Friday, 31 October 2014


This week's (topical) Booking Through Thursday is:

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

I don't tend to gravitate towards horror stuff, so this is a tough one. If I'm being facetious, I'd go for 50 Shades of Grey - it did genuinely scare me in a way that it's become so popular and that many people really go for it as literature. In terms of novels that are actually intended to be scary, Dracula had me jumping and looking behind me as I passed mirrors for a while (which obviously is silly because you can't see vampires in mirrors anyway), and The Prestige got really creepy by the end.

I try to avoid things that make me actively feel frightened - I've never understood the 'scaring yourself for fun' thing. How about you? Any favourite (/hidden or destroyed forever) scary stories?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book by a friend

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

If someone you know has just published a book—do you feel obliged to buy a copy? Even if it’s not the kind of book you’d normally read?

For me, I think it depends a) how close a friend they are, and b) how little I'm inclined to read said book.

If it's at least vaguely close to my kind of thing I'd give it a go, although if I really really wasn't interested I'd probably flick through it in a bookshop and pretend if confronted. However, if they were a really good friend I'd buy a copy no matter how far from my interest it was, get them to sign in and keep it because, well, my friend wrote a book! And look, it's autographed!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A few murder mysteries

I've got this week off work, and on the way back from a food shop I took a look in the charity shops to see if there were any books that appealed. This is today's chosen few:

A Rare Interest in Corpses by Ann Granger
Endless Night by Agatha Christie
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

I'm always interested in more Christie novels, and people have been telling me to read Snow Falling on Cedars for some time. At least, I think so, unless I've got the name confused with something else. The blurb sounded good, anyway.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Touch of Power - Maria V Snyder

I remember Maria V Snyder’s previous novels fondly, and this one didn’t let me down either. It also turned out to be surprisingly topical – I wasn’t expecting to find references to bioterrorism in a fantasy novel, but there you go.

The central character, Avry of Kazan, is a healer, blessed with the ability to heal ten times faster than the average person, and to take other peoples’ illnesses from them, to herself. Before the incurable plague that wiped out two-thirds of the population, healers were a valuable part of society, but blame fell on them for refusing to heal the plague victims, leading to their being hunted down and killed. Now, even other types of magicians are viewed with distrust, and there is a large bounty on Avry’s head.

She’s been on the run for years, but is discovered healing a young girl, and thrown into prison to be executed. Luckily, she is rescued from gaol, but by a band of men who have been hunting her down to force her to heal their leader of the plague – the very man she suspects started it to begin with.

Avry makes for a strong, independently minded heroine, albeit a little blind to her own feelings. Her powers are explained consistently and in a scientific manner, although not to the extent Brandon Sanderson manages to pull off. I found myself caught up not only by the plot and characters but also by curiosity as Avry pieces together the creation of the plague virus. The bleak, chaotic feel of a world depopulated by illness was vividly done too.

Next up: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Seven Dials Mystery - Agatha Christie

This Agatha Christie novel has a charmingly light-hearted tone reminiscent of P G Wodehouse. The heroine and detective is Lady Eileen Brent, ‘Bundle’ to her friends, who gets caught up investigating the murder of a young man who was killed in her own bedroom while the house was being let to a steel magnate. Her discoveries lead her to the mysterious Seven Dials secret society, and in true Christie style, the ending turns our preconceptions on their heads.

The cosy, jolly style makes this book very readable, and plenty of amusing social situations and misunderstandings occur. Our suspicions shift constantly, and Christie keeps you guessing right until the big reveal. Great fun to read, and much lighter in feel than many of her novels.

Next up: Touch of Power by Maria V Snyder

Monday, 13 October 2014

Special delivery!

After a long and stressful day at work, followed by carrying food shopping home in heavy rain and coming back to a house blockaded by workmen, tools and assorted pieces of shower cubicle, I really needed something nice to happen. And it did! I only ordered Maria V Snyder's Avry of Kazan Series a couple of days ago, and wasn't expecting them for ages, but my housemate just knocked on my door with a big cardboard package.

