Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

It’s always a bit worrying when a celebrity decides to write a novel, firstly are they actually writing the novel and secondly just because they are famous does that mean that they can actually write? Well in the case of David Walliams yes he did write the book and yes he can indeed write and very well too.

The Boy in the Dress is a tale about Dennis, he is different, and why is he different? “Well a small clue might be in the title of this book.” I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dennis is not only dealing with the fact that his Mum left the family when he was young, his family don’t talk about her and they don’t really communicate or show emotion as it’s not deemed as manly. Dennis also likes dresses and when he finds Vogue things really change.

Walliams deals with the subject very sensitively whilst also with great humour and most importantly in a way that kids (and adults) will enjoy. It isn’t just the fact that the illustrations are by Quentin Blake that whilst you’re reading it you are reminded of a modern version of Roald Dahl. The humour helps but it’s the way the book progresses with the hero’s and the villains and the school mentality which in some ways reminded me of Matilda. I loved Roald Dahl as a child and think that legions of children will love this book. I only hope that Walliams doesn’t stop the book writing at novel number one.

A short review I know but it’s a very short book and at the same time I don’t want to give too much away. All I will say is that I was touched by this book and found myself laughing the whole way through. I would recommend this to anyone who has kids or who wants a read that cheers you up in the few hours it will take to read.

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Filed under David Walliams, Harper Collins, Review

Mitford & Maupin Missions

My complete and utter favourite book of last year was undoubtedly The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed any non-fiction as much in all my reading years. At the time it wasn’t the Mitford’s that appealed to me it was partly the fact it was letters between sisters but more the amount of time that the letters spanned, all that history. It wasn’t until reading the letters that I started to twig just who the sisters were, I had heard of Deborah and Nancy before only I knew Deborah as the owner of Chatsworth House which is just down the road from my Gran’s and Nancy as an author most authors raved about. At the time I got the book there was also a TV show on Unity and the rumours of her affair (and pregnancy) with Adolf Hitler. As everything about them became more and more unusual and the more letters I read I gained a bit of a fascination which has resulted in this…


Now four of these are new additions to the collection as I received In Tearing Haste from the delightful John Murray before Christmas, The Pursuit of Laughter and A Life of Contrasts from the lovely Gibson Square just after Christmas and Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford from the very kind people at Orion only yesterday, naturally I haven’t read any of those yet. I have in fact of that whole collection only read ‘The Letters’ and The Pursuit of Love, the rest have all come from some very good routing through charity shops. There are still so many I am missing though; Nancy’s biographies as well as The Blessing and Jessica’s books on Death in America etc, to name just a few. (I also should thank Mitch as she bought me The Letters for Christmas after my Gran, yes you naughty thing, ‘borrowed’ mine and then said I had given it to her lol – well you can have it now.)

I now have one more mission for 2009 is to read all the ones that I haven’t read yet but own. Plus there are many more coming, I actually have a PDF proof version of Deborah’s next book, but I am not allowed to say anymore than that.

Dovergreyreader looked at Mitfordmania when she reviewed A Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley and it brought up some rather heated debate on Diana as a person. I don’t condone her like for Hitler I don’t even attempt to understand it, but what I was always taught in history was to look at both sides and someone who saw both sides of Hitler and one of the biggest events in our worlds history was Diana and though I don’t agree with her ideals I will be interested to hear her side of things if that makes sense. The other question that was raised was ‘are there too many Mitford based books on the market?’ I would say no, I actually think that some of their own books need to be reprinted rather than so many books about them in all honesty. I can understand the fascination though, they knew a wide range of famous people and indeed some of histories most renowned faces and through their love of letters and essays have captured years and year’s worth of history. I just wonder what Debo makes of it all as the furore around her and her sister is going and she is living to see it?

On a slightly different note another series of books I am going to make it my aim to read (well re-read in some cases) arrived yesterday also The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin….

I first read the first three or four (or possibly five) of these about 8 years ago and wanted a land lady like Miss Madrigal, and strongly believed when I moved to London I would make some of the best friends in the world and they would be diverse and wonderful and everything would be fabulous. I would say half of that wish came true. I very rarely re-read novels I have read so it will be interesting to see what I make of these almost ten years down the line! I will keep you posted. I am currently debating if I should read all of them with no stop-gap, but am worried I will get Maupin Overkill, any advice?

