Friday 31 January 2014

January 2014 Update

It's been a good month for my reading; some incredible books have been read. I've also made a pretty good start on my general book challenge, having read 33 books throughout the month. This puts me 17 books ahead of schedule apparently, which I'm pretty chuffed about. 
Less impressive is the headway I've made into my work based challenge.... I've not read anything towards this at all I'm afraid. However I do still have 11 months to go, so hardly a failure just yet. 

Throughout the month I have purchased or been sent 64 books, which is slightly crazy. I have read 17 of the books I've acquired this month, and will work my way through the rest given time. 
It is probably time to start looking for another bookcase......

Books aquired throughout January.....

The Goddess Chronicles Natsuo Kirino Black Moon Kenneth Calhoun
The Red Knight Miles Cameron The Hunt for the Golden Mole Richard Girling
Gormenghast Melvyn Peake Sanctuary Line Jane Urquhart
My American Stella Gibbons Kingmaker Toby Clements
By Light Alone Adam Roberts The Foundling Boy Michel Deon
Alchemist of Souls Anne Lyle The Dig Cynan Jones
Four Last Things Hoffman The Steady Running of the Hour Justin Go
The Elder Edda Anon Quick Lauren Owen
The Charioteer Mary Renault Panic Lauren Oliver
The Hobbit Tolkein French Women Don't Get Facelifts Mireille Guiliano
The Wanderer; elegies, epics, riddles Anon The Enchanted Rene Denfield
The Gift of Rain Tan Twan Eng Gretel in the dark Eliza Granville
The Man in the High Castle Philip k Dick Quarter Past Summer Mandy Baldwin
The Bones of Avalon Phil Rickman Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase Louise Walters
Dreams and Shadows c robert cargill Telling Room Michael Paterniti
The Book of Fires Jane Borodale Collected works AJ Fikry Gabrielle Zevin
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Rachel Joyce Campari for Breakfast Sara Crowe
Franki and Stankie Barbara Trapido Descent Ken Macleod
Murder Most Royal Jean Plaidy Red Rising Pierce Brown
The Amulet of Sarkand Jonathan Stroud Tell tale heart Jill Dawson
Bird Blood Snow Cynan Jones Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase Louise Walters
Temeraire Naomi Novik Au Reservoir Guy Fraser-Sampson
The Explorer James Smythe The Girl in the Road Monica Byrne
Tooth and Claw Jo Walton Eat my Heart Out Zoe Pilger
Mountains of the Moon I J Kay Saga Vol 1 Brian k Vaughan
Sacred Hunger Barry Unsworth Farthing Jo Walton
Half Sick of Shadows David Logan Hapenny Jo Walton
The Reivers William Faulkner Half a Crown Jo Walton
Voyage to Venus C S Lewis The Bull From The Sea Mary Renault
According to Mark Penelope Lively The Thorn Birds Colleen McCullough
Three Score Years and Ten R F Delderfield The Four Swans Winston Graham
Captains and the Kings Taylor Caldwell Sins of the Fathers Susan Howatch

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Jo Walton Goodies, Yay!

The complete set of Jo Walton's Small Change series arrived for me today, am SO excited about them...was only expecting to get the first in the series so it was a lovely surprise. They went straight to the top of the heap, even pushing Tooth and Claw down a notch. If I wasn't reading such a fascinating book already then I would probably have already started Farthing. 
As it is 'Gretel in the Dark' by Eliza Granville is proving to be pretty damn enthralling. It seems to be managing to combine elements of 'The Boy in the Striped PJs' with 'The Book of Lost Things'; maybe just a touch of 'The Book Thief' or 'Tender Morsels' whatever it is I am loving it. The setting for half the book is late 19th century Vienna which always helps. I know the city so well, and love it so much, that it is wonderful to be able to picture the places, and follow the characters as move among it's streets. It is in a similar vein to Robert Dinsdale's 'Gingerbread' and I think that if it continues to be as enticing as it has been so far then it may come close to being as good as that marvellous book. 

