by Rana Asfour
As is it’s a time when we’re all thinking of beginnings, past & present, I thought it only right to start the year with the book that in a way launched Laila Lalami’s stellar award-winning writing career. "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits" is also a novel about people in search of a better future & paints a picture of modern-day Morocco.
Published by Harcourt Books in 2005 & just under 200 pages, the novel takes off with a gripping first paragraph:
Fourteen kilometers. Murad has pondered that number hundreds of times in the last year, trying to decide whether the risk was worth it. Some days he told himself that the distance was nothing, a brief inconvenience, that the crossing would take as little as thirty minutes if the weather was good. He spent hours thinking about what he would do once he was on the other side, imagining the job, the car, the house. Other days, he could think only about the coast guards, the ice-cold water, the money he’d have to borrow, and he wondered how fourteen kilometers could separate not just two countries but two universes.
What book are you kick starting the year with?
by Rana Asfour
This book will be released on April 7, 2020
When readers first meet seventeen-year-old Muslim biracial Khayyam Maquet on the first page of Samira Ahmed’s latest YA novel, ‘Mad Bad & Dangerous to Know’, she’s in Paris, on her family’s annual month-long stay in the City of Love ‘staring at her phone screen, looking for love but knowing it’s not going to show up’. Khayyam’s life is in teen chaos: she’s unsure where she stands with her boyfriend Zaid, her submission for an essay contest on a lost Delacroix painting gifted to Alexandre Dumas supposedly screwed up her chances of getting into her dream college, she’s ‘captive’ in a humid city in which ‘air-conditioning is mostly aspirational’ and her best friend Julie is on a ‘dark-ages, technology-free’ family holiday and is thus unreachable. Essentially, where Kayyam would rather be is at home, in Chicago, ‘stewing in self-doubt and woe-is-me pity’.
How did I Miss This? American Actor Tom Hanks to Publish First Collection of Short Stories This October
by Rana Asfour
Not only is today 'back to school' for the son who wasn't too happy to be woken up at 5:45 this morning but I've only just found out that American actor Tom Hanks will be reading exclusive excerpts from his debut 'Uncommon Type' at the Southbank Centre's London Literature Festival on 1 November.
The book - which I still cannot believe I have missed all mention of - will be published in October (although you can pre-order on Amazon) is a collection of seventeen short stories that 'dissects, with great affection, humour, and insight, the human condition and all its foibles'. The stories all have one link in common: in each one the typewriter plays either a major or minor role.
The London Literature Festival runs from 13 October to 1 November and features live readings, performances, talks, debates, visual displays, workshops and music. Hillary Rodham Clinton will also be speaking at the festival (October 15). Also featuring will be Philip Pullman, Annie Leibovitz and a live reading of Nelson Mandela's memoirs, this year sees a specially expanded edition of the festival, exploring how literature and poetry can remind us of our shared humanity in a world on the brink.
Check out more on the festival and how to book HERE.
'Coming Home' by Annabel Kantaria
Evie has been away from home long enough to bury the pain that shaped her childhood. Now, with the sudden death of her father, she must return. Back to the same house. Back to the memories. Back to her mother.
At first, coming home feels unexpectedly comforting. But, as she goes through her father’s files, Evie uncovers a secret that opens old wounds and changes her life forever. That’s only the beginning. As Evie’s world starts to shatter around her, she realises that those she loves most are also those capable of the deepest betrayal.
A powerful, poignant novel, Coming Home is perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty.
Extra: World Exclusive!
Come and meet Annabel Kantaria author of 'Coming Home' a gripping new novel that also features Dubai! Annabel will be at Magrudy's Al Wahda store, Abu Dhabi this Saturday May 2, from 3-4pm for book signing. This is an event not to be missed!
'The Gulf Wife: A Memoir' by Jocelyn Henderson
Since she first arrived in the Trucial States with her husband, British diplomat Edward Henderson, Jocelyn Henderson has seen the region transform beyond all recognition. Set against the backdrop of cataclysmic wars and events that came to shape her life, 'The Gulf Wife' tells the story of Jocelyn’s remarkable life, her relationships with the families of the ruling Sheikhs, and the people she met along the way.
