PHILIP G. ZIMBARDO – Shyness: What it is and What We Can Do About It

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Acquired via BookCrossing 24 Nov 2008 – RABCK from Kittiwake

Written in the 1970s and embued to an extent with that decade’s viewpoints (would a book on shyness now ask if you smoked a joint to relax, or recommend a collective community in California as a good example of a healthy society? Maybe…) this is a down to earth and caring look at shyness, how it operates and how it can be overcome.  I was relieved to see that there IS a kind of shyness where a person can seem outgoing, organised and in a leadership role, while in reality being crippled by their thoughts; and there is much to be said for the commonsense points on concentrating on putting the other person at ease, being ready with a few topics, being aware that people aren’t usually out to mock one etc.

I have to admit to not undertaking the exercises in the second part of the book, but these look like they would be very useful.  A valid, non-threatening and helpful book.

Will keep on hand to see if any other shy person would like it.

MIRIAM TOEWS – The Flying Troutmans

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24 Jan 2009 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers’ Programme

A marvellous book.  Hattie has always felt responsibile for her older sister Min and her mental health, believing that she knocked it off balance by having the temerity to be born.  So when she gets a call, dumped and alone in Paris, to come and help her only surviving relatives, she jumps on a plan, heads to Canada and reaquaints herself with her niece and nephew, all the while musing over their childhood and their own.  Eventually, Hattie and the (beautifully drawn) Thebes and Logan embark on a road trip right through the United States, trying to heal a few wounds, getting a few more on the way, and looking for the kids’ father, Cherkis the artist.

Toews’ first novel was set in a strict religious community but had something of the same wry narrative voice.  Here she has found her wings and really does let the Troutmans fly, weaving their back stories, current struggles and futures seamlessly in a narrative that compels you to read on and on as they drive on and on.  The deadpan narration, full of little details and great humour, is reminiscent of Douglas Coupland, and I would recommend this to Coupland fans.  Central characters to care about, unconventional aunts and little girls full of mad knowledge, and their centre, the out-of-focus, hospitalised Min – a noteworthy and memorable book that I loved.

An interview with Linda Gillard Part (2) – Linda interviews Liz

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Hello again!

As I mentioned in my interview with Linda here , Linda thought it would  be fun to turn the tables and intervew me about my life as a reader! So -here goes!

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Linda interviews Liz

LINDA: Why do you read? How long do you think you could go without opening a book?

LIZ: I read because I have to (like writers write?!).  I have always taken comfort and joy from reading and loved the places it took me.  I can’t go long without reading.  There is a book in my bag at all times.  I did do a sort of reverse challenge one year, when my Other Half bet me I couldn’t read “only” 2 books per week for a year.  I managed until June that year and he accepted the bet was off – I could hardly bear it, and I didn’t do more quality things with the time I had “free”, just read more magazines and watched more TV!

LINDA: Do you have a favourite book?

LIZ: The books I go back to are the childhood classics – Noel Streatfeild, pony books, Frances Hodgson Burnett, etc.  Then there’s the perennial favourites – Middlemarch is a lovely one to re-read and I loved A Suitable Boy and enjoyed re-reading it 12 years after the first time.  I love travel writing and could read Paul Theroux over and over again. 

LINDA: What sort of thing makes you buy/borrow a book?

LIZ: Recommendation from friends is a big one, especially these days.  There are some that, even if they don’t look promising, I will read if friends have read and enjoyed them.  One example is your own A Lifetime Burning, which I didn’t fancy much cover- or blurb-wise but was persuaded into.  A later example is an Icelandic crime novel I picked up the other day.  If Ali and Audrey enjoyed it, chances are I will!

I do go by the cover, too.  A few paisleys or a minaret, and I’m there.  More about that later…
 
LINDA: What makes you put a book back on the shelf?/What makes you give up on a book?

LIZ: I don’t like the “chick-litty” covers – all that pink and curly writing, however there have been some books with those covers which are not like that at all (Debbie Macomber comes to mind – simple romance, she is not, but she is marketed as such).  I will give up on a book (and I’ve only recently been able to put a book down rather than go through to the bitter end) if the writing is very poor, if there’s a lot of upsetting violence, if I can see there is a horrible animal death, or, in the case of the last two non-fiction books I’ve read, the information is outdated and subscribes to views or attitudes I am not interested in.
 
