Monday, 12 October 2009

Goodbye Everybody

That's the end of my year of reading dangerously. Thanks everybody for all your support! Now for my next project ... wonder what it will be?

And so farewell then, loyal readers

... as I have finished my 366th book! (I didn't manage to finish 365 by day 365, but I did manage 366 by day 366, so that's still a book a day for (one day over) a year. Thanks to David for mathematical mentoring.

I finished up with:

Lanterns and Lances by James Thurber - amusing so long as he didn't wander into word lists

Ten Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino - very enjoyable (surprisingly so as I don't normally like folk or fairy tales)

She Wasn't Soft by T. Coraghessan Boyle - kind of dark and edgy, it fulfills all the requirements of the short story (even if it was presented as a little book).

Killing the Angel in the House by Virginia Woolf - beautifully written essays and lectures. Feminism from the early days.

Oops, forgot to add this one: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume - these must have seemed radical at the time (early 1970s). Open and honest children's book (quite funny too).


Friday, 9 October 2009

Books 360 and 361

The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis - beautifully written with interesting characters and with humour as well, but with a disappointing ending (to me).

Bon Voyage, Mr President and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - I normally avoid this author because I don't like magic realism. However the first 3 stories were enjoyable and stuck (reasonably closely) to realistic possibilities. The 4th didn't so I didn't enjoy that one.

I thought I had only 4 books to go, but David (who knows about sums) tells me that to achieve an average of one book a day, I have to read 6 by the end of tomorrow (or 5 by the end of today). Fortunately I still have a collection of very short books.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Up to book 359

Jill's Pony Trek by Ruby Ferguson - more old-fashioned but funny pony stories for girls. Worth reading by adults for the funny bits.

The Queen and I by Jay McInerney - a very short book (a Bloomsbury Quid). Very dark, about the drug and prostitution subculture in New York.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Up to book 357

The Magician's Nephew by C S Lewis: a prequel to the Narnia stories, and one which I didn't really remember. It fits in nicely when you find out who Digory turns out to be.

The Fight for Barrowby Hill by Jan Dean: a children's book and one which looks as though it was written for a specific age group. It suffers because of this, because surely a book should be written first of all because the author has a great story to tell (cf C S Lewis, above, who does have a great story to tell. Not even his Christian analogies get in the way!)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I'm glad I don't have a column to write everyday ...

because writing about a book a day is a lot harder than reading them! Here's what I've read recently:

Tiny books courtesy of Kim - The Kiss: a Romantic Treasury of Photographs and Quotes; Women's Wit and Wisdom; The Littlest Book of Scotland; The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch; Private Habits by Ivor Cutler. Also two Disney flip books, which I'm not counting - yet!

Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre (his new book - exciting, horrifying and hilarious).

Just after Sunset by Stephen King (his latest book of short stories - a great read).

Three Sketches from a Hunter's Album by Ivan Turgenev (hard-done-by peasants).

Azazel by Isaac Asimov (amusing short stories, and not really science fiction).

Day ? (the counting has gone awry) - however I'm at book 355 and I've got 5 reading days left, so that's 2 books a day to read. I can do it if the books are thin enough!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Ecclesiastes, or, The Preacher

I'm glad I read this because it has filled a gap in my amazing ignorance of the Bible. I liked the language too (King James authorised version), and it was instructive to learn that this was the source of so many of those sayings we use today eg "all is vanity", and "one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever". It's not something I'm planning to read in its entirety again though.

My other book was The Kiss by Kate Chopin, which was a small selection of short stories. I'd never read this author before but her work was amazingly modern (she died in 1904). I'd like to read more of her work; the New Orleans setting is fascinating.

Day 358; book 353

Thursday, 1 October 2009

More short books

The World According to Lucy by Charles M. Schulz - I had to sympathise with Lucy, who when she asks why her little boyfriend never calls her cutie and is told "Because I don't think you're very cute," says: "I hate reasons". Sometimes I hate them too.

Birds of a Feather by Ben Okri - you have to admire the self-confidence (however misplaced) of an author who begins by saying, "It sometimes seems to me that our days are poisoned by too many words" and then goes on with too many words himself for ANOTHER 14 PAGES! Next he writes an essay on story telling. He states that, "The great essays in story-telling are done in stories themselves". Despite this he continues with his essay on story-telling (and not as a story). I might have known I wouldn't like this because on the back it said it was "inspirational" - usually a warning sign for me.

A Model by Anais Nin - ooh, er, missus! Well-written and racy, although you sometimes long for the characters just to have a nice cup of tea instead ...

Scottish Names by Dougal McClintock (the short version given away by The Scotsman) - informative and sometimes witty guide to the origins and meanings of Scottish names.

Day 357; book 351

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin

This was short stories, mainly set in post-war Harlem. Very evocative of time and place despite being written in a sparse sort of style, but kind of gloomy.

The Dragon on the Roof was a book of short stories by Terry Jones. Well-written and amusing but not that gripping (they are childrens' stories though).

Day 355; Book 347

Monday, 28 September 2009

Weekend reading

First, thanks to Gil for suggestions in Friday's comments (my own comment facility isn't working). I'll see if we've got those in the library. Thanks also to Jayne for a bag of skinny books - much appreciated.

Over the weekend I read:

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett - not boring like I had feared but existential angst in plenty.

Esprit du Corps by Lawrence Durrell - having seen Gerald Durrell's viewpoint of his brother Lawrence I wanted to see what his writing was like. This is an amusing account of the post-war diplomatic service. I must try one of his novels though.

Happy Christmas by Daphne du Maurier - a clever but rather depressing reworking of the Christmas story.

More Friends of the Doctor by Isabel Cameron - well written but very dated pre-war fictional anecdotes set in the Highlands.

High and Low by John Betjeman and John Betjeman: poems, selected by Hugo Williams - two volumes of Betjeman's verse. He is the master of evocation, using familiar objects to bring out homely settings. Clever and amusing word-play. The end of the poems often have their own existential angst, though, all the more powerful for having had such a cosy setting.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart - I like this author so was pleased to find one I hadn't read before. Slightly dated but not too bad and a well-written mystery. I must try reading My Brother Michael again, by the same author, but set in Greece.

Day 354; book 345

Friday, 25 September 2009

My calculations are out!

Turns out I have only 14 days to finish 27 books! Looks like those books will be very short. Here's what I read last night:

The Frightful First World War by Terry Deary. Funny and horrifying in equal measures, but poor old Rupert Brooke gets it in the neck again. Posho Rupe seems like an easy target. He's criticised for glorifying war (although most people at that stage of the war thought similarly), and then at the same time he's criticised for not dying a hero's death himself (he died from an infected insect bite). He still wrote some wonderful poetry though and just because it doesn't fit in with today's interpretation of the war, which has the benefit of hindsight, doesn't mean that his poetry cannot stand alongside the anti-war poets like Wilfred Owen.

I also read George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl. I quite liked it, but I think a lot of its appeal to children must be the wish-fulfillment element of admitting that some relatives, even our nearest and dearest, can be quite horrible. Even better is the inflicting of horrible deaths on them!

Day 351 (new calculation); book 338 = 14 days to read 27 books!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bluff your way in the quantum universe

I shall, thanks!

(Slightly disappointing to find out that some of this stuff I had studied in Physics at school. I was expecting something more sensational ...)

But I did like Schrodinger's cat, although apparently Stephen Hawking doesn't. If he really said this, it's very funny: "When I hear the words Schrodinger's cat," he said, "I wish I were able to reach for my gun."

I also liked the Double Slit experiment. Particles or waves? This will tell you.

Day 345; book 338

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

In which I raid the children's shelves again

I read The Five and the Mystery of the Emeralds by Claude Voilier, which is one of those books where an author continues a famous series (in this case the Famous Five). Not bad, but too modern for the Famous Five I thought. When I was little I didn't even like those editions of the Famous Five with modern illustrations - I liked the old-fashioned ones with Julian and Dick wearing those swimsuits with tops! It doesn't fool children when you try to update stories anyway.

Day 344; book 337

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Anne proposes, Mr F disposes ...

of his income, ha ha.

We're going to hear Christopher Brookmyre speak at the Wigtown Book Festival. (My idea, Mr F's funds). He should be an amusing speaker, and his latest book is out now.

In the meantime I have been reading Asterix and the Golden Sickle.

Day 343; book 336

Monday, 21 September 2009

More Harry Hill

Didn't like it so much this time though - it was The Further Adventures of the Queen Mum and I didn't find it as funny. Plus nothing could compete with Tim *sighs fondly*

I also read Better Than a Rest by Pauline McLynn about Leo Street, who is a Dublin female private detective. Very amusing in parts and an interesting outcome, but I won't be rushing to get the others in the series. Pauline McLynn is the actress who played Mrs Doyle in the Father Ted comedies. She must be multi-talented because she also graduated in History of Art.

Then I read Asterix and the Great Crossing (Asterix accidentally discovers America ...)

Day 342; book 335

Friday, 18 September 2009

Tim the Tiny Horse at Large by Harry Hill

Another in the ultimate of cuteness that is Tim. This time Fly gets married and Tim is best man.