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Filed under Armistead Maupin, Charlotte Mosley, Deborah Devonshire, Diana Mosley, Jessica Mitford, Nancy Mitford

Cutting A Long Story Short…

Now those of you who pop by regularly will possibly have noticed that I have been having quite a fight on my hands with Anna Karenina. When I pick it up and sit and read it I find myself whizzing through the pages. However picking it up isn’t happening anywhere near as much as it probably should be and I don’t take it on the tube with me as it’s simply too big and is like having a brick in my bag all day long. Oddly I am also reading the Adam Mars-Jones’ Pilcrow in paperback which comes out in March and seriously is already proving a must read. This book itself is a fairly large novel but is somehow much lighter and so is being whisked to and fro on my travels.

When I was telling someone of my ‘Anna Dilemma’ they answered that it was simple ‘you’re just a thrill reader aren’t you, you don’t want to spend hours on a book, you just want to read as many as you can each year and Anna is conflicting with that’. Whilst I agree I do like to read a lot of books, I have nothing against a longer book although occasionally the thought of ‘oh I could be reading eight books to this one monster’ does pop into my mind. But what is a thrill reader when its at home? I dont read a mass of thrillers if thats what was implied, though I am partial to a good Tess Gerritsen.

Another Simon who loves books covered this on his Stuck In A Book blog (I have him to thank for letting me use his picture – thanks Simon) and asked the question which do people prefer long or short books and the answers are very interesting. I also admire Simon’s honestly regarding why he prefers something around 225 pages ‘because I like to make lists of my books, and I like them to be long…’ and I do have to admit I agree. But is that wrong?

So which do you all prefer, a long or a short book? How long is the perfect novel? I have to say I am a fan of anything between 250 – 400 pages so either I am sitting on the fence or I just like medium sized books. On another slightly similar note, does anyone remember the furore over Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach being too short to be on The Man Booker List (I thought it was an amazing book and just the right length), which raises the question can a book be too short? I await your thoughts…

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Leo Tolstoy

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale

So I am on time for the second of the Richard & Judy Books of 2009, and it is the superb The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. Nothing to do with the fact that I had in fact read this book last year and it was in fact in my Savidge Dozen, ok it’s sort of cheating but not really. I mean be fair, with the amount of books arriving at the moment I need to keep ahead. So here is the review from when I read it back in November…

The subtitle of the book refers to the fact that this is not your normal gothic Victorian murder mystery; it’s a real murder mystery. In fact ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ somewhat gripped the nation back in 1860 and saw the dawn of the detective in the form of Jack Whicher. This murder mystery in a country house where one of the occupants definitely did it sparked imaginations of the greats and inspired novels by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins over the years. The case took place during the night in Summer 1860, the next morning the body of a young boy was found having died in tragic circumstances, the police couldn’t work out who had done it and so Scotland Yard were called. The case became huge news and in the small town of Road there was uproar and unwanted attention with the whole world guessing ‘whodunit’.

Now I am not a massive fan of non fiction, I love diaries and letters but with most non fiction I tend to wander and read it alongside my fiction, the fiction taking priority. Not when this book was around it wasn’t. Summerscale makes all the facts and theories turn into a wonderful and spellbinding read that could put to shame some crime fiction around at the moment. The research she has done is incredible down to the trains caught on what dates, the timetables from the time to match the possible escape of the killer. Clothes worn, movements of every member of the household and makes it come to life effortlessly. You really could have been a member of the public at the time following the case, making your own assumptions and falling for the red herrings along the way.

The book does also deal with the time significantly after the murder and looks at the future of all those involved including the murderer themselves. What is also fascinating with this book is that Summerscale shows how the best writers of that era and just after used various parts of this story and its characters to create some of the masterpieces still being read today such as the ‘Moonstone’ so it’s a fascinating look at the history of crime fiction and the ‘sensationalist’ novels that became so popular following, and of course left me with a list as long as my arm of books to read in the future.

This book is nothing short of pure brilliance, and will appeal to so many people for so many reasons. If you love books then you can learn about the history and add another twenty to your TBR. If you love crime then read the murder that helped establish the genre. If you love a good yarn this ones brilliant and its true. If you like non-fiction then the research and facts you’ll read and learn without even knowing is unbelievable. Yes you might have guessed that this book is one of my very favourites of the whole year, simply a must read.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Kate Summerscale, Review, Richard and Judy

What Are You Reading Right Now?

