Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Leave it to Smith

I was at work for 13 hours today (!!) so far too tired to write anything particularly lucid, instead I shall write a couple of lines to let you know that I am re-reading I Capture the Castle at the moment (in fact, I have nearly finished it) and it is BRILLIANT all over again. If you haven't read it, hie thee to a bookshop. And then a DVD shop and watch the brilliant film.

The novel has lots of covers - this isn't the one I'm reading, but it's my favourite.

I haven't read anything else by Dodie Smith, but some e-friends have told me her other novels are wonderful too - A Town in Bloom is heading towards my local library, so I'll report back before too long.

Happy June, everyone!

Book Review: With This Ring, I Thee Bed by Alison Tyler

Edited: Alison Tyler
Release Date: April 19th, 2011
Publisher: Spice
Age: Adult

In this sizzling new treasury, erotica maestro Alison Tyler has assembled over two dozen titillating tales of couples taking each other to new heights of happily bedded bliss.
Imagination and experimentation are the watchwords as sexy spouses live out fantasies both intimate and elaborate: naughty new settings, new toys…even new partners. There are virgin brides, wicked wedding nights, impetuous swingers and some kinky couplings that give "tying the knot" a whole new meaning!
Seductively spun by such genre luminaries as Kate Pearce, Kristina Wright, Cheyenne Blue, Portia Da Costa, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Janine Ashbless—plus a teasing little tale from the editor herself—these stories prove that the honeymoon is just the beginning!

Isn't it a beautiful cover? So sweet and innocent, but if you are familiar with Alison Tyler, you know what's inside isn't.

If you are looking for erotic romance, this is your book. With This Ring, I Thee Bed is a collection of short hot stories by different authors, focused on weddings, with lots of naughty and provocative sex, and usually a happy ending. Some of the stories were too much for me, but I still enjoyed them.

I have only read Alison's Wonderland edited by Alison Tyler and really liked it, all of the stories being naughty fairy tales. I also liked With This Ring, I Thee Bed, I liked the idea of all the stories being related to a wedding. I'm sure I'll read another of her books when I need to read something naughty.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Beautiful Book

I bought this a little while ago, from the small book section of Antiques on High in Oxford, but it is one of the most beautiful little books I own, and I thought I'd share it.

I doubt it would win any awards in fine printing catalogues, but I am very fond of it. The book in question is a 1929 edition of selections from The Female Spectator by Eliza Haywood (usually spelt Haywood, but spelt Heywood in this edition) edited by Mary Priestley. The Female Spectator was the first woman's periodical written by a woman, written between 1744 and 1771 in imitation of Addison and Steele's more famous Spectator. The selections in this book all, apparently, come from a single edition in 1748 - which is as useful as any, as far as a representation goes.

Elizabeth Haywood was incredibly prolific, and taking a gander at her Wikipedia entry I am trying to remember what I read. The City Jilt, I think, and perhaps The Mercenary Lover. I remember her being amusing and a little bit shocking at times. I have done no more than flick through this selection of The Female Spectator (indeed, I shall have to procure a page-cutter before I go much further, as some of it is still in need of cutting) but I can see I shall derive some amusement from sections entitled 'Tennis, a Manly Exercise', or 'Honour of Itself Not to be Relied On', not to mention 'Caterpillars, their Structure very Amazing'. How seriously Haywood is to be taken will doubtless always be slightly unclear.

And I'm not just boasting about a lovely book I had the good fortune to stumble across - it is actually available fairly affordably from Amazon, and would delight any bookshelf. In fact, it's cheaper than an ordinary new hardback - and how much more special!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Well, I guess I don't have much choice.

I bought Nicolas Bentley's book How Can You Bear to be Human? for its excellent title, and because I had seen some of his artwork elsewhere, and quite liked it. I've got to say, the title is probably the best thing about this book - but it passed an entertaining hour.

I don't know the provenance of the book, but it must be collected from somewhere. It consists of brief, humorous pieces and cartoons - but often the cartoon doesn't seem to bear any relation to the writing. Which is quite confusing, to say the least.

Bentley's strength is definitely in his drawing, rather than his writing, but that is to be expected. His sketches aren't ornately detailed, but with exaggeration which is not too exaggerated, he manages to convey exactly what he wishes - and is rather more subtle in his artwork than his prose. The prose is rather a mixed bag - it starts well, but the editor (perhaps Bentley himself?) probably decided to put the best things at the beginning.

