Thursday, September 30, 2010

A new family member...

Sorry for the delay in posts recently – for reasons best known to itself, my internet is not working properly in the evenings at the moment. That’s not quite true – occasionally it will make a mammoth effort and load a page, but generally it is so slow that the page times out before anything has appeared on the screen. This only happens in the evenings… which is of course blogging time. The internet is very useful sometimes – I wouldn’t have met you lot without it! – but it does unleash that incomparable rage when things don’t go right. Because I never know how to fix it. I rarely get angry, but computers have caused me more fist-shaking, foot-stomping, voice-raising than anything else. ARGH!

So, at half midnight, it starts working - too late for me to write the review I was planning, but not too late to show you the new addition to my home in Somerset... I'll soon be visiting little Sherpa, but Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife are welcoming her at the moment - and have sent me a photo or two to be going on with:

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes (Little Blue Envelope #1) by Maureen Johnson

Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Author: Maureen Johnson
Series: Little Blue Envelope #1
Release Date: October 1st, 2006
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Age: Young Adult
Synopsis from
When Ginny receives thirteen little blue envelopes and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she knows something exciting is going to happen. What Ginny doesn't know is that she will have the adventure of her life and it will change her in more ways than one. Life and love are waiting for her across the Atlantic, and the thirteen little blue envelopes are the key to finding them in this funny, romantic, heartbreaking novel.
Ginny is just an ordinary girl, until she receives 13 letters from her aunt with tasks and enough money to travel to Europe. Her instructions sometimes are easy, like meeting someone; or difficult, as finding a little coffee shop in Paris. Oh, and she needs to do it alone, with just a bag pack and no communication with her family and friends in USA.

I really liked this book. It was easy to read and interesting, and I loved the idea of the envelopes. Each envelope would mean another country, and another adventure! Every place she went was exotic (for someone who doesn't live in Europe) and the descriptions were so amazing that you felt as if you're traveling too.

But I wished Ginny would have been more interesting. She was really naive and unadventurous, and sometimes she was kind of boring. If I was in her situation, I'd have been more excited! Her trip was amazing and she met lots of people, like Keith the hot guy, or the crazy Australians.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was fun and as soon as I ended it I felt like going on vacations! Definitely I'll read the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope, which is going to be release May 10th, 2011.


More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday # 20 - Mostly Good Girls

"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
The higher you aim, the farther you fall…. It’s Violet’s junior year at the Westfield School. She thought she’d be focusing on getting straight As, editing the lit mag, and making Scott Walsh fall in love with her. Instead, she’s just trying to hold it together in the face of cutthroat academics, Scott Walsh’s new girlfriend, and the sense that things are going irreversibly wrong with her best friend, Katie. When Katie starts making choices that Violet can’t even begin to fathom, Violet has no idea how to set things right between them. Westfield girls are trained for success—but how can Violet keep her junior year from being one huge epic fail?
Leila Sales
October 5th 2010 by Simon Pulse
Hardcover, 288 pages

I had read great reviews about this book, so now I really want to read it ;)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A quick post today, as I want to curl up in bed with Wait for Me! As part of the Bloggers' Meet-Up, a few of us went around the Ashmolean (which, shamefully, I had not been to for almost six years). I headed straight for the paintings, because I've got to confess I'm not cultured enough to be all that interested in pots and things... but I do love art galleries.

This is probably my favourite painting on display:

I first encountered Stanley Spencer on the cover of Barbara Comyns' novel Who Was Changed and Who was Dead (see that image here), and he is now one of my favourite artists. I love the surreal domesticity he paints - similar to the sort of novels I love, in that respect. Since I know so little about art history, or art really, I can't explain what I love about this image - but I do love it, so thought I'd share it with you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Bad Turn...

A few of you commented on my mention on The Turn of the Screw the other day, and I'm afraid this is confession time. I'm well aware that this almost certainly a case of wrong reader/wrong time, rather than wrong book, but... it didn't work for me at all.

I'd seen the production at Christmas (partly filmed in the graveyard of my church in Somerset, doncha know); I'd seen another production about a decade ago. I'm reading lots of fantasy theory books at the moment, and it keeps being mentioned as a famously ambiguous text. Simon, I said to myself, get over your dislike of Henry James (based entirely on one interminable 'short' story) and get The Turn of the Screw off the shelf.

