My February/March Reads: Drag Queens, Murder, Magic and Vintage Italy

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THE MAGIC STRINGS OF FRANKIE PRESTO BY MITCH ALBOM

Mitch Albom, for me, is genuinely one of the greatest storytellers out there, his brilliant prose drawing you straight into the heart of those stories. He has soul, he makes you cry for a character, root for a character and Frankie Presto epitomises that.

This is a big, sprawling novel. It takes in the lifetime of Frankie, a kid with a unique musical talent. At 9 years old he is sent on a boat from Spain to America with only his old guitar and six precious strings. Frankie is fictional but Albom cleverly weaves him into the rock n roll landscape impacting on very real stars like Hank Williams, Elvis, Carol King and KISS along the way.

He becomes an adored pop star himself but his gift is also a burden as he realises that his music actually affects people’s futures. At the height of fame, he disappears and his legend grows. Decades later, though, he reappears to change one more life.

This is a classic in the making. Or should be. Relentlessly heart-breaking yet moving, every page holds a surprise twist or bombshell. It’s magical yet real. A thing of beauty. The kind of book that takes over your life whilst your reading it. As I finished the last page, I sat stunned with the book on my lap, still mesmerised. 9.5/10

THE ENCHANTED APRIL BY ELIZABETH VON ARNIM

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Desperate for a sunny escape from a cold, rainy February on the south coast, I engrossed myself in The Enchanted April over the half term break. First published in 1922, it was in part responsible for hoards of English tourists suddenly holidaying on the Italian Riviera and I can see why.

A notice is placed in The Times addressed to ‘Those Who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine.’ It alludes to a small Italian castle which is to be let for the month of April, an offer quickly snapped up by four very different women who flee unappreciative husbands, love-sick men and the effects of ageing, on the shores of the Med. Beauty, warmth, gardens and leisure cast a spell over them all and their lives are changed forever.

I found this the perfect novel to cheer up a blue Monday. Continue reading

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My January Reads: Wildean Works, Italian Trains and Deirdre Barlow!

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ITALIAN WAYS BY TIM PARKS

English writer and translator, Tim Parks, has lived in Italy since the early 1980s. During that time he has travelled extensively throughout his adoptive country on its varying and often baffling rail network. This book is a collection of extraordinary encounters with ordinary Italians, ticket systems, gypsies, prostitutes, immigrants and priests as he journeys from Verona and Milano in the north down to the southern parts of Sicily all by train. He brilliantly captures what makes Italian life distinctive through amusing scenes and detail and tries to make sense of their behaviour and their trains on our behalf, interpreting Italian Ways in both senses. I enjoyed the book as I felt like his travel companion throughout and as someone who plans on spending a lot of time in Italy, it proved both interesting and funny 6/10

DEIRDRE – A LIFE ON CORONATION STREET BY GLENDA YOUNG

The slaps, the glasses, the affairs, the chain belts, the hairdos (and don’ts) and the enduring love between Deirdre and Ken Barlow. This book has it all for huge Corrie fans like myself who miss the actress Anne Kirkbride and her cobbles character Deirdre who both sadly passed away last year. The photos, scripts and scenes are great reminders of her best bits; the break ups and make ups of her numerous flings and the hilarious exchanges with rogue daughter Tracey and with the wicked tongue of her mother Blanche. 200+ pages of pure Corrie joy! 10/10

OSCAR WILDE – THE COLLECTED WORKS

Coming in at 1000+ pages this volume was no mean feat for an uninspiring yet busy January but I enjoyed almost all of it. I’ve always been a Wilde fan – led to him of course by my idol Morrissey – and have challenged myself to really get to know his work better this year. The Picture Of Dorian Gray is naturally the highlight but I was also particularly fond of his other stories; The Canterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Sphinx Without A Secret etc. I’d read The Happy Prince and Other Tales (including The Selfish Giant) previously and found them to be just as delightful all over again. I admit to struggling with his essays and poetry but loved above all else the plays of Oscar Wilde. Witty and evocative, pushing boundaries for their time and even now in places. I know I will read Lady Windemere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest again and again. A beautifully presented book with a contents of absolute, true and declared genius within 9.5/10

52 books in 52 weeks – Challenge Complete!

Earlier this year when I realised I was spending more time than ever with my head in a book, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books in 52 weeks in 2015.

Challenge complete!

Among the new titles, the following fiction stood out for me; Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, Vesna Goldsworthy’s Gorsky and As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by my absolute favourite, Alan Bradley (not the one who got hit by a tram in Corrie!)

