Sunday, October 31, 2010


Ages ago I won Andrina and other stories by George Mackay Brown on Hayley's blog Desperate Reader. So enthused was she, and so keen that I read it, that I got it to the top of my pile in surprisingly quick time for me (putting this in perspective, I'm currently reading a book someone gave me over three years ago) - but then didn't blog about it, and now am looking back in my memory to see what I thought. As such, I'm probably more likely to give impressions about the book as a whole, rather than individual stories.

Every time I write about short stories, I say how difficult it is. The themes will be so sprawling, the characters so diverse, that trying to find a unifying voice is tricky. Hayley suggests, in her review, that GMB is drawn to 'time, tide, season, poetry, and faith' - which is pretty wide, but probably fairly accurate. From the beautiful island photograph on the cover of my copy, I was expecting something from the same stable as Tove Jansson - with chilly descriptions, unsentimental characters, lots about the minutiae of human interaction, etc. etc. So I was a little surprised when the first story was all about a whaler, with some quite wordy letters being sent to a woman with the improbable name Williamina. I can't say I was smitten.

But I persevered - and what I will say is that the collection is mixed, but mostly on the good side of that! George Mackay Brown is very interested in fables and legends, and the whole book feels a little as though it had been translated from Old Norse or Icelandic or a language with a similar oral tradition. What do I mean by that? I suppose it's his odd choice of language - the sort of things we encounter in Anglo-Saxon literature, with turns of phrase relating to the most primitive forms of existence. This can be incredibly effective - I especially loved this line:

Days, months, years passed. A whole generation gathered and broke like a wave on the shore.
On the other hand, for those of us who never read historical fiction - which I recognise is a failing in myself, not the genre - it sometimes grates a little. Or, if not 'grate', does wear a little thin occasionally... but only occasionally.

The title story 'Andrina' is one of the best, and one of the few which felt more in the traditional mould of beginning-middle-twist-end. If I had to pick a favourite story from the collection, it would be 'Poets', which is actually a group of four stories, set in different times and places, carefully displaying four poets (some creating written poetry; some more metaphorical). In 'The Lord of Silence' within this group, Duncan is a poet who never utters a word:
He grew up. He was a young man. He learned to hunt, to herd, to plough. He learned to drink from the silver cup, pledging his companions in silence. His father went once on a cattle raid into the next glen, and did not return. They managed to get his body from the scree before the eagle and the wolf made their narrowing circles. The women of the glen, who mourned in a ritualistic way, had never seen such stark grief on a human face: the mouth of Duncan opened in a black silent wail.
Maybe it is when GMB's own interest in poetry overrides, that I lose my way sometimes. As someone who has an admiration for poetry, but rarely an enjoyment, I think I was occasionally left on the sidelines with some of the stories. I could see that they were beautiful, and with many of them I could relish that beauty and engage with the characters, writing, themes - but with others I could only sense beauty, not feel it. There is no doubt that GMD is a talented and evocative writer, when he finds the right reader - and whilst I certainly wasn't completely the wrong reader for Andrina and other stories, which I'm very glad I've read, and mostly enjoyed - I think there could be ideal readers out there for whom this would be an incredibly special book.

In My Mailbox # 17

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

This week was awesome :)


- Tres Metros sobre el Cielo by Federico Moccia (not available in english)

Oh, and a cute bag for books ;)


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Song for a Sunday

Here with another Sunday Song - this is one of my favourite songs at the moment. It takes a listen or two to realise how beautiful it is, but I now can't stop listening to it... here's Breathe Me by Sia.

For all previous Sunday Songs, click here.

Trick or Treat! Happy -almost- Halloween!

Halloween is here! (almost) I'm going to celebrate it watching scary movies with my boyfriend, at least, that's the plan.

Can you recommend me a spooky movie? I don't usually watch movies that scare me but it's Halloween! xD

Anyway, in case you decide to be a werewolf/vampire/ghost/zombie for this night, here are some name generators you could use to create your spooky identity!

