Doctor Zhivago – Choosing the translation…

Here we go again – literal or liberal?

Months ago, in preparation for the Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge, I bought a copy of the Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Doctor Zhivago from Amazon. But, for reasons best known to themselves, they sent me a copy of the Max Hayward/Manya Harari translation instead. I’d probably not have been too fussed about this, except that I had also bought a copy of the audiobook to do a combined read/listen, so obviously it was important to have the same translation in each. So I acquired the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation too. (A sad footnote to this episode was when I discovered that the Audible audiobook, also listed as Pevear, is in fact the Hayward! It appears Amazon and Audible don’t really understand that different translations matter. They should be clearer now they’ve read my e-mails on the subject… 😉 )

So at the weekend I finally settled down to read. The Pevear/Volokhonsky is the most recent translation and my initial sketchy research had suggested they’re the go-to people for Russian translation at the moment. The Hayward/Harari is, I believe, the translation most people will be familiar with who read the book before 2010. I decided to read the first chapter of each and decide which I preferred. And that’s when it began to get complicated…

The Hayward/Harari seems to be generally recognised as a good but liberal translation, where they’ve kept the meaning but made changes to word order and vocabulary to make it read more naturally in English. Apparently they’ve also omitted the occasional bit and, from my own reading, have sometimes added a little extra to clarify something which might not be immediately obvious to a non-Russian. Pevear/Volokhonsky, however, is claimed to be a more literal translation, keeping not just the words but often the order, and striving to emulate the rhythms in the original. Here are some comparisons…

H/H – “There was a certain amount of unpleasantness, and there are certain consequences. For instance, I am banned from the civil service for quite a long time and I am forbidden to go to Moscow or Petersburg. But these are trifles.”

P/V – “There was some unpleasantness; it had its consequences. For instance, I can’t hold a government job for a long time. They won’t allow me in the capitals. But that’s all rubbish.”

In this one, H/H have clarified that the “capitals” are Moscow and St Petersburg. P/V have used “capitals” and then footnoted the explanation. On the one hand, this kind of thing makes H/H easier to read and simpler to understand on a superficial level. But on the other hand, it means that the reader is left unaware that the Russia of the time considered itself to have two capitals, an old (Moscow) and a new (St Petersburg), which, all my history reading of the last few months has led me to believe, is quite important to understanding the country and the revolution. P/V’s footnote clarifies this quite well. I’ve also never come across the term “civil service” in connection with government jobs in Russia – it’s a very British expression, I think.

P/V – A rain of clods drummed down as four shovels hastily filled the grave. Over it a small mound rose. A ten-year-old boy climbed onto it.

Only in the state of torpor and insensibility that usually comes at the end of a big funeral could it have seemed that the boy wanted to speak over his mother’s grave.

H/H – Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top.

Only the numb and unfeeling condition which comes to people at the end of a big funeral could account for some of the mourners’ thinking that he wished to make an address over his mother’s grave.

Here, H/H have changed the structure of the sentences making them read more naturally and perhaps simplistically. P/V’s more literal translation follows the Russian structure, I assume, making it seem rather stilted and convoluted at points. On the other hand, I think P/V create a clearer image overall, and I prefer “torpor and insensibility” to “numb and unfeeling”.

Ooh, I say! Oops, I mean… Omar Sharif as the Doctor. Wonder if he does housecalls?

H/H – During the night the boy, Yura, was woken up by a knocking at the window. The dark cell was mysteriously lit up by a flickering whiteness. With nothing on but his shirt, he ran to the window and pressed his face against the cold glass.

Outside there was no trace of the road, the graveyard or the kitchen garden, nothing but the blizzard, the air smoking with snow. It was almost as if the snowstorm had caught sight of Yura and, conscious of its power to terrify, roared, howled and did everything possible to attract his attention, revelling in the effect it had on him. Turning over and over in the sky, length after length of whiteness unwound over the earth and shrouded it. The blizzard was alone on earth and knew no rival.

P/V – During the night, Yura was awakened by a tapping at the window. The dark cell was supernaturally lit up by a fluttering white light. In just his nightshirt, Yura ran to the window and pressed his face to the cold glass.

Beyond the window there was no road, no cemetery, no kitchen garden. A blizzard was raging outside; the air was smoky with snow. One might have thought the storm noticed Yura and, knowing how frightening it was, revelled in the impression it made on him. It whistled and howled and tried in every way possible to attract Yura’s attention. From the sky endless skeins of white cloth, turn after turn, fell on the earth, covering it in a winding sheet. The blizzard was alone in the world; nothing rivalled it.

This third example is a little more bothersome to me. I like both these passages and think both translations convey a vivid picture of the snowstorm – my preference is for P/V. But ‘mysterious’ and ‘supernatural’ have distinctly different definitions and I am left wondering which translation catches Pasternak’s meaning. I suspect ‘supernatural’ might be closer, since even this first chapter shows me that religious belief or lack of it is going to be something of a theme in the book. But, when I started looking for other opinions on the two translations, Ann Pasternak Slater (Boris’s niece) points out in this interesting Guardian article, that, when describing the moon in a later passage, P/V have chosen “blackish purple”, while H/H have gone for “crimson” which Slater, herself a Russian speaker, thinks is closer to the meaning in the original. So P/V’s literal translation may not always convey the author’s intention better than H/H’s liberal one. (Or, of course, Slater could be wrong – being a relative of the author doesn’t necessarily confer greater depth of understanding. And I can’t help feeling crimson moons are a little banal while blackish purple ones are dramatically poetic…)

Looks like the heating’s on the bung again…

My final example is the one that I find most discombobulating…

P/V – As they passed by the Gordons’ compartment, wrapping the corners of their shoulders in shawls and turning the narrowness of the corridor into a source of fresh coquetry, it seemed to Misha that they hissed, or, judging by their compressed lips, meant to hiss: “Ah, just imagine, such sensitivity! We’re special! We’re intelligentsia! We simply can’t!”

H/H – When, with a coquettish wriggle of their shoulders for which the narrow passage offered an excuse, they passed the Gordons’ compartment, it seemed to Misha that through their pursed lips they must be hissing: “Gracious, what sensitive plants! They think they’re a special creation! They’re intellectuals! All this is too much for them!”

It seems to me that, on the surface, these two translations mean entirely different things, though I think P/V’s translation actually leaves the meaning quite unclear (“we simply can’t” what?). H/H suggest fairly strongly that the women were being rather dismissively anti-Semitic towards the Jewish Gordons (or at least that Misha thought they were), while P/V reads as if they were boasting instead about their own superior aristocratic sensitivity. Either works, but what was Pasternak’s intention? Having read the H/H version, I can now see that the P/V version could also be read as a snide comment on the Gordons, but I don’t think it’s at all clear. I studied Russian a little at school and while I’m entirely unable to understand the text in its original form, I can just about tell the difference between “they” and “we”. When I look at the text in Russian it undoubtedly uses “we”. But I suspect H/H may have caught the actual meaning better, perhaps by interpreting some nuance of language or punctuation that P/V have too literally translated. But in truth I have no idea…

My Omar with Julie Christie. Huh! I bet she wouldn’t look half so beautiful without the hat…

I’ve decided to go with Pevear/Volokhonsky, because of that “capitals” thing, because overall I prefer their vocabulary choices, because the footnotes are good, and because they haven’t anglicised the Russian names quite so annoyingly as H/H (who use Nicky instead of Nika, for example). However, I’ll keep H/H to hand to help on those occasions that P/V leave the meaning unclear. But what do you think? Have you read either, or both, and if so what did you think of them? And if not, which do you think looks more enjoyable based on the examples?

MAKE FFLAND GREAT AGAIN! #mfga

An election manifesto…

Thank you to whoever nominated me for the Best Book Blog Award at this year’s Annual Bloggers Bash Awards! I am thrilled and honoured!

I considered simply blushing and waiting to see if anyone voted for me – highly unlikely since I’m up against some phenomenal competition, not least my own choice – the lovely Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books.

But then I remembered that sometimes the least likely person can win elections, even against the most qualified candidates who have ever stood! It all depends on making sure the offer appeals enough to the electorate, and boiling those messages down to some easily remembered slogans. So here is my manifesto…

BUILD THE WALL!

If you vote for me, I will build a giant circular wall, 20 feet high, and I will have it lined with bookshelves! Inside the wall will be a new country where we will all live in a yuge palace, complete with loads of comfy chairs, reading lamps and coffee tables.

BAN THE BOOK HATERS!

All people with a TBR greater than 181 will be automatic citizens of FFLand (as I propose to modestly call this new country) and library cards will be issued instead of identity papers. However Book Haters with a TBR of 181 or less will be left on the outside – we don’t want them coming into our country and spreading their horrible ideas about TBR reduction plans and reading what they already have before acquiring more. Unnatural!

EXTREME VETTING!

There will be an immigration plan but potential immigrants will be extremely vetted before being allowed to enter. They must swear the following oath of allegiance…

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign library of which I have heretofore been a member; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of FFLand against all Book Haters, foreign and domestic; that I will bear books on behalf of FFLand when required by the law; that I will read for a minimum of 8 hours per day and blog at least three times a week; that I will never return library books on time nor allow my TBR to drop below 182; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. I swear this oath on the latest block-buster novel.”

LOCK HER UP!

