Thursday, 31 July 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Following neatly on from last week's first sentences, this week's BTT:

"What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?"

I remember reading once that it's a very Gemini trait to turn to always turn to the last page first, unable to resist temptation, and I admit when I was younger I used to do that quite often. These days, I get to the end of a book with regret and don't often want to speed up the process as I enjoy the anticipation too much.

I read that Ernest Hemingway wrote the ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls thirty nine times because he " couldn't get it right" and to quote Mickey Spillane, "Your opening paragraph sells the book. The final paragraph sells your next book."

I am sure that all authors put as much effort into the last lines of their books but it's honestly not something that I've watched out for in the same way as I would first lines. That in mind, I had a quick chat with google and discovered that both these are last lines:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

"After all, Tomorrow is another day." Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind.

Both of those lines are such incredibly famous quotes from the books but, in spite of having read them both, I had no idea that they were the actual last lines. Clearly, I need to pay more attention in the future if I am going to do a BTT post like this any justice!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Man Booker Longlist

The Man Booker long list, chosen from a total of 112 entries, has been announced and includes five first novels, as well as two by previous winners. I've made a pretty slideshow for ease of clicking to find out what each book is about!

Erm - is now a good time to confess that prior to doing a spot of digging on Amazon, I'd only heard of Child 44...? I was half considering reading the whole list before the short-list is announced on 9th September but perhaps I'll hang on and let the judges lighten my load first before reading the final six before 14th October!

Mrs Darcy's Dilemma

Mrs Darcy's Dilemma is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and is set 25 years after the events that took place in that book.

Before I move onto talking about Mrs Darcy's Dilemma, I should make it clear that I am a big fan of Miss Austen and her work and that Pride and Prejudice easily features in my Top Five books of all time. I was really not sure about the prospect of reading a follow-up and put this one off for a couple of months, despite the praise it got from both dovegreyreader and random jottings, as I really, really didn't want it to be anything like Alexandra Potter's Me and Mr Darcy. If you've not read that gem then please, please promise me that you won't.

I digress.

The story opens with Elizabeth Darcy inviting two of Lydia Wickham's daughters, Bettina and Cloe, to come and stay with her family. The Darcy's have three children (Fitzwilliam, Henry and Jane), their relationship is comfortable and their marriage has been a personal success - even if Lady Catherine would still disagree.

The plot is enjoyable, the characters fit into the P&P world nicely, we get updates for most characters and it's a comfortable read with no jarring notes. I initially thought Bettina's sub-plot was a bit racy, but gather from Claire Tomalin's excellent biography that some of Jane Austen's teenage fiction was pretty sensationalist so perhaps not! Overall, I enjoyed this book which is a nice follow-up to the original and would be very happy to read more by Diana.

Want More?
Well, you could pop over to the author's website, read Diana's blog or pop over to Stuck In A Book and read interesting the Q&A they did together back in March.

Monday, 28 July 2008

What a dilemma!

That rather feeble post title refers to my current read - Mrs Darcy's Dilemma by Diana Birchall. I was interested to see that it made dovegreyreader's breaking reader's block list and thought it was time to read it! I'm about half way through and enjoying it immensely.

So, to celebrate what is the start of my "Jane Austen" reading pile (which along with her books also includes her collected letters, Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen biography and Deirdre le Faye's The World of Her Novels) I've made some themed bookmarks to use. I had a bit of trouble with the cutting-out-in-a-straight-line but I think that they still look very pretty.

A4 pdf available of all four if anyone wants their own - email me!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Random Acts of Heroic Love - Danny Scheinmann

Random Acts of Heroic Love is Danny Scheinmann's debut novel and came to prominance after being selected as one of Richard and Judy's book club reads last year. The title alone was enough to convince me to read this book even though I didn't know anything about it!

This book follows two intertwining story threads. The first is that of 25 year old Leo Deakinwho has woken up in a South American hospital with no clear recent memories and who learns that Eleni, his girlfriend, has been killed in the same bus crash that put him there. We follow Leo as he returns home to England and struggles to come to terms with the loss of Eleni.

The second story thread starts at the outset of World War One and follows Moritz Daniecki as he is conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army and sent to fight on the Russian front, leaving behind him his young love Lotte. He experiences horrific, freezing battle conditions on the before being captured and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. His memories of Lotte give him the determination and strength to survive his experience and his journey back to try to find her is remarkable in that it was actually undertaken by Scheinmann's grandfather.

