Friday, 22 September 2017

Traveling In Place by Bernd Stiegler


Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel by Bernd Stiegler
English language translation by Peter Filkins published by University of Chicago Press in October 2013.

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How I got this book:
Received free book download from the publisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Armchair travel may seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t travel require us to leave the house? And yet, anyone who has lost herself for hours in the descriptive pages of a novel or the absorbing images of a film knows the very real feeling of having explored and experienced a different place or time without ever leaving her seat. No passport, no currency, no security screening required—the luxury of armchair travel is accessible to us all. In Traveling in Place, Bernd Stiegler celebrates this convenient, magical means of transport in all its many forms.

Organized into twenty-one “legs”—or short chapters—Traveling in Place begins with a consideration of Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 Voyage autour de ma chambre, an account of the forty-two-day “journey around his room” Maistre undertook as a way to entertain himself while under house arrest. Stiegler is fascinated by the notion of exploring the familiar as though it were completely new and strange. He engages writers as diverse as Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Cort├ízar, Kierkegaard, and Borges, all of whom show how the everyday can be brilliantly transformed. Like the best guidebooks, Traveling in Place is more interested in the idea of travel as a state of mind than as a physical activity, and Stiegler reflects on the different ways that traveling at home have manifested themselves in the modern era, from literature and film to the virtual possibilities of the Internet, blogs, and contemporary art.

I enjoyed this odd book even though I had slightly misunderstood its synopsis. I expected a short story collection of micro-scale travel writings. Traveling In Place is actually a scholarly survey of many examples of the genre written over the past two hundred years.

I had not previously thought about my room - or my caravan as it was at the time of reading - in the same way as I appreciate it now. Stiegler has studied dozens of novels, essays and memoirs, mostly by French and German authors, who have chosen to look at the everyday and the mundane through the eyes of a visitor and a tourist. Apparently the original example, 1794's Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, is quite famous and extensively quoted.

Traveling In Place is not an easy read, especially as the only one of the quoted writings that I knew of is Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. I admit to being at the limit of my comprehension when we got to early twentieth century experimental film making. However, I am quite taken with the basic premise. The examples of 'flanerie' - exploring one's own familiar environment with new eyes - struck a chord with our current travels around our own country and also reminded me of a character in Bleeding London who resolves to walk every street in the London A to Z. Stiegler's extra reading suggestions at the end of each chapter are a great touch and I am inspired to seek some out. I have already found the Xavier de Maistre in English on Kindle and will be joining his journey around his room very soon.


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Books by Bernd Stiegler / History books / Books from Germany

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen


Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen
First published in America by Jonathan Cape in October 2013.

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How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Eminent Hipsters, musician and songwriter Donald Fagen, best known as the co-founder of the rock band Steely Dan, presents an autobiographical portrait that touches on everything from the cultural figures that mattered the most to him as a teenager, to his years in the late 1960s at Bard College, to a hilarious account of a recent tour he made with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald.

As a Steely Dan fan - we even got to see them play in Hammersmith several years ago - I was pleased when Dave got Eminent Hipsters for his Kindle. The then-new Amazon sharing system means we each get to read the other's purchases, a system which I admit benefits me far more than Dave!

Eminent Hipsters is a book of two uneven halves. The first section contains essays written by Fagen about his childhood and adolescent musical influences and I very much enjoyed reading these. I was too pleased with myself for recognising names such as Bill Evans, but was mostly ignorant and scribbling down suggestions for later YouTubing. I think that the book really needs to come with an accompanying music download! Still, it is interesting to understand where Fagen's music comes from and his self-deprecating humour is entertaining to read.

I presume that the selected essays were deemed insufficient in volume for publication though because the book's second half consists of a tour diary. Unfortunately this doesn't bear much relation to the first half so I found the mid-way swerve disconcerting. Here we meet cantankerous old git Fagen who basically complains a lot about a touring lifestyle which he must surely not actually be forced into. Personally, I would have preferred more of the thoughtful essays and none of the diary.


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Books by Donald Fagen / Biography and memoir / Books from America

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman + Giveaway


When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman
Published in the UK by Austin Macauley in February 2017

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Add When Darkness Falls to your Goodreads

Follow the amazing journey of Tracy Bennett an average middle of the road girl working on a make-up counter in a York department store with her close female friends. Or is Tracy quite what she seems……

When Darkness Falls is a gripping account of a psychopathic killer. Written from the killer’s perspective, the intent and desire is perfectly compelling and holds the reader enthralled.

Make assumptions, draw your own conclusions and then find your theories debunked as the story unfolds.

This book is a testament to the human fascination with the criminal mind and the debate over whether serial killers are either evil or mad.




