Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Adventures of Sally - P G Wodehouse

My only experience so far of P G Wodehouse has been the Jeeves and Wooster series, and unusually for me I actually preferred the TV series, finding the books a little too meandering and vague.

I'm glad I gave this one a chance, though. While it did wander along at a gentle pace and the viewpoints switch casually around, it's full of humour and light-hearted satire.

Our heroine, a young New York girl by the name of Sally, comes into a minor inheritance, and decides to take a holiday in Europe before settling sensibly into some investment or other. While in France she meets the inept but warm-hearted Ginger and his austere cousin Bruce, who continue to dog her existence when she returns home.

The moments of unexpected human comedy and the feeling of joie de vivre that pervades the whole story make this a book that you look forward to picking up.

Maybe it's time to get hold of some Jeeves and Wooster and give the novels another chance.

Next up: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel - Mel Starr

I've been looking forward to this one ever since reading the first novel in this series, The Unquiet Bones, and I wasn't disappointed by the sequel.

Hugh de Singleton is a candid but openly flawed narrator, admitting when he takes credit for things he shouldn't or deceives by omission. He has no pretensions of being a hero, or even of being a particularly good bailiff, but sets out to do his duty as well as he can. As in the first novel, he does have progressive views on things - religion in particular, in this book - but his mindset is definitely more medieval than modern.

The beadle of the manor is found apparently mauled by a wild animal, but missing his shoes. When those shoes appear on the feet of one of the villagers, questions need to be asked that lead to much more than a simple wolf attack.

There are some wonderful historical details, for instance belches being a polite way to flatter your host by complimenting their dinner, and Hugh (like me!) takes pleasure in his meals, listing the dishes eaten and the manner in which they were served.

The mystery itself meanders through several different possibilities before finally discovering the truth. Hugh approaches his investigations in a Poirot-like manner, gathering most of his evidence from his knowledge of human beings and not from cold analysis.

A fascinating and immersive sequel from Mel Starr - the only bad thing is that this story ends on a cliffhanger leading into the next novel, and I don't have it so I can't read it right away!

Next up: The Adventures of Sally by P G Wodehouse

Thursday, 19 February 2015


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

Do you prefer to read collections that are all of works by the same author? Or collections by different writers? Consistency or variety?

 I don't really enjoy short stories in general because they don't give me that sense of in-depth immersion that helps me to really enjoy a book. The only exception I've found so far is Michael Marshall Smith's collection of (very) short stories, What You Make It, some of which are only a couple of pages long, but all are so cleverly written that the ideas stay with you for quite a while.

Usually, the only collections I'd consider reading are either poetry collections (and I prefer those to be by the same poet or at least arranged around a consistent theme) or collections of stories about the same character, for instance Sherlock Holmes stories or The Complete Father Brown Stories. That way you still get a sense of continuity and depth as the short stories build upon each other, rather than starting fresh at the beginning of each new one.

For me getting just a few minutes' worth of a story feels unsatisfying - if it was a good idea I wish it'd been taken further and turned into a full novel.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Heart of a Hospital - Anne Vinton

As it turns out, it's nearly Valentine's Day, and by coincidence I have an appropriate trashy romance to review. This being a hospital-themed one was particularly amusing, as I've just started a new job up on the wards myself.

The beautiful, young, intelligent, serene, womanly, etc. Sister Eve Ramsey (in spite of her incredibly craggy illustration on the cover) is delighted to have just become secretly engaged to an almost-qualified young doctor. She loves her job, and in fact "always felt a heart-warming sensation as she opened the ward doors for the first time each day. It was as though she loved every patient there, and they in return watched for her appearance and sent out the warmth of their loving gratitude to her." The NHS has certainly changed in 65 years.

Eve's unruly and selfish half-sister arrives to work in her hospital, and a new patient, handsome, well-known (and heir to a baronetcy, naturally) also arrives. The plot unfolds with inevitable predictability and implausibility, our heroine is described as a ministering angel by almost anyone who knows her (and the others are of course just jealous), and her womanly compassion and patience win her romance and wealth and titles and all of the other things women could ever want.

Highly amusing and with several inadvertent laugh-out-loud moments. If you're ironically into vintage trashy romances (I hope it's not just me!) this is well worth a read.

Next up: A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel by Mel Starr

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Love stories

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

No, no, I’m not asking if you like romances … what I want to know is what is it about stories that you love? Is it the stories themselves? The people? The plot twists?

For me, I think it's partly the people and partly the world a story creates. The characters are your window into the novel, and if you don't like the character whose eyes you see through it spoils the experience in general.

What I really love about reading, though, is having an immersive world to dive into, preferably different from the real one - whether that's time period, culture, or even a fantasy novel in which the laws of nature are changed, I want a novel to give me what feels like a new experience that you can't get just walking out of your door.

What about you, readers? What do you love most about reading stories?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Dead Men Do Tell Tales - William R Maples

I don't normally go for autobiographies, but Maples' candid and informed style makes this one very readable. It's also something of a casebook on forensic anthropology - as well as the development of Maples' professional life, the reader is told about the beginning and progress of the field.

Many of the chapters are case studies on particularly intriguing historical examinations such as the Romanov massacre, the Spanish conqueror of Peru, and the elephant man, among other more modern cases, and there are photographs of some examples included. Many people might think of this as a bit macabre, but there's no pleasure taken in gory descriptions, more an academic analysis of the remains.

It sounds like a fascinating field of study, and while I don't think I'd have the stomach to actually go into it myself, it's something I hadn't realised played such a vital part in the identification of remains and the bringing to justice of the murderer. This is an informative and fascinating look at forensic anthropology, through the eyes of a talented and intelligent man. Well worth reading if you have any interest in archaology, forensics, etc!

Next up: The Heart of a Hospital by Anne Vinton

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Cold Weather Reading

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

When the weather is cold and blustery, would you rather read something is equally wintery? Or something to take you as far away from the snow as possible?

For me it doesn't make a lot of difference, I tend to read the same kinds of things all year round. To be fair, with the exception of the last couple of weeks (which have been very cold and dry, but sadly no snow) winter isn't that different to summer in the south of England, except that the rain is colder.

How about you, readers, any seasonal reading patterns?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bel-Ami - Guy de Maupassant

Well, it took a month and a half, but I got there in the end! Actually, it was really nice to start out struggling and feel myself improving at reading in French - by the end I didn't need to refer to a translator except for very obscure words and my reading speed was much faster.

I really wanted to read this one because I saw the English film adaptation a while ago and really enjoyed it. Robert Pattinson is actually a pretty good actor when he isn't covered in vampire teeth and glitter, and the rest of the cast are great too. I was curious about how much of the plot was changed from the book - turns out surprisingly little, although it was sensationalised and shortened a bit, but the general tone was really well conveyed to the screen.

One of the things that I find fascinating about French novels is the way that the 'hero' is hardly ever a nice person. In English novels the hero usually at least intends to do good, whereas in a lot of the French novels I've read the hero or heroine is primarily concerned about their own selfish interests, and not about the good of others.

Bel-Ami is no exception. Georges Duroy comes to Paris as a young ex-soldier down on his luck, and manipulates his way up the social and financial ladder. The way his emotions are conveyed gave me the impression of someone verging on a sociopath - he rarely seems to experience or to express genuine emotional responses, but takes pleasure in controlling the emotions of others. Ironically, he gets very offended if anyone suspects him of anything other than honest intentions.

This was a very interesting read, and I recommend it and/or the film very much.

Next up: Dead Men do Tell Tales by William R Maples