Thursday, 26 June 2014


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

Do you still get excited about new books as you did when you were little? In general? New books in particular, like from a favorite author? Or do you look at all new, unread books with the same level of anticipation?

If anything, I get more excited about new books now, because I'm much more aware of living authors than when I was a child. I'll only go out of my way to buy newly published books if they're by a favourite author still writing, like Terry Pratchett, Brandon Sanderson or George R R Martin (does GRRM count as 'still writing'? Barely...)

I do get really excited looking over my book collection and seeing what I still have left to read - seeing all the potential still waiting makes me want to charge right through the book I'm on just to get there.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Latest loot!

I found one of those wire bathroom shelf things yesterday, which I'm going to attempt to turn into a bookshelf later. As this will mean more book space, when I noticed a charity shop having a closing down sale I just couldn't resist getting some more books to fill it. My loot for today (for the extortionate total of £1.50) is as follows: 

- Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
- We'll Meet Again by Mary Higgins Clark (her novel that I've already read was called I'll be Seeing You - now I'm wondering if all of them are named along the lines of 'goodbye' phrases)
- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - this is a 1920s (ish) edition and matches my set of 16 Odham's Press 1920s Dickens, so that was an exciting find.
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith
- Joseph by Julian Rathbone
- The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

All for 25p each, which is pretty good value per page there. The shop owner said that they'll be rotating stock and that there should be different stuff in next week, so I, um, will be completely avoiding it. Except that I have to walk past it twice a day to get to and from work... So I may be filling up my new bookshop rather sooner than planned.


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

All other things being equal, what is your favorite format for reading? Hardcover? Paperback? New book? Old book? Leather-bound first edition? E-book?

For me, it has to be hardback, the older the better. I'd prefer a well-preserved copy as it makes me feel guilty for moving it if all the pages are trying to fall out.There's something so lovely about the scent of a really old book, and the yellowing of the pages, and the beautiful gilt detail you find on a lot of old hardbacks. You can tell that books really meant something back then, when they took so much effort to make them - nothing like nowadays where you can buy the same identical paperbacks in every other chain bookshop.

With old books you also get that wonderful sense of continuity and of heritage that comes from turning the same pages that have been turned by other hands for over a century, reading the same words and experiencing the same feelings. Also, there's just the sheer sense of amazement that the delicate, fragile object in your hands is so very old, and that it's yours, it belongs to you to keep safe for future hands and eyes.

Sunday, 15 June 2014


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

How do you feel about explicit detail in your reading? Whether language, sex, violence, situations and so on … does it bother you? Faze you at all? Or do you just read everything without it bothering you?

It all depends on the context, for me. If the explicit sex/violence/etc adds something to the story, then it has a valid place, and if it's distressing that's probably intentional, in order to show a character's traumatic experience or similar. For example, The Lovely Bones opens with the rape and murder of the narrator, but it's central to the story, and told in a way that takes no enjoyment in the description and doesn't elaborate more than necessary. Sometimes it feels as though the author takes a perverse pleasure in describing that kind of scene, which is something that does make me feel uncomfortable.

I'm much more able to tolerate gory details in book form than in film - I can't watch even the most childish horror/gore-filled film because the images are shoved in your face. With books, however, the worst that you can picture has to come from within your own imagination, and in a way you feel safer - you can put the book down and go for a walk in the sun, or have a nice cup of tea, and get it all out of your head.

Swearing or explicit language in novels generally doesn't bother me, again as long as it's there for a purpose - to illustrate a character, add contemporary flavour, and so on.

I have no problem with consensual sex acts being portrayed in novels - in fact, if they happen at all I'd rather they weren't rather coyly glossed over as many tend to do. As long as the scene is there because it adds to the narrative and not simply to titillate the reader then it has its place, and I'd rather see it happen than have a rose-scented curtain pulled down at the crucial moment.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Final Sacrament – James Forrester/Ian Mortimer

I know it’s taken a while to get through this one – for one thing, I started a new job, which means that I have more free time, but also that I’m actually doing stuff with my free time now, rather than reading on my own in a windowless office. Also, this book was a little difficult to get through.

It’s not a bad novel as such, I just found it hard to warm up to any of the characters, especially Clarenceux, the protagonist. They all feel a little two-dimensional, more like archetypes than rounded characters. It doesn’t help that Clarenceux spends the majority of the novel worrying, which is understandable, as he is trying to hide a pivotal document from important and powerful people while keeping himself and his family safe. However, it means that a mostly negative and slightly stressful feeling pervades the narrative – for me, the novel has too much grief and not enough in the way of happiness to make it really enjoyable.

Another issue in reading this was the strange way the viewpoint switches between characters. While it's told in the third person omniscient style, it’s more usual to either change viewpoints strictly between sections (à la George R R Martin) or to be a totally unbiased narrator, knowing everyone and everything (George Eliot, for instance). Mortimer, however, casually switches viewpoints within the space of a couple of sentences, and then returns to the original characters’ consciousness, which I found vaguely unsettling, rather like an out-of-body experience.

The back cover informs me that James Forrester is the pen name of historian Ian Mortimer, so I went into this one expecting a lot of historical detail. I wasn’t disappointed – this was where the novel really stood out for me. Mortimer’s intimate knowledge of Elizabethan life shines through in Clarenceux’s pride in his new glass windows, in the detailed description of a woman washing clothes, or in the food eaten at a Christmas feast. Where many novels would gloss over little details, we can really picture the minutiae of each scene, which not only adds very much to the atmosphere but also taught me new things about life at the time.

The downside of this is that Mortimer seems to expect his audience to be just as knowledgeable as he is on the subject of Elizabethan politics. The reader is thrown in at the deep end with a discussion between Queen Elizabeth, Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, with very little explanation of the background or motivations for each character. I am interested in history, but not to the extent that I feel so familiar enough with figures like Walsingham and Cecil that I don’t need an introduction to them, as you would with fictional characters.

That said, the momentum grew throughout the novel, and I found the ending genuinely touching. While some aspects of the prose lack finesse, The Last Sacrament is a well-researched and atmospheric novel, which left me feeling that I’d learned something at the end of it.

Next up: Shadow’s Edge, by Brent Weeks