Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Signing off for Christmas

Your intrepid reader is now signing off for Christmas and will be back again in the New Year. I hope you all have a nice, relaxing time (or exciting time if that's what you prefer!)

I'm reading Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon. Having Agatha open a detective agency has given M C Beaton the opportunity to introduce new characters to interact with the old ones. What I like about Agatha is that she is so human. Flawed characters are so much more fun!

Happy reading, everybody!

Day 77; Book 74

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Unquiet by John Connolly

I finished this last night and it was excellent. I really recommend the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly. Here is John Connolly's website for those who are interested in this author. You will notice it is a suitably black colour for these "Maine noir" books!

Day 76; Book 73

Monday, 22 December 2008

Happy Birthday Holly!

It's the Rock Chick's 21st birthday today, so I can be pretty sure that I wasn't doing any reading on this day all those years ago ...

More John Connolly

I read another in the Charlie Parker series, The Black Angel, and I think this was the best one yet. More mysteries, supernatural stuff, flawed hero and wisecracks! Now I'm half way through The Unquiet which I thought was the last but I see that The Reapers has come out so I definitely want to get that (it's probably still only available in hardback though ...)

For a bit of light relief I had ordered two books from Amazon, The Cat that Could Open the Fridge: a Curmudgeon's Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters and The Hamster that Loved Puccini: the Seven Modern Sins of Christmas Round Robin Letters, both by Simon Hoggart. Luckily they came within a couple of days. I have never received a round robin letter myself, but the examples given (with the names changed to protect the guilty) were hilarious, the letters obviously having been sent by people with absolutely no self-awareness of how pompous, boastful and plain boring they were! Part of the fun is Simon Hoggart's commentary. He manages to point out the faults of these awful letter writers without being mean-spirited so that we can laugh without feeling too guilty.

I should finish The Unquiet tonight but then I have to decide what to read next ... so many books, so little time.

Day 75; Book 72

Friday, 19 December 2008

Every Dead Thing by John Connolly

Finished this although it took me two days. I now have several other John Connollys to read, which seem not to be part of the Charlie Parker series. I wonder if they will be as dark.

Thanks to Jo I now have some more Agatha Raisins to read. You couldn't call these dark, even though at least one person dies horribly in each novel. They are in the Great British tradition of "cosy" murders! Also on my holiday reading list: Alison Lurie (new to me and again thanks to Jo); more Marcus Didius Falco mysteries thanks to Anna, and P G Wodehouse and Jackie Kay thanks to Lorraine. I should have called this blog "A book a day for a year - without having to buy any!" Thanks everybody.

Day 72; Book 69

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Half-way through

I'm only half-way through Every Dead Thing by John Connolly so I can't give you a proper report yet. It has a powerful start, then gets a bit confusing, but now is completely on track and I can't wait to get back to it!

In the meantime, here is a useful website for anyone who is interested in the origins of languages (scroll down when you get to it). You probably know that English is descended from Indo-European, but did you know that our specific branch is Germanic? French, Italian and Spanish are from a different branch. Basque is unrelated to any other language at all! And surprisingly (to me) Persian comes from Indo-European but Arabic has a completely different origin.

For Scots words fans, you may be interested to know that the expression "to thole" is directly descended from Old English and features in Beowulf!

Day 71; Book 68 - must get a move on!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

I decided to read Beowulf again (in translation! This is a Book a Day, not a Book a Decade! Although Lucia of Mapp and Lucia would have pretended to read it in the original while keeping the translation to hand, ready to be covered up at a moment's notice ... )

There are many translations of Beowulf available but I recommend this one because Seamus Heaney is a poet in his own right, and will choose the right word for the right effect even if it is not always the "correct" translation. He also gives helpful marginal comments as to what is happening, useful because it is not always obvious otherwise when a scop in the poem declaims another poem, for example.

Now that I have gone back to basics, I might be brave enough to watch 2007's animated Beowulf on DVD. I've been avoiding it because I didn't want to be one of those people who say "but that's not what it should be like!" Now that I've refreshed my memory I've also remembered that there were no doubt many versions of the original tale anyway, and that this is just the one that was lucky enough to be written down and to survive.

Day 70; Book 68

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Three cheers for Mr F!

I just received this email from him:

"have just done a charity-shop crawl. Have got you "Every Dead Thing", and three other new Connollys as well. Seems he's written about eight in all."

So he's got me the missing book from my John Connolly series, plus 3 others I didn't even know about.

Take a bow, Mr F!

Taking the Biscuit by Faith Addis

This is the author who wrote the books on which the TV series Down to Earth was based. Faith Addis is a very amusing writer about her life in the West Country, featuring pets and plants and running your own business. I've already read The Year of the Cornflake where Faith runs a children's holiday centre so now I must get the others in the series.

Day 69; Book 67

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Killing Kind by John Connolly

This is one of the series of "Maine noir" private detective books by John Connolly. They have: serial killers, mysteries, wise-cracking, tragedy, supernatural events ... everything really! I managed to get three of the series in my local Co-op for £1.99 each but as I am still missing the first in the series I think I will have to buy that from the regular bookshop (an affront to my penny-pinching ways!)

Day 68; Book 66

Saturday, 13 December 2008

In which the intrepid reader crawls back to her post, having been laid low for a week by a cold bug

Greetings fellow readers, and apologies for having abandoned the reading post for the past week! I haven't been idle on the reading front, although it is safe to say I would have enjoyed these books a lot more if I hadn't been suffering from a bad cold. Who would have thought you needed to be fit to be a reader?

First up was Diana Gabaldon's Cross-Stitch, lent to me by Louise. This is a historical romance novel with a twist, set in the Highlands around Inverness. It's a whopping 600+ pages but it keeps your attention right up until the end. Recommended as a Christmas-holiday read.

Next I turned to an illustrated work, Juliet Gardner's Picture Post Women. Picture Post was published throughout the years of the Second World War and its photojournalism often featured ordinary people. It's fascinating at a distance of nearly 70 years to see into people's real lives.

A lucky find on the bookshelf was Susan Hill's Lanterns Across the Snow, as apparently this is now out of print. This is a beautifully-written depiction of a little girl's Christmas more than one hundred years ago. The presents may have changed but Susan Hill captures all the magic and excitement which still surrounds Christmas for children. Ideal reading for Scrooges who need help to get into the Christmas spirit (copy available from me!)

