Monday, January 31, 2011

Cheerfulness Breaks In

Thanks for all your kind comments on yesterday's post - you've all made me think, and I believe I've set some of you off thinking too, so Thoughts are being had! What a shame Virago Reading Week is over, but what fun it was. Plus I have two little joint-reads planned with a couple of bloggers, which will be fun - one for a much-loved author, and one for an author I have been meaning to read more by. All will be revealed in due course...

My Monday was a little glum, truth be told - one of those days where you feel sad but don't know why. I used my usual tactics to fend this off: hot chocolate; sitting in a park; calling my parents to have a chat. The last of these was lovely, but not too cheery - please join me in wishing Our Vicar's Wife a speedy recovery from being not-very-well. The hot chocolate, however, was lovely. The park was cold, but I did read a few pages of my book before leaving it - difficult to turn the pages with gloves on.

But this is heading somewhere - I was wondering if you had any books you relied on to cheer you up? Or if you need something new when you're feeling a bit down? I would say The Provincial Lady for me - almost never fails to make me smile - but at the moment (as I think I mentioned the other day) I'm finding non-fiction much easier to read than fiction. And so I'm continuing with To Tell My Story by Dame Irene Vanbrugh, and really enjoying it. I'll write more about that when I've finished, but I think it's the best bet for getting a smile back on my face - especially since having hot chocolate in bed is unlikely to go well.

Let me know how reading can help cheer you up - I look forward to your ideas!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thoughts coming out of Virago Reading Week...

I hope you don't mind a slightly musing-meandering post today, on a topic I've thought about quite a lot, but seems to fit with a week of thinking about Virago. I hope I've expressed myself properly, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

One of the things that annoys me a little (other than not being certain whether I should have used 'that' or 'which' in this sentence) is when, at book group, someone says "Hmm, do you think this is just a book for women?" or "--just a book for men?" and then turns to me, quizzically. I am of the opinion that the ideas of 'men's books' and 'women's books' are mostly marketing tools, and pretty insulting to any individual reader whose subjective reading experience shouldn't be boxed up like that. And, speaking personally, when I think of the categories 'men' and 'women', I don't particularly identify myself with either of them. I'm simply me. Of course I am a man, but I don't recognise myself in the portrait of men that is held up by those shoving war novels and football sticker books etc. in the corner marked 'male reading'.

That's one of the things that comes to light, reading Viragos and Persephones - which, of course, I love. Both describe themselves, to different degrees, as publishing books for women (although I do remember, in an early Persephone Quarterly, a little article about Persephone Men - we apparently made up, at that point, 10% of subscribers). The Women's Press is even more open about it! Naturally I'm not complaining about this. Virago, especially, have done an astonishing and necessary job of bringing neglected writers and neglected novelistic topics to the fore. Rachel wrote brilliantly and movingly about this last week. I hope she won't mind if I quote a couple of excerpts from it:

I have always been interested in women’s writing and history, but never to the extent I became interested in it at university. There I learned for the first time how women had been sidelined from literature and history; how they had been allowed to become an unspoken, unmentioned background figure, sewing in the parlour while the men were at war; scribbling away at trivial, unworthy of note novels about their limited domestic sphere; living unrecorded, undervalued, hidden lives, prevented from having a voice.


So thank goodness for Virago. Thank goodness that I can read something intelligent and witty and thought provoking by a woman, that isn’t a shallow, cliche ridden pastel coloured novel about sparkly rings and mini breaks. The women who invented Virago, and the authors that originated their list, believed that women deserved better than this, and I heartily agree. We are complex, conflicting, passionate, intelligent, political, ambitious individuals who cannot be distilled into one concrete definition or given one path to happiness.

My question is... where does this leave me? Please don't read anything cross into that; those of you who know my blog probably won't, I hope. I just always wonder, when I read about the incredible job that feminist presses have done, what sort of literary and social antecedents I can claim as my own. Of course, as a feminist myself I can get on board with the rediscoveries and re-evaluations being performed, and perhaps I can even put myself in a line of those who value the domestic and the topics which had long been erroneously considered inferior to tales of war and politics etc. (really, who could possibly want to read a novel about war over a novel about, say, a family preparing for a wedding? Each to their own, I suppose.) But, as a man, I seem to have only a legacy of the type of people who sidelined these novelists, and caused the problems which Virago and others helped in the direction of resolution. I have little empathy for monarchs and prime ministers (neither, however, exclusively male professions), and none for soldiers or leaders in war - I have sympathy, but not empathy. Where are the histories of quieter, homelier men? Where are narratives of male lives lived unassumingly and with great beauty? This, naturally, is not the fault of the publishing houses which unveiled the issue - nor is it their responsibility. But I do always muse, when wonderful posts like Rachel's appear, quite what it is that I see when I look over my shoulder.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Song for a Sunday

Kate Walsh is one of my favourite singers, and one I discovered through the free-song-of-the-week on iTunes, but I only just got around to downloading her first album Clocktower Park. This is a lovely song from that album - 'It's Never Over'.