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However,  I found the year’s non-fiction to be even better; the collected lyrics and notes of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, So This Is Permanence, is a thing of heart-breaking beauty to be treasured forever. Gut by Giulia Enders has already been passed around several members of family and friends – a brilliantly interesting, funny and accessible explanation of the behaviour of our bowels!

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And I have to mention the Welsh singer and a man personally adored by me, Tom Jones, who has written the most excellent and hilarious autobiography Over The Top and Back. A brick of a book which took me almost a month to read though not just due to its doorstep size but also due to re-reading such unrivalled anecdotes (not all about Elvis either!) and collapsing in fits of laughter. Do not read if bad language offends you – this is a man who loves the C word!

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But overall I tried to vary style, length, age and the classic with the contemporary. I loved every minute. Here’s what I got through, starting with my most recommended titles: Continue reading

The red notebook

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THE RED NOTEBOOK

BY ANTOINE LAURAIN

Charming and intriguing this another excellent story from Parisian author Antoine Laurain. I had previously read his best selling book The President’s Hat and this follows in a similar style – a light hearted tale about fate and chance that always stays just on the right side of whimsical.

Young widow Laure, a gilder, is mugged for her handbag outside her Paris home late at night. The attack leaves her hospitalised. Early the next morning bookseller Laurent finds her bag on top of a bin as he walks to work. In an act of citizenship he takes the bag along to the police station but finds they are too busy to process his discovery. Laurent takes the bag home and decides he will find the owner himself using the objects in her handbag (minus the stolen purse, phone and ID) as clues. Her red notebook in particular, with its list of likes and fears, holds vital pointers to her identity and whereabouts as does her signed copy of a novel by a local author.

This is a bookish, romantic story full of Parisian life, fabulous in its pleasant pace Continue reading

Grandpa’s Great Escape

GRANDPA’S GREAT ESCAPE

BY

DAVID WALLIAMS

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I turn 36 years old tomorrow but I’m still watching the new episodes of Danger Mouse and I still enjoying reading brilliant children’s literature like this latest from bestselling author and comedy hero, David Walliams.

Many readers are of the opinion that Walliams is the natural successor to Roald Dahl, and I couldn’t agree more. Neither of them talk down to their young readers, instead whisking them along for exciting, perilous adventures and fairytale capers of love and friendship and of course, great dollops of horrid, hairy, farty things.

Dahl is responsible for the bookworm I am today. As a child his stories were eye-popping! They made me go “ooh” and “wow,” “eeeuuuuww” and “ARRRGHHH” in equal measure. Walliams possesses that same talent. I have read all seven of the Little Britain actor’s previous children’s novels and loved them all but this might be my favourite yet.

This is a story of a young boy called Jack whose Grandpa has become confused in his old age. He believes he is back in World War II saving the skies as an RAF Spitfire pilot. Only Jack understands him and sets out to rescue him from Continue reading

Gorsky

GORSKY

BY VESNA GOLDSWORTH

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If you’re in the UK  you have probably seen huge window displays of this book in your local high street bookseller, such is the buzz around this Great Gatsby inspired page-turner. For once, this is rightly deserved. I devoured Gorsky over two train journeys and found it to be one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

Nick is a Serbian living in London and working in a shabby old bookshop. His humdrum life is turned on its head when the commission of a lifetime from Russian billionaire Gorsky sees him thrust into a world of wealth, beauty, art and sex. But, of course, all this comes at a price and Nick’s life is suddenly filled with danger.

Set in Chelsea (or Chelski!) the reader is immersed in a decadent world spilling over with previously unimaginable luxury, sums of money, Continue reading

The Strange Library

THE STRANGE LIBRARY

BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

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I bought this book the day after I got made redundant from my library job. For twelve years I thought I had worked in a strange library – but thankfully not as dark and sinister as Murkami’s one!

‘The Strange Library’ is a fully illustrated and beautifully designed book. I loved the nostalgic old school library ticket on the front cover and the tagline on the back cover which simply read; “All I did was go to the library to borrow a book.” I’m a real library lover and can be a bit of a geek about it so although I have only ever managed to dip in and out of Murakami, I sensed I might like this! The illustrations inside enhanced this psychedelic tale providing a unique visual enjoyment alongside the text. I found the drawings, some of which are marbled papers and old pages from books found in The London Library, to be simultaneously odd and fun.

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But what’s it about? Well that is a good question! A small boy goes to the public library to borrow a book, once there he is taken to an underground reading room by a cruel old man. There he is locked in a cell by a “Sheep-man” and is instructed to memorise two large books to secure his freedom otherwise his brains will get eaten and Continue reading