The Book Courtship Tag

Love is a many-splendoured thing…

I was tagged by the lovely Jessie at Dwell in Possibility for…

So here goes…

(NB If I’ve reviewed a book, clicking in the cover will take you to the full review.)

Phase 1: Initial Attraction (A book you bought because of the cover)

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book purely because of its cover, but sometimes I’ll look out for a certain edition because I love the design. In my youth, I gradually acquired a huge collection of Agatha Christie’s books with the Tom Adams covers – I still think they’re fabulous, because they actually relate to clues in the stories but without giving anything away…

And I’m currently looking to acquire all the Vintage Classics editions of Toni Morrison’s books – I love these simple, subtle covers…

Phase 2: First Impressions (A book you got because of the summary)

Ah, now this is more like me. I love a good blurb! The most recent one I’ve acquired purely on the basis of the blurb is this one, which I’ll be reading soon as it’s due for release on 3rd May…

The Blurb says: The Shape of the Ruins is a masterly story of conspiracy, political obsession, and literary investigation. When a man is arrested at a museum for attempting to steal the bullet-ridden suit of a murdered Colombian politician, few notice. But soon this thwarted theft takes on greater meaning as it becomes a thread in a widening web of popular fixations with conspiracy theories, assassinations, and historical secrets; and it haunts those who feel that only they know the real truth behind these killings.

This novel explores the darkest moments of a country’s past and brings to life the ways in which past violence shapes our present lives. A compulsive read, beautiful and profound, eerily relevant to our times and deeply personal, The Shape of the Ruins is a tour-de-force story by a master at uncovering the incisive wounds of our memories.

Phase 3: Sweet Talk (A book with great writing)

So many choices! I’m going to go for Andrew Motion, a past Poet Laureate, whose descriptions of nature enable me to see the beauty he sees…

I woke in the air – swept up by the angels of heaven all beating their wings together and singing. Then not singing but whispering. Whistling. Cooing. Gurgling. Crooning. Because they were not angels any more, they were pigeons, the same as last night, and now leaving with their mess drizzling beneath them in a continual white rain, first with laborious flusterings and squabblings, then twisting and looping and swaying and swerving until they had formed a gigantic letter S which held its shape . . . and held its shape . . . before it slackened and became a smoke-cloud blowing towards the horizon.

Phase 4: First Date (A first book of a series which made you want to pursue the rest of the series)

Again so many! So I’m going with a recent one…

I loved this first book in Mukherjee’s historical crime series set in the last days of the Raj. The tricky second book turned out to be nearly as good and I’m now eagerly awaiting the third in the series, due out this June…

Phase 5: Late Night Phone Calls (A book that kept you up all night long)

This doesn’t happen to me as often now as it did when I was young, but I tend to find Sharon Bolton’s standalones pretty unputdownable, and her last one was no exception…

Phase 6: Always On My Mind (A book you couldn’t stop thinking about)

Again, there are several – books that I’ve loved for the prose, or books that have become touchstones for great truths, or books that have in some way re-shaped my view of the world. This one is all three – a book I hope I will never stop thinking about…

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Phase 7: Getting Physical (A book you love the feel of)

Gotta be hardbacks with cloth covers and good quality, smooth pages. The most recent one that has given me nearly as much pleasure for the tactile experience while reading as for the fab insides is…

Phase 8: Meeting the Parents (A book you would recommend to your friends and family)

In her later years, following successful cataract surgery, my mother came back to books with a vengeance after decades of being unable to enjoy reading. Along with my siblings, I enthusiastically shared many of my favourites with her. After I recommended the first one to her, we read the early CJ Sansom books more or less together – one more reason for me to love that series…

Phase 9: Thinking About the Future (A book or series that you know you’ll re-read many times in the future)

(Well, come on – you knew Darcy would appear somewhere, didn’t you?)

Phase 10: Share the Love (Here’s who I’m tagging)

I don’t usually tag people because I never know who’s already done a tag or who enjoys doing them, plus I find it hard to pick which of my lovely bloggy friends to tag. So I’m tagging everyone who would like to do it – I’d love to read your answers!

* * * * *

Thanks for tagging me, Jessie! 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Golden to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

The life of a Japanese Geisha shares similarities with that of the Chinese courtesan, which made me think of…

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. Violet Minturn is the half-Chinese daughter of an American woman, owner of a high-class courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 20th century. As a young teenager, she is separated from her mother and sold into a courtesan house, and the story follows her trials and tribulations through her life into middle-age. I found it a patchy read overall, but the descriptions of the courtesan traditions have stayed with me.

“The only problem with old men is that they die, sometimes suddenly. You may have one as your patron who gives you a handsome stipend. It’s a sad day when you learn his sons are burning incense for him at the family temple. You can be sure that his wife won’t be toddling over with your stipend in hand.”

Shanghai is also the venue for a yet to be published book, City of Devils by Paul French, which I’m eagerly anticipating because of how much I enjoyed his earlier book…

Midnight in Peking by Paul French – a fascinating story of a true-life crime committed in the last days of old Peking as the threat of invasion, war and revolution spread fear amongst the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city. Was Pamela Werner an innocent schoolgirl or an independent and rebellious young woman bent on sampling some of the excitements Peking could offer? Was she murdered by a maniac or by someone closer to home? French’s solution, when it comes, is as convincing as it is horrifying.

Schoolgirl… or sophisticate?

When I do a search, Peking gets only one other mention in my blog reviews, in the wonderfully prescient…

The Machine Stops by EM Forster. Written way back in 1909, Forster imagines a world where man has created a Machine to fulfil all his wants, and has now handed over control of life to the Machine. People sit in their individual rooms, never physically meeting other humans. All their needs are catered for at the touch of a button, and they communicate constantly with their thousands of friends through the Machine in short bursts, increasingly irritated by the interruptions of people contacting them, but still responding to those interruptions. Sounds amazingly familiar, doesn’t it? As does this quote from it…

Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilisation had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.

One reason for going to Shrewsbury might be to visit Brother Cadfael, a favourite of mine in both the books and the TV adaptation. I haven’t reviewed any of the books on the blog, but I have one on my TBR…

Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters. The Goodreads blurb tells me:

While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.

Cadfael’s soldiering youth took him to the Crusades in the Holy Lands, which includes the territories we now call Israel and Palestine. Which made me think of…

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye. In this beautifully written and thoughtful book, the author, a British-born Jew, muses on her troubled relationship with the place she thinks of as ‘home’ – Israel. At the age of forty, Donahaye started a journey that led her to learn the other history of Israel – the one that talks about ethnic cleansing of the Arabs, that explains the refugee camps, that suggests that the Palestinian Arabs saw this land as home as much as the Jews, either of Palestine or from the diaspora, ever did, and had as much right to it. This book is the story of that journey, as she takes the reader through her gradual awakening to the full complexities of the history of this troubled region and her agonised process of reassessment of the country she still loves and feels inextricably drawn towards.

(Two sides to every story)

One of the things Donahaye talks about is the renaming of Arab villages after they had been cleared of their occupants, to give them Hebrew names and to, in some cases, suggest links back to the Biblical era. This reminds me of…

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. When John Ames learns he doesn’t have much longer to live, he takes up his pen to write to his young son, to tell him some of the things he would have liked to tell him in person as he grew up. As Ames writes, it is 1956, so his personal recollections take him back to the end of the previous century, but his knowledge of his family history allows him to go back a few decades further, to the Civil War and the struggle for the abolition of slavery. A beautifully written book, full of emotional truth.

Well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realisation – “This is why we have lived this life!” There are a thousand, thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

* * * * *

So Golden to Robinson, via courtesans, Shanghai, Peking, Shrewsbury, the Holy Lands and Biblical place names!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Wolf to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today’s world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women’s movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfil society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.”

Hmm – since I think this sounds like utter tosh that’s selling the mythical ‘myth’ about which it’s pretending to protest, I think it’s safe to say the book’s not my kind of thing. Which reminds me of another book that’s not my kind of thing, but which I loved anyway…

In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson. Normally I avoid vampire books but this one turned out to be so much more than that. Part examination of the hard-scrabble life of rural Texans and part-metaphor for the lasting shockwaves of the traumas visited on America, and its young men in particular, by the Vietnam war, it’s right up there with the best of American fiction writing. And will almost certainly make it onto my best of the year list.

He watched her go, thinking of the children they had been when they were married. He eighteen, she seventeen. She a half-breed, he a white Texan boy, theirs a romance, Reader had always thought, befitting the romance of the land itself, the wide open spaces and faraway horizons, where the hearts of the young were as big and green as the vast sweep of the eastern grasslands, and the land and the courses of the lives lived on it moved and rolled in ways no man could ever predict, as though the breath of giants were easing over them, shaping them, turning them.

Some reviewers have compared it in terms of subject matter to Cormac McCarthy, which makes me think of…

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. As dystopian novels go, they don’t get much bleaker than this. All plant-life and most animal-life has been destroyed, and the implication is that the earth itself has been so badly damaged that nothing can grow in it. We follow two characters, known only as the man and the boy, as they journey through the devastated land. I was unsure how I felt about this at the time, but it is undoubtedly thought-provoking and full of imagery that has stayed with me – images both of horror and the ugliness of mankind, and of goodness, truth and a stark kind of beauty.

The most recent dystopian novel I’ve read is…

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Written in 1920, this book gives a prescient look at the potential outcome of the Marxist-style regime that was then coming into existence in Revolutionary Russia. A totalitarian “utopia” where almost all individuality is stripped away and people become nothing more than cogs in a massive machine, and just as dispensable. It’s easy to see its influence on some of the great dystopian novels of the early and mid-twentieth century, like Orwell’s 1984.

I haven’t reviewed 1984 on the blog, but I have reviewed…

Animal Farm by George Orwell. This allegorical fable of the Russian Revolution didn’t work as well for me now as it had done when I first read it in school. But it’s still a great book for younger readers who might not be quite ready for the likes of 1984, and the story of poor Boxer the horse is still just as moving…

Talking of boxers reminded me of…

The End of the Web by George Sims, the hero of which is an ex-boxer. (Yeah, I know that link is pretty strrrrrretched, but work with me, people… 😉 ) From 1976, this starts off as a fairly conventional thriller – ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events – but suddenly veers off in a different direction half-way through, giving it a feeling of originality. Well written and giving a great sense of the London of the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it

The author was apparently connected to the code-breaking facility at Bletchley Park during WW2, which made me think of…

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

* * * * *

So Wolf to Harris, via not my kind of thing, Cormac McCarthy, dystopian novels, George Orwell, boxers and Bletchley Park!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

The Power of Chocolate…

aka My Year in Books…

This is a fun tag created by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. The rules? Pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year!

