Tuesday, 31 October 2017

What's On Your Nightstand? - October 31, 2017

This month I divulge from my nightstand which books I’ve loved, liked, didn’t or couldn’t give a hoot about and of which books I plan to read for next time.

As this is the spookiest night of the year I’ll start with one from my intended reading list: ‘The King in Yellow’ by Robert W. Chambers.  I received a reading copy from one of my favourite publishers, Pushkin Press, but alas I haven’t had time to read it before this posting. This beautiful hard back edition, a cult classic in supernatural fiction, is just perfect for an Halloween evening read and an ideal Christmas gift.

What I read

If The Creek Don’t Rise, Leah Weiss
(Available now)
Pages 305
Oh how I loved this book. Fabulous world building with an authentic atmospheric southern gothic storyline set in a North Carolina Mountain town.
Intense in its narrative and vividness ‘If The Creek Don’t Rise’ is a dark, gorgeously written tale about gritty, rural community life, and in particular the struggles women face in such misogynistic and male orientated relationships. (Review in progress)

(Fiction) PEACH by Emma Glass
Published: 23 January 2018
Pages 112
Not sure how I feel about this one yet. I feel rather ambiguously about ‘Peach’ and not quite sure what to say about it.
It was definitely viscerally emotive in its depiction of a young girl having just been violently raped, and of her decline into a mental breakdown. Written in a beautiful stylistic prose and narrated in a consciousness of streamed thoughts it is reminiscent of Eimear McBride’s ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’, and certainly felt as deeply affecting. An extremely powerful and at times distressing read and if I’m honest not sure I fully understood it and what was real or imagined. I just felt a little lost.
That said this is definitely one to watch for next year.  I read Peach in two sittings, but it could have easily been completed in one if time constraints had allowed. (Review in progress…I might read it again before reviewing.)

(Fiction) The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha
Stunning bright, zesty and energetic…I loved the cover image.
A beautifully heartbreaking but equally warm uplifting story, with its origins based on the author’s family lives, about two sisters living in Brazil during the 1940’s.
A pure delight to read and one to watch out for next year…you simply must read it! (Review in progress.)

(Non Fiction) Unbelievable by Katy Tur
Jeez this was a humdinger of a read about the coverage of the presidential campaign and lead-up to Trump’s victory in becoming one of the most controversial, most divisive president of our time.

Tur’s campaign memoir doesn’t divulge anything new, or shatter any pre conceived allusions about Trump’s ideology or personality. She simply tells us what is was like reporting on a regular basis, at rallies and interviewing Trump or dealing his chief aids during the campaign election, and of how she felt on a professional basis and personal level.  For me, it strengthened my suspicions of what kind of man Trump is, which unfortunately intensified my concern and fear for a better and united America under Trump’s presidency.

Absolutely...unbelievably…unmissable. Highly recommended! (Review in progress.)

What I didn’t finish
Nothing this month…I wanted to finish them all.

What I’m reading now
(Fiction) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Another superb Halloween evening read.  I’m quite sure this is going to be one of my favourite reads of the year. So far it’s full of haunting gothic presence and complex characters,  I’m thoroughly engrossed and lost within their world.

What I intend to read for next time
All The Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J Church
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
In Search of Lost Books by Giorgio van Straten
& From last months intended list:
Will Send Rain, Rae Meadows
The Book Of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch

As I’ve said before (In November) I’m stopping there as I always change my mind…too many sweets in the jar so to speak…especially at this time of year.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

EVENTS: Waterstones Halloween Book Group

Stephen King Halloween Book Group
Hosted by Waterstones Portsmouth
Monday 30th October at 18:00

Join us over tea and cakes for a Book Group with a twist! To celebrate the release of the master of horror's latest book Sleeping Beauties, we will be discussing the work of Stephen King.

There is no set book to read, just bring along your favourite Stephen King novel and be prepared to talk about why, for you, it's the best of his extensive collection...
There are no right or wrong answers just an evening of discussion – find some recommendations for your next read, meet other fans and get suitably spooked!

