Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Boy in the Dress - David Walliams

It’s always a bit worrying when a celebrity decides to write a novel, firstly are they actually writing the novel and secondly just because they are famous does that mean that they can actually write? Well in the case of David Walliams yes he did write the book and yes he can indeed write and very well too.

The Boy in the Dress is a tale about Dennis, he is different, and why is he different? “Well a small clue might be in the title of this book.” I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dennis is not only dealing with the fact that his Mum left the family when he was young, his family don’t talk about her and they don’t really communicate or show emotion as it’s not deemed as manly. Dennis also likes dresses and when he finds Vogue things really change.

Walliams deals with the subject very sensitively whilst also with great humour and most importantly in a way that kids (and adults) will enjoy. It isn’t just the fact that the illustrations are by Quentin Blake that whilst you’re reading it you are reminded of a modern version of Roald Dahl. The humour helps but it’s the way the book progresses with the hero’s and the villains and the school mentality which in some ways reminded me of Matilda. I loved Roald Dahl as a child and think that legions of children will love this book. I only hope that Walliams doesn’t stop the book writing at novel number one.

A short review I know but it’s a very short book and at the same time I don’t want to give too much away. All I will say is that I was touched by this book and found myself laughing the whole way through. I would recommend this to anyone who has kids or who wants a read that cheers you up in the few hours it will take to read.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Mitford & Maupin Missions

My complete and utter favourite book of last year was undoubtedly The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed any non-fiction as much in all my reading years. At the time it wasn’t the Mitford’s that appealed to me it was partly the fact it was letters between sisters but more the amount of time that the letters spanned, all that history. It wasn’t until reading the letters that I started to twig just who the sisters were, I had heard of Deborah and Nancy before only I knew Deborah as the owner of Chatsworth House which is just down the road from my Gran’s and Nancy as an author most authors raved about. At the time I got the book there was also a TV show on Unity and the rumours of her affair (and pregnancy) with Adolf Hitler. As everything about them became more and more unusual and the more letters I read I gained a bit of a fascination which has resulted in this…



Now four of these are new additions to the collection as I received In Tearing Haste from the delightful John Murray before Christmas, The Pursuit of Laughter and A Life of Contrasts from the lovely Gibson Square just after Christmas and Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford from the very kind people at Orion only yesterday, naturally I haven’t read any of those yet. I have in fact of that whole collection only read ‘The Letters’ and The Pursuit of Love, the rest have all come from some very good routing through charity shops. There are still so many I am missing though; Nancy’s biographies as well as The Blessing and Jessica’s books on Death in America etc, to name just a few. (I also should thank Mitch as she bought me The Letters for Christmas after my Gran, yes you naughty thing, 'borrowed' mine and then said I had given it to her lol - well you can have it now.)

I now have one more mission for 2009 is to read all the ones that I haven’t read yet but own. Plus there are many more coming, I actually have a PDF proof version of Deborah’s next book, but I am not allowed to say anymore than that.

Dovergreyreader looked at Mitfordmania when she reviewed A Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley and it brought up some rather heated debate on Diana as a person. I don’t condone her like for Hitler I don’t even attempt to understand it, but what I was always taught in history was to look at both sides and someone who saw both sides of Hitler and one of the biggest events in our worlds history was Diana and though I don’t agree with her ideals I will be interested to hear her side of things if that makes sense. The other question that was raised was ‘are there too many Mitford based books on the market?’ I would say no, I actually think that some of their own books need to be reprinted rather than so many books about them in all honesty. I can understand the fascination though, they knew a wide range of famous people and indeed some of histories most renowned faces and through their love of letters and essays have captured years and year’s worth of history. I just wonder what Debo makes of it all as the furore around her and her sister is going and she is living to see it?

On a slightly different note another series of books I am going to make it my aim to read (well re-read in some cases) arrived yesterday also The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin….

I first read the first three or four (or possibly five) of these about 8 years ago and wanted a land lady like Miss Madrigal, and strongly believed when I moved to London I would make some of the best friends in the world and they would be diverse and wonderful and everything would be fabulous. I would say half of that wish came true. I very rarely re-read novels I have read so it will be interesting to see what I make of these almost ten years down the line! I will keep you posted. I am currently debating if I should read all of them with no stop-gap, but am worried I will get Maupin Overkill, any advice?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cutting A Long Story Short...

Now those of you who pop by regularly will possibly have noticed that I have been having quite a fight on my hands with Anna Karenina. When I pick it up and sit and read it I find myself whizzing through the pages. However picking it up isn’t happening anywhere near as much as it probably should be and I don’t take it on the tube with me as it’s simply too big and is like having a brick in my bag all day long. Oddly I am also reading the Adam Mars-Jones’ Pilcrow in paperback which comes out in March and seriously is already proving a must read. This book itself is a fairly large novel but is somehow much lighter and so is being whisked to and fro on my travels.

When I was telling someone of my ‘Anna Dilemma’ they answered that it was simple ‘you’re just a thrill reader aren’t you, you don’t want to spend hours on a book, you just want to read as many as you can each year and Anna is conflicting with that’. Whilst I agree I do like to read a lot of books, I have nothing against a longer book although occasionally the thought of ‘oh I could be reading eight books to this one monster’ does pop into my mind. But what is a thrill reader when its at home? I dont read a mass of thrillers if thats what was implied, though I am partial to a good Tess Gerritsen.

Another Simon who loves books covered this on his Stuck In A Book blog (I have him to thank for letting me use his picture – thanks Simon) and asked the question which do people prefer long or short books and the answers are very interesting. I also admire Simon’s honestly regarding why he prefers something around 225 pages ‘because I like to make lists of my books, and I like them to be long...’ and I do have to admit I agree. But is that wrong?