Zombie Name Generator: My zombie name is Maria the Shambling-ArmBiter (hahahaha)

Werewolf Name Generator: Mine is Amaris Phellan (cool)

Vampire Name Generator: The Great Archives determine you to have gone by the identity: Chastity Black. Known in some parts of the world as: Iseult of The Vile The Great Archives. Record: Vile, foul, filthy and greedy: this creature knows nothing of light.(

Ghost Name Generator: Mine is Banafrit the Sexy Ghost (OMG!! xD)

Have fun! (and leave your names at the comments)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Hello there, hope all's well with you and yours. This weekend we'll be having murder-afoot at our house, as it's my birthday murder party. My actual birthday isn't til the 7th November, but the Saturday nearest to that is always Bonfire Night at South Parks in Oxford. Lots of fun stuff in the weekend miscellany...

1.) Starting with the winner of The Love Child by Edith Olivier. Thanks for all your fantastic suggestions of 'E' titles and authors - I especially loved how often Enid Blyton, Emma, and E.M. Delafield came up - all ones I'd have chosen. But, without further ado, the copy of this brilliant novella is going to... (one random number generator later) SPOTS OF TIME. I don't remember seeing your name before (have I?), so welcome, welcome, and well done! Send me your address to simondavidthomas[at], and I'll get the book off to you...

2.) Speaking of books (aren't we always?) the wonderful Persephone Secret Santa is happening again this year. Head over to Paperback Reader/Claire's post for more details... it's good fun, very festive, and guilt-free book buying. She's said we can use her fab image, so thanks Claire!

3.) Here in Britain we have some wonderful publishers - Persephone being just one of the companies which make me pleased to live in this scepter'd isle. The one time I get jealous is when the New York Review of Books Classics are mentioned. I own a few, but they're difficult and pricey to get here - they are such beautiful books, in terms of design, touch, the way they open... and, of course, they have printed some brilliant titles, including Tove Jansson's novels, one by Barbara Comyns, Sylvia Townsend Warner, etc. etc.

Anyway, Mrs. B and Coffeespoons are organising a NYRB Reading Week - see here. Also see Thomas' post on this - he gave me permission to reproduce his stunning and jealousy-inducing photo of his NYRB Classics collection (below). I think it's my favourite photograph I've ever seen on a blog - I could stare at it for hours, hoping somehow to master self-teleportation. I thought I'd read all my NYRB books, but I've just remembered I have Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner waiting in the wings, so perhaps I will join in...

Review: How to Crash a Killer Bash (Party Planning Mystery #2) by Penny Warner

Title: How to Crash a Killer Bash
Series: Party Planning Mystery #2
Author: Penny Warner
Release Date: August 3rd, 2010
Publisher: Signet
Pages: 320
Age: Adult
Presley Parker is hosting a Murder Mystery party thrown by a notorious yet benevolent curator, Mary lee Miller. But when the role play becomes terrifyingly real, and Mary Lee is found dead, Presley kicks her sleuthing into high gear-only to find that someone wants the life of the party dead too...
How to Crash a Killer Bash is the sequel to How to Host a Killer Party. The protagonist, Presley, is still organizing parties, and this time, she's hosting a Murder Mystery party. Everything is going great, until Mary Lee Miller, the hostess, is found dead, and Delicia, Presley's best friend, is a suspect.

Of course she knows she didn't do it....but who? Nobody seems to like Mary Lee Miller at all...

Presley is still the same funny girl. What I most like about her is that she's independent, and doesn't get scared easily.  But her main problem is that she is compulsive, and sometimes doesn't know when to stop.

I still enjoyed reading about her, but I wished sometimes wasn't so repetitive about her disorders. She tends to use them as an excuse for her actions.

Anyway, I absolutely loved Brad. He wasn't a suspect, and he helped Presley more this time. And finally, he started to make some moves with her. Besides, we get to know more about him, but he's still mysterious. And sexy.