LINDA: What do you think about book covers? How much information do you want about a book on a cover and blurb? (I get incensed by blurbs that tell you big things about the plot when the author has spent 40 pages building up suspense! When I gave my daughter TWILIGHT to read, I forbade her to read the blurb on the back.)

LIZ: Covers are important in providing information on genre etc.  As I said above, I have rejected books with covers implying something they’re not, so I try to see through that.  I have also pounced on books with minarets or paisleys, then found they’re not so good.  The blurb on the back can be very annoying – either too much information or skewed to what the blurb-writer thinks the audience is.  I don’t really like the author quotations on books – I don’t really trust them as a) they could be extracted from a longer comment, and b) the author may be one I don’t like or doesn’t turn out to be similar to the author in hand.
 
LINDA:  What do you think about the proposal to age-band books for children? (Bear in mind most children’s books are bought by adults for children.)

LIZ: I think this is a difficult one.  With the plethora of books out there, especially this trend for magical themed books (which can get a bit violent or graphic) then I think there is a need for guidance.  But children’s reading ages differ hugely and I would hate to think of a child put off by a younger or older guide age.  I think people should be encouraged to consult the librarian or children’s bookseller – or maybe there should be information available nearby or on a PC, without having it splashed all over the book.  I would hate to have felt I couldn’t have read The Hobbit aged 7 as it was marked 14 or older, and would feel a bit odd clutching my Bali Rai novel if it had a teenage age in big letters on the back, so what would the kids of today feel like?
 
LINDA: If you could commission a book to be written specially for you what sort of book would it be? (Genre, style, no of pages, author – dead or alive.)

LIZ: A new, endless series of Debbie Macomber novels set in a small town, which appeared effortlessly in my house and I didn’t have to wait a year for the next one.  Or one last Iris Murdoch, from when she was at the height of her powers.
 
LINDA: If you were a book what book would you be?

LIZ: I often feel like I’m in a David Lodge or Barbara Pym novel so one of those – I think on reflection, a Pym, as I battle on in the background, in a sea of mad academic types!

[Note from Linda G: Well, I think you’re COLD COMFORT FARM, Liz: Flora Poste – practical, funny but with a romantic streak – organizing a family of batty eccentrics with great good humour and common sense!]

Thanks, Linda – that was fun!
 

An Interview with Linda Gillard

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Introducing Linda Gillard:

Linda Gillard now lives in Glasgow, but has spent the last seven years living on the Isle of Skye.  Having been through three careers, as an actor, journalist and teacher, she wrote her first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, which was published by Transita in 2005.  Linda’s second novel A LIFETIME BURNING was published in 2006, also by Transita.  Her third novel, STAR GAZING, set on the Isle of Skye and in Edinburgh, was published by Piatkus in 2008.  STAR GAZING has been short-listed for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel of the Year. (We find out the result on February 10th).

More about Linda and her books can be found here.

I met Linda through my work bringing Transita and BookCrossing together, which got Transita’s books well-known and BookCrossed (and purchased!) all over the world.  Linda is a generous author – generous with contact with her readers and with connecting with the wider public.  She has given talks and run hugely popular writers’ workshops at BookCrossing Conventions, as well as appearing at local meetings and maintaining contact with her fans.  I was privileged to read STAR GAZING in manuscript form and am looking forward to a long and happy association with Linda and her novels.

When I suggested to Linda that I run an interview with her on my blog, she agreed then turned the tables and suggested that she also interview me, as a reader!  The first article will be me interviewing Linda; watch this space for Linda interviewing me

Liz Interviews Linda:

LIZ: Why did you start writing? Why do you continue?

LINDA: I’ve always written and my work has always been about words. As a child I wrote stories and made my own comics and as I grew up I became a great letter-writer. I wrote a short time-travel romance in my teens and I did literary A-levels and a Drama and German degree, so I was writing essays about plot, character and style for years. My first career was as an actress but then I took up journalism, so that was my first professional writing. I did that for 12 years and I also started writing unpublished novels. (I completed my first when my kids were 4 and 2, so I tend to give people a Paddington hard stare when they come out with the old chestnut, “I’d love to write a novel, if only I had the time.”)