So I did. The plot is well known. A governess is hired to look after a man's niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, the latter of whom has recently been expelled from school. The uncle puts her in charge, with only one stipulation: he is on no account to be disturbed. But it's the governess who is disturbed - she starts to see mysterious figures wandering the grounds, who don't seem to be seen by any other members of the household. And she learns that the previous governess, Miss Jessel, and her lover Peter Quint, had died under curious circumstances... events come together to convince the governess that the figures she sees are their ghosts, and she suspects the children may not be as unaware and innocent as they seem... Even writing that synopsis, I am intrigued - I'm imagining it in the hands of Shirley Jackson, and am enthralled. I daresay she owes a lot to James. But...

The novella is one of those stories-within-a-story, and is framed by an unnamed narrator reading a manuscript account to a friend. This is just the first of the techniques which put the reader as a distance - the most strident being James' complex style. The tangle of his sentences means that the reader - or at least this reader - clambers along the surface of the text, never dipping below the words on the page to the caverns of images they should produce.
The day was grey enough, but the afternoon light still lingered, and it enabled me, on crossing the threshold, not only to recognise, on a chair near the wide window, then closed, the articles I wanted, but to become aware of a person on the other side of the window and looking straight in. One step into the room had sufficed; my vision was instantaneous; it was all there. The person looking straight in was the person who had already appeared to me. He appeared thus again with I won't say greater distinctness, for that was impossible, but with a nearness that represented a forward stride in our intercourse and made me, as I met him, catch my breath and turn cold. He was the same - he was the same, and seen, this time, as he had been seen before, from the waist up, the window, though the dining-room was on the ground-floor, not going down to the terrace on which he stood.
I picked that section more or less at random, but it is actually one of the few moments which actually made an impression on me - but even now, re-reading it, his sentences are so convoluted and intricate that I am barely able to rescue a picture from the effort of disentangling his syntax. It's not because I'm unused to 19th century books - I've read a lot in the past, and quite a few recently. It's definitely James.

Is this all deliberate? Is it worthwhile? Did The Turn of the Screw flounder for me because I was so tired when I read it? I can admire James - I can certainly admire the imagination which structured the ambiguity of the novella's conclusion, but I cannot love or enjoy him. Worse, a lot of the time I can barely understand him. Please, counsel for the defence, step forward and tell me what I'm missing?

Book-Trailer: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

When I was a little girl, I watched E.T. with my sister. I hate it! I was so scared! And my sister was so mean with me, she traumatized me. For a couple of years I couldn't even heard the word UFO because I was shaking.

Then I watched a whole series in the History Channel about aliens, and bum, I'm not scared anymore. Still, when people people say E.T. is cute, and I just though -Really, cute? Come on!-

Anyway, now I want to read about aliens and I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore seems to be the perfect book to start!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Kindness of Friends

There were quite a few books that I wanted to buy whilst wandering around Oxford with the bloggers on Saturday (and one which I persuaded Becca to buy for herself, in lieu of me buying it) but I shouldn't grumble - because there are four which have arrived chez Stuck-in-a-Book in the past week, courtesy of various friends and family - thanks guys!

--First up is Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti, from Annabel aka Gaskella, who is having a bookcase clear-out. She described it as a 'bittersweet Swedish romance', and that sold me - I've been wanting to read more Scandinavian novels, and this seems quirky without being disturbing.

--People on a Bridge by Wislawa Szymborska (imagine some sort of slash through the 'l', and put on your best Polish accent, pronunciation here) translated by Adam Czeniawski was the book I won in the bloggers' book swap, from the very nice Peter. He is determined to drag me from my comfort zone, and Polish poetry seems as good a way as any to do that - I am genuinely excited about this one, though!

--The Land of Spices by Kate O'Brien was sent to me by my dear friend Epsie (actual name Esther Phoebe), who knows my partiality for Viragos.