My Gran and I always have one question to each other when we are on the phone which is ‘so what are you reading right now?’ Its something we compare and contrast and gives us both new books that we might want to read. My Gran takes part in two occasionally three book groups and I have been known to follow along with a book they are doing. I was put off when they read The Testament of Gideon Mack which I read at the same time and didnt really love. I might however join in with the next one (I’ll email my Gran my thoughts – not actually sit in on the meeting in Matlock, its a bit far from London) as they are doing Engleby which I have had on my TBR for absolutely ages. Anyway I digress…

When I saw that Cornflower Books had done a blog on this last week the response she got, from me included, was fantastic. All sorts of people reading all sorts of books and yet there were slight trends. People wewre recommending what people should and shouldnt try, and I whole heartedly agreed with one comment that it was a shame we werent all in the same room together having a natter with tea and biscuits. It also made me decide that when i have finsihed and review a book I will let you know what am reading next in advance.
Anyway my reading has changed since Cornflowers blog I thought I would let you know what I am reading right now in case any of you are interested, or have thoughts, or want to join in and read a long. You all know that I have had Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy on the go since the start of the year, its weird when I pick it up and get reading I really do enjoy it but when I see the great bulk of pages it scares me off. Its still happening at a part at a time and lots of books in between parts. I refuse to give up.
The other book I am now reading is Pilcrow by Adam Mars- Jones which I only actually started this morning on the tube. I am now about 50 pages in and am already loving it. The voice of the protagonist is superb and at a fairly bulky 544 pages of small writing I am still pretty sure I will have polished this off before I know it. I have an inkling that unless something goes terribly wrong it might shape up to be one of my favourites of the year, we’ll see. You’ll now doubt be seeing a review soon. So what about all of you? What is everyone else out there reading? What can you recommend?

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Leo Tolstoy

The Great Book Sort

Ok so as mentioned yesterday was the day of the great book sort, now when I said that I had boxes and boxes of books to sort out some people might have disbelieved. Well it started with these and these…

… And carried on with more in these and these…

… Which ended up looking something like this at 1 o’clock this morning…

So I have quite a lot of sorting left to go frankly. I have made an excel spreadsheet now so I know where every book is! Yes I am that much of a book geek, its wrong isnt it! I have 647 books I am keeping which the Non Reader says is excessive! Pah! Now a question for you all, what do you do with books you dont want? Charity, eBay, Amazon, what? I did do readitswapit but the book pile merely stays at the same level and never goes down! Recommendations please!

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Apologies

No long blog today as I am in the middle of sorting all the books that have come in plus all the ones that I have got already and sorting which ones am realistically never going to read (none of the recent ones I have been sent of course) as you can see I use the staircase for my new ‘incoming’ books as they arrive which the Non Reader has declared is a health and safety issue.

Then after the stairs have been decluttered and made ‘safe’ I have the joys of sorting my TBR which in all honesty is organised very badly and really should have some kind of organised system I guess! Sorry did I say TBR, I meant my TBRs! Yes thats right I now appear to have two seperate ridiculously large TBRs that even I as the person who owns them has no idea of what is in which one. How do you guys sort your TBR do you update it weekly or switch it around after each book? Do let me know! Anyway here are my current ones for you…

TBR1 and TBR2

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The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman

I didn’t realise that the first week of Richard and Judy had come around so fast so this review is a little on the late side as should have put it up on Wednesday, but hadn’t actually read the book yet at that point. I started it late last night and by lunch time today it had been completely and utterly devoured. This book has actually only further confirmed in my mind that this is the strongest year with Richard and Judy’s book choices.

After a rocky childhood and turbulent teenage years and twenties Ethan Muller has slowly but surely become on of the most popular art dealers on the scene. When he gets a call from his fathers right hand man telling him there is a collection of art her really needs to see his instant reaction, after his bitter relations with his father, make him hesitant. When he sees the collection however he realises he could have found the discovery of a lifetime, only when he accepts the works do the police want to talk to him and the mystery of the vanishing artist who created them draws him into a mystery set to change his life forever.

Jesse Kellerman is not an author I had heard of before. The son of authors Faye and John Kellerman he comes from a fine heritage (I haven’t read their works am only going on what others have said) but I think this book will definitely make his name as an author stand out alone. I didn’t think I would be interested in the art world and thought this might be a poor version of a mix of The Da Vinci Code of The Interpretation of Murder. It isn’t it’s a stand out thriller that had me swiftly turning through the pages and I thought I had it all sussed and suddenly a massive twist was thrown in I don’t think anyone could predict coming.