Wikileaks have just released the following shock news! They’ve received details, via Russians who have hacked into her blog, of the latest state of Crooked Cleo’s TBR and I have to tell you that, although she pretends to be a book lover, horrifically she has allowed her TBR to drop to 181! Click here if you want to see the evidence for yourself! Proof positive that she’s a secret Book Hater!! If I win, I shall instruct the FFBI to investigate her instantly, find her guilty of something, and Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!! LOCK HER UP!!!

* * * * * * * * *

I suspect you’re all longing to vote for me now, understandably. But just in case, by some odd freak of nature, Crooked Cleo wins the popular vote, then obviously this could only be because she has bussed in three billion illegal Book Haters from the Lands Beyond The Wall to rig the vote! (Lock Her Up!) So to encourage you all to turn out and vote the right way – i.e., FOR ME! – there will be free chocolate at my inauguration rally!!

So click on the ballot box to…

VOTE FOR ME!!!

MAKE FFLAND GREAT AGAIN!!!

Friday Frippery! The Unique Blogger Award…

Is “unique” a euphemism??

The lovely Anne at I’ve Read This nominated me for the Unique Blogger Award and set me some questions aaaaages ago, so first of all many thanks and many, many apologies for taking so long to reply! I feel totally honoured!


The rules of the award are as follows:

The Rules:

• Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
• Answer the questions.
• In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
• Ask them three questions.

Just to be different, Anne asked me four questions – what a rebel! But then, she’s Canadian…

So here goes!

1. How many hours per week do you spend on your blog?

Approximately 168. My daily schedule is as follows:

  • 3 hours reading
  • 1 hour writing and drafting posts
  • 4 hours looking for suitable pictures
  • 2 hours updating my TBR spreadsheet
  • 6 hours poring over everyone else’s posts and sobbing about how easy you all make it look
  • 8 hours having horrific nightmares about the exponential growth of my TBR…

(Suitable pictures…)

2. Can you read more than one book at a time?

Well, it depends on what you mean. I usually have three books on the go – a hefty factual tome which I read in the afternoon when my brain is theoretically at its most alert; a “serious” fiction which I read in the early evening when I’m ready to relax but still awake enough to concentrate; and something light – usually crime, or occasionally sci-fi, for late at night when my braincells have declared an all-out strike and gone off up the dancing without me. But if you mean one book for each eye plus an audiobook, all simultaneously, then I have only one thing to say to you – what a great idea!! I’m going to practice that…

3. How much do you hate finding copy errors (spelling mistakes, etc.) in a published book on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being I don’t mind at all, and 10 being you hate it with a fiery rage?

Personally, I think that’s a crime so heinous that a special punishment should be devised for the perpetrators. I’ve had some thoughts on the subject and come up with a few options…

Being forced to read Moby Dick. Twice.

Being taken to visit a chocolate factory but not being allowed to try any of the samples.

Being made to spring-clean the houses of everyone who has spotted the errors.

Being made to listen to re-runs of Comrade Trump’s “greatest” speeches.

And for really serious repeat offenders…

Being forbidden to watch Pride and Prejudice for five whole years.

4. Why are cats so awesome?

I was going to say “because they’re fluffy and cuddly”, but Tuppence wasn’t at all pleased with that answer – she feels it undermines her status. So she’s decided to answer this question herself by pointing out what she feels are the main feline contributions to human happiness. Over to you, Tuppence!

1) Philosophy – we have discovered the true road to happiness and are only sad that humans are, frankly, too stupid to have worked it out for themselves. Twenty hours sleep per day, an hour cumulative of eating time, and three hours of pestering people just when they’re trying to relax. It’s so simple, really, but then, so are humans.

2) Art – some fools humans think we’re just messy when we scatter cat litter all over the floor, but if they had any true discernment, they’d realise we’re actually creating wonderful abstract mosaics for their pleasure and intellectual (and olfactory) stimulation.

3) Healthcare – we routinely check the circulation of our pet humans by opening a vein and ensuring the blood flow is strong. Plus, by making sure we do this just after creating one of our abstracts, we ensure our humans are motivated to keep their tetanus shots up to date.

Go on, tickle my tummy! I dare you…

4) Sport – we worry that our humans don’t seem to be very agile nor have very good reaction times, so we help to keep them supple by ensuring they fall over us on a regular basis, preferably when they’re half-way down a flight of stairs. This is great for improving their balance, and for helping them build up a tolerance for pain.

5) Wealth – by treating our human servants as the utterly inferior and, frankly, stupid species they are, we help to keep them meek. And, as we all know, the meek shall inherit the earth. Which, you must agree, is a pretty good return for the small investment we ask them to make on cat treats and toys…

Oh, excuse me, I’d go on, but I see it’s my nap time, and anyway, my servant has to go and admire my latest artwork now…

* * * * * * *

Thank you, Tuppence – it’s so good of you to take time out of your busy schedule to give us the benefit of your superior wisdom. And talking of healthcare has reminded me – time for your worming tablet, I think!

Aaaarghhh! No!! I’m sorry! Please!! Not the laser eyes!!!

* * * * * * *

Thanks again, Anne – Tuppence and I had a lot of fun doing this!

I nominate everyone who leaves a comment, and here are my three questions…

1) Red panda or ring-tailed lemur?

2) Aragorn or Boromir?

3) Long shorts or short shorts?

HAVE A GREAT FRIDAY! 😀

Friday Frippery! Top Secret…

Everything you ever wanted to know about me, but were too afraid to ask…

The lovely Jessica over at The Bookworm Chronicles has kindly nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award – thanks, Jessica! 😀

Here are the rules…

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to them.
  • Share 7-15 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 9-15 bloggers you admire and contact them.

The first one is easy – thank you, Jessica! Much appreciated. 😀

The second one is harder – obviously I can’t tell you about my career as a Russian spy, nor reveal that secretly I’m Donald Trump’s hairdresser. You already know about my legendary iron willpower and my favourite hobby – chocolate-guzzling. But I think I’ve found a few facts that are quite revealing – perhaps TOO revealing! I shall let you decide…

* * * * * * * * *

1. My cat Tommy once won an award for being the Bravest Cat in Scotland, but he refused to attend the ceremony, so I had to accept it on his behalf in front of a bunch of newspaper photographers. Fifteen minutes of fame… except they all printed the picture of the Bravest Dog instead, because he showed up. There’s a life lesson there…

2. When I was four, I had my first boyfriend. His dad worked for Coca-Cola as a delivery driver, so he would bring me a free bottle of Coke every day. Then his dad changed jobs, so I chucked him.

3. I once had a picnic with a bunch of armed policemen beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At 3 a.m. With wine.

4. My second boyfriend had a rocking horse. I’d always wanted a rocking horse…

5. During a sports day at the school I worked at, I got caught on video teaching some of the boys how to make water bombs to splat the teachers.

6. I once spent an evening in the kitchen hunting a mouse the cats had brought in and released… while the cats sat on the sofa in the living room watching a DVD of David Attenborough’s Life of Birds.

7. I once worked for 3 weeks as a chalet maid at Butlins Holiday Camp in Clacton-on-Sea, before getting a major promotion to the hot-dog stand.

Hi-de-Hi!*

8. My third boyfriend lasted from about age 9 to 11, then we went to different schools. The next time we met, we were sixteen. I had just been to the dentist and my mouth was so numb I couldn’t speak clearly and was kinda dribbling. One could see he felt he’d had a lucky escape…

9. When my mother collapsed during a holiday in France and was taken to hospital, my French wasn’t good enough and the doctor couldn’t speak English, so I had to mime her medical history. The angina was fine, but the prolapsed uterus stretched my acting abilities to their limit…**

10. When I fell madly in love aged 12, I graffitied “I Love Ronnie” all over my pencil case and school bag. Then a couple of weeks later I fell out of love with Ronnie and in love with Ian – my mother refused to replace the bag and case. This is why I don’t have tattoos…

Aah! Darcy!

* * * * * * * * *

There! I think it’s safe to say you know everything about me now! As usual, I’m not going to nominate specific blogs, since you’re all lovely! So, to be fair, I think you really ought to reveal something about yourself in the comments below…

*For non-Brits and young people, this is not me! It’s Su Pollard, who played a chalet maid in an old sitcom called Hi-de-Hi…
**She was fine!

HAVE A GREAT EASTER! 😀

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…

…a Valentine post…

Not every great love is romantic in nature, so today I thought I’d send my Valentines to people, real or fictional, whose varied kinds of love have entertained and moved me over the years.

heart-and-roses* * * * *

Matthew and Anne
Anne of Green Gables

When shy Matthew Cuthbert goes to pick up a boy from the orphanage only to discover they’ve sent a skinny, red-haired little girl instead, he decides to leave it up to his sister Marilla to break the news to the child that she’ll have to go back. But during the drive home, little Anne chats brightly about her past and her imaginative impressions of this new place she’s found herself in, and by the time they reach Green Gables, Matthew has discovered he kinda likes having her around…

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.

Matthew soon becomes one of the pivotal people in Anne’s life, offering her support and admiration such as she has never known in her lonely life, and under his kind treatment she blossoms. Although Matthew doesn’t speak often, he has one of the most sob-worthy lines in the book…

“Well now, I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne,’ said Matthew patting her hand. ‘Just mind you that – rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn’t a boy that took the Avery scholarship, was it? It was a girl – my girl – my girl that I’m proud of.”

anne-and-matthew

* * * * *

Holmes and Watson
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Watson wears his deep love for his friend on his sleeve, but it’s not often Holmes shows his feelings. So it’s all the more affecting when he does…

…I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror – the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in.

