Thursday, 28 August 2014


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

Any books or authors you hate? Why? Is it the writing? The stories? The author’s personality? And—would you read their work anyway?

There are a few, I have to admit. The first and most obvious would have to be Stephenie Meyer, and the total vapidity and vanity of her heroines and her frustrating lack of any respect for her readers' common sense (or hopes for healthy, non-abusive relationships) annoys me very much. However, I read the entire Twilight series because it was so bad it was funny at times, and I read The Host because it actually sounded like an interesting concept. It did turn out to be an interesting concept, but so mangled into an abusive teen romance that it frustrated me more than Twilight had.

Another pet hate of mine is D H Lawrence. I've read a few of his, most notably Lady Chatterley's Lover, as well as Women in Love and Sons and Lovers. Quite apart from his habit of putting the word 'love' into almost every title, I found his view of women insulting and irritating. This is made worse by the fact that he was praised highly by many after his death for his portrayal of 'strong, independent and complex' women - I found his women indecisive, sentimental and in need of a man to fulfill them, which for me is the very opposite of the above description.

I had to read a lot of Virginia Woolf during my undergraduate degree, and I hated every one of her novels. I understand that she was the forerunner of the modernist movement, cutting edge techniques, etc etc, and that's great. However, my idea of a good story definitely does not consist of following a middle-aged housewife around for a day, or observing a family repeatedly failing to row out to a lighthouse near their holiday home. I appreciate that the techniques she used were groundbreaking, innovative, and so on, but her style really isn't my thing.

Phew. I'm actually a little bit angry now. Are there any authors that you can't stand? Leave a comment and tell me why!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Mystery novels

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

Do you read mystery novels? If so, why? Is it the mysteries themselves that appeal to you? The puzzle-solving? The murders? Or why don’t you read them? What about them doesn’t appeal?

Going by my past reading list, you may have noticed that I'm quite a big fan of mystery novels. I do enjoy the puzzle-solving very much - I think it's great fun to try and guess the ending as you progress through the story, and often quite amusing to see how wrong you were by the end. The murder (or other crime) itself isn't as important as the investigation that follows, although sometimes if the crime is impressive and elegant enough I find myself admiring the planning that went into it.

However, the even more observant might have noticed that I read almost exclusively historical mystery novels. I much prefer stories set in the past, or in a fantasy world, to those set in the realistic present, because for me reading is about escapism, and why would you choose to escape to the place you already are? A good historical novel is full of accurate little details about contemporary life, and can really make you feel as though you're right there with them, and that, alongside the puzzles, is what makes me love historical mystery novels.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Film adaptation - City of Bones

This is one of those unusual times when I felt that the film adaptation was actually much better than the book. I read Cassandra Clare's City of Bones some years ago – I liked the cover art and was going through a bit of an urban fantasy phase at the time. I really didn’t enjoy it, however. I found Clary’s narrative voice bratty and irritating, and most of the plotline rather clichéd.

The film was much better because I didn’t have to listen to Clary Fray’s internal monologue, and of course anything is improved by the addition of Lena Headly and Robert Sheehan. Admittedly some of the special effects were a bit naff, but on the whole it felt much faster-paced and less whiny than the novel, and despite quite a lot of awkward eye contact moments it got pretty gripping by the end. Plus the entire cast’s magnificent cheekbones don't hurt.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Unquiet Bones - Melvin R Starr

I was struck from the very beginning of this novel by the style of the prose. The story is framed as an account in the first person by Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon investigating the murder of a girl found in the cesspit of his patron’s castle. The language is uncomplicated with no aspirations to poetic beauty, but instead has a wonderful clarity to it. The narrator’s candid honesty and independent mind made this a joy to read, and gave me the feeling that if Hugh de Singleton were a real person, he’d be someone I’d very much like to know.

Another advantage Starr’s novel has over most historical stories is that the narrator is, himself, imbued with medieval values. Too often, authors simply place a character with modern attitudes in an historical setting, with no real consideration for how they could possibly have developed in a way so different to everyone else at the time. Of course, for the reader to relate to the protagonist we must have points in common – and in The Unquiet Bones Hugh is very much a progressive, but in a way that could have been possible at the time. While he favours contemporaneous modern medical theories, and believes in bathing even in winter, he still takes the social status quo for granted and respects its boundaries.

