Category Archives: Book talk

Triple Choice Tuesday at Reading Matters

Today I am featured on Triple Choice Tuesday over at Reading Matters.
I have always really enjoyed this feature of Kim’s blog and was delighted when she asked me to participate. Pop on over to see my answers to these questions:

A favourite book

A book that changed your world

A book that deserves a wider audience

Thanks again Kim!

A little blogging holiday…

Hello – I’m posting from New Zealand, I’m here for a little wedding gathering – my own!

That combined with the demise of my faithful and elderly laptop has meant little blogging opportunities over the past few weeks so I’ve decided to take a little break until later in February.

While I’m in NZ, I’m hoping to pick up two books that should be easier to find here than in the UK just now – Autumn Laing by Alex Miller and So Brilliantly Clever by Peter Graham. So Brilliantly Clever is a non fiction book about the murder in 1954 of a mother by two school girls, one of them being her daughter. The film Heavenly Creatures with a young Kate Winslet was based on this murder and the case was a huge sensation at the time. This latest book was published in 2011 and I’m interested to read Peter Graham’s take on it.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy few weeks of reading..

Persephone Reading Weekend

Today I am joining Claire and Verity’s Persephone Reading Weekend. Can’t wait! I am going to be reading Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer, courtesy of my ever faithful local library. Four chapters in and it’s already wonderful. It’s just so…. real.

Wishing everybody a happy reading weekend.

2010 Reading Plans

It’s a relief to have finally caught up on my 2009 posts. I promised myself that when that was done I could start to think about 2010 reading.

I have seen several bloggers post about their intention to read more deliberately this year and to choose the reading challenges they join with care. Hopefully this will leave more time for spontaneous reading. That is my intention too (fingers crossed and willpower permitting!)

The (relaxed) plan is to choose books from these categories:

World fiction – novels set in/by authors of different countries. Including books in translation and more New Zealand authors

Classics – I have read very few classics so have plenty to choose from. My aim to to choose books from a variety of publishing places, Penguin, Virago,Capuchin, One World classics etc. Plus the many more that I haven’t discovered yet. Also including Persephone books

Literary Fiction/Award winners – For a variety of reads generally agreed to be worthwhile reading

Spy/Political thrillers – Just because I love them and to encourage reading for fun.

Spontaneous reads – This was the area I missed out on last year. To be able to pick a book randomly or because it flows on naturally from another read or it’s discovered through another book blogger.

Newer releases – To balance the old with the new.

Hmmm – looking at that, it doesn’t sound that relaxed does it! Still, I can always see how it goes and I really can’t wait to get started.

So.. without further ado…

Touching base

Happy new year! I hadn’t disappeared off the face of the planet, just to the other side of it. We have been in New Zealand visiting family and friends for Christmas. It was a lovely time, much busier than I expected so I have been on an unplanned blogging and reading break. I hope everybody celebrating had a lovely festive season. I can’t wait to catch up on what everybody has been reading over the past few weeks. The next few posts will wrap up some challenges and chat about the two books I did manage to read!

Yellow – Janni Visman

This short novel went on to my wish list when I read Fleur Fisher’s review earlier in the year. It is the story of Stella, an agoraphobic aromatherapist. Unable to leave her apartment, she attempts to quell her anxiety by controlling every minute detail of her environment and daily routines. Even the slightest alteration such as a change in the shoes she is to wear is a momentous event. I found this aspect of her story quite fascinating. I’m not sure what it says about me but I could relate in a way to her desire to simplify everything, to know exactly what she would be doing and how at any moment.

Stella has a partner Ivan who lives with her and deals with her imposed restrictions. The trouble starts for Stella when an uncontrolled change occurs. Ivan is wearing a bracelet and Stella begins to obsess about who it is from and why he is wearing it. With the help of her sister she begins to investigate. Her paranoia and jealousy grow as she trys to control something she can’t.

I enjoyed this book a lot and have left it with my Mum to read. It’s engrossing and short and would be great to curl up with over a weekend if you can make it last that long!

This was my final read for the Colourful reading and Read your name challenges.