--The Bolter by Frances Osborne was sent by Our Vicar's Wife herself, who spotted it in the church bookshop coffee thingummy she runs in our garage (under the name 'Honeypot') and thought it sounded up my street - I have almost bought it many times in the past, so it just goes to show that, if you blog for long enough, people start to get the hint about your taste (heehee!)

Thank you to everyone who has made Project 24 a little easier - all of these look lovely. When I'll read them is anyone's guess... currently slowly, but delightedly, working my way through Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire.

In My Mailbox #14

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

Best IMM ever!!! Why? Because, finally, my Kindle arrived :)


The Season of Risks: An Ethical Vampire Novel by Susan Hubbard

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation


My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star by Joyce Raskin, Carol Chu (Illustrator) - no image -

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder

Rage(Horsemen of the Apocalypse #2) by Jackie Morse Kessl

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Song for a Sunday

Yesterday was the second Book Bloggers' Meet-Up, and it was great fun. I must confess, I was feeling a little discouraged as the day approached, since so many people had to cancel. Not to blame anyone, of course, but you can't help feeling a little discouraged when you organise something and it doesn't go exactly to plan. BUT the eight of us who were able to attend had a great evening, and I really enjoyed it. We'll be trying another Meet-Up in spring sometime, and I'll be handing over to someone else to do the (very simple) organisation - let me know if you want to volunteer!

Oh, and I didn't buy any books - proud of me?

I think I will carry on with this Song for a Sunday idea, as variety is the spice of life and all that. Today's is by one of my favourite singers, Elin Ruth Sigvardsson (also known as Elin Ruth, or Elin Sigvardsson...) with the song Bang. I've chosen it partly because I like the song, but also because I love the story which runs through the video. Enjoy!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Today a few bloggers will be meeting up in Oxford, which should be great fun - not as many as we'd originally hoped, but we shall no doubt have a good, bookish time nonetheless, and will report back in due course. I do hope these Meet-Ups can be semi-regular (maybe every six months) and that as many people as possible can come to future ones! Part of the day includes a little trip around various bookshops and sights in Oxford, so it will strongly test Project 24...

But for now let's have a quick Weekend Miscellany!

1.) The link - is to a really interesting cardboard book project, mentioned on the blog of an equally interesting magazine. The magazine is called Oh Comely, and was set up by a friend of mine (amongst others) aiming to be a woman's magazine without the gossip. That's how she sold it to me, anyway! Click on the link above to see what happens when Jenna Forster had short stories made into individual recycled cardboard books (and I've 'recycled' the photo from them...)

2.) The blog post - is Hannah Stoneham's guest post at The Dabbler, with a review of Barbara Comyns' novel Our Spoons Came From Woolworths. That would be worth reading on its own merits, but it's part of a series at The Dabbler which is a fantastic idea - 1p book reviews. That is, they have a series of reviews of books which are available for a penny at I love that idea, and might well borrow it from them in a future post...

The book - I'm not sure how old the book is, but I only heard about it today (and a review copy is winging its way to me.) It's no secret that I love Frank Baker's novel Miss Hargreaves, and now Paul Newman has written a biography of Baker called Frank Baker: The Man Who Unleashed The Birds. Copies are available here, and hopefully I'll be writing about it before too long.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: The Body Finder (The Body Finder #1) by Kimberly Derting

Title: The Body Finder
Author: Kimberly Derting
Series: The Body Finder #1
Release Date: March 1st 2010
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 336
ISBN: 0061779814 (ISBN13: 9780061779817)
Synopsis from
Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her "power" to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes the dead leave behind in the world . . . and the imprints that attach to their killers.
Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find dead birds her cat left for her. But now that a serial killer is terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he's claimed haunt her daily, Violet realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.
Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved by her hope that Jay's intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she's falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer . . . and becoming his prey herself.
Violet is a teenager with a creepy "gift". She can hear echoes the dead people, the ones who died murdered, leave. And she also sense the killers, since the echoes attach to them like an imprint. When several girls are murdered, and the police have no clues, Violet is only one who can find the killer.

I read this book on my computer (still waiting for my Kindle to arrive) and even when my eyes begin to suffer, I didn't stop reading. Violet is one of my favorite characters, because she's normal expect for her gift. She loves her family, her friends, and her major worry is Jay, her best-friend. She tries to live with her gift the best she can, but she knows she can't ignore it. She's smart, and yes, she make mistakes as any other 16 year old, but I didn't think she was dumb or exaggerated.

