Monday, November 30, 2009

In which I vlog, and get Stephen King's books confused

NB: I got Dolores Clairborne confused with Gerald's Game. It was late. Here you go:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In which I do not join any challenges

At least - not yet. I mean, a challenge that I was at the genesis of doesn't count, does it?
Of course not.
The details for the epically awesome LOTR readalong are here: and you should all join in the fun.
Er ... there'll most likely be a 2010 challenges post in the next few days. Failing at finishing them doesn't stop me from joining them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Woman in White review

For the Classic Blog Tour circuit. Mr Wilke Collins is visiting a variety of blogs over the next few weeks, and today it's my turn, with Mr Collins' very Victorian, very atmospheric mystery, The Woman in White.
Oh, Woman in White, how do I love thee? I love thee for the Mysterious Encounter in the first few pages, for the way you get out of the traces fast, and you don't let up.
I love thee for the many and varied ways you make me absolutely hate (Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco) certain characters, and for the way you make me love others wholeheartedly.
Well. The way you make me love one character wholeheartedly, and I will love you forever and ever
for Miss Marian Halcombe. I have an unabashed girl-crush on her, and wish to be her friend and take tea with her, and have her advise me about my life.
Oh, the book. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.
The book is wonderful. There are Secrets, and Lies, and Undercurrents, and I don't know how much of the book to summarise without giving stuff away.
A poor drawing-master, Walter Hartright, takes a job teaching painting to Miss Halcombe and her beloved half-sister, Laura Fairlie. The night before he's due to take up the position, Mr Hartright has a mysterious encounter with a shadowy woman in white, who he learns has escaped from an asylum.
Unfortunately - and inevitably - he falls in love with Miss Fairlie, and he and Miss Halcombe agree it's best that he leaves the position, as Miss Fairlie is betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde (boo!! hiss!!).
It turns out that the mysterious woman in white - one Anne Catherick - is inexorably tied to Sir Percival, and knows his ... Secret. Cue letters, and mysterious encounters, and ... all good and Gothic things.
Mr Collins has a way, also, of making places come alive - particularly Sir Percival's home at Blackwater Park, a gloomy, suffocating place surrounded by trees.
The Woman in White is the perfect winter read. Curl up on the couch on a stormy night, and lose yourself in Mr Collins' atmospheric tale.

9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum (my Mum would LOVE Miss Halcombe.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The reading week

It's time to ask that question again: What are you reading? posed here:

I'm reading The Woman in White for the Classic Circuit book tour, so just one book for me at the moment.

I still have Unseen Academicals by Mr Sir Terry Pratchett on the backburner and after that? Probably The Eye in the Door - book two of the Regeneration trilogy for Newsweek challenge. After that? Er ... pass.

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

50 Books For Our Time - Review #1

NB: This is "review one" because I chose the Regeneration trilogy, by Pat Barker. And I'm posting them one at a time because this sucker got long!

Also, it's a little stream-of-consciousness, so I don't know how much sense it makes. But these were the thoughts that struck me in reading the first book of the series, Regeneration.

So, a few months ago on, was talking about this list from Newsweek: which they called Fifty Books for Our Times.

And found herself hosting this: _ a reading challenge asking the question: are they 50 books for our times? Or are they titles that Newsweek just pulled out of a hat? (Okay, the last bit is mine.)

Books bloggers being ... books bloggers, we shouldered arms and took on those books, the challenge, and Newsweek.

I got the Regeneration trilogy, by Pat Barker, which is primarily about shell-shocked soldiers during World War I. I'm breaking the reviews down separately as I read the books, because this post is accidentally getting long.

Regeneration is short at about 250 pages, but it pack an emotional punch.

Here's the thing. We're pretty much out of World War I soldiers by now. They've gone into that good night; age has wearied and condemned them, and their stories are no longer memories, but tales passed down through families, or newspaper accounts, or novels like the Regeneration trilogy.

So yes, I believe that these books are for our times. In more than one way, too. Most of the figures in Regeneration - Wilfred Owen, Siegfired Sassoon, Rivers, are historical. They really lived through those awful times.

