Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera

marriagematerialI picked up Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera on a bit of a whim. I hadn’t heard anything about it, and had not read (or even heard of) Sanghera’s earlier works. Further research revealed that Sanghera is an accomplished journalist and writer in the UK. His journalistic background comes through in the crafting of the novel, which is full of startling news items about racial relations in the Midlands of England in the 1970s, 1980s and beyond. As a Canadian, I often forget or overlook the turbulence in England during that period.

From the first sentence I read I knew that I was going to like Marriage Material. Sanghera’s writing is both breathtaking and revealing. It effortlessly transport the reader to a different time and place. Each of his characters have a distinctive way of speaking which reveals as much about them as any actions they may take. There are native Punjabi speakers struggling to grasp the Queen’s English, young aping American Hip Hop artists and blooming political agitators spouting words meant to inflame. One character in particular is amusing in his ability to speak Punjabi to his elders, British Hip Hop slang to his friends and in one or two key scenes, plain old English.

Marriage Material tells two parallel stories: one of two Punjabi sisters growing up in Wolverhampton in the 1970s; the second of the son of one of the two sisters returning to Wolverhampton after his father’s death. The interplay of the two story lines illustrates how little things have changed for immigrants and minorities in the UK. As a relative newcomer to the UK I have found the class and immigrant issues to be viewed in a much different way than in Canada. Marriage Material did an enormous amount to educate me further upon these issues. In particular, Sanghera introduced me to the infamous British Parliamentarian Enoch Powell and his inflammatory “Rivers of Blood” speech on immigration.

Who would like this book? I found Marriage Material to be a much weightier book than the cover or title suggests.  It is not chick lit with an ethnic element! I would make favorable comparisons to White Teeth by Zadie Smith and Brick Lane by Monica Ali – all deal with complex issues and challenging themes. It is a book that will make the reader think and hopefully stimulate discussion. It has also made me re-evaluate how I view the owners of small shops in my neighborhood. Their lives and struggles are far more complex than I had previously considered.

Top Ten Books on My TBR List – Fall 2013

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. I don’t normally participate in memes, but this one grabbed my attention: Top Ten Books For Fall TBR. So here goes, the Top Ten Reads on my Fall TBR list (in no particular order).

1. Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno (September 2013). What can I say? I am a sucker for JD Salinger and have been since high school. Any new news about him is good news to me!

2. Cartwheel by Jennifer Du Bois (September 2013). I don’t know much about this title, but a slow and steady buzz has been building around it.

3. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (October 2013). Catton is one of those literary geniuses who needs to be read. This appears to be very different from her last novel, The Rehearsal, so I am cautiously looking forward to it.

4. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (August 2013). It’s Atwood. Need I say more?

5. Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield (November 2013). I loved her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, so I am eager to see what she does with this one.

6. The Goldfinch by Donna Tarrt (October 2013). If you have not read The Secret History, go do it now. No really, get up, go to a bookstore/ library and read it now. You will not regret it. I have high hopes for The Goldfinch.

7. The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall (October 2013). If you have not read any installments in Hall’s Vish Puri, then get out there and get reading. These humorous detective novels are set in India and Hall gives a real taste for life there.

8. Five Days at Memorial by Sherry Fink (Spetember 2013). Not normally my type of thing, but I haven’t heard on bad thing about it. And I need to read more non-fiction.

9. The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge (April 2013). The book came out a couple months ago, but it is from a smaller Canadian press and I think it needs a little love.

10. Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt (August 2013). This book appeared out of no where for me. I had never heard of it and all of the sudden it was everywhere. And the reviews were good.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

nightfilmOh, boy. Where do I start with this one? Night Film has been getting a lot of buzz for months now. It was poised to be the big book of the fall season. But like so many ‘It’ girls who have fizzled into post-sex tape obscurity, Night Film fails to deliver the goods. True, it is an action packed tale that brings new technologies to the reading experience, but after Marisha Pessl‘s dazzling debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Night Film leaves me feeling meh.

Admittedly, I expected much from Night Film. I was enticed by her use of very real looking webpages and other media in the text and curious about the ‘enhanced reading experienced‘ that could be accessed through a mobile phone app. I was also hoping for something even more brilliant than Special Topics. In short, I wanted literary genius and technological savvy all rolled up in one.

Instead I got something that came closer to resembling Dan Brown. Try as I may, I find it hard not to disparage Dan Brown. I just don’t read many thrillers and perhaps that is why I found to Night Film to resemble his work. Night Film is basically about three marginally related characters all searching for answers surrounding the death of a reclusive horror movie director’s daughter. In the early stages of the narrative they follow the path of the investigative journalist – following up on leads and asking questions. Soon things turn to black magic and our trio turn into covert operatives delving into a world in which psychological terror plays as much a part as physical terror.

