Friday Frippery! Interim Book Report…

absalom absalomSo,

 

she (Miss Rosa Coldfield) rattles on circuitously, circling round and round, in a circle; and yet, not round always, but in memory, sometimes backward, before the enemy thrashed her father and destroyed the Old South, destroying it in a destructive manner, while he watched the dust motes and wondered why she repeated herself endlessly without ever actually saying anything to the point, endlessly repeating the story of her sister, long dead, and Sutpen, repeatedly telling him (Quentin) about his (Sutpen’s) beard that was the only thing that differentiated him from the wild black men he brought with him when he came to destroy the honour of his or possibly her family, or possibly their families, or possibly not, for as she would undoubtedly come to say “It is important that this story never dies, so I’m going to reveal it to you in a code so obscure it will take, not just the rest of your life, but the lives of many academics, paid for by the taxes not just of ourselves but of those who conquered us and tamed the wild men, destroying something precious but perhaps a little immoral along the way, for some strange people in the North, you know, think that to chain wild men to a post is nearly as wicked as to beat horses for no reason other than to show how wicked the beater is, to decipher it or at least to convince themselves that they had deciphered it because otherwise would be to admit that yet again the Nobel Prize had been given to someone who fundamentally can’t write intelligibly, though of course in the wondrous worlds of academe and literary prizes intelligibility ranks low on the list of things a writer should achieve, which is not how it was…” and she broke off as her voice retreated not into silence exactly, but into silence nevertheless, a silence forced upon her and all her race by the men who conquered her or them or him and his family and their honour, and he said “Yessum” which was, one has to admit, as good an answer as any from one of the broken ghosts that inhabit this broken land, broken by conquerors who destroyed the honour of those whose only fault, if indeed fault it were, and who is to decide that question is still to be decided, was to tie wild men to posts and impregnate wild women, hardly a fault at all; though some may say that then naming the offspring with silly names like Clytemnestra may have been the most wicked thing of all and may even have been some small justification for the destruction of these once proud people, now wandering ghost-like through the past and present…

William Faulkner

…with no calendar, dammit, to tell them where they might be supposed to be, which is to assume anyone cares, which brings me back to the point which I have unfortunately forgotten since my braincells began deteriorating at page 5 and the deterioration deteriorated so rapidly that by page 48 I had turned into a brainless mumbling mono-celled organism condemned to spend eternity going round in an endless circle of rambling, barely punctuated, incomprehensibly-structured prose, an endless circle of destruction, leaving me feeling like a ghost inhabiting a land which unfortunately the destroyers didn’t destroy thoroughly enough or they would have wiped out Miss Coldfield, Mr Compson, Mr Sutpen and all their pesky descendants and left Mr Faulkner with nothing to go round in endless circles about, so that when at some time in the future or perhaps the past FF asked for recommendations for the Great American Novel Quest, no-one, not one person, not even a ghost, would have suggested torturing herself half to death reading a pretentious, repetitive, repetitive book, which is to literature much as WWE is to sport, with its major claim to fame being that it contains the longest grammatically correct sentence in the English language, thus getting into the Guinness Book of Records, surely more illustrious than the broken Nobel, though that record doesn’t specify intelligible, nor does it take account of the fact that Michael Chabon created a much longer, better constructed, and rather beautiful one in Telegraph Avenue, thus making this work even more redundant than it once was, this being the problem with all records, for who now remembers who held the record for the fastest mile before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mark, itself a record now broken, but one that was at least exciting at the time, which I suggest this one wasn’t; and if they did, if some ghost drifting in the motes of dust circling round the room of the woman who is doing a particularly bad Miss ‘Avisham impersonation, in her room where she lives with the blinds drawn, angsting about a 50-year-old jilting, had whispered “Read Absalom! Absalom!”, then FF would have known to say “No’m!” – but too late, alas, too late!

* * * * * *

I’m at page 72. 240 to go.

 

alphabetti help

 

Tuesday Terror! The Secret of the Growing Gold by Bram Stoker

Wages of sin…

 

Having been kept awake all winter, the fretful porpentine is now off for a relaxing summer break in a spa hole-in-a-tree.

sleepy porpentine

But before he goes, one last chance for his quills to stand on end, with another Irish entry for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

The Secret of the Growing Gold

 

by Bram Stoker

.

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

.

Two families live side by side, each once proud but now fallen, both in wealth and honour. The Brents are of high stock, while the Delandres are of yeoman class. When Margaret Delandre suddenly goes to live at Brent’s Rock, now home to Geoffrey, the last direct descendant of the family line, the scandal is great, for it is unclear if they have married. Margaret is a wild, evil woman and frankly Geoffrey is no great prize either.

He was almost a type of a worn-out race, manifesting in some ways its most brilliant qualities, and in others its utter degradation. He might be fairly compared with some of those antique Italian nobles whom the painters have preserved to us with their courage, their unscrupulousness, their refinement of lust and cruelty – the voluptuary actual with the fiend potential. He was certainly handsome, with that dark, aquiline, commanding beauty which women so generally recognise as dominant.

We do?? I mean, yes, of course, we do!

 

Well, such a combination is always likely to lead to the occasional tiff…

One thing would lead to another, and wine flowed freely at Brent’s Rock. Now and again the quarrels would assume a bitter aspect, and threats would be exchanged in uncompromising language that fairly awed the listening servants.

But during a trip abroad, Margaret meets with an accident when her carriage, conveniently being led by the exceedingly trustworthy Geoffrey, falls over a cliff. Her body is never recovered.

Some time later, Geoffrey meets a nice young Spanish lady and this time falls genuinely in love. They marry and he brings her to Brent’s Rock, and for a time all seems well. Until one day, Margaret’s brother Wykham Delandre…

…suddenly awoke to see standing before him some one or something like a battered, ghostly edition of his sister. For a few moments there came upon him a sort of fear. The woman before him, with distorted features and burning eyes seemed hardly human, and the only thing that seemed a reality of his sister, as she had been, was her wealth of golden hair…

begorrathon 2016

This vision tells him that she has come for revenge, not against Wykham (even though they had a severe case of sibling rivalry taken to extremes) but against ANOTHER! Later that night, Geoffrey’s bride is awakened as if by the sound of a latch opening. She does what any sensible woman would do in such circumstances – sends her husband down to investigate while she stays in bed…

…trembling, too frightened to cry, and listened to every sound. There was a long pause of silence, and then the sound of some iron implement striking muffled blows! Then there came a clang of a heavy stone falling, followed by a muffled curse.

Suffice to say, things are never quite the same again in the happy household…

* * * * *

This is a good little story, full of nasty people who deserve all they get – well, except for the new bride, who should probably have resisted feeling dominated by those dark, aquiline good looks. (Let that be a warning to us all, ladies! From now on, we should only go for blonds).

It’s in the gothic tradition of walled-up bodies and corpses that simply will not stay dead! But it has an original scare factor, which I must admit I found genuinely creepy. The moral of the story is that you should never argue with a man while he’s guiding your carriage along a cliff-path – or possibly that you should never go down to investigate strange noises in the middle of the night – or maybe that, when burying a body, you should take special care to do it thoroughly…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

* * * * *

Wondering who the gorgeous mystery man is in the top gallery? Prepare to be even more scared…

Tuesday Terror! Not for the faint of heart…

The stuff of nightmares…

 

Normally I stick to short stories for the horror slot, but many of our greatest poets have also turned their hand to curdling the blood from time to time. So here, from the pen of one of the most prolific poets of all time, Mr Anonymous, comes a tale so dreadful it’s not surprising cruel parents use it to torture their children into fits. If you’re brave enough, read on for this week’s…

 

Tuesday Terror

A tale of horror by Anonymous

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Mr Anonymous's nicer brother...
Mr Anonymous’s nicer brother…

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Three blind mice! Three blind mice!

Already Anonymous tears at the reader’s gentle heart with this pathetic depiction of our main protagonists. What happened to them, we wonder? What dreadful event left them in this sorry condition? Anonymous leaves the backstory unfilled, leaving the reader palpitating with dread…

three mice

See how they run! See how they run!

