Monthly Archives: October 2009

Conjugal Rites – Paul Magrs

I decided in the lead up to Halloween that rather than read a ‘chilling tale’, I would wait for that on the actual night and instead in the lead up to All Hallows Eve I would read something with a supernatural rather than spooky theme to it instead. Now if you mix a good helping of the supernatural, a few scares, two old ladies, the town of Whitby, lots of mystery and some camp adventure what do you get? Why, the Brenda & Effie mysteries of course.

Conjugal Rites is the third in the Brenda and Effie series though author Paul Magrs manages to make all the books intertwine and yet they can be stand alone books so you could read them in any order. Brenda and Effie live in the seaside town of Whitby, which of course is famous for its supernatural tales such as Dracula. Magrs captures the town wonderfully with all its cobbled streets and touristy hot spots. Amongst all this though lie tales of the supernatural which B&B owning Brenda and Antiquities Shop owner Effie are the unlikely heroines who have been given the task of protecting Whitby from the perils that lurk in the night, and indeed the day.

In this instalment both our elderly heroines have to face their pasts which come back to haunt them (excuse the pun) as it were. One of Brenda’s ex’s Frank turns up making her face her past and literally drags her through hell, whiles Effie faces up to her family past in order to save Brenda along with their delightful sidekick Robert. Though there is a main plot what I also love about this series is every book does actually have several small sub-plots running through them that all accumulates in the end. With wonderful, though evil, characters such as Mrs Claus who owns the Christmas Hotel where every night is Christmas eve and every day is Christmas) I don’t know who could failed to be won over by this series its just marvellous.

Being the third in the series though I am trying not to give too much away even though they are stand alone if you do want to start from the very first one and then go onto the second one before this there are a few secrets I could giveaway that might lessen the fun as you start from the beginning. Was that me slightly over complicating things then? If you love a good plot, or even a few of them, quirky characters including two brilliant leading ladies, lots of laughter and something a bit dark then I think these books would be right up your alley.

I have noticed Paul has started a blog so if you want to find out even more you can go there. There is also one of his other non-supernatural books I have looming on my TBR that this has reminded me I simply must read. It’s called Exchange and it’s about a young man called Simon who along with his Gran has a voracious appetite for books and reading which leads them onto adventures and mysteries. Does that remind you of anyone? Ha!    

For actual Halloween I will be reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson which I will share my thoughts with when am back from Manchester. What are you going to be reading by candlelight/torchlight/on the sofa with all the lights on this Halloween?

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

Books for a Break Away

Now I am off up north on my own this weekend which involves (as the trains have gotten so ridiculously expensive already in the lead up to Christmas) two almost six hour journeys each way. However the fact I will be seeing my 1 year old twin cousin’s makes the trip very much worth it, though the prospect of looking after them on my own for a day or two is slightly daunting. So being in the fortunate position that I can read on a coach (some people can’t and I feel for them) I am planning on using this as perfect binge reading time and so have had to ponder over what to read for 12 hours.

Now taking books on your travels is always a tough call. You don’t want to be weighed down for a start, though that hasn’t quite worked as you will see below shortly. There is also the worry of what sort of book you will be in the mood for and with twelve hours free who knows? It also doesn’t help that I will be starting a new book tomorrow and so as a rule I always take a few books and this time I decided to take five with me. After much mulling and wandering through my bookshelves (so not planned reading its all been random) I decided on the following…

Travel Reading To Go?

  • 1984 – George Orwell (ok one bit of planned reading as this is for book group on Thursday)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson (a short book for Halloween evening and have heard some rave reviews)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (been tempting me for ages)
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (one of my tomes have been meaning to read)
  • The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood (something new which I have been meaning to read)

Now if you would like to get your hands on a ‘chilling’ tale for Halloween you can (I have just finished a Halloween related book to discuss tomorrow) get the Shirley Jackson for free (well 90p), as I did, with The Times as its available until the end of today. Just to give you a tip off as its alost a tenner new in the shops.