For previous Sunday Songs, click here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Favourite Viragos

Thanks for your lovely comments on yesterday's post! Let's keep the Virago Modern Classic mood going (thanks again Rachel and Carolyn!) Here's a little bit of serendipity for you - I had no idea that suc
h a thing as Google Docs existed until today at work, when my boss asked me to open it. Lo and behold, not only did my Yahoo address automatically set me up with a Google Docs account, but I had three messages (or files or, I suppose, documents) - the third, sent earlier this month, being a complete list of Virago Modern Classics! Thank you, LALindsay, whoever you are - presumably something to do with the VMC group on LibraryThing?

(some of my favourite covers)

It has enabled me to count up all the VMCs I've read - not the ones I own; that's probably about twice this number, but out of 553 VMCs published, I have read a respectable 59. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the list of those I've read, if you're interested - feel free to ask me about any of them, or tell me which ones I *should* have read that aren't listed. To be honest, quite a few I read in non-VMC editions. I didn't even know the Brontes and Austen had had the Virago treatment. But there are still a fair few on the list that have found their way to me courtesy of Virago - and it is those I'll be choosing from for my favourite VMCs. So, Provincial Lady and myriad Jane Austen novels, even though I love you I'm afraid you shan't be appearing on this list - because I didn't m
eet you between those distinctive green borders. Fair's fair.

Ok, here are five Virago Modern Classics I love, cherish, and adore. I'm afraid the pictures are of varying sizes; if someone can tell me how to get bigger images of the covers on LibraryThing, that would be much appreciated for future use...

The Love Child - Edith Olivier
(VMC #46)

This one will surprise none of you, I suspect... Olivier's novel, about a lonely spinster who conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life, is short but powerful. Don't be put off by a slightly fey cover - The Love Child is clever, moving, and one I'll be re-reading many times. Well do I remember picking it up on a whim, for mere pence, in the charity shop on Little Clarendon Street (Oxford). For some reason I had no other book with me, or had just finished one, for I immediately went round the corner to a public garden (the one, in fact, pictured) and started it. And was blown away by how good it was.

Mother and Son - Ivy Compton-Burnett
(VMC #394)

I was trying to remember which Virago title was the first I read between those distinctive green spines... without my reading diary to hand, I'm not sure, but it might well have been Mother and Son. My mum loathes Ivy Compton-Burnett, but a lady in our village lent me this, telling me to give Ivy a go. I'm ever grateful to Jay for introducing me to this most divisive of authors - you definitely either love or hate - and her dialogue-packed novels of family intrigue and enjoyably futile, highbrow exchanges.

A Very Great Profession - Nicola Beauman
(VMC #406)

The place where Persephone started, Beauman's very accessible look at many and various middlebrow female authors is bound to have you filling a notebook with ideas for future reads. Chapters are cleverly divided up into topics like 'Surplus Women'; 'Sex'; 'Psychoanalysis' etc. An invaluable resource for anyone even vaguely interested in the sort of books in the VMC line - and now available from Persephone.

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns
(VMC #238)

A title I don't shut up about, this Comyns novel is surreal and domestic at the same time, and takes pride of place amongst my slightly quirker taste in novels. But nobody is quite like Comyns - and while I want to thank Virago for bringing her novels to a wider audience, I also want to ask why they've let almost all of them drop off the VMC list? (Ditto The Love Child!)

The Return of the Soldier - Rebecca West
(VMC #32)

Probably the best novel I have read associated with war - in this case, as the title suggests, the return of a soldier, and the messy familial and romantic tangles which ensue. Also incredibly sensitive about shell shock and bereavement - all packed into one slim volume.

Hope that has given you some tips for further VMC reading! Do ask about any of those below, should you want to know my opinions.

Viragos I have read:
(in order of VMC-publication)