Poor little things! What are they running from? What terrible pursuer do they fear? The repetition acts to drum home to us the dire awfulness of their situation…

tom chasing jerry

They all ran after the farmer’s wife

Ah! The reader is overwhelmed by a sense of relief! Thank goodness there’s someone there who can save them, protect them, nurture them! But Anonymous is playing dark, disturbing tricks with the poor reader’s sensibilities. (You may want to get out a tissue before you read on…)

three blind mice 3

She cut off their tails with a carving knife

Whaaaaaaaaaattttttttt?!? She did what?!? What is she, some kind of monster?? Now the poor little things are not only blind but tail-less!

three blind mice

Did ever you see such a thing in your life?

No, Anonymous, I did not! Not until you put the horrible idea into the middle of my nightmares anyway. You sick person, you! I hope someone chops your tail off!!!

three blind mice 2

As three blind mice!

Oh, that’s right, you sadistic creep! Rub it in, why don’t you? I hope the Pied Piper of Hamelin brings the rats round your way…

Rat 4

* * * * * * *

Oh, I’m ever so sorry! I don’t know what came over me there! Do forgive me!

* * * * * * *

Certainly the poem wins on rhythm and rhyming structure, but it’s far too graphic and gruesome for my taste, and Anonymous fails to give adequate insight into the motivation of the farmer’s wife. While it would be hard to forgive her under any circumstances, perhaps she had some terrible childhood experience that would go some way towards at least explaining her actions…

mickey mouse

Anonymous, too, one feels, must have had a traumatic childhood, when one considers some of his other works…

Humpty Dumpty – the tragic, gruesome death of an egg.

humpty dumpty

Sing a Song of Sixpence – four and twenty blackbirds are thrust live into a baking oven. One feels that when the maid’s nose was pecked off it was a form of just revenge.

pecked off her nose

Rock-A-Bye Baby – a child is first abandoned and then hurled to its almost certain death.

rock a bye baby

Now I think about, the mice got off fairly lightly…

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀

* * * * * * *

(Some people think that the farmer’s wife represents Mary Tudor – Bloody Mary – and the mice are three Protestant bishops she burned at the stake. Somehow I don’t find this explanation much more comforting than the mouse version…)

three blind mice bishops

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The Case of the Tottering TBR by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle – Part 3

Chapter 3

 

(If you missed Part 1 and want to catch up, click here. And for Part 2, click here.)

 

The Dancing Men (1984)

Lady McFan looked a little surprised at Houses’ request for chocolate cake but, with true Highland hospitality, she bustled off to the kitchen to speak to the cook.

“Chocolate cake, Houses?” I was baffled. “Are you peckish? Personally, after that meal of cullen skink, venison served with clapshot, and cranachan to finish, I can’t imagine being hungry again for a week!”

Houses merely smiled wolfishly and shook his head.

“You have all the same information as I, Witless. Surely you can see what’s happening here?”

“Well, Houses, applying your own famous precept that having eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, I do have a theory,” I said, rather proudly. “I suspect the culprits are the fairies at the bottom of the garden!”

cottingley fairies(The Cottingley Fairies)

Houses gazed at me for a long moment with what I could almost have mistaken for pity, and squeezed my shoulder gently.

“Well, you shall know all in time, my dear fellow. Meantime why not take a seat and write a description of the brilliance of my methods?”

I muttered indistinctly, fighting a sudden urge to use some improper language. Thank heavens my fine old English breeding stood me in good stead and enabled me to resist! I removed some books and a cat from an armchair and sat down. Not sharing my delicacy, the cat swore profusely.

Lady McFan returned bearing a huge chocolate cake on a silver salver. “Will this do, Mr Houses?” she inquired.

“Admirably, madam!”

Houses suddenly began to behave as if in the grip of madness. Had I not known he’d been staying clear of the opium dens for some weeks, I might even have suspected an onslaught of the midnight munchies. He took a slice of cake and began to chomp at it, while pacing furiously to and fro in front of the bookshelves. Back and forth he went, taking slice after slice and devouring them as if he were a fashion-plate model with bulimia! Crumbs sprayed disgustingly from his mouth and from the crumbling cake in his hands, leaving a trail over the room’s ancient tartan carpet. I was heartily ashamed of my friend and remonstrated severely, but he brushed me off with an incomprehensible and messy mumble. Lady McFan meantime contemplated the swift disappearance of her chocolate cake with a dismay that bordered on hysteria.

last slice

Finally, when the cake was almost gone, Houses ceased his restless pacing.

“Now, Effie, there is no more we can do this evening, so I suggest we lock this room and retire to our chambers for the night.”

“Don’t you want me to sit up with my trusty service revolver?” I asked, somewhat disappointedly.

“Would you really be willing to shoot a fairy?” responded Houses, with unanswerable logic and what I could almost have mistaken for a touch of sarcasm. We did as he said, checking that all three doors were securely fastened, and retired to bed.

We passed a quiet night, except for a brief period when the ghost of the Headless Lady began shrieking for her lost lover in the hallway. However, Tommy and Tuppence, the ferocious house cats, swiftly rounded her up and chased her into a corner, where they took turns in rolling her severed head around the floor until she promised to remain silent for the rest of the night.

The next morning, the three of us met in the hallway. Lady McFan unlocked the door of the drawing room and we entered. Her face paling, the Lady Laird gave a little scream and pointed to the side table. A brand new set of The Complete Works of Mark Twain lay there – surely the perpetrator of this madness had a streak of inhuman cruelty!

twain

Houses however paid no attention – he was busily peering at the carpet in front of the bookshelves. With a sudden cry, he leapt forward and pulled at a section of the shelving! It swung open, revealing a set of winding stairs leading up the floor above. He sprang up the steps, with Lady McFan and myself in swift pursuit. At the top of the stairs, there was a door. Houses flung it open and we entered the room. There was Wullie the Piper, with a pile of new books in his hand, about to head down the stairs to carry on with his nefarious scheme!

Houses and I wrestled with the bounder and felled him like a tree trunk being prepared for the caber-tossing competition.

Highland_Games_Caber_Toss

“You see, Effie,” Houses explained, once we had Wullie securely tied up and had set the cats to guard him, “I knew there must be another entrance to the room, so I spread some crumbs on the floor. As Wullie entered the room, the secret door in the bookshelves pushed the crumbs away, showing me where the door must be. As the illegitimate son of your father, Wullie hoped that he could drive you into an asylum or worse, and then come forward to claim the title and castle as his inheritance.”

Lady McFan looked shocked, so Houses suggested we return to the drawing room for a nice cup of tea. As we passed Wullie on the way to the stairs, Lady McFan accidentally kicked him hard on the shins, twice.

We arrived in the drawing room to find it occupied by a tall woman, whose general appearance of ethereal beauty was only a little marred by the chocolate cake crumbs on her chin. Lady McFan hastily introduced her to us as her dear cousin, Lady Fancyboots.

Lady Fancyboots walked over and embraced her cousin, saying “Happy Birthday, dear Effie! Had you forgotten?”

She handed over a parcel, which Lady McFan hastened to open. The Complete Works of Tolstoy! Poor Lady McFan was so overcome with gratitude she swooned quite away…

swooning

The End!

The Case of the Tottering TBR by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle – Part 2

Chapter 2

 

(If you missed part 1 and want to catch up click here.)

Sherlock Holmes The Dancing Men 3

“Welcome to my ancestral home, Mr Houses, and you, Dr Witless! I cannot tell you how relieved I am that you are finally here. Things have got worse since I wrote you – I’m at my wit’s end!”

We didn’t mention that we were equally relieved to discover that the Lady Laird spoke perfect English, but with a pleasant lilt that revealed her Highland origins. Ah, the benefits of a fine English education – even the most savage of peoples can be given a veneer of civilisation!

Having had supper, we were now settled in the grand drawing room of the castle, a large room with doors on three sides. Despite the generous size of the room, it was crowded – books covered every shelf and lay in tottering piles on every surface, and in heaps around the floor. It looked as if some effort had been made at an earlier period to organise them, but it was clear that the attempt had now been abandoned. Big books, little books, old books, new books, even some strange device that, on pressing a button, sprang to life and showed the page of a book on a glass slide! Some mysterious kind of telescopic instrument, I surmised.

Piles-of-books

Houses said “I deduce you are an avid reader, Lady McFan.”

“Please call me Effie, Mr Houses. Yes, indeed, I always have been since a young child.”

“Good Lord, Houses!” I cried in astonishment. “How in heaven’s name did you deduce that?”