I liked that we get see more of the other characters - as Presley friends, her mother, her cats, and even the super sexy but annoying detective - but still, the main character was Brad. I was really glad, because in the first book I wanted more of him, and in this book, my wishes were granted.

The mystery was more complex this time, because there were lots of suspects and none of them seemed to have a motive (at first). There were many clues that didn't mean anything, and others that meant more; and some nice twists. I had a couple of suspects in my mind, but didn't discover the killer until the end. I wished Presley wouldn't have been so naive sometimes, because she was barely telling the killer every important detail.

Overall, I really enjoyed it....even more than the first one. I love this series and I can't wait to read the next book, How to Survive a Killer Seance, which is going to be released March, 2011.

More information about this book at | Amazon | Goodreads

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jobs and Books

I was reading Wolf Mankowitz's Make Me An Offer today - a book I've bought for a friend but, ahem, thought I'd 'test' out first. It's secondhand, as you can see, so I can't really impair its quality... but that's a topic for a whole other day. The book - which I'm really enjoying - is from the perspective of an antiques dealer. I can't find out whether or not Wolf Mankowitz (who shares my birthday, incidentally) was an antiques dealer himself, but it all seems pretty convincing to me.

Whilst reading it, I thought of my friend Sherry, who works in antiques over in America, and wondered whether she'd like to read Make Me An Offer - or perhaps already had. And then I paused. Do people want to read books about their jobs? So many people tell me about books they think my Dad will like "because they're about a vicar." I don't often pass these recommendations on - partly because, of course, Dad is still reading Lord of the Rings, as promised to Col - but it always strikes me as a little odd. Maybe vicars are more susceptible to these sorts of recommendations than most? I am a part-time librarian and a full-time student. I would be quite interested to read a book featuring librarians, but would never actively seek them out - and I actively avoid reading books about students, because they either panic or bore me, for the most part.

What about you? Do you like books featuring people of your profession, or avoid them, or have you never really thought about it? Do people recommend them to you for that reason, or has it never happened? This question is a little trickier for those of you whose job is being parents or spouses (I really hope at least one house-husband reads my blog, as I think it is a sadly underappreciated job!) because so many books, especially those in the line of the Provincial Lady, focus on characters with these roles, but not foregrounded in the way that a novel is when it's about a dentist or vicar or, indeed, an antiques dealer.

Let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday # 22 - Fractured: Happily Never After?

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

My pick:

Everyone knows a fairytale or two. They’re the kind of stories that seem to stick with you. Maybe it’s the magic. Maybe it’s the handsome prince. Or maybe they’re just the absolute perfect place to lose yourself for a little while.
But what would happen if Snow White were around today? Would Cinderella still need a fairy godmother? And would the Little Mermaid show up on YouTube?
Joanna Karaplis has put an unexpected spin on Snow White, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid; she’s quietly fractured the stories and then reassembled them for the 21st Century. So, while there may not be a whole lot of horse-drawn carriages and magic potions, you can be sure that there will be at least one evil witch and maybe even a handsome prince (or two)…
Joanna Karaplis
November 1st 2010 by McKellar and Martin Publishing Group, Ltd.
Paperback, 128 pages

From Simon to Simon

My friend and colleague, also called Simon, was clearing out his parents' house the other day and - knowing that I have a passing fondness for books - said he would keep an eye out for anything I might like... and very kindly gave me a couple of very lovely books.

This picture isn't very illuminating, I realise - it's a very beautiful 1922 edition of Love and Freindship [sic!] by Jane Austen. I already have a copy, of course, but not one this lovely. It had uncut pages, and... ooo, I just want to stroke it.

