary estate, or by Soviet academics.”

 

Juicy…

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour

Alison Anderson APALISON ANDERSON, a native Californian, works as a literary translator in the Swiss Alps. Her many translations include the Europa edition of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Ingrid Betancourt’s memoir, and the work of JMG De Clezio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship, as well as fellowships at the prestigious MacDowell Colony and the Hawthornden Retreat for Writers.

Find out more about Alison at her website.