My favourite parts of the book however weren’t set in the present. They were set in the from 1847 until now telling us the secret family history of the Muller’s and helped make the conclusion incredibly clever. Kellerman delivers all this in a direct yet colourful prose whilst making it easy to follow the complicated history that all ties up in the end. I was worried that Ethan’s ‘poor little unloved rich kid character’ might grate on me but I didn’t. His love interests are incredibly clichéd, it was the character of the artist as you got to learn about it I found fascinating.

I have to say I was incredibly pleasantly surprised with this book. I wasn’t expecting to be drawn in on such an adventure. Don’t listen to the comparisons to The Interpretation of Murder (which I enjoyed) as they are quite separate books and I think this one should stand alone as just a great gripping thriller. A must read!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Jesse Kellerman, Little Brown Publishing, Rebecca Miller, Richard and Judy

5.9% is Pretty Poor

Yes after reading the final installment of The Guardians 1000 Novels You Must Read, I had read a rather pathetic 5.9% of the books, so yes for you mathemeticians thats 59 out of 1000 which were…

London Fields – Martin Amis (my most hated book of all time)
The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks (need to re-read)
Darkmans – Nicola Barker
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory
Bridget Jones Diary – Helen Fielding
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
Spies – Michael Frayn
The Beach – Alex Garland
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Diary of a Nobody – George Grossmith
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – JK Rowling
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
The Catcher in the Rye –JD Salinger
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
On Beauty – Zadie Smith
The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie – Muriel Spark
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Dracula – Bram StokerPerfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (am reading it)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
Affinity – Sarah Waters
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

Am determinded by next year will have a much higher score!

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Incoming

So I thought what might be a good idea is if as publishers send me their lovely parcels I keep you up to date with what I am reading and then you can see what will be coming up on the blog in the future, what publishers have coming out or in their catalogues and the opportunity to get your mitts on some and read a long. Plus my TBR agenda changes all the time and if I mention the books here now they get a mention… er… now! You know what I mean. So the latest books to arrive are…

Mothers and Sons – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin’s new and challenging collection of stories paint rich and textured portraits of individuals at different pivotal moments in their lives. In each case, Toibin shows how their relationship with either a mother or a son, or their relationship to their own role as mother or son, reveals something unique and important about them. The stories feature Ireland or Irish narrators, but they are also truly universal. In “Famous Blue Raincoat”, unwelcome memories are stirred when a mother, once a singer in an Irish folk-rock band of some popular renown in the 60s, finds that her son has been listening to their old records – songs she hoped never to hear again. In “Water”, a son buries his mother and goes out to a drug-fuelled rave on a remote beach outside Dublin. In the course of this one night, his grief and desire for raw feeling combine with exquisite and devastating intensity. At once beautifully playful, psychologically intricate, emotionally incisive, finely-wrought and fearless these stories tease out the delicate and difficult strands which are woven between mothers and sons. Sometimes shocking and always powerful, this masterful new collection confirms Toibin as great prose stylist of our time.

The Story Of Night – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Richard Garay lives alone with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from those around him. Stifled by a job he despises, he finds himself willing to take considerable risks. Set in Argentina in a time of great change, “The Story of the Night” is a powerful and moving novel about a man who, as the Falklands War is fought and lost, finds his own way to emerge into the world.””The Story of the Night” is, in the end, a love story of the most serious and difficult kind.

Love In A Dark Time – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin looks at the life and work of some of the greatest and most influential artists and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, figures in the main whose homosexuality remained hidden or oblique for much of their lives. Either by choice or necessity, being gay seemed to come second for many of these writers. Yet in their private lives, and also in the spirit of their work, the laws of desire changed everything for them and made all the difference. Ranging from figures such as Oscar Wilde, born in the 1850s, to Pedro Almodovar, born a hundred years later, this book examines how a changing world altered lives in ways both subtle and fundamental. Colm Toibin interweaves a close reading of the works with detailed analysis of the personalities behind them, to illuminating effect. This is an exceptional collection of essays on sexuality and creativity.

