A slow-paced entertaining holiday read that delves into human relationships bringing home the truth that no matter where we are in the world, our lives' baggage travels there too. (Has a Woody Allen feel to it).
Sixty-year-old Jim Post, recently 'retired' from his job and his writer wife Franny have booked a gorgeous house (with a swimming pool) in the mountains of Mallorca, Spain, for a two-week vacation with their children and very close friends.
Having planned and booked the trip before 'the incident', they decide to go ahead with it anyway feeling in the case of Jim that 'two weeks away would make him feel he had made a change and chosen this new, free life, like so many people his age did.' As for Franny, the choice of Mallorca 'was less cliche than the South of France and less overrun by Americans than Tuscany." But what she mainly wanted to do on the trip was to 'please everyone'.
Jim and Franny's eighteen-year-old daughter Sylvia has just finished school and is desperately waiting the Summer out to go to Brown's and finally "be somewhere where the name Sylvia Post came without the ghosts of the girl she'd been at sixteen, at twelve, at five, where she was detached from her parents and her brother and she could just be, like an astronaut floating in space, unencumbered by gravity". Recovering from heartache and betrayal she soon finds solace in the young dashing Spanish tutor Joan (pronounced Joeahhhn) that Franny has hired for her to perfect her command of the language and things slowly seem to be looking up for her for a while.
Also joining the Posts is Jim and Franny's immature 25 year-old son Bobby who is 'waist-deep in swampy Floridian real estate' who is hoping to come clean to his parents about his life and gather enough courage to ask for their help. Tagging along is his 'albatross of a girlfriend Carmen' who is if nothing an exercise fanatic who is desperate for Bobby to marry her. Franny's dear friend Charles and his husband Lawrence join them as well. They are desperately waiting for news from an adoption agency that has assured them that circumstances were looking 'promising' and they'd soon have a baby in their arms. All at the time when Charles was feeling 'that their shared dreams of having a family would soon go the way of the dodo'.
The Posts 'hadn't vacationed like this in years', and with each and every one of these 'Vacationers' with secrets and confessions, relationships are tested and loyalties challenged. The Post's two-weeks' promised respite in sunny Mallorca could see them return home with more than just a suntan to show for it.
Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, there lived a beautiful queen, adored by her King and children and much loved by the people of the land. The King and Queen, famous for their compassion and love for their people, were bound by a deep sense of duty to support the betterment of each and every individual in the land. They would often travel about the Kingdom to wherever they felt their presence most needed earning the altruistic Queen the title of 'Mother of the poor'.
Until sadly, on one ill-fated day, the helicopter transporting the Queen crashes and the Kingdom is plunged into mourning. The King, not only a monarch who has to address his people on the loss of their beloved Queen but as a father he is saddled with the daunting task of informing his two young children, a boy and a girl, that their mother will never return to them again; they will now have to face the ultimate challenge of resuming life without her.
Although the above tale seems as if it were the stuff of fiction, it is a rather brief, but true, account of the life of HRH Queen Alia al-Hussein, the late Queen Consort of Jordan and the third wife to the late King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan. The children she leaves behind are Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein and Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, the 'real-life princess' who is the inspiration for Stacy Gregg's children's novel 'The Princess and the Foal'.
The novel highlights a series of events in the life of Princess Haya that occur between the ages of five and twelve. As a young 'titch' she is heartbroken and inconsolable in spite of her father's continuous efforts to help her get over the tragic death of her mother. Adding to her sense of loss is the departure of her old nanny, Grace, who has been replaced by the two-faced governess Frances Ramsmead. With one 'personality' reserved for the King and another for the children and staff, matters don't go smoothly simply because 'Frances is a stupid meany' a young Prince Ali confirms.
Haya's source of solace is her love of horses and it is only at the Royal Stables in Al Hummar that she feels strongest and happiest. Unfortunately, Frances continuously tries to discourage her from being with her beloved animals believing it is the Princess's duty to be a lady, not to associate with the stable staff.
So, when she is entrusted with the care of a young foal on her sixth birthday, who she names 'Bint al Reeh' aka 'Bree', her life takes a different turn and the sadness slowly starts to dissipate. Drawing on the memory of her mother as an athlete, she dreams that she will one day be the first female horse rider to win the King's Cup and make her Father proud. Her dream isn't without obstacles leaving her, in the darkest hour, with a sense that its realisation may be hopeless and unattainable. Many lessons are learnt along the way.
Stacy Gregg tells a beautiful, refreshing, engaging tale about a princess with a dream. A princess who is not only proud of her ancestry (she wants to be a proper Arabian Princess) but is also endowed with her parents' sense of duty and responsibility. Haya is also a sister and the mischief she gets up to with her brother, Prince Ali, are the best parts of the book and will make you laugh out loud. They are like two peas in a pod and Gregg captures a genuinely affectionate sibling relationship that is heartfelt and heartwarming.
Reviewed by Rana Asfour
Publishing date is June 19 by Random House UK, Cornerstone
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Mathew 7:7). But what if the answers are none one seeks to hear or harbinger an existence too unbearable to grasp, answers seeming instead cruel and pointless? Does one break away from one's belief or does it become one's salvation helping one to understand, learn and grow stronger and closer to The One? How much can one person be expected to endure as 'God tests His faithful servants'? What happens when we die? What compels humans to willingly place not only faith, but hope and trust in divine doctrines that seem powerless to stop death and adversity?
These difficult questions are at the core of Carys Bray's debut novel 'A Song for Issy Bradley'. Mormons, Claire and her husband, Bishop Ian Bradley, have lost their five-year-old girl Issy. Suddenly and without any warning, their life is turned upside down and everything they have ever believed in and raised their three remaining children Alma, Zipporah (Zippy), and Jacob to believe is tested and challenged every step of the way as they try to deal with life at this difficult time.
