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Sunday, 29 December 2013

ICELAND - 'a foreign world'

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent set in ICELAND

This review can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Thursday, 26 December 2013

SAUDI ARABIA: a luminous portrait of life in the desert

1960s Saudi Arabia. Author Kim Barnes has phenomenally captured the feel of the Kingdom of that period, all set in the wider context of the political world stage. Women still haven't found a voice, even more so in the artificial life that is the compound of ex-pat life. This is a woman's life of drinks parties, filling time, secret drinnking and interminable boredom. But it's not enough for Mrs Gin McPhee.

Gin comes from a very poor background in Oklahoma and through her marriage to Mason her horizons broaden. They move to the Aramco processing facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia (the plant and location are for real) and it is here she eventually finds her calling as a photographer. Although she clearly has talent, she is thwarted by censorship, which photos can and can't be published, and indeed some photos could ultimately lead to deportation. It is a risky business. Life is regulated for foreigners and particularly foreign women. Her husband spends many days away at the facility and so she socialises with other American women, and builds a friendship with one woman in particular, Ruthie, who shows her the ropes. She also builds relationships with her houseboy Yash, her husband's driver and an Italian photographer in an attempt to manage her bored frustration. These relationships are intriguing, although they seem to develop too easily and too quickly in this artificial world in the desert.

The novel starts like an airplane landing - it really hits the tarmac running - and then gradually taxis its way along the runway to its end, an ultimately rather unfulfilling conclusion. 

It is nevertheless rich in detail about life in the country and about ex-pat life in particular, some of which still holds true today. Nothing can sum up how  the locale is portrayed like the words of the author herself on her blog: Set against the gorgeously etched landscape of a country on the cusp of enormous change, In the Kingdom of Men abounds with sandstorms and locust swarms, shrimp pedlars, pearl divers, and Bedouin caravans - a luminous portrait of life in the desert.

And wherever in the world you pick up your copy of the book, the cover is a delightful reflection of the era of the late 1960s. A refreshing change from the more typical books set in Saudi Arabia, which loudly announce the setting through the prolific use of the niqab, a trifle formulaic, I feel. If Windmill Books (publishers of In the Kingdom of Men) can produce a simple, clear and lovely cover, so can other publishing houses.  We have brought together just a little collage to underpin this observation...

Tina and the TripFiction Team

Do come and join us on Twitter and Facebook, and share your reviews of any books you have read that evoke locale on the TripFiction website.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

TripFiction's noteworthy books of 2013

Our top three reads of 2013


"I haven’t read a more enthralling work this year." Read more here


A good story that will bring this country to the reader, its red heat, its people, the cultural clashes and its fossils. Read more here including an interview with the author


Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives. Read more here

Our top book cover 2013


We just loved the composition and colour of this book, so much so that we asked for a comment from the publisher's about how the cover came into being.

You can find our review and the story behind the cover here

Our most quirky reads of 2013


Not the country as you or I know it! This is an intriguing peak into the Indian bedroom, both past and present, across the continent, and offers a marvellous insight into sexual mores and so much more. Our review here


Your marriage comes to an end. You find the courage to go and live in a new city in search of a new life. Not many people can claim to have done this. But this is the story of Marilyn who did just that. You can read our review here

The book cover that didn't match content 2013


A modern day take on what it means to live in New York from an outsider's perspective. Our review here

The book that really needed a proofreader 2013


This is a well travelled novel that is in its own way a good storyline. But what let's it down is the proof reading and the cover - read more here

The book that lingered 2013


"The right cocktail of people, the perfect blend for calamity" Read more here 

The author interview that triumphed 2013


"A story of drama and culture, that transported me to Zambia" Read more here

And that was our year 2013 in books. Needless to say many books and novels have passed through our doors, many of which we would have loved to feature here. Next year for us will be exciting times, lots more books hitting the website and lots of new things coming on line (including a new-look website). Come and follow us on the journey via Twitter and Facebook. Have a great festive period and a good 2014! From Tony, Tina, Tom, Charlotte, Ann and Sandra.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

KRAKÓW - 'a magical city of folklore and fables'

Our review of Winter Under Water, set in Kraków can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Perfect Gems of City Writing - just blame it on the Acropolis

The city-lit and city-pick books are the amuse bouches of city literary writing. A wonderful way to travel to a place through the eyes of the many selected authors, chosen for their fabulous literary representation of the locale, all collated in one single book. We have focussed on three of the books that Oxygen books have published, and each is reviewed by a TripFiction team member who knows that city well.  Each book focusses entirely on a single city, and the publishers have brought together extracts from published works, written by well known authors that really bring the featured city to the reader. If you are a traveller, this series will enhance your trip, without a doubt!

Tina travels to London

I am a Londoner by birth and so I was keen to read city-lit London, and was charmed by the chosen passages from top authors. For me it was like having a box of chocolates, each featured author just captured the feel of parts of the city. Observations about queuing or food habits, or the great North/South Divide (referring of course to the Thames that divides the city). Pageantry in the capable hands of Jan Morris (A Writer's World); Colin MacInnes extolls the virtues of the Thames embankment; fictional character Henry Perowne gazes across the city in Iain McEwan's novel Saturday; the run down streets of Hackney contrast with the wealth of the city, and Brick Lane comes to technicolor life in Monica Ali's capable hands.