Monday 27 January 2014

Quarter Past Summer and other weekend reading.
Quite a busy weekend so not a huge amount of reading got done, however I did manage to finish my hard copy of 'Quarter Past Summer' by Mandy Baldwin. Rather a lovely little book, that for me, benefited from being read as an actual book rather than an e-book. This is a complex story of a cursed family, touched by conflict. There are some vivid and totally human characters who leap off the page, as well as some gorgeously written sections set in the long hot summers of the mid 1970s. each character's story forms a thread in a much larger picture that stretches a long way from the fictional Sussex town of Westering. I did feel that some of the characters could have been fleshed out a little and given whole novels of their own, and would have happily read more about the majority of them. This isn't a long book at only 266 pages, and I would have been glad to read more. There are moments when the storyline follows a rather traumatic bent, and these are sometimes difficult to read, however I promise you that the novel finishes on a hopeful note and is well worth reading to the end.
Alongside 'Quarter Past Summer' I made further headway into my advance copy of 'Descent' by Ken Macleod. As would be expected from this author this is a SF fantasy with a decidedly Scottish flavour. Set in a future not too far removed from the present this is a interesting story, and I'm not totally sure that I know where Macleod is going as yet. I found Intrusion far more straight forward in it's execution, with Descent I don't know quite what is going to happen next. I am only halfway through now though so there will be a big reveal soon I'm sure.
As part of my random digging about on the Internet I came across a very interesting blog discussing Jo Walton's 'What Makes This Book so Great'. This is essentially a collection of Walton's blog posts discussing the SF and Fantasy books she has read and loved. Books like this and like Nick Hornby's 'Stuff I've Been Reading' are of obvious interest to bloggers everywhere, it's one thing to pour out your inner rambles about whatever topic to a faceless (and possibly non existent) audience. Lots of us do it, and we rarely know if many (or any) actual people read what we write. However to have these musings gathered up and given the recognition of an actual book is pretty special. Jo Walton evidently knows her stuff, you can see that just from a reading of 'Among Others' which is essentially a huge wish list of SF and Fantasy classics with a magical story wrapped around it. There is only ten days to wait now before Walton's 'Small Change' novels are published in the UK by Corsair, and  I am VERY excited about reading the whole series. In the meantime I have lots to read including 'Tooth and Claw' so really had best get my nose back in a book!

Saturday 25 January 2014

Lovely New Books

Just a selection of the lovely new proofs that came home with me today. It's somehow rather touching when you are sent proofs, even more so if someone has gone to the trouble of actually getting a bound copy made up just so you can be sent a hard copy.
The major topic of conversation today was forgotten classics; in lots of ways this followed on from my musings about Winifred Holtby, Stella Gibbons et al. So many great novels that have dropped out of print, luckily there are many of these that seem to be coming back around. Also thanks to the wonders of the Internet you can often find old editions of some of these amazing authors. I've also found that my local garden centre has a pretty amazing selection of second hand books which they sell for charity. It just shows that keeping your eyes open is always worth it. I was SO pleased when I found copies of nearly everything every written by Anya Seton there a couple of months ago. It's wonderful what you can find if you look long enough.......
In other news my copy of Tooth and Claw came in today.... all the reviews I've read seem to suggest that this is essentially a recreation of 'the great Victorian novel'.... just with dragons. No one can convince me that this doesn't sound amazing, just hope it can live up to the hype that's built up in my head now, watch this space.....

Friday 24 January 2014

The Foundling Boy - Michel Deon

Oh wow, what a gorgeous beautiful book. Sometimes you read something that has been translated for the first time, and you just feel so grateful for the wonderful publishing people who have dug out such a gem and brought it to a new audience; this was one of those moments. This story is touching, funny, dramatic just perfect. The translation is excellent, and the book is full of poetry and brilliance. Jean is a wonderful character, who experiences the events of the 1920s and 1930s while trying to decide on his place in the world and in his family. Reading this I kept being reminded of Fielding's Tom Jones; this book is very similar in style, plot and even in the existence of a narrator giving glimpses into action that takes place beyond the pages of the book. To say that the two have similarities, should not take anything away from this jewel of a novel. Towards the final chapters I actually tried to slow down my reading, trying to drag out the pleasure a little longer. I simply didn't want the book to end. Gallic do have the second book 'The Foundling's War' all lined up, ready to be published later on in the year, which is a good thing as it saves me having to struggle to get my French up to reading the second book in the original language!