The Times & Jackson Giveaway

Speaking of newspapers etc, I am taking some bookish magazines with me such as Books Quarterly which Waterstones publish and I love, plus the wonderful Persephone Biannually which I have half read already (lovely to see lots of you in it). I am also taking a catalogue or two as Persephone and Oxford Classics aren’t just book catalogues but glossy wonderful and delightful magazines that give you much more than a blurb.

Bookish Magazines

So all in all the twelve hours should fly by before I know it! How do you choose the books you take away with you on holiday? Do you have a selection or just one and hope for the best? What bookish magazines do you simply have to get every issue of?

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All About The Blurb

As usual Booking Through Thursday has made me think about things differently, which is always a good thing. Today the question is “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

Now I sat and thought about five words that would make me read a book instantly from the blurb and its actually really hard in the end I came up with; scandal – charming – surreal – mysterious – suspicious. I don’t know what that says about me to be honest. I can also guarantee that a book that involves a small village and its inhabitants will intrigue me as village based books has become a new love. The five that would put me off are; cricket – trolls – unbelievable love story (count that as one day) – aliens – awesome. But how often do I buy a book because of a blurb?

It’s actually quite a rare thing in all honesty as I tend to go on other peoples recommendations, articles in the press, bookish radio shows, book blogs and authors I know. Now that makes me sound like I am not adventurous and don’t try new books but I do. I just tend to go into new book shops on a mission to find a specific, browsing is simply dangerous. Second hand stores actually will make me meander and browse more, I also will happily pick up a book that has an amazing retro cover from the 70’s just because I like the books look. Very materialistic and shallow but we all have our faults.

I then thought about my favourite book Rebecca. I bought this because about three people had recommended it and then I saw the TV show with Diana Rigg (who is one of my favourite actors) but would I have actually bought it from the blurb?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers …Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

I am not 100% sure I would. It sort of sounds like a throwaway romance rather than a dark and brooding masterpiece (that’s my opinion, it’s not official though maybe it should be) though I do like the terms “haunting story” and “very bleak”. I don’t think I would have bought it from the blurb alone.

The other thing that bothers me about blurbs is often they can lie. I remember being desperate to read Underground by Tobias Hill as living in London I like books based here. This one really leapt out at me as I like a good crime and one based on the underground where a man is serially pushing women in front of the tube seemed like an ideal thriller for a commute, as you can see from my review that isn’t really what the book was about at all. Not the authors fault but since then I have been asked to read more Hill and said ‘hmmm maybe one day’.

So what about you? What words or phrases in blurbs make you rush to buy a book or promptly put it back down? Have you ever had a book blurb lie like I have on more than one occasion? Would you have bought your favourite book based on its blurb? Do let me know.

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Goodbye To Berlin – Christopher Isherwood

This new method of just mooching through my shelves is already a vast improvement on the bookish burn out I was in danger of a while ago, and I am only on day four! Actually over lunch yesterday myself and Kimbofo were discussing the merits and possibilities of doing ‘a Susan Hill’ and bar being bought books by friends and sent review books not buying a single book in 2010. Neither of us has said we are definitely doing it but we mused it for some time. Anyway I didn’t have a book to read after the weekend so when I got an invite on Sunday night to see Cabaret yesterday I went and found my copy of the book that started it all off ‘Goodbye To Berlin’ by Christopher Isherwood.

Goodbye to Berlin is less a novel, though it classifies itself as one, and more a collection of four stories and two diary entries. All these tales are based around the underground and lower end of society in 1930’s Germany as the Nazi’s slowly come to power and there is a great time of change in Berlin. Though written from the perspective of Christopher Isherwood a young writer at the time these, the author clarifies in the introduction, are all works of fiction – I wasn’t sure if I believed that as the characters we meet are so vivid.

One of the stories in the book, which do all interlink, and possibly my favourites is Sally Bowles and was the story that inspired the film I Am Camera that then became the iconic Cabaret. Sally is a wonderful character living on the wrong side of town and hanging out with the wrong kind of people invariably getting herself into trouble. She moves into the same apartment as Christopher that we see in the first Berlin Diary where we also meet the wonderful landlady Fraulein Schroeder who is a wonderful motherly, yet incredibly nosey landlady who takes in the tenants other people wouldn’t rent to.