Houses preened a little. “Oh, Witless, surely by now you know my methods. Effie here has the refined, glowing complexion and shining, intelligent eyes that only the true reader ever possesses. That, plus the piles of books.”

“How absurdly simple!” I cried, and for some reason a grimace crossed my friend’s face.

“Quite.” He turned to our client. “Now, Effie, please explain why you have asked us to come here. Very simply, if you don’t mind, since Dr Witless will be listening.”

“It’s the books, Mr Houses! The books!” And she proceeded to tell us her story. For many years, Lady McFan had been adding gradually to the collection of books she had inherited from her ancestors. She would acquire half a dozen or so, read them and add them to her shelves. But suddenly, several months ago, she noticed that the little pile of unread books seemed to be growing larger. And larger. And larger. It soon became impossible for her to read them quickly enough to shelve them before another pile would appear. Every night, she would count the books and every morning she would discover there were three or four more than the night before.

piles of books

“I don’t order them, Mr Houses, I’m sure I don’t! They just… appear! Oh, please help me! Every cupboard is full of books; I’ve had to put the horses up in a hotel so I could turn the stables into extra library space; the ghost of the Headless Lady has had to move out of the attic to make room for books, and is now wandering the Castle moaning and groaning day and night, and being downright depressing! I’ve even taken to locking all three doors to this room overnight, but still they arrive, always placed just here, on this side table. Am I mad, Mr Houses? Or can you find an explanation and put a stop to this horror?”

She sent a glance of such piteous pleading from her fine blue eyes that even the hardened heart of Houses must surely have been touched. If I weren’t a happily married man, I may well have proposed on the spot.

Houses sat back, closed his eyes and steepled his fingers. Lady McFan and I sat in breathless silence, waiting for that great brain to work its magic. Houses snored gently. I tactfully kicked his ankle. His gimlet eyes opened and pierced me like… well, like a gimlet.

Holmes

“Is there anyone else in the house overnight, Effie?” he inquired incisively.

“Only the servants, but they’ve all been with my family for generations and are members of the Clan. I trust them with my life. And Lady Fancyboots, my cousin and oldest friend, has been staying here for some months, having spent all her little inheritance on fine chocolate, and being now quite destitute, were it not for my exceeding generosity.”

“Your cousin, you say?”

“Yes, we’re the two last remaining members of the family, so have always been close, even though I inherited fabulous wealth and she only got £100 and Grannie McFan’s recipe for black bun. Some people may have been resentful, but not Lady Fancyboots! She has remained a staunch friend.”

“That portrait,” Houses indicated a full-length picture that hung above the mantel, of a fine-looking old gentleman in what I was beginning to realise must be the traditional dress for the savage natives of these wild regions.

Sean-Connery

“He is your father?”

Lady McFan assented.

“He bears a striking resemblance to Wullie the Piper, wouldn’t you agree, Witless?” remarked Houses.

Lady McFan blushed gently.

“All the clan are related to one another, Mr House. Furthermore, my father was…,” she cleared her throat delicately, “fond of Wullie’s mother, a maidservant here for many years before her death.”

A gleam had come into Houses’ eyes during this conversation, and he now rubbed his hands, chuckling. “Well, I have high hopes that we may be able to get to the root of your little trouble,” he said. “And now, could I trouble you for some chocolate cake?”

* * * * * * *

To be continued… (only one more, I promise!)

Meantime…

The Case of the Tottering TBR by Sir Arthur Donan Coyle

Chapter 1

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Basil_rathbone_nigel_bruce

Dense, black, billowing fog was swirling around Baker Street when I arrived in response to an urgent request from my old friend, Sherlock Houses. The great detective had clearly had considerably more than his customary three pipes. I hastily opened a window and inquired as to the cause of my summons.

“Elementary, my dear Witless. The game’s afoot! Kindly reach down the Bradshaw and look up the time of the next train to Kirkintilloch.”

“I’m afraid there is no train to Kirkintilloch. However, there’s a canal boat service. If we leave now, we should get there by next Thursday or thereabouts.”

“Then make haste, Witless! There’s not a moment to be lost!”

Forth and Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch (the official Canal Capital of Scotland!)
Forth and Clyde Canal at Kirkintilloch (the official Canal Capital of Scotland!)

Houses refused to say another word about the reason for our journey, declaring we should have the full story on our arrival from our client herself. Stopping only to send a brief telegram to my long-suffering wife, (a gentle, understanding woman who always did her best to appear as if she thoroughly enjoyed my frequent absences, often going so far as to telegraph Houses to ask if he needed me for anything), I packed my trusty service revolver, rubbed some embrocation into the old war wound in my leg – or was it my shoulder? Strange how I could never remember – and we hastily set off on our journey to the wilds of North England, which some of the natives still insisted on calling Scotland.

* * * * * * *

A week later, we stumbled weakly off the canal boat at our destination. It had been a long and tiring journey, during which Houses had enlivened the atmosphere with impromptu, unsolicited violin concerts, fascinating monologues on how to identify 600 different kinds of tobacco ash (which unfortunately, since the canal boat was a No Smoking zone, sent several of the passengers into a tooth-gnashing frenzy) and a little target practice with his revolver, inadvertently causing the boat to leak heavily and list to starboard. As always, Houses had made himself extremely popular, and the passengers and crew raised a hearty and prolonged cheer as we disembarked.

Kirkintilloch was a quaint old town built near the site of a Roman fort and looking as if it hadn’t changed much over the intervening centuries. The street names had a poetic ring that conjured up visions of rural loveliness – Cowgate, Industry Street, Gallowhill Road.

Cowgate, Kirkintilloch
Cowgate, Kirkintilloch

Our client lived outside the town, so we hailed a cab and Houses told the driver to make all speed to Culcreuch Castle, the home of our client.

“Lives may depend on it, man! Don’t spare the horse!”

“Och, hoots, dinna ye fash yersel’, sir! The castle’s been there sin’ the days that the auld chieftain o’ the Clan McFan caught the first haggis, an’ it’ll still be staunin’ when we’re a’ deid! Ay, it’s a sorry place noo, tho’, ye ken. They say that strange things happen there in the nicht – gey strange! An’ the puir Lady Laird is at her wit’s end wi’ it a’. Happen ye’ll be the gents she’s sent for frae doon Lunnon way?”

“I have no idea what you’re attempting to say, my good fellow. Drive on!”

We had a long winding journey of it, uphill most of the way, and dusk was falling over the rolling Campsie hills when we finally caught sight of the castle, nestling amongst the trees by the side of a picturesque lake. It was a beautiful setting, its air of peace and tranquillity belying the horror that was beginning to clutch at my heart.

Culcreuch Castle - once upon a time home to the Chief of my own clan...
Culcreuch Castle – once upon a time home to the Chief of my own clan…

We came to a halt at the massive oaken doors, held open by an elderly man in a rather strange looking multi-coloured skirt. Perhaps there was to be a fancy dress-ball that evening, I speculated.

A horrible wailing, screeching sound suddenly caused us to clutch each other in momentary terror. Quickly recovering our stiff upper lips and manly demeanours, Houses and I pulled out our revolvers and prepared to deal with supernatural hounds, or possibly ghoulies and ghosties and lang-leggedy beasties, which the indispensable Bradshaw had informed us frequented these heathen parts.

“’Tis only Wullie the Piper, sir, tae let us ken that supper is ready,” the elderly man cried incomprehensibly.

wullie the piper

Another skirted man appeared round the side of the castle, wrestling with a horrible 5-legged beast, from which the ghastly sounds were emanating. At that moment, with a final scream of mournful agony, the creature seemed to breathe its last. It was a chilling start to our adventure…

 

* * * * * * *

To be continued… maybe…

(This story was suggested by my old mate, Lady Fancifull. So blame her!)

Wednesday Witterings – A triumph of hope over experience…

New Year’s Bookish Resolutions

 

darcy overcome

The purpose of resolutions is not to achieve them, but to ensure we remain humble through contemplation of our failures each year. And yet still to show the resilience of the human spirit by going on to set ourselves up for the self-same failure in the next year…

In January I made the foolish move of posting some reading resolutions for the coming year. Join me in contemplating my failure…

 

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Last year I had 17 unread review copies as the year ended. This year I have 25. In total, I have reviewed 76 freebies this year as opposed to 66 in 2014. Hmm…

Failed!

 

2) Make time for re-reads.