My weekly update
 So another week is just about done, and over the last couple of days I've been being kept very busy with excessive amounts of non book related activity. So much sewing, mending, ironing and other activities that sadly allow no room for reading. Much as I am able to read as I walk, cook and knit; even I have yet to master using a sewing machine with a book in the other hand. However I have still managed to read some quite brilliant books over the last few days.
I have only recently discovered Winifred Holtby, adding her to the list of female authors of the 1920s-1940s who I adore. E M Delafield, Stella Gibbons, Barbara Comyns, all wonderful authors. In fact there are so many female authors of the period who go unnoticed and who really shouldn't. Having once managed to find a small stash of D E Stevenson books in the Cornish library system I fell in love with these funny little books too. I am so pleased that so many of the Stevenson books seem to be coming back into print, with The Four Graces being reissued in July 2014. However..... back to the point in hand Winifred Holtby...... Despite having had South Riding on my bookshelf for quite some time, I only started reading it while waiting for a holiday flight last summer. I was immediately drawn into the world of petty bourgeois council issues, and small town thinking. What fabulous characters, how real they all are. I know Mrs Beddows was strongly based on Winifred's own mother, and that she used her experiences of family involvement with the East Riding council to form the basis of the book. So it is not surprising that the characters are well drawn... they are literally drawn from life. Having read, what is considered to be her masterpiece, my next stop was Poor Caroline. This seems to be the odd one out of her books; it transports us away from the Yorkshire dales, and instead focuses on the hopes and aspirations of 'Poor Caroline' the archetypal poor relation busybody. Despite it being so totally different from South Riding, I still adored reading Poor Caroline. So when I needed something light, something from an older time, something that I knew would be gentle and amusing. Something to contrast against the harrowing experience of The Enchanted.... I went straight for the collection of Winifred Holtby waiting for me on top of one of my many bookcases. I am so pleased that I did. Anderby Wold was the first book Holtby wrote, and is very much a book of it's time. That moment in the early 1920's where the old Edwardian spirit of master and men was being overthrown by the awakening consciousness that worker's rights could amount to proper political movements. Family resentments play a huge part in this work, the poisonous spite behind some of the actions taken by members of the Robson clan made me wince. There is an almost 'Shirley Valentine' feel to Mary as she struggles to find a meaning to her life, making herself 'invaluable' in Anderby despite the resentment this causes. As a first novel this shows such promise, so many perfect little moments, despite the ending which seems to owe quite a lot to the rural hopelessness of novels like Jude. 
I mentioned that I had to find something light once I had finished The Enchanted. This is a deeply harrowing read. Only to be expected, it is set in the brutal world of Death Row, and it's author Rene Denfeld is actually a death row investigator; this isn't simply a fantasy of the conditions, this will have a basis in fact. Write what you know, that's what people say. I get the feeling that Denfeld has followed this advice. The story is brutal, and traumatic with glimpses of deeper traumas hidden under the surface. Denfeld is rarely explicit, she allows the reading to use their imagination to think of the worst scenario. This is a dreadfully effective way of writing a story like this. The main narrator is one of the inmates, a man who seems to be a gentle, simple individual. It isn't really until we learn his name (in the final stages of the story) that we start to sense the horrors that have led him to his current situation. This prisoner has made sense of his life by creating some semblance of a magical world that exists parallel to that inside the prision walls. Try to imagine the worst moments of Shawshank and multiply them many many times over. You will come close... maybe.
The Foundling Boy is a perfect novel. Simply perfect. It has a post of it's own so I won't spend too much time discussing it. It is just something that should be read, savoured. The second book isn't due out until October, 9 months away..... that seems like a very long time. Probably not long enough for me to translate the French original though sadly. C'est la vie.....