Day 339; book 332

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tim the Tiny Horse by Harry Hill

The sweetest book in the world ... ever!

Tim is a pony so small he lives in a matchbox with a Tic Tac conservatory. These are his adventures, during which not much really happens but it is all observed with the surreal humour of Harry Hill.

This is a children's book (supposedly) but I think it would be wasted on the little blighters.

Day 338; book 331

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Asterix and Tintin

Thanks to Kim for lending me these comic books. I knew the characters of course but had never actually read them. There's a surprising amount of reading in them. My favourite has to be Snowy the dog who "comments" on the action with cute expressions on his face. The fact that Tintin is a boy detective who lives in his own flat seems to be one of those accepted comic book conventions. Asterix was less for children than I had thought - quite a few of the jokes I don't think children would get.

Day 337; book 330

ps my Books So Far list isn't letting me add any titles so I must remember to count them in these posts.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is another children's book which I read last night. It's by the author of the Little House on the Prairie series, which are her memoirs from the last part of the nineteenth century. This is sentimental but not mawkish so I can recommend it. It is charming and the author has a good memory of what it is to be a child.

Here's a page about Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's interesting, because apparently there is some doubt about the authorship of the books - the consensus seems to be that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the books but that they were heavily edited by her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was a much more famous author at the time.

Day 336; book 328

Monday, 14 September 2009

E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton and other children's classics

Here's what I read over the weekend:

The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit
The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton
Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
Jill Enjoys her Ponies by Ruby Ferguson

I loved these when I was little. I think those librarians who banned Enid Blyton because they said she wasn't a good writer were really making political decisions based on her attitudes to class and her sexism. She was of her day though, and to prevent children from reading them is to deprive them of a lot of fun (and to underestimate their intelligence and ability to recognise outmoded attitudes).

Ruby Ferguson's books are still jolly funny!

Day 335; Book 327

Sunday, 13 September 2009

My Life in Books Meme

I saw this meme on True Crime Book Reviews. I'm not completely sure what a meme is, but here goes with the format and my answers:

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions.
Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe Yourself: Daughter of Fortune

How do you feel: Guilty as Sin

Describe where you currently live: Old Pittenweem

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Espedair Street

Your favorite form of transport: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Your best friend is: The Tailor of Gloucester

What's the weather like: Snow Falling on Cedars

Favourite time of day: The Remains of the Day

What is life to you: Something to Do

Your fear: Bad Medicine

What is the best advice you have to give: Cut and Run

Thought for the Day: Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

How I would like to die: With a Strange Device

My soul's present condition: Among the Missing

Care to have a go?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I've been away

But here's the books I've read recently:

Children's classics: Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson and The Children of Greene Knowe by Lucy M Boston.

Two books in one free with Mr F's Sci-Fi Now magazine: Ultimate Guide to Sci Fi Literature (vol 1) by Matt Hardrahan and The 50 Greatest Moments of Doctor Who by Andrew Rilstone.

Borrowed from Jo: Scarred Hearts by Max Blecher and The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale

Bought in Oxford: Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now by John Humphrys.

Sorry, no time to comment today!

Day 331; Book 324

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Jeweler's Bench Book by Charles Lewton-Brain

A book thoughtfully provided by the Rock Chick so her Papa can build her a jeweller's bench for Christmas! (It's American, hence the spelling). Naturally I decided to read it.

It was most enlightening, because up till now I had thought of jewellery-making and silversmithing as a dainty craft ... how wrong was I! The outcome may be dainty but there is brute force and hazards involved. Now I am worried about the Rock Chick surrounded by dangerous heat, chemicals and fumes, which just goes to show that ignorance can be bliss.

Maybe I will get over it if she makes me something nice ...

Day 325; Book 315

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Apologies and catch-up

Having been obsessed with moi and outings for moi recently (it's been my birthday), it's time to catch up with what I've been reading. Here we go:

Deception is one of the books for children and teenagers featuring Grace Cavendish, a maid of honour at the court of Elizabeth I. Quite fun and doesn't shy away from the nastier aspects of life. I would have loved this when I was about 10. Here's a link to the series.

Another classic children's book is The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. Little children would love this, especially with the repetition of the phrase "No more twist" and the happy ending, and the illustrations of course.

Then I read Quest for a Kelpie by Frances Hendry. This is billed as a children's book but I think it could appear just as happily on the shelves for adults (you could compare it with Kidnapped). It's seen from the point of view of an old lady looking back on her childhood in Nairn at the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. There's lots of period and local detail. I don't normally like historical novels but this one has an exciting story and a likeable heroine.

Then Mr F had bought the latest Jeffery Deaver, Roadside Crosses (hardback, but half price in Asda). Good story and plenty of misdirection as usual until the baddie is unmasked. A bit too much explanation about blogs and posting though - surely most people would know about this (most people on here anyway!)

Finally Mr F had also bought the last part of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein trilogy (Dead and Alive). I don't care for horror, but fortunately this one had plenty of humorous asides as well. Very enjoyable.

Well, I've got behind again so looks like I will have to take up Elizabeth's suggestion of reading all the Beatrix Potters ...

Day 326; book 314

Friday, 28 August 2009

This looks good ...

... Fame: from the Bronze Age to Britney by Tom Payne.

There's a review here and another one here.

Have you ever lamented the modern tendency to worship celebrities and indeed to make celebrities out of people with no discernible talent? Well apparently we've been doing it since the dawn of civilization, and it doesn't reflect too well on us. Tom Payne teaches classics and he knows his stuff, and cleverly shows the connections between the past and the present, even comparing the deaths of rock stars to human sacrifice.

As an avid reader of Heat myself, I must get this book.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller

Well, I didn't expect THAT ending. I liked this book, and thought it was interesting the way your sympathy for the characters changed. Lots of people didn't like it though - see their views here.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton was as bizarre as you might expect from the director of films like Beetlejuice. It was strangely touching in some places and truly horrid in others - and funny at the same time. A tiny, tiny read, ideal for my purposes at this stage in the Book-a-Day.

Day 319; Book 309

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Thank goodness this was so short. It's not meaningful, just overworked mysticism. One of the favoured formats seems to be the posing of apparent contradictions - but if you look more deeply into it, they really are just contradictions. I am sure this is the sort of book people would dip into at random to find the answer to a problem - but really if you had already prepared yourself to find an answer, you could do that with a phone book. It's written in the style of the King James Bible, which just adds to the effect of the pretentious faux-mysticism.

Some people actually like this stuff - read their misguided comments here.

Day 317; Book 307

Monday, 24 August 2009

My Family and Other Animals

I'd never read this so thanks to Philippa for filling in this gap in my reading. I loved this, mainly for the author's description of his family, rather than the wildlife, although I did love reading about young Gerry's pets who were all proper little characters. Those were the days when you could go out and dig up wild flowers or remove young birds from nests without thinking anything of it. Of course it was a much freer existence altogether. Gerry and his family certainly didn't worry about stranger danger. Of course if wasn't all idyllic because the family leave Corfu in 1939, just before the start of the War.

I also read a Dr Seuss which Jo thoughtfully lent me on the grounds I could read it really quickly - an excellent thought at this stage in my book-a-day year! The Rock Chick first learned to read with a Dr Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat. ETA no it wasn't! I've just looked this up and it's a different book ... in the Rock Chick's one somebody tries on lots of different hats. Wonder what it was?

Finally I read The Body Artist by Dom DeLillo. This is a very clever book but if that's your overall impression of a book I think there's something wrong. It didn't exactly employ the stream of consciousness technique, but it might as well have (grrr). Plus you are not exactly going to warm to a main character who is a conceptual artist of the sort whose audience walk out when they can't stand the tedium of her performance. I didn't walk out - I stayed to the end of the book but I won't be reading any more by this author.

Day 316; Book 306

Friday, 21 August 2009

Elizabeth's cunning plan

She thinks I should read the Beatrix Potter books to get me to the end of my book-a-day year without too much effort! I may stop off at the children's library on the way home ... although I won't read anything too whimsical. I don't like whimsical, which is why I could never make any progress with Winnie the Pooh.

The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

Lillian Beckwith based her light, humorous books on her stay in the Hebrides during and just after the war. Read more about them here. I thought I'd read this but it must have been another one in the series, so it was fun to read the very first one. A nice gentle read (which nevertheless doesn't shy away from life in the raw). I wouldn't have been too pleased by my portrayal if I had been one of the locals, but then the author does poke fun at herself as well.

I think my mum would like to read these again too, especially as I've just read that Lillian Beckwith lived at Breakish on Skye during the War (so did Mum! I wonder if they ever met?)

Day 313; book 303

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Cockburn's A-Z of After-Dinner Entertainment

£2 from an antique shop in Dunkeld! And Mr F paid!

This was an amusing book about after-dinner speaking, written by Giles Brandreth. It starts with some tips for the would-be speechmaker (practise a lot, be prepared for things going wrong and keep it short!) Then there's examples of jokes. Unfortunately as the book was sponsored by Cockburn's Port, there are a lot of references to it which make Mr Brandreth look rather sycophantic.

Day 311; Book 302

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis

I'm nearly at the end of the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries! Thanks to Anna for keeping me supplied with these. As usual with Falco you get a mystery plus more developments in his extended and often annoying family.

