For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Ramadan is a special month although it can be arduous for those of us who aren’t fasting, and who do want to watch The Dark Knight Rises before September.

The Malls are quiet in the daytimes, and the evenings revolve around huge Iftar buffets you can barely walk away from afterwards. Basically, as the heat reaches its apogee and your behavior is restricted (come on, guys, never forget that we’re guests in a Muslim country) a lot of the time there’s nothing more appealing than staying in with a good book. (Or a DVD boxset, but this is a book blog, so there’s not really the wiggle-room to suggest that if you liked The Sopranos you’ll love Boardwalk Empire).

Here are a few suggestions for some stand-out books of the moment you could be enjoying…

Pocket Kings – Ted Heller
The third book from Ted Heller – son of Joseph “Catch-22” Heller and inheritor of the same mordant wit – is a dark comic novel about one man’s slide into online poker addiction. This is a great read.

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The sequel to the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall continues the story of Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII. In this book, Henry has broken with Rome in order to remarry, but the pressure is on Anne Boleyn to bear him that all-important male heir… As ever, superb writing and an immersive style make this a rare treat for book lovers.

Lionel Asbo – Martin Amis
If you’re a homesick Brit, this scathing and brutal attack on the shortcomings of our homeland may just remind you that, all things being equal, we’re better off out of it! It’s a squalid tale of lottery-winning louts, chavs, the tabloid press, benefit fraud and the nature of our fixation with “celebrities”. Amis remains a great observer of life and a peerless writer.

The Twilight War – David Crist
For those who prefer a nice factual tome, the hot book right now is The Twilight War: the dramatic secret history of America’s undeclared thirty-year conflict with Iran. This surreptitious war began with the Iranian revolution and simmers today inside Iraq and in the Persian Gulf. Fights rage in the shadows, between the CIA and its network of spies and Iran’s intelligence agency. Battles are fought at sea with Iranians in small speedboats attacking Western oil tankers. This conflict has frustrated five American presidents, divided administrations, and repeatedly threatened to bring the two nations into open warfare. It is a story of shocking miscalculations, bitter debates, hidden casualties, boldness, and betrayal.

Doctor Who: Dark Horizons – Jenny Colgan
There are Doctor Who fans everywhere, even in Dubai where it’s one of the most-watched programmes on the BBC iPlayer. Bestselling chick-lit author Jennie Colgan is also a fan, and so she’s written her own Doctor Who novel. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, an ancient race who mastered time itself, and he travels through time and space in the TARDIS chasing monsters up corridors. There’s probably more time-travel and aliens and less of the white wine and 30’s singledom theme as in her other books, but it’s still well worth a look as a way to pass the time before the new series begins in the autumn.

The Quantum Universe – Prof Brian Cox
There are those who find my bias for fiction baffling, and frivolous. So, let me come at those critics hard with some cold, hard facts, and unleash…some science! From the bestselling authors of Why does E=mc2? comes The Quantum Universe, in which Brian Cox, presenter of the BBC’s Wonders of the Solar System, and Jeff Forshaw go on a brilliantly ambitious mission to show that everyone can understand the deepest questions of science. This world-wideTop Ten bestseller now contains an updated chapter on the remarkable progress in the search for the Higgs boson particle. But just what is quantum physics? How does it help us understand our amazing world? Where does it leave Newton and Einstein? And why, above all, can we be sure that the theory is good? Here, Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw give us the real science behind the bizarre behaviour of the atoms and energy that make up the universe, and reveal exactly how everything that can happen, does happen.

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian – Eoin Colfer
One of the most eagerly-awaited kids books of 2012 is the new, and final, book in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. This is one of the most popular series for younger readers since a certain little wizard hung up his spectacles and expectations are high for this thrilling yarn.

Malda’s Notable Notes

July 19, 2012

ImageThis book is the most unique story I’ve ever read. An entire concept made up, to make up a story that is both strange (in a fun, quirky way) and really entertaining to read. It’s one of those books where the author shifts back and forth in time and in character but it all comes together as the chapters go by. (Short chapters if I may add. I love short chapters.)