Thursday 23 January 2014

The Explorer - James Smythe
About a week ago there was a segment on Breakfast TV about a planned mission into space, a proposed one way mission. They interviewed a student who wants to be part of this one way trip into space, and discussed the implications of leaving family, friends, the earth itself behind. Watching this reminded me of this book. I'd had it on my radar for a while, but as my 'to-read' list is always quite ridiculously long that didn't necessarily mean I would actually get round to reading it. Fate got in the way though, and I spotted a copy of the hardback edition at my local Poundland, so obviously I had to pick it up. I don't know quite what I was expecting, whatever it was the reality went beyond my expectations. Combining a fatal journey into space, with elements similar to The Man From Primrose Lane, this is a mindblowing story. I just hope that noone involved in the proposed mission is put off by this vivid work of fiction.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Made me giggle.....

Maybe unsurprisingly I get sent rather a lot of literary links via social media, I've just had a particularly good one that I have to share.....
Classic Books via the medium of text messages....
Put a smile on my face....

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Thank You Miss Sutcliff
Yesterday I read 'Bird, Blood, Snow' by Cynan Jones, this is part of a series retelling stories from the Mabinogion and is well worth a read. Jones tells the story of Peredur/Percival and manages to transpose it to a modern setting quite skillfully. I was impressed that Jones managed to retain so much of the violence found in the original story, while moving it all to a modern Welsh housing estate. The modern world reacts towards this casual violence as you would expect, by bringing in the Police and Social Services; but for the character of Peredur the magical aspects of the original are maintained. I am hopeful that the other books in the series manage to blend the old and new as well, if they do then the series will serve as a great transition between Lloyd Alexander's 'Chronicles of Prydain' and the actual Maginogion.

  Once I'd read Jones's book I had to go and read a more traditional telling of the Percival story. To do this I went straight to my copy of 'The King Arthur Trilogy' by the wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff. I was first given a copy of her ''The Sword in the Circle' while on holiday in Cornwall back in 1985. I was four, and it was my first 'grown-up' book. I have adored it since then reading and rereading it and the following books that complete the trilogy, between the ages of four and fifteen I probably read these once every couple of months and I genuinely believe that it was these books that made me who I am today. It sparked my love of reading, and the blend of chivalry, magic, faith, drama and romance touched my soul deeply. I still reread the book now, despite knowing it almost by heart, and it is still perfect for me. I still cry when I read the story of Tristan, and the Lancelot of Sutcliff's writing is still the standard that I judge men by. Over the years I read many of Sutcliff's other books, and especially enjoyed 'Blood Feud' which was televised during the 1990s, but it was her Arthur Trilogy that maintained it's place close to my heart. Reading these books led me to find the myths of the ancient world (Enid Blyton's 'Tales of Long Ago' also helped here), as well as helping me find other great historical fiction by people like Anya Seton and Jean Plaidy. rosemary Sutcliff set me on my way. If I had never found this book then I would not be me, so I want to send out a thank you to Miss Sutcliff from the bottom of my heart.

Monday 20 January 2014

A referencing catch up....