And the other was The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain. Amongst the many and various lackings of my literary knowledge, Twain looms large. He is one of my aunt's favourite authors (the aunt who set me off on all sorts of literary adventures, and whose taste overlaps with mine precisely because she helped form mine) but I've yet to read anything by him. Does anyone know this one? A lovely touch - it was presented to A.W. Bentley (my friend's Dad) in 1927 for Proficiency in English. So, the book is over 80 years old, and has had one careful owner! Now two...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Penelopiad

(sorry that the formatting has played up on this post - I don't seem able to change it!)

When my book group chose the category books-inspired-by-other-books, I thought it was a fantastic idea. As a group, we'd already read and loved (and watched and loved) The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and I was hoping we'd have something like Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, or Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, something along those lines.
When The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (from Canongate's The Myths series) was chosen, my heart did sink a little. And not just because my only previous experience with Ms. Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale, which so many people rave about - left me not only unenthusiastic, but downright irritated. My main problem was that my knowledge of The Odyssey is sketchy at best. I don't know where The Odyssey, The Iliad (which I presumed had a hand in Atwood's title) and The Aenied differ, and to be honest all I knew about Penelope was garnered from a Year 7 History video, where myths were retold by a man and his hyperactive dog puppet. And any scraps I could glean in James Joyce's Ulysses. So, basically, I knew about the weaving-and-unweaving thing. But I was happy to learn, and hoped that I could enjoy The Penelopiad with very little knowledge of the original...

Which I did. There are probably lots of nuances I missed, but I thought Atwood's re-telling was done well most of the time. Certainly the style was les
s annoying than in The Handmaid's Tale (perhaps because she wasn't trying so hard?) Penelope tells her life story from Hades, wandering through fields of asphodel, as you do. It is a very modern take on the whole story - Penelope's relationship with her sister Mary was not unlike something from an American sitcom; Penelope all plain and clever, Mary all beautiful and wily.

No man will ever kill himself for love of me. And no man ever did. Not that I would have wanted to inspire those kinds of suicides. I was not a man-eater, I was not a Siren, I was not like cousin Helen who loved to make conquests just to show she could. As soon as the man was grovelling, and it never took long, she'd stroll away without a backwards glance, giving that careless laugh of hers, as if she'd just been watching the palace midget standing ridiculously on his head.

I was a kind girl - kinder than Helen, or so I thought. I knew I would have to have something to offer instead of beauty. I was clever, everyone said so - in fact they said it so much that I found it discouraging - but cleverness is a quality a man likes to have in his wife as long as she is some distance away from him. Up close, he'll take kindness any day of the week, if there's nothing more alluring to be had.

We're on familiar Jane-Eyre territory here, aren't we? But - and thanks must go to Bob, who alone at my book group table was familiar with the original, even teaching classics - in turns out that in Homer's original Penelope isn't plain. She's not
in Helen territory, but the sisterly resentment which drives much of the narrative isn't actually in the original.

In fact, at first I thought Atwood had picked rather an easy target. Yes, Th
e Odyssey-given-a-feminist-twist. It seemed a little obvious, even heavy-handed (which is not to say that I'm anti-feminist - in fact, I'd call myself a feminist, although of course people have different definitions of the word.) But (thanks again, Bob, who is in fact a woman) the Penelope of The Odyssey was apparently more feminist than Penelope of The Penelopiad. More together, more powerful, more respected, etc. etc. But since I haven't read it, I'll have to take Bob's word for it - just adds another interesting perspective on Atwood's retelling.
The 'hook' of Atwood's narrative, though - a more original feminist viewpoint - is the death of Penelope's twelve maids. Odysseus apparently had them hanged upon his return from his voyage. I suspect this is a footnote in Homer's original, but Atwood plays it to its full potential, and it really is an ingenious angle: why were they killed, when they had aided Penelope? They figure as a 'chorus' throughout the novella, sometimes mature and sometimes very vulgar (which feels, in Atwood's hands, a bit like hearing an elderly aunt make a rude joke) and still huddle together in their afterlife. Yet they are never given individual names, and remain simply 'the maids.'