Owen, of course, is a celebrated war poet. Sassoon _ who wrote an incendiary statement saying he believed the war was being continued for profit _ is the protagonist of Regeneration. He comes to Craiglockheart _ the mental hospital that Rivers runs, to be "cured" of his supposed pacifism. Owens and Sassoon met at Craiglockheart, and apparently Sassoon had a profound influence on Owen's life and work.

Sasson didn't really see himself as a pacifist, but as someone with something important to say about the war. He also suffered from flashbacks and hallucinations _ what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder.

So. That's one way Regeneration is a novel for our times. The other reason? Owens and Sassoon were gay. Deeply closeted, although their sexual orientation would have been enough to get them out of active service.

But in the light of the rather weak "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the US - and probably other _ military outfits, and the continuing debate _ and struggle _ on legalising gay marriage _ Regeneration is a novel that does still matter.

The sexuality of these characters is dealt with subtly rather than outright, but it's easy to pick up in context. And I think _ in terms of when the novel is set _ it's a good approach. These men would have struggled with this; and possibly even remained closeted for their whole lives.

And, of course, this is set only 17 years after the death of Oscar Wilde, something that does prey on the mind of Sassoon, who was friends with with Robert Ross, a close friend (and lover I think? can't remember _ of Wilde's.)

Regeneration still has relevance, as a lot of the issues raised _ young people going off to war, the emotional and physical consequences of those actions, sexuality, repression and every day struggles _ are all present.

There's a gorgeous, sad passage about halfway through the book that talks about the very young now being like the very old as they watch their friends die around them, which _ for me _ summed up the war experience.

Plus, it's a bloody good read, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

So. Well done on this one Newsweek. You've hit the nail on the head. On to book two ...

Short reviews again.

Yes, I know. More short reviews. Sorry about that. Uh ... and swearing. Sorry about that, too.

The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood
So, Oryx and Crake was mostly about this guy, Jimmy, who went a bit nuts after most of the humans died, and he was left with these strange, bio-engineered cat people.

The Year of the Flood is set in the same dystopic universe as Oryx and Crake, but it isn't a sequel. It's more of a this-is-what-happened before, without exactly being a prequel either. Confused? Start with Orxy and Crake; it was published first. That's always easiest.

There are more people in The Year of the Flood, for one thing - the story is told from the perspective of two former members of God's Gardeners - a kind of environmental cult that's preparing for the Waterless Flood, which is basically an evil virus that's unleashed and does some serious, serious damage to the world.

I read The Year of the Flood a few weeks ago, and honestly, I have no idea what to say about it. I liked it - I liked it a lot, and I feel compelled to go back and re-read Oryx and Crake, but it's one of those novels. You read it, and then you try and compose your review in your head ... and nothing happens.
9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Have I said enough about these books yet? Yes? No? GO AND READ THEM. Seriously.
More dystopia (it's a bit of a theme with me lately) and I don't want to say too much if anyone's reading here who hasn't read The Knife of Never Letting Go.


Suffice it to say ... there is Trouble. Big, big trouble, as Todd and Viola struggle with the mad-bastard mayor of New Prentisstown. There are TWISTS and talking horses (seriously ... 'boy colt' is one of the most endearing things I've ever read). And now I demand that Mr Patrick Ness (sorry ... swears ahead) COME THE FUCK ON with book three. Thank you for your time.
9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum

Access Road by Maurice Gee
I forgot I'd read this one, actually, which is ... bad. And the book's not bad. It's a pretty good story, with Family Secrets and Betrayals and a Strange Man From the Past, but ... I wasn't as engaged with it as I wanted to be.

Rowan is in her 70s, looking back on various incidents in her life, involving her and her two brothers, Lionel and Roly, who are now living back at the old family home on Access Road. When someone from their distant past returns, Rowan is worried.

Liked it; didn't LOVE it. (I'm totally Simon Cowell here ...)

7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The reading week

What are you reading on Monday? Hosted here:

Sigh. I'm still reading Regeneration, for Newsweek challenge. It's a short book, but it's taken me more than a week to read.

Next on the nightstand is The Woman in White for the Classic Circuit book tour, Unseen Academicals, by Mr Sir Terry Pratchett, and a co-re-read of The Vintner's Luck with Vasilly :)

Happy reading!