The Literary Fiction Book Tag – Christmas Edition

Dickens at Christmas…

A few months ago I did this tag concentrating mainly on Scottish fiction as my examples. Since now ‘tis the season to be jolly, and nothing could be jollier than Dickens at Christmastime, I thought I’d resurrect it and see how wonderfully the Great Man shines in all aspects of the art of literary fiction. Join me for a bit of…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Last time I said “I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling, that reads effortlessly and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose. I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic or exaggerated and even caricatured but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the human condition.” Dickens meets all these criteria, and I suspect is the man who has been most influential in forming my opinion of what literary fiction should be.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

Little Dorrit – of course Dickens is famous for his dazzling array of unique characters, but the character I’m choosing is less well known than some of the others: Flora Finching. She was the hero Arthur’s first love, but their parents prevented them from marrying. Now Flora is a widow and is no longer quite the beautiful young girl of whom Arthur once dreamed. But she flirts with him dreadfully, calling up all the silly, romantic things they said and did as young lovers and behaving as if she’s still a young girl, and she’s very, very funny. It could so easily have been a cruel portrayal, especially since she was inspired by Dickens re-meeting his own youthful first love in middle life to discover she had become old, fat and dull, and determined to flirt with him as if they were still lovers. But Flora’s character is actually done with a real degree of warmth – more warmth than Dickens showed to the original, I fear.

“Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so long on my account!” tittered Flora; “but of course you never did why should you, pray don’t answer, I don’t know where I’m running to, oh do tell me something about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so long and narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cards and do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or is it only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off their foreheads don’t they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bells all over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don’t they really do it?” Flora gave him another of her old glances.

Frivolous Flora and her elderly aunt-in-law

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Bleak House – Dickens here shifts between a first person narrator, the young heroine Esther Summerson, and a third-person omniscient narrator, and also between present and past tenses. This may not seem like such a major thing now, when so many authors try to use present tense and shift between narrators, but it was innovative and experimental at the time and gives the book an essentially modern feel. Plus, Dickens being Dickens, he’s great at it, using present tense effectively and appropriately, which sadly is rarely the case with lesser beings…

Through the stir and motion of the commoner streets; through the roar and jar of many vehicles, many feet, many voices; with the blazing shop-lights lighting him on, the west wind blowing him on, and the crowd pressing him on, he is pitilessly urged upon his way, and nothing meets him murmuring, “Don’t go home!” Arrived at last in his dull room to light his candles, and look round and up, and see the Roman pointing from the ceiling, there is no new significance in the Roman’s hand tonight or in the flutter of the attendant groups to give him the late warning, “Don’t come here!”

Mr Tulkinghorn’s Roman

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

Martin Chuzzlewit – In the middle of this one, Dickens suddenly transports Martin and his faithful servant Mark Tapley to America, and has them have a complete story there before returning them to the main story back in England. Dickens’ method of writing for serialisation meant that he often reacted to how early instalments were received by his public, and this book is a major example of that. While he clearly had the main arc of the story mapped out, apparently the decision to send young Martin off to America was made mid-way through in order to revive flagging sales. While I’m not convinced it was a great decision, it provides a good deal of opportunity for some of Dickens’ fine satire as well as some wonderful descriptive writing. Dickens’ picture of the newly independent United States is either deeply insightful and brutally funny (if you’re British) or rude and deeply offensive (if you’re American). Fortunately I’m British…

It was hastily resolved that a piece of plate should be presented to a certain constitutional Judge, who had laid down from the Bench the noble principle, that it was lawful for any white mob to murder any black man: and that another piece of plate, of similar value, should be presented to a certain Patriot, who had declared from his high place in the Legislature, that he and his friends would hang, without trial, any Abolitionist who might pay them a visit. For the surplus, it was agreed that it should be devoted to aiding the enforcement of those free and equal laws, which render it incalculably more criminal and dangerous to teach a negro to read and write, than to roast him alive in a public city.

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

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

A Tale of Two Cities – every novel Dickens wrote explores social themes, but he never conveys his anger more effectively than in this book about the Terror following the French Revolution. We talk endlessly now of the dangers of the rise of populism in response to the inequality in our societies and then we smugly wrap ourselves back up in our warm and comfortable cloak of social privilege, and dismiss as ignorant anyone who disagrees with our world view. Dickens was warning his contemporaries of this way back then, showing how the Revolution arose out of the failure of the rich and powerful elite to respond to the growing discontent of the disadvantaged and ignored in society, and showing further and with immense power how once violence is unleashed in a society it feeds on itself, growing until it becomes a monster – the mob…

“Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!”
With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began.
***
“To me, women!” cried madame his wife. “What! We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!” And to her, with a shrill thirsty cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed alike in hunger and revenge.

Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

Great Expectations – I was trying to stick to books I’ve reviewed on the blog, but really I think that perhaps his best exploration of that nebulous thing we call the “human condition” appears in my least favourite of his novels. Miss Havisham blighted by disappointment and betrayal; simple Joe Gargery’s generosity and fidelity; Estella’s nature deliberately warped from childhood so she can act as an instrument of Miss Havisham’s revenge: all of these are brilliant examples of how circumstance and nature collide to make us what we are. But Pip himself stands out – following him from an early age into manhood allows us to see how his character is formed by experience, shaped by the material expectations he’s told he has and by the social and emotional expectations of his family and friends. Ultimately, with two possible endings, there’s ambiguity around whether Pip’s original nature is stunted for ever, or is simply dormant, ready to put forth fresh shoots if the sun shines on him.

“But you said to me,” returned Estella, very earnestly, “‘God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.”
“We are friends,” said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

Pip and Estella

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

A Christmas Carol – Dickens brilliantly uses the format of a ghost story to explore the true meaning of Christmas as a time for family and joy, of course, but also for reflection on greed, generosity and the inequality that existed in extremes in his society and sadly still pervades our own. A chilling tale, warning his readers not to look away, not to become so concerned with their own narrow concerns that they cease to notice the plight of those less fortunate, not to impoverish their souls in pursuit of material wealth. The wonderfully redemptive ending is pure Dickens as he shows how material and spiritual generosity enrich the giver as much as the recipient. Dickens suggests we can begin to enjoy our rewards here on earth, and lessen the harsh judgement that may otherwise await us in the hereafter.

