31 December 2010

I spotted this over at An Adventure in Reading complete with permission to borrow away. So I took the lazy option for my end-or-yer post and did exactly that!

Best Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Made me smile all the way through, and want to run off to an island somewhere.

Worst Book: The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman. Heroine I wanted to slap? Check. Characters who made me wish I could disinfect my imagination? Check. Offensive portrayal of actual historical figure? Check. Distinct whiff of authorial axe-grinding? Check. Mental note to take it to second-hand book store at first opportunity? Check.

Most Disappointing Book: 2010 seems to have been my year for less-than-stellar reads. Most (or least) notable: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman, and Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis. Also, in a way, Into the Woods by Tana French. It is actually a good book; but I was so excited to discover that crime novel rarity - a male-female investigative pair who are just friends - that their decision to ruin a perfectly good working relationship by sleeping together sent the novel into a nosedive for me at that point.

Most Surprising Book: A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts. It’s a biography of James Holman, an adventurer who travelled all over the world in the early 1800s ... after going blind.

The Book Most Recommended to Others: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Best Series Discovered: Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series.

Favorite New Authors Discovered: Deanna Raybourn and Tana French. (Depsite the aforementioned nosedive.)

Most Hilarious Read: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book: The Whole Truth by David Baldacci. I read most of it in one night because I HAD to find out what happened.

Most Anticipated Book: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin, and Guernsey again.

Favorite Cover: The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers.

Most Memorable Character: Nicolas Creel in The Whole Truth; everyone in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (Can you tell how much I loved that book?)

Most Beautifully-Written Book: the Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact On You: I’m not really one for being affected by books. But Revolutions in the Earth by Stephen Baxter fuelled a stack of background for this year’s NaNo novel.

Book you Can't Believe you Waited Until 2010 to Read: Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. For someone who likes the classics I took a long time to get around to that one.

New Favorite Book Blog You Discovered: The Classics Circuit. Next year I must take part in one of their classics blog tours.

Favorite Review You Wrote: Not a great year for reviews ... okay, a pathetic year for reviews. Probably The Other Boleyn Girl was my favourite of the few.

Best Book Event You Participated in During 2010: Blog Post Bingo is always fun.

Best Bookish Discovery of 2010: Paradoxically, the discovery that reading fewer than 100 books in a year isn’t a total calamity.

30 December 2010

New Author Challenge 2011

New Author Challenge 2011

1 Jan - 31 Dec 2011

Woohoo! Literary Escapism is back up and I can sign up for that challenge I’ve been eyeing off. I seem to have encountered an unusually high rate of sub-par reads this year, so maybe trying some new things next year will improve matters.

(Or maybe not. It’s just occurred to me that most of those disappointments were authors I hadn’t read before.)

For reading challenges next year I’m working on the principle that it’s better to aim low and overshoot than aim high and fail (again...). So I’m going for 15 books by new-to-me authors in 2011. Not a terribly high proportion of my total reading, but non-fiction doesn’t count!

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

1 Jan - 31 Dec 2011

I think, a couple of weeks ago, I formed the intention of not taking on too many challenges next year. Or half-formed it. Or thought about forming it. Doesn’t really matter now, since I’m about to sign up for two more!

But I can’t resist the Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted this time by Historical Tapestry. I’ve chosen the Struggling the Addiction option of 10 books. (Probably I’ve got a good half-dozen in my TBR box already.)

I’m not going to choose books in advance, but I will commit to reading books set in ten different eras. Preferably ten different centuries, if I can manage it.

Booking Through Thursday: Annual Review

What’s the best book you read this year?



Best: The False Inspector Dew by Peter Livesey. A mystery set aboard the Mauritania in the 1920s with multiple twists and turns, and an ending I never saw coming.

Worst: Does it count if I didn’t actually read the whole thing? If so, The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman. I can hardly remember the last time I itched so badly to slap a character into the next century as I did Rebecca Lopez. For worst book read in its entirety, I’d choose the disappointing White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

Favourite: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. It just about broke my heart to give it back to the library.

28 December 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

"I see no difficulty there," declared McClellan. "The question is what to do with Miss Acton tonight."

From The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, p. 88.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful day and found at least one good book under the tree.

And I hope you had nicer weather than Brisbane! It’s been raining here for days, and it’s going to keep raining for days to come. I’m consoling myself with the thought that at least the house is on high ground. And this is going to be great for the giant tomato plant that’s sprouted in the compost heap, and is already up to my shoulder.

09 December 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Crappy

Do you ever crave reading crappy books?

Short answer:

Uh ... no. Why would I do that?

Longer answer:

Sometimes I enjoy reading thrillers that some people would regard as trashy. (Dan Brown might not be the world’s greatest writer, but his books are fun.) But that’s other people’s definition of crappy, not mine. And I’ve got much better things to do with my time than read books I think are crappy. Sure, they’re fun to trash in the review, but I’m less inclined now to finish bad books than I used to be. (A sign of advancing age perhaps, if I can use such an excuse at 26.)

I’d much rather read good books than bad ones!