When I was 40 I trained as a teacher. I only taught for a few years before cracking up with overwork and stress and when I was recovering, I did a lot of reading. I wasn’t too impressed with what was on offer in the way of contemporary women’s fiction, so I decided I’d write what I wanted to read and couldn’t find in bookshops. I never intended it for publication but that book was published as EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel.

Why do I keep writing? Well, it certainly isn’t for the money! (The vast majority of authors earn very little from their books.) I’m addicted to writing fiction. I was addicted even before I’d finished EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and I started writing my second novel two weeks after I’d finished my first. I love creating other people, other worlds, and I always fall madly in love with my heroes. I love the intellectual demands of writing, the moral, intellectual and artistic challenges.

One of the things that keeps me at it is the wonderful feedback I get from readers, especially BookCrossers, many of whom are fans of my books. It’s very gratifying to be able to talk about your characters with readers and find out how they felt about them. I think some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent talking to my readers. People care so much about books and stories. It’s wonderful!

LIZ: Who is your favourite character out of all of the characters in your published books?

LINDA: Hmmm, very hard to choose… It’s like asking a mother which of her children she loves most! The character who has haunted me the most is Rory Dunbar, the anti-hero of my second novel, A LIFETIME BURNING. He really got under my skin and I missed him dreadfully when I finished writing the book.

I’m very fond of Garth the Goth in my third novel, STAR GAZING. Garth was meant to be just a minor character but he practically stole the book. He was a treat to write and made me laugh out loud.

The romantic hero I lusted after the most was Calum, the teacher-poet in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. He seems to have ticked a lot of boxes for female readers. 😉

LIZ: And your least favourite?

LINDA: I don’t think I’ve ever created a character I didn’t like. It’s a case of “Love the sinner, not the sin.” A LIFETIME BURNING’s Rory was in some ways a monster, but as their creator, you even love the characters who do awful things. I think my least successful character might be Megan in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. She was a bit sketchy. If I could re-write that book I’d develop her a bit more, tell more of her story.

LIZ: Who is your favourite character in literature?

LINDA: Hamlet. I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare, especially HAMLET. (And yes, I did see David Tennant play it last year!)

LIZ: Which character from literature do you wish you could have had in your novels?

LINDA: The delectable Francis Crawford, hero of Dorothy Dunnett’s six-book series, THE LYMOND CHRONICLES. He wouldn’t fit in at all! He’s a swashbuckling 16th-century Scots adventurer. But for Francis, I’d re-write. 😉

LIZ: Would you change anything in any of your books? A character, a scene, a plot device?

LINDA: No, I don’t think so, apart from amplifying Megan as I mentioned above. I agonised about some things at the time – the manner of Flora’s death for example in A LIFETIME BURNING – but I’m happy with the artistic decisions I made.

I might remove some of the swearing in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. (Climbers can be foul-mouthed at times!) It’s not excessive, but what little there is upset some people. It was nothing compared to what you get in a crime novel or adult movie, but much to my surprise, there were adverse comments about it from some readers. I now think very carefully before I use words that will offend some people but I’d still use them if I thought the character would. Evidently some readers get really put off or just distracted by so-called “bad language”. That surprised me when you consider what you can hear these days, standing at a bus stop.

LIZ: What do you think about book blogs? Some newspapers and commentators have been a bit "sniffy" about the credentials of book bloggers as opposed to "professional" reviewers. What do you think?

LINDA: I love book blogs, even though they make me buy far more books than I shall live long enough to read. Book blogs are the best thing to have happened in the book world since BookCrossing.

Book bloggers have been very good to me, giving all my books positive reviews – some of them raves. Since the literary press have completely ignored me, I don’t know how readers would have found out about me without the kind offices of BookCrossers and book bloggers. But I’m not a fan just because they like me. I love blogs because the reviews are for the most part intelligent, entertaining and fair. Bloggers judge a book for what it is and are mercifully unimpressed by hype and the cult of celebrity. 

