Newsletter No 20 (July 9th, 2011)


In June Curious Book Fans were reading books about North Korea, the art of handwriting in the digital age, the reenactment of the First Crusade travel, a love affair in Hungarian village… We asked Essie Fox, author of just published The Somnambulist, how she got ideas for her debut Victorian mystery novel. We gave away 2 copies of new books from Adele Parks and Sarah Challis.
You may find something for your taste below or dig through 578 books reviewed on our site since December 2009…

Sincerely Yours, Curious Book Fans

Q&A with Essie Fox

CBF: You use a lot of real settings in your novel. How did you prepare for writing about them?

Essie Fox: I visit museums, and I look at the art of the era which often brings entirely new inspiration – such as seeing the Millais painting calledThe Somnambulist, which I thought a wonderful title. On further research I discovered that it was based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, and perhaps also a famous opera about sleepwalking called La Sonnambula

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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

The Somnambulist is set in London and Herefordshire and is a sort of Victorian historical melodrama combined with a coming of age tale, with the theatre, a big country house, issues of inheritance and betrayal, and several disturbing secrets.  Despite its size, I found the story quite compelling and flew through nearly 400 pages very easily.

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Laikonik Express by Nick Sweeney

As a subject for a novel the road trip – or rail trip in the case of “Laikonik Express” – but in his full length debut Nick Sweeney has injected new life into the genre. I’ve tended to avoid road trip writing of late: somehow the trips are never nearly as interesting or exciting as my own. In “Laikonik Express”, though, I found a setting almost tailor-made for my own travel predilections…

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Handwritten: Expressive Lettering in the Digital Age
by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic

Handwritten” is a book that shows us one aspect of the world of art where designers are in fact shunning the perfection of technology. It presents handwritten typographics from advertising campaigns, mainstream culture, record covers and other types of artwork from all over the world.

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Written by journalist Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea is a collection of true stories about life in the country under the regimes of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, told by defectors who have left North Korea. Demick opens by discussing what we know of the country, which is really very little

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The Love and Death of Caterina by Andrew Nicoll

The Love and Death of Caterina” is a witty, colourful and technically excellent novel that should appeal to most fans of the thriller genre but it offers so much more. One of my reads of the year so far.

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An Agent of Deceit by Chris Morgan Jones

Chris Morgan Jones worked for almost 10 years for a private intelligence agency and specialised in Russia. Therefore, he writes about a topic that he knows well, and this comes across clearly. Stories about shadowy Russian oligarchs are common in the newspapers and other media…

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King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher

King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher is set in the fictional Devon town of Hanmouth. It is a large book which addresses large themes, in particular loss of privacy and the intrusion of authority and the media into every aspect of how we live. I was reminded as I read the book of a soap opera…

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About Last Night by Adele Parks

I have enjoyed reading Adele Park’s books for a few years now and I’ve always found them very entertaining and easy to read. I’ve just finished her latest, ‘About Last Night‘, which I loved from start to finish even though it seemed a bit of a departure from some of her earlier books.

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A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates

When we marry and utter those words ‘til death us do part’ it can almost sound like a contractual ‘get out’ clause; like death is the end of the relationship and releases us from all promises and obligations. What Oates shows us is that it’s not the end, it’s not a release, it’s just the beginning of a horrifying new existence with a great big hole in the centre of the life of the surviving spouse.

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22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 Britannia Road is an impressive and memorable debut, with characters real enough that I wonder about how Janusz and Silvana lived out the rest of their lives. I will certainly be looking out for Amanda Hodgkinson’s next book.

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Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem


The story of the First Crusade must have proved irresistible to Severin, and so it was that he planned to undertake a recreation of it in the spirit of practical history and experimental archaeology (albeit on a two person scale and without laying siege to any cities along the way).

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The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barcelo

Proving that good things come in small packages, Elia Barcelo’s “The Goldsmith’s Secret” is a deliciously mysterious and alluring novella; Barcelo has the knack of a gifted story-teller using only a few sentences to draw in her reader and keep him, or her, entranced until the end.

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The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose

The stories told aim to be more than just family histories and personal diaries rewritten by an author with a historian’s training. In this book, Ambrose uses the five accounts to create a coherent narrative of the war, that rises above the “then this happened, then that happened” account that such a project could so easily have been.

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The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Having read and loved Louisa May Alcott’s classic, ‘Little Women’ as a child, I was intrigued by the title of Gabrielle Donnelly’s first novel, ‘The Little Women Letters‘. This is a modern day tale following the lives of Jo March’s (one of the original characters) ancestors.

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Valeria’s Last Stand by Marc Fitten

Valeria’s Last Stand” is a bawdy, colourful story with more than a hint of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. It is warm, funny and ever so slightly outrageous; a bound “Last of the Summer Wine” in Hungary.

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The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

The Best of Everything is the story of four young women living and working in New York City – their jobs, their living conditions and their love lives. It was first published in 1958, and its subject matter and form have both been used in many popular novels aimed at a female audience since then. 

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