1. Mr Fortune’s Maggot : Sylvia Townsend Warner
2. The Life and Death of Harriett Frean : May Sinclair
3. The Return of the Soldier : Rebecca West
4. The Third Miss Symons : F.M. Mayor
5. The Vet’s Daughter : Barbara Comyns
6. The Love Child : Edith Olivier
7. The Yellow Wallpaper : Charlotte Perkins Gilman
8. The Professor’s House : Willa Cather
9. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont : Elizabeth Taylor
10. The Little Ottleys : Ada Leverson
11. The Tortoise and the Hare : Elizabeth Jenkins
12. Keynotes and Discords : George Egerton
13. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths : Barbara Comyns
14. All Passion Spent : Vita Sackville-West
15. Angel : Elizabeth Taylor
16. Miss Mole : E.H. Young
17. Diary of a Provincial Lady : E.M. Delafield
18. Sisters by a River : Barbara Comyns
19. No Signposts in the Sea : Vita Sackville-West
20. The Lifted Veil : George Eliot
21. Two Days in Aragon : Molly Keane
22. One Fine Day : Mollie Panter-Downes
23. A Game of Hide and Seek : Elizabeth Taylor
24. The Enchanted April : Elizabeth von Arnim
25. The Skin Chairs : Barbara Comyns
26. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead : Barbara Comyns
27. The Stone Angel : Margaret Laurence
28. The New House : Lettice Cooper
29. Olivia : Dorothy Strachey
30. Seducers in Ecuador and the Heir : Vita Sackville-West
31. The Bront√ęs Went to Woolworths : Rachel Ferguson
32. The Way Things Are : E.M. Delafield
33. Thank Heaven Fasting : E.M. Delafield
34. The Story of an African Farm : Olive Schreiner
35. Mrs Miniver : Jan Struther
36. Emma : Jane Austen
37. Pride and Prejudice : Jane Austen
38. Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
39. Persuasion : Jane Austen
40. Mansfield Park : Jane Austen
41. Northanger Abbey : Jane Austen
42. Villette : Charlotte Bronte
43. Wuthering Heights : Emily Bronte
44. Agnes Grey : Anne Bronte
45. Try Anything Twice : Jan Struther
46. Jane Eyre : Charlotte Bronte
47. Ethan Frome : Edith Wharton
48. Crewe Train : Rose Macaulay
49. Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman : Sylvia Townsend Warner
50. Mother and Son : Ivy Compton-Burnett
51. A Very Great Profession : Nicola Beauman
52. I Capture the Castle : Dodie Smith
53. Provincial Daughter : R.M. Dashwood
54. 84 Charing Cross Road : Helene Hanff
55. Rebecca : Daphne du Maurier
56. My Cousin Rachel : Daphne du Maurier
57. The Flight of the Falcon : Daphne du Maurier
58. Loitering with Intent : Muriel Spark
59. Excellent Women : Barbara Pym

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Virago Reading Week

I think, sadly, I've read all the VMCs I'll manage this week (total: one) so I'll talk about Virago in general instead! A few bloggers have written about how they discovered the world of Virago, and I thought I'd join in. And tomorrow I'll muse on some of my favourites, time permitting...

I had quite an odd journey to Virago, which started with a little Everyman book called Modern Humour. Putting 'modern' in the title of anything is a risky business, and this volume was published in 1940. I bought it because it featured something by AA Milne that wasn't collected elsewhere, and AAM was my first grown-up literary love (that sounds odd, given his status as a children's writer, but he was also the first writer-for-adults whom I really loved.)

Anyway - included in this volume were two pieces by E.M. Delafield (which, incidentally, you can read here). I'd never heard of Delafield - I didn't even know if 'E.M' was a woman or a man, although the tone of the piece led me correctly to suspect the former - but I loved these pieces. They're actually from As Others Hear Us, which is one of my
very favourite books, but at the time I only had Delafield's name - and took myself to Worcestershire's library catalogue. All they had in Pershore Library was a large print edition of The Provincial Lady Goes Further - so that was my induction to the world of Delafield.

Ok, that - and the 4-in-1 Provincial Lady book I subsequently bought - wasn't actually in a Virago edition. The first Virago Modern Classic I read was about six months later: Provincial Daughter by EMD's own daughter, R.M. Dashwood. But it was the Provincial Lady books which gave me a taste for Virago Modern Classics, even before I knew what they were...

Fast-forward about 18 months, and I was a member of an online reading group that, seve
n years later, I am still a proud member of. They love all things Persephone, but they also enthuse about Virago like nobody's business - which led to me buying those green spines wherever I spotted them at a reasonable price. Elizabeth Taylors flocked to my house. Elizabeth von Arnims gathered on my shelves (and I've still only read one of them.) Many more than I have read have arrived. And aren't the matching green spines something to behold? I will always choose one of those over the latest VMC - whoever chose to get rid of the green spines made one of the worst marketing decisions in the world. (By the by, for the background workings of Virago and their takeover by Little Brown, from being an independent press, is detailed fascinatingly in Simone Murray's Mixed Media: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics).

Thankfully, however, old VMCs turn up in a lot of charity shops, and my collection has grown steadily over the years. Some seem impossible to find; some proliferate. They have provided me with some of my favourite reads - they have also included some I thought dreadful, but the good outweight the bad. Virago don't seem to embody a reading taste in quite the way they used to - perhaps because, when they were an independent press, all VMCs had to pass the taste level of a small group of people - but, looking at those 1980s reprints, all of which were originally published before I was born, and many of which were reprinted before I was born too - I can be confident that I'll find something that will at least intrigue me. Check back tomorrow to see which titles I've loved most over the years... although I suspect you can already guess some of them.