Meet the author:
Kathleen lives in York with her husband, two children, cat and dog.

Kathleen has always had a love of the written word from a very young age, from being read to as a child. Reading fabulous authors such as Enid Blyton, and Roald Dahl, has been inspirational.

Kathleen attended a creative writing course, which led to her write her first book The Other Side of the Looking Glass.


Her second book When Darkness Falls is a psychological thriller, which looks into the mind of a psychopathic killer. There is always something quite remarkable and captivatingly interesting about the human mind. And it is this that Kathleen tries to merge into her writing.

Author links: 
Website ~ Goodreads ~ YouTube ~ Twitter


And now for the giveaway!
Open worldwide until October 4th, the prize is a signed copy of When Darkness Falls sent to the winner by Kathleen Harryman.

When Darkness Falls by Kathleen Harryman signed book giveaway

Good luck!


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Books by Kathleen Harryman / Thrillers / Books from England

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Aquarium by David Vann


Aquarium by David Vann
First published in America by Atlantic Monthly Press in April 2015.

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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from its publisher, via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aged nine, Caitlin spends almost every afternoon at the local aquarium while her mother works overtime at her construction job. Caitlin's whole world is her school, her mother, occasionally her mother's boyfriends, and the fish at the aquarium. She has no friends at school, apart from Shalini, who is making a paper mache Hindu reindeer with her, and no other family. But Caitlin has made a friend at the aquarium; an old man who seems to know something about Caitlin, something she doesn't even know about herself.

Aquarium is set in Seattle and tells of a short period of the life of a young girl, Caitlin, who lives with her mother, Sheri, a woman struggling to make ends meet by working long hours in a dead-end job. They have a poor standard of accommodation and Sheri's work means Caitlin is often left alone for several hours, time she chooses to spend at the local aquarium gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of rare fish. I liked the inclusion of line-drawn fish illustrations throughout the novel. Caitlin's meeting there with an older man is the catalyst for the events that drive the novel, but Vann does not take us to obvious territory.

This is not an easy novel to read. By that, I mean that the themes it examines are heavy and dark. The writing is superb - spare and frequently brutal and impossible to look away from. Vann has created perfectly believable characters that really got through to me. The destruction of a family by fear then poverty is graphically portrayed and the carry-though to the next generation is frightening to comprehend. My favourite character, I think, is Sheri although I didn't actually like her or many of her actions. This woman has fought incredibly hard to escape her past and her sheer rage at finding herself flung backwards absolutely crackles off the pages.

I will definitely be looking out for more David Vann novels in the future and will be adding his existing titles to my Goodreads TBR list.


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Books by David Vann / Young adult books / Books from America

Monday, 18 September 2017

Blackout by Lawrence Johnson Sr + Giveaway



Blackout by Lawrence Johnson Sr.
​Category: Adult Fiction; 126 pages
​Genre: Mystery, Crime, Detective
Publisher: Self-published
Release date: March 2011
Tour dates: Sept 11 to 22, 2017
Content Rating: PG

Audiobook Details:

Release Date: 07-13-17
Publisher: Lawrence Johnson Sr.
Written by: Lawrence Johnson Sr.
Narrated by: Alistair Dryburgh
Length: 4 hrs and 9 mins
Series: Alexander Steele Mysteries, Book 1
Unabridged Audiobook

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Book Description:

Alexander Steele is a private detective turned night club owner in the city of Philadelphia. Steele and his longtime girlfriend Shakia's plans for him to retire are derailed when his cousin brings him an encrypted travel drive. The drive is opened by Steele's hacker friend Stan. A few days earlier every transformer in Canada had been shut down by the terrorist. The drive in Steele's possession gave details as to how the event would happen. What made it even more frightening was that the documents on the drive were created 3 months before the actual event; Steele finds himself drawn into the well-crafted mind games of a madman known as Chameleon - an American terrorist.

His goal is to shut down the country by collapsing the economy of the United States. From the snow covered streets of Montreal to the tropical beaches of Nassau Steele follows a trail of clues and dead bodies. As he gathers more puzzle pieces Steele inches closer, hoping to reveal and thwart the plot to bring down the US government. He finds himself narrowly surviving constant attempts on his life. The dramatic face-off between Steele and Chameleon takes place in downtown Philadelphia. How will it end? Find out in Blackout, now on Audible.



​Watch the Trailer:




Meet the Author:


Born and raised in the city of Brotherly Love I have been writing for nearly 10 years. I am the author of the 2012 scifi novel Escape 2 Earth. In early 2009 I completed the second installment in the the Escape 2 Earth trilogy called Return 2 Earth also several short stories including a fantasy story titled Dimensions in Time and a sci fi story titled Planet of Doom.