Although I haven't read the original, I did enjoy some places where Atwood was clearly adapting aspects from Homer. Who knows how many I missed through ignorance, but a fair few were sign-posted for those not in-the-know, such as the following:

You've probably heard that my father ran after our departing chariot, begging me to stay with him, and that Odysseus asked me if I was going to Ithaca with him of my own free will or did I prefer to remain with my father? It's said that in answer I pulled down my veil, being too modest to proclaim in words my desire for my husband, and that a statue was later erected of me in tribute to the virtue of Modesty. There's some truth to this story. But I pulled down my veil to hide the fact that I was laughing. You have to admit there was something humorous about a father who'd once tossed his own child into the sea capering down the road after that very child and calling "Stay with me!"

The Penelopiad
was one of those books I liked quite a lot when I read it, and liked less after a book group discussion on it. But I still admire many aspects of the narrative, especially subtle like bits like that quoted above - and would be keen to seek out more from the series The Myths. I didn't even realise t
hat I already had one on my shelves - Sally Vickers' Where Three Roads Meet. The (ongoing?) series' titles can be viewed here - have you read any of them?

Review: Dead Is Just A Rumor (Dead Is #4) by Marlene Perez

Title: Dead Is Just A Rumor
Series: Dead Is, #4
Author: Marlene Perez
Release Date: August 23rd, 2010
Publisher: Graphia
Pages: 216
Age: Young Adult
As the creepy little town of Nightshade prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary—on Halloween, of course—many of its paranormal residents are receiving mysterious blackmail letters. Psychic teen Daisy Giordano and her sisters set out to find out who is behind the threats. But launching an investigation isn’t easy for Daisy with her overprotective father watching her every move. Though she’s is happy to have him back after the years he spent being held captive by an anti-paranormal group called the Scourge, Dad is having difficult time adjusting to home life—and the fact that his little girl is now a senior in high school. He even disapproves of Daisy’s boyfriend, Ryan. Can their relationship take the strain? And Daisy’s got even more on her plate: A talented amateur chef, she has won cooking lessons with celebrity chef Circe Silvertongue. After nosing around (with a little help from Circe’s pet pig), Daisy begins to suspect the temperamental chef’s secrets aren’t only in her ingredients. . . . The fourth installment in this favorite series is full of surprises and scares!
I never read a book without reading the previous books of the series...except now. I liked the description, and I thought why not? It would be great to read it for Halloween.

The thing is that, at first, I was kind of lost. The characters weren't really described, and I assume it was because they were described before, in the previous books. But still, I continue to read it because I started to get more information about everyone.

The world that the author creates for this series is very original. Almost everyone in Nightshade is paranormal. You could be a witch, a werewolf, a ghost, a vampire....anything! It's cool, but at the same time, they have to worry about the people who doesn't like them, like The Scourge. That's why, when some of them start to receive blackmail, everyone freaks out. For me, it wasn't so mysterious. It kind of obvious who was the responsible of this. But apparently no one thought the same until the end.

The protagonist, Daisy, seemed to be kind of plain. She's a senior, and her only worries are her father and her boyfriend. She spends her time dealing with her father, who is still recovering from The Scourge, and isn't comfortable with this grown up Daisy...specially because she's dating Ryan. But still, I have to say she's different from most of the YA protagonists, because she's very responsible and has a good relationship with her family, which was refreshing.

I wished there was more about the others characters. This book was all about her father, and I wanted more about her boyfriend, her friends or even her family, because they all are very interesting!

There was another mystery too, that Daisy managed to discover. There is a new chef in the town, called Circe Silvertongue, and apparently a few things happens when she's angry. It was also obvious what Circe have done, but maybe in the next book - DEAD IS NOT AN OPTION | Spring, 2011 - we will get to know more about this. (?)

Overall, I didn't enjoyed it as much as I would have wanted to. I'm pretty sure it was because I haven't read the previous books. But I still think it's an original series, and maybe I'll try to read the others books.

More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon | Watch the trailer

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Win! Win! Win!

