Review – Academy Street by Mary Costello


Mary Costello’s novel Academy Street has won the Irish Book Awards Book of the Year 2014 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2014. I’d like to thank Canongate for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Academy Street
Image provided by Canongate¹

In the 1960s, Tess, a young Irish woman, emigrates to New York to find her destiny. Her mother passed away when Tess was a small girl and so she grew up on the dreary family farm among her siblings and her gruff father. Like most people, Tess is looking for love, but for an introvert person finding friends can be a challenge. As she tries to build a home in the United States, it isn’t always easy to stay close to those she loves. Although this country enables Tess to live a life that would be impossible in Ireland, she is just as isolated as before.

Academy Street is a slow-moving tale with a main character who is great to identify with. Mary Costello paints a realistic picture of a woman’s life very similar to the lives of many lonely people out there. The novel’s only downside is its ending. Even though it is surprising, I don’t think it very original. All in all, however, Academy Street is a melancholic novel that will make you value your family and think about those less fortunate than yourself.

3 Star Rating: Recommended(3.5 magic beans)


Review – In Real Life by Chris Killen


Today’s the publication day of Chris Killen‘s new novel In Real Life. I had never heard of Chris Killen until Becca from Canongate Books recommended In Real Life to me and she really seems to know what I like. Thank you Becca!

In Real Life
Image provided by Canongate¹

When you reach thirty, you are supposed to live an orderly life, earn a regular income and, ideally, have a spouse and children. It can’t be that hard, can it? Until 2004, Lauren, Ian and Paul went to university together but a lot has changed since then. Now, ten years later, their lives aren’t what they imagined them to be. Lauren has to convince her friends that she’s not interested in blind dates anymore, Ian is broke and Paul’s life is a lie.

When I started reading In Real Life, I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, I soon found myself among three characters who seemed like close friends. We share the same hopes and fears and even though their lives are quite a mess, Lauren, Ian and Paul’s stories are still believable. If you are around thirty, you probably have a friend who is just like one of them.

In Real Life is an easy-to-read novel that jumps between 2004 and 2014 and therefore evokes feelings of nostalgia. You’ll have the ultimate reading experience if you are the same age as the three main characters, because you will be able to empathize with them and relate to their numerous worries. Chris Killen does a brilliant character study introducing three thirty-somethings who stand for a generation of adults striving to lead the ideal life that doesn’t exist. When you think your life isn’t easy, just see what Lauren, Ian and Paul’s lives are like and you’ll find that you are not alone.

4 Star Rating: Recommended


Thank you Canongate Books for a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review – The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas


Today’s review was pretty hard to write. It’s about Scarlett Thomas’ novel The End of Mr Y. I still don’t really know what to make of it. But see for yourself 🙂

The End of Mr Y
Image provided by Canongate¹
Synopsis quoted from Canongate¹:

When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop, she can’t believe her eyes. She knows enough about its author, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, to know that copies are exceedingly rare. And, some say, cursed.
With Mr. Y under her arm, Ariel finds herself thrust into a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death and time-travel.

My Thoughts:

The End of Mr Y starts out in present-day England and slowly leads you into a parallel world, called the Troposphere, which frequently changes its appearance. Traveling through this strange world, you can feel these changes just like the protagonist Ariel Manto does, so don’t worry if at some point you can’t see clearly and the world around you starts to blur.

Ariel Manto is a young scientist who is curious and very isolated. Her life is dull and in her self-destructive ways she doesn’t seem to want to change that. I wasn’t really able to connect with Ariel, but there is a character in this book who I like. He is a very powerful one who makes an appearance when he’s needed most. In a way he reminds me of a wise and loving grandfather. (I’m not talking about Professor Burlem here.)

The End of Mr Y is a very creative book with an exciting plot. Nevertheless, it has too much non-fiction content for my taste. I’m reading fiction to relax and I don’t want to be deluged with philosophical questions. At some point I just started to skip these passages. Fortunately, they aren’t really necessary to follow the story. Another letdown is the ending which just doesn’t fit the complexity of the book. So as you can see, The End of Mr Y is a book that philosophers will love and that you should read if you’d like to enter a very odd parallel world.