Well, that sounded so delightfully easy, but I had really planned to spend the afternoon carrying out a scientific experiment. So I decided to combine them.

The purpose of the experiment was to prove once and for all whether chocolate has mood-enhancing properties. So first I answered the questions before my medicinal chocolate afternoon snack…

…and then I answered them again afterwards. Here are the results…

 

Well, I think those results are pretty conclusive!

So, for the benefit of my visitors, I hereby pledge to ALWAYS stuff my face with chocolate before preparing blog posts so you only ever have to put up with the mood-enhanced version of FF (except when I’m writing 1-star reviews)…

HAVE A CHOCOLATEY DAY! 😀

Clickety click, 66…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

Another year draws to a close, so it must be time for… The Reading Bingo Challenge! I don’t deliberately look for books to read to meet this challenge, but at the end of the year it’s always fun to see how many boxes I can fill. Some of the categories are easy-peasy… others not so much. I’ve achieved a full house in each of the last two years, so the pressure is on…

More than 500 pages

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Following my usual pattern of reading Dickens over Christmas, this category is usually easy to tick off! The major theme of the book is money – how possession of it corrupts, and how lack of it causes great suffering; and it satirises the class of society that hangs around the rich, especially the nouveau riche.

Betty Higden flees from the tender mercies of “the Parish”

A forgotten classic

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. The Classics Club inspired me to try to read some Scottish classics that I should probably have read long since. This book about three sisters finding their way through the restrictive social codes of the early 20th century was one, and a great one that deserves to be unforgotten!

A book that became a movie

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. I’ve been going on about this great book ever since I read it, so last time (maybe)! This is the story of a family who begin to suspect that their lodger may be a notorious serial killer. Set in the London of Jack the Ripper, the book inspired Hitchcock’s brilliant silent movie of the same name. Fab combo – read it, then watch it!

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth… or is he The Avenger?

Published this year

Sweet William by Iain Maitland. A very recent read, this is about a convicted killer who breaks out of his secure mental hospital to run off with his three-year-old son, sweet William. Dark and disturbing with touches of the blackest black humour, it’s a fabulous piece of writing with one of the best drawn disturbed central characters I’ve read in a long time.

With a number in the title

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards. The book that inspired my new Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge and finally pushed my TBR into the stratosphere. A must-read for anyone who wants to read some vintage crime but doesn’t know where to begin, but also great for the more knowledgeable reader too, who will still find plenty of anecdotes to entertain.

Written by someone under 30

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham. Allingham, a future Queen of Crime, was only 25 when this was published in 1929. It’s the first appearance of her long-running detective, Albert Campion, though he’s very different in this to what he would later become. Not her best, but always interesting to see how successful series begin.

A book with non-human characters

Animal Farm by George Orwell. Regulars will be only too aware of this year’s Russian obsession on my blog. This allegorical tale was one of the first of the year. Mind you, the way the year has gone, I’m not sure it really counts as having non-human characters – certain politicians are making the pigs look like a much higher stage of evolution…

Good Heavens! Has Napoleon taken to Twitter…???

A funny book

The Vanishing Lord by Lucy Brazier. Second in Lucy’s PorterGirl series, this farcical look at life in one of our prestigious universities is full of murder, mayhem and sausage sandwiches. Though not necessarily in that order…

A book by a female author

D’you know what? I hate this category. It suggests that there’s something odd about female authors or that they need special support because they’re such delicate little flowers. Nope! So I’m changing it for this and future years to…

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells. There are some pretty horrific images in this novella – hardly surpising, perhaps, since it’s one in the line of books that looks at the dangers of mad science untempered by ethics. Here, Wells uses the subject of vivisection to consider questions of evolution and man’s relationship to his evolutionary forebears.

A mystery

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. One of the highlights of the reading year for me has been discovering the Hugh Fraser narrations of Agatha Christie’s books on Audible. He does a fab job, especially with the Poirot books and it’s encouraging me to revisit some of these true classics of the mystery genre. This one, about a serial killer of sorts, is one of the best…

A one-word title

Penance by Kanae Minato. I haven’t read much Japanese crime fiction, but am always intrigued and a bit discombobulated when I do. This one tells the tale of a group of women who were witnesses in a murder case when they were schoolgirls. The story shows how the shadow of that event has affected each of their lives…

Free square

Treasure Island: An Audible Original Drama. Not exactly a book, nor even an audiobook. This is a full-cast dramatic adaptation – a thing Audible seems to be getting into in a big way. Hurrah! The cast of this throw themselves into it with glee, and nothing has given me more pleasure bookishly this year than being marooned… maroooooned, I tell ‘ee… with Long John Silver and the lads for a few hours.

A book of short stories

Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards. Most of the short stories I’ve read this year have been the vintage crime anthologies that are part of the British Library Crime Classics series. This is one of my favourites – a collection of “impossible” crimes – locked room mysteries, etc. Beautifully baffling!

Set on a different continent

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Set in modern-day Bombay or Mumbai (Adiga uses them interchangeably), this tale of sibling rivalry is tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. I find Adiga tends to give a more nuanced picture of India than a lot of contemporary authors, balancing the positives with the negatives.

Non-fiction

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Larson gives a riveting account of the last voyage of the Lusitania, its passengers and crew, and the wider political situation that gave rise to the circumstances in which the ship was left unprotected in waters in which it was known U-boats were operating. A perfect balance of the personal and the political.

First book by a favourite author

The Time Machine by HG Wells. Wells’ second entry on the list – I’ve been having a bit of a Wells-fest recently! On the surface, this one looks at the far-distant future of humanity, but in reality it has just as much to say about the current concerns in Wells’ own society – evolution (again), communism, science. But first and foremost, it’s a great adventure yarn.

Heard about online

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton. This category could apply to just about every book I read, but this was one that I only came across because of other bloggers’ reviews. A beautifully written collection of loosely linked short stories based in the Suffolk sandlings, they build together to create a somewhat nostalgic picture of a way of life that is passing, and to look forward with a kind of fear to an uncertain future…

A best-selling book

Munich by Robert Harris. This is a lightly fictionalised account of the events leading up to and at the Munich conference where Hitler, Chamberlain and a few of the other European leaders met to determine the fate of the Sudetenland. As always, Harris shows himself a master of riveting storytelling.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore. In a sense, this has been on my TBR all my life, since my Dad always used to say it was his favourite book. It certainly isn’t mine, but happily I enjoyed this romantic adventure set in 17th century Exmoor more than I expected to.

Based on a true story

The Long Drop by Denise Mina. This marvellous fictionalised account of the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s, won my award for the Crime Fiction Book of the Year. Mina brilliantly evokes the Glasgow of that era – the places, the people, the ever-present threat of violence…

A book a friend loves

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys. Our very own Cleo from CleopatraLovesBooks appears in a cameo role in this book – she won the honour at a charity auction. In truth, I probably wouldn’t have read it but for that, so I was delighted when I loved this historical fiction set on  a ship taking immigrants to Australia just before WW2 began.

A book that scared me

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. A novella really but packing plenty of spinetingling power! When two young men who are canoeing down the Danube in the middle of a great flood decide to camp for the night on a tiny island, what could possibly go wrong? Apart from the ancient and malign alien beings, that is! Sometimes, books are classics for a reason…

A book that is more than 10 years old

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Spoiled for choice this year, so I’m going with this classic because I’d forgotten just how good it is and because next year, 2018, is its 200th anniversay.  I listened to the wonderful narration by Derek Jacobi. So much more than sci-fi or horror, this is a book that looks deeply into the darkness of the human heart…

The second book in a series

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee. Second in the excellent Sam Wyndham series, set in colonial India just after WW1. When the son and heir of the Maharaja of Sambalpore is assassinated in front of him, Calcutta police captain Sam Wyndham manages to get himself invited to the prince’s funeral so he can do a bit of investigating…

A book with a blue cover

The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet. On the face of it a crime novel, the quality of the writing and characterisation, the authenticity of the setting and the intelligence of the structure all raise it so that it sits easily in the literary fiction category at the highest level. I even preferred it to Burnet’s Booker-nominated His Bloody Project

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!

 

The TBR Book Tag 2017

The truth, the whole truth…

I first did this tag back in 2015, and then last week Cleo reminded me of it when she brought her own one up-to-date. So I thought I’d do it again and see what, if anything has changed…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I have the same spreadsheet as I had back then, but it’s got even more complicated now! As well as sections for the TBR, the GAN Quest, lists of reviews, outstanding review copies, books that aren’t yet published, 5-star authors, etc., etc., plus the all-important reading schedule for the next three months, I now have lists for my four challenges too: Reading the Russian Revolution; Murder, Mystery, Mayhem; the Classics Club; and Around the World in 80 Books. Oh, and then there’s a separate spreadsheet for audiobooks. Frankly it’s a full-time job keeping it all up-to-date – no wonder I need to eat so much chocolate!

You have to admire the colour-coding though, eh?

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

It’s still mostly e-book, though I’ve been enjoying getting back to paper books a bit more recently. I vastly prefer factual books in paper – it’s so much easier to flick back and forwards to notes, maps etc. But I’ve rediscovered my love of reading crime and fiction in paperback too. However, my Kindle Fire is still my most prized piece of technology, full of NetGalley stuff, Complete Works collections of zillions of classic authors, books bought at bargain prices on offers from Amazon, and audiobooks.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I have to try to juggle the review copies with my various challenges, so at the end of each month I spend a couple of hours planning three months ahead. I don’t stick rigidly to it if something comes along that I can’t resist but it does keep me vaguely on track. I still have the same problem of too many review copies though – some things never change!

A book that’s been on your TBR the longest?

The Observations by Jane Harris. I am deeply ashamed to say that I bought it on 20th June 2011, and yet somehow haven’t managed to fit it in during the last six years. I’d feel better about it if it was the only one from 2011, but sadly not. No Name by Wilkie Collins is lingering there too. In my defence, it only went on my actual list a couple of years ago when I trawled through all my Kindle books and found loads I had bought on 99p deals in my first flush of Kindle enthusiasm and never read…

The Blurb says: Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her past, Bessy Buckley takes a job working as a maid in a big country house. But when Arabella, her beautiful mistress, asks her to undertake a series of bizarre tasks, Bessy begins to realise that she hasn’t quite landed on her feet. In one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years, Jane Harris has created a heroine who will make you laugh and cry as she narrates this unforgettable story about secrets and suspicions and the redemptive power of love and friendship.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I’m super enthusiastic about my most recent addition – it will be one of the final books for my Russian Revolution thing, and I think it sounds great.

The Blurb says: In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader.

