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International Book Day and IVAM, Get your modern art books free!

Tomorrow 23 April, is International Book Day (a symbolic date for world literature for on this date in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died), IVAM, along with 26 Spanish museums and centers of contemporary art, will share the experience of BookCrossing, or book liberation. More than 2,000 books related to different artistic disciplines 'released' ready for you to capture.

For those of you unfamiliar with BookCrossing, it is, in the site's own words, "an earth-friendly way to share your books, clear your shelves, and conserve precious resources at the same time. Through our own unique method of recycling reads, BookCrossers give life to books. A book registered on BookCrossing is ready for adventure.

Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel. Track the book's journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person."

All IVAM's released books will be credited with BookCrossing labels, will contain the instructions necessary to the 'capturer' and will be registered in the page Web, where the readers will be able to indicate the place where they found each book and the place they released it.

The object of this initiative is the diffusion of the knowledge on contemporary art.

The books that will be freed in different spaces from the IVAM will contain four stickers: First, on the back of the book, the international logo of bookcrossing, a drawing of a book with arms and legs running, customized for this occasion with the logo of IVAM and text indicating that it is a BookCrossing book. The second label inside the cover of the book will have the words "pass this book to on" and "I am not lost, I am part of a global book club". A third sticker contains the BookCrossing bookcode and the instructions on how to participate in this international experience through the page Web, here the finder of the book can learn where the book has been and who has read it, and a place to add their own name. Finally, the fourth sticker allows the reader to write his name and the place where the book was found before releasing it again.

Bookcrossing allows you not only to share and to interchange books free of charge but also to follow the track of any one of them once he has been 'liberated', you will be able to find out who read it and where a book has travelled to. All you have to do is follow the BookCrossing code - 'the 3 Rs - Read, Register and Release.

Anyone can take part in this experience, not only capturing books but also putting their own into circulation, registering them on BookCrossing and releasing them in any public place. There are a surprising number of books released and in circulation in Valencia - look on the website.


If you read my column in December you will remember that I had just finished Jason Webster's latest beautiful book Sacred Sierra, his account of his first year on a farm he bought in the mountains of Castellón. It is a haunting book, interspersed with excerpts from a 12th century Moorish gardening book, and fairy tales, and even recipes. It is full of local lore, plant lore and marvellous people. I urged you then to read it and I do again now. I also promised I'd have a chat with Jason on your behalf. It ended up being not quite the way we had planned - i.e. over a nice meal or a drink somewhere, but on the web and phone. Never mind, we will get that meal when life has settled down a bit for both of us...

Let's start with the question that I (and anyone who has moved here) get asked all the time - Why Spain and particularly why Valencia, and has it always been a dream/ambition to live here?
I've long had a fascination with Spain - it has a kind of magic which, if you are aware of it and allow it to seep into you, will have you hooked. I've always thought that life is painted in brighter colours here than in most places. But beyond that, the country has a subtle quality that is difficult to define. I've attempted to do so in four books now - they've all been powered by a wish to understand this very question: why Spain? In the end it's probably something that you can't describe in words - it has to be experienced.

You must have seen many changes since you arrived - what is for you the biggest?
I first arrived in Spain in the early 90s, when the country was at the tail-end of the great party that broke out once democracy had been established after Franco died. That's gone now, and the raw, anarchic energy that Spain had is being lost. That's a great shame. But it's mostly in the cities. Out in the countryside you can still find it - which is why my wife and I bought a farm in the mountains of Castellón.

The research for Guerra must have been particularly harrowing, has it changed your mind about the Spanish in any way?
Researching 'Guerra' brought up a whole host of aspects about Spain that I'd ignored until then. I fell in love with the country when I first arrived, so I only saw the good bits. Looking into the Civil War meant exploring its darker side - the cruelty, violence, the 'two Spains' each trying to annihilate the other. But loving a person or a country is about striving to understand them in their totality, so while I was uncomfortable embarking on the journey into this particular side of Spain, in the end it was beneficial as it increased my general knowledge of Spanish culture and society. There's always much more to learn, however.

What for you is the best of Spain and life here?
The people. Sometimes their inefficiency and fatalism drives me insane, but Spanish people in general have heart and compassion, which are increasingly rare qualities in the West.

And the worst?
Their need to complicate things, particularly any bureaucratic process. I'm convinced that in Madrid a body of civil servants examines every aspect of bureaucratic life to see if more levels of complexity can't be added somewhere. This 'Complication Committee' is the greatest blight on this country.

The latest book is a joy to read, I found myself agreeing with so many of the frustrations and the joys you retell. Why Sacred Sierra? Do you still own the farm, is it thriving, and have you sold any truffles yet?
Sacred Sierra' because apart from being the story of a year my wife and I spent living on our farm in Castellón, it's about exploring the local customs and traditions, particularly the folk tales and fiestas. The Penyagolosa area is largely unspoilt and the local people have managed to hang on to a traditional and healthier understanding of the land and its 'sacredness'.
We still own the farm, but the truffles will have to wait - perhaps another 8-10 years if the wild boar don't eat them all in the meantime.

What next? Another country, or are you and Salud committed to life here with your new son.
I suspect we'll stay here. My wife is Valencian, and life is good here. That said, I don't rule anything out.


I have literally not stopped. We've had guests, we have been decorating a house and we have been helping friends Lolita Devine and Anita Darling with their 'mudanza'.

La Goora and I are on our knees, so we fall into bed at night, armed with great books and fully intend to read a good couple of chapters, but sleep wins. However, what we have been reading has been excellent stuff, in the main.