“Upon my word, Watson!” said Holmes at last with an unsteady voice, “I owe you both my thanks and an apology. It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend. I am really very sorry.”

“You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”

holmes-and-watson

* * * * *

Alexander the Great and Bucephalus

When the great horse Bucephalus was offered for sale to Philip of Macedonia, the price seemed too high for a beast that no one had been able to tame. But Philip’s young son Alexander greatly admired the massive, black horse with a white star on his forehead. He made a wager with the owner that if he could ride the horse, the price would be waived. Alexander guessed that the horse was spooked by his own shadow, so turned Bucephalus’s face to the sun, and the horse allowed him to mount. From that moment they were inseparable companions until Bucephalus died many years later at the Battle of the Hydaspes. As a tribute to his great and loyal friend, Alexander founded a town and named it Bucephala.

(I was so in love with this story as a child that, when I finally persuaded my parents to let me have a puppy, I wanted to call him Bucephalus. My brother wanted to call him Hercules. My dad put his foot down, and the puppy became Sandy. He was a miniature poodle. Perhaps Dad was right… 😉 )

'Alexander taming Bucephalus' statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland
‘Alexander taming Bucephalus’ statue by 19thC Scottish sculptor, John Steell, at Edinburgh City Chambers, Edinburgh, Scotland

* * * * *

Scarlett O’Hara and Tara
Gone with the Wind

Husbands may come and go in Scarlett’s life, but her father taught her early to love their land – Tara…

Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.

She learns her lesson well…

I can’t let Tara go. I won’t let it go while there’s a breath left in my body.

Even Rhett comes second…

Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day…

Personally, I prefer Rhett...
Personally, I’m not convinced she got her priorities right…

* * * * *

Lizzie and Jane
Pride and Prejudice

Long before Lizzie meets Darcy, she has another love in her life – her beloved sister Jane, whom she admires even while laughing at her just a little…

“But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

“Dear Lizzy!”

“Oh! you are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in your life.”

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough — one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design — to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad — belongs to you alone.”

Oh, for goodness sake! It's Jane and Lizzie, okay? It's NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!
Oh, for goodness sake! It’s Jane and Lizzie, okay? It’s NOT a gratuitous Darcy pic!

* * * * * *

happy-valentines-day-2014

Four…

It’s my birthday!

Goodness! Who knew when I started the blog that I’d actually stick it out for four years! I certainly didn’t! I almost feel like I should apologise to those of you who’ve been around since the earliest days – you have read roughly 600 reviews, over 100 TBR posts, several nonsense posts, a couple of heartfelt political posts, and the occasional pastiche! You deserve a huge thank you…thank-youAnd thanks too to all the newer people who’ve joined me along the way – you should know I appreciate every view, every like, every comment. If it weren’t for all of you, I’d never have kept going this long. (So, in a sense, it’s your own fault… 😉 )

So, while I meander on about a few statistics, put your feet up and have a bit of cake…

4th-3

* * * * * * *

In 2016 I read 118 books – a total of 37770 pages, or an average of 103 pages per day. Down a good bit on 2015 (110) and even more on 2014 (117). I abandoned six books at too early a stage to justify a review. I went through a big reading slump last year, what with the world falling apart with Brexit, Trump and all. But even so, there’s no doubt blogging eats into my reading time more and more.  Which isn’t a problem yet, but might become so if I end up with no books to review!

The breakdown of ratings for the year was…

5 stars (I love it)                       55

4 stars (I like it)                        36

3 stars (It’s OK)                        16

2 stars (I don’t like it)                7

1 star    (I hate it)                       4

year-4-pie-chart

A similar pattern to 2015 overall, which I’m pleased about because there were points when I felt I might be rating more harshly than usual because of my slump. Any year where over three-quarters of books fall into either the “I like it” or “I love it” category has to be a good year!

* * * * * * *

The split of genres…

genre-split-2016

Crime continues to fall as my distaste for the current trend of misery-fests continues, though I’ve been reading far more vintage crime this year to make up for it. Genre fiction has collapsed! However I should read more SF this year, since I’ve included several in my Classics Club list. Pleased to see a bit of a rise again in fiction – I was surprised when it dropped off last year.

* * * * * * *

The divide continues between what you, my valued regulars, like, and what the rest of the great anonymous world out there pops in to view.

Here are the top 5 posts based on views: –

Thrawn Janet – a Tuesday Terror! post from March 2014. This story written in archaic Scots has been in the leading spot for the last two years. I’m convinced it must be on the curriculum of some massive online literature course. Rarely a day goes by when it doesn’t get a few visits. Very odd!

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – from July 2014. Still in second place, as it has been since posting. I remain convinced it’s the pics that bring people in on that one.

DSCN0535

The Tell-Tale Heart – posted in October 2015, and like Thrawn Janet attracts visitors more or less daily. The Tuesday Terror! posts in general attract far more random visits from searches than any other kind of post on the blog.

Butchering Books – The Wind in the Willows – posted in October 2015, this one had stopped getting lots of views until a couple of months ago a visitor posted a link on her Facebook page, resulting in a big surge of visits over the next few weeks.

1985-wind-in-the-willows-police-chase-toad-print_700_600_U3R3

The Apple TreeTuesday Terror! again, from March 2014. This one has never really surged but picks up a steady stream of a few visits a week – no idea why. It’s a great story though!

* * * * * * *

But you, my dear regular visitors, are rather surprising in your tastes too! Here are the 5 reviews you most ‘liked’ last year…

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

2001: A Space Odyssey (Film of the Book review)

Dubliners by James Joyce

Well! Only one 21st century book! I find that fascinating, considering that the vast majority of my reviews are of new releases or fairly recent books.

year-4-classic-pie-chart

I was so intrigued I checked the next five… Slaughterhouse-Five, 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book), Moby-Dick, Jekyll and Hyde, Black Narcissus! In fact, I only reviewed 17 classics and 8 of them appear in the top ten most “liked” reviews. Isn’t that odd??

* * * * *

Happily you also joined in on some of the fun posts, which are the ones I usually most enjoy doing. Here are some of the ones you “liked” and/or commented on most…

Let’s Have a Heated Debate! On Women’s Only Literary PrizesWoo, boy! You like a debate, don’t you?! I must find some other subject to rile you all up again soon… 😉

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again… – Oh, how you like to laugh at my total failure to achieve ANY of my New Year’s Resolutions! But I’ll achieve them all this year, you’ll see…

The Story of a Year in Books – a story created from all the book titles I read in 2016. I’m so glad you “liked” this one, because I had so much fun doing it! My personal favourite post of the year…

The Entertainer Blogger Award – frankly, I think you only visit for these tags and awards because you know there’ll be a picture of my Darcy…

darcy-smouldering

Friday Frippery: A conversation regarding whales… – that pesky whale seems to have dominated the year, so I had to get him out of my system somehow! I’ll miss him, you know…

So that was Year Four. Thank you all so much for being part of it!

Hope you’ll stick around for Year Five!

Visiting Cathy…

The Books That Built the Blogger…

I’m honoured to be guest posting over at Cathy’s place today, in her great new feature where she finds out about the Books That Built the Blogger. I do hope you’ll pop over.

I know many of you already follow Cathy, but if you haven’t met her yet, she writes great reviews and is the host of a couple of annual challenges that loads of us look forward to every year – the Reading Ireland Challenge in March and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. She also cheers me up greatly in another way – her blog is called 746 Books because that’s how many books were on her TBR when she started blogging. Makes me chuckle every time…

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Meantime, for your delight and delectation…

Two great sportsmen. Aww, Rafa, next year for sure...
Two great sportsmen.
Aww, Rafa, next year for sure…

The Story of a Year in Books…

A Victorian Murder Mystery

(OK, so I was bored. And it occurred to me it might be fun to see if I could make a story out of the titles of all the books I’ve reviewed this year… in the order I reviewed them! I really need to get a proper hobby… The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot one film in there – couldn’t resist – it just seemed to fit. 😉 )

Martin Chuzzlewit and the sisters of Versailles rattled through the swirling London fog and snow on their way to the Children’s Home. As they travelled along Coffin Road, their eyes were watching Godfrey, their cabbie, knowing his broken promise to turn up on the dot of seven o’clock had made them late for their appointment.

london fog

“Take the A26, Godfrey,” Chuzzlewit called out. Snowblind, Godfrey swerved, nearly knocking down Martin Luther and a clubbable woman who were crossing the road arm in arm. A passing journalist, Winston Churchill at The Telegraph, pushed them to safety just in time, crying “Even the dead would be scared to walk these streets in this damnable weather!”

“Thank you, sir!” said Martin, gratefully. “I am no one important, but Mrs Dalloway here is on a vital mission. She is carrying a potion made from the rare black narcissus, which it is believed may be the cure for the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”

Hyperventilating hysterically and gulping down some Vichy water, Mrs Dalloway cried “Blessed are those who thirst! You are beloved, dear sir! I call down all the blessings of heaven on your head! Now we must rush if we are to be in time to prevent the murder at the manor!”

At that moment, they heard the noise of time as Big Ben struck the hour. Turning into Euston Station, they hurried swiftly through the massive building, dark and echoing at this hour, like caves of steel. In a corner, an old flower seller had tried to fend off the cold by setting the heather blazing, but she still had a little left. “Buy some lucky heather, pretty lady,” she crooned as Mrs Dalloway sailed past. Nightblind, Mrs Dalloway heard only the echo of the words, which seemed to her disordered mind like a spectral voice rising from the cold, cold ground.