As usual when historians turn to writing fiction, this novel is full of great little details that add to the atmosphere and to the genuine feel of the time. Everything from the seating and food at dinner to some rather graphic surgical descriptions and a thorough understanding of the different clothing styles allowed to various social classes is included. These facts aren’t thrust in the face of the reader, however, but taken for granted by the narrator as common knowledge.

The central mystery itself is well thought out and takes several twists and turns before reaching its conclusion, and we get to know several ancillary characters as the story progresses, which makes a nice change from most murder mysteries, in which the characters encountered are often just there as parts of the puzzle.

This one was a very pleasant surprise, and I’m happy to discover that there are 6 more left in the series.

Next up: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

Monday, 11 August 2014

Wordsworth's Poetical Works

Surprise bonus post!

I’ve posted a couple of poems out of my lovely antique Wordsworth before – but now I’ve finally finished it. It’s taken about 9 months to work my way through it, so it’s kind of a relief to have it out of the way now.

Many of his shorter poems are beautiful and pensive, or stirring with action and violence, but a lot of them, especially the longer ones, were harder to get through. I pride myself on never quitting once I start reading something, but even I couldn’t force myself to finish The Excursion, a 181-page blank verse epic consisting (judging from the first 30 pages or so) of the narrator wandering around the hills chatting to random people he meets and admiring the landscape.

It is a beautiful edition, and pretty old – there’s an inscription at the front dated 1867. Just holding a book that old feels wonderful, and it’s in great condition too considering it’s ex libris. Makes you think not that many people must have wanted to borrow it! Most of the gold leaf on the cover and outer pages remains, and the wonderful smooth leather feels amazing to hold. I wish people put as much effort into bookbinding as they did in those days. A book was forever, not just a throwaway read for the summer holidays, to be left on the train on the way home.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Graceling came with the rather dubious recommendation, “[This] exquisitely drawn romance … will slake the thirst of Twilight fans”, on the front cover. However, I really enjoyed Fire, so I went ahead and read it anyway.

While it doesn’t quite have the accomplished sense of depth of Fire, this is Cashore’s debut novel, and as such that’s simply a sign that her novels have developed since the beginning. She does a good job of introducing us to the fantasy world the story takes place in, without being artificially explanatory or giving us too many made-up terms to try and remember.

The heroine, Katsa, is a graceling, marked out by her mismatched eyes and an uncanny natural ability – in her case, the ability to inflict violence. Ever since her gift was discovered, her uncle the King has been using her as a tool of intimidation against those who displeased him. A chance to investigate the mysterious kidnapping of a neighbouring King's father offers her an opportunity to escape and to prove to herself and others that she’s more than just a mindless thug.

One of the things that really stood out about this novel was the unusual angles we see events from. Katsa is an unconventional young woman, but this is only to be expected as the heroine of a young adult fantasy novel. However, the feel of the narrative is also different – while the novel appears to be of the standard ‘vanquish the villain’ type, you get the feeling that defeating the bad guy wasn’t really what it was all about.

The Twilight-style epic romance promised on the cover was, thankfully, more human and believable than that, albeit made more complex by the respective graceling abilities of the pair involved. This novel is populated by strong characters throughout, and we also meet Princess Bitterblue, the protagonist of the third and final novel in the trilogy. Despite being a child, she's forthright and intriguing, and I’m really looking forward to reading more about her.

Next up: The Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A little accidental book shopping

On my way to do a sensible food, washing up liquid etc. shop this afternoon I gave into temptation and went into the two (two! next door to each other) charity shops that I have to pass to get into town. The result is as follows:

The Heart of a Hospital, by Anne Vinton. A vintage Mills & Boon - looks hilarious.
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
As Meat Loves Salt, by Maria McCann.
The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, by Stieg Larsson. I read the first novel last year, and have been meaning to get hold of these for a while. I only ever came across the third novel until today.

Now to try and find space to fit these into my extended literary family...

Friday, 8 August 2014


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

When you visit a friend’s house, do you find time to browse their bookcases? Does it shock you if they don’t have one?

Definitely. A nice full bookcase is something that really draws the eye, and it's a great place to find conversation topics... or maybe books I'd like to borrow...

I do find it hard to imagine life not surrounded by books. If someone doesn't have enough books for even one bookcase, I find myself wondering what on earth people do with their time.