English archive at Stray Talk
an archive of my forays into fact and fiction

Archive: English


7th July, 2008
Speed reviews: part I
— Love @ 08:43 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Book Blowout, C, Classics, D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, History, Lifestyle, Mystery, Religion, Romance, Science Fiction, Sex, sexuality & gender, Speed reviews, Swedish, To Be Read, Young Adult

Since I’m sick* and way behind on reviews, I’ve realised the only way to catch up is to make them speed reviews and post a whole batch at once.

The Age of Napoleon; Alistair Horne, eng, 235 British
Interesting, but a little choppily written, and also the author assumes you know certain things and never explains them, while others he explains over and over again.
C

Cold Comfort Farm; Stella Gibbons, eng, 253 British
Funny, though I accidentally didn’t read the preface, so I wasn’t 100 % how much of it was intentional (all of it, as it turns out, and as I suspected). Flora Poste is kind of annoying, but all right all the same.
For the TBR reading challenge and as part of the BBC Big Read.
B

Rebecca; Daphne du Maurier, eng, 410 British
A re-read, not as good as I remembered it, but still lovely. Maxim is both wonderful and creepy.
C

Med uppenbar känsla för stil; Stephan Mendel-Enk, swe, 128 Swedish
Interestingly written about men and what’s considered masculine. References Morrissey at some points, mostly in connection with a man who went berserk and killed people. Lovely… not!
C

Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East; Brian Whitaker, swe, 230 British
Interesting, scary and occasionally a little bit hopeful.
C

Ingen behöver veta; Christina Wahldén, swe, 139 Swedish
About male rape and how it does exist, but people find it hard to believe. Kind of a non-ending, but then I suppose that’s sadly the case in most instances of actual male rape also.
C

Ingen grekisk gud, precis; Katarian Kieri, swe, 217 Swedish
Kind of brilliant tale of a young girl who falls for a teacher. Kind of brilliant mostly because the main character is into Morrissey, but for other reasons also. I was a bit worried where it was going to end, but it’s kind of perfect, really.
B

Sandman: The Kindly Ones; Neil Gaiman et al., eng, 335 British
I wouldn’t say Sandman is Gaiman at his best, but I do like the stories and so also in this volume. Not my favourite, though.
For the TBR reading challenge.
C

Doctor Who: The Nightmare of Black Island; Mike Tucker, eng, 255 British
Scary monsters and kiddies with nightmares. I liked it, but not as much as other DW books.
C

Doctor Who: The Art of Destruction; Stephen Cole, eng, 256 British
Farming in Africa, golden statues and creepy aliens. Good, but not great. Doctor’s always nice, though.
C

Doctor Who: The Price of Paradise; Colin Brake, eng, 255 British
References Franz Ferdinand and other pop culture a time or two. Not the best of the DW books I’ve read—I don’t much care for Colin Brake’s style of writing it, though I can’t put my finger on the exact reason.
C

Tro, hopp och burnout; Johan Unenge, swe, 228 Swedish
YA story about a guy who’s really into cars and death metal, who ends up going on a confirmation camp. It’s a decent story, and I was happy to see it didn’t end up quite where I expected it would, but the writing style is very, very choppy and not at all my cup of tea.
For the A-Z reading challenge.
C

Vadå feminist; Lisa Gålmark, swe, 188 Swedish
Basic guide to feminism. I wasn’t too keen on the writing and didn’t like the book all that much. Mostly it made me a little annoyed with the author, though it did contain sections worth thinking about. It bothers me that there is no question mark in the title.
For the A-Z reading challenge.
D

Homofamiljer; Sara Stenholm & Cecilia Strömberg, swe, 312 Swedish
About rainbow families and different ways to get one. Interesting, especially the personal stories, but not fab.
C

*Just a cold, but a bad one. I hate colds. And I’ve run out of Kleenex, which means my nose is very, very sore from regular paper towels. Woe.


5th July, 2008
Torchwood: Something in the Water; Trevor Baxendale
— Love @ 15:20 Comments (0)
Filed under: Book Blowout, C, English, GLBT interest, Science Fiction

Torchwood: Something in the Water; Trevor Baxendale Torchwood: Something in the Water
by Trevor Baxendale
British

English
255 pages
BBC Books
ISBN: 978-1-846-07437-0

First line: The Late Bob Strong.

Back cover blurb:
Dr Bob Strong’s GP surgery has been treating a lot of coughs and colds recently, far more than is normal for the time of year. Bob thinks there’s something up but he can’t think what. He seems to have caught it himself, whatever it is—he’s starting to cough badly and there are flecks of blood in his hanky.

Saskia Harden has been found on a number of occasions submerged in ponds or canals but alive and seemingly none the worse for wear. Saskia is not on any files, except in the medical records at Dr Strong’s GP practice.
But Torchwood’s priorities lie elsewhere: investigating ghostly apparitions in South Wales, they have found a dead body. It’s old and in an advanced state of decay. And it is still able to talk.

And what it is saying is ‘Water hag’…

Thoughts: This isn’t the first of the Torchwood books, but it is the first one I’ve read. I liked it well enough, even if I was freaking out a bit due to the fact that I’ve caught a cold (stupid crowded plane cabins) and was consequently hacking up my lungs as I read it. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m reading a book wherein the majority of the characters are suffering from a strange affliction which starts with a tickle in the throat and leads to massive coughing fits, complete with blood and great quantities of green phlegm being expelled, I don’t particularly want to be suffering from a bad cough myself. Not that there are times I would want to be suffering from a bad cough, but y’know, there are degrees of “do not want.”

Apart from the cough coincidence, it was pretty all right. Darker in tone than the Doctor Who books (just like the series is darker and more ‘grown-up’ than DW), but I think I actually prefer the Who books. At least some of them, and possibly not to all of the Torchwood books (time will tell).

My one biggest complaint is that there was much too little of Ianto in this. Ianto Jones is effin’ brilliant, so he deserves more page time than he got here, but what little he did get was pretty snarky, which was nice. I love snarky!Ianto. I also love Jack/Ianto, which there wasn’t much of in this particular book. I am told that there’s more of it in some of the others in the series, though, so I’m not giving up on that yet.

I’m giving this a C rating. Had it had more Jack/Ianto, or just more Ianto, I would have given it a higher rating, most likely, but as it is, a C is just the right one.


30th June, 2008
A Game of Thrones; George RR Martin
— Love @ 20:10 Comments (1)
Filed under: C, English, Fantasy, First in a Series, Here Be Dragons

A Game of Thrones; George RR Martin A Game of Thrones
by George RR Martin
American

For the Here Be Dragons and First in a Series reading challenges.

English
837 pages
Bantam Books
ISBN: 987-0-553-57340-4

First line: “We should start back,” Gared urged them as the woods began to grow dark around them.

Back cover blurb:
In a land where summer can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family born as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs periously in the balance, as each endeavor to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Thoughts: I kept pushing back reading this forever, as it’s such a big book. I didn’t use to mind big books—quite the opposite, in fact—but then I got a job and I don’t have as much time for reading as I used to, so I’ve rarely got time to finish big books in one sitting, which is what I prefer to do (example: I read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, which was 1239 pages in the translation I read, in less than two days).

Anyway, I went to London and I needed to have some reading material with me, or I’d go spare, but I also didn’t want to take too much, on account of weight issues and such, so this book got to come along with me. I didn’t finish it there, but I did get about half-way through. And then I finished it today.

For the first couple of hundred pages or so, it was pretty much just confusing. It’s written in third person. However it’s not one person we follow, but at least eight (I probably forgot someone now. It wouldn’t surprise me) and they never have two chapters in a row, which means that it took a while to get to know them.

Once I did, though, things did pick up a little and the story ends up being quite good. I even had a couple of favourite characters (Dany, Eddard, Jon and Tyrion). However, I don’t feel that it was good enough that I’ll likely want to read the rest in the series. Probably not, anyway. I am itching a little to know what happens next, so maybe one day I will end up reading the other books, but right now I doubt it.

It’s a C grade, which means it was a decent read, but not awe-inspiring.


29th June, 2008
The Uncommon Reader; Alan Bennett
— Love @ 22:19 Comments (3)
Filed under: A, English, Fiction

No cover image available The Uncommon Reader
by Alan Bennett
British

English
121 pages
Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-1-84668-133-2

First line: At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.

Back cover blurb:
Led by her yapping corgis to the Westminster travelling library outside Buckingham Palace, the Queen finds herself taking out a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Duff read though it is, the following week her choice proves more enjoyable and awakens in Her Majesty a passion for reading so great that her public duties begin to suffer. And so, as she devours work by everyone from Hardy to Brookner to Proust to Beckett, her equerries conspire to bring the Queen’s literary odyssey to a close.

Thoughts: This book is made of awesome and that’s a fact. I read it in just a little over an hour and I kind of wish I hadn’t read it yet, so I could read it again for the first time.

I love the ending. I think it was absolutely fab. The rest also. I laughed out loud more than once and giggled madly about three times that.

There was a paragraph—well, not actually even a whole paragraph really, but a bit of a paragraph— at the beginning of the book that made me shout with glee. This, to be exact:

[…] he was largely self-taught, his reading tending to be determined by whether an author was gay or not.

Because I have a tendency to do that. Well, not exactly. More like I tend to turn towards books that I know have gay characters, even if maybe they don’t sound terribly exciting otherwise. I am hooked on boy on boy, okay? IT IS AN *AFFLICTION, BUT I AM NOT ASHAMED! (I am, however, operating on about four hours of sleep and um, it’s starting to show?) Almost, without fail, if a book has a gay character, he will be my favourite. I am terribly predictable about this, but there it is. (And it doesn’t apply to females. Because most of the time I couldn’t care less about the womenfolk. Which is, err, not so great, actually.)

Aaaaanyway, then I finished the book and read the blurb about the author. And I realised I was well daft and that Alan Bennett of The Uncommon Reader is Alan Bennett of The History Boys, which set my gaydar off big time. Because there were certain elements in The Uncommon Reader and there were also elements in The History Boys (very cute elements. V.v. cute elements! Adorable, even! I should read the play. Like, yesterday) and sometimes I have a functioning gaydar.** After a quick Wikipedia check, I had all the confirmation I needed.

And that’s when I cracked up about the quote again. Because it shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t, but it does. (One day I will show you the little symbols I use in my little black book of books and you will laugh at me.) HI, I’M SHALLOW AND I LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS.

I think I might have got a bit sidetracked there. Y’know, just a smidgen. The Uncommon Reader gets an A grade, because it’s brilliant, but not because it has boy on boy (it doesn’t. Really) or because my gaydar worked on the author, but because it is about books and about reading and it’s funny and quirky and I LOVED IT!

Um, I think I should go to bed now…

*Being hooked on it, I mean. Not the boy on boy. Never!
**Which would be useful, except it only works on authors and fictional characters, more’s the pity.


22nd June, 2008
A Strong and Sudden Thaw; RW Day
— Love @ 16:30 Comments (2)
Filed under: A, English, GLBT interest, Here Be Dragons, Romance, Science Fiction

A Strong and Sudden Thaw; RW Day A Strong and Sudden Thaw
by RW Day
American

For the Here Be Dragons reading challenge.

English
333 pages
Iris Print
ISBN: 978-0-9787531-1-5

First line: There’s an old scenic view about halfway up the mountain, alongside where the old highway runs.

Back cover blurb:
Dragons in Virginia?

Nearly a hundred years after the Ice changed the face of our world, the people of Moline work to reclaim the frozen land, both from the cold and from the dragons that now live in the hills outside of town—dragons that the government won’t believe exist.

David Anderson knows very little of the world outside of his family’s farm, until Callan, an assistant healer from the south, arrives in Moline and begins to teach him of a world he never knew, full of books and ideas, and history long forgotten. When Callan is found in the arms of another man—a crime in this post-Ice world—David learns a frightening truth about himself, and the difference between what is legal… and what is right.

After trouble hits the nearby town of Crawford, David and Callan discover the seeds of a plot that affects not only their home, but towns just like Moline across the world. Now they must fight to save their home, not only from the dragons, but from a government that wants them dead!

Thoughts: I loved this novel to tiny little pieces. I was a bit sceptic, because a person, whose taste in books I usually do not agree with at all, liked this a lot, and so I thought that I probably wouldn’t. For this reason, I kept pushing back reading it until I couldn’t really push it back any longer, as the end of the Here Be Dragons challenge came nearer and nearer.

I picked it up one night, read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open a second longer, slept, woke up and read the rest of it. It was that good. I will say that it took me a little while to get used to the language used. David, the main character, might by some be considered a hillbilly/redneck, and he usually doesn’t bother too much about proper grammar when speaking. Don’t let that put you off, however, because once you get used to that, the story is so worth it.

David and Callan’s relationship is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time and I simply can’t find proper words to describe why this book is awesome. Just trust me on that.

It’s an A grade. I can’t give it anything else. This is the first book in quite a while where the characters stayed with me for at least a couple of days after I turned the last page, and I immediately wanted to go back and read it again.

The one biggest thing I wasn’t super thrilled about (yeah, there were a few things like that) was the ending. It doesn’t feel at all finished and lots of things are left unresolved. Still, it doesn’t feel like a bad thing, exactly, but more like an opening for a sequel (which I understand is being written/has been written and is waiting for publication).

Edit: It appears that Iris Print, the publisher of this book, has closed down without telling its authors, and that a couple of them has had trouble getting in touch with the publisher and RW Day had a royalty cheque bounce. While I do want a lot of people to read it, I don’t exactly feel comfortable recommending anyone buying it, with things being what they are at present. You can read more about it here, at the author’s website.


22nd June, 2008
Throne of Jade; Naomi Novik
— Love @ 15:52 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Fantasy, Here Be Dragons, Historical

Throne of Jade; Naomi NovikThrone of Jade
by Naomi Novik
American

For the Here Be Dragons reading challenge.

English
399 pages
Del Rey
ISBN: 978-0-345-48129-0

First line: The day was unseasonably warm for November, but in some misguided deference to the Chinese embassy, the fire in the Admirality boardroom had been heaped excessively high, and Laurence was standing directly before it.

Back cover blurb:
When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo—an unhatched dragon’s egg—Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.
Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands—and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, the captain has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East—a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Thoughts: I read the first book in this series back in January, then bought the second book in mid-February, but I haven’t got ’round to reading it until know. Don’t ask me why, as I have absolutely no idea.

It’s a really good story. There is adventure and swashbuckling and excitement, and I could hardly put the book down. I adore the main characters (Laurence and Temeraire) and their relationship with each other, as well as the plot that takes them to China. I was a little worried that I’d find the voyage there a little dull, but Novik manages to make eight months at sea quite interesting, by skipping over the parts where nothing much happens. Good on her!

I will definitely get the rest of the books as soon as I can, because this is a series I want to follow to its conclusion. There are already two more books out (possibly three by now, as I do not know the exact publication date for the fifth in the series, except that it was supposed to be sometime in June, which is almost all gone now), which is nice. The only thing is that the two books I own so far are the ones published by Del Rey, and the ones published by Voyager really have so much prettier covers. However, I refuse to mix covers.

As for the rating, it’s a B.


8th June, 2008
Doctor Who: The Resurrection Casket; Justin Richards
— Love @ 13:20 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Science Fiction

Doctor Who: The Resurrection Casket; Justin Richards Doctor Who: The Resurrection Casket
by Justin Richards
British

English
254 pages
BBC Books
ISBN: 0-563-48642-2

First line: Death was hiding in Kaspar’s pocket.

Back cover blurb:
Starfall — a world on the edge, where crooks and smugglers hide in the gloomy shadows and modern technology refuses to work. And that includes the TARDIS.

The pioneers who used to be drawn by the hope of making a fortune from the mines can find easier pickings elsewhere. But they still come — for the romance of it, or in the hope of finding the lost treasure of Hamlek Glint — scourge of the spaceways, privateer, adventurer, bandit…

Will the TARDIS ever work again? Is Glint’s lost treasure waiting to be found? And does the fabled Resurrection Casket — the key to eternal life — really exist? With the help of new friends, and facing terrifying new enemies, the Doctor and Rose aim to find out…

Thoughts: Again with the Doctor Who — sorry (I have three more Ten+Rose books coming in the post any day now, but after that I should be able to shut up about them — at least in this book blog).

This was a fun adventure novel about space pirates, with quite a few reveals I didn’t see coming from a mile away (sometimes, surprises are nice) and the nicest vicious monster ever. A B rating again for the good Doctor and his companion.


6th June, 2008
Doctor Who: The Stone Rose; Jacqueline Rayner
— Love @ 13:11 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Science Fiction

Doctor Who: The Stone Rose; Jacqueline Rayner Doctor Who: The Stone Rose
by Jacqueline Rayner
British

English
254 pages
BBC Books
ISBN: 978-0-563-48643-5

First line: Rose carefully dropped three pound coins into the large collecting box at the entrance to the British Museum.

Back cover blurb:
Mickey is startled to find a statue of Rose in a museum — a statue that is 2,000 years old. The Doctor realises that this means the TARDIS will shortly take them to ancient Rome, but when it does, he and Rose soon have more on their minds than sculpture.

While the Doctor searches for a missing boy, Rose befriends a girl who claims to know the future — a girl whose predictions are surprisingly accurate. But then the Doctor stumbles on the hideous truth behind the statue of Rose — and Rose herself learns that you have to be very careful what you wish for…

Thoughts: I’m still on a Doctor Who kick, still pathetically in love with the tenth Doctor and still enjoying the companion books. I was a bit worried at first that I wouldn’t like them at all (which is why I just got one or two at first to test the waters a bit), but I do. Now, the writing isn’t the best thing I’ve read in my life, but it gets the job done portraying the Doctor and giving a sense of adventure, which is all I’m asking for.

They are different writers, of course, so the tone is slightly different from book to book, but I haven’t been let down yet. The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie are all written in a way that I can hear their (well, the actors’, technically) voices in my head.

The Stone Rose is a nice adventure and mystery and deserves a B grade (I’ll let it be known that that rating is tremendously influenced by my love for anything Doctor+Rose, however).


6th June, 2008
A Christmas Carol; Charles Dickens
— Love @ 12:58 Comments (1)
Filed under: C, Classics, Decades '08, English

A Christmas Carol; Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
British

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1843) and part of the BBC Big Read.

English
77 pages
Dover Publications
ISBN: 978-0-486-26865-1

First line: Marley was dead: to begin with.