Next I read The Summons by John Grisham. I usually lose interest in John Grishams after their strong start, but this was a mystery which didn't lose its appeal, perhaps because the main focus was a family (a judge and his two sons) rather than the ins and outs of corporate law.

Mr F was laughing uproariously over his book so as soon as he finished it I nabbed Tom Sharpe's Wilt. Well, I did laugh a bit (and out loud at one point) but Sharpe's characters are so unsympathetic it is hard to care what happens to them.

Marcus Didius Falco is the ancient Roman private detective created by Lindsey Davis and thanks to Anna this time I was able to read Shadows in Bronze and Venus in Copper. These continue Falco's adventures which started with The Silver Pigs. Earlier mysteries continue to be unravelled and new cases are taken on - and we continue to learn more about Falco and his friends and (annoying!) family.

Finally to a new author - at least to me. John Connolly writes about a Maine-based policeman turned private detective, Charlie "Bird" Parker. These books are very dark with a supernatural edge. They have a lyrical element to them as well though. It's not obvious at first that they are part of a series, so I have been reading them in the wrong order. I have read The White Road and Dark Hollows. I've started on The Killing Kind but have still to get Every Dead Thing which of course is the first in the series.

Day 66; Book 65

Friday, 5 December 2008

Joke, courtesy of Mr F!

After three years of marriage, a wife was still questioning her husband about his lurid past. "C'mon, tell me," she asked for the thousandth time, "How many women have you slept with?" "Baby," he protested, "if I told you, you'd throw a fit." The wife promised she wouldn't get angry, and convinced her hubby to tell her.

"Okay," he said, then started to count on his fingers. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven - then there's you - nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . "

Parochial reading?

It was only when I went to fetch The Turn of the Screw yesterday that I realised I had hardly visited the American literature section of the library. I like modern American writers, in particular Harlan Coben and Jeffrey Deaver, but for literature I rarely stray away from British writers. I must be more adventurous!

Another ghost story

I was in the mood for ghost stories once I had read The Mist in the Mirror, so I decided to re-read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. James is not an easy writer and I really had to concentrate on what he was saying here. It was well worth it though, to try and pick up all the nuances and ambiguities of what he was saying. Are the ghosts really there, or is everything in the imagination of the governess? There is no easy answer, and critics have been debating this for about 80 years . This is a story which repays reading and rereading. It really draws you in.

Day 58; Book 56

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Espedair Street by Iain Banks

A rather blokey read for me last night: Espedair Street by Iain Banks. This is the funny and sad tale of a geeky boy's rise to 70s rock stardom with ELP-style stage excesses, followed by his inevitable fall. The novel features lots of Glasgow/West of Scotland humour and local colour - look out for the beer-drinking dog. I did think, however, that the two girls in 1973 Paisley at the start would have said "def-in-ATE-ly" instead of "definItly" and I was crushed when the protagonist says that he had never heard of the Glasgow to Edinburgh slow train (THE way to travel across country, via Shotts!)

Day 57; Book 55

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Curl up with a ghost story for Christmas!

Joanna Trollope's Second Honeymoon was good in the end, even though I had read it before. This author always highlights contemporary dilemmas (but in a readable way) and in this one the ends were all tied up in a satisfactory way.

Looking about for something to read next, I came across The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill. I had read this before too, but as it was sitting on my own bookshelf that was hardly a surprise! I settled down to read it with anticipation as I do like an atmospheric ghost story at this time of year. Susan Hill is a very skillful writer especially when it comes to setting the scene, and she has a very delicate touch with character and also conclusions which are not too-definitely stated. This made me think a bit of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, so I must look that out too. If you want to curl up in the warm while the weather does its worst outdoors, then The Mist in the Mirror would be a good choice to read.

Day 56; Book 54

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A word I would like to ban ...

is "furbaby" for a cat or I suppose any furry little pet. Yuck!

Having said that, I don't like "blog" either. You certainly couldn't call it euphonious!

And a further aaaaargh for "normalcy" which has even started to infest the BBC News webpages (see here). What's wrong with "normality"?

Reader Rage!

It's that feeling which comes over you when you settle down to read a promising-looking book - and then you realise you have read it before. Aaarrrgh! In this case it is Joanna Trollope's Second Honeymoon. I remember it's a good read but it's very annoying to either know what's going to happen, or to remember it as you read it.

I sometimes have a problem remembering titles. Distinctive titles are fine, but there are some authors out there whose titles just don't stick in my mind at all. Dean Koontz is one - the titles hardly convey anything to me at all. I think Nora Roberts might be another. It's funny because I will sometimes choose a book based just on the title.

Day 55; Book 52

Monday, 1 December 2008

Things you never see any more

This morning I saw a dog out on its own, which is a thing you never see nowadays. Remember when people just used to let their dogs out in the morning?

Another thing you never see is women with rollers in their hair under a headscarf! Or even nipping out the shops in their slippers ...

Any other suggestions?

The Agatha Raisin Weekend

I finally finished the Silver Pigs which was an intelligent read with a bittersweet ending. Perhaps due to my bump on the head I never really got involved in it though!

Next I binged on 3 Agatha Raisins lent to me by Jo. They were: Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate, Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House and Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance. This is a long series but the author manages to keep up interest by introducing new characters and by re-introducing old ones. I can't give too much away but Agatha's new venture is very promising. I will say that the misadventures of the morris men are hilarious!

Finally I read Other People's Children by Joanna Trollope. This was a clever book where your sympathies change throughout the novel. Certain of the characters are outrageous but believable. Very involving and well worth reading.

Day 54; Book 52

Friday, 28 November 2008

Last sighting of the year

The geese have been flying south for weeks now, and we have even had some snow. Nevertheless I must report what is surely the last sighting of the year* of the student in flip-flops. This brave little chap, toes exposed to the elements, was spotted in the vicinity of his natural habitat, the university library.

For goodness' sake! At this rate the last flip-flops of autumn will overlap with the first flip-flops of spring ...

*unless you know differently

In which your bibliophile is not as unbowed as she thought

Anna has lent me The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis and I settled down to read this last night. It features a witty, Marlowe-like private detective - but it is set in ancient Rome (and ancient Britain). I couldn't concentrate though. Perhaps that bump on the head has had more effect than I thought! At any rate I ended up watching the SHOPPING CHANNELS on tv, thinking, "Ooh yes, that looks like a bargain" and, almost, reaching for my credit card. Where will it end? Will I ever read a book again? Come back later to find out.