The Woman in Black – Play

The Woman in Black 3

A few week’s ago I read Susan Hill’s atmospheric The Woman in Black. It was my first experience of a ghost story that I can remember. It had lots of little thrills and I enjoyed it.

Last night we headed out with other Halloween creatures to see the highly acclaimed play. It was excellent! The Fortune Theatre is a fittingly atmsopheric venue – it’s old and narrow and creaky. Every time somebody moved in their seat it sounded like a squeaky door slowly opening….

The story of the story is told by just two characters (well three really..!) with minimal props and is really well done. After a slowish first half, the frights came in the second – creepy rocking chairs and music boxes… plenty of gasps and jumping in the audience. Lots of fun!

If anybody has the chance to see it – I would definitely recommend it.

BBAW – Reading Meme

Book blogger

What a wonderful idea Book Blogger Appreciation Week is. Somehow, I have only just discovered it but am looking forward to catching up on all the posts and interview swaps.

This meme encourages us to answer the questions below in a few words. A challenge! Here goes…

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

No not usually as both hands are needed for reading – I like to have a drink though if at home

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of
writing in books horrify you?

Horrifies me but I like little stickies to mark special places or writing down a page number to go back to.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?Laying the book flat open?

In my perfect world, pretty bookmarks only. In my real world, all of the above which is shameful I know!

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Mostly fiction

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hardcopy. I have never listened to an audio book (so far)

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

I like to finish at the end of a chapter but do lots of reading on the train so will just finish where the train stops and pick up again later.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

Very occasionally but I think it breaks the flow a bit much to do that. I love the idea of learning new words and sometimes write them down to check out later – whether I actually check them out later or not is another question!

What are you currently reading?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte + slowly making my way through The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.

Green Dolphin Country

What is the last book you bought?

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge. I visited the beautifully tempting Daunts Books last weekend and spent forever lost in the shelves. Elizabeth Goudge is an English writer, this book was written in the 1940′s, set in the Channel Islands and New Zealand. Published by Capuchin classics which I hadn’t heard of before.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can
you read more than one at a time?

I have been thinking about this lately. I probably prefer one book at a time but since I became enchanted with the book blogging world this doesn’t happen. I usually have about three that I am dipping in and out of. One before bed, one for travelling and one other because I’m indecisive!

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

At night usually and on the way to work. And on a winter’s Sunday – and by the pool on holiday…

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

I have mainly read stand alone books but am loving The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Not really but off the top of my head:

Daniel Silva – spy thrillers
Rosamunde Pilcher – comfort reads
Sebastian Faulks – beautiful writing

And I think I will be adding Haruki Murakami to that list – the two books of his I have read have been magical.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

Right now by available bookshelf and floor space!

Persephone Reading Week – A prize!

Mrs_Craven

I had a lovely surprise when I logged on today and learnt I had won a copy of Good Evening, Mrs Craven: the wartime stories of Mollie Panter-Downes. I’m delighted! – a big thank you to Claire and Verity. I can’t wait to read it.

I’m nearly half way through The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf. It is perceptive and witty and giggle inducing. The preface begins by acknowleging that it is well known that one of the characters, Camilla Lawrence is based on the authors wife Virginia Woolf. The couple were on their honeymoon in 1912 when Leonard Woolf began this novel. So far it’s wonderful.

PersephoneBanner small

tuesday teaser

Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here’s mine from The Wise Virgins – Page 71:

“The conversation in May’s boat was not altogether a success. Mr Davis, when he took off his coat to row, disclosed braces, a most depressing sight to suburban young ladies on a river party.”