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

The Ghost of Jacob Marley

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

The joy of Dickens, and a lesson I wish many contemporary writers would learn, is that he saw no reason to limit himself to a single style or single subject, even within a single book. Each contains elements of social themes, human condition, romance, crime and horror – each is a microcosm of all that it is to be and to experience in this ugly, complicated, glorious world, and each shows the intelligence, insight and profound empathy that make him the greatest writer the world has ever known.

…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

* * * * *

HAVE THE DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

Friday Frippery! Initial Thoughts…

Confessions of a book hoarder…

Having far too much time on my hands, I decided to see if I could find a book on my TBR for every letter of my blog name: my TBR being books I already own but haven’t yet read. I’m sure I’ve seen this as a tag around the blogosphere but don’t know where it originated, so apologies for not name-checking whoever created it. It’s a fun way of reminding myself of some of the many great-sounding books lingering unread on my Kindle or bookshelves…

Let’s go then!

F   Fell Murder by ECR Lorac
I    I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
C   Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
T   Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann
I    In Diamond Square by Merce Rodoreda
O  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
N  Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
F   Ford County by John Grisham
A   At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarçon
N   No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
S   Sula by Toni Morrison

B   Braised Pork by An Yu
O   The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
O   The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey
K   Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland

R   Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson
E   Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
V   The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I    In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
E   Execution by SJ Parris
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
S   The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The ease with which I could do this proves that I own way too many unread books! Of course the real challenge would be if I said I’d read them all in 2020… hmm…

Which ones take your fancy?
Can you do it? I tag you…

The Blogger Recognition Award

…aka How It All Began…

I’m thrilled to have been nominated for The Blogger Recognition Award by carllbatnag at The Pine-Scented Chronicles – thank you!

The Award Rules

1. Thank the blogger/s who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2. Write a post to show your award.
3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.
6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

3. Give a brief story of how your blog started…

Once upon a time, there was a lovely young woman of noble birth, Lady FF, who fell in love with the King’s favourite son, and he loved her right back because did I mention she was gorgeous? She looked a bit like this…

…and her Prince looked a bit like this, when he was playing tennis, which he did a lot when he wasn’t telling Lady FF about how her eyes were like bright stars lighting up the vast void of his personal heaven…

The King looked a bit like this…

(…and, whisper it not, there were moments when Lady FF wondered if the more mature man might not be more her style. But the King was already married whereas the Prince wasn’t, so that helped with the decision.) The King’s wife looked a bit like this…

Now, Lady FF was never one to judge by appearances, which was a pity because any fool could have seen that the Queen had some kind of major personality disorder. The Queen was deeply jealous of Lady FF because of the love the Prince bore for her, plus because Lady FF was considerably better looking than she and frankly had better dress sense.

One day, the Prince went off to the forest to hunt. (Fear not! He didn’t actually kill anything – he simply hunted for pretty creatures, snapped them and posted the pics to his Instagram account. Pictures like this…)

When evening fell and he had not returned, Lady FF was worried so she set off bravely – did I mention she was terribly brave? – following the tracks of his horse’s hooves deep into the darkest depths of the deepest dell. (She’d been experimenting with alliteration recently.) There she came upon an ancient cottage. She knocked on the door and was astonished when who should open it but the Queen herself!

“Where is my Prince?” Lady FF demanded. She could be peremptory when required.

“Buried deep in cavern halls
Without his racquet or his balls.”

(Balls like this!)

(Seriously, people, your minds…!)

“But why?” Lady FF whined. She could be whiny too, but in an irresistibly attractive way.

“To keep him from your clutching hands.
You ne’er shall be Princess of these lands.”

“Ne’er?”

“Ne’er!”

Lady FF dropped to her knees, clasped her hands and looked beseechingly at the cruel Queen.

“Is there nothing I can do or say to make you change your mind, oh fair and gentle Queen?” (Flattery ne’er goes amiss in these circumstances.)

The Queen cackled gleefully.

“Listen close and I shall tell
The only way to break my spell.
The Royal Castle has a room
In which is piled your awful doom.
Three thousand books all bound in blue
You must read them all, it’s true.
And when you finish every one
You may then wed my loving son.
But proof I need of all you do
So every book you must review!”

And so Lady FF began a book blog, and dreamt each night of the time to come when she and her Prince would live happily ever after…

* * * * *

4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers…

a) Have fun! That’s what it’s all about. Do as much or as little as you like and don’t compare your blog to other people’s – they’re they and you’re you. And when it all starts to feel like work, take a break, bake a cake, sail on a lake, or run off with a sheik – the blog (and your followers) will still be there when you and your enthusiasm return.

b) If you want people to come to your blog and chat, go to their blogs and chat. Quid pro quo, as that great philosopher and linguist Donald J. Trump would say.

Bonus advice…

c) Never mention Donald J. Trump.

* * * * *

(Gratuitous Darcy pic…)

5. Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to.