ImageMaximilian Ponder is a clever and curious young man who comes up with an idea while contemplating life, human limitations, and memories. He realizes that at any point in our lives we will forget things we have learned or faced in our past and will be unable to ever retrieve that memory fully back again. So he starts a project where he records every bit of information he has stored in that notable brain of his, from the earliest memories possible till the end of his days. Many events occur that shape Max’s bizarre character and his reason to pursue the excessively time-consuming project he sets out to create. And it’s all down to his childhood friend, Adam Last, who narrates Max’s life as his only resort to explain Max’s gruesome, yet sad death.

You can’t help but be impressed by the level of creativity and detail that the author puts into Max’s character and the project that’s carefully thought out as if it truly existed. This is J. W. Ironmonger’s first and only novel inspired by the loss of his father and the loss of memories shared with him. It’s an enjoyable read fit for a teenager and young adult to dive into during the summer. It’s also eye-opening in a way, in respect to how we should view events that take place in our lives that form these memories. When we do remember, we either don’t remember the complete story or our recollection of that memory is almost entirely different than how things actually went down.

“Keep a diary, and someday it’ll keep you.” – Mae West

Out of Office Girl

July 19, 2012

This week Zeeba – who ironically has just moved into a new role in our head office – has been reading a book called Out of Office Girl

With the melting heat and hair-destroying humidity currently sitting on th region like a hot angry cloud, most people are now headed on their way to cooler places. And a perfect book for that perfect holiday would be Out of Office Girl by Nicola Doherty.

It’s a light summery read about a woman, Alice Roberts, who is sent on a work trip to Italy to cover a story in the place of her boss. Turns out to be exactly what she needs with a job she hates, a boss she hates even more and a non-existent love life.

What she finds there might be a new beginning or an even bigger mess than she left behind. Which one is it? Read and find out!

This book is a lot like its plot, pure escapism. With a great story-line, a relatable lead character and a great many laughs, this book left me with a big smile on my face and made me forget for a while about Dubai, its rushes and smouldering heat. I guarantee it will do the same for you.

And the best news of all? It’s part of our 3 for 2 offer!

-Zeeba

Thank your lucky stars!

July 17, 2012

Today we’re drawing your attention to this brilliant new series of books for girls: Lucky Stars.

Explore the magical world of the stars – where wishes really do come true – with this collectable, irresistible new series for younger readers.

One night Cassie is gazing at the twinkling sky, when suddenly a shooting star zooms into her bedroom and transforms, into Stella Starkeeper. Stella and Cassie fly to the secret world of the stars, and Cassie discovers she is destined to be a Lucky Star – someone who can grant real wishes. But first Cassie must collect six magical charms and use their powers wisely – helping other people’s wishes to come true. Only then will she become a fully fledged Lucky Star!

In book one, THE BEST FRIEND WISH, Cassie meets Stella Starkeeper and is given a special charm bracelet. She must learn how to use the magical charms wisely and find someone who needs her help. Could Alex, the boy staying at her mum and dad’s B & B, have a secret wish?

FREE charm and bracelet with book one! FREE charm with books 2-6! At Virgin Megastores now!

In another coup, Virgin Books were lucky enough to get to speak with the cult UK author Jake Arnott about David Bowie, The Sopranos, and his amazing new novel, The House of Rumour.

Tell us about your new novel, what inspired it, and how long you’ve been working on it.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve had this idea of a novel that follows the structure of the Tarot so when I came across a rumour that Ian Fleming and Aleister Crowley had been involved in a plot to lure Rudolf Hess to Scotland I knew that I had a form in which I could tell this wild and improbable story (Crowley was working on a new Tarot deck at the time) and at gave me the opportunity to incorporate many other tales that spin off from this event –SF writers, cults, conspiracies, double agents and gender benders. It’s a particle accelerator of a novel –things whizz around and collide. It’s taken me about three years to write.

On a slightly crass note, and apologies for this, you must be thrilled with the cover design, it’s a stunning look for a novel. How did you react when you first saw the design?