9 re-reads in 2015, which is better than the 5 I re-read in 2014, but still not good. Hmm…

Qualified success!

 

3) Reduce the TBR to no more than 70 by the end of the year.

HahahahahahahaHAHAHA! Was I drunk when I made that one? TBR at end of 2014 – 133. TBR at end of 2015 – 160!

rafa federer laughing

Failed!

 

4) Stop reading so many new-to-me authors and catch up on the back catalogues of authors I know I enjoy. (NB Fiction only, since nearly all factual books I read are by authors new to me.)

In 2014, 44 of the books I read were by new-to-me authors. In 2015, the total was 41. Hmm!

OK, catching up on back catalogues. 2014 – a miserable 6. 2015 – a slight improvement – 9!

Minor success!

 

5) Read more classics, including some Dickens and a book a month for the Great American Novel Quest.

Oh, dear! Only 6 books read for the GAN Quest, I fear. But yay! I also read 6 British classics, including Dickens, Austen, Scott and Stevenson. So 12 classics in total. (More, depending on how you define classics – I read a fair amount of classic crime this year which I haven’t included in the count.)

Better than 2014, when I only read 5 GAN Quest novels and 5 other classics. (And very little classic crime.)

Better but still…

Failed!

6) Read more sci-fi/fantasy.

Well, since I only read 3 sci-fi/fantasy books in 2014, this wasn’t a hard target to beat. And in 2015, I read 13!!

WOOHOO! MAJOR SUCCESS!!!

 

Total – 3 failures, 1 qualified success, 1 minor success and 1 major success! I call that a good year… 😉

 

joey

* * * * * * *

So with the enthusiasm inspired in me by not being a total and complete failure, here are my resolutions for 2016…

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

(Read the 25 outstanding which will take until March/April and then no more than 2 a month on average. And have no more than 12 outstanding at the end of the year.) Achievement of this one is crucial in giving me time to achieve any of the rest, so this year I mean it!! Really!!

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

One a month shouldn’t be hard, should it?

3) Reduce the TBR!

OK, let’s be a bit more realistic this year!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

b) There are currently 65 books on it dating back to 2014 or earlier. Target – reduce this to 30.

c) That leaves 95 books added to it during 2015. Target – reduce this to 50.

 

tom cruise

 

4) New-to-me authors.

Well, looking at the existing TBR, there are zillions of them, so setting a limit of a number to read this year seems futile. But why should that stop me? I’ll go with… 25!

And… no more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016. *gulps*

Increase the number of catching-up-on-existing-authors to a minimum of 20 books (should be easy – they make up the bulk of the TBR and it’s only because of the constant freebies of new releases that they linger there unread.)

5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens. (Classic lit-fic, that is.)

6) Keep going with sci-fi/fantasy, which has dropped back again over the last few months.

Target – 12 minimum, mixed between classic and new.

* * * * * * *

Given that I read on average 120/130 books a year, about 100 of which are fiction, these targets should be achievable and mean that I have room to be as eclectic in my reading habits as usual.

Wish me luck! And stop laughing!!

 

laughing 1

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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

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LANG MAY YER LUM REEK!

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edinburgh fireworks

 

The Ghosts of Christmas Presents…

“Santa’s been!! Santa’s been!!”

 

santa's sleigh

As I wrote my note for Santa this year, my mind drifted back to those happy far-off days of childhood, when gifts mysteriously arrived in the middle of the night, closely followed by a manic Dad running up and down the hall shouting “Get up! Get up! Santa’s been!!”. We knew to get up quickly, because otherwise Dad would have the toys unwrapped and be playing with them before we got to them…

Most of my Christmas pressies are long forgotten, I fear, but here are a few that stood out… for one reason or another…

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003 (2)

Edward came into my life on my first ever Christmas and has been a true and steadfast friend ever since. He’s had a hard life. My brother threw him into the fire one day, because that’s what brothers do, resulting in some brutal scorch marks and a melted paw. Then my childhood poodle, in a fit of insane jealous rage, savagely attacked him, eating his stomach and detaching an ear. BigSister carried out emergency surgery, which lasted until Trix the Tomcat savaged him again several decades later. But as you can see he has again been patched up and battles bravely on, though he has been known to look askance at Tuppence from time to time…

310110 004 - Copy

* * * * * * *

The first record I was ever given was made of red plastic and played only on a special wind-up toy record player… another gift. But the wonders of youtube mean that you too can now share in the unique joy that is…

PINKY AND PERKY!

(*tries so hard not to think of the Professor and Nick… but fails*)

* * * * * * *

spacehopper

Ah, how I loved my Spacehopper! It arrived on one of our fairly rare White Christmases when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. So I had to wait for two whole days before I was allowed out to play on it – a looooong two days, since my Mum for some reason wasn’t keen on me bouncing around the house on it. Mothers, eh? Let me tell you, there is nothing in this life quite like bouncing around on a giant orange rubber ball with a face! And it was tough! It even survived bouncing into the middle of the neighbour’s prized rose bush! Though when my neighbour saw it, there was some doubt for a moment as to whether I would survive…

* * * * * * *

The first record I ever specifically requested was this one. Don’t judge me! I don’t know whether it was his voice or his jumpers I loved most…

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* * * * * * *

But with age comes sophistication. And gonks. Really, if you didn’t have several gonks to call your own it was pretty much grounds for the Social Services to take you away and do your parents for child cruelty. Small gonks, large gonks, gonks on keyrings, gonks stuck on the ends of pencils.

Where are all those gonks now? They’ve probably formed an underground movement and are plotting revenge for our adult forgetfulness. My favourite gonk was much like these, only white…

gonks

* * * * * * *

At least my musical taste was continuing to develop…

(Ooh, I want a hat like that!)
* * * * * * *

 

Probably in a desperate bid to wean me off gonks, my Mum and Dad Santa gave me a gift that I have treasured ever since. Enid Blyton had already directed me towards crime fiction, but Sherlock Holmes became my ultimate hero and has remained so ever since.

Though these days I actually prefer dear old Watson – loyal and true, and with a romantic heart! In the many years since, I have received various Holmes editions and collections, Holmes pastiches, books about Holmes, but this original book has outlasted them all. It rarely sits on a bookshelf – it lives beneath my bedside table to be dipped into any time I need something comfortingly familiar…

* * * * * * *

But finally childhood must give way to those angst-ridden, rebellious, pimply teen years. I think my Dad was lulled into a false sense of security when his Val Doonican loving daughter asked for an innocuously entitled album by a singer with the pretty name of Alice. However, as we followed our usual Christmas Day tradition of playing all our musical gifts while Mum cooked the dinner, I fear his complacency was shattered forever…

.

It was round about that time that he began to sound nervous as he yelled… “Santa’s been!! Santa’s been!!”

* * * * * * *

Last year Santa gave me Dickens and Rachmaninov – loved and appreciated both. But you know… well… they’re just not a Spacehopper, are they?

* * * * * * *

Whatever Christmas brings you this year, may it make you want to bounce!

tigger and pooh christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 😀

Friday Frippery…

The Six Questions Tag…

 

Lovely Sindhuja over at The Random Book Review has tagged me to take part in the Six Questions Tag. If you haven’t met Sindhuja, pop on over – great reviews, often of Indian authors and books I wouldn’t normally hear about, plus the occasional sneak peek into her life – one of my favourite blog stops!