So which do you all prefer, a long or a short book? How long is the perfect novel? I have to say I am a fan of anything between 250 – 400 pages so either I am sitting on the fence or I just like medium sized books. On another slightly similar note, does anyone remember the furore over Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach being too short to be on The Man Booker List (I thought it was an amazing book and just the right length), which raises the question can a book be too short? I await your thoughts…

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale

So I am on time for the second of the Richard & Judy Books of 2009, and it is the superb The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. Nothing to do with the fact that I had in fact read this book last year and it was in fact in my Savidge Dozen, ok it’s sort of cheating but not really. I mean be fair, with the amount of books arriving at the moment I need to keep ahead. So here is the review from when I read it back in November…

The subtitle of the book refers to the fact that this is not your normal gothic Victorian murder mystery; it’s a real murder mystery. In fact ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ somewhat gripped the nation back in 1860 and saw the dawn of the detective in the form of Jack Whicher. This murder mystery in a country house where one of the occupants definitely did it sparked imaginations of the greats and inspired novels by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins over the years. The case took place during the night in Summer 1860, the next morning the body of a young boy was found having died in tragic circumstances, the police couldn’t work out who had done it and so Scotland Yard were called. The case became huge news and in the small town of Road there was uproar and unwanted attention with the whole world guessing ‘whodunit’.

Now I am not a massive fan of non fiction, I love diaries and letters but with most non fiction I tend to wander and read it alongside my fiction, the fiction taking priority. Not when this book was around it wasn’t. Summerscale makes all the facts and theories turn into a wonderful and spellbinding read that could put to shame some crime fiction around at the moment. The research she has done is incredible down to the trains caught on what dates, the timetables from the time to match the possible escape of the killer. Clothes worn, movements of every member of the household and makes it come to life effortlessly. You really could have been a member of the public at the time following the case, making your own assumptions and falling for the red herrings along the way.

The book does also deal with the time significantly after the murder and looks at the future of all those involved including the murderer themselves. What is also fascinating with this book is that Summerscale shows how the best writers of that era and just after used various parts of this story and its characters to create some of the masterpieces still being read today such as the ‘Moonstone’ so it’s a fascinating look at the history of crime fiction and the ‘sensationalist’ novels that became so popular following, and of course left me with a list as long as my arm of books to read in the future.

This book is nothing short of pure brilliance, and will appeal to so many people for so many reasons. If you love books then you can learn about the history and add another twenty to your TBR. If you love crime then read the murder that helped establish the genre. If you love a good yarn this ones brilliant and its true. If you like non-fiction then the research and facts you’ll read and learn without even knowing is unbelievable. Yes you might have guessed that this book is one of my very favourites of the whole year, simply a must read.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Are You Reading Right Now?

My Gran and I always have one question to each other when we are on the phone which is 'so what are you reading right now?' Its something we compare and contrast and gives us both new books that we might want to read. My Gran takes part in two occasionally three book groups and I have been known to follow along with a book they are doing. I was put off when they read The Testament of Gideon Mack which I read at the same time and didnt really love. I might however join in with the next one (I'll email my Gran my thoughts - not actually sit in on the meeting in Matlock, its a bit far from London) as they are doing Engleby which I have had on my TBR for absolutely ages. Anyway I digress...

When I saw that Cornflower Books had done a blog on this last week the response she got, from me included, was fantastic. All sorts of people reading all sorts of books and yet there were slight trends. People wewre recommending what people should and shouldnt try, and I whole heartedly agreed with one comment that it was a shame we werent all in the same room together having a natter with tea and biscuits. It also made me decide that when i have finsihed and review a book I will let you know what am reading next in advance.
Anyway my reading has changed since Cornflowers blog I thought I would let you know what I am reading right now in case any of you are interested, or have thoughts, or want to join in and read a long. You all know that I have had Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy on the go since the start of the year, its weird when I pick it up and get reading I really do enjoy it but when I see the great bulk of pages it scares me off. Its still happening at a part at a time and lots of books in between parts. I refuse to give up.
The other book I am now reading is Pilcrow by Adam Mars- Jones which I only actually started this morning on the tube. I am now about 50 pages in and am already loving it. The voice of the protagonist is superb and at a fairly bulky 544 pages of small writing I am still pretty sure I will have polished this off before I know it. I have an inkling that unless something goes terribly wrong it might shape up to be one of my favourites of the year, we'll see. You'll now doubt be seeing a review soon. So what about all of you? What is everyone else out there reading? What can you recommend?

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Great Book Sort

Ok so as mentioned yesterday was the day of the great book sort, now when I said that I had boxes and boxes of books to sort out some people might have disbelieved. Well it started with these and these...



... And carried on with more in these and these...



... Which ended up looking something like this at 1 o'clock this morning...


So I have quite a lot of sorting left to go frankly. I have made an excel spreadsheet now so I know where every book is! Yes I am that much of a book geek, its wrong isnt it! I have 647 books I am keeping which the Non Reader says is excessive! Pah! Now a question for you all, what do you do with books you dont want? Charity, eBay, Amazon, what? I did do readitswapit but the book pile merely stays at the same level and never goes down! Recommendations please!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Apologies

No long blog today as I am in the middle of sorting all the books that have come in plus all the ones that I have got already and sorting which ones am realistically never going to read (none of the recent ones I have been sent of course) as you can see I use the staircase for my new 'incoming' books as they arrive which the Non Reader has declared is a health and safety issue.

Then after the stairs have been decluttered and made 'safe' I have the joys of sorting my TBR which in all honesty is organised very badly and really should have some kind of organised system I guess! Sorry did I say TBR, I meant my TBRs! Yes thats right I now appear to have two seperate ridiculously large TBRs that even I as the person who owns them has no idea of what is in which one. How do you guys sort your TBR do you update it weekly or switch it around after each book? Do let me know! Anyway here are my current ones for you...
TBR1 and TBR2

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Brutal Art - Jesse Kellerman

I didn’t realise that the first week of Richard and Judy had come around so fast so this review is a little on the late side as should have put it up on Wednesday, but hadn’t actually read the book yet at that point. I started it late last night and by lunch time today it had been completely and utterly devoured. This book has actually only further confirmed in my mind that this is the strongest year with Richard and Judy’s book choices.

