Friday, July 30, 2010

Moving with the times

I did promise you a multi-coloured Weekend Miscellany, but I'm afraid packing all day and carrying everything down the stairs has rather worn me out...

So, instead, I would like to know your reading suggestions on the topic of moving house! Can you think of any?

Only one comes to my mind - Persephone book and Virago Modern Classic The New House by Lettice Cooper. That dual honour for this 1930s novel is warranted - it's a fascinating novel for many reasons, but especially in terms of contemporary class shifts, including those between masters and servants...
Rhoda came into the kitchen and stood just inside the doorway, looking shy. She always felt shy when she penetrated to that downstairs world. The life lived so near to them and so far apart from them was a dark continent, full of unexplored mystery.
And, of course, they move house! So, over to you... books about moving house, please. And I'll see you on the other side...

48 Hour TBR Read-a-Thon

Wallace at Unputdownables is organizing the 48 Hour TBR Read-a-Thon!! It is a great way to start reading my To-Be-Read (TBR) list,so I'm in and I hope you come and read with me this weekend!

If You’re In:

  • Choose a few books that you will attempt to finish this weekend (Friday evening through Sunday night).
  • Post your TBR Read-a-Thon books on your blog so your readers can see what you are attempting for the weekend.
  • Challenge your readers to read along with you! (It’s OK if they don’t, but might be fun if they want to choose at least one book to participate with).
  • Join the discussion all weekend long at #bookblogchat on Twitter.
  • Post updates on your blog about what you are reading and what you have finished (full reviews can come later, but this will let your readers know what you are reading so they can either read along or look forward to your reviews!)
  • Visit other blogs that are doing the read-a-long. Post comments and follow your fellow bloggers.
  • Make sure you sign up here with Mr. Linky with a link to your first post so we can follow your progress!
  • *If you don’t have a blog but want to participate: Sign up with Mr. Linky, just don’t add a website (or you can link to your Twitter or GoodReads page).*

If You’re Not In, but Want to Support:

  • Check out the blogs that are participating below in the Mr. Linky list.
  • Visit those blogs and leave comments and encouragement
  • Add to your own TBRs as you see what others are reading!
  • I hope you’ll join in on the fun. It does not matter how many books you read (1 or 100 — actually, if you read 100 I might be so impressed that I send your name to the Guinness Book of World Records), just read! There are no tangible prizes, but hopefully being part of the community of readers and learning about great new blogs will be incentive enough.

Ok. So now that you now the can sign up here!

My reading list (what I'm going to read this weekend):


The Iron Queen Cover

OMG!! I can't believe it, it's pink! (I love pink xD)

What do you think? I'm a fan of this serie (The Iron Fey) and of course I'm very excited about this book, but still have to wait until February 2011. If you haven't read it, you should!

My reviews:
- Winter's Passage (The Iron Fey #1.5) by Julie Kagawa
- The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey #2) by Julie Kagawa

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Holiday Snaps

Right, recipe will come soon! Hope you liked the sketch too - it's been a while, and I'm hoping to include more, as they're a fun way of making my blog a little different. We'll see...

I'm tired after bizarre sleeping patterns to and from a lovely wedding in Northern Ireland. Still got almost all my packing to do, and am moving house on Saturday... fun fun! So I'll leave you with some photos from the trip Colin and I took up to Yorkshire and Derbyshire a little while ago.

Col chose Yorkshire (not sure what prompted this, but good choice Cogs) and I decided it was too far to drive from Somerset, so we stopped in Derbyshire first. And we stayed at lots of beautiful Youth Hostels - this is the path which led out behind the first one, Ravenstor. Apparently it's where David Bellamy first developed a love of wild flowers.

We had competitions over who could take the best stairs shot... but since Col's isn't here, you can't be the judge.

Mum and Dad had bought us National Trust membership (thanks OV and OVW!) and the first we visited was Ilam Hall.

The place I was most excited about visiting was Chatsworth, recent home of Debo Mitford aka the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. The house was kind of dark and broodingly handsome (so like me, naturallement) and then the gardens were simply gorgeous. I could have stayed in them for hours and hours, but Col was waiting in the car park - owing to his irrational hatred of all things Mitford, and all things costing £9.50.

