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