Books, life the universe

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Reading . . . .

I finished reading Jane Austen's Mansfield Park last night and I do like Fanny Price. So many people think she is a little boring. But anyone who can ignore the unpleasant Mrs Norris, stand up to Sir Thomas Bertram and refuse the attentions of the smarmy Henry Crawford must have more going for her than many readers seem to think. I suspect many people who don't like her forget that what is acceptable behaviour now definitely wasn't then. Henry's flirtations with Maria and Julia Bertram would be considered unimportant now but then - when marriage was as much a business transaction as an emotional relationship - it was a different matter.

I started reading Leigh Russell's Road Closed last night and found it engrossing reading - to the extent that I read all of part 1 - about 8o pages- even though I had the latest Barbara Erskine tugging at my sleeve and clamouring for my attention! I did start reading Time's Legacy as well before I fell asleep. I'm lucky enough to have received a proof copy of Time's Legacy through Amazon Vine - which allows its members to pick from a list of free books - usually advance copies - every month. I was surprised to see Barbara Erskine on there because she has a large readership anyway. Lady of Hay sold 2 million copies! But I'm more than glad to receive a copy at least 6 weeks before publication.

Friday, 28 May 2010

How time flies . . .

I really don't know where this week has gone to and now it's the weekend already! I've just had the front garden done with blue slate chippings - as I got really fed up with the lawn which never really looked right in any case and didn't grow very well in patches where it got too dry and where it got no sun. We've still got the hedge and the Rowan tree so it's not completely barren. Next door one side had their pocket handkerchief done as well. At the moment it looks very bright but it will look all right once it's been rained on.

I'm currently still indulging in an orgy of Jane Austen; reading Mansfield Park and listening to Sense and Sensibility. I'm also reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas which is about a man at a friend's BBQ who slaps a child - not his own. The book is about the repercussions from that one single act has amongst the friends who were at the BBQ when the parents of the child go to the police.

What a good idea for a novel you might think as it provides lot of opportunities for showing characters in their ordinary lives and the effect of one ill thought out action on them and their relationships. But it is set in Melbourne and the culture there must be completely different from the UK. There is much use of heavy duty swear words, casual racism and a fascination with violent imagery. At least two of the main characters - male - are having affairs.

It is clear the men are the boss at home. They walk into a room and change the music their wives are listening to and insist on their choices. Wives get bawled out if they talk about their lives to anyone and the husbands are always thinking about smashing their faces in even if they regard themselves as happily married. Not pleasant. The writing is good and it would be even more powerful if the bad language, violence, misogyny and racism weren't there. It is perfectly possible to indicate that a character swears without using the words.

For light entertainment I'm also reading Victoria Clayton's Dance with Me.

I have received today - from Amazon - my copy of Leigh Russell's Road Closed - the month before official publication so I will probably be able to post my interview with Leigh AND a review of the book at the same time. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sheer stupidity is not noted for its sensible articles - unless you go for the wilder shores of conspiracy theory land. However I was totally taken aback by an article entitled 'Do animated movies prepare children for sodomy?' posted on 22 May 2010 and written by someone called Sam Peyo.

The author analyses movies such as Shark Tale, Madagascar I, Ice Age II attempting to show that there are scenes in which homosexuality can be inferred by the characters' appearances or behaviour or from scenes where animals are hit up the behind by something or someone. The latter is pretty standard cartoon stuff I would have thought but there seems to be a deeper meaning in it to this author. As for Melman the Giraffe being gay in Madagascar - I must say I didn't notice. Was there really a character in Ice Age II who wore an ear ring? If so it completely passed me by and I have seen the film.

The author might just as well be saying that the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz was gay because of his behaviour and what about the cowardly lion? Obviously a woman trapped in a man's body.

I sometimes wonder whether people like this author have ever heard of 'projection' because it seems to me there's a hell of a lot of projection going on here.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Road Closed and Leigh Russell

I reviewed Leigh Russell's first book, Cut Short, on this blog last year and her latest one featuring DI Geraldine Steel called Road Closed will be out in June. I will be publishing an interview with Leigh during June - probably about 14th or 15th. I will also be reviewing Road Closed during June.

Cut Short is the sort of crime story I really enjoy - not too much violence - a complex and intriguing plot - interesting and believable characters. I am looking forward to reading Road Closed and publishing my first author interview - which I hope people will enjoy reading. Thank you to Leigh for taking the time to answer my questions.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Vault

I have read a few of Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series of crime novels and enjoyed them. The other night I was rummaging around in my unread books pile and came across a very old and battered copy of The Vault. I just fancied reading something not too deep and crime-ish. It is excellent. Bath, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and William Blake's art - pretty good combination really I thought.

It is a complex story of all sorts of disparate bits which are, of course, all interconnected. The characters are well drawn - an eccentric antiques dealer, a flash local councillor, an apparent hippie who runs a travelling puppet theatre, a persistent journalist who wants to join the police and an English Literature Professor from the US who is crazy about Mary Shelley. I can't really write any more about it without giving away the plot but I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Northanger Abbey

I've been listening to an audio book of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey read by Juliet Stevenson and really enjoyed it. It pokes fun at the craze for Gothic novels such as Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho in the early 19th century. Catherine Morland visits Bath with her friends Mr and Mrs Allen. She makes friends with Isabella and John Thorpe - a brother and sister who it is clear are definitely not quite her sort of people even though they are friends with her brother. Then she meets Henry and Eleanor Tilney - another brother and sister who are in Bath with their father - General Tilney. An invitation to stay at their home Northanger Abbey soon follows - which delights Catherine not least because of the prospect of staying in an abbey.