I put up lots of other people's thoughts about The Love Child by Edith Olivier the other day, and here are mine - now you have a chance to read it yourself! I've got a spare copy kicking about, and it seems right to send it off to someone - and, since it's small and light, I'll have this open to anyone in the world. The novel is just too good to keep myself.

To enter, for a bit of fun and in honour of 'Edith', comment with your favourite author beginning with 'E' and/or your favourite book beginning with 'E'. Or just pop your name in if that proves too tricky! I'll keep the entries open for a week, then announce the winner in the next Weekend Miscellany.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Song for a Sunday

I found out about Amelia Curran from the rather brilliant website, and have gone on to get - and love - three of her albums. Hoping to track down the first two, but they're near impossible to locate.

Today's track is from her most recent album Hunter, Hunter. It's called 'The Mistress' and I get more from it everytime I listen - really thoughtful lyrics. This is a live version, which I usually don't like that much, but this one works - and, plus, I can't find any recorded version of 'The Mistress' online.

For all previous Sunday Songs, click here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Sing Me To Sleep by Angela Morrison (Republished)

Title: Sing Me To Sleep
Author: Morrison, Angela
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Deate: March 4th 2010
ISBN: 1595142754 (isbn13: 9781595142757)
Pages: 301
Age: Young Adult
Summary from Goodreads:
Beth has always been “The Beast”—that’s what everyone at school calls her because of her awkward height, facial scars, and thick glasses. Beth’s only friend is geeky, golden-haired Scott. That is, until she’s selected to be her choir’s soprano soloist, and receives the makeover that will change her life forever.
When Beth’s choir travels to Switzerland, she meets Derek: pale, brooding, totally dreamy. Derek’s untethered passion—for music, and for Beth—leaves her breathless. Because in Derek’s eyes? She’s not The Beast, she’s The Beauty.
When Beth comes home, Scott, her best friend in the world, makes a confession that leaves her completely torn. Should she stand by sweet, steady Scott or follow the dangerous, intense new feelings she has for Derek?
The closer Beth gets to Derek, the further away he seems. Then Beth discovers that Derek’s been hiding a dark secret from her …one that could shatter everything.
Beth, one of those girls who suffer a miserable life at school for being ugly, becomes beautiful and finds love. But the end may not be a happily ever after, because (prince) Derek has a secret.

Beth is a nice girl, but has low self-esteem, is submissive and too dependent for my taste. Obviously, to live your life by accepting the name of The Beast is not pleasant, and that is why a major change in her appearance really helps her. Gradually, Beth stops thinking she is ugly, gets out of the shell and become something else.

Derek is the prince of the story, and probably you will fall in love with him. He is nice boy; sweet, loving, and way too sexy to be the good guy. It's almost perfect. Almost. Although it's obvious that he loves Beth, he disappears many times, and every time he goes away, his little secret becomes more and more uncomfortable.

Of course, there is a love triangle. Scott, Beth's best friend, who sees beyond her outside. I didn't really liked him, he was way too intense, insistent and even cruel. But in the end he was just another boy in love.

I liked the fact that the characters sing. They have a great voice, and participate in choirs. It is an activity that it's never taken into account for young adult's books (first time I read about it. Also, I liked that the author include some lyrics, which sometimes appeared out of nowhere, mixed with the thoughts of the protagonist and helps you understands how she feels.

The only thing I'm not convinced is that the story doesn't focus on a single topic. First, its Beth's  transformation, then she finds love, but her best friend starts to bother, and finally Derek's big secret comes out. When I finished the book, Beth's beauty problem seemed so far away. I think that if the author had focused only on the love story, it would have been better.

The writing grabs you and doesn't let you go until you finish the book; And although it started being unoriginal, the ending left me surprised. I wasn't expecting it at all!

It's a book I enjoyed, and at the end, cried a lot. So if you decide to read it, be prepared (with tissues!).