The story revolves around Iván Cárdenas Maturell, who in his youth was the great hope of modern Cuban literature—until he dared to write a story that was deemed counterrevolutionary. When we meet him years later in Havana, Iván is a loser: a humbled and defeated man with a quiet, unremarkable life who earns his modest living as a proofreader at a veterinary magazine. One afternoon, he meets a mysterious foreigner in the company of two Russian wolfhounds. This is “the man who loved dogs,” and as the pair grow closer, Iván begins to understand that his new friend is hiding a terrible secret.

Moving seamlessly between Iván’s life in Cuba, Ramón’s early years in Spain and France, and Trotsky’s long years of exile, The Man Who Loved Dogs is Padura’s most ambitious and brilliantly executed novel yet. This is a story about political ideals tested and characters broken, a multilayered epic that effortlessly weaves together three different plot threads— Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis—to bring emotional truth to historical fact.

A novel whose reach is matched only by its astonishing successes on the page, The Man Who Loved Dogs lays bare the human cost of abstract ideals and the insidious, corrosive effects of life under a repressive political regime.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

Nope – I can only repeat my answer from 2015. I do like covers but am never influenced by them alone, good or bad, though if they’re especially good, they might at least tempt me to look at the blurb. I love the British Library Crime Classics covers though…

…and the Agatha Christie covers that Audible is currently using…

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

No… not really… well… I admit… some of those 99p bargains I mentioned above have lost a lot of their appeal over the years, but I periodically trawl through and delete any that I really don’t want to read, so theoretically at least I plan on reading everything on my current list…

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I’ve been trying not to acquire so many advance copies so I don’t have many unpublished books on the TBR at the moment. But this is one I picked purely on the basis of the blurb and publisher – Canongate are one of the leaders in promoting quality Scottish fiction writers. I’m hoping it’ll be as good as it sounds…

The Blurb says: Shetland: a place of sheep and soil, of harsh weather, close ties and an age-old way of life. A place where David has lived all his life, like his father and grandfather before him, but where he abides only in the present moment. A place where Sandy, a newcomer but already a crofter, may have finally found a home. A place that Alice has fled to after the death of her husband.

But times do change – island inhabitants die, or move away, and David worries that no young families will take over the chain of stories and care that this valley has always needed, while others wonder if it was ever truly theirs to join. In the wind and sun and storms from the Atlantic, these islanders must decide: what is left of us when the day’s work is done, the children grown, and all our choices have been made?

The debut novel from one of Scotland’s most exciting new literary voices, The Valley at the Centre of the World is a story about community and isolation, about what is passed down, and what is lost between the cracks.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

So, so many now that I’ve joined the Classics Club! But the one that stands out most is Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – EVERYBODY has read it! And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I too will have read it before spring is sprung!

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Hmm… probably the one that has been most often recommended to me over the years is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – I can’t understand why I’ve never read it. And I hereby swear on all I hold most dear…

… I will have read it before spring is sprung! (But I’m not specifying which spring…)

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

About 90% of them, which is a lot! But here are a few that I’m absolutely determined to read soon!

How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

None! I don’t use it – I only list books I’ve read or am reading on Goodreads. However, here are the dreaded figures from the spreadsheet…

So… up by 62 since 2015! But considering I added zillions when I joined the Classics Club, and zillions more when I started the 100 Classic Crime novels challenge, I think that’s pretty good! It’s only 4 years worth, after all! In fact, I might have to think about topping it up soon…

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Of course, I haven’t included the audiobooks…

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Go on – I tag you! Reveal all…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Ellis to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation who have experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money– a place devoid of feeling or hope.

…which sounds remarkably like the only one of his books I have read…

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. The blackest black comedy I have ever read, the author lays bare the shallow and self-obsessed world of ’80s yuppie culture and does so superbly. The violence is indeed graphic and gets progressively more extreme as the book goes on. However, given the theme of excess in all things that runs through the book, I felt it stayed in context. In fact, it eventually became so outrageous that, for me, it passed from being shocking to being, in a strange way, part of the humour of the book.

The office Halloween party was at the Royalton last week and I went as a mass murderer, complete with a sign painted on my back that read MASS MURDERER (which was decidedly lighter than the sandwich board I had constructed earlier that day that read DRILLER KILLER), and beneath those two words I had written in blood Yep, that’s me and the suit was also covered with blood, some of it fake, most of it real. In one fist I clenched a hank of Victoria Bell’s hair, and pinned next to my boutonniere (a small white rose) was a finger bone I’d boiled the flesh off of. As elaborate as my costume was, Craig McDermott still managed to win first place in the competition.

Less humour and less graphic gore, but just as much violence and horror for my next link to…

Psycho by Robert Bloch. When Mary Crane, driving through a downpour with the $40,000 she has just stolen, takes a wrong turning and finds herself lost, she makes a big mistake by deciding to spend the night at the Bates Motel. Norman Bates is pretty creepy, but not nearly as creepy as his mother… 😱The film is scarier, but the book has more psychological depth making it more substantial than a mere shocker. But all the famous scenes are still there…

The film of the book was of course directed by Hitchcock, which reminded me of…

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes – another terrifying tale that Hitch turned into an equally great film even if he changed the story pretty dramatically. When Mr and Mrs Bunting take in a new lodger, he seems a kindly, quiet gentleman, if a little eccentric. Meantime, London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. Gradually the Buntings begin to wonder if their lodger could possibly be the murderer, but with no proof, what should they do? What if they go to the police, and it turns out he’s innocent? He’ll leave, of course, and they desperately need the money he pays for rent. But what if he’s guilty and they do nothing – does that make them guilty too? It really is brilliantly done – great characterisation and totally credible psychologically. And in the film, Ivor Novello might be scary, but he’s also yummy…

Lucky June Tripp as Daisy Bunting. He can’t be a murderer! Can he??

The Lodger is set in turn of the century London, and Marie Belloc Lowndes makes great use of the notorious London fogs, which leads me to my next book…

London Fog by Christine L Corton. Corton sets out to tell the two stories of the fog – the actual one of what caused it and how it was eventually defeated, and the artistic one, of how it was used atmospherically and metaphorically in the literature and art of the period. While I found the tale of trying to get Parliament to act to clean up the air somewhat tedious, I loved all the stuff about how writers and artists had used the fog. Of course, Dickens was one of the greatest writers to use it…

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds…

… And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

And Monet one of the greatest artists…

Waterloo Bridge Sunlight Effect No. 4 by Claude Monet

One of the fascinating factlets in the book is that the term “pea-souper” to describe the thick London fog was coined by none other than the author of my old adversary…

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Our narrator (call him Ishmael) signs up for a voyage aboard the whaling ship Pequod, only to find that the Captain, Ahab, is pursuing a personal vendetta against the whale which caused him to lose his leg – Moby-Dick. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Proving conclusively that more is required to make a good book than an intriguing blurb. The book may have been tedious, but the film is great…

…and provides two links to my final book. Firstly, one of the ships the Pequod meets with on its journey is called the Rosebud, and secondly, Orson Welles appears in a cameo role as the preacher. All of which made me think of…

Citizen Kane by Harlan Lebo. Lebo takes the reader through the entire process of the making of Kane in painstaking and pretty geeky detail. But geeky in a good way – written so that even I, who wouldn’t recognise a movie camera if I tripped over it, was able to easily understand. No detail is too small, no aspect too obscure to be included here, from budgeting, casting, direction, production, even what days particular scenes were filmed on. Sounds dreadful, huh? And yet, I found it increasingly fascinating…

Lebo explains how the newspapers were produced and translated into various languages, with ‘real’ stories even though they mostly can’t be read except in stills…

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So Ellis to Lebo, via Bret Easton Ellis, psychos, Hitchcock, fog, pea-soupers and Orson Welles!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

NetGalley Says Yes!

Mutual approval…

Last week, I posted about my NetGalley rejections, so this week I thought I’d talk about why I love NetGalley nearly as much as chocolate…

Of the 402 titles I’ve been approved for since I joined NG in 2013, I’ve sent feedback for 373 books (the rest are still on my TBR) and have posted reviews for 302 (though for a few I only posted a brief review on Goodreads). The others I abandoned, either because they weren’t for me or because they were too badly formatted to be enjoyable reading. Of the ones I’ve reviewed, roughly 65% were either 4 or 5 stars reads for me – pretty good, huh? Not quite as high as my ratings for books I buy, but then I’m more likely to take a chance on new or new-to-me authors through NG.

Narrowing my best picks down to a reasonable number would be nearly impossible, so instead I’ve decided to list a few of the authors I was introduced to by NG who have now become firm favourites – most are established authors but were new to me. So, in no particular order, here they are – my…

NETGALLEY HALL OF FAME

(Click on the author’s name to see my reviews.)

Robert Harris

Robert Harris

My introduction to Robert Harris came through An Officer and a Spy, a wonderful fictionalisation of the Dreyfus affair in 19th century France. Since then I’ve read every new book he’s released, plus I’ve started on his back catalogue, and I’ve loved every one. However I have loads more to go – he’s quite prolific! Next up will be his Cicero trilogy. He achieves the perfect marriage of research, plotting and excellent writing – great stuff!

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HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft

Given how much I’ve talked about various stories being Lovecraftian in my horror slot, it’s strange to think that I’d never heard of him till I read an Oxford World’s Classics collection called The Classic Horror Stories, with a very informative introduction by Roger Luckhurst (another entry to the Hall of Fame – I now look out specifically for books he introduces). I don’t altogether love Lovecraft – too long-winded, too racist – but I recognise absolutely the huge influence he has been on the ‘weird’ story and on horror in general. Since that first meeting, he’s made an annual appearance in my Tuesday Terror! slot.

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SC Gwynne

SC Gwynne

I was so blown away by SC Gwynne’s brilliant biography of Stonewall Jackson, Rebel Yell, that I gave it the FF Award for Book of the Year in 2014. The prize for this prestigious award is that I guarantee to read the author’s next book, even if I have to buy it myself! Imagine my… ahem… delight, then, when Gwynne’s next book was The Perfect Pass – a book about American Football, a subject in which my interest and knowledge tie for last place. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it! Proof that a good writer can bring any subject to life. Oh, and I didn’t have to buy it – NetGalley gave me that one too.

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John Gaspard

John Gaspard

I’ve loved every book in John Gaspard’s Eli Marks series, all of which I’ve been given via NetGalley. A little too dark to be cosies, these are plotted in Golden Age style but with a contemporary setting. Eli is a stage magician and each book is set around a particular trick. Gaspard is brilliant at bringing the magic to life on the page, while following the magician’s code of never revealing how it’s done. I still laugh every time I remember how he managed to read my mind during a trick in book 1! His next book is due this month – can’t wait! And I’ve also bought an earlier book of his that predates this series – The Ripperologists – which sounds like fun too.