OK, I don’t usually do this, but there don’t seem to have been so many awards and tags going around lately, so I’m going to spread the love this time. Here’s my fifteen – all bloggers who richly deserve an award for the fun they add to the blogosphere. I shall be deeply offended if you don’t accept the award and link your post back to me. In fact, I’m already plotting my revenge…

Cathy @ Between the Lines
Karissa @ Karissa Reads Books
MarinaSofia @ Finding Time to Write
Jennifer @ Tar Heel Reader
Margaret @ Books Please
Kelly @ Kelly’s Thoughts and Ramblings
Rose @ Rose Reads Novels
Katrina @ Pining for the West
Anne @ I’ve Read This
Jane @ Just Reading a Book
L. Marie @ El Space
Debbie @ Musings by an ND Domer’s Mom
Madame Bibi @ Madame Bibi Lophile Recommends
Eva @ Novel Delights
Stargazer

Have a great Wednesday! 😀

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

Spot the connection…

I enjoyed reading Karissa’s interesting take on this tag that’s doing the rounds, so when she said “consider yourself tagged”, I considered! My answers to questions 2-7 share a common link. No prizes for guessing it, but if you do you have my permission to wear a smug expression for the rest of the day…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

I struggle with this all the time when deciding on what tags to use on reviews. I think I’d define it as indefinable! Generally, though, we all know it when we read it, I suspect. But I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling (No to Nabokov!), that reads effortlessly (Fie to Faulkner!) and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose (Kiss me, Hardy!). I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic (as in McIlvanney) or exaggerated and even caricatured (as in Dickens) but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the “human condition”. Please don’t ask me to define the human condition…

Publishers rejoice! Books survive into the 24th century!

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. From the review:

Although the story may be slight, the characterisation of Miss Brodie is anything but – she is wonderfully realised as an unconventional woman battling against the rigid restrictions of prim and proper Edinburgh society, yearning for art and beauty in her life, longing for love, desperately needing the adulation both of men and of her girls. Her beauty and exotic behaviour bring her admiration from more than one man and lead her into the realms of scandal, endangering her necessary respectability and her career. But perhaps Miss Brodie’s real misfortune is that in the end she isn’t quite unconventional enough.

The wonderful Maggie Smith in her prime…

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Docherty by William McIlvanney. Written partly in standard English, but partly in a beautifully sustained and authentic Scots dialect, this tells the story of Tam Docherty, a miner in the west of Scotland in the early 20th century who vows that his youngest son, Con, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.”

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

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

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. One day in 1869, young Roderick Macrae walked along the tiny street of his village and brutally murdered three of his neighbours. He is now in custody awaiting trial, and his defence lawyer is trying to get at the root causes that led him to commit these horrific crimes. From the review:

The novel is presented as if it were a true crime book with witness statements, medical examiner reports and so on. The first half is taken up with Roderick’s own account of events leading up to the crime, an account he is writing while in jail, at the urging of Mr Sinclair, his defence attorney. There’s then a shorter section told from the viewpoint of J. Bruce Thomson, an authority in the new discipline of criminal anthropology. He has been brought in by Mr Sinclair to determine whether Roderick could be considered insane under the legal definition of that word then in force. J. Bruce Thomson was a real person, as the notes at the end of the book tell us, and Burnet has apparently used his actual writings on the subject to inform this section of the book. Finally, there’s an account of the trial, presented as a kind of compilation of various newspaper reports.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This first volume of Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, focuses on the life of Chris Guthrie, daughter of a tenant farmer in the fictional estate of Kinraddie in the north-east of Scotland, before and during the First World War. From the review:

The book is essentially a lament for the passing of a way of life. Gibbon shows how the war hurried the process along, but he also indicates how change was happening anyway, with increasing mechanisation of farms, the landowners gradually driving the tenant farmers off as they found more profitable uses for the land, the English-ing of education leading to the loss of the old language and with it, old traditions. Although the cruelties and hardships of the old ways are shown to the full, he also portrays the sense of community, of neighbour supporting neighbour when the need arises. And he gives a great feeling of the relative isolation of these communities, far distant from the seat of power and with little interest in anything beyond their own lives. But here too he suggests things are changing, with some of the characters flirting with the new socialist politics of the fledgling Labour Party.

Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie in the dreadful film of the book.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. This is the tale of three sisters, daughters of the minister in a parish in the Highlands of Scotland. From the review:

…the characterisation of these young girls is beautifully done. None of them is perfect – each has her flaws and idiosyncrasies. The two eldest, Julia and Emmy, are a little like Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility – Julia’s strong feelings masked by her outward calm, and with the intellect and strength of character to overcome the slings and arrows of her fortune; Emmy driven by emotion, unwilling, perhaps unable, to accept society’s restrictions. Lisbet is clear-sighted about her sisters, and about herself. Although she is young during the events of the book, it is written as if by her older self looking back, giving her narration a feeling of more maturity and insight than her younger self may have had at the time. 

And a quote:

The carriage moved forward. We turned the bend in the road where we used to stand to see if any one were coming. I heard the immeasurable murmur of the loch, like a far-away wave that never breaks upon the shore, and the cry of a curlew. All the world’s sorrow, all the world’s pain, and none of its regret, lay throbbing in that cry.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina, based on the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s. Part true crime, part crime fiction and wholly literary – a wonderful book. From the review:

The book has been longlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize [it won] and, though I’ve only read a few of the other contenders, I can’t imagine how any book could be a more suitable winner. Scottish to its bones, it nevertheless speaks to our universal humanity. Crime fiction where the quality of the writing and insight into a particular time and place would allow it to sit just as easily on the literary fiction shelf. Not only do I think this is one of the books of the year but I suspect and hope it will become a classic that continues to be read for many decades to come, like Capote’s In Cold Blood or McIlvanney’s own Laidlaw. I hope I’ve persuaded you to read it…

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

I love literary genre fiction so would be happy to see more of it in all the genres I enjoy, especially crime, science fiction and horror. Come on, authors – get multitasking!

* * * * *

Your turn – I tag you!

And if you don’t blog, then I tag you to reveal all in the comments below…

No, no, no! Not that kind of “all”! I mean, reveal your opinions!