If you've blogged about your introduction to Virago, do let me know - and if you haven't, then tell me about it in the comments here!

Hiatus for a couple of days!

Probably you notice that I haven't been at my blog lately. Or at my twitter / email. There is a reason. A HUGE reason.

I'm moving to Chile. That's right. All my family is from Chile but my parents moved to Venezuela and I was born here. I'm Venezuelan and Chilean.

So, I'm going to be living at Chile for a couple of months because I'm going to do my veterinary practice at an Animal's Hospital. :) Yeah, I just finished college!! Yay! (well, my classes. I still have to do my thesis).

I've been super busy these days getting ready for my trip. I'm very nervous and excited. Also happy and sad. It isn't the first time I'm going to Chile, or traveling alone, or being so many months away from my home. But I'm very sad about leaving my boyfriend.....I'm going to miss him very very much.

So, I'm taking a few days off to settle things when I arrive at my new home. I'm not sure if I'm going to have enough time for my blog, but I know I'll keep posting and visiting your blogs when I can. My TBR lists has grown out of control so I'm going to take this chance to read the books on my Kindle and I won't receive any more books for review. Maybe this way I can read some books that has been waiting for me forever, and finally write the reviews I keep forgetting to write.

Anyway, I hope you understand. This is very important to me, and I want to spend the last days with my boyfriend and family. This is an amazing opportunity for my future but I know I will miss them very much.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to come back here soon since I'm planning a giveaway!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Skin Chairs

It's about time I paid heed to Virago Reading Week, which has been popping up all over the blogosphere this, er, week. Thanks Rachel and Carolyn! I love it when publishers are hailed in this manner - long-term SiaB readers may recall I ran an I Love Hesperus week many moons ago, and of course have enjoyed Persephone readalongs, and cheered from the sidelines for NYRB Classics. As luck would have it - it certainly wasn't my organisational ability - I happened to be halfway through a Virago when the week began, and even my current sluggish reading pace has allowed me to finish off The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns.

Props to Thomas (that's a good American expression, right? As is that 'right?' there.) for his Virago banner, by the way. If you think you recognise those pics, head over here for Thomas' competition.

It's no secret that I love Barbara Comyns - she's probably in my top five favourite authors, certainly top ten - and I'm fast reaching the end of her books. Just two novels to go... so I'm treasuring them as I go, and The Skin Chairs is no exception.

When I first started reading Comyns, I thought her novels were bizarrely different from one another, in terms of style. It's only now, looking back, that I realise I started off with the three most disparate I could have chosen - Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and The Juniper Tree. Having read more of her books, I realise that she does have an identifiable tone - surreal but matter-of-fact; an unnerving but captivating mixture, and one which leads to a very unusual angle on events. As shown most effectively in The Vet's Daughter, but also on occasion in The Skin Chairs, even cruelties are dealt with in this unshockable, even tone. Here's an example:

When she had gone we let Esme's mice loose in the sitting-room, although they didn't seem to enjoy it much, keeping close to the skirting board most of the time. There used to be a girl in our village who was continually beaten by her parents and I remembered she used to walk like that, close to the walls.

Lest you think this is a miserable book, I must add the scolding given to children when they sit on some graves: 'Nanny found us and said that we had no respect for our bottoms or the dead.' There are plenty of laugh-aloud moments.

The Skin Chairs is told in the voice of ten-year-old Frances, one of six children, who must go and stay with her Great-Aunt's family: 'My mother[...] sometimes became tired of us and would dispatch us to any relation who would agree to have one or two of the family to stay.' Shortly after this, and having endured Aunt Lawrence's unwelcoming home, Frances' father dies and the rest of her family move to an unlikeable, small modern house. Relative poverty is a theme throughout Comyns' writing, and she relishes writing of their privations - nightdresses made out of old sheets; 'not being able to play with paint', and so forth.

As with other Comyns novels, not much happens. This one has a little more of a central thread through it than some, in terms of the family's destiny, but Comyns is best at her bizarre hangers-on. Chief amongst these is Mrs. Alexander, with her red-purple hair, turbans, mustard-coloured car, and golden shoes (repainted each evening by her chauffeur.) She keeps monkeys, and cleverly builds a wall after buying a piano, so that the bailiffs can't remove it when she goes into debt. Then there is young widow Vanda, who neglects her baby, but thinks she's doing a good job as the infant never goes short of orange juice. How Comyns thinks of all the tiny details, I can't imagine. So many are bizarre and wonderful - unexpected, but not dwelt upon - and always mentioned so calmly.
The first day at school was not so bad as I expected. The worst part was when most of the girls trooped off into the dining-room and we had to eat our sandwiches in one of the classrooms. The only other occupant was a particularly plain girl wearing a patch plaid blouse and eating a pork pie. She said she adored eating pork pies and ate them in her bath.