After a rocky childhood and turbulent teenage years and twenties Ethan Muller has slowly but surely become on of the most popular art dealers on the scene. When he gets a call from his fathers right hand man telling him there is a collection of art her really needs to see his instant reaction, after his bitter relations with his father, make him hesitant. When he sees the collection however he realises he could have found the discovery of a lifetime, only when he accepts the works do the police want to talk to him and the mystery of the vanishing artist who created them draws him into a mystery set to change his life forever.

Jesse Kellerman is not an author I had heard of before. The son of authors Faye and John Kellerman he comes from a fine heritage (I haven’t read their works am only going on what others have said) but I think this book will definitely make his name as an author stand out alone. I didn’t think I would be interested in the art world and thought this might be a poor version of a mix of The Da Vinci Code of The Interpretation of Murder. It isn’t it’s a stand out thriller that had me swiftly turning through the pages and I thought I had it all sussed and suddenly a massive twist was thrown in I don’t think anyone could predict coming.

My favourite parts of the book however weren’t set in the present. They were set in the from 1847 until now telling us the secret family history of the Muller’s and helped make the conclusion incredibly clever. Kellerman delivers all this in a direct yet colourful prose whilst making it easy to follow the complicated history that all ties up in the end. I was worried that Ethan’s ‘poor little unloved rich kid character’ might grate on me but I didn’t. His love interests are incredibly clich├ęd, it was the character of the artist as you got to learn about it I found fascinating.

I have to say I was incredibly pleasantly surprised with this book. I wasn’t expecting to be drawn in on such an adventure. Don’t listen to the comparisons to The Interpretation of Murder (which I enjoyed) as they are quite separate books and I think this one should stand alone as just a great gripping thriller. A must read!

Friday, January 23, 2009

5.9% is Pretty Poor

Yes after reading the final installment of The Guardians 1000 Novels You Must Read, I had read a rather pathetic 5.9% of the books, so yes for you mathemeticians thats 59 out of 1000 which were...

London Fields – Martin Amis (my most hated book of all time)
The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks (need to re-read)
Darkmans – Nicola Barker
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory
Bridget Jones Diary – Helen Fielding
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
Spies – Michael Frayn
The Beach – Alex Garland
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – JK Rowling
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
The Catcher in the Rye –JD Salinger
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
On Beauty – Zadie Smith
The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie – Muriel Spark
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Dracula – Bram StokerPerfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (am reading it)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 ¾ - Sue Townsend
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
Affinity – Sarah Waters
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

Am determinded by next year will have a much higher score!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Incoming

So I thought what might be a good idea is if as publishers send me their lovely parcels I keep you up to date with what I am reading and then you can see what will be coming up on the blog in the future, what publishers have coming out or in their catalogues and the opportunity to get your mitts on some and read a long. Plus my TBR agenda changes all the time and if I mention the books here now they get a mention… er… now! You know what I mean. So the latest books to arrive are…

Mothers and Sons - Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin's new and challenging collection of stories paint rich and textured portraits of individuals at different pivotal moments in their lives. In each case, Toibin shows how their relationship with either a mother or a son, or their relationship to their own role as mother or son, reveals something unique and important about them. The stories feature Ireland or Irish narrators, but they are also truly universal. In "Famous Blue Raincoat", unwelcome memories are stirred when a mother, once a singer in an Irish folk-rock band of some popular renown in the 60s, finds that her son has been listening to their old records - songs she hoped never to hear again. In "Water", a son buries his mother and goes out to a drug-fuelled rave on a remote beach outside Dublin. In the course of this one night, his grief and desire for raw feeling combine with exquisite and devastating intensity. At once beautifully playful, psychologically intricate, emotionally incisive, finely-wrought and fearless these stories tease out the delicate and difficult strands which are woven between mothers and sons. Sometimes shocking and always powerful, this masterful new collection confirms Toibin as great prose stylist of our time.

The Story Of Night – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Richard Garay lives alone with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from those around him. Stifled by a job he despises, he finds himself willing to take considerable risks. Set in Argentina in a time of great change, "The Story of the Night" is a powerful and moving novel about a man who, as the Falklands War is fought and lost, finds his own way to emerge into the world.""The Story of the Night" is, in the end, a love story of the most serious and difficult kind.

Love In A Dark Time - Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin looks at the life and work of some of the greatest and most influential artists and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, figures in the main whose homosexuality remained hidden or oblique for much of their lives. Either by choice or necessity, being gay seemed to come second for many of these writers. Yet in their private lives, and also in the spirit of their work, the laws of desire changed everything for them and made all the difference. Ranging from figures such as Oscar Wilde, born in the 1850s, to Pedro Almodovar, born a hundred years later, this book examines how a changing world altered lives in ways both subtle and fundamental. Colm Toibin interweaves a close reading of the works with detailed analysis of the personalities behind them, to illuminating effect. This is an exceptional collection of essays on sexuality and creativity.

The Master – Colm Toibin (Picador)
It is January 1895 and Henry James's play, Guy Domville, from which he hoped to make his fortune, has failed on the London stage. Opening with this disaster, The Master spans the next five years of James's life, during which time he moves to Rye in Sussex, having found his dream retreat. There he writes his short masterpiece The Turn Of The Screw, a tale in which he incorporates many details from his own life, including his experiences as a member of one of the great eccentric American families and, later, an exile in England. Impelled by the need to work and haunted by his past - including his failure to fight in the American Civil War, and the golden summer of 1865, and the death of his sister Alice - James is watchful and witty, relishing the England in which he has come to live and regretting the New England he has left.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn't belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man - and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home - and leave him fearing for his own life.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives - Jordan's mother - is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, "The 19th Wife" expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Stephen Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits - of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, "The Cellist of Sarajevo" shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude - and frailty.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars-Jones (Faber & Faber)
Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves invaluable. Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

Madresfield – Jane Mulvagh (Transworld)
Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home surrounded by a perfect medieval moat, in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family's hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare, the heraldic and feudal rest easily next to the prosaically domestic. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.Never before open to the public, the doors of "Madresfield" have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens' Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar's Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.