The Master – Colm Toibin (Picador)
It is January 1895 and Henry James’s play, Guy Domville, from which he hoped to make his fortune, has failed on the London stage. Opening with this disaster, The Master spans the next five years of James’s life, during which time he moves to Rye in Sussex, having found his dream retreat. There he writes his short masterpiece The Turn Of The Screw, a tale in which he incorporates many details from his own life, including his experiences as a member of one of the great eccentric American families and, later, an exile in England. Impelled by the need to work and haunted by his past – including his failure to fight in the American Civil War, and the golden summer of 1865, and the death of his sister Alice – James is watchful and witty, relishing the England in which he has come to live and regretting the New England he has left.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Stephen Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars-Jones (Faber & Faber)
Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves invaluable. Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

Madresfield – Jane Mulvagh (Transworld)
Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home surrounded by a perfect medieval moat, in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family’s hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare, the heraldic and feudal rest easily next to the prosaically domestic. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.Never before open to the public, the doors of “Madresfield” have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens’ Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.

So I have a fair amount to read you could say. Am really pleased though as can do the Richard and Judy Challenge… well almost!

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Beatrice Colin, Colm Toibin, David Ebershoff, Jesse Kellerman, Steven Galloway

Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

I have to admit that despite my mother being a Classics teacher, though possibly because of that, I have no recollection of many of the great myths. The one that I did love the most was Persephone I don’t know why though looking back. Anyway I digress, with that in mind I went into reading Ali Smiths Girl Meets Boy not thinking of it as a re-working of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or The Myth of Iphis but simply as a new novel. I have to say I don’t think you have to know Ovid to enjoy this anymore or less you will think its wonderful either way. You do get to hear the story of Iphis in the book though about half way through and you can see it reflected in the novel as a whole.

Canongate Books, paperback, 2008, fiction, 176 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Girl Meets Boy tells the story of sisters Imogen and Anthea Gunn, both are at pivotal points in their lives but for completely different reasons. They have grown up loving but not quite understanding each other in Inverness and working for the mass global firm Pure. However things start to change when Anthea leaves/is sacked and on her way out meets rebellious Robin a girl who is writing anti-capitalist slogans on the Pure Head Office walls.

The chapters of the novel switch between sisters, we here how Anthea falls for Robin and then the shock of Imogen to Anthea’s sexuality (which is hilarious) and onto Imogen’s discovery about corporations and the ways in which they work. Ali Smith manages to feed us lots of information about sexuality, globalisation and women’s rights and yet make it light hearted and upbeat which is quite a feat. The most important theme in the novel is love, something its incredibly optimistic about which is a joy to read.

Like good myths of old there is a lot of surrealism in the novel, not masses, but a bit. After reading the opening line ‘let me tell you about when I was a girl, our grandfather says’ I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the book, with a sneaking suspicion it might go over my head. I was proved wrong and frankly after having read some of Ali Smiths novels before (I must revisit The Accidental this year) should have know I was in safe hands. The prose is beautiful and you can’t help think that the old myth creators of the past would read this novel and think it was wonderful, I certainly did.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Books of 2009, Canongate Publishing, Review, The Canongate Myths

The Reader (Again)

On Sunday I went to the cinema with The Non Reader to see The Reader (that’s confusing) which I have been aching to see. I have to admit I am always very cautious when a book is turned into a movie however my fears were completely unfounded with this wonderful adaptation. The movie is stunning the landscapes, backdrops the works are just wonderfully filmed and the delicate parts of the film were dealt with so well and so sympathetically. No dramatics!

Kate Winslet is simply superb as Hannah Schmidt, I thought her acting was completely effortless whilst being heart breaking and moving. It’s difficult to say too much about the film without giving the twist and turns away. I will say that after speaking with my Gran you should read the book as you understand Hannah a lot better and the main reason as to why she has done what she has in the past. I did feel that wasn’t made clear enough in the movie. If you see it then it will make sense. I also thought that the boy who played the younger Michael Berg was fantastic as was Ralph Fiennes as the elder Michael Berg; the younger just stole it away from him at the end of the day. The scene of the film, without giving anything away, invovles the word ‘the’ and I dont think there was a dry eye in the cinema including me and the Non Reader! This is the must see movie of the year so far. I predict (we will see if I am right later in the year) that from this film there will be a shift in sales of a few books but one in particular The Lady and the Little Dog by Chekhov… watch this space!