And those skin chairs of the title? Yes, they're human skin, and belong to a Major who lives in a large house in the village. They pop up near the beginning of the novel, and reappear every now and then - with some significance, but the true justification for the novel being called The Skin Chairs doesn't rest with that. I think they're the perfect symbol for what Comyns does best: the domestication of the surreal; the macabre passed over with matter-of-fact interest, and no more - there is probably a girl eating a pork pie close by, which will be equally involving.

If you haven't read any Comyns yet, I urge you to do so (The Skin Chairs is going for a penny on Amazon.) The more I read of her, the more I feel sure that she has been unjustly neglected - and is one of the most intriguing novelists of the twentieth-century.

Waiting on Wednesday # 35 - The Locket

"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
On her seventeenth birthday, Katie discovers a locket and decides to wear it for good luck. But when her boyfriend Isaac finds out she cheated on him— with their mutual best friend Mitch, no less—he dumps her, leaving her devastated.
And then a miracle happens. The locket burns on Katie's chest and she feels herself going back two weeks in time, to the night she cheated with Mitch. At first, Kate is delighted to be a better girlfriend to Isaac this time around. But as other aspects of her life become inexplicably altered, she realizes that changing the past may have had a dangerous effect on her present.
Can she make things right before the locket destroys everything—and everyone—she loves?
Stacey Jay
February 3rd 2011 by Razorbill
Amazon / The Book Depository

Lovely cover, time traveling and a girl that looks a lot like Emma Watson?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Age Shall Not Wither Her...

I know I've used this post title recently, but it seems so appropriate for tonight's post that I'm using it again. And you know what it's like - you wait months for a sketch, and you get two at once. I know my little cartoons aren't the best in the world, but I've missed doing them and I think it adds something a little different to my blog - so I'll try and remember to do more!

Anyway - this post was inspired by something a friend asked me the other day about the book I was reading: how old was the author when he wrote it? And I realised that I almost never know the answer to that question - unless it's someone like Daisy Ashford. So, my question to you (let's put it in bold, eh?): when reading, do you think about where the book falls in the timeline of an author's work, and do you think about the author's age when writing?

I'd love to know your answers. The only author I can think I do this with is Barbara Comyns - because her novels fall into two very different periods, separated by twenty years. Other than that, I rarely know whether I'm reading an author's first, middle, or last novel - or whether they were 26 or 86 when they wrote it.

Over to you...

Monday, January 24, 2011

There is nothing like a...

I mentioned yesterday that I'd only finished one book in 2011, and that I'd be writing about it soon. Well, I've now finished two, and I'm going to write about the one I finished last night - because it's rather easier to write about than Howards End, which I feel I should Think About Properly.

No insult to Dame Judi Dench, but I don't feel I need to think so vigilantly about her book And Furthermore. (And, before I forget, thank you Becca for giving it to me for my birthday!) Well, we should be clear from the start - this is John Miller's book, written after (presumably lengthy) conversation with Dench. He wrote her biography, and has turned Dame J's anecdotes into book-form here. The brief diary she includes from her own pen, about attending the Oscars, reveals that she is no natural writer - but, then, she doesn't pretend to be. But she couldn't have picked a better man to write things down for her. One of the most amusing things about watching Miller and Dench in conversation back in 2004 was that he knew her life so much better than she did. Judi would refer vaguely to doing a play somewhere in the mid 'sixties, for example, and Miller would know the venue, year, date, cast... bizarre!

And Furthermore is, essentially, a collection of anecdotes. For those of us who have read Judi Dench: with a crack in her voice by John Miller, they aren't all new - but no matter. It covers Dench's acting career - primarily in the theatre - and only occasional mention is made of her private life, and her childhood is covered in a handful of pages. As a rule, a biography focuses on the career and an autobiography on the childhood - or so I have found - so it's nice to have an autobiography which looks mostly at the area which interests me most. Because it is Dench's decades of theatrical experience which captivate me - each play seems to come with its own amusing or intriguing incidents, and I love the atmosphere conveyed of being part of the company. It's a little secret of mine, but - were my talents different, and my life headed in a different direction - I'd love to be an actor. I can't act, and I'm not confident or energised enough, so this is no genuine ambition - but I love reading about repertory companies and imagining being in one. TV and film acting doesn't have the same appeal, in my eyes - it is the theatre that I love reading about.

