Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reading List

Ah, summer. It doesn’t feel like summer in Scotland these days, but according to the calendar, it is indeed summer. The program for the Edinburgh Book Festival has come out, so that means most of my summer will be dedicated to reading in preparation for it, with a few others thrown in for good measure.

  1. Villa America by Liza Klaussman. It’s Klaussman, so I’m going to read it anyways, but she’s also coming to Edinburgh! I’ve been waiting to read this for a while, and for once it is available in the UK before it comes out in North America.
  2. In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Enough said. And she’s not coming to Edinburgh.
  3. Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman. It’s described as a campus murder for fans of Tartt, Eugenides and Wolitzer. Yes please!
  4. The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer. He’s coming to EdBookFest and I’m interested. Besides, he learned Sanskrit to write this book and I love me some Sanskrit.
  5. The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray. Loved Skippy Dies and he’ll be at EdBookFest.


  6. Man on Fire by Stephen Kelman. Will be appearing at EdBookFest with Paul Murray. And I will likely read Pigeon English as well because it’s already on my desk.
  7. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan. Big buzz in India and I’m so glad it’s also being published in the UK.
  8. The Incarnations by Susan Barker. She’ll be at EdBookFest and I think this book is going to be BIG.
  9. The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood. I saw him at EdBookFest when he was promoting his last novel, The Bellweather Revivals. Loved him, loved the book and he’ll be back in Edinburgh this summer.
  10. This is my wild card. Let’s keep it a mystery for now.

Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival

edbookfestI saw Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, so i’m writing this quite a few days after the fact. She was on a panel with David Park (The Poets’ Wives) talking about biographical fiction. Both have recently written novels with predominant literary figures at the heart of them. For the most part I will be sticking to Woods comments, as I have not read David Park’s book. Continue reading

Shiny New Books and Me

Shiny New BooksA couple of UK book bloggers, who I am getting to know better, have recently started an on-line magazine about books. It’s called Shiny New Books and it is pretty cool. They cover fiction, non-fiction, reprints and a whole slew of other stuff. And they have been nice enough to accept a piece by me about the Edinburgh Book Festival.

I know you want to read it, so without further ado, What To See at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

A god in every stoneKamila Shamsie is one of my favorite South Asian writers and she’s going to be at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, so I dove at the chance to review A God in Every Stone, her latest book. It is a sprawling story that spans Turkey, World War One, and colonial Peshawar. It is a hugely ambitious novel, but it just might be a little too big. Continue reading

Edinburgh Book Festival 2014

You know you are a dedicated book nerd when your favorite day of the year is the day the program for your local book festival is announced. Lucky for me, I live in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Book Festival is truly top notch.


Continue reading

The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth

friday-gospelsThe main reason I read The Friday Gospels was because author Jenn Ashworth was speaking with Peggy Riley at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Aside from that, I had never heard of Ashworth, though this is her third book. It seems that her talent has not really crossed the ocean over to North America. Her books maybe a struggle to find over there, but if The Friday Gospels is anything to judge by, it is worth the effort of seeking her books out.

I really liked The Friday Gospels. It contains a number of elements that I covet in a good novel: family tensions and crises, odd characters, and struggles with faith and identity. The story takes place over the course of a single day in which Gary, the adored son, is to return from his Mormon mission in Utah. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different of the family – Jeannie the youngest child who idolizes Gary, Julian the oldest son who has turned his back on Mormonism, Pauline the proud mother, Martin the indifferent dad who is looking to leave the family, and Gary who views himself as a failure. Perhaps the most astounding thing about Ashworth’s writing is how each character has a truly distinctive voice, character and point of view.

The novel was a fast read. It seems that each character has a crisis of some sort that comes to a head as they are waiting for Gary to arrive. I do not want to give too much away, but as as you read further more of each characters’ struggle is revealed and it makes the book hard to put down.

Ashworth, who is startlingly young, was raised a Mormon in England. Although she is no longer a member of the faith, her experiences and exposure to the intricacies of Mormonism certainly inform The Friday Gospels. During her talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival she spoke of the differences between Mormons in America and Britain. The characters she portrays in her novel reflect some of these differences. Mormons in Britain are much more concerned with conformity because the community is so small. The influence of community has a greater bearing on your family life.

Who would like this book? One of the reasons I was attracted to The Friday Gospels is because I enjoy novels that deal with struggles of faith and religion. In particular, I liked the insight it gave into Mormonism outside of the United States. In North America I think we have a fairly rigid view of Mormons. We see them either as a polygamous cult as portrayed salaciously in the media or as the conservatively dressed proselytizers who come knocking on our doors. This mold is also broken by Elders, another Mormon focused novel that i recently reviewed.