Who would like this book? After all I have said, you may think that this book is not for you. That likely isn’t true. It is a good thriller as far as thrillers go. I kept turning the pages and waiting to see what would happen next. So if you want a thriller – go for it. If you want a work of literary genius, hold back. The media spectacle surrounding Night Film also makes it an intriguing read. I think this book is supposed to breaking barriers, and perhaps it is. The ‘enhanced reading experience’ provided by the Night Film app was entirely conceived of after the completion of the novel and is not integral to the reading experience in the least. However, it is an interesting add-on that I’m sure we will see employed more and more.

When it comes right down to it, I say read the book if you are interested, but it is more of a ‘borrow’ than a ‘buy’. And as an aside, I don’t think Night Film would work very well as an audio book and I question it’s usefulness as an e-book. Let me know what you think if you have used either of these formats.

50 Shades of Funny with Gill Hornby and Deborah Moggach

We can all sleep a little easier, apparently the tyranny of ‘mommy porn’ has ended. No more 50 Shades of Grey or any of its numerous imitators. Now it is time for funny. Or at least that was what we were being convinced today at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I had the pleasure of witnessing a lighthearted and enlightening discussion with Gill Hornby and Deborah Moggach. Both are authors of social comedies and very funny ladies.

the hiveGill Hornby was there discussing her first novel, The Hive, which I plan to review in early September. As her name suggests, she is the sister of famed literary humorist Nick Hornby. In her novel she explores the social cliques women and girls tend to form. She argues that this does not end in high school, and may even become more vicious on the playgrounds of primary schools as mothers drop their children off for the day. Reading from The Hive, Hornby illustrated her argument to the chuckles of the audience. Since this is the social milieu that I now inhabit I found Hornby’s observations hilarious and true. Even as adults there is a pecking order on the school ground and heaven forbid you step out of your allotted spot!

heartbreak-hotelDeborah Moggach is a well known author and screenplay writer. The making of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may have sprung her work into the spotlight, but she has commanded a loyal following, especially in the UK, for years. Like Hornby, she had me in stitches during the discussion. Humorous off the cuff comments peppered her observations as one who has worked as a writer for a good long time and who has very particular views on aging and growing ‘more mature’.

Although Moggach talked a fair bit of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, she also gave us the pleasure of reading from her latest novel, Heartbreak Hotel. This novel brings back Buffy, a character that would not leave her mind after she was finished writing The Ex-Wives. As a serial ex-husband, Buffy opens a hotel in Wales and offers ‘Courses in Divorces’, which draw on his ample experience. Not surprisingly, the BBC has picked up the novel for serialization and I believe is in pre-production.

Salman Rushdie at Edinburgh International Book Festival

Well, this year’s stint at the Edinburgh Book Fest got off to a rousing start – Salman Rushdie. I almost can’t believe that I’ve never seen him before, but then on the other hand, he was in hiding for almost ten years. That kind of crimps one’s book related promotions. Not surprisingly it was a sold out show.

Throughout the interview, conducted by John Freeman of Granta, Rushdie came off as an affable, humorous and charming man of letters. He told numerous anecdotes about his life in hiding, his friendships with Christopher Hitchins, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. Freeman referred quite frequently to Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s memoir, making me wish that I had read it before coming, though it certainly wasn’t necessary.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion focused on Rushdie’s big works: Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. Of Midnight’s Children, Rushdie said that he had to understand who he was before he could write it. In retrospect this is self evident. Like the characters in the novel, Rushdie was also born in 1947, the year in which the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan. For the first time in Midnight’s Children what can be called Indian English was used in a literary novel. Rushdie said he had to experiment with language to come up with something that could portray the hot, dirty chaos that is India.

And of course there was discussion of The Satanic Verses. Just as Midnight’s Children marked an important point in the growth of South Asian literature, a point at which India was present in language that was more vibrant than the cold prose of E.M. Forrester (who Rushdie greatly admires), The Satanic Verses introduced the world to the idea that international terrorism could be leveled against literature. Rushdie gave the impression that he knew The Satanic Verses was a great book and may cause a stir, but he thought that for all the wrong reasons. He viewed the novel as a book about London and Thatcherism in the 1980s. He felt that it was all about social upheaval and racial unrest, but did not anticipate the controversy or worldwide attention it garnered.