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Ken Kalfus

The first new-to-me author to whom NetGalley introduced me, when I fell in love with the cover of Equilateral and took a punt on it. He’s now a firm favourite – a writer who gets a lot of critical attention but still doesn’t seem to get the public readership and recognition I feel he deserves. I’ve read and loved a few of his books since then, old and new – only a couple more to go as he’s not nearly prolific enough! He spent several years in Russia so a lot of his books are directly or indirectly about life under the Soviets – he’s one of the inspirations behind my current fascination with that regime.

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Arthur Herman

Arthur Herman

Arthur Herman has firmly established himself as my favourite historian, despite some stiff competition in what has been a golden age for history books over the last few years. My first introduction to him was The Cave and The Light – a comprehensive look at the competing influences of Plato and Aristotle over the last 2,500 years of philosophy. Phew! Not an easy read, but a brilliant one. Since then, I’ve read all his new books and most of the ones that interest me from his back catalogue. And I’m super excited that he’s bringing out a new one on the Russian Revolution this month – the perfect way to end my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge.

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William McIlvanney

William McIlvanney

As probably the most influential Scottish crime writer of all time, known as the Father of Tartan Noir, I’m ashamed that I had never read any McIlvanney till NetGalley offered a new edition of his 1977 book, Laidlaw. I was blown away by the quality of the writing, his brilliant use of Glaswegian dialect and the total authenticity of his portrayal of the city at the time of my own youth in it. I have gone on to read the rest of the Laidlaw trilogy and one of his fiction novels, and am looking forward hugely to gradually working my way through the rest of his stuff. For McIlvanney alone, NetGalley has been a wondrous thing for me.

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So there they are – seven great authors I may never have read had it not been for NetGalley. And that’s not to mention all the wonderful books I’ve had from existing favourites like Jane Casey, Sharon Bolton, Belinda Bauer, etc., etc. All I can really say is…

THANKS, NETGALLEY!

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What about you? If you’re a NetGalley member have you found new favourites through them? If so, I’d love to hear – either in the comments or in a post of your own.

NetGalley Says No!

Rejection Blues!

Several people have been owning up to their saddest NetGalley rejections recently, so I thought I’d confess to mine. I got the idea from the lovely Annie at themisstery.com, so thanks Annie!

I’ve been with NetGalley since February 2013, and in that time have been rejected 92 times! (I’ve been approved for 402 – no wonder my TBR’s in the state it’s in!) Sometimes I know why. I frequently request books from outside my geographical area on the off-chance, and while sometimes this works, it often doesn’t. I’ve also discovered that if I request a book late I’m rejected far more often than if I request it as soon as it’s listed. But sometimes the reasons for rejection are a total mystery to me – keeps me on my toes, though!

A quick look through the 92 shows me that I later acquired 20 of them, either from a different publisher or region on NetGalley, direct from the publisher, or even actually *gasps* buying them. Intriguingly when I look through the rest, very few still excite me. But here are the ones – only seven of them – that I would still like to read. The titles link through to Goodreads if you want to know more about them.

Dear Mr M by Herman Koch – Although I enjoyed The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool, I’ve a feeling Koch’s books might start to feel a bit samey after a bit, but I’d still like to read this one.

The General vs The President by HW Brands – this history of Truman, General MacArthur and the debate over using nukes during the Korean war seems to have even more relevance now than it did when I was rejected.

Dictator by Robert Harris – This is book 3 in Harris’s Cicero trilogy. Book 1 – Imperium – is on my TBR, so I’ll almost certainly get to this one at some point.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann – I loved Let the Great World Spin, and the premise of this one still appeals, so I guess it has to go on the wishlist.

Hide and Seek by Jane Casey – the third and final book in Casey’s Jess Tennant series. This fell off my radar when I got rejected, but I really must read it – although it’s aimed at the YA market, this crime series works fine for…ahem… OAs too.

All the Rage by AL Kennedy – I suspect I might hate this, but I feel I should read something by AL Kennedy at some point.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – almost everybody raved about this and, although the premise still doesn’t hugely appeal to me, everybody can’t be wrong. Can they?

So what about you?
If you’re a NetGalley member, what rejections do you regret?

The Five Flaming Hotties Tag

Hotties? Moi?

One half of the @2ReelQuirkyCats, Thoughts All Sorts, has tagged me to list my five favourite hotties from the worlds of film/TV/sport etc. Me? Why, I simply don’t understand – as if I’d ever be so shallow as to post pictures of hunks men just because they happen to be gorgeous! No, no! It’s their talent I admire. I mean, these are the heroes who most often appear on my blog and surely nobody could think it’s simply because of their looks…

However, in the spirit of the thing, I’ve selected five extremely talented individuals who’ve never appeared on the blog before. Are they Flaming Hotties? I’ll let you decide… 😉

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The rules are simple (to keep it clean)…

  1. Mention the name of the Blog you were tagged by. Also mention Realweegiemidget Reviews and Thoughts All Sorts. Link back to all Blogs involved.

  2. List five of your greatest hotties from TV and/or film i.e. crushes/objects of your affection. If you want to (I know some of you who do), musicians and sports stars can be included.

  3. Tell us how you were “introduced” to them and why you like them/what appeals (keep it clean).

  4. Add some pictures (once again, keep it clean. Strictly no nudity. Nice pictures.).

  5. Tag seven bloggers for their Five Flaming Hotties.

  6. Oh…and post the rules…

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Don Johnson

Aah, Don! Oh, your wonderful acting in Miami Vice! That sockless pastel look! Philip Michael Thomas! The shades! The cars! Edward James Olmos! The music! The ultimate sexy exoticism of it all! How I loved that show, and mostly just to watch you!

I truly believed that watching you as Sonny Crockett was the ultimate pinnacle of earthly joy… until I saw you, all moody and magnificent, in The Long Hot Summer! How my little heart beat! Now I think about it, must get the DVD so it’s on hand for emergency resuscitation…

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Johnny Depp

My sister and I argued for years over Mr Depp. She held the opinion that his fine cheekbones made him one of the most wonderful actors who ever lived, while I felt in truth that he wasn’t quite hunky enough as talented as some others.

But then he became a pirate and the scales fell from my eyes – his true talent was revealed to me in all its glory! He’s not ageing quite as well as some, (and frankly he’s a bit of a self-obsessed idiot), but we’ll always have the images to remind us of his glory days…

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Tom Brady

Now it has to be said that I’m more of a tennis fan than an American football fan – primarily because one game is excellent and the other is kinda silly. But due to a certain blog buddy of mine, I have been turned into a New England Patriots fan, pretty much against my will, and am now totally au fait with the strange way Americans spell offense and defense, not to mention the esoteric joys of the passing game. One of the things that has reconciled me to this journey into the arcane rituals of our trans-Atlantic neighbours is Tom Brady, the Pats’ legendary quarterback. Look – isn’t he extraordinarily talented?

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Vince Carrola

As a little interlude, here’s a treat from that very blog buddy who first introduced me to the delights of Tom Brady, the wonderful Vince Carrola aka Professor VJ Duke. I’m not including him as one of my hotties because a) he’s appeared on the blog before and b) he’d kill me and then die of embarrassment, so I shall simply say he’s an extremely talented musician, and leave you to judge for yourself…

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Jason Momoa

I love almost everything about Stargate Atlantis. Next to Star Trek TNG and Voyager, it’s my top fave sci-fi series. And it has to be said that a major reason for that is Jason Momoa. There’s something about the way his hair whips round him as he battles bad guys often with no more than a stick. (I did hear that in fact he got whiplash from the weight of his hair during the series, so had to have it cut off and replaced with a wig, but we’ll quickly gloss over that little factlet…) He’s good with guns too, though…

It’s the humour in the show that makes it for me and Jason Momoa always has a wicked twinkle in his eye. I’ve never actually seen him in anything else, and am not sure I’d want to – to me he IS Ronon Dex and always will be.

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Robert Downey Jr

I watched Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man just a week or two ago and it reminded me of how much I love and adore his perfect face admire his great acting talent. I actually first “met” him when he appeared as Ally McBeal’s love interest.

I adored everything about that show, though I can never bring myself to re-watch it. I imagine it’s horribly dated now – it was of its time and aimed at a certain generation – i.e., mine. And we’ve all aged since then, but Robert, like fine wine in casks of oak, has aged deliciously…

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So what do you think of my selection? I’m supposed to tag seven other people but I’m a wild rebel, so instead I’ll just tag anyone who wants to join in. And meantime, do advise me in the comments below which hotties very talented people you think I should check out…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Austen to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What a pity! This means I’ll have to start with my obligatory Darcy pic instead of ending with it! Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to search for another hunk to fill the end spot… a tough job, but one I’m willing to undertake to bring you pleasure…

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

Pride and Prejudice is, of course, the story of a man falling in love with a fine pair of eyes and a woman falling in love with a big house full of servants – undoubtedly, the basis for a wonderful relationship. Thinking of relationships reminds me of…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This is a woeful tale of what can happen to a young girl when she goes off travelling but forgets to pack her paracetamol. It also provides a warning to us all never to declare undying love to a rich man whose mother controls the purse-strings, else we may end up the wife of a country curate…

Talking of country curates reminds me of…

Emma by Jane Austen – a terrifying tale of a middle-aged man who grooms a young girl to grow up as his ideal woman. Poor Emma is offered an escape route, when Mr Elton the curate offers to marry her, but alas! It is too late – her indoctrination is complete! A fine moral lesson to us all from the pen of Ms Austen…

Mr Elton…

We are given another, and perhaps even more important, moral lesson in…

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – An innocent young girl is trapped in an old abbey, with only spooky shadows, a potential murderer, a patronising young man who can dance unnaturally well, and a pile of pulp fiction to occupy her mind. Naturally, she picks the pulp fiction, starting a process that will rot her mind and eventually take her beyond hysteria to the brink of near insanity. The moral clearly is – don’t read books!

“…and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am!—What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them…”

And, most certainly, don’t read this one…!

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope – In a desire to save us all from the perils of reading fiction, Ms Trollope has written a book so majestically awful it is certain to put the unsuspecting reader off for life! A book that introduced me to two words that prove that the human race is already well on the way to total mental decline – amazeballs and shagbandit – it left me feeling that even emojis can sometimes be less offensive than the written word.

😉 😛 👿

He gave an almost imperceptible smirk. ‘The obigations of the heir…’
‘Oh my God,’ Marianne exclaimed. ‘Are you the heir to Allenham?’
He nodded.
‘So fortunate,’ Belle said dazedly.
Marianne’s eyes were shining.
‘So romantic,’ she said.

