This Week in Books: 8 April 2015

My week in booksThis Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I’m currently reading The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I have mixed feelings about it, alternating between thinking it’s good, not so good, and just about OK, so I carry on reading. It’s historical fiction based on Freud’s visit to New York in 1909, accompanied by Jung, when a young woman is brutally murdered and a second is attacked and left unable to speak. A mixture of murder mystery and psychoanalysis with an interpretation of ‘Hamlet‘ thrown in. I’ve nearly finished this book.

I’m also reading Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro Book One by James Oswald on my Kindle. This is fantasy fiction, not the sort of book I read very often, so it makes a refreshing change. This is inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, following the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men. I’ve read about 25% of the book so far.

Then:

I’ve recently finished reading Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring, a new book which will be published in June. My copy is a pre-publication review copy courtesy of www.lovereading.co.uk. I loved this book, historical fiction set in the Scottish and English Borders and London between 1523 – 1525, full of political intrigue and personal vengeance. My review will follow soon.

Next:

There are several books lining up that I’m keen to read next. I’m not sure which one to choose. It’s been a while since I read an Agatha Christie, so it could be The Moving Finger, a Miss Marple mystery. Or it could be Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, or Nora Webster by Colm Tobin, or The Last Girl, the third Maeve Kerrigan book by Jane Casey. Or something completely different!

The Classics Club Spin Result …

… it’s NUMBER 2

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

This is the book for me to read by 15 May.

Well, it’s not one of the Dickens’ books I listed but it’s still a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, ever since I saw the film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It’s Karen Blixen’s memoir of life in Kenya on a coffee plantation in the early years of the 20th century.

Classics Club Spin

The Classics ClubIt’s time for another Classics Spin.

  • List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • Next Monday the Classics Club will announce a number.
  • This is the book you need to read by 15th May.

I decided to list all the books by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez that are on my list and then added Moby Dick because it will fit in well with a book I’m planning to read soon, In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, which was inspired by Moby Dick.  I added the other books randomly.

  1. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore
  2. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  3. No Name by Wilkie Collins
  4. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  5. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  6. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
  7. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  8. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  9. Adam Bede by George Eliot
  10. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  11. Romola by George Eliot
  12. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  13. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  14. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  15. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  16. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  17. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  18. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  20. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I quite fancy reading Dickens soon, so hope one of his is the spin book.

Five of the Best – March 2011 to 2015

Looking back over my reviews of the past five years I’m picking out a favourite book for each month from 2011 – 2015.

Here are my favourite books for each March from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles to see my original reviews):

2011

Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon – the 20th book in her Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Anna Maria Giusti discovers her elderly neighbour Constanza Altavilla lying dead on the floor of her apartment. Apparently she has died from a heart attack but Brunetti thinks otherwise. It’s more than crime -fiction as Brunetti ponders on life, the problems of ageing, and the nature of truth and honesty.

2012

Daphne by Justine Picardie. This book merges fact and fiction so well that it’s hard to differentiate between the two. It tells the story of Daphne du Maurier and her correspondence about Branwell Bronte with Alex Symington, an ex-Bronte curator and librarian. I preferred this strand of the book to the second, which is a modern day story of a young woman, the second wife of an older man, paralleling the story of Rebecca  – beware if you haven’t read Rebecca, as this book gives away the plot. A satisfying mystery about Daphne and the missing Bronte documents.

2013

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves, the fifth book in Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope series. I loved this book – a great setting, with well drawn characters and a cleverly constructed plot. I didn’t guess who the murderer was but realised afterwards that all the clues had been there, skilfully woven into the narrative, hidden among the dead-ends and red herrings. It’s a murder mystery set in the Northumberland countryside in an isolated country house, where a number of aspiring authors are gathered at the Writers’ House to work on their novels and where one of the visiting tutors is murdered.

2014

The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor, the third book in the Roth Trilogy.  I absolutely loved it. This is a chilling novel of crime and retribution. It works perfectly well on its own, but is even better if you’ve read the first two books.  The characters and setting are totally convincing. It’s well written and the creation of tension and suspense are just right. I thought it was brilliant!