Rose Tremain's latest paperback, The Colour, proves once again that this woman is a wonderful writer. Set in the late 19th century, it is a story about a couple who leave England for a new life in New Zealand, taking his mother with them. Joseph finds gold in the creek behind the house he is building for his family and becomes obsessed in making his fortune with 'The Colour' and leaves them to join the gold rush in the Southern Alps of the country, and he soon descends into squalor and despair. His mother, meanwhile, dies and after being left to contend with the house and farm he left being destroyed in a storm, his wife decides to search for him. It is a great read, a sad and fascinating work and one of her best books so far.

Sacred Sierra is Jason Webster's latest book, I mentioned it in my last column. His publisher very kindly sent me an advance copy to read and review and we were trying to meet prior to me writing this month's column, but alas, in the end, it wasn't possible. Jason has lived here for several years and has written several good books on aspects of Spain and Spanish life, including the gruelling ¡Guerra! about the Civil War and the excellent Duende, his search for Flamenco. This latest book is the account of a year at his farmhouse up a mountain north of Valencia. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, I really like his chatty and matter-of-fact style. He makes several wry and well-observed remarks about the Spanish psyche, that had me nodding with him. I will try to get together with him over the next month and bring you more about the man and the book, but do pre-order it on Amazon, you will not regret it.

New Year's Eve saw the passing of probably one of my favourite authors Donald E. Westlake, he was the first of several heroes of mine who have died during this past month; John Mortimer, John Updike and then, this week, the wonderful John Martyn.

All were prolific in their respective work and they have all had a profound effect on my life through the years.

Donald Westlake was a crime and comedy crime writer who was so prolific that his publishers decided early on that he should have a series of pseudonyms, he wrote great caper novels under his own name, hard-boiled thrillers under the name of Richard Stark, and a host of other books under various other names. I used to collect his books, scouring second hand bookshops all over the world (particularly in his native New York) for an elusive copy of one of his (or his alter egos') titles. The night he died I had just finished reading something and decided to re-read one of his books, I picked 'A Likely Story', a book I have had for years, and soon realised that it was one of the few books on my shelves I had not read. Unusually for Don, it was not a caper novel but a sometimes hilarious story about a writer trying to get a publisher to publish a coffee-table Christmas Book. Laugh out loud funny, I drove La Goora mad giggling and laughing next to her in bed!

John Mortimer wrote a huge number of books, mainly featuring Rumpole. But he was also a great raconteur too and a joy to watch interviewed.

The first book of John Updike's I read was Couples when I was very young; a friend had told me there were some great dirty bits in it. There were! But it was a great read and I have continued to read his excellent books down the years. His greatest invention was Bech, one of fiction's great Jewish characters.

John Martyn, An extraordinarily talented guitarist and singer who had a forty year career and wrote and released some 30 consistently beautiful albums, but hardly anyone has ever heard of him. One of the bad boys of rock who was also a fantastic live performer, even when he was out of his head on booze or the harder stuff. Finest album - Solid Air.

Mac? I am an ardent fan of Apple Macs, as all Mac owners are, and I have had one of mine for over 11 years without a problem - until this month. It may well have gone the way of all flesh too. I have a friendly mac techie who is doing his best but it is not looking good, and I believe that an old electric radiator heater sharing the same extension lead is to blame, so beware, all Mac users!

That's all from me this month.



Must be time for the Gooru Christmas book, CD and DVD list, don't you think?

Comedy dvds first, Armstrong and Miller, these two are great, short sharp sketches that are consistently funny. The Gooru family have adopted some of the catch phrases I'm afraid. Loved Ben Miller as the nasty producer in Moving Wallpaper, the spoof documentary depicting life in the production studios of a new ITV soap opera, Echo Beach. The dvd features both the documentary and the soap - It is a great watch - Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon star in the Soap. Out of interest Moving Walpaper returns to tv next year but producing a new show as Echo Beach is scrapped due to 'poor ratings'! Alexander Armstrong, the other half of Armstrong and MIller was Mutual Friends and made the series for me - also out on DVD. On to Drama, get someone to give you the excellent Waking the Dead, Series 6 - this series gets better and better.

Music now, I can't recommend The Word Magazine enough - get someone to buy you a subscription - I constantly discover new music from their excellent cover mounted - in environmentally friendly cardboard cover - CD. It is regularly a great listen and has led me to buy more tracks or the entire cd of music I have heard on it. The magazine is a well written and informative guide to music, film, books and more. Their website is and features more music and a weekly podcast. We are currently listening a lot to music by ladies, Martha Wainwright - I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (great title) and also to Ingrid Michaelson - Be OK, the title track is fun and uplifting and her version of Over the Rainbow is almost as good as John Martyn's! Another lady we are listening to - Amanda Palmer, Who Killed Amanda Palmer- we Love some of it and some of it we don't. finally in music, The Script are a great band from Dublin by way of LA - we really like this album.

And so on to books, If you read this column on a regular basis you'll know what I think of Dan Brown, earlier this year a friend gave me The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne - on the cover it said something like 'watch out Dan have a challenger' I almost didn't read the book but Bourne can write, I couldn't put it down. So I look forward to his latest, The Final Reckoning , apparently another well written thriller

A debut novel by young author Danny Scheinmann, Random Acts of Heroic Love, works and it doesn't. I loved the story of Moritz Daniecki, 16 years old and the son of a cobbler, who falls in love with Lotte Steinberg, the daughter of a wealthy fur-trader and, who, following a chaste kiss, decide one day to marry. This is the year 1896 and Moritz is soon sent to the front to fight in the war, the story follows the hardships and suffering of his long walk home which takes years, it is a great story. Running parallel is the modern day story of Moritz's Grandson - much less successful and actually quite boring. It is a shame because it could have been one of my books of the year.