07 December 2010

DNF: The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman

The Quality of Mercy Historical Fiction Challenge

When actor Harry Whitman is found near the road with a sword through his back, the obvious conclusion is that he was killed by a highwayman. His friend and protege Will Shakespeare, however, isn’t so sure. Asked by Whitman’s widow to find her husband’s killer, he sets out to investigate and soon finds that his suspicions are justified.

Meanwhile Rebecca, the teenage daughter of the Queen’s physician Roderigo Lopez, is eager to avoid the fate that her gender and class have alotted her: Marriage. Her fiance has been murdered while carrying out her father’s schemes to rescue fellow Jews from the Inquisition, but it is only a matter of time before she is betrothed to another. And Rebecca means to make the most of every moment of freedom she can grab.

I feel a little guilty about including a book I didn’t finish in a challenge, but it’s too late in the year to hunt up another replacement. (This book was intended to substitute for The Fool's Tale, another unreadable book.) This really hasn’t been my year where reading challenges are concerned.

If it had been just Shakespeare chasing after his friend’s killer ... well, I don’t know whether I would have finished it but it would have been better. I liked Shakespeare, which is more than I can say for pretty much every other character. And it was fun reading about his theatrical tribulations. The manager complains that his Richard III is too human to be politically wise and tells Shakespeare to "evil him up". Then Burbage complains that his opening speech is too short and demands another twenty lines. Or thirty. Or forty, or fifty if it’s going well.

But then Willy met Becca.

Whenever Rebecca appeared on the page, a phrase of Aarti’s kept running through my head: “Unrealistically Rebellious Female! Unrealistically Rebellious Female!”. (Complete with red flags and flashing lights and sirens.) Kellerman does at least make an effort to give her reasons for not wanting to marry like every other girl of her class is expected to do, but still... God, I wanted to slap her. This is someone who has clearly never even HEARD of discretion, let alone understood the concept.

She talks when she shouldn’t about matters of other people’s life or death. At the age of twelve she prostituted herself to her cousin in return for further schooling. She slips out of the house and roams the streets of London dressed as a man in clothes “borrowed” from her brother. On one such cross-dressing escapade, she engages in a duel - and loses the weapons she had “borrowed” from her cousin. (Because heaven forbid she conduct herself like other women in any respect; naturally she’s pestered her male relatives into teaching her to fence.) Just like she pesters her father into letting her help with his business.

And she wonders why Roderigo wants to get her married off and settled down.

Actually, I disliked most of the characters. So many of them are unpleasant people who do and think and say unpleasant things, to the extent that I rather regret wading as far through the sordid sixteenth-century mire as I did. And I hated the depiction of Queen Elizabeth - she was portrayed as positively predatory towards attractive young girls, which I felt was a disrespectful thing to do to a real person.

But the book does have a redeeming feature, and it’s a strong one. The historical detail is fantastic; I could probably have learned a lot if I’d been able to keep reading. (It also inspired me to weed out some books to trade at a second-hand bookstore, which I’ve been thinking about for ages; needless to say this one was first on the list.)

Pages Read: 237 of 594 (plus a few more from the end, when I checked to see whodunnit)

Victorian Literature Challenge

Thanks to Becky’s Weekly Geeks post I discovered the Victorian Literature Challenge at Words, Words, Words and promptly succumbed to temptation. The challenge covers everything written in the Victorian era (1837 - 1901), and runs from 1 Jan to 31 Dec 2011.

I’ve chosen the Great Expectations option of 5-9 books; I think I’ll aim for an even half-dozen. Three from my TBR box:

Nicholas Nickleby - Charles Dickens
A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy (overlap with What’s in a Name? 4)
Can You Forgive Her? - Anthony Trollope
And three to be rounded up later.

I’m very much looking forward to finishing my second Dickens novel!

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Mr William Walton, the proprietor's brother, who was responsible for waiting on the suite of rooms in the east wing, took it upon himself to tell her ladyship that his colleague, Mr Robert Hepple, had confided in him what he had seen and heard the previous night. Mr Hepple felt the information ought to be communicated to Lord Ellenborough, a frequent guest in the hotel.

From A Scandalous Life by Mary S. Lovell, p. 51.

This is a biography of Lady Jane Digby, who was literally front-page news when Lord Ellenborough divorced her in 1830. (And who continued to stir up gossip for quite some time thereafter.)

06 December 2010

Weekly Geeks: Plans for 2011

Weekly Geeks

Do you plan on participating in any reading challenges in 2011? Are you planning on hosting any reading challenges? Perhaps you'd like to share an idea for a reading challenge - to see if there is any interest! Share with us which challenges look tempting to you! (You don't have to "officially" join any of the challenges for this weekly geek. Just let us know which ones you'd be most interested in.) You might want to spend some time browsing A Novel Challenge. Are there any challenges you are looking forward to that haven't been announced yet? Regardless of your challenge plans, are you starting to plan ahead for next year? Do you make lists or goals? Are you a person who enjoys reading more if it is structured? Or are you all about being free to read what you want, when you want?
Reading challenges? Bring ’em on!

