Sing and Don't Cry, Cate Kennedy. The author's memoir of two years spent living in Mexico. Colourful, engaging and moving. I love Cate Kennedy.
Mudbound, Hillary Jordan. A brilliant, perfect book. It's told via multiple narrators which is often distracting but works beautifully here.
The Age of Miracles, Karen Walker. A coming of age story set in a time when for some reason the earth's revolutions slow. It's a YA novel and very simply told. My 14 year old and i both loved it.
The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman. Another book to feed my obsession with Richard III and how convenient of them to dig him up while i was actually reading this. Timing, people.
The Last Runaway, Tracey Chevalier. I have adored everything Chevalier has written (except The Virgin Blue which was so-so) and this was no different. I feel like i'm in the hands of a master when i read her novels. A true story telling master.
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey. Contender for book of the year. A gentle, sweet and sad little fable. Quiet and absorbing and evocative. Loved it. Thank you to Amelia for the recommendation.
The Tower, Nigel someone can't remember and can't be bothered to look it up, it was a load of codswallop.
Life after Life, Kate Atkinson. Quite different from her other works, and lots of fans dislike it for that, but i loved it. All the repetition, twists, turns, differences and what ifs. I went to see Atkinson interviewed about the book and hear her read aloud from it, which was lovely. She is very self deprecating and quite endearing although that makes her sound like a sweet little puppy or something. Great book.
Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt. Speculative scholarship but a fun ride. Greenblatt's very own love letter to Bill.
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness.
Unfinished. Wandered away from it and never ventured back for some reason although i recall being kind of interested.
Mateship with Birds, Carrie Tiffany. The mister loved this book and kept telling me to read it so i did. I also went to a lunchtime session at work to hear Kerryn Goldsworthy interview Carrie Tiffany - so good to hear some of the stories behind the book. It's a wonderful, gentle novel full of details and quiet observations. The pictures she paints are so vivid i can still see them clearly in my mind's eye many months later. Would be wonderful translated into film too.
Jane Eyre, charlotte Bronte. Annual re-read. Oh, Jane.
When she Woke, Hillary Jordan. A really interesting premise in which criminals are dyed a certain colour and released back into society. In this world, women who've had abortions are considered murderers and so the protagonist is dyed red. A kind of re-imagining of The Scarlet Letter. It works really well for the first two thirds of the book and then loses its way and ends with a very unsatisfying whimper. The writing was kind of immature and clunky which i found surprising after the perfection that was Mudbound. This felt like an exercise somehow, and needed an editor to polish it up and make it a bit more sophisticated.
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. Didn't finish it. Bored.
The perks of being a wallflower, Stephen Chbosky. I barely remember anything about this now because i watched the film immediately after finishing the book and now i have Emma Watson in my head instead.
A constellation of vital phenomena, Anthony Marra. A contender for my 2013 highlight. Heartbreaking and enthralling and thoroughly depressing yet uplifting at the same time. Set in Chechnya in the very recent past. It's quite an extraordinary novel, the sort where you clutch your throat and barely breathe through some pages. I think it was his first novel. What a debut! The man is a talent.
Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan. Like an old folktale. This is classified as Young Adult apparently but it doesn't feel like it's pitched at particularly young readers. I adored this book and immediately tracked down Lanagan's other works. Poetic and oddly haunting.
The Help, Kathryn Stockett. A great read, so i watched the movie but it was all golden and glossy, which the book was not. The film removed all the grit and grind of poverty and bathed everything in a honey light. Disappointing.
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan. Fairytale-like and thoroughly enjoyable. I loved this, even more than I loved Sea Hearts i think.
The nanny diaries, Emma McLoughlin and Nicola Kraus. Light and easy to read. Utterly forgettable a week after putting it down. Also, depressing if it's trueish.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion. Light, enjoyable, pleasing. Will make a lovely little film if done properly and not Hollywoodised. I'd like to see Eric Bana in the lead.
Longbourn, Jo Baker. Fabulous book! Pride and Prejudice below stairs. So interesting to look at the world of P&P and the Bennets doings from the servants' hall. I will never look at Mr Bennet the same way again.
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent. The debut novel of a young Australian writer. This was possibly my reading highlight of the year. The fictionalised telling of the events leading up to the execution of a woman in Iceland in the 1800s. I found it mesmerising and had trouble putting it down when real life intruded. I recently heard Jennifer Lawrence (my beloved Katniss) will play the lead in a film version.
The Light Between Oceans, ML Stedman. Loved it. The tale of a young couple who find a tiny baby washed up on their remote island home, and keep her.
Room, Emma Donoghue. An interesting book, although gruesome, but the voice of the five year old didn't feel right.
The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan. A tale of one woman's determination to survive. Totally absorbing reading and interesting explorations of character and morality. I was fascinated at how my perception of the main character gradually and almost imperceptibly shifted. Recommended.
Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda. The second half isn't as gripping as the first but still a great read. Vivid portrayal of life in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The silver linings playbook, Matthew Quick. A fast read and an enjoyable one mostly. I think i read it too soon after The Rosie Project though - two books written in the first person by odd single men. They are blurring in my head now.
Foals Bread, Gillian Mears. Mears vividly portrays a particular era and location. Not a likeable heroine but a believable one.
Jasper Jones, Craig Silver. Good read.
Blood and beauty, Sarah Dunant. Didn't suck me in as intensely as her previous three Italian Renaissance novels did but it was still pretty fabulous. Off to read up on the Borgias some more.
Wool, Shift, Dust. Hugh Howey.
Read the first in the trilogy (Wool) in 2012 and the latter two in 2013. They didn't live up to the promise of the first and i lost the thread of who was what and didn't really care any more.
READ (reverse chronological order, roughly)
Sing, and Don't Cry, Cate Kennedy [December]
Memoir of Kennedy's two years volunteering and working in Mexico. Her writing is so fresh and down to earth and she's just so sensible and worthy and likeable. I read her stuff and want to hang out with her. I've seen her speak a couple of times, once at the Ubud Writers Festival (yay) and once at the university where I used to work, and she's just the same in person. Like she should be part of my circle of friends, or in my bookgroup or something. She's one of us. (Still going on this as the year clicked over into 2013 ...)
The Sun in Splendour, Jean Plaidy [December]
Back to the historical novels, but sheesh Jean Plaidy is a poor writer. I'll probably be shot at dawn for saying that. Where was her editor for heaven's sake? Perhaps she was so prolific and therefore a good moneyspinner for her publishers that they didn't dare touch her pedantic, leaden prose. Anyway, this one is about Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, so I had to read it after reading The White Queen and all the princes in the tower stuff. This led to me buying