My favourite piece was 'Strange Interlude', which is Provincial Ladyesque in its dealings with an awkward social occasion, including this exchange between the narrator and an offensive approaching couple:

"Well, my deahr?"

To which, in tones somewhat lower than his, she flashed the riposte: "Well?"

Again silence fell between them and they stood smiling mutely at each other.

"You have tried the punch?" she said at last.

Unable to block my ears in time, I caught his shrill response.

"I have indeed and I pronounce it capital."

He grinned at me shyly with teeth that were rather too far apart. I noticed his hand had been surreptitiously exploring his pocket, and I guessed what for. He lent towards me and said sotto voce, with a look that appealed for my support and failed utterly:

"Do you suppose our hostess would permit a pipe?"

"I don't smoke, so I wouldn't know," I said, lapsing through sheer nerves into the affectation of the conditional. He peered about him with a look of wildly exaggerated consternation and then, in order, I suppose, to keep up the conspiratorial pretence, tiptoed away.

Most of the pieces in How Can You Bear to be Human? are structured as humorous essays, rather than scenes like this - the essays being on topics from Hockey to Ballet to Hats Suitable For Dictators. Quite.

It's all good fun, and the sort of Penguin book you could easily give someone as a present, or keep in the smallest room of the house. I had rather hoped for a flash of genius, which there was not, but it's a nice glance into the humour of the 1950s.

Oh, and I have to finish by sharing this quick excerpt, for my brother (and Wolves fan) Colin:

[...] simple though I may be compared to, say, Professor Bronowski, compared to the man who delights more in Wolverhampton Wanderers than in Wordsworth, I am a creature of infinite complexity.

In My Mailbox # 28

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

Didn't receive much this week but I'm happy that it was this book: Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs. I already read it and I should be posting the review soon.

Thanks to Corrine @ Lost For Words for the book!

What did you get this week? Leave your links at the comments!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Song for a Sunday

A while ago I thought to myself, "I bet I would like a singer who would name their album Happenstance." And so I searched to see if any artist had, and came across Rachael Yamagata - my reasoning was not wrong; I did like Rachael. I especially like this song, 'Worn Me Down'. Enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend!

For more Sunday Songs, click here.

Illyrian Spring: prize draw

The winner of my (rather battered) Penguin edition of Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge is...


Congrats, Sherry, I'll get it off to you as soon as I can. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Book Review: Across The Universe by Beth Revis

Author: Beth Revis
Series: Across The Universe #1
Release Date: January 11th 2011
Publisher: Razorbill
Age: Young Adult
A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.
Across the Universe was on my wishlist since I discovered last year. The cover is amazing and the summary interesting. I was so glad I finally read it. Not even in my wildest dreams I imagined this book would be so original.

Amy is seventeen years old and frozen for 300 years in a spaceship, until they reach the new planet in Godspeed. But suddenly, she's unfrozen and wakes up in a totally different spaceship. One full of weird people.

Elder is the future leader of Godspeed. Since the Plague, that almost killed everyone in the space, there is a leader who decide everything that happens in the ship. He's young, naive, and believe everything the present Eldest teaches him until he discovers Amy and the rest of the frozen people.

Can you imagine living at a spaceship? Could you do it, knowing that you'll die without seeing the sky, the stars, and whatever it's waiting at the new planet? People at Godspeed have been living that way since they were born inside the spaceship, but how can they do it? How they don't feel desperate?

Amy, who lived in Earth, can't believe how people is living inside this spaceship. But soon she discovers that things aren't as they should be. There are new rules, and nobody seems to think those rules are wrong.

Across the Universe is definitely an original story. I'm not a fan of sci-fi but I'm totally starting to like this genre. And I absolutely loved the author's writing. I really felt as Amy, trapped in this spaceship. It helped that I'm kind of claustrophobic and I read the book while flying for 8 hours at a plane, but least I could see the sky...

I always like romance in my books. Across the Universe has a little bit of romance, but I was fine with that. I don't like instant love and the characters were having a bad time at the spaceship. It wouldn't have been realistic.