Day 51; Book 47

Thursday, 27 November 2008

How do you choose a book?

How do you choose a book if you haven't already received a recommendation?

I find I am quite successful just by looking for a title and a cover that appeals to me! Then I just read the first page and if I like that, then I will read the book. I never read the blurb if I can help it because that gives away the start of the story. Similarly with introductions; I always leave those until I have finished the book because I don't want to be given any hint as to how the story progresses.

This would never work with a film of course! That must be why they need trailers ... although I wish they told you rather less of the story in the trailer. You need to attract people in though; it must be a difficult balancing act.

In which your bibliophile is bloody but unbowed

Monday's reading was Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth. I am so pleased to have started reading Jodi Picoult, whom I avoided for years because I thought she wrote about child abuse and other "issues", and I never enjoy issue-driven fiction. Happily I was wrong about this great author. Certainly she does use contemporary situations and dilemmas as her starting point but she also tells a gripping story with believeable characters. Plain Truth is centred on the Amish community in Pennsylvania. Images of the Amish are now familiar to most of us, but Picoult demolishes some misconceptions as well as teasing out the mysterious story of Katie Fisher and her baby. Well worth reading.

Tuesday was book-free as I managed to spend the time in A&E after fainting and smacking my face into the road. I could have done with a book actually, after I felt better. Quite rightly the staff were busy dealing with more urgent cases so we had to do a lot of waiting around. Surely your intrepid reader should have had a book in her handbag at such a time!

Wednesday I spent recovering and then reading Val McDermid's Wire in the Blood. This was a new author for me. I generally like crime novels especially when they concern the psychology of criminals so this one about the profiling of a serial killer should have been ideal for me. However although I enjoyed it overall, for me there were too many characters, some of whom were dropped from the story part of the way through. None of the characters seemed particularly sympathetic either.

Day 50; Book 47

Monday, 24 November 2008

Latest books

It's a good job I've started numbering my books because it looks like I have been off track for a few days. *Note to self: must do better*

On Friday I read Isabel Wolff's Forget Me Not. This is of the chick lit, romance type. It's well written with a heroine who has the dream job of garden designer. As in a many novels, it seems just a case of taking a degree or other course in your chosen field, and then simply setting up a successful business or landing the exact job you wanted. This of course if rather different from how real life can turn out. I enjoyed the novel which at first I thought was going to be predictable. In some ways it was but it others it confounded my expectations. The character of Citronella was satisfyingly monstrous! My only quibble with the writing was the depiction of the little girl, who from the time she was a toddler would talk of "Mum" and "Dad" and in my experience little tots would say "Mummy" and "Daddy". It's just one of those little details which nevertheless can annoy you a lot!

On Saturday I read Joanna Trollope's Brother and Sister. Thanks to David I have a mini Trollope pile and was quickly engrossed in this one. Joanna Trollope is never afraid to set up an emotional scenario and to explore people's feelings and reactions honestly. Well-written and absorbing.

Finally I read the last of my current supply of Agatha Raisins, Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came. It was another adventure in which the men in Agatha's life support her and let her down in equal measures. It turns out that the story of James Lacey is not yet over ... Excellent characterisation as usual, with Mrs Bloxby gently laughing at Agatha's excesses.

Day 47; Book 45

Greetings, fellow reading blogger!

I've heard from Helen, whose blog is here. She has a target this year of 250 books, but thinks she will make 300. She gave me a good tip, which is to number each book as I post about it ... if I combine it with the day, that should enable me to see at a glance if I am on target.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Newspaper headlines

I love punning newspaper headlines! At least if they are good - but what makes one good? I'm not quite sure, to be honest. Have a look at these though, which are hilarious. The first is from The Metro of 25 September 2008, where an innocent man found out that his old SIM card from his phone was being used illegally. He called his story, "I paid for the SIMS of others".

My all-time favourite has to be the Sun's headline from February 2000 when little Inverness Caledonian unexpectedly beat football league giants Celtic. The Sun's inspired headline was "Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious".

Reading and rating

I should really think of some way of rating the books I've been reading, like 5 quills for Excellent and one quill for Meh, not so good. I need to find some appropriate little symbols I could import into my blog.

Perhaps I should also give an idea of which readers each book would appeal to. The problem is I like so many different kinds of books myself, and I suspect lots of other people are like that too. How would you decide?

I'll leave this thought to simmer for a while.

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell by M C Beaton

It's a great feeling which all readers will recognise when you come across a new author and realise they've written lots of books. Off you go to the charity shops or Abebooks for second-hand or out-of-print works, your friends' bookshelves if you have kind and understanding friends*, or you may even go to a proper bookshop and buy new copies (not in hardback though!)

But then after every high must come the low, and you realise that you have made your way nearly to the end of your new favourite author ... I'm not quite at that stage yet with the Agatha Raisins but the end is in sight. I must ration them out. Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell was an excellent read once again, with some rather surprising happenings (as well as the usual murder of course). Well worth a read.

*butters them up*

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Drama Queen

I'd heard of the classic film The Winslow Boy, but had never seen it. I was put off in case the story of a boy accused of stealing a postal order was too upsetting - I know, I am such a wimp. I read the script last night, however, and I really enjoyed it. Terence Rattigan wrote the play in 1946 but it is set just before the First World War. The themes are of truth, justice, family and sacrifice. The characters are all memorable, and most of them are admirable in their own way. One poignant scene comes when the older son says he has joined the Territorial Army because he knows there is "a bit of a scrap" coming up and he doesn't want to miss it. Of course from our vantage point we know just how horrific his "scrap" will be. The play was based on the real-life case of George Archer-Shee; when you realise that George did go on to die at the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, Rattigan's foreshadowing of the fate of Dickie in the play becomes even more resonant.

I went to the completely opposite extreme of drama when I then watched the film Bad Santa! The easily-offended, or even the not-so-easily offended may wish to avoid this film, plumbing as it does the depths of bad taste. The redeeming factor is that much of the film is completely hilarious. Also Billy Bob Thornton is strangely attractive in this role ... just don't watch this with your granny (not least for some of the scenes involving Granny in the film). Here is a link to a review of the film on the IMDB website.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

How do you decide what is worthwhile?

I've heard that somebody has commented that they don't see the point of my Book-a-Day for a year scheme. They said that they could understand it if I'd made it into a fundraiser for charity ...