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Mizb at Should be Reading

Holiday reads

We have just come back from a lovely relaxing holiday in the sun and below are my lazy thoughts on the books I slowly made my way through…

    84 Charring Cross Road + The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff – (non-fiction)

84-charing-cross-road

This is the delightful collection of letters starting in 1949 and spanning 20 years between Helene Hanff a self described “poor writer” from New York and Frank Doel of Marks and co, second hand booksellers – 84 Charing Cross Road, London. Responding to an article she read, Helene Hanff sends her first letter with a list of rare books she is looking to purchase – Frank Doyle replies, sends what he has and this is the beginning of their amazing relationship. The contrast in writing style and probably personality is apparent, Helene is forthright, says what she thinks right from the start while Frank is formal and polite. Their letters are brief and based around the books but over the years, through their letters, Helene gets to know the other employees at Marks and co, as well as Frank’s wife Nora. Helene’s kindess, she sends regular care packages of post war rationed items such as ham, eggs and stockings is greatly appreciated and despite pleas to visit London and her best intentions, she never quite gets there so sadly is not able to meet Frank Doyle in person.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is written in 1971 and is Helene Hanff’s story of her eventual visit to London, the places she sees and people she meets. 84 Charing Cross Road has been published and she is being paid a small amount to travel to London to promote it. She meets Frank’s wife Nora and his daughters. Making the very most of her small amount of money and her exuberant personality, she spends her several weeks in London feeling like a Duchess, meeting intersting people and being escorted to many of the literary places she has read and dreamt about for so many years.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury is a lovely compliment to 84 Charing Cross Road, both volumes are quite short, the letters could be read in a hour or so… I learned afterwards that a movie was made with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins – I can imagine them both being fantastic and am going to look out for it.

The Post Office Girl – Stefan Zweig – translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg

the-post-office-girl

The first story of Stefan Zweig’s that I have read – incredibly written and translated – it was like actually being in the shoes of the main character, living the story, feeling all the emotions, the brief periods of elation and especially the terrible despair – it was this despair that I was left with after finishing the book – quite an uncomfortable feeling.

The time period is 1920′s Austria – Christine Hoflehner is 26 yrs old and part of a generation that has lost much in the Great War. She has lost her Father and Brother, her energy and enthusiasm and hope for the future. Once part of a comfortable middle class family, she is now poor, toiling away in a rural post office during the day, nursing her invalid mother in the small attic room they share by night.

Out of the blue she receives an invite from her long lost rich Aunt and her husband to join them for a holiday in a luxury hotel in the Swiss Alps. Within hours she is transported to a new world, one beyond her wildest dreams, she is transformed and an instant success. She loves it.

With bated breath she counts: nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Midnight! Is it possible? Only Midnight? Only twelve hours since she arrived, shy, inhibited, and panicky, with a dried-up, paltry little soul, really just one day, half a day? In this instant, shaken to her very depths, this ecstatic human being has a first inkling that the soul is made of stuff so mysteriously elastic that a single event can make it big enough to contain the infinite…

Then it all comes to an abrupt end… the clothes, friends, parties, the feeling that anything is possible is gone and Christine is back to her former life at the Post Office. Only now what previously seemed dull but inevitable is now intolerable to Christine, she has seen what is possible with money and cannot conceive of carrying on as before.

She saves and takes a weekend trip to Vienna. Here she meets Ferdinand, who is in a similar position – having served at the front in Russia, he has come back to a hard life, little money, no qualifications, no prospects of a decent job – all this he feels has gone to the new generation who are reaping the benefits of his hard work and growing up with out the stresses of war and poverty. He and Christine see themselves as kindred souls and attempt to start a relationship of sorts – restricted by their poverty and the discomfort of having to meet in free outdoor places as the winter sets in.. It is here that the despair and hopelessness really sets in..

Stefan Zweig was an Austrian Jew who was forced into exile by the Nazis in the 1930′s. It was during this time that he wrote The Post Office Girl which was found amongst his papers after his death in 1942. Knowing this while reading the story just adds to the sense of despair and rawness – it is like reading part of the authors story at the same time.

