Archive > June 2011

Q&A with Essie Fox

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Essie Fox, author (The Somnambulist)Essie’s Fox novel set in Victorian London, The Somnambulist, published in May 2011, was quite a treat for fans of historical mysteries.  She started her career as an illustrator and an editorial assistant but now she is becoming a master of Victorian gothic mystery novel. Dividing her time between Windsor and London, she is working on the second novel. After reviewing The Somnambulist we were curious to know more about research and story behind Essie’s literary debut.

CBF: What attracted you to the setting of Victorian England? What do you think is most interesting about that period?

Essie Fox: Oddly enough, when I first started to write I was planning on something contemporary. But every time I began, a character or some ‘item’ from the past would crop up and intrude on the novel’s plot – a letter found under some floorboards, or an antique ornament which had some past significance. Finally, I realised that these were the parts of the story that gave me most ‘excitement’ – and as I’ve always enjoyed reading Victorian novels, whether the old classics or modern day versions, I decided to take the bull by the horns and see if I could do it too.

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The Best of Everything

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The Best of Everything - Rona Jaffe, book review“Fiction places people where they belong in society. There is no such thing he said as a dated novel. The novel set in a particular time gives a picture of that time with all the details of life as it was lived then.” (Elizabeth Jolley)

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. Can Rona Jaffe be described as the mother of modern chicklit? Yes, I think she can. Is this book worth a read?


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Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea - Barbara Demick, book reviewEvery month I read a book which I would be unlikely to choose myself. Why, you ask? For my reading group. We all take turns making suggestions, and while you can see patterns in what some of us suggest, occasionally there is a book which knocks me sideways out of surprise. Nothing to Envy is one of those books.

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 – it is in her introduction that she mentions the fact that North Korea is a “black hole” on satellite photos of Asia at night, a fact which I hadn’t realised and which captivated me.


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The Little Women Letters

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The Little Women Letters, Gabrielle Donnelly - book reviewHaving 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. These are the Atwater sisters – Emma, Lulu and Sophie – who in many ways are very much like the March sisters albeit living in an entirely different age with different expectations and far fewer restrictions.

The three sisters each have very different personalities and each one is very much like one of the March sisters. Emma, the eldest is sensible and practical, very much like Meg in the original story; Sophie, aspiring actress and also the youngest is more flighty and excitable, just like Amy; and then there’s Lulu, the one in the middle who is just a bit quirky and different and does not always conform to her family’s expectations – just like Jo March herself.


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Handwritten: Expressive Lettering in the Digital Age

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Handwritten: Expressive Lettering in the Digital Age by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic, book reviewTechnology never stops advancing and offering new possibilities that make processes more straightforward, including those needed by artists and designers. Sometimes, however, we react against highly professional, faultless work and yearn for a return to arts and crafts that have a more natural feel to them, that look as though a human hand actually made the artwork. “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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Laikonik Express

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Laikonik Express,  Nick Sweeney, book reviewAs 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, characters that I found both credible and engaging and more than its fair share of wry humour.

The story is simple yet as multi-layered as you want it to be. Nolan Kennedy, a young American teacher of English living and working in Istanbul has to find his friend (and alcoholic) Don Darius, a writer of sorts.


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The Love and Death of Caterina

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The Love and Death of Caterina, Andrew Nicoll, book reviewA good book reviewer knows that a spoiler is a no-no, so it’s deliciously thrilling when you can give away the ending of a novel and get away with it. It’s also a bold undertaking on the part of the author and a book that starts with a great ending creates high expectations. Fortunately Andrew Nicoll does not disappoint.

“Only a few weeks after it has happened, Luciano Hernando Valdez was almost unable to believe that he had ever been a murderer.”

It’s almost unthinkable that a novel could have such an instantly engaging first line. It’s not unreasonable from the book’s title – “The Love and Death of Caterina” – to expect that it is she who dies so thoughts turn immediately to how and why.


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Liquid Gold

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Liquid Gold by Caroline Swart, book reviewLiquid Gold is a self-published Kindle novel by Caroline Swart with the topical subject of alternative fuels. Set predominantly in Idaho, USA, it also features sections in Vienna, South Africa and Tokyo. Twenty years prior to the start of Liquid Gold, a farmer in South Africa sold his sunflower crop to an oil company – who then destroyed it, as he had perfected a sunflower whose seeds could yield an oil to power cars which required no chemical additions. He sent some seeds to his brother in the USA, who has been growing them and is now ready to reveal the oil to the world, with the help of friends and a respected professor. But needless to say, the oil industry will not welcome this announcement – and so our heroes soon find themselves tangled up with a sinister security company…


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The Pacific

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The Pacific (The Official HBO/Sky TV Tie-in) , Hugh Ambrose, book reviewIt can’t be easy writing a history book when you are the son of Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose senior was a writer of many popular books – including the Band of Brothers tome that was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s HBO series of the same name – on a grand scale. Slate referred to him in 2002 as, “a history factory, using his five kids as researchers and assistants to streamline the production process”. It was in this production line that Hugh Ambrose learned his trade as a writer of popular American history. It may seem that the only obstacle in junior’s way was the hard task of living up to his father, but personally I read this book just hoping that the plagiarism scandals that dogged the last part of Stephen’s life were not part of the apprenticeship that Hugh served.

Hugh Ambrose has claimed that he did not set out to write Band of Brothers 2 when he wrote The Pacific, although that is largely what it is (all the more so given the same production team made a series of the same name, using Ambrose as the historical consultant, and have named this the “official companion book” for the series).


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The Tenth Circle of Hell

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The Tenth Circle of Hell by Rezak Hukanovic, book reviewThe Tenth Circle of Hell by Rezak Hukanovic is an eye-witness account of life in the death camps of Bosnia, where Serbs locked up Croats and Muslims and subjected them to the must unimaginable atrocities. It was first published in 1993, the year after most of the events that it describes took place and it has since been translated many times into many languages. It’s one of the most shocking books I’ve ever read but one I feel compelled to recommend and advise others to read. We should not forget that things like this happened in Europe, in a place where western Europeans took cheap package summer holidays and where the people killing each other looked like us, ate like us, sang like us, lived in houses like ours and got up in the morning to go to jobs like those we did.

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An Agent of Deceit

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An Agent of Deceit by Chris Morgan Jones, book reviewAn Agent of Deceit is an intelligent and convincing thriller set in the world of international finance. The story is told alternatively from the perspective of two lead characters.

Lock is a Dutch lawyer, brought up in the UK, who is employed by a shadowy Russian businessman. Over the course of a decade or so finds himself irrevocably tied to an increasingly complex network of companies whose chief purpose appears to be to disguise the passage of large sums of money originating somewhere in Russia. Lock is the ostensible owner of the entire network while retaining a very low media profile, but in practice is irrevocably in thrall to his mysterious Russian boss.


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Of Cats and Kings

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Of Cats and Kings - Clare de Vries, book reviewMy friend Tina always claimed that the only relationship in her life which hadn’t been dysfunctional was with a Jack Russell Terrier. Exasperated by men both specifically and generally, she went searching for loving company in the shape of a large grey rescue Siamese by the name of Claude. They made the perfect couple. He was clean, polite and affectionate and didn’t shed too much fluff around the house. All he asked in return was food and cuddles.

With a friend like Tina, when I heard that writer Clare de Vries had taken her Burmese cat Claudius travelling with her for a year, it all made complete sense to me. And when Claudius died, Clare decided to hit the road again and go in search of perfect feline love. Since she would only consider a Burmese or a Siamese, she decided to go – not so surprisingly – to Burma and Thailand.


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