2015

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea, her debut novel. It’s historical fiction and it captivated me completely transporting me  back in time to 16th century Scotland. If you have ever wondered,  as I have, what it must have been like to live in a Tower House in the Scottish Borders then this book spells it out so clearly. And it puts you firmly in the middle of the centuries old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, with all the drama of their battles, ambushes and schemes to further their standing with the young King James VI. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal.

Reading Challenges Update 1 Jan – 31 March 2015

With three months of the year already gone it’s time to see where I am in the challenges I’ve joined. My main challenge or rather aim is to read as many of the books I’ve owned since before 1 January this year, that is my TBRs, and the other challenges are all geared to that one aim.

Mount TBR Check Point #1

Mount TBR 2015

It’s time for the first quarterly check-in post. Bev at My Reader’s Block asks for two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you’re really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you’ve read correlates to actual miles up Pike’s Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you’ve had along the way.

My answer: I’ve read 13 books which means I’ve passed Pike’s Peak and am at the Tramway du Mont Blanc.

From Wikipedia: autor : Frédéric Bonifas
2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.
 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you–if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you’ve read ever? Etc.)
 D. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
I am answering 2D:
An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope has been on my TBR Mountain the longest.  Although it was new when I bought it the pages are now yellowed and the paperback a bit worn and damaged from moving house. I bought it about 25 years ago when I was doing an Open University course and my tutor was an avid fan of Trollope. At the time I hadn’t read any of his books, so  I thought it would be better if I knew a bit about his work before reading about his life. It was well worth the wait.
Autobiography Trollope 001

Books Read in March 2015

March has been a bumper reading month, as I finished reading 11 books, bringing my total for the year so far to 26 books.

I’ve written about eight of them – the links in bold are to my posts:

Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea – historical fiction set  in 16th century Scotland in the Scottish Borders. It’s a tale of love, loyalty, tragedy and betrayal; of the feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries. I loved it.

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers – crime fiction. Harriet Vane is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Lord Peter Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her. Superbly written with humour as well as ingenuity.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths -historical crime fiction set in the theatrical world of the post-war 1950s and linking back to the war years . DI Edgar Stephens investigates the murder of a girl whose body was found cut into three, reminding him of the illusion known as the Zig Zag Girl.

Three Act Tragedy 001Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie – one of her earlier books, featuring Hercule Poirot and Mr Satterthwaite, full of baffling clues, conjuring tricks, clues concealed in conversations, with larger than life personalities, and above all with puzzles to be solved. I really enjoyed it.

The Autistic Brain: Exploring the Strength of a Different Kind of MInd by Temple Grandin – non fiction –  about the changes in the diagnosis of autism and other developmental disorders. ‘Autism, depression and other disorders are on a continuum ranging from normal to abnormal. Too much of a trait causes severe disability, but a little bit can provide an advantage.’  I found parts of this were very readable and easily understandable, other parts (more scientific/technical) were less so.

Catching the Eagle by Karen Charlton – historical crime fiction set in Northumberland in the early 19th century, based on a true story. Kirkley Hall manor house is burgled,suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton and he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.  It’s packed with tension and realism that kept me captivated from start to finish.

Seeking Our Eagle by Karen Charlton -non fiction an account of how she came to write Catching the Eagle whilst researching her husband’s family history.

 

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers  – crime fiction. Harriet Vane goes back to her old Oxford college where she encounters obscene graffiti and poison pen letters. Struggling to find the culprit she enlists the help of Lord Peter Wimsey. This is an absorbing mystery, portraying life in the 1930s, and exploring the role of women in society, particularly with regard to education and marriage.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum – an entertaining story, pure escapism, which I would have loved as a child, following Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz .

The Reckoning by Jane Casey – crime fiction, the second in the Maeve Kerrigan series. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although the opening scenes are rather grim as two men are found dead, both tortured to death. The victims were both paedophiles and no one seems to be too concerned about them. Maeve is not finding it easy to get on with her new boss DI Josh Derwent, and her relationship with her lover Rob, is also causing her problems. Most of the book is narrated by Maeve, with just a few by Rob. It’s quite a complicated plot but is basically a police procedural written in a straight forward style that makes it easily readable, if a little over long in parts.