Then I read the short novel Special Delivery by Iselin C. Hermann. It's in the form of letters, not usually my favourite style, but the author manages to transcend the form to give a clear picture of Delphine and her life. I wasn't expecting the ending ...

Day 310; Book 301

Monday, 17 August 2009

Test your navigation skills

This week's New Scientist has a feature by Chris Berdik called Lost: "Birds, rats and hamsters are able to find their way around with consumate ease. So how come we can't navigate our way out of a paper bag?"

This is a very interesting article, especially if you've ever struggled to find your car in a car park. It features a report on "developmental topographical disorientation" as identified by Giuseppe Iaria of the University of Calgary and Jason Barton at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

You can test your own skills in association with their study here.

Richard Bach

I read three Richard Bach books over the weekend. Thanks to David for lending me these and other short books as I try to reach my target (less than 2 months to go!)

I didn't take to Mr Bach's works though, in fact I thought it was a lot of hippy nonsense. I would say it was well-meaning hippy nonsense, but in The Reluctant Messiah particularly there is a lot about how you only allow things to happen that you want to happen. This seems to be blaming people for their own misfortunes (which may be true some of the time but certainly isn't all of the time). It makes Mr Bach seem rather smug and uncaring, which is not how he planned to come across I'm sure. The Reluctant Messiah is also full of "meaningful" quotes which invariably made me think of that 60s/70s saying:

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me, and be my friend". *


Here's an antidote from Mr F:

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don't walk beside me either; in fact, just b*gger off and leave me alone".

Ah, that feels better.

*I looked at quote sites and they variously attribute this to Albert Camus and to Tennyson ...
which is amusingly unlikely.
Day 309; Book 299

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

Small but perfectly dark in tone, The Cement Garden is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Not because it's not beautifully written, but because you will find yourself laughing out loud at some outrageous situations, and then looking around shiftily: "Did I really laugh at that?" It's a tragedy too, and a lesson in how keeping yourself to yourself can be a Very Bad Thing.

Day 306; book 296

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

This is skillfully and poetically written, but then I'm not actually looking for poetry when I read prose. Not too much plot either. I really like more to HAPPEN when I'm reading a book*.

I also re-read The Virgin and the Gypsy by D H Lawrence. There's the usual Lawrentian guff about feelings (for feelings, read sex). There's a Freudian candlestick. There's also an hilariously-agonising description of the tedium of a never-ending evening en famille at the rectory. The book is worth reading for that alone (I don't usually associate Lawrence with hilarity).

Just edited to add: to be fair, the Napoleonic Wars happen, and we march on Moscow ... perhaps I should have said I prefer a book where the plot is more complex.

Day 305; book 295

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

New blog on my reading list

Scroll down on the left to find the hilarious Craftastrophe where people make things and you really wish they hadn't.

Wandering: Notes and Sketches by Hermann Hesse

Kind of slow and kind of boring, but also pleasantly soporific. However, don't rush out to buy it.

Day 303; Book 293

Monday, 10 August 2009

American Noir

Over the weekend I read 3 short books from 1930s America. They certainly were dark, but the authors managed to make you sympathise with the criminal main characters. The prose was very readable and modern, especially compared with a 1940s noir novel which I started but didn't make any progress with. It was just too self-consciously clever but these 3 I recommend:

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy
Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson

The last is the most political but is also an absorbing modern tragedy. They Shoot Horses is set in one of those Depression-era marathon dances.

I finished up by reading a science-fiction novel* (I know, I practically read it by accident). The original concept was very reminiscent of the start of the tv programme Lost, although this book predates by series by 30+ years. It really grabbed you at the start but then fizzled out a bit ...

*forgot to say that it was Seahorse in the Sky by Edmund Cooper
Day 302; Book 292

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Furniture: Twentieth Century Design by Penny Sparke

This was a concise history of modern furniture design (although it only went up to 1986). Some snippets:

Teak furniture was very popular in the 1950s, apparently because the war in Indo-China meant that huges swathes of forest were cut down for military access. Who knew?

The Scandinavians have always had a socialist angle to their furniture production, designing it to fit in small flats and so that good design was available to all. The Italians, not so much.

Political control of furniture can only work up to a certain extent. After austerity furniture was abandoned in Britain after the war, so was the style. People chose exactly what they wanted to spend their money on and it wasn't the official style. Nanny states today, please note.

Day 298; Book 288

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Last G.I. Bride Wore Tartan by Fred Urquhart

Well, this is educational. I'm afraid I had never heard of Fred Urquhart and yet he was a prolific and well-received author in his day. Here's a link which includes his biographical details. This is a book of short stories which are at one time very definitely written just after the war, yet also surprisingly modern. Perhaps it is just that we are used to seeing this era depicted in films of the time, which of course were much more subject to censorship.

Urquhart knew the painters Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. See how educational a book-a-day can be? I hadn't even realised they were real characters when I was reading the John Byrne play *blushes*

Day 297; book 287

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

In other news ...

I made grilled peaches last night. Yum and thrice yum. Halve the peaches and take out the stones. Dip the cut sides in icing sugar. Grill cut-sides up under a low heat (you can turn it up once the peaches are nicely warmed). Take out when the sugar has gone brown and crispy.

How strange ...

I added a post yesterday about the books I read at the weekend, and now it's disappeared. I can see the books on my list so I'm not imagining it ... Just a quick summary then of the vanished books: This Book Will Change Your Life by A M Homes (dark, funny, ultimately hopeful); The Accusers by Lindsey Davis (Roman legal goings-on); The Lovers by John Connolly (dark, dark, maybe ultimately hopeful).

Day 296; Book 286

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Road to Ruin by Siegfried Sassoon

Sassoon seems to one of the less-well-known of the war poets, at least nowadays (which makes me want to read him more).

The Road to Ruin is a poem published in 1933. In it Sassoon visualises what might happen over the next 10 years. His nightmare vision is obviously concerned about war coming again, but it is written in the vocabulary of the First World War, with London succumbing to gas. It's ironic that the next war was to end with a weapon more terrible than he was able to imagine.

Day 293; Book 283

Cock-a-Doodle Doo by Robert S McLeish

This is "a Scots comedy in one act" published in 1990 but set before the First World War. It's an amusing farce and looks as if there would be plenty of laughs if you saw it performed. The dialect is consistent but it looks like Glaswegian to me - still maybe the farm where it's set was near Glasgow ...

Day 293; Book 282

Thursday, 30 July 2009

In which I am put in the shade by a lady of 91!

Thanks to Jo for alerting me to this news item, which is all about Louise Brown, 91, who joined her local library in 1946 and since then has borrowed at least 6 books every week, recently increasing it to about 12 every 7 days! Mrs Brown, I salute you!

Bodily Secrets by William Trevor

This was a book of short stories by the Irish writer William Trevor. The prose seemed very spare at first and not really my sort of thing but fortunately I persevered. The stories are fairly dark but not completely pessimistic. I'll look out for more of his books now.

Day 292; Book 281

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Byron and Japan

First up was a short book, Byron and Women Novelists by Caroline Franklin. Good: it featured one of my favourite literary bad boys, Byron of course. Bad: I don't like any literary analysis featuring the word "intertextuality". Good again: the last 6 pages were references so I didn't feel obliged to read them. Also good: finding out how Byron's scandalous affair with his half-sister rebounded later on the innocent writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe!

Shashin: Nineteenth-Century Japanese Studio Photography was much more interesting. Who knew there was such a craze for photography in Yokohama after 1853? The craze was partly fuelled by tourists buying views of Japan which they collected in beautiful albums to show off to their friends. Originally the photographers were Western, but then the Japanese took it up as well. The photographs in the book were beautifully hand-tinted, sometimes using brushes with a single hair. Some of the women in the book look much more modern and natural than their counterparts in Victorian photographs from Britain. An interesting book about a little-known aspect of photography.

Day 292; Book 280

Monday, 27 July 2009

Kate Atkinson

I finished When Will There Be Good News. It's great! The beginning is attention-grabbing (though sad) and then there's quite a bit where you don't exactly know who all the characters are and exactly what's happening. (Several of the characters are very appealing though). Then the author wraps it up with a masterful flourish - very satisfying.

I also read Hue and Cry, which is a new novel by Shirley McKay. It's set in the 16th century in St Andrews and it was fascinating to read about the places that you know. The book is very readable too and apparently it's the start of a series featuring Hew Cullan. An intriguing mystery with a humane attitude.

I started the latest John Connolly but I didn't get far because I decided to spend time sorting out my paperwork (mountainous). And in other news I got a phone call from my credit card company alerting me to fraud on my card! Well done to the card company for being on the ball and picking this up - and hopefully I won't be liable for any of the spending! Will keep you posted.

Day 291; Book 278

Friday, 24 July 2009

Quick Reads

I read The Observer Book of Scandal, all about scandals in the news from serious ones to frivolous ones. From Bill Clinton to Oscar Wilde it was all here.

Change the World, 9 to 5 was a book about improving your working life. Some of it was kind of predictable, but I liked the page about remembering to praise people (it came with a sheet of gold star stickers).

Still reading When will there be Good News ... and wondering how it will turn out. It jumps back and forth a bit and plays with the reader's expectations.