Back cover blurb:
In October 1843, Charles Dickens—heavily in debt and obligated to his publisher—began work on a book to help supplement his family’s meager income. That volume, A Christmas Carol, has long since become one of the most beloved stories in the English language. As much a part of the holiday season as holly, mistletoe and evergreen wreaths, this perennial favorite continues to delight new readers and rekindle thoughts of charity and goodwill.

With its characters exhibiting many qualities—as well as failures—often ascribed to Dickens himself, the imaginative and entertaining tale relates Ebenezer Scrooge’s eerie encounters with a series of spectral visitors. Journeying with them through Christmases past, present, and future, he is ultimately transformed from an arrogant, obstinate and insensitive miser to a generous, warmhearted, and caring human being. Written by one of England’s greatest and most popular novelists, A Christmas Carol has come to epitomize the true meaning of Christmas.

Thoughts: I’ve been meaning to read this for years and years and years, but I never did get around to it until now.

I knew the basics of the story already, of course, having seen an animated adaption or two in my day, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good I found it. Somehow, I don’t know why, I was expecting to almost struggle through it and want to give up because of boredom, or what have you. There really was no reason for me to be expecting that, as I’ve liked all the Dickens I have read so far, plus there has to be a reason for its popularity.

At any rate, I get to mark another book on the BBC Big Read as successfully read, and to dole out a C rating.


27th May, 2008
Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride; Helen Halstead
— Love @ 06:57 Comments (4)
Filed under: Back to History, D, English, Historical, Romance

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride; Helen Halstead Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride
by Helen Halstead
Australian

For the Back to History reading challenge.

English
310 pages
Ulysses Press
ISBN: 978-1-56975-588-4

First line: What a joy it is to have a worthy topic of conversation, to hold the power to amaze!

Back cover blurb:
In Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen brought together one of the most beloved literary couples of all time—Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Now, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride continues the story of these passion-filled newlyweds as they enter London’s glamorous high society.

This page-turning novel finds Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy entangled in the frivolity and ferocity of social intrigues. Although Elizabeth makes a powerful friend in the Marchioness of Englebury, the rivalry and jealousy among her ladyship’s prestigious clique threatens to destroy the success of her new marriage.

Written in the style of Jane Austen, full of humour and sardonic wit, Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride brings Regency society vividly to life and continues the romantic, sometimes tragic, stories of other popular Pride & Prejudice characters including Georgiana Darcy and Kitty Bennet.

Thoughts: This is the first sequel to Pride & Prejudice that I have ever read (I tend to go for re-workings of the story, rather than continuations of it) and I can’t say I liked it much.

One of the reasons why was that the author felt that she needed to include explanations of who original characters were, and reminders of events of the original novel. It might just be me, but I would think that, if you decide to read a fan-written sequel to a well-known novel, you are probably quite a big fan of said novel already, and would know such basic facts as who Sir William Lucas is, &c.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I quite like Halstead’s take on Miss Anne de Bourgh, for example, and Lord Maddersfield (that’d be Lady Catherine’s brother and Darcy’s uncle) was quite amusing.

On the whole, though, it was not the best of reading experiences. I might add to this later (I have seven minutes before I have to leave for work), but for now, I shall leave it at this and give this work of fiction a D rating.


25th May, 2008
Heart of Darkness; Joseph Conrad
— Love @ 19:51 Comments (2)
Filed under: C, Classics, Decades '08, English, Historical

No cover image available Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
British

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1902).

English
111 pages
a Project Gutenberg e-book

First line: The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.

Back cover blurb:
In this tale of colonial exploitation, the narrator, Marlowe, journeys deep into the heart of Africa. But there he encounters Kurtz, an idealist apparently crazed and depraved by his power over the natives, and the meeting prompts Marlowe to reflect on the darkness at the heart of all men.
This text refers to an edition other than the one I read.

Thoughts: I’ve heard this book mentioned again and again, and I’ve always sort of meant to read it, but I’ve never really known anything about it except the title.

This afternoon I took the time to read it and it was an interesting story. Very dark, but I should maybe have clued into that from the title, had I not been a complete idiot. I did find the narrative a little hard to follow at times, but I’m not sure how much that had to do with the format I read it in (e-book), and how much it was due to the actual writing.

Heart of Darkness receives a C rating. It was an okay read, but I had some issues with the flow of narrative, and at times I was made exceedingly uncomfortable by the blatant racism. It’s true that it was written over a hundred years ago, when racism was more accepted, but I’m reading it now, with 21st century sensitivities, and of course that’s going to colour my reading experience.


25th May, 2008
Doctor Who: The Feast of the Drowned; Stephen Cole
— Love @ 12:18 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Science Fiction

Doctor Who: The Feast of the Drowned Doctor Who: The Feast of the Drowned
by Stephen Cole
British

English
254 pages
BBC Books
ISBN: 0-563-48644-9

First line:How can something so big sink so fast?

Back cover blurb:
When a naval cruiser sinks in mysterious circumstances in the North Sea, all aboard are lost. Rose is saddened to hear that the brother of her friend, Keisha, was among the dead. And yet he appears to them as a ghostly apparition, begging to be saved from the coming feast, the feast of the drowned.

As the dead crew haunts loved ones all over London, the Doctor and Rose are drawn into a chilling mystery. What sank the ship, and why? When the cruiser’s wreckage was towed up the Thames, what sinister force came with it?

The river’s dark waters are hiding an ever darker secret, as preparations for the feast near their conclusion…

Thoughts: Since Eurovision was on last night, it pushed Doctor Who off the air and there was no episode this week. To get my weekly Doctor fix, I decided to read the second of the DW novels I bought the other week.

This one was loads better than I Am a Dalek, but if that’s just because this was a “proper” book, or because it’s written by someone else, I don’t know. Either way, Cole captures Ten perfectly, as well as Rose, Mickey and Jackie,

I’m giving this a B rating, because I think it deserves it, and now I’m itching to get the other Ten and Rose novels. And to think that, before I started watching new Who, I was so certain I’d never in a million years like Rose. Shows what I know!


22nd May, 2008
Strong Poison; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 11:48 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Historical, Mystery

Strong Poison; Dorothy L Sayers Strong Poison
by Dorothy L Sayers
British
English
261 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104350-5

First line:There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.

Back cover blurb:
Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancé died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman’s noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to find her innocent—as determined as he was to make her his wife.

Thoughts: The back cover blurb lies. Harriet Vane was never engaged to the murder victim in this novel, and that’s the truth. I’m just sayin’.

This, then, is the story where Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane first meet. And it’s brilliant. Not as fantastically brilliant as Murder Must Advertise, Unnatural Death or Whose Body, but still loads better than a lot of things out there.

Here’s a few quotes from Wimsey’s first meeting with Harriet Vane, in which he’s just proposed to her:

“I wish you wouldn’t sound as if you thought it was rather funny. I know I’ve got a silly face, but I can’t help that. As a matter of fact, I’d like somebody I could talk sensibly to, who would make life interesting. And I could give you a lot of plots for your books, if that’s any inducement.”
“But you wouldn’t want a wife who wrote books, would you?”
“But I should; it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people. Though of course, clothes and people are all right too, in moderation. I don’t mean to say I object to clothes.”

“People have been wrongly condemned before now.”
“Exactly; simply because I wasn’t there.”
“I never thought of that.”
“Think of it now. You will find it very beautiful and inspiring. It might even help to distinguish me from the other forty-six, if you should happen to mislay my features, or anything. Oh, by the way—I don’t positively repel you or anything like that, do I? Because, if I do, I’ll take my name off the waiting-list at once.”
“No,” said Harriet Vane, kindly and a little sadly. “No, you don’t repel me.”
“I don’t remind you of white slugs or make you go gooseflesh all over?”

“[…] It’s my hobby. Not proposing to people, I don’t mean, but investigating things.

Because this is not the best Wimsey-book, I don’t want to give it an A rating, but since it’s still brilliant and all, a B is a must.


20th May, 2008
Daddy-Long-Legs; Jean Webster
— Love @ 11:33 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, Classics, Decades '08, English, Young Adult

No cover image available Daddy-Long-Legs
by Jean Webster
American

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1912).

English
160 pages
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd/E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc.
ISBN: n/a

First line: The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day—a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste.

Back cover blurb: n/a

Thoughts: I’ve read Daddy-Long-Legs before, but always in Swedish, so this was a bit like reading it for the first time. I’ve always liked it in Swedish, and I like it even more in the original.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s the story of Judy, a girl who’s grown up in an orphanage. Her real name is Jerusha, because the head of the orphanage had a habit of picking first names from head stones (and last names from the phone directory, which is why Judy is an Abbott). When Judy’s eighteen, one of the trustees of the orphanage decides to sponsor her education at college. His only demand on her is that she write him one letter a month, to tell him how she’s doing at school.

In essence, then, it’s a novel in letters. A format that is not always easy to pull off, but that Webster truly excelled at (she wrote other novels in the same style—the sequel to this one, called Dear Enemy, being one of them).

I’m giving this a B grade, in part because the writing is such that I got pulled in, and in part because there is an underlying romance that is lovely, but not too in-your-face and definitely not the only thing in the story. I like that sort of thing.

If you haven’t already read it, do it now! (Or at least soon. If you’re not averse to reading things on the screen, you can find this, and its sequel, at Project Gutenberg.)


20th May, 2008
Doctor Who: I Am a Dalek; Gareth Roberts
— Love @ 11:26 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, C, English, Science Fiction

Doctor Who: I Am a Dalek; Gareth Robert Doctor Who: I Am a Dalek
by Gareth Roberts
British

English
106 pages
BBC Books
ISBN: 0-563-48648-1

First line: Rose checked the seal on her space helmet, then she looked across the TARDIS controls to the Doctor.

Back cover blurb:
Equipped with space suits, golf clubs and a flag, the Doctor and Rose are planning to live it up on the Moon, Apollo-mission style. But the TARDIS has other plans, landing them instead in a village on the south coast of England; a picture-postcard sort of place where nothing much happens… until now.

Archaeologists have dug up a Roman mosaic, dating from the year 70 AD. It shows scenes from ancient myths, bunches of grapes—and a Dalek. A few days later a young woman, rushing to get to work, is knocked over and killed by a bus. Then she comes back to life.

It’s not long before all hell breaks loose, and the Doctor and Rose must use all their courage and cunning against an alien enemy—and a not-quite-alien accomplice—who are intent on destroying humanity.

Thoughts: I had a dream a couple of weeks back that I went to a bookstore to pick up some of the Doctor Who novels and I had the tenth Doctor help me look. It was pretty brilliant, to be honest. When I woke up, I went to my favourite online bookstore and ordered two of the Ten/Rose novels that exist. I didn’t want to order too many at once, in case I decided the writing really, really sucked.

I Am a Dalek is one of the two I ordered. I missed that it was a Quick Reads book at first, but it was decent all the same. Being a Quick Reads book, it was a quick read that left me wanting more. I’m giving it a C rating, which would’ve been a B, had it been a regular book.


11th May, 2008
Atonement; Ian McEwan
— Love @ 16:31 Comments (3)
Filed under: C, English, Historical

Atonement; Ian McEwan Atonement
by Ian McEwan
British

English
481 pages
Anchor Books
ISBN: 978-0-307-38884-1

First line: The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper—was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.

Back cover blurb:
On a summer day in 1935, young Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s misunderstanding of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the 20th century.

Thoughts: My god, this novel made me sad. It was good, though, if a little slow to get into. I much preferred part two over part one, because that one covered ground more quickly. Part one tells the events of two or three days, while part two tells the events of at least a couple of months. I’m not a huge fan of all that slow stuff, to be honest.

The rating is a C. It would have been higher if I’d enjoyed the language more.

I’m still trying to decide if I should watch the film. Part of me wants to, but part of me is also very much anti Keira Knightley, which is making watching the film seem like less of a good idea.


6th May, 2008
My War: Killing Time in Iraq; Colby Buzzell
— Love @ 15:30 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, Biographies, English

My War: Killing Time in Iraq; Colby Buzzell My War: Killing Time in Iraq
by Colby Buzzell
American

English
358 pages
Berkley Caliber
ISBN: 0-425-21136-3

First line: Kids from the suburbs don’t really join the military.

Back cover blurb:
Colby Buzzell traded a dead-end future for the army—and ended up as a machine gunner in Iraq. To make sense of the absurd and frightening events surrounding him, he started writing a blog about the war—and how it differed from the government’s official version. But as his blog’s popularity grew, Buzzell became the embedded reporter the army couldn’t control—despite its often hilarious efforts to do so.

The result is an extraordinary narrative, rich with unforgettable scenes: the Iraqi woman crying uncontrollably during a raid on her home; the soldier too afraid to fight; the troops chain-smoking in a guard tower and counting tracer rounds; the first fierce firefight against the “men in black.” Drawing comparisons to everything from Charles Bukowski to Catch-22‘s Yossarian, My War depicts a generation caught in a complicated and dangerous world—and marks the debut of a raw, remarkable new voice.

Thoughts: You’ll have to forgive me for being briefer even than usual in this review, but I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It was interesting as all that, and I quite liked Buzzell’s language, but he seemed sometimes so completely removed from me and my world that I didn’t know what to make of him (and sometimes he was closer, such as when he mentioned music and really digging The Smiths/Morrissey).

The book is based on Buzzell’s blog (http://cbftw.blogspot.com), but seems to be much more than just the blog entries transfered onto a book page. In the end, I liked it enough for a B rating and I don’t mind recommending it to others.


5th May, 2008
I Am America (And So Can You!); Stephen Colbert
— Love @ 21:17 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Humour, Politics, Religion, Sex, sexuality & gender

I Am America (And So Can You!); Stephen Colbert I Am America (And So Can You!)
by Stephen Colbert
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
iPod audiobook

First line: Hi, I’m Stephen Colbert and I am no fan of books.

Back cover blurb:
Realizing that it takes more than thirty minutes a night to fix everything that’s destroying America, Colbert bravely takes on the forces aligned to destroy our country — whether they be terrorists, environmentalists, or Kashi brand breakfast cereals. His various targets include nature (“I’ve never trusted the sea. What’s it hiding under there?”), the Hollywood Blacklist (“I would have named enough names to fill the Moscow phone book”), and atheists (“Imagine going through life completely duped into thinking that there’s no invisible, omniscient higher power guiding every action on Earth. It’s just so arbitrary!”). Colbert also provides helpful illustrations and charts (Things That Are Trying to Turn Me Gay) and a complete transcript of his infamous speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner all of which add up to a book that is sure to be a bestseller and match the success of Colbert’s former Daily Show boss Jon Stewart’s America (The Book).

Thoughts: I recently decided that I really need to get fitter and as a step in the right direction, I’ve started going for walks with audiobooks on my iPod. I can’t listen to them unless I’m out for a walk (or, as time goes by, a run), which I’m hoping will be a bit like killing two birds with one stone—I get fitter and I get some reading done, all at the same time!

Works great so far. I Am America (And So Can You!) was the first book I picked. It’s just over three and a half hours long and I finished listening to it in three walks. Or, in other words: the plan worked! I wanted to go out walking so I’d get to hear the next part of the book, which I found really amusing (worthy of a B rating, actually).

Exercise and audiobooks really are the ideal combination. My only problem is that I can’t figure out how to count these in my book stats, as page counts are a vital part of them, and that doesn’t quite work with the spoken word. I’m sure I’ll figure something out at some point, though.


30th April, 2008
Educating Rita; Willy Russell
— Love @ 17:15 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Plays

Educating Rita Educating Rita
by Willy Russell
British

English
123 pages
New Longman Literature
ISBN: 0-582-43445-9

First line: I was born in Whiston, which is just outside Liverpool.

Back cover blurb:
Rita feels that life is passing her by. She wants an education but does Frank, her lecturer, have anything to teach her? Willy Russell’s play is a hilarious yet moving account of a young woman’s determination to change her life.

Thoughts: I’ve read Russell’s The Wrong Boy previously, and it’s one of my favourite books, so when I found this play of his in the bookshop I knew I had to have it. Plus, it was cheap, which was another reason to indulge (this thus failing my two-month no-new-books embargo. At least it was on the last day of the two months).

I wasn’t disappointed. Russell is funny and I really liked this play. I did wonder, though, if perhaps the language had been modified to suit the “14-18 year olds of all abilities” that the back cover says this printing is for. Not that it matters much, since it was still enjoyable. Plus, there’s an intro from Willy Russell himself and that was a nice touch.

I’m giving the play a B grade and declare this my come-back to reading.


27th March, 2008
Making History; Stephen Fry
— Love @ 21:16 Comments (2)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, English, Science Fiction

Making History; Stephen Fry Making History
by Stephen Fry
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
556 pages
Arrow
ISBN: 0-09-946481-0

First line: It starts with a dream.

Back cover blurb:
Michael Young is convinced his history thesis will win him a doctorate, a pleasant academic post, a venerable academic publisher and his beloved girlfriend, Jane.

A historian should know better than to think he can predict the future.

Leo Zuckermann is an ageing physicist obsessed with the darkest period in human history, utterly driven by his fanatical hatred of one man. A lover’s childish revenge and the breaking of a rotten clasp cause the two men to meet in a blizzard of swirling pages. Pages of history. When they come together, nothing—past, present or future—will ever be the same again.

Thoughts: I’ve read this book at least twice before (I could go back and count the exact number of times, but I’m currently too tired), and it’s just as good this time as it was the other times. I’ve read other books by Fry and while some of them, technically, feel like better books (perhaps) than this one, this is still my favourite. Because I am a sucker for gay and because I do like a happy ending every now and then.

An A rating seems perfectly fair.


15th March, 2008
Hey Nostradamus!; Douglas Coupland
— Love @ 20:31 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Fiction, To Be Read

Hey Nostradamus!; Douglas Coupland Hey Nostradamus!
by Douglas Coupland
Canadian

For the To Be Read challenge.

English
260 pages
Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0-00-718258-9

First line: I believe that what separates humanity from all else in this world—spaghetti, binder, paper, deep-sea creatures, edelweiss and Mount McKinley—is that humanity alone has the capacity at any given moment to commit all possibly sins.

Back cover blurb:
Cheryl Anway, 17, secretly married to her high-school sweetheart and pregnant, doodles “God is nowhere, God is now here” on her class binder. Hours later, clutching the same binder, she is shot dead…

Thoughts: Not my favourite of Coupland’s books, but not by any means a bad read, this is a melancholy sort of tale. It earns a B rating from me.