I wondered why. Is expanding your knowledge of books not a worthwhile aim in itself? Is there something wrong with challenging oneself intellectually just for the sake of it?

Am I on track with my targets?

Well, I've just counted up the books I've read and I've completed 40. I started reading on the 10th November so (going by weeks on my calendar) on Friday 21st November I should complete book number 42. As this is Wednesday it looks to me as if I am 1 book ahead. I could give myself a night off! On the other hand I have already selected a book for tonight, a play of about 100 pages. It looks as though I could read that AND have time to watch Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa ...

There must be an easier way to count up the books I've read and still have to read. Perhaps there is some sort of Gadget for Blogger. In the meantime I'll continue doing it the hard way!

The Saffron Garden by Jasmine Crowther

This is a book about an Anglo-Iranian family. It opens with a shocking event, and the rest of the book traces the causes of that event, and the lives of the two main characters who are a mother and daughter. The strength of the novel lies in its evocation of the mother's rural lifestyle as a young woman, and the particular problems she had to face in that society. This would probably be considered a woman's book.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Poetry corner

Sneakily, I realised that I could catch up with my quotas if I read a poetry book, as they tend to be much shorter!

Of course, poetry cannot really be read quickly. The fewer the words in a poem, the more carefully each one seems to have been chosen, and the more attention they demand. However, I decided I could at least widen my knowledge by picking poets I had never read.

I had already read Larkin's This be the Verse, the famous poem where he says, "They f**k you up, your mum and dad" and an excellent poem it is too. However I had never really fancied reading any more of his work, for the shameful reason that he didn't fit my romantic conception of a poet with his unattractive looks and specs. Fortunately my book-a-day scheme is leading me into unfamiliar ways!

The poems I enjoyed most in this collection were about animals: Wires, At Grass, and particularly Myxomatosis. This last is only 9 lines wrong but it perfectly captures a moment in time and the rabbit's confusion. The last lines are particularly touching and if it reflects an actual incident, you can only be glad that Larkin was there to dispatch the poor animal.

Without Reservations: the Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

Caroline lent me this, so I rushed home to read it (after Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two of course!)

It's the true story of a woman who decides to take a year off from her pressurised job as a journalist, and to travel and to try living in the moment much more. It's written in an easy, flowing style and you will drool at the descriptions of Paris, Monet's Garden, Venice and many more locations. It's a kind of modern Grand Tour. Really, she was brave enough to do what many of us would like to if we could organise the time and money to do it.

I thought her best writing, however, was her "remembrance of times past". She captures exactly those moments when we realise, for example, that the little boy we knew has gone forever, that we never realised those seemingly-ordinary, everyday moments would ever be lost to us in the past. Then she picks herself up and gets on with her life.

Luckily for her, getting on with her life often seems to involve meeting gorgeous foreign men!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Too much testosterone this time ...

I started thinking about the Victoria Holt historical novels I used to read as a teenager and quickly found some on Ebay. I started with The Demon Lover. Victoria Holt writes just as well as I remembered, with a sympathetic heroine who finds herself in some danger. Disturbingly for today's readers though, the heroine falls in love with the man who drugged and raped her. It's not just the historical setting of these Gothic romances which are outdated, it's the attitudes. I've got another couple to read, but hopefully these won't be setting feminism back 100 years like this one.

In other news: Strictly Come Dancing

I watched Austin's testosterone-fuelled tango* on Saturday night and ladies, I am a convert!

I'm not too disappointed by John Sergeant's continuing success. Yes, public votes for John mean that better dancers have to leave, but by this stage of the competition they would be competing against each other anyway. Heather has had to leave, and Cherie, but to be honest I don't think they would have been in the final anyway.

If John ends up in the final though, that WOULD be a travesty!

* Scroll down past the main screen and you can click on clips of the different dances from Saturday.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I'd heard of this, but hadn't read it because I feared it might be too upsetting (it is the story of a murdered teenage girl, and of how she watches her family from Heaven). Well, in parts it was very upsetting, particularly those concerning the little brother. However, it was also an enthralling read which I couldn't put down. It was even funny in parts. Alice Sebold's humanity shines through in her treatment of all the characters.

In which I get all philosophical

In my reading pile was The Fall by Albert Camus (in translation, thank goodness). This is a monologue and as you might expect from the philosopher Camus, the emphasis is on the ideas rather than plot. This made it rather hard going. It is well written, but the concepts are such that you cannot appreciate them on one reading. Another point of difficulty is the narrator's character: is he being truthful? There is not much action either, except for one very striking scene at the heart of the novel ...

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I finished Snow Falling on Cedars last night and I was really caught up in it by the end. I could see then why the author had set things up in the detailed way he had. San Piedro Island had become a real place to me by the denouement, and when I looked up it was almost surprising not to be in the middle of a terrible snowstorm.

I still had time for The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, which is only 121 pages long. Bennett writes amusingly of the Queen taking up reading, and there were several laugh-out-loud moments. Things get a little more serious as the book goes on, with the author imagining how singular it must be to be the Queen, and there is an excellent conclusion.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

So farewell then, beloved apostrophe?

I posted here about "correct", or probably I should have said "accepted", grammar and punctuation a while ago. Simply because accepted usages promote ease of communication, I felt that this was A Good Thing. I added a corollary though, here.

Back in September the Register (online IT newspaper) reported on John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, who was proposing "freeing up" English spelling and doing away with the apostrophe. This was the response. It's rather frightening that people should get so hysterical and abusive (and also ironic that they should include so many errors themselves).* University professors SHOULD come up with radical ideas, not reinforce your cosy perceptions. I'm not keen on the phonetic spelling myself because I don't think it's really easier to read. I could say farewell to the apostrophe without much of a pang, though, because I don't think it's usually vital to comprehension. I suspect that SOME of these people (the nasty, aggressive ones) actually like feeling superior when somebody else gets the apostrophe wrong. Grammar as distinguishing between them and us? I shouldn't think it's a new idea ...

*Incidentally if you manage to read on you will also come across people who are talking perfect sense for and against the proposal in a balanced way. Thank goodness!