So I have a fair amount to read you could say. Am really pleased though as can do the Richard and Judy Challenge… well almost!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Girl Meets Boy - Ali Smith

I have to admit that despite my mother being a Classics teacher, though possibly because of that, I have no recollection of many of the great myths. The one that I did love the most was Persephone I don’t know why though looking back. Anyway I digress, with that in mind I went into reading Ali Smiths Girl Meets Boy not thinking of it as a re-working of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or The Myth of Iphis but simply as a new novel. I have to say I don’t think you have to know Ovid to enjoy this anymore or less you will think its wonderful either way. You do get to hear the story of Iphis in the book though about half way through and you can see it reflected in the novel as a whole.

Girl Meets Boy tells the story of sisters Imogen and Anthea Gunn, both are at pivotal points in their lives but for completely different reasons. They have grown up loving but not quite understanding each other in Inverness and working for the mass global firm Pure. However things start to change when Anthea leaves/is sacked and on her way out meets rebellious Robin a girl who is writing anti-capitalist slogans on the Pure Head Office walls.

The chapters of the novel switch between sisters, we here how Anthea falls for Robin and then the shock of Imogen to Anthea’s sexuality (which is hilarious) and onto Imogen’s discovery about corporations and the ways in which they work. Ali Smith manages to feed us lots of information about sexuality, globalisation and women’s rights and yet make it light hearted and upbeat which is quite a feat. The most important theme in the novel is love, something its incredibly optimistic about which is a joy to read.

Like good myths of old there is a lot of surrealism in the novel, not masses, but a bit. After reading the opening line ‘let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says’ I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the book, with a sneaking suspicion it might go over my head. I was proved wrong and frankly after having read some of Ali Smiths novels before (I must revisit The Accidental this year) should have know I was in safe hands. The prose is beautiful and you can’t help think that the old myth creators of the past would read this novel and think it was wonderful, I certainly did.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Reader (Again)

On Sunday I went to the cinema with The Non Reader to see The Reader (that’s confusing) which I have been aching to see. I have to admit I am always very cautious when a book is turned into a movie however my fears were completely unfounded with this wonderful adaptation. The movie is stunning the landscapes, backdrops the works are just wonderfully filmed and the delicate parts of the film were dealt with so well and so sympathetically. No dramatics!

Kate Winslet is simply superb as Hannah Schmidt, I thought her acting was completely effortless whilst being heart breaking and moving. It’s difficult to say too much about the film without giving the twist and turns away. I will say that after speaking with my Gran you should read the book as you understand Hannah a lot better and the main reason as to why she has done what she has in the past. I did feel that wasn’t made clear enough in the movie. If you see it then it will make sense. I also thought that the boy who played the younger Michael Berg was fantastic as was Ralph Fiennes as the elder Michael Berg; the younger just stole it away from him at the end of the day. The scene of the film, without giving anything away, invovles the word 'the' and I dont think there was a dry eye in the cinema including me and the Non Reader! This is the must see movie of the year so far. I predict (we will see if I am right later in the year) that from this film there will be a shift in sales of a few books but one in particular The Lady and the Little Dog by Chekhov... watch this space!

Anyways I am putting up the review of the book for you all again from last year. Do get the book, only not the movie tie-in version, you know my thoughts on those...

After having read some amazing books on the holocaust and WWII in the past twelve months or so like Marcus Zusack’s astounding ‘The Book Thief’ and John Boyne’s superb ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s’ I didn’t know if ‘The Reader’ would live up to the brilliant reports that I had heard not from blogs but from some friends, one in particular who I was in my old book group with who told me that ‘you simply have to read it’. This book has actually been around now for ten years and that was when book blogs or blogs in general weren’t around (how did I find what I wanted to read lol) but is resurfacing with the film coming out in January. This book is just as good as the aforementioned and yet totally different.
Michael is ill during his fifteenth year with hepatitis when he first realises he is sick he collapses in the street and with help from a lady in the street he gets home saftely. After making most of his recovery he walks to thirty six year old Hannah Schmitz to thank her for what she did. This becomes a regular visit as he is intoxicated by her and eventually is seduced by her, then starts a love affair involving Michael reading to her before and after their intimate relations, and eventually just reading before one day Hannah suddenly vanishes from his life. However one day Hannah comes back into his life in a totally unexpected way. I will say no more than that as this book has a incredibly thought provoking twist and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Schink’s novel (beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway) looks at the Holocaust and things that happened during it in a way I haven’t seen before fictionally. This book is all about the generations after the war and how it felt to carry the burden of Hitler’s regime and destruction. I had never thought of what it would be like to have that as part of your history, especially in this case so recent. Through one of the characters actions he asks how people you perceive to be good could possibly do unspeakable things in unspeakable conditions. It also looks at love and emotions in a time where a country and its people were damaged and scarred.This is simply a wonderful novel, moving, shocking, and thought provoking. If there is one book you read in the next few months make it this one. Mind you with some of the fabulous books I have gotten through in the last twelve months of blogging I have said that a fair few times, but in this case I seriously recommend it and cannot recommend it enough.

Oh and not a book to film but a film about an author (or two as the synopsis shows) Capote arrived through my door today. I will be interested to see how I take to this as I don’t like Philip Seymour Hoffman and the accent I saw in the trailers might grate on me we will see. Am also looking forward to seeing how they portray his relationship with Harper Lee as some people say they were one and the same and that Capote did in fact write To Kill A Mockingbird under the pseudonym, I am not sure I believe that. I might wait until Novel Insights comes round.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gift From The Gate

Thank you very much to the delightful people at Canongate who sent a parcel containing the following on Saturday. I am really excited about all of these but mainly The Gargoyle for story and my Richard and Judy Challenge, I also love Ali Smith!


Brass – Helen Walsh
Nineteen-year-old Millie O'Reilley is clever, spiky and adored by men - yet utterly forlorn. Increasingly disillusioned, she seeks an escape in the underbelly of Liverpool...Shockingly candid and brutally poetic; Helen Walsh has created a portrait of a city and a generation that offers a female perspective on the harsh truth of growing up in today's Britain. Brass is an unsettling but ultimately compassionate account of the possibilities of identity and the desirability of love.

Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith
"Girl Meets Boy" - It's a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances? Ali Smith's re-mix of Ovid's most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can't be bottled and sold. It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations. Funny and fresh, poetic and political, "Girl Meets Boy" is a myth of metamorphosis for the modern world.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over - he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life - and, finally, to love.

Once Upon A Time In England – Helen Walsh On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets of Warrington's toughest housing estate. He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life - and that of his young family. In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them. In this unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his wounds. Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours. Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he's sprinting to his date with destiny...But back at their low-rise flat, Susheela hears a noise. This single moment starts a chain of events that will reverberate throughout the lives of all four Fitzgeralds - herself, Robbie, their son Vincent and unborn daughter, Ellie. Over thirteen years of struggle, aspiration, achievement, misunderstandings, near-misses and shattered dreams, Helen Walsh plunges us into the lives and loves of the young, doomed Fitzgerald family. She shows herself to be a brilliant chronicler of our people and our times. And in the Fitzgeralds, she has created a family who will stay in your heart, long after the final page. "Once Upon A Time In England" offers an unforgettable portrait of the world in which we live, and confirms Helen Walsh as a writer of searing power

Sunday, January 18, 2009

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read... So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Breathing Lessons - Anne Tyler

I vowed last year that I would read much more Anne Tyler after reading Digging To America, and only read that novel. So when Cornflower said that I could join the Cornflower Book Group and that they were reading an Anne Tyler I was thrilled. You can read everything everyone else thought here, as for some reason I am not allowed to upload any comments onto any blogs at the moment. Naturally I am doing the review for you anyway here.

Anne Tyler won The Pulitzer Prize in 1989 and twenty years on you can still see why, her writing style is superb. She writes the whole novel in third person and yet through the characters thoughts you can hear their voices in first person and it’s incredibly effective. Breathing Lessons tells a day in the life of Maggie Moran. A woman nearing fifty whose own daughter asks her ‘when did you become so ordinary?’ As fifty nears she is looking at the lives of her children, husband and herself as she heads for the funeral of her best friends wedding.

Not the storyline for many laughs, though there is humour because it’s Anne Tyler, but it isn’t meant to be a happy book. It looks at how satisfied people are with their own lives and the lives of their family. Maggie feels her husband Ira thinks she is fat and worthless, clearly how she perceives herself, that her daughter Daisy can’t wait to leave her ‘ordinary’ mother and her son whose wife walked out on him with their daughter feels much the same. On the journey and on the way back Maggie’s journey takes several surprising detours, mainly through Maggie’s interfering. Through these detours Anne shows us Maggie’s family past and why she is in the state she is in, you never hear about her childhood much, a mystery I thought might have solved many questions to her deeper personality.

With Maggie’s endless interfering and severe swaying of the truth it did leave you feeling you were seeing life through slightly unreliable eyes. The dialogue both external and internal is fantastic. I found the writing sparse, I have to admit I was shocked Ira and Maggie were still married and the rare signs of closeness and emotional contact between the two of them somehow felt false. I didn't like Ira, but then again I didnt like anyone in the book particularily, not even Maggie and I normally love that sort of character but playing with peoples lives to such an extent isnt that likeable. It doesn’t paint a promising or fulfilling picture of married life as it goes on. I was shocked to see this in the ‘love’ volume of The Guardians 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. I would have thought this would have been much more at home in ‘Family and Self’ out later in the week. More on that tomorrow.

All in all I found this a great read, though not possibly one of Tyler’s best I do think that it is a great read and one that everyone should give a try. I haven’t been put off Tyler from this which reading many reviews people were, I wonder what they were expecting. I will definitely be putting many more of her books on my TBR within the next few months.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Richard & Judy Challenge

So it was announced this week what the Richard & Judy Books 2009 are. I have to say Amanda Ross (some people believe Richard & Judy have a say also, some don’t, I don’t comment) has chosen possibly the best selection this year that I have seen. Is this something to do with the fact they have moved onto the TV channel Watch, which ironically no one does seem to be watching? Either way the selection looks really varied and has real promise.

I know some people think that Richard & Judy is low brow reading, the choice all popular fiction and the like. I have to say I disagree. Firstly I think that anything that gets people out there reading is a good thing. Secondly I have to admit that some books I have truly loved have come from these selections (though not the summer ones from experience so far bar The Island) books like The Shadow of the Wind, Half of A Yellow Sun, Mister Pip, Restless, The Lovely Bones, Notes on A Scandal, Arthur & George and The Time Travellers Wife have been on their lists. I’ve loved all of those. So I am setting up the Richard & Judy Challenge and aim to have read them all way before each on is done on the telly (not that I will see it anyways) so here is the list, in case anyone has been on Mars, ha.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn't belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man - and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home - and leave him fearing for his own life.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
It is midnight on 30th June 1860 and all is quiet in the Kent family's elegant house in Road, Wiltshire. The next morning, however, they wake to find that their youngest son has been the victim of an unimaginably gruesome murder. Even worse, the guilty party is surely one of their number - the house was bolted from the inside. As Jack Whicher, the most celebrated detective of his day, arrives at Road to track down the killer, the murder provokes national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing.This true story has all the hallmarks of a classic gripping murder mystery. A body, a detective, a country house steeped in secrets and a whole family of suspects - it is the original Victorian whodunnit.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson (Canongate)
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over - he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life - and, finally, to love.