Please book in advance to ensure your place by clicking attending on the Facebook page or by speaking to a Bookseller in store or by telephone on 02392 821255

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Spoils by Brian Van Reet

Spoils by Brian Van Reet
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK/Vintage Publishing
Source: Publisher (digital review copy/hardcopy proof)
Pages: 255 (Read: May 2017)

It is the spring of 2003 and coalition forces are advancing on Iraq. Images of a giant statue of Saddam Hussein crashing to the ground in Baghdad are being beamed to news channels around the world. Nineteen-year-old Specialist Cassandra Wigheard, on her first deployment since joining the US army two years earlier, is primed for war.
For Abu al-Hool, a jihadist since the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, war is wearing thin. Two decades of fighting – and the new wave of super-radicalised fighters joining the ranks in the wake of the September 11 attacks – have left him questioning his commitment to the struggle.
When Cassandra is taken prisoner by al-Hool’s mujahideen brotherhood, both fighters will find their loyalties tested to the very limits.
This fast-paced, hard-hitting account of eight weeks in the lives of a soldier and her captor forces us to reconsider the simplistic narratives of war spun by those in power. With its privileged insight into the reality of armed combat, Spoils shines a light on the uncertainty, fear and idealism that characterised the early days of one of the most important conflicts of our time.

My Thoughts:
With a narrative full of highly emotive scenes and issues, Brian Van Reet's debut novel focuses predominantly on three US soldiers; Gunner Cassandra Wigheard, Sargent McGinnis, and Private Crump, who have been taken captive after an ambush near Baghdad at the start of the Iraq war.

Utilising the personal perspectives and distinctly recognisable, memorable voices of Wigheard, Sleed and the mujahideen Abu al-Hool, it is the thought processes, psychological behaviour and relationships between the captives and the jihadi terrorists that are the main focus of Spoils rather than explosive action scenes.

The captives are subjected to horrifying ordeals, held in dark, solitary confinement, they undergo unrelenting psychological torment and physical torture. Fully aware that there can only be one outcome at the hands of the terrorists, that of their impending execution, it is heart rending to bear witness to the suffering and their resignation of their fate.  During the course of her captivity Wigheard at the mercy of one of her captors is repeatedly humiliated, dehumanised and brutalised. I found Cassandra's narrative, the only voice in the third person, particularly disturbing, and at times so unbearable that I found her account suffocating and intensely distressing to read.

Abu al-Hool is a highly complex individual whose narrative is philosophical, retrospective and perhaps a little melancholic as he begins to question his religious and personal moral beliefs. He becomes increasingly concerned about the new direction in which the mujahideen brotherhood are being steered towards at the direction of the merciless Dr Walid. A direction he does not believe is the right path.

Tank driver Sleed should have been with his unit at the time of the ambush, instead he was acquiring some valuable 'spoils of war' from Saddam's Palace.  We accompany him as he, during the course of the book, tracks down his missing combatants.

Brian Van Reet has first hand combat experiences to draw upon for this powerful piece of fiction rendering it an intensely humane story, giving credible authenticity to the plot, and scenes presented to the reader.  It also demonstrates the complex and conflicting issues presented to everyone involved in the theatre of war, from the US combatants to the Iraqi people they are there to help.  What he also does all to well, and possibly not agreeable to every reader, is make a case for the terrorist's humanity as he imagines the moral and personal internal dialogue going on and how difficult it is to distinguish between a good person from a bad one due to their religious beliefs.

Spoils does have its moments of humor and bravado as displayed during dialogue between Crump and his colleagues which felt reminiscent of 'Generation Kill' written by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright about his experience with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As the story progressed and the mood darkened, 'Green on Blue', another excellent debut novel, told entirely through the eyes of a young Afghan boy by Elliot Ackerman, who himself spent five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan came to mind.

Enlightening, thought provoking and hauntingly mesmerising, I cannot recommend Spoils highly enough to anyone interested in novels about war and conflict.