So… here goes…

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One beauty product you would recommend to your girlfriends

Wrinkle cream! I don’t need it myself, obviously, but I like to be helpful when I can…

(But seriously, all my friends are naturally gorgeous, especially Lady Fancifull who regularly bathes in the morning dew collected by fairies from the prettiest flowers of May…)

dew

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Three books everyone must read

 

‘Tis the season to be jolly, so I’m going for…

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse – not just Jeeves and Bertie, but also sundered hearts and star-crossed lovers galore! Newt-fancier and orange-juice addict Gussie Finknottle getting sozzled and handing out the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School for Boys. Soupy Madeleine Bassett – she who thinks the stars are God’s daisychain and that every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born. Poor Angela, devastated by Tuppy implying that her new hat makes her look like a Pekinese. And Tuppy pining for his own true love – Anatole’s steak-and-kidney pie…

DSCN0521

Three Men in a Boat… to say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K Jerome. I shall merely mention Uncle Podger and the picture-hanging, Montmorency and the kettle, the singing of the German comic song, George and the banjo-playing and the sad tale of Harris and the swan. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean, and if you haven’t, well, do get on with it!

montmorency and the kettle

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens– everyone should be forced by law to read this every Christmas Eve to make sure they understand what Christmas is all about. And then they should be made to listen to Patrick Stewart’s reading, so they understand the meaning of joyousness! And when I rule the world, they will be…

patrick stewart as scrooge

And if you’re not jolly by the end of that little lot, I give up!

ho ho ho

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Favourite online shopping site

 

Oh dear! I know we’re supposed to hate them but I couldn’t survive without Amazon! Not just for books – music, films, cat toys – all the essentials of life! I’m deeply ashamed…

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Favourite phone app

 

Ahem – I don’t have a phone. Well, I do – one of those ones that plugs into the wall and you use it for speaking to people on – remember them? No txt spch in my life – isn’t that gr8? But needless to say my favourite app on my tablet is the Kindle app…

phone

* * * * * * *

One dish you are really good at making and its recipe

 

See, at this point I could tell you about my world-renowned boeuf bourguignon or my secret recipe, passed down through the generations, for hand-made haggis. I could – but I’m in the unfortunate position that my BigSister reads the blog and might laugh till she choked! And then who’d cook Christmas dinner…?

So I am forced to stick with the truth, however embarrassing…

* * * * *

Now pay attention, ‘cos this is quite complicated.

Take 1 box of Ricicles (which, as you may or may not remember, are twicicles as nicicles)

ricicles

Pour generously into a bowl.

Add milk – but be careful – this is the tricky bit! Too little and your Ricicles will be dry – too much and you might set off a tsunami in your kitchen.

Listen to them snap, crackle and pop.

Eat, while holding well away from passing felines.

Mmm... doesn't that look good! Enjoy! (Who actually takes a pic of a plate of Riciles and posts it on the internet? people are weird...)
Mmm… doesn’t that look good! Enjoy!
(Who actually takes a pic of a plate of Ricicles and posts it on the internet? Aren’t people weird…?)
* * * * * * *

Five movies that I can watch over and over again

 

Only 5?? Well…

The Lord of the Rings trilogy – but that only counts as one, right? And I like other things about it apart from Aragorn, you know. Boromir, for example…

Aragorn6

A Few Good Men – partly because Tom is so delicious in his dinky little white uniform, but mainly for Jack and his “You WANT me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall!” speech. ‘Cos secretly, in my heart, I do…

a few good men

Twelve Angry Men – it’s a real regret that I’ve only been allowed to serve on a jury once and the rotten so-and-so changed his plea to guilty just as I was gearing up to do my Henry Fonda act. The bit I love most is when they all get up one by one and turn their backs on the man who’s doing a Donald Trump impersonation…

twelve angry men

Rear Window – love the story, think it’s filmed gorgeously – great colour – Jimmy Stewart is fab (and kinda lovely – it’s his voice, I think), Thelma Ritter adds a lot of fun, but most of all it’s those fabulous dresses that Grace Kelly gets to wear! Oh how I wish I lived in a time when we dressed like that!

rear window

Casablanca – well, obviously! Fortunately I’m usually alone when I watch it, which makes it less embarrassing when I get up and join in with the singing of the Marseillaise – not easy, since I don’t know the words, but somehow that little detail never stands in my way…

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* * * * * * *

But ask me again tomorrow and it’ll be a different five…

* * * * * * *

Thanks again, Sindhuja – I enjoyed this! And I tag… everybody!! Especially you!

HAVE A GREAT FRIDAY! 😀

The trials of a book-blogger…

…or How Not to Write a Review of Lolita

 

lolita 3She sits at the screen, fingers drumming lightly on the keyboard.

“Lo-li-ta,” she murmurs, checking if the tip of her tongue takes a trip of three steps down her palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. No – her tongue remains firmly behind her teeth at every step. Having mastered counting to ten in Russian at school, she tries it in a Russian accent. “Lo-LI-ta!” Hmm…better, but still not quite there. In the background, the News Channel is discussing whether the UK has managed to blow up anything useful in Syria. “Lo-li-ta!” She becomes aware of the ticking of the clock – a surprise, since all the various clocks in the room are digital. And each tells her that 30 minutes have passed since she opened the document that stares blankly and somewhat accusingly from the screen. Quickly she types:

Middle-aged paedophile Humbert Humbert narrates the story of how he repeatedly abuses and rapes a child.

Hmm… accurate, but perhaps a bit harsh? She shudders as she is assaulted by a sudden vision of hordes of angry Lolita fans waving placards. Reaching for a piece of chocolate, she mumbles “Lo-li-ta”, then presses delete. The News Channel reports that it’s raining today, will be raining tomorrow and that the medium term forecast is for rain. The damp cat drying its paws on her sweater confirms the report’s accuracy. She makes coffee.

Humbert Humbert falls in love with the twelve-year-old golden-tanned, lentigo-bespeckled daughter of his landlady – little Lo-li-ta…

She ponders, then deletes the hyphens. Then deletes the sentence.

This beautifully written – no, scratch that – This pretentious – no, no, definitely scratch that!

James Mason as Humbert with 18-year-old Sue Lyon as Lolita
James Mason as Humbert with 18-year-old Sue Lyon as Lolita

The News Channel is now discussing the ethics of gene-editing. She finds herself wondering if they could edit her genes to turn her into a natural red-head. Or perhaps they could give her a golden tan and lentigo.

Humbert Humbert is genetically programmed to be obsessed by nymphets, and little Lolita is genetically designed to be one…

She sighs, deletes and switches off the TV. The ticking of the clock sounds louder now. She reads a few blog posts, all of which depress her with the conviction that everyone else can always find plenty to say even about books that are basically pulp. Lolita is an acknowledged classic so she should be able to write something deeply insightful and possibly poetic about it, shouldn’t she? A small part of her brain knows exactly what the problem is – that what she wants to write is…

* * * * * * *

Middle-aged paedophile Humbert Humbert narrates the story of how he repeatedly abuses and rapes a child.

Despite the fact that I knew going in that this was what the book was fundamentally about, I had hoped that it might have some merits that would outweigh the unpleasantness of the subject matter. For example, I’ve read a million reviews saying how wonderfully written it is. At the point where I was dying of tedium around the 40% mark, praying that he would stop repeating himself and just for once say ‘freckles’ rather than consulting his thesaurus and coming up with ‘lentigo’ instead, I rechecked some of the reviews and noted the little rider that 90% of them add – I paraphrase: “the prose is wonderful, considering he wasn’t writing in his first language”. Aha! If only I’d paid more attention – ‘cos, in general, anytime anyone follows the word “wonderful” with the word “considering” that usually equates to “not really wonderful at all”. Certainly his love of words shines through, and I grant his mastery of English is considerably greater than many native speakers’. But the purpose of a wide vocabulary is surely to enable one to communicate more effectively – not to spend one’s time replacing perfectly functional commonplace words with others that are never used. Unless one is compiling a cryptic crossword…

English-Dictionaries

Of course, had I been swept up in the masterful story-telling, I wouldn’t have had time to get picky about the pretentiousness of the language. But I fear I didn’t find the storytelling masterful at all. Surprising, since Nabokov tells us in his foreword (written tongue-in-cheek as if by a fictional character but still managing to sound rather nauseatingly self-complimentary) that Humbert has written a great work of art, and goes on to say…

“…how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author.”

Hmm! Well… anyway…

Perhaps at the time of writing the whole concept of grooming a child would have been shocking, but frankly it’s a story we hear time and again now, both in reality and in fiction, so its shock value is considerably lessened. Its unpleasantness, however, remains. I think the thing I liked least about it was the attempt to make the story humorous. While Nabokov does often remind us of the real cruelty at the heart of the story – for instance, when he mentions Lolita crying herself to sleep each night – I felt that he was painting Humbert in too sympathetic a light, though I wasn’t sure that this was his intention. And conversely, showing Lolita as too well able to cope with the abuse both as it happened and afterwards. In fact, Lolita’s strength is in a sense a get out of jail free card for Humbert (or Nabokov), because Nabokov would have found it much more difficult to put in his little “jokes”, surely, had Lolita been portrayed more truthfully. I spent much of my time debating whether the falseness of Lolita’s character was a deliberate effect of Humbert’s unreliability as a narrator, but actually I couldn’t convince myself that he is unreliable. I think we are supposed to accept that events happened as he describes them, which left me with real credibility problems.