After this experience, I had to be persuaded to try reading another book, which brings me to…

Persuasion by Jane Austen – a tragic story of a young woman who dumps her lover and then is surprised that he takes her seriously and goes to war with the French (an extreme reaction, but quite romantic in its way. A bit unfair on the French though, perhaps.) The moral of this story is surely that we should grab the first offer we get, girls, for fear we might otherwise end up having to marry a curate…

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

A lesson taken to heart by the downtrodden heroine of our last book…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – a story wherein a young girl is wrenched from her mother and forced to live with two ugly sisters – ugly on the inside that is. Poor little Fanny is destined to spend her days as a skivvy without so much as a pair of glass slippers to call her own. Until her fairy godmother (rather oddly named Edmund) waves her magic wand and suddenly Fanny gets to go to the ball after all…

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.

* * * * *

And they all lived happily ever after!

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So Austen to Austen, via relationship advice, curates, moral lessons, don’t read books!, persuasion and grabbing a husband!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Oh! And here’s your extra hunk…

Six Degrees of Separation – From Martin to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Shopgirl by Steve Martin, a book I’ve not only not read, but have never heard of before! The blurb tells me…

Lonely, depressed, Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy.

Hmm… not for me, I think, though it sounds quite amusing. But any mention of evening gloves inevitably makes me think of the wonderful…

American Pastoral. Roth’s brilliant novel tells the story of Seymour “Swede” Levov and the collapse of the 1950s American Dream. Swede owns a factory where skilled craftspeople lovingly create luxury gloves for the fashionable, but his daughter is of a different generation – the Vietnam generation that blew the old certainties apart as surely as Swede’s daughter blew up the local Post Office…

“Those assumptions you live with. You’re still in your old man’s dream-world, Seymour, still up there with Lou Levov in glove heaven. A household tyrannized by gloves, bludgeoned by gloves, the only thing in life – ladies’ gloves! Does he still tell the great one about the woman who sells the gloves washing her hands in a sink between each color? Oh where oh where is that outmoded America, that decorous America where a woman had twenty-five pairs of gloves? Your kid blows your norms to kingdom come, Seymour, and you still think you know what life is!”

As part of my GAN Quest, American Pastoral was the first book to which I awarded the title of The Great American Novel. Only one other novel shares that honour so far…

Toni Morrison’s wonderful Beloved. This story of one woman’s escape from slavery to liberty and the sacrifices she makes along the way is full of anger and sorrow, and some of the most savagely beautiful writing I have read.

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Oprah Winfrey as Sethe revealing the “tree” on her back

Much though we sometimes like to pretend, slavery isn’t a thing of the past though its forms may be a little different today. Which made me think of…

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham. The plot of this one is hard-hitting, involving illegal immigration, sex trafficking and forced commercial surrogacy. The trail takes police detective Alisha Barba to the sleaziest parts of Amsterdam, where she’s soon in trouble not just with the bad guys but with her superior officers back home. But she’s become too involved to pull back – too many lives are dependent on her, some of them very vulnerable. Robotham doesn’t hold back in the picture he gives of the exploitation of women trafficked as sex slaves from some of the war-torn places of the world and he has clearly done his research as thoroughly as always.

The book stars with Alisha attending a school reunion. Which made me think of another book that begins that way…

John Gaspard’s The Bullet Catch, the second in his excellent Eli Marks series. This is a series of murder mysteries with the hugely likeable stage magician Eli taking on the role of detective. A little too gritty to be cosy, these are nonetheless on the lighter side of crime fiction, filled with warmth and humour. Each book is named after a magic trick and Gaspard is brilliant at making the tricks come to life on the page while respecting the magicians’ code not to reveal how they’re done…

Another series set in the world of stage magic began with…

The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, book 1 in her great Stephens and Mephisto series. Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto worked together during WW2 in a top-secret army unit dubbed the Magic Men, with the aim of misleading the enemy. Now, shortly after the war, Max has gone back to his old role of stage magician while Edgar has become a policeman in Brighton. When the various body parts of a beautiful young woman turn up in three boxes, it makes Edgar think of an old magic trick so he turns to his friend Max for help in solving the crime…

(The Zig-Zag Girl trick…)

Griffiths brings the post-war Brighton setting brilliantly to life. My last book is also set there…

Erin Kelly’s The Ties That Bind marries together two periods in the life of this ever-changing town – the ’50s and ’60s, when it was home to some seriously violent gangsters (the location, of course, for Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock), and today, when it has a brighter reputation as the UK’s gay capital and as the place where weary Londoners go to relax, soak up a little sea air, and party. Kelly shows that the town still hides a murky underbelly beneath the surface glitter though, in this well-written thriller with elements of redemption and revenge.

Brighton’s iconic West Pier

 * * * * *

So Martin to Kelly, via gloves, Great American Novels, slavery, school reunions, stage magicians and Brighton!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Tsiolkas to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the slap.

I know a lot of people liked this one but I have to admit I think it sounds dreadful and it’s one of those fairly rare books that has an almost equal number of 1-stars and 5-stars on Goodreads, so I won’t ever be reading it. Of course, that started me looking for other books I’ve read that have as many 1s as 5s on Goodreads, which led me to…

Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma – a hideous abomination based on the Austen classic. Unsurprisingly I gave it 1 star, but only because Goodreads doesn’t have a Yeuch! rating. From my review…

Should I mention the nude Harriet scene and the lesbian overtones? Nope, can’t bring myself to. But Mr Elton does provide an opportunity for McCall Smith to make what is clearly his favourite joke, that he drives a BMW Something-Something. I say favourite joke, because he repeats it an amazing nine times. Mind you, he repeats the joke about the English language students asking the way to the railway station an astonishing 22 times…

This was part of the Austen Project. I struggled through three of them before deciding that book burning is indeed sometimes justified. Here’s another, also 1-star…

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope – the book that introduced me to the word “amazeballs” and the idea of Willoughby being a “shagbandit”…

‘One hundred parties in the last year!’ Mrs Jennings said. ‘Incredible. That’s one party every three nights that wouldn’t have happened without him!’
‘Too silly,’ Lucy said, looking straight at Elinor. ‘Brainless. My poor Ed must be cringing.’
‘Amaze,’ Nancy said from the sofa. ‘Amazeballs.’
Elinor took a step back.
‘Well, I suppose it’s good to be good at something.’

Ugh! Well, after that detour into the horrific depths of faux literature, how about a little real Austen? The one I re-read most recently was…

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Ah, what bliss to return to the fine storytelling, beautiful language and gentle wit of the wonderful Jane!

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn – that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness – that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

Of course, I can’t possibly think of Ms Austen without also thinking of Mr Darcy, with whom I’ve always wanted to dance the cotillion.

Which reminds me of…

Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. I love Heyer’s Regency romances – they’re my idea of literary chicken soup, to be guzzled whenever the world seems grey. This one is my favourite by miles – I must have read it twenty times at least and suddenly have an urgent desire to read it again. The Hon Freddy Standen is like a cross between two of my favourite men – Darcy and Bertie Wooster…

‘You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.

Talking of Bertie Wooster reminds me of

…the wonderful Right Ho, Jeeves, in which Tuppy Glossop must decide between his little Angela or Anatole’s steak pie. Here Tuppy recounts a conversation between the aforesaid Angela and her mother, Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia…

“You’ve no idea,” she said, “how Mr Glossop loves food. He just lives for it. He always eats six or seven meals a day and then starts in again after bedtime. I think it’s rather wonderful.” Your aunt seemed interested, and said it reminded her of a boa constrictor. Angela said, didn’t she mean a python? And then they argued as to which of the two it was…And the pie lying there on the table, and me unable to touch it. You begin to understand why I said I had been through hell.

I frequently call my little cat Tuppy, although her formal name is Tuppence. She and her brother, Tommy, are called after Agatha Christie’s less well-known detective duo, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. (Therefore those in the know will be aware that Tuppence’s super-formal name, the one I use when she’s been really naughty, is Prudence…)

So that reminded me of…

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie. This is the collection of short stories which follows after The Secret Adversary, the full length novel in which Tommy and Tuppence are first introduced. They appear again in three later novels and, unlike Christie’s other ‘tecs, Tommy and Tuppence age in real time, so that they go from being youngsters on their first appearance to being fairly elderly in their last outing. It’s their devotion to each other and the wit of their dialogue that make the books such a pleasure to read. Here, Tuppence is complaining that she’s discovering that a comfortable life can be somewhat boring…

“Shall I neglect you a little?” suggested Tommy. “Take other women about to night clubs. That sort of thing.”
“Useless,” said Tuppence. “You would only meet me there with other men. And I should know perfectly well that you didn’t care for the other women, whereas you would never be quite sure that I didn’t care for the other men. Women are so much more thorough.”
“It’s only in modesty that men score top marks,” murmured her husband.

James Warwick and the delightful Francesca Annis as Tommy and Tuppence in the ITV adaptation

 * * * * *

So Tsiolkas to Christie, via 1-star reviews, the Austen Project,
Jane Austen, Darcy, Bertie Wooster and my cat’s nickname!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Donoghue to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…


This month’s starting book is Room by Emma Donoghue. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Jack lives with his Ma in Room. Room has a single locked door and a skylight, and it measures ten feet by ten feet. Jack loves watching TV but he knows that nothing he sees on the screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits there is a world outside.

This one has never appealed to me, despite the zillions of glowing reviews. The idea of spending a book inside the head of a five year old is my idea of hell, I fear. But the being held captive by a maniac theme reminds me of…


Koethi Zan’s The Never List, a dark and disturbing psychological thriller. When Sarah and her best friend Jennifer were growing up, they made a list of all the things they should never do if they wanted to stay safe in a world that they had already discovered could turn dangerous in an instant. But one night they forgot the most basic never of all – never get in the car

“There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity. And then, very suddenly and without warning, there were three. Even though the fourth person hadn’t made any noise at all in several months, the room got very quiet when she was gone.”

This was a début that immediately put the author on my must-read list. Which happened again when I read another début…

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rendell. It’s Prohibition Era in America and the police in Brooklyn have been tasked with closing down the speakeasies that have sprung up around the district. To help with the extra workload a new typist is hired, the charming and beautiful Odalie. At first, Rose, the narrator, is a little jealous of the attention Odalie receives from all quarters, but when Odalie decides to befriend her, Rose quickly falls under her spell. Even as she realises that Odalie might have some dark secrets, Rose can’t resist the new and exciting lifestyle to which Odalie has introduced her. But Rose herself may have secrets too – or else why would she be narrating the story from an institution…?

Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently – I think she’d make a great Odalie…or maybe Rose!