Six in Six 2019

A half-year retrospective…


This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my second time of joining in, and I loved looking for patterns in my reading, though I found it harder this year – I seem to have been reading lots and lots of various types of crime and not a lot of much else! But I’ve squeezed out Six in Six categories and avoided duplication, and all my choices are books I’d recommend… except one. But I won’t be so mean as to name and shame it, so it can bask temporarily in the glow of inclusion…

Six Vintage Crime

I remain happily steeped in vintage crime this year, thanks largely to the wonderful British Library Crime Classics and my ongoing Murder, Mystery and Mayhem challenge…

The Colour of Murder

The Blotting Book

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Death of an Airman

Smallbone Deceased

The Secret Adversary

Six Historical Fiction

There’s other historical fiction dotted around the six categories – I seem to be attracted more to historical than contemporary fiction at the moment, though I haven’t consciously been selecting books on that basis. This is the category that contains the book I didn’t love – but perhaps you would be blind to its faults…

My Cousin Rachel

Love is Blind

Dunstan

Wakenhyrst

The Elephant’s Journey

Three Bullets

Six Crime New Releases

I haven’t read much new crime this year but happily the ones I’ve chosen have turned out well, and I don’t think those two facts are unconnected. Cutting down on impulse picks on NetGalley and doing a bit of research means that the books that are squeezing onto my overstuffed TBR are tending to be of higher quality… or at least more to my taste…

The Katharina Code

The Plotters

The Man With No Face

Cruel Acts

Critical Incidents

Deadland

Six for the Classics Club

I’m still desperately trying to catch up with my Classics Club list, and am thoroughly enjoying it – there’s a reason books become classics! My love affair with Oxford World’s Classics continues, who are feeding my addiction and whose introductions make for better informed reviews – in theory, at least!

Tarzan of the Apes

The Riddle of the Sands

Little Dorrit

The Fair Maid of Perth

Bath Tangle

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Six True Crime

After a few years of reading heavyweight history I needed a bit of a break and something lighter to fill the factual slot in my reading schedule. What better than a bit of true crime?

In Cold Blood

The Adversary

American Heiress

Killers of the Flower Moon

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

Furious Hours

Six Great Fiction

As with contemporary crime, I’ve been far more selective about fiction this year, so I haven’t read much but the quality has been excellent. All of these are great reads.

The Night Tiger

The Dakota Winters

Night Theatre

The Kiln

Go Set a Watchman

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

* * * * * * * *

So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I’ve had a fabulous reading year so far! As usual, I’m late to the party but Jo gives us till the end of July, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

Knock at the door, number 4…

…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 three years, so the pressure is on…

More than 500 pages

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura. I’ve read a few chunky novels this year, so at random I’ve gone for this one, which I read as part of my Russian Revolution challenge. It tells the story of the assassination of Trotsky, allowing us to see his life as an exile and his assassin’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and subsequent recruitment by Stalin’s regime.

Leon Trotsky (second right) and his wife Natalya Sedova (far left) are welcomed to Tampico Harbour, Mexico by Frida Kahlo and the US Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman, January 1937.
Getty Images/Gamma-Keystone

A forgotten classic

Marriage by Susan Ferrier. Following a discussion with my brother on Scottish classics, he sent me this one, of which I hadn’t heard. It tells of two sisters, separated as babies, one to be brought up in the strict religion of the Scottish Highlands, the other to live amongst the fashionably loose-moralled people of London.

A book that became a movie

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. The story of Richard Hannay being chased around Scotland by some nasty German spies just before the First World War. I enjoyed this, but I enjoyed Hitchcock’s classic film version considerably more!

The 39 Steps – but he only kissed her to escape from the baddies…

Published this year

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware. I loved this story of Hal Greenaway, who receives a letter telling her she has been left something by her grandmother. The only problem is Hal knows her real grandmother died years ago! But she decides to go anyway to the house in Cornwall to find out what she’s inherited. Deliciously Gothic in a modern setting.

With a number in the title

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This classic story from 1905 has a surprisingly contemporary storyline – of people objecting to political agitators using the safety of foreign countries to stir up revolutions back in their own nation. It’s a vigilante story – not my favourite kind – but I found it entertaining and unexpectedly thought-provoking.

Written by someone under 30

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. I always end up having to google authors for this one, and was amazed to find that Crispin wrote this book when he was only 25. The story is of a man who discovers a body in a toyshop but when he returns there with the police, the toyshop has gone! A mad romp of a book and great fun.

A book with non-human characters

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. Hope Clearwater works for a research project in the Republic of the Congo, observing chimpanzees. The chimps play a real role in the book and are as well developed as the human characters. Plus this may be my last opportunity to use one of my favourite GIFs…

A funny book

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas. Shona McMonagle, ex-student of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, becomes a time-traveller in this very funny romp set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Very well written, lots of delightful Scottish references and some less than reverential nods to that other book about pupils of the Marcia Blaine, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

A science fiction or fantasy book

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. I’ve read some brilliant classic science fiction this year, and this was up there with the best. A post-apocalyptic vision of life after strange green lights appear in the sky, striking blind everyone who saw them. And to make matters worse, the triffids have got loose – walking, man-eating plants! A great, thought-provoking story.

The 1962 movie…

A mystery

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. I’m liking this trend towards modern Gothic very much, and this is another goodie! Clare Cassidy is writing a biography of the writer of a terrifying ghost story, The Stranger. And when one of her colleagues is brutally murdered, it becomes clear that somehow the story holds the clue to the case…

A one-word title

Brother by David Chariandy. The story of two brothers whose mother has immigrated from Trinidad to Canada. She has to work hard to make a living, so the boys are often left alone. Drifting into the ‘wrong’ crowd, they will become caught up in events that lead to tragedy. A story of the immigrant dream gone wrong, beautifully written and told.

Free square

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse. Whenever my world is grey, Bertie Wooster brings the sunshine back. But, since they’re all re-reads for me, they never get in the running for my awards despite giving me so much pleasure. In this one, Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Dahlia and Wodehouse are all on top form as they navigate Bertie away from the horrors of marriage once again – spiffing!

My fave Jeeves and Wooster

A book of short stories

The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre. Between classic crime and horror anthologies, I’m spoilt for choice this year. This one includes Scottish and Irish writers which makes it a little different from the usual, and the title story arose out of the same evening get-together that led to the writing of Frankenstein.

The Vampyre – Illustration by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

Set on a different continent

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti. My Around the World challenge has taken me to a few continents this year with some great reads along the way. This one is set mainly in Argentina, although it’s about Uruguayan political dissidents exiled there. A wonderful book, about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging – about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair.