Overall, I really loved this book. I'm not a reader of science fiction, and I thought it was amazing and original. You should read it, specially if you're looking for something different as sci-fi. I can't wait until the next book, A Million Suns, which comes out next year.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: Cupid Cats by Katie MacAlister, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Connie Brockway

Title: Cupid Cats
Authors: Katie MacAlister, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Connie Brockway
Release Date: Jone 8th, 2010
Publisher: Signet
Age: Adult
From New York Times bestselling authors Katie Macalister, Vicki Lewis Thompson and National bestselling author Connie Brockway: Stories full of magic, love-and cats. This one-of-a-kind-all-original anthology features stories by three bestselling superstar authors starring the mysterious, mischievous, and magical matchmaking felines of the Cupid Cats Animal Shelter, who assist their owners in finding romance and true love.
I actually read Cupid Cats a long time ago, for Valentine's Day.

Cupid Cats is a collection of three stories from different writers. Every story has something in common, a magical cat from the Cupid Cats shelter.

Unleashed by Katie MacAlister is about a Morovian, a jaguar shape shifter, and a wildlife officer. If you like paranormal romance you will love this one, full of action and paranormal characters. Unleashed is a novella from her series Dark Ones.

A Cat's Game by Vicky Lewis Thompson is about a superstar and his ex-high school girlfriend, who found each other again. It's a cute and romantic story, and the magical kitty is always there trying to bring them together.

Cat Scratch Fever by Connie Brockway is the cutest story of all. A father goes to the shelter looking for a cat with his little daughter, and he found Edith, who works at his company and is a very shy woman. The magical cat, Ishy/Pixie, is the cat that his daughter wants, but she is very old and doesn't want to leave the shelter, giving the couple time to really meet each other.

All of the stories were well written and I enjoyed them. They were romantic and perfect to read them for Valentine's Day.

Book Trailer: Follow My Lead by Kate Noble

It's Friday and I'm in love! Yeah, and also super happy because I finished my thesis! :D

Anyway, I loved this trailer. It's from the book Follow My Lead by Kate Noble...I want to read it!

Possibly Persephone? (redux)

Coming to you a bit late, my report on the Possibly Persephone? event - and when I say 'report', you will soon see that it descends (or perhaps ascends) into a long list of books.

Claire (Paperback Reader) and I met outside her work at 5.30pm and headed along to the Persephone Books shop on Lamb's Conduit Street. I had wondered quite how we'd fit everyone into a fairly smallish shop - the answer being that we'd simply crowd in and be friendly! Nicola Beauman greeted us at the door, and we set about drinking madeira ("have some madeira, m'dear" was mentioned) which was delicious, and settling down for a fun evening. By the time everyone arrived there were probably about 15 of us, lovely folk one and all, and exactly the sort of bookish people with whom it is a delight to spend an evening.

Nicola kicked off proceedings by telling us briefly how often people recommend books, and how Persephone set about finding, reading, and thinking about these suggestions. She even unveiled a very tantalising folder filled with print outs and letters, containing suggestions - so many authors unknown to me, and so many potential gems.

And then we went round in the circle, giving our suggested titles and defending them. I was madly scribbling down everything I heard, although I can't remember plots etc. for that many of them. You already know about Mr. Pim Passes By - Nicola pointed out that Vintage and Capuchin have both brought out Milne titles recently, which would make AAM difficult to market as one of Persephone's authors, but we will wait and see... After the suggestions was some general chat, with many of us saying novels we love which are out of print, until Nicola must have felt under an avalanche. The first of these below were the suggestions; after Ann Valery's book it's a list of (some of) those which were mentioned at all.

If you want to know more about any of these books, and can't find anything by Googling etc., then I'll do my best to remember something! Or if you know something about them, do yell.

--Miss Penny & Miss Plum - Dorothy Evelyn Smith
--Summer in the Greenhouse - Elizabeth Maver
--The Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery
--Earth and Water - Sheelagh Kinelli
--The Woman's Book - ed. Philippa Preston
--Memories of a Militant - Annie Kenney
--Peter Abelard - Helen Waddell
--The Wedding - Denis Mackail
--At the Top of the Muletrack - Carola Matthews
--Kirsteen - Margaret Oliphant
--Westwood - Stella Gibbons
--Miss Linsey and Pa - Stella Gibbons
--Baron von Kodak, Shirley Temple, and Me - Ann Valery
--The Wheel Spins - Ethel Lina White
--Diminishing Circles - Barbara Rees
--Harriet Dark: Branwell Brontes lost novel - Barbara Rees
--A Step Out of Time - Betty Askwith
--Guard Your Daughters - Diana Tutton
--Camera! - Joan Morgan
--Faster! Faster! - E.M. Delafield
--Cometh up like a Flower - Rhoda Broughton
--Laughing Mountains - Kay Lynn
--Harriet - Elizabeth Jenkins
--Miss Tiverton Goes Out - A.M. Champneys

