Review | Fathers & Sons, Howard Cunnell

As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. What defines a Picador book is the author’s voice since the way the story is told is just as important as the story itself. Picador publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from all over the world.

“None of us have dads – not Johann or Steve or Ashley or me. None of us have dads and all of us are looking for something. Was there a connection? There had to be. It was Steve who gave me On the Road, and what are Sal and Dean searching for after all if not for their fathers – absent in death and life? If you didn’t have a dad who loved you, or who beat you when he came home drunk, I’m not stupid, then you were always looking for him, or something else . . .” writes Howard Cunnell in Fathers & Sons.

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Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

BookBlast® reviews Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott.

Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”

Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.

puerto ayacucho bookblast

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Interview | Linda Kelly, author

BookBlast™ interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I  date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery. 

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle.  Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.

In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated?
I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.

Continue reading Interview | Linda Kelly, author

Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

We aged a hundred years, and this
Happened in a single hour:
The short summer had already died
The body of the ploughed plains smoked.

Anna Akhmatova

Letter-writing may be a lost art today, since we tend to email rather than sit down and write longhand to a loved one or a friend, however epistolary novels have been with us for centuries  — from Montesquiou’s Persian Letters, Choderlos de Laclos Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker’s Dracula; to Stephen King’s Carrie and Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple — and are still popular. To read personal, private correspondence smacks of voyeurism, (etiquette dictates that to do so is unacceptable), hence the frisson of pleasure it affords. Suspense is created by what is revealed and concealed. The letters are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and dramatic irony keeps the reader hooked until the very end: Will ‘it’ or won’t ‘it’ happen? The Last Summer, superbly translated by Jamie Bulloch, is a welcome discovery thanks to Peirene Press.

Continue reading Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

Review | Crystal Wedding, Xu Xiaobin | Book of the Week

On their first date, in the park, they got down to some serious petting. He gave Tianyi a blow-by-blow account, making her blush with his frankness: ‘She undid her bra so I could feel her breasts,” he stammered. ‘Then she pushed my hand down there . . .’
‘Is she pretty?”
‘No, but she’s curvy, and she’s really hot.’
‘So she fits the bill?’ Tianyi asked with a touch of sarcasm.
‘Yes, she does,’ Jin went pink. ‘So I need your help, I’ve been wanting to do an experiment, to watch a girl’s reaction to having sex . . .’
‘That’s not fair, if she really loves you . . .’
‘But I might fall in love with her during the experiment. So there’s nothing unfair about it . . .’
‘It’s crazy.’

It’s not every day you come across a novel in which a mainland Chinese author writes openly about women, sex and corruption − affording the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into intimacy and relationships, Chinese style.

Continue reading Review | Crystal Wedding, Xu Xiaobin | Book of the Week

Interview | Roh-Suan Tung, Balestier Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Taiwan. My parents both love books and I remember lots of books surrounding me as a kid.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Yes and no. I learned how to be an editor early during the school years. I was then involved in the student movements for media freedom during around 30 years ago in Taiwan. My formal career started as a researcher and a professor in physics, in UK, USA and China. During the time, I was acting as editors for international science journals for some years. I always feel there is a need of literature and humanity publication, translating from all the languages in Asia, and I started to devote myself to Balestier Press.

Has your vision from when you started Balestier Press in 2014 changed?
The vision that there should be more books in translation from Asia remains. Since we started Balestier Press, we have received numerous encouragements and support from the writers and translators around the world.

Continue reading Interview | Roh-Suan Tung, Balestier Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | Dew Angels, Melanie Schwapp | Hope Road Publishing

Dew Angels is one of the best young adult novels I have read in a long time. It’s not just Melanie Schwapp’s strong, lucid writing; believable, engaging characters; compelling plotlines; and snappy pace, but also how the reader sees the world through fourteen-year-old Nola’s eyes. My ‘inner teenager’ certainly identified with underlying aspects of the story: the need to be loved and to belong; the agonies of first love and heartbreak; the power of anger; to feel comfortable in my skin and at one with the roots of my identity; and, most of all, the need for self acceptance. These are concerns that never completely go away even when one is a so-called ‘adult’ who has – supposedly! – learned how to handle things.

At birth, Nola Chambers is ostracized by her family for having skin “black as a moonless night”, while her siblings have skin “as golden as the retreating sun”. She is obliged by the headmistress  of her school to do homework with Dahlia whose mother runs Merlene’s Bar and Grill, known locally for being a den of evil. “There was music coming from the bar. The deep reggae bass seemed to spur on her racing heart as she walked past the red door. A woman in a tight orange mini skirt and tubed top leaned against the jamb, blowing streams of smoke from her nose as she drew on a cigarette.” The gambit works and Nola discovers the meaning of committment, friendship and fun. She also learns that gossip is malicious and fuels prejudice founded on ignorance, fear and envy.
Continue reading Review | Dew Angels, Melanie Schwapp | Hope Road Publishing