The other highlight, once we were up in Yorkshire, was of course Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage. Although I'm not an obsessive Bronte fan (and, unusually, Anne is my favourite) it still felt wonderful to be there. Even with a group of thirty schoolchildren wandering around after us, their teacher hovering outside each room we were in, saying "No, you can't go in yet, the room is not empty yet."

But Anne, Charlotte and Emily are not all that Haworth has to offer - they have a working steam train! I'm not a trainspotter, but still harbour a love for steam trains which probably dates to loving the Railway Children - which was filmed along this line. Here is Colin, enjoying the only first class carriage we're ever likely to occupy.

One day we decided to visit four National Trust properties... they included the stunning Rievaulx Terrace and Temples (first pic) and a ruin, the name of which eludes me for the moment (second and third pics).

Finally, a view of the dramatic scenery that surrounded us:

Wish me luck with moving, and hopefully I'll find some time to put together a Weekend Miscellany... then I might be quiet for a bit, depending on whether or not we get internet sorted out at the new house quickly...

Review: Heavenly (Heavenly #1) by Jennifer Laurens

Title: Heavenly
Author: Laurens, Jennifer. 
Release Date: August 15th, 2009
Publisher: Grove Creek Publishing
Pages: 296
ISBN: 1933963840 (isbn13: 9781933963846)
Age: Young Adult
Summary from
I met someone who changed everything. Matthias. My autistic sister's guardian angel. Honest. Inspiring. Funny. Hot. And immortal. That was the problem. What could I do? I did what any other girl would do-I fell in love with him. Zoë's sister darts in front of cars. Her brother's a pothead. Her parents are so overwhelmed; they don't see Zoë lost in her broken life. Zoë escapes the only way she knows how: partying. Matthias, a guardian sent from Heaven, watches over Zoë's autistic sister. After Zoë is convinced he's legit, angel and lost girl come together in a love that changes destiny. But Heaven on Earth can't last forever.

Zoe seems to be a typical teenager, but with a drinking issue. That is her way to relax and release her frustration and anger, because she has to deal everyday with her little sister, Abria, who has Autism. It is very hard to live and take care of someone with Autism, and I think this book demonstrate this in a very real way. At first I thought the book was going to focus on Abria, but there is a spin and it started to show more about Zoe. Even with her drinking issues, she is a very kind girl. I felt she was normal, made mistakes but tried to amend them.

When she met Matthias, a guardian angel, she started to change. He is absolutely lovely. He is kind and have a great heart. He is a good boy, the one you would like your daughter to date, and believe me, she will like him too.

The book was fast and light to read, and it really surprised me. It isn't the typical paranormal romance young adult book, it's deeper.

The ending left me open-mouthed. I wasn't expecting it at all, and I cried. Don't worry, it's not sad. Maybe a little, but I thought it was a great ending, one of those that left me thinking and wanting to read the next book as soon as possible.

Deep, angelic and graceful writing. Excellent for the ones who wants to read something that will linger in your thoughts.


More about this book at | Amazon | Goodreads

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday # 11 ~ Subway Girl

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick:

Summary from
From the moment he sees Amy on a Hong Kong subway, Simon wants to talk to her. But when he finally works up the courage, he finds out he can’t. Because Amy doesn’t speak Chinese, and Simon is failing English. But despite their language barrier, Amy and Simon connect, and they discover they understand each other.

In this stunning first novel about class differences, cultural arrogance, unwanted pregnancy and abortion, sexual double standards, and love and friendship, two vulnerable teens carve out a relationship even though each seems way beyond the reach of the other.

P.J. Converse
March 1st 2011 by HarperTeen
Hardcover, 256 pages

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


First things first... yesterday I made this:

Mmmm... Apricot Meringue Gateau. With fancy caramelised shapes on top. Let me know if you want me to blog the recipe... it's usually book-chat here, but I'm happy to diversify if you want to feast on this! I took it to a dinner party, and we demolished it... and it was rather nice, though I says it as shouldn't. (Oh, and whilst I'm on the topic of baking - I made a chocolate sponge cake the other day, but used muscovado and demerara sugar instead of caster or granulated - can I recommend it? So yummy.)