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mr. Pim (Passes By)

I have come back from a really wonderfully enjoyable Possibly Persephone? event, which I will write more about soon - hopefully tomorrow. But tonight I shall leave you in no further doubt as to the choice I took along with me - it's Mr. Pim Passes By by A.A. Milne, and I left my copy with lovely Nicola Beauman, so I will wait and see what she thinks. Onto my review...

Every now and then I write about A.A. Milne's works, and mention that he was my first great grown-up-b
ooks love - ironically, given that he is best known as a children's writer. Two People and The Red House Mystery have both recently come back into print, and yet there is a huge amount of AAM's work which is mostly overlooked. Some of his whimsical sketches are currently appearing on Radio 4 - thanks for the heads-up, Barbara! - and you can listen to previous episodes and read more info here.
But today I'm going to write about the most amusing of A.A. Milne's novels, and the first that he wrote - Mr. Pim (1921). It has a slightly confusing publication history. It is an adaptation of his (once) very popular play Mr. Pim Passes By - and in later editions of the novel it reverts to this title. Confusing, no? Incidentally, it is dedicated to Irene Vanbrugh and Dion Boucicault (the picture is them in the play version, nabbed from Wikipedia) - the former's autobiography is one of the more interesting and unusual books I've read this year. I read it in 2002, and recently re-read it - finding it just as much a joy this time around.

Mr. Pim concerns the family living at Marden House. George Marden is a very proper gentleman, with very proper views. His niece and ward Dinah is rather flighty; her very-nearly-fiance Brian is modern and sweet; George's wife Olivia is... well, here description rather falters. Milne's strongest suit is his female characters, and Olivia is perhaps the best role he ever wrote for the stage - and then novel. Olivia, like many of Milne's heroines, though doubtless infuriating should one encounter her in real life, is an absolute delight on the page. She is strong-willed without ever being remotely antagonistic; she is sweet without being saccharine; she can be flippant or passionate with equal conviction, and yet never quite lets her guard down. Being married to George must be rather difficult, yet one feels that Olivia is the only person who could possibly ameliorate him in any way - and it's rather lucky that she happens to love him.

Here's a conversation between Dinah and Brian which rather sets the tone of the family:

Brian, lying back on the sofa, looked at her lazily with half-closed eyes.

"Yes, I know what you want, Dinah."

"What do I want?" said Dinah, coming to him eagerly.

"You want a secret engagement --"

She gave an ecstatic little shudder.

"-- and notes left under doormats --"

"Oh!" she breathed happily.

"-- and meetings by the withered thorn when all the household is asleep. I know you."

"Oh, but it is such fun! I love meeting people by withered thorns."

Her mind hurried on to the first meeting. There was a withered thorn by the pond. Well, it wasn't a thorn exactly, it was an oak, but it certainly had a withered look because the caterpillars had got at it, as at all the other oaks this year, much to George's annoyance, who felt that this was probably the beginning of Socialism.

As the novel opens, Olivia wishes to hang some orange curtains which George considers far too modern for his house. Of such things are narratives spawned - Milne wrote in his autobiography that this idea was the catalyst for the whole story. Elsewhere, Dinah and Brian are almost engaged, and Dinah is trying to find a way to tell her uncle. George himself is busy pontificating: "Tell me what a man has for breakfast, and I will tell you what he is like." George, I'm sure you will.

Milne was keen to point out that Mr. Pim isn't simply the play with 'he said' and 'she said' thrown in, and indeed it is not. The plot is the same, and the characters are the same, but the authorial comment and wry narrative (at which Milne was such an expert) come fully into play. At this juncture, Milne himself breaks off into an amusing account of various breakfasts at Marden House. It's too long to type out, but he does this sort of thing so well.