So far for 2011 I’ve signed up for the Gothic Reading Challenge and the What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge. (When it comes to challenges, I’m not one to let a year of failed reading goals deter me from launching into the next lot.) I’m also tempted by the Shakespeare Reading Challenge, and the Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge, and I’ll check out the New Authors Reading Challenge when the site is back up.

Yes, I enjoy challenges. I like the sense of community and the fun of hunting books to fit the criteria. But I also like my reading freedom, which is why I’ve increasingly begun to leave challenge lists blank at sign-up and fill them as I go - “I must look out for a book with a gem in the title” is so much less restrictive that “I have to re-read The Moonstone next year”. Of course the downside to this - as opposed to the “only join a challenge if I can fill it from my TBR box” method - is that the universe (in the person of the library and the Bookfest) doesn’t always provide.

Challenges aside, my reading plans for next years can be summed up in three words: Read. More. Books. Unless I’ve overlooked a bunch I haven’t even hit three figures this year, which by my standards is ... appalling. I know I had free time - where the hell did it all go? On a tangential note, I also want to do something I have never done before: Clear some books off my shelves to trade in at a second-hand bookstore. The last time I got rid of any books was as part of a garage sale when I was in high school!

All this talk of challenges has given me an idea. I’ll be reading a lot about the 18th century next year, thanks to NaNoWriMo - in order both to polish this year’s heap of rubbish work in progress and plan out next year’s. So why not try to drag a few other people along with me? If you’d be interested in joining an Enlightenment Reading Challenge - for books written in, set in, or written about the 1700s - please leave a comment.

What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge

What’s a good way to cheer yourself up after NaNoWriMo has come to an end for another year? Go and check out all the bright shiny new reading challenges! Beth is running the What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge, and this year the categories are:

1. A book with a number in the title
2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title
3. A book with a size in the title
4. A book with travel or movement in the title
5. A book with evil in the title
6. A book with a life stage in the title

So far my (flexible) choices are:

A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy

Travel or Movement:
Going Wrong - Ruth Rendell; or
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith (capturing involves movement! It counts!)

Dark Hollow - John Connolly

Life Stage:
A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levin; or
The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

The remaining two categories will be filled from the library, or the next Bookfest, or the UBS at Mt Gravatt if I ever work up the resolve to cull my collection and trade some books.

02 December 2010

Booking Through Thursday: First

How about First Editions? Are they something special? Or “just another book” to you?

I really don’t care about what print run a book came from; I just care about whether it’s worth reading. I wouldn’t have a clue what number edition any of my books are; it’s not something I’ve ever thought to check. And with books produced in such numbers these days I don’t regard a first edition as anything special.

Now, if it was an old book, I might think differently ... but I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it just because it was first.

01 December 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 30: Thank God It's Over - I Think

30 days. Too many cups of coffee. Too few hours of sleep. 80,592 words if Microsoft Word’s doing the counting. Several hundred less it it’s the NaNo website. (Definitely something strange going on there; up until last night it was adding a couple of hundred.)

It’s over for another year! In a way it’s a relief; I’ve spent the last few days thinking, I just want this novel to be finished! Not that it’s anywhere near that, of course, but now at least I can give my poor hands a break and halve the amount I type each day.

But I think I’m going to miss the thrill of being wide awake and eager to keep plotting and writing at 1 in the morning.

27 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 27: I Finally Killed Someone!

At long last my mystery novel has a corpse gracing its pages!

(Sorry, Laurence. Not only for doing you in, but for having you killed as the result of a misunderstanding. And for the ignominy of being knifed in an alley near St Giles.)

I feel rather ghoulishly pleased with myself for finally working in a nice murder. I’m not sure what it says about me that I find it fun to kill non-existent people in various nasty ways ... but at least I can look at all the crime novels filling my shelves and know that I’m in good company.

23 November 2010

Weekly Geeks: Antique Books

Weekly Geeks

The other day I was noticing the old books on my book shelf. Old, meaning books that were "born" a long long time ago. Books that were published AND printed a long long time ago. (Not simply books that have been sitting on our shelves forever!)And it made me wonder what old books other readers have in their collection. So this week, write a post sharing with us what old antique books you may have on your shelves, and tell us the story behind them. Did you inherit from a relative? Are you a collector of old and rare books? Did you just discover a certain book in a used book store and couldn't pass it up? What's the very oldest book you have? Do you even like old books? Or do they creep you out? Do you read and enjoy your old books, or is it more a "look and don't touch" thing?
I love old books. They bring a history with them which you can’t get in a paperback fresh off the shelves. Especially when they contain inscriptions or second-hand bookstore labels or other marks of their past, they invite you to wonder about who read them before you, and how they ended up moving on to someone else’s collection.

I can’t afford actual antiques, so my definition of an “old” book is “significantly older than I am”. The oldest on my shelves is a copy of Jonathan Swift’s Journal to Stella printed in 1948, which I picked up for $0.50 at a charity book sale. It’s more vintage than antique, and I’m not sure that the cover is intact - it may once have had a dust jacket - and the cloth it’s bound with is a dull shade of pink.