The novel details Mormon life and beliefs through the Bradley's interactions with each other, the members of their faith and 'non-members' in the wider community particularly with regards to Issy's death. Mormons believe that the body is but a vessel that carries the soul inside it and when one dies, the soul leaves this 'shell' and waits for its loved ones in Eternity. As comforting as the idea of reuniting with loved ones may be, how much solace is it to a mother who will never touch or see her child again and to whom Eternity seems like an unbearably long time to wait? or to one brother who wishes he'd told his sister how much he loved her and appreciated her and another who feels they should have grown up and done things together being so close in age; that same brother who is yet too young to understand that the words of God concerning resurrection are not to be taken literally. And how do you comfort a sister who knows she'll one day walk down the aisle but her sibling 'will never be a bridesmaid'?
Issy's father, Bishop Ian Bradley has problems of his own to deal with. A strict and devout Mormon, he is torn between his devotion to his faith and his duty to his parishioners that consumes him leaving not much time for his family and his role as a father who is grieving for the loss of his beautiful baby girl. He is obstinate, unemotional and quite selfish, yet the reader knows he only carries good intentions and his unwavering belief in the righteousness of what he is doing is quite infuriating if not also admirable. And yet when he finally realises that his family is crumbling before his eyes, that is when we see the true nature of the man come to the forefront and whether or not he is the better for it I will leave to the reader's discernment.
The novel also sheds light on certain aspects that concern growing up in a Mormon community. Carys Bray herself was raised by strict Mormon parents and her first-hand experience as such is quite relevant particularly when it comes to describing Zippy's feelings for Adam, a boy in her school that she likes. As a Mormon Zippy is conflicted between giving in to her budding sexuality and the commandment that is the law of chastity which dictates abstinence from sex before marriage. That God expects His followers to keep thoughts clean and be modest in dress, speech, and actions. This not only sets Zippy apart from her counterparts at school obliging her to correct certain misconceptions regarding her faith but it also creates guilt and the need to 'confess' after a brief incident between Adam and herself.
Although the novel in places feels like a 101 class in the Mormon faith, it's saving grace is Bray's beautiful style of writing. She manages to make her characters real, and loveable. Carys Bray tells a stunning heart-warming story about loss that is brave, even funny and so heartbreaking in its sincerity that you'll need to keep that tissue box handy. In short, this is a book about a family, any family, who has to conjecture enough faith to miraculously resurrect itself from the abyss after having lost one of its own.
Last week, at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, I attended two sessions that featured Abdo Khal: one in which he was part of a panel that hosted IPAF winners, and the other in which he was the main speaker discussing his highly explosive novel 'Throwing Sparks'.
Winner of the IPAF for 2012, 'Throwing Sparks' has been controversial from the word go. Beginning with the choice of title: a partial Qur'anic verse from Surah Al-Mursalat, Aya 32, that describes the fires of Hell as large as castles, and then broaching a tough, eyebrow-raising subject matter: corrupt 'delinquent' characters controlled by a depraved 'Master' of a castle in the Saudi city of Jeddah, Khal ensured that this novel was never going to go unnoticed and it came as no surprise to anyone when it was banned in Saudi Arabia.
I believe that Abdo Khal knew exactly what he was doing when he set about writing his novel and in my opinion, the novel matter is proof that old habits die hard. A former preacher, it could be argued that the castle of Hell that he conjures up in his novel could be an elaborate form of sermon to warn people of the consequences of sin and vice and their detrimental effects on individuals and societies; a Hell on Earth and damnation in the afterlife. And yet, and in spite of all that the reader comes to know, Khal through his character Ibrahim, reminds us that God is ultimately The Gracious and Most Merciful, that forgiveness is truly holy. The perfect ending to a perfect sermon if there ever was one.
The jaw-dropping first paragraph ensnares the reader, and the first few lines are as a noose that wraps itself firmly around the reader's neck tightening and restricting the passageway of air with every turn of the page. I found myself offering very little resistance to the experience, courtesy of human curiosity possibly but most likely because I found the style of writing beautiful, poetic, mesmerising, and gripping (well done translators) albeit claustrophobic at times. I did have to force myself to put the book down, take gulps of air before re-immersing myself in the events of 'Throwing Sparks'. This is a book that is not for the faint-hearted and there are scenes that are revolting to the senses and render the reader livid with indignation and disbelief at the cruelty and the injustice meted out so nonchalantly by the characters. The writer shows no mercy, and only a few pages into the novel, the reader quickly learns to expect none.
The novel follows the story of 51-year-old Tariq who we meet reminiscing about his life and lamenting his 31 years lost in the service of the 'Master'; the cruel, immoral owner of the magnificent castle that sprang up one day on the shores of Jeddah, changing the lives of the city's dwellers forever. Those on the outside looked to the castle as a 'paradise' that they longed to enter, unknowing that those who had preceded inside long for a chance to escape its walls. Their lives as slaves to the 'Master' is unbearable; They are maimed, scarred, and tainted by the 'Hell' that descended on them from the higher echelons of the palace's dwellers and everyone associated with it.
Tariq's job is an appalling one. He is hand-picked by the 'Master' to serve as a most particular torturer; one to dishonour and humiliate the enemies, and anyone who disobeys the Master, in the vilest, most terrible of ways. In between these 'tasks' he falls in love with the Master's mistress 'Maram', which 'was like touching a live wire... untold misery awaited anyone caught glancing her way when she was in the Master's company or when she stepped out onto the dance floor'. With each new 'task' and every passing year, Tariq grows increasingly richer and more powerful eventually exacting his own vengeance on those he blames for his moral detriment and sullied existence.
This painful, dark satirical novel throws light on the excesses of the rich and wealthy. Their jaded demeanour regarding all worldly pleasures. Tariq labels them as deviants and perverts who are 'basically motivated by boredom: tired of what is socially acceptable, they seek whatever is novel or uncommon to break the monotony of routine pleasures".
Why write the book? it is a question I have asked myself many times and when I posed it to Abdo Khal at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, he answered that he writes out of love. Love for humanity in all its layers: the good, the bad and the extremely ugly. He believes, as any writer does, that writers are possessed and later become obsessed with the story that takes hold inside of them. He went on to explain that he would stop several times during the writing of 'Throwing Sparks', feeling ill at the words and ideas spewing out onto the page yet helpless and unable to stop them from flowing nonetheless. He was eventually hospitalised and it was the encouragement of his wife who spurred him to complete his work as he'd faltered many a time unable to go on.