Rendell brings the Prohibiton era to life and admits in her prologue that she took inspiration from her favourite book – a favourite of mine too…

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the summer of 1922, the book portrays the brittleness of a society still quivering from the aftershocks of WW1 and looking fearfully towards an uncertain future. The hedonism and dazzling decadence of the “Roaring Twenties” is exposed as a thin veneer over a society riven by class division, old wealth and new, and showing the first signs of a breakdown in the old social order. And then, of course, there’s the stunning, evocative writing…

But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone – he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

 

I thought Mia Farrow made the perfect Daisy, a picture of vulnerability but with an unbreakable core. She played a similar character, Jackie, in another film adaptation, though of a very different kind of book…

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I haven’t reviewed this one on the blog which tells me it’s well overdue for a re-read, since it’s one of Christie’s finest. The rich and beautiful Linnet Ridgeway is on honeymoon with her new husband Simon, cruising the Nile. But their idyll is about to be destroyed when Simon’s jealous ex-lover Jackie shows up. Jackie is the obvious suspect when Linnet is murdered, but she couldn’t have done it. It’s up to fellow holidaymaker Hercule Poirot to find out who did…

One of the major themes of Death on the Nile is betrayal, which made me think of…

Exposure by Helen Dunmore. When fading Communist spy Giles Holloway falls drunkenly down his stairs and breaks his leg, he must somehow get the Top Secret file he has “borrowed” back to the Admiralty before anyone notices it’s missing. So he turns to his old friend and colleague Simon Callington for help. The brilliance of this story about spies and traitors rests largely on its excellent charcaterisations and authentic setting. But what really makes this book stand out from the crowd is the inclusion of Simon’s wife and family. It’s also a highly intelligent twist on The Railway Children, where we see the story from the adults’ side.

While Giles is the name of a person in Exposure, it’s part of the name of a place in another great novel – Kingston St Giles, the setting for…


Sebastian Faulks’ Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. Modern follow-on novels notoriously usually make me spit and curse. But Faulks has got the overall tone completely right and the dialogue, especially between Bertie and Jeeves, is wonderful! Scarcely a false note, throughout. The plot is suitably convoluted, we meet some old friends and the special sunshine of Wodehouse’s world is back to warm us all again.

‘And what was his attitude towards Georgiana?’
Jeeves considered. One could almost hear the cogwheels of that great brain whirring as he selected the mot juste. It was a pity that, when it came, it was one with which I was unfamiliar.
‘I should say his attitude was complaisant, sir.’
‘Complacent, do you mean?’
‘I fancy either adjective might apply, sir.’
‘Hmm.’ While unsure of the difference, I was fairly certain neither was quite up to snuff.

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

 * * * * *

So Donoghue to Faulks, via captivity, débuts, the Prohibition era, Mia Farrow, betrayal and Giles!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Hornby to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

fever-pitch

This month’s starting book is Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom — its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories.

Ugh! Football!! No, thanks! Though at least proper football is played with the feet, unlike American Football. Which reminds me of…

the perfect pass

SC Gwynne’s The Perfect Pass. SC Gwynne was the winner of my FF Book of the Year Award in 2014 and the “prize” is that I will read the author’s next book. Imagine my delight when his next book turned out to be about American Football! This is the story of how a college coach, Hal Mumme, developed the “unstoppable” Air Raid offense, changing the very nature of the game.

Though the passing technology was more than half a century old, there was still something morally thrilling about watching the quarterback toss the ball to the tailback, while the guard or tackle pulled and the fullback crashed down on the defensive end and the whole team seemed to move en masse in that swinging, lovely rightward arc of pure power followed by the popping sounds of all those helmets and pads and the scream of the crowd as the whole thing disintegrated into a mass of bodies on the turf.

Amazingly, this book was a surprise hit with me, proving that a great writer can make any subject fascinating! Plus it was the cause of me finding one of my favourite pics to ever appear on the blog…

Testing football helmets...
Testing football helmets…

Gwynne’s award-winning previous book was Rebel Yell, a biography of Stonewall Jackson, one of the great US Civil War generals. This reminded me of…

king solomons mines

King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard, which culminates in the great civil war amongst the Kukuanas. A book I consider to be the best adventure story I’ve ever read, this tells the tale of Allan Quatermain and his companions setting out on a journey across Africa to find the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon…

“It is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross; save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or to lose it as Providence may order.”

adventurers

Another book that involves climbing mountains is…

thin air

Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. This chilly ghost story takes place in 1935 during an expedition to climb Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas, the third highest mountain in the world and as yet unconquered. Although it starts and ends rather slowly, the bit in the middle where the horror actually happens is excellent. This is not gore-fest horror – it’s all done with things half-glimpsed and subject to interpretation. A good one for a dark evening.

kangchenjunga south-eest face

I couldn’t visit the Himalayas without thinking of…

black narcissus

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. This is the story of a group of nuns who make their way to a palace high in the Himalayas to set up a convent and school there. But they are not prepared for the isolation they will feel in this place of majestic grandeur, constantly windswept, and with a population who have their own spiritual beliefs and no desire to change. Soon the nuns will find themselves challenged, not only physically, but emotionally, even spiritually, struggling to maintain their faith amidst the emptiness that surrounds them.

This GIF from the movie gives me vertigo each time I look at it…

black narcissus bell

Nuns and convents made me think of…

eleven days

Stav Sherez’s Eleven Days. When a fire engulfs a convent in London, the ten nuns who make up the Order are all killed. But there is another body too, and it’s up to Detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller to find out who she was and why she was there. This is a complex, somewhat sprawling thriller that looks not just at the underbelly of crime in London but also at politics within the Roman Catholic church, and across the world to the impact of big business on the peasants of Peru.

Stav Sherez
Stav Sherez

An “Eleven” is the traditional name for a cricket team, which made me think of…

selection-day-2

Selection Day by Aravind Adiga. Back to sport to end on, but a decent sport this time! (Though not as good as tennis obviously.)

Gratuitous Rafa GIF
Gratuitous Rafa GIF

This is a story of sibling rivalry, tied in with a wider picture of corruption in society shown through the corruption in cricket. I love Adiga’s depiction of Mumbai. He shows the poverty, corruption and class divisions quite clearly but he also shows the other side – the vibrancy, the struggle for social mobility, the advances of recent years. His characters, even when they’re being put through the emotional wringer, manage to have some fun along the way, and the whole atmosphere he portrays lacks the irredeemable hopelessness of so much Indian literature.

“People thought I had a future as a writer, Manju. I wanted to write a great novel about Mumbai,” the principal said, playing with her glasses. “But then…then I began, and I could not write it. The only thing I could write about, in fact, was that I couldn’t write about the city.

“The sun, which I can’t describe like Homer, rises over Mumbai, which I can’t describe like Salman Rushdie, creating new moral dilemmas for all of us, which I won’t be able to describe like Amitav Ghosh.”

 * * * * *

So Hornby to Adiga, via football, civil war, mountain passes, the Himalayas, nuns and elevens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone…

The School Subjects Tag…

One of our newer bloggers, notsomoderngirl, has come up with this great idea for a tag, and I’m delighted that’s she’s tagged me! My own schooldays are…ahem… a few years ago now, but fortunately I don’t think my answers are going to be graded, so even the Chemistry section doesn’t intimidate me!

1. Maths – What’s a book that left your head spinning in circles?

It’s got to be Children of Dune! I loved Dune and Dune Messiah, but this third one is seriously weird. My suspicion is that it wasn’t only the characters in the book that were indulging in mind-altering substances. This extract from my review will give you an idea of my befuddlement…

…has Paul really died in the desert? Who is the mysterious Preacher who keeps popping up and calling Alia names? If he is Paul, why is he trying to undermine his family’s rule? Why do Leto and Ghani want to get to Jacurutu? How come Leto is having prescient dreams if he’s not taking spice? What is the Golden Path that Leto keeps banging on about as the way to save something? Save what? Or who? Seriously – if you know the answers, do tell – personally I’m baffled!

God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk
God Emperor of Dune by BlazenMonk

2. English – Which book do you think has beautiful written expression?

Oh, so many! Hmm… I think I’ll pick this beautifully crafted metaphor from John Knowles’ book about boys preparing to go off as soldiers in WW2, A Separate Peace

Winter’s occupation seems to have conquered, overrun and destroyed everything, so that now there is no longer any resistance movement left in nature; all the juices are dead, every sprig of vitality snapped, and now winter itself, an old, corrupt, tired conqueror, loosens its grip on the desolation, recedes a little, grows careless in its watch; sick of victory and enfeebled by the absence of challenge, it begins to withdraw from the ruined countryside.

3. Physics – Who is your favourite scientifically minded character from a book/film?

Ah, that would have to be Dr Jekyll, I think, from both the book and the film. He proves conclusively that one should always experiment on other people before drinking the potion oneself…

The Spencer Tracy version from 1941
The Spencer Tracy version from 1941

4. Biology – Who is your favourite book/film/series character?

That would have to be Andy Dalziel, and frankly they don’t come much more biological than him! I love his attitude to life and his larger-than-life persona. But even though he does things his own way , he’s by no means a stereotypical maverick. And I love the way he and his junior colleague Peter Pascoe develop an unlikely friendship over the years, despite being almost polar opposites to each other in every way.

5. Chemistry – Who is your favourite literary couple?

Oh, come on! This can’t even be multiple choice!

darcy-and-lizzie-2

6. French – What is your favourite foreign book/film/programme?

Oh dear, if there’s one thing reviewing has taught me, it’s that I’m incredibly insular when it comes to books, and with films 99.999% of everything I watch is either British or American. But I do have a real weakness for Indian novels, even though again they feel like a bit of a cheat since a) they’re written in English (the ones I read, that is) and b) I most enjoy them because of India’s connection to us via the British Empire and later the Commonwealth. I’ve enjoyed some Nordic crime in translation, though I’m not quite as hooked as a lot of the crime reading community. A difficult one… I’m going to say…

the-white-guard…The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov translated from the Russian by Michael Glenny. I read this very recently and haven’t reviewed it yet, but it’s fair to say I was blown away by it.

7. Art – Have you ever judged a book by its cover, even if you weren’t meant to?!

I truly don’t think I’ve ever picked a book purely on the basis of its cover. But I’ve rejected millions! All those cheesy romances with bare-chested men dressed in everything from kilts to cossack outfits – ugh! And the fifty-seven million identikit “psychological thrillers” with a girl (oh yes, never a woman!) in a red jacket walking or running away, and a giant sticker saying “the next Gone Girl/Girl on a Train etc” – double ugh! If they can’t be original on the cover, what hope is there for the content?! But here are a few covers I love…

8. History – What was the last historical book you read?

Hmm… that would be The White Guard again, so I won’t duplicate. And the one before that I didn’t like, so no to it too. Which takes me back to…

the-death-of-kings

The Death of Kings by Rennie Airth. I really enjoy this crime series set just after WW2. Slower and more thoughtful than a lot of current crime fiction, and with a definite nod to the Golden Age. (Oh, and I adore this cover, too!)