I love it anyway. It had nearly sixty years of adventures before arriving on my shelves, and I know that I will keep it and look after it for the rest of my lifetime so that one day it can resume its journey and be loved by someone else. And because it’s vintage rather than a true antique I feel free to treat it a little cavalierly - toss it into my bag to read on the train.

I would never do that with a really old volume, but so long as I wasn’t afraid it would crumble beneath my fingers I would read it. That’s what books are for! Outside of archives and museums, there’s no point in owning a book you can’t curl up with and enjoy.

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

When not absorbed in the all-consuming literary chaos of NaNoWriMo (or attending to ... what’s that other thing? ... real life) I’m back in Elizabeth’s England, in 1593. I’m among a group of ostensibly Protestant conversos working to smuggle fellow Jews out of the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition. Although I don’t know it yet, my path is set to cross that of a player-turned-detective named Will Shakespeare.

The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Chambers said, “In my business, one never interferes with gentlemen dicing. They become most resentful.”

From The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman, p. 73.

20 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 20: Well, This is Embarrassing...

I’ve been addicted to mystery novels for over fifteen years.

I’ve been addicted to tv crime shows for nearly ten.

I have a biotechnology degree, which is basically a degree in conducting investigations. Heck, I could probably qualify for Mensa.

This year, for NaNo, I have a plausible villain with an interesting motive. I have an abundance of cross-connections between characters. I have hidden pieces of cause and effect. I’m actually quite pleased with myself.

But I cannot plot an investigation to save my life.

Not only do Jasper and Peregrina have no idea how to solve the mystery, I have no idea how to make them solve the mystery! (And just to add to my feelings of foolishness, this is the third year in a row I’ve had this problem. It’s becoming a NaNo tradition.) This being NaNo - i.e. a mad dash to get as many words down as possible by the end of November - I have no intention of sitting down to fix it now. I’m just letting them muddle through however they like, which has so far led to plenty of boring bits but hasn’t taken the plot completely off the rails, for which I’m thankful.

Now I’m trying to keep my spirits up with thoughts of all the mystery novels I’ll get to read and dissect - all in the name of research! - once the first draft is finished. Which at this rate should happen some time around Christmas.

19 November 2010

Booking Through Thursday Friday: Borrowing?

I’ve been so immersed in NaNoWriMo (meaning so busy staring at a computer screen thinking, I really should write something) that I completely forgot this yesterday!

Who would you rather borrow from? Your library? Or a Friend?

(Or don’t your friends trust you to return their books?)

And, DO you return books you borrow?

Library, always. I enjoy the whole experience of going to the library: the peaceful atmosphere, browsing the shelves, walking out with enough books to keep me reading for several weeks. Borrowing a book here and a book there from other people wouldn’t be the same.

And yes, I DO return books!

10 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 10: Hello, I’m a Researchaholic

It’s been 7 minutes since my last Google search...

Downloading all 800 large-scale segments of the Horwood Map was, it turns out, only the beginning. A piece of gateway research, leading me on to making Google and the Online Etymology Dictionary my primary forms of procrastination, online or off.

I can’t help myself! I keep a running file as I write, noting down anything and everything I might want to check later. What sort of trees grow in Greenwich Park. The first recorded date for “devil-may-care” (not nearly early enough). Where a tourist might buy a map in 1790s London. The annual date of Bartholomew Fair. How soon Goethe developed his views on geology. The first recorded date for “newfangled” (15th century! Yes!). The precise appearance of a fox’s tail. Where a late-18th-century gentleman might carry a letter on his person. When clocks acquired half-hour chimes.

And that’s just for starters.

I'm also addicted to the word count button.

07 November 2010

Gothic Reading Challenge

During my free time in November, not much can drag my attention away from NaNoWriMo. But a shiny new reading challenge? That doesn’t start until January? Count me distracted!

Gothic Reading Challenge

Susan B. Evans is hosting the Gothic Reading Challenge next year, covering everything eerie, spooky, spine-chilling, creepy, and fantastic. (In both senses of the word.)

I’ve selected the Darkness Within option: 5 novels in 2011 with Gothic elements. I don’t have a list, because I’ve discovered I quite like filling in challenges as I go. And because Gothic can be a “know it when I read it” thing.

And now I’m off to hunt through my TBR box. I mean, finish the next scene of my NaNo.

03 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 3: 50-Foot Plot Bunnies on Strike

My subtitle for NaNo this year - the experience, not the novel! - could be “Attack of the 50-Foot Plot Bunnies”. A couple of characters I thought I’d safely filed away years ago got loose, invaded my imagination, and began clamouring for a series. A LONG series.

They, and their friends, so took over my spare waking moments that it was a shock last night to realise Holy %$!#@, I haven't posted since September!