And I couldn't help but fall in love with Jay too. He's stubborn and sometimes controlling, but he has a sweet side. It's the perfect boyfriend combination. He's more mature that Violet, and worries about her safety, but he's also a little naughty, always teasing her.

The writing is great, not too fast but not slow. The changes from Violet's pov to the killer's pov were  interesting, because I knew what each of them were thinking.

I wasn't expecting so much mystery but was very surprised to find a lot. I never figured out who the killer was (until the end, of course) and there were surprises. I loved this, not knowing what was going to happen and always feeling at the edge.

And it was such a good thing, at least for me, that there weren't details about the murders. Just the kidnapings. It made it lighter and easier to read.

Overall, I couldn't find anything wrong with The Body Finder. I love it, it's original and I won't forget about the characters. I can't wait to read the next book, Desires of the Dead.

P.S.: Don't trust strangers!


More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Books and Books and some more Books

I saw this quite a while ago at Thomas' blog, and thought it looked fun... Do give it a go yourself!

1. Favourite childhood book?

As a child I read little but Enid Blyton - so it was probably one of the St. Clare's books. If we look earlier than that, it'll be one of the Mr. Men books. Still classics...

2. What are you reading right now?
Wait for Me! - Deborah Devonshire
Stories of the Strange and Sinister - Frank Baker
The English - Jeremy Paxman
The Backward Shadow - Lynne Reid Banks
Joy Street - Mirren Barford & Jock Lewis

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None at the moment....

4. Bad book habit?

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Loitering with Intent - Muriel Spark
Silent Playgrounds - Danuta Reah
If we're counting university libraries, then add another 20 or 30 titles to those...

6. Do you have an e-reader?
I don't, although I had a Sony Reader briefly. They very kindly gave it to me, even when I warned them that I probably wouldn't like it... well, it was better than I thought it would be, but I still gave it to my brother. Making it probably both the most expensive and cheapest gift I've ever given him...

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
See my list of current reads! I always have quite a few on the go.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Definitely - I read more modern literature, and a far wider range of authors. Although I still have my own defined reading tastes, I'm more likely to sample things suggested by all the bloggers I trust.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if we're counting books I gave up on. Of those I finished, I was nonplussed by Turn of the Screw.

10. Favourite book you’ve read this year?
Nella Last's War. I can't see it being beaten this year.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Quite often, since most of my book group reads and review books will be outside that zone - and they make up at least half my reading, it seems!

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Literary fiction without violence, I suppose. It used to be a comfort zone of 1930s domesticity, but this has widened to encompass most literary fiction, especially when it comes with palatable dabs of the surreal.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Thankfully yes, but not cars. Especially when I'm driving.

14. Favourite place to read?
Curled up on my bed. Or sitting in a meadow by a river, if the weather is right.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I am always surprisingly happy to lend books, even posting them around the world - despite loving books as objects as well as their contents, and immediately forgetting when I've lent someone a book. I would be incredibly easy to steal from.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Oh, confession time... I did fold down a corner the other day, and felt awful... it was in the talk by F.C. Delius, and I didn't have a pencil to hand, and wanted to mark a page for review purposes. I feel a little better after confessing, but still awful.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
I do this increasingly, though only in pencil.

18. Not even with text books?
I don't think I've had a text book since A Level!

19. What is your favourite language to read in?
English. It's all I've got.

20. What makes you love a book?
Oh gosh! To make me really love a book, I would have to love the use of language, the delineation and interaction of characters, and there would have to be some humour in it, even if only momentary. And I'd have to share some vague sort of ethos with the author - or at least not be at loggerheads with them. But then some books will just knock down all my rules and be loved anyway.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
See above! That's for my blog - I assume my blog readers will be interested in recommendations - in 'real life' I am hesitant to recommend books, unless people ask. I wouldn't ever recommend something to people who say "But, of course, your taste will be too literary" - not because my taste is too literary, but because I know they don't really want any recommendations.