Jeremy Irons as Humbert with 17-year-old Dominique Swain as Lolita. One understands why they don't use a child but these fully grown women make the thing seem more like a love affair than child abuse... a bit like the book tries to do... but fails.
Jeremy Irons as Humbert with 17-year-old Dominique Swain as Lolita. One understands why they don’t use a child but these fully grown women make the thing seem more like a love affair than child abuse… a bit like the book tries to do… but fails.

Certainly we are not supposed to assume that the book has any meaning deeper than the story it tells – Nabokov himself makes this clear, in his afterword…

“There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”

Vladimir Nabokov Photo by Keystone/Getty Images
Vladimir Nabokov
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

I agree – it is meaningless and it has no moral in tow. Sadly it did not provoke in me any feelings of bliss, aesthetic or otherwise – though it does have the distinction of being the only book I remember reading that both bored me and made me want to vomit simultaneously. Screeds of it are tediously repetitive – the pages and pages where he describes all the different kinds of hotels they stay in read like some kind of holiday brochure written by an aspiring poet doing a summer job, or perhaps more like the reviews on TripAdvisor, only with better spelling. I would have skipped through to the good bits only I couldn’t find out where they were. One more lingering description of Lolita’s golden tan would have provoked me to start campaigning for compulsory sunscreen. And just when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I was forced to live through the most ridiculous climax (an unfortunate choice of words, perhaps, in the circumstances) with some of the least convincing dialogue I have ever read.

“Ah, that hurts, sir, enough! Ah, that hurts atrociously, my dear fellow. I pray you, desist.”

My feelings exactly. So, it’s very well written, considering English isn’t his first language. And that’s pretty much the best I can find to say about it.

* * * * * * *

…but she knows that would be an ill-tempered rant rather than a review. Exasperated, she presses delete and switches off the laptop. Maybe tomorrow…

Have a great Friday! 😉

Wednesday Witterings…

You plus guest are hereby cordially invited to

 

Thanksgiving Dinner

 

So, the invites have gone out for Thanksgiving Dinner at my place and I’m hopeful all my guests will turn up and that some of them might even be sober! That was the easy bit though – the hard bit has been deciding on the seating arrangements. But I think I’ve finally got it worked out…

table

On my right, I shall have Rebus, because despite his grumpiness and his liking for a wee dram or two, he’s still got a weirdly cute vibe going on…

rebus

Next to him, Jane Tennison. I reckon that way she’ll drink most of the wine at this end of the table, meaning Rebus might still be sober enough for the post-prandial dancing…

jane_tennison1

On Jane’s right will be Lord Peter Wimsey – I’m intrigued to see whether his monocle will fall out when Jane propositions him, as she’s almost certain to before we get to dessert…

Lord-Peter-Wimsey

On Lord Peter’s other side will be Jessica Fletcher – don’t you think they’d make a wonderful match? He can quote poetry to her and she can explain the plot of Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bedknobs-and-Broomsticks-Angela-Lansbury1

Next along will be Nero Wolfe – I weighed up the disadvantage that he will eat most of the food against the advantage that he can bring along his cook Fritz to prepare the meal for us all…

Nero_Wolfe_Gordon800_fs

And I thought I’d put Ruth Galloway beside Nero – next to him, even Ruth will be able to have an evening off from worrying about her dress size…

Elly Griffiths standing in for Ruth Galloway. Photo: Jerry Bauer
Elly Griffiths standing in for Ruth Galloway. Photo: Jerry Bauer

The bottom of the table is reserved for you, with your guest on your right – though the table can be extended if you’d like to bring more than one…

question mark

Next to your guest will be Archie Goodwin – well, you didn’t think I’d invite Nero without him, did you? Who’d do the driving? Plus he’s gorgeous and he dances divinely…

archie goodwin

And it will be nice for sweet young Maeve Kerrigan to have at least one attractive man next to her…

Jane Casey standing in for Maeve Kerrigan.
Jane Casey standing in for Maeve Kerrigan.

…since on her other side will be Andy Dalziel! Can’t wait to see how those two get along – they’ve got so much in common… er…

andy dalziel

But just in case Andy gets out of hand, I’ve placed Miss Marple on his other side. She’ll soon sort him out, and I doubt she’ll even need to use her knitting needles.

Miss Marple

The other advantage of having Miss Marple there is that she won’t be much competition in the romance stakes – since between her and me will be seated…

fitzwilliam-darcy
Oh come on! You knew it would be him! You girls can fight over Archie – Darcy is there just for me!!

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RSVP – I do hope you’ll be able to come!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Friday Frippery: If you can’t beat ’em…

First draft working title: Gone, Lass!

A Misery-fest Domestic Noir novel

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Chapter 1

I wake. I groan despondently. I had hoped today would be different. But this isn’t heaven, or even hell. It’s worse than that. I’m in my bedroom, this room which has seen so much trouble, with my head on my old, lumpy pillow, mouldy now from the dampness of tears. I ache all over, but I know it’s just a response to the pain in my heart.

I stumble to the kitchen. 8 a.m. Is it too early to have a drink, I wonder? A bottle is open on the table – there’s a couple of inches of red at the bottom. I pour it, still unsure whether to have it or coffee. I notice there’s a dead fly floating in it. Oh well! I put the kettle on.

bottles of wine

I take my coffee to the computer. I haven’t showered. It seems so pointless to be clean, today of all days. My mind is pulled back to THAT DAY, ten years ago, when…. but no, I mustn’t think of it. I desperately want a drink.

I think about phoning my daughter, but she hates me calling in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or evening. In fact, she hates me. Ever since that day when she was five and I made her go to school. I remember the scene vividly. “WTF, Mum!” she yelled. “Why the flock would you make me do this? If I learn to flickering read, one day I’ll find myself reading The Girl on the Bus or Babies, You’re Dead! You’re a bad mother, you flubbing titch!” (We had taught her to swear early in the hopes she would write crime novels one day, but she still had some work to do…)

I think sadly of my hopes for her and my disappointment at what she’s become. A politician. I groan and bury my head in my hands, the grease from my unwashed hair leaving an oily deposit on my hands. I think about vomiting, but decide to leave it till chapter 2. I desperately want a drink.

Empty glass bottles

Breakfast. I must eat. I had some leftover pizza last Tuesday but since then I haven’t been able to face food. I look in the kitchen. The bread is mouldy. The milk is mouldy. There’s jam. I scoop the mould off the top and eat it from the jar with a dirty spoon. I remember those happy mornings when David and I were first married and we would gaze at each other lovingly over lightly boiled eggs and buttered toast. It’s six months since he left. With that floozy. And the dog. I miss the dog. It’s dead now. He forgot to feed it. I knew he would. I desperately need a drink.

I open my e-mails – 600, all from Nigeria. I think about moving there. It appears I have lots of rich relatives over there, though apparently they’re all dead. Here I only have my daughter. And my mother. She hates me. Ever since the social services made her take me back after she abandoned me at the recycling centre.

I spot an e-mail that’s not from Nigeria! Though I know better, my hopes rise. Could it be from a friend? Unlikely. I only have one friend, and she hates me. Ever since she asked me “Does my bum look big in this?”, and I told her the truth. I open the e-mail. OMG! WTF!! It’s from him! The man from THAT DAY, ten years ago, when… My mind recoils from the memory. I rush to the kitchen for the wine and chug it down in two gulps. The dead fly gives it added body. I put my head in my hands and groan. Can this day get any worse, I ask myself? But I know from experience – it can…

wine bottles

HAPPY FRIDAY! 😉

Wednesday Witterings…

Pretty pictures…

 

lord of the rings

Well, folks, I’ve got nothing today – run out of reviews! So since I spent last week re-watching the wonderful Lord of the Rings movies, I thought I’d share the joy by reminding you of the cast in pictorial form. Now I know that some suspicious people think I only post pictures of handsome men on this blog, but that would be so shallow of me! As you will see from this post, I recognise that Eowyn, Arwen and Galadriel are just as important to the story as any orc, and the three women who play them are fine actors/actresses* as well as being exceptionally beautiful women. I hope this post will finally quash the vicious rumour that I rig my posts to favour hunks men…

*delete whichever one you find offensive

* * * * * * * * *

The Fellowship of the Ring

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Gandalf Ian McKellen - a fine actor
Gandalf
Ian McKellen – a fine actor

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Boromir Sean Bean - a very fine actor indeed!
Boromir
Sean Bean – a very fine actor indeed!