Throughout the hour during which Rushdie and Freeman conversed thoughts of Rushdie’s well-known womanizing tendencies kept returning to to my mind. He is certainly a charismatic and fascinating person, however it never became apparent to me why so many women are drawn to him. I get the whole brilliant older man thing, but for me it just doesn’t work with Rushdie.

Summer Reading List

What you should read this summer. Just a quick list of suggestions to help entertain you this summer. Links go through to my original reviews.

1. Tigers In Red WeatherThis is a book about summer. Tennis and cocktail abound. The tale spans 30 years and recounts the troubles and turmoils of a family as they return each summer to Martha’s Vineyard. I could not put it down.

2. The Rosie ProjectAh, The Rosie Project. Romantic comedy at it’s best. I laughed a lot, his book down. It is a literary page turner with great character development and unexpected twists.

3. Seating Arrangements. I read this back before I started the blog, but it continues to stay in my mind. It is a social satire set over a summer weekend wedding. The guests are of the upper crust, but they are not behaving as such. There is a little (inadvisable) sex, a little love and perhaps a hint of scandal!I was fully invested in the characters and I loved the adventure. It will make your heart go pitter patter.

4. The Dinner. I have been recommending this book to just about everyone I know. I could not put it down. It is about a problem that may tear apart a family and the lengths parents will go to to protect their children. My mom’s reaction to it was completely different than my own, but neither one of us could put it down.

5. Brain on Fire. A piece of non-fiction for a change. A true story about Cahalan’s month long descent into madness and how her doctors finally figured out what was going on. The author will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival, so that is just one more reason to read it if you are in Edinburgh!

6. Amity and Sorrow. A story about a set of sisters and their mother on the run from their father a leader of an ultra conservative Christian cult. If that wasn’t enough, one of the sisters is causing an awful lot of trouble. This book was harder to put down than I imagined it would be. The author, Peggy Riley, will also be at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

7. Golden Boy. I cannot say enough great things about this novel. Like The Dinner, I have been recommending this book to everyone. The author dangles little pieces of the story on each page making it impossible to put down. The story focuses on a high school golden boy and his troubling journey of self discovery and his own sexuality.

8. Born WeirdThis is a really quirky and fun book. It involves a cross Canada journey to reunite a family of five siblings before their Grandmother passes away. In and of itself that may not seem to gripping, but Kaufman weaves together a funny tale of adventure and sibling rivalry.

 

Passing on the Love – The Liebster Award

liebster awardBefore I was nominated for the Liebster Award, I had never heard of it. But now I know about it and love the idea. It is all about spotlighting new and smaller blogs (less than 200 followers). For me it was great to know that someone other than my mom was out there reading and enjoying my blog.

Now I want to pass that love onto bloggers. It’s harder than it looks to find small, new blogs, but I’ve tried my best. I couldn’t find the metrics for everyone so some may have more than 200 followers. Here goes, 11 blogs with less than 200 followers that I think are awesome (in alphabetical order).

1. Annabel’s House of Books. Annabel has been blogging for longer than most of the bloggers I am recommending. She also posts from across the pong, that is, jolly old England. That is one of the reasons I like her blog so much. It gives a slightly different perspective and a heads up to what is hot over there. A word of caution: her site is undergoing some maintenance right now, but it is still pretty great.

2. Curled Up with a Good Book and a Cup of Tea. I really don’t have a clear idea about how many followers Shan has, but what I do know is that I like her blog. We read the same things and have slightly vegan leanings. It’s all good.

3. The Gilmore Guide to Books. Catherine reads many of the same books as I do, though we don’t always agree on what we think about the books. She doesn’t do sci-fi, YA, vampires and other genre literature, which is fine by me. Her reviews are balanced and insightful. The layout is clean and crisp.

4. Giraffe Days. Shannon reads widely and often. The reason I started reading her is because she has lived all over the world. I find that this gives her a broader perspective and she reads books from all over. Also her header graphic is great.

5. The Indiscriminate Critic. This is one of the first book blogs I started following. The critic is an indiscriminate reader and gives a fair and often thought provoking review of everything he listens to and reads. I have discovered some unlikely books from him.

6. Jules’ Book Reviews. I like bloggers who post frequently and Jules does. She breaks her reviews down into various headings so that you can find what you are looking for fast (like her rating). She also includes a monthly round up of books read and how she is faring in her challenges.

7. Literal Life. Jennifer’s blog not only contains book reviews, but also a fair bit of book related news. Sometimes this comes from large new agencies like the Huffington Post, but sometimes it is comprised of her own book related opinions.