And then on Monday they took unscheduled leave. My first three days of writing have been dreadful; getting words out of my imagination has been like getting a straight answer out of a politician. Slow, painful, and largely unproductive. Yes, I always start out behind, and I always end up well ahead, but this year feels different. I can’t seem to find my writing energy. (And I can’t opt for procrastination with a veneer of usefulness by working on my cover art, because I got organised this year and did it last month.)

So I’ll reiterate here what I declared on the forums last night: I am going to reach 10,000 words by midnight Friday. Then I’ll add a wordcount widget to my sidebar. The threat of public failure on two fronts should provide an extra bit of motivation.

23 September 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Current

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

Right now I’m reading Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer. I picked it up on my last visit to the library, first because it’s Georgette Heyer and second because of the title. After all, why would anyone shoot a butler? The ideal servant is so self-effacing you can’t imagine anyone noticing them enough to have a motive to kill them.

I’m halfway through and not really any the wiser, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s fun watching the sparring between Shirley Brown and Frank Amberley; each is as blunt and ill-mannered and stubborn as the other. A perfect match, in other words, if they’ll ever admit as much.

21 September 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in Upper Nettlefold, where the neighbourhood is buzzing with the news that the Fountains’ butler has been shot.

Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Well, when a chap opens a letter, reads it and turns a sort of pea-green, and sits staring at the fatal document like one struck with the palsy, the astute spectator at once divines the cause. Besides, I asked him.”

From Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer, p. 86.

19 September 2010

Book Review: The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

The Professor Declining the assistance of his uncles, William Crimsworth proposes to make his own way in the world, starting as a clerk in his brother’s business. The life of an industrial town proving not to his taste, he takes himself instead to the continent and becomes a teacher in Brussels. While supplementing his income by teaching classes at the neighbouring girls’ school, he meets and becomes dazzled by Mlle Zoraïde Reuter, and almost overlooks the quiet little sewing teacher Frances Henri.

If I had to pick a single word to describe this novel, it would be “unsettling”. Charlotte Bronte has taken one of the great Victorian virtues - self-improvement - and presented a character in whom that trait is warped into an almost pathological self-sufficiency. William Crimsworth doesn’t know how to ask for help, and isn’t too keen on accepting it when offered. He seems intent on proving that a man can make a good attempt at being an island, if he puts his mind to it. Yet at first he comes across as ordinary protagonist material; it’s only after his confrontation with his brother that the red flags went up and I saw that William could be just as difficult and foul-tempered as Edward.

And difficult he is, looking down his nose at the locals and deeming his Flemish students irredeemably stupid. I began to wonder why on earth he stayed, if he found the company so uncongenial. Fortunately he saw something worthwhile in a few people, at least; and fortunately Zoraïde had the sense to make her plans elsewhere. I liked her better than Frances, I think; she had a greater store of knowledge and a greater supply of backbone. Frances was too mousy and eager to please; and her continued habit of referring to Crimsworth as her master - even after she’d gone from student to fianceé - was a little creepy.

At the end I couldn’t believe in the happily-ever-after; couldn’t shake the notion that Crimsworth wanted a wife only to show he was successful enough to afford one, and wanted Frances only because she piqued him by disappearing and thus proving that she wasn’t completely under his control. Quite what Frances saw in him is a mystery, unless it was that he paid attention to her and was willing to educate her when everyone else was content to leave her overlooked and teaching needlework. To a susceptible person, just being taken seriously can be enormously seductive. But Crimsworth struck me as someone equally incapable of being happy himself, or making anyone else so.

Rating: B-

16 September 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Day and Night

Today’s question is suggested by Mae.
“I couldn’t sleep a wink, so I just read and read, day and night … it was there I began to divide books into day books and night books,” she went on. “Really, there are books meant for daytime reading and books that can be read only at night.”
- ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera, p. 103.
Do you divide your books into day and night reads? How do you decide?

Categorising books that way wouldn’t occur to me, at least not on the basis of content (with one exception, see below). There are some books that I read only at home (i.e. mostly at night) - the ones that can’t be squeezed in among the piles of stuff I lug about in my handbag.

What I would call night books are ghost stories and suchlike hair-on-end volumes. In a perfect world, I’d always get to read them during evening power failures, maybe with a nice storm in the background. But even south-east Queensland’s tottering grid can’t be relied on to fail on cue, and I get impatient waiting, so I read my spooky books at any time.

14 September 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in San Francisco, trying to maintain some semblance of privacy in a family of private investigators.

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

David stifled a smile and I realized he had planned the whole thing.

“So you’re my pimp now?”

From The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz, p. 73.

12 September 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot

Why Shoot a Butler?
The Pindar Diamond
The Spellman Files
Her Fearful Symmetry
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Notes from a Big Country

Why Shoot a Butler? - Georgette Heyer
The Pindar Diamond - Katie Hickman
The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer
Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! Her Fearful Symmetry! Did I choose the right day to go to the library or what? I didn’t actually intend to borrow so many books ... it just sort of happened. And good thing too; I borrowed these Thursday and that very evening I succumbed to a virus which left me without much energy for anything other than curling up with a book.

Which proves that you should always listen to those books that want to go home with you.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg.