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The Hobbits Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin Fine actors all!
The Hobbits
Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin
Fine actors all!

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Legolas Orlando Bloom - another very fine actor!
Legolas
Orlando Bloom – another very fine actor!

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Gimli John Rhys-Davies - a fine actor!
Gimli
John Rhys-Davies – a fine actor!

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Faramir David Wenham - he;s not in the Fellowship but he's a very fine actor!
Faramir
David Wenham – he’s not in the Fellowship but he’s a very fine actor!

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Aragorn Viggo Mortensen - a very, very, very fine actor indeed! Oh yes!
Aragorn
Viggo Mortensen – a very, very, very fine actor indeed! Oh yes! Very fine!! Indeed!!

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The Women

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There! That should prove once and for all that I’m completely unbiased!

Have a great Wednesday!

Friday Frippery…

Darcy by any other name…

 

MarinaSofia this week upped the reviewing ante by producing a poem in lieu of a book review. Now, she has an unfair advantage by virtue of the fact that she is a poet, but nonetheless I feel the gauntlet has been thrown down.

So, never one to refuse a challenge, here goes…

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darcy and lizzie scorn

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There was a young woman from Longbourn
Who treated her suitor with much scorn
But when she saw his great house
She would fain be his spouse
The poor girl was really quite lovelorn.

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darcy pemberley

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Her sisters were terribly busy
Catching husbands, which left our poor Lizzie
On the shelf, until Darcy
Took her hand at a party*
And they danced till they both were quite dizzy.

* (well, you try and find a rhyme for Darcy, smartypants!)

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darcy dancing

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Now some people call this a romance
(Just ’cause they don’t like to dance)
But wait just a moment!
It’s deep social comment
And gets 5-stars from me! *happy trance*

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darcy kiss

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😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

OK, your turn. Now…who’s going to do War and Peace…?

.

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PS If you’d like to see how it’s really done, do visit MarinaSofia’s blog, Finding Time to Write – a great place for poetry and reviews, plus she hunts down all the best locations for the readers and writers amongst us to lust after…

Heath Robinson’s Great War

heath robinson's great warThe mechanics of war…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

William Heath Robinson was a British cartoonist and illustrator who is now best remembered for his cartoon contraptions. In fact, he’s one of very few cartoonists whose name has become a shortcut in everyday use – in his case, for any design that seems unnecessarily complicated or slightly ridiculous. (Makes me think of these wine bottle openers that require a gas canister, a physics degree and a diploma in Health & Safety to operate.) His career having begun in 1897, he was already well established by the time of the outbreak of WW1, and this collection from the Bodleian Library brings together three of his wartime books – Some ‘Frightful’ War Pictures (1915), Hunlikely! (1916), and The Saintly Hun: a book of German virtues (1917).

An introduction by Geoffrey Beare of The William Heath Robinson Trust gives a brief biography of the man. Starting out as a book illustrator he gradually moved on to drawing humorous sketches for some of the periodicals of the day. His first ‘contraptions’ appeared in The Sketch in 1908, in a series entitled Great British Industries – Duly Protected. Over the following years, while book illustrations became less prevalent, his humorous work steadily became more popular. He remained popular between the wars, still entertaining the country with his cartoons during the Second World War, until his death in 1944.

 

These First World War cartoons are satirical and absurd in tone and directed as much at the British war effort as at the enemy. Apparently they were hugely popular with the troops as well as at home. Some of the things he poked fun at – poison gas warfare, for example – made me think that somewhere during the last century we seem to have lost our willingness to laugh collectively at horrors while keeping our individual fears hidden, or perhaps even as a method of keeping those individual fears at bay. We’re much more likely now as a society to protest and publicly emote. I’m not sure which is the healthier reaction, to be honest, since neither seems to prevent war, but these made me think very much of the old ‘stiff upper lip’ approach we used to take. I suppose in a continent that had been fighting amongst itself since pre-history the people had to have a way of lightening the emotional toll or survival would have been well nigh impossible; and perhaps it’s the long years of relative peace (in Western Europe) since WW2 that have caused us to react differently now. The book certainly made me feel that the idea of Tommies trudging through the mud of the trenches cheerily singing Tipperary is not so far-fetched and propagandistic as our generation might think. I like the thought that, even in the midst of the hell around them, the boys at the Front were able to laugh at the tragic absurdities of their situation. It doesn’t make the idea of war better but it makes it somehow more bearable.

Anyway… as well as his contraption cartoons, Heath Robinson also drew a series of silhouettes depicting German officers and soldiers performing acts of kindness to old ladies and animals, as an ironic response to the daily reports of atrocities, many true but many propaganda, that were appearing simultaneously in the press. As Mike Webb of the Bodleian Library points out in his preface, “Although in his gentle way Heath Robinson was drawing attention to these stories, there is no rancour or hate in his depictions, and perhaps one can detect too an undercurrent of mockery of not only German propaganda, but also more hysterical sections of the British Press.”

 

Over this 100 year anniversary of the start of WW1, as well as reading a very good history of the lead-up to the war, I have found that reading some of the complementary publications of writings of the time has added a lot to my understanding of how it must actually have felt, particularly for those at home, as the war dragged on. This collection adds to that understanding, along with the excellent collection of war journalism in The Telegraph Book of the First World War. And on a lighter note many of the cartoons are still as fresh and funny as they would have been at the time. The book itself is good quality and well produced, and would make a great gift for anyone with an interest in the WW1 period. Or for yourself…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Bodleian Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Wednesday Witterings – The Secret Code…

The shock truth revealed!

 

(Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but the scheduling all went horribly wrong this week…)

One of the things loads of bookie people comment on is the annoying habit publishers and authors have of splashing the covers of books with straplines that bear little relationship to the actual content. After many months of dedicated research, involving top secret undercover work and great personal danger, I can now reveal the true meanings hidden behind these coded messages…

michelle_of_the_resistance

* * *

“The next Gone Girl!!”

(Please, please, please buy my book! I’m desperate!)

* * *

“The most inspirational book ever written!!”

(I haven’t read it, but I share a publisher with the author…)

* * *

“The No. 1 Bestseller!!”

(In Inverurie where my mum lives.)

* * *

“Shocking and hair-raising!!”

(And that’s only the grammar!)

* * *

gullible 1

* * *

“Sweet Sixteen and So In Love!!”

(Comes complete with free sick bag…)

* * *

“Award-winning author!!”

(Winner of the 1986 prize for Best Handwriting in Auchtermuchty Primary School.)

* * *

“The next Jo Nesbo!!”

(But Irish. And female. And chicklit.)

* * *

gullible 2

* * *

“Brand New Short Story!!”

(2 pages followed by a twenty-page ad for my next novel.)

* * *

“As mentioned in The New York Times!!”

(In the small ads when I sold my old bike.)

* * *

“First book in an exciting new trilogy!!”

(It doesn’t have an ending.)

* * *

eeyore

* * *

In the public interest, if you know the true meaning of any other straplines, please post the information below…

The Secret Life of a Book Blogger…

Oooh, I’ve been tagged!

 

secret-life-of-book-blogger-copy1

 

And it didn’t hurt a bit! Phil over at reviewsrevues has nominated me to take part in the Secret Life of a Book Blogger tag – thanks, Phil! 🙂 I was terribly worried at first that I might have to reveal what I do when I’m not blogging. But phew! It appears I don’t have to tell you about either the sumo-wrestling or the rehearsals for my famed role as back end of the cow in the Christmas panto! And of course if I revealed my true identity you’d never believe me anyway…

 

catwoman 2

 

So here are the actual questions…

* * * * * * * * *

1. How long have you been a blogger?

Since the dawn of time or March 2013, whichever came first. (576 posts! Good grief!)

2. At what point do you think you will stop?

To be perfectly honest, I fantasise about stopping constantly, every time I stare at the blank screen trying to think of something even remotely interesting to say. But then I read a great book – or a terrible one – and my enthusiasm for reviewing is restored!

3. What is the best thing?

Free books!!!

Actually that’s not true at all – it might have been a major reason when I started but now it’s the bloggie chit-chat that keeps me going. So, you – yes, you there at the back – you’re the best thing!!!

