Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Penguin launch new Dhammapada translation by Dr Valerie Roebuck

Penguin Classics are to launch one of the best-known and best-loved works of Buddhist literature - a new translation of The Dhammapada by Dr Valerie Roebuck on 14 September 2010 from 3-7pm at Cardiff University. Beginning with a Symposium at 3pm, Dr Roebuck will talk about 'Translating the Dhammapada: Problems and Pleasures'. Other speakers will be Dr Elizabeth Harris from Liverpool Hope University, Dr Mahinda Deegalle from Bath Spa University and Dr Naomi Appleton from Cardiff University. The book launch from 6-7pm is free and open to anyone who would like to attend. Contact Naomi Appleton on, AppletonN1@cf.ac.uk  to reserve a place for either or both parts of the event. Although the official launch takes place on 14 September, the book is already on sale now.

The Dhammapada forms part of the oldest surviving body of Buddhist writings and is traditionally regarded as the authentic teaching of the Buddha, spoken by him in his lifetime, memorised and handed on by his followers after his death. A collection of simple verses gathered in themes such as 'awareness', 'fools' and 'old age', The Dhammapada is accessible, instructional and mind-clearing, with lessons in each verse to give ethical advice and to remind the listener of the transience of life. Valerie Roebuck has previously translated The Upanishads (Penguin India 2000; Penguin Classics 2003). She graduated from the University of Cambridge with a BA(Hons) in Oriental Studies and a Ph.D for a thesis on South Indian Bronzes. She is a freelance scholar and lecturer, an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Manchester and an Associate Member of the Centre for the History of Religion in Asia at the University of Cardiff. She practises and teaches meditation in the Samatha tradition of Buddhism.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries by Bill Brewster, Frank Broughton

Swotting up on DJs isn't everyone's cup of tea but you never know who logs onto your blogsite, so I like my blogs to be as eclectic as possible. I well remember (just about) the late Jimmy Savile drawing lunchtime crowds at Manchester's Plaza Ballroom where he was manager in the 50s, if only to see the technicolour of his hair and watch his strange antics, never mind the records he played. This particular type of madness was a great draw for students and office workers who considered themselves to be normal but held Savile in great regard in those days. I bet none of us had an inkling he would not only be knighted one day but that he would be so monumentally discredited after his death when the sordid truth of his private life was revealed. He was the first DJ to use twin turntables and a mike, which is what established him as number one in his early career. In the book, the authors interview 46 of the world's greatest DJs, including Grandmaster Flash, Frankie Knuckles, John Peel, Terry Farley and Tiesto. We discover how the first DJ came about, the development of different musical genres and the progress of the DJ from unsung pioneer to overheated superstar. Music covers Northern Soul to disco, rock'n'roll and techno. And as a social history, it gives an insight into the civil rights movement, changing fashions, sexual mores, politics and every facet of music culture from the 40s until today. The authors have written extensively on dance music, including Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, and the definitive DJing manual, How to DJ (Properly). They founded their website http://www.djhistory.com/ as an archive of dance music and if you're a dance music collector or a DJ you will probably have been there frequently. This is their fourth book and it is due for publication 30 August 2010. It can be obtained from http://www.djhistory.com/  The duo have a weekly podcast on http://tinyurl.com/chn2sa 

Monday, 23 August 2010

Top Tips for Children's Reading

Research carried out by distant learning organisation, Learndirect shows that more than 54 per cent of parents admit to brushing up on their English and maths to improve aspects of their lives, such as work and almost 32 per cent of parents want to brush up on their basic English and maths to support their children's learning and development, such as reading together. Now Learndirect have teamed up with top children's author, Peter Corey to help parents boost their children's reading skills and help families re-charge during the final week of the summer holidays - with tips for reading together as a family and top recommended reads. Two free online storybooks help prepare children starting or going back to school and these can be found on www.learndirect.co.uk/readtogether.

Peter's top 10 tips for making reading a great experience for kids of all ages

  1. Read little and often - 10 to 15 minutes a day is fine. For younger children, use bedtime or bathtime if there's no time during the day;
  2. Try to make reading fun, so don't pressure your child if they're tired or lose interest. Laugh at the funny stuff and enjoy rhyming words - this can be very rewarding;
  3. Enjoy the story - talk about it and encourage your child to ask questions. You can then see how well they've understood what they've read;
  4. Enjoy the pictures too. They can make words easier to understand and bring the story to life;
  5. Be brave in your choice of reading. Search around, even if you think you've found you and your child's favourite author;
  6. Borrow books from the library. They have lots of choice and can match the right person to the right book;
  7. Long words can be broken down into smaller parts to make them easier. Some English spellings don't make sense but don't worry if you or your child stumble - it might be the word's fault;
  8. Don't be afraid to judge a book by its cover and check what's written on the back. It should help you decide if you and your child will enjoy the book;
  9. Kids enjoys repetition as it helps them understand stories, so don't worry if they want to read the same book again and again;
  10. Always praise your child for trying hard to read and let them know it's OK to make mistakes. We all get words wrong. Practice makes perfect and solving reading problems together is part of what makes storytime fun.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Shakespeare and Company in Paris