As they left the station and hurried across the Hyde Park green, Martin Luther’s fearful eyes searched around the green for danger. In the woods, he spied a group of Dubliners, teaching each other the names of the trees. “Well, this is an advancement of learning,” mused Martin, philosophically. “Hey ho! Let the great world spin!”

london-fog

Finally they arrived at the Theatre Royal where that evening a performance of Henry IV was to be staged. A woman in blue stood by the entrance, with a large dog on a leash by her side. The previous evening’s storm had uprooted an old tree which now lay across the road. In the gaslight, the shadow cast on the ground by its twigs looked so like a mysterious old map that Martin found himself unconsciously looking for the traditional marking: Here Be Dragons. But then, as he looked more closely, he saw to his horror a reflection of the moon in a dead eye!

Absalom! Absalom!” he cried in great dismay, recognising immediately his old friend and bank manager. The woman in blue, known to her wide acquaintanceship as Mrs Maybrick, cackled haggishly. “There will be a dark redemption for this night’s work, sir!”

Shortly, two Bow Street Runners arrived on the scene, Gandhi and Churchill. Earlier that day, they had been doing crowd control at the Easter Parade, (unusually, being held in November this year) where the ladies of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society had got somewhat out of hand after imbibing rather freely of the punch provided at that event. Gandhi was still trembling nervously, for when ladies get up to horseplay, fear is the rider, he had discovered. “I wish I could go on a little holiday to the High Mountains of Portugal,” he thought, wistfully, “rather than having to deal with the sans pareil mystery that we have here!”

Close your eyes,” commanded Runner Churchill. “You know you’ll faint if you look at the murdered banker. Especially since he’s been so horrifically mutilated; that snow-covered thing on his left kneecap is a heart so white!

victorian-bobbies

Mrs Maybrick, (whom, after the sudden death of her landlady six months earlier, some suspected of being  the secret poisoner), was in the grip of a ruling passion by now, chuckling and dancing, till she was pulled from her feet by the power of the dog. Normally, she kept Daisy in chains, but that day she had felt in need of protection after having a strange, prophetic vision of a murder during a futuristic journey, in the year 2001: a space odyssey, in fact. It brought back to her all the horrible memories of her typist sister, Elizabeth: the forgotten years and the tragedy that happened during that other terrible journey she always thought of as her “travels with my aunt” – the wicked boy, the exposure and, worst of all, the dead witness. Thank goodness the other typist had been on hand to catch the culprit, and it would be a long time before her arch-nemesis Douglas MacArthur saw the outside of a jail cell again. But I digress!

Runner Churchill gazed at the open wounds on the victim, whose name he had now learned was Absalom Hudson. At that moment, the widow turned up, just as the organ grinder on the corner began to play the Rat Stone Serenade. Mrs Hudson, and the Malabar rose she wore in her lapel (a rare bloom), presented a tragic but charming picture as she begged Runner Churchill for a sight of her husband’s corpse.

“I fear that’s impossible, ma’am. It’s against the rules, and our Sergeant Cluff stands firm on the matter. And he’s American!” “Ah!” interjected Gandhi. “That explains the three-martini lunches, then!” Ignoring him, Churchill continued “No one may see the body till the police artist has drawn the hospital sketches – I wish someone would hurry up and invent photography!”

chalk-outline

At the hospital, Mrs Hudson was joined by a friend who was staying with them for a while, the visitor being a French citizen, Kane by name. Bending over the body, Nurse Oliver twisted round to confirm the corpse was dead – though most people felt the missing heart was a good indicator of that status. But it’s always best to have these things confirmed by a professional. “His pulse rate is zero, ‘K? That means he’s dead.” Mrs Dalloway’s eyes skittered around, for one moment making her look truly, madly, guilty. “Eureka!” cried Doctor LaRose. “I’ve always wondered how to tell! It’s always been an enigma to me!” The girls in nurses’ uniforms in the corridor giggled, especially Nurse Jane Steele, who secretly was rather in love with the doctor.

A crusading journalist, always the seeker after truth, arrived fresh from a prayer meeting at Chapel Springs, (survival of which was frankly quite remarkable given the length of the sermon). The magnificent Spilsbury, as he was called, had rushed to the hospital on the 4:50 from Paddington. He was a different class, upper-middle, to be precise, and wondered aloud if the death might have been accidental. Mrs Hudson was outraged. “It’s murder,” she said. “As my husband himself would tell you if only it were possible that he had from the dust returned.” Strangely, a kite suddenly appeared around the corner of the corridor, and a moment later, a small child ran by in the perfect pass, holding the kite. Runner Gandhi boxed his ears and sent him on his way.

All the parties now gathered in a conclave to hear the opinion of Runner Dick Churchill, who was considered something of a rising man. He had studied the methods of Sergeant Cluff, and refined them in his head as he walked his beat along the dirt roads of old London. His greatest success to date had been in the case of the Magpie murders, when he deduced that the perpetrators were the infamous Seagull Gang, led by the notorious Henry Vavasour. As a pupil, during the schooldays, of Jesus College, Cambridge, Churchill had often skipped off out of bounds, down by the Black River Road, where he had made a detailed study of various types of mud, and produced a short monograph that had about it some echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

london-fog-2

Churchill was something of a philosopher about death, having spent much time in the thin air of the Cambridgeshire countryside, contemplating, amongst other things, the long, long life of trees. He himself had no fear of the blood, cardinal red though it may be. He thought of death as but a passing, a welcome to the Universe where he believed the immortal soul would spend a blissful eternity, looking back at life simply as being in the past tense. His thoughts were suddenly disturbed…

“Lend me your moby, Dick,” said Mrs Hudson. “I’d like to call my lawyer.”

Suddenly it all fell into place. “Mobile phones haven’t been invented yet!” Churchill cried, cuffing her. He had realised she was none other than the Black Widow, a time traveller from the future who had come back to Victorian London to escape justice for the crimes she would commit in 2001 – three dead husbands and the murder of a lady! Locking her temporarily in the hospital’s Slaughterhouse-Five (a name they were soon to change to Intensive Care Unit), he set off to hail a cab to take them to the police station. And so we leave them, as the cabhorse pulls off onto the road to justice, and the wheel spins. We must pray that time will bring the balm of Gilead to those shattered witnesses of this horrific crime…

fog-cab

* * * * * * * * *

HAVE A GREAT DAY! 😀

Friday Frippery! Dear Santa…

…A Last Minute Request

I’ve gone and missed the last posting date for my Christmas pressies, so I’m hoping you and Rudolph could help me by dropping off some gifts while you’re doing your rounds tomorrow night. Here’s the list…

For Lizzie Bennet…

lizzies-present

…a set of noise cancelling headphones for when her mother’s trying to persuade her to marry the oleaginous Mr Collins.

mrs-bennet-gif

* * * * * * * * *

For Sherlock Holmes…

sherlocks-present

… a nice vaping pipe. Three of these should solve any problem…

* * * * * * * * *

For Hercule Poirot…

poirots-gift

…a Flick Knife Moustache Comb – useful should he ever have to defend his moustache from an evil villain.

* * * * * * * * *

For Mr Rochester…

rochesters-present

…one or other of these self-help books should be useful, I think…

* * * * * * * * *

For Miss Marple…

miss-marples-present

…a handy tote bag, and something to help her with that difficult gift for Hercule…

* * * * * * * * *

For Bertie Wooster…

bertie-and-the-aunts

…to help deal with those occasional pesky infestations…

aunt-spray-3

* * * * * * * * *

For Scrooge…

scrooges-present

… a nice t-shirt will keep him warm and provide a handy reminder for when he hears those chains start to clank…

* * * * * * * * *

For Darcy…

darcy standing

Ahh, Darcy! The man who has everything! What could I give him but…

mirror

Well, why should he be denied the opportunity to admire his own magnificence?

* * * * * * * * *

Thanks for your help, Santa, and…

santa-gif

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Friday Frippery! A conversation regarding whales…

Call me FF…

moby-dick-john-barrymore

Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump! FF heard the unmistakeable sound of the captain crossing the deck.

“Ahoy, FF, thou lazy dog! Whyest dost thou lyeth there on that… thing… whilst Ahab practiceth his best cod Shakespearian?? Whatest is that thing, anyway, in the name of the gods above in Heaven, or perhaps the devils beneath in Hell! Or vice-versa. If Gods exist. Eth.”

FF raised her sunglasses and perched them on her golden curls. “It’s a sun-lounger, sir. Don’t you like it? I ordered it from Amazon and they had a drone drop it off an hour ago. It’s very comfortable.”

Ahab stuck his bone leg in the socket he had had specially made for it and, swivelling madly like Zebedee on his spring, cried out, “Thou liest here in the sun imbibing the devil’s grog…”

“It’s a margarita,” murmured FF, sipping.

“… when there is work to be (or not to be) done! Hast thou seen the great white whale?”

“No, and I’m at 92% now. Strange, isn’t it?”

Ahab ceased to swivel and fixed her with his mad eye. “Eh? 92%? Thou speakest in strange riddles as of one who has seen things not of nature!”

“Well, the book’s called Moby-Dick: or, the White Whale so you’d kinda think the whale would actually be in it, wouldn’t you?” FF waved her Kindle at the infuriated captain. “But no. We’ve sailed every sea in the entire world and not a blessed sign of him yet. A cheat, I call it! Plenty of other whales though – big ones, little ones, lots and lots of dead ones. And as for gory! Well, let’s just say I know more than I ever wanted to about how to skin them and squeeze the oil out of their blubber.” She shuddered, and sipped her margarita. “Sir.”

moby-dick-the_voyage_of_the_pequod

Ahab shook his fist at the cloudless sky. “Thou wasteth time reading stupid books on thy infernal device when thou shouldst be aloft the main mast searching for the monster whom thou hast sworn a great oath to destroyeth!”