More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

I'm writing from deepest, darkest Somerset - having spent the evening playing with adorable Sherpa - and have that old weekend miscellany to give. A bit different from usual, as today all the things I'm pointing out are blogs or blog posts....

1.) I've been meaning to read more E.H. Young ever since reading Miss Mole, more here, and although several months have passed and I still haven't done, my determination has been renewed by this enthusiastic review of Young's William from Harriet Devine.

2.) For those of you with a fondness for Our Vicar's Wife (and she did make me a lovely dinner tonight, so I am even more fond of her than usual) - do go along and have a gander at her recently-overhauled blog. She's now joined the Wordpress masses...

3.) I thought I'd mention that family friend and poet Mary Robinson has started up a blog called Wild About Poetry... job done!

4.) Simon S. often has interesting blog-posts-about-blogging, and the most recent is a discussion about whether we prefer blogs with lots of reviews or lots of non-review bookish posts (lists, questions, books we've bought, etc.) I suspect the answer - both from the perspective of blogging and that of blog-reading - will be 'a mixture', but it's interesting to discuss why. Have a gander, and throw your tuppennyworth in, here.

Oh, and happy birthday to regular SiaB reader, and real-life friend, Lucy! She opened the present I gave her yesterday - she asked for books I thought she'd like but probably wouldn't come across otherwise, and I picked Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels and Saki's Beasts and Super-Beasts.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Something Lovely in the Post

I've mentioned before that I'm part of a postal book group, which goes on for ages and then you get a notebook back full of comments about your chosen book. The last circle took about 18 months, I think, or maybe even more than that - but it has now come to an end, and The Love Child by Edith Olivier has returned with its accompanying notebook. You might know how much I love the novel (reviewed here) and I thought I'd share parts of what others had to say about it...

Never in a month of Sundays would I have selected this to read if I'd found it while browsing - it may be a Virago, but the title & the description did nothing to lure me in, nor did your "50 book" description on your blog, Simon. And yet, and yet... I am very glad you sent it along. Having set aside my prejudices I thoroughly enjoyed it - her writing moves along at a cracking pace & the deeply unsettling subject matter becomes part of the enjoyment.
-- Nichola

Not only a delightful read, but a cleverly constructed one! One assumes from the title that the heroine will either be a "love child", or will have had one, and when you read the description on the first page of Agatha Bodenham both possibilities seem impossible. Suspension of belief no.1. A few pages later, and Clarissa has been summoned. The reader sees this as totally fanciful, but suddenly can "see" Clarissa with Agatha's eyes. Suspension of belief no.2. Clarissa is now "real" in Agatha's eyes and therefore in ours too. [...] A magical book which leaves its hooks in one.
-- Curzon

Having read a chunk of Angela Carter recently including the translated Charles Perrault fairy tales I found myself approaching this in a state of mind very receptive to the fairy tale element. For me this was a grand amalgamation of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Thumabline & more, with Agatha sitting somewhere between the fairy godmother and the queen who wishes for a daughter.
-- Hayley

A beautiful and delightful story. I absolutely loved it just for itself.
-- Teresa

I read this in one sitting - hanging out on the balcony with my cat, the strong spring sun warming us both - ideal circumstances to indulge in a summer fantasy. The book reminded me of A Midsummer Night's Dream - beings being summoned and disappearing, things that aren't what they seem, the borders between the real and the imagined blurring.
-- Susan

There is an unsettling creepiness about it - whenever the reader pauses. It strikes me that this dichotomy - the light, whimsical, airy fairy tale versus the darker creepiness reflects the state of Edith's mind following the loss of her father and sister. Unlimited freedom after an early life that was a model of repression.
-- Sherry