I was talking to an American friend living in Perpignan about books, she and her husband devour books faster than they can lay their hands on them, like me and she was asking me for recommendations and vice versa. I told her to read Henning Mankell (and to watch the series on bbc starting 30 November - she has satellite which works better there than here) 'He is Swedish isn't he?' she asked. 'I have just read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, who is also Swedish, and it's a thriller!' Turns out that the last time she was at Gatwick she had three minutes to spare before the gate closed on her flight, so she just grabbed 3 books in the 3 for 2 offer at Waterstones and this was one of them. She was unable to put it down and now can't wait for the other two books in the trilogy. I have yet to read it - but rest assured, I will let you know.

Finally and as a way of wishing you a Merry Christmas, free and legal ways of listening to music on the web - just about any song on any album - from and How do they do it? With short adverts prior to the track. Spotify is beta and you will need an invitation, but they are both great news for music fans everywhere!

Merry Christmas


A couple of years ago I was helping a friend pitch for a job for a hotel and golf course. We needed a really good writer on golf and the very first name that came up was Timothy O'Grady. The friend had read Tim's work in Conde Nast Traveller and got hold of a copy of an article he had recently done on playing golf on Ireland's West coast. Though I know almost nothing about the game, It was a beautifully written article, and made me not only want to play but to visit the places he so lovingly described.

It turns out that Golf, Ireland and the Irish are particular obsessions of this writer who, it turns out, until very recently lived in Valencia.

I have since read various articles of his and have a well thumbed copy of his book I Could Read the Sky, with excellent photos by Steve Pyke. It's a wonderful and very moving book about being an Irish exile in London. An ailing old man looks back over his hard life and his happy childhood in Ireland. O'Grady the son of a dentist, grew up in Chicago. after leaving university there he went to live on a remote Island in Ireland, fell in love with the country and the people and became an Irish citizen. He won critical acclaim and the David Higham Award for First novels following the publication of Motherland, in 1989 and more awards followed for I Could Read the Sky, which was made into a film and has also been published with an accompanying cd of music by Afro Celt's Iarla Ó Lionáird. He has also toured a live show of the book in the UK too! His latest work is Divine Magnetic Fields, an odyssey subtitled 'a journey in America' and is the story of 2 road trips he took across 15,000 miles of highway, He took his photographer collaborator from 'Sky' on some of the journey and his daughter on another part, but for most of the journey he travelled alone. I am halfway through it at the moment, so you'll have to wait for my final verdict. Golfing friends tell me that 'On Golf' is a marvellous book - for golfers. I have yet to try it.

Talking of Expats, it looks as if the expat population will be increasing again soon for at least a couple of years with the news that the America's Cup may yet again happen on our shores. A much more permanent influx is going to happen in 2011 when the Arteria opens in Valencia. Berklee College of Music in Boston are collaborating with SGAE to build and open a new college of Jazz and Latin Music costing 96 million euros. with living, study and performance space - the first stone was laid a couple of weeks ago and it's an extraordinary and exciting project.

Jason Webster, another expat, has a new book coming out early in the new year, about life on the farm he bought with his wife, entitled Sacred Sierra, I really look forward to reading it.

Before I leave you this month some very quick recommendations for you. Music, Ingrid Michaelson, Be OK, she's got a great voice, and it is a pretty album. Martha Wainwright, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (great title) - this family amaze me, Loudon (III), Sloan, Rufus, Kate McGarrigle, all with so much talent - this new Album of Martha's is her best so far. I notice she's playing live in Bilbao, Madrid and BCN - why don't we get these stars in VLC?

We've been watching Man (stroke) Woman again, it is very funny.


Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir
Alison Weir is one of our most respected historians. Innocent Traitor is a 'fictional' account of the life of Lady Jane Grey, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, who, a pawn in the political manoeuvrings of her parents, became Queen of England, albeit for only nine days. Beheaded by Queen Mary for refusing to give up her faith, she was just 16 years old when she was sent to the scaffold. This book is an absolute joy. Weir brings to life one of the most terrible and most dangerous periods of English history. Through each character's eyes we are given an insight into the Tudor court, with its intrigues, treachery and ruthlessness. But it is Jane's voice that touches us most. Her dignity, her extraordinary intellect and her fierce belief in the catholic faith all conspire to make this an absorbing and heartbreaking read. If this book fails to make you weep you need to seek help.

The Colour, Rose Tremain
Another historical novel but one that will take you on a journey that is by turns, wondrous, marvellous, terrifying and strangely satisfying. In 1864, Harriet and Joseph Blackstone, along with his mother, Lilian, leave Norfolk for New Zealand where each, for different reasons, hopes to make a new and better life. But when Joseph discovers gold in the creek behind their house he is gripped by gold fever and leaves for the gold fields over the Southern Alps, obsessed by a desire to find enough of 'the colour' to make their fortunes. A single-minded man, ruined by his overbearing mother, Joseph descends into depression when he is unsuccessful in his quest. Unable to return home empty-handed he descends into a nightmare of squalor and self-doubt. Harriet, sensible, resolute and highly intelligent resolves, when Lilian dies and their house and farm is ruined by a storm, to cross the Alps to find him. This is a marvellous book, filled to the brim with adventure. Tremain has an absolute gift for characterisation and dialogue. Her insights into the Maori culture and the plight of the child Edwin (only son of her friends Toby and Dorothy Orchard), whose Maori nurse, Pare, is forced to leave him, are both sad and revealing. An impressive and engrossing read.

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

Hailed as one of the best mysteries of all time, I would say it counts as one of the most gripping and interesting books I've ever read. If Alan Grant of Scotland Yard hadn't been fascinated by faces, his actress friend, Marta Hallard, wouldn't have brought him a pack of portraits to speculate upon as he lay in hospital with a broken leg. One of the faces belonged to Richard the Third. As Grant gazed at Richard's sensitive, intelligent face, he wondered if he had been one of the world's most villainous murderers - a man who could kill his beloved brother's children to make his own crown secure. Or had Richard been the victim - turned into a monster by usurpers who stole England's throne? And furthermore, could Grant solve one of history's most famous and most vicious crimes? The title comes from the old proverb: ‘Truth is the daughter of time’. This is a most engaging book and absolutely riveting.