And go on he did, presenting a work that although fiction, will strike a chord particularly with readers of this region. The cases in question are sensitive, often volatile issues particularly when it comes to sexuality, morality and honour. In a scene where Tariq approaches his loathsome aunt and wonders if he was there 'to give the lie to all her dire warnings or to confirm them?' one cannot but pause, reflect and wonder whether such a book, with such a dark horrific message, is actually conducive of expelling the myth that already surrounds a country shrouded in gossip and mystique or whether fuel has been added to an already raging fire.
I received a request to read/review 'Beyond Belief' by Helen Smith around Christmas holidays last year. As of January 28th the book has become available in paperback, audio and ebook editions and I am happy to write in that this latest addition to the Emily Castles Mystery series, is just as light-hearted and engaging as ever.
This time, Emily Castles lands a gig with the Royal Society for the Exploration of Science and Culture to attend their annual conference being held in Torquay entitled 'Belief and Beyond'. The society will have for the first time in its history, extended the invitation to mediums, hypnotists and psychics. Emily's mission? Hired by the society's current president Gerald Ayode, she is there to investigate the possible threat to the conference's main attraction and 'super star' Edmund Zenon who is offering a £50,000 reward to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal. A well-known rationalist, he is not only a TV celebrity hoping to plug his book at the conference but his tour is aptly entitled 'Don't Believe the Hype'. Quite an inflammatory title at a conference that specialises in nothing but the paranormal.
The setting for the novel is The Seaview Hotel in Torquay aptly named for its location. It is in the waters of Torquay that Zenon has promised his audience, who are gathering in this seaside village from near and far, the most amazing gig on Earth: he will walk on water. And so enter a wide range of amusing (the colonel) and the not so amusing (Madame Nova) and even sinister characters who are all hoping to witness the moment Zenon delivers on his promise.
By now readers of Helen Smith will be expecting a diverse list of eccentric characters and she does not fail to deliver. There is never a dull moment as the characters battle each other for attention. There is murder, fortune-telling, a prophecy, and a very memorable baptism scene. And, of course, there is philosophy professor, Dr. Muriel Crowther, who is like the 'Watson' to our female 'Sherlock'.
Helen Smith's 'Beyond Belief', a whodunnit in all sense of the word, touches upon sensitive, humane issues such as ordinary people's need for the paranormal and the reason people feed into the hype of fortune tellers, psychics, and mediums. It also highlights how wrong it could all go and how easily some take advantage to prey and exploit people's vulnerabilities at a time of loss, bereavement and loneliness. It highlights how people's fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams are feeding an industry, whether authentic in its claims or not, that is constantly expanding and that is proving hard to ignore.
Finally, let me tell you why I like Helen Smith and why you should read her books. It's simple: Helen Smith is an author who listens to her readers. When those readers loved Emily Castles from the word go and asked to know more about her, Helen Smith was listening. In 'Beyond Belief' she creates settings that allow her main character the opportunity to connect with the reader. We glimpse a more intimate, possibly romantic side to Emily that was lacking in the previous book. I do believe she has a lot of growing up to do as a character and I do think there is more to her than the author is letting on. And best of all? Emily's a South London girl. Enough said!
To know more about Helen Smith, click HERE.
Great news: I have a new book to rave about and recommend off the tip of my tongue as soon as someone suggests a title to read. Last year was 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn (click HERE to read the BookFabulous review). Less than a week into this new year and I'm already excited about Liane Moriarty's latest book 'The Husband's Secret'.
The novel, set in Australia, is about a woman, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who is living the perfect life. She is in love with and married to the town's handsome much-loved and highly-respected member of the community, Jean Paul, who happens to come from a well-to-do family as well. Together they have three beautiful high achieving young daughters. Chairman of the school's PTA, Cecilia has also recently launched a new very successful career involving Tupperware. In short, the woman has it all.
One day, while searching for a souvenir in the attic - a piece of the original Berlin Wall as it happens - to give to her teenage daughter who is currently obsessed with that story having moved on from her obsession with the Titanic, she accidentally stumbles upon a sealed enveloped addressed in her name. Recognising the writing as that of Jean Paul she cannot open it as it has clear instructions that Cecilia is only to ever read the letter in the event of his death.
And here the dilemma starts. Does she open it knowing full well that if she told any one of her friends about it, nearly every one of them would urge her to do just that? Or should she return it to where she found it and pretend it didn't even exist? But it does exist she reasons and starts to obsess about finding answers to questions like why it was there in the attic and not filed away with all of Jean Paul's other legal work? and why had he not given it to their solicitor to keep in the first place?
Her decision? Of course, she opens the letter - (I am not spoiling this for you as the title of the book kind of gives it away) but when she does, it is only to discover that in her hand she holds something akin to a Pandora's box (who by the way Moriarty begins and ends her novel with) that now unleashed unto Cecilia's universe has set in motion a string of events that will change the lives of those closest and dearest.
What Moriarty does with this novel is very clever. She brings a group of ordinary people leading ordinary lives and strings them together in the most extraordinary way. Yet in spite of the novel switching from one character's life to the other, there is an order to the madness and it flows beautifully. However, the reader will run out of guessing options as to the content of the letter and then as to where on earth Moriarty is leading us all. And by us, I mean the readers. For once that letter is opened the reader is no longer an impartial entity but remains challenged throughout. It's like Moriarty defies you to act any differently to her characters when faced with the same situations. It is a novel that will force you to address who you are at your core and what you would do when your values, beliefs, and everything you know about wrong and right are put to the test.
The plot is very believable, so much so that it will have book club members shouting over each other to be heard and most likely at each other. And that in my opinion makes it well worth reading and ultimately gives depth and credibility to the writing. It is a novel about redemption, love, and closure. It is a story about regrets, guilt, and many many secrets.
My best friend and I are still at lock horns with her unbudging attitude that Cecilia should not have opened the letter in the first place. My argument? why write a letter with a secret if you don't want to be found out? Which one of us is right? We'd like you to be the judge of that so come on, go and read/download the book now. A friendship could be at stake here :)
Welcome back everyone and happy 2014!