In 2011 I completed my first detective novel called Blackout. Before writing Escape 2 Earth I began putting together a collection of inspirational and motivational quotes titled Observations from the Edge of Society. I am currently working on the final book in the Escape 2 Earth series called Earth 2, Redemption which will be completed in 2017.

Connect with the author:
Website ~ Twitter ~  Facebook  ~ Instagram 


Enter the Giveaway!
Ends Sept 30

a Rafflecopter giveaway




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Books by Lawrence Johnson Sr / Thrillers / Books from America

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hurting Distance by Sophie Hannah


Hurting Distance by Sophie Hannah
First published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton in April 2007.

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How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three years ago, something terrible happened to Naomi Jenkins - so terrible that she never told anybody. Now Naomi has another secret - the man she has fallen passionately in love with, unhappily married Robert Haworth. 

When Robert vanishes without trace, Naomi knows he must have come to harm. But the police are less convinced, particularly when Robert's wife insists he is not missing. In desperation, Naomi has a crazy idea. If she can't persuade the police that Robert is in danger, perhaps she can convince them that he is a danger to others. Then they will have to look for him - urgently. Naomi knows how to describe in detail the actions of a psychopath. All she needs to do is dig up her own troubled past . . .

I picked this up in paperback on a campsite book exchange. Mainstream crime thrillers aren't my usual fare, but I was swayed by the three pages of positive review quotes in the front. I really must learn not to take any notice of these as I think, in fact, I read a different book!

Hurting Distance is OK. At four hundred pages, it is a bit too long for its story, but the convoluted plot is certainly unguessable too far before the end. The main protagonist, Naomi, gets to be both spoken about and to speak directly to the reader which is odd at first but does work as a device. Every so often, a chapter will be written in the first person, as Naomi talking to her talking to her beloved Robert. Otherwise the novel is written in third person and present time.

In common with most crime thrillers, there is a serial criminal on the loose, this time a rapist, although Hannah doesn't overdo the clock ticking scenario. Instead there is a huge tangle of personal relationships and characters involved in convenient coincidences - while discussing how they don't believe in coincidences. I did appreciate a comment about linking arrows on the police evidence wall having become just a blob - perhaps an observation of Hannah's plot plan?! The police behaviour is what actually ruined this book for me. The villain and victims are cleverly set up but then the police behave like their TV counterparts, not real police at all. Then so much of the novel's forward drive depends on their irrational actions and jumped-to conclusions that I got quite irritated by the end.


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Books by Sophie Hannah / Crime fiction / Books from England

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke


Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke
First published in America by Simon and Schuster in 2014.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

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How I got this book:
Borrowed a paperback edition from my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When 16-year-old Weldon Avery Holland encounters the notorious Bonnie and Clyde in his Texas hometown, the course of his young life is altered forever. He dedicates himself to fighting evil wherever he finds it. But it's the 1930s and evil is sweeping the globe as the Nazis rise. When war breaks out, Holland finds himself in Germany, irrevocably scarred by scenes of death and destruction.

Peacetime brings apparent bliss, and Holland is offered a path to wealth and luxury by the enigmatic 'Wayfaring Stranger'. But soon, he discovers that the greed, violence and ruthlessness of war are nothing compared to the depths of human cruelty at play here.

Wayfaring Stranger is apparently the fourth in Burke's Holland Family series, but I didn't actually realise that until I came to searching out Buy links for this review. The novel is entirely self-contained. Set briefly in the 1930s and in Second World War Germany, the bulk of the story takes place in post-war America where our young hero attempts to make his fortune in the burgeoning Texas oil industry. The late 1940s were a fascinating time across much of the world. Communities rebuilt themselves after wartime destruction, mass migration saw new ideas and cultures crossing borders while other peoples found themselves being enclosed, and millions of people were left to cope with the trauma of events they had witnessed during the war years.

Much of this is alluded to during Wayfaring Stranger, but I felt that the novel never quite decided what it wanted to be so misses out on being a strong historical work. It didn't quite convince me as a political crime thriller either. I like the central characters' portrayals. Linda Gail especially is interesting, but the potentially most complex and fascinating character, Rosita, is kept aloof which was disappointing. I did enjoy this novel. It started out very strongly with powerful scenes, but this level of vivid writing wasn't kept up. Instead the digression into upper class political chicanery began to feel a little formulaic as the story progressed and this took the edge off for me. It's a good read, but I thought it could have been great.


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Books by James Lee Burke / Thrillers / Books from America