Just opposite the Notre Dame in Paris in the Latin Quarter lies a magnet for booklovers and the curious. For 37 rue de la Bucherie is where 96-year-old  American, George Whitman opened his now famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company in August 1951. Since then, over 50,000 people are thought to have slept there - yes, beds have always been provided for those without a place to lay their heads - and such luminaries as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell and Allen Ginsberg have stopped by for tea.

In the 60s and 70s when I lived and worked in Paris, Shakespeare's was one of my favourite haunts. Going in there was like entering one of Alice's adventures in Wonderland, dwarfed as I was by the masses of shelves and dusty old books tumbling in all directions. George was an interesting sort of character, with his pointy beard and quiet manner and he managed to convince us all that he was the illegitimate great-grandson of the poet, Walt Whitman. We were never sure whether to believe him or not but I liked to think it might be so. 'Would you like some peaches?' was usually his opening gambit. He would take a bowl of them out of a fridge that stood incongruously among the books and if you didn't like peaches, a glass of iced tea would do just as well. In those days, it was rumoured that the upper floor was full of mattresses for anyone who wanted to stay but I never ventured up there. A writer could pick up any amount of crazy conversations if they were short of dialogue and I remember well a young American wearing a huge backpack asking another similarly attired teenager, 'Are you heading for Katmandu?' The reply: 'Yeah, I'm heading for Katmandu.' It all seemed so cliched, until I actually found myself in Katmandu some years later, and understood what they were on about.

So who is George Whitman and where did Shakespeare and Company come from? The story goes that George was born in New Jersey but his parents moved to Salem, Massachusetts when he was a baby. His father, who was actually called Walter Whitman was indeed a writer but, as a physics professor, he wrote about science in the home and community, not poetry. After the Second World War, George studied French at the Sorbonne and acquired a collection of English books which he sold first in his hotel room and later from a barge. Eventually, he settled for the 17th century building that is now legendary, changing its name from Le Mistral to Shakespeare and Company in the 1960s after Sylvia Beach, the originator died. Sylvia Beach, an American living in Paris opened her English bookstore and library at 8 rue Dupuytren in 1919 and two years later moved it to the rue de l'Odeon where it attracted many famous writers and artists like Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, until France was occupied in 1941. Beach became famous for publishing Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 as it was banned in the UK and USA.

Nowadays, Shakespeare and Company is in the capable hands of George's 29-year-old daughter, Sylvia since George has retired and she has regenerated it by organising biennial festivals for writers. The fourth such event took place in June this year with 'Storytelling and Politics' and it drew hundreds of people to a white tent overlooking Notre Dame for three days to hear some notable literary speakers. Things are different now and I'm told the beds are interspersed among the bookshelves but they're still there, as is the library. Monday evening readings attract well-known authors and Sunday afternoons are for tea. Young volunteers, known as 'tumbleweeds' man the shop now, some criticised for their coolness to customers but for me, it was George Whitman who had the cachet and the graciousness that made Shakespeare and Company the legend that it became.
Shakespeare and Company is open every day from 10am until 11pm, except for Saturdays and Sundays when it opens at 11am. Metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne. (Tel: 00 33 (0) 1 43 25 40 93)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Kindle's new UK Store and e-books: will they replace print?

If you're into e-books and e-readers, you might like to know that Amazon, the on-line bookseller has made over 400,000 books available in the UK from their new Kindle Store. This includes 84 best-selling titles, national newspapers, magazines and over 9,000 blogs. Let's hope that extends to mine. Some contemporary classics are exclusive to the Store, such as Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Amazon have already begun accepting pre-orders for the new Kindle itself. Among its features are a new electronic-ink screen, which Amazon claims has 50 per cent better contrast than any other e-reader, a new sleek design with 21 per cent smaller body than the previous model, although it still has the same 6 inch-size reading area and a 15 per cent lighter weight at 8.7 ounces (247 gms). The new Kindle with Wi-Fi costs £109 and with Free 3G wireless and Wi-Fi, £149. You can learn more about the UK Kindle Store at www.amazon.co.uk/kindlestore and full details of the new Kindle and Kindle Wi-Fi at www.amazon.co.uk/kindle3G and www.amazon.co.uk/kindleWi-Fi 

Is this the end of printed books?