Non-fiction

Sleeping with the Lights On by Darryl Jones. A deceptively short history of horror in books in film, this is packed full of concentrated juicy goodness, written in an engaging and accessible style. It covers everything from mad science to creepypasta, and has added approximately five million titles to my must read/watch lists – horrifying!

Creepypasta – The Slenderman

First book by a favourite author

Fatherland by Robert Harris. I came late to Harris so am enjoying fitting some of his backlist in between his new releases as part of my Five Times Five challenge. This is the story of a murder in Berlin, set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War Two – a world in which Hitler still rules and the people of Germany are in the grip of a totalitarian regime.

Heard about online

That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina. Most of the new releases I read, I first hear about online in some way, but this is one I was inspired to read directly by other bloggers’ reviews. It’s the story of a love affair, that we know from the beginning ends in tragedy. Beautifully written, and wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia in the 1980s.

A best-selling book

Tombland by CJ Sansom. Sansom’s books go directly to the bestseller lists long before they are released, and rightly so. This is another great addition to the Tudor-set Matthew Shardlake series, where Matthew is swept up in the Kett Rebellion while investigating a murder in Norfolk at the request of the young Princess Elizabeth.

Robert Kett at the Oak of Reformation
by Samuel Wale (c.1746)

Based on a true story

The Commissariat of Enlightenment by Ken Kalfus. Kalfus is one of my favourite authors and I’m going to keep going on about him till you all give in and read him! This one tells of the death of Tolstoy and the development of propaganda in Revolutionary Russia. Darkness leavened with humour, and all Kalfus’ sparkling originality in the story-telling.

From the bottom of the TBR pile

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Finally, after years of talking about it, I broke my duck with Ann Cleeves’ books. This, the first in her series of crime novels set on Shetland, had been sitting on my TBR since 16/12/2013, so it seemed like it might be time to actually read it! Now all I have to do is read all her other ones…

A book a friend loves

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Not just one friend, but nearly everyone I know who reads has recommended this one to me at some point! Two men meet on a train and one suggests that they swap murders – Bruno will murder Guy’s wife if Guy murders Bruno’s father. I enjoyed this influential psychological thriller, (but truthfully I enjoyed Hitchcock’s film of the book considerably more again…)

A book that scared me

Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell. These two short novels from a “forgotten” Victorian only scared me a little bit, but they entertained me hugely! The Uninhabited House is the stronger of the two, especially in terms of the ghostly aspects. But Fairy Water is full of charm with a delightful first-person narrator who grows ever more likeable as the book progresses. Horror for scaredy-cats!

A book that is more than 10 years old

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux. In a year of classics and vintage crime, I’m spoiled for choice for this category! This early locked room murder mystery wins the spot because a) the murder weapon is a mutton-bone b) the murder victim isn’t dead(!) and c) Hercule Poirot describes it as “a masterpiece”. Good enough for me!

Rouletabille, the detective.
By Josep Simont i Guillén – Published in the French newspaper L’Illustration where the story was first serialised

The second book in a series

Bump in the Night by Colin Watson. I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting Colin Watson’s Flaxborough Chronicles this year, as they’ve been reissued for Kindle – a series I first enjoyed when it was still being published, and it’s now become “vintage”. So what does that make me?? (Rhetorical question – don’t you dare answer it!) Light-hearted crime with a touch of sly humour.

A book with a blue cover

Murder by Matchlight by ECR Lorac. Lorac is probably my favourite of all the authors the British Library Crime Classics have introduced me too – I’ve loved all three of the books they’ve reissued so far. This one takes place in WW2 London during the bombings and gives a real picture of ordinary Londoners just trying to get on with their lives.

* * * * * * *

Bingo! Full House!
What do I win??

 

Friday Frippery! The Naughty or Nice Tag

The People’s Vote…

I saw this tag over on Rosepoint Publishing and her answers proved what we all already knew – that she’s very nice indeed! I’m a bit worried about what Santa will think of my behaviour, though, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me if I’ve been nice enough or if I need to make some quick amends…

So here are the questions – have you…

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

Oh yes! For some reason I got put on a publisher’s list for what can only be described as women’s fiction and suddenly started receiving zillions of them. I struggled through one or two, but not my thing! Eventually they stopped sending them – phew! And then there are all the NetGalley ARCs I’ve abandoned for being badly written or badly formatted – I do send feedback (usually polite 😇, but not always 😡) but don’t review.

2. Got less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley? 

I don’t remember ever being under 90%! I’m currently on 93%. 😇

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

No, I never put a rating on Goodreads until I’m posting the review. 😇 The exception is abandoned books where I have no intention of ever reviewing, but which I think require a 1-star rating. 😡

4. Folded down the page of a book?

Not intentionally, but I have done it accidentally while attempting to read, eat cake and fend off paper-chewing cats simultaneously. Annoyingly I managed to crease the cover of my current read… grrr! 😡

5. Accidentally spilled on a book?

Well… OK, I’ve never admitted to this before, but… well, OK, it was I who dropped the bread and marmalade face down on my sister’s treasured copy of The Hobbit. I’ve lived with the guilt for around half a century… 😞

6. DNF a book this year?

Oh, good heavens, yes!! Thousands!! But is that naughty?? Believe me, if I had finished and reviewed them, I wouldn’t have been nice… 🤬

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

That’s not naughty, it’s crazy! No! 😇

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?

Well, that all depends on one’s perspective. I prefer to think of things like housework as impinging on my reading time rather than the other way round. 😜

9. Skim read a book?

Guilty as charged. But only when they deserve it, and I reckon it makes me nice, because I could have fed them through the shredder instead, and didn’t… 😡

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

I’m going to fail dismally this year. 😪 And I don’t care because I’m a rebel!! 😎 (Though I might sneakily read a few novellas to take me over the line… ) 😇

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it to the library?