Day 288; Book 276

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

In the middle of ...

When will There be Good News by Kate Atkinson and it's really good - a bit upsetting at the start but now it's getting intriguing. Some nice characters too. I went to bed early though so I didn't make much progress.

An apology again to anyone who has left me a comment and I haven't replied *blushes* but Blogger still won't let me *stamps feet*

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Jay Fowler

This is an intelligent, warm and witty book. The narrator is reminiscent of Mary Smith in Cranford in that she observes but does not really take part in the action (in fact, we never learn who she is). It's been made into a film as well. Well worth reading although I could have done without the synopses of the Austen books at the end (and if you did need them, you would probably want to find them at the beginning of the book). Great observation of character.

Day 285; Book 274

Monday, 20 July 2009

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

Another readable novel from Maeve Binchy with her usual mastery of language. Some of the characters have appeared before in other novels so we get to catch up with what has happened to them. Warm and witty but not sentimental and well worth reading.

Day 284; Book 273

Someone Else's Kids by Torey Hayden

Another of the books by teacher Torey Hayden based on her experiences as a special needs teacher. Torey is very honest about her own perceived shortcomings and about the terrible behaviour some of these children can come up with, but she is an inspiring writer who obviously cares about her pupils.

Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz

A good idea and an unexpected ending, but I wasn't so keen on some of the use of language. Dean Koontz seems to use unusual words sometimes just for the sake of it which distracts from the story rather than enhancing it. Also watch out if you are not a dog-lover.

Friday, 17 July 2009

500 Bracelets

Another in the jewellery series, consisting chiefly of images and not too much talk about meaning ... This is studio jewellery so it may be designed to provoke comment rather than to wear, but there were some beautiful pieces nevertheless. The 500 series is an excellent one for aspiring artists.

Day 281; Book 270

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Colquhoun and MacBryde by John Byrne

This is another play by John Byrne but it wasn't nearly as much to my taste as The Slab Boys or Tutti Frutti. It's much darker and the humour of the characters more cruel. I missed the banter from the Slab Boys (although both that play and Tutti Frutti had their own dark sides).

Next I read 500 Pendants & Lockets: Contemporary Interpretations of Classic Adornments which La Rock Chick had made the mistake of having sent to the house. Mwahahaha! Of course I read it (actually she said I could). Looking at 500 pictures of jewellery takes a surprisingly long time as you study the ones you like and recoil from some of the creepy ones. Much of this is art rather than wearable but some are both. Not too much pretentious twaddle either.

Day 280; Book 269

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Silver jewellery

Click here for your chance to win a piece of handcrafted jewellery by the Rock Chick aka Holly Wilcox who is a jewellery-design student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art:

I know I'm biased but I think it is an original and beautiful piece of work!

*Oops, I couldn't make it a hyperlink so please copy and paste into your browser address bar or even easier scroll down my reading list and you can click directly onto Holly's blog.

In Praise of Heat Magazine

I love Heat! Not so much because of the celebrity news but because of their clever humour. Here's their succinct description of the Pre-Raphaelites:

"the 19th-century art-fops who really dug nature, medieval myths and hot ginger chicks".

The Pre-Raphs in a nutshell really!

And here's their take on Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

"Painter, poet and dirty stop-out".

This is all in relation to a new tv drama starting next Tuesday on BBC2, and cleverly called Desperate Romantics (see what they did there, as Heat used to say).

Photography books

I read two photography books last night which are part of the Phaidon 55 series. I have to confess never having heard of Willy Ronis or Lisette Model but some of their images did seem familiar. I enjoyed looking at the photographs but some of the commentary, not so much. Either I am too dim to understand it or it was pretentious twaddle (or possibly both).

Day 279; Book 267

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Date, Marry or Avoid

It's the title of a tv programme but I'm going to steal it for the books I've read over the last couple of weeks.


Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King; Mister B Gone by Cliver Barker; The Blue Bedroom and other Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher; Twilight Children by Torey Hayden; The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner; Old Pittenweem by Eric Eunson; Girl in a Pink Hat by Nanzie McLeod; The Slab Boys by John Byrne; Tutti Frutti by John Byrne. I'd go on a second date with John Byrne, Torey Hayden and Rosamunde Pilcher.


Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb, and Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper: not even a pre-nup needed for a long-term relationship with these.


The Shakespeare Secret by J L Carrell (should be interesting but too contrived)
Mercy by Jodi Picoult (didn't like the characters and didn't care about the dilemma. Also hated the Brigadoonery of the Scottish characters)

Day 278; Book 265

Friday, 26 June 2009

Back in a fortnight ...

... if not before.

I'm taking a break (at home) (which is the seaside anyway)

With a Strange Device by Eric Frank Russell

This is a science fiction/espionage novel from 1964. It's well-enough written, although rather dated and dry, but unfortunately I picked up on the twist early on. *sighs*

Day 260; Book 250

Elton Ware

Elton Ware is a type of pottery produced from about 1880 to 1920, which I read about in Elton Ware: the Pottery of Sir Edmund Elton by Malcolm Haslam. Sir Edmund was a technically-minded baronet who decided to make his own pottery and after much trial and error started to produced work which was sinous and organic and sometimes even sinister ... here is a link to a Wikipedia page about him, but unfortunately with only one image. The best source of images seems to be this book.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Shakespeare - not so clever now?

While reading Hamlet, I was struck by how many of the phrases he uses we use today. In fact there's whole websites devoted to this subject. Here's one, where they say, "Many quotes from the works of William Shakespeare have entered into common usage".

But what if they didn't? What if Shakespeare's plays were actually full of cliches he'd ripped off from common usage of the day, ha ha! How would we know?

So the moral could be, fill your writing with cliches from 2009 and in only a few centuries you too could be the source of quotes! Except sadly it wouldn't work, because everything, even the most mundane, is recorded in writing these days, unlike in Shakespeare's. Foiled!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Quick catch-up

I've read:

Giotto by Camillo Semenzato. This is the sort of book we cataloguers would describe as "chiefly ill." which is good for a book-a-dayer ... Giotto's frescoes seem to span the Middle Ages and the start of the Renaissance, with his solid, three-dimensional figures accompanied by an endearing lack of perspective. I noticed that my undergraduate self had altered the name of the person responsible for layout of the book from Wim to Wimp. How I must have larfed at the time!

Little Houses of Fife was a beautifully designed booklet from 1974, about the progress of the National Trust for Scotland's Little Houses Improvement Scheme. There were lots of before and after photos of the houses which had been saved (some not so little - they must mean little as opposed to mansions or castles).

Getting Around the Clyde: a Pictorial Guide by Jack House must have been published just after the war. Even with black and white pictures though it makes the scenery down the Clyde look enticing - so that's another location for me to visit.

The King at the Front: Official Photographs in Colours is a Daily Mail publication from the First World War years. The photographs look more like paintings, but I suppose that it because they have been tinted. While taking an sanitised view as you would expect, they still include photographs of the trenches and of an unknown soldier's grave.

I read Hamlet again to refresh my memory of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern (after reading Tom Stoppard's play). It was pretty easy to read - but possibly that's because the whole play is so familiar.

Day 258; Book 248

Monday, 22 June 2009

Among the Missing by Richard Laymon

This was a horrid book.

I'm not sure when it was first written (my copy was published in 1999), but it seems pretty unreconstructed. It's pervy yet dull. None of the characters are likeable and they have silly names like "Bass" and "Harney". Why? It's only merit was it didn't take long to read.

Adam Smith: a Primer by Eamonn Butler

Living only about 20 miles from the birthplace of Adam Smith, I decided it was time I learned more about him. I wasn't brave enough to tackle the 600-odd pages of The Wealth of Nations but I did find this clearly-written little volume. Here is a very topical quote from the philosopher and father of modern economics:

"It is the highest impertinence and presumption ... in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense ... They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will".
The Wealth of Nations, Book II, ch. III, p.346, para 36.

So it looks like floating duck houses and moat cleaning are nothing new!

Here is a link to more information on Adam Smith.

Friday, 19 June 2009

A Passionate Man by Joanna Trollope

I hated this!

The writing was good and your view of the characters was cleverly changed - but the protagonist was awful. I hated him. In this Trollope and the last one I read she seems to be saying that so long as something "makes you feel alive" then any behaviour is okay, grr. Repress those feelings I say, and don't hurt other people.

She also featured an old woman whom I think was meant to be feisty and adorable, but she was just really horrible.

I got fed up with all the talk about prep schools as well. To the barricades, comrades!

Day 253; Book 241

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex by Owen Chase

This true account apparently inspired Hermann Melville to write Moby Dick. I've tried twice, but never got past the second or third chapter of Moby Dick, but this was much more readable. The attack by the whale on the ship, which Melville apparently makes the climax of his novel, is to me actually the least interesting part of the story. How the crew survived is what I wanted to read about. The first mate, Owen Chase, wrote this account only a couple of years after the disaster happened and it's in archaic yet clear language. It takes you into another world completely.

Day 252; Book 240

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Alone and palely loitering ...

I finished The Wisdom of Crowds. Ironic, non?