And we haven't even got to Mr. Pim yet. His passing-by is the spark which sends the whole household into frenzy - and quite inadvertently. Mr. Pim is delightfully absent-minded - he takes absent-mindedness into a whole new category. And, lucky Mardens, Mr. Pim has a note of introduction to George. Here he is on his way, being sent off by mutual friend Brymer:

"You've got the letter for George?" [said Brymer]

Mr. Pim looked vague.

"George Marden. I gave it to you."

"Yes, yes, to be sure. You gave it to me. I remember your giving it to me."

"What's that in your hand?"

Mr Pim looked reproachfully at the letter which he held in his hand, as if it had been trying to escape him. Then he put it close to his eyes.

"George Marden, Esq., Marden House," he read, and looked up at Brymer. "This is the letter," he explained courteously. "I have it in my hand."

"That's right. It's the first gate on the right, about a couple of hundred yards up the hill. He'll put you on to this man, Fanshawe, that you want. His brother Roger used to know him well - the one that died."

"Dear, dear," said Mr. Pim gently, emerging from his own thoughts to the distressing fact that somebody had died.
Mr. Pim ends up coming to Marden House several times that day, for various reasons - George being busy, or realising that he has said the wrong thing. But mostly he doesn't know quite what a stir he creates - for, on one of his little visits, he happens to mention having seen an ex-convict from Australia, named Telworthy. What Mr. Pim doesn't know is that Olivia's first husband, missing presumed dead, was a convict from Australia named Telworthy...

Cue all manner of confusion and upset, panic and madness. Bigamy appears to have arisen at the most proper, law-abiding house in all the county. More importantly, this crisis in George and Olivia's 'marriage' allows Olivia to see exactly how much George esteems reputation, and how much he loves her...

Milne inherits just enough of the wit of the 1890s to let his characters chop endless logic, and has enough of the 1920s to let them do it for a reason. Although all the insouciant characters give off the impression of taking nothing even remotely seriously, in fact there is an overtone where decisions do matter, and changes can happen. It is all incredibly funny, and fairly fanciful - one can only imagine what would have resulted had George Bernard Shaw turned his hand to it - but it is not flimsy.

I'm so pleased that I loved Mr. Pim as much the second time around as the first. I worried that I'd outgrown whimsy, which is a dirty word for some, but I think it would be impossible to outgrow the joy of reading Milne. I encourage you to hunt this one down - it's quite different from Two People, and very different from The Red House Mystery, and different again from Winnie the Pooh - and it is an absolute delight. Go on - let Mr. Pim pop in for a bit. You never know what might happen.

Waiting on Wednesday # 48 ~ Fury

"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 Goodreads:
The first book in a paranormal teen trilogy featuring three beautiful, mysterious girls wreaking havoc on a small New England town.

Sometimes sorry isn't enough....

It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But not all is as it seems...

Between cozy traditions and parties with her friends, Emily loves the holidays. And this year’s even better--the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But Em knows if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend.

On the other side of town, Chase is having problems of his own. The stress of his home life is starting to take its toll, and his social life is unraveling. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel...something the perfect guy he pretends to be would never do. And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.

In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. And three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—are here to choose who will pay.

 Em and Chase have been chosen.
Elizabeth Miles
August 30th, 2011
Goodreads / Amazon

I just love the cover! Don't you?
What are you waiting for? Leave your link in the comments.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Yesterday I went to a talk by Marilynne Robinson... I was very star-struck. Or possibly star struck. Or even starstruck. Maybe all of the above. Just being in the same room as her was pretty crazy - this must be how teenage girls feel when they see the cast of Twilight, or how my brother would feel if Wolverhampton Wanderers football team popped around for tea. When Colin phoned me to talk about Wolves (they didn't get relegated, btw - I am only interested because this means he is happy, rather than glum; it will not surprise you to learn that I loathe football) I told him about seeing Marilynne Robinson, and he didn't know who she was. So I suppose it is rather a niche thing, but it still felt bizarre to be in the same room as one of the finest living writers. I even took a poor quality photograph on my mobile 'phone...

Truth be told, I didn't understand a word of her talk. It was called 'Where A
re We? What Are We Doing Here? Night Thoughts of a Baffled Humanist' and seemed to be a state-of-the-nation talk, with huge doses of philosophy and politics. I know almost nothing about philosophy, and I care almost nothing about politics - so I was lost from the outset. But I was pretty prepared for that. I wish I'd been to hear her last time she was in Oxford, talking about her own writing, but at that point I'd not read anything by her. Even now I've only read Gilead, though Susan in TX and I have a plan to read Home together soon, don't we, Susan?

