11 April 2012

Be it ever so humble… (Chai's a new home.)

I now have a monthly book review show on radio. It’s not 702. It’s not even SAfm. It’s ChaiFM (101.9FM – Tuesdays, 11am-11.30am). 

But hey. There’s nothing wrong with reviewing for the tribe. Right? Right!

I’m loving it so far. Have a listen to my first ever show (06/03/2012) and to my reviews of last week's books (03/04/2012) which were:  
  • Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)
  • Victims (Jonathan Kellerman)
  • Gun Games (Faye Kellerman; also published as Blood Games)
  • Fallen (Karen Slaughter)

I’ll post links to the monthly podcasts whenever I remember.

The Litigators (John Grisham)

I’m going to admit something many book-lovers and book reviewers will never tell you. Something you’ll never hear from a self-respecting literary snob (and something I’d deny later if it weren’t out there, online, for everyone to see)…

Sometimes, I like to read schlock.

Schlock, n (origin - Yiddish): Books, art, music or movies of a crummy or common nature. – paraphrased from www.urbandictionary.com

What I mean is that there’s often a time (usually on a beach holiday or while you’re sick in bed) when you want to lie back with something undemanding. Easy to read. Gripping. But entirely uncomplicated. And often formulaic.

John Grisham, by virtue of the volume of books he’s written, the short windows between them and his repetitive plots and character profiles, is producing schlock. And I’m loving it – because in an uncertain world, John’s writing guarantees my enjoyment. I don’t even have to read the back cover.

The Litigators, his latest novel, is just as enjoyable as those before it. And very similar. It’s about – you guessed it – a bunch of lawyers.

Two-bit ambulance chasers Finley and Figg operate from their dingy little office in south-west Chicago, where they’re always listening for the welcome sound of sirens and waiting for their next big break. They bicker, arrive at work hung-over, hide from their wives and sleep with some of their clients.

Then, thirty-something David Zinc staggers in. He’s just chucked in his impressive (read: soul-destroying) job at a top law firm and decided to do something different. To ‘slum it’ for a while.

David injects Finley & Figg with new energy, so that when the trio stumbles across the potential for a massive multi-million-dollar class action suit against a pharmaceutical giant, it seems to good to be true.

Is it?

If you like Grisham, you’ll like The Litigators. I read the book (yes, while I was on holiday), and I’m currently listening to the audio book. But please don’t expect anything unusual from our novelist friend John. He doesn’t do unusual.

(Disclaimer: The only element of this story that isn’t vintage Grisham is that it’s set in a bustling urban metropolis, instead of a town in the deep South.)

10 April 2012

The Lady of the Rivers (Philippa Gregory)

She’s done it again.

Philippa Gregory isn’t known as the queen of historical fiction for nothing. In this, the third part of her Cousins / War of the Roses series, she goes further back in time than usual (and further back than either The White Queen or The Red Queen).

The Lady of the Rivers introduces us to Jacquetta: young bride to the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford.

Descended from Melusina, the fabled river goddess, Jacquetta has always had the gift of ‘sight’ – but, having watched Joan of Arc burned at the stake for witchcraft, she understands only too well the dangers for a beautiful girl with intuitive powers.

As she grows into womanhood, Jacquetta rises to a prestigious place at the Lancaster court of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret. But she must face both the swirling threats of popular unrest and the more sinister machinations of royal rivals.

After a terrible shock, the king slides into a mysterious sleep, his volatile and easily influenced queen places her trust in scheming conspirators and bloodthirsty thugs and Richard, the grand Duke of York, threatens to snatch away the entire kingdom.

Fortunes rise and fall, as this well-researched, well-conceived and sweeping epic introduces us to the real-life mother of the White Queen. I loved this book but then, I love all of Gregory’s books. So it’s important for me to issue this disclaimer:

If you’re a Gregory fan, and your favourite of her books is The Other Boleyn Girl, there’s a chance that this novel – and the other Roses books – will prove too historical and insufficiently fictional. But if you’re a die-hard consumer of largely fact-based writing, or you’re passionate about the royals of yore and yon, you’ll love it.


Photo credit: Google Images

The BBC World Bookclub

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of being interviewed on the London-based BBC World Bookclub show, when it interviewed author Hisham Matar. Matar wrote In the Country of Men, which I reviewed several years ago - and really liked.

It's about 9-year-old Suleiman, who lives with his parents in golden Tripoli, 10 years after Moammar Gaddafi’s 1969 revolution. 

There, he tries to reconcile the things he understands (sesame sticks, football and mulberries) with all of the things he doesn’t. 

These include secret police, clandestine agitators, intimidation and torture, televised trials and hidden addictions.

My specific question for Hisham Matar was:

You have a particular knack for creating beautiful imagery in your writing; for using simile.
  • A man trying to resist being taken to the gallows reminds Sulaiman of "the way a shy woman would resist her friends' invitation to dance, pulling her shoulders up to her ears and waving her index finger nervously in front of her mouth".
  • Why has another boy's father "vanished like a grain of salt in water"?
  • A man is parked outside in a car "like a giant dead moth in the sun."
As a writer myself, I’m interested to know whether you work hard to create these, or whether they simply suggest themselves to you, as the result of your being a nuanced observer of your own world?

And here is his answer

Sort of. Enjoy. 

Photo credit: Google Images