22. Favourite genre?
I don't really read specific genres... unless literary fiction is a genre?

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Pop-psychology, oddly enough.

24. Favourite biography?
A. A. Milne: His Life by Ann Thwaite.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
No, I think I'm far too English and cynical. Plus I would probably turn to the Bible rather than something dreamed up in the late 90s. (If they do help people, that's fab - but I do wonder....?)

26. Favourite cookbook?
I almost never use cookbooks, because I'm not a very adventurous cook, but I do love Afternoon Teas, a baking cookbook my parents gave me.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
We're going back to Nella Last's War - such an astonishing book.

28. Favourite reading snack?
Bread and cheese - my favourite food anywhere, anytime.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I've no idea, because I never read what they say! I rarely read newly published books anyway, and those I do tend to go under the radar of professional critics.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I wouldn't do it for a book an author had sent me, or a small publisher. If it's by a famous author, or the author is long dead, then I'm happy to be more critical! I figure that James Joyce probably isn't that bothered by what I think.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?

Something Scandinavian. (This reminds me, I was reading a theory book the other day, and the author faux-modestly wrote "I'm afraid I can only read works in English, Spanish, French, German, Latin, and Scandinavian, so any other books I have had to read in translation." Eurgh.)

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Almost anything over 400pp.

35. Favourite Poet?
I don't really have one - hideously uncultured when it comes to poetry. My favourite poem is 'The Listeners' by Walter de la Mare, or Psalm 51.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
From the public library? Rarely more than one, and usually none. So many of my own books to read...

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Since I tend to only take out books I really want, I do end up reading most of 'em.

38. Favourite fictional character?
Do people get bored of me answering Miss Hargreaves (from Miss Hargreaves) for these sorts of questions?

39. Favourite fictional villain?
Hmm... I tend to dislike even the villains we're supposed to love. Oo, actually I do have one - but if I told you who it was, it would spoil the plot of the novel.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on holiday?
I don't really differentiate between holiday-reading and non-holiday-reading, except I use holidays to read exclusively indulgent things (rather than university work or book group choices.)

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
When I'm ill, my eyes are the first things to go - so probably when I had flu; about a week. Horrible, horrible.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
We Have to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
People told me it got better, but the first fifty pages were so badly written and irritating that I could get no further.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Does accidentally falling asleep count?

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

That's easy, as it's also my favourite film - The Hours.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
The 2005 Pride and Prejudice - although not that disappointing, since I had very low expectations.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Erm... £50? Maybe a bit more... in the Bookbarn in Somerset. Not much really, considering that's what each of my driving lessons cost.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Where is it that someone says "I've done some pretty dreadful things in my time, but I've never skipped to the end of a detective novel"?

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
It doesn't happen very often, but I'd have to be very bored, or repulsed, and just not be able to see any point in continuing.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, but mostly so my parents can find books to send me when I want them!

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I beg your pardon? Keep of course! Sometimes I buy books I've borrowed and read, simply so I can own the books I've read.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
I don't really understand...?

52. Name a book that made you angry.
I do get annoyed by literary criticism which lazily assumes that you agree with their atheistic viewpoint.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I don't think any reading makes me feel guilty... but my pleasure reading, which I will return to time and again and always adore, is The Provincial Lady series by E. M. Delafield.

Waiting on Wednesday # 19 ~ Me, Myself, and Why? (Cadence Jones, #1)

"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
Sweet and innocent with a twist of girl-next-door, Cadence Jones is not your typical girl and certainly not your typical FBI agent. Just ask her sisters, Shiro and Adrienne. (Wait. . .best if you don’t ask Adrienne anything.) But it’s her special “talent” which makes Cadence so valuable to the FBI and it never comes in more handy than when she and her partner, George, get tagged to bring down the Threefer Killer. A serial killer who inexplicably likes to kill in threes, leave behind inexplicable newspaper clippings, and not one shred of decent forensic evidence, soon starts leaving messages that seem to be just for Cadence and her sisters. Could it be that this killer knows all about Cadence’s special “talent”? In the meantime, love blooms in the most unexpected place when Cadence meets her best friend’s gorgeous brother who is in town visiting—and she discovers that he knows her secret too! When attraction burns hot between them her best friend isn’t thrilled with the romantic development and this time Cadence just might agree!