So, I'd readied myself to zone out when Robinson got onto topics I know zilch about, and instead I spent the hour being a bit overwhelmed by being in the same room as her. For the record, she is funny and personable - especially during the off-script moments - and I'm sure I'd love to hear her speak about writing or reading or Christianity; anything I can get on board with. But that didn't diminish an exacting afternoon for me.

Which leads me to the over-to-you bit - have you heard any authors speak, and which living writers would you love to see? I've seen a few others - all those at the Vintage day this month (Sebastian Faulks, Mark Haddon, Lionel Shriver, Rose Tremain etc.) but the only other notable one I can remember right now is Penelope Lively. And I still haven't read any of her books...

[EDIT: I forget Susan Hill! And doubtless many others. I was very excited to chat with Mary Cadogan once - the biographer of Richmal Crompton. But most fun has been meeting lesser-known, but brilliant and lovely, authors like Angela Young, Jenn Ashworth, Natasha Solomon, Ned Beauman....]

Book Review: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Author: Pittacus Lore
Series: Lorien Legacies #1
Release Date: August 3rd, 2010
Publisher: HarperCollins
Age: Young Adult

In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now.
The Nine had to separate and go into hiding. The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.
I AM NUMBER FOUR is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.

I Am Number Four is one of those books that I've read so much about it that I didn't want to read it, specially because of the author thing. But anyway, I was curious and decided to read it, and here is my review...

Number Four is an alien. His planet was destroyed and he was sent to Earth. But, the same people who destroyed his planet are here on earth, and they are looking for him.

Four is a 15 years old boy, who is used to live hidden and running. Every time something weird happens, he and his guardian escapes. It's a boring life until they reach Paradise, a small town.  

I Am Number Four is a interesting story. The aliens from Lorien are practically extinct, and the few who reached earth are lost or dead. Everyone of them has a power, and just now number four is developing his first.

Number Four, or John, is a pretty common boy...except that he's an alien. He's the typical 15 years old guy, bored and without any interest until he met Sarah, the beautiful girl, and Sam, the geek/aliens lover guy.

At the beginning the writing was slow, because John explains everything about Lorien, their powers, etc. But at the middle of the book there is more action, because the bad aliens found John, and everything turns into chaos.

I liked the characters and though the story was original, but the book didn't grab me as others. I liked it and read it pretty fast, but I think the characters could have been deeper and the story had more to tell. Although, I accept that my perception of the book is tainted with everything I read before about the author. For example, my mother read it and loved it, and she doesn't even like young adult books!

Overall, I Am Number Four is a book I liked enough to read the next one, called The Power of Six, which is going to be released August 23, 2011. I recommend it to everyone who likes sci/fi, it's an interesting book and a story that promise more action.

More about this book at iamnumberfourfans.comGoodreadsAmazon, The Book Depository.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Illyrian Spring

Early warning - there is a giveaway right at the bottom of this post!
That Rachel (Book Snob) is pretty scary, isn't she? I knew she loved Ann Bridge's Illryian Spring (1935), and so dropped her an email to let her know I'd found my own copy. Minutes later I found myself under house arrest, surrounded by armed policemen and ferocious guard dogs, and the recipient of dozens of death threats - if I didn't immediately drop everything, read Illyrian Spring, and post a positive review of it. Right now I'm in a dungeon, blindfolded, typing away with a gun held against my temple...

Gosh, that took a macabre turn, didn't it? What I MEANT to say was that Rachel thought I should definitely read Illyrian Spring before the end of April - which I duly did, it's just taken me a while to get around to writing about it. In return, I told Rachel she should read the (much shorter) novel The Love Child by Edith Olivier by the end of April. How's that going, Rach, hmm?

But I am only teasing, of course. I am very grateful that Rachel pointed me in the direction of Illyrian Spring (I gave you a copy of The Love Child - just sayin') because it's a beautiful novel.