And Dench doesn't hesitate to call theatre her first love. It is through other media that I have mostly seen her - I love or admire As Time Goes By, Cranford, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, and so on and so forth - but I have had the privilege to see Judi once on stage, in All's Well That Ends Well. I think being alive while she is performing, and not seeing her, would be an absurd abuse of the possibility that future generations will envy. That's how I feel about Mrs. Patrick Campell, Margaret Rutherford, Peggy Ashcroft - none of whom, of course, I had the opportunity to see. And I am determined to see Maggie Smith on the stage, if she ever returns to it. Sorry, I'm getting distracted... What I intended to do was segue into this quotation:
I am so often asked, 'Does the audience make any difference?' Of course! It is the only reason you bother to be in the theatre, in order that tonight it can be better than last night, that you can crack something that you haven't yet, that this audience will be quieter, that this audience really will at the end think they have had a marvellous experience, and you have told the author's story. I always get that very depressed feeling at the end, and then miraculously a night's sleep somehow prepares you for doing it a step up the next day.
With any autobiography, it is the author's personality that comes across. This is mediated here, of course, by Miller - but I still think the reader can get a little closer to Judi Dench than in a biography. She is perhaps a little sharper than might be expected, a little keener to have control over performances - but what struck me most was her deep sensibilities for writing. The great actors are also, in a way, the great literary critics. True, they work only on the level of character - but what a deep understanding of character they must have. When Dench says that Hermione would think this, or Beatrice speak thus, or Portia behave in this way, I am impressed by the full and thorough life she can breathe into words on a page.

So - sometimes the anecdotes don't quite work; there are often punchline-statements which seem a little flat, but these are miniscule quibbles in a wonderful collection of stories and a unique set of experiences. Well, perhaps Dench's is not a unique perspective (except in the way that any would be) but hers is a highly unusual and significant vantage over more than six decades of the theatre. Even if I did not love Judi Dench - and of course I do - this would be an incredible record of the theatre by one who knows it about as intimately and broadly as anybody possibly could.

But - I shall let Dame Judi have the last word:
Actors are really remarkable people to be with. I love the company of other people, but I love the company of actors, and to be in a company. My idea of hell would be a one-woman show, I wouldn't be able to do that, I wouldn't know who to get ready for. The whole idea of a group of people coming together and working to one end somehow is very appealing to me. It is the thing I have always wanted to do, and I am lucky enough to be doing it. You don't need to retire as an actor, there are all those parts you can play lying in a bed, or in a wheelchair.

Review: The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

Title: The Iron Queen
Author: Julie Kagawa
Series: Iron Fey #3
Release Date: January 25th, 2011
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Age: Young Adult
My name is Meghan Chase.
I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.
This time, there will be no turning back.
The Iron Fey became easely my favorite series. It contains an intelligent heroine, a sexy Ice Prince, and cool fairies. The Iron Queen is the third book of this series, and I absolutely loved it.

Meghan and Ash are together in the "human world". Meghan is excited and scared to come back with her family, but she also knows how difficult it's for Ash to be here with her.

It's almost impossible for them to be there. Ash is very in love with Meghan but also feels sad about leaving his world. But just when Meghan is about to reunite with her family, they are thrown again into the fairies world.

I was looking forward for them to came back. I knew it was impossible for them to live the happily ever after with the humans and I was expecting more of the Iron Fey.

There was a war waiting for them at the Faeries world, and the Summer court and Winter court have made an agreement to fight together against the Iron. But they are loosing, and Meghan might be the only one to save them

I'm going to focus more on the characters before I give more spoilers. I have always been Team Ash (maybe I waver a little bit at The Iron Daughter) and of course I loved Ash and Meghan's relationship. Finally they could be together! But I was still missing Puck and I was happy to see him again.

Also, Meghan has become one of my favorite heroines. At first she was naive and sometimes too weak, but in this book I met a new Meghan, who grew up and was brave, smart and strong, and finally took the reins of her life.

I read this book fast, and I would have read it faster if I didn't have to study. The journey Meghan, Ash, Puck and even Grimalkin (I love you!! *fan mode*) had to made was epic. I knew it was difficult and someone was probably going to die. It was funny and sad, I laughed and cried, and I couldn't believe the ending (perfect but still unbelievable). Obviously I can't wait to read the next one, The Iron King, Ash's story.

Overall, it was amazing! I can possible express how awesome is Julie Kagawa's story, and if you haven't read this series, you should! You are going to love it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

More books...

As usual, I have a small stack of books waiting to be reviewied, including the only book I've actually managed to finish so far this year. It has been a rather lean January, for some reason - something of a reading slump. But not a buying slump, as this post will attest - I've been buying with abandon again.

The books fall broadly into old-and-characterful, and newish-and-colourful. Here goes:

Not very revealing, are they? I'll illuminate you - we have:

- Going Abroad by Rose Macaulay : which I found in a charity shop. I'm building up a nice stock of Macaulay novels to enjoy.

- Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse : a cheap Wodehouse never hurts, does it?

- The Houses In Between by Howard Spring : an e-friend, Carol, is a big Spring fan, so I thought I'd give him a go. Any Spring readers out there?