From New York Times bestselling author MaryJanice Davidson comes an outrageously funny novel about a highly unconventional FBI agent, a rather odd serial killer, a best friend on the edge, a gorgeous baker. . .and oh, yeah, love.

Suddenly Cadence finds her unbalanced life turned even more upside down as she tries to date a baker who wants to get in her heart and in her bed, dodge a pesky psychiatrist, keep a leash on her sociopath partner, while trying to catch a serial killer who’s now fixated on her.

Some days it’s not even worth getting up in the morning. . .
MaryJanice Davidson
September 28th 2010 by St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, 368 pages

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stevenson Under the Palm Trees

Can you believe we're still talking about that weekend of novellas? Plenty of material yet! (And I'm already tentatively planning the next one...) Up today is Stevenson Under the Palm Trees by Alberto Manguel. If the name rings a bell, it might be because he earned his spurs in the blogosphere with the book A Reader on Reading - which is on my list of books to think about buying when Project 24 is over.

But before I heard about that, I'd bought Stevenson Under the Palm Trees in Oxford's £2 shop. It appealed because (a) it was short, and (b) I love novels about writers and playing with their creations, etc. Plus I fancied throwing something a little postmodern and quirky into the mix. This is despite me never having read anything by Robert Louis Stevenson. Not even Treasure Island. Tut tut, Simon. [Edit: I have! I have! I've just remembered I've read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]

Manguel's novella is about Stevenson's time in Samoa, amongst intense humidity, bright colours, and a place which captivated him without quite accepting him. He is still the white outsider amongst the close-knit Samoans, and hankers after his native Edinburgh. And then... well, here's the opening:
Robert Louis Stevenson left the house and walked the long trek down to the beach just as the day was setting. From the verandah the sea was hidden by the trees, six hundred feet below, filling the end of two vales of forest. To enjoy the last plunge of the sun before the clear darkness set in, the best observation-post was among the mangrove roots, in spite (he said bravely to himself) of the mosquitoes and the sand-flies. He did not immediately notice the figure because it appeared to be merely one more crouching shadow among the shadows, but then it turned and seemed for a moment to be watching him. The man was wearing a broad-rimmed hat not unlike Stevenson's own, and, even though he could see that the skin was white, he could not make out the man's features.

The man is Mr. Baker, a missionary from Scotland, and he remains a shadowy figure throughout. When a young Samoan woman is raped and murdered, things get all the more mysterious. Don't worry - it isn't done in a gory or gratuitous way, more as an interesting catalyst for the rest of the novel - as the reader cannot decide upon Stevenson's culpability or innocence.

Neither, it seems, can Stevenson - for nothing is quite certain or able to be grasped by the reader. Who is Mr. Baker? Is he a creation of Stevenson's; is he somehow Stevenson's double; is he simply the missionary he claims? Identities are complex, dreams and consciousness meld and the Samoan landscape is host to all manner of strange narratives and counter-narratives. Lest this seems completely baffling, I should add that Manguel sensibly keeps the curious and nebulous aspects of the novella to the plot and characters - never spilling over into unnecessarily elaborate style or language. Which is somehow even more disorientating - because, at first glimpse, Stevenson Under the Palm Trees reads as a traditional novella - only gradually does everything get complicated.

As I said, I haven't read any Stevenson - so I wasn't able to appreciate the (apparently) 'playful nod to Stevenson's life and work', including the real life Mr. Baker, but that didn't stop me appreciating Manguel's novella. As an interesting extra level, the book incorporates - at intervals - woodcuts which Stevenson made in Switzerland in 1881. They are very simple, and obviously not the work of a professional woodcut artist, but still heighten the atmosphere and have their own evocative mystery.

For anybody fancying a quick dabble into the world of quirky, quietly postmodern novels, this could be a really interesting place to start - I hope my thoughts haven't made this sound inaccessible or difficult, because it isn't; I'm simply finding it tricky to find the right way to describe this unusual novella. Certainly something different from the rest of my weekend of novellas, and - as much as I enjoyed those - this was a playful, intriguing breath of fresh air.