Between them, both stories cover decent ground in terms of dealing with love, loss and hope however for me the Leo storyline fizzled out once he'd returned home and I soon lost patience with his situation wishing that he'd been killed in the crash rather than the more interesting character of Eleni. Luckily, it was interspersed with Moritz's journey home or I might have given up on this one.

Feeling I am being a bit harsh, I'd say it's a good debut novel with the story itself being enough to keep you engaged but don't expect too much from the Leo bits.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Crime Scene Evidence!

So that's who has been eating all my strawberries...

A Hidden Life - Adèle Geras

The lovely Adèle Geras was kind enough to send me a copy of A Hidden Life after reading on here how much I enjoyed Facing the Light earlier this year.

From the blurb - "When Constance Barrington dies, she leaves behind a wealthy estate and a complex family network. But when the whole family gathers to hear her last will and testament, they are in for a terrible shock. Constance - possessed of a long memory and a spiteful disposition - altered her will shortly before her death. The new provisions are far from fair; some benefit hugely and others hardly at all. Constance's granddaughter, Louise, is bequeathed the copyright for her late grandfather's novels.

Soon, old family feuds and long-hidden resentments come to the surface, and with them, secrets start to emerge. But it is through Louise's inheritance - those dusty, long-forgotten books - that the most explosive secret of all will come to light, bringing with it a very different future for her and the rest of the family."

This is a family saga in the best of the tradition - plenty of internal politics with shifting alliances, shifting point of view narrative, greedy battles over money with a mystery at its heart. The main thread, or maybe that's just me, was Lou's re-reading and exploration of one of her grandfather's books, Blind Moon, and the untangling of fact from fiction as we learned more about his life.

It's a book that once started was almost impossible to put down... so I didn't and greedily devoured it in one day. Definitely a book for reading in the sunshine whilst we attempt to enjoy the English "summer".

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Booking Through Thursday

This week's Booking Through Thursday:

"What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?"

Clearly, it would be awfully remiss not to mention the wonderful opening line from Pride & Prejudice, which is "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." This must be one of the most famous lines in literature and it's a gem.

There's an opening line that really stuck in my mind - so much so that it's the sole reason the book is on my "to buy" list. "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." That one is from Deanna Raybourne's Silent in the Grave and, although I've not yet read the book, has me very intrigued.

I don't think I've ever liked a book solely because of a first line or that a successful one would change my impression of a subsequently average read. It is a lovely feeling though to start a new book and within one sentence have already paused for reflection. It's not something that often happens but when it does you know you're on to a winner.

Anyone who has even the vaguest interest in the opening lines of books should head over to twitterlit. It's a great site that posts the first line of a book every day which is such a simple concept that's strangely addictive.

Bonus Feature - a short quiz from the BBC from 2004 - how well do you know these famous opening lines? My 8/10 is respectable but I do confess to a couple of guesses.

Sony Reader

Hot on the heel of yesterday's post on free reads comes the news, courtesy of The Independent that the Sony Reader is coming to the UK. Which is quite handy as after a downloading frenzy I now have several books in an e-format to read! Priced at £199 and available for pre-order at Waterstones or via Sony stores now.

If I was still travelling loads with work this would be a tempting offer however having read this very in depth and useful article from a reviewer last year, I think I'll wait for the second generation to be released. Or until someone buys me one as a present!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Freebies Bonanza

From Tor's sparkly new site:

"...for some months now, has been making free, un-DRMed electronic editions of particular Tor titles, one per week, available to people who register at the page which has been temporarily holding down the URL. At any rate, now that the life of our doughty little holding page is drawing to a close (shed a tear), we thought we'd make everything we gave away there--all the novels, all of the desktop wallpaper--available for one additional week, starting today and running through Sunday, July 27."

The full list is here and looks pretty tempting - included are Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain, John Scalzi's Old Man War and many, many more. If only I had some kind of electronic reading device to hand!

Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock

I've just finished reading Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, which I was prompted to dig out and read after it featured over on Neth Space. [edit: I might have just finished this book when I wrote this but then forgot to post it for a week - whoops!]