Snow falling on Cedars by David Guterson

This came highly recommended and is really involving. It's taken me a while to read, even though it's not particularly long. The descriptions really put you on San Piedro Island and you feel as though you know all the inhabitants ... although obviously I don't, because it's yet to be revealed just what happened when Carl died. I am a fan of the courtroom drama, and this has courtroom scenes, plus flashbacks to the war and to the experience of Japanese Americans in particular. I love the title, reminiscent of haiku writing. I will finish it tonight, and then I'd better read some shorter books to catch up with my book-a-day aim. I'll be pleased if I can get to the end of the year with 365 books read: even if some took a few days, I'll let myself off the hook if on other days I've read 2 shorter books!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

More books!

Thanks to Lorraine for lending me Alan Bennett's Uncommon Reader, and to Somi for Albert Camus' Fall, Yasmin Crowther's Saffron Kitchen and Marilyn Manson's Long Road out of Hell.

Well, I said my tastes were eclectic!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Special delivery!

Thanks to my friend Jo I am now gloating over the following:

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came by M C Beaton
Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

So many books, so little time!

The Boy who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman

I put off reading this because if there's one thing I can't cope with, it's harrowing. However it has turned out to be a really interesting idea: what if Peter, the boy who also lived in Anne Frank's secret apartment, had survived? Peter manages to make his way to America and lives there, denying his Jewishness. What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of anti-Semitism prevalent in America after the war. That was shocking. I've got about a chapter to go, and wonder whether Peter will acknowledge his past and whether this will bring him peace.

Read Alexander McCall Smith every day for free

Every day, the Daily Telegraph is publishing another chapter of Alexander McCall Smith's online novel Corduroy Mansions. You can find it here. It started in September but links are provided to take you back to the start, so in fact you can read loads of chapters at once until you get up to date!

I'm afraid I haven't found out how to make links open in a new window, so A Book a Day will disappear *sob* but you can always open it up again, and if you know how to make a link in Blogger that opens up in another window then please let me know!

Just noticed that if you right click on the link, it gives you the option to open it in a new window. That's still not ideal, oh loyal readers, but it's getting there ...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Misery memoirs

I was in a bookshop at the weekend and was horrified to spot a whole bay of books labelled "Tragic Life Stories". Who on earth would make a bee-line for this section? Catharsis is one thing, but surely this is verging on voyeurism. Of course you might find one of these books interesting and might even want to bear witness to the author's suffering by reading it. It's the fact that there seems to be a whole industry based on people's harrowing childhood experiences that is disturbing.

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult came as quite a revelation to me. I had heard of her but had always put off reading her books, simply because the covers made me think of those misery memoir books and I thought that was what they would be like inside. Shallow, moi? But of course!

However on Sunday I was at home looking for something to read and came across Jodi Picoult's Vanishing Acts. (It must have belonged to my daughter, aka the Rock Chick). Well thank goodness the Rock Chick had left it there. It really was involving, and beautifully written too. There were upsetting scenes but they were important to the story. It wasn't just a "woman's book" either. I can't say too much without giving away the story, but I do recommend this. Worth reading, and worth going to buy as well!

Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts has been recommended to me as an author, so I bought her novel Angel Falls on Saturday. It started off excellently, gradually revealing what had brought the heroine to this point in her life. I thought it could have been wound up a bit earlier though, because I started to lose interest in her predicament. I would read some more Nora Roberts but I wouldn't go out of my way to get the books. Johnson thought that a particular sight was "Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see". In a similar vein I feel that Nora Roberts is "worth reading"... of course her next novel may well prove me wrong. I'm very willing to be convinced!

Boy Meets Girl by Ali Smith

I didn't really like the look of this ... anything without conventional punctuation is going to have that effect on me! The story was interesting in the way details about the characters were gradually revealed, and there were some very funny as well as touching moments. Overall however I felt the author's message was too obtrusive. I like a novel to be firstly plot. If any deeper meanings are revealed then all the better. However I don't like the message to come first and then the plot to be devised around it, as seemingly happened here.

Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam

I've finished the last of my borrowed Agatha Raisins, and that started me wondering just what it is I like about them. I don't think it's the mysteries particularly. They are not really intriguing enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, desperately turning pages to find out whodunnit. Much of the enjoyment of the Agathas is the humour, and that is based on character. Agatha gets to say all those things you wanted to yourself, but never dared to, and she is hilarious as she punctures pomposity, hypocrisy or simply speaks out about poor service. Ironically Agatha can be pompous and hypocritical herself, and it's funny to watch her get herself into awkward situations. She is basically good-natured though, despite all her intentions to the contrary, so at the same time as laughing, you are cringing with her and hoping she can get out of her latest scrape.

The characterisation is consistent throughout, from Mrs Bloxby's real goodness, to Charles's tight grip on his wallet, to the all-round awfulness of the Boggles. (Bring back the Boggles by the way! They haven't featured enough recently!) However, the characterisation is not static. M C Beaton can still surprise us with new details, such as Charles's addiction to Star Trek on Sky Television (naturally he watches Agatha's, presumably being far too tight to pay for it himself).

An added bonus to the stories is that although each one can be read individually, other story lines are developed across the whole series. (I think this is what is meant by that dreadful phrase, story arc).

Finally, I think there is a basic humanity to the characters, murderers excepted (and thankfully they always come to a satisfyingly-bad end).

Friday, 7 November 2008

I need some new books

Actually I want to keep reading my* Agatha Raisins (I read Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden last night), but that must be getting a bit boring for anyone reading this blog ... I'll see what else I can come up with.

* I mean Jo's, because I borrowed them!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

What not to read

I've just finished another amusing Agatha Raisin detective novel, the Wizard of Evesham, but I've been thinking about other books I HAVEN'T liked. In fact, there are a few books I have never been able to finish at all. I've had two goes at Moby Dick but never got past the first few chapters. I've never been able to finish anything by Joseph Conrad either. Henry James has pretty much left me cold except for The Turn of the Screw (which I must re-read now that I've thought about it), and E M Forster does nothing for me either. Hazel Holt is a modern writer of murder mysteries but I've had to abandon her too.* Fortunately there are many more authors still to enjoy! In fact I have been receiving so many suggestions of books to read that I am going to have to organise my "recommended" list into categories.