Anyways I am putting up the review of the book for you all again from last year. Do get the book, only not the movie tie-in version, you know my thoughts on those…

After having read some amazing books on the holocaust and WWII in the past twelve months or so like Marcus Zusack’s astounding ‘The Book Thief’ and John Boyne’s superb ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s’ I didn’t know if ‘The Reader’ would live up to the brilliant reports that I had heard not from blogs but from some friends, one in particular who I was in my old book group with who told me that ‘you simply have to read it’. This book has actually been around now for ten years and that was when book blogs or blogs in general weren’t around (how did I find what I wanted to read lol) but is resurfacing with the film coming out in January. This book is just as good as the aforementioned and yet totally different.
Michael is ill during his fifteenth year with hepatitis when he first realises he is sick he collapses in the street and with help from a lady in the street he gets home saftely. After making most of his recovery he walks to thirty six year old Hannah Schmitz to thank her for what she did. This becomes a regular visit as he is intoxicated by her and eventually is seduced by her, then starts a love affair involving Michael reading to her before and after their intimate relations, and eventually just reading before one day Hannah suddenly vanishes from his life. However one day Hannah comes back into his life in a totally unexpected way. I will say no more than that as this book has a incredibly thought provoking twist and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Schink’s novel (beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway) looks at the Holocaust and things that happened during it in a way I haven’t seen before fictionally. This book is all about the generations after the war and how it felt to carry the burden of Hitler’s regime and destruction. I had never thought of what it would be like to have that as part of your history, especially in this case so recent. Through one of the characters actions he asks how people you perceive to be good could possibly do unspeakable things in unspeakable conditions. It also looks at love and emotions in a time where a country and its people were damaged and scarred.This is simply a wonderful novel, moving, shocking, and thought provoking. If there is one book you read in the next few months make it this one. Mind you with some of the fabulous books I have gotten through in the last twelve months of blogging I have said that a fair few times, but in this case I seriously recommend it and cannot recommend it enough.

Oh and not a book to film but a film about an author (or two as the synopsis shows) Capote arrived through my door today. I will be interested to see how I take to this as I don’t like Philip Seymour Hoffman and the accent I saw in the trailers might grate on me we will see. Am also looking forward to seeing how they portray his relationship with Harper Lee as some people say they were one and the same and that Capote did in fact write To Kill A Mockingbird under the pseudonym, I am not sure I believe that. I might wait until Novel Insights comes round.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Harper Lee, John Boyne, Marcus Zusack, Orion Publishing, Review, Truman Capote

Gift From The Gate

Thank you very much to the delightful people at Canongate who sent a parcel containing the following on Saturday. I am really excited about all of these but mainly The Gargoyle for story and my Richard and Judy Challenge, I also love Ali Smith!


Brass – Helen Walsh
Nineteen-year-old Millie O’Reilley is clever, spiky and adored by men – yet utterly forlorn. Increasingly disillusioned, she seeks an escape in the underbelly of Liverpool…Shockingly candid and brutally poetic; Helen Walsh has created a portrait of a city and a generation that offers a female perspective on the harsh truth of growing up in today’s Britain. Brass is an unsettling but ultimately compassionate account of the possibilities of identity and the desirability of love.

Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith
“Girl Meets Boy” – It’s a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances? Ali Smith’s re-mix of Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can’t be bottled and sold. It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations. Funny and fresh, poetic and political, “Girl Meets Boy” is a myth of metamorphosis for the modern world.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

Once Upon A Time In England – Helen Walsh On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets of Warrington’s toughest housing estate. He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life – and that of his young family. In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them. In this unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his wounds. Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours. Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he’s sprinting to his date with destiny…But back at their low-rise flat, Susheela hears a noise. This single moment starts a chain of events that will reverberate throughout the lives of all four Fitzgeralds – herself, Robbie, their son Vincent and unborn daughter, Ellie. Over thirteen years of struggle, aspiration, achievement, misunderstandings, near-misses and shattered dreams, Helen Walsh plunges us into the lives and loves of the young, doomed Fitzgerald family. She shows herself to be a brilliant chronicler of our people and our times. And in the Fitzgeralds, she has created a family who will stay in your heart, long after the final page. “Once Upon A Time In England” offers an unforgettable portrait of the world in which we live, and confirms Helen Walsh as a writer of searing power

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Filed under Ali Smith, Andrew Davidson

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read… So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bernhard Schink, Brett Easton Ellis, Daphne Du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan, John Buchan, Leo Tolstoy, Nancy Mitford, Sarah Waters