Grace Kilmichael - known also as Lady K - feels unappreciated by her husband Walter, daughter Linnet and sons Nigel and Teddy. As the novel opens, she has escaped off on the Orient Express - hoping to evade discovery, it is perhaps foolish to choose this mode of transport, 'but Lady Kilmichael was going to Venice, and she lived in a world which knew no other way of getting to Venice than to travel by the Simplon Orient Express.' That sets the scene for Grace - one to whom custom and good fortune are equally good companions. In many novels this would be enough to dismiss her out of hand, but Ann Bridge is no inverted snob (in fact, she is often simply a snob) and Grace is undoubtedly the heroine of the novel from the outset. She is a talented painter whose family treat her paintings as an amusing hobby; she is intelligent, sensitive to others, and bewitched by the beauty of life and adventure. And she's off on an adventure.

I'm not going to pretend to understand the geography of Europe. I hadn't heard of most of the places she went, but I think they're probably mostly Italian. To be honest, I didn't really care. Seeing the sights through Grace's eyes was enough for me - much of the novel simply documents her travels, and reflections upon her life and family. And her affection, maternal friendship with Nicholas (I'll get on to him in a bit).

By rights, I shouldn't have liked Illyrian Spring as much as I did. You know me and descriptions of landscapes - and Bridge's novel is crammed full with descriptions of scenery, buildings, ruins, water, nature, everything. Grace even carries a travel guide around with her - a form of writing to which I am allergic. But how could I not be swept away by this?

But nature in Dalmatia is singularly open-handed, and distributes beauties as well as wonders with lavish impartiality. Within a few hundred paces of the source of Ombla they came on a thing which Grace was to remember all her life, as much for its beauty as its incredibility. The road here swung round to the right, pushed out towards the valley by a spur of the mountainside; some distance above the road the slopes of this spur rose steeply, broken by ledges and shallow gullies, the rocks of the usual tone of silver pear-colour. And all over the ledges of these pearly rocks, as thick as they could stand, grew big pale-blue irises, a foot or more high, sumptuous as those in an English border, their leaves almost as silver as the rocks, their unopened buds standing up like violet spears among the delicate pallor of the fully-opened flowers - Iris pallida dalmatica, familiar to every gardener, growing in unimaginable profusion in its natural habitat. Now to see an English garden-flower smothering a rocky mountain-side is a sufficient wonder, especially if the rocks are of silver-colour and the flowers a silvery-blue; and Nature, feeling that she had done enough, might well be content to leave it at that. But she had a last wonder, a final beauty to add. In the cracks and fissures another flower grew, blue also, spreading out over the steep slabs between the ledges in flat cushions as much as a yard across - a low-growing woody plant, smothered in small close flower-heads of a deep chalky blue, the shade beloved of the painter Nattier. Anything more lovely than these low compact masses of just the same tone of colour, but a deeper shade, flattened on the white rocks as a foil and companion to the flaunting splendour of the irises, cannot be conceived.

There are a few, a very few, authors who manage to write about the visual in ways which focus upon characters' emotions and their responses, even if this isn't stated explicitly, and that works for me. I'm thinking the moment when Jude looks out over Christminster in Jude the Obscure, and more or less every moment of Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April. Ann Bridge joins that select few, for me. Those of you without my natural-description-qualms will adore this novel all the more.

And I promised you Nicholas, didn't I? A less likely hero you'll be hard-pressed to find. Blustery, fairly rude, a victim to indigestion, self-pleased - and with a very red complexion, to boot - Nicholas meets Grace when she is trying to copy down an intricate engraving for her son. Nicholas doesn't think she's doing it right, and eventually insists upon doing it himself - and he does it very accurately. Somehow this is the beginning of their travels together - and I wouldn't know how to describe their relationship and discussions. I know some people (*cough*, Rachel) love Nicholas, and while I never wholly warmed to him, I did love Grace and Nicholas together. Not romantically, you understand, but as companions who discuss everything under the sun, and appreciate the beauty they discover together. Grace becomes something of a mentor to Nicholas, as he seeks to develop his own artistic talent, and prove to his parents that he can pursue a career as a painter, rather than an architect. Some of the novel's most interesting sections come, though, when Grace begins to tire of Nicholas, but is far too caring and kind to tell him so. That's when Bridge's writing is at its subtlest, and most perceptive - inching through changes in their relationship in a very believable manner. Bridge's style of narrative is the sort which does not lend itself to plot synopses, and is incredibly difficult to do justice - everything and nothing happens. Like many - maybe even all - great novels, the story does not matter so much as the way in which it is told.