You almost didn't have the pleasure of my company this month, I have driven our dear editor crazy, and everyone around me, delaying and delaying the deadline, but here I am, at the wire.

Why am I so late? because I am writing a book and the deadline has arrived so much more quickly than I wanted it to. My every waking hour has been taken up with it, and my editor is getting twitchy.

But enough of my problems, you want to know what I have been reading and watching and listening to! Let us, for a change, start with the moving image, I turned on Canal 33 last night over a hurried supper and caught the tail end of Dr Who, dubbed into Catalan, Luckily it was dual so I flicked to Dual II and watched as Billy Piper held her dying father in a very old episode that starred the Doctor's previous incarnation, Christopher Eccleston, It was pretty good and made me want to watch the series again. There is a curious program on the box in the UK at the moment. Lost in Austen stars Jemima Rooper, as a time traveller who swaps places with Elizabeth Bennet through a hole in her bathroom - yes - odd, I know- but strangely it works thanks to Rooper and her handling of the script. There are some great lines to camera - when she first sees Mr Darcy for instance, "Well, he's not Colin Firth, is he?" and her explanation for her present day clothing, Otter hunting outfit. Worth looking out for. Big disappointment for me was the new Spooks spinoff, Spooks Code 9, the storylines were good but the acting was pretty abysmal. Shame. I read somewhere that bolstered by the succes of Spooks, Kudos, who make the series are looking to do a CSI with it , lots of Spinoffs -we say, just concentrate on the excellent Spooks please. Finally on the telly front, Mutual Friends, starring Keeley Hawes (from Spooks, funnily enough) and Marc Warren(Hustle) got off to a good start but is so inconsistent we are fast losing interest, it's a shame because it's a strong cast but the direction is so heavy handed. Oh, I forgot, Grey's Anatomy is back, haven't seen it myself but La Goorettes tell me it has lost it, it's only episode 2 though and it might improve.

Music now, Coldplay's latest Viva la Vida is constantly on the iPod in this family, we all love it! And what a surprise the new Cindi Lauper (Bring Ya To The Brink) opus is - after all this time, it is probably marginally better than the latest Madonna.

And so finally to books. Call the MIdwife is a marvelous book. Harrowing and fascinating and yes, it's heartwarming (God, I hate that word, but it works for this book) It is amazing to think that until the late fifties, birth was not something doctors got involved with and that it was left to the midwives. The book is testament to them. It has fascinating moments, Conchita is my obsession now, this woman bought back to England from Spain by Eastender Len who had gone to fight in the Civil War. They adored each other but never spoke each other's language, but had 25 children, and communicated through their daughter. Read this book!

Mercy by Jody Picoult is next up. I kept reading good reviews of this authors books, so when this turned up in a batch of second hand books, I thought I'd give it a go. I cannot stand it when Americans in America talk about their Scottish or English roots, particularly when the get their facts so wrong! So almost from page one this was a no-no. I barely got to the end of this book and, actually I really don't know why I persevered! If I am missing something and she has written some good stuff - let me know.

Rankin has written Rebus' swan song, I have just finished it. I loved it. Four days from his retirement and the murder of a Russian poet in Kings Stable Road gives Rebus one last case to solve. Is this really the end of Rebus? Will the series continue with Siobhan, let's wait and see!

Oh! and my book? You'll have to wait and see there too!
See you next month



This is Danny Scheinmann's debut novel. He has a terrific story to tell. Born in 1896 in Ulanov, a small village close to the Russian border, Moritz Daniecki (16 years old), falls in love with Lotte Steinberg; he the son of a cobbler, she the daughter of a wealthy fur-trader. They share one kiss and promise themselves to each other, despite knowing that their circumstances will never permit marriage. When war is declared he is sent to The Front. Finally, after many hardships and great suffering, he is abandoned in Siberia and, with Lotte's memory to sustain him, he begins the long walk home, a journey that will take years and one that will test his courage, his love and his endurance. Wonderful. This story more than stands up for itself, why then muddy the waters with the story of Leo Deakin, a young man who loses the love of his life in a terrible accident while back-packing in South America ? Leo Deakin is not a sympathetic character and I found myself unable to warm towards his tireless self-pity. DS made a mistake in using a parallel story to illustrate the extraordinary events of his grandfather's life because this was the lifeblood of the book and made it worth every moment of the time spent reading it. Again, I think Scheinmann was not best-served by his editor. A good read that could have been better.


HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Lazy journalists are sometimes guilty of not actually going to the event, listening to the play, or even reading the book. I am heartily sick of the 'stunning review' ethos of back cover blurbism. These reviews often end in disappointment and this book is no exception. As a writer, I don't enjoy giving a bad review but 'Half of a Yellow Sun' has to rate as one of the most dull and charmless books I've read in a long time. And I don't give up easily. The book is set in 1960's Nigeria and weaves together the lives of its main protagonists: Ugwu, young houseboy to Odenigbo, a university lecturer and the beautiful Olanna who gives up a life of privilege to be with Odenigbo, and Richard who falls in love with Olanna's twin sister. So far so good. Except it isn't. At the beginning we are led to believe that the professor is white. Then we learn he is black and extremely weird-looking. Ugwu is obsessed with masturbation and throughout the first thirty-one pages references of a sexual nature involving all parties become extremely tedious. I don't know any Nigerians but I now believe them to be peculiar, sex-obsessed beings who speak in a strange, stilted and unconvincing way. The characters lack depth but, worse, we don't like or care about them. Ugwu has little to recommend him, the professor is bizarre in a bad way and Olanna is ... look, I didn't even get as far as Richard or the twin. We are told that Adichie is the author of the best-selling 'Purple Hibiscus' and maybe it was really great. I do hope so. But the old cliché 'everyone has a book in them' may be hackneyed yet it still holds good. To be fair Margaret Forster wrote: 'I wasted the last fifty pages, reading them far too greedily and fast, because I couldn't bear to let go .. magnificent.' I don't like Margaret Forster's books either ....