Boy, oh boy do I have a lot (seriously a lot) of book recommendations to throw your way. Christmas holidays, never a quiet affair in this household, saw me with time to read loads and loads of new and not so new titles finally decreasing that pile of books in the corner collecting dust. My cleaning lady is the happiest person on Earth right now. Yes, I have a live-in cleaner (I'm in Abu Dhabi now duh!) and yes, she really is happy (my judgement is based on her whistling tune - on that some other post).
Anyway, back to business and since I'm on the subject of cleaners, I thought I'd kick the year off with a Dubai-based memoir by Becky Wicks aptly called 'Burqalicious: The Dubai Diaries'. But why is my cleaning lady relevant to this I sense you wondering? well, because it seems that according to Becky's book she would have us believe that expats in Dubai are all blessed with one (a cleaner that is, not a Becky) and by the time expats leave the magical city of Dubai they've forgotten how to wipe stains off a floor or how to stack anything in a dishwasher. A bit of an exaggeration (a thing this book is apt to do quite often) but I can see that happening ;)
However, this is a hilarious, casual, not too seriously written memoir about Wicks' time in Dubai between 2007 -2009! It is a delightful read, quite saucy and funny. This is no surprise given that among the many jobs Becky held in Dubai, was running a celebrity gossip blog. Not an easy job as one would imagine in a country where words like 'sex, drugs, whores, adultery and nudity' are forbidden. Basically not easy writes Becky 'when anything that makes writing about celebrities vaguely interesting is a big, fat no-no'.
Thankfully her book, written and published outside of Dubai, is far from censored. Dubai, a city that is not only Muslim but has strict rules about sex outside of marriage, unmarried couples living together, public displays of affection and zero tolerance to alcohol, Becky Wicks's book is rife with all those forbidden pleasures. The book is a diary entry of Becky's days and nights in the the city that not only seems to be competing with the world but who seems to continually want to outdo itself. This is a city where everything is bigger, better and shinier than anywhere else on Earth and where billboards and press releases promise outlandish dreams that only Dubai can make true.
Seems too good to be true? well, it's because it is. Dubai is not an easy place to live where everyone seems to be out to make a quick buck. And judging by Becky's account hardly anyone does any work in proportion to the amount of money they're paid and in fact treating their stay as one big holiday. The outcome? The bubble bursts, businesses collapse, and loads of people are thrown in jail due to mounting unpaid debts. However, most of the book focuses on the lifestyle pre-Dubai crash and although the situation is tamer these days it is by no means vanished. Dubai winning the bid to host Expo2020 are proof of that and the size of the New Year celebrations that took place in Jumeirah are yet the biggest proof of all. (Dubai New Year 2014 fireworks have entered the Guinness Book of Records. Click HERE to see the YouTube.
The author, Becky Wicks, is no angel, although she would have us believe otherwise. Becky was a single, 20-something year old out in Dubai at its prime. In the space of only two years, she changes several jobs, becomes mistress to a very wealthy Muslim and married man, and has several 'boyfriends' along the way. In her book she comes across as an immature, irritating, self-centred gold-digger (her relationship with M&M is proof) and a bonafide drama queen. There is sex, there is a city, but Becky Wicks is no Carrie Bradshaw.
So why should you read the book? Because it is fun, un-putdownable, insightful and shallow in equal measure and perfect for when you're detoxing in January!
Maravan Vilasam is a Tamil with a passion for food. The youngest of four, he is raised by his great aunt Nangay in Jaffna after his parents burn to their death during the 1983 pogroms in Colombo; the same year that Sri Lanka is plunged into a brutal civil war that will last for over 27 years. With an early interest in cooking instigated by helping Nangay cook meals to sell at the market stall in Jaffna, he quickly learns from his mother's sister all the secrets to Tamil cooking and most importantly to Ayurvedic cuisine.
The novel opens with Maravan as a low-paid refugee-seeker in Zurich, living amongst Switzerland's Tamil diaspora. The civil war in Sri Lanka has reached its pinnacle as Maravan desperately tries to make enough money to send back to his ailing aunt Nangay who is suffering from a vicious type of Diabetes. The year is 2008, one of Switzerland's largest banks has had to write down a further US$19 billion and Lehman Brothers have gone into insolvency. Europe is officially in recession.
Things are tough on everyone in Switzerland but particularly so for Maravan who is working as kitchen help in one of Zurich's finest restaurants 'Chez Huwyler'. With N-authorisation status, which allows asylum seekers such as himself, to only work in specific catering jobs for low wages, there is minimal chance of advancement in his job. In spite of that, he continues to nurture his dream of one day owning a turmeric yellow van with 'Maravan Catering' on the side and to open 'Maravan's' which will be 'the place for avant-garde subcontinental cuisine, paying homage to the aromas, tastes and textures of Southern India and Sri Lanka'. Until then, with his meagre wage and what is left of it after he sends some money home, he continues to experiment with cooking at his home keeping him busy and mostly out of pocket.
At Huwyler, Maravan meets Andrea, a beautiful waitress who has trouble holding a job for more than a few months. After an altercation between the head chef and Maravan, she ends up inviting herself to Maravan's house for dinner. Wanting to impress her, Maravan 'borrows' a kitchen equipment to use for preparing Andrea's meal, the Love Menu. Although the meal goes partly as planned, the same cannot be said of Maravan's plans to return the machine without being noticed. He is fired, goes on the dole and understandably struggles to find another job.
That is, until Andrea comes up with an ingenuous idea to set up the 'Love Food' a private catering company which offers ancient Ayurvedic aphrodisiac recipes to a certain clientele. It all starts off simple and easy but with the business struggling to take off in the dire economic times and Maravan's obligations to his family and his amounting debts, the business takes a whole new turn. The company finds itself immersed in the world of shady dealings with shady people. Maravan's beliefs and values are tested and re-tested time and time again as he struggles to get to grips with 'the dirty stuff' side of the business. Maravan's life, as he knows it, is never the same again.