Back to bakig matters... I mentioned, in the midst of my review yesterday, that John Carey's introduction to Wish Her Safe At Home was very good. It made me realise that it is probably the first critical introduction I've ever read that actually added something to the book. I've read lots from children or spouses or similar which enhance the work for personal or sentimental reasons, and some (like E.M. Delafield's introduction to Pont's The British Character) which are deliciously funny, but I can't remember any other more learned introductions which truly succeeded.

Of course - I doubt I'm alone here - I never read introductions or prefaces until I've finished the novel. Quite why publishers think it's acceptable to call something an 'introduction' which gives away the entire plot, I can't imagine. But once I've got to that last page, and flick back to the beginning... so often I'm left unmoved by what's written.

The usual seems to be a quick history of the author's life, and then a summary of the plot, with apposite quotations. Well, I don't need a summary of the plot, I've just read the book... I'd like to unveil things I might have missed, perhaps give a new angle on something. Of course, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't - the worst introduction I've ever read was Elaine Hedges' to The Yellow Wallpaper, which was nothing if not, ahem, 'original'. I.e. totally unsupported by the brilliant book. Check through the archives if you want to see me having an uncharacteristic rant (!!)

So... what are your thoughts on introductions? Do you read them first or last or not at all? Any really great ones which stick in your mind, or do you - like me - tend to be a bit disappointed? And are there any books you really wish *had* had an introduction, and didn't? (I wish the film Inception had an introduction...!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

You're So Unreliable!

One of my holiday reads (yes, still working my way through reviewing those - it'll probably coincide with my next holiday by the time I finish with it) was Wish Her Safe At Home (1982) by Stephen Benatar. I heard about it from this article, reprinted in The Week. I've only just noticed it was written by the usually rather imbecilic Cosmo Landesman (Col and I find his film reviews very useful - you can guarantee that whatever he writes, the exact opposite will be true) - had I spotted Landesman's name on it before I wouldn't have proceeded. Glad I did! And, had that article not appeared on my horizon, Aarti's enthusiasm would surely have filtered through! To get an idea of how much she loves Wish Her Safe At Home, just think about me and Miss Hargreaves...

Benatar's novel made the press mostly because of his determination to give it a readership. That article elaborates on how he (very gently) approached people in various bookshops, suggesting they might like to read
Wish Her Safe At Home (and probably his other novels too). He also set up his own publisher to reprint his own novels. And it takes some gumption to approach Penguin Classics and suggest his own, moderately successful, novel should enter that hall of fame. They wanted an introduction from a notable name, John Carey was happy to oblige (if the name is familiar it might be because, like me, you've flicked through The Intellectuals and the Masses) - but Penguin still turned it down. The beautiful New York Review of Books Classics were, thankfully, more sensible - hence the novel's current incarnation.

So that's the story the newspapers enjoyed - man battles against odds; gritty determination rewarded. We Brits do love an underdog - but don't let any of that stand in the way of Wish Her Safe At Home being read on its own merits. It's worth remembering that it was shortlisted for the James Tait Memorial Prize (a better indication of a good book than the Man Booker Prize, I reckon). So let's get onto the story that really matters - the one within the pages of Wish Her Safe At Home.

Rachel Waring - who had once been 'almost pretty' - has inherited her great-aunt's Georgian mansion, and leaves her dull job and incompatible flatmate, having instantly fallen in love with the house when she visited it. Moving there hadn't been the plan, but its lure is such that she is immediately certain that she must:

The exterior of the house was beautiful. Terraced, tall, eighteenth-century, elegant. Oh, the stonework needed cleaning and the window frames required attention - as did the front door and half a dozen other things. But it was beautiful. I don't know why; I just hadn't been expecting this.
I always find the attraction of houses fascinating in novels. As someone who could happily spend all day staring at a beautiful home, who gazes into estate agents' windows at properties I could never possibly afford, and who regards Kirstie and Phil as something akin to surrogate parents... well, I can sympathise with Rachel thus far.

But that isn't all - the house has a plaque to Horatio Gavin, 'Philanthropist and politician', who had lived there 1781-1793. Rachel develops an interest in Gavin, and determines to find out more about him...

