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.