We also see how men who liked men coped with such a forbidden love in On Ruegen Island, and tales of poverty in The Nowaks and The Landauers before a wonderful final Berlin Diary as Isherwood, both the character and the narrator bid farewell to the city and the love affair they have had with it and the people who walk its back streets. Through all of these tales we meet the minorities and the rejects of Berlin who give an unusual insight into Berlin during its history that I hadn’t read the likes of before.

Actually I tell a slight lie as some of the characters that you meet in the wonderful The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin are part of the Berlin Cabaret set though maybe not so vivid and that in part is why I find it hard to believe that the characters we meet, emotions we feel and the streets we walk are purely fictional they come so fully formed and so full of life even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I really loved this book, I sadly really didn’t love the version of Cabaret that I went to see this week though but I shall say no more. I thought all the characters I met in this book were wonderful and think Sally Bowles may be one of my favourite characters of the year. I also loved seeing that period in history and the lead up to WWII and the Nazi Regimes rise to power through such a different perspective utterly enthralling. It’s also wonderfully written evoking the emotions of the people and the sounds and smells of the streets.

I already have the other of Isherwood’s Berlin books Mr. Norris Changes Trains and may have to read that very soon. I may break one of my reading rules as normally I like to hold off from another read by a wonderful author I have just discovered, does anyone else do this? However with my new ‘read whatever’ whim takes me on or follow whatever journey the books I read lead me on and I feel Isherwood’s Berlin has much more to tell. Has anyone else read these or any other of Isherwood’s non-Berlin based books?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Christopher Isherwood, Review, Vintage Classics

Tackling The Tomes

Following on from yesterday’s post about reading at leisure and just going off at a tangent I was mulling through my shelves and spotted one that has been getting no attention since I moved into my new house. Now I am a big fan of seeing other people’s shelves on their blogs, for example Claire of Paperback Reader has done a series of colour co-ordinated shelves which looked stunning. I tried this back in February and though it looked lovely I couldn’t ever find anything and so that became a bit of a nightmare, if an aesthetically pleasing on, I know it works wonderfully well for a lot of people though.

When I moved house back in July I inherited lots of new shelves in my room as well as the shelves “for books I have read” in the lounge. The question was how to organise them so I did a hardback shelf, a review paperback shelf, a non fiction shelf, a mixture shelf (books by Daphne, Man Booker winners and dare I say it books I haven’t finished), a short reads shelf and the shelf of today’s post The Blinking Big Books shelf.

Blinking Big Books

Now some of the titles have been must reads for ages and I think one or two of them may end up in my packing for my long weekend up north that’s coming up. The ones I have heard lots about and am looking forward to reading are…

  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (on of my Gran’s fav’s)
  • A Widow for One Year – John Irving
  • The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  • Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (another of Gran’s favourites)
  • The American Boy – Andrew Taylor
  • Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel
  • Crime & Punishment – Dostoevsky

The ones I am not so sure about which have either been bought for me, sent to me or randomly purchased in shops ‘because they look nice’ (and could do with your thought on, though do give them on the ones above too) are…

  • Of Human Bondage – W Somerset Maugham
  • At Swim Two Boys – Jamie O’Neil
  • The Impressionist – Hari Kunzru (one my Mum very much liked)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marissa Pessl
  • The Forsythe Saga – John Galsworthy
  • Rebecca’s Tale – Sally Beauman (a Rebecca sequel/prequel)
  • The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – G. W. Dahlquist
  • The Madness of a Seduced Woman – Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
  • The Grave Diggers Daughter – Joyce Carol Oates

There are a few more (such as the book We Need To Talk About Kevin that I may try and re-read after failing miserably) but that’s quite enough for now. I would just like your thoughts on them especially as I always find really long books quite hard work. I don’t know why this is, one possible explanation is the fact I think about how many shorter books I could be reading. Or the fact they are a bit of nightmare to carry around with you when you are commuting, though I won’t be for quite a while so that’s another excuse down. It could of course just be I am reading the wrong ones?