“To be fair, though, sir, that was during the first night party and you’d been pretty generous with the old gin before you asked. I’m not sure that really counts as a proper oath.”

“Thy honour grovels on its lowly belly acrost the mud in the deeps where lie littered the bodies of great heroes and the monsters they pursued to their doom! Queequeg the cannibal shalt not fail me, he with his skin tattooed with marks that would scare the devils themselves. Nor even the poor, crazed savage, Pip, whose little black hand is nearly as soft as that of a decent white boy!”

“That reminds me, sir, an e-mail came in from Head Office. They want you to confirm you’ve completed the online training course in cultural sensitivity.”

“Aarghh! Get thee up to the lookout afore I call on the Heavens to strike thee with the unnatural fire of the corpusants!”

“No can do, I’m afraid, sir. Health and safety. You’ll just have to rely on the sonar equipment.”

“Gah! Art thou a yellow-bellied poltroon?? Thou wilt know real danger when Ahab sends thee in the little boat to stick harpoons in the monstrous Leviathan!”

FF shuddered. “I fear that won’t be possible, sir. Whaling has been outlawed by international convention. These days we use electricity to light our lamps.”

Ahab leapt up and down so hard his bone leg began to splinter. “Outlawed?! Never! For here, on the great ocean, Ahab is all – the captain, the King, the God! And the great white whale shall die, die horribly, because Ahab sayeth so! Look! What ist that strange vessel that approacheth?”

“It’s Greenpeace, sir. They’re here to protect the whale. I Skyped them when I realised you were insane, sir.”

Ahab turned purple with rage, and shook both fists at FF. “Thou hast ruined my revenge! Truly, verily, and yea, ’tis true what they say! To allow a woman aboardeth a ship is folly, for they are cursed, and curseth those who saileth with them!” Tap-thump! Tap-thump! Tap-thump!

“Silly old misogynist!” murmured FF, as she lay back on her lounger and opened the new Ian Rankin.

moby-dick-cartoon

HAVE A GREAT FRIDAY! 😉

Friday Frippery! The Liebster Award…

…aka The Truth, The Whole Truth, etc…

I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Brontë at Brontë’s Page Turners! Thanks, Brontë!

liebster-award

The rules:

  1. Acknowledge the person who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer eleven questions that the blogger gives you.
  3. Give eleven random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs who you think deserve it.
  5. Let the bloggers know you’ve nominated them.
  6. Give your eleven questions to the nominees.

* * * * *

The questions:

  1. What made you start blogging?

    I was looking for a new hobby and someone suggested jogging. Fortunately I misheard…

  1. I have to purchase every book I read. Do you?

    No, not at all. Unlike the rest of my family who are notorious book hoarders, I really try to keep the number of books in the house down to a reasonable level. It doesn’t always work – I end up with piles of books all over the place, until I take a mad fit and cull them drastically. The only books I want to keep are books I firmly expect to re-read, and that’s a tiny sub-set of the overall number of books I read. I do keep some books for sentimental reasons, though – if they were given as a special gift, for example.

  1. I have a spreadsheet of all of my books to guard against theft (aka borrowers not returning items) and other calamities. Do you?

    Oddly, no, that’s never occurred to me, despite my profound love for spreadsheets. I don’t often lend or borrow books – I’m a hopeless returner myself, so I expect other people to be too. I do keep a spreadsheet of the TBR, but most of that is on Kindle.

  2. I run yearly maintenance on my books, giving them a good airing and checking for damp. What lengths do you go to to care for your books?

    Umm… I toss them in the bookshelves if there’s space (organised purely by heavy ones at the bottom, light at the top, for health and safety reasons) or build a pile on an available surface. And then I forget about them till I want to find one, or until I decide it’s time for a cull. (You all hate me now, don’t you?)

  3. To paraphrase the poet Barry Manilow…Questions 2-4 show How Deep Is My Love for books. Can you tell me something that demonstrates How Deep Is Your Love for books?

    Erm… *wriggles uncomfortably*… I read them? Nope, don’t sniff them, stroke them, sing to them or water them daily. They don’t have pet names or go to luxury bookeries when I go on holiday. If the cats chew the corners while I’m reading, that’s OK, because I love the cats more than the books.

    Ooh…ooh…wait! I don’t write in them and think people who do should be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten tomatoes! Phew! That sounds a bit better! Can I still be a member of the bookosphere now?

  4. Do you have a favourite song based on a book?

    Oh dear! I’m sorry! I can’t think of a single song based on a book! Are there any? *rubs forehead frantically* Oooh, no… I mean, yes!! I do! How could I have forgotten?? Loads of them in fact. The entire The War of the Worlds concept album!!

* * * * *

Give eleven random facts about yourself

(Goodness! I’ve totally failed to do the Versatile Blogger Award because it demands seven interesting things about myself, so what are the chance of me thinking up eleven! Hmm… *scratches head*)

  1. I’m rotten at thinking up interesting facts about myself.

  2. My first pet was a hamster called Jerry. I used to take him for walks.

  3. I used to love John McEnroe because he was so rude, and now I disapprove of Nick Kyrgios because he’s so rude. Who says we don’t change as we age?

  4. During a heated argument over the ridiculous claim that parallel lines meet in infinity, my irate maths teacher told me I’d either just have to accept it or create an entirely new system of maths. I’m still considering the latter option.

  5. I love the marzipan you get on Christmas cakes and hate the marzipan you get in chocolates. Why is that?

  6. Sometimes I baffle myself.

  7. I can read upside down. The book upside down, that is, not me.

  8. I can only tell left from right by checking which arm my vaccination mark is on.

  9. I have no sense of direction (see random fact 8) so when I used to take my mother out for a run in the car, I would tell her it was a mystery tour, and then wherever we ended up I pretended that’s where I had been heading.

  10. I used to be able to touch the tip of my nose with the tip of my tongue, but I can’t anymore. The question is – which got shorter? And how? (See random fact 6.)

  11. I once put my real name into an anagram generator and it came up with two options – firstly, with my middle name: Banal Hive Earthling; and then without my middle name: Arabel La Thigh. I prefer the latter.

That was awful! That was great fun – thanks so much for nominating me, Brontë! 😀

* * * * *

The nominations:

As always, I am nominating anyone who wishes to participate because you all deserve an award!

Here are your questions should you choose to accept… (or answer in the comments)

  1. What is an anagram of your name?

  2. If you were only allowed one chocolate in the box, which would you take? (DON’T take the coffee cream!)

  3. Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.

  4. Complete this sentence – “I love…”

  5. Do you think of dawn as late or early?

  6. If you were a book, what book would you be?

  7. Complete this sentence – “I hate…”

  8. When you look out of your bedroom window, what do you see?

  9. Which bookish/filmish/TV-ish character would you desert your spouse/partner/singleton-ness for without a moment’s hesitation?

    Hands off! He's taken!
    Hands off! He’s taken!
  10. What would you most like someone to invent?

  11. Complete this sentence – “I’m so glad she didn’t ask about…”

HAVE A GREAT FRIDAY! 😀

The Tale of the Bewitched Baronet

A true story of old Scotland…

For Hallowe’en, here’s a true witch story to harrow your soul, set in Pollok where I grew up , which at the time of this tale was just outside Glasgow…

The story takes place on the Maxwell estate in Nether Pollok, which is now called Pollok Country Park and is home to the world famous Burrell Collection of art and antiquities, collected by Sir George's descendants...
The story takes place on the Maxwell estate in Nether Pollok, which is now called Pollok Country Park and is home to the world famous Burrell Collection of art and antiquities, collected by Sir George’s descendants…

* * * * * * *

‘Twas in the year 1676 that Sir George Maxwell, Laird of Nether Pollok, always zealous in pursuit of witches, took part in a witch trial in the town of Gourock.

sir-george-maxwell-of-auldhouse-1622-1677
Sir George Maxwell of Auldhouse 1622-1677

Soon after, he was struck down with a mysterious sickness, a “hot and fiery distemper”, that caused the doctors to fear for his life. While he lay in his agony, a dumb girl who lived on his estate in Pollok was suddenly granted the power of speech. Janet Douglas was her name, and she was possessed of mysterious powers, as Sir George’s son, Sir John, later recounted…

For instance, when a chapter in the Greek New Testament was read, she made us understand by signs what the purposes were (for at that time she was dumb, whether really or counterfeitly it is hard to determine) and did exactly give an account to myself what we did at two miles distant from the place where she was, without any information given to her…

Now, this Janet declared that Sir George was under a witch’s curse and named the woman who had cursed him, one Janet Mathie, a widow-woman whose son had been accused of stealing fruit from Sir George’s orchard. Perhaps she feared Sir George would punish him harshly. Or perhaps the Devil was angry about Sir George’s actions against witches. When the widow’s house was searched, a wax doll was found with pins stuck in it sides, hidden in a wee hole behind the fireplace, and it had an awful resemblance to Sir George. The widow was held and the doll was destroyed, and Sir George seemed to recover.

wax-doll

But a few weeks later he fell stricken again. This time Janet Douglas named a man, John Stewart, eldest son of the Widow Mathie. A search was carried out and, sure enough, another effigy was found hidden beneath his pillow, this time made of clay, and with pins in it. He was arrested along with his little sister, Annabil, aged fourteen at the time, and three other women of the village. The child Annabil confessed to…

“…being present in her brother’s house the 4th of January, while the clay picture was formed, the black gentleman being present (which was the name she gave the devil) together with Bessie Weir, Margery Craig, Margaret Jackson, and her brother John.”