Not this year, 😇 but only because I don’t use the library. And the reason I don’t is because I’m so hopeless at returning books and can’t face the guilt. 🤬

12. Broken a book buying ban?

What’s a book buying ban? 🎅

13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

Tragically, this happens all the time, though I find reading reviews on Goodreads is usually enough to remind me. But I left my review of Heart of Darkness for so long that I’m going to have to read it again… 🤬

14. Written in a book you were reading?

What?? Do you think I’m some kind of savage?? 😡  Of course not! I live in a society with ready access to notebooks… *shudders*

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

I add them before I read them, as I put them on TBR Thursday posts. 😇 I have however removed them on finishing, if they were so bad I couldn’t even bring myself to give one star… 😡

16. Borrowed a book and not returned it to a friend?

In the distant past, I have been both villain and victim of this heinous crime. 😇😡 Nowadays I don’t borrow books…

17. Dodged someone asking if they can borrow a book?

No, though due to my own tendency to accidentally steal books, I’d much rather give a book than lend it… 🎅

18. Broken the spine of someone else’s book?

No, but thanks for the suggestion! I’ll bear it in mind for the next time someone annoys me… 😡😡

19. Taken the jacket off a book to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?

I’m baffled – I thought jackets were there to protect the book. From accidental chocolate fingerprints, for example, or to give the cats something to chew. Have I been doing it wrong?? 😲

20. Sat on a book accidentally?

Frequently! But they don’t squeal so it obviously doesn’t hurt them. There are some books I feel actually deserve to be sat on, though… 😡😡😡

So…what’s the verdict?
Which list do you think Santa will put me on?

.
* * * * *

Your reward for voting…

The Gothic Book Tag

Health Alert: Stock up on medicinal chocolate…

Well, during my two-week break (did you miss me? You better have…), I’ve been reading up a storm, most of it horror or Gothic or otherwise packed with spookifulliness. So you will need to take safety precautions before visiting my blog over the next couple of weeks – it would be awful if your eyes started from their spheres and your hair stood on end like quills upon the Fretful Porpentine.

It’s a fretful porpentine!

(Poor porpy – he keeps looking at his hibernation box longingly, but I’ve told him he’s got a long way to go yet…)

My advice is – take precautionary chocolate at least three times daily for the next month. This can be in the form of truffles, hot chocolate or fudge cake – the choice is yours. But keep some 80% plain chocolate aside for emergency top-ups as required.

To start the ball rolling (is it a ball? Or is it in fact the head of the headless ghost??), I thought I’d join in with the Classic Club’s

The Gothic Book Tag

1. Which classic book story has scared you the most?

Truthfully I rarely find books can maintain scariness for more than odd moments – I think short stories are much more effective. So I’m going with The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs – a story that sends chills down my spine every time I think of it. If you want to be terrified this Hallowe’en, here’s a link

2. Scariest moment in a book?

That would be the moment in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when Eleanor realises the hand she has been clutching for comfort doesn’t belong to whom she thought it did…

“God God,” Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, “God God – whose hand was I holding?”

3. Classic villain that you love to hate?

Sauron. There are so many great villains in The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, in fact – Denethor and Saruman are up there amongst my most hated too, but Sauron wins because he’s not really in the book in person – he simply broods over it like a malignant dark cloud of supernatural terror…

4. Creepiest setting in a book story?

The island in The Willows by Algernon Blackwood – from the moment those willows clapped their little hands I developed a total horror of the place…

Then we lay panting and laughing after our exertions on the hot yellow sand, sheltered from the wind, and in the full blaze of a scorching sun, a cloudless blue sky above, and an immense army of dancing, shouting willow bushes, closing in from all sides, shining with spray and clapping their thousand little hands as though to applaud the success of our efforts.

5. Best scary cover ever?

6. Book you’re too scared to read?

Nope! Can’t think of one! There are loads I won’t read because the subject matter sounds too gory or graphic, but that’s not a matter of fear, simply of good taste… 😉😎

7. Spookiest creature in a book story?

Thrawn Janet – if you can cope with the Scots language in Robert Louis Stevenson’s great story, then this tale of a woman who has become the victim in the fight between good and evil and may now be the Devil’s pawn is wonderfully chilling. The image of her tramp-trampin’ and croonin’ lives with me…

Syne she turned round, an’ shawed her face; Mr Soulis had the same cauld grue as twice that day afore, an’ it was borne in upon him what folk said, that Janet was deid lang syne, an’ this was a bogle in her clay-cauld flesh. He drew back a pickle and he scanned her narrowly. She was tramp-trampin’ in the cla’es, croonin’ to hersel’; and eh! Gude guide us, but it was a fearsome face.

8. Classic book story that haunts you to this day?

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier – the imagery of the tree as a possible reincarnation of the unpleasant main character’s dead wife is nightmarish…

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.

9. Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?

Meg’s heroic exploit in Tam o’Shanter – Robert Burns plays it mainly for laughs in his classic ghostly poem, but there’s some wonderful horror imagery in there too, and I love that the brave horse Meg/Maggie wins the day, though making a great sacrifice as she does…

For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

10. Classic book story you really, really disliked?

Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe. I suspect Poe must have been having toothache on the day he wrote this horrible little story…

The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and seemingly pupilless, and I shrank involuntarily from their glassy stare to he contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!

11. Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?

I’m not going to name the character because that would be a major spoiler, but I will say the death at the end of Agatha Christie’s The Last Séance in her The Hound of Death collection has lingered in the scaredycat portion of my mind for the best part of half a century now, and shows no signs of going away…

The curtains of the alcove seemed to have been pulled back a little, the medium’s figure was just visible through the opening, her head fallen forward on her breast. Suddenly Madame Exe drew in her breath sharply. A ribbon-like stream of mist was issuing from the medium’s mouth. It condensed and began gradually to assume a shape, the shape of a little child.

12. List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.

A Christmas Carol
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
The Island of Dr Moreau
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

13. Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.