At heart, Illyrian Spring could be considered a deeply feminist novel. Grace's emancipation happens so quietly and with so few signs of open rebellion that it would might seem understated - but there is incredible strength in passages like this:
Married women so often become more an institution than a person - to their families a wife or a mother, to other people the wife or the mother of somebody else. Apart from her painting, Grace Kilmichael had been an institution for years. She didn't mind it; she hadn't really noticed it; but when Nicholas Humphries started treating her as a person, being interested in her as herself, 'Lady K.', and not as Nigel's or Teddy's or Linnet's mother, or as the brilliant Sir Walter Kilmichael's nice wife, she did notice it. She found it something quite new and rather delightful. And entirely without conscious intention, without being aware of it, the presentation of herself which she was making up to Nicholas was, in some subtle way, more personal and less 'institutional' than it would have been if she had met him in her London house, as a friend of Linnet's or Nigel's.

Illyrian Spring is not without its faults. There is a persistent intellectual snobbery which has a stranglehold on the novel - people must always have the best, and be the best, and there is apparently no sense in doing things simply for enjoyment. The novel seems to suggest that only those with genius at painting should ever wield a paintbrush. Nicholas himself decides he'll only help people looking for directions because 'these people were intelligent, much more so than most - he might as well go down with them.' This constant thread of snobbery felt a bit like poison dropping steadily upon bowers of beautiful flowers, damaging what the novel could have been. If Bridge could have dialled this down, Illyrian Spring would be as charming as The Enchanted April, and even more substantial.

As it is, even with this fault (which some may not perceive as a fault, maybe) Illyrian Spring is a delicious gem of a novel. Grace Kilmichael and Nicholas are unlikely companions whose companionship would be impossible to doubt - and both are utterly genuine and believable characters, far more complex than I could delineate in this review. I am very indebted to Rachel for the joy of this novel - and if I found it joyful, I am certain that those of you who like their books to be like travel guides will fall so deeply in love with Bridge's novel that you will frame copies of it around the house, and name your first child after it.

So, Rachel, there you go - many thanks. Now, The Love Child...

* * *

I have a spare copy of this to give away - I spotted a nice edition in a bookshop, and swooped upon it, which means I'm now giving away my tatty old Penguin edition. I do warn you, it is very tatty - the cover is taped on, and the spine is so tightly bound that reading the far side of each page requires effort. It's a reading copy only - but Illyrian Spring is difficult to track down, so anybody who can cope with the poor condition and would like to read it, just pop your name in the comments - along with your favourite season, in honour of the novel's title. Mine, suitably enough, is spring.

Book Review: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers #3) by Sarah MacLean

Author: Sarah MacLean
Series: Love by Numbers #3
Release Date: May 1st, 2011
Publisher: Avon
Age: Adult
She lives for passion.
Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society's rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London's most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far far away from him.
He swears by reputation.
Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.
I almost went mad waiting for this book to be released, and when it finally was I just couldn't stop reading it.

Juliana Fiori is Nicholas and Gabriel's sister. She is scandal walking, since their mother had her with another man. Gabriel and his wife Callie have been doing everything they can to make the ton to accept her, but it hasn't been easy. She is impulsive, bold and doesn't understand all the rules of London's society.

I loved Juliana for her very nature. She was kind of like me at her age, very impulsive and passionate. She was strong, but not so strong so she would't be hurt by the gossips and the people who still didn't acknowledged her because of her mother. So when she met Simon, and they instantly liked each other, she hided her identity.

Of course Simon discovered and never wanted to see her again. He doesn't need that kind of scandal, now that his family has his own scandal and it will soon be discovered. But when he found her in his carriage, hurt by another man, he remembered why he can be with her: She is walking scandal and he likes her.

Simon was very arrogant and a jerk in the previous books, so I wasn't sure I was going to like him. It was difficult  because he was the same asshole as this book started but I loved how he was sucked in Juliana's passion. He had his reasons to be scared, but still could't resist her.

Sometimes Simon was too mean with Juliana, but I think Juliana was also very immature sometimes. It was good to see them both grow up and be a better person at the end.

Overall, I absolutely loved Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart. I love all the protagonists from the Love by Numbers series but I think Juliana is my favorite female, just because she was so naughty.

More about this book at macleanspace.comGoodreadsAmazon, The Book Depository.