It's not just dead philanthropists who catch Rachel's interest. Indeed, more or less anybody she meets is considered a potential conversational partner, even if she is appraising and judging them at the same time. Benatar's skillful presentation of Rachel's voice gives her inner thoughts and outer expressions all tangled up with one another, and also fuses in the odd line here and there which show that neither are quite right... more on that later. First, here's an example of Rachel's lack of edit-button in her outbursts to anybody in close proximity...
"I think I should like to have been somebody's favourite aunt," I said. "I think it might have been fun." This, to the woman whose table at the teashop I had asked to share.

She smiled, hesitated, finally remarked: "Well, perhaps it's not too late."

"No brother no sister, no husband - somehow I get the feeling it might be!"

"Oh dear."

"Did you ever see Dear Brutus?"

"Dear Brutus? Yes! A lovely play."

"Wouldn't it be fine if we all had second chances?"

She nodded, now looking more relaxed. "Oh, I'd have gone to university and got myself an education!" I reflected that she probably needed one. "But otherwise I don't think I'd have wished things very different." She gave a meaningless laugh and started gathering up her novel and her magazine. Poor woman. What a lack of imagination. (And what a dull, appalling hat.) Yet I realised that I envied her.
It's not just strangers in cafes, though - Rachel becomes friendly with an assortment of local people, especially her youthful gardener and his wife, Roger and Celia. Their lives get increasingly tangled up, in the most cheerful and whimsical way imaginable... or so it seems.

For it quickly becomes apparent that Rachel is not a reliable narrator. Whenever this realisation dawns in a novel, I get a little shiver down my back - what to believe, what not to believe! At first she seems unhinged in a jolly way - singing to herself, accosting everyone with sunny optimism and faux-schoolma'am whimsy. She meanders along the line between being consciously eccentric and... something less healthy. She gets increasingly bizarre, and it becomes clear that she is not sane... As John Carey writes in his introduction, 'It reminds us how thin the boundaries are between the mad and the imaginative, the mad and the sensitive, the mad and the acute.' She becomes obsessed with Horatio Gavin, the philanthropist who'd once lived in her house. We can no longer trust her version of the events she narrates - but second-guessing the truth is a twisting and turning game, written with excellent subtlety by Benatar. So much cleverer, so much better than The Behaviour of Moths, which tried something similar.

And Rachel's is truly a unique voice. Witty and biting and joyous and enthusiastic and... yes, rather unhinged. Whether or not it is convincingly female is another question - I don't mean feminine, for a female's voice needn't be feminine, but somehow it seemed as though it might not be a million miles away from Benatar's own voice - though presumably his is rather tempered! That aside, Wish Her Safe At Home is quite extraordinary, and would certainly bear a careful re-reading. It's not remotely the sort of novel I was expecting from the cover, or even from the blurb. I was expecting a novel which felt much older - this novel is unmistakably modern. Not through expletives or slang or modern references, but perhaps in tone. [Edit: I think what I actually meant, having read Aarti's comments and reassessed, is that the novel felt timeless. When I said 'unmistakably modern' I meant it obviously wasn't a 1940s reprint, in the way that The Little Stranger could have been - this novel could have taken place at any time, and it takes a while to work out when it is set.] And yet it combines this with a sense of history, and a charm which is uncommon in post-war novels. It's an extraordinary read, and I am glad that Benatar's persistence and determination paid off.

It shouldn't be unusual, but John Carey writes an unusually good Introduction. Not unusual for him, I mean, just unusual in general. I've now used the word 'unusual' so often that it has lost all meaning... Aside from some lazy anti-Christianity, Carey writes insightfully and with an eye that is both analytical and appreciative. More on that topic tomorrow, methinks...

Do let me know if there are any unreliable narrators I should meet (although don't let me know if their unreliability is a huge spoiler for the book!)

Books to get Stuck into:

To be honest, this most reminded me of the book I read immediately beforehand -
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - because of the influence of a house, etc. etc. Instead, I'll pick a couple novels with unreliable narrators, which is always an interesting angle...
Prince Rupert's Teardrop by Lisa Glass
- ok, being honest, this book was far too gruesome for me to enjoy - but it's also the best and most unnerving unreliable narrator I've encountered.