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)
In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr. Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend - Jackson Brodie - himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives - Jordan's mother - is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, "The 19th Wife" expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Bolter – Frances Osborne (Virago)
On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge's Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford's character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the 'high priestess' of White Mischief's bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville's life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville's road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (HarperPerennial)
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans -- his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York's Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he'd regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place -- the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city's most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriends Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city's first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck's dream and Chuck's sense of American possibility -- until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend's activities and ambitions.' Netherland' is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O'Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

December – Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Sceptre)
Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn't spoken in nine months, and as December begins the situation is getting desperate. Her mother has stopped work to devote herself to her daughter's care. Four psychiatrists have already given up on her, and her school will not take her back in the New Year. Her parents are frantically trying to understand what has happened so they can help their child, but they cannot escape the thought of darker possibilities. What if Isabelle is damaged beyond their reach? Will she never speak again? Is it their fault? As they spiral around Isabelle's impenetrable silence, she herself emerges as a bright young girl in need of help yet too terrified to ask for it. By the talented young author of FIREWORKS, this is a compelling, ultimately uplifting novel about a family in crisis, showing the delicate web that connects a husband and wife, parents and children, and how easily it can tear.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits - of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, "The Cellist of Sarajevo" shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude - and frailty.

So who is up for the challenge and will be joining me? Don’t all rush at once! Doesn’t anyone else think this is a strong line up? I have already read two of the books (both the Kate's) but think at the moment the most exciting ones are The Gargoyle and The 19th Wife, I also think Netherland will be my downfall. Just something tells me it might not be quite me, we will see though!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jim Giraffe - Daren King

I bought this from a charity shop as with cheap books you are always more inclined to try something a little more risky. Having not really know what it was about but vaguely recollecting a woman say it was one of the most immature vilest pieces of fiction she had read I thought I’d give it a go. As I have said, I am not a book snob plus one man (or woman’s) rubbish is another man (or woman’s) treasure, I wouldn’t say this was exactly a treasure.

Scott Spectrum is being haunted, not by your typical spooky ghost but by the ghost of a giraffe called Jim who has come to save him from a fatal heart attack and early death. Jim points out the weaknesses and loop holes in Scott’s life, from his unfulfilled and unsatisfied wife, to his personality faults. He is a dirty minded giraffe who says what most people think but wouldn’t say. However are Jim’s motives as genuine as they seem… well for a ghost giraffe anyway?

I thought the first half of the book was absolutely brilliant. Witty, blunt, brutally honest and looked at things we have all thought or experienced but would never in a million years talk about. It’s incredibly surreal, I like books that have a surreal twist yet sometimes it can go too far and veer off to no mans land and sadly this book did just that. I managed to believe in ghost giraffes, well why shouldn’t there be such a thing if we have human ghosts. All of a sudden though, I can’t pin point where without giving everything away, I just thought ‘no’ and what had been a book I was racing though suddenly felt like racing through mud. The characters became too much, the dirtily funny became a bit obscene and I lost interest.

I would bizarrely read another Daren King book though. I think his imagination and visions though weird are also wonderful. I think his prose is brilliant if slightly stark and sweary perhaps and I thought his characters were really interesting which is what you want from a book, well an author maybe as this book isn’t quite the right example. It was different and short though which was just what I needed right now.

I think when you find a book like this that is either a love it or hate it book (or in my case love the start hate the middle to end book) then charity shops are great for taking a risk. However if I had paid out the £10 that this was originally going for then I would have been really disappointed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The 1000 Novels To Read Before You Die

I dont know if anyone else has noticed what is starting this Saturday? The Guardian are doing a seven part series on their top 1000 books you should read before you die, as the title obviously suggests. I wonder what will be in there? Any thoughts from all of you?


I am definately thinking some Dickens, Anna Karenina, McEwan. I am also hoping to be surprised at the list. Time will tell I guess. I will probably have read 2 of the 1000! Does anyone else go through and think 'oh yes, I have read that' and 'oh I must read that' along side 'what on earth is that doing on this list' and 'never heard of it'. Those will be my reactions on Saturday morning I can assure you.

I found the facts that there are 65 million books published in the world and that it would take 3.75 million years to read them all a bit depressing, so many I am missing out on!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis

I originally tried to read Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho about three or four years ago and wasn’t put off by the murder but by the monotone never ending first fifty pages of meals in ‘the’ restaurants of New York, labels, meetings, same looking crowds, meals, labels. You get the gist. This time round though I managed it (partly because it was a book group read) all, only I also discovered this does in fact go on for more like 150 pages but do bare with it, because I do indeed think everyone should read this book once, for its unlikely you could a second time, in their lifetime. It is an unusual and uncomfortable masterpiece.

Our protagonist Patrick Bateman seems on the outside normal, materialist but normal. Working on Wall Street in the middle of the 1980’s he is obsessed with labels, the best restaurants and business cards. In fact he is so obsessed by business cards that he almost breaks down and cries when someone has a better, edgier and more minimalistic card than his. Through small glimmers like these we realise that we might not be dealing with any ordinary man, we are in fact dealing with a murderous psychopath who is happiest when he is slashing throats.

Patrick takes us through his materialistic life and shows us the selfishness, wastefulness and greed of the people in his life that he is friends with, works with and dates. His self obsessed girlfriend Evelyn is a superb character who I loved to loath throughout the book. It’s in these characters that we see what the time of the yuppie and their shallowness, these people are so shallow in fact that they don’t notice when people they know go missing or when the murder rate in New York City is spiralling, they certainly don’t notice the murderer amongst them.

Bret Easton Ellis must have a way with words because though the first 150 pages are repetitive and monotonous I couldn’t stop reading. Also anyone who can get away with chapters on the chart movements and history of the likes of Genesis and Whitney Houston and somehow make you read them is doing a good job. The murders are of course horrific, in some cases so graphic I had to pause and take a breath before I could continue. What’s clever is in making the rest of the world so chrome, bland and slightly grey when the murders happen not only do they seem shocking ten fold, there is a huge clash of images in your head doubly hitting the point home.

To say that I enjoyed this novel seems wrong. However in a strange way I found it very compelling and in some parts darkly funny. I think this is a must read and strongly believe this will be a classic in future generations. I won’t pick this book up again (though you never know) but I am so glad that I finally pushed through the difficult start and finished this on the second try.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thingbooks

So yesterday was my first foray into a book group where I didn’t know anyone. I have Cornflower Books book group later on in the week but being online you kind of have your profile or simply your name to hide behind, with a real live one it’s not quite the same. I didn’t realise when I arrived that this was the first Thingbooks book group. Though a few people knew each other most of us didn’t know anyone else and that made me feel some what better as most of us where in the same boat.