Review – The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez


It’s publication day and I’ve been waiting for over a month to share this review with you. The book I’m talking about is The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez and you are definitely in for a treat. Thank you Canongate for providing me with an ARC and for making it possible to share my enthusiasm with all the people out there!

The Book Of Unknown Americans
Image provided by Canongate¹
Synopsis quoted from Canongate¹:

We had been planning our life here for so long. Filling out papers, hoping, praying, waiting. We had all of our dreams pinned on this place, but the pin was thin and delicate and it was too soon to tell whether it was going to hold much of anything at all.

When Alma Rivera arrives in Newark, Delaware she is brim full of the promise and possibilities of her new American home. Hope that her luminous daughter Maribel will be helped by the specialist education the US can provide, and faith that her husband Arturo will flourish in a country that celebrates the hard-working and the talented.

But the reality of life without status, money, family and friends soon becomes apparent. And when violence casts its shadow, Alma realizes that her biggest mistake was assuming that everything that could go wrong in their lives already had . . .

My Thoughts:

Newark, Delaware is the unspectacular setting of Cristina Henríquez’ novel The Book of Unknown Americans. A small, average, American city that could be just around the corner from where you live. A wonderful choice of setting for a novel full of immigrant tales that stand for so many real immigrant tales out there. Cristina Henríquez knows how to create setting. One of my favorite scenes happens right at the beginning, when the Riveras walk down the main road trying to find a supermarket and finally have to buy groceries at the gas station instead. Within less than a page, Ms Henríquez manages to create the perfect US-American scenery, at least as it appears to strangers.

The Book of Unknown Americans focuses on the story of Maribel and Mayor (a boy from Panama) but it is alternately told from the viewpoints of Mayor and Maribel’s mother Alma. Alma is a very powerful character. She knows and loves her daughter the way only a mother does. In addition to that, Alma is the one who suggested emigrating to the United States and now she gives the reader the chance to live through all her doubts and worries. Interspersed between Mayor and Alma’s accounts, you will find an abundance of secondary characters telling their own stories. These little biographies fit in perfectly and help to understand the secondary characters’ personalities.

Like many other novels dealing with the topic of immigration, The Book of Unknown Americans starts out with the Riveras’ arrival in the United States, but where Ms Henríquez takes it from there is somewhere a little different. This book might not nearly sum up all the varying immigrant biographies out there, but it can give us a taste of what it can be like to come to a new country where most people will be prejudiced against you. The Book of Unknown Americans tells a story full of hopes and dreams and when I think of it, I’m still getting goosebumps. Cristina Henríquez wrote a novel that takes time to digest and you won’t and shouldn’t forget about it all too soon. The Book of Unknown Americans is an important book, a book that, in my opinion, should become an obligatory part of the US American high-school curriculum. Read it!



Review – Humans: An A-Z by Professor Andrew Martin edited by Matt Haig


It’s been almost a year since I’ve been thoroughly entertained by Matt Haig‘s The Humans. Now, his main character Professor Andrew Martin takes the stage and presents us with a dictionary that also acts as a survival guide: Humans: An A-Z

Humans: An A-Z
Image provided by Canongate¹
Synopsis provided by Canongate¹:

A) Know a human?
B) Love a human?
C) Have trouble dealing with humans?

Whether you are planning a high level of human interaction or just a casual visit to the planet, this user-guide to the human race will help you translate their sayings, understand exotic concepts such as ‘democracy’ and ‘sofas’, and make sense of their habits and bizarre customs.

A phrase book, a dictionary and a survival guide, this book unravels all the oddness, idiosyncrasies and wonder of the species, allowing everyone to make the most of their time on Earth.

My Thoughts:

It is great to finally have someone explain humans to us and it is much better if this someone is Professor Andrew Martin. Only he, not being a human himself, can give us quasi-objective descriptions of certain characteristics unique to this species.

Don’t be afraid, this book isn’t your usual dry, scientific text-book. You will hop from term to term and you probably won’t get enough. Professor Andrew Martin has lived with humans long enough to know what they are like. More than once, you will be nodding in agreement. Sometimes, you will have to laugh out loud. Once in a while, you will ask yourself if this alien has found a way to look inside the human soul.

No matter if you are human or alien, Humans: An A-Z is a must-have companion. After reading, you will know much more about humans than you knew before and it will give you comfort in times of distress.