Not a crass note at all. I’m hugely impressed by the cover design and very grateful to Alasdair Oliver and the art department for coming up with such a great image. Covers are very tricky things to get right –they have to make a statement –they can’t be too subtle nor too obvious. I loved this one the moment I saw it.

Is David Bowie still a fan of your work?

I hope so. I remain a great fan of his, he’s such a literary rock star, after all. And he has a brief cameo in the novel –one of my characters is cracking up on the video shoot for ‘Ashes to Ashes’ on a beach in Southend.

What music and TV of recent years has inspired you artistically?

I’ve been revisiting the New Romantic days in my recent novel so that’s been a bit of soundtrack for me. And, once again, Bowie (he gets everywhere) particularly ‘Station to Station’ –there’s references to the Kaballah and the desire for magical retirement and renewal. And I’ve found myself listening to Wagner’s Parsifal in a vague attempt to get into the head of Rudolf Hess.
I love TV but I tend to watch it to wind down rather than be inspired.

Who are your favourite contemporary writers, and what for you are the greatest novels of the last ten or so years?

There are so many exciting and compelling writers out there in our culture (I’m liable to miss some out) –Patricia Duncker, Louise Welsh, Ned Beauman, China Mieville, David Mitchell, Peter Salmon, I could go on but I’d also say that I’ve been really inspired by stuff coming out of Latin-America in the last ten years or so by writers like Rodrigo Fresán, Andrés Neuman and of course the late Roberto Bolaño –I think his The Savage Detectives is one of the best novels of the last decade or so.

How far do you agree with the popular assertion that U.S. serial TV drama, from The West Wing/Sopranos era onward, has supplanted the novel as the pre-eminent art-form for unfolding narratives?

The problem with the long-running series is that it demands so much commitment without that much insight. But even a really big novel can be read in a fortnight. You can become utterly absorbed and transformed by a book. Then you move on to the next one which will take you somewhere completely different. There’s a simple, wonderful economy to the process that other forms struggle to match. Take Vassily Grossman’s epic Life and Fate –it’s impossible to imagine how television could produce a work as monumental, with all of its complex themes, ideas and emotions. As I said, I love TV, but it doesn’t beat reading.

Are you an iPad kinda guy, a Kindle kinda guy, or an old-fashioned, unapologetic lover of proper books?

The only real e-book technology I use is a Spanish-English dictionary as an app on my iPhone and that’s been fantastically useful. I’ve not tried actual reading on a screen much so I don’t know whether it’s for me or not. Maybe I should try it. I love ‘proper’ books but I like to keep an open mind.

If you weren’t a novelist, what would be your ideal substitute creative career?

Uh-oh, that dangerous word ‘creative’ (only really applied to those in the advertising business). I’m not sure if writing is entirely a creative business. It’s often a process of elimination as much as anything, a destructive energy. I was passing a demolition site the other day and the company taking this building apart called themselves ‘experts in deconstruction’ (like they were French critical theorists or something). So, yeah, why not? Demolition. Give me that crane with a ball and chain.

The House of Rumour is available now from Virgin Megastores.

The State of England

July 7, 2012

Martin Amis is undoubtedly the UK’s most gifted writer, but controversy and the unmistakable whiff of literary jealousy stalk him at every turn.  That he has always seemed a born novelist (Martin is of course the son of Sir Kingsley Amis and his first novel The Rachel Papers was published when he was in his early twenties) and former enfant terrible of the London literary scene seems to annoy most critics and reviewers who are always eager to pour scorn upon his writing, even when (as in, let’s be honest, almost all cases) it’s palpably far better than anything churned out by his peers.

This summer sees the publication of Amis’s latest novel Lionel Asbo: The State of England, an apocalyptic farewell to the UK from an author who has upped sticks and moved to the US. What drove Amis away?

Lionel Asbo follows on thematically from 2003’s Yellow Dog (and the Morning Lark tabloid from that novel makes a welcome return here) and looks at the cultural, economic and moral decline of the once-great Britain, here represented by the scrofulous London borough of Diston, a hot, angry, violent place where nothing good could ever happen.