*I've just had a look online and Hazel Holt has published numerous novels. Somebody must like them! Maybe I will try again but the one I started to read was almost stream-of-consciousness in its tedious detail ... is it just me? Is there anybody out there who can explain the attraction of Hazel Holt?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

In which your intrepid reader reaches the limits of her brain power

My latest book was The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Sacks is the doctor whose work was fictionalised in the film Awakenings. Here he discusses neurological case histories from his practice. The case histories are fascinating and in some cases baffling, but the doctor's own humanity comes through in every instance. Some of the scientific discussion was rather beyond me I am afraid but overall this was a very interesting book.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Photography books

First up was Vietnam by Larry Burrows. Burrows was a photographer for Life magazine and covered the war in Vietnam from 1962 until his death in a helicopter crash there in 1971. His photographs have an immediacy which draw you right in. Some of them have a huge emotional impact, the kind which hits you with a shock of feeling giving you a lurch in the stomach. The first of these is the frontispiece which has no text but speaks for itself. Three soldiers are pictured but what is horrifying is that they look like young teenagers. One still has his baby-faced features, even though presumably he must be at least 18. This photograph brings home the youth of the soldiers more than any statistics about average age. Many of them weren't men, they were boys. Another photograph had a particular impact for me. It was a shot of the marines landing at Da Nang to defend the airport, early in the war. I had a jolt of recognition as I realised that these were "my" marines, the ones I had just been reading about in Philip Caputo's Rumor of War.

Of a completely different nature was Diary of a Century by Jacques Henri Lartigue. This is a charming book, illustrated by photographs taken by Lartigue right from the time when he was given a camera as a small boy about 1900. When you think of photographs from around this time you normally think of them as being stiff and posed, but Lartigue took action photographs of his mischievous brothers and cousins as they leapt down steps, plunged into pools and raced carts. Lartigue was fortunate to come from a wealthy family with a country house outside Paris, as well as having supportive (and brave!) parents who encouraged the boys in their various pursuits such as building and trying to fly gliders. However as the later photographs show no one is immune to tragedy in their life. The photographs continue right through 2 world wars to the end of Lartigue's life.

Slang of the Day

Looks like my little Slang of the Day box is running out of slang ... today it is telling us about the importance of voting! Stoppit, Slang of the Day! I signed up for new slang words, not lectures!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Duma Key by Stephen King

Another whopper from Stephen King - 670 odd pages which took me from Friday night to Sunday afternoon so way over my book-a-day rate. Stephen King is an excellent author, although personally I would prefer more psychological stuff and less horror (my favourites of his are Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption).. This book grips you right from the start and really keeps you turning those pages as mysteries are set up and then gradually explained ... however as is usual with King I felt the story could have been wrapped up sooner.

Next I turned to non-fiction and my all-time favourite on prose writing, Stunk and White's Elements of Style. This is a little book of under 100 pages which is so well-written that you can read its rules on grammar and punctuation for pleasure! Keep it on your reference shelf and dip into it again and again.

Then I returned to Carsley in the Cotswolds with Agatha Raisin for "Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death". Fortunately for us, Agatha is now back in the Cotswolds with the familiar cast of characters and with another murder to solve. Fortunately for me, I still have lots of this series left to read.

Friday, 31 October 2008

A miscalculation!

It looks like I am two books short! It's been 21 days since I started and I've only read 19 ... that's what comes of reading a book over 24 hours rather than during one complete day. I'd better catch up now rather than later!

Back on track

I finished A Rumor of War today. I wasn't expecting the way the author's military career ended at all. You will have to read it yourselves to find out what happened to him.

Last night I fitted in a nice short Agatha Raisin story - Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. For the first time Agatha is out of the Cotswolds and on holiday in Northern Cyprus. M C Beaton makes the country and its residents sound very attractive and well worth a visit, although she does overdo the touristy descriptions a bit (as does Agatha!) Funnily enough the back cover describes Agatha as a Miss Marple, but I can't remember Miss Marple ever sleeping with anybody *shudders* ... Agatha is as feisty and as funny as usual, but I will be glad to see her back home in Carsley in the next novel.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

In which your beloved narrator falls behind

Last night's book was A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo. This is a memoir of the Vietnam War, written by a graduate student who joined the Marines before the days of the draft. At first I thought this book must have been the source of the film Platoon, but then I found out that was based on the director Oliver Stone's own experiences. The similarities of themes and incidents must simply be due to the two men having similar backgrounds and to the now-archetypal motifs of that particular war. Caputo is a skilled writer (he later became a prizewinning journalist) and what comes across is his essential humanity even as he maintains that he is becoming de-humanized by the war.

I didn't leave myself enough time to read this however, so will have to catch up on it over the next few days, particularly as I came back from lunch with my friend Jo clutching a pile of Agatha Raisin books by M C Beaton. More on those later!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I knew this was written in an invented slang (which apparently includes words from Russian and from Cockney rhyming slang). I worried if it would be too difficult to read but it doesn't take long to get into the way of it, helped by the author who usually places words in context or even gives their meaning, and of course the words are used repeatedly. You can tell quite easily, for example, that Alex's droogs are his mates.

Alex is the anti-hero of the work. His morals are lower than a snake's belly, and the violence he uncaringly perpetrates is quite sickening. He is also the architect of his own downfall, in a classic case of hubris. You do start to feel sorry for him though as he is used and abused by the authorities. In a redeeming feature, he declaims in a cool Shakespearean style and is also rather witty! He is plainly more intelligent than his droogs, but sadly for him, not as intelligent as he thinks he is.

This is another one of those books where you wonder what really happened next. It's a classic which is well worth reading not so much for its vision of a dystopian future but simply as a really good story.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Last night's book

Last night's book was The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Alllingham. This was written in 1937 and is rather dated in some parts but the story is intriguing and the characters well developed. There is a convincing depiction of the protagonist's reaction to coming across the boy who had savagely bullied him at school. The character of Albert Campion is supposed to be a parody of Dorothy L Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey, so there is another detective for me to investigate. One book seems to lead to another very often in this book a day scheme.

Monday, 27 October 2008

In praise of bad boys in literature

The bad boy has had a long and illustrious career in literature. He is the novelistic equivalent of cuban heels, skinny jeans and fags behind the bike shed. Think of the appeal of that ultimate bad boy, Satan the fallen angel in Paradise Lost. Think too of Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park and how we long for Fanny to accept him instead of mooning about after the worthy Edmund. Mr Darcy and his breeches thrill today's TV audiences. Poor old Tom Brown got only one novel and a little-known sequel, but Flashman who was a bully at Rugby School and a dashing if accidental hero afterwards, got a whole series. Then there's Mr Rochester - mean, moody, magnificent and with a mad wife in the attic. But then, perhaps we should take a tip from Jane Eyre who only consents to be with Mr Rochester after he is brought low by fire and injury. When it comes to a bad boy, "Reader, don't marry 'em."