On the pins being removed from the clay, Sir George again recovered.

John Stewart and the others maintained their innocence until they were checked for devil’s marks, and were each found to have them.

From Wikipedia: Scottish witchcraft trials were notable for their use of pricking, in which a suspect's skin was pierced with needles, pins and bodkins as it was believed that they would possess a Devil's mark through which they could not feel pain.
From Wikipedia: Scottish witchcraft trials were notable for their use of pricking, in which a suspect’s skin was pierced with needles, pins and bodkins as it was believed that they would possess a Devil’s mark through which they could not feel pain.

So their guilt being certain, they confessed. Taken for trial, the first to give evidence was young Annabil Stewart, who…

“declared, that in harvest last, the devil, in the shape of a black man, came to her mother’s house and required the declarant [Annabil] to give herself up to him; and that the devil promised her that she should not want [for] anything that was good. Declares, that she, being enticed by her mother Janet Mathie, and Bessie Weir, who was officer to their several meetings, she put her hand to the crown of her head, and the other to the sole of her foot, and did give herself up to the devil.”

Only Janet Mathie refused to confess, despite the pleas of her children, and remained obdurate to the end, insisting that her accuser, Janet Douglas, had put the dolls there herself. But to no avail. Annabil was granted mercy for being no more than a child, but the others were sentenced to die.

The burning took place soon after, in Paisley. It was a fine sight with the tar barrels and the flames and the screaming and all, and people came from near and far to see justice carried out.

witch-burning

But was it all in vain? Barely a twelvemonth later Sir George was laid low for a third time, this time never to rise again as a living man. Was it God calling him home? Or was it the Devil having his revenge…?

Janet Douglas, the dumb girl who spoke, later left Scotland for the New World. Some say she made her home in Massachusetts, in the town of Salem…

* * * * * * *

witch-on-broomstick

Actually, nobody says she went to Salem except the playwright Anne Downie in her play based on the story, The Witches of Pollok, but it’s too lovely an idea to have left out. However, as far as is known, Janet Douglas made a habit of accusing people of witchcraft and later did indeed go to America, so it’s possible…

Downie has apparently also written a fictional account of the case in her book of the same name.

the-witches-of-pollok

My version is based largely on the account of the trial given in A History of the Witches of Renfrewshire, from where all the quotes are taken. It’s available to read online at this link. I have somewhat modernised the language and spelling in the quotes.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Wednesday Witterings – The past is the future…

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

time-travel

This tag has been doing the rounds recently since it was created by The Library Lizard, and has inspired some great posts, so I was delighted when Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles tagged me. Thanks, Jessica! So, here goes…

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

I’m tempted to say the Tudors because that’s probably the period of history I know most about. But actually part of the attraction for me is visiting a period and place I don’t know much about. I’ve been on an Empire kick for the last couple of years, so have been loving anything about India or other far-flung corners of the Empire, like Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in Calcutta under the Raj, or Rebecca Burns’ fine collection of stories about early immigrants to New Zealand, The Settling Earth. And I like books with a Scottish historical setting, such as crime novels like Lexie Conyngham’s Murray of Letho series, or more serious fiction like William McIlvanney’s excellent Docherty. And then there are the spy books set in WW2 or during the Cold War – Exposure by Helen Dunmore or Robert Harris’ great Enigma

High Street, Kilmarnock - the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney's Docherty "High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary."
High Street, Kilmarnock – the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney’s Docherty
“High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary.”

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’d rather meet the fictional characters than the authors in truth. I’m sure it would be lovely to have a cup of tea with Ms Austen, but I’d much rather spend the time dancing the cotillion with Darcy. I’d love to spend some time with Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair – she’s so wicked, but great fun! I’d like to get hold of Sidney Carton and just whisper “she’s not worth it!” before he steps into the tumbril. However, I would love to meet Charles Dickens – well, more specifically, I’d like to attend one of his readings. Simon Callow gives a good flavour of them in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, but I’d love to see Dickens own interpretation of his wonderfully caricatured characters.

darcy dancing(Me, in my dancing outfit…)

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

Having recently discovered and loved Anthony Horowitz‘s books for adults, I’d give his books for children to my childish self. I will one day read them anyway, but I’m sure I’d have enjoyed them more when I was a kid, since I’m not an enthusiastic reader of kids’ books as an adult.

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is hard, because when I want a book I want it NOW! So I think I’d give my older self some large-print versions of lifelong favourites – and cheerful ones, like Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat. And Austen. And Dickens…

‘It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’

PG Wodehouse

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

Mars! I still haven’t given up hope that there’s life there – perhaps intelligent enough to be shielding itself from prying Earthling eyes. So many great books with Mars as a setting – Ken Kalfus’ brilliant Equilateral, Ray Bradbury’s fantastic The Martian Chronicles, HG Wells of course, and his War of the Worlds, Andy Weir’s hugely enjoyable The Martian, and no list would be complete without a mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books – great fun!

Me, in my Barsoom outift...
Me, in my Barsoom outift…

A bit of me wishes we could stop exploring Mars in real life, so it can remain as a glowing red source of inspiration to generations of future writers…

“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

Ken Kalfus, Equilateral

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

Just one? Oh, this is almost impossible! But if I must…

The entire Shardlake series of CJ Sansom is brilliant – each book huge and immersive, and building up a totally credible picture of life under Henry VIII. Shardlake himself has become a real person to me, and I’m hoping he’ll still be there to take us through the disruption that follows Henry’s death. The most recent book, Lamentation, won my Book of the Year award last year.

Best Crime Fiction

And I must be allowed to choose one more – Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in revolutionary France. Tighter and angrier than many of his books, the descriptions of the Terror and particularly of the mob show him at his excoriating best. A frightening depiction of how inequality and injustice can allow leaders to emerge who will use the mob violently and unscrupulously to achieve their own ends – as relevant today as it was when it was written, or in the period in which it’s set.

Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants.

Storming of the Bastille Jean-Pierre Houel
Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Never! There should be a law against it and when I become the Empress of Bookworld (pushed reluctantly into the job by popular acclaim, obviously, and adored by all my subjects) there will be! The punishment will be that the last nine pages will be removed from every book the perpetrator reads for a period of 25 years.

Me, in my Empress outfit...
Me, in my Empress outfit…

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Hmm… I’ve already mentioned dancing with Darcy, haven’t I? Well then, I would go to Sherwood Forest and get Robin to teach me archery. That could take a while, so the Time Turner would come in very handy. And I might lend it to Robin so he can rescue Marian from the wicked Sheriff, while Friar Tuck and I do a bit of feasting…

Me, in my archery outfit...
Me, in my archery outfit…

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov tells of how people from the future have developed a method of time travel which they use to make subtle alterations in the timeline to minimise human suffering. However, those pesky time paradoxes mean they affect humanity in unintended ways…

In truth, though, my favourite take on time travel isn’t bookish at all – it’s the two Star Trek series, The Next Generation and Voyager, which return to the vexed subject of time paradoxes again and again. Not only does this give them a chance to visit the present day or recent past quite often, but it allows for the occasional appearance of characters like Mark Twain in the future.

mark twain star trek

Some of the episodes dealing with time-travel are light-hearted fun, like the one that suggests the sudden advances in computing and technology in the ’80s and ’90s were as a result of a crashed time ship from the 27th century falling into the wrong hands. But some are dark indeed, like the timeship whose captain made a calculation error, accidentally wiping out the colony in which the woman he loved was living, and now spends eternity making changes to the timeline to try to correct his mistake, causing chaos to all the worlds in that sector of space.

Me, in my Star Trek outfit...
Me, in my Star Trek outfit…

It may be just a sci-fi show with unbelievable aliens and no technical problem that can’t be solved by setting up a tachyon burst, but Star Trek at its best examines the ethics and morality of science as deeply as the best written science fiction. And, delightfully, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize surely means I can also expand the meaning of literature to include script-writers…

Captain Janeway: "Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I'd never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes - the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache."
Captain Janeway: “Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.”

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

Without doubt, The Great Gatsby. The first time I read it I was totally blown away. I was about twenty at the time and working in the office of a hospital. They used to have a little fund-raising thing where everyone brought in books and you could rent them for tuppence (shows how long ago it was!). I rented Gatsby one lunchtime, started reading and absolutely couldn’t stop! I took it back to the office in the afternoon and kept reading. My boss came in at one point to ask me something about work, and I fear I told him he’d have to wait till I finished my book. Fortunately, he was a reader too, took a look and said “Ah! Gatsby! OK, I’ll catch you later…”

(Dear government, I promise I made the time up later… 😉 )

gatsby glasses

* * * * * * *

Thanks again to Jessica for tagging me on this one – I thoroughly enjoyed reminding myself of some of the great historical, and futuristic, fiction I’ve read over the years!

And now, I tag you!

you talkin to me

Yes, YOU!

The jingle jangle morning…

Congratulations to Bob Dylan!

At last – a Nobel Prize for Literature winner I’ve heard of! An inspired and inspirational choice by the Nobel people – Bob Dylan is surely one of the greatest poets of the last century and it’s great to see his song lyrics being rightly recognised as a form of literature.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
.
Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
.
Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
.