Lionel Asbo himself is the quintessential chav, an overweight twenty-something man with tattoos, fiercely cultivated ignorance, dangerous dogs, relentlessly low-brow interests, a pathological hatred of the police, contempt for the idea of working, who spends his time in and out of prison for a number of violent and criminal episodes. His life is changed when he wins just short of 140 Million pounds on the Lottery. His nephew Desmond, our chronicler, cursed with sensitivity and intelligence, observes the changes which occur in his bellicose uncle while himself hiding an unbelievably sordid secret of his own. Asbo discovers the property market, fine dining, media attention, and true love with arch media-manipulator Threnody, a former model turned writer and “personality”. Most reviews are quick to observe that Threnody, with her life plotted and scripted by her PR team, is based on Jordan/Katie Price – but this is not really the case. Threnody is obsessed with outdoing another former glamour model, called Danube – this is Katie Price. Threnody is based on Jodie Marsh, who is, for those of you unfamiliar with UK tabloid culture, famous for being a poor man’s Katie Price, or put another way, famous for not even being Katie Price.

The writing bounces along with Amis’s usual, crackling prose, but the style here is – not subdued, perhaps, but more careful, more sustained – gone are the days of omniscient authorial interjection or first-person intrusion. This is a more straightforward work of fiction. Those who noted the difference in Will Self’s work around the time of his novel The Butt will know what I speak of. He’s aiming this as much at new readers as his fans and is taking pains not to scare anyone off. As ever, the plot hinges on one or two far-fetched developments, although great care has been taken to fashion an ending which incontrovertibly works and works well – often criticized for being unable to ‘do’ endings, the rising tension in the last thirty or so pages is amongst the most emotionally affecting, and genuinely suspenseful work this writer has ever produced.

The jokes, though. The subject matter… St. George’s flags adoring every car and home. Pasties. Chavs. Reality TV. Former glamour models writing books. The England Lionel Asbo inhabits, and indeed represents, is a firmly post-millennial England. The book feels like a satirical look at the country in the early years of the previous decade, while Amis has taken pains to set the book categorically in the here-and-now.  As such the targets feel a little obvious in places, even a little too easy.

Speaking at the 2010 Dubai Literary Festival, Amis told us that he’d spent much of the last decade working on one messy novel which only turned out to work once he’d split it into two novels: The Pregnant Widow (2010)  and Lionel Asbo. I can’t imagine how the two could ever have been conjoined, but I can imagine that the time spent tinkering with, and revisiting Lionel Asbo has contributed to the slightly dated feel of the material, and the problem is that the reality of life and culture in the UK could now be portrayed as being far more bankrupt than in the sordid satire presented in the book. If only Amis had included his reactions to the London riots, to celeb magazines and TV shows creating celebrities purely to keep the wheels of content turning, to the austerity measures and, for anyone still insisting England is not such a bad place, to Karen Matthews. Maybe he’s pulling his punches.

However, even a bad Amis novel (and this is certainly not a bad novel by any stretch of the imagination) would be far, far better than most other books out there, and this is one of the year’s unmissable titles. It’s shorter than The Pregnant Widow, but laugh-out-loud funny, extremely entertaining and of genuine relevance.  If you were thinking of flying to the UK this summer, why not save yourself a few thousand dirhams and just buy this book instead?

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We’re giving away 3 signed copies of ‘Insurgent’ by Veronica Roth. All you have to do to win one is tweet us @virginmena using the hashtag #VirginBooks between July 5 and July15.

Insurgent is the much-anticipated second book of the Divergent trilogy series. It’s a dystopian novel, rich with twists, heartbreaks and romance. For those of you that are unaware, dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive or controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian novels have taken over the market like a swarm of bees with some of the best and most popular dystopian novels including titles like 1984, Lord of the Flies or the most recent Hunger Games. If this genre is something that you look forward to reading then we highly suggest you take advantage of this trilogy series.