08 September 2010

DNF: The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland

The Fool’s Tale At the end of the twelfth century, Wales is a collection of disparate territories, none of them smaller than the little kingdom of Maelienydd. In the interests of security, Maelgwyn of Maelienydd agreees to a match with Isabel, who is not only English but one of the powerful Mortimer family. Although he is content enough with Isabel, Maelgwyn has good reason to hate the Mortimers. So too does his oldest friend Gwirion, who has naturally gravitated to a position at court akin to that of a fool, and who has no qualms about making his animosity felt.

Well, I can’t say Marg didn’t warn me....

I actually might have been able to read the whole thing if I could have found sufficient determination. But I decided I have better things to do with my library card than renew a book in order to keep crawling through it at the rate of 25 pages a night. I couldn’t seem to stop my mind wandering all over the place as soon as I had the book open.

I’m not sure precisely what was wrong with it (the book, that is, not my mind!). The characters just failed to grab me, and Gwirion’s antics failed to amuse me. And when I skipped ahead to see if it improved later, I discovered it to be far more fictional than historical. Galland’s style worked much better in Revenge of the Rose, where the European realm in question remained unnamed and presumably fictional. Mixed with actual people and places, it clashes.

This was supposed to be part of the Historical Fiction Challenge, but since I didn’t fix a list at the start I feel it would be cheating to use a book I didn’t finish. Good thing I’m off to the library tomorrow to hunt for a substitute ... or two :-) Pages read: 87 of 519

02 September 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Film to Paper?

Even though it’s usually a mistake (grin) … do movies made out of books make you want to read the original?

Absolutely! Books are almost always better than any adaptation; in the transition from page to screen stuff inevitably has to be cut ... and often something gets changed. After seeing the screen version it’s good to enjoy the original. (And if there have been significant cuts or alterations, it’s definitely best to do it in that order.)

I don’t watch many movies, so what usually happens is that I see the ads and reviews, notice that it was based on a book, and add the book to my mental must-read list.

31 August 2010

Hallelujah! I Hope...

It’s alive! My desktop computer, that is. It’s been fitted with new and more capacious memory which Robbie the Computer Guy assures me will stop those pesky blue screens.

(Well, unless it’s not the memory but the motherboard, in which case it’ll need more bits taken out and replaced.)

Still, the wretched thing seems to like Robbie - it actually loaded Windows for him, which is more than it would do for me - so maybe now it will behave. Certainly Firefox has stopped hanging, so that must be a good sign. Edited to add: It wasn’t the memory ... or at least not only the memory. But it took two and a half hours to crash this time, and it restarted afterwards, so it’s definitely improving.

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m a Greek slave in republican Rome, secretary to Marcus Tullius Cicero. My master is consul and surrounded by enemies - not least of whom is that psychopath Catilina.

Lustrum by Robert Harris.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

But the moment Hortensius resumed his speech, the racket of conversation started up again. By then he could have combined the tongue of Demosthenes with the wit of Plautus - it would not have made a difference.

From Lustrum by Robert Harris, p. 72.

26 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Giving Up

If you’re not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end? What makes you decide to stop?

Call it stubbornness, or an excessive sense of duty or optimism, or whatever, but it takes a lot to get me to quit on a book. I’ve dragged myself to the end of some absolutely God-awful books, and a lot of mediocre ones. I don’t like abandoning books; there’s always that unshakeable thought that I might be missing out on something by not finishing; or that I ought not waste the time I’ve already invested in a book by quitting. (Of course this means the additional waste of the time spent finishing the book, so there’s a certain lack of logic there.)

On the rare occasions I do give up, it’s most likely because I couldn’t stand the characters or I was bored stiff, and I just didn’t care what happened. The books that are entertainingly bad at least offer the chance to write a caustic review, which is incentive enough to carry on.

24 August 2010

Weekly Geeks

Weekly Geeks

So today's Weekly Geeks is about examining a book (or books) which were published in your birth decade. Tell us about a book that came out in the decade you were born which you either loved or hated. Is is relevant to today? Is it a classic, or could it be? Give us a mini-review, or start a discussion about the book or books.

It’s a pity 1984 wasn’t actually published in 1984, because my immediate response to this topic was a total mental blank. The 1980s? What on earth have I read from the 1980s?

Wikipedia to the rescue!

More than I’d thought; enough to make it hard to choose a few favourites (and one not-so-favourite) to blog about. (Though none from my actual year of birth.)