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants, too
Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wondrin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like
Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bank book wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the east coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues
Gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colors you have in your mind
I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine.
.
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen.
.
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you.
.
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead
I long to see you in the morning light
I long to reach for you in the night
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead.
.
Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there ain’t no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you
.
Shadows are fallin’ and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep and time is runnin’ away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.
.
Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin’ what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.
.
Well, I’ve been to London and I been to gay Paris
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of the world full of lies
I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.
.
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.
.
bob-dylan

Friday Frippery! Abandonment issues…

The ones that got away…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when I find a book a tad on the disappointing side, my reviews have a tendency to become, shall we say, a little grumpy. You should know, however, that the review you see is normally about the eighth draft, after I’ve worked hard to insert some kind of objective balance into the whole thing.

tom cruise judging gif

Occasionally, though, a book annoys me so much, I abandon it at too early a stage to justify a full review. But to get my blood pressure back down, I usually leave an instantaneous, unconsidered reaction on Goodreads to remind myself of what heinous crime against literature the author committed to cause my outrage. Much to my surprise, these blunt and brutal notes tend to attract ‘likes’ and comments – suggesting bookish disgruntlement may be more widespread than we think.

So I thought it might be fun to share a couple of them with you. No prizes, I’m afraid, for guessing the books or the authors… but I’m betting you might be able to work out one or two…

pooh book gif

* * * * *

Abandoned at 30% on the grounds of trying not to die from boredom. Another case of an author doing a ton of research, bunging it all down on paper and thinking that’s enough to make a novel. It isn’t. Let me save you reading the whole 700+ pages – spoiler alert! White man bad – destroys land, forest and indigenous way of life! There! Bet you’re as astonished at that major revelation as I am…

In fairness, other reviews suggest that eventually she widens it out to clarify that ALL men are bad…

* * * * *

Well enough written, but not for me. Turns out it’s some kind of YA fantasy – ‘cos, like, there’s just not enough of them in the world already…

* * * * *

peanuts writing 2

* * * * *

Anti-religious drivel combined with excessive foul language, sexual fantasising and filth – not for me. Abandoned at 44% – just at the point where the author gives us some profound insights into the toilet habits of our main character…

“Afterwards, he hoses down the inside of the toilet bowl with his urine to dislodge any skid marks.”

Almost poetry, isn’t it? I wonder how the great authors of the past ever managed to tell a story without letting us know about these crucial (despite being entirely irrelevant) details.

* * * * *

Utterly dreadful – a longwinded racist, bigoted diatribe by a man with neither the intelligence nor the culture to appreciate the opportunity his wealth brought him to broaden his narrow mind. And not even funny. Done with Twain now.

* * * * *

peanuts writing 1

* * * * *

Abandoned. I was already finding the book repetitive and a bit silly, but was willing to persevere till I hit the extended graphic oral sex scene at the 18% mark, which other reviews lead me to believe is the first of many. Not good enough otherwise to tempt me to read hundreds more pages of an elderly man’s sex fantasies. Note to self: Remember to stop getting books written by men over the age of 60 – it must be hormonal…

* * * * *

Now aren’t you glad you’re normally only subjected to the revised version?

Have a great Friday! 😉

 

Longlist (and Longlisting) for Bloody Scotland and the McIlvanney Prize…

Be careful what you wish for…

Bloody Scotland logo 2

A few months back I told you all how excited I was at getting the opportunity to be involved in the longlisting for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, to be awarded at this year’s Bloody Scotland event in September. The longlist has now been announced, so I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts about the process with you…

Bloody Scotland asked for volunteers to read and rate the fifty books or so that were put forward for the award. They got three hundred or so volunteers, though I don’t know if they used them all. The idea was that each reader would read five books picked randomly from the list – picked by Bloody Scotland, that is, not the reader. Each book would be read by several readers, then the ratings – a simple score from 1-10 – would be collated to create the longlist that would go to the panel of judges.

Now, as you know, and as I am very aware, I have… shall we say… certain prejudices when it comes to crime-writing. Present tense – ugh! Alcoholism – yawn! Foul language – yeuch! Misery-fest – blarrrrghhh! So I decided I needed to find a way to judge the books as impartially as I could… which of course was a golden opportunity for…

A Speadsheet!

Bloody scotland ratings

I have to say I enjoyed using this so much I’m now using it for all the crime novels I read. Did it make a difference to the ratings? Hard to say, in truth, because each one ended up with the same rating as I would have given it with my usual off-the-top-of-my-head star ratings. But I suspect I’ve been using a system like this subconsciously for my ratings for a long time.

* * * * *

Enough about the system, I hear you cry, what about the books? Well, it turns out the initial list is produced by publishers nominating books on their own lists. Sadly, some publishers either think really bad books are really good, or they hope that somehow they’ll get some publicity or reviews out of the process. Bad move, in my opinion. So far, I’ve only published a review of one of them – Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton, which scored a perfect ten for me. And I will review The Rat Stone Serenade, which got 6. But were I to review the other three (and I may at some point, on Goodreads, at least) they would be getting thoroughly slammed. No wonder they asked for volunteer readers! If I was invited onto a judging panel and had to read 50 books as bad as most of these, I’d… I’d… well, I don’t know what I’d do, but it wouldn’t be pleasant!

custard pie

I’ve removed the names of the three worst ones, because this post isn’t about slamming them – it’s about slamming the time-wasting publishers who put them forward. Mostly small, independent publishers from the small sample of 5 books that I received – the bigger ones put forward their best, and it showed. But here’s a brief résumé of the books…

Book 1 – a crossover crime/sci-fi/dystopian novel aimed at “middle-teens”. Why would any publisher put that forward even if it was good? Sadly it wasn’t. The plot was a mess, parts of it were clearly cut and paste jobs from wiki or suchlike, it was tedious and repetitive, and it seemed to suggest that the most reasonable response to poor parenting is to encourage children to brutally murder their parents. When the kids weren’t too busy murdering each other, that is. Ugh! Truly one of the worst and most repellent books I’ve ever read. Score – a generous 1.

the rat stone serenade

Book 2The Rat Stone Serenade by Denzil Meyrick. I really enjoyed the quality of writing and characterisation in this, and it had a great, well-realised Scottish setting in Kintyre. Unfortunately the plot went way over the top – I lost count of the bodies in the end and ceased to care long before that. However, there was enough good about it that I’d be happy to try another book by this author in the future. Full review to follow. Score – 6.

Book 3 – abandoned after roughly 20 pages of swearing, bullying and violence. Characterisation terrible or non-existent, and how any book can become repetitive within 20 pages beats me, but this one managed it. So clichéd and derivative. Ugh! But at least it wasn’t as bad as Book 1, and by that stage I no longer felt obliged to plough through the whole thing – how easily our good intentions get tossed aside! Score – sadly 1, because minus 10 wasn’t allowed.

open wounds

Book 4Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton. Brilliant book, and quintessentially Scottish! A definite contender for the prize, I should think. Here’s my review. Score – 10.

Book 5 – This was an adequate police procedural which I enjoyed well enough, but not enough to make me search out more from the author. Nothing original about it, average standard of writing and the famous saggy middle. Again, why the publisher thought it should be in the running defeats me. Score – 5.

The end result was that, when I sent in my ratings, I gave feedback to Bloody Scotland to the effect that, unless the standard was in some way improved, I wouldn’t put myself through it again in future years.

* * * * *

Then the longlist came out…

bloody scotland long list

(The name of the award has now been changed to the McIlvanney Prize in tribute to perhaps the greatest of all Scottish crimewriters, William McIlvanney, who died last year. I’m delighted – I think it’s a most appropriate tribute and I would imagine winners of the award in future years will be proud of the association.)

And wow! I have to say it’s a great looking longlist! Mostly excellent, bestselling authors, but with room for some lesser known ones too. Mostly actually set in Scotland (which as far as I’m concerned should be one of the criteria). Proper crime writing for the most part, and no ‘experimental’ or supernatural ones, as far as I can see. Only one misery-fest domestic noir, and a serious lack of murdered children! Nine past tense, one present tense, from what I can see on the Kindle samples.

Quality books that the general reading public might actually enjoy, in fact! Looks like the volunteers did a fine job after all of weeding out the sillier or weaker nominations and avoiding over-hyped, over-done ‘trends’. I’d be happy in principle to see almost any one of these win. I’ve only read a couple so far, but had already planned to read a couple of the others, and will certainly look out for the rest. And I might volunteer in the future again after all…

And, not that I’m biased or anything ;), but because it was my pick and scored a perfect 10, I do hope Open Wounds wins…

What do you think of the shortlist? Have you read any of them? Will you read any of them?

Have a great weekend! 😀

C'mon, Andy!
C’mon, Andy!

