The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast. Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris. This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work. Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

After reading two volumes of Garai’s short stories this is the first novel by the author, once again the focus is on the troubled times of his characters, and how they respond to the problems presented.  The down to earth approach to telling a story gives it the edge over those authors that attempt to force an emotional response from the reader with unneeded flourishes.

Taking place in Paris – a source of artistic and literary inspiration for many throughout the ages – I was pleased to see that both made appearances within the story, whilst Garai’s eye for natural beauty – and degradation – in the often ignored urban areas helps layer a further feeling of the city’s atmosphere and depth.

The titular character Jeremy is interesting in his introspective, self-examining ways.  His solitary approach to life – somewhat enforced thanks to circumstances – gives him the drive to fix things, even if they don’t always work out in the way he intended. Continue reading “The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai”

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Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Tales from the Inner City is a powerful reflection on the nature of existence and the urban relationship we have with the animals within our human world.  From the dog to the crocodile; from the tiger to the frog, world renowned artist Shaun Tan explores the perennial love and destruction we feel and inflict on our fellow creatures.

Shaun Tan always creates enjoyable and thought-provoking work, and in Tales from the Inner City he explores nature, our co-existence – or not – with animals and how our way of life effects the natural environment around us.

This heavy, lavish hardback tome of 225 glossy pages, is full of atmospheric illustrations, each set over two pages which accompany the numerous short stories, and sharply contrast the differences in two opposing worlds and have an air of the dreamlike about them.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag in terms of their messages, some are obvious, but due to the trademark whimsy and surreal of Tan’s style, others fail as the point being made is sometimes too veiled.  Despite this, I find all them enjoyable and full of depth. Continue reading “Tales from the Inner City – Shaun Tan”

A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”

WIN SCAMPERS!

Yet another (quality) reblog as time escapes me yet again for the second time this week. This time I share with you a chance to win a book so get involved over at Mike’s site.

Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow!

It’s time to win a signed, hardcover copy my new picture book: Scampers Thinks Like A Scientist!

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist is the book that received a five-star review from Foreward Reviews. It’s the book that nabbed a glowing notice from the difficult-to-please Kirkus. And it’s the book that stars the cutest mouse in the history of ever.

Oh. My. God. Just look at that widdle face!

So let’s get started!

How To Enter

To enter the Scampers drawing, all you need to do is leave a comment below that answers this question:

Which fictional character would you most want to have as a next-door neighbor?

That’s it! Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in the random drawing for Scampers!

But Wait!

Do you already have a copy of Scampers? That’s great! Thank you!

Enter the contest anyway.

After all, if you win, you can…

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Patching the Clues Together

The power of community once again comes through!  Yesterday I shared my experiences with  a book memory I had – or thought I had – and the subsequent adventures in tracking the possibly mythical book down.

Having thought the story too obscure to be well-remembered, or at least the clues given, too little to go on, it was surprising when, less than a day later this suggestion came through the comments.

It’s a massive thank you to Liz who found this book, primarily based on the mentioning of a scary tunnel.  After watched a reading of the book (below) on YouTube, It’s more than likely that this is indeed the one I have been seeking.

Although it doesn’t tally up exactly with what I remember, the memory is undoubtedly embellished after all the other books since read.  Not only that but the chances of two tunnels in two patchwork quilts isn’t going to be statistically high. Continue reading “Patching the Clues Together”

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Continue reading “The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver”

The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow

Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon.  Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines,Jenny Uglow’s vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world.

If ever there was a book to celebrate the exhilaration of investigation, that infectious enthusiasm for knowledge, then this is surely a strong contender. In an age where amateurs could be at the forefront of breakthroughs in the sciences, the Lunar Society were keen to share knowledge which brought on new trains of thought and enquiry, as they dared to dream the fantastical.

These pioneers were to explore many different facets of our world;  through botany, geology, physics, medicine, art, literature and so on, as well as profit (for themselves and country), politics, and market forces.  The group also felt the full force of the beginnings of the burgeoning, awkward relationship between science and religion.

The scope of the book is impressive, each of these men could have had a book devoted to themselves so combining them into one overlapping narrative is a monumental feat.  To keep things fresh, we move between the main players frequently, it helps with both pace and the narrative structure, and allows the huge amount of innovations to be explored in their (more or less) chronological order.

It feels genuinely exciting to follow these lives and the societal changes that stem from their drive.  The book doesn’t just focus on the professional but humanises them with plenty of details about their personal lives, which are as eccentric as their work lives.  It reveals heart and a resonance that is lacking in some other – drier – books on this era. Continue reading “The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow”