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

Archive: A


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.


18th May, 2008
Farlig midsommar; Tove Jansson
— Love @ 18:23 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, Adventure, Children's lit, Decades '08, Fantasy, Swedish

Farlig midsommar; Tove Jansson Farlig midsommar
by Tove Jansson
Title in English: Moominsummer Madness
Finnish

For the Decades ’08 reading challenge (first published 1954).

Swedish
146 pages
Alfabeta
ISBN: 91-501-0478-0

First line: Mumintrollets mamma satt på trappan i solskenet och riggade en barkbåt.

Back cover blurb:
Där kommer en teater på drift och med den driver muminfamiljen in i en midsommarnatt som är full av trolldom och överraskning, av nya vänner och fiender.
Vet ni att hattifnattar kommer ur frö och att man måste så dem på midsommarnatten? Har ni nånsin borrat hål genom ert eget golv eller sett en självlysande parkvakt? Och är ni medvetna om hur hemskt farligt det är att vissla på teatern?
Det här är en berättelse om vad som hände i den magiska månaden juni samma år som det eldsprutande berget rörde på sig och Mumintrollets mamma gjorde sin vackraste barkbåt.

Very short synopsis in English: After a huge wave floods Moomin Valley, the Moomins make their escape to a floating theatre.

Thoughts: I love Snufkin. I kind of always have. He’s fantastic and I’m terribly sorry to those who don’t read Swedish, because I am going to post some quotes and they are amazing but you won’t be able to tell. Woe is you.

Skräm dem med Mårran föreslog hon. Det gör min syster.
Blir du snäll då? frågade Snusmumriken.
Naturligtvis inte! sa Lilla My och skrattade så att hon ramlade omkull.

Förmårrade ungar! sa Snusmumriken som stod och tvättade deras strumpor vid husknuten. Har ni glömt att vi tjärade taket i morse? Vill ni att jag ska överge er, kasta mig i sjön eller slå ihjäl er?
Ingetdera! skrek ungarna och drog honom i rocken. Du ska läsa ditt brev!

There’s another quote from Snufkin that I love, but I forget which book it’s from. No matter, I shall insert it here and pretend I’m doing it just because I was talking about him anyway.

One can never be entirely free, if one admires someone else too much.

That is a very wise thing to say, indeed.

Farlig midsommar receives an A grade as well, because it deserves it.


17th May, 2008
Trollkarlens hatt; Tove Jansson
— Love @ 18:16 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Adventure, Children's lit, Fantasy, Swedish

Trollkarlens hatt; Tove Jansson Trollkarlens hatt
by Tove Jansson
Title in English: Finn Family Moomintroll
Finnish

For the A-Z reading challenge.

Swedish
158 pages
Alfabeta
ISBN: 91-501-0479-9

First line: En grå morgon föll den första snön över Mumindalen.

Back cover blurb:
Den här berättelsen börjar med trolldom en tidig vårmorgon och slutar en varm augustinatt som aldrig kommer att glömmas i Mumindalen. Däremellan ligger Mumintrollets långa sommar, full av solsken och åskväder. Den kunde ha varit som en vanlig sommar med upptäckter av nya öar, med långrevsfiske i duggregn och lyckliga bad i bränningarna och hemlighetsfulla nattvandringar—men så hittade muminfamiljen Trollkarlens hatt. Och efter det var ingenting som vanligt längre.
Farlighet och spänning hade kommit in i dalen och tassade hotfullt kring deras hus. Varje dag händr otroliga och upprörande saker—de hade med andra ord aldrig haft så roligt förr!
Det här är historien om små och stora kryp och om glada händelser och hemska händelser som alltid måste vara hopblandade för att ens sommar ska bli riktig och underbar.

Very short synopsis in English: After the Moomins find a peculiar hat, their summer turns into a strange one.

Thoughts: MOOMINS! =D Coherence has gone right out the window, sorry.

This is basically amazing and possibly my favourite Moomin book. Read it! (Banquo says it better.)

An A rating, yes.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


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.


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.


22nd January, 2008
Duktig pojke; Inger Edelfeldt
— Love @ 15:20 Comments (1)
Filed under: A, A-Z Reading Challenge, Decades '08, GLBT interest, Swedish, Young Adult

Duktig pojke; Inger Edelfeldt Duktig pojke
by Inger Edelfeldt
Swedish

For the Decades ’08 (first published 1977) and A-Z reading challenges.

Swedish
208 pages
Rabén & Sjögren
ISBN: 91-29-64869-6

First line:
Han var ett väldigt snällt barn, annars var det väl ingenting som skilde honom från andra barn; jag menar, ingenting som märktes.

Back cover blurb:
“Är det här nåt slags modenyck, Jim?” grälade min far. “Nåt sånt här Davy Boogie-trams? Det trodde jag verkligen du var för intelligent för att gå på!”
Ja, sådär har det alltid varit. Jag hade alltid varit en “duktig pojke”. Alla utom jag själv visste precis vem jag var och hur jag borde utforma mitt liv. Min framtid skulle bli en tvångströja av krav och normer, som jag inte vågade frigöra mig ifrån. Min mörka hemlighet — min kärlek — skulle alltid förbli just en mörk hemlighet.
Det trodde jag, tills jag mötte Mats…

Thoughts: I’ll start off this review with the rating, for a change, since I’m giving the book an A and there’s no doubt in my mind that it deserves it. I mean, it’s my sixth re-read of it — obviously I like it a lot!

I really wish I could share it with all of you, but as far as I’m aware it’s only been translated into German (maybe Spanish), and that was a while ago, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s out of print now.

Basically, it’s a coming-of-age story about Jim, who grows up feeling different from the people around him. To cover up his isolation and make it bearable, he throws himself into his schoolwork and excels at it — he’s en duktig pojke (a good boy). Then, the summer he turns fifteen, he figures out the secret he’s kept locked away inside — he’s gay. From then on, he throws himself into his schoolwork even more, desperate to not let the secret out. And then, in the last week of high school, he meets Mats and things start to change.

Mats is… well, Mats! But that means all sorts of wonderful things and I am seriously in love with this character. I’d managed to forget this time exactly how much, so when he appeared on the page again I was just as swept away as the first time around. He’s snarky, and sweet, and he hand paints the frames of his spectacles — what’s not to like? ;)

Another important character is Jim’s mother. Each chapter in the book starts with a paragraph or two written from her point of view and previously they have always made me feel sorry for her. I’m not sure exactly what’s changed, but this time around her self-pity just made me want to strangle her.

In the end, though, it’s still a great book and I still have to finish it in one sitting. There’s just no way that I can sit down, read a couple of chapters, then put the book down and go on my merry business doing something else. If I start it, I have to finish it then and there, with the consequence that I only got about five and a half hours of sleep last night. It was so worth it, though.


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!