I've replied to your comments now!

I feel so ashamed of myself - I've left comments unanswered for so long. Well, I've just spent much of the past four hours replying to the last sixteen posts - so if you were waiting for a reply, you've got one now! This is especially directed at Brigitte and her lovely first comment a while ago, which made my day, and I felt so bad that it hadn't had a reply...

Book-Trailer: JANE by April Lindner

I loved Jane Eyre so I want to read JANE by April Lindner and see if it has the same effect on me. I'm not sure about the rock star...but still sounds awesome!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Don't worry, I hadn't forgotten about the giveaway I promised a while ago - I asked people to recommend blogs they didn't think I'd know. Well, you were mostly successful - I'd only heard of two of the blogs mentioned. I've now gone and explored them - and they are lovely! - and I promised a book giveaway to the person who recommended my favourite new blog, AND to the blogger they recommended.

All completely subjective, of course, but *drum roll* please, the winners are...

Sasha (Sasha & the Silverfish)

for recommending

Carina (Book Report)

Congratulations Carina for your wonderful blog! Thank you Sasha for bringing this fab blog to my attention - I'm sure I'll be back often.

You can both choose any book you'd like from those listed so far in my 50 Books You Must Read list over in the right-hand column. (Unless they're somehow unavailable - please note many/most of them are only available secondhand, so I hope that's ok!) Let me know in the comments or by email which one you'd like, and I'll arrn

Review: Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Title: Beautiful Malice
Author: Rebecca James
Release Date: July 1st 2010
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Pages: 368
ISBN: 057125523X (isbn13: 9780571255238)
Age: Young Adult
Synopsis from
So. Were you glad, deep down? Were you glad to be rid of her? Your perfect sister? Were you secretly glad when she was killed?
Following a terrible tragedy that leaves her once-perfect family shattered, Katherine Patterson moves to a new city, starts at a new school, and looks forward to a new life of quiet anonymity.
But when Katherine meets the gregarious and beautiful Alice Parrie her resolution to live a solitary life becomes difficult. Katherine is unable resist the flattering attention that Alice pays her and is so charmed by Alice’s contagious enthusiasm that the two girls soon become firm friends. Alice’s joie de vivre is transformative; it helps Katherine forget her painful past and slowly, tentatively, Katherine allows herself to start enjoying life again.
But being friends with Alice is complicated – and as Katherine gets to know her better she discovers that although Alice can be charming and generous she can also be selfish and egocentric. Sometimes, even, Alice is cruel.
And when Katherine starts to wonder if Alice is really the kind of person she wants as a friend, she discovers something else about Alice - she doesn’t like being cast off.
Katherine is a 17 years old girl who used to think only about her boyfriend and parties...until the day of her younger sister's death. She move out of her town, and now she's quite and wants to be alone.

But then she meets Alice and everything changes. She's so beautiful, popular and interesting, that they become friends very quickly. They are close and Katherine, slowly, starts to think of Alice as her best friend. She even shared her most deep secret...what  happened the day her sister died. But Alice  is mean, and sometimes acts like crazy. She hurts people for fun, and when Katherine decides she doesn't want to be friends with her, things start to get ugly.

The writing and the characters were amazing. I couldn't stop reading, and I felt as if Katherine was real, talking to me, telling me her story. I felt sad and angry for her, it was unfair. But life is unfair, and if she's teaching us something is that sometimes life is too hard, but you have to keep living.

And Alice is scary. She has some serious problems, besides being mean. I would freak out if she would start to follow me, threating me, calling my parents...It's scary because it's real. People sometimes acts like this, trying to scare you, hurt you or just bother you. You can't go anywhere because she's there, you have to turn off your phone, move out.

Sometimes sad, creepy, and shocking; it's a very intense story. At the first chapters you don't know what happened except that Rachel, Katherine's sister, is death. But then the story unfolds and in every chapter you learn something new. The story jumps from the present to the past and vice versa, so you know what's going to happen but you don't know how or why.

Overall, this book was amazing and I think you should definitely read it!