I don't know about you but personally, there is nothing like the feel and look of a paper book; it's a sensory experience not to be missed; not to mention the thrill of browsing round a bookshop or possessing the rows of books lining my bookshelves, lovely to see, great to hold, flick through and dip into. Some of them I will read again (and again), some come in handy for research, some I will lend to my most trusted friends as I know they will return them and some are signed by the authors. Hah! They can't do that with an e-reader. E-book readers have been slow to take off but they are doing well in America and now gaining popularity in the UK. For some, they will be another 'must-have', to leave around for visitors to see that they have the latest gadget, though little used; they will make good gifts and I would consider buying one to take on my holidays as reading is mostly what I do when I'm away, in the shade, in a quiet corner (typical!). I don't think traditional books will ever die out but if Kindles and their like help to encourage non-readers to begin reading books, newspapers and blogs, and as long as e-books are not viewed as a cheap alternative to print books, they will have their place in the market.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Piano Teacher by Janice YK Lee

I always buy books that have the word 'piano' in them and there seem to be lots of them around nowadays. However, this one had very little to do with pianos and pianists; the protagonist, Claire just happens to be a piano tutor in 1950s Hong Kong and having an illicit relationship with Will, the driver of her pupil's parents, the Chens. The pupil herself, Locket has her own story but that's just one of the many mysteries that the author unravelled while I was glued to her book. Will has been targeted by a flighty young Eurasian woman with a taste for the high life among Hong Kong's hedonistic set. Trudy Liang lives for the moment. We flit between the 40s and 50s gaining a fascinating insight into the class-ridden snobbery of expat life in the colony pre, during and post war. Some of these people have nowhere else to go and lived by their wits during the Japanese occupation. As both a historical and social document, it's worth reading. It pulled me into another world where I could imagine these people and the world they inhabited. Lee spent years researching the background to her story and pays extraordinary attention to detail. We see Will experience the cruel and foul conditions of the Japanese prison camp, while Trudy saves her skin (for a while) under the protection of the enemy. He could join her on the outside but his integrity gets the better of him. This is a story of love and betrayal. Will's experiences during the war have taken their toll on his ability to open his heart and his relationship with Claire is doomed from the start. It also shows us to what lengths some people will go to save their own skins at the expense of destroying the lives of innocent people and how it takes a war to make saints and sinners of us all.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Teach us to Sit Still by Tim Parks

Since the 1980s, metaphysical counsellor Louise Hay has devoted her life to helping people heal their lives by getting rid of the negative attitudes that she believes can bring about physical illness. Her philosophy: 'We are each one hundred per cent responsible for all our experiences, our future. The point of power is in the present moment. When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works. We create every so called illness in our body. We must release the past and forgive everyone.' One of her books in particular, You Can Heal Your Life became an international best seller and it included advice and exercises that could be put into instant use. Forgiveness is cleansing. I've tried it and it works. Louise came to this conclusion when she was diagnosed with cancer, which she says disappeared after she had a thorough mental and physical cleansing, clearing herself of all resentment.

A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing

Best-selling author and translator (this is book number 21), Tim Parks wasn't a believer in alternative therapies or 'new age mumbo jumbo' and throughout his healing process, he maintained his sceptical stance.  But he decided to write a book about his healing journey and how he discovered that body and mind are indeed linked. Once you get past the medical opinions about his prostate, which came to nothing and move on to his quest for an alternative solution for the relief of his chronic bladder pain, the read becomes more fascinating. It's also worth bearing in mind that when the medical profession give up on you, it is simply an indication that they have reached the limit of their knowledge and not that your condition is necessarily untreatable; there may possibly be someone somewhere else that can help you. Like many people who reach this stage, Tim turns to alternative therapies for help. In India, he consults an ayurvedic doctor who tells him about energy flow and blockage caused by 'mental tussle', but sesame oil enemas don't appeal. He becomes fascinated by internet postings of people with similar physical symptoms - so many different opinions and treatments. His health becomes an obsession but he's convinced by now that 'medicines are not the answer'. But sitting down all day at a desk could restrict blood flow to the contracted muscles and affect surrounding nerves in the pelvic floor and even affect muscles away from that area. And the antidote was relaxation and massage. How the author resolves his problem is for readers to discover but it begins with a book called A Headache in the Pelvis by David Wise and Rodney Anderson - breathing and meditation form the main part of his healing journey. Being an award-winning writer, it's no surprise that Parks expresses himself so well in print. His journey will be of interest to anyone with chronic pain. Interspersed with his own story, he studies the effects that illness has had on other writers, artists and well-known people. Published by Harvill Secker, London 2010.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Six-word Story Comp

How would you like to win a week at an Arvon writing centre? Poet Karen McCarthy has the tough job of choosing a winner from the entries for the Arvon Foundation's story competition. And this year, the theme is one of those six-worders that crop up in the media every now and again.