12th March, 2008
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 19:18 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, English, Historical, Mystery

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Dorothy L Sayers The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

English
243 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104354-3

First line: “What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this morgue?” demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the ‘Evening Banner’ with the air of a man released from an irksome duty.”

Back cover blurb:
Ninety-year-old General Fentiman was definitely dead, but no one knew exactly when he had died—and the time of death was the determining factor in a half-million-pound inheritance. Lord Peter Wimsey would need every bit of his amazing skills to unravel the mysteries of why the General’s lapel was without a red poppy on Armistice Day, how the club’s telephone was fixed without a repairman, and, most puzzling of all, why the great man’s knee swung freely when the rest of him was stiff with rigor mortis.

Thoughts: While not a bad book in any way, this is still not one of the best Wimsey novels there are. I would say more, except that I am writing this to catch up with my reviews and I’ve still got a few more to go and am quite tired already. So brief I shall be!

What I can say is that Mr. Murbles, Wimsey’s solicitor friend, is quite an amusing character:

“Bless my soul,” said Mr. Murbles. “Let us go at once. Really, this is most exciting. That is, I am profoundly grieved. I hope it is not as you say.”

So yes, my lack of proper review concludes with a B rating.


10th March, 2008
Unnatural Death; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 20:55 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, English, Historical, Mystery

Unnatural Death; Dorothy L Sayers Unnatural Death
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
280 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104358-1

First line: “But if he thought the woman was being murdered—“

Back cover blurb:
The wealthy old woman was dead—a trifle sooner than expected. The intricate trail of horror and senseless murder led from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour—staged by the debonair sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.

Thoughts: I realise this might not sound like much of a book, if judged by its back cover blurb, but I have come to the conclusion that, apart from Murder Must Advertise, this is my favourite Wimsey mystery.

I am in the habit of keeping a pad of transparent Post-It notes in different colours by my side whenever I’m reading a book, so that whenever I come across a paragraph (or just a sentence) that I really like, and might want to quote in a later review, I can stick one on the page for easy access later. I average somewhere between five and ten notes in a really good book and less if it’s not all that special. After I turned the last page of Unnatural Death, I went back and counted all the Post-Its I’d stuck in it. There were twenty-three of them. Suffice to say, there was a lot to like about it!

One thing that holds true to the entire series of Sayers’s mysteries, not just this installment, is that the resolutions, and the process of getting there, relies so much on forensic evidence. I’ll grant you that I haven’t read a terrible lot of mystery from this era of late (apart from Sayers, I’ve mainly read Christie, Marsh and Quentin Patrick, and those were mostly a while ago), but I have the definite impression that they don’t generally deal with forensic evidence (finger printing, shoe prints, fibers &c) in at all the same manner. This is most certainly a point in favour of Sayers, at least in my way of thinking, and probably a big reason why I like her novels so much.

Another reason, of course, is her characters. In this book, we meet not only Lord Peter Wimsey himself, but also Detective-Inspector Charles Parker, Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson, and others.

Miss Climpson is quite the character and any part of the story she’s involved in is invariably a hoot to read, her letter-writing especially.

“[…] WELL!!! The AUNT of these two girls came to pay a visit to Mrs. Budge’s girl this afternoon, and was introduced to me—of course, as boarder at Mrs. Budge’s I am naturally an object of local interest—and, bearing your instructions in mind, I encourage this to an extent I should not otherwise do!!
“It appears that this aunt was well acquainted with a former housekeeper of Miss Dawson’s—before the time of the Gotobed girls, I mean. The aunt is a highly respectable person of FORBIDDING ASPECT!—with a bonnet(!), and to my mind, a most disagreeable CENSORIOUS woman.”

“‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’ Dear me! I wonder if it’s uncharitable to compare a fellow-being to Satan? Only in poetry of course—I dare say that makes it not so bad.”

There is a strong under-current of a lesbian love story. It’s never spoken aloud, but you’d be silly not to read it between the lines at all. Actually, there are two stories of this kind within the novel. One with a happy outcome, one with a disastrous end.

“‘Betty,’ she said, ‘I mean to be an old maid so does Miss Clara, and we’re going to live together and be ever so happy, without any stupid, tiresome gentlemen.'”

And so they did, and it was adorable, even if all we hear of it is in the recollections of the people who were around them.

Then of course there’s my darling Parker. My favourite will always be Wimsey, but Parker holds a special place in my heart as well.

Parker was one of those methodical, painstaking people whom the world could so ill spare. When he worked with Wimsey on a case, it was an understood thing that anything lengthy, intricate, tedious and soul-destroying was done by Parker. He sometimes felt that it was irritating of Wimsey to take this so much for granted.

The best thing about Parker is not him alone, though—it is how Wimsey and he address each other and act around one another.

“[…] Why this interest all of a sudden? You snub me in my bed, but you woo me in my bath. It sounds like a music-hall song of the less refined sort. Why, oh why?”

“It’s starting to rain,” observed Parker, conversationally.
“Look here, Charles, if you’re going to bear up cheerfully and be the life and soul of the expedition, say so and have done with it. I’ve got a good, heavy spanner handy under the seat, and Bunter can help to bury the body.”
“I think this must be Brushwood Cross,” resumed Parker, who had the map on his knee. “If so, and if it’s not Covert Corner, which I thought we passed half an hour ago, one of these roads leads directly to Crofton.”
“That would be highly encouraging if we only knew which road we were on.”
“We can always try them in turn, and come back if we find we’re going wrong.”
“They bury suicides at cross-roads,” replied Wimsey, dangerously.

“Bear up, doctor,” said Parker, “he’s always like this when he gets an idea. It wears off in time.”

Mind you, Wimsey on his own is not bad either.

“It’s quite all right,” he said apologetically, “I haven’t come to sell you soap or gramophones, or to borrow money, or enrol you in the Ancient Froth-blowers or anything charitable. I really am Lord Peter Wimsey—I mean, that really is my title, don’t you know, not a Christian name like Sanger’s Circus or Earl Derr Biggers. I’ve come to ask you some questions, and I’ve no real excuse, I’m afraid, for butting in on you—do you ever read the News of the World?”
Nurse Philliter decided that she was to be asked to go to a mental case, and that the patient had come to fetch her in person.

I would be fool indeed to quote you all of my favourite passages, but if you thought you’d be able to get away without a single one, well—more fool you! Just be glad I exercised at least some level of restraint (little though it was—I fear this review is even more fragmented and scatter-brained than is my usual habit).

I don’t think I really need to say it, as it should be pretty obvious by now, but Unnatural Death receives an A.

And that’s that for now.


9th March, 2008
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew; Daniel Pool
— Love @ 13:39 Comments (4)
Filed under: B, English, History, Literature

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew; Daniel Pool What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
by Daniel Pool
American

English
416 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-671-88236-5

First line: What were the assizes?

Back cover blurb:
For every frustrated reader of the great nineteenth-century English novels of Austen, Trollope, Dickens, or the Brontës, who has ever wondered whether a duke outranked an earl, when to yell “Tally-ho!” at a fox hunt, or how one landed in debtor’s prison, here is a “delightful reader’s companion that lights up the literary dark.” (The New York Times)
This fascinating, lively guide clarifies the sometimes bizarre maze of rules, regulations, and customs that governed everyday life in Victorian England. Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details (did you know that the “plums” in Christmas plum pudding were actually raisins?) on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineteenth-century English life—both “upstairs” and “downstairs.”
An illuminating glossary reveals the meaning and significance of terms ranging from “ague” to “wainscoting,” the specifics of the currency system, and countless other curiosities of the day.

Thoughts: I’ve read a lot of 19th century British fiction in my day (though there’s a lot more out there that I haven’t), and some things I’ve picked up on from context, but some (most?) I still had a woeful lack of understanding for. This book cleared up some of those, by virtue of being full of useful facts.

What’s more, though, is that it is also full of little interesting anecdotes related to these facts. My favourite, which made me giggle out loud, follows below.

The neutral ground of a great estate, after all, was one of the few mattress-filled places a woman could go in the days before “ladies” could visit restaurants and hotels. Assignations, therefore, were apparently not unknown, although negotiating one’s way around a large mansion at night in order to carry them out was sometimes eventful. Lord Charles Beresford in the 1880s flung himself gleefully into a darkened room one night and jumped into bed, with a shout of “Cock-a-doodle-do”—only to find, when the lamps were lit, that the bishop of Chester was on one side of him and the bishop’s wife on the other.

Also, as the back cover promises, it gives one (if one is at all interested) the definition of the word “wainscoting”, which has had, for the past five or so years, an uncanny ability to randomly pop up inside my head and refuse to leave me alone, so I’m stuck having to silently repeat the word time and time again inside my own head. (I might have inadvertently proclaimed myself to be mental right there, but I’m not much bothered.) For those of you who don’t know:

Wainscoting: Wainscot was a kind of fancy oak imported from Russia, Holland or Germany. The term “wainscoting” was applied to panels that were originally made out of such oak.

All in all, a very interesting book which, apart from earning a B rating, has made me really want to re-read Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, preferably two seconds ago. Alas, I don’t think I have the time for it at the moment, so I’m saving it for later on this month when I have a lot of time off from work (and also plan on reading Crime and Punishment).


5th March, 2008
Lost in Austen; Emma Campbell Webster
— Love @ 13:44 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Romance

Lost in Austen; Emma Campbell Webster Lost in Austen
by Emma Campbell Webster
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
348 pages
Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-1-59448-258-8

First line: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception.

Back cover blurb:
Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion‘s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Austen Adventure begins in Pride and Prejudice, but your decisions along the way will lead you into the plots of Austen’s other works, and even newly imagined territory.

Lost in Austen is a labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortune and marriages that will delight and challenge any Austen lover. Will Elizabeth succeed in her mission? It’s all up to you.

Thoughts: The premise here is quite entertaining and Webster pulls it off well enough, though sometimes I found her a little too insulting of the reader. That might possibly just be me taking offence where I shouldn’t, though.

I think I shall definitely have to play through the book at least once more, as this time around I stuck pretty faithfully to the plot of Pride and Prejudice, except for a few forays into the worlds of Emma and Jane Austen: A Life/Becoming Jane.

A fun idea, all in all, but not the best book I’ve ever had in my hands, so I find it merits a C, but not more. If Webster hadn’t been so insulting, a B might have been the order of the day, but as it appears that I am quite quick to be wounded to the core (well, not quite), that was not to be.


2nd March, 2008
Dragon’s Bait; Vivian Vande Velde
— Love @ 19:36 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Fantasy, Here Be Dragons, Young Adult

Dragon's Bait; Vivian Vande Velde Dragon’s Bait
by Vivian Vande Velde
American

For the Here Be Dragons and A-Z challenges.

English
196 pages
Magic Carpet Books
ISBN: 0-15-216663-7

First line: The day Alys was accused of being a witch started out like any other.

Back cover blurb:
It is going to eat her… All because the villagers in her town think she is a witch and have staked her out on a hillside as a sacrifice.
It’s late, it’s cold, and it’s raining, and Alys can think of only one thing—revenge. But first she’s got to escape, and even if she does, how can one girl possibly take on an entire town alone?
Then the dragon arrives—a dragon that could quite possibly be the perfect ally…

Thoughts: This book was by no means brilliant, but it was good enough to pass an hour or two with. My favourite thing about it is that Alys finds out that maybe revenge isn’t really the best solution to things. A grade of a C seems reasonable enough.1

1. Can you tell I’m really tired? I mean, I know I don’t usually write a lot, and never anything profound, but this quite possibly takes the cake even for me.


24th February, 2008
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead; Tom Stoppard
— Love @ 23:04 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Decades '08, English, Humour, Plays

No cover image available Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
British

For the Decades ’08 (first performed in 1967) and the A-Z reading challenges.

English
77 pages
e-book

First line: “Heads.”

Back cover blurb: n/a

Thoughts: A couple of years ago I saw bits and pieces of the 1991 film adaption of this play. I don’t remember a lot of it, just that it seemed totally absurd and quite funny. Exactly what my thoughts on the play are, in fact. It’s so completely bizarre and absolutely hilarious — I loved it.

Rosencrantz: Shouldn’t we be doing something — constructive?
Guildenstern: What did you have in mind?… A short, blunt human pyramid…?

R: Would you like to play Questions?
G: How do you play?
R: You have to ask a question.
G: Statement! One – love.
R: Cheating!
G: How?
R: I hadn’t started yet.
G: Statement. Two – love.
R: Are you counting that?
G: What?
R: Are you counting that?
G: Foul! No repetitions. Three – love. First game to…

Reading the script was in other words a nice experience (one that warrants a B in my way of thinking), but my plan now is to hunt down the film once more and actually, properly watch it this time.

As a small morsel of trivia, I can tell you that the street I live on is named after Rosencrantz. In case anyone else thinks that’s as neat as I do.


24th February, 2008
Postcards from No Man’s Land; Aidan Chambers
— Love @ 20:34 Comments (4)
Filed under: A, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Postcards from No Man's Land; Aidan Chambers Postcards from No Man’s Land
by Aidan Chambers
British

For the Young Adult reading challenge.

English
312 pages
Speak
ISBN: 0-14-240145-5

First line: Not knowing his way around, he set off back the way he had come.

Back cover blurb:
Jacob’s plan is to go to Amsterdam to honour his grandfather who died during World War II. He hopes to go, set flowers on his grandfather’s tombstone, and explore the city. But nothing goes as planned. Jacob isn’t prepared for love — or to face questions about his sexuality. Most of all he isn’t prepared to hear what Geertrui, the woman who nursed his grandfather during the war, has to say about their relationship. Geertrui has always been known as Jacob’s grandfather’s kind and generous nurse. But it seems that in the midst of terrible danger, Geertrui and Jacob’s grandfather’s time together blossomed into something more than a girl caring for a wounded soldier. And like Jacob, Geertrui was not prepared. Geertrui and Jacob lived worlds apart, but their voices blend together to tell one story — a story that transcends time and place and war.

Thoughts: This year I’ve revisited a lot of books I’ve read previously, but only in Swedish. This is another one of those. Aidan Chambers, I think, has to be one of my favourite authors of fiction for young adults. He deals with some of my favourite topics (if you hadn’t clued into the fact that I like gay-themed stories, then I might as well just come out and say it now. I like gay-themed stories! Young adult ones more than others), but in a quiet sort of way that I absolutely adore. Sometimes I wish he’d be more obvious and outspoken, but if I really think about it, I think I like it best the way it is now. It’s all there if you look for it (and you don’t have to look all that hard), but it’s not glaringly in-your-face either, which I have to say is nice. I like a bit of subtlety now and again.

Like I said, I hadn’t read this book in English before and doing it brought a new dimension or two that I hadn’t noticed before. In the Swedish translation, it wasn’t always so obvious that all the Dutch characters, when speaking English, were not using their mother tongue and that they had a Dutch accent (this was also the case with A Countess Below Stairs. I’d never known, before, that Anna’s accent was so noticeable, simply because it was lost in translation).

It was also a couple of years since I last read Postcards, which, again, brought a fresh perspective. The first time I read it, I wasn’t sold on the gay theme yet (that is not to say that I minded it, though). The second time, I had started to read more gay lit in general, so that part of the story appealed to me more than before, and this time, I have new experiences and views that I hadn’t on the previous occasions, and that made me appreciate the story even more.

“[…] Love is not finite. It is not that we each have a limited supply of it that we can only give to one person at a time. Or that we have one kind of love that can only be given to one person in the whole of our lives. It’s a ridiculous thing to think so. I love Ton. I sleep with him when we both want it. Or when one of us needs it, even if the other doesn’t want it then. I love Simone—“
“Simone?” Jacob said.
“She was here the other morning when you left. She called out to you. She lives two streets away. Ton and Simone know each other. They were friends before I met them. We’ve talked about it. Ton never sleeps with women. That’s the way he is. Simone only sleeps with me. That’s the way she is. I sleep with them both. That’s the way I am. They both want to sleep with me. That’s how we are. That’s how we want it. If we didn’t, or if any one of us didn’t, then, okay, that’s it. All the stuff about gender. Male, female, queer, bi, feminist, new man, whatever — it’s meaningless. As out of date as marriage forever. I’m tired of hearing about it. We’re beyond that now.”

I was in a relationship at one time that went really bad, because the other party needed more than I could give, and while at the time I was terribly upset and depressed about it, in hindsight, I think that’s acceptable. That is, I think such a situation is acceptable if everyone involved is totally honest about what’s going on and the thing is talked about. In my situation, it wasn’t really, so there were hard feelings, a lot of anger on my side, and hurt feelings also.

Now I’m in a new situation, where the person I’ve fallen for is on another continent entirely and with another person at the same time as they are with me. I’ve never had an issue with this, because all along, between me and them, there’s been complete honesty and I’ve never been lied to. And this other person, my person, if you will, is okay with the fact that I might at some point want to find someone a little closer to me geographically. I might not find such a person, and if I did, they might not be okay with the situation I’m in, in which case I’m going to have to make decisions based on that. But that’s just how I feel. Everyone’s different, and different things are right for different people.

“[…] I’m not sure I’m — I dunno — strong enough. Brave enough. Not like you and Daan.”
Ton gave a little huffing laugh. “Bravery it isn’t! It’s just how we believe life should be. Not for everyone. But for us. And people who think like us. We’re learning how to live it while we live it. What else is worth doing?”

I’m pretty sure that told you more than you ever wanted to know about me, but can I help it that the book touched me so? ;D

I don’t like all of it, though. The character of Hille annoys me, and Geertrui’s parts of the story, while essential, did not move me quite as much as the present-day story of Jacob, Ton and Daan. In the end, though, the great parts of it completely outweigh the not so good and thus I’m still quite enamoured of the book. Much like Jacob fell in love with Amsterdam.

[…] the day (smiling to himself) he fell in love with the city. For I have, he thought, haven’t I? It’s just like falling for a person. Not wanting to be parted from it, wanting to know everything about it, liking it as it is, the bad as well as the good, the not so pretty as well as the beautiful, its noises and smells and colors and shapes and oddities. Liking its difference from everywhere else. And its history as well as its present. And its mystery, for there was so much he did not understand. And the people who had begun to show him how to see it, Daan and Ton.

Oh dear, I think this might be my longest thoughts on a book so far. I’d better start wrapping up by giving a rating. This is a tricky one. I’m not sure it reaches quite the heights of an A, but on the other hand a B doesn’t feel quite like enough. What shall it be, what shall it be? The deciding factor, I think, will have to be that I have, after all, read it not only once, or twice, but actually three times now, so obviously I like it a lot. An A then. And you should read it too. Just sayin’.