It's been a morning of catching up on some of the quirky little reference books I was sent just before Christmas. I seem to gather a fair few of these, and find them to be enjoyable 'toilet books', perfect for dipping into when you have a moment or two to yourself. However as I have several that I have been postponing reading for the last month or so, I sat down this morning with the intention of reading these..... at least until lunchtime anyway :). So far this morning I have worked my way through Joseph Piercy's interesting little book about the history of Symbols, and Andrew Sholl's more doubtful 'Teddy Bears, Tupperware and Sweet Fanny Adams'. Piercy's book works wonderfully as a short introduction to Symbology, taking examples from a range of areas and showing how everyday symbols have evolved and been adapted over time. It is a really nice little book, with plenty of interesting little nuggets; my major criticism is that it seems surprisingly light on illustrations. There is an image of each symbol as a header for it's section of the book, but there are several moments throughout the text where further illustration could have come in handy. It is, afterall, a visual subject under discussion, so extra visual aids would have been nice.
Moving on the Sholl's book; this looks at common words or phrases and gives information of how these have their origins in Proper Nouns. It is very interesting in itself, but unfortunately I spotted a number of mistakes in the 'facts', so am uncertain as to how far it can be used as a reference book. I appreciate that it is not setting itself forward as a scholorly tome, but even jokey, light hearted reference books need to be accurate in the information they present as fact. I'll quote from the section discussing the origins of the phrase 'Bloody Mary', see if you can spot the two glaringly obvious mistakes here, which caused the book to be flung angrily away from me in disgust.....
     'Mary Tudor, England's last reigning Catholic monarch.... restored Catholicism as the state         religion..... Her niece, Elizabeth I, undid her work and re-established the Church of England.'

Now, in my opinion, this just shows a shocking sloppiness in fact-checking both at the writing and editorial stage. Although it also saddens me, quite sincerely, that any 'fact-checking' should be required for facts which should simply be ingrained knowledge. Mistakes like this drive me crazy when they appear in fiction, so when they are given as truth in a book that is marketed as being factual I cannot even begin to describe how annoyed I am!

Next on the reading list is 'It's About Time' by Liz Evers and I'll maybe even get round to making a start on 'The Rocket Man' by David Darling.

Sunday 19 January 2014


I've been sent some lovely looking books this week. Thanks again to all the wonderful publishing people who have been so nice as to send me these. I'm hoping to get a fair amount of reading done this week, I'll need something to keep me occupied while my darling other half is away. Thankfully I have more than enough to keep my mind off being lonely here. Also I still have the beautiful Foundling Boy and the very funny Little Old Lady to finish as well as the first proof of Quarter Past Summer so lots to read..... just as it should be :).

Wednesday 15 January 2014

The Dig - Cynan Jones

With the badger culls still in the news this feels topical, however it isn't that which makes this such a dramatic and moving book. This is rural Wales with all the romance sucked out of it, leaving only the dirt, blood and harsh reality. The story maybe short but that doesn't prevent it having an impact as the reader is drawn into the lives of Daniel, the grieving sheep farmer, and Ag the badger-baiter. I defy anyone with an ounce of empathy to read this book without being moved by the depiction of raw grief given here, or by the visceral dark images of the fate of the creatures Ag digs out of their setts. It is inevitable that the two men's lives will collide. The ending is left uncertain but we can assume that we know what has happened. It is often difficult to convince people that short novella style books are worth buying, but this one manages to create a whole convincing world with a few well placed lines and is worth every penny.
This book had me in tears a number of times and also made me think about why there do seem to be so many badgers by the side of the road a certain times of the year. Needless to say I'm now busy looking out other books by the same author to see if they can compare to this wonderful novel.

As an aside, I've just read an amazing review of this book, written by Patrick Barkham the author of Badgerlands. I certainly hope that reviews like this one help launch this book to the success it is due.

Progress Report

We are now halfway through January so it is time for my first progress report. I've managed to read my way through twelve books, eight of these have been written by authors that I have never read before, and nearly all of them have been exceptional. I appear to have made some good choices so far this year. Already I have a rather large list stacking up of things that I want to get read before the end of the month, so maybe it is a good thing that my dear other-half is due to go off on a training exercise for ten days quite soon. I shall make the most of him being away, and keep myself nicely busy by reading for a nice steady 10-12 hours a day while he is gone.
Right then, that's enough of an update I think back to the books!

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Publicity people.......