THE RETURN by Victoria Hislop
Victoria Hislop, we are told, is the bestselling author of 'The Island'. Yes, I did say exactly the same in my review above. Her second book is, according to her publisher, about 'pain and passion at the heart of war-torn Spain'. Sonia, trapped in a loveless marriage decides to go to Granada with her friend Maggie to take Salsa lessons. Neither know anything about the history of the region or about The Spanish Civil War. Where have they been? By chance, she meets a bar owner who just happens to have known her mother. As we move back and forth between the 1930's and the present time, we are given a story that defies belief. Even though we know truth can be stranger than fiction, the storyline simply isn't plausible, unless we're discussing Mills & Boon.

Indirect exposition seems to have passed VH by and her copious use of adjectives and adverbs was annoying. Maggie said confidently, responded Sonia, snapped Maggie, he said bluntly, he interjected, breathlessly, philosophically, rhetorically, teasingly..... open the book at any page and they jump out at you. The dialogue is so bad in parts it's risible. 'The teachers are wonderful' said Maggie. 'They're life-enhancing, aren't they?' agreed Sonia. If you know anyone who speaks like this, drop them. One of my favourites: 'Sonia noticed a picture (of a Semana Santa parade) at the end of the wall. 'They look like the Ku Klux Klan. They're really sinister.' This statement is made by a supposedly educated, intelligent woman who is half Spanish. Again, real people do not speak like this. Why not use the moment to explain about the Nazarenos and their role during Semana Santa? When one of the characters refers to her husband as: ...'him upstairs'., it bears a lamentable association with 'er indoors', and ruins the moment. Hislop repeats herself far too often, sometimes in he same sentence and after Dolores Ibarruri's famous speech 'They shall not pass' we are left with: 'She's inspiring, isn't she?' said Antonio.

Yet Hislop has done her research and sometimes she really gets into her stride and we are caught up in the events of her story but she lacks staying power. Her descriptions of one of the most devastating and disturbing conflicts of all time left me almost indifferent. To be fair I think Miss Hislop has been badly let down by her editor. This book simply isn't good enough to be on a best seller list. Sorry, but there it is.

Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austin Book Club. This book has had extraordinary reviews, including 'dangerously addictive'. The Daily Mail defies us not to 'fall head over heels for this lovely novel'. So, what’s it all about?

In California’s Sacramento Valley, a group of misfits meet once a month to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. The publicity blurb would have us believe they’re ordinary people, neither happy nor unhappy, but all wounded in different ways, all mixed up about their lives and relationships. This is an understatement. If these people are 'ordinary' I'm leaving the planet. 'Ordinary people' these are not. Monthly clubs devoted to book discussion are filled with the lost and the lonely. Trust me. I've been there. It was a close call.

Despite my feelings on the subject, I liked this book. A little slow to start it gained in interest rapidly and I found myself drawn in. Certainly a good read for a rainy afternoon or a holiday. It made me want to re-read Austen – and indeed, although her books are all in print, this small novel has created something of a renaissance – always a good thing.

That's it for this month. In November I shall be reviewing, among others, Alison Weir's 'Innocent Traitor'. I am half way through and am having to limit myself to twenty minutes at a time. One, because it's so beautifully written, with descriptions that evoke all the senses (take note VH) and two, because I can't imagine what will take its place after I've read the last page.


Well, it's been a very literary summer in the Gooru household. I, particularly, have taken on British literary giants - in the shape of Shakespeare, no less, and John Betjeman, Poet Laureate. Ok, Ok, the Shakespeare was a veerrry slim volume by Bill Bryson, so obviously commissioned by Harper as part of their 'eminent lives' series. It's great reading and I learned a lot from it but felt, all the way through that it was a book he did for the dosh. It is not as though there weren't enough books on the bard around, around 4,000 new books are published annually - yes 4,000 - on Shakespeare. Bryson states quite early on in the book that it is not because the world needs another book on him but that the series does. There are some fascinating facts - The Bard coined no less than 2035 new words, in Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, new words appear on average every two and a half lines! Words like critical, barefaced, dwindle, horrid, lonely and even zany... Worth a read, if only to find out how little is actually known about him, and, to realise how easy it would have been for his works not to have survived.

It's a fair bet that unless you were brought up in the UK in the 60's to 80's you will never have heard of John Betjeman, we had a couple of LPs of him reading his poems to music - Betjeman's Banana Blush was one of them. He had a rather wonderful 'plumby' voice, and a mad laugh. He was a hugely best-selling poet (selling over two million copies of a collection of his poems) who, as it turns out in this fascinating book by A. N. Wilson, led an extraordinarily complicated life. He was married to Penelope for over 50 years and throughout much of it had a relationship with Elizabeth Cavendish - one of princess Margaret's Ladies in Waiting, and had time to have other affairs too! Here was a devout Christian riddled and raddled with guilt who was the nation's favourite poet and broadcaster - He made wonderful documentaries about his favourite subjects Architecture and Churches)

It is a fascinating read, even if you have never head of the man, A. N. Wilson has pieced together, through letters (copious amounts, by all accounts) interviews and great research, a really unputdownable and moving biography.