Review – The First True Lie by Marina Mander


It’s the weekend again and I hope you’re enjoying it! In January, I got to read a shocking novel by Italian writer Marina Mander called The First True Lie (Italian title: La Prima Vera Bugia). It will be released in five days, on February 6, 2014. Canongate provided me with an ARC.

The First True Lie
Image provided by Canongate¹
Summary quoted from Canongate¹:

‘They always tell you that you shouldn’t tell lies, but without lies I’d already be in an orphanage.
This, in any case, is my first true lie’
Luca and his mum are like two peas in a pod in their special, fragile world.
Then, one winter morning his mother doesn’t wake up. Luca suddenly finds himself alone for the first time. Terrified of what telling the truth might bring, he decides to keep the biggest secret of his life. Luca goes along to school every day, pretending everything is as it always has been. But he returns home every night to a cold, dark house. So he begins to build a protective bubble with the memories of his mother, the words and stories he so loves – and his cat Blue – against the truth on the other side of the bedroom door.

My Thoughts:

The First True Lie leads us into Luca’s world which, from the start of the novel, mainly consists of the apartment he lives in. Marina Mander created a dull place for Luca’s story to take place. You have the feeling that as days go by, the walls are closing in on the little boy and his cat, the air becomes thicker, the light fades. The author skilfully sets the scene for this horrific plot.

Luca is the main character of The First True Lie. The novel is written from the little boy’s perspective and this is where its weakness lies. It’s written in an interior monologue and Luca’s thoughts often sound too grown-up to be a child’s. While the interplay of feelings like fear, stubbornness, strength and resignation is what makes Luca believable and lovable, certain thoughts leave the reader puzzled.

The First True Lie is a dramatic novel. It’s like a spiral that goes down. The plot is actually quite simple, but the book as a whole has maximum effect. Even though I had some credibility issues with Luca’s character, this haunting novel works out. The First True Lie left me shocked and thinking.



Frankfurt Book Fair – Interview – Kirsty Wilson


I hope you had a good start into December. Did you already buy all your Christmas presents? Well, I didn’t. Two chaotic months lie behind me. But I’m slowly getting in the mood for Christmas. I just love it! As promised, today I present you the first of the two interviews I did at Frankfurt Book Fair.

Kirsty Wilson works at Canongate and as I had difficulties making an appointment prior to the fair, I just walked up to the booth and Kirsty was so kind as to spontaneously squeeze our interview between two meetings. We had five minutes, so don’t be surprised, if there are sudden topic changes 😀 Also, I was nervous. This was my very first interview ever.

Canongate Booth at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

So here you go ladies and gentlemen. Let’s find out more about what Kirsty Wilson’s job is like, what she did at Frankfurt Book Fair and what books she enjoys.

ATM (All That Magic): What’s your job at Canongate?
KW (Kirsty Wilson): I’m rights executive there.

ATM: And what do you do as a rights executive?
KW: I sell translation rights in our titles to countries where we use a subagent in Eastern and Central Europe, Turkey, Russia and Asia. And I also sell directly to Greece and Israel and handle audio and large print rights.

ATM: Oh that’s interesting.
KW: Yeah it really is, and lots of fun too. And then as well as, you know, the selling, I draft contracts for deals that we do and I make sure publishers send us artwork so the author can approve them and make sure they get manuscripts, reviews and everything they need to publish.

ATM: Okay, and you have lots of work to do at this fair I guess?
KW: Yeah, Frankfurt is like the biggest book fair of the year and it’s really important for us and we have meetings all day, usually from 9 ’til 6. It’s very busy but it’s really important for us to meet publishers from around the world. We discuss our titles with international editors and also discuss what they’re looking to buy and what they’re publishing lately, which really helps you get an idea of each particular market.

ATM: So you meet people who you normally only talk to via e-mail or phone?
KW: Yeah, usually and it’s so good to put a face to the name. ‘Cause e-mail can be quite impersonal sometimes. And also we meet a lot of publishers we don’t work with and introduce ourselves and find out about their lists and what kind of books they are looking for.

ATM: That sounds like you’re really busy here. So, what’s your favorite book so far this year?
KW: Uuh, You mean on our Canongate list, or just in general?

