Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Monthly Roundup - September 2014

September began in rather a confused way as I started and discarded book after book with nothing seeming to suit and not really knowing what I wanted.. Frustrating, but things improved as the month went on and I found myself , the chunkster queen, most satisfied with shorter novels, novellas, short stories and even some essays. I enjoyed both the events I took part in although I didn't read as much as I had hoped but that's usually what happens. So overall a good and varied reading month.

Books read in September = 14
Italics are from my bookshelf or on my Kindle.
* R.I.P.
* A Century of Books

The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro 
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev most of it read in Aug and still needs the review finished)
Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Crazy Pavements by Beverley Nichols *
Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James 
The Secret House of Death by Ruth Rendell **
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa *  (Diversiverse)
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle *
The Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates *
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif  * (Diversiverse)
Her by Harriet Lane *
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters *

Fiction = 14
Non-Fiction = 0
Library Books = 8
E-books = 0
Off my Shelf - 6

Coming Up in October

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week - 6th -12th October is being hosted by Jane @ Fleur in her World. I'm looking forward to this event as Margaret Kennedy is an author I haven't read before.

Book Fair

Early in September I packed up two bags of books to donate towards this annual charity event and now waiting with great anticipation to fill the gaps. It begins on the 1st Oct and goes through to Sunday 5th so more than one visit I should think.

First books for October....

No Name by Wilkie Collins - 69/600p read and loving it.
The Secret Place by Tana French - picking this up from the library today.
The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy - will begin reading at the weekend.

Have a wonderful October!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Very mini, mini-mentions

A quick mention of the last of September's reading before tomorrow's roundup.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

The second book read for Diversiverse - in 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Eygpt where she falls in love with Sharif, and Egyptian Nationalist. A hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a descendant of Anna and Sharif, goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are notebooks and journals written by Anna.
What I loved best about this book was the history and the descriptions of Egypt - very detailed and beautifully written. I did think Anna's love story was a bit too happy ever after as I'm sure there would have been huge cultural and religious difficulties to overcome. 

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I enjoyed it but.........I thought it was too long and, dare I say
it, I found myself skimming through the middle having got very tired of the romantic relationship. I liked the 1920's background but this will never be my favourite Sarah Waters. Overall, slightly disappointed.

Am I the only one noticing the elephantine proportions these latest releases are taking on? Hard on the hands and impossible to read in bed. 

Her by Harriet Lane

A psychological thriller which is best summed up in the words of one of the characters.
"- turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it's easy to overlook."

Two women from two different worlds meet but this isn't the first time their paths have crossed. Nina remembers.....Emma doesn't.

Fortunately only 234p long as I found the suspense  enough to keep me reading into the night until I finished.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

I had never read any Sherlock Holmes before this which is surprising considering my love of crime fiction but this one was in the same volume of stories as The Turn of the Screw so I decided it was time. I'm glad it turned out to be the first in the series as I enjoyed hearing about Dr Watson's background and then watching the famous pair at the beginnings of their relationship. 
Quite a surprise to find myself in America among the Mormons halfway through but all good fun and enjoyed it immensely and will definitely be reading more Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Famous Last Words & Joyce Carol Oates

7th March, 2012 I wrote "I am promising myself that this is the very last time I attempt to finish a JCO. Those I've started before I haven't finished, haven't liked them at all and I have the feeling this much acclaimed author is not for me but we'll see."

30th March, 2012 I wrote "I give up on this author!!

Sometimes you just have to admit defeat but it is not something I like to do especially when it comes to books and well-recognised authors that everyone likes except me. So it might have been in the spirit of 'never, ever, ever , ever give up' that in November of 2013 I picked up The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates from the library shelf.
It might be the spectacularly lurid cover had something to do with it as well!
I couldn't resist what sounded like a mix of Gothic horror - supernatural curses, vampires and all - and historical fiction. Set in Princeton in first decade of the 20th century it features some very interesting real life characters - Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, Jack London and Upton Sinclair.
I had to eat my words - I really, really liked it!

So searching for R.I.P. reading I was happy to respond to the Evil Eye's beckoning glance and bring it home. Very different from The Accursed this short book of 216p contains four novellas, four chilling tales of love gone wrong. What makes them so frightening is they begin as ordinary, everyday sort of situations.
Love that begins with happiness and hope for the future...

  • a vulnerable young woman becomes the fourth wife of a prominent intellectual.
  • a shy teenager is thrilled with her first boyfriend.
  • a spoiled frat boy is angry his parents won't pay his debts.
  • a woman reveals deeply buried secrets to her lover.
How do these people cope when things go wrong? What is the worst that could possibly happen? This is where Ms Oates takes the reader and the truth is while it might not be the norm these terrible things do happen.

Dark,compelling and disturbing reading! I liked the sharp, concise prose JCO uses to full effect in these novellas and I think I will explore more of her shorter works before tackling any more of her chunksters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they have checked out from the library.

I have lifted the library ban and hope that three weeks is enough to teach me I do not have to bring home every book that takes my eye, every week. I've let myself off a week early because I noticed in the library catalogue at the weekend that two of my most anticipated books had moved from 'on order' to 'in cataloguing' and immediately put them on hold. Today I picked up the first, the new Sarah Waters, and to keep it company I allowed myself one more - such restraint!!!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Her by Harriet Lane 

What's in your loot this week?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Eleven individual pieces that together create an exquisite whole.