What are your thoughts on great big books? Which have been your favourites? Do you avoid them at all costs? Do I have any gems above that I simply must read now? Anything big bookish to add?

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The Mathematics of Meltdown

This weekend I think is the closest I have ever been to having some sort of bloggers breakdown. Okay maybe that is a bit dramatic but everything seemed to get a little much and so I have shockingly, apart from finishing No Name on Saturday morning, not read anything this weekend nor have I visited any book blogs or indeed blogged. My blackberry also broke so I had no internet on my travels and it was in a very strange way quite liberating. What I needed was some book space, a saying you will rarely ever hear come from my lips**

Instead I have caught up with lots of friends, been to the theatre, slept lots, not done any freelance work and eaten takeaway in front of the X Factor. However I have thought a lot about books and blogging and possibly definitely went on a book hunt. The main question was when did they take over my life to a slightly unhealthy degree and what made me need not just a blogging break but a book break? I started working on some bookaholic equations such as…

2 over thirty hour jobs + freelance work + 1 daily book blog + reading the books to blog = absolutely no rest and no social life and not the most fun filled Simon.

Now one of them is going already, yes sadly on this Friday coming I am leaving my charity job, which will mean my day times are freer to fit in the freelance and editing that I do in the evenings along with blogging. I have also made the pact with myself that for one whole month in November I am not working. I am fortunate to be in a position where I can do this and know it’s lucky but when I look back at the last time I had a holiday that wasn’t also a travel feature I have to go back to 2007. If I go back to a weekend I last didn’t work a day of I am looking at 2008. Even when this last relaxed photo of me below was taken, you guessed it, I was on a work trip and though they are cushy, it’s constant mental notes and then a whole load of write up after.

My month off is already getting filled I am off to look after one year old twins for a few days as of Saturday and I am booking myself up with coffee’s and catch ups left right and centre and Gran is coming down. I also realised I don’t have to blog everyday.

Blogging daily used to be easy last year when I had a one year freelance contract and worked from home. It was also easier when I wasn’t getting comments and readers, I didn’t look at hits a day or anything and whilst I am no means addicted I will admit I  pop and look to see if lots of people have popped by. Now I don’t mean that I wouldn’t want commenter’s or visitors, I love it, I have noticed that I now ‘have to blog daily so people come back’ which as The Converted One put it “is all in your head Simon, if people like it they will come back, just make your blog work to your schedule”. This change in schedule made me think of the next equation that even though I have a good chunk of time off coming up…

9 weekends of sensation season books x 600 pages on average per book = 5400 pages of sensational reading which is slightly excessive.

So I have decided to change the schedule for The Sensation Season so if you are joining in check and see the book is still very much on the list. Those of you who have told me you have copies in advance I am making sure I am still reading those. There was factor that someone very wise, which wise friend it was I forget, mentioned to me was the fact that “if you read all the Wilkie Collins books now you will never have that first read of a Collins book again” and that’s a very valid point. I also don’t want to get sick of one of my favourite authors and genre’s. Plus I have so much else that I have planned to read at the moment or planned read-a-thons in the past few months as….

1 Man Booker long list + 1 book group read + reviews for a magazine + being on a radio books show panel + 1 sensation season = too much planned reading.

When I worked this out and the amount of books that I own and how long it would take to read them all I was stunned.

852 books on my TBR ÷ 118 books I read a year (on average) = 7 years to read every book that I own currently.