A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth - and this is the next most unnerving! The tale of a scarily obsessive neighbour... but told from the perspective of that self-deluded neighbour. Very clever, and decidedly gripping.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

That Book

A couple of friends and I went and saw Private Lives by Noel Coward this evening, in the open air at Wadham College. Very good, and very funny. Perhaps not quite as good as the student version I saw six years ago, which us
ed physical comedy better than I've ever seen it done before or since, but you can't fault Coward's acerbic lines. All good fun, if you're in the Oxford area I recommend you try and see it. And a plot that is very like A.A. Milne's play The Dover Road. Which, I might add, came first by nine years.

And then I've spent the rest of the evening packing up boxes of books, in preparation for moving across Oxford at the end of the week. Only a few minutes away, but that doesn't make much odds when it comes to getting all the books off every surface, and filling boxes... my bookcases are looking very bare, but the floor and my bedside table still hold more books than the average family owns, I should imagine.

A few have been kept out deliberately, of course. To read in between packing and moving, more especially to accompany me to and from Northern Ireland this week. One of which is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. My book group is reading it this month, and I wasn't remotely interested in reading it, because of all the hype - but a few people said it was good, so I decided to overcome my prejudices and give it a go.

Anybody read it? And do you have the same instinct I have to avoid things that have been hugely hyped? Then again, I know a few people who have avoided Harry Potter for that reason, and they're missing something of a treat.

Sorry for a short post - I have kept out a few other books to review, but not sure how much energy I'm going to have to do it in between packaging up my belongings... and here's hoping the internet behaves at our new residence!

Let me know your thoughts on the Steig Larsson, and hyped books generally. And are there any uber-popular books I've been missing out on because of my prejudice? (I've been scarred for life by giving The Da Vinci Code a try.... eurgh, makes me feel dirty).

In My Mailbox # 7

In My Mailbox is a weekly bookish meme hosted @ The Story Siren

From NetGalley:
What did you get this week?

Got Books? Winner!

Wow!! 314 entries! Thanks to everyone who participated and commented on the post  :) Most of us started reading because of a familiar...but others because of a teacher or alone.

So, the winner of the GOT BOOKS? giveaway is...

#245 - Arizu Ynewi

Congratulations! I'll be emailing you right now, and you have 72 hours to respond or I'll choose another person.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: The Little Prince Graphic Novel by Antonie De Saint-Exupéry & Joann Sfar

Title: The Little Prince
Author: Antonie De Saint-Exupéry
Illustrator: Joann Sfar
Release Date: October 18th 2010
Publisher: HMH Books
Pages: 112
ISBN: 0547338023 (isbn13: 9780547338026)
Age: All.
Summary from
For over sixty-five years Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince has captured the hearts and minds of its readers. The whimsical story with a fairy tale touch has sold over 80 million copies in 230 languages. This exciting graphic adaptation features beautiful, new artwork by Joann Sfar. Hand-chosen by Saint-Exupéry's French publishers for his literary style and sensitivity to the original, Sfar has endeavored to recreate this beloved story, both honoring the original and stretching it to new heights. A vibrant, visual gift for longtime fans and those experiencing the story for the first time.
The Little Prince is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it I was a kid, and since that moment every few years I re-read it, and every time I learn something more/different.

It's impossible to me to describe or review this book. There are things I still don't understand. The Little Prince is a little boy trying to understand grown ups, and all of his reflections made me stop reading and ponder about it. I guess you have to be really open minded and have a lot of imagination to relate this book to the world and the society we are living in.

I'm not used to read graphics novels, except for manga, but this one was great. The drawings are very good, but I'm not sure if little kids are going to like it. Maybe it's better for middle grade. Sometimes it was confusing which side should I read first, but because I already knew the story, it was easy for me to continue.

It is a book that children should read with their parents, for better understanding. And if you aren't comfortable with your kids reading about death, this is not your book.

Very short and easy to read, it's a classic for all ages you shouldn't miss.


More about this book at | Amazon | Goodreads