….“Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
….They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
….Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
….“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
….“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃

Six in Six 2018

A half-year retrospective…


Lots of my blogging buddies have been doing this fun meme which was created by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year (yes, we’re officially in the second half – let me be the first to wish you Merry Christmas!), select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my first time of joining in, and I found it really highlighted to me the patterns in my reading – I’m sure my categories would change from year to year along with my ever-shifting tastes.

I’ve avoided duplications by some nifty juggling and have only included books I recommend, so here goes!

Six Vintage Crime

I’m becoming steeped in vintage crime these days, partly as a response to my lukewarm reaction to a lot of the modern stuff and partly because so many publishers are re-issuing “forgotten” books. I’ve got to give special mention to the British Library Crime Classics series, which has added significantly to the sum of FF happiness over the last couple of years, and has inspired me to start my Murder, Mystery and Mayhem challenge, from which five of my chosen six come…

A Murder is Announced

The Four Just Men

Strangers on a Train

Bats in the Belfry

The Red House Mystery

The Dain Curse

Six Five Star Fiction

I was only familiar with two of these authors – the other four books were chosen randomly based on blurbs, subject matter, favourite publishers and bloggers’ reviews. Which proves that taking a chance can provide great dividends! Here are my six…

In the Valley of the Sun

The Man Who Loved Dogs

The Commissariat of Enlightenment

Brother

Fatherland

That Summer in Puglia

Six Scottish Writers

I’m always appalled at how little I read from Scottish authors and have been trying to make more of an effort recently. Again some of these were existing favourite authors, and the rest were chance picks. Although the writers are Scottish, only about half of the books are set in Scotland – I fear we still have a bit of a problem with contemporary Scottish literature other than crime fiction.

Goblin

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar

Brazzaville Beach

I’ll Keep You Safe

Smoke and Ashes

Six Humorous Books

I never set out to read humorous books since I frequently don’t find them humorous, but this year I seem to have stumbled across several that thoroughly entertained me…

The Mystery of Briony Lodge

The Code of the Woosters

The Linking Rings

Sinister Dexter

The Murder of My Aunt

Lonelyheart 4122

Six Factual

Always one of my favourite categories and I love to mix up heavy history tomes with a range of eclectic stuff. Some fab books so far this year…

The Country House Library

Endurance

Seduced by Mrs Robinson

The Golden Age of Murder

Daughters of the Winter Queen

Space Odyssey

Six Oxford World’s Classics

I’ve been incredibly lucky to be given access to lots of lovely Oxford World’s Classics editions for review this year, especially since they allowed me a free choice as to which ones they sent me. While the classics stand on their own merits, I do love reading a well written introduction (as an afterword) and the notes, and finding out all the stuff I’ve missed. I’ve especially enjoyed reacquainting myself with HG Wells last year and this…

The War of the Worlds

The Great God Pan and Other Stories

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

The First Men in the Moon

The Invisible Man

Heart of Darkness and Other Tales

* * * * * * * *

So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I’ve had a fabulous reading year so far! As usual, I’m late to the party but Jo gives us till the end of July, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

Friday Frippery! The Interactive Tag…

…aka The You Do the Work Tag…

I was looking for a tag to do, but couldn’t find one which tickled my fancy. This is because I’m bored with my own answers – my favourite book, favourite character, favourite cake etc. Plus I’m feeling incredibly lazy…

So then I had an inspired thought! YOU DO THE WORK!! Brilliant, isn’t it? I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago!

THE RULES:

Set five (easy) tasks for your readers.

Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy their responses.

Possibly drink a margarita.

Definitely eat some chocolate.

Tag some other people, if you have the energy, or have a nap instead…

 

 

HERE ARE YOUR TASKS – answers in the comments below please:

1. Recommend ONE book you think I’d enjoy and tell me why. (Disclaimer: I DO NOT promise to read it!) If you’ve reviewed it, please feel free to add a link to your review.

2. Cover wars: vote for the cover you like best out of these. Tell me in the comments which one you voted for.

 

3. Option A: What book does this make you think of and why?

Option B: For creative types with too much time on your hands, use it as a prompt for a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a limerick, a haiku, etc. – no more than 100 words, please.

Here’s mine:

There once was a girl called Amanda
Who dozed off on her sunny verandah
Along came a witch
Her nose she did twitch
And Amanda awoke as a panda.

4. What three words would appear in the blurb for your ideal book that hasn’t yet been written? And who do you want to write it?

5. Tell me a factlet about yourself you’ve never before revealed in the blogosphere.

NOW GET TO IT!!

* * * * * * * * *

I tag everyone who leaves a comment.

Thanks in advance for entertaining me! 😀

The Royal Wedding Tag

…aka When Harry Met Meghan…

Okay, it’s official! I’ve been sucked into wedding fever against my will and my better judgement! The most exciting part will be seeing if Beatrice and Eugenie can possibly top the hats they wore when they auditioned for the pantomime of Cinderella to William and Kate’s wedding…

So in honour of The Big Day, I am proud to present…

The Royal Wedding Tag

The Happy Couple
(a book with a wedding in it)

When Bertie’s old chum Woody Beeching asks for Jeeves’ advice on how to patch things up with his fiancée, Bertie and Jeeves set off to Kingston St Giles to render assistance. A motley crew are collected under the roof of Melbury Hall – not just Woody, his girlfriend and her parents, but also Georgiana, a lovely young popsy Bertie had met before on the Côte d’Azur and, of course, fallen in love with…

The Bridesmaids
(a book where female friendship plays a role)

Trivia Night at Pirriwee Public Primary School in New South Wales doesn’t turn out quite as planned. We learn in Chapter 1 that the evening ends with a murder, but we don’t know the victim, the murderer or the motive. The group of mothers the book focuses on may have problems in their lives, but ultimately they’re survivors, with a strength that comes from their friendships and mutual support.

The Best Man
(a book where male friendship plays a part)

The funniest book ever written, this tells the tale of J, George and Harris – three young men who decide to spend their vacation rowing up the Thames. One of the things that always surprises me about the book is that the interactions between the three men is so little different to what it would be today, giving the stories a timeless quality. A lovely depiction of male friendship.