In the aftermath of World War Two, Steve Huxley returns home following the death of his father. He find that his brother, Christian, has become obsessed with their father's investigation notes on the mysterious Ryhope Wood which borders their home. Ryhope Wood is an ancient woodland that has lain undisturbed since the ice age and appears no more than three square miles in area from the outside. However, as Steve and his friend Harry Keeton soon discover, it's significantly bigger, and more dangerous, on the inside.

The Mythagos of the title are myth-creatures who are created from the subconscious minds of the humans who live near them and are generally based on folk tales or racial memories. This means that there are a range of influences at play within the woods with a mixture of mythagos appearing from pre-history, from myths, folk heroes and legends as well as more recent incarnations - the accuracy and strength depending on the imagination of the people who live nearby.

For a book first published in the 1980s, it feels strangely old fashioned. It slightly reminded me of the Cosmic Trilogy by C.S. Lewis but that could just be because both start out in a countryside that isn't quite what it seems. Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1985 and it is a really original book that is quite different to anything that came before it. Robert Holdstock has written several books in the setting of the Mythago Wood and I might well hunt out the sort-of-sequel, Lavondyss, to delve deeper as I gather that's the best.

Monday, 21 July 2008

I am the Very Model of a Modern SF Novelist

By Jim C Hines.

I am the very model of a modern SF novelist,
I've manuscripts space opera, anime, and fantasist,
I know the kings of fandom and the best flamewars historical
From Andrew Burt to LiveJournal, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted too, with matters editorial,
I keep my cover letters brief and never too suctorial,
About rejection etiquette I'm teeming with propriety,
With many cheerful facts about your online notoriety,
I'm very good at worldbuilding and proper use of ansibles;
I know the hyphenated names of beings unpronounceable:
In short, in matters space opera, anime, and fantasist,
I am the very model of a modern SF novelist.

I know our genre history, from H. G. Wells to Arthur Clarke,
I've read so much time travel, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in panel talks the wise advice of Crispin and Miss Snark,
I study wormholes, galaxies and theories about matter dark;
I can tell a work professional from books Publish America,
I know the Eye of Argon from Conan of Cimmeria!
Then I can hum the melody from every last John Williams score,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal film Fantastic Four.
I'll write you books of goblin war and princesses who won't conform,
And tell show you every detail of a goblin warrior's uniform:
In short, in matters space opera, anime, and fantasist,
I am the very model of a modern SF novelist.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "grok" and "droid" and "FTL",
When I can tell at sight the sword Excalibur from Anduril,
When twists in stories I perceive by reading just one paragraph,
And when I know precisely how to pen a clever epigraph,
When I have followed breakthroughs yearly in e-book technology,
When I know more of grammar than my profs from University--
In short, when you run out and buy and read every last book by me--
You'll say a better novelist has never writ a fantasy.
My works even appear in many dialects European,
Thanks to the perseverance of my agent JABberwockian;
In short, in matters space opera, anime, and fantasist,
I am the very model of a modern SF novelist.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

What to do with unwanted books...

Oh dear. Sometimes a book really is just unloved and unwanted. Here's a crafty list of ideas, from birdhouses to purses, to turn them into something other than a book to read. Although the thought of sacrificing one of my books makes me shudder, there are some lovely ideas there.

Of course, you can also give them to charity, free them at book crossing or sell them on green metropolis!

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Good Life

Something is up at Bookling Towers and it's having a drastic impact on my reading rate! This month I've bottled my first batch of home-brewed wine and set up two more batches. I've baked strawberry tarts using the produce from our four strawberry plants. We've eaten home grown herby salads from the garden - and willed the tomatos and cucumber to geta move on. I've made several loaves of bread, embarked on a cooking-from-scratch spree and now this!

I've never made chutney before and, if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty well. It's a pity I got my labels too wet so they bubbled but at least it tastes yummy.

In the spirit of Freecycling, if I am right to call it that, I've already bartered one pot for strawberry jam and a bottle of the wine for elderflower champagne. Any other takers?

Next up, I've got my eye on Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook, as recommended over on Cornflower's blog, as I'm sure cookbooks don't count as new books so it wouldn't violate my ban. I'm also considering making my own parma ham having read about it in my copy of Preserved... Or am I getting carried away?


After my post about Watchmen earlier this month, here's a sneak preview of the official trailer!