What an interesting book. I collect Viragos (sight unseen even), but this is one I had never come across at least on this side of the Atlantic. It's such a whimsical story, yet sad as well. It reminded me a little of Rachel Ferguson's The Brontes Went To Woolworths - the same rich sort of fantasy lfie, but for Agatha it went a step further. I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with her story - I wasn't expecting a full-fleshed young woman though she was still limited in her thoughts, actions, responses by Agatha's mind (?) emotions (?) What was sad is the need to revert to this imaginary friend and then the obsession when others "wanted" Clarissa as well. [...] It's the sort of story where the more I think about it after-the-fact the more I appreciate it.
-- Danielle

I loved re-reading this novel. I particularly like the last several pages - the interchange between David and Agatha. The cluelessness of both of them, in some ways, is monumental. They're communicating on wildly different frequencies!
-- Karen

I didn't think I'd like it. I dislike fey, I dislike whimsy, I particularly dislike being inside the mind of crazy people, and oh yes, I loathe magical realism! But guess what - I loved the book! First of all the crystalline clarity of the wrting world win me over right there. Then, to convey such complex, psychologically sophisticated themes with such simplicity is astounding. It's got none of them aberrations of the genres I disdained above - it's very much an odd flower from its own particular period.
-- Diana

I also dislike 'fey' and the cover of this edition aroused misgivings. I thought I would read the first few pages to see what lay in store... An hour or so later I had read to the end in one sitting. Like everyone else I was entranced by the quality of the writing and the psychological insight of this unusual story.
To me it recalled myths rather than fairy stories - Narcissus, Eros & Psyche, even Persephone!
-- Deborah

I first read this book three years ago - also on Simon's recommendation. I loved it both times, but I can't really say why. 'Magic realism' would not usually be my 'thing' but this delightful and short story just hangs together so beautifully. This time I read the foreword by Hermione Lee and now can see where Edith Olivier's ideas came from - her own life and family. She was inspired to write the book after her sister died.
-- Barbara

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Hunger (Horsemen of the Apocalypse, #1) by Jackie Morse Kessler

Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Series: Horsemen of the Apocalypse #1
Release Date: October 18th, 2010
Publisher: Graphia
Pages: 180
Age: Young Adult
“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

Lisa is a seventeen years old anorexic girl who is barely living. She's depressed, and her inner voice is Thin.

When her real friends and family starts to notice something is wrong, she can't believe it. They are against her! Don't they want her to be thin? Perfect?

Her only solace is her bulimic friend, Tammy. She thinks she's so perfect, because she can eat everything she wants and then just go to the bathroom. It seems so easy.

Lisa was such a deep character. I could understand why she felt that way, and I haven't had eating disorders. But it's awful to feel like you aren't worth it. Like you have to be thin, and maybe that way you would be perfect. I think lots of girls could relate to this.

It was really interesting to listen Lisa struggling with her Thin voice, that constantly tells her she isn't good enough because she's fat. Every time she grabs something to eat, she's calculating the calories and the time she must workout.

When we met her at the first chapter, she's trying to escape from her life. But then the Horseman Death rings the doorbell and offers her an alternative, to be the Famine.

Every place she visits as the Famine is different. At some places people are eating too much, at others people are dying of hunger. In her rides, she starts to understand the real meaning of hunger and balance. She starts to, finally, open her eyes and realize the damage she's doing to herself.

I liked that we also get to know the other Horsemen. Death is the first and most important, and I loved him. He's mysterious and amusing, but at the same time he's scary (I mean, he's Death, right?). War was very intense, and Pestilence is just kind of gross. Lisa met them all, and managed to learn something about every one of them.

For a while, I just thought Lisa was crazy and this whole story was an illusion caused by her anorexic dying body. She barely had the energy to think and the pills she was taking didn't help.

It's a very unique story, with some twists, and easy to read. I just read it in a couple of hours, I couldn't stop, really. Maybe because it wasn't obvious what was going to happen in the end, who was going to win, Lisa or her Thin voice.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It's an original mix of fantasy and modern issues, that I'm sure you won't find at another YA book. I can't wait to read Rage, the sequel, which is going to be released April 18, 2010.

More about this book at | Goodreads | Amazon