April 17th, 2014

…but these covers sure are pretty! We’ve compiled our top 5 favourite Penguin book covers of all time. Here goes:

1. In at number 1 is David Pearson’s thought-provoking take on a Penguin classic for George Orwell’s 1984. It’s a bold choice, and we love it!

2. Gregg Kulick’s pop-art inspired cover for A Clockwork Orange has become almost as iconic as the cult classic itself.

3. We LOVE LOVE LOVE this embroidered cover, which Penguin commissioned talented seamstress Jillian Tamaki to stitch by hand. Beautiful!

4. Obviously we had to include a children’s classic in here. Written and illustrated by Eric Carle, who doesn’t get a sense of nostalgia from looking at this memorable cover?

5. A tale as glamorous as The Great Gatsby surely calls for a cover that’s a cut above the rest. We love the look and feel of this elegant design – tres chic!

Have we missed off one of your favourites? Leave us a comment below or drop us a Tweet @spinebreakers!

Florence, Spinebreakers team

April 10th, 2014

Last week we took Spinebreakers Lily, Atifa and Laura to the launch party for Dee Shulman’s new book, Afterlife – the final instalment of the epic trilogy which includes Fever and Delirium.

We were lucky enough to spend some time with Dee at the event, and our Spinebreakers gave her a grilling! Here’s their interview: 

Spinebreaker Lily: In Paragon [the mythical land where Seth ends up after contracting the fatal virus] when you imagine something, it happens! So why can’t Seth just imagine his nemesis Cassius dead?

Dee: In Paragon, it’s only inorganic and dead matter that the characters have power over and can control with their minds – things such as food – but not living, breathing matter such as another human being.

Spinebreaker Lily: In that case, couldn’t Seth just imagine a powerful robot, capable of killing Cassius?

Dee: He could, but only if he had that technology in his head. Anything the characters have experience of, they can make happen, but as a Roman Seth doesn’t have much experience of robots!

Spinebreakers Atifa: Most of the Spinebreakers are keen writers as well as readers. Could you give us any tips for aspiring writers?

Dee: Absolutely! The first thing would have to be read a lot.  And don’t think “this is it!” when you’re writing – don’t think “this is my big opus and I have to get it perfect” – just write stuff. Make sure you always carry a notebook with you: if you have a notebook in your pocket and someone does something that makes you laugh, or someone looks a bit weird, or something unusual happens you can write it down straight away to remind yourself. As you get older you forget more stuff! But writing things down makes you look at the world more closely – it opens your eyes.

Try and make sure you’ve written at least a sentence in your notepad every day. “I’m going to be a writer” is such a big thought – but you don’t have to see it as an epic thing – begin by writing lots of little bits and they will soon add up.

Spinebreaker Lily: This is probably the most clichéd question ever, but how did you come up with the idea – time travelling Romans falling in love?!

Dee: I’ve been interested in time travel for a number of years. A while back we were living in a Victorian house on a Victorian road, and going out of my door I would try and imagine what it was like living there back then. I found some old photos of the place, and started walking around and visualising it. And then I looked further and further back in history, and came up with the idea of London vs. Londinium – Roman Britain.

I started exploring all the parts of London that were around back in Roman times – I’ve even mapped it all.  If you’re somewhere high up above the city, you can be standing right above where the arena was where Seth would’ve done his training – and feel like you’re back there. You feel like you can see where Cassius’ house was.

Fever, Delirium and Afterlife were originally a ghost story, but then I thought about how I could physically get the reader to be back there, in ancient Rome, and the characters to be here in the 21st century.

All through London we have a layered history. My family and I live near a school that has graffiti carved into the wall – and some of it goes back to Tudor times – it’s an amazing thought that you can touch a wall someone touched hundreds of years ago…

I’m quite into magic science – frontier science, and string theory. It’s a kind of magic – mind-bending magic – and yet it’s happening – it’s happening for real!


April 3rd, 2014

A couple of weeks ago we took one of our editors Mikal to a great discussion on Dostoyevsky’s legendary novel Crime and Punishment. Find out what he thought…

The novel, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky has affected my life profoundly through my reading and interpretation of it. The novel itself is not exactly an easy or enjoyable read, written as it was in 1860s Russia by a writer known for his bleak descriptions of, well, bleak impoverished life. The talk I attended, based around the newest translation into English of the novel by Dr Oliver Ready at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury Square, was eye opening and immersive. Accompanying the translator was none other than the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, himself an authority on Dostoyevsky as well as on ethics. The discussion they had was compelling and immersive; ranging from themes of morality and freedom, to the finer points of translation from Russian to English.