The book had been Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and the discussion was very lively. I wont give to much away as will be doing the book review for you tomorrow, but what was nice was that no one stole all the conversation, no one laughed if someone said something a bit silly – unless that person (possibly me) was laughing as well. What I do love about book groups is the fact that you can hear so many different insights into a book. I found myself thinking ‘blimey I never thought that, but yes that’s right’ and also on occasion thinking ‘absolutely not, no way’.

I am really pleased I decided to go, I did actually when arriving at the right Waterstones think briefly about turning round and going home as give me a celebrity to interview and I am fine, give me a room full of strangers and I am absolutely hopeless. One thing that happened which did bond us all as a group, well I thought so, was a woman joined us having no idea what book we had read or who the group was. As Waterstones had simply left a sign saying ‘Sunday book group’ up on the wall she had decided to pop a long. We had just started to discuss some of the graphic scenes in the book and how they made us feel (mainly uncomfortable and nauseous) she suddenly jumped up said ‘well this doesn’t interest me at all’ and marched out. We were all a bit speechless and then dissolved into laughter. Would I go again? Of course, in fact I am when next months book is Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm which I read years ago but can’t remember. I think I liked it but found it confusing. I guess time will tell!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Second Hand Book Boom

There has been a piece in several different papers this week about the surge in second hand book shop sales. Is this because of the credit crisis? I think that assumption is a little too strong. I personally think people are buying from both; I have to say with book groups I will always try and find a book second hand just in case I don’t like it. Now I am get some sent which helps, I can understand people not splashing out on a book especially hardbacks if they might simply not like it. Mind you I have rules with second hand books, they need to not have cracked spines or water stains I am quite picky unless it’s an orange Penguin or is ‘loved worn’. I can also see in some cases the fact you can get a lot of bargains. Like today when I went for a little wonder (research for this blog you understand) I managed to get all of this for just under a fiver.


Red Dragon/The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
I am almost 100% sure that I have read Red Dragon, but don’t want to check if the ending involves a boat and a sudden twist just in case I am really off and it was one of the others. I saw these and thought ‘oh why not’? I remember enjoying, if that’s the right word, whichever Hannibal Lector book it was about eight years ago.

Animals People – Indra Sinha
I have read this so it’s going straight on the shelves. It was one of the many books I have lent to someone and never seen the light of day again. One of the most unlikely likeable protagonists I think I have read in the last few years and what a story he tells. A fictional chemical factory explodes in a town in India (based on true facts) and the scars it leaves on the land and its people. Brilliance!

Quantum of Solace – Ian Fleming
A collection of all the short stories of James Bond which is in pristine condition and would have set me back over ten pounds. I want to read more Bond after really enjoying the darkness I didn’t expect in Casino Royale last year.

The Ghost – Robert Harris
Have no idea what to expect from this at all. I wouldn’t have picked this up full price but have heard a lot of good things about the author and thought this was a worthy try. We will see…

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors/Paula Spencer – Roddy Doyle
Another author have always wanted to try and read and like the idea of reading The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and then reading its sequel that came out ten years later. Thought would be interesting to read them both in succession and see if it works.

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
Read it last year and really enjoyed it have bought this for Novel Insights.

A High Wind In Jamaica – Richard Hughes
I would not have picked this classic up had I not seen it today and for so cheap. Sounds like a very interesting mix of Pirate story, children’s adventure and literary classic.

The Shakespeare Secret – J.L. Carrell
I fancy reading some ‘adventure’ stories this year and remember there being some really positive reviews of this, I just didn’t quite want to buy it when it came out and am not sure why now. It’s now on my TBR so no complaints.

Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
I was sent this by the publishers last year, decided would pick this up as another treat for Novel Insights.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Books To Get Excited About in 2009

A fair few friends and family members have recently asked me what books I am really looking forward to this year. It is also the talk of some blogs, book forums and of course the book pages of the broadsheets last weekend where devoted to it. It’s something I have to admit I didn’t normally used to read in papers or think of as I hadn’t been the biggest fan of hardback books until last year and I never got the catalogues in advance however that has all changed so here are some of the books I am looking forward to in 2009...


A fair few big named authors are bringing out books this year; I do feel James Patterson’s eight is slightly excessive. Possibly one of the books that I am most excited about is the long awaited new novel of Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s The Angel’s Game (Orion), this will feature the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ which I wanted to get lost in The Shadow of The Wind again. Jane Harris will be following up one of my favourite reads of 2007 The Observations with Gillespie and I (Faber) set in the late 1800’s and in the 1930’s looking at the lives of artist Gillespie and Helen Baxter and the mystery around how they met and what happened next. Another one to really look out for is one of my favourite authors Sarah Waters who is going all ghostly in Georgian times with The Little Stranger (Virago). My guilty pleasures can be continued with two Tess Gerritsen releases the first being Keeping The Dead (Bantam) and the second to be announced.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is bringing us The Thing Around Your Neck (Fourth Estate) a collection of short stories which sound very interesting and after the amazing Half of a Yellow Sun I am expecting a lot, I must read Purple Hibiscus this year. Sophie Hannah is bringing The Other Half Lives which I am sure with be another crime thriller with amazing twists. Tom Rob Smith brings us the follow up to Child 44 with The Secret Speech (Simon & Schuster) and John Boyne follows the spectacular The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with another tale told by a young boy The House of Special Purpose (Doubleday). Finally there are Xiaolu Guo’s latest novel the wonderfully titled The UFO in Her Eyes (Chatto & Windus) and Jake Arnott’s The Devils Paintbrush (Sceptre).

Debuts am excited about this year are The Outlander by Gil Adamson (Bloomsbury), True Murder: A Novel by Yaba Bado (Bloomsbury) and The Ghost Lover by ex-editor of the Literary Review Gillian Greenwood (John Murray). One you should get excited about, and I have already read and reviewed, is The Sweetness At The Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Orion), I so hope that he makes another as the heroine of the books is just wonderful. Books that sound right up my street (but by authors I have never heard of before) are The Book of Negro’s by Lawrence Hill (Doubleday) which sounds epic, some Mormon murder with David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife (Doubleday) and Indian Jones meets Life of Pi in Pandora in the Congo by Albert Sanchez Pinol (Canongate).