I revisited my home city through the fresh eyes of authors both contemporary and historical and this is a wonderful way to connect with and understand the bustling metropolis.

Gisela travels to Berlin

This is ideal for a quick dip. The work that must have gone into collating these little gems, including a great variety of authors describing a great variety of Berlin foibles, characteristics, situations  and history (both good and bad); oh, and that Berlin wit is sharp, it is to the point but rarely crude. It is a delight to read the odd passage, and enjoy a brief encounter with the city. Some things described are delightful, other heart reading, and the character of the typical Berliner comes across with real clarity. The cabaret, not to be missed and other things to do as a visitor, some obvious, some less so. Take it with you when you go and you will glean a lot from this lovely book of edited highlights!

Ann travels to Venice

I adore Venice so finding this book has been a delight. It provides bite size excerpts from fiction set in Venice. It has transported me back there from my sofa, but if you did not know Venice it will give you a sense of the magic this wonderful place holds. The stories are from living and dead authors. It has introduced me to books about Venice I would not necessarily have come across. The short piece from 'The Innocents Abroad' by Mark Twain (1869) left me laughing out loud and I hope I can get the book to read from start to finish. At the other end of emotional experience there is a piece from Salley Vickers' Miss Garnet's Angel. I visited the church which features in this novel and so it brought back wonderful, warm feelings.

The book is full of humour, cultural and travel experiences. I particularly enjoyed the short piece by Henry James from Italian Hours describing arriving by train; that's how I did on my last visit and even though James wrote it in 1909 it could have just been yesterday. This is a book to dip in and out as you might a travel guide.

Publisher Malcolm Burgess takes us on the journey that led to the creation of these popular urban writing anthologies.

Oxygen Books' city-pick series: the left-field city guide series that began on the slopes of the Acropolis

It started on the slopes of the Acropolis ....

No, nothing to do with Zeus, but rather the birth of Oxygen Books and our leftfield city guide series.

It was a hot afternoon in Athens and we were in a long, winding queue up to the Parthenon. I said to my wife 'I would love to read some selections of modern writing about Athens.' We had the guide books of course but nothing to inspire you and give you a taste for a city the way good fiction or non-fiction can.

Later we searched the city's bookshops to see if such an expertly curated sampler book existed but found nothing. A similar search back home in London found selections of old writing - copyright free we later discovered - but nothing either.

'Hey, then, why don't we do it ourselves,' we madly said. We had some savings, I used to work for HarperCollins and my wife was a freelance editor.

It was a hunch of course, a series featuring some of the best ever writing on favourite world cities that would appeal to, er, people like us.

At least we knew there would be two readers.

It all actually happened rather quickly as we put our money where our mouth was and got to work on our first book on Paris, a city we knew well.

It was a revelation. There was just so much fantastic writing on the city: classic novels, modern novels, novels that hadn't been translated, non-fiction, blogs, journalism. In fact, as was later confirmed, here is just too much fantastic writing on most cities. Already we knew we could have published several books on Paris and still had material over.

We garnered some nice reviews and sales were steady if not spectacular. But the floodgate had been opened and we were approached left, right and centre with suggestions from across the world.

Hardly a day went by when we weren't being asked to publish an urban anthology on writing about Buenos Aires or Sydney or dozens of other world cities, although we did think Guernsey was a little odd.

We needed to focus and to please our unflappable bank manager and so decided to concentrate on popular cities where people took city-breaks. Although, as we found out, many people read us who never visit the city concerned but just enjoy 'armchair reading'.

LondonBerlin, Dublin, Venice, Amsterdam, New York, St Petersburg and Istanbul have followed. Not only have we had the time of our lives visiting these cities, from Berlin in the snow and Venice in its Aqua Alto to Dublin in the midst of its banking crisis, but we've also loved meeting all the people there passionate about their city's writing.

Publishers, booksellers, librarians and translators in all these cities have overwhelmed us with their ideas and enthusiasm. Fortunately we were able to work with co-editors in many of these cities, as well as cultural institutes, whose ears to the ground made sure we got the very best writing.

Our plans for the future? Several more cities are being considered for 2015 but next year we're continuing our mission of producing books about different kinds of journeys with an An Everywhere: a little book about reading by Heather Reyes, which Helen Dunmore has already called 'a brilliant travel guide to the world of books.'

Just blame it on the Acropolis. We do. 

You can follow Oxygen books on Twitter and find out more about the gems of city writing on their website

You can also follow TripFiction on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, 12 December 2013

"INDIA: Technicolor in Life, Technicolor in Love"

The Kama Sutra Diaries by Sally Howard set in India

This post now appears on the new TripFiction site here

Click on the cover to purchase

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

TUSCANY: beaches + romance + locale (what more do you need?)

Save the Date! by Allie Spencer set in Tuscany

This post now appears on the new TripFiction website here

Friday, 6 December 2013

BROOKLYN - "A bold piece"

Someone by Alice McDermott set in Brooklyn

This post can now be found on the new TripFiction site here

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

ZAMBIA - Where there's a will there's a way

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison set in Lusaka, Zambia

Our review plus author Q & A can now be found on the new TripFiction site here