In which, sisters, I read a lesbian feminist murder mystery

It was Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson (first published 1984). It was well written, but I didn't warm to the characters which is something I find important in a book. If you don't care about the characters, you can't really be bothered reading about them! That reminds me of a way you can tell if a book was well written: you wonder what happened to the characters after you finished the book ... Another problem for me with Murder in the Collective was that it seemed to have another agenda. I do like to be taken into another world by a book, but that should always be subservient to the plot. The background should be just that! I just got rather fed up with the collectives, feminists, lesbians and politics in this one.

Next, for a complete change of pace, I read Right Ho, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse. This was amusing and there were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments but although I know Wodehouse wrote many books in this series I don't think the joke can sustain full-length novels. Bertie Wooster is a well-meaning upperclass twit, while Jeeves his manservant far outclasses him in intellect as well as social awareness, but I would have enjoyed this far more as a short story. It was also impossible to read without hearing the voices of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry from the TV series, but if anything that enhanced the book! Ironically it was after reading this and not Murder in the Collective that I was starting to be seized with revolutionary fervour ... Bertie and his ilk are woken up with a cup of tea in bed every morning, but that luxury of course means that someone else had to get up and do it for him. And why on earth does a grown man need assistance in getting dressed or running his bath? Similar thoughts always strike me with any of these country house novels or even the Lucia books, but then I suppose without the idle classes many novels would never have been written.

My book for Sunday was The Innocence of Father Brown by G K Chesterton. I had heard of these detective stories before but had never read any. It made a change of pace to read some short stories instead of a full-length novel. I enjoyed these and Father Brown's deductive reasoning was impressive.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Finished another author

That's me finished all the Harlan Cobens, unfortunately. My last one was another mystery, No Second Chance. Although Coben's characters are sympathetic, they are flawed too which lends a bittersweet air to the books. I'm looking forward to the next Mryon Bolitar book now, which apparently is coming out next March. I feel rather subdued having finished all these books of one of my favourite authors.

I'm off to fetch some more to see me over the weekend.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Trouble for Lucia

That's my last Lucia book finished. I can quite see why these are cult books, but I don't know why they are ONLY cult books. Everyone should read them! They are so amusing and E F Benson is so perceptive when it comes to character and motivation. Benson was also a prolific writer of ghost stories so I will have to try those next. I know other authors have written Lucia sequels so I will look for those too.

Cut down to size!

Last night I was discussing with no. 1 son what I did after school, and I told him I spend 4 years studying English.

"Four years?" he gasped, amazed.

"Yes," I said smugly, pleased that he was so impressed. "It was an honours degree."

"That was a waste of time then," he said.

Pride certainly does come before a fall!

Best ever review of James Joyce's Ulysses?

After a never-ending and awful day, Lucia, in Trouble for Lucia, describes it as:

"Quite like that huge horrid book by Mr. James Joyce which all happens in one day."

That's the best description I've seen of Ulysses - a huge horrid book!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

So what brought all that on?

Last night I didn't manage to finish my latest book, Trouble for Lucia by E F Benson (the sixth and last in the Lucia series). I'm going to excuse myself though, because I was proofreading the first part of a friend's novel instead. So although I haven't read a complete book, I reckon that the amount of effort I had to put into proofreading this rather than just reading it makes it count as a whole book! (Okay, a thin argument but this is MY challenge!) I'd better not say too much about the novel but as soon as it comes out I will let you know all about it in order to bask in reflected glory.

I've done proofreading before for another friend, and I consider it a great honour as well as the opportunity to get an insider's view of a work in progress. That's what got me started thinking about spelling and punctuation though and where better to air your views than in your very own blog. I advise starting one if like me you have strong opinions! (Opinions scurrilously referred to as "rants" by certain of the male persuasion ...)

Mr F has bought the last Harlan Coben (at least the last one we haven't read). It's another stand-alone mystery and I am itching to get my hands on it. Mr F is keen as well - he even went to a proper bookshop to make sure of it, rather than taking pot luck in the charity shops (of which there are many where we live).

On "correctness"

My last post was about the importance of correct or conventionally-accepted spelling, grammar and punctuation.

So when DOESN'T it matter? The sort of "correctness" I object to is when somebody rudely corrects somebody else, whether in speech or print. The sort of person who does this is usually completely dogmatic about how things "should" be done, usually because they were taught to do them this way at school. They seem oblivious to the fact that rules of grammar and spelling can gradually change, or that there can be more than one way to do things. They usually have no awareness of the great age of prescriptive grammars in the 18th century, when the "right" way to do things was first set down based on the glories of the Latin language. They do not seem to realise that these rules are simply man-made conventions, which can be changed.

This sort of "correctness" is not aimed at helping the reader or speaker, but at showing off. Certainly you should correct somebody's pronunciation if you know for sure that they are saying a word incorrectly and are about to go out on stage and make a twit of themselves! Otherwise I would say that in ordinary conversation a few slips in pronunciation don't really matter - and certainly shouldn't be rudely corrected by some know-all. And does it matter that someone starts a sentence with "and"? No, not if they wished to use it for emphasis. Is it wise or even sensible to boldly seek out all examples of the split infinitive and blast them with withering scorn? I think not.

My last example of incorrect corrections appear in library books! The reader detects some flaw and writes a correction in the margin. How rude! First, they have defaced the book. Second, they have assumed that other readers are not bright enough to detect this flaw without having it pointed out to them. Third, it seems that even though nobody could possibly know who they are, they have felt obliged to point out that they, the anonymous reader, were aware of this fault! This annoys me much more than the original mistake - if in fact it was one, because such 'omniscient' readers are in fact often wrong ...

On spelling, grammar and punctuation

Does it matter any more? Is expressing yourself more important than worrying about correct spelling, grammar and punctuation? I think it does matter. Spelling, grammar and punctuation that is correct, or more usefully, in the form which most people expect to see it, is a courtesy to the reader. It makes reading easier when you don't have to stop and figure out what the writer meant to say.* Proofreading is important too. It seems like it used to be unusual to find a misprint in a published work. Nowadays some publishers seem less than vigilant. Again, why does it matter as long as the story as a whole is there? Well, it matters to the reader's "suspension of disbelief". The reader is collorating with the writer, immersing themselves completely in the story and accepting what happens as part of the novel's internal narrative. Then if the writer makes a wrong step in the plot, for example, or is inconsistent, then that brings the reader up short. They are immediately brought out of the collaborative world of the novel and back into the real one. It spoils the story in other words. The same thing happens with typos in a published work - they jar on you and bring you out of the story. So that's why efficient proofreading is so important to the reader.