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police. Carmen Bugan

Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police by Carmen Bugan – nonfiction,  a childhood memoir of political oppression and persecution during Romania’s Ceausescu years.

Blurb from Amazon:

One quiet day when her mother was away from home, Carmen Bugan’s father put on his best suit and drove into Bucharest to stage a one-man protest against Ceausescu. He had been typing pamphlets on an illegal typewriter and burying it in the garden each morning under his daughter’s bedroom window. This is the story of what happened to Carmen and her family, isolated and under surveillance in their beloved village home. It is an intimate piece of our recent history, the testimony of an extraordinary childhood left abruptly behind. Above all, it is a luminous, compassionate, and unflinchingly honest book about the price of courage, the pain of exile, and the power of memory.

Even though this is a beautifully written and descriptive book I struggled a bit at first with the style of writing in the historic present tense, but then I often have problems reading the present tense. However, this does make it a remarkable book, and the first part of it really does seem to be seen through a child’s eyes, unaware of her parents’ activities. As Carmen grew older she became more aware of what was going on. A testimony to courage in the face of oppression.

I can’t choose just one book this month as my favourite – it’s a tie between The Turn of the Tide and Gaudy Night!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been on my shelves for a few years and as I’m taking part in the Once Upon a Time event hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings I decided it was time I read it. It’s a complete change of genre for me as I rarely read children’s books.

It was first published in 1900, made into a Broadway Musical in 1902 and a film in 1939. I’ve seen the film and also a stage version in a local amateur dramatic society production some years ago.

I enjoyed this entertaining story, pure escapism, which I would have loved as a child, following Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz after the cyclone whisked her house high in the air out of Kansas and set it down on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, thus killing her. Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, are very anxious to get back home to Kansas and they set out on the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard of Oz to help them. On the way she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, who go with her as they want the Wizard to give them brains, a heart and courage respectively.

Their journey is interrupted in various places and by a variety of creatures, some very dangerous indeed; as in most fairy tales, there is a fair amount of violence in the book, as Dorothy and her friends combat the Wicked Witch of the East. I was fascinated by the Winged Monkeys, who can grant three wishes, the Fighting Trees, the Dainty China Country and its pretty little, fragile people and by the Quadlings with their flat hammer heads.

There are several interpretations* of the story that I’ve come across, but the simple message of the story is, of course, that you have to use your brains yourself, after all the Scarecrow can think, he just doesn’t realise that he can and he came up with lots of ingenious ideas along the way; courage comes from facing danger even when you are afraid – it comes from within and the Lion does that without realising he already has courage. As for the Tin Man, again he truly did have a heart – his desire for one shows his kindness and goodness.

And by the way Dorothy’s shoes are silver and not red as in the film.

*On Goodreads there are several reviews that draw parallels with the economics of America in the late 19th century and the political climate of the time.

And I found this interesting article in The New York Times Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man and Freud, Too by Janet Maslin discussing this book: The Real Wizard of Oz, The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. Baum apparently drew on his own experiences in writing his book – images of the Civil War amputees led to the Tin Man, bizarre sights such as displayed by PT Barnum, the Chicago World Fair and so on. It sounds a fascinating book! I am constantly finding reading one book leads on to wanting to read yet more books – and I hadn’t realised before that there are more Oz books that Baum wrote!

Short Book Meme

I saw this last Sunday on Cath’s blog Read Warbler and thought I’d do it too.

1. What was your favourite book during childhood?

It’s absolutely impossible to choose just one book – how can I choose between the Heidi books, Louisa May Alcott’s books, the Katy books, The Secret Garden , Enid Blyton’s books, or Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and many more?

But because  I loved and read the Flower Fairy books so many times, today I’m naming those as my favourite childhood books. I don’t have any of my original Flower Fairy books, but they’re still in print. There are many more now than when I was little and you can get the Flower Fairies Complete Collection of all eight original books – “Spring”, “Summer”, “Autumn”, “Winter”, “Wayside”, “Garden”, “Alphabet”, and “Trees” .

2.What is your favourite book now?

Another impossible question with so many to choose from, so I’m choosing one of my favourite books. It’s The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel investigating what Richard III was really like and whether he did kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. It came to mind because this week it was the re-burial in state in Leicester Cathedral of Richard III, whose bones were recently found under a car park.