- To Tell My Story by Irene Vanbrugh : I mentioned the other day that this theatrical autobiography was in the post to me. In my reading slump I find myself hankering after non-fiction rather more than fiction, so this might leap-frog all the novels waiting patiently by my bed.

And the more colourful books.

- Romantic Moderns by Alexandra Harris : was a 2010 title I wanted and waited for - I anticipate dipping in and out quite a bit.

- Tarr by Wyndham Lewis : is the next read for my book group, and kindly provided by the good people at Oxford University Press. Fantastic cover image.

- The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston : is probably coming up soon for my other book group, depending on how the online vote goes, but this archive review of Kim's has made me want to read it.

- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson : I still haven't read Gilead, but I thought I'd get this one in readiness, in case it launches me on an immediate Robinson rampage.

- The World I Live In by Helen Keller : a reader had requested this at the Bodleian, and it so intrigued me that I went and got a copy myself.

In My Mailbox # 24

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


That's all for now. I'll try to post soon all the books I have bought for my kindle. What did you get? Leave your links in the comments!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy weekend, one and all. Col and Mum were here today, so we were a vicar and a cat away from being a whole family reunion. But I'll whip out a quick weekend miscellany, and wish you well for Saturday and Sunday.

1.) The link - is to the South Bank Sky Arts Awards website. Leanne has sent me a nice email and asked me to ponder (and I in turn shall ask you to ponder) who I think should be awarded a South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature.

Well... as you probably know, most of my favourite authors are dead, so this is tricky. The nominated authors are Edmund De Waal, Barbara Trapido, and Candia McWilliam. From that list, I'd give Trapido the award - not least (perhaps solely) because she's the only one I've read.

Hmm.. do you know, I can't think of any novel published last year that I actually thought was really great? I know I only read a handful... Well, I'm going to be controversial and award the prize to Debo Devonshire. Over to you...

2.) The blog post - is Lifetime Reader's great review of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, one of my favourite books read last year. Do pop over and have a gander.

(And if you're in the mood to read a review of an Elizabeth Taylor novel, you're rather spoilt for choice this week - see what Harriet has to say about
At Mrs. Lippincote's and Simon S's thoughts on Blaming.)

3.) The little bit of info. - comes courtesy of David Nolan, a blog-reader who has his eye on the pulse and often spots little gems. He emailed me to let me know that Radio 4 will be playing three of Tove Jansson's short stories. They're on at 3.30pm Tues-Thurs (and afterwards, of course, on iPlayer). More info here. Thanks, David!

4.) The book - is a kind gift from Deanna, who got in touch to say she had a Muriel Spark going spare. It's flown across the Atlantic, and is now sitting in my tbr pile, waiting for my next novella reading weekend. 'Curiously disturbing' (as the cover proclaims) doesn't sound like something I'd leap at, but in the hands of Spark, I know I'd find it enthralling. Thanks so much, Deanna!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Penitence (Heavenly #2) by Jennifer Laurens

Title: Penitence
Author: Laurens, Jennifer.
Release Date: April 29th 2010
Publisher: Grove Creek Publishing
Pages: 322
Age: Young Adult
Book Two. Seeing good and evil spirits is a gift Zoe guards with her life. Despite her guardian angel's disappearance, Zoe forces herself to accept that she still has a purpose-but how does she carry the weight of her brother's drug abuse, the hardship of living with an autistic sister, and a best friend who's obsessed with a guy who only wants Zoe? She's never felt more alone. When a mysterious spirit appears, Zoe thinks she has a new guardian angel. Instead, her brother's addiction worsens, her parents are on the brink of separation, and her best friend tries to kill her. The spirit she thinks is her new guardian isn't there to protect her: he's out to destroy her family and seize Zoe's soul. . . for Hell. Will Matthias' return mean that he is Zoe's guardian angel again? Or is their love the reason the jaws of Hell now gape open?

After reading Heavenly, the first book of this series, I was very excited to read Penitence.

I just began reading it and things I wasn't excepting were happening. Zoe is taken from Matthias's arms to start over again, with lots of suffering. But pain isn't the worse part, Matthias is gone.

Personally, this part of the story was very important to me. I started reading it after being in an accident (not exactly as Zoe's) and I thought the author did a great job writing about it. The feelings, the pain, the people around you.

It was awful to read Zoe missing Matthias. In these moments she needed him the most, and he wasn't there. And then she understands Matthias isn't going to be her guardian angel anymore. But I was glad that even when being so sad, she understood that she still had to live, and they will see again when it is time.

But Zoe's problems doesn't end here. Albert is visiting her. He seems good, but he's causing pain to her family and Matthias comes back to protect her.

 was loving the book. Zoe was a much better person than in Heavenly, although she was always sad. But then Weston came.