9. Drama – What’s a book that you think has a lot of over-dramatic hype?

Nearly every new psychological thriller!

“A brilliant new original thriller that’s just like that last great thriller you read and has 48,932 twists including one that involves the supernatural because the writer couldn’t get out of the hole she’d dug without ghostly intervention!”

girl-in-a-red-coat

It always come with quotes from authors who share a publisher with the author of this book, and are desperate to hang on to their book deals…

“This author’s use of language is brilliantly innovative! She completely ignores the rules of grammar (and spelling, and the correct definition of words) and uses the “f” word in ways that will astound you!”

“Brilliantly original, the angst-ridden, alcoholic, drug-addicted protagonist of this story must battle sexism, racism, and homophobia while trying to recover from the grief of losing her entire family and six friends in a freak tornado in Auchtermuchty!”

“I loved this book so much – who’d have guessed that the dog actually contained the spirit of the murdered child back from the beyond to lead the police to the murderer? What a brilliant twist!”

10. Geography – Which literary destination would you really like to visit? (They can be real or fictional!)

I’d love to go for a night out in The Green Dragon pub in Hobbiton – hobbits seem to know how to have fun!

Ideally that would be the one in Middle Earth, but if for some reason I couldn’t get there, I’d settle for the one on the movie set in New Zealand…

the-green-dragon-2

Join me? Bloggers Night Out – BYOB*

*(Bring Your Own Book).

* * * * * *

Thanks again, notsomoderngirl – I had fun doing this! And as usual, I tag anyone who’d like to answer these questions… 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Groff to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

fates-and-furies

This month’s starting book is Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I haven’t read this one, but the blurb tells me…

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Doesn’t appeal, in truth, but the word “fate” in the title made me think of…

f daniel kehlmann

F: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann. A book I loved for its wit and intelligence, while frankly having no idea what it’s about! F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. Knowingly pretentious, wickedly funny, marginally surreal at points and superbly written – a joy to read!

…and Arthur described his idea to write a book that would be a message to a single human being, in which therefore all the artistry would serve as mere camouflage, so that nobody aside from this one person could decode it, and this very fact paradoxically would make the book a high literary achievement. Asked what the message would be, he said that would depend on the recipient. When asked who the recipient would be, he said that would depend on the message.

The book that Arthur writes is called My Name is No One, which reminded me of…

Ooh!

Patrick Flanery’s I Am No One. This book looks at our new surveillance culture through the growing paranoia of the narrator, who believes he is being watched both online and in real life. As always with Flanery, the writing is excellent and, in the first person telling of this one, he sustains the narrator’s almost stream of consciousness voice beautifully, without ever losing the reader. The uncertainty of the plot is brilliantly done and creates an atmosphere of growing tension as the story slowly unfolds.

Patrick Flanery
Patrick Flanery

Although the book is set mainly in New York, it refers to the narrator having lived for several years in Oxford, England, which made me think of…

saints of the shadow bible

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin, since as every reader of this series knows, Rebus’s favourite drinking den is The Oxford Bar. One of the things that I love most about this series is that Rankin always has his finger on the political pulse of Scotland, and this book is set to the background of the run-up to the recent Scottish Independence Referendum.

Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. Photograph by Murdo Macleod
Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar.
Photograph by Murdo Macleod

But the plot also relates to the re-opening of a case from long ago – a case that Rebus worked on when he was just starting his career, which made me think of…

asking for the moon

Reginald Hill’s short story The Last National Service Man, in his collection titled Asking for the Moon. Written after the Dalziel and Pascoe series had been established for many years, Hill takes us back to their first meeting when young Pascoe was still wet behind the ears. Although the story could easily be read and enjoyed by a new reader, it’s full of little in-jokes and references for longtime fans, to whom Hill dedicated the collection with his usual wit…

Dedication 3

Throughout the series, Hill often included references to the works of Jane Austen in place and character names, and even occasionally in plot details, which made me think of…

northanger abbey

Northanger Abbey, the most deliciously light of all Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, she will soon be caught up in a horror story to match the Gothic sensation novels she loves – a product of her wild imagination… or is it??

Northanger illustration 1

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can…

…I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

As part of the hideous Austen Project, the surprisingly enjoyable modern take on Northanger Abbey was written by Val McDermid, which led me to think of…

out of bounds

Out of Bounds, the fourth book in McDermid’s DCI Karen Pirie series. Karen is dealing with two cold cases, one regarding a horrific rape and murder, and the other of what looked at the time like a terror attack by the IRA. But as Karen investigates, she begins to think the motive may have been more personal. Set in her native Scotland, this series shows McDermid back at her best, and McDermid’s best is pretty much unbeatable!

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

 * * * * *

So Groff to McDermid, via fate, book titles, Oxford, early careers, Austen references, and modern re-tellings!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Six Degrees of Separation – From Larrson to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

This month’s starting book is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In truth, I wasn’t a fan of this trilogy, finding it all rather long-drawn out and tedious, and I never could get up any affection for the weird Lisbeth Salander. I abandoned book 2 and never got around to the third one.

The dragon in the title made me think of…

Click for review

Sharon Bolton’s novella Here Be Dragons. It’s part of her brilliant Lacey Flint series, but this time told from the perspective of the lovely Mark Joesbury, one of my (many) fictional heroes. It’s such a great little thriller, I had to create an entirely new rating system for it – it was the first to score 5 on the Yippee Ki Yay scale, thus making it a Bruce Willis!

Yippee Ki Yay rating:    😮😮😮😮😮

It's a Bruce Willis!
It’s a Bruce Willis!

The action all takes place on the Thames, which made me think of…

fearie tales

Neil Gaiman’s short story Down to a Sunless Sea, which I came across in an excellent anthology of horror stories based on fairy tales, Fearie Tales. Gaiman’s story is a take on The Singing Bone, though in many ways much darker. A woman wanders the Rotherhithe docks ‘as she has done for years, for decades.’ She tells the story of her young son who ran away to sea and signed on with a stormcrow ship – one cursed by ill luck…

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

I find it impossible to think of Neil Gaiman without thinking of another story of his…

the truth is a cave

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. This dark tale is superbly illustrated by Eddie Campbell and the pictures and words complement each other perfectly to create something truly stunning. It is the tale of a journey, a quest into the Black Mountains to find a cave – to find the truth. Our narrator is a small man, a dwarf, but he’s strong and he’s driven. As we meet him, he is about to hire a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle which is reputed to be filled with gold…

I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I’ve seen, such that I see nothing for the first time. A bonny girl, her hair fiery-red, reminds me only of another hundred such lasses, and their mothers, and what they were as they grew, and what they looked like when they died. It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.

I say that, but my time on the Misty Isle, that is also called, by the wise, the Winged Isle, reminds me of nothing but itself.

DSCN0545

The Misty Isle is based on the Isle of Skye, which is part of the Inner Hebrides, an island group off the coast of Scotland. Which made me think of a book set in the Outer Hebrides…

The Blackhouse

Peter May’s The Blackhouse. This is the first of his trilogy set on Lewis, and was the book that shot him onto the bestseller lists when it was selected as a Richard and Judy pick.  DS Fin MacLeod is sent back to Lewis to investigate a murder that resembles one that took place earlier in his Edinburgh patch. It gradually emerges that the shadow of the past may be involved in the current investigation.

Peter May on Lewis
Peter May on Lewis

Before he wrote the Lewis books, Peter May wrote a series based in China, which made me think of…

imperial woman

Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck. This is a fictionalised biography of Tzu Hsi, who ruled as regent and Empress of China from 1861-1908, effectively the end of the empire, which collapsed just 3 years after her death. Tzu Hsi is portrayed here as a beautiful, ambitious tyrant, scheming to become and then remain Empress. The language is rather too stylised for my taste but Tzu Hsi’s story is a fascinating one and certainly worth the telling.

In the fourth moon month the wisteria blooms. It was the duty of the Court Chief Gardener to report to the Empress the exact day upon which the vines would blossom and he had so reported. The Empress did then decree that upon this day she would not appear in the Audience Hall, nor would she hear any affairs of state.

Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)
Portrait of Tzu Hsi by Hubert Voss (1906)

And thinking of female rulers reminded me of…

the rival queens

The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone’s romping history of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre. It was a great time for Queens. Over in England, Elizabeth was working up to the beheading of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. But the shenanigans of Catherine and Marguerite frankly make the British Royals look tame. A little biased in Marguerite’s favour, I felt, but hugely enjoyable, complete with a fair amount of ribald humour. At points it reads like a great thriller, complete with cliffhanger endings to chapters, and then at others it becomes like an episode of Dallas, with Catherine in the role of JR and Marguerite as sweet little Pamela.

the-rival-queens-portraits
Catherine and Marguerite

 * * * * *

So Larrson to Goldstone via dragons, the Thames, Neil Gaiman, the Hebrides, China, empresses and queens!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Legs eleven…

…or The Reading Bingo Challenge!

 

reading-bingo-small

 

I managed a Full House last year in The Reading Bingo Challenge, but will I be able to do it again? Whether or not, it’s a fun way to look back over the year’s reading, so I thought I’d see how many categories I could complete… and it’s also a great opportunity to bring back some of my favourite pics from the year.

More than 500 pages

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. First review of the year following my usual pattern of reading Dickens over Christmas. And a fine one to start with – Dickens tackling the subjects of selfishness and greed, both in Britain and America. Hmm… almost counts as contemporary fiction…

The inaptly named Eden, young Martin's American home. By Phiz.
The inaptly named Eden, young Martin’s American home. By Phiz.

A forgotten classic

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North. One of the British Library re-issues, this is set somewhat later than many of them, in the Yorkshire of the early 1960s. I loved the grim Northern setting and grew to appreciate North’s distinctive style of short, sharp sentences. Plus reviewing it led to one of my favourite posts of the year – a guest post from Martin Edwards introducing us to his Ten Top Golden Age Detectives

A book that became a movie

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden. I’ve reviewed several “Films of the Books” this year so I’m spoiled for choice. This one is wonderfully melodramatic and a pretty faithful adaptation. The book itself tells the story of a small group of nuns who are sent to open a convent in school in the remoteness of the Himalayas. For each, the experience will change her forever in ways she never imagined…

black narcissus bell

Published this year

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery. Again spoiled for choice in this category. Flanery’s latest book is a study of paranoia in our new world of constant surveillance. Flanery raises the question of how far we are willing to compromise our privacy in the name of security, and suggests that we should be wary of giving up our hard-won freedoms too easily.