It got a bit technical towards the end, with lots of information about spread betting, politics and finance. However there were interesting insights to be found, for example on the empowerment beloved of management. This has to be genuine for it to work: you can gather all the opinions of workers that you like, but if it is management which uses those to make the ultimate decisions, you don't get the benefit of the "wisdom of crowds" (decisions made by diverse crowds have been shown to be the best decisions). Also your workers feel distinctly used and unempowered!

Day 251; Book 239

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Scotland's Medieval Burghs: an Archaeological Heritage in Danger

I decided to read this after visiting various Scottish medieval burghs at the weekend (as well as living in one).

It was more of a booklet than a book. It was written in 1972, so hopefully its pleas for excavation and recording of medieval sites (before they were destroyed by new building projects) have been heard. I've certainly heard of a few excavations recently although no doubt there is always more that could be done.

Good old Wikipedia has a list of Scottish burghs here. Pittenweem is a royal burgh, unlike some of its neighbours, ha ha!

Day 250; Book 238

An Apology ...

to people who have left me a comment recently. I'd like to leave a reply BUT BLOGGER WON'T LET ME! I don't know why ...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wigtown, Scotland's Book Town

Mr F and I visited Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway at the weekend. It's "Scotland's Book Town" with 19 bookshops (which I think was started 10 years ago as a regeneration project). The town is an ancient one with a harbour (now a lonely spot) going back to the thirteenth century. Here's an image from their website:


We're planning to go back for the festival in September, featuring Christopher Brookmyre among many other authors.

We also visited Kirkcudbright, the town where Jessie M King the illustrator lived.


Her house is now a B&B. There are many artists in the town nowadays as well and they have an open-studios week in July.

So not much reading done over the weekend but a literary location visited, as well as an artistic one.

A Village Affair by Joanna Trollope

An Aga-saga where the moral of the tale might be that not even an Aga can bring you happiness ... this book has the author's usual perfectly-observed children and clever characterisation where your opinion of the characters can change as the book goes on. Beautifully-written and one you won't want to put down.

Day 249; book 237

Friday, 12 June 2009

No books read but scrapbook finished

It took me until midnight last night, frantically cutting and sticking. Why did I leave it till the last minute? Human nature I suppose. I was pleased with it in the end, although I've just thought of something I have to amend before I hand it over tonight ...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I'm a bad book-a-dayer ...

at the moment, because I've got a scrapbook to finish for my local roller hockey club before tomorrow night. I love deadlines; they are very motivating! I got three pages done last night and had a lot of fun illustrating the coaches' page with Cartman from South Park in his "Respect my authorit-ay" phase. Then I listed the committee members under the heading "You can't get the staff these days". I thought it was funny - hope they don't think it's too cheeky! My third page was a bit of a disappointment so I might have to change it if I have time. Three or so pages to go tonight and then it's done.

So what with decorating the bathroom (still ongoing and not a stroke of paint applied yet), my books have slipped recently. Must get back on track, especially as I feature in our staff magazine today ...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowieki

I've just started this but it seems like a fascinating book (with lots of case studies which I like). Here's a quote from the website about the book:

"In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future".

I don't quite understand how this would be, but perhaps somebody mathematically-minded will be along to explain it (if it can be explained by maths). I'm prepared to be convinced by examples though.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Woof! Or more like snarl, in this tale of nature red in tooth and claw. Written at the end of the 19th century, this had surprisingly-modern mystical elements. Sixties-like, but definitely without the peace and love (except Buck's adoration for the man who rescues him). The Alaskan gold-rush and the Alaskan wilderness are evocatively described. I thought I had read this before but didn't recognise it, so I think it must have been London's White Fang that I read before.

Day 243; Book 236

Monday, 8 June 2009

The Weekend of Short Novels

I finished Assassination Day in the end. Ho hum.

I went back to Sherston's Progress, and the book does move away from the hospital setting and back to the war. Sassoon's style is surprisingly modern. Psychologically he is honest and complex. Despite hating the war he ends up going back. It's refreshing to read of his ambivalent attitude, as too often nowadays the First World War is seen only through the eyes of war poets like Wilfred Owen as just a misguided and simplistic sacrifice of millions, whereas to many of the participants it must have been more complex than that.

Hothouse by the East River had a surprising and satisfying ending.

Gigi by Colette was tres charmant (or should that be charmante?) Here is a link to the musical version which I'd now like to see.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann was atmospheric but slow. Mr F has warned me off the film as the ultimate in tedium, but then he did have to watch it night after night when he was working at the New Picture House. Here is a link to an image of Bjorn Andresen who played Tadjio the beautiful object of desire in the film.

Finally I read the script of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. Again there's a film which I haven't seen. It has a clever tagline which pretty well sums up the plot: Amadeus. The man. The music. The magic. The madness. The murder. The mystery. The motion picture!

Day 242; Book 235

Friday, 5 June 2009

False starts

I started a thriller two days ago. It's Assassination Day by Oliver Jacks. It was published in 1976 and is a bit dated so I've hardly made any progress. So I picked up Sherston's Progress by Siegfried Sassoon. This is the third volume of a fictionalised memoir by the poet about his life before and during the First World War. This volume is about his time in Craiglockhart Hospital. Pat Barker's Regenaration partly covers the same subject (featuring the poet and soldier Wilfred Owen) so unfortunately the whole thing seemed too similar to that work and I got fed up reading it. After that confession I must try again, particularly as Sassoon's book came first (Regeneration wasn't written until the 1990s)!

So I have no completed books to report at all. Now I'm in the middle of The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark, and after an unpromising start this has really drawn me in. What is reality here and what is fantasy? Who is insane and who isn't? Is the character from the past really who he seems?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

This is the famous play by Tom Stoppard, which I had always wanted to read. (Read, not watch! I am definitely a reader at heart). Fortunately I didn't know that this is described as an absurdist, exitentialist, tragicomedy or I would never have wanted to read it. Not burdened by these descriptions I was able to read the work and enjoy its comedy, its horror and tragedy, and the gradual unfolding of its plot. You do have to know Hamlet to understand what's happening, but a recent reading isn't necessary. I don't know what inspired Stoppard to write this, but I would agree that the title as spoken in Hamlet has a certain resonance well beyond the apparent baldness of the statement.

Day 238; Book 229

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

Yesterday's book was a very slim volume, Byron: [the] Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition Guide. This accompanied an exhibition held in 1974 illustrating the poet's life. The wording of the guide is allusive rather than direct and sometimes unintentionally comic. "His career, " it states, "was unusually rich in other directions, social, amatory and political ..." His "amatory career" was not so much rich as heroic! Later the guide coyly refers to "his half-sister, Augusta, who was to figure so importantly in his later life" - yes, as his incestuous lover, if rumours are to be believed.

Would Byron have been as famous as a poet if he had not also been the ultimate of bad boys, a rock star figure from the 19th century? Here's some more information.

Day 237; Book 228

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Why did I think I wouldn't like this book? I took against it for no good reason at all but eventually decided to read it. It is a masterpiece. The characterisation and complex structure work beautifully. It's funny but also sad. Very little is stated explicitly but the character of the butler and the story of his life is gradually revealed. A wonderful book.

I like to read books uninformed as to their content as much as possible, but here's a link if you would prefer to know more about the book. Scroll down for reviews (watch out for spoilers).

Day 236; Book 227

Monday, 1 June 2009

On Chesil Beach by Ian MacEwan

This is a beautifully-written book, but rarely can a wedding night have gone so wrong since Tess Durbeyfield married Angel Clare. Writers of misery memoirs would do well to study how MacEwan handles the possibility of abuse in the background. It's delicate and ambiguous, but it's there and it informs the rest of the novel. There have been conflicting opinions about the book but I think it is worth reading for the quality of the writing and the evocative prose.

Day 235; Book 226

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

This is quality chick lit, featuring a boss apparently modelled on the real-life Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, whose all-round scariness and unapproachability can be guessed at from her nickname "Nuclear Wintour". It's funny at times and touching at others and has been made into a famous film. It's predictable in parts but still enjoyable.

Death of a Gossip by M C Beaton

This is the first of the Hamish Macbeth books. I didn't enjoy this as much as the author's Agatha Raisin books, probably because although I hadn't seen many of them, I still had characters from the tv series in my head. It was strange to be visualising Robert Carlyle while reading a description of a red-haired Highlander. I don't think I'll go on with this series, which is a shame because there are lots of books in it to collect. The best bit was a joke which came right at the end.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Thank you, real-life IT Crowd!

Clever Fifecat had an email folder called "Current Work" and it was full of sub-folders of things I was working on, waiting for an answer to, etc.

Stoopid Fifecat deleted it while tidying up. Why?? I knew the moment I pressed delete I shouldn't have done it and there it all was, gone, into the ether and never to be seen again.

Well not until the IT people retrieved it for me because stuff on the server is backed up every night! Yay!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I'd read this before but it's a sort of desert-island book; you could read it again and again and find more in it each time.

Muriel Spark expertly interweaves past, present and future in this complex and compelling novel set in 1930s Edinburgh. Miss Brodie appears first as a wholly-admirable character, free-spirited and declaring that she is in her prime (which is an excellent idea! This will be the prime of Ms A Fifecat!) Gradually we become aware of the flaws in her character ...