As ever Jane Austen creates some lovable characters and some thoroughly objectionable ones - such as John Thorpe who does his best to break up Catherine's friendship with the Tilneys. I laughed over some of it and even cried towards the end. What is it about audio books which brings stories to life? I wonder whether it is that it reminds me of being read to as a child? Who knows? I know I find it relaxing to listen to them - especially Jane Austen - and now have 5 of her 6 novels in unabridged format. I am also re-reading the text as well and have read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and have just started Mansfield Park. I have yet to but an unabridged edition of Persuasion - that is next on my list.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Wild Romance

That got you reading! It's the title of a book by Chloe Schama about a lady called Theresa Longworth who met a guy called William Yelverton on a steamer travelling from France to England. They start writing to each other and eventually meet up again. After several years they go through an informal marriage service in Scotland and then a church service in Ireland. But were they really married? Theresa believed so but William eventually married someone else. Theresa attempted through court cases in Ireland and Scotland to get his subsequent marriage declared bigamous - without any real success. She spent the rest of her life travelling the world and writing about it and he disappeared into obscurity.

The first half of the book - the growth of the relationship and the trials - was fascinating reading but the second half almost seemed like padding. There wasn't really a whole book in this in my opinion though it could have been used as a jumping off point to examine the invidious legal position of women, and especially married women, in Victorian England. Married women weren't treated as individuals but as extensions of their husbands therefore it was virtually impossible for a wife to challenge her husband in a court of law. Theresa found herself damned if she did and damned if she didn't. She had to prove the marriage legal or risk damaging her reputation beyond repair.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Books read and reading

Lucy Kellaway's In Office Hours should be read by anyone who works, or has worked in an office. It is about two women at opposite ends of the office hierarchy at Atlantic Energy. Both for reasons, which are not always clear even to them, embark on affairs with colleagues. The reader knows at the start of the book that both affairs are over and both women no longer work for Atlantic Energy. The story is about how the affairs themselves and how they ended. Office life is well described and the intensity an affair gives to life in general. Stella - high flying economist - muses at one point that she has paid far less attention to her work than she has ever done and yet that is the time she is promoted. I chuckled over that because I could remember feeling exactly the same when I got promoted!

Mavis Cheek's Truth to Tell is a little different from some of her previous work. I've read all of her novels but did not enjoy Patrick Parker's Progress or Yesterday's Houses but this latest one is a return to her earlier form I thought. I read it in two evenings and really enjoyed. Nina decides to tell the truth at all times and as a result her husband Robert goes on a team building event on his own in Florida where she would normally go with him. Nina soon finds that always telling the truth turns everything in her life upside down. The story that follows, narrated by Nina, is amusing and well written with many literary allusions. I enjoyed it especially as the heroine was middle aged rather than in her twenties and her children are almost grown up.

I'm currently listening to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey read by Juliet Stevenson which is really good as she brings all the characters to life. I'm really into complete novels as audio books and have just replaced by abridged version of Sense and Sensibility with a complete version. I am also reading Mansfield Park.

I'm just about to start reading Christobel Kent's A Fine and Private Place which is her latest book featuring her PI - Sandro Cellini - and set in Florence.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Reading . . . .

Milly Johnson's A Summer Fling is one of those books where you hate turning the last page. Feel good factor in spades and women whose friendship with one another is just as important as a date with the man they're interested in. If you want something to curl up with on a wet weekend - in summer or not - read it. This is chick lit about 'real' people in a real place. You could imagine meeting them in the supermarket queue.

I've just started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot which is absolutely gripping reading. Henrietta was an African-American woman who died in 1951. She had cancer of the cervix - which is not that unusual - but the type of cancer was unusual. For a long time scientists had been trying without success to grow human cells in laboratory conditions. They could sometimes get them to grow for a short time but then they died. The cells taken from Henrietta's tumour however were different - they multiplied at an alarming rate and weren't too fussy about what they grew in or the conditions they were stored under. For the first time human cells could be used for research studies because cancer cells share many of the characteristics of human cells.

These cells - referred to as HeLa cells - were sent to labs all over the world and have helped - among other things - to test the original polio vaccine. The book is a fascinating study of Henrietta's life and the way the immortality of her cells has affected her family. I'm about half way through and finding it fascinating.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

More reading . . . .

I spent yesterday painting doors and door frames and the previous day sanding them down so my time has been otherwise occupied this week. I have now painted the doors in the hall and the door frames and the skirting board. Doesn't sound much when you put it like that but I wanted to do it properly rather than make a mess. One more door and frame to do downstairs and then I'll start on the upstairs doors. Decorating is not my favourite occupation but as I can't afford to pay someone to do it - needs must.

But in the evenings I have been reading. I finished Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and have almost finished listening to Mansfield Park. The listening has given me new insight into Fanny Price. I had remembered her as weak and wishy washy but in fact she isn't at all. She is quiet and shy but won't be pushed into doing what she knows is not right for her - and she has very definite ideas of right and wrong. Mrs Norris must be one of the most dislikeable women in fiction and Frances Barber - who is reading the book - really gives her an absolutely perfect voice.

I started A Summer Fling by Milly Johnson. It's about a group of five women working at the head office of a small supermarket chain. They all have secrets that they don't talk about at work - in fact they don't really talk about anything. Their new boss Christie, must try and get to know them and hopefully help them with their problems. So far so good and I've read about 100 pages. Nice light read with some serious issues.

I am also reading and have nearly finished The Selfish Society: How we all Forgot to Love one Another and Made Money Instead by Sue Gerhardt. It's about how the upbringing of small children affects the sort of society we live in. If babies don't get their needs met they turn into monsters of one sort or another. It's an interesting book and I will post my thoughts on it when I've finished it.