More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Picture Perfect

On Friday I was at The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green (yes, I did pose proudly by my name on the Bloggers' Book of the Month stand) to hear Kim of Reading Matters interview both Friedrich Christian Delius, author of Peirene's latest book Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman (2006), and Jamie Bulloch, the translator. Kim did a fantastic job; Herr Delius was very interesting; I confirmed what I already suspected - one year studying German in 1999 did not stand me in good stead when a section was read from the novella.

I've been promising a review for a while, and Meike from Peirene more or less threatened to stop sending me books, and start sending hate mail and letter bombs instead, if I didn't actually make good on my promise. She needn't have worried, because Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is my favourite of Peirene's titles so far, and possibly the most convincing narrative voice I have read for a very long time. I certainly can't think of a man-writing-a-woman or a woman-writing-a-man which has been more believable or evocative.

I'd better kick off my thoughts by mentioning the 'gimmick' behind Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - that it is all one sentence. All 125pp of it. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that at all, because if you're anything like me it will make you a bit nervous. Especially if you were forced to read Ulysses in your first year of university, with its 100pp. at the end sans punctuation... and there's that hint of James Joyce in the title of Delius' book (in the English, at least) but wait! Somehow the absence of full stops along the way doesn't hinder the novel or make it difficult to read - rather, it enhances the beautiful flow and, with the structure of paragraphs and clauses, makes it feel a bit like a constant walking pace.

Which is precisely what it is. Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman follows a young pregnant woman as she walks through the streets of Rome in January 1943. Indeed, the first line is "Walk, young lady, walk if you want to walk, the child will like it if you walk" - the advice given to the woman by a doctor. She certainly takes up his advice - in terms of plot, there is very little. Instead we follow her path through Rome, sometimes inside her mind and sometimes panning around her instead. It isn't really stream of consciousness or even in the first person, but it is still a novella entirely captivated by the woman's mind and personality. She is kind, perhaps naive, perhaps simply someone with very human and empathetic priorities - 'she prayed to be allowed to bring her child into the world during a night without sirens and without bombs falling on the world'. She misses her husband Gert who is in Africa; she looks towards the future as a wife and mother; she is interested in everything she passes by, without letting her curiosity hold her in one place for too long. The war is not something she feels keenly as an international affair - only where it crosses her path; where it interrupts her happy images of past, present, and future. Which is, I imagine, the most honest portrait of a young German woman's experience of war.

Most beautifully, to my mind, is her perspective as a young Christian woman. I don't know whether or not Delius has Christian faith (I don't like the word 'religious' because it covers so vast a territory, and is a barren, emotionless word) but he certainly knows how to portray the beauty of this woman's faith in its calmness and simple vitality. Especially moving is the conflict she feels between Christianity and her wartime national identity - complicated further, perhaps, by being in Rome.
the Fuhrer himself who, as her father and Gert sometimes cautiously hinted, made the mistake of placing himself above God, or practically allowing himself to be venerated as a god, and so exaggerated the belief in race and the superiority of the German national community,

You are nothing, your people is everything!, that the racial theories contradicted ever more sharply the obligations of humility and brotherly love, and repeatedly gave rise to fresh inner conflicts in young people like her,

without the Church and her devout parents and several courageous preachers she would not have been able to cope with the daily conflict between the cross of the Church and the crooked cross of the swastika

This woman, by the way, is not simply any mother - but is heavily based on Delius' mother. I had a bit of a oh-gosh moment at the talk when I realised that the baby she is carrying, thinking so much about, and planning for, is Delius himself.

As an exploration of a woman's life, this is a beautiful novella - but as an exploration of his mother's life, it somehow becomes even more beautiful. I feel that this might be a novella I will return to in a few years' time, and a few years after that - so much to glean from its pages. Jamie Bulloch is to be strongly commended for his translation - I can't read Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman in its original German, but the English has such a lovely lilt and continual flow to it that I can only assume nothing was lost in translation.

Books to get Stuck into:

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
: this is the obvious comparison, I think, similarly taking place within one day (though not so short a timescale as Delius' novella). Her journey through London and this woman's through Rome are equally striking.

Stone in a Landslide - Maria Barbal: it might see lazy to mention another Peirene title, but I kept thinking about this novella as another moving account of a woman living through momentous times.