Challenges: German reading, Lost in translation, What’s in a name, 2009 Pub challenge; Orbis Terrarum
pp:254
Published: 1982 (English translation 2009 in UK)

Forget you had a daughter – Doing time in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ – Sandra Gregory (non fiction)

forget-you-had-a-daughter2

6 February 1993
To my dearest parents, grandparents and brother
I am going to ask the hardest and very last thing from you all. I do not want you to forgive me, what I have done is not excusable and above all else I knew better than to do what I did… I have not been wise and I am asking you all to please forget that you ever had a daughter, granddaughter or sister. I know that this will come as a shock. I am so very sorry for the shame I have brought on you all…

In 1993, 24 year old Sandra Gregory was arrested as she attempted to board a flight from Bangkok to Tokyo. She was carrying 89gms of heroin and was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison. The above is part of the letter she sent home to her family in England after her arrest. “Forget you had a daughter” is her story – from her childhood to her arrival in Thailand, a country she falls in love with but due to illness and unemployment ends up desperate to leave, how she met Robert Lock, a heroin addict who offered her £1000 (more than enough for her airfare home) to carry his “personal supply” to Tokyo. It covers her 4 1/2 years in Bangkok’s infamous Lard Yao (“Bangkok Hilton”) prison, the conditions she faced there and the things she needed to do to survive. She was then transferred to the British prison system which was not the respite she was expecting and brought it’s own set of problems. Finally after 8 years and the persistent campaiging of her family, she received a pardon from the King of Thailand and was released.

It is a very good book. Sandra Gregory tells her story in a way that does not blame anybody else for her situation. She accepts she has made a terrible mistake and that she must bear her punishment. She reflects later that the sentence was too long but never criticises the Thai justice system for the length of her sentence or the conditions at Lao Yard. She was also able to accept Robert Lock’s role in it all, his denying he knew her, his not guilty verdict and release from prison and his reoffending.

“In many ways, the prison was a show piece. Everything that could be reasonably said to be in good condition was simply for the benefit of both the easy working of the prison machine and the guards who worked there. Nothing was meant to be easier for the women…
There is a Thai expression – ‘Sprinkle the surface with coriander’ – that basically means ‘Create an impression that the whole is as pretty as the surface.’ ….The surface of Lao Yard was constantly sprinkled, metaphorically, with coriander. It was a reminder of the paradise that lay outside. Anyone seeing Lao Yard for the first time would think it was perfectly fine”

 

An interesting side note is that when she was transferred to Durham prison in England, home for the most high profile and dangerous women inmates in the UK, one of Sandra’s fellow inmates was Rose West, herself one of the UK’s most notorious convicts.

This book was a gift from my boyfriend. I asked him to pick a book for me to read with a relative in it’s title for the “What’s in a name challenge” and this is what he picked. Another book that I wouldn’t have picked for myself but well worth reading – a very honest and scary account yet one about hope and love also.
pp: 280
Published: 2002
Challenges: What’s in a name 2

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson – translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo1

I picked this book up from my local second hand book shop and am really pleased I did. I had heard of this series but was never overly keen to read them. I took this as my “action” holiday book and it was my favourite holiday read. At 538 pages it is a bit of a chunkster but it has a good pace and was intriguing enough to keep me turning the pages. I got through it in just over a day so it must have been engrossing.

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist whose investigation into a corrupt industrialist has gone wrong. Needing to take some time out, he accepts the offer of Henrik Vanger, head of the powerful Vanger corporation to investigate the disappearance of his niece Harriet decades earlier. Vanger believes Harriet was murdered by a member of the family.

Lisbeth Slander is a security specialist with a rebellious nature, unorthodox appearance and a troubled past. She is very good at her job. Her reports contain information and a level of detail that astound her boss and clients. She joins the plot with an investigation into Mikael Blomkvist and things move from there.

There are three interwoven stories running through this book – that of Mikael Blomkvist, the Vangers and Lisbeth Slander. Lisbeth was gutsy and fascinating and definitely my favourite character.

It wasn’t a perfect read for me. There is quite a lot of detail to get through, especially at the beginning including lots of Swedish names and places but it’s not necessary to remember it all and there is a helpful Vanger family tree at the beginning. I also found some of the plot not entirely believable. The book is in four parts, each beginning with a Swedish statistic relating to violence against women. This is a strong theme throughout the book, in the individual stories and I thought it was a little overdone.

But I did really enjoy it and am tempted to rush out and buy “The girl who played with fire” straight away. Knowing though that there are only two more books and that’s it, I will try and wait a while…

pp: 538
Published: 2005 (English 2008)
Challenges: Lost in translation