What I want from a book review is some idea of what happens (but no spoilers) and a clear idea of what a book is like – its intended readership, style, length, whether it’s easy to read or demanding. Many’s the time I’ve read a newspaper review of a book and I’ve got to the end and still didn’t know whether the reviewer thought the book was good. Useless! Bloggers give you all the information you need and the fact they’ve chosen to review a book tells you it’s probably worth reading.

I know bloggers have been slated for giving only positive reviews but this doesn’t bother me. There’s enough negativity in the world without anyone needing to add to the sum. If a book is bad, ignore it and praise a better one. Anyway, if you get to know a blogger’s style you can tell which books are the real winners. The passion for a great book comes across. It’s a wonderful thing: to share your enthusiasm for books with other book lovers, perhaps even make the career of an unknown writer who might otherwise have sunk without trace.

I’m sure there must be some rubbish blogs out there (though I‘ve never actually found one), but the standard of reviewing is generally high. I think they do a brilliant job of writing about books without spoilers. (My books are tricky to review for that reason. It’s hard to say anything at all about the plot of A LIFETIME BURNING without giving something away – but the bloggers managed!) I don’t think you need credentials to review books, you just need to love books and have a talent for communicating your enthusiasm. That’s what sells books – personal recommendation – so I don’t know why publishers have been slow to wake up to the marketing potential of blogs. My publisher wouldn’t send review copies to bloggers, so I sent them out myself. I was confident of my product and I knew blog reviews would sell copies and spread the word. Now my publishers have seen all my good reviews, I think they might be more willing to send copies to bloggers in future.

LIZ: Thank you Linda for sharing your thoughts and insights with us!

CHRISTINE PULLEIN-THOMPSON – The Second Mount

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Nov 2008 – from the iLounge OBCZ shelf

Picked up as the Pullein-Thompsons as a group are some of my favouite pony authors.  This one has Christine’s usual laconic style and slightly miserable feel.  David and Pat set up a riding school, but is David more interested in taming the wild pony, Tornado, while Pat secretly yearns for the debutante lifestyle she gave up?  Oddly, I have read the first and third books in this series before, which doesn’t matter hugely but makes it all a bit disjointed.  Great pony descriptions and pictures by Sheila Rose.

MANJU KAPUR – Home

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Nov 2008 – at a BC meetup from Ali

I did enjoy this multi-generational tale in the end, although it felt a little bit samey at the beginning (probably because I’ve basically read too many Asian novels).  The claustrophobia but mutual support of living in a joint family was expressed well, where if you start up your own business, you get help with start-up costs and day-to-day running but have to watch out for family members taking over.  Nisha starts off as a misfit, farmed out to her auntie’s family when she becomes distressed living in the main house; as she tries to fit in, excema takes over; will she adjust and feel comfortable inside and out? And what will become of the more peripheral members of the family as the household expands and modernises?

D. J. MURPHY – A Thousand Veils

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Acquired via LibraryThing 19 Jan 2009 – from the author

I got talking to the author’s wife about how to spread the word on a self-published book – I often wade in to suggest contacting local BookCrossers etc.  She kindly agreed to get a copy to me via Amazon.

This is an amazing book.  First off, unlike so many self-published books, the writing is excellent and the editing and proof-reading spot-on, so none of those winces as you find yet another glaring error.  The book, although a novel based on fact, reads like non-fiction – which is not a problem as some of the events are quite astounding and might seem unlikely in a novel. 

The book centres on the relationship between Charles Sherman, a Wall Street Lawyer, and Fatima Shihabi, an Iraqi woman poet and journalist who has come onto the wrong side of Saddam Hussain’s secret police.  As Fatima forges her own destiny and starts to escape persecution through her own strength and intelligence, Charles is trying to help her from America, alongside her brother.  Charles’ life is stressed and shot through with survivor guilt from 9/11 and the pull between his partner, Sarah, and his work, and Fatima does not believe that America truly means to help.  Both have their lives and attitidues changed in this fast-paced and heartbreaking book.

There are some upsetting and vivid scenes around 9/11 and human rights abuses (it was nearly too much for me and I had to slightly skim some fight scenes) but these were horribly necessary for the validity of the book and its story.  This dark side is redeemed by the strong thread of love and humanity, and not least by the feisty figure of Fatima’s daughter Latifa.

An important and moving book but also unputdownable.  I will be offering this to the BookCrossing community shortly.

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