It is beyond a doubt that 'The Chef' has a lot going for it judging by its ratings - it is a bestseller in Europe. However, in my opinion, its main flaw lies first and foremost with its cover in which a woman's foot is suggestively riding up a man's trouser leg in an outdoor cafe. It is a cover that does not do justice to the story line, but in plain fact devalues it. This is a beautiful story with a very intelligent plot and in no need for such a gimmick. The book's cover is an unfortunate choice and misleading and seems to suggest a saucy read between its covers which is not only disappointing to the reader expecting them but in effect is as far from the reality of the book as possible. This is in fact a story where passion is compromised time and time again be it in Maravan's true passion for what he would like his cooking to do, or Andrea's passion for the call girl Makeda, and even business man Dalmann, with his accumulation of money and power, seems to lack the ability to experience passion. It seems that Martin Suter, whether purposefully or inadvertently, is trying to drive the point that in these times it seems that passion is a romantic notion consigned to the past to be ignored in these tough economic times. We do what we do to survive for if we don't do that, then others will.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes of this novel. 'The Chef' is a multi layered book, one of which is offering a glimpse into a segment of Swiss society rarely highlighted; that of the Tamil population. According to statics from 2008, the number of Tamils in Switzerland alone has reached 55,000. Although they have integrated to their full potential in the business sector, they remain a closed knit society holding on to its traditions, language and culture allowing very little, if any, influence to infiltrate from the hosting country. That is why it is quite refreshing to read the parts about Maravan's rituals upon entering his house, the Tamil festivals that he caters for and his relationship with the community of the diaspora particularly his relationship with Sandana, a first generation Swiss Tamil.
It is evident from the start that Maravan does not share the views of The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE) which makes Maravan's existence within the diaspora both difficult and suspicious. The LTTE are a powerful lot and it is apparent the amount of control they exert on people's lives and livelihoods, even resorting to blackmail in the case of Maravan, to secure the funds necessary for their fight against the Sri Lankan army in their homeland. Their path is not one Maravan believes in particularly with the knowledge of the LTTE 's recruitment of child soldiers. A fate he worries might be destined for his young 14-year-old nephew, Ulagu.
I did, on the whole, enjoy 'The Chef' although it did take a bit of a while to warm up to the characters. I cannot promise all of you will like it but one thing I can promise is this: if you are into cooking, as I am, then you are in for a gastronomic delight. The sections with Maravan preparing his magical dishes are mouth-watering. Although I have yet to try any of the recipes in the book that is not to say I am ruling out the possibility. Will keep you updated on that one!
For more on the author Martin Suter, click HERE
For more on the translator Jamie Bulloch, click HERE
Winnie Kraster is an American book blogger who has just received an invitation from the Romance Writers of Great Britain (RWGB) to attend their annual conference held in London. Author of blog 'Tallulah's Treasures' Winnie is over the moon regarding the invitation as validation of her rising status in the blogosphere and confirmation that her reviews have been taken seriously by her favourite writers Polly Penham and Morgana Blakely who are among the RWGB's membership committee. Unfortunately for Winnie, her happiness is short-lived as she is found murdered only a few hours after she lands in Heathrow airport.
And so cue a murder mystery that would be incomplete without a cast of colourful characters with big egos and even bigger secrets to hide. Welsh fifty-something author Cerys Pugh from Cardiff whose hate for Winnie's blog is outspoken and holds all bloggers in contempt. Archie Mears, the slim mid-thirties writer who refuses to speak of his past, has dark dreams, lives with a fear of being trapped by fire or water and whose poetic looks betray the fact that he would "strike back speedily and effectively if provoked". North London sensual romance writer Zena, and self-proclaimed "North London Goddess" interested in nature continuously burning incense at an altar, physically intimidating and who reveals in an interview that she is "not afraid to strike at someone or something that is holding her back". Polly Penham, a soft spoken, friendly writer who has found fame and fortune and is the envy of everyone but is known for her dramatic episodes and conspiracy theories. Morgana Blakely, self-absorbed president of the RWGB's organising committee who is used to always getting her way even if it means tweaking some truths here and there.
And then there is Emily Castles, our amateur sleuth, who is a free lancer working the odd job here and there and who reminded me of a slightly older Nancy Drew. Other than the fact that she had just completed a job in Canary Wharf (her comment on the elevators rings so true), that she lives in South London occasionally looking after her neighbour's cat when they are away and that she is at the conference to assist Morgana Blakely there is little more that we are told about her. Emily is a no-nonsense likeable twenty six year-old woman, with a dry sense of humour, sharp wit and an equally sharp eye for details. Helen Smith takes it for granted perhaps that readers would already be familiar with Castles from the Emily Castles Mysteries, which unfortunately I myself have not read. It is equally important to stress here that this in no way impacts or detracts from the story but is merely an observation on my part. It is also worth noting that 'Invitation to Die' is the first full-length book in the Emily Castles mystery series and it has just been published by Thomas & Mercer in paperback and as an ebook. Smith has already published two novellas in the series, Three Sisters and Showstoppers.
This short novel packs a rather long list of characters that Helen Smith manages to mix together in the most effortless way coming up with a very convincing plot. Every one is potentially a plausible suspect even if not part of the RWGB crowd such as the chocolatier Monsieur Cyril Loman owner of one of the most prestigious chocolate shops in Knightsbridge who cannot let go of what he has witnessed in his past life before seeking asylum in the UK at the age of fifteen. Hotel manager Nik Kovacevic's ambition is to prove his worth at his new job and therefore willing to do what it takes to please his superiors and secure a bigger promotion.
The novel is very entertaining, gripping and fast paced with laugh-out loud moments (my favourite was to do with Nik, chefs and pickles). My only wish was that it were longer. However, I have no doubt that 'Invitation to Die' will instigate many a discussion around the blogger vs author relationship, which if the retort is anything to go by can be quite fiery and challenging. Helen Smith has conjured up an imaginary scenario where she has tried for the sake of fairness to include representations of various characters from the literary world (writers, bloggers, publishers, etc) - hence the diverse and long list of characters - offering up an insight to what they might say or do when they have to spend an entire weekend together (it gave me the feeling of being a fly on the wall). But the story has a major advantage in the parts where it deals with why people write what they write (be it books or blogs), rituals of writing (Archie) and how to clear the mind for the creative process (Zena). There are lessons to be learnt there people.