Flower Girls and Page Boys
(a book with a mixed-gender group of kids in it)

This is the story of Darling, a young girl living in a shanty town in Zimbabwe. When we first meet her, she is ten and spends most of her time with her little group of friends. Through them, we get a child’s-eye view of the devastation that has been wrought on the country during the Mugabe period. Despite all the bad things happening around them, the children seem on the surface to be like children anywhere – breaking rules and taking risks, full of bravado when in their group, dreaming of a better future.

Meet the In-Laws
(a book where an in-law plays a significant role)

Christmas at Southdown Farm is always an uncomfortable time for Clover Moon, since her disapproving mother-in-law Violet comes visiting. But this year’s even worse than usual. Firstly, Clover has realised she’s deeply unhappy with her life and is in a permanent state of rage. And secondly, someone appears to be trying to hurt her, perhaps even kill her. Clover is sure that Violet has finally lost her senses and become dangerous. As the worst snow for decades continues to fall, the farm is cut off without phone or electricity…

The Wedding Dress
(a book where clothes play a significant role)

The title story in this collection is a prequel to Perrault’s Donkeyskin, in which a king wishes to marry his daughter and orders three dresses for her, one the colour of the moon, one the colour of the sun and lastly one the colour of the sky. Bender’s story takes us to the store where the dresses are made. The old Color Master is fading and has picked our narrator to succeed her.

…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.

The Wedding Reception
(a book with a party or other social gathering in it)

When a mysterious notice appears in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, the villagers don’t take it very seriously. But they really should have…

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

The Wedding Feast
(a book that makes you hungry)

A beautifully illustrated literary anthology published by the British Library, the focus is on food, with extracts from many familiar and not-so-familiar authors. There is a mix of both poetry and prose, grouped together under headings such as: The Art of Hospitality, Love Bites, Childish Things, etc.

Afterwards the tables were covered with meats, antelopes with their horns, peacocks with their feathers, whole sheep cooked in sweet wine, haunches of she-camels and buffaloes, hedgehogs with garum, fried grasshoppers, and preserved dormice. Large pieces of fat floated in the midst of saffron in bowls of Tamrapanni wood. Everything was running over with wine, truffles, and asafoetida. Pyramids of fruit were crumbling upon honeycombs, and they had not forgotten a few of those plump little dogs with pink silky hair and fattened on olive lees…

Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô

The Honeymoon
(a book that takes place in a romantic location)

Where more romantic than Paris, City of Lovers? Though perhaps this isn’t the most romantic book. It’s 1929 and Paris is filled with avant-garde artists leading the bohemian life. So when Harris Stuyvesant, ex-FBI agent turned private investigator, is hired to find a missing young American woman he fully expects to find her so immersed in this exciting world that she’s simply forgotten the folks back home. As Harris plunges into the strange and twisted world of surrealist art, Grand Guinol theatre, decadence and drugs, he begins to realise that the glittering artistic society hides a dark secret…

Favourite Literary Couple

If you’d like to plan your own wedding, I’d love to read your choices.

Have a lovely Royal Wedding Weekend! 😀

With my little eye…

…aka The I-Spy Tag…

Couldn’t resist doing this tag that’s been doing the rounds recently…

The instructions: Find a book on your bookshelves that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want and do it within five minutes!! (Or longer if you have way too many books on way too many overcrowded shelves!)

Ha! Five minutes! Yeah, right! Anyway…

I decided to use only books on my TBR – books I own but haven’t yet read (or very occasionally, re-read). There’s currently well over 200 of them so I knew I’d have plenty of choice! But I still struggled with one or two…

Here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it. Most of these have been hanging around my TBR for ages and never made it to the top. Which one or two do you think I should prioritise soon?

Food

The Poisoned Chocolates Case

added to TBR 19/10/17

Transport

Way Station

added to TBR 16/12/16

Weapon

The Black Arrow

added to TBR 11/12/17

Animal

The Case of the Late Pig

added to TBR 26/1/18

Number

The Hotel of the Three Roses

added to TBR 18/2/16

Something you read

The Report

added to TBR 20/12/13

Body of Water

The Sea

added to TBR 26/11/16

Product of Fire

River of Smoke

added to TBR 22/10/15

Royalty

The King of Taksim Square

added to TBR 1/12/15

Architecture

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

added to TBR 16/12/15

Clothing

The Woman in Black

added to TBR 15/10/14

Family Member

The Sisters Brothers

added to TBR 5/1/13

Time of Day

The River at Night

added to TBR 2/2/17

Music

For Whom the Bell Tolls

added to TBR 19/4/18

Paranormal Being

The Haunter of the Dark

added to TBR 25/10/14

Occupation

Starship Troopers

added to TBR 1/8/17

Season

Soft Summer Blood

added to TBR 3/12/15

Colour

Red Shift

added to TBR 9/8/14

Celestial Body

Half of a Yellow Sun

added to TBR 23/3/16

Something that grows

Nada the Lily

added to TBR 9/12/15

* * * * *

Phew! So many great sounding books!
Why on earth haven’t I read them yet??

Hope you enjoyed this peek into the recesses of my TBR! 😀

Gratuitous Darcy pic just because I can…

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! 😀

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…

* * * * * * *

Of course, I haven’t included the audiobooks…

* * * * * * *

Go on – I tag you! Reveal all…

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… 😉

* * * * *

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…

* * * * *

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…

* * * * *

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…

* * * * *

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?

* * * * *

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…

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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…

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).

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

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

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Bingo! Full House!

 

Wednesday Witterings – The past is the future…

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

time-travel

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

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

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

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

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

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

darcy dancing(Me, in my dancing outfit…)

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

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

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

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

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

PG Wodehouse

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

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

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

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

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

“Mars,” he says.”

Ken Kalfus, Equilateral

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

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

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

Best Crime Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mark twain star trek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gatsby glasses

* * * * * * *

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

And now, I tag you!

you talkin to me

Yes, YOU!