Summer Reading

June 28, 2012

Have you checked out the brilliant 3 for 2 offer in our book sections in Dubai? We’ve got this fantastic offer on the very best of new releases and bestselling paperbacks.

I picked up my three summer books: number one was Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver (his James Bond novel). I can’t put it down. I particularly liked Bond’s visit to Dubai! It’s really captured the nature and style of an Ian Fleming original, but it’s thoroughly modern and really skillfully written. Bond is up against a really creepy villain, and the mixture of guesswork and deduction involved in spying is really carefully crafted. It’s my first Deaver novel, as I’m not much of a fan of crime, but I do love anything to do with James Bond. I have seen Deaver speak twice, once at EAFL 2010 and once more at a Middle Eastern launch party for Carte Blanche in January 2011, and he’s a very gifted and entertaining speaker and very clear that what he writes is not literature, merely “entertainments”. Well, there are a lot less literary authors out there, and, on the basis of Carte Blanche, few as genuinely entertaining. Check this one out.

 I also picked up Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel Snuff and The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, which has some really positive reviews coming in.

There are so many different kinds of books in the offer, from Romance to Adventure, Literary to Comedy, and we’ve also thrown in a few for the kids too, so there’s something for everyone in our book section right now…

So this week I read a book called Wonder by R J Palacio.

I’m usually a bit wary about books that talk about a child with a birth defect since they usually make a spectacle of the child or make them the victim to reel in readers who then sympathize, but never fully understand the character. So I picked up this book how I imagine a dog would pick up an iffy-looking stick. But everything about this book was breath-taking.

It is about a young boy who was born with severe facial defects, who after being home schooled for most his life, decides wants to attend a real school. There he meets friends and some “villains”. He wants to win them over by showing he’s not what he looks like but a normal boy who loves his X Box and everything all little boys like. What amazed me was the author’s ability to tell this story without making it too complicated for kids while keeping the tone warm and endearing for adults at the same time.

The prose was amazing because it keeps it very simple for children to read and the speed fast to keep their attention. However, the message in the book of fighting through adversity and the strength of those around oneself giving one the strength to face anything is one that would be relatable to adults as well.

The narration style also makes this book a gorgeous read. Taking a page out of Jodi Picoult’s books, Wonder uses various narrations through its many characters, making it easier for the reader to get a lot of different perspectives on the same topic. It also keeps the narration fresh.

My favorite part of this book remains the ending. Not going to spoil it for anyone, but suffice to say it does not resort to cliché endings of grand gestures or sickly sweet morals that make it predictable.

Like the lead character Auggie, this book is heart warming, fresh and uplifting. I would definitely recommend it to kids and adults alike. – Zeeba

This week’s read was a quick, short novel by Kim Barnes called In the Kingdom of Men.

The story is based in the 50’s, a time when feminism was still a thought in the minds of aspiring feminists and everyone was accustomed to living a man’s world. The setting is in two completely different locations that interestingly enough are more alike in their lack of freedom than one might expect. The author starts out the story in conservative Texas by introducing us to a young girl, Gin, who is raised by her strict grandfather who imposes on her his oppressive beliefs. Because of those restrictions, Gin begins to take on a new identity as she discovers the power of lies and risking being punished for the temporary feeling of freedom. Her discreet rebellion causes her to move across the world to Arabia, or Saudi Arabia, where all the adventure takes place.

Can you image Saudi Arabia in the 50’s? In some ways it probably wasn’t as intense as it is in present times since I feel offences were less punishable and the citizens, or the real Bedouins, were more tolerant. However, with the discovery of oil and the new wealth that it brought in, the predicaments people encountered, especially the expats, were far greater and more dangerous in comparison to the simple confines of a household in a compound.

This is where the author takes us in her book. It’s a kingdom of men where the men make the rules and change the rules whereas the women either follow the rules or break the rules, at a higher risk. What you’re left with by the end of the book is your own judgment as the narrator, Gin, poses the question, was it all her fault?

Kim Barnes writes beautiful prose which makes this novel a good, light read that will definitely take your mind elsewhere and make it a thrilling ride females can relate with.