Judgements, accusations, secrets and lies abound and yet this is one conference I'd love to attend provided I (the blogger) may be allowed to live to tell my tale.
Helen Smith is an English novelist and dramatist. She's a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, English PEN and the Society of Authors. She lives in London. Check out her website 'The Emperor's Clothes' HERE.
The "Jinn Theory" is a novel that takes place in modern day Istanbul where main character Rafiq Reynard now lives and works. Born to an American father and Muslim mother, he grows up in America's 1960s where he feels he has completed "all the rites of passage required of his generation. That had included a deep sampling of the world's religious traditions". Stumbling upon sufism in the 1970s, Rafiq spends every last penny pouring over books written by sufi masters such as Ibn Arabi, Jami, al-Ghazali and others. He is hooked lock, stock and barrel "as though a leviathan has awakened in the depths of his soul and set his being on fire". Immersing himself in his new found Islam, Rafiq is "swept off his feet and into the most intense love affair of his life".
Rafiq eventually leaves California when he decides to take a job working at a bookshop in England. It is during his time there that he meets one of the most important characters in this novel, that of Khosro Mirza Isfahani and his roommate Gary Magnusson. This 'chance' encounter has a deep impact on Rafiq's life and is to change the course of his life forever in the process creating a life long friendship and eternal spiritual bonds. Two years later, at the insistence of Khosro, Rafiq is prompted to take up the ownership of a bookshop in Istanbul (where Khosro's sister lives with her husband). Twenty years later, he is still there and that is where we meet him at the beginning of the novel.
Ensconced in his now well-stocked antique shop, we find Rafiq puzzling over two particular incidents that have interrupted his well-established routine. Having kept to himself most of his life in Istanbul, living in "solitary abandonment of the world" with no wife or family, the fact that the neighbourhood residents seem to all of a sudden bring their woes to his door seems to truly threaten his sense of safety. He "wanted to pray and meditate and read, he wanted to spend his time collecting beautiful things and hopefully selling them to people who'd ... pay him enough to keep him safe and secure in the world". Although aware of certain changes taking place he is also aware that it is futile to try and fight these changes even if all he wants is to be left alone.
Rafiq also discovers that his previously held impressions of the neighborhood residents is proving to be a whole lot different than he had previously thought. From Selim the mosque guardian and his young warden Azami, to the baker Ramsay, the young migraine-suffering Suhayl and even Hamid and his wife (Khosro's sister). The addition of new residents Michaela, her young family and her in-laws Jamal Butalib and Eileen is another of the distractions that Rafiq thinks he can do well without. Unaware to everyone involved, their fates will be forever entwined.
A central character to this novel is Tursun Nourazar. A wise Sufi Sheikh of the highest order, he is the epitome of what defines Sufism as an ascetic, mystical Muslim sect which emphasises the direct personal experience of God. A childhood friend of Khosro, the part of the novel in which the author tells us the story of how these two characters meet their Jinn in 1950s Qom in Iran, who is responsible for their religious awakening, is one of the most beautiful parts of the book. Tursun has to be the most beautiful character in the book as well and it is through his teachings and interactions with the novel's characters that we get a good sense of what Sufism is about.
Throughout the novel, we find that the author Vlek leans towards the idea that Sufism relies on the direct relationship between God and his worshippers with no need for a mediary. She is intolerant of would-be religious sheikhs who demand the full subservience and conformity of their subjects quashing all attempts of personal rationale and critical examination, treating their subjects as lambs, who without experience, can easily be led. This is very apparent in all the characters of the novel and particularly of Suhayl whose experience with his own Sheikh (Dr. Hassan Abusalem) is highlighted in the story. The Sheikh has forbidden Suhayl to seek any medical treatment for his debilitating migraines and has ordered him to recite Quranic verses to cure him of his condition. Once Suhayl starts to question his sheikh, he is threatened with expulsion from the order.
The elements of Sufism are all there in the 'Jinn Theory'. The teacher, one that traces his succession to such a job back to the prophet Muhammed, (Khosro and Tursun), the signs to the Signifier (the coin in Rafiq's shoe and the crooked trumpet), and then there are the Jinn, spirits mentioned in the Quran who inhabit an unseen world beyond the universe of humans. They can be good or evil and hence have freewill just like humans. Vlek has chosen to depict them as spirits who although can reveal themselves to whomever they choose appearing in human form, it is only those who have an open mind and a spiritual tendency and readiness who will and can actually see them for what they truly are. And although the Jinn play a central role in each of the character's religious awakening, as Tursun makes apparent to Selim it is always only about the relationship between God and his worshippers regardless of whose assistance is sought to get there.
This is a novel that I enjoyed for its subject matter although in the beginning I must admit that I found it a bit difficult to connect with the characters and I am still unsure of the necessity of the plot regarding Michaela and her family. We know from the onset of the novel that a big huge change is coming that will rock the neighbourhood to its foundation and I am afraid that when the event did finally happen I was left with a sense of disappointment. The ending in my opinion was very idealistic and conflict-ridden and I was just expecting more. And yet, I think this book would make a for an excellent book club choice. Themes of pre-ordained destiny, good vs bad, and how religion and spirituality fit in with today's modern Islamic world are key topics, in addition to themes of family, friendship, love and belief. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about this wonderful and mystical branch of Islam.
In Javier Marias' new book "The Infatuations", Diaz Varela says to main character Maria Dolz that "once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay much more attention" and Aaron Vlek commands attention and I look forward to reading more from this author.
About the author:
American author Aaron Vlek completed an undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College where she focused on Islamic history, the modern state of Iran and the central mystical saints of the middle ages. She also completed an additional close read of the works of several of the prominent ideologues of the last century and why their ideas have shaped the narratives that dominate the news today. Vlek is a convert of 35 years to moderate spiritual Islam and a peripheral student of Sufism.
Further reading: Idris Shah, Sufism
Black Mamba Boy is the compelling and stunning fictionalised account of author Nadifa Mohamed's father, Jama; a Somali born to a superstitious, resilient and loving mother, Ambaro and hardened dreamer father, Guure. The book starts in Aden, where Jama and his mother live a dismal life on the roof of some relatives' home who have agreed to take them in when Ambaro had moved to the city (from Somalia) to make a better life for herself and her son. With his father gone to find work in Sudan, Jama's constant yearning is to be re-united with him once more.