*Of course people who have dyslexia or similar conditions may find this just too difficult and I don't mean to criticise them at all.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


I should be, after all the twists and turns in Harlan Coben's Gone for Good. A sympathetic main character, secrets in the family ... all the ingredients are there to make this another fantastic page-turner. Coben's characters are never 2-dimensional and the plot would not be as involving without them. Another one I recommend.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Myron mania

This weekend's books were all by Harlan Coben. On Friday I read Back Spin, the fourth Myron Bolitar novel and in this one the sports agent investigates a kidnapping in the world of golf. Amusingly, like the author he is not at all keen on golf, obviously considering it "a good walk spoiled"! Then on Saturday I read Darkest Fear, the seventh in the series and which once again has a basketball background as well as a surprise for Myron.

Don't be like me! Read these books in the proper order! Actually you can read each one independently, as the author provides a catch-up in each novel, but it's so much better to read them in order as there are various developments which take place over a longer time period. Number one in the series is Deal Breaker so start with that!

On Sunday I read yet another Harlan Coben novel, one of his "stand-alones" this time. It was The Innocent which again I can really recommend for fascinating plot twists.

Something which makes Coben's work stand out is his characterisation. Unlike purely action novels you really get to know and sympathise with the characters. Myron with his self-deprecating wit is a particularly sympathetic character, but Coben's characters also develop over time and in reaction to circumstances. There is nothing 2-dimensional about them. What's great also is that even the same, minor characters who crop up in different novels are developed too. You learn more about them and why they think and act they way they do.

Good job I work in a library, because I need to find something new to read for tonight. Wish me luck!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Up to date again

Finished Lucia's Progress last night and it had a great ending which of course I can't tell you about ... Then thanks to my lovely Slovakian friend I read "How to be an alien" by George Mikes which is only about 100 pages long. It's a classic piece of humour which I am ashamed to say I hadn't come across before. Rather than being about extra terrestrials it is about being a foreigner in Britain. It was written in 1946; the author was a Hungarian who had come to Britain before the war. The funniest bit for me was where the author's English girlfriend maintains foreigners are always foreigners, even in their own country!

Finally got my mitts on the 4th Myron Bolitar novel by Harlan Coben. I thought I'd read all of them but this one and then I spotted another prize from Mr F's charity shop trawl, and it's another Myron Bolitar! Yay! Will read that next and then I really will have finished them all. Myron is such a sympathetic character and is always ready with a quip even in life-threatening situations.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Eek, getting behind already!

I didn't manage to finish Lucia's Progress last night, even though it's really funny. Lucia has become a more sympathetic character and Mapp seems slightly less awful, but they are still up to their fiendish schemes. I will finish it tonight and squeeze in something short to get me back on track. Cheating? Very possibly!

Mr F will hopefully finish the Harlan Coben tomorrow and then I can get my hands on it at last.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


*note to self: read shorter books on a work night*

I managed to finish The Broken Window and I can recommend it as an exciting crime thriller with lots of twists and turns in the classic Deaver manner. Consistent characterisation as well of the regulars. If you haven't read any of the Lincoln Rhyme series, then start with The Bone Collector to follow the characters as they develop.

Mr F on his charity shop trawl yesterday managed to pick up the only one of the Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben which I haven't read ... but with outrageous selfishness he has bagged it himself! I will have to wait but that's okay as I don't really want to get to the end of this series ...

In other news, our dishwasher has broken down. Honestly, you pay £20 for a second-hand dishwasher and three years later ... ! Many complaints were heard last night as I was forced to go back to washing dishes by hand, and this will undoubtedly eat into my reading time, grrr.

Will probably start on another Lucia tonight. It's ONE of number one son's hockey practices tonight, so I will need something to keep me amused while waiting anyway.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Still up to date

Still up to date, because last night I finished Mapp and Lucia. I'm so glad E F Benson brought these two characters together. Fortunately for us, neither of them would ever say they wouldn't lower themselves to the other's level! Fiendish and hilarious plans and counterplans ensue, with a hugely dramatic ending.

I started on my next book as well. I suppose this isn't so much a book a day as a book per 24 hours. As this is my challenge, I've decided that still counts! My next book was a find in a charity shop by Mr Fifecat. It's The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver which has not long come out in hardback but which he managed to get for 50p. Of course it fell into my hands straight away and I wanted to read it so much I put off the last two of the Lucia books.

The Broken Window is part of the Lincoln Rhyme series so I am looking forward to forensic investigation and devilish twists in the plot. Deaver always manages to catch me out with a twist just when I thought I had the criminal unmasked. He is the master of misdirection. Hopefully I will get it finished tonight.

Monday, 13 October 2008

My first books

I've made a good start!

Deciding that there is no time like the present, I headed home on Friday with a haul of 6 books from the library. They are the 6 Lucia books by E F Benson, which I've read before but not for a while. It seems that reading a book a day for a year is to be my new "stunt", a la Lucia!

I'm up to date so far, having read Lucia, Lucia in London and Miss Mapp over the weekend. I couldn't resist starting on Mapp and Lucia as well, so I'm ahead with that for today. There have been many laugh-out-loud moments over the weekend as a result.

What struck me about Lucia was how modern the book is, despite having been written in 1920. Daisy Quantock is very New Age, with her interests in diet and yoga. At the same time the book harks back to an earlier time with its emphasis on calling cards and society. Lucia is awful, with her cultural snobbery and ultra-controlling ways, and much of the humour derives from her plans going wrong. At the same time you can't help but admire her scheming and sheer cheek and feel sorry for her as well if things don't go her way. In Lucia in London she takes social climbing to a new level, getting herself into scrapes and then getting herself out of them again. Then in Miss Mapp we are introduced to her arch-rival. Elizabeth Mapp is much less sympathetic than Lucia but again we can't help but admire her nerve as well as her cunning solutions to the problems she gets herself into.

More on Mapp and Lucia tomorrow. Like Austen, E F Benson does not concern himself with the larger world and frankly the reader does not care, with so much wit packed into his observations on the little worlds of Riseholme and Tilling.