The Hive by Gill Hornby

the-hiveWelcome to a humorous and not entirely accurate take on my life: The Hive by Gill Hornby. This novel is about moms on the school yard, moms picking up and dropping off their kids and moms being, at times, rather nasty to one another. It has made me look at my life in an entirely different way. It has also highlighted the differences between the Canadian school culture, from which I came, and the British school system that I am now fully inhabiting.

The Hive is a subtly brilliant novel. Hornby finds drama in the seemingly banal happenings around a school. At the core of her story are four women at varying degrees of popularity on the school yard. Heather is striving, constantly striving to get in with the cool kids, er moms, especially Bea, the Queen Bee. Rachel has found herself suddenly dropped from the cool moms. Georgie is there to provide a dose of reality and Bubba is the new mom on the block.

Each chapter is framed over the course of a school day – from drop off to pick up and the story is set over the period of a school year. When I saw Hornby at the Edinburgh Book Fest she commented that the school year makes for a perfect three part drama. In autumn term everything is fresh and new. The parents and students are glad of another year beginning. The middle term is when all the disasters happen: kids come home with nits and lice, the roof starts to leak and bullying rears its ugly head. With the spring term comes a bit of redemption. As one of the characters reflects, “This was her favorite term: white ankle socks, gingham frocks, grass, rounders … She took a deep breath of gleeful anticipation. Ah. She just couldn’t wait.”

Who would like this book? Given the title of the novel and all the bee imagery, it is no surprise that Hornby was significantly influenced by Rosalind Wiseman‘s book about teenage cliques, Queen Bees and Wannabes and her follow up study Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads. Tina Fey was similarly inspired when she wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls. I would also pair it up with Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (my review). Both offer humorous, though rather different, takes on school societies. In either case, I would say that if you are a parent with school age children and you are constantly doing that school run, then this book is for you. If that does not sound like the story of your life, then you are still probably familiar with the horror of cliques, and this book will surely make you laugh about them.

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.

Peggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth at Edinburgh International Book Festival

I had planned to talk about Peggy Riley and Jenn Ashworth at the Edinburgh Festival and review Ashworth’s latest book, The Friday Gospels, all in one post. What was I thinking? There is no way I could do that because a) The Friday Gospels is a pretty amazing book, and b) they both had a lot to say at the festival.

The Riley/Ashworth talk was held in one of the smaller venues at the Edinburgh Book Festival and it was a sold out show. Not only that, the audience was quite engaged and asked good questions all around. That is something that is all too rare at events such as this. The mediated discussion flipped back and forth between the two women, but for simplicity I am going to deal with each woman separately.

Not surprisingly, Ashworth’s relationship with Mormonism informed much of what Ashworth had to say. The salient points to come across were that although she was raised a Mormon, she no longer is one and The Friday Gospels is by no means autobiographical in the least. Obviously she was writing about a world she knew intimately, but beyond that the characters had very little in common with her. There was some discussion about how her book had been received in Mormon circles and I got the impression that it varied quite widely.

One of the most fascinating aspects to me about The Friday Gospels and today’s discussion was the differences between Mormonism in the United States and Britain. Much of what circulates in the popular conscious about Mormonism has to do with the more extreme and fundamental strains of the religion. In the media one tends to hear about abuses and polygamous marriages, however that is not the experience of most Mormons, especially in the UK. While British Mormons are very different from the break away sects in places like Bountiful, Canada, they are also very different from the typical middle class, white collar image of the American Mormon going door to door. In spite of these differences, however, conformity is very important to Mormons in Britain, probably because it is such a small community compared to that in the United States.

Turning towards Riley’s portion of the discussion, she said that Jonestown and Waco had a greater influence on her writing of Amity and Sorrow than Mormons, though she also looked at them in her research. In particular, she was interested in the charismatic men who lead these groups.

This issue of a polygamous family group was a recurring theme in the discussion. Riley raised some very interesting points about it that I had not considered before. Specifically that in leaving a group such as the one she imagined in Amity and Sorrow one is not just leaving a cult, but a family and a faith as well. In essence, all aspects of your identity have to be re-invented. Riley also considered her protagonist’s choice to take her two biological daughters with her when she leaves the cult in which all children are raised communally.

I really enjoyed hearing Riley read from Amity and Sorrow. Her reading gave the book, and in particular Amaranth, a very different tone than I had in my head. Instead of finding this unsettling, I thought it added greater texture to my understanding and interpretation of the novel.

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.