By complete contrast and as I have books to catch up on, I read Terry Deary's Vicious Vikings (part of the Horrible Histories series written for children and teenagers). This was amusing, and I think I would have found it hilarious when I was younger. The illustrations were particularly funny. It was even proper history too, because nothing was presented as truth which could have had any doubt about it (sources and their likely reliability were examined). A good read, but possibly one which parents would buy for their children rather than the children buy themselves.

Day 230; Book 223

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Jupiter Myth by Lindsey Davis

This is another Falco mystery, and this one is set in Londinium itself. What a dump, according to Falco! There are bodies in the Thamesis of course and dodgy goings-on with a gangster takeover bid, and there's also tragedy for one of the characters.

Speaking of the ancient world, I really fancy a pair of those gladiator sandals! (Shallow, moi?) I think they would make my legs look stumpy though ...

Also off the agenda is a trip to the Bass Rock, a literary location as featured in R. L. Stevenson's Catriona. It would cost £190 for two though, so I think I'll look for a cheaper literary location to visit in the meantime. Any suggestions?

Day 229; Book 221

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The importance of grammar

On his 74th birthday, a man got a gift certificate from his wife. The certificate paid for a visit to a medicine man living on a nearby reservation who was rumored to have a wonderful cure for erectile dysfunction. After being persuaded, he drove to the reservation, handed his ticket to the medicine man and wondered what was in store for him.

The old medicine man carefully mixed a potion, handed it to him, and with a grip on his shoulder, warned, "This is powerful medicine and it must be respected. You take only a teaspoonful and then say '1-2-3.' When you do that, you will become more manly than you have ever been in your life and you can perform as long as you want."

The man was encouraged. As he walked away, he turned and asked, "How do I stop the medicine from working?"

"Your partner must say '1-2-3-4,' he responded. "But when she does, the medicine will not work again until the next full moon."

He was very eager to see if it worked, so he went home, showered, shaved, took a spoonful of the medicine, and then invited his wife to join him in the bedroom. When she came in, he took off his clothes and said, "1-2-3!" Immediately, he was the manliest of men.

His wife was excited and began throwing off her clothes. And then she asked, "What was the 1-2-3 for?"

And that is why we should never end our sentences with a preposition.


Thanks to Scoot for this grammar-related cautionary tale!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff

This is a hugely-powerful book, the sort which leaves you feeling as if you have been punched in the stomach. It's a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions but one which admits of the possibility of redemption too. You'll be thinking about this for days after you have finished reading it. Emotionally, it's not an easy read but it is worth it. The best books can immerse you completely in a world you knew nothing about before. In this case it is the present-day lives of the Maori. The author doesn't shrink from attributing blame wherever he thinks it is deserved, and apparently the book was controversial.

The Tipping Point is another book well worth reading. It uses the principles of the spread of disease epidemics, and translates them into sociological and psychological terms. Why and how do street fashions spread into the mainstream? What techniques do successful marketers use? Who are connectors and mavens and why are they so important? This is all explained in a fascinating and easy to read book. It almost tempts you to try to start your own epidemic - if only some of the social components weren't so hard to come by.

Finally I enjoyed another Falco mystery, with the Roman detective this time finding himself reluctantly back in Britain (cold, damp and full of ginger natives, according to him). Plenty of bodies and the welcome return of Larius the teenage nephew, now all grown up into a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed bundle of hormones. Hilarious!

Day 227; Book 220 (eek!)

Friday, 22 May 2009

Travelling without reading

Back from London and sadly without much reading to report, but I had interesting times with the following:

Loving the Bloomsbury area with its tree-lined squares and Georgian buildings, and also the Great Court in the British Museum, not to mention lovely little speciality shops like the bookbinders and paper shop. It was a bit like something out of Harry Potter with assistants rushing about to fetch the paper from huge stacks of shelves they had to reach by ladder.

Pretending to be a business person at City Airport in London but not liking accidentally knocking over a drink (which someone had left on the floor unknown to me) and then a businessman ostentatiously drying his briefcase and glaring at me! I was innocent! I didn't know it was there!

Being approached by a panhandling woman who obviously thought I was a soft touch (correctly). Even without knowing all the means by which you can recognise someone who is telling a lie (I have been watching Tim Roth in Lie to Me on Sky) I could still tell that her story was far too elaborate to be true. Nevertheless I offered her my change. Which came to less than a pound. Which made her stomp off in disgust. (With the change).

I've come back to 2 new books to read on my desk though. Thanks to Mark and Steve for Once Were Warriors and The Tipping Point which both look really interesting. (But which must wait - back to work!)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A work-related book

It's not really a book, more of a booklet, but because it was challenging I'm counting it as one! It's the E-Resources Technical Update by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner, and it's really the slides of their presentation. Very interesting for anyone working or using electronic resources in an academic or library field. For others, not so much. Good revision for me though before my e-journals meeting in London. Back on Friday with hopefully some travel reading under my belt.

Day 221; Book 217

Monday, 18 May 2009

My feet are wet ...

because I thought it was Spring, silly me. Good weather to stay indoors and read, if you can.

I finished JonBenet by Steve Thomas and Donald A. Davis. It was a good clear account of the case, written from the viewpoint of one of the detectives involved. It was no wonder he had to leave the department if this was what he was up against. The murder remains unsolved.

I was at a loss for something to read on Saturday, so I turned to The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency again. Even when you know how the cases turn out, this is still so beautifully written that it doesn't really matter. A book for restoring your faith in human nature.

Then Jo lent me a few more books (thanks pal!) and I read The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. I'm afraid I hadn't heard of this before but what's not to like about a murder mystery set in Tuscany and featuring Renaissance art and architecture. I thought the characterisation could have been done in greater depth but it was a really enjoyable book all the same.

Day 220; Book 216

Friday, 15 May 2009

In Progress

It's a book about the JonBenet Ramsey case in America (where a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant was found murdered in her home). This book is really about the police handling of the case (it's written by one of the detectives who was involved). I wonder what really happened?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Just a Phrase I'm Going Through: My Life in Language by David Crystal

I finished this book last night. It's the autobiography of the language expert David Crystal - or is it his memoir? See his blog here for a discussion of these terms. This was a pretty interesting book because the emphasis was on applied rather than pure linguistics - how it could be of use in speech therapy for instance. The biographical elements were cleverly handled so that dramatic events were hinted at and then revealed in due course (some of them were tragic, unfortunately). Of interest to me as a cataloguer was Crystal's time spent working on a "sense engine" so that internet searches could be placed in context despite the varying meanings of words. I suppose this is a use of the controlled vocabulary that lies behind many web resources these days. He applied it also to contextual advertising (on sponsored webpages or forums you will see related advertising appearing depending on the words in use on the main page. As you can imagine this can lead to unfortunate juxtapositions if the vocabulary is not controlled).

Day 216; Book 213

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Basic Guide to Rubber Stamping

At least that's what I think it's called - I'll need to check. For a beginner, this is an excellent book as every technique is described in detail and then projects are given to illustrate them. Some of the projects look beautiful. However some of them are hideous! Mostly the stamping effects are very good though, and you wouldn't HAVE to make things like plant pots with bits of broken up plant pot stuck on the sides ...

ETA: It's The Basics of Rubber Stamping by Inkadinkado (the rubber-stamp company)

Day 215; Book 212

Monday, 11 May 2009

Book Catch-Up

Here's what I have been reading since I last posted:

First was The Savvy Crafter's Guide to Success by Sandra McCall. I bought this because I thought the Rock Chick would be interested in it. It was an easy read with lots of useful advice for the aspiring art or craft designer, maker and (importantly, if you want to eat) SELLER! Encouragingly in a way, some of the art featured was hideous and yet people seem able to make a living from it!

Then I got all nostalgic and read William's Crowded Hours by Richmal Crompton. Fellow fans, can you remember the names of William's Outlaws? These books are beautifully written and very amusing, even for adults. Touchingly for me, it had "Pat Walker, 1930" written on the flyleaf (that's my dad).

Next I read Harlan Coben's Long Gone and Linwood Barclay's No Time for Goodbye. The Harlan Coben was his latest Myron Bolitar and it was up to his usual exciting standards. The Linwood Barclay was his first novel and an excellent debut, reminiscent of Coben with its mysteries and plot twists.

I read two books by Elizabeth Noble (thanks Jo), The Reading Group and The Tenko Club. Both of these are women's books about a group of friends and their relationships, break-ups and families. They are beautifully written with characters you care about.

I also read two books set in very different Scotlands. Alexander McCall Smith's The Unbearable Lightness of Scones is another of his Scotland Street novels with an Edinburgh setting featuring Bertie and his awful mother and the other residents of his street. It's very witty and perceptive. Much bleaker was Garnethill by Denise Mina, which is a murder mystery set in Glasgow, but you will be rooting for the feisty heroine by the end.

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd is about a young Scottish girl who in 1902 sails to China to get married. It's fascinating with all its period and local detail and the character of Mary is well-described as a girl and as she gets older. A surprising and terrible thing happens to her, which she eventually comes to terms with.