Nicci French, on the other hand, is definitely not literary, nor is she a she. Nicci is a married couple who write psychological thrillers, I had never read one before, having only seen a TV movie based on one of their books and a god-awful film with Jeremy Irons, whose name escapes me and that was so bad I can't be bothered to look it up for you.(Sorry) But 'Beneath the Skin' was on the shelf, unread (by me) so I thought I'd give it a try. Deja vu - deja vu - deja vu - it was so familiar I was convinced I had already read it - i hadn't, of course, it's just that Nicci seems to be a one trick pony (ponies?)

I have been watching the new Spooks: Code 9 - about 2012 post-apocalyptic Britain (after a nuclear attack on London) - Episode four and we are not sure, La Goora and I - not convinced about the acting or the stories. This may change, the last episode was much better - but we can't wait for later this month when Spooks proper returns to the screens in the UK.

A friend sent a period drama to us over the summer, Miss Austen Regrets, was a BBC production originally planned to be shown alongside the excellent Jane Austen novels filmed for ITV (I know, complicated, but they were a co-production with a US TV station). Approaching her 40th year she helps her neice find a husband, it was a delight and starred Olivia Williams and the excellent Greta Scacchi. Try and get hold of it, it is a little masterpiece.

I'm off now - nice to see you again - hope you had a great summer


Every now and then I crave a bit of romance. A book with a feisty heroine, a great hero, an unusual setting and a decent, believable back story. Bella Pollen has managed to satisfy my every wish. Alice Coleman is a wonderful creation and Pollen has given her character the sense of humour and courage that makes you want to meet her, to empathise with her and reassure her that, yes, you know just how she feels.

Caught in a failing marriage, Alice has left London and her property developer husband, Robert (and such is her skill that she makes you loathe and despise him in barely a sentence) and taken their 2 young children, Jack and Emmy, to stay in Temerosa, Arizona for a year where, due to a bad business investment, they are now the reluctant owners of a 500 acre ranch.

All does not, of course, go to plan. The story that unfolds, involving illegal Mexican immigrants, murder, intrigue and Duval, the laconic and captivating hero of the piece, allows us to explore the complex psychology that drives us, the importance of family and the choices that are forced upon us, compelling us to make decisions, often unwillingly and often, because we lose perspective, to choose badly. This book is riveting, intelligent, funny and touching. Truth be told I'd run off into the sunset with Duval, but will Alice?


Our fascination with the Second World War and in particular the Nazi regime, seems endless. It also seems that every slant, every fact, every possible point of view must surely have been covered. The Welsh Girl gives us something more to think about. Set in a remote Snowdonian village in 1944, Captain Rotheram, a German born Jew seconded to British Intelligence, arrives to interrogate Rudolf Hess, ultimately to ascertain whether he is fit for trial. The interviews make interesting reading and Hess is chillingly well-drawn.

The isolated village, with its anti-war, anti-English bigotry, gives an insight into the Welsh character which is still relevant today. Esther Evans, 17 years old, living with her widowed father on a sheep farm, finds the sudden influx of English Sappers, drafted in to build a camp for German prisoners, more than a distraction. But when they leave and the prisoners arrive, Esther finds herself drawn towards Karsten, a soldier only a year older than herself. Shunned by the other inmates for choosing to save his men by surrender, he is tormented by what he sees as his own cowardice. There are some good characterisations here and a fine sense of period. Jim, the young English evacuee, whose acceptance by the local children is hard won. Karsten himself and Captain Rotheram, whose circumstances have set him so far apart that he can't find his place in the world. Overall, this is a story about relationships and how the conditions of conflict can test and damage even the most resolute. An interesting subject, well presented.

Remarkable and, at times, quite beautiful prose, raise this book to a literary level beyond just another war story. As the only child of Czech immigrants growing up in New York, the boy is fascinated by his father’s tales of their homeland, confused by his mother’s strange moods and curious about a war that he could only read about. As he grows to manhood he decides to go back, to visit the places his father has mentioned and to find the truth about his mother. The Visible World, set against the German occupation of Prague, centres around the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and his mother’s affair with Tomáš Bém, one of the assassins. The characterisation is faultless and by the end we feel we have come to know the cast of courageous men and women who defied the Nazi regime and paid the price. A good, absorbing read in the tradition of story-telling as it should be.

The film of the book came out ages ago with Johnny Depp, Juliet Binoche and Judy Dench. It may be that you’ve seen the film and felt the hype didn’t quite match the reality, it didn’t do well at the Box Office – one of those strange flops that have no rhyme or reason, because I thought it was a wonderful film and captured the essence of the book perfectly. But if you have seen the film, don't let it put you off reading the novel because it truly is a wonderful story.

It's set in the small French village of Lansquenet, where Vianne Rocher and her young daughter, Anouk, come to open a chocolate shop. From the very beginning we realise that Vianne is not at all what she seems. Apart from anything else, why has she arrived at the beginning of Lent? And why set up her premises opposite the Church? Doesn't she realise she runs the risk of alienating the priest? Or doesn't she care? He believes chocolate is sinful, she believes it's quite the opposite. But when she announces her plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival, he's outraged, taking it as a deliberate provocation. Vianne teases him and tries to tempt him into trying some of her chocolate, careless, even when she realises she's made a dangerous enemy. She's far more interested in the people of Lansquenet and how she can entice them into her shop. But one by one she overcomes their suspicion and wins their friendship and we see that her arrival in the village does indeed have a purpose.

This is quite the best book Joanne Harris has written. It has all the key elements for an absorbing read – mystery, intrigue, romance and excellent characterisation. Harris has drawn her characters beautifully and somehow she makes you believe that chocolate really can release hidden passions.

