This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Competition

Today Will Be Different: Maria Semple Q & A, Review and Giveaway

Hello all!  I am very excited about this blog post.  Not only am I reviewing Maria Semple’s new novel, Today Will Be Different, I am also posting a Q & A with the author and giving all you lovely readers a chance to win a copy of the novel.  All you have to do is RT my tweet today mentioning the giveaway, so keep an eye on my feed: @AmyPirt.

So, to start with, here is my question to Maria:

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And here is her answer:

Because it’s mine for the taking. I write my first drafts in a fevered rush. I don’t keep notebooks of ideas and observations to draw from. I’d say half the details in Today Will Be Different I threw in because they happened or occurred to me that day. If I didn’t set the novel in Seattle, it would be stripped of caprice and vitality.

If this Q and A has whetted your appetite and you fancy finding out just why Today Will Be Different, why not read my review of the novel below?

Today Will Be Different will appeal to all of you who wake up every day, vying that today will be the day you actually live out the #MotivationalMonday quote you post, that today you will complete your to-do list, that today you will be Wonderwoman.  And whilst I hesitate to designate books to particular genders, Today Will Be Different will certainly appeal to mothers, sisters, wives and partners, because Semple nails exactly what it is to be a woman today.  Because, despite the triumphs of feminism, it is still women who feel they have to try harder, and it is still women who shoulder the burden of the past more than men, arguably. (But do feel free to argue with me about that; I love nothing  more than a debate).

The novel starts and ends in the same way: our protagonist, Eleanor Flood, determines, in the words of the title, that, ‘Today will be different’.  She will, in essence, be the perfect woman: a great mother, a great lover and her ‘best self’.  Whole industries have been built around women’s desire to be the best in all their incarnations; magazines, books, websites, personalities.  Witness Sheryl Sandberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marissa Mayer.  And to me, this is so clever, because despite the journey on which Eleanor goes and the knowledge she acquires, in some ways, she does not change at all.  For she is still that perfectionist woman at the end that she was at the beginning.  The woman who believes that she must constantly be all things to all people.

Like Ulysses, Today Will Be Different takes place over a single day, but it recalls things from Eleanor’s past which inform her present, such as her unpublished, autobiographical graphic novel, The Flood Girls, and her complex relationship with her sister, Ivy.  There are points where I would have liked the novel to be a little sleeker, but the sheer originality, bizarreness and truth of it all more than made up for this.

There are several mysteries in Today Will Be Different: where is Eleanor’s husband Joe and why is he not at his office?  Why does Eleanor not speak to her sister?  Why does Eleanor hate her ‘friend’, Sydney Madsen?  And why is her son called Timby? (Sorry Maria, but that is a bizarre choice, even in America!)

I must say, I struggled with Semple’s style at points, and it took me a while to get into the novel and to warm to Eleanor.  But I ultimately loved this novel about sisters, marriage and motherhood.  Semple’s observations and stunning and so true:

I knew then: if under all anger was fear, then under all fear was love.  Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.

Many thanks to Rebecca Gray at Orion for the review copy and chance to be part of this blog tour.

 

And the winners of The Abrupt Physics of Dying Giveaway are…..

Little Bookness Lane and Stacy! Please email your full name and address to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books at karen@orendabooks.co.uk and your copy of The Abrupt Physics of Dying will be with you soon! Thank you to all who entered the giveaway.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E. Hardisty – Review and Giveaway

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Clay looked down at her, this woman he barely knew and yet who seemed to know him so well, and it was like coming out of a morphine sleep of years, feeling again.  And in that moment it was so clear: now is all there is.  The past is gone, locked away.  The future doesn’t exist.  It’s what we do now, the decisions we make right now that create the present, seal the past.

Meet Claymore Straker, a South African ex-soldier who finds himself working as an oil company engineer for Petro-Tex in the heat and dust of Yemen.  That is, he WAS working for them until the beginning of this novel, when he, along with his Yemeni army driver, Abdulkader, are kidnapped and taken to a cave.   There they are left at the mercy of the notorious Al Shams, he of the withered eye fame and supposed Ansar Al-Sharia colluder, an offshoot of Al Quaeda.  Their hijacking is not random, however: Al Shams wants Clay to discover what is killing so many children in the surrounding area.  He is given little over a week to find the truth, and if he does not do so, Abdulkader dies.

The problem, of course, is that not only do Clay’s bosses, the money-hungry Karila, Parnell and Medved, have no interest in what is killing Yemeni children, they also are not paying him for services rendered.  (This does not hinder our protagonist’s ability to keep a steady supply of nerve-calming spirits, however….)  Clearly, like your average oil tycoons, they are interested only in money, and interested only in Clay as long as he can appease the people with promises of new schools for their children.  And as the novel progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that they will do anything to protect this money.  Even if it costs lives.

Enter the stunning Rania La Tour, with a body like Lara Croft and an equally well-sculpted mind.  A French journalist, soon she is not only joining Clay in his quest to reveal what is killing the Yemeni children, but also joining him in his bed (well, we need some sauce to counteract all the violence).  Like the desert roads, their relationship is a bumpy ride, and there are points when, as with many other characters in the novel, you will question where Rania’s loyalty lies.  Is she Al Shams’ enemy or friend?  And is she the journalist she purports to be?

An Abrupt Physics of Dying is not the sort of book I would usually read, but I enjoyed it immensely.  The sex, violence and corruption had shades of Robert Ludlum, and the relationship between Clay and Rania was reminiscent of a Bond romance (of the Daniel Craig, as opposed to Sean Connery, era).  If you fancy a fast-paced thriller to brighten up this winter, then leave a comment below by midnight Sunday 1st March.  Two winners will be chosen at random Monday 2nd March.  The giveaway is international.

The competition deadline has been extended to midnight Wednesday March 4th. All comments must be submitted by then.

And the winner of The Girl on the Train is….

Tea and Crumpets – congratulations! Please email me your address at amysmith500@me.com. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a long hot soak with this fantastic novel!

Win a copy of The Girl on the Train

Earlier today, I reviewed the brilliant The Girl on the Train here. If you’d like to win a proof copy of this fabulous debut, just post a comment below about why you’d like to win. Comments must be posted by midnight Sunday 1st February. I will choose the winner Monday 2nd February.

And the winner is…..

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Lovely ladies and gents, you will recall that a couple of weeks ago, I held a competition to win a copy of The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. I am very proud and excited to announce that the winner is Lisa Bentley from Lisa Talks Books. I loved her comment about Anna Karenina that she was going to read it and finally ‘kick Tolstoy’s behind’. Plus, AK is a book which takes me back, way back, to my Warwick University days, specifically to my European Novel module in my 2nd year, when, shamefully, I read only the beginning and the end of AK, much like munching on a sandwich and discarding its contents.

Lisa, please send your address to amysmith500@me.com. And let me know how you get on with Anna Karenina!