I had read Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell before but decided to read it again when I came across it on the bookshelf. It's honest and beautifully written. I want a pet otter! Apparently there are more books by Maxwell so I must look out for those.

Finally I read Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz. This is a bit of a potboiler even though Koontz had revised it years after it was originally published. Dean Koontz is a writer whose development has been amazing over the years but this wasn't one of his most original or exciting. Fortunately this one didn't feature a clever dog or mystical happenings (involving the dog).

Day 213; Book 211

Some Useful Advice

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.

3. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbour's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.

5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.

6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is probably not for you.

10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day .

11. See a penny, pick it up. And all day long you'll have... a penny.

12. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably a wise investment.

13. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

14. Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.

15. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

16. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

17. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

18. Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

19. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

20. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving .

21. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

22. Never miss a good chance to shut up.


23. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Finished at last!

I've finished that book I didn't like, and here's the name: Ghost Heart by R. J. Ellory. To be fair it did have an ending which came as a complete surprise (and was very clever). The rest of it was kind of predictable though, and the main characters could have been more sympathetic.

But in other news I have the new Harlan Coben novel! It's called Long Lost and it's the latest in the Myron Bolitar series. I'm tempted to go back and read all the others in proper order first but I know I won't - I'm going to start this one tonight (and then lend it to anyone else who wants it).

Off on a course now and then on holiday so I will report back in a week with my latest reading.

Day 203; book 200

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Still reading the boring book

I still can't remember what it's called, which isn't a good sign, but I have persevered and it's getting a bit more interesting. Still not thrilling though. A lonely girl has just been dumped for mysterious reasons by the love of her life ...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More photography books

My first choice was a little book of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron. A Victorian, she was amongst the leading exponents of photography as art, specialising in atmospheric portraits and dramatic scenes with her models dressed as biblical or literary characters. (It helped that she moved in artistic and literary circles). Her niece, also Julia, was the mother of Virginia Woolf, and there is a very beautiful photograph of her. You really can see her fine and lovely features (surprisingly, because often women described as great beauties of the day would not meet our expectations today). Speaking of modern standards, we would consider each and every one of the models photographed to be having a very bad hair day. No hair straighteners of Frizz-Ease for them! Yes, it's a shallow observation, but mine own ...

The next book was The Commissar Vanishes by David King. This was an eye-opening work about the revision of history under Stalin, specifically by altering photographs to exclude the one who had gone out of favour. King illustrates this dramatically by comparing the original photographs with the altered ones (sometimes they went through several incarnations). It is shocking to look at the people shown and to realise that at least 90% of them did not die a natural death. The photographs were altered by air brushing or cropping (as a scrapbooker I flinched at the evil use cropping was being put to here). Even more horribly, private citizens and schoolchildren were expected to carry out their own revision of books in their possession, blanking out the faces of the out of favour. These pages look particulary creepy and upsetting with just the face gone. Despite the horror of the situation, in some cases the altering of the photographs was carried out in rather an amateur manner and the author points this up with some humorous titles which serve to puncture the pomposity of Stalin and his minions. A very interesting read.

Day 201; Book 199

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Boring book

The one I'm reading is so boring I can't remember the title or the author. I did buy it for only £1 in Asda, so maybe that should have been a clue (on the other hand some of my best books have been bargain books). I may just abandon it or I may try to persist in the hope that it gets better. It's not a bad book, just uninspiring. *sighs*

Monday, 27 April 2009

Mrs Ames by E F Benson

This was published in 1912, so a good decade before the Lucia books. Lucia fans will still enjoy this, but it has a much more serious undertone. There is still the manipulation of others for social dominance but there are more important matters at stake here, so the book cannot be so light-hearted. In Lucia the problems are usually all of the participants' own making so we can enjoy their Machiavellian manoeuvrings for their own sake.

I also read The Only Problem by Muriel Spark. I couldn't decide if this was meant to be funny or not. (I didn't find it so). The characters were all tedious and self-obsessed. It ends in tragedy but you don't care.

What a relief to read Cranford (by Mrs Gaskell) again. The characters are drawn warmly and wittily, times past are poignantly evoked - and there is a happy ending! I've never seen the TV series and I'm planning to keep avoiding it, as they may have altered things and I wouldn't like that (plus I have my own ideas about how the characters should look).

Day 199; book 197

Friday, 24 April 2009

Paying Guests by E F Benson

This is very much in the style of Benson's Lucia books and was equally funny. The editor writes in the introduction of Benson's "biting satire", but I would have to say I don't really agree with that interpretation of his work. It implies that Benson has no sympathy with his creations, yet he does. Part of the enjoyment is in recognising the faults of characters, yet coming to sympathise with at least some of them. We end up hoping they will get out of the scrapes for which they have only themselves to blame. There's more of these, so back to the shelves for me.

Day 196 ; Book 194

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Calum Colvin exhibition in St Andrews

It's at the Gateway. Here are the details.

Life After God by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is a Canadian artist and post-modernist writer. I've written "post-modernist" there because that's how he is described, but I have to confess that it is one of these slippery terms I have never managed to grasp. It also tends to put me off, but I was given Coupland's Life After God and I have to say I did enjoy reading it. It is written as a collection of short stories which seem biographical but are not (although who can tell how much of the author is in there?) He raises many difficult points about life, and its meaning or lack of meaning. He made several points I felt were true (and which I had never seen expressed before). One is about how you can never experience anything as intensely as you did when you were younger. Another is about his liking for rain and how he feels safe in it (I like rain too). There was also a scary passage where he is lost in the desert at night - and hears footsteps behind him. I must try to read his book Generation X.

Day 196; Book 193

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Small but perfectly formed

I read Muriel Spark's children's book The Very Fine Clock. This is a very sweet little book with detailed illustrations which I think imaginative little children would love. Not very much happens at all, yet Spark creates a whole world occupied by Ticky the clock and his owner the professor.

Then I read the script of The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer. This is an earlier work by the author of Equus. Here is a review of a recent revival, directed by Trevor Nunn. The plot concerns Pizarro's conquest of the Inca empire, and it raises many questions about colonialism, religion, life and death ... all the important themes! I preferred Equus though which was more about the individual.

Day 195; Book 192

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

In which I get down with the kids

Last night I read a book for teenagers, Knocked out by My Nunga-Nungas by Louise Rennison. I'm pretty sure I would have found this hilarious when I was at school and in fact it did give me a few laughs. It was funny though, because I kept sympathising with her supposedly-awful parents and thinking they weren't that bad! I did relate to the way she spoke, inserting French and German words where possible into ordinary conversation (at school we would always ask what other people had to "manger"). Thirteen-year-old girls would probably love this; parents can be reassured that it was actually quite moral.

Day 194; Book 190

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

This was an excellent book which I didn't want to put down until I had finished. I can't tell you too much about it, because Mr F is in the middle of reading it just now. One of the good points, though, which won't give too much away, is that it's set on the east coast of Scotland with many references to places I know. The ambivalence is reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, although it is not as accomplished. Should you read it? Yes.

I also read another Falco mystery, Ode to a Banker, in which Falco's extended family continues to cause him problems at the same time as he has to solve a murder set in a scriptorium. Of course I got distracted thinking about how they would shelve the scrolls in a library - pigeonholes apparently. But you would either to have to have a pigeonhole for each scroll (uneconomical) or you would need several scrolls in each pigeonhole (messy). Thank goodness for books and shelves! Perhaps that will look as odd to e-book readers in the future.

Day 193; Book 189

Friday, 17 April 2009

The Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre

Brookmyre worked his magic again when I read on to the second part of this novel. There was a hilariously filthy scene in a museum and the various strands were woven together in a most satisfactory manner. I would say that Mr F was right again but I don't want to encourage him.

I've read a lot of books but there seems to be no end to the classics which have escaped me up until now. One of these was 1066 and All That by W C Sellar and R J Yeatman. This is a humorous take on British history as it is taught and (mis)remembered. If you like schoolboy errors you will love this, although the joke is rather thin for a whole book, even a short one. As it was written in 1930, the authors can refer to Britain as "top nation" (which of course it still is). One of the best jokes is about Richard the Lionheart, who "whenever he returned to England ... always set out again immediately for the Mediterranean, and was therefore known as Richard Gare de Lyon".

Day 190; Book 187

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Half-way through another Christopher Brookmyre ...

and I don't really like it! There have been some funny bits, but not as many as I have greedily come to expect. Maybe it will pick up in the second half though (which I will be reading tonight as it looks like my DVD still hasn't arrived, grrr).

*note to self: think of something interesting to write in blog tomorrow* *blushes*

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis

I finished this one last night, and I thought it was one of the best Falco novels. Mr F wants me to read another Christopher Brookmyre next, so I could give that a go if my DVD hasn't come yet! Surely it will ...

Day 188; Book 185

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Year of Reading Dangerously Passes the 6-month Mark

And I have to admit I am flagging!

I've got a new Marcus Didius Falco on the go though, and I really like this one. Lindsey Davis never seems to run out of ideas for her Roman detective series. Each one has a really different angle. I'll enter the title details of this one when I've finished it.

I may have to resort to shorter books for a while now. I'm at the half-way point on my marathon and I need cheering crowds and virtual drinks of water to be thrust at me. Phew!