When Jama's mother dies he embarks on what can only be described as an epic journey searching for a father whose face he doesn't even know. The time is the 1930's and the setting is Africa where this illiterate, uneducated ten-year-old boy, barefoot most of the time, has to travel by train, lorry, camel and bus, on his own across lands that are barren blistering desert where the beginnings of a mass famine are taking root.
But Jama is one lucky boy, his luck in stark contrast to those around him. He survives captivity on an Italian compound held in a chicken pen like an animal only for his friend Shidane to die the most gruesome of deaths. He survives malaria when others perish and emerges dusty, disoriented and yet scratch-free when a bomb detonates at one of the Italian guard posts, with him the only survivor. In one instant Jama is land owner and rich and yet suddenly he is a sailor aboard the ill-fated 1947 Exodus ship mingling with Holocaust survivors. At one point imprisoned by the Egyptians, he even manages to save the life of a Lebanese driver. But for all Jama's luck it is on the night he is finally to be re-united with his father, the man of his dreams, that his luck faces its biggest challenge.
Black Mamba Boy is a beautifully written book full to the brim with mysticism interlaced with brutal reality. The book definitely depicts the harsh political, economic and social hardships East Africa's people and those of the neighbouring countries in the region were having to face at the time Jama went in search of his father. But Nadifa Mohamed's main interest lies not in dissecting these circumstances or laying blame, in fact the harshness of the book is in its reality and unapologising attitude. The message is clear: this is what Jama had to deal with and this is what he had to do to survive. My tip would be to read a little about the history of Somalia and Eritrea particularly to get a better grasp of the effects of British and Italian presence in the region and how it translated in the daily life of the people in East Africa.
There are many stations that exude beauty, lyricism and astounding writing from the author and I found the first pages of the book to be the most magical and powerful. Throughout the book themes of exodus and a search of a promised land are very dominant and particularly evident in the manner that Mohamed chooses to end her book. The ending did seem a bit rushed and I am quite mildly surprised that since its publication in 2009 there hasn't been a sequel. But who knows?
In the end, this may be a story about a boy in search of his father but it is most certainly to do with a girl who believes her father is "the real hero, not the fighting or romantic kind but the real deal, the starved child that survives every sling and arrow that shameless fortune throws at them, and who can sit back and tell the stories of all the ones that didn't make it." This girl promised to be her father's griot and has well and truly succeeded!
Anyone who grew up in the Middle East in the mid-1980s or spent time there particularly during the month of Ramadan will remember the TV series "Alf Layla Wa Layla - A Thousand and One Nights" starring Egyptian actress Sherihan and directed by Famhy Abdel Hameed. Watched by millions in the Arab World, it owed its main success to the affinity people felt for the tales of Sheherazad and Shehrayar of 'The One Thousand and One Nights'. Not only was the older generation thrilled to have the tales of their childhood played out vividly on their screens but the show also succeeded in sparking an interest in the younger generation who had assigned these tales to the archives of the past only to find them dusted down and repackaged relevant to their own modern times.
This brings me to storyteller and author Tahir Shah's latest release 'Scorpion Soup'; a work heavily influenced by 'A Thousand and One Nights' as attested by the author in his introduction whereby he writes that this book is 'a small hymn' to the tales that he 'feasted' on since early childhood and have shaped the man he is today. The work is a celebration of stories and storytellers in which ultimately he, Shah himself, emerges supreme.
Shah in 'Scorpion Soup' introduces a network of tales that can only be compared to a set of Russian Dolls, you know the ones where you open up one doll to find another smaller one contained inside it and then that holds a smaller one too and so on until you get to the last and smallest doll in the set. And that is what Shah does in this book. He starts with one story and then this story is the beginning of another and that contains the beginnings of another all the way until the end when we are back at the first story we started with. All the while commanding the reader's full attention engaging the imagination, entertaining, instructing and questioning. Idle readers beware!
The book begins in the hellish prison of Oran where a once-upon-a-time fisherman is now a shackled worn down slave slowly losing all hope of survival. However, we know he is going to survive because he is going to tell us how a tale recounted in a barely audible whisper by another inmate was key to his salvation. And so the reader's journey with Shah begins. From North Africa to Spain, Ethiopia and Egypt, China, Persia and Iceland. Lands of frogs, lands of cats and others ruled by dogs. We have wizened witches and a jinn in an urn at the bottom of the Red Sea. An old man in a cave and the story of a deity or two. The reader meets wise men, foolish men, knights, kings, queens, princes and princesses. A box with a rusty nail and a pendant with tears of a unicorn and still more and more and more.
The stories are meant to entertain but Shah has an ulterior motive. He believes that stories are 'part of the default programming of Man' and as such carry an important role in the shaping of minds and souls. His work is not only a nod to a revival of storytelling, he seems to want a complete resurrection and by the looks of it he might just get his wish.
'Scorpion Soup' is currently available as an e-book but hardback copies will be dispatched starting March 2013. The hardback cover is only available to purchase from Taher Shah's personal website. Click HERE to go there.
Suave PM Julian Jenson has just been re-elected. The nation's darling, he has an elegance and natural charm in public. But in private the cracks are starting to show. At his side is his wife, Valerie. Trim, tall, well-educated but deeply unhappy - with her son and daughter away at school, alcohol is becoming a trusted friend.
Sally Simpson is at the peak of her game. Powerful editor of the bestselling magazine Celeb, she can't wait to take her rightful place by Julian's side. Sexy TV reporter Isla McGovern has caught Julian's eye, and she will do anything (or anyone) to get to the top.
When the three women meet, so begins a perfect storm and only one can emerge as the First Lady.
What BookFabulous thinks:
As soon as you catch a glimpse of this book on the shelves you'll think you know what you're getting. This is chicklit at its juiciest but with a very important twist. The book is written by no other than Sky New's cut-throat journalist Kay Burley. It is a novel set in the seedy world of politics in London and its main character is none other than suave British PM Julian Jenson who has just been re-elected and is the darling of the nation.