If you read the first book, you know Weston is the bad guy. He wants Zoe to forgive him, but I don't understand how she starts spending more and more time with him until suddenly, there is a love triangle!

I'm not a fan of love triangles, and I really don't like them when there is someone as Weston, that I really hate. He tried to hurt her in the first book, and now being with him is making worse her relationship with her "best friend".

I was really mad about this, because Zoe has grown up and matured, and I don't understand why she is attracted to him. I understand she missed Matthias, but she kept saying she was so in love with him but then desired another one?

Anyway, I'm curious about what is going to happen in the next book, Absolution. I want to know more about her brother and parents, and I really hope Matthias and Zoe can find a way yo be together.

Mas sobre este libro en heavenlythebook.comAmazonGoodreads y The Book Depository

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Colin is staying, so I'm not going to be anti-social and blog at LENGTH, but I will ask this - I'm currently loving Judi Dench's And Furthermore, and wondered if you could recommend any other theatrical memoirs? I've ordered Irene Vanbrugh's To Tell My Story (anyone read this?) and would love any other ideas...

Waiting on Wednesday # 34 - Instructions for a Broken Heart

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

My pick:

Three days before her drama club's trip to Italy, Jessa Gardner discovers her boyfriend in the costume barn with another girl. Jessa is left with a care package from her best friend titled "Top Twenty Reasons He's a Slimy Jerk Bastard," instructing her to do one un-Jessa-like thing each day of the trip. At turns hilarious and heart- wrenching, Instructions for a Broken Heart paints a magical Italy in which Jessa learns she must figure out life -and romance- for herself.
Kim Gulbertson
May 1st 2011 by Sourcebooks Fire
Paperback, 320 pages

Sounds very cute and heart warming :) What are you waiting for? Leave your links!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ladies and Kittens of the Jury...

This is a great, not-remotely-literary story I saw here on Yahoo! news...

A tabby cat has been selected for jury duty in the US after his owners registered him on a state census form.

The bizarre letter was sent to the cat, which was listed in the pets section of the census, by a court in Boston, Massachusetts calling on him for duty.

Cat owners Anna and Guy Esposito wrote to the court asking the family pet, named Sal, to be excused from service because he doesn't speak or understand English.

Mrs Esposito reportedly included a letter from her vet confirming that the cat was a 'domestic short-haired neutered feline' and not human.

However, the request for the cat's exemption was refused by a jury commissioner and Mrs Esposito was told that Sal 'must attend' Suffolk Superior Crown Court.

She said: "When they ask him guilty or not guilty, what's he supposed to say - meow?"

"Sal is a member of the family so I listed him on the last census form under pets but there has clearly been a mix-up."

The Daily Mail reported that Sal could have accidentally ended up on the juror list when paperwork was misread at the last census.

According to the Massachusetts judicial branch website, US citizens who 'do not speak and understand English sufficiently well may be disqualified.'

If Sal's application for disqualification is denied, the cat is expected in court on 23 March.

Review: The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

Title: The Book of Tomorrow
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Release Date: January 25th, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins, Inc.
Age: Young Adult
Born into the lap of luxury and comfortable in the here and now, spoiled, tempestuous Tamara Goodwin has never had to look to the future—until the abrupt death of her father leaves her and her mother a mountain of debt and forces them to move in with Tamara's peculiar aunt and uncle in a tiny countryside village.
Tamara is lonely and bored, with a traveling library as her only diversion. There she finds a large leather-bound book with a gold clasp and padlock, but no author name or title. Intrigued, she pries open the lock, and what she finds inside takes her breath away.
Tamara sees entries written in her own handwriting, and dated for the following day. When the next day unfolds exactly as recorded, Tamara realizes she may have found a solution to her problems. But in her quest to find answers, Tamara soon learns that some pages are better left unturned and that, try as she may, she mustn't interfere with fate.
I've read a couple of Cecelia Ahern's book and always loved them.  The Book of Tomorrow wasn't the exception.

Since the beginning Tamara gripped me. She's a lonely teenager, bored and spoiled. She was rude, had bad attitude and language, but also was intelligent and sensible. Her father has just died and she's still trying to understand why. Her life changed so much, now she has to live with her uncles. When things started to get weird with her aunt, she takes the matter in her own hands and starts to investigate.

At first, I wasn't sure what to expect about this book. It started with Tamara, trying to deal with her new life and growing up, but then things started to get weird and became a mystery. It also has magic, when Tamara found a book written by her and telling her about her future.

Cecelia Ahern's writing is, as always, excellent. The story and realistic characters involved me so much that I couldn't stop reading. It wasn't fast or slow, and always interesting. I only wished she would have explained more about the book.

Overall, The Book of Tomorrow is a gripping and original heart warming story about love, betrayal and family secrets for all ages that you will enjoy reading.