“The Library of Shadows” by Mikkel Birkegaard

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard starts with the strange death of bookshop owner Luca Campelli. His son, Jon, who hasn’t seen his father since he was fostered after the suicide of his mother twenty years ago, inherits the shop, but is immediately drawn into the secret society of people who can affect your thoughts and feelings when you read or when they read to you, and somebody is trying to destroy them, his father having been their latest victim, and is soon in a fight for his own life.

When I bought this book a few years ago, it was purely based Continue reading

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Persephone Books

On the whole, particularly now I read mostly ebooks, I don’t notice the publisher of the books I read, but there is one that stands out for me, both from the quality of their catalogue and the aesthetic of their paperbacks – Persephone Books.

Persephone specialise in rediscovering novels and non-fiction from twentieth century (mostly) women writers, that are either written about women or for women. The striking simplicity of the covers that adorn their books make them stand out from the crowd; a simple dove grey cover with a cream label containing the tile and author, opens up to display beautiful end papers which are prints of fabrics or wallpapers which were contemporary at the time the book was originally published.

In addition to these editions, 10 of their bestselling books are published in their Classics section, and have been given covers showing a work of art, again with early twentieth century pieces, and the fabric print end papers.

Their catalogue so far is made up of 96 books of which I’ve read five so far. I’ve bought most of my copies from independent bookshops, but Persephone have their own bookshop in London, and also provide a mail order service through their website. They have recently started making some of their books available in ebook format, although even I, who dotes on my Kindle, won’t be buying these, as these paperbacks are pieces to treasure and I want to own the whole catalogue eventually. Having had a break from reading them for a while, coming back to their books reminded me of how beautiful their editions are, both the simplicity of the covers and the clear typeface and layout, and I thought I’d post something about them.

I know I haven’t read that many of the books yet, but I have yet to find one I haven’t enjoyed, and I’m planning on a starting a challenge to read the entire collection in the future.

“The Crimson Petal and the White” by Michel Faber

It’s taken me four months to finish The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, but I have loved every single page. A tale of a prostitute, Sugar, one of her customers, William Rackham, the unwilling heir to a perfume factory, and his wife, Agnes, a young woman whose health has failed her of late, all set in Victorian London. Written with the flavour of a Dickensian style and elegance, this modern novel is able to delve in to the real depths of Victorian morals, lifestyle and sexual attitudes, in a way that Dickens never could.

Eminently readable, I felt instantly swept up in the story, but there is such a depth and detail to the lives of the characters on the page, that I couldn’t read more than a chapter at a time, in order to savour and envelope myself in this society that Faber has created. There is no getting away from the fact that there are some graphic descriptions of sexual scenes, but they feel that they fit within both the plot and period of the story.

But, for me, the overall glory of this epic book, is the wealth of characters. No character is too small or insignificant not to warrant a colourful description, from the larger secondary characters of, for example, William’s brother, Henry, with his tortured goodness, to his shallow, hedonistic friends, Bodley and Ashwell, to the calculating servant, Cheeseman. All come alive on the page and alongside the descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of historic London, made the whole world of this book a completely immersive place to visit each time I picked up the book.

The end comes quite suddenly, and although you don’t really get a resolution for the characters, this felt right, as no-one’s life should be able to have all its loose ends tied up cleanly, and after spending so long with these people, I was actually quite glad to be able to think for myself where their lives would take them next.

I’m actually sad I’ve finished it, and won’t get to come back tomorrow for another installment, which must surely be the highest praise I can give any book.

“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Well, I finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. There are a lot of factors that influenced my reading of this book, and I know it has affected my thoughts on the book. The background is that this was a chosen book for my reading group this month, so I didn’t have the luxury of choosing when to read it to a certain extent. I’d wanted to read the book soon anyway, but again this was also influenced by the film adaptation coming out shortly. Along side the timing issue, again due to the film, I had already associated characters with the actors portraying them and I had an idea of the theme of the book. Another issue I had was that I’d only read this author once before and had been distinctly underwhelmed by the short story collection I read last year, yet his early novels had been highly recommended, so I was intrigued to know how I would find this, one of his later novels.

So. Hmmm. While I was reading it, I thought the book was compelling. At the end of each session of reading, I was desperate to keep going to find out how the story would progress. But, here’s my problem. By the end, I didn’t feel that I knew the characters, I wasn’t convinced by the development of the plot, and the voice of the narrator seemed young and naive, while the character was actually reflecting back on life after the revelations of the story.