ATM: Any book.
KW: Um, I really loved Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

ATM: Me too, that’s my favorite.
KW: Isn’t it fantastic? I think she’s such a great writer. I really loved it.
I also read a really great crime novel by a Scottish writer called Malcolm Mackay. It’s called The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter and it’s really smart and fast-paced, really filmic in style.

ATM: And do you have any recommendations from Canongate?
KW: We just published a book called The Novel Cure which is amazing and we’ve produced a really beautiful edition, so it’s perfect for gift giving. The author’s recommend novels to any kind of ailments that you might have. So it can be something serious like feeling depressed to something light-hearted and funny. “What to do if you’re in love with a nun” is one of the ailments of the book. It’s great, it’s really enlightening and so good to read.

ATM: That book sounds fun! So thank you very much for your time!
KW: No problem!

Image provided by Canongate

The Novel Cure is on my letter to Santa. Oh yes it is!!

So what do you think?

Do you want to become a rights executive? Did you learn something new, or did you know all this already? I’d love to read about your thoughts.

And thanks again to Kirsty for taking the time to do this interview! I really enjoyed our chat.

Frankfurt Book Fair – We’re Back!

Hi y’all,

We’re back from our short but busy trip to Frankfurt Book Fair. In those few days, we met wonderful people, walked many miles, saw beautiful books and learned a lot.

Beautiful Usborne Booth

Our trip started with a snow storm that delayed our departure and arrival. The late arrival also prevented us from visiting the fair on Friday. Therefore, we weren’t able to meet Megan from Harper Collins International Sales who had to leave that day. We would have loved to chat with her but the weather and traffic weren’t on our side that day.

On Saturday, I met Kirsty Wilson from Canongate, who was awesome. She was flexible enough to just squeeze our interview between two appointments. Ain’t that great? After my interview with Kirsty, Miss Treegarden and I went to a Lovelybooks get-together to meet all those people I only knew from the internet. The only problem was that it was pretty cold and everyone wore jackets or coats that kept the unique blog t-shirts some attendees wore hidden. I only recognized the two girls working for Lovelybooks, the other attending people will stay a mystery to me. 😀

After the get-together, Miss Treegarden and I had a little stroll through halls 3.0 and 3.1 which are halls full of German publishers’ booths. These halls got overcrowded quickly, so Miss Treegarden and I decided to separate and she went to see the other German halls, while I went back to lovely and quiet hall 8.0, the international hall. It’s a little sad to see the difference between the international hall and the German halls, because you notice that the Germans don’t seem to be that interested in international literature. Still, it had a good side that hall 8.0 wasn’t crowded: I had room to roam 🙂 At the Telegram, Saqi, Westbourne Press booth, I had a great talk with Ashley Biles who supplied me with two interesting books. Thank you! A few rows down, at the Chronicle Books booth, I stumbled upon this wonderful poster. I even got a paper cup of Grumpy Cat to take home  😀

Grumpy Cat didn’t agree with me.

On Sunday, time was short. We only had four hours until our departure. Nevertheless, we attended a talk by Frank Grafe of Random House Germany, who told us about their publishing house and the work they do at the book fair. Later on, I met lovely Thérèse Coen from Bloomsbury for an interview. We had a great chat and I left with a wonderful present, a book I’ve been waiting to read for months. Thank you SO much. I noticed much later just how precious this present was. At the bus on our way home, I had a closer look and saw that it was signed. I was barely able to breathe. Oh wow Thérèse, you sure made my week! After another quick stroll through hall 8.0, I had to say goodbye to my favorite hall, as I planned to join Miss Treegarden for a book signing that was very important to her. On our way out of the fair grounds, we also got a quick look at Cecilia Ahern (P.S. I Love You), who was also signing books at the fair. Boy, isn’t she young?

Cecilia Ahern signing tons of books

Our days at Frankfurt Book Fair had come to an end and we had to board the bus back home again. Before leaving for Frankfurt, I was a little worried, but now, I’m glad everything worked out fine. I’m sure, I’ll be back soon. This was only a quick roundup of our trip. I promise you’ll read more about it in the upcoming weeks!