 

you talkin to me

 

4. What is the worst thing? What do you do to make it OK?

Somewhat problematically for a book blog, it’s writing the reviews that’s the worst thing! Especially the crime novels where I feel I repeat myself on an endless loop – can’t understand why anyone reads them myself (the reviews, I mean, not the books).

So… I pick books that I might not usually read but think will be fun or interesting to review. The Barsoom books for example, or the Great American Novel Quest books. Or I do a silly post about tennis, or eyebrow raising techniques. And I’ve enjoyed doing my little Tuesday short story series – detectives, horror, sci-fi

 

david tennant

 

5. How long does it take you to find/create pictures for your post?

Varies from 5 or 10 minutes for a crime novel to maybe half an hour or more for a fantasy novel, a classic or a factual book. Searching for images is one of my favourite parts – especially for fantasy and sci-fi. There’s so much great fan art out there! And then, of course, I have to spend hours and hours sometimes searching for just the right picture of Rafa… or George… such a hardship!

 

 

6. Who is your book crush?

Ha! Hands up anyone who doesn’t know the answer to that one! Welcome, stranger!

 

darcy gif

 

7. What author would you like to have on your blog?

Seriously – none. I don’t like to have too much contact with authors in truth. I might have raved about their most recent book but I might not feel so enthusiastic about their next one and, while I love getting a bit of feedback from an author I’ve raved about, in reality having any kind of personal contact with them makes me feel very uncomfortable about reviewing future books. Hence, I seldom review books of authors I chat to on the blogosphere or elsewhere (though I often buy and read them!) and I never do author interviews or blog tours or guest posts or such-like, or set out to make contact with favourite authors in any other way. It’s not a rule that’s set in stone, though – it just kind of works out that way. And I’d make an exception for Charles Dickens

charles dickens

 

8. How long does it take to prepare?

Hmm… depends. Half an hour for a TBR Thursday post up to approximately 6 weeks for The Grapes of Wrath! Excluding reading time. I probably read for 2 or 3 hours a day, but it varies. And I don’t count that as preparation, since I’d be doing it whether I blogged or not.

9. What do you wear when you write your blog posts?

A pale green silken ballgown embroidered by the fairies at the bottom of my garden with a myriad of butterflies in threads of fine-spun gold and silver, and sprinkled liberally with the finest diamonds and emeralds. Matching shoes and handbag, of course, and for the more serious reviews, I also wear my crown.

 

scottish crown

 

10. How do you feel about the book/blogger community/culture?

I hate them all! Before I got to know them my TBR was a feasible 50 or so – now it’s close to 150 and rising! They should all be banned and have their chocolate taken away!

(OK – actually I love the community and they’re the reason I blog. But not just book bloggers – I adore the variety around the blogosphere and love all the talented and creative people out there spending their time entertaining others just because they can…)

11. What do you think one should do to get a successful blog?

Define success. Originally I thought I was blogging to a) get free books and b) inspire other people to read the books I love. I now get so many free books I can’t cope and I think Jilanne once read a book I recommended! But now I know that really I do it for the civilised discourse, intelligent debate and sparkling repartee – i.e., chit-chat, and if you want people to chit then you have to be willing to get out there and chat, and provide chat-inspiring content. I don’t care if my blog is ‘successful’ so long as being part of the bloggie community is fun! It amuses me endlessly that I always get more visitors and comments for silly posts than for serious book reviews – I might not be the most ‘successful’ book blogger in the blogosphere in terms of bookish influence, but I have met up with a lovely group of expert chit-chatters – for me, that’s success! (Wouldn’t it be totally embarrassing if nobody left a comment now…?? 😀 )

 

 

* * * * * * * * *

Now I’m supposed to tag some of my favourite book bloggers, but I can’t possibly choose! So if you’d like to answer these questions, consider yourself tagged! It’s as much fun as eating chocolate cake, I promise!

Wednesday Witterings

A scientific experiment…

 

A recent blog conversation has led me to ponder one of the great mysteries of life, and I’m seeking your help in solving it.

 

A definite lefty!
A definite lefty!

 

You see, when I raise a quizzical eyebrow, I always raise the left one because it goes higher than the right one. I recently became aware of the remarkable fact that the same applies to Professor VJ Duke – his left eyebrow rises higher than his right too!

 

The definitive quizzical eyebrow surely...
The definitive quizzical eyebrow… and another lefty!

 

Now the astonishing thing about this is that I am right-handed and he is left-handed, and yet this does not appear to influence our eyebrow-raising lopsidedness in any way!

 

...but Ian Carmichael will always be the definitive Lord Peter to me...
I think we’re seeing a pattern…

 

Which leads me to wonder – are higher left eyebrows one of the constants of life? Are we, as humans, genetically designed to always be leftly quizzical? A sinister thought…

 

Not another one!
What a show-off!

 

So please help me by sparing a couple of minutes of your busy life to sit at your mirror and raise each eyebrow in turn. Then come back and complete the poll below. Your answer will be kept in strictest confidence and under no circumstances will it be revealed to insurance companies, cloning laboratories, taxidermists or Area 51…

 

* * * * * * *

 

Aha! A righty! But then he's also not human. I rest my case...
Aha! A righty! But then he’s also not human. I rest my case…

 

Thank you so much for your participation! 😉

 

Wednesday Witterings

Things I have never heard a reviewer say…

(Bitter ramblings provoked by a severe case of reviewer’s block…)

Like most of us, I read a fair number of book reviews on my travels around the blogosphere, agreeing with some of them and disagreeing with others, which is always a useful reminder of how subjective reading tastes are. Anyone who has read a few of my reviews, for example, will know that I grumble about first person present tense narratives on a regular basis, while recognising that other people enjoy them. But as I was trying desperately to think of something original to say in a recent review, I inadvertently achieved that state of empty-mindedness to which Zen masters have aspired for centuries, and into this vacuum unbidden popped the thought that there are some things I’ve never heard a reviewer say!

After hours (well, five minutes) of intense work aided only by copious supplies of coffee and chocolate cake, here’s my shortlist…

1. The plot was too believable…

2. I wish it had had more bad language in it…

no-foul-language

3. If only it had had a few more sub-plots to pad it out for another couple of hundred pages…

4. I wish the font had been smaller…

tiny font

5. It didn’t have enough descriptions of bodily functions…

6. It would have been better if the detective was an alcoholic…

Photo: drunkard.com
Picture: drunkard.com

7. I hate books written in the third person past tense…

8. I really enjoyed the foRmatting erro    rs

9.

10.

My cake was finished before I could complete 9 and 10, so please help by leaving your suggestions below. Or, in the unlikely event that you have used one of these phrases, tell us when – and why??? 😉

Wednesday Witterings – Book Banning

Since last week was Banned Books Week there have been a lot of posts around the blogosphere on the subject, so I thought I’d throw in my Tuppence-worth…

 

Tuppence - she's worth a lot! Laser eyes don't come cheap...
Tuppence – she’s worth a lot! Laser eyes don’t come cheap…

 

I think the real problem with book banning is determining who gets to decide which books to ban and which criteria should be used. So, always willing to help, I reckon it would be best if I make all the decisions in future and save everyone else the trouble. (No, please – don’t thank me! It’s a tough job, but I’ll be happy to do it…)

* * * * * * * * *

 

I’ve given it a great deal of thought (at least 13½ minutes worth) and here are the initial criteria I’ll be using. Books that fall into any of the following categories will be banned and the authors will be denied all access to chocolate for a term to be set…by me.

* * * * * * * * *

 

1) All books with a first-person present-tense narration.

2) All books with ‘Fifty Shades’ in the title.

 

 

3) All literary fiction, no matter how beautifully written, where the author has forgotten to include a plot.

4) All crime novels with a drunken and/or angst-ridden maverick detective.

5) All books about baseball.

 

calico joe

 

6) All books that are described as “the next Gone Girl”.

7) Magical realism.

8) All ‘continuation novels’ – no more Poirots, Austens, Holmeses (though obviously I will have to read them all first to be sure they really are bad).

 

 

9) All books that are longer than 400 pages (except Dickens).

AND

 

the goldfinch

 

10) Ms Tartt will never know the delightful taste of chocolate again.

* * * * * * * * *

 

Please let me know if there are any other criteria you would like me to consider. Or, in the exceedingly unlikely event that you wish to save a book destined for oblivion, make your case below… but hurry!

bonfire