The idea of movement and action in the narrative was touched upon by both participants, ideas that had never occurred to me during my reading of the text. The intricacies and choices of a translator’s role were also touched upon, opening up my mind to even more avenues of literary development. I left with a huge respect for both Dr Ready and Dr Williams and a new appreciation of one of Russian literature’s greatest books; which is the highest praise I can give to a truly eye-opening discussion.


March 27th, 2014

Here at Spinebreakers HQ we’re always happy to set up interviews for our Spinebreakers with their favourite authors. So when we received this email from Bethan about The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, how could we refuse?!

“The content made me cry and I finished it within two days of receiving it. I made my Mum and friends read it, and they also loved it. I am taking it on holiday with me next week to read again and again. I would love to interview or have any contact at all with Jojo Moyes just to tell her what an amazing job she has done. I have tons of questions that I am dying to ask her. I think once other Spinebreakers have read this book they too will want to know everything they can about her, and an interview could provide this. I would love to do it! Thank you for all the books you send me each month and thank you for reading this email.”

Bethan’s interview with Jojo

Bethan: What gave you the idea for The One Plus One?

Jojo: It was a mixture of things. I’d wanted to write something for some time about the growing gap between rich and poor, because I think it’s not great for society in general, and I am struck daily by how much harder it is for young people to succeed unless they have wealthy parents. But I also just wanted to write a road trip – it’s a really good way to stick characters together and force them to confront each other.

Bethan: Who is your favourite character and why? And are they based on a person you know?

Jojo: They’re all my favourite in different ways (sorry – I bet you didn’t want that answer!). I love Jess’s optimism, and fierce love for her children, and I love Tanzie’s quirky approach to life. But I also have a great fondness for Nicky. I have two teenagers myself, and I think they get a raw deal, and I just wanted to write one who was nice and funny and likeable and complicated – like most real people.

Bethan: Have any personal experiences influenced the themes in the book?

Jojo: Well I was a cleaner in my spare time when I was a teenager, so that probably influenced me a bit. And I’m the mother of teenagers, so I’m sure some of that crept into the book. I find that a lot of personal stuff tends to seep in without you even realising it – and it’s only in a couple of years you look back and can see clearly that it was related to your life at the time.

Bethan: Would you consider writing a sequel to The One Plus One or producing a film version in the future?

Jojo: We’re in discussions with a film company right now to adapt the book for the cinema. And I’ve never done a sequel yet, but never say never!

Bethan: What made you decided to write the book from various characters’ points of view?

Jojo: It just didn’t feel like one person’s story. Each character has their own journey within a journey, and I thought it would be more entertaining if you heard the chapters through different voices. It also has the added advantage of making clear how wilfully blind some people are about what’s going on (i.e. Tanzie and Nicky can see what’s going on with Ed and Jess long before either of them can acknowledge it.)

If you’d like to interview your favourite Penguin author, just drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do!


March 6th, 2014

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to books, rather a lot actually. Many of us admit to judging a book by its cover, but we’re often also pretty guilty of judging a book by its name.

We’ve compiled a list of the 10 weirdest, wackiest book titles we’ve come across on the web. Why? Why not?!

1. Lizard Social Behaviour

…for everyone who has ever wondered how to socialise their lizard.

2. Goblinproofing one’s chicken coop

We’re delighted to discover that ‘goblinproofing’ is a thing.

3. Pie-ography: where pie meets biography

We think this one sounds a bit flaky…

4. Cooking with Pooh

Whilst we’re a fan of Pooh bear, we think we might pass on his baked goods…

5. Where underpants come from

The underpants fairy?

6. Anybody can be cool…but awesome takes practice


7. How to talk about books you haven’t read

We wouldn’t know anything about that now, would we?!

8. How to Sharpen Pencils

Are we missing something?

9. Working Class Cats

We’re as much a fan of cats as the next guy, but we weren’t aware until now that they are subject to New York’s class system…

10. The Origin of Faeces 

OK enough is enough – we love a bit of word play, but this is a step too far – gross!