From tumultuous political developments to meetings with celebrities and international statesmen, The Gulf Wife is a window into the life of one of the UAE’s most prominent expatriates and an intimate look at life in the UAE and all that has changed.
'Generation Z: Their Voices Their Lives' by Chloe Combi
Generation Z have never had to save their pocket money to buy an album. They laugh when you tell them there used to be four channels on TV. Not many of them have grandparents that fought in a war. They've never known a world without the internet and have grown up with violence and porn at their fingertips with an object barely known to just one generation before them: a mobile phone.
Generation Z are growing up in a world of widening social inequality, political apathy and economic uncertainty. They join gangs, are obese, have underage sex, drink, commit crime and are a menace to society - or so the media leads us to believe.
Chloe Combi has interviewed hundreds of teenagers and children born between 1994 and 2005. She has talked to some of the richest and poorest in kids in the country. She has travelled on night buses with gangs, gone on a post-GCSE trip to Glastonbury, hung out in crack houses where teenagers get high, rehabilation centres where they get help and churches where they find God.
Chloe has found that Generation Z are selfish, violent, scared, sex-obsessed and apathetic. She has also found them delightful, curious, kind, and worried about their futures.
Generation Z is an emotional, illuminating, sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious odyssey through the lives of this generation told in their own voices.
Extra Reading: Hard-core porn, violent YouTube videos and live sex shows: A devastating new book reveals the terrifying truth about what teens really get up to on their laptops and smart phones (by Chloe Combi for The Daily Mail)
'Love & Justice: A Compelling True Story Of Triumph Over Tragedy' by Diana Morgan Hill
At the age of 29, Diana Hill fell under a London train. In 7 seconds the tall, glamorous businesswoman went from busy woman of the world with everything to live for to double-leg-amputee, her life in ruins.
Then it got worse. A few days after her accident, as she lay in hospital, traumatised and heavily sedated, she learnt via a newspaper article that the railway's Transport Police were to interview "The Fall Girl", as the Press had labelled her, with a view to prosecution. She had boarded a moving train, they said, and trespassed onto their railway line.
Her fight for justice took five years and was, she declares with no hesitation, a more harrowing experience than having both of her legs 'stolen' from her. As any young, single woman would be, Diana was shocked to the core by the sudden, catastrophic change in her body image. What man would ever love her now?
The issues surrounding sexuality and disability are explored here with stark honesty as she recalls her complicated love life, the High Court dramas, and the rawness of her pain amidst a turmoil of emotion, all told with tremendous humour, charm and heart. For Diana loves to tell stories. Especially true ones. A brutally honest, heartwarming memoir that shocks and delights in equal measure - when you're not crying for her you're laughing with her.
Extra Reading: 'I lost both my legs under a train - then the rail company sued me!' Diana Morgan-Hill was rushing to meet a friend when, in a split second, her life changed forever
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
In 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt where she falls in love with Sharif, and Egyptian Nationalist utterly committed to his country's cause.
A hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif, goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are found notebooks and journals which reveal Anna and Sharif's secret.
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
The collapse of her brief marriage has stalled Bea Nightingale's life, leaving her middle-aged and alone, teaching in an impoverished borough of 1950s New York. A plea from her estranged brother gives Bea the excuse to escape lassitude by leaving for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows; but the siren call of Europe threatens to deafen Bea to the dangers of entangling herself in the lives of her brother's family. Traveling from America to France, Bea leaves the stigma of divorce on the far side of the Atlantic; newly liberated, she chooses to defend her nephew and his girlfriend Lili by waging a war of letters on the brother she has promised to help. But Bea's generosity is a mixed blessing: those she tries to help seem to be harmed, and as Bea's family unravel from around her, she finds herself once again drawn to the husband she thought she had left in the past.
In the news:
This article in the Guardian "Library Readers Still in Love with Danielle Steel after 30 Years" put a smile on my face all day.