24th February, 2008
Standish; Erastes
— Love @ 13:38 Comments (2)
Filed under: Back to History, D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Romance

Standish; Erastes Standish
by Erastes
British

For the Back to History reading challenge.

English
215 pages
P.D. Publishing Inc.
ISBN: 1-933720-09-3

First line: The candle guttered, and Ambrose looked up at it with a frown, the long blond hair falling away from the sides of his face.

Back cover blurb:
A great house. A family dispossessed. A sensitive young man. A powerful landowner. An epic love that springs up between two men. Set in the post-Napoleonic years of the 1820’s, Standish is a tale of two men — one man discovering his sexuality and the other struggling to overcome his traumatic past.

Ambrose Standish, a studious and fragile young man, has dreams of regaining the great house his grandfather lost in a card game. When Rafe Goshawk returns from the continent to claim the estate, their meeting sets them on a path of desire and betrayal which threatens to tear both of their worlds apart.

Painting a picture of homosexuality in Georgian England, Standish is a love story of how the decisions of two men affect their journey through Europe and through life.

Thoughts: From the moment I came across this book on Amazon.co.uk, I knew I had to read it. The story sounded amazing and I just love historical gay romance, there’s no denying that. Unfortunately, I was in for quite a disappointment.

I started reading it in January, got about a third of the way through during my first sitting with it, and then I put it down and did not pick it up again until now. I kept trying to persuade myself that if I read only one chapter a day, I would finish it in less than a month, but there just was no way of doing it. I wanted so badly to love the story, and I just couldn’t do it. I had such a hard time with the language and the way it was written — they didn’t appeal to me at all.

Finally, I picked it up again and found that if I just skimmed certain bits, it was tolerable. And so I finished the remaining two-thirds in a second sitting. I even, towards the end, found myself almost enjoying it. A part of the reason for this was, I dare say, the character of Padraig Fleury who appeared in the second half of the novel.

In the end, I didn’t like it even half as much as I had hoped to going in, but on the other hand, I did like it more than I thought I would after the first third. Even though it’s nowhere near the best book I’ve ever read, I am glad I decided to stick with it and read the entire thing. I have rarely been so close to making a book a DNF (did not finish), though. If it weren’t for the fact that I had it on my (no changes allowed) list of books for the Back to History challenge, or the fact that I had paid money for it and didn’t much like the idea of that being wasted, I don’t think I would have finished.

However, apart from all that I have outlined above, there was another thing that particularly bothered me. At one point Ambrose reads Dracula. Which is, y’know, cool and all. Except Standish is set in 1821 and Dracula wasn’t published until 1897, so unless there was time travel that I completely missed, that’s a big mistake on the part of the author, and that loses them a lot of respect from me.

I should think it obvious that the rating is not going to be a great one, but in the end, solely thanks to Fleury, it does manage a D, rather than an F. I realise we are only at the end of February and that much of the reading year remains, but I will be much surprised if this does not end up being “Disappointment of the Year.”


23rd February, 2008
The World According to Clarkson: And Another Thing…; Jeremy Clarkson
— Love @ 13:28 Comments (1)
Filed under: D, English, Humour, Non-fiction

The World According to Clarkson: And Another Thing...; Jeremy Clarkson The World According to Clarkson: And Another Thing…
by Jeremy Clarkson
British

English
340 pages
Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-141-02860-6

First line: I suppose all of us were out and about before Christmas, pummelling our credit cards to within an inch of their lives.

Back cover blurb:
Jeremy Clarkson finds the world such a perplexing place that he wrote a bestselling book about it. Yet, despite the appearance of The World According to Clarkson, things — amazingly — haven’t improved. Not being someone to give up easily, however, he’s decided to have another go.

In And Another Thing… the king of exasperated quip discovers that:

  • bombing North Carolina is bad for Yorkshire
  • we can look forward to exploding at the age of 62
  • Russians look bad in Speedos. But not as bad as we do
  • wasps are the highest form of life.

Thoughts: I love Top Gear, which, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is an outrageous sort of motor programme that even such car un-enthusiasts as myself can thoroughly enjoy. As Clarkson is one of the three presenters on the show, I found it hard to resist when I saw a copy of one of his books in a bookstore. After reading it, I discovered that it had been better for me had I managed to resist the temptation. Simply put: he drives me up the wall and infuriates me with pretty much every little column he’s ever written. I have thus come to the conclusion that I will keep watching, and enjoying, Top Gear, but will keep as far away as possible from anything of Clarkson’s that is not directly related to the show. (I now have to figure out if I should give in to the temptation to read any of the books by James May and Richard Hammond (the two other presenters), or if it’s best to just stay away from those as well.)

As for the rating, a D will do.


22nd February, 2008
Profile of a Criminal Mind; Brian Innes
— Love @ 13:16 Comments (1)
Filed under: B, Diseases and disorders, English, True crime

Profile of a Criminal Mind; Brian Innes Profile of a Criminal Mind
by Brian Innes
American

English
256 pages
Silverdale Books
ISBN: 1-85605-791-7

First line: The criminal has been an unwelcome element of society since time immemorial, and the attempt to penetrate his or her mind, to discover whether he or she differs significantly from the person who is considered an honest citizen – and if so, to what degree – has preoccupied people for centuries.

Back cover blurb:
Profile of a Criminal Mind is a comprehensive exploration of criminal profiling. Beginning with the early suppositions of 19th century physicians Cesare Lombrosco and Albert Bertillon, the author examines the work of criminologists such as Robert Ressler at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and David Canter and Paul Britton in Britain, before coming right up to date with recent developments in handwriting analysis and the ‘criminal geographic targeting’ (CGT) computer system.

This fascinating and authoritative study examines some of the major cases of the 20th century, including Ted Bundy, Andrei Chikatilo (the ‘Rostov Ripper’), Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo, Peter Sutcliffe (the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’), Ted Kaczynski (the ‘Unabomber’), Edmund Kemper and George Metetsky.

Thoughts: This book has been in my shelf, unread, since I got it in the annual book sale 2006. I decided to read it now because I thought I’d put it on my list for the TBR-challenge, but when I’d finished it, I discovered that I was mistaken in that. Oh well, no harm done. I got to strike one more book off my TBR-list, official or unofficial, and that’s always something.

More importantly was the fact that it was a good book. I am extremely fascinated by true crime and like to read about it, but sometimes the books are a little too sensationalist for my tastes, or I end up reading one that just restates the facts of half a dozen others I’ve read on the same topic. Not so this one. It brings a new perspective, and while it does touch on some common cases, it doesn’t feel like repetitiveness at any point. In fact, a lot of the times the author assumes that one is already familiar with the cases. There are some cases he mentions in passing more than once, but never elaborates on. It’s a little frustrating at times, because I don’t actually remember much about those cases at present, but in the end I quite like that approach. I have a bunch of other books I could look them up in, if I really feel the need to refresh my memory.

I also really like the layout. It’s divided into clear-cut chapters that deal with one subject or another, and along with the main text, there are bunches of photos and illustrations, as well as “fact boxes”, which I thought were a nice touch.

It’s always difficult, I find, to rate a non-fictional work and I rarely give out higher grades to them, but this time I’m going to have to go with a B. One of the more interesting and well-executed books I have read on this topic in quite some time. Bravo, Mr. Innes!


20th February, 2008
Duty and Desire; Pamela Aidan
— Love @ 14:34 Comments (5)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Romance

Duty and Desire; Pamela Aidan Duty and Desire
by Pamela Aidan
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
304 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9136-1

First line: Darcy recited the collect for the first Sunday in Advent, his prayer book closed upon his thumb as he stood alone in his family’s pew at St. ——‘s.

Back cover blurb:
Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice is beloved by millions, but little is revealed in the book about the mysterious and handsome hero, Mr. Darcy. And so the question has long remained: Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy?
Pamela Aidan’s trilogy finally answers that long-standing question, creating a rich parallel story that follows Darcy as he meets and falls in love with Elizabeth Bennet. Duty and Desire, the second book in the trilogy, covers the “silent time” of Austen’s novel, revealing Darcy’s private struggle to overcome his attraction to Elizabeth while fulfilling his roles as landlord, master, brother, and friend.
When Darcy pays an old visit to an old classmate in Oxford in an attempt to shake Elizabeth from his mind, he is set upon by husband-hunting society ladies and ne’er-do-well friends from his university days, all with designs on him—some for good and some for ill. He and his sartorial genius of a valet, Fletcher, must match wits with them all, but especially with the curious Lady Sylvanie.

Thoughts: If you remember, I quite liked the first book in this series, which I read back in January. This continuation, however, I was not quite as fond of. Aidan’s Darcy, when completely away from Lizzy, is not as captivating as her version of Darcy when he has to struggle to keep his thoughts in check in her presence.

Fletcher, his valet, I do still quite like. He takes a few liberties and makes enough hints that I am pretty sure he knows where things are heading, even when Darcy does not. I even have a few suspicions as to the identity of his future wife’s current employer.

Even though I did not much like this book, I still intend to read the third, and final, installment of the trilogy. Lizzy is coming back for that, after all, and I am quite looking forward to how Aidan writes the disastrous first proposal and Darcy’s reactions to Lizzy in Derbyshire.

The first installment received a B grade and this one receives a C. I hope the next one manages at least a B, because I would be sad if it didn’t, when the first was so promising.


17th February, 2008
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept; Elizabeth Smart
— Love @ 14:03 Comments (1)
Filed under: D, Decades '08, English, Fiction, Poetry

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept; Elizabeth Smart By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
by Elizabeth Smart
Canadian

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1945).

English
112 pages
Flamingo
ISBN: 0-586-09039-8

First line: I am standing on a corner in Monterey, waiting for the bus to come in, and all of the muscles of my will are holding my terror to face the moment I most desire.

Back cover blurb:
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, Elizabeth Smart’s passionate fictional account of her intense love-affair with the poet George Barker, is widely recognised to be a classic.

Thoughts: You might not know, if you are a new acquaintance, but I am absolutely crazy about Morrissey. This is one of his favourite books, and it’s inspired a number of his songs, so I have long been meaning to read it. This weekend, I was visiting a dear friend for the first time and she had it in her bookshelf, so I finally got a chance to read it myself (she even graciously offered to let me borrow it if I didn’t manage to finish it before I had to leave, which I didn’t).

I can see where Morrissey got his inspiration — there are certain lines that echo lines found in his songs — but that’s about it. I don’t think poetic prose is really my cup of tea, and I had a lot of trouble actually understanding what was going on in the story. I get that it’s the fictional account of the author’s love-affair with a poet (one who is married, I might add), and at one point they are arrested by the police, but that’s about as far as my understanding goes. It’s just plain weird.

No, like I said, the style of writing exhibited in this story is definitely not my thing and I will leave other works in the genre be (though apparently not all of them, as supposedly Jean Genet is a prime example of a prose poetry writer and I intend to read his The Thief’s Journal at some point this year. We’ll see how that goes).

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (I do like the ridiculously long title) receives a D rating.


15th February, 2008
Murder Must Advertise; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 13:26 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, Decades '08, English, Historical, Mystery

Murder Must Advertise; Dorothy L Sayers Murder Must Advertise
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1933).

English
356 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104355-0

First line: “And by the way,” said Mr. Hankin, arresting Miss Rossiter as she rose to go, “there is a new copy-writer coming in today.”

Back cover blurb:
When ad man Victor Dean falls down the stairs in the offices of Pym’s Publicity, a respectable London advertising agency, it looks like an accident. Then Lord Peter Wimsey is called in, and he soon discovers there’s more to copywriting than meets the eye. A bit of cocaine, a hint of blackmail, and some wanton women can be read between the lines. And then there is the brutal succession of murders—five of them—each one a fixed fee for advertising a deadly secret.

Thoughts: I think I might have mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t, I feel I should state, for the record, that Murder Must Advertise is my favourite Wimsey book. It is also the first Wimsey book I ever read and the one I’ve read the most times. This was the first opportunity I had to read it in English, though, so it was a little bit like coming to it for the first time.

Wimsey is, as always, simply marvellous, and Parker still deserves his spot as my second favourite. Bunter, due to the nature of the story, does not make many appearances (if any at all. I’m afraid my memory’s a bit like a sieve), which is a bit of a pity, as I like him quite a bit as well and his and Wimsey’s working relationship is always a pleasure to read about.

Add to that the insight you get into the world of advertising (I believe Sayers herself worked in advertising at one point). It’s true that it’s the world of advertising in the 1930s, and if anything, things are probably even crazier these days, but there are a few passages in the book where Wimsey ponders the effects of advertising on people, and I think the questions he poses are still well worth asking.

Where, Bredon asked himself, did the money come from that was to be spent so variously and so lavishly? If this hell’s-dance of spending and saving were to stop for a moment, what would happen? If all the advertising in the world were to shut down tomorrow, would people still go on buying more soap, eating more apples, giving their children more vitamins, roughage, milk, olive oil, scooters and laxatives, learning more languages by gramophone, hearing more virtuosos by radio, re-decorating their houses, refreshing themselves with more non-alcoholic thirst-quenchers, cooking more new, appetizing dishes, affording themselves that little extra touch which means so much? Or would the whole desperate whirligig slow down, and the exhausted public relapse upon plain grub and elbow-grease?

I especially love the last two paragraphs of the book. They don’t at all deal with the story, so I could technically quote them here without terribly spoiling anyone, but I’m not going to. You will have to read the book yourselves (or at least look at the last page), to understand what I’m talking about. Perhaps you won’t even like them, but I do. A lot.

Instead, I shall proceed to quote a few other passages of the book. There is one in particular that I wish I could quote, because I laughed out loud at it, but unfortunately it isn’t funny unless you’ve read certain other bits of the story, so I won’t bother about it after all.

“And if I were you,” continued Garrett, “I wouldn’t mention Dean to Willis at all. There’s some kind of feeling—I don’t know quite what. Anyway, just thought I’d warn you.”
Bredon thanked him with an almost passionate gratitude.
“It’s so easy to put your foot in it in a new place, isn’t it? I’m really most frightfully obliged to you.”
Clearly Mr. Bredon was a man of no sensibility, for half an hour later he was in Willis’s room, and had introduced the subject of the late Victor Dean.

“You look as though you’d been shining up a pipe.”
“Well, I did shin down a pipe. Only one pipe—rather a nice pipe. It took my fancy.”

“Your narrative style,” said Parker, “though racy, is a little elliptical. Could you not begin at the beginning and go until you come to the end, and then, if you are able to, stop?”

To end this so-called review, I had better give the novel its rating. If you were expecting anything other than an A, I am afraid you are much mistaken, as an A it is. And if I know you well and you have not yet read this book, then you can rest assured that I will attempt to make you read it, if it’s the last thing I do. So there.


11th February, 2008
The Gum Thief; Douglas Coupland
— Love @ 18:45 Comments (0)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fiction

The Gum Thief; Douglas Coupland The Gum Thief
by Douglas Coupland
Canadian

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
277 pages
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9188-7

First line: A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age—regardless of how they look on the outside—pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives.

Back cover blurb:
Meet Roger, a divorced, middle-aged ‘aisles associate’ at a Staples outlet, condemned to restocking reams of paper for the rest of his life, and his co-worker Bethany, who’s at the end of her Goth phase and realising she’s facing fifty more years of shelving Post-it notes and replenishing the Crayola boutique in Aisle Six.

One day, Bethany discovers Roger’s notebook in the staffroom. When she opens it up, she discovers that this old guy who she’s never considered to be quite human is writing mock diary entries pretending to be her — and weirdly, he’s getting it right. She learns he has a tragedy in his past, and suddenly he no longer seems like a paper-stocking robot in a red shirt and name tag.

These two retail workers then strike up an unlikely yet touching secret correspondence. As their lives unfold, so too do the characters of Roger’s work-in-progress, the oddly titled Glove Pond, a Cheever-era novella gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Thoughts: A friend lent me this book a couple of weeks back, and since I’m likely meeting her again this weekend and she’ll be wanting her book back then, I decided to make this my next read. A choice I can’t say I regret.

Mind you, it’s not my favourite Coupland by far, but it’s still good. Good enough to earn itself a pretty little B rating. It’s one of his more tragicomic works and, like the rest of his books, full of truly bizarre characters.

Speaking of Coupland, has anyone watched jPod, the TV show based on the book with the same name? I only heard about it the other day and I’m curious as to what it’s like, but don’t feel that I have enough time to spare at present to check it out myself.


10th February, 2008
A Countess Below Stairs; Eva Ibbotson
— Love @ 18:23 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Back to History, English, Historical, Romance

A Countess Below Stairs; Eva Ibbotson A Countess Below Stairs
by Eva Ibbotson
British

For the Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
383 pages
Speak
ISBN: 978-0-14-240865-0

First line: In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance.

Back cover blurb:
After the Russian Revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as a servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.
Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly over-whelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…

Thoughts: This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite books. I think it might even trump Pride and Prejudice as the one. I first read it in ninth grade when I found it, quite by accident, in the library at school. I was familiar with Ibbotson’s other body of work, those fantastical books of hers aimed at children, but I didn’t know she also wrote for another audience. At first, I admit I was a little doubtful—it was a romance, after all, and the translation was rather sloppily done (the original title was written as “A Countness Below Stairs”, that’s how sloppy it was), and the cover didn’t look like much. But oh god, I was blown away! I overlooked the typos and the printing errors, and just devoured the book. When I put it down, my eyes were wet from tears (I can be an übersap, sometimes) and it was late at night. The next day, when I came home from school, I picked it back up and read it all over again.

Since then, I’ve read it over and over again, always still in the same sloppy translation, but now I’ve finally found it in the original and thus it was almost like discovering it all over again. I can now tell that while the publishing work of the translation left quite a bit to be desired, the actual translation wasn’t half-bad. I know it so well now that reading the original, I was a little astounded that the errors I had grown so used to weren’t there. But oh, how I still love it! And still, this the sixth (or seventh? I’ve lost count) time I read it, I was still moved to tears in the exact same places, even though I know how it all ends.

As you know, I don’t usually post quotes, but sometimes I simply have to make an exception. Lord Peter Wimsey books often produce such exceptions, and so does A Countess Below Stairs.

“Rupert, none of your servants are socialists, I hope?”
“Good heavens no, I shouldn’t think so. I mean, I haven’t asked. Surely you don’t have to be a socialist to want to have a bath?”
“It often goes together,” said Muriel sagely.