With great politics in the novel comes great debauchery and a free licence for the PM to do whatever he pleases. As much as he is suave and charismatic as much as he is a bigot and a sexist pig really. He changes his women as frequently as he changes shirts and we are introduced to him in the novel at a time when he thinks he is in love with tabloid editor Sally Simpson who he seems to think is his true soul-mate. Sally is a rather vulgar, self-made woman who has only one thing in her sight: to be the next First Lady.
Julian has obviously got a lot of issues with commitment and the search for love (perhaps maternal) that he seems to have suffered from at an early age when his mother and father sent him off to boarding school. He recalls having run away only to be met at the station by the police (summoned by his parents) who take him straight back to school. That is the only mention of Julian's past in addition to the fact that he comes from a very wealthy and well-connected family. That memory is the only time throughout the novel that I felt any sympathy towards Julian who is most often cruel, self-absorbed, over-confident and cocky up until the two mistresses and his wife are thrown together in one room. As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose.
Valerie, Julian's wife, is a bored politician's wife who has sacrificed a lot to be a PM's wife. A once successful woman in the publishing industry she has now turned to the bottle for company with her busy husband constantly away and her two children at boarding school. With all the sleaze in the book she must be what elegance and grace is all about even at her darkest and worst moments.
Julian Jenson's right hand-man is none other than his spin doctor Ben Watson. A vile character that you find really hard to warm up to. Unethical, rude, depraved. loathsome and totally sexist, he is evil personified. Towards the end of the book although you know his fall from grace is being hatched you cannot but wish it were more degrading, more horrible and that Kay had given it a few more pages for us to gloat.
We also have air-head Isla McGovern who due to her beauty finds herself in a steamy romance with Julian Jenson. She is inexperienced but soon learns how things in the capital are done.
This is a very entertaining novel with proper laugh aloud moments. I guess with the superinjuntions flying left right and center this will make a more plausible read. In fact this book is such a gripping and easy read that makes it the perfect summer holiday companion. Its only drawback I would say is its author and to truly enjoy this book for what it is you just have to forget who it was written by.
Would you slap your kid if they were acting up? Would you go so far as slapping someone else's child at someone else's house? And while we're at it how do you feel about marriage, adultery, alcoholism, motherhood and abortion? A lot to contemplate at one go? Well, that's exactly what Christos Tsiolkas has done in his controversial book The Slap.
The plot: Man slaps a nearly three year-old at a barbecue in modern day Australia for being "unruly, eight people are there to see it happen and repercussions ensue. The slap seems to open up a can of worms and the eight characters are forced to re-evaluate their relationships not only with the perpetrator but with the people they have known and trusted for most of their lives.
After finishing the book I did think to myself: "Would I have reacted in the same way had I had that child at my house acting the way he was in the book and the way his parents were handling the situation as well?" I mean let's be honest some kids are so plain horrible that they are practically begging for a slap and their parents in turn are so callous that you want to just go ahead and slap the whole family silly. My answer eventually: No. But the bigger question I had to ask myself is: WHY NOT? After wrestling with various answers I reached the conclusion that slapping/hitting a child has scientifically proven traumatic effects that you cannot ignore on a child's development and psychology. I personally could never live with the guilt of doing that to my child or any other child for that matter especially when you can reach the same conclusion of discipline through other more constructive channels (albeit harder work) like talking and explaining proper behaviour.
I don't think anyone of us doesn't have an elderly person in the family who hasn't gone on and on about how kids "these days" lack discipline, morals, and all-round proper manners. How all they need is to be clipped round the ears. Yes, you think, and let's see how their kids turned out shall we? Looking back at my life growing up I can still remember having to sit still as we visited with my mum, spoke only when spoken to, minded our pleases and thank yous and made sure we were never part of the adult conversation going on. Basically, our opinion (even if we had one) did not matter. We were never asked what we wanted to eat, wear, do. We just went along and did it because mum or dad said so. And if you didn't like dinner then tough. Somewhere along the line, we did learn manners but lost out on self expression. A fine line isn't it?
These days my son tells me in advance what his likes and dislikes are. He is more articulate and open about his feelings and what is more astounding is that I am patient and interested enough to want to listen. Maybe not always but more often than not. However, even the most patient of parents should in my opinion have a limit or boundary that the child should be taught not to cross. Mine for example is rudeness. A nasty trait I totally abhor. That is one of the boundaries that we as a family abide by and that my partner and I make sure we explain to our child and the reason we believe it to be important. We take the time. That doesn't come without a lot of frustration and times head butting but we explain and explain and explain. Fingers crossed!
But honestly, how many of us have gone to play club or had children over only to realise that what you would most like to do is bin the cupcakes and bundle them up right then and there and physically kick them all the way back to their homes. They are whiny, spoilt and intolerable and their parents think they are the best. No, I don't think your child is creative by drawing on my walls, and No I don't think he is expressing his emotions when he rolls on the carpet screaming and hollering and No I don't think he's cute, adorable or sweet. He's a monster and since I won't slap him I want you and your child to go away and stay away. Aah, feel better already!
I'm digressing now. See how easy that can be. Anyway back to the book. There are some colorful characters in the book. I actually related to a few of them and at the end funnily enough you come to love each one for what they are and for how human and real Tsiolkas has made them seem. I found myself being part of the alliances being made in the book. I loved Aisha, Anook and surprisingly Hector. Rosie reminded me of a friend I never talk to anymore and she was (and where I am concerned still is) the devil. But here lies the beauty and power of the book. Rarely does a book offer characters and situations that draw the reader into not only questioning their actions were they faced with such similar circumstances but that upon discussing it, say in a book club, you become part of the plot forming alliances with fictional characters.
The only thing I might say about the book is that at times the book veers away from the main plot and we find Tsiolkas trying to cram in as many issues into the book as possible. One moment the characters are dealing with the repercussions of slapping a child and then all of a sudden we have Islam, growing up pains and a suicide attempt. Too much that could have the potential of being dealt with in a stand alone novel. But maybe this is part of the author's idea of trying to show how diverse Australian society has become.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely and don't read it alone. This is a great book to share with your friends and you might be surprised at what the discussions will uncover. How frequently has a book been able to do that?