Not stunned in an ‘oh dear that’s too many books to own’ way or in a ‘I won’t buy any books at all for a year’ HEiotL way (I have given it some thought mind) but just in the fact that maybe I should be wandering through the books that I own and going off on the journeys they take me rather than joining in on another longlist, another challenge or read-a-thon. Which sadly means that I won’t be joining in on Simon Stuck-in-a-Book’s group read of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s ‘Manservant and Maidservant’ if I had the book to hand I would do but I don’t and ended up on a very long and manic hunt this Saturday through some of London’s secret second-hand book shops. I couldn’t find it, though I did find a few other gems I purchased – the seven years worth of books will not stop me getting new ones, and so felt fate had intervened. I also have a stack of library books I want to get through and as you will see (on Weds) some of my month off will involved reading some tomes that have been on my hit list for ages but are too big to lug around on a commute. So now I am feeling much happier about it all and much more relaxed. The next week is a madly busy one and so if I don’t blog everyday so what?

I won’t not be blogging in November just taking a different approach to it all. I am also going to get reacquainted with my bookshelves, I do feel like they are giving me rejected puppy dog looks when I see them and evil eyes when I have my back to them. I am just going to see which books jump out at me, no plans, no ‘I must finish it if I have started it’ (hence why my current reads widget has vanished) and if I don’t fancy reading anything what’s the big deal? Who else out there has had a ‘blogish break down’ I bet some of you have, come on fess up I feel much better for sharing and would feel even better if knew I wasn’t the only one. Has anyone worked out the maths behind their TBR and the reading rates?

**Please note – None of this was a moan by the way, if I didnt love books, reading and blogging I wouldn’t do this, as thats why I do it. The moment I really don’t enjoy it all I simply just stop blogging at the moment I am loving it I am just a bit manic and need to relax. I also just wanted you to see a truthful post about some of the delightful perils of book addiction hahaha!

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No Name – Wilkie Collins

A slightly late post for the Sensation Season Sunday this week but I don’t like to put the post up until have finished the book and had time to digest it for a while. I also have had what The Converted One is calling a full on ‘Bloggers Breakdown’ but more on that tomorrow. Back to the aim of Sensation Season Sunday and to the latest read in the season (which schedule change I will also be discussing tomorrow) and its another Wilkie Collins novel but would this one be the one to put me off Collins?

No Name is the tale of two sisters who have to face the hardest of times after the death of their parents.  Not only do they have the grief and loss to deal with but the unsettling discovery that leaves them shunned from society… their parents were not married when either of them were born. This storyline actually caused huge shock, but mass sales, when it was published and reading about that added to the books themes. The girls are disinherited and thrown out of the family manor leaving them to fend for themselves. After a life together the two sisters set out on very different paths that will change their lives forever.

Norah Vanstone is the more silent and submissive of the sisters and opts for a life of a governess; with the social stigma attached to her this is a hard path to follow and pushes her through poverty and much toil. Her strong willed sister Magdalen however decides that she will get her inheritance however possible and uncovers a tale that means not only does she want what is rightfully hers, she wants revenge at whatever cost. She does find a partner in this quest, a certain Captain Wragge who when is first depicted as a suspicious man all dressed in black with eyes of different colours you think may be a wonderfully evil character. Though he is a swindler we do see a very different side to him and I liked this twist with the book, the true villain when he shows up is utterly marvellous.

I think one thing that Wilkie Collins is incredibly good at, apart from mystery and intrigue which this book has in abundance, is writing great women. Be they femme fatales, villainesses, mad women or innocent victims of fate you know they will be well written and both sisters though their tales and personalities are quite, quite different they are both vivid. The book does tend to feature the wonderfully head strong Magdalen who I don’t think any reader could help but love but Norah in her own way has quite a journey. I also think with No Name that Wilkie Collins is trying to say something about the way society treats women over men and that was something I wasn’t expecting.

I thought from the title of the book (can I just say what a gorgeous cover this book has though Oxford World Classics new range is just stunning) that I might not enjoy this one and it wasn’t one that I had heard much about other than it was the book between the incredibly successful The Woman in White and The Moonstone. No Name is yet another gripping sensation novel with mystery, scandal and villains that also inter-mingles a real insight into Victorian Society and shows, through Captain Wragge, that you should never judge people by their appearance or what others may say. Another one to add to my never ending love of Collins books, surely they can’t all be this marvellous, but please say they are.

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