With a number in the title

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke. I seem to be mentioning this book a lot in these end of year posts and that’s because of the impact it had on me. I followed the author’s suggestion to ‘read the book, then see the film’ and wow! Together they blew me away! The story of man’s ascent from primitive ape-like creatures to space travellers and beyond is surely what the word ‘pychedelic’ was coined for. Far out, man!

2001 poster

Written by someone under 30

The Girls by Emma Cline. I could only find one for this, but fortunately it’s a great one. Based on the story of the Manson murders, this is about the psychology of cults, about how vulnerable people can find themselves being led to behave in ways that seem incomprehensible to onlookers, giving them an aura of almost demonic evil. A young author who is one to watch, for sure!

A book with non-human characters

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Another book I find myself mentioning and thinking about often, this is a book about grief, religion, and the old evolution v faith debate – beautifully and movingly told, with more than an edge of surrealism in parts. It’s also about chimpanzees…

chimp-gif

A funny book

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. I struggled with this category. Although I enjoy some humour in books, I rarely read one that could be described as ‘funny’. This is a gentle little comedy without any of the profundity of Greene’s major works but still with a certain amount of charm.

A book by a female author

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. (This always strikes me as such an odd category – as if female authors are somehow unusual. Anyway…) This is Sharon Bolton at her twisty, twisted best, and her best is pretty brilliant! Maggie Rose is a defence barrister and author of several books regarding possible miscarriages of justice. But convicted killer Hamish Wolfe is a handsome charmer, and it soon seems that Maggie may be falling under his spell…

A mystery

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie. A classic re-read for this category, since no-one does mystery better than Agatha Christie! When Elspeth McGillicuddy glances out of the window of her train carriage, she is horrified to see a woman being strangled by a tall, dark man in another train. But fortunately Mrs McGillicuddy is on her way to visit an old friend, Miss Marple…

Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in Murder, She Said
Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in Murder, She Said which is based (roughly) on the book.

A one-word title

Exposure by Helen Dunsmore. This is a spy story with a difference – it’s seen mainly from the point of view of the family of a man accused of treason. It’s also an intelligent take on the story of The Railway Children, but seen from the adult perspective.

Free square

Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton. Davie McCall is a gangster with a moral code. Now he wants out of this life, but first he has to do one last job for his boss. I loved this look at Glasgow gangster culture – so much more authentic than most of what’s classed as ‘Tartan Noir’. However this is the fourth book in a quartet, so I should really have begun with Blood City.

A book of short stories

Dubliners by James Joyce. Joyce’s collection of 15 stories takes the reader through the various strata of Dublin society of the early years of the twentieth century. Some of the stories are outstanding and, as a collection, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, the weaker parts being more than compensated for by the stronger.

James Joyce
James Joyce

Set on a different continent

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee. It’s 1919 – the corpse of a white man is discovered in an alleyway in an unsavoury part of Calcutta, and Inspector Sam Wyndham is assigned to investigate. This debut novel is the start of a series of historical crime fiction set in India under the dying days of the Raj. Great stuff, with a real authenticity about the setting – looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale. This is a chilling but fascinating true crime story from the end of the Victorian era. Robert Coombes was thirteen when he murdered his mother. Summerscale looks at his possible motivation, the justice system of the time, and Robert’s future life, asking the question if redemption is ever possible after such a horrific crime.

First book by a favourite author

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. It’s Prohibition Era and Rose, the narrator, is a little jealous of the new typist Odalie, hired to work alongside her in the police department; but when Odalie decides to befriend her, Rose quickly falls under her spell. I loved this and Rindell’s next book, Three-Martini Lunch – she creates such authentic settings and unique voices for her characters. A new favourite author, and one I’m keen to watch develop.

Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently - I think she'd make a great Odalie...or maybe Rose!
Keira Knightley has bought the films rights to The Other Typist apparently – I think she’d make a great Odalie…or maybe Rose!

Heard about online

In the Woods by Tana French. This category could apply to just about every book I read, but I’ve gone for this one since Tana French has been recommended by so many fellow bloggers in glowing terms. While I wasn’t completely blown away by this, her first novel, I’m still looking forward to reading more of her books.

A best-selling book

Conclave by Robert Harris. This is an absolutely fascinating and absorbing look at the process of how a new Pope is chosen. Of course, being a novel, Harris makes sure there are plenty of scandals and secrets to come out, each one subtly changing the balance of power amongst the cardinals. Amazon has it marked as a “Bestseller”, so that’s good enough for me.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand. A classic murder mystery set in a WW2 military hospital. When a patient at the hospital dies unexpectedly on the operating table, it’s up to Inspector Cockrill to find the murderer. But first he has to work out how it was done. This spent more than three years on the TBR before it reached the top of the heap…

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill in the film version of Green for Danger
Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill in the film version of Green for Danger

Based on a true story

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Written during the height of the Vietnam War, Vonnegut uses his own experiences of the bombing of Dresden in WW2 to produce a powerful protest novel, disguised as science fiction – a book that concentrates on the effects of war at the human, individual level.

A book a friend loves

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book tells the story of a group of people whose lives were all touched in some way by the incredible high-wire walk of Philippe Petit between the Twin Towers one August morning in 1974. It was highly recommended to me by fellow blogger DesertDweller, so I was delighted to be able to declare it A Great American Novel.

Philippe Petit - this picture gives me vertigo...
Philippe Petit – this picture gives me vertigo…

A book that scared me

Thin Air by Michelle Paver. A group of mountaineers have to contend with scarier things than extreme weather and dangerous conditions on their expedition in the Himalayas. Paver is excellent at building tension and creating a subtle atmosphere of horror.

A book that is more than 10 years old

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Thurston. Another book I read as part of the Great American Novel Quest, this tells the story of Janie, a black woman on a journey of self-discovery. Although I wasn’t uncritical of it, I loved it for the language and the compelling story-telling, and for making me think.

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

The second book in a series

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill. I’m gradually re-reading my favourite detective series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These early ones are good in their own right, but are also intriguing for seeing the characters before they’re fully formed and for watching Hill’s style and technique develop.

A book with a blue cover

Zero K by Don DeLillo. This is a strange and unsettling book that takes the science fiction cliché of cryogenics and turns it into a thought-provoking reflection on death and identity. From a shaky beginning, I grew to love it, for the writing, the imagery and the sheer intelligence of it.

zero k

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!

 

Six Degrees of Separation – From Yates to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

revolutionary-road

This month’s starting book is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. This is a book that blew me away when I read it as part of the Great American Novel Quest a couple of years ago. It’s a book about failure – of individual hopes and dreams, of a marriage, of the American Dream.

Long after the time had come for what the director called “really getting this thing off the ground; really making it happen,” it remained a static, shapeless, inhumanly heavy weight; time and again they read the promise of failure in each other’s eyes, in the apologetic nods and smiles of their parting and the spastic haste with which they broke for their cars and drove home to whatever older, less explicit promises of failure might wait for them there.

The film can’t quite match the depth of the book, but it’s excellent nevertheless.

kate winslet in RR

It stars Kate Winslet, which made me think of…

enigma 2

Robert Harris’ Enigma. A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, this story is set amid the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WW2. A great depiction of the almost intolerable pressure placed on the shoulders of these mainly young men at a time when the course of the whole war depended on their success.

enigma 1

The WW2 setting reminded me of…

vertigo

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The book from which the famous Hitchcock film was made but, unlike the film, the book is set in wartime France, with the first section taking place in Paris just as the war is beginning and the second part four years later in Marseilles as it is heading towards its end. This gives a feeling of disruption and displacement which is entirely missing from the film, set as it is in peacetime America. For once, despite my abiding love for Mr Hitchcock, on this occasion the victory goes to the book!

vertigo-alfred-hitchcock-865414_1024_768

And thinking of Hitchcock reminded me of…

the birds

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier. The title story is of course the one on which Hitchcock based his film of the same name, but my favourite story in this great little collection tells the tale of a recent (unnamed) widower, bereaved but not bereft. Frankly, he had found his wife Midge irritating for years. So he happily admits to himself, though not to the world, that her death from pneumonia was more of a relief than a loss. And suddenly he’s enjoying life again – until one day he looks out of his window and spots that one of his apple trees bears an uncanny resemblance to the hunched, drudging image of his late wife…

Up and down went the heavy axe, splitting and tearing at the tree. Off came the peeling bark, the great white strips of underwood, raw and stringy. Hack at it, blast at it, gouge at the tough tissue, throw the axe away, claw at the rubbery flesh with the bare hands. Not far enough yet, go on, go on.

That story is called The Apple Tree, which made me think of…

the color master

The Color Master by Aimee Bender. The first story in this excellent collection of modern folk tales is called Appleless, and has undertones of the story of Eve and the fall from grace. The quality of the stories varies but the quality of the writing is so high that it easily carries the weaker ones in the collection.

“…I did what the Color Master had asked, and went for blue, then black, and I was incredibly slow, but for one moment I felt something as I hovered over the bins of blue. Just a tug of guidance from the white of the dress that led my hand to the middle blue. It felt, for a second, like harmonizing in a choir, the moment when the voice sinks into the chord structure and the sound grows, becomes more layered and full than before. So that was the right choice.”

donkeyskinOne of the stories I particularly liked is The Devourings, which tells the story of a woman who married a troll. And that made me think of…

the shapeshifters

Stefan Spjut’s strange but rather wonderful The Shapeshifters. In many ways, this is a traditional crime novel set in modern Sweden – but in this version of Sweden trolls still exist in some of the more isolated places. There’s a folk-tale feel about the whole thing as if the fables of the old days have somehow strayed back into the real world. As with so much Nordic fiction, the weather and landscape plays a huge role in creating an atmosphere of isolation – all those trees, and the snow, and the freezing cold.

Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914
Scandinavian Fairy Tale illustration by Theodore Kittlesen 1857-1914

 

Thinking of crime novels set in Sweden reminded me of…

the voices beyond

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin. The bulk of the book is set in the present day, but there’s another strand that takes the reader back to time of the Great Terror in the Stalinist USSR, and it is this strand that lifts the book so far above average. This time of horrors is brilliantly depicted – no punches are pulled, and there are some scenes that are grim and dark indeed. Theorin doesn’t wallow, though, and at all times he puts a great deal of humanity into the story which, while it doesn’t mitigate the horrors, softens the edges a little, making it very moving at times.

Stalin poster

* * * * *

So Yates to Theorin via Kate Winslet, WW2, Alfred Hitchcock,  apple trees, trolls, and Swedish crime.

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