I loved it!

3. What is your favourite movie adaptation of a book?

I often avoid watching a film of a book if I’ve read the book first – I usually prefer the book! But I did watch Atonement and even though it doesn’t stick to the book throughout I thought it was excellent.

Atonement UK poster.jpg

Actually Atonement is another of my favourite books.

4. Do you prefer checking out books from the library or buying them?

I love both and wouldn’t want to be without a lending library nearby. It’s great where I live now – I have two not very far away and a mobile library van that visits once a fortnight.

5. Have you ever been let down by a book that was highly recommended to you?

I’m always wary about books that receive lots of hype, as I often think they’re over rated and I agree with Cath’s choice of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Another book that disappointed me is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It took me some time to get into it and I couldn’t really like the characters, even Margaret, the narrator, irritated me, even though she loves books. And I thought the ending was contrived.

Dorothy L Sayers: Strong Poison & Gaudy Night

I’m no longer attempting  to write about every book I read but I do want to record a few of my thoughts on two of Dorothy L Sayers’ books that I’ve read recently because they are both such good books. However, I doubt very much that I can do justice to either of these books.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was born at Christchurch Cathedral School, Oxford, where her father was the headmaster. She learned Latin and French at the age of seven, went to Somerville College, Oxford and in 1915 she graduated with a first class honours degree in modern languages. She is best known as the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, but as well as writing crime fiction she also wrote poems, plays, essays, books on religion and was a translator – most notably of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The two of her books I’ve read recently are Strong Poison (first published in 1930) and Gaudy Night (first published in 1935), both featuring Harriet Vane, a crime fiction novelist, and her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic amateur detective.

The two first meet in Strong Poison, when Harriet is on trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Wimsey, attending the trial, is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it … and falls in love with her.

From the back cover:

The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of killing her lover and Harriet Vane must hang. But the jury disagrees.

Well, actually one member of the jury won’t agree that she is guilty – that is Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster, who just happens to run what Wimsey calls ‘My Cattery’, ostensibly a typing bureau, but actually an amateur detective/enquiry agency. Wimsey decides that Harriet is innocent, Boyes, who died poisoned by arsenic, either committed suicide or was murdered by someone else. It is Miss Climpson and her employees, mainly spinsters with small fixed incomes, or no incomes, widows without families, or women deserted by their husband, who do the investigations. This involves Miss Climpson posing as a medium and Miss Murchison learning how to pick a lock.

To sum up – this is a delightful book, full of strong characters, a mystery to solve, superbly written with humour as well as ingenuity.

And then there is Gaudy Night, which is even better than Strong Poison. I loved the setting in this book – Shrewsbury College, a fictional all female college, at Oxford University (based on Somerville College, Sayers’ own college). The action of the book takes place in 1935, five years after Harriet’s trial in Strong Poison. During those five years Harriet and Wimsey have had an ongoing ‘relationship’ in which he annually asks her to marry him and she refuses. They had also worked together on a murder at Wilvercombe, as told in Have His Carcase, a book I have yet to read.

Gaudy Night begins as Harriet decides to go back to Shrewsbury College to attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy (a college reunion involving a celebratory dinner), not sure she can face meeting her fellow students and the dons. It doesn’t go well – there are poison pen letters, nasty graffiti and vandalism causing mayhem and upset. Harriet is asked to investigate, under pretence of helping one of the dons to rewrite her manuscript that had been destroyed in one of the nightly attacks and researching the life and works of Sheridan Lefanu. Struggling to discover the culprit and afraid it will end in murder she asks Wimsey for help.

This is a complex novel, with many characters, some of whom I found difficult to visualise, whereas others were vividly depicted, their thoughts, actions and feelings clearly evident. I had no idea who the writer of the poison pen letters etc could be and I was completely absorbed in the mystery.

But what gives both books so much depth is the portrayal of life between the two world wars, the exploration of the role of women in society, particularly with regard to education and marriage and the importance of truth and honesty; not forgetting, the ongoing relationship between Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey. Of the two books I preferred Gaudy Night, but both are excellent and a pleasure to read.

A book lover writes about this, that and the other