I’m still in two minds about the book, and I think I’ve realised why I found it so compelling, but ultimately so unsatisfying. I’m a story person, and what really grabs me is a great plot, but I knew before I started the book who the characters were, so I was waiting for the reveal rather than surprised by it.

My biggest disappointment though, was by the end, I wanted to see some sort of rebellion or outrage at the system from one of the characters instead of total acceptance. Even the moral stance of the guardians at Hailsham dwindled out, but what I was most disappointed by was the glossing over of the Morningdale scandal, which I felt was a key factor to how the story played out by the end and raises crucial issues in the debate, but was woefully underplayed.

Having said that, I think it will provoke a lively discussion at my reading group, so that’s something to look forward to!

“Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover” by Ally Carter

I started reading the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter last year while on holiday, and devoured the first two books in a single day! The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women to the outside world is a private girls school for the gifted girls, but behind the facade, it prepares the next generation of skilled intelligence operatives. It’s not just a secret within the school, it’s one of the country’s closely guarded secrets with not even the majority of the CIA knowing about its existence. After the death of her father, Cameron Morgan moves to The Gallagher Academy with her mother, who has removed herself from the intelligence world – to become the school headmistress.

The books follow Cammie and her friends not only through their extraordinary classes but also through the pitfalls of being teenage girls! They’re great fun, and quick reads, and there’s something about a female spy story that I find glamorous and thrilling, despite the dangerous risks, and added with my current penchant for YA books, these were always going to be a winner with me.

Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover which was a great Sunday afternoon, lazy, and purely entertaining read. Can’t wait for the next book to be out later this year.

“Ghost Town” by Rachel Caine

This is the latest in the Morganville Vampire series. Claire Danvers has moved to Morganville to attend college there, but has ended up an unwillingly embroiled in the vampire politics of the local community. As the series has gone on, Claire’s fate has become almost inevitably entwined with the Founder of Morganville. The vampires in this series are for the most part, every bit as menacing and dangerous as their kind should be, making for a spine tingling thriller of a plot.

I’ve loved every one of this series of YA books, they’re funny and exciting, and there is a genuine sense of peril for the characters up against the strained relationships between the humans and vampires. A quick, easy read, I know, but the pages just whizz by as I get caught up in Claire’s story. I wondered how Caine would continue the series as the first six or seven books had a cliffhanger to take you on to the next book each time, and the last couple of books have had an uneasy conclusion but didn’t leave you on the edge of your seat exclaiming, “You can’t leave it there!!!!”, but I have liked how she’s developed what’s happening in Morganville. This one doesn’t leave you on tenterhooks as such, but it does leave you feeling you know what the next book will be about, but not how she’ll deal with it.

“The Fire Gospel” by Michel Faber

Canongate are running a long term project to produce a series of retellings of legendary myths by contemporary authors. The Fire Gospel is the third book in the series I’ve read, and is author Michel Faber’s interpretation of the Greek Myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals.

His protagonist is Theo Griepenkerl, an academic who specialises in Aramaic and is in Iraq trying to find treasures he can “save” from destruction by taking them back to Canada for storage. When the looted museum he is visiting is bombed, he finds nine papyrus scrolls that have been hidden inside a sculpture for two millenia. He translates the scrolls from Aramaic to find they are actually a fifth Gospel written by a man who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. The story follows the inflammatory tale of what happens when Theo publishes the contents of the scrolls.

This is the third book of the Myths series I’ve read, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. It’s a pacy, quick read, and felt a bit like a shorter, more literary version of the blockbuster type thrillers like the Sam Bourne novels. Before you even read the whole story, as you realise what the scrolls contain, you begin to think about the impact they would have on religious communities around the world, even if Theo’s single-minded approach to what it will do for him is a bit too na├»ve to be fully convincing, but it doesn’t really detract from the story as you can imagine how he would get caught up in the process of his revealing of the Gospel to the world.

There’s one particularly funny chapter, when after Theo’s translation has been published, he’s at a loose end and decides to have a look at how well his book is doing on Amazon, and reads a selection of the customer reviews. Faber has taken great delight in writing these reviews, with their spelling, grammar and typographical mistakes, and all feel totally authentic and made me chuckle to myself (although maybe I feel a little uncomfortable writing my own thoughts on Faber’s book here now!).

Another Faber book down, and another good read. Also another book in the Myth series read, and another one enjoyed. I’m going to try and keep occasionally dropping another of the books from this series into my reading, as I’ve enjoyed them a lot, but I don’t think Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy will ever be surpassed, as surely the most joyous book I’ve ever read.