Remember Hemingway's famous six-worder? 'For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.' Actually, I've never read one as good as that. If you think you can top it - send it to: competition@arvonfoundation.org or tweet to @arvonfoundation.  The closing date for entries is 1 September 2010. View their website for information about courses: http://www.arvonfoundation.org/

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe

Enjoy is perhaps not the most appropriate word to describe the story of a woman who is accused of assisting her sick husband to die but author Cath Staincliffe's words sucked me into them and held me firmly in their grasp from beginning to end and enjoy them I did. It left me feeling reflective. What is so fascinating about Cath's new novel is the change of style from her usual Sal Kilkenny mysteries and  Blue Murder TV series starring Caroline Quentin to this more literary study of a topical subject that could face anyone. Deborah is persuaded, against her better judgment, to help husband Neil to end his life. Neil is dying of motor neurone disease and he wants to go out with dignity, feeling well; the irony of this is that he doesn't die a good death but I won't spoil the ending. The magnetism of Cath's writing has as much to do with her thorough research as it has to do with her syntax. For anyone who thinks 'there's a book in everyone', think again. Books are on shelves, between covers and it isn't a simple matter of dropping words onto a keyboard. Cath spent hours learning about legal and court procedures and gleaned much about everyday life in a woman's prison by going into one and talking to the prisoners. She recreates the 'warm, worn wood of the dock' realistically. Her research is meticulously woven into the fabric of her plot. I'm inclined to find flashbacks and time switches distracting but they are hardly noticeable here as they are so necessary to understanding the loving relationship that has built up since the couple met at university; it is done brick by brick until the wall is up and a loving family unit has been created; only to be tragically destroyed. We follow the effect of Deborah's actions on the lives of the couple's two children and get an insight into the workings of the mind of a woman in grief for the husband she loves while she fights to defend herself against his murder - or manslaughter. It's not so much a plot as an examination of the lives of two people and an insightful study of human reactions, thoughts, feelings and fears from the viewpoints of the people whose lives are touched by Deborah's actions. Five stars.

The Kindest Thing is published by Robinson UK, 2010

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Big Fat Lies: Is Your Government Making you Fat? by Hannah Sutter

Food survey

According to a survey carried out by weight-loss specialists All About Weight, 64 per cent of Britons don't have time to lose weight. The organisation, dedicated to promoting the right attitudes towards food and lifestyle, conducted an online survey that produced 1,230 respondents, who showed that they had no time to diet or exercise because of their busy lifestyles (presumably they had enough time to halt their busy lifestyles to eat enough food to put on the weight in the first place). 38 per cent of respondents didn't have time to shop for healthy food choices (how does that differ from shopping for unhealthy food choices, I wonder?); 32 per cent blamed stress at work leading to the lure of convenience foods and 23 per cent blamed their busy lifestyles. 'Have you lapsed on a fitness programme in the last three months because of pressure on your time?' ticked 64 per cent of the boxes and 'lack of time to prepare healthy food choices at home' 40 per cent.

Now for the book

Now I can segue nicely to a book on this very subject written by diet lawyer Hannah Sutter who takes up the cudgel against the government, the NHS, the Food Standards Agency and 'numerous other associated authorities' to uncover 'a series of highly disturbing fictions that underpin government health policy and have implications for the weight and health of all of us.'

So, what's it about? Levels of obesity are said to be rising, despite the government's message to eat less fat, just eat less in general and to get more exercise. I haven't read Hannah's book myself yet but think it deserves a mention at this point, given the recent government 'obese vs fat' controversy and remembering that not everyone who qualifies for those labels are that way through eating too much or munching too many crisps.

Hannah Sutter
So far, Hannah's book has been well reviewed by her medical peers. Professor Iaian Broom, director of the Clinical Obesity Research Centre at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen says: 'The metabolism of starch requires insulin and overproduction of insulin will result in fat accumulation. Big Fat Lies helps bring this message out from behind the cupboard and rightly answer questions and the whole emphasis on starch in our daily diet.' Award-winning writer, lecturer and broadcaster Dr John Briffa says, 'Big Fat Lies is a passionate polemic book challenging the anti-meat brigade and the nonsense that somehow cheap starch is good for us.' H'm, as a non-vegetarian member of the anti-meat brigade I'd like to know more about that.

Big Fat Lies is published by Infinite Ideas Ltd.