In terms of translations everyone is already discussing the unfinished ‘masterpiece’ 2666 by Roberto Bolano (Picador) I am unsure but might give it a go. I have Eve’s Alexandria to thank for some added inspiration. I will be getting Gentlemen by Klas Ostergren (Canongate), The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Little (Chatto & Windus), Greed by Elfriede Jelinek (Serpents Tail) and one they haven’t mentioned The Seamstress (Bloomsbury) by Frances De Pontes Peebles (possibly one of the best author names ever, I love it).

Vintage are re-issuing some books that I would love to read like The Count of Monte Christo by Dumas, The Murders at Rue Morgue by Poe, The Master and The Margherita by Bulgakov and pretty much all of the works of Charles Dickens.

Books to film this year that we should all watch out for are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Richard Yates modern classic Revolutionary Road (both Vintage), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Penguin), Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (Corgi Books), Gregory David Roberts Shantaram (Abacus). Also coming to the big screen (but I have read) are Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (Picador), and of course the yearly Harry Potter (Bloomsbury).

Finally after my first year really giving non fiction my attention I have a seen a fair few books that look like they could increase my non fiction reading even further in 2009. The Scouring Angel by Ben Gummer (The Bodley Head) which looks at the Black Death and its relationship and time with the British Isles. The memoirs of author Christopher Fowler in Paper Boy: A Memoir and the biography of Muriel Spark by Martin Stannard. Something seems to be popular in non fiction this year is the look at mental institutes (is that the pc way to say it) with Sectioned: A Life Interrupted by John O’Donoghue (John Murray) and Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost And Found in the Loony Bin by Nora Vincent (Chatto & Windus).

Phew – and that’s only from the catalogues, newspapers and blogs I have managed to get my mitts on so far, seems like there is quite a tear of reading ahead.

Friday, January 09, 2009

When You Long To Kick Yourself

Only a short-ish blog today as have a mammoth one arriving for you all tomorrow but a promise is a promise and my promise was to blog daily, I also thought some of you might empathise with my woe’s today. The other day when I went and bought rather a few too many classics I had also seen a couple of books that I had wanted to buy as well. One was Arthur & George by Julian Barnes which I read a few years ago but lent to someone and never saw again, this also happened with Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom in case anyone wonders why I don’t lend books out ever! I honestly can’t remember who I lent it to which is the other problem as would ask for it back. Lesson learned though.

The other book which I picked up and looked at three times during one long perusal of the shelves was Ferney by James Long. Now I don’t know why but I just couldn’t decide if I really wanted it or not. I also couldn’t work out why I knew the name of it so well and where I had heard of it before. Bags filled to brimming anyway I went home and googled it. I was so annoyed that I hadn’t picked it up as it sounded fascinating, not just the story itself which deals with soul mates and previously lived lives from what I gather, but also the story of the book itself. The book was originally published in 1998 and won over quite a cult following. It then went out of print only to be re-published in recent months. Something about this fact only made me want to read it all the more. Then reading Cornflower Books I saw that Karen had read it and completely loved it, my mind was made up, and I would get up this morning and make my way down to the charity shop pronto.

I have just come back and it’s gone (along with Arthur & George) and I am completely gutted. I know I have a massive TBR that is slowly overtaking the house, but when a book captures you, well in my case, you want to read it now or at least have it in stock in your home so you can soon. I have learnt my lesson but am still kicking myself. Has this happened to anyone else and if so what was the book?

P.S I do know I could by it from a shop or the internet today but am slightly sulking and refusing ha, ha, ha.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bring On The Book Groups

As you may have read one of my resolutions in book terms this year was to read more varied books and in doing so join a few more book groups. I am already doing Rogue Book Group with Novel Insights which is fantastic as we have known each other for over twenty years and have a fairly similar taste in books. We are slowly but surely working our way through books we have always wanted to read and also books by authors that we both really enjoy reading and want to read more of. Currently our choice for this month is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as this has been a book that has been on both of our TBR piles for quite some time and is a book that we have both been told ‘we simply must read’ over the years. So far so good though I have to admit I am reading a part a time, keeping furious notes of characters and sub-plots, and reading a different book between each part. So many bonuses to this book group, but one slight drawback being that it’s varying our reading but in our own comfort zone, not making me read fiction that I wouldn’t think to pick up otherwise.

So I went on the hunt for more. I decided I should do a book group or two where I didn’t know anyone else to start with, this meaning the choices would be more varied and I get out and meet more people who love books. Now you would think finding book groups in central London would be fairly easy… not so. After hunting for many, many hours I found ‘Thingbooks’ which ticked all my boxes; I don’t know anyone, they meet in a Waterstones in London (spending wise could prove lethal with all that temptation) and seem to have a possible TBR that I wouldn’t pick myself. The first book that we are doing (the book group is new so its not a clique yet) is Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and I managed to find an almost new copy for 50p so was chuffed that my spending hadn’t gone crazy, well not yet anyway. This one is happening on Sunday so will divulge all about it afterwards.

Whilst looking at some of my favourite book blogs I saw that Cornflower Books has an online book group. After the initial worry that these people would be way ahead of me on book knowledge and I might come across as a bit of a wally I thought ‘don’t be silly’ and emailed. I had a lovely reply from Karen the same day saying she was really pleased I had emailed and that the book group is quite informal and ad hoc so you can come and read as you like. It didn’t think it could have been more ideal until I saw they were reading Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler as this month’s choice and I have wanted to read much more by her since Digging To America was such a hit with me last year. So that’s it, all sorted. The only thing is they are doing theirs on the 17th so I now have all three of these to read by the end of next week. Mind you that’s hardly a hardship is it? I better dash off and get cracking, though not spine cracking as I cant stand it when people do that!