Review – A Tale for the Time Being

As I’ve already told you a few days ago, I finished a book that took me a while to read. This book is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which is currently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. I had a copy on my bookshelf from my Book Depository win this spring, so I decided to give it a go.

A Tale For The Time Being
Image provided by Canongate¹
Summary quoted from Canongate¹:

‘Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.’

Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.

In a small cafe in Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.

My Thoughts:

A Tale for the Time Being is mostly set in the 21st century in Japan and Canada. The dominance of the setting changes with the location. The island where Ruth lives felt very clear to me. However, this could be because I’ve already been to British Columbia and Vancouver Island and know what the landscape looks like. But also the temple in Japan and its surroundings were clear, in contrast to Tokyo, which seemed blurry to me. Ms. Ozeki also uses the weather to create and intensify mood especially in Ruth’s chapters. I really like this concept.

The two main characters are Nao and Ruth. Even though Nao is 16 years old, she often acts like she is 14 or younger but on the other hand, she does things that (in my opinion) don’t fit her childish behavior. Well, let’s say, Nao has problems, which is hardly surprising if you read her story. Nevertheless, Nao’s character wasn’t always very believable throughout the book. I preferred Ruth. Her character seems to lead a steady life, but if you take a closer look, it isn’t all roses. Ruth is fascinated by Nao’s diary and wants to know all about that girl from Japan. I was really able to connect with Ruth, at least until the last few pages. Two other characters that I think were great are Nao’s father Haruki and Nao’s great-grandmother Jiko.

Now on to the hardest part (at least for me). The story. For the first ~125 pages, I had massive problems getting into the book. I was thinking about giving up on reading, because I didn’t care what was going to happen to Nao or to anyone else in the book. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I hardly give up on a book. So I read on and it did get better. I finally wanted to know about Nao’s (and her father’s) fate. Sometimes, I even felt distracted by Ruth’s story between Nao’s passages. But there were still things that I didn’t like. There was too much talk of Zen Buddhism in the book and, unfortunately, the book started to get quite boring again towards the end (even though I like the main idea of the ending). Maybe A Tale for the Time Being just wasn’t meant for a time being like me.



Review – The Last Banquet

It’s Monday, and as most people don’t like Mondays, I thought I’d make this Monday a better Monday for some of you. Or at least I’ll try to do so. (Wow that were a lot of Mondays 😀 )

It’s review time for The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood. I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

And that Kindle offer I was talking about is still on.

Image provided by Canongate
Image provided by Canongate
Summary quoted from Canongate¹:
Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things.
Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover.
And chef.This is his story.We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to wit and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.Passion, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, yet his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind. – See more at:
Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things.
Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover.
And chef.This is his story.We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to wit and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.Passion, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, yet his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

My Thoughts:

The Last Banquet is set in 18th century France and I could really feel it. It doesn’t matter if it is young-boy-dung-heap France, or adventure-seeking-young-man-in-woods France, or middle-aged-man-at-fetid-Versailles France. Mr. Grimwood was able to create them all for me. And then he added food. Surprisingly, the descriptions of the tastes are often rather simple but there is something else that helps to whet the reader’s appetite. First, there are detailed recipes and if you read those, you’ll get hungry for sure. And second, Jean-Marie loves food and therefore, he thinks a lot about it. These two points, mixed with the descriptions of tastes make a fabulous banquet!

The main character, Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is very likeable. He narrates his story and I never felt like I didn’t want to follow him anymore. He does things that some readers will find hard to understand but he does them because he thinks them right. And I think they mostly are. The other characters were also interesting. There are far too many to talk about each of them in detail. I liked that Mr. Grimwood let his characters change in the course of the book. If you think about the huge time span the Banquet covers (almost a life time), this is only natural and it makes the book so much more dynamic.

The Last Banquet is not your usual story of a French aristocrat growing up and growing old in the 18th century. It is the story of a man and his love of food. I really enjoyed how Mr. Grimwood made Jean-Marie discover new tastes in the strangest places. This sometimes made me laugh out loud. Jean-Marie’s life never gets boring, he talks and writes to interesting people, to the outside world, he leads the life of a noble, he hunts, has friends over, gets into dangerous situations, and there are women of course,… (I really can’t tell you more). I enjoyed reading The Last Banquet and accompanying Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout on his search for the perfect taste.