It has been announced that translator Howard Curtis is winner of this year's Marsh Award for his translation of Italian novel by Fabio Geda 'In the Sea There are Crocodiles'. The novel is based on the true story of a 10-year old Afghan boy fleeing the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan to seek asylum in Italy. For more on Howard Curtis, click HERE.
The Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation is awarded biennially and celebrates the best translations of books from a foreign language into English. For more on the award and its foundation, click HERE
A few months ago in the BOOKFABULOUS household, negotiations were under way to try and find a solution to a major dilemma I was having regarding my 10-year-old. I call it dilemma, JJ calls it drama but nonetheless it was time to sit down in the household's negotiating boardroom (the kitchen) and hash things out. As of late I had noticed that JJ was more into his DS case than his bookcase, so being who I am I panicked. I imagined a world where I'd give my son a book and he'd stare vacantly at me not knowing what it was, unable to decipher its contents. Sirens rang in my ear, and sleepless nights ensued the result of which the meeting was called and set.
I thought I'd start out calmly, maturely, all grown-uppish so I gave the usual speech of how great reading is and how personality building it could be. How I was doing this for his own good and that he'd thank me later in life. How reading could help with his writing at school when he moved to the more demanding Secondary phase of education and so on and so forth. Then I did what I had promised myself never to do (pre-children): I told him how when I was a child his age I'd already read 'Anna Karenina' and 'War&Peace' and for extra effect I said I did that by candlelight (I think that's where JJ gave me the drama-mum look). By the look on his face and judging by how old he thinks I am he didn't find the candlelight thing far-fetched... mental reminder to sit down for another meeting and discuss what decade I come from. Slowly the mum-son chat turned to lecturing and I desperately realised that we were going nowhere with this except for my son's body which seemed like it was slowly melting away from his chair as he slid further downwards and was eventually going to end up pooled under the kitchen table. This 'meeting' was definitely over!
A week later, JJ comes back home with his school book-club reading book "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens which is not easy reading for a 10-year-old. Judging by the look on his face reading the first page he was struggling. I offered to help in the reading and as they only had three weeks to complete the book, we decided that we would actually read together swapping who would be reader; he would read aloud a few pages and then ask me for the words he did not get or sentences he found quite ambiguous in the Dickensian English it was written in and then he would take a break from reading and I would read to him but stop to see if he was following up with the events of the story. It worked! three weeks and the book was done and we had both enjoyed the experience of reading the same book at the same time and having discussions about it even at times when we weren't even reading. The penny dropped and the solution to my dilemma seemed to be staring me in the face.
Once "A Christmas Carol" was done, JJ moved on to more modern reading in the form of 'Ratburger' by one of his most favourite authors David Walliams. But this time he asked to independently read the book after which I would have a go after he was done with it and then we would discuss it. Agreement reached we have since completed two books in this manner. The process seems to be working and fingers crossed I can put my fears to rest, for now at least!
As those of you who read the blog will have noticed I have included 'Ratburger' by David Walliams in the January Reads list and the reason- although obvious from my post- is because it was a landmark book for JJ and I. Therefore, it is JJ's review that I post below today. This is his own work (with really minor tweaks from myself) and he is really proud of his work as I am of him.
Finally to David Walliams we both say: thank you for in terms of role models they rarely get better than you (not that he reads the blog but one can only hope). Big love!
'Ratburger' by David Williams
Reviewed by JJ (age: 10 years)
Ratburger is a story is about a girl called Zoe whose mum we know from the beginning of the story is dead. Zoe is left with her dad who loses his job when the factory he works at shuts down. He now spends most of his time at the pub although he really tried to get a job but couldn’t find anything so he gave up looking. Dad has re-married Sheila who is a lazy, horrible , ‘fat, huge’ person.
Zoe has just come home to find that her pet hamster has died under suspicious circumstances and she is really upset about that. Anyway, one thing leads to another and she now finds a pet rat that she is convinced is smart enough to learn breakdancing moves.