And so they played some of the world’s loveliest piano music—the exiled homesick girl, the humiliated, tired old man. Not properly. Better than that.

Torn between despair and embarrassment, between loneliness and shame, the earl’s dog stood before them, his great head raking the room. He had done it, the unspeakable thing. The degradation, the horror of it, was behind him—and now where was she? Had it all been in vain; the debasement, the agony, the choice?
But no, it was all right. He’d seen her. She was there. She would make whole what was broken, console him for his master’s absence, would understand his imperative need to be scratched now, this minute, and for a long time in that special place behind his ear.

It’s seems a bit like stating the too obvious at this point, but the rating I’m giving this book is a solid A. There’s no other alternative — trust me on this. What’s a bit funny, though, is that I’m not head over heels for any of the characters, nor really the writing either, which is usually the case for me. I just completely and utterly love the whole book.

To end this post, I’m going to post the link to a music video on YouTube. The song is I Saved the World Today by The Eurythmics and no, there’s no apparent connection. But when I first read A Countess Below Stairs, the single had just been released and was being played on the radio as I read the book, and so the two will always, for me, be interconnected.


10th February, 2008
Clouds of Witness; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 11:54 Comments (2)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Historical, Mystery

Clouds of Witness; Dorothy L Sayers Clouds of Witness
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
279 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104353-6

First line: Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.

Back cover blurb:
Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt—until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket, and was Lord Peter’s brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey’s own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn’t enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be—a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt… a grieving fiancée with suitcase in hand… and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

Thoughts: There’s nothing quite like a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery to remove the bad taste of an exceedingly poor read such as Elyot’s By a Lady. If you then discover that the Wimsey novel you thought you’d read before was not, in fact, a re-read at all, you are quite happily surprised.

In other words, I thought I’d read this book before, but I hadn’t, which pleased me exceedingly, as it meant that I had undiscovered Lord Peter ahead of me!

I’m still utterly in love with the man, of course. Clouds of Witness isn’t exactly my favourite Wimsey novel, but it’s by no means bad at all and, as usual, provided me with quite an abundance of nice quotes. I shall only post the one, however.

“[…] I’ve lost him altogether.”
“It’s all right—I’ve got him. He’s tripped over a root.”
“Serve him glad,” said Lord Peter viciously, straightening his back. “I say, I don’t think the human frame is very thoughtfully constructed for this sleuth-hound business. If one could go on all-fours, or had eyes in one’s knees, it would be a lot more practical.”
“There are many difficulties inherent in a teleological view of creation,” said Parker placidly.

As for the rating, I think a B is in order. It’s a good read, great even, but like I said, not an absolute favourite.


7th February, 2008
By a Lady; Amanda Elyot
— Love @ 23:40 Comments (1)
Filed under: Chick lit, English, F, Historical, Romance

By a Lady; Amanda Elyot By a Lady
by Amanda Elyot
American

English
372 pages
Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 1-4000-9799-1

First line: “It’s beautiful,” C.J. murmured, examining the curiously pockmarked amber cross.

Back cover blurb:
New York actress C.J. Welles, a die-hard Jane Austen fan, is on the verge of landing her dream role: portraying her idol in a Broadway play. But during her final audition, she is mysteriously transported back to Bath, England, in the year 1801. And Georgian England, with its rigid and unforgiving social structure and limited hygiene facilities, is not quite the picturesque costume drama C.J. had always imagined.
Just as she wishes she could click her heels together and return to Manhattan, C.J. meets the delightfully eccentric Lady Dalrymple, a widowed countess who takes C.J. into her home, introducing her as a poor relation to Georgian society—including the dashing Earl of Darlington and his cousin, Jane Austen!
When a crisis develops, C.J.—in a race against time—becomes torn between two centuries. An attempt to return to her own era might mean forfeiting her blossoming romance with the irresistible Darlington and her growing friendship with Jane Austen, but it’s a risk she must take. And in the midst of this remarkable series of events, C.J. discovers something even more startling—a secret from her own past that may explain how she wound up in Bath in the first place.

Thoughts: I read about this book on a blog a while back (I forget which one, I’m sorry to say) and since I’ve been on a bit of an Austen kick lately, I thought it sounded interesting and figured I would give it a shot. The review I read warned that there was hot, steamy sex to be found in the novel, and while that’s not normally my cup of tea (especially in a Regency era novel), I figured I would be okay with it since I had advance warning. Yeah, not so much.

I absolutely and utterly hated this book. I think it might actually be the worst book I’ve ever read. Usually when I find fault with a book, there’s something else about it that makes it not quite so horrid. Say, if the language is bad, the characters have redeeming qualities, and so forth. But this sorry excuse for a novel was quite honestly bad in every imaginable way.

The main character, C.J., is such a Mary Sue it’s not even funny. She’s an American actress who is absolutely obsessed with Jane Austen and is about to get her big break landing a role as Jane Austen in a two-character Broadway play. Guess who the author is? An American actress who is seriously into Jane Austen and played that very person in a two-character play (if it was on Broadway I don’t particularly know, but it doesn’t seem too unlikely). And of course, C.J. is perfect in every single way. Ergo1, Mary Sue.

The story is nearly always told from C.J.’s point-of-view, except occasionally when it suddenly changes to be the point-of-view of whatever other person happens to be nearby. These changes feel very crudely done and seemed to serve no real purpose, except to confuse and annoy.

As if that wasn’t enough, the language is absolutely horrible. The author seems bent on sticking as many big and fancy words in there as she possibly can, with no regard to if they fit the feel of the rest of it, or not. And don’t get me started on the sex scenes! My god, they made my eyes bleed. Let’s just say there was a little too much ear-licking for my tastes, and just in general terribly unappealing. Nothing even remotely sexy about the writing there. I think she was going for romantic/hot and steamy, but completely and utterly failed.

Another bone of contention I have with this book is how the women of 1801 are portrayed as compared to C.J., who is the representative of the 21st century woman. The former, with a few exceptions, are made out to be exceedingly unintelligent, whilst C.J. is so clever and so well-read, which we are made to understand is how all 21st century women are. I think there might be something in that, don’t get me wrong (we do have access to a lot more information, these days), but I don’t exactly think C.J. is the average modern day woman either. She is well-acquainted with early 19th century law, knows more about heart conditions than the Georgian physician (true that medicine has made advances since 1801, but would a layperson really know more than a doctor, even if he was a backwards one? I’m not so sure), and uses Latin phrases in everyday conversation2 quite a lot. I just don’t buy that this is the average woman of our time. But then, as mentioned previously, C.J. is a Mary Sue and thus cannot be held to the same standards as the rest of us.

One last thing I have a problem with is the character Lady Dalrymple. She’s eccentric, but a nice person and rather well-liked, even, as far as I can tell, by Jane Austen. Now, if you are familiar with your Austen novels, you will know that in Persuasion, there is a character with that very same name. This person, however, is a rather proud and disagreeable lady. One would assume that Elyot’s chosen the names for her characters to make it out that Jane Austen took the names of her characters from people she knew (there are other examples of this as well). If that is indeed the case, I feel sorry for Lady Dalrymple to be thus abused by someone who apparently quite liked her.

The rating, if anyone’s having any sort of doubt at this point, is an F. I would go lower if I could, but I can’t, and so an F it is. The only reason I read ’til the end (I’ll have to admit to skipping some passages that were too much to bear), was because I’d spent money on the book and didn’t want that to have been a complete waste.

1. Oh, I’ll be made to eat that ergo before the end of this review, you mark my word.
2. This is when I eat my ergo.


5th February, 2008
Dream Boy; Jim Grimsley
— Love @ 20:39 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fiction, GLBT interest

Dream Boy; Jim Grimsley Dream Boy
by Jim Grimsley
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
195 pages
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0-684-82992-4

First line: On Sunday in the new church, Preacher John Roberts tells about the disciple Jesus loved whose name was also John, how at the Last Supper John lay his head tenderly on Jesus’s breast.

Back cover blurb: n/a

Thoughts: I really hate when there’s no back cover blurb on a book, because that means I have to try to sum it up in my own words and I cannot tell you enough how much I really suck at that. But here goes:

Dream Boy is the story of Nathan, a teen who’s just moved with his parents to a new town in rural USA (where is not exactly clear. Or it might be, but I am too ignorant of small town American geography to get it. ETA: North Carolina, apparently). Nathan and his parents live in a farm house on a farm owned by another family. Tony, who is the farmer’s son, really appeals to Nathan and apparently Nathan really appeals to Tony as well, as they strike up a sort of relationship, which is very, very much “don’t show, don’t tell” and Tony especially feels guilty about some of the things they do, and will avoid Nathan for periods of time when it gets too much for him. In the background of the story is Nathan’s struggle to keep certain memories under lock and key, because they are too painful to dwell on. As the story progresses, he finds these memories harder to keep from coming to the surface, as his dad is starting to pay more attention to him again.

See? I’m absolutely crap at it!

Either way, this book was absolutely terrible. Not that it wasn’t good, because it was, but in that I haven’t felt so physically ill from a book in a loooong time. The ending is very, very ambiguous and left me wondering if Nathan was or wasn’t (what, I won’t say, as that would be too much of a spoiler). I’m guessing he probably was, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

My copy of this book is a used one and on the front cover is written “This book belongs to is Aleeia Summers age 10”, but were it up to me, I would not in a million years have let this ten-year-old read this book. I’m not usually very restrictive like that, but this book has themes of sexual molestation and there is a very brutal and fairly graphic rape at one point in the story, and I just don’t think that’s for a ten-year-old to read! It made me utterly, utterly uncomfortable and sickened, and the thought of someone so young reading that… ::shudders::

On to the rating, then! It was a good book, fairly easy and quick to read, even though certain themes made me absolutely sick to my stomach. There were lighter bits in it as well, but the overall feel of the book was a rather depressing one. Possibly it was a happy ending, but it was quite confusing, so it might not have been. I’m giving the book a B, because I think it really deserves it. I know at least one person I will more or less force to read this (if he hasn’t already, that is), because I want someone else’s take on it as well.


3rd February, 2008
Eclipse; Stephenie Meyer
— Love @ 13:11 Comments (6)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Eclipse; Stephenie Meyer Eclipse
by Stephenie Meyer
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
628 pages
Atom Books
ISBN: 978-1-904233-90-9

First line: All our attempts at subterfuge had been in vain.

Back cover blurb:
As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob — knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death. But which is which?

Thoughts: It turns out that I’d somehow misunderstood that spoiler I read, because what I feared would happen, didn’t. At least not the way I thought it would, nor was it as bad as I thought it would be. In other words, I still like Jacob Black. Like him a lot, in fact. Even if I got really quite angry with him at one point, because dude! he needs to learn to listen to what people say!

I still don’t care much about either Bella or Edward. Bella, I’ve realised, reminds me a little of someone I used to know very well, with the exception that she (Bella, that is) can make decisions and stick with them, even if it’s hard.

I think this is my favourite of the series so far, even if some things made me exclaim “Ew! Ew! Ew!” whilst reading, and the divide between girlish and boyish interests/talents/&c still bothers me a lot.

A B rating is in order and I have to say I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, which is published sometime this summer, unless I am much mistaken.


31st January, 2008
New Moon; Stephenie Meyer
— Love @ 20:03 Comments (6)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

New Moon; Stephenie Meyer New Moon
by Stephenie Meyer
American

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
595 pages
Atom Books
ISBN: 978-1-904233-88-6

First line: I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough.

Back cover blurb:
For Bella Swan, there is one thing more important than life itself: Edward Cullen. But being in love with a vampire is even more dangerous than Bella could ever have imagined. Edward has already rescued Bella from the clutches of one evil vampire, but now, as their daring relationship threatens all that is near and dear to them, they realize their troubles may be just beginning…

Thoughts: I quite like Jacob Black. I know it’s not quite the done thing, especially if you ask the Edward Cullen camp, but I can’t help it! I did accidentally read a spoiler at some point, so I’m not sure that I will keep liking Jacob, but I kind of hope I do, because as of yet, he’s the only character I’m not unmoved by. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’m moved by Bella, in that she annoys me greatly from time to time.)

Still not crazy about Edward. I don’t dislike him either, though. I guess I just don’t see the massive appeal.

On the whole, I’m still kind of hooked on these books, and that’s despite not being crazy about characters, plot or, technically, the writing. It’s a bit like it is with the Tony Hill books by Val McDermid (except I am excessively fond of Tony). I don’t think they’re very well-written, but they are always full of excitement and I keep reading, because you get hooked so quickly and there’s no way I could put one down unfinished. (That only applies to her Tony books, though. I’ve read a couple of others of hers, and without the appeal of Tony, there’s no appeal at all.) Anyway, what I was trying to say, before I got side-tracked, is that Meyer’s writing makes me want to know what happens next, and so I’ve already started on Eclipse.

New Moon gets a B rating. It was going to get a C, but then I remembered that Twilight got a B, and I don’t like this book less than the first in the series, so a B it has to be.


30th January, 2008
The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl; Shauna Reid
— Love @ 19:38 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Biographies, English

The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl; Shauna Reid The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl
by Shauna Reid
Australian

For the A-Z reading challenge.

English
408 pages
Corgi Books
ISBN: 978-0-552-15578-6

First line: I’ve got the biggest knickers in Australia.

Back cover blurb:
In January 2001 Shauna Reid was twenty-three years old and twenty-five stone. Determined to turn her life around, she created the hugely successful weblog The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl and, hiding behind her Lycra-clad roly-poly alter ego, her transformation from couch potato to svelte goddess began. Today, 8,000 miles, seven years and twelve and a half stone later, the gloriously gorgeous Shauna is literally half the woman she used to be.

Thoughts: I saw this book mentioned in one of the many book blogs I read (I forget the exact one. Sorry!) and added it to my wishlist after reading a little about it and snippets of the blog it’s the book version of. When I next made a book order, I added it to my shopping cart “just because.”

Can’t say I regret it one bit! The book was funny and interesting and I was instantly hooked. Finished it in one sitting, in fact.

It gets a well-deserved B rating, and a shorter “review” (these random and rather incoherent thoughts don’t exactly count as the proper thing) than it really deserves, because I am too tired to think straight.


30th January, 2008
Messenger; Lois Lowry
— Love @ 19:28 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, D, English, Fantasy, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Messenger; Lois Lowry Messenger
by Lois Lowry
American

For the Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
186 pages
Delacorte Press
ISBN: 0-385-73253-8

First line: Matty was impatient to have the supper preparations over and done with.

Back cover blurb:
For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man known for his special sight. Once, Village was a place that welcomed newcomers and offered hope and homes to people fleeing poverty and cruelty. But something sinister has seeped into Village, and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. All along, Matty has been invaluable as a messenger between Village and other communities. He hopes someday to earn the name of Messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the increasingly treacherous forest to spread the message of Village’s closing and convince Kira, Seer’s daughter, to return with him. Matty’s only weapon against his dangerous surroundings is a secret power he unexpectedly discovers within himself. He wants to heal the people who have nourished his body and spirit and is willing to offer the greatest gift and pay the ultimate price.

Thoughts: As expected, this book tied together the characters of both The Giver and Gathering Blue. However, it didn’t really resolve the issue I had with one particular event in Gathering Blue, nor did it really appeal to me as much as the previous two books in the series did.

It also confused me a great deal. Apparently, the events of both previous books take place at much the same point in time, yet in one there is advanced technology, and in the other everything is exceedingly basic and primitive. These places don’t seem to be all that distant from each other, geographically, so I must admit I don’t quite see how the difference could be so marked, especially since the high tech one has the means to travel far and wide in not much time at all.

No, in the end I didn’t like the end to the series at all. I’m giving it a D rating, and that’s mostly just because I’m feeling generous today. I think I’ll try to pretend that there was nothing after Gathering Blue and that even if there was, I certainly didn’t read it.


29th January, 2008
Gathering Blue; Lois Lowry
— Love @ 23:56 Comments (2)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fiction, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

No cover image Gathering Blue
by Lois Lowry
American

For the Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
218 pages
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0-7474-5592-3

First line: “Mother?”

Back cover blurb:
In the tough, unforgiving society that Kira lives in, she is forced daily to prove her value in the village. Up until now she has had her mother to protect her. With her mother gone, Kira will need to use every ounce of cunning, wit and bravery to ensure her continued acceptance — and even survival.

So when Kira is summoned to judgment by the Council of the Guardians to resolve a village conflict, Kira knows she is fighting for her life. Perhaps only her special, almost magical talent will save her now…

Thoughts: I had expected Gathering Blue to continue where The Giver left off, as it’s being touted as part two of a trilogy, but that turned out to be quite wrong. It’s more of a companion book, I s’pose, in that it is a different take at what the future might be like. In The Giver, everything is made out to be perfect and the people have the help of pretty advanced technology, from what it seems. In Gathering Blue, nearly everything seems savage and brutal. It’s far into the future, though it’s not a high-tech future at all, but rather what might happen if disaster upon disaster strikes and all technology is lost. Still, despite the glaring differences, in certain things the two societies are very, very much alike.

I was a little apprehensive starting on the book, because I’d had it in the bookshelf for so long, waiting for The Giver so I could read that first, and now that I finally had, there was some sort of mental block hindering my progress. Only for a little bit, though, it has to be admitted. I sat down with the book, turned the first page, started reading and was hooked. In short: I loved it!

One of the main events of the year for the people in the book is the Gathering, during which the Singer sings the history of the world, all the way from the beginning of time, until the present day. We don’t hear many of the words to the song, but one little segment we are told. It consists of nonsense words that make little sense, but I had a feeling there would be a hidden meaning, so I unscrambled the words and there it was!

I’m rating this a B book. For a bit I considered a C, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it deserves the B. Any book that leaves me with the sort of uncomfortable feeling in the stomach that I’m experiencing right now, is a book that’s moved me in no little way. While the way it’s moved me might be good or bad, I feel that in this case it is a good way.

Now, Lowry says in an author’s note that she feels the ending is a happy and optimistic one. And while I agree to a certain extent that it is, I can’t agree wholeheartedly. There was a particular revelation towards the end, that I personally feel is responsible for the tummy upset, and that was left unresolved. I’m guessing (hoping, at least!) that that will be worked out in Messenger, though.

I really, really don’t like it when I can’t find a cover image that corresponds to the one on my copy of a book. I usually google the ISBN and sometimes I don’t get any hits at all, which is sad. Sometimes I do get hits, but all the cover images I find look different from the one of my copy. That is even sadder. Saddest of all is, of course, that I care as much as I do!