8. Literary Hoarders. This is one blog that I love! Elizabeth, Penny and Jackie are three women with out of control book hoarding issues. They post often so there is always something new to read. They also often read the same books, giving you more than one opinion on a given book. That is something I especially like. I have found more than one hidden gem on their sight. They also sometimes do audio books.

9. The Misanthropologist. Besides having a great blog name, the reviews are pretty good too. She doesn’t always write as often as I would hope, but that is sometimes the case with well thought out reviewers. She often reads things that are news worthy (ie Inferno by Dan Brown) and that gives me an edge on faking that I’ve it.

10. Not My Typewriter. Ok, I’m showing my roots a bit with this one. Not a strictly book review blog, Not My Typewriter is quite often about Hamilton, Ontario and therefore may not be of interest to all. The photographs she includes, however, are stunning. She presents a picture of Steel Town that is quite different from what you are used to. Oh yeah, and she loves books.

11. Reading In Bed. I am a rather new follower of Laura. One thing she does on her blog that I think is a really neat idea is that she pairs books together with music. She’s also taking part in a Moby Dick read-a-long.

The Leibster Award and Me

liebster awardCan I just say that I am thrilled, honored and shocked to be nominated for the Liebster Award. A huge thanks goes out to Katie at Doing Dewey for the nomination. To be completely honest, I had never heard of the Liebster Award until Katie (a complete stranger) came along, but now I am pretty excited about it.

The Liebster Award is an award passed on by bloggers to new blogs (less than 200 followers) worth reading.

Recipients of the Liebster Award must:

  1. List 11 Random Facts about you
  2. Answer the questions that were asked of you (By the blogger that nominated you)
  3. Nominate 11 other blogs for the Liebster Blog Award and Link to their Blogs
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners 11 questions to answer once they accept the award

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I’m pretty sure I was a cat in a past life and will likely be one in a future life. I’m just really good at sleeping.
  2. I can’t resist milk chocolate.
  3. I never finished my PhD even though I often claim that I did.
  4. I love to travel.
  5. I can’t not finish a book I’ve started no matter how much I dislike it.
  6. Besides English (duh!), I can speak French and Hindi.
  7. I don’t like meat other than bacon.
  8. Five year plans are impossible for me. I change my mind way too often.
  9. I just bought my first sewing machine. It’s purple.
  10. Every night at about  5:30 I wonder what in the world we will have for dinner.
  11. I hate taking showers.

Answers to Katie’s Questions:

1. How did you get started blogging?

Way, way back in the dark ages (2001) I had a blog about doing my PhD. It was a great way to procrastinate. When I abandoned my PhD, I abandoned my blog. I sort of thought blogs were passe until I was interning at HarperCollins Canada. After I moved to Edinburgh I wasn’t working for the first time and I thought that doing a blog would be a great way to keep in touch with the Canadian publishing industry and document my reading. So six months later, here I am.

2. Do you have a favorite genre?

Yes. Literary fiction. But really, I like anything that is well written. And I have a strong bias against YA and vampires.

3. What was the last thing you read, watched and listened to?

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman, the season finale of Survivor and a podcast of This American Life.

4. What are your hobbies?

Reading goes without saying, as does writing. Also gardening and my new attempts at sewing.

5. Of the books you have read this year, which is your favorite?

Umm, that’s a toughy. Let’s go with Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann.

6. Where would you go for a dream vacation?

Probably Morocco.

7. Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Cat.

8. Do you always match your socks?

No. I do well just to make it out the door most mornings.

9. Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate. I don’t even know why vanilla exists.

10. E-book or hard copy?

Tough question. I do love a hard copy, and I love the way books look on shelves, but I would have to say e-book because I move a lot.

11. Do you play an instrument? If so, which one?

No. I am terribly unmusical.

Audio Sample: Z by Therese Anne Fowler

zThis came to me from MacMillan Audio at just the right moment. I’m dedicating April to writing my novel in Camp Nanowrimo, so finding time to read and write posts for the blog is falling by the wayside.

Here is a sample of the audio version of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald read by Jenna Lamia. Just listen to that southern drawl, y’all. It lulls me into a state of absolute relaxation. I absolutely loved the novel edition of Z (here’s my review) and from what I’ve heard of the audio version, it sounds great.

The thing about audio books is they come alive in a a completely different way that traditional books. In this case the audio gels pretty well with what my imagination came out with. What I want to know, is do you, fellow readers, listen to audio books as well? It is never something I’ve done in any big way. If you do, why do you? What do you like, dislike about it?