The first page: " It was a beautiful Sunday. The sky was a cloudless dome of sunlight. Out on the square, leaves fluttered in a gentle breeze along the pavement. Everything seemed to glimmer with a faint luminescence: the roof of the ice-cream stand, the faucet on the drinking fountain, the eyes of the stray cat, even the base of the clock tower covered with pigeon droppings.
Families and tourists strolled through the square, enjoying the weekend. Squeaky sounds could be heard from a man off in the corner, who was twisting balloon animals. A circle of children watched him, entranced. Nearby, a woman sat on a bench, knitting. Somewhere a horn sounded. A flock of pigeons burst into the air, and startled a baby who began to cry. The mother hurried over to gather the child in her arms.
You could gaze at this perfect picture all day - an afternoon bathed in light and comfort - and perhaps never notice a single detail out of place, or missing."

but then as this first story ends...

" The bell in the clock tower began to ring. A flock of pigeons lifted into the sky. As the fifth chime sounded, a door beneath the clock opened and a little parade of figurines pirouetted out - a few soldiers, a chicken, and a skeleton...............and then, from the door, an angel appeared, beating her golden wings."

An interruption, jarring and discordant, a danse macabre disturbing the peace - this is the pattern of each of these eleven short stories.
Reading them is like sitting alone beside a quiet pond enjoying the peace yet knowing that beneath the calm surface dark undercurrents swirl and menacing shapes threaten to break the surface at any time.

The eleven short stories, which can be read alone, unite to create a novella. Each story follows on from the one before, linked through recurring images and motifs, while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Death walks in many guises and all of the characters, none of whom have a name, have to deal with grief, loss and loneliness. How they do this becomes increasingly bizarre but somehow always remains in the realms of possibility.

The deceptively simple prose is stunning - dark and incredibly beautiful. It ends as it began and I just wanted to start reading it all over again. There are phrases that haunt me - " I could only watch and wait until she ate through her sadness."
I do need to mention that if you like a linear narrative, strong plot, definite characters and a gift-wrapped ending then this is probably not the book for you.

I think it will be the book of the year for me. 
Love, love, loved it!

Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

hosted by Aarti@BOOKLUST

Also linking to RIP IX 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

More Secondhand Buys

A few more I bought at the end of August to add to the bookshelf ....from the secondhand shop.

The Card by Arnold Bennett
Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
Christmas Books by Charles Dickens
Bound Feet and Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang
We of the Never-Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn
Chronicle of a Working Life by Monica Dickens

I didn't notice until now but I have Mr Dickens and his great grandaughter, Monica and two people who share the name Gunn but don't appear to be related.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

First published in 1956 Wildfire at Midnight was Mary Stewart's second novel and one in which she attempted to create something different - a classic closed room detective story. It was an experiment she would not repeat explaining in a 1970 article that the emphasis on mystery was not for her - she preferred people to plot. 

In the years to come her books would become known and loved for their perfect balance of romance and mystery set in exotic locations and with that in mind I wouldn't recommend Wildfire at Midnight to anyone just beginning their acquaintance with Mary Stewart. It is high on suspense and low on romance which suited me fine as I love the former and am happy to go without the latter. An added bonus was discovering I hadn't read it before.

Camosunary Bay, Skye
In need of a holiday from her busy life as a model and tired of the crowds pouring into London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Gianetta sets out for a quiet interlude on the Isle of Skye. To her horror one of the guests at the hotel is her ex-husband, Nicholas. Even worse is the strange tension existing among the other guests. Very soon she discovers that recently the body of a local girl had been found murdered on the mountainside and all her fellow residents are considered as suspects.

Then two more murders occur and a young woman is missing. A killer is on the loose and suggestions of ancient Druidic rituals and sacrifice only add to the escalating fear and suspicions of everyone.

Mary Stewart's choice of setting for this novel is superb. Usually her descriptions of lavender fields and sunflowers, red-roofed tavernas and sun-kissed seas have me sighing with longing to visit these magical places. I have no desire to go to the Isle of Skye. An island of rugged but barren grandeur, with treacherous bogs and blinding mists holds little appeal for me but is used to full effect by the author to create a real sense of atmosphere and foreboding.


There the crest of the mountain stands up above the scree in an enormous hog's-back of serrated peaks, two thousand feet and more of grim and naked rock, shouldering up the scudding sky. I stopped and looked up. Streams of windtorn mist raced and broke around the buttresses of the dreadful rock; against its sheer precipices the driven clouds wrecked themselves in swirls of smoke; and black and terrible, above the movement of the storm, behind the racing riot of black cloud, loomed and vanished and loomed again the great devil's pinnacles that broke the sky and split the winds into streaming rack. Blaven flew its storms like a banner."
Gianetta finds herself in terrible danger which reaches its peak in a terrifying chase through the mist enshrouded bog. The suspense was edge-of-the-chair, nailbiting stuff that kept me frantically turning pages until the end and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From excessive cigarette smoking to outdated attitudes that rile up the feminists, Wildfire at Midnight does show its age which I know many readers don't like but for me it is all part of the charm and the pleasure of returning to a different time.

I read Wildfire at Midnight as part of Mary Stewart Reading Week hosted by Anbolyn @ Gudrun's Tights.

Also adding the link to R.I.P. IX