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I loved this book when I was younger. I still have fond memories now that I’m older. After struggling through assigned reading about girls working themselves up into knots over boys, friends, boyfriends, school, parents, etc, etc, it was a relief to discover Sophie. I haven’t read it in years - I borrowed it from the library, I never owned a copy - but she remains one of my all-time favourite heroines. She’s smart and fast-thinking, she doesn’t let a witch’s curse stand in her way, and she’s not about to take any nonsense from a vain wizard with a mobile home. Sophie’s had a lasting effect: I still prefer heroines who deal with whatever life throws at them with good humour (and a backbone) and without histrionics.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
It can be slow going, crammed as it is with historical and literary references, and philosophy, and theology, and probably other stuff I’ve forgotten. But it’s worth it, for two reasons. Take away the intellectual trappings, and it is at heart a clever whodunnit. At the heart of the whodunnit is the suppression of ideas deemed - by some - too dangerous for people to be allowed to access. Censorship is an issue as alive today as it was in the Middle Ages when the book is set; just witness the annual Banned Books Challenge. Or witness the possibly-soon-to-be-former government of the (democratic) country I’m blogging from. They plan - or planned - (there was an election on Saturday but we still don’t know whether they’re past or present tense) to impose mandatory ISP-level censorship of the internet. Without revealing precisely what will be filtered out. Or what leeway there’ll be for future governments to expand the filter without consulting or informing the people. Or how much it will slow everything down.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
Reading Shakespeare’s Richard III in Year 10 English was fun. Getting to team up with my friends and cram the whole thing into 10 minutes - and playing 11 different characters and getting killed with a stapler - was really fun. But it toed the Tudor line and portrayed Richard as a deformed monster. This is the perfect antidote; I was half in love with Richard by the time I finally emerged back into the 21st century. It’s the book that sealed my fascination with all things Wars of the Roses. I love reading doorstoppers, I love learning about history while I read, and I love books that make me think. This succeeds on all three counts. And as is sits on my bookshelf it’s a visible (and large) reminder that there is always more than one way to look at the past.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

And this would be the one that I hated. From what I’ve heard of The Secret, the two sound similar: wish enough, and believe enough, and you’ll make it happen. There’s a line between hope and delusion, and it’s on the wrong side; and I can sum it up in one word. Bollocks.

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m with the Murder squad in Dublin, investigating a case I should probably keep well away from. The victim was found in the area where, twenty years ago on the day I can’t remember, my two best friends disappeared and I somehow survived.

In the Woods by Tana French.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

By the time we got back to the site, the reporters had arrived. I gave them the standard preliminary spiel (I do this part, on the basis that I look more like a responsible adult than Cassie does): body of a young girl, name not being released till all the relatives are informed, treating it as a suspicious death, anyone who may have any information please contact us, no comment no comment no comment.

From In the Woods by Tana French, p. 64.

23 August 2010

Hello from the Laptop!

Because my desktop computer is currently unavailable. As in, possibly a few steps away from the Great Silicon Chip in the Sky. Or, since I’m an atheist, the council’s next Kerbside Cleanup. I’m hoping the computer guy can make sense of the jumble of letters and exclamation marks it presents whenever I switch it on.

(Ironic, really. I’m a stickler for correct English, and my computer now won’t spell a single word properly. Of all the ways to go kaput, it had to choose that.)

Fortunately, I have my laptop. Even better, Blogger’s start page has finally decided to load, and Firefox on this computer doesn’t crash. So I have a functional internet connection for the first time in what feels like ages.

And I had every last file backed up. I learnt my lesson on that when the last desktop died.

15 August 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot

In the Woods
The Fool’s Tale
White is for Witching

In the Woods - Tana French
The Fool's Tale - Nicole Galland
Lustrum - Robert Harris
White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi

We have fiction! My last few Library Loots have been heavy on the fact, but this week I finally had a good hunt through the fiction section. (Well, last week, actually. But Friday night my computer was driving me nuts - hopefully someone at the Tech Support Forums can help me sort out the mess. And last night I was at the Queensland Ballet’s version of Swan Lake. Russia, Rasputin, Romanovs ... I was a little sceptical when I read the program but it worked out quite well.)

And I now have almost a complete list for the Historical Fiction Challenge. I’d hoped to find something set in ancient Rome and something else mediaeval, and the library obliged beautifully.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg.

12 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Evolution

Have your reading choices changed over the years? Or pretty much stayed the same? (And yes, from childhood to adulthood we usually read different things, but some people stick to basically the same kind of book their entire lives, so…)

Woohoo! Blogger’s finally decided to load!

I feel slightly underqualified to answer, given my age (or lack thereof). But then, I’ve been a book addict long enough to have seen that some things have changed, and some definitely have not.

As a child I read Enid Blyton’s mysteries and Nancy Drew novels, and I am still hooked on whodunits. Cosies, thrillers, historical, contemporary ... if there’s a corpse I’ll read it. I’ve also retained my liking for ghost stories, especially on dark, stormy, power-failure nights....

Over the years my reading has not changed so much as expanded. First I came to love classics, even recently discovering an appreciation for Dickens which I never thought I’d possess. Then I fell in love with history, in both its fictional and non-fiction forms, although I do seem to be reading ever-greater quantities of the latter. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I find something else to add to the list.

10 August 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in Oxford, where I’m quite certain someone connected to St Frideswide’s church is going to be murdered.

Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

She had seated herself, not as usual in one of the of the pews at the back of the church, but directly behind him in the choir-stalls; and as he played he’d watched her with interest in the organ-mirror, her head slightly to one side, her face set in a wistful, half-contented smile. As the deep notes died away around the empty church, he had turned towards her.

From Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter, p. 24.

05 August 2010

Booking Through Thursday: First Time

What is the first book you remember reading? What about the first that made you really love reading?

The short answers are, don’t know, and not applicable.

Now for the longer ones. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember - longer, in fact. (And I’m a little envious of those who can recall the wonderful moment of discovery that they could read.) So my early reading experiences are lost to time. I do know they included a lot of Enid Blyton and the dictionary. Don’t actually remember the latter, though I’ve been solemnly assured it was once my bedtime reading of choice, but I do recall having one of Enid Blyton’s mysteries in my desk in Year ... was it 1 or 2? (And just which mystery was it?)

As for the book that made me love reading ... if there ever was a time when I a. could read, and b. didn’t love to do so, it’s long ago and long forgotten. In fact, I don’t think I can remember a time when I didn’t have bookshelf space issues!

03 August 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in a future society where who you are depends on what colour you can see and how well you can see it. Specifically, I’m in East Carmine, to do a chair census as part of a spot of humility realignment.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

‘No one ever gets lost at night and returns,’ observed Daisy, ‘except Jane, of course.’

I tried not to appear interested.

From Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, p. 24.

Book Review: Brilliant Women by Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz

Brilliant Women As well as some of history’s most ridiculous hairdos, the eighteenth century produced some of history’s most brilliant women. The bluestockings were viewed as further proof of England’s superiority ... so long, of course, as they comported themselves with the utmost decorum. They wrote plays, poetry, and history; they produced literary criticism and translations from ancient Greek; they included artists and musicians and social reformers. In the 1770s nine of their number were depicted as modern English Muses; twenty years later the bluestocking movement was on a downhill slide into nineteenth-century propriety, another victim of the French Revolution and the upsurge of British conservatism that followed.

This is actually a group of essays put out as a companion piece to a museum exhibition in London, but it works perfectly well as a book in its own right (and indeed I heard of it when the local newspaper reviewed it as such). As you might expect with such a provenance the illustrations are lavish - portraits aplenty, images of contemporary prints and publications, and other works of art. It’s a treat for the eyes as well as the brain.

The Enlightenment is one of the reasons I love the eighteenth century. To me there’s something romantic about there being so much to discover that anyone with the time and inclination (and money) could start experimenting and maybe change the course of science, before everything became so highly specialised. There are no scientists here (were there any among the bluestockings?) which I think left me even more impressed by their accomplishments. That Ancient Greek business, for instance, would be entirely beyond me. But since - for women - intellectual endeavours had to be paid for exemplary behaviour (female scholarship being an eccentricity only tolerable if not accompanied by any other trait the least bit objectionable) I’m glad I’m here in the 21st century. No matter how many years of university one has to go through to get anywhere.

For a book with a century to cover - without the discussion of the bluestockings’ nineteenth- and twentieth-century legacies - it’s very slim. Make a further subtraction for the sidebars and illustrations, and there’s not that much space to write about the wide-ranging accomplishments of a hundred years of women. But as an introduction to the lives and work of the most prominent of the Georgian era’s female intellectuals, it’s well worth reading.

Rating: B-

01 August 2010

Weekly Geeks: To Kill a Mockingbird

Weekly Geeks

July 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and arguably one of the most influential cultural books of its kind in the U.S. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? When did you first read it? Did it affect the way you think about race and class in the U.S.? Do you agree that it's an influential and/or important book? If you read the book but don't live in the U.S., how did the novel influence your opinions about race in the U.S.?
I have read To Kill a Mockingbird. Naturally it was courtesy of a high school English class; classic or not, I doubt I’d ever have gotten to it otherwise. Mid-twentieth-century isn’t really my preferred literary territory.

There’s confession #1. Now for #2: All I remember about it is being bored. Yes, I utterly failed to appreciate it. It didn’t influence the way I think about anything (not, admittedly, that America and its history are topics I much attention to). As for whether it’s influential and important ... it must be, mustn’t it, to have been considered so for so long?

In my defence, however ... I would point out that I was 13 or 14 when I read it, and the crucial issues of my life were grades and bullies - attaining the one and avoiding the other.

27 July 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m taking a non-fiction tour through Europe with James Holman, the Blind Traveller of the early 1800s.

A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Behind him, revolutions were breaking out in Nice and Genoa. Before him lay the Neapolitan States, which the Austrians were now invading.

From A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts, p. 130.

23 July 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot

A Natural History of Unicorns
A Sense of the World
Shades of Grey
The Vow on the Heron

Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing - Katherine Ashenburg
The Natural History of Unicorns - Chris Lavers (who could resist a title like that?)
A Sense of the World - Jason Roberts
Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
The Vow on the Heron - Jean Plaidy (for the Historical Fiction Challenge)

And on top of all that....

Love and Louis XIV
....Book sale loot! I always stop for a peek at the discounted books out the front of QBD whenever I happen to be passing by, and yesterday I got the bargain of the year. Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser, in hardcover, reduced from $69.99 to $12.99. I am now one very happy history fan.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776