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Constant Gardener - John le Carré

I've watched the excellent 2005 film adaptation, directed by Fernando Meirelles, of John le Carré's The Constant Gardener and loved it. I've read that le Carré said that the film followed the plot of the book but not the story and having read the book I agree but don't think that the adaption suffered.

For those who have not watched the film, or read the book, the Constant Gardener tells the story of Justin Quayle, a British diplomat based in Nairobi, and his recently murdered wife, Tessa, who has become a passionate activist championing a number of local issues. Investigating what Tessa was researching at the time of hear death takes Justin around the world and uncovers an uncomfortable dossier of evidence that implicates the dubious business practices of a very influential drugs company.

This is an interesting book that quite probably hits a few nerves. I find it hard to say if I'd have enjoyed it as much if I'd not had the imagery from the film in my head - especially the chapters set in Kenya. I think it's a strong story with an element of suspense throughout as you try to understand what shade of grey each character really is - nothing is ever black and white.

It's one of the few instances where I prefer the film to the book, although that isn't to say that the book's not good in its own right! I plan to re-watch the film in the near future so it'll be interesting to see it again in light of some of the extra knowledge I now have.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

I've just finished reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. What an experience. The only other graphic novel I've read is V for Vendetta, also by Alan Moore, which I loved reading but this was something else.

The artwork by Dave Gibbons is incredible - I spent ages just staring at the almost cinematic imagery on the first page! If you clicked that link then you'll probably also gather that this is not a story about kittens and bunnies. It's a pretty bleak tale and contains plenty of violence - not one for children.

The story is set in an alternative 1980s America where the threat of an all-out nuclear war is very real. It follows a group of retired super heroes (although as with the exception of Dr Manhattan they don't actually have super powers perhaps it's more accurate to describe them as a group of volunteer vigilantes) whom someone is, or appears to be, picking off one by one. What I quite liked about the book as I was reading it was that I was never quite sure who was a goodie and who was a baddie, possibly because no-one is ever really either, and that really helped to build genuine suspense as I didn't know where the story was headed and I could see that the clock was ticking down the minutes... The ethical and political points made in the story are as relevant today as they were in 1986/7, when the comics were first published and this makes for a thought-provoking, as well as entertaining, read.

It's being made into a film, directed by Jack Snyder who also directed the visually delightful 300, which will be released 6th March 2009. This should make for interesting, of dark, viewing but I really can't figure out how they'll manage the transition of some of the sub-plots. The costumed actors in the publicity stills look pretty impressive though so fingers crossed it's a good one.

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Witch of Portobello - Paulo Coelho

"This is the story of Athena, or Sherine, to give her the name she was baptised with. Her life is pieced together through a series of recorded interviews with those people who knew her well or hardly at all - her mother, colleagues, teachers, friends, acquaintances, her ex-husband. The novel unravels Athena's mysterious beginnings, via an orphanage in Romania, to a childhood in Beirut."

We know from the outset that Athena, who has been dubbed 'The Witch of Portobello' for her seeming powers of prophecy. has been murdered. Each chapter is a transcript of an interview with someone who came into contact with her and gradually the reader comes to understand how Athena/Sherine has developed her spiritual philosophy and how her influence on those around her may have resulted in her death. The first person narrative allows each character to provide differing views of Athena and project an interpretation of events unfolding that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about their impartiality.

I've not read any of Coelho's other books, although I am sure I have a copy of The Alchemist lurking somewhere, and I admit that I approached reading this one with some caution. I think I was expected it to be a bit more inaccessible and mystical. There is a lot of exploration of the religion of the Mother and how to attain communion with her and achieve happiness that's not based on dependence on others/materiality however this is mixed in with a decent plot where you care about (most of) the characters and want to know what events happen that lead to her death.

Based on this, I might dig out that copy of The Alchemist if only to find out why it's "a global phenomenon". Or so the blurb says.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

For non RookRabbiters

They're giving away free books to the first 1000 people who upload bookshelves and tag five books. New registrations only so that's me out but I might as well spread joy since I utterly failed to get my act together in time to participate in BAFAB week.

I feel even worse about this as I won a book today over at Oxford Reader's blog. Rumours I bribed Andrex the rabbit are false, I tell you. False! *cough*

I'll run a random one myself soon though. Promise! Or I could plan something insane for the next one in October. Food for thought!


My sincere apologies to anyone on a feed to this blog. I've just spammed it with the book posts that I've been meaning to finish off/write/get around to for the last couple of weeks. At last I am up to date though and people who've come here via a path that was not a feed will never know the difference.