This book made me laugh out loud. Kate Atkinson has been hailed as the female Alan Bennett, a title well-deserved. It's fluent and witty, a fine balance between tragi-comedy and the absolute ridiculous.

Set in the 50's in York, it's written from the perspective of Ruby Lennox. Born to the proprietors of a pet shop in the shadow of York Minster, she starts her tale from the womb. And it works well. Atkinson makes it work. Born while her mother's husband is in a Doncaster pub, telling a woman in an emerald green dress that he isn't married, she arrives into a ready made family of two sisters, both of them terrifying in their own way. From page one you're right there with her.

So now we are into the 'Que calor!' stage again and 'it's come too suddenly, no time to prepare!' - Prepare for what? This is late June in Valencia, traditionally hot, soaring temperatures and humid. And, as always at this time, in the early day and weeks of the heat, bad tempers on the roads and in the streets. Once everyone is used to it, by the end of summer, it will be cooling down again.

But hey, it's school holiday time, 11 weeks of time off for kids and teachers, and lots of beach time for all of us. Which means it's time for beach reads and more than just music on you iPods and mp3 players.

Let's start with iPods (or similar), there is a wealth of stuff legitimately downloadable from the web - Podcasts from the site - Quite a comedy and chat shows are available, and if you have a recording software that will record streaming audio, the possibilities are endless. The BBC alone has enough online live and in listen again to keep even the most jaded listener happy. If you have never listened to the wonderful "I'm sorry I'll read that again" with the late, great Humphrey Littleton in the chair, now is your chance, they are repeating the best episodes throughout the summer. This is classic British comedy at its very best. Our other Radio 4 favourites are Loose Ends (not quite as good in Clive Anderson's hands as before in Ned Sherrin's), a regular and very entertaining round table chat, and Saturday Live with Fi Glover. Fi does a great job with this eclectic mix of interview, documentary and poetry. Radio 2 has the very funny and surprisingly clever Jonathan Ross Saturday show.

Then there are the excellent plays on Radio four, one every afternoon, another every Friday and Saturday night. The BBC site is fantastic, it is probably one of the best sites on the WWW, and if you search you'll find, on a daily basis, a treasure trove of not only Spoken word, from News to Politics to Comment and Opinion to Culture and Comedy and, of course, music, great Jazz, world and Classical Radio Three and the latest on Radio One and Six. Finally there is a great American site that has a show called Morning Becomes Eclectic, hosted by an Englishman Nic Harcourt, who has been in LA so long he now has a drawl that is more Los Angeles than English. The show regularly features extended live performances from international bands and performers. Its all there just waiting for your MP3 Player.

If none of the above satisfies your taste buds - go on iTunes and check out the thousands of Podcasts there, favourites for us here are the fabulous "The New Yorker" magazine podcasts, and they're free!

If you record half of the stuff I mention above you won't need to take books to the beach, but if you want a couple of recommendations I am happy to oblige! I don't know about you but I am lousy at keeping a diary, I start out with great intentions but by about the third week of the year it start to gather dust. Reading other people's diaries however is a favourite pastime of mine, so when I came across Alec Guinness "My Name Escapes Me" I naturally snapped it up. He freely admits that this is a diary he was commissioned to write (for Penguin Books), though he had kept a diary since 1962, 'a series of daily jottings...the only use I have ever found for them has been to settle arguments when my wife and I have disagreed about when or where or who with on years long past.' This book is a delight, 18 months from January 1995. It is a fascinating insight into the life of this great actor as he begins to slow down. He was 81 when he wrote this and is still so sociable and active. He is surprisingly candid and unselfconscious. A lovely book.

I haven't read more than a few pages of it yet, but The Visible World by Mark Slouka, comes highly recommended to me from my friend B. A good source of reading material is B. This book is set in Nazi occupied Prague and is a literary tour de force, and I am already hooked.

I tried reading Louis de Bernieres, Birds without Wings, yet again this month, but failed, yet again to get past the first chapter. This is the third time I have attempted it, and I will keep trying. I had the same trouble with Captain Corelli, but in the end my perseverance paid off and it is still one of my favourite novels of all time.

Have a wonderful summer - see you next time

It's amazing how the weather takes up so much of our time in conversation wherever you are in the world. The British have a terrible reputation for it, but I would say the Valencians are as bad, if not worse! Particularly when the weather is slightly unusual like, say, the past 9 years. When we first arrived on these shores all those years ago to live, there was a heatwave on. That is what we were told by everyone we encountered - 'Que Calor! This is hotter than we ever remember!' This was followed by a particularly wet autumn, and this of course, was described by all you met as quite extraordinary and 'not in living memory' etc. Successive seasons and years have proved to just as unusual, so my question is this. Is the weather really changing that much, or does everyone have a really bad memory? I have to say that I don't personally remember a wetter May, when so many events have been washed out, a Valencian friend tells me the last time was 15 years ago. It would be nice to think it goes some way to helping improve the almost disastrous water situation in the Comunidad Valenciana this summer.

I have to say though, that it is surprising how depressing these grey days have been...

From weather to food now, A Late Dinner by Paul Richardson, is subtitled Discovering the food of Spain. It is a journey through the country in search of the Spanish Cuisine - through some of the great restaurants, chefs and growers of the country. We visit most parts of the country, and many of Spain's finest restaurants, including, of course, El Bulli, superstar chef Ferran Adrià's celebrated restaurant. Food has certainly changed in this country over the past few years - just look at Valencia and how many excellent new eateries have opened, but still most food is rooted in the peasant cooking of the past. Much as I liked this book, and the writing is often inspired, I felt that he should have taken the reader to some more of the ordinary places and people's homes.