Oh, and I ordered a dvd which hopefully will come today. It's the Inbetweeners, a group of foul-mouthed and filthy-minded teenagers which has had me in fits of laughter. Can I finish my book and watch an entire sitcom series? Probably not!

Monday, 13 April 2009

In other news: I weeded the garden ...

and it looks really good! (Or at least half of it does. The other half was scarily weedy and I went back indoors).

When not weeding, I was reading ...

First I read Anne Perry's Christmas Secret. Yes, I know it was actually Easter but I liked the look of this one in the library. It was pretty good - a Victorian mystery, set at Christmas. There's 13 of these in the series, so I must remember them and read them in the appropriate season. They are quite short, only about 160 pages.

Next up was Miss Read's Village Affairs. This is part of the long-running series which began with Village School. They are gentle tales of a teacher's life in a country primary school. The earlier ones are the best, I think, because they are set in the 1950s (or thereabouts) and written at about that time too). In the later ones modern life is intruding too much. They are amusing too, with Miss Read's battles with the fearsome Mrs Pringle the caretaker.

Schools of the type which would have horrified Miss Read are featured in Sugar Rush, which is about a teenager's rites of passage in contemporary Brighton. Apparently this is a book for teenagers but it is really well written and funny too. These teenagers are terrifying, but our heroine learns a lot about herself and her family.

Finally I read a little book of three short stories by Agatha Christie. This author can sometimes seem very dated (see Why Didn't they Ask Evans?) but this collection was surprisingly modern, with some good twists.

Day 186; Book 184

Friday, 10 April 2009

Equus by Peter Shaffer

I read the script for this play last night. I had a vague idea what it was about but deliberately didn't read any more about it so I came to it fresh. It was a very powerful piece of work which I would like to see performed, but even as a written piece it was shocking. It appears dated at times (I wonder if they update the references for performances?) and some of the revelations were too-clearly signalled. However, it had a fascinating conclusion both to the mystery involved and to the play itself. It raises huge issues about normality and spirituality. I see there is a film of the play although this is not without its detractors. Here is a link to the Broadway version of the play (with Daniel Radcliffe).

Day 183; Book 180

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Trinny and Susannah

I discovered What Not to Wear 2 and What you Wear can Change Your Life on my bookshelves so decided to read them again. It's been a while since we've seen poshos Trinny and Susannah on TV manipulating people's unwilling body parts and bossing them into more flattering outfits. Their points all make sense though such as not wearing something baggy if you are rather tubby: you will look even bigger, as if you were actually the size of the tent you were wearing. Wear something fitted instead (although not sausage-skin tight). I enjoyed these so I must look for What Not to Wear 1. No doubt it is out of print but you can still find these on Amazon on Abe Books.

Day 182; Book 179

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

I read this the other night and can highly recommend it. It's funny and touching and really gives the flavour of the heroine's upbringing in a strictly religious and evangelical home. Some people have read it as being about her rebellion against this strict religion, but really it is about her rebellion against one aspect of it, and then her cruel eviction from everything she had held dear. I took against the author herself in her introduction though when she praised her own work so highly...

Day 181; Book 177

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith

I started another Christopher Brookmyre but wasn't really getting into it and then I came across this one in the bookshop. I think it's the latest of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series; I hadn't read it before anyway. Right from the first page I was back in McCall Smith's charming Botswana. This series is on TV at the moment but I haven't wanted to watch in case it doesn't live up to the books (also, Mr F watches Lost at the same time). The humour is gentle, the writing is perceptive and the whole thing reveals what must be the author's essential humanity. The books have been criticised for not mentioning the AIDS crisis, but they do mention it in a subtle way. Anyway, why should a whole country be defined by a terrible illness rather than by these inspiring characters? It's not as though tragedy of other kinds is never experienced (even by the heroine, Mma Ramotswe).

As a complete contrast, I started reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I've made hardly any progress as so far I've absolutely hated it! Withnail and I does the whole drug scene so much better - with humour. Perhaps if I read on I'll get into this book, however. It deserves credit for the title alone.

Day 179; Book 176

Friday, 3 April 2009

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre

I loved this too! Just as I was moaning that I didn't like this one as much as the last, suddenly everything changed and I was on the edge of my seat. Funnily enough in this one it was the exciting action that grabbed me, so these books are not just for blokes. Brookmyre's use of language is amazing. I laughed and laughed at the expression "bevommed" for a person someone else had been sick all over (a hilarious situation itself - at least for the reader). There are many Scottish cultural references - but also one I can't believe I missed, to South Park (thanks Mr F for pointing it out).

Mr F has lots more of these books but this time I am going to pace myself and look for something else to read in the meantime.

Day 176; Book 175

Thursday, 2 April 2009

New Brookmyre in Progress

It's One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, and so far I like it but not as much as A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away (but then I liked that so much it would be difficult for this one to match up to it).

I love these titles though!

I thought there was a bit too much thriller-type action in the last one, but funnily enough this one has just livened up with the arrival of a gunman. The hero reacts really well to this, but I think I would probably just be standing there waiting to be shot, thinking it couldn't possibly be really happening ...

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Mr F was right ...

Christopher Brookmyre is a wonderful author! His work has been referred to as "tartan noir" but it has a healthy dose of humour too. I finished "A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away" last night (500 pages, so it took me 2 evenings). Fortunately Mr F has a nearly-complete collection of this author's books, so I can start on my next one straight away.

How to describe this author? Well, he's funny, both in his throwaway lines and in the situations he sets up. He can write dialect: compare the cringe-making efforts of Sir Walter Scott to Brookmyre's fabulous, witty use of Scots, particularly Glaswegian. His characters are original, although obviously based on reality (see his teachers or his first-year students) but they also develop throughout the book. Scottish readers will smile with recognition at the speech but also at the locations (surely he makes the first-ever literary reference to the Whirlies roundabout in East Kilbride). This book was also an exciting thriller, but it was the other qualities that appealed to me most (not being a bloke).

Read this book! Particularly if you are Scottish, male and young (-ish).

Day 174; Book 174

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A Big Boy Did it and Ran Away by Christopher Brookmyre

I'm in the middle of this and it really has a lot to recommend it. (I wasn't quite so keen when I was trying to read Jane Austen at the weekend, and Mr F was in fits of laughter over this book, insisting on reading sections to me ...)

Despite many humorous passages (the sustained rant against the whole city of Aberdeen at the start is a case in point), this book is as much a crime thriller as a comedy. There is a lot of darkness. Excellent characters so far are Ray, the English teacher whose class at the start are running rings round him with foul language and foul illustrations on his blackboard. (Read the book to find out how he stuns the class and gets them on his side). Some of his pupils get caught up in the dramatic action as well, and there is plenty of West Coast of Scotland banter.

How will it finish? With the villain getting his just deserts, I hope.

Day 173; Book 173 (Mr F, your counting was right!)

My Jane Austen Weekend

I decided to catch up with some of the lesser-known Jane Austens over the weekend. First I read Northanger Abbey which I found charming and amusing. It wasn't without its darker side, although that was not the Gothic horror anticipated by the heroine but had a rather more mundane explanation. I really must try to read The Castle of Udolpho (ETA, oops, I meant The Mysteries of Udolpho), one of the works satirised by Miss Austen here. It's not essential though and you can still appreciate her sharp wit without this. Some critics feel this book (an earlier one) suffers from a lack of cohesion but I think it works very well and is as well worth reading as the more-famous Pride and Prejudice.

Next I eagerly attacked The Watsons, the story of a young girl first coming into society in a small country town. The interplay between the sisters and the characters of Tom Musgrave and Lord Osborne were hugely promising, so imagine my horror when I turned the page only part of the way into the story and discovered that I had been reading an unfinished fragment. Noooooooooo! It's still worth reading, but just be warned, unlike me, that the story comes to a sudden end. The same applies to Sanditon, an unfinished novel from Jane Austen's later life. It's set in a speculative seaside resort which must have been a very topical subject at the time. Again there is an interesting cast of characters whom I would love to have read more about.

Lady Susan is an early, short work, written in letter form. This isn't my favourite style but I soon became absorbed in the different characters as they were cleverly introduced. Lady Susan is a deliciously bad anti-heroine. Although the book is completed, the ending comes very suddenly and seems rather disappointing, but at least the ends are all tied up.

The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag

This is another crime thriller by Tami Hoag and again she keeps the romance fairly low key. She does have one of those damaged heroines though (I think this is the second in a series featuring Elena Estes). This can sometimes seem like a plot device rather than a an essential part of the character. Good plot though and interesting developments (although a depressing view of the moneyed horsey set in Florida).

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Even I, with my minimal knowledge of ancient Greek drama, knew this one was going to end badly. This translation (sorry, I forget who by) was dense but not impenetrable. The chorus were rather annoying as I suppose pushy commentators on the action often are ... Sophocles made great use of dramatic irony, as Oedipus railed against the murderer of Laius (himself, of course, as it turns out). It's funny to think that all these centuries later soaps such as Eastenders and Coronation Street are also keen users of irony. I was glad I had read this as it filled a gap in my knowledge, but even at only 54 pages, it wouldn't be my ideal choice of reading.

Day 168; Book 167