Except I just told them.


Friday, 4 July 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns last night by resisting the lure of sleep and reading until my eyes were burning. It was so worth it.

The story is set in modern Afghanistan and follows the lives of two young women over the course of three decades starting with the illegitimate Mariam who is fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry a successful shoemaker, Rasheed, who is 45 at the time of their wedding. Many years later, following personal tragedy, their beautiful neighbour Laila, who is also just fifteen, moves in with them. Initially distrustful of each other, circumstances mean that the women grow to love and protect one another against a backdrop of political upheaval in their country.

I always find it very hard in these circumstances to describe what it was that I found so good about a book without giving away spoilers. As I knew nothing about this book, other than being told I "must" read it by the friend who pressed it upon me a couple of weeks ago, I will do my best to leave anyone reading this post in the same state!

Hosseini writes this powerful story with talent and depicts the everyday lives of these two woman, and their supporting cast, with empathy and compassion. For me, what's remarkable about this book is that the plot is centred on the lives of just a handful of people living in a country where there must be thousands of women leading very similar lives. It also gives an insight into Afghan life over the last forty years or so that I found very troubling. I'd not realised the swift pace of change that's taken place there within just a couple of generations let alone just how extreme that the swing in political regimes was. Almost casual brutality is part of everyday life during war that ripped the country apart and in a very patriarchal society women and children suffer without recourse. I'd like to think that life was easier for people living in Kabul in 2008 however I suspect that it's not all that different.

Having enjoyed this book, I clearly should finally get around to reading The Kite Runner and I am positive that I have an un-read copy of The Bookseller of Kabul somewhere that might make another good companion piece.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost is the first book by Catherine O'Flynn and was winner of this year's Costa First Novel Award as well as being long listed for the Booker and Orange prizes. Not bad for an author who was first rejected by 20 publishers and agents...

What Was Lost opens in 1984 with a private detective, the very inquisitive Kate Meaney, and her cuddly monkey Mickey investigating potential "crimes" in and around the new Green Oaks shopping centre. Although very likable, Kate is clearly a very lonely little girl who is using her self-imposed surveillance routine to escape a lack of love, understanding and friendship at home.

Kate's only "real" friends are also misfits. There's Adrian, the graduate son of the local corner shop owner, and a new girl at school, Theresa, who clearly has a very unpleasant home life and doesn't fit in either. The delightful innocence of this section of the book is overshadowed by the knowledge, from the blurb on the back of the book, that a little girl went missing 20 years ago.

The story jumps to 2004 and centres on one of the Green Oaks night security staff, Kurt, and his developing friendship with Lisa who is the a fed up deputy manager of a Your Music branch. Catherine O'Flynn used to be the deputy manager of an unnamed chain music shop and I strongly suspect that the keenly observed stories in this part of the book are toned down. Some of the customer character assassinations and the view that the staff have of management store visits are just too darkly accurate to be entirely fiction.

Gradually, you come to realise that most of the people in the modern section of the book are somehow connected to Kate Meaney and have been affected by her disappearance in one way or another. As the book concludes, the threads are neatly pulled together and you learn what really happened in 1984.

This book is about more than the story of Kate and the lives she touches - it's also about consumerism and its impact on the way we live today. The claustrophobic setting of the Green Oaks shopping centre, with its miles of serivce corridors populated by miserable staff works well. It's an enclosed environment where people routinely go to fill their lives by buying goods that they don't really want, spend time with people that they don't really like and where that they think that they want is dictated by advertising. Some of the end of chapter monologues are very effective at demonstrating this almost hive mentality.

Finishing this funny/sad book left me with a real sense of loss - it's an impressive debut novel and I look forward to reading her next book. I've seen that Catherine O'Flynn is due to appear in the Literary Tent at Latitude Festival in a couple of weeks and fingers crossed she's scheduled for the Saturday as that's when I've got a ticket!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

June Reading List

It's so much nicer to sumarise the month's reading in one post and link to the posts about each book. Even if I am having to back-date this post as I didn't quite get it all written up in time! Must. Try. Harder!
After much deliberation, partly caused by how very subjective my POTM* award is, I hereby name Notes From An Exhibition the winner for June. No prize though - just honour!

* Pick of the Month!