One day, Zoe meets a man called Burt who is hiding an awful secret and who tries to kill first her pet rat and then her after she finds out about his secret. After Burt gets hold of her rat by force (thanks to nasty Sheila’s help) Zoe desperately tries to find him (his name is Armitage by the way but don’t ask why because it’s a long story. Honest). With nobody to help it seems like all is lost unless Zoe manages to convince the only person who loves her in the world to help.
Ratburger is an outstandingly funny book by David Walliams. I liked how he described the stepmother as “fat, huge”, and how she is always stomping to Zoe’s bedroom. Sheila loves nothing more in the world than her prawn cocktail crisps and spends all her time eating them. One thing I have to say here though is I can’t believe that Zoe doesn’t like these crisps. They are one of my favourites.
This book is one of the best of David Walliams’ books and I should know because I have read his other books: The Boy in the Dress, Billionaire Boy and Gangsta Granny. I would recommend this book to any child or adult who wants to laugh their head off. The book is very quick and packed with adventure. I enjoyed seeing the character Raj who seems to pop up in all David Walliams’ books. I also enjoyed the illustrations by Tony Ross.
Do you know that 2013 is the International Year of Quinoa (Keen-wah)? Do you know that Quinoa although may look somewhat like couscous is actually a complete protein? Do you know that to get the maximum absorption of iron from haem and non-haem iron sources you ought to have a small glass of orange juice or fresh fruit, especially berries or kiwi fruit, with meals thanks to the Vitamin C these foods contain? Well, you may by now be asking yourself how I know all this. Simple answer is The Healthyfood Guide magazine.
'Healthyfood Guide' is a compact (as in of a size easy to carry in a purse) monthly magazine packed full of very useful nutrition information that are easily understood by anyone outside of medicine and more importantly the advice is quite easy to apply even by the busiest of us. Packed full of healthy recipes it is a great reference for those who like to cook from scratch and offers advice each month on what to choose from the ready-meals we pick up from our supermarkets to advice on how to better our general well-being. The publication goes further with sensible fitness and shaping up tips. The panel of monthly experts make sure that whatever health resolution you've made for the new year, they have it covered. I cannot begin to say how brilliant this magazine is and 'No!' I don't get paid to say this :)
My favourite part of HFG? It's got to be the weekly diet planner. Each month a nutritional consultant offers up a week of planned meals that you can shop for at the beginning of the week which definitely takes the hassle out of deciding what to eat each day. Besides research has found that people who plan their meals ahead and know what they are having each day are more likely to stick to their diets and enjoy better health. 'What?' I hear you say 'and give up the daily mad hectic high blood-pressure inducing rush of getting home after a long day's work trying to frantically put together whatever's in the fridge to come up with some decent sort of dinner to feed those hungry mouths in the living room?'- Yup, I thought so!
HFG wouldn't be a decent mag though if they didn't have a website that lets you check out a sample issue. So, honestly head there now and let me know if you agree with me- or not but that's what the comment section below is all about - To go to HFG's website, simply click HERE.
In other news today, I have just finished reading 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' by Mark Haddon. I've had this book on my wish list for years and now that I have finally got round to it, I completely get why everyone continues to rave about it. You cannot possibly read this book without falling in love with the story's main character Christopher who suffers from Aspeger's Syndrome, a type of Autism. A genius at maths he struggles with day to day activities that a lot of us take for granted. A sensitive eye-opener of a book and it has been widely embraced by both adults and teenagers.
Although it has taken me nearly 10 years to get to this murder mystery (the novel was published in 2003), there is a silver lining here: the stage production will be running at the Apollo Theatre in the West End from March to May this year. Having completed its run at the National Theatre it hits the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue from March 1 and is scheduled to run until May 25. Tickets have been on sale since November of last year. Mine are probably in the post as we speak. How exciting!
The award-winning novel is adapted to the stage by playwright Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott (the award-winning co-director of War Horse). Luke Treadaway, who appeared in 'War Horse' at the National Theatre and in the films 'Clash of the Titans' and 'Wasteland', plays Christopher, the 15-year-old central character of the book. A film adaptation is currently being discussed. Yay!
The blurb about the book as on the back cover of the paperback edition:
'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.