Back to the weather now, through a crime novel by a writer who is new to me, Stephen Booth's Dying to Sin is a great read. Set in the Peak District in the middle of winter, weather features heavily, rain and cold hamper the police as they try to find out who killed the two bodies found in shallow graves on an isolated farm. I shall be looking out for others in the series, there seem to be nine novels so far, featuring the two main detectives.

If you are a regular reader of this column you will already know that I am a great fan of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. So I was really pleased when one of the Goorettes bought me a copy of her latest book Two Caravans. Marina is a seriously funny writer, in this novel she tackles migrant workers, both legal and illegal in Britain today, starting in two caravans on a strawberry farm in Kent and moving on to a road-trip through England to Sheffield. The book is written in several voices including that of a dog and has moments of great satire, slapstick and comedy - it tackles an interesting and difficult subject in a clever and funny way. It gives a very good picture of Britain politically and socially and I thought an even better read than Tractors.

Finally this month a marvellous book, John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels. Early in 1996 The Fenice Opera House in Venice burned to the ground. Berendt, who arrived in the city three days later and intrigued by the rumours flying around Venice as to the cause of the fire (arson?) and its source (Mafia?) decides to stick around to find out more , not just about the fire but about Venice too. This is a who's who of Venice, Berendt seems to get close to anyone who is anyone in the city. It is beautifully written, you feel that you are reading a novel. My only gripe is that he regularly puts words into people's mouths, he writes their dialogue even when he is not witness to what they are saying, but it is a very minor gripe. I couldn't put this book down. Now I can't wait to read his previous, massive best seller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Let's hope that by the time you are reading this Valencia's weather is back to normal.

See you next month

Whilst the rest of Valencia's population was out enjoying Fallas along with the record number of Tourists from out of town, there was I, having to sit at home reading and watching stuff for this column. I had, after all, had a holiday from it last month as the editor of this tome decided that no one would want to read about books when there was a serious amount of street-partying to do!

Have you tried reading when there is a constant stream of revellers, bands, falleras courtiers and their families passing by your window making noise...and don't get me started about the fireworks. Were they noisier than ever this year? I am not complaining, I love Fallas, I still marvel at how a modern working city can literally give itself over to its people, shutting streets and whole areas for hours and even days, just so people can enjoy themselves. I also never cease to be amazed at the constant clean-up operations following any of the events, armies of street cleaners both human and mechanical, bravely and swiftly clean the city over and over and over again.

Of course I am lying, I was out there all the time, barely missed a Mascletá or a Castillo and even did my favourite walk from mascletá to mascletá around Ruzafa, just can't get enough of that thump in the chest!chest!

I did do some reading though, quite a lot actually, from historical to factual to a little crime. Let's start with the historical - Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain. This book is the last thing I would want to read but a very good friend of mine insisted I try it. I reluctantly started it, thinking I would probably not get past the first few chapters but was enthralled from almost the word go. It is a marvellous book set in 17th century Denmark at the court of King Christian IV. His country and his adulterous wife are slipping away from him. His only comfort is a young Lutenist, newly arrived to play in his orchestra. It is an intricately structured and marvellously atmospheric tale of opposites and I can't recommend it enough. I for one will be reading much more of Rose Tremain.

Faye Kellerman, a name I often see on second-hand bookshelves and have never read, so I picked a rather dog-eared copy of one of her books, Prayers for the Dead, that was lying around in a spare bedroom. It was a fairly well written but ultimately very dissatisfying read, and all a bit distasteful too, so I won't be visiting Faye again in a hurry. Don't you love it when publishers are so desperate for you to understand that a book is in the style of something else that not only is the cover artwork a dead ringer for the original, the title too is similar (and in a similar typeface) if they are really desperate they get the poor author to change his name so it sounds more like the original. Such is the case with The Righteous Men (the end of the world is coming. One body at a time) By Sam Bourne (the biggest challenger to Dan Brown - get it?) Despite everything, I really enjoyed this book and everybody knows I hate Dan Brown. Why Jonathan Freed-land would agree to change his name is beyond me. A lot of the novel centres around the Hassidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and makes fascinating reading.

Val McDermott has had her novels made into a UK TV series Wire in the Blood, a friend was saying how good the show was and I had a copy of The Mermaids Singing, so decided to read it, A brutal serial killer is on the loose in the gay community of a northern town - this is seriously stomach churning stuff, I almost gave up, nasty all the way through.

DVD and television now, grab a copy of the BBC's excellent The Last Enemy, Benedict Cumber-batch stars in a thriller about a man whose search for the truth about his brother's death catapults him into an international conspiracy. Also starring Robert Carlyle and Geraldine James, The Last Enemy is an exciting and well made pacey thriller showing how technology could transform Britain into a surveillance society - threatening human relationships and destroying trust. On a par with Spooks, which is still the best thing on TV.

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip - The Complete Series, is about to be released on DVD. If you didn't catch it on TV before it was unceremoniously axed last year watch it now. Aaron Sorkin (West Wing) over estimated the American Audience with this series starring Matthew Perry, based around the writers and performers of a series based on Saturday Night Live. Brilliant.

Finally, get someone to tape ITV's Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach and let me know what you think! Moving Wallpaper is a comedy 'documentary' on the making of a tacky soap, Echo Beach. It is shown on ITV followed immediately by the actual Show Echo Beach, starring Martine McCutcheon and Jason Donovan. Just can't decide whether we love it or hate it!

That's it from me for this month

Have fun





Gay and Lesbian Valencia
Days out, fiestas and more in Valencia
the towns and villages of Valencia
Shop till you drop in Valencia
On being a woman in Valencia
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Raunchy and rude Valencia


Gooru on Comedy DVDs

Gooru on Magazines

Gooru on Mysteries and Murders

Gooru on summer reading

Gooru Post Fallas

Gooru and the damaged bookshelves from Ikea







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