29th January, 2008
The Giver; Lois Lowry
— Love @ 19:58 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Decades '08, English, Fiction, First in a Series, Young Adult

The Giver; Lois Lowry The Giver
by Lois Lowry
American

For the First in a Series, Decades ’08 (first published in 1993) and A-Z reading challenges.

English
179 pages
Dell Laurel-Leaf
ISBN: 0-440-23768-8

First line: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

Back cover blurb:
Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community.
When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it’s time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Thoughts: I’ve read this before, of course, but this is the first time I’ve read it in the original English. It’s one of my favourite YA reads, and from what I can remember of the translation compared to the original, the translator did a good job (though that’s neither here nor there, as it isn’t the translation I’m writing these thoughts on).

What I like about it best is, I think, how everything sort of sneaks up on you. You start out thinking this world is pretty much like ours, except a lot more perfect, but little by little you realise that there are actually huge differences, and some pretty scary ones at that.

Whenever I’ve read this before, I’ve always interpreted the ending as a happy one, but this time around I was a bit more inclined to go for the slightly less optimistic interpretation. True, I think Jonas is probably better off there, than back in the community (I always expected the community to be spelt with a capital C. It just seems like the sort of place that would be, but apparently it isn’t), but it’s still not complete and utter bliss, and I’ll admit I shed a couple of tears. I do like the ending, though, especially how open-ended it is. It’s not Lowry’s fault that I’ve become a complete pessimist of late.

The rating ends up a B, because tempted as I am to dole out an A, I don’t quite think the book reaches those heights.

A couple of side notes:

1. I also read Cliffs Notes on Lowry’s The Giver, because I accidentally ordered that instead of the proper book. I searched the online book store for Lois Lowry and when I got the search results, I added the cheapest copy of The Giver to my shopping cart. Since I knew the book already, I didn’t bother reading the summary, but in retrospect, I find that I should have. Still, one would think they’d specify the title of the Cliffs Notes a little more than to say The Giver, with the author name Lois Lowry. Either way, I kept it, as returning it would probably have been more of a hassle than just keeping it, and it’s not like it cost a fortune.

2. There was a second side note, but I’m demmeda if I can remember it at present! How very annoying, I hate it when that happens.

a. I watched the 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel the other evening. Can you tell? ;D


29th January, 2008
The Smiths: The Early Years; Paul Slattery
— Love @ 15:32 Comments (0)
Filed under: English, Music, n/a, Photography

The Smiths: The Early Years; Paul Slattery The Smiths: The Early Years
by Paul Slattery
British

English
159 pages
Omnibus Press
ISBN: 978-1-84609-858-1

First line: Taking photographs of bands for a living, I have seen an awful lot of them, good and bad, but I was smacked round the face with the sound and performance that The Smiths gave that night at ULU in May 1983.

Back cover blurb:
For many The Smiths were the definitive rock band of the 80s. A bracing antidote to Thatcher’s Britain for the youth of the day, Manchester-based Morrissey, Marr & Co. even approached something like mainstream success towards the end.

But at the start they were scruffy, uncompromising rebels. This was the period in which Paul Slattery took a series of band photos of great intimacy and power.

Slattery was particularly close to The Smiths in those early days, and his images — many of them seen for the first time here — were an insider’s work: informal, brash, exciting and revealing. Seen together these photos form an exciting visual narrative on the work of an influential band that, for a few turbulent years, cornered the market in lyrical gloom laced with mordant wit.

Thoughts: I love The Smiths, but I wasn’t a fan back when they were still together (would have been really hard to have been considering that I was either a) not even thought of, or b) not really that aware of my surroundings, for the duration of their career). Mind you, I’ve more than made up for it since!

This book was lovely. Full of photographs of the band, some of which I’d seen before, but the majority of which were completely new to me, and little comments from Slattery on most of them. However, as much as I loved it, I won’t officially rate it, because I feel there wasn’t enough text to do that.


26th January, 2008
Whose Body?; Dorothy L Sayers
— Love @ 23:08 Comments (5)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Decades '08, English, First in a Series, Historical, Mystery

Whose Body?; Dorothy L Sayers Whose Body?
by Dorothy L Sayers
British

For the Decades ’08 (first published 1923), First in a Series and A-Z reading challenges.

English
212 pages
Harper Mystery
ISBN: 978-0-06-104357-4

First line: “Oh damn!” said Lord Peter Wimsey at Piccadilly Circus.

Back cover blurb:
The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder — especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

Thoughts: It would appear that I have gone and done it again. Read a book I was certain was a re-read, only to find that it wasn’t, I mean. I was utterly convinced that Whose Body? was a re-read, and thus felt a little bit of a cheat for including it in so many challenges, but I couldn’t in fact remember a thing from it. Now, I know that if I did read it before, it was upwards of seven or eight years ago, but I still refuse to believe I would have no recollection of it at all. After all, Lord Peter Wimsey is not the sort of man you forget just like that.

If it sounds as though I’m complaining, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth! I am utterly, utterly pleased to find that there was more Lord Peter for me to discover. It is not exactly a treat you are given every day.

My copy of the book (a handy paperback that’s been lugged around everywhere with me this week, as I have had very little time to actually sit down and read, but have been determined to sit down and read all the same, wherever and whenever that might have been) is full of little blue post-it notes sticking out where there are passages I liked especially much (mostly funny and/or snarky ones). I don’t usually quote the actual books in my reviews (apart from the first line, obviously), but I figured I would make an exception for Lord Peter and post a few things I adored (I will attempt to make all of them non-spoilery, so not all my favourites are included. In fact, most aren’t).

“[…] if I sacked you on top of drinking the kind of coffee you make, I’d deserve everything you could say of me. You’re a demon for coffee, Bunter — I don’t want to know how you do it, because I believe it to be witchcraft, and I don’t want to burn eternally.”

“[…] That’s all,” said Parker abruptly, with a wave of the hand.
“It isn’t all, it isn’t all. Daddy, go on, that’s not half a story,” pleaded Lord Peter.

“Never mind,” said Parker, soothingly, “he’s always like that. It’s premature senile decay, often observed in the families of hereditary legislators. Go away, Wimsey, and play us the ‘Beggar’s Opera’, or something.”

Quite obviously, my favourite character is Lord Peter Wimsey himself, mostly because he is magnificently snarky and simply wonderful, but there are other marvellous characters in these books as well. Parker, who is a police detective and a friend of Wimsey’s, and the Dowager Duchess of Denver, who is Wimsey’s mother and quite funny (though usually not intentionally so), are just two of them. I also have to mention Bunter, Wimsey’s man, because what sort of person would I be if I didn’t? The Wimsey books would be nothing without him, as he is Wimsey’s assistant in pretty much everything that he does.

But I ramble, and it’s getting late, so I’ll end this review (if it can even be called that. I’m not entirely sure anything I write in this blog properly could be) with an A rating. It was an exceedingly nice surprise to find that I hadn’t read the book before, the mystery I thought was a good one (though I hardly dwelt on that in the review) and the characters even better.


20th January, 2008
A Tale of a Tub; Jonathan Swift
— Love @ 18:45 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, Classics, Decades '08, English

A Tale of a Tub; Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub
by Jonathan Swift
Irish

For the Decades ’08 (first published 1704) and A-Z reading challenges.

English
132 pages
a Project Gutenberg e-book

First line: My LORD, Though the author has written a large Dedication, yet that being addressed to a Prince whom I am never likely to have the honour of being known to; a person, besides, as far as I can observe, not at all regarded or thought on by any of our present writers; and I being wholly free from that slavery which booksellers usually lie under to the caprices of authors, I think it a wise piece of presumption to inscribe these papers to your Lordship, and to implore your Lordship’s protection of them.

Back cover blurb: n/a

Thoughts: I really quite enjoyed this book, though I am well aware that I am missing out on a lot of references and things that would have made it even more enjoyable, had I lived in the day and age that it was published (that is to say, just over three hundred years ago). It’s amazing, though, how some things work even centuries after their first conception.

A C rating this time, because it was in parts a little hard to get through (I have to admit to skipping a paragraph or two of the digressions).

This is the second book I’ve read for the Decades challenge, and since the first was published in 1980, I now have quite some work to do to tie the two up (that is to say, I need to read one book from each decade between the two) . I’m quite looking forward to that, though!


16th January, 2008
Twilight; Stephenie Meyer
— Love @ 16:14 Comments (28)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fantasy, First in a Series, Romance, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Twilight; Stephenie Meyer Twilight
by Stephenie Meyer
American

For the Young Adult, First in a Series and A-Z reading challenges.

English
434 pages
Atom Books
ISBN: 978-1-904233-65-7

First line: I’d never given much thought to how I would die—though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Back cover blurb:
When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret.

What Bella does not realize is that the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those she around her at risk. And it might be too late to turn back…

Thoughts: I heard such different accounts of this book as puzzled me exceedingly*. Before I ordered it, I found only positive views in different book blogs. Of course, the second I pressed the confirm button on the book order, the more negative reviews started popping up.

After reading the book myself, I find myself in the camp in the middle. I wasn’t as completely blown away by Edward as others have been, but neither was I completely and utterly annoyed with Bella. Edward is okay, but he’s not one of those fictional characters I see myself falling in love with. As for Bella, I was a little peeved at her over a couple of things (mostly how she treats her father, because I refuse to believe he is as useless at cooking as she makes him out to be. He has, as he himself says, survived on his own for seventeen years, after all).

On the whole, I thought the book was good enough and I definitely want to read the sequels (already ordered them, in fact), but I find myself a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the great Bella/Edward romance. It’s a little too intense for my liking, to be honest. Either way, I do look forward to see where the story is going and this, the first installment, receives a well-deserved B grade.

*See what I did there?


15th January, 2008
Boy Meets Boy; David Levithan
— Love @ 21:00 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, GLBT interest, Humour, Romance, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Boy Meets Boy Boy Meets Boy
by David Levithan
American

For the Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
185 pages
Random House
ISBN: 0-375-83299-8

First line: 9 P.M. on a November Saturday.

Back cover blurb:
Love is never easy. Especially if you’re Paul. He’s a sophomore at a high school like no other—and these are his friends:
Infinite Darlene, the homecoming queen and star quarterback
Joni, Paul’s best friend who may not be his best friend anymore
Tony, his other best friend, who can’t leave the house unless his parents think he’s going on a date… with a girl
Kyle, the ex-boyfriend who won’t go away
Rip, the school bookie, who sets the odds…
And Noah, The Boy. The one who changes everything.

Thoughts: I don’t quite know what to say about this book. I liked it well enough—it was short, sweet and quite funny—but I feel a complaint coming on, and one that’s going to make you roll your eyes at me. Remember how I often gripe about the bleak and depressing nature of a lot of gay-related stories? Well, I’m just about to take issue with one being too upbeat and positive. There seems to be no way to win!

The thing is, though, that while the town that Paul lives in is quite fun to read about and rather cute, it’s too perfect. It would be great if there were a town like his, but I think we’re a long way from that, still. Sadly enough.

Let’s face it, though: we don’t always ask for complete realism from short YA novels. In other words, I’m giving it a C rating, because it’s what I think it deserves. A little more realism (with the same basic plot/romance) and it’d have been a B or a C, depending on the language and characters. No one really clicked with me, like other literary characters have in the past, but if I had to pick one that moved me more than the others, I would pick Tony. He seemed the most realistic to me.


13th January, 2008
The Princess Diaries V: Give Me Five; Meg Cabot
— Love @ 12:28 Comments (3)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, Chick lit, English, F, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

The Princess Diaries: Give Me Five; Meg Cabot The Princess Diaries V: Give Me Five
by Meg Cabot
American

For the Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
166 pages
e-book

First line: The week of May 5-10 is Senior Week.

Back cover blurb:
Mia is about to turn fifteen and can’t wait to dance the night away with Michael at the biggest, most romantic event of her life so far: the senior prom! But nothing’s going according to plan. Not only does Mia face a snoozefest summer of sceptre-wielding in Genovia. Even worse is the fact that Michael hasn’t even invited Mia to the prom at all. Hello, what is going on here? Just as Mia comes up with a perfect plan to change her man’s mind, disaster strikes. A disaster that only a genius like Grandmere can overcome…

Thoughts: I hated this book. The first book of the series was quite good, so I read the second one, which was quite nice as well, so I read the third, which was not quite as good, but still okay, so I read the fourth and about there I think I should have stopped, because the fifth in the series did nothing but annoy me and make me grit my teeth. Thankfully it’s such a short book that the agony of reading it was over quite quickly (as much as I wanted to give up and put it down, I couldn’t, because it was one of my set choices for the YA challenge).

There are at least four more books to the series, but trust me when I say that I will not be reading those.

As you might have guessed, the rating I’m giving this book is an F.


7th January, 2008
Some Danger Involved; Will Thomas
— Love @ 19:56 Comments (1)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Back to History, English, Historical, Mystery

Some Danger Involved; Will Thomas Some Danger Involved
by Will Thomas
American

For the Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
302 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-5619-3

First line: If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assistant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.

Back cover blurb:
An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar in London’s Jewish ghetto. When the eccentric and enigmatic Barker takes the case, he must hire an assistant, and out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” he chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man with a murky past.
As they inch ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder, Llewelyn is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the heart of London’s teeming underworld.

Thoughts: Sometimes, when you read the first line of a book, you just know that you’re going to end up loving the whole book. This one had one of those and I was not disappointed in the least. It reads very much like a classic Holmes-type detective story, but is in fact written just a few years ago.

And oh, Victorian London! It’s one of my favourite settings for books, I have to admit. All that grime and slum and, well, everything about it — I adore it. As for the story line itself, it was pretty good. It wasn’t obvious whodunnit, but there were a couple of clues that you could’ve picked up on (unless you’re as dense as me, of course), which is nice. I don’t like mysteries where the solution is too obvious, but neither do I like when it’s so surprising you still can’t see the clues even when you know the answer.

This was the first in a series and although I like it, I’m not sure I’ll read the following books. At least I’m not absolutely dying to.

For the moment, rest assured that the B grade I’m giving it is very well-deserved.


5th January, 2008
An Assembly Such as This; Pamela Aidan
— Love @ 22:49 Comments (5)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, Back to History, English, First in a Series, Historical, Romance

An Assembly Such as This; Pamela Aidan An Assembly Such as This
by Pamela Aidan
American

For the First in a Series, Back to History and A-Z reading challenges.

English
256 pages
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9134-7

First line: Fitzwilliam George Alexander Darcy rose from his seat in the Bingley carriage and reluctantly descended to earth before the assembly hall above the only inn to which the small market town of Meryton could lay claim.

Back cover blurb:
“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

So begins the timeless romance of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s classic novel which is beloved by millions, but little is revealed in the book about the mysterious and handsome hero, Mr. Darcy. And so the question has long remained: Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy?
In An Assembly Such as This, Pamela Aidan finally answers that long-standing question. In this first book of her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, she reintroduces us to Darcy during his visit to Hertfordshire with his friend Charles Bingley and reveals Darcy’s hidden perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. As Darcy spends more time at Netherfield supervising Bingley and fending off Miss Bingley’s persistent advances, his unwilling attraction to Elizabeth grows—as does his concern about her relationship with his nemesis, George Wickham.

Thoughts: Unlike Darcy’s Story, which I read in December, this book really captured me from the first chapter. Here is Mr. Darcy as I have always pictured him. The other characters, some of which are original characters, are well-written as well and especially Fletcher, Darcy’s valet, won my heartfelt approval.

On the whole, it felt as though it was written very much in the spirit of Austen herself, and there was much giggling and squeeing from me as I read it.

The only negative thing about it is that it’s the first in a series and I hadn’t realised that the whole series would make up the events in Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I thought the following two books would relate the events after Darcy’s and Lizzy’s wedding. As I found it was not the case, I shall simply have to hunt down the following two volumes at my earliest convenience, as I will not rest until I know what happens next (shut up! Yes, I know I know what happens next, but I don’t have Aidan’s Darcy’s take on it, so there!).

For now, it’s a B grade. If the rest of the series proves to be as good as this, I might bump it up to an A in the end.


5th January, 2008
Flambards Divided; KM Peyton
— Love @ 15:34 Comments (2)
Filed under: D, Decades '08, English, Historical, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Flambards Divided; KM Peyton Flambards Divided
by KM Peyton
British

For the Young Adult and Decades ’08 (first published 1981) reading challenges.

English
283 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-257055-6

First line: Christina had dreamed of Will again.

Back cover blurb:
When Christina marries Dick, she hopes that life at Flambards will settle down at last. But the village gossips find it scandalous that she, a rich landowner, should marry a peasant, and show their disapproval in no uncertain terms.

Even more unsettling is Mark’s return from the war in France. Badly injured and resentful of Dick, Mark is still the imposing character of old who stirs up confusing feelings in Christina. Just as before, Christina finds her loyalties divided between two very different men, and knows she has a terrible decision ahead of her…

Thoughts: This is by far my least favourite book in the series. It is the last one and the most grown-up, so you’d think I’d like it better, being older now than the first time I read it. But no. In fact I feel as though Peyton quite ruins my favourite character (even if his reactions are understandable, I still don’t want him to have them quite so violently. Things could have worked out, I am quite certain of it).

Another thing is that all the other books are seen completely from Christina’s perspective, but here we suddenly get passages written from someone else’s point of view. Normally I wouldn’t have minded that, but with three books behind you, it’s a little late to start changing things around without it seeming a little strange.

In the end, whilst the rest of the Flambards-books have received Cs, this one gets a D, for the reasons outlined above.


4th January, 2008
Flambards in Summer; KM Peyton
— Love @ 15:11 Comments (2)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Young Adult

Flambards in Summer; KM Peyton Flambards in Summer
by KM Peyton
British

For the A-Z Reading Challenge.

English
188 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-275054-9

First line: The RFC ditty with the sad tune, which Christina had sung several times with Will and his friends when he had been home on leave, would not leave her head.

Back cover blurb:
Widowed at twenty-one, Christina has returned to Flambards to find much has changed. The First World War is well underway, with Uncle Russell and her beloved Will both dead, while Mark is missing, presumed killed. Flambards itself is run-down, neglected and completely overgrown.

Christina vows to return the manor house to its former glory, and works hard to transform the home of her childhood. It is only when a familiar face appears at her door one day that she realizes that Flambards may even bring her love again…

Thoughts: This is the third of four books about Flambards and I finished it in one sitting. Like the previous books in the series, it’s a nice enough read and, while still considered YA, decidedly more adult than the other two.