You have to love the publicity people who work at publishing houses. Part of me suspects that it is a job I would absolutely love, except I am sure there would be some pressure to mainly read 'in-house' books, so it could reduce the breadth of my reading. As it is, there are a core of wonderful people who I deal with across the houses who go out of their way to provide amazing proofs and a.r.cs for me to read and review. When I started doing this I assumed that I could only get hold of proofs if they were offered via our intranet service. I did this and was sent some wonderful books, but more recently I have found that thanks to my core contacts I am able to request arcs/proofs of a wide range of upcoming books and more often than not they follow through with actual copies. I know that it is in the interest of the publishing houses that they get people like me to blog/review and recommend their new books, but even so many of the contacts I have go above and beyond the call of duty in getting books sent out to me. They are happy to put together bound copies if no proofs are available, pass my name and details along to other publicists and make recommendations of new things to read and review. These people are stars, and I thank them for hours of reading pleasure.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Thanks to Nick Hornby

One of the books I'm currently reading is Nick Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading;  this book is essentially a collection of his book reviews from The Believer magazine. I'd not come accross this publication before, but have since added it to the long list of things that I need to keep an eye on. At the start of each mini essay Hornby does something ingenious, he lists the books he has purchased and those he has actually got around to reading during that month. Now, with many apologies to Nick, I am going to be 'alf-inching' this idea just a little bit. If I'm honest I probably buy fewer books than I recieve as proofs or a.r.cs (What can I say, I love my job!) so in future, once a month I intend to make a list of books I have purchased, books I've been sent gratis, books I've requested, and books that I have actually got around to reading. If nothing else this should prove an interesting record for myself, especially as I'm not totally convinced that anyone else is actually reading any of this gumpf that I'm busily tapping away here :).
So far this month I have been busily picking my way through the fantasy and sci-fi section trying to make up for all the things that I've yet to dip into. I have plans for a fair few more books from this section over the coming months, so have a full reading schedule lined up. Annoyingly having picked up a couple of these books, I discovered that in fact they were the better known sequels to lesser known first books..... this can at least be seen as a valid excuse to buy more books.........
In other news, I was somewhat tickled pink to be described as a 'Book Blogger extrodinaire' by someone who works for one of the major publishing houses. I'll name no names, but will just say that the fella in question is routinely pestered for books by me, and (almost) never fails to deliver the goods. It is helpful that he works for a large publishing group, which has a number of excellent smaller publishers under it's umbrella. I think it can be certain that he will continue to be pestered by me for as long as I have eyes to read lol. He is also rather handy when it comes to dishing out contact details for other handy individuals and it was in one of his introductions to another publisher that he used the BBE description listed above. All I can say is that he is a star and I am endlessly grateful for the books he sends out to me.
Something else I have discovered over the last couple of days is a book which reads like the sequel (or sister-companion), to the wonderful Hundred Year Old Man who climbed etc etc etc..... the slightly more catchy 'Little Old Lady who Broke All the Rules' by Catherina Ingelman-Sundberg. The title says it all really, so far I'm about a quarter of the way through and my main thought is that scandinavian old folks homes must be overrun with geriatric daredevils just itching to get their zimmer frames out on the road and cause some havoc. So far it is a hugely enjoyable book very funny and well worth getting hold of it you fancy something similar to THYOM....

Sunday 5 January 2014

Among Others - Jo Walton

An excellent start to the New Year, Among Others is a beautifully written book about the magic that can be found all around us. I have to say that I did expect to discover that the magical events of the novel to turn out to be mainly in Mori's head, mental illness would seem to cover much of how she sees the world, but maybe that is a slightly harsh view to adopt. Certainly it is not a view adopted by Jo Walton, who continued with the far more romantic and satisfying concept that the magic was in fact real. I loved the book and have been tempted to look into other things by the author. Tooth and Claw is allegedly a novel in the style of the grand Victorian sagas, (Trollope is mentioned several times in descriptions)..... just it has a focus on a family of dragons. Needless to say this has gone on my wishlist! Walton's alternate universe trillogy the Small Change series, has been out for some time in the US, but the tiny print run for the books in the UK is now out of print, the good news is that the whole trilogy is due to be reprinted in the UK with a release date of the start of February. Farthing is the first book in the series, and I am trying to get hold of an A.R.C from the lovely people at Corsair so watch this space.