I loved her Study and Glass Series, and had forgotten to check what she was writing recently, so when Amazon suggested I might like to read this trilogy I wholeheartedly agreed. Can't wait to get started!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Vathek - William Beckford

Another Gothic novel, this one from 1786. It has more of an exotic flavour than The Castle of Otranto, being set in a fictional Eastern land at an undisclosed time in history, ruled over by Caliph Vathek.

Vathek is an insatiably curious ruler, so when a hideous stranger comes to him promising to reveal to him antiques of incredible power and rarity, he’s intrigued and offers the man the entirety of his treasury for these valuables. After making the trade, however, the stranger angers him and is thrown out, leaving him with a growing obsession.

The previously admired and loved ruler gives up all interest in ruling his land, instead abusing his power to commit acts of atrocity demanded by the stranger as entrance requirements to his palace of wonders. We see Vathek’s transformation from an eccentric ruler to a corrupted madman and the ruin he brings to all around him.

This was an interesting story about the triumph of ambition over morality, heavily flavoured by exotic eastern imagery and religion.

Next up: The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Obscure genres

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

What’s your favorite genre that other people might not read? I mean, mysteries, romances, real-crime … these are all fairly widespread categories. But real readers don’t usually limit themselves to just the “big” genres … so what’s your favorite little-known type of book? Books on dogs? Knitting books? Stories about the space race? Mathematical theory?

I don't want to sound like a fancy pretentious person, but I think I'd have to say nineteenth-century French literature. And I mean in French.

That's not because I'm particularly good at French, in fact it's the opposite - I learned French in college, and I want to keep it up and improve it, but I don't actually know any French people, and don't want to feel like it's hard work. So, I decided to do things I enjoy, but sometimes in French, which results in classic literature and detective TV shows.

When I haven't read one in a while, I do find myself relying on Google Translate in every other sentence, to begin with, but then there's that wonderful feeling when, about halfway through, you've got so used to it you've forgotten you're reading a different language. It does give me some bizarre vocabulary - I started out gently with a Harry Potter translation, and ended up knowing far too many words for things like 'pumpkin', 'flying broomstick', and 'giant spider' (although what with that spider-plague, who knows if that last one might come in handy?)

I'd really like to get round to reading Victor Hugo in the original French, as I really enjoyed Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in English, but I have yet to find them over here, plus the sheer length of them makes it rather a daunting prospect. Most recently I read Stendhal's Le Rouge et Le Noir, which interested me because I'd heard it subverted narrative convention, most notably in that the 'hero' is a conniving, selfish maniplator who never really gets his 'rightful' comeuppance. Still to read on my shelves I've got Les Fleurs du Mal and Mauprat, and I'm particularly looking forward to the poetry as I do find that poetry in particular loses much of its beauty in translation.

What about you? What's your niche interest?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole

As one of the very first gothic novels, I’ve been looking forward to reading The Castle of Otranto. It’s mentioned by fictional characters in various later novels as sensational, chilling, etc., and was one of the works which really kickstarted the gothic literary movement.

I wasn’t disappointed – although it’s only a short piece, we’re treated to ancient prophecies, virtuous maidens, dastardly scheming villains, ghostly apparitions, mistaken identities, and long-lost heirs – to name but a few. From the moment when the heir to Otranto is mysteriously crushed by a giant steel helmet on the way to his own wedding, plot twists and bizarre occurrences come thick and fast.

The unapologetic melodrama makes what is admittedly a raw example of a budding genre both enjoyable and vaguely amusing in its absurdity.

Good over-the-top stuff, with the added bonus of being an important part of literary history.

Next up: Vathek by William Beckford

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Books for illness

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

What do you read when you’re sick and just want something easy and comforting? Or do you watch TV instead? (Assuming you’re not napping, of course.)

I try to only have one book going at once, so usually if I get ill I'm stuck with whichever book I was reading anyway. The kind I enjoy most when I'm feeling run down are nice, reassuring books - something in a series or by a prolific author, where you know what to expect. Regency society comedies along the lines of Jane Austen make for lovely, relaxing escapism. Safe, forgiving murder mysteries like the Cadfael series or Agatha Christie are great for distracting you more gently than the modern, gritty style.

How about you? What are your favourite books when you're feeling ill?