While I don’t like it quite as much as Flambards (which I think is my favourite of the four), I still give it a C rating.


3rd January, 2008
The Edge of the Cloud; KM Peyton
— Love @ 23:43 Comments (0)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, Historical, Young Adult

The Edge of the Cloud; KM Peyton The Edge of the Cloud
by KM Peyton
British

For the A-Z Reading Challenge.

English
181 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-275023-5

First line: ‘We’ve eloped,’ Christina said to Aunt Grace.

Back cover blurb:
Christina and Will have escaped Flambards for London with their heads full of dreams, only to find a whole new set of problems. Not only the basic ones of work and a place to live, but Will’s single-minded ambition to design and pilot flying machines, which terrify Christina every time he leaves the ground. Will is certain he can become a success, but what price is he willing to pay for the glory?

Thoughts: This is the sequel to Flambards and has less horses (and a lot more air-borne machinery). It reads as a logical continuation of Christina’s and Will’s story and earns itself another of those C ratings I seem so fond of dealing out of late.


3rd January, 2008
Flambards; KM Peyton
— Love @ 19:52 Comments (0)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, C, English, First in a Series, Historical, YA Challenge 2008, Young Adult

Flambards; KM Peyton Flambards
by KM Peyton
British

For the First in a Series, Young Adult and A-Z reading challenges.

English
220 pages
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-271955-3

First line: The fox was running easily.

Back cover blurb:
Christina is sent to live with her uncle and his two sons in their country house, Flambards.

She finds her uncle fierce and domineering and her cousin Mark arrogant and selfish. But Flambards isn’t all bad, for Christina soon discovers a passion for horse-riding and forms a binding friendship with her cousin Will.

As time goes by Christina comes to realize the important part she has to play in this emotionally-charged and strange household.

Thoughts: Oh, it’s been absolute ages since I’ve read any horse-y books! I used to be quite crazy about them when I was younger, just as I was crazy about everything else related to horses.

It is a nice book, though. I quite like it still, even if perhaps not quite so much as previously. A C is in order—I spent a couple of hours curled up with it, time which I don’t begrudge it, and I have no objection to (re-)reading the rest of the series, but it’s not absolutely fantastic.


3rd January, 2008
His Majesty’s Dragon; Naomi Novik
— Love @ 15:30 Comments (7)
Filed under: A-Z Reading Challenge, B, English, Fantasy, First in a Series, Here Be Dragons, Historical, Seafaring Challenge

His Majesty's Dragon; Naomi Novik His Majesty’s Dragon
by Naomi Novik
American

For the Here Be Dragons, First in a Series, Seafaring and A-Z reading challenges.

English
356 pages
Del Rey
ISBN: 978-0-345-48128-3

First line: The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target.

Back cover blurb:
Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies… not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.
When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into the uncertain future—and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarefied world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Thoughts: I really, really liked this book. I’d suspected I might, and thankfully I was not disappointed, as has sometimes been the case (The Eyre Affair springs readily to mind as an example of this). Naomi Novik’s take on the Napoleonic Wars is quite exciting to read and her characters are ones you quickly become exceedingly fond of. The only beef I have with the story is that it’s sometimes a little too fantastic, perhaps. That, and the reactions of the main character to certain things (though, granted, they are perfectly understandable reactions for him to have, as a product of the Regency era. Still, they grated on me a little).

All in all, though, I can say with certainty that I will try to get my paws on the next three books in the series as soon as possible, and that I will also wait with bated breath for June to come around and with it the publishing of the fifth book.

A B rating is nothing if not extremely well-deserved in this case.


31st December, 2008
Flying Colours; CS Forester
— Love @ 18:48 Comments (2)
Filed under: Adventure, B, Classics, English, Historical, Personal challenges, Seafaring Challenge

The Admiral Hornblower Omnibus; CS Forester Flying Colours (part of the Admiral Hornblower Omnibus)
by CS Forester
British

For the End of Year Mini Challenge and the Seafaring Challenge.

English
155 pages
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0-14-011940-X (for the whole Omnibus)

First line: Captain Hornblower was walking up and down along the sector of the ramparts of Rosas, delimited by two sentries with loaded muskets, which the commandant had granted him for exercise.

Back cover blurb:
Hornblower becomes a national hero when he escapes a French firing squad. But the Terror of the Mediterranean becomes Europe’s most wanted man, forced to fight alone for England — and liberty.

Thoughts: I tend to get confused about which Hornblower books I’ve already read and which I have not, since I’ve not managed to find them all previously and the old translations I have don’t always include the original title. It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when I discovered that Flying Colours was new to me. It’s true that I knew the basic storyline, since it’s alluded to in a later short story (later chronologically, anyway. I think it might have been published before Flying Colours), but I hadn’t actually read the entire thing before.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. But then again, I don’t think I’ll ever cease being intrigued by the vast difference of Hornblower as he sees himself and Hornblower as others see him. That, by far, is my favourite thing about these novels, even if Hornblower’s relationships with his men (especially Bush) and all the high seas adventures come close behind.

At any rate, I’m giving this a B and will let that conclude this year of reading. I don’t expect I shall finish anything else in 2007.


30th December, 2007
Lord John and the Hand of Devils; Diana Gabaldon
— Love @ 20:07 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Mystery, Personal challenges

Lord John and the Hand of Devils; Diana Gabaldon Lord John and the Hand of Devils
by Diana Gabaldon
American

For the End of Year Mini Challenge.

English
317 pages
Century
ISBN: 978-0-7126-8065-3

First line: Lord John Grey jerked his eyes away from the door.

Back cover blurb:
Diana Gabaldon, the New York Times bestselling author of A Breath of Snow and Ashes, delivers three tales of war, intrigue and espionage featuring the unforgettable Lord John Grey. In the heart of the eighteenth century, Lord John’s world is one of mystery and menace; where allies have the power to destroy him with a single blow. As he ventures into an ominous unknown, his companions are haunted soldiers, sinister family secrets and lingering memories of a fiery-haired Scot named James Fraser.

In The Hellfire Club, Lord John is drawn by an attractive stranger in the doorway of a gentlemen’s club, where he witnesses the shocking murder of a young diplomat. Vowing to avenge the death, he is lead into a maze of political treachery and a debauched underground society, the notorious Hellfire Club.

In The Succubus, Grey’s assignment to a regiment in Germany finds him caught between two threats: the advancing French and Austrian armies and the menace of a mysterious ‘night-hag’ who spreads fear and death among the troops.

In The Haunted Soldier, Lord John is called to testify in the case of an exploding battlefield cannon and is forced to confront his own ghosts. Knee-deep in a morass of gunpowder, treason and plot, he is haunted by a dead lieutenant and followed by a man with no face.

Thoughts: Lord John is back! And he’s still the Lord John I’ve come to love. Poor, poor man, though—he never seems to get a moments peace. Still, I suppose that is one of the things that makes me like the stories about him, because they are filled of adventure and mystery and other fantastic things. Mind you, I still am not fawning over Gabaldon’s writing. Her language isn’t fantastic, but she does get her point across and, of course, her characters are marvellous people, which is what’s made me stick around for so long.

One of the stories in this volume, I’d read before (it’s included in one of my two copies of Lord John and the Private Matter and, to be honest, the reason I have two copies of that book in the first place), but the two others were new to me, and I quite enjoyed them all.

This volume receives a B rating and it’s a well-deserved one.

Apparently, there is another Lord John novel in the works and you won’t hear me complaining about it! (Well, that is to say, unless I make a remark or two that it’s taking a little long…)


30th December, 2007
A Son Called Gabriel; Damian McNicholl
— Love @ 03:09 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, Personal challenges

A Son Called Gabriel; Damian McNicholl A Son Called Gabriel
by Damian McNicholl
Irish

For the End of Year Mini Challenge.

English
346 pages
CDS Books
ISBN: 1-59315-231-0

First line: The choice was school or the big stick and seemed easy to make.

Back cover blurb:
Set in the hills of Northern Ireland in the 1960’s and 70’s, A Son Called Gabriel is a deeply felt and often funny coming-of-age novel that is ultimately unforgettable.
Gabriel Harkin, the eldest of four children in a working-class family, struggles through a loving yet often brutal childhood. It’s a turbulent time in Ulster, and in the staunchly Catholic community to which Gabriel belongs, the rigid code for belief and behavior is clear. As Gabriel begins to suspect that he’s not like other boys, he tries desperately to lock away his feelings, and his fears. But secrets have a way of being discovered, and Gabriel learns that his might not be the only one in the Harkin family.

Thoughts: It took me a while to finish this book because it wasn’t one of those that immediately grabs you and keeps your attention focused on it, and it alone, until you’ve turned the last page. It was good, though, in a quiet and slightly bleak sort of way.

Everyone was very, very Catholic, even if the main character had issues with religion at points, and one of the better bits was actually uttered by one of many, many priests featured in the story. In any other book, I would not have approved of what he said, but in this particular tome his voice felt like one of reason and one of acceptance and almost tolerance. Funny what a little bit of perspective can do, isn’t it?

Speaking of religion, I don’t know the reason behind it, but for some reason my copy of the book arrived with a business card, telling me that everyone breaks at least one of the Christian Ten Commandments pretty much every day and urging me to read the Bible daily, stuck in it. Weird that. Especially since the message was printed in reverse and you had to hold it up in front of a mirror to be able to read it properly (I was able to read it even without the mirror—I’m not stupid, or blind (yet)—but a mirror certainly made it easier).

Anyway, I digress. The final rating of the book is a C. It was good, I do think so, but it wasn’t great and it wasn’t brilliant and it got me down a little, because there did not seem to be any chance at all of the main character for accepting himself for who he was.


29th December, 2007
The Night Watch; Sarah Waters
— Love @ 13:10 Comments (0)
Filed under: D, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Personal challenges

The Night Watch; Sarah Waters The Night Watch
by Sarah Waters
British

For the End of Year Mini Challenge.

English
506 pages
Virago Press
ISBN: 978-1-84408-241-4

First line: So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you’ve become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord’s door.

Back cover blurb:
The Night Watch is the extraordinary story of four Londoners: Kay, who wanders the streets in mannish clothes, restless and searching… Helen, who harbours a troubling secret… Viv, glamour girl, recklessly loyal to her soldier love… and Duncan, an apparent innocent, struggling with demons of his own.

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liaisons and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, this is an astonishing novel.

Thoughts: I borrowed this book from the library in the spring, but never got more than a few pages in. I found it quite cheap in an online book store a while back, so decided to get it and try again. I’ve seen it read all over the places and people have really liked it, plus I’ve read all the other books by Waters.

However, while I did finish it this time around, I just did not like it. It’s told backwards, almost, and I found it really hard to get invested in the characters. Every time I had managed to start to care, even a little bit, and was curious as to what would happen to them next, the story jumped back in time and it was like starting all over again.

I’m giving this novel a D rating, because no matter how much I might have wanted to like it—love it, even—I just couldn’t. I’m not sure I’ll read any more Waters, if she does write something new. All her books have had, to me, tedious passages that I struggled to get through to get at the good bits, but it seems that each new story from her has more and more of these. I’m sorry, Miss Waters, but I think we’re through.


23rd December, 2007
Darcy’s Story; Janet Aylmer
— Love @ 13:14 Comments (1)
Filed under: C, English, Historical, Romance

Darcy's Story; Janet Aylmer Darcy’s Story
by Janet Aylmer
British

English
277 pages
Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-06-114870-9

First line: It is a consequence of possessing an income of ten thousand pounds a year that a man may order his life to his own liking, and chose his own society.

Back cover blurb:
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has long stood among the most beloved novels of all time. The story of Elizabeth Bennet’s blossoming romance with “haughty, reserved and fastidious” Fitzwilliam Darcy has enchanted readers for nearly two centuries. Yet, Mr Darcy has always remained an intriguing enigma—his thoughts, feelings, and motivations hidden behind a cold, impenetrable exterior… until now.
With the utmost respect for Austen’s original masterwork, author Janet Aylmer lovingly retells Pride and Prejudice from a bold new perspective: seeing events as they transpire through the eyes of Darcy himself. One of the world’s great love stories takes on breathtaking new life, and one of fiction’s greatest romantic heroes becomes even more sympathetic, compelling, attractive, and accessible, all through the imagination and artistry of a truly gifted storyteller.

Thoughts: When I was fourteen, I discovered Austen-inspired fanfiction online. It’s been a long time since I last read any, but upon browsing a few book blogs a couple of months ago, I was reminded of the published and printed fanfiction that is out there. Darcy’s Story is the first of these that I read and, while I can’t say that it was absolutely and utterly fantastic, it was a decent read. I minded a bit that certain parts were repetetive in the extreme, and I thought the style of writing was a bit far from Austen’s own, but on the whole, the book still earns itself a C.


22nd December, 2007
Austenland; Shannon Hale
— Love @ 14:24 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, Chick lit, English

Austenland; Shannon Hale Austenland
by Shannon Hale
American

English
197 pages
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1-59691-285-5

First line: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

Back cover blurb:
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaption of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her life. No real man can compare.
When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, stripped of her modern appliances, Jane throws herself into mastering Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them.
It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to vanish. Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Thoughts: I rarely, if ever, read pure chick lit, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for more or less anything Austen-related, so I felt I had to read this book (though I think I might have confused it with another Austen-inspired novel). It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t fantastic either. There was a little bit uncertainty on how it would end, but just a little. Still, I admit I got caught up in the story after a while and was quite happy with the ending, although I felt it was maybe a little bit too perfect. Some endings are like that.

A C this time, not so much for the writing itself, which was pretty boring, but for the character Mr. Nobley, who quite managed to win me over. Which I suppose was pretty much the whole point of the book.

Also, I would like to add that I am in no way ashamed about my own Colin Firth-as-Mr. Darcy obsession, thankyouverymuch.


12th December, 2007
Leave Myself Behind; Bart Yates
— Love @ 21:33 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, English, Fiction, GLBT interest

Leave Myself Behind; Bart Yates Leave Myself Behind
by Bart Yates
American

English
262 pages
Kensington Fiction
ISBN: 0-75820349-7

First line: I’ve never wanted a different mother.

Back cover blurb:
Meet seventeen-year-old Noah York, the hilariously profane, searingly honest, completely engaging narrator of Bart Yates’s astonishing debut novel. With a mouth like a truck driver and eyes that see through the lies of the world, Noah is heading into a life that’s only getting more complicated by the day.

His dead father is fading into a snapshot memory. His mother, the famous psycho-poet, has relocated them from Chicago to a rural New England town that looks like an advertisement for small-town America—a bad advertisement. He can’t seem to start a sentence without using the “f”-word. And now, the very house he lives in is coming apart at the seams—literally—torn down bit by bit as he and his mother renovate the old Victorian. But deep within the walls lie secrets from a previous life—mason jars stuffed with bits of clothing, scraps of writing, old photographs—disturbing clues to the mysterious existence of a woman who disappeared decades before. While his mother grows more obsessed and unsettled by the discovery of these homemade reliquaries, Noah fights his own troubling obsession with the boy next door, the enigmatic J.D. It is J.D. who begins to quietly anchor Noah to his new life. J.D., who is hiding terrible, haunting pain behind an easy smile and a carefree attitude.

Thoughts: This book has been compared to Catcher in the Rye and, while it’s been a couple of years since I read that, I can see the similarities.

I really fell for Noah, not in the sense that I am head over heels in love with him, but in the way that he is the one who grabbed my attention and pulled me into the novel. I think he’s my favourite main character of late—his voice is just that great.

I know it’s soon—I gave one out just the other day— but it’s time for another A rating.


10th December, 2007
Now & Then; William Corlett
— Love @ 15:52 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, English, GLBT interest, Historical

Now & Then; William Corlett Now & Then
by William Corlett
British

English
346 pages
Abacus Fiction
ISBN: 0-349-10775-0

First line: The room he died in smelt of Dettol and bonfire smoke.

Back cover blurb:
Now, Christopher Metcalfe returns to his family home in Kent after the death of his father. Sorting through a box of memorabilia from his days at public school, Chris is suddenly confronted by the face that has haunted him for thirty years.

Then, as a callow fifth former enduring the excesses of a school system designed to run an Empire that no longer existed, a most extraordinary thing happened amid the thrashings and cross-country runs: he was seduced by Stephen Walker, a prefect two years his senior with whom he went on to share a brief but intensely passionate affair. Now, again, alone, approaching the age of fifty, Christopher is painfully aware of the price he paid for letting go, and resolves to find Stephen, and discover what became of the only person he has ever loved.

Thoughts: I started reading this at a couple of minutes to ten one night, intending to put it down and go to sleep after half an hour or so. Three o’clock in the morning, on the dot, I closed the covers after having finished the whole thing.

I haven’t been this captured by a book in quite some time. I simply adored it. If you can recall, one of the issues I had with While England Sleeps was that I felt that the language didn’t really fit—wasn’t British enough, if you will—but I had no such problem with this novel. It’s written by an Englishman, and you can really tell. The language is lovely and British and I’m sorry, but for some types of stories, you have to have that to make it work. (I probably sound like such a language snob now.)

Either way, I really, really loved this book. It has a good mix of moments of happiness, of gloom and of angst, the language is wonderful and it’s part set in a public school. There’s no way the rating is going to be anything other than an A. Go read it—now!


6th December, 2007
The Rules of Modern Policing: 1973 Edition; DCI Gene Hunt (Guy Adams & Lee Thompson)
— Love @ 11:08 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, Humour

The Rules of Modern Policing: 1973 Edition; DCI Gene Hunt (Guy Adams & Lee Thompson) The Rules of Modern Policing: 1973 Edition
by DCI Gene Hunt (Guy Adams and Lee Thompson)
British

English
128 pages
Bantam Press
ISBN: 9780593060209

First line: Sit down, shut up and pay attention.

Back cover blurb: n/a

Thoughts: I know you’re not supposed to take this book seriously, but it didn’t amuse me quite as much as I’d hoped it would either. However, I do love me some Gene Hunt and photos of the man himself is always a plus, so a C it is.


5th December, 2007
While England Sleeps; David Leavitt
— Love @ 18:25 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, GLBT interest, Historical

While England Sleeps; David Leavitt While England Sleeps
by David Leavitt
American

English
309 pages
Abacus Fiction
ISBN: 0-349-10953-2

First line: In the early 1950s, history and politics conspired to create a circumstance in which it was impossible for me to ply my chosen trade—namely, writing.