Wednesday Witterings – The Great Debate…

A European Referendum Special…

eu flags

It is a real possibility that in 48 hours I will no longer be politically European. As I watched the final big televised debate last night, I began to relieve the tedium by seeing if I could find a book that I had reviewed for each of the 28 countries in the European Union. I failed with a few and had to stretch a bit for a few more, but here goes…

AustriaVienna Nocturne

Belgium1914 Goodbye to All That
– about the impact of WW1 & 2

BulgariaThe War that Ended Peace
– a history book about WW1

CroatiaThe Skeleton Road
– war in Croatia

Republic of Cyprus – don’t have a book for this

Czech RepublicThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
– Jews fleeing the Nazis

DenmarkRedemption

FranceAn Officer and a Spy
– spying, anti-semitism and war

GermanyThe Collini Case
– the aftermath of WW2

GreeceThe Honey Trap
– a short story within the OxCrimes collection

HungaryA Kingdom Far and Clear
– a fantasy based on the Austro- Hungarian Empire,
about the battle between absolute monarchies and dictatorships

IrelandNora Webster
– touches on The Troubles in Ireland

ItalyThe Murdered Banker
– the author was killed for protesting against Italian fascism

Luxembourg – don’t have a book for this one

MaltaThe Maltese Falcon
– a book about Nazi gold

NetherlandsThe Night Ferry

PolandForest Ghost
– a horror story based on a real-life massacre in Poland in WW2

PortugalThe High Mountains of Portugal

RomaniaThe Black Church

SpainThe Sun Also Rises
– the aftermath of WW1 on the ‘lost generation’

SwedenThe Voices Beyond
– partly about the terror of life under Stalin

* * * * * * *

I don’t have separate books for the Balkan and Baltic nations within the EU but I feel this one covers them all, since they all spent time under the Stalinist yoke.

Khlevniuk jkt ks.indd

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator

Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia

* * * * * * *

And lastly…

unfinished empire

United KingdomUnfinished Empire
– I guess some people still haven’t realised… it’s finished now.

* * * * * * *

Hmm… so out of 28 countries, 20 of the books relate to European wars of the last century. Though none of the wars took place in countries that were members of the EU at the time.
(See how sneakily I snuck that political point in?)

Wishing peace and prosperity to us all! #Remain

remain poster

Have a great Wednesday! 😉

 

20 Books of Summer 2016!

Alphabetti bookhetti…

 

20 books 2016

Again this summer, Cathy over at 746 Books has set us a challenge to read 20 books between 1st June and 4th September. (Or 15, or 10, if you prefer.) #20booksofsummer will be the hashtag for twitterers.

Last year, I failed at the last hurdle, achieving only 19 of the books I’d listed, even though I probably read in the region of 30 books during the period. By adding in loads of books I hadn’t been planning on, I also managed to mess up my reviewing schedule so badly that I still haven’t properly recovered! So this year I’m being more sensible by selecting most of the twenty from books I’m already scheduled to read over the summer – lots and lots and LOTS of NetGalley books, most of which are seriously overdue.

Inspired by the fact that one of my list starts with ‘Z’, I decided to see if I could make a full alphabet. So here it is – my summer alphabet of books. The blue ones are already scheduled – there’s 17 of them. The orange ones are all on my TBR somewhere, but haven’t made it to the top of the heap yet. I need your help to decide which three of these should make up my twenty…

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Citizen Kane by Harlan Lebo

Different Class by Joanne Harris

Enigma by Robert Harris

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

The Girls by Emma Cline

Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

The Magnificent Spilsbury by Jane Robins

Nada the Lily by H Rider Haggard

Oliver Twisted by Cindy Brown

The Perfect Pass by SC Gwynne

The Queen’s Caprice by Marjorie Bowen

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

The Seeker by SG MacLean

Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Vigil by Angela Slatter

The Widow by Fiona Barton

EXposure by Helen Dunmore (Come on, give me a break! Nobody writes books starting with X!)

You Can’t Say That by Ken Livingstone

Zero K by Don DeLillo

* * * * * * *

To help you decide which three to choose, here’s a little information about the contenders…

Enigma by Robert Harris

A gripping World War II mystery novel with a cryptographic twist, Enigma‘s hero is Tom Jericho, a brilliant British mathematician working as a member of the team struggling to crack the Nazi Enigma code. The plot is pure fiction but the historical background, Alan Turing’s famous wartime computing project that cracked the German U-boat communications code, is real and accurately portrayed.

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

They have lived for centuries in a house of legend and mystery in upper Illinois — and they are not like other midwesterners. Rarely encountered in daylight hours, their children are curious and wild; their old ones have survived since before the Sphinx first sank its paws deep in Egyptian sands. And some sleep in beds with lids. Now the house is being readied in anticipation of the gala homecoming that will gather together the farflung branches of this odd and remarkable family. But in the midst of eager anticipation, a sense of doom pervades. For the world is changing. And death, no stranger, will always shadow this most singular family

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Rose Janko is missing. It has been seven years since she disappeared, and nobody said a word. Now, following the death of his wife, her father Leon feels compelled to find her. Rumour had it she ran off when her baby boy was born with the family’s genetic disorder. Leon is not so sure. He wants to know the truth and he hires a private investigator to discover it – Ray Lovell.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Reader, I murdered him. A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre. Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

1970s Afghanistan: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives…

Nada the Lily by H Rider Haggard

The tale of the youth of Umslopogaas, holder of the iron Chieftainess, the axe Groan-maker, who was named Bulalio the Slaughterer, and of his love for Nada, the most beautiful of Zulu women.

The Queen’s Caprice by Marjorie Bowen

There have been few more controversial figures in British history than Mary Queen of Scots. In this thrilling novel she is bought vividly back to life. She is a woman shrouded in secrecy and surrounded by violence who has learnt to use her desirability to intoxicate her subjects into carrying out her will. Yet despite this natural authority she cannot escape the domineering men who not only sway the court but the opinion of the people.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe’s powerful abolitionist novel fueled the fire of the human rights debate in 1852. Denouncing the institution of slavery in dramatic terms, the incendiary novel quickly draws the reader into the world of slaves and their masters.

You Can’t Say That by Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone is a controversial left-wing Labour politician and former London Mayor. Written in Livingstone’s unmistakable voice, by turns angrily sincere about social justice, wickedly droll and gossipy, and surprisingly wistful about people he has known and loved, this is a hugely important and remarkable book from one of the very few respected politicians at work today.

Please vote for the ones you think I should add to my summer list. You can vote for as many (or as few) as you like, and the three books with the most votes will win a place…

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Results to be announced sometime after the tennis is over…
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C'MON ANDY!
C’MON ANDY!

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HAVE A GREAT WEEK 😀

Friday Frippery (on a Thursday)! Ooh, I say!!!

Gobsmacked and giggling…

 

Well, dear friends, I can honestly say it’s been many a long year since my gast was last so flabbered!! Imagine my surprise, on clicking through from the lovely Jo’s post to the voting page for the 2nd Annual Bloggers Bash Award, to read the following…

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funniest bloggerFirst is Funniest Blogger. The nominees are as follows:

Barb Taub, Lucy Mitchell (Blonde Write More), Tara Sparling, Linda (nutsrok), Ned Hickson, Meghan Sara, Seumas Gallacher, Bun Karyado, Ross Murray, Beth Haslam, Al the Author, Ronnie, Marcia Meara, Donna, Christian Touchet, Tim- things as they are, Tamzen Temple, Tabby, FictionFan, Paul Lander, Melinda,

The criteria, in case you forgot is: Which blogger continually makes you laugh out loud? Has someone made you laugh so hard you cried? Maybe you snorted drink through your nose at one of their jokes. Who’s the funniest blogger of them all?

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Yes!!! That’s me in there!!! Ooooooooh!!!! *performs double back-flip with a half-twist and phones osteopath*

I have absolutely no idea who nominated me, and in fact wasn’t aware of the Bloggers Bash before today, but whoever you are, here’s a great big hug and possibly a soppy, sloppy kiss too (depending on how closely you resemble Rafa).

rafa looking pretty

I’m genuinely thrilled to bits! Not just because I got nominated, but because I’m so glad you guys enjoy my occasional detours away from serious book talk towards the sillier end of life! Though I do sincerely apologise if I’ve ever made you snort your drink through your nose…

 

happy gif

 

I’m also thrilled to see several of my besties nominated in other categories…

best book review

In Best Book Review, take a bow Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books, Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal and Jo at mychestnutreadingtree – three excellent blogs whose posts I always enjoy! I can only vote for one though apparently… would this be a good time to mention my love of chocolate?

hidden gem

In Hidden Gem, the lovely and talented MarinaSofia at Finding Time to Write, book reviewer and poet extraordinaire! Hmm… a bright and sparkling gem, for sure, but hidden? She’s part of the glue that holds the bookish blogosphere together…

best pal

The Best Pal award seems custom made for the wonderful Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist! Generous to bloggers and crime authors new and old, Margot is always there with the encouraging comment just when it’s needed – I’m sure many bloggers, including myself, only stuck it out through those early days of talking to a seeming void because Margot took the time to pop in, comment and introduce them to the wider book blogging community.

So get on over there and get voting for these amazing people or for some of the many others on the nomination lists whom I don’t yet know, but whose blogs I’m looking forward to snooping round in the near future.

But think carefully before you decide whether to vote for me… remember those sloppy wet kisses!!!

 

big kisses

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND! 😀

Friday Frippery! A hodgepodge of happenings…

… and a concatenation of circumstances!

 

Well, People, it’s that time of the year…

 

(…French Open starts on Monday…)

… and it’s also that time of the year…

 

Bloody Scotland logo 2

(…five books to read for the shortlisting process for Scottish Crime Book of the Year…)

… and amazingly it would appear it’s also that time of the year…

 

sun

(…which doesn’t happen often here!…)

… all of which means it’s that time of the year…

 

 

… but soon it’ll be this time of the year again!

 

 

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I shall be in and out of the blogosphere over the next few weeks, probably more out than in. Meantime…

HAVE A GREAT SUMMER! 😀

 

VAMOS, RAFA!