Book Reviews

Sweet Pizza : GR Gemin

Sweet PizzaSweet Pizza by G.R. Gemin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a lot of time for what GR Gemin does. His first novel, Cowgirl, was one of those great serendipitous delights; a book which sang of the unexpected and was so resolutely lovely in that singing, that I was in raptures over it. Still am, really. Good books do that. Even after the knife-sharp detail of that first read fades, they leave echoes. Beats inside you that thrum, thrum, thrum with memory. Of story. Of good story.

I was incredibly honoured to received a proof copy of Gemin’s second novel from Nosy Crow: ‘Sweet Pizza’. The facts, first. It’s out on June 2nd and I’m doing one of those slightly ahead of time review things that I don’t often do. I’m doing this because of things like purchasing and budgets and lead ins and also, basically, because I really liked the book and I wanted to talk about it. Practicalities be damned; let’s get bookish.

Sweet Pizza is set in Bryn Mawr; a town in South Wales. Joe’s family owns the café in Bryn Mawr and things aren’t going terribly well. Joe’s mother is sick of running the café and it’s up to Joe and his entrepreneurial spirit to save the day.

Told in a series of short, concise chapters, this is a delicious story full of heart. I’m starting to suspect that might be Gemin’s things; stories of society and of the goodness within people. Sweet Pizza reminded me a lot of the work of Anne Booth and I suspect there’s something in that some canny librarian teacher types might want to explore further. Socially conscious fiction. Fiction that’s rooted in space and place and people. Lovely, confusing, scared, funny people.

I struggled a little with the chapter formatting of Sweet Pizza. I’m not a fan of very brief chapters because I’m a greedy reader at heart. Short chapters do have their place, they’re a godsend to nervous or slow readers, but I am greedy and I wanted more of Gemin’s story because it is good story, well told. He’s a storyteller and this is a lovely book. I cried at the end of it; and I realised I’d forgotten about the chapters. I’d forgotten about the other things I wanted to do, I’d forgotten really about the world, because all I wanted was here.

View all my reviews

Everything else

First Pages: Cowgirl by G.R Gemin

Today’s book in the slightly-more-intermittent-than-I’d-like first pages series is Cowgirl by G.R Gemin. For those of you who don’t know what this series is about, I have a look at the first pages of books and analyse just how they do what they do. You can look at the previous posts in the series here.

Cowgirl : page one

I have a lot of love for Cowgirl. I first came across it two years ago and read in a slightly feverish burst of joy. I’m revisiting it now as part of my PhD and I was so struck by the lovely first page that I had to share some of that with you. I love this book. It’s eccentric, delightful and lovely. And yes, I shall repeat that word a lot in what follows. Do be prepared!

The first thing to note about Cowgirl is that delciious, almost abstract black splodge on the top right of the page. It’s a brave thing to do, to give half of your first page to a design note, but I think it’s very vital for this book. It clearly echoes the notes of the front cover, that focus on the pattern of a cow’s skin, and starts to bring that inside the book. This design starts to show something very distinct about Cowgirl; there’s a heart to this book, and this book is about cows. Who they are, what they are, and what they come to mean. It’s all done quite unapologetically and quite unashamedly and quite brilliantly. It’s delightful. It’s brilliant. Cowgirl is a book that revels in its distinctness and so much of it is trapped in that delightful abstraction on the first page.

So! The text. I’m struck immediately by the first sentence: “I was screaming for my life.” Loud, sound-laden sentence that it is. Not – “I was running for my life” but rather, I was “screaming”.  A vocal passivity. A contradiction. Unable to stop what is happening, but rather still trying somehow. Speaking up. Using your voice. And in its abstraction, it starts to signify something else about the book; that maybe this is about voices, and speaking up and being truthful to who you are regardless of the nature of the narratives that propel you.

It’s joined by a thick paragraph – quick, sensory developments, all of them with a sense of inevitability – until they’re stopped by that deliciously isolated, blunt, marvellous sentence of: “Then I heard a moo” The movement of this paragraph bought to such a definitive, flat halt by the presence of cows. Cows define this book and they’re all over it, even before we’ve reached the second page. I love that definitive, almost defiant air about Cowgirl. It is what it is, and it is rather brilliant.

The last bit to focus on is that little fragmentary “and I” at the end of the first page. I won’t tell you what happens, but I rather highlight it as being a beautiful – what if? moment. It’s the definition of a page turning moment; that niggling wonder in the back of your mind as you try and figure out what happens to that protagonist and just how, how the cows are involved. Because you know they are. You know that the cows are involved so madly in what happens in this book that they are part of what comes, they are embedded in what comes, and it’s just how…?

This is such a good first page. And a good book!  A very good book. Moovellous, one might say. (I’m going to stop there, my cow based puns are all out….)


Book Reviews

Cowgirl : GR Gemin

CowgirlCowgirl by Giancarlo Gemin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a weirdly entrancing and lovely book. I mean, genuinely so. Gemma on the Mawr Estate meets Cowgirl. Cowgirl is the school outcast; tall, angry, and best mates with the cows on her father’s farm. Cowgirl and Gemma are thrown into an odd, abrupt sort of friendship that culminates with a sort of Western movie meets Wales meets Cows sort of quest that is MAD, but ridiculously lovely and entrancing.

Basically, this book is weird but gorgeous. It is Most Unexpected. I brandished it at my colleagues at work and went “Look, look at the loveliness!” because as ever with a Nosy Crow, it is designed beautifully. The cowhide motif runs throughout the book with a little bit at the start of each chapter and is very nicely done. The packaging of a book is vital – it’s sort of the icing on top of the cake that gives you a feel of what’s to come. And this is lovely.

So the book itself? As I said, odd but ridiculously lovely with that oddness. The premise is so unexpected, but the voice is beautiful. It carries it off. Gemma is frustrated, charming, funny, angry and brave. Cowgirl is heartbreaking. The cows are adorable. The characters on the estate are adorable, stubborn and rich. This is a book written with a lot of love, a lot of passion, (a lot of cows!) and I’m so glad it exists.

View all my reviews