Back cover blurb:
At a meeting of republican sympathisers in London, Brian Botsford, a young middle-class writer and Cambridge graduate, meets Edward Phelan, an idealistic self-educated London Underground worker. They share a mutual attraction. Across the divisions of class they begin an affair in secrecy.
But Edward possesses ‘an unproblematic capacity to accept’ Brian and the love that dare not speak its name, whereas Brian is more cautious and under family pressure agrees to be set up with a suitable young woman. Pushed to the point of crisis, Edward threatens to volunteer to fight Franco in Spain.
In While England Sleeps, David Leavitt, highly praised for his precisely observed portrayal of the complexity of intimate relationships, depicts the violent drama of war and forbidden love in a historical novel of great resonance and breadth.

Thoughts: I’ve read one other book by Leavitt (The Lost Language of Cranes) and since I really liked that, I was prepared to be swept off my feet by this one, especially given that it’s set in 1930’s England with commies and queers. Really, I thought, there was no way I could not like it. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong.

At first, I really struggled with it. I found the language a little irritating and not at all fitting the story (I guess I had a bit of a problem with how this American author wrote a British middle-class man, even if said man had lived in the US for decades), so I put it down and I didn’t touch it for a little over a week. Then I started again and I suddenly found myself dragged in and not bothered by the language much at all.

Of course, though, being a story of commies (though not as much as I’d thought) and queers, it was doom, doom, DOOM all the way through. I wonder why I ever think it’s going to turn out differently?

Like I said, it won me around a little by the end, but not enough to earn it more than a C.


2nd December, 2007
Stardust; Neil Gaiman
— Love @ 23:34 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, Fantasy

Stardust; Neil Gaiman Stardust
by Neil Gaiman
British

English
214 pages
Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0-7553-3755-2

First line: There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.

Back cover blurb:
In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristan Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is cold and distant as the star she and Tristan see fall from the sky one evening. For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristan vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town’s ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

Thoughts: I’ve wanted to read Stardust for a while now, and since my brother managed to get me an autographed copy of it (I curse the fact that I had to work that afternoon and could not myself stand in line to have Gaiman sign a book for me), there has really been no excuse not to.

I found it a quick and easy read, but with lovely language and a story-line and characters that pulled me in. I’ve been generous with them of late, I know, but this is another book that’s earned its B rating.


30th November, 2007
Movie Icons: Cary Grant; FX Feeney & Paul Duncan (ed.)
— Love @ 20:27 Comments (0)
Filed under: Biographies, English, Film, n/a

Movie Icons: Cary Grant; FX Feeney & Paul Duncan (ed.) Movie Icons: Cary Grant
by FX Feeney and Paul Duncan (ed.)
American

English
192 pages
Taschen
ISBN: 978-3-8228-2212-8

First line: He is the most self-invented man in movies, this side of Charlie Chaplin.

Thoughts: Much like the book on James Dean, this book on Cary Grant was chock-full of photos, but not so much actual text (a fair few quotes, by and about him, though). Following his film career through the pictures was nice, however, and one photo in particular, of him in dreadful drag, had me giggling for minutes.

Just as with the Dean book, I won’t be rating this.


30th November, 2007
Movie Icons: James Dean; FX Feeney & Paul Duncan (ed.)
— Love @ 20:02 Comments (0)
Filed under: Biographies, English, Film, n/a

Movie Icons: James Dean; FX Feeney & Paul Duncan (ed.) Movie Icons: James Dean
by FX Feeney and Paul Duncan (ed.)
American

English
192 pages
Taschen
ISBN: 978-3-8228-2220-3

First line: He died at age 24 in a car crash, testing a new, lightweight, ultra-swift Porsche Spyder en route to a weekend race in Northern California.

Thoughts: Full of photos, but not so full of actual text (though there are quotes and a short biography), I quite enjoyed this. James Dean is a bit of a favourite of mine, so it was nice to see photos I’d not seen before. However, because of the nature of the book, I will not grade it.


30th November, 2007
The World of Normal Boys; KM Soehnlein
— Love @ 13:06 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, Fiction, GLBT interest

The World of Normal Boys; KM Soehnlein The World of Normal Boys
by KM Soehnlein
American

English
282 pages
Kensington Books
ISBN: 0-965-14638-3

First line: Maybe this is the moment when his teenage years begin.

Back cover blurb:
The time is the late 1970s – an age of gas shortages, head shops, and Saturday Night Fever. The place, suburban New Jersey. At a time when the teenagers around him are coming of age, Robin MacKenzie is coming undone. While “normal boys” are into cars, sports, and bullying their classmates, Robin enjoys day trips to New York City with his elegant mother, spinning fantastic tales for her amusement in an intimate ritual he has come to love. He dutifully plays the role of the good son for his meat-and-potatoes father, even as his own mind is a jumble of sexual confusion and painful self-doubt. But everything changes in one, horrifying instant when a tragic accident wakes his family from their middle-American dream and plunges them into a spiral of slow destruction.

Thoughts: The language in this book was beautiful, but bleak and depressing, and there was a constant feeling of impending doom. I found it hard, sometimes, to keep reading, because I was sure that disaster was waiting just around the corner. Keep reading I did, though, because putting the book down was even harder than not going on.

The World of Normal Boys receives a well-deserved B.


16th November, 2007
So Hard to Say; Alex Sanchez
— Love @ 23:35 Comments (1)
Filed under: C, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, Young Adult

So Hard to Say; Alex Sanchez So Hard to Say
by Alex Sanchez
MexicanAmerican

English
232 pages
Simon Pulse
ISBN: 1-4169-1189-8

First line: My name is (drum roll, please) María Xiomara Iris Juárez Hidalgo, but nobody calls me María.

Back cover blurb:
When Frederick shows up at school, Xio is thrilled. The new boy is shy, cute and definitely good boyfriend material. Before long, she pulls him into her lively circle of friends.

Frederick knows he should be flattered by Xio’s attention. After all, she’s popular, pretty, and a lot of fun. So why can’t he stop thinking about Victor, the captain of the soccer team, instead?

Thoughts: When I got this book, I thought the main characters were older than they ended up being. Xio and Frederick are both thirteen, which is a little younger than I normally like reading about. Because the story is aimed at a little bit younger audience than the books I usually go for, it was a quick read and I finished it in one sitting, even though I hadn’t intended to. Not because it was fantastic, but because there didn’t really seem to be a point to put it down and go to sleep, since there was so little left of it. Kind of regretted it the next morning, though, since I was quite tired after too little sleep. Alas, such is the life of a book lover…

This book gets a C rating. My younger self would probably have wanted to give it a higher grade, but younger self is no longer around, so doesn’t actually have a say in things at the moment.


14th November, 2007
Rainbow Boys; Alex Sanchez
— Love @ 19:45 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, Young Adult

Rainbow Boys; Alex Sanchez Rainbow Boys
by Alex Sanchez
MexicanAmerican

English
262 pages
Simon Pulse
ISBN: 0-689-85770-5

First line: Jason Carrillo walked around the block a third time, working up his courage to go into the brownstone.

Back cover blurb:
High school’s hard enough as it is without falling in love with your best friend–who’s crushing on the most popular guy in school. Or feeling like your parents would throw you out if they knew you were gay. Or being afraid of who you are…

Thoughts: I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this book for quite some time, especially after two of my friends read and enjoyed it at around the same time last summer. Personally, I liked it well enough. It’s your typical high school novel with a coming out theme, basically. No harm in that, of course, but it’s been done a lot of times before and for me to fall head over heels in love with it, the language would have had to be better. It’s not terrible, I just don’t think it’s earned more than a C rating from me, so that’s what it’s going to get.


13th November, 2007
Paper Moon; Marion Husband
— Love @ 21:43 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical

Paper Moon; Marion Husband Paper Moon
by Marion Husband
British

English
332 pages
Accent Press
ISBN: 1-905170-14-9

First line: The robe the man had given her to change into was dark blue silk, printed with storks and Japanese gardens and tiny bridges on which pigtailed men crossed shimmering streams.

Back cover blurb:
The passionate love affair between Spitfire pilot Bobby Harris and photographer’s model Nina Tate lasts through the turmoil of World War II, but is tested when his plain is shot down. Disfigured and wanting to hide from the world, Bobby retreats from Bohemian Soho to the empty house his grandfather has left him, a house haunted by the secrets of his childhood. Here the mysteries of his past are gradually unravelled.

Thoughts: This is the sequel to The Boy I Love and you can forget the issues I had with that book ending on a too depressing note. Turns out that, even though they are not the main characters this time around, my favourite people from that book still had story left for them and by the time I’d turned the last page, things were settled more to my liking.

It’s another B rating. It was easy enough to lose myself in (I couldn’t wait to get home from work so I could continue reading) and I’ll probably end up re-reading it at some point.


12th November, 2007
The Boy I Love; Marion Husband
— Love @ 14:03 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, GLBT interest, Historical

The Boy I Love; Marion Husband The Boy I Love
by Marion Husband
British

English
276 pages
Accent Press
ISBN: 1-905170-00-9

First line: Hiding in Adam’s pantry, Paul remembered how he was once forced to eat marmalade at school, a whole pot of marmalade, Jenkins twisting his arms up his back as Nichols held his nose and clattered the spoon past his teeth.

Back cover blurb:
A tangled web of love and betrayal develops when war hero Paul returns from the trenches. He finds himself torn between desire and duty, his lover Adam awaits but so too does Margot, the pregnant fiancée of his dead brother. Set in a time when homosexuality was still illegal, Paul has to decide where his loyalty and his heart lie.

Thoughts: At first I found the story a little confusing, as there are frequent, though very short, flashbacks. You get used to them after a while though, and they are interesting in the way that they don’t give everything away at once.

Don’t read this if you want a happy ending, because you won’t get it here. I’m a little tired now, of books with a homosexual theme that end on a depressing note. I’ve read too many of them lately — I want a happy ending for a gay character, damn it! But I guess there’s no change in sight any time soon, since EM Forster lamented the lack of happy endings as early as at the beginning of the 20th century. But I digress.

Despite the somewhat mopey feeling I was left with, I quite liked it. A B is in order, I think.


11th November, 2007
Kydd; Julian Stockwin
— Love @ 18:23 Comments (2)
Filed under: Adventure, C, English, Historical, Seafaring Challenge

Kydd; Julian Stockwin Kydd
by Julian Stockwin
British

For the Seafaring Challenge.

English
440 pages
Coronet Books
ISBN: 0-340-79474-7

First line: ‘The Honourable Member for Molton.’

Back cover blurb:
Guns. Guts. Courage. Discipline. Death.

The year is 1793. Europe is ablaze with war and men are urgently needed to man the ships. Press-ganged off the streets of Guildford, young wig-maker Thomas Paine Kydd must learn the harsh realities of shipboard life very quickly. It’s that or die.

In all the danger of tempest and battle, Kydd eventually learns to admire the skills and courage of his shipmates. He comes to relish the challenge of the 98-gun line-of-battle ship HMS Duke William, and the camaraderie of its battle-hardened crew. Kydd is loyal, brave and passionate. But will that be enough to turn the raw youth into a true sailor?

Thoughts: All other novels I’ve read on this theme have, more or less, featured officers as the main characters. This one doesn’t, which in a sense made it more interesting. However, I’ve discovered that I rather do prefer to read about officers rather than able (or ordinary, as the case may be) seamen.

This is just the first in a series of books, and while it was certainly okay (once I got in to it properly, which took a while, because of the tedium of everyday life aboard a blockade-cruising ship) , I have no urge to read the following books. If it had given me taste for more, my rating would have been higher, but as things are, I give it a C.


10th November, 2007
Bush-Whacked; Leland Gregory
— Love @ 17:50 Comments (0)
Filed under: English, F, Humour

Bush-Whacked; Leland Gregory Bush-Whacked
by Leland Gregory
American

English
248 pages
Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN: 0-7407-5471-8

Back cover blurb:
From the best-selling author of America’s Dumbest Criminals, What’s the Number for 911? and Hey, Idiot! comes a hysterical collection of perplexing quotes and wacky anecdotes devoted to the governmental goofs of the Bush administration.

With his expert nose for nuttiness, Leland Gregory has captured the Bush administration at its funniest, not its finest.

Thoughts: I was expecting to be very amused by this book, but that just didn’t happen. It’s true that it contains a few gems that made me giggle, but the author (or editor, if you will, since it’s a collection of quotes, basically) included a bunch of budget decisions that I couldn’t personally see anything wrong with. Since they were included, I assume they were meant to be funny, but I just didn’t see it. Maybe it’s because I’m not an American and I have another view, perhaps, on how tax money is meant to be spent.

Either way, in the end, I didn’t much care for this book and it gets an F, the first I’ve given out since this blog started.


10th November, 2007
Geography Club; Brent Hartinger
— Love @ 02:58 Comments (0)
Filed under: B, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, Young Adult

Geography Club; Brent Hartinger Geography Club
by Brent Hartinger
American

English
226 pages
Harper Tempest
ISBN: 0-06-001223-4

First line: I was deep behind enemy lines, in the very heart of the opposing camp.

Back cover blurb:
I knew that any wrong action, however slight, could reveal my true identity…

Russel is still going on dates with girls. Kevin would do anything to prevent his teammates on the baseball team from finding out. Min and Terese tell everyone they’re just really good friends. But after a while, the truth’s too hard to hide — at least from each other — so they form the “Geography Club.” Nobody else will come. Why would they want to? Their secret should be safe.

Thoughts: A short and sweet, though occasionally also depressing, tale of high school and how hard it can be if you are not perceived as ‘normal’, or you have to fake it to fit in. I liked it well enough, though the language sometimes felt a little too simple to me (not to mention the net speak that plagued the first chapter or two), so it receives a B.


9th November, 2007
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade; Diana Gabaldon
— Love @ 23:21 Comments (0)
Filed under: Adventure, B, English, GLBT interest, Historical, Mystery

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade; Diana Gabaldon Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
by Diana Gabaldon
American

English
504 pages
Century
ISBN: 978-1-844-13201-0

First line: To the best of Lord John Grey’s knowledge, stepmothers as depicted in fiction tended to be venal, evil, cunning, homicidal, and occasionally cannibalistic.

Back cover blurb:
It’s 1758 and Europe is in turmoil — the Seven Years War is taking hold and London is ripe with deceit. The enigmatic Lord John Grey, a nobleman and high-ranking officer in His Majesty’s Army, pursues a clandestine love affair and a deadly family secret.

Grey’s father, the Duke of Pardloe, shot himself just days before he was to be accused of being a Jacobite traitor. Now, seventeen years on, the family name has been redeemed; but an impending marriage revives the scandal. Lord John knows that as Whitehall whispers, rumours all too often lead their victims to the wails of Newgate prison — and to the gallows.

From barracks and parade grounds to the bloody battlefields of Prussia, Grey faces danger and forbidden passions in his search for the truth. But it is in the stony fells of the Lake District that he finds the man who may hold the key to his quest: the enigmatic Jacobite prisoner Jamie Fraser.

Eighteenth-century Europe is brought startlingly to life in this compelling adventure mystery.

Thoughts: I’m not sure if I actually like Diana Gabaldon’s writing or not. I like some of her characters exceedingly well, but the writing itself? It’s so hard to decide, and so hard, sometimes, to separate the two. Either way, Lord John is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters and I was very pleased to have him back.

Poor man, though; Gabaldon treats him abominably ill throughout the course of the book. He does get a few happy moments in the middle somewhere, but there aren’t many of them. I know I can be an angst whore, but sometimes enough is just enough. And I wish the sex scenes were more appealingly written.

All in all, this gets a B. I’ll most likely go back for a re-read later on. It is Lord John we’re talking about here, after all!


6th November, 2007
Brothers; Ted van Lieshout
— Love @ 11:34 Comments (0)
Filed under: C, English, Fiction, GLBT interest, Young Adult

Brothers; Ted van Lieshout Brothers
by Ted van Lieshout
Original title: Gebr
Dutch

English
155 pages
Collins Flamingo
ISBN: 0-00-711231-9

First line: This isn’t the beginning.

Back cover blurb:
Can you still be a brother when your brother is dead? Luke often wonders. His brother Marius has died, leaving Luke alone with their parents. When their mother decides to burn Marius’s belongings in a ceremonial bonfire, Luke saves his brother’s diary and makes it his own by writing in it. And so begins a dialogue between the brothers, the dead and the living, from which truths emerge, truths of life and death and love.

Thoughts: The language in this book isn’t spectacular, but I don’t know how much of that is from the translation, and how much is from the original. Despite this, I found myself captured for the moment and I have to admit I shed more than a few tears. Then again, I always have been a total sap when it comes to certain things.

I’m going to have to go with a C here. It’s a decent book and I don’t begrudge it the hour or two I spent reading it, but it’s far from being a favourite and the story and characters didn’t really stay with me long after I finished it.


4th November, 2007
Northanger Abbey; Jane Austen
— Love @ 18:15 Comments (2)
Filed under: B, Classics, English, Historical, Romance

Northanger Abbey; Jane Austen Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
British

English
236 pages
Penguin Popular Classics
ISBN: 0-14-062075-3

First line: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Back cover blurb:
Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s amusing and bitingly satirical pastiche of the ‘Gothic’ romances popular in her day.

Catherine Morland, an unremarkable tomboy as a child, is thrown amongst all the ‘difficulties and dangers’ of Bath at the ripe age of seventeen. Armed with an unworldly charm and a vivid imagination, she must overcome the caprices of elegant society, encountering along the way such characters as the vacuous Mrs Allen, coquettish Isabella and the brash bully John Thorpe. Catherine’s invitation to Northanger Abbey, in her eyes a haven of coffins, skeletons and other Gothic devices, does lead to an adventure, though one she didn’t expect, and her misjudgement of the ambitious, somewhat villainous General Tilney is not wholly unjustified. However, with the ‘unromantic’ hero Henry Tilney, Catherine gradually progresses towards maturity and self-knowledge.

Thoughts: I first read this almost ten years ago and I must say I had a whole new appreciation for it this time around. I don’t remember liking it exceptionally well before, but now I was quite enamoured — especially with Henry Tilney, who I believe I thought quite a bore previously. I still haven’t read any of the Gothic novels that Austen refers to on a number of occasions, but I do plan on getting some of them read within the next year. Perhaps I should have left my re-read of this until after, to appreciate it even more, but I don’t think it was absolutely necessary. And, after all, I could always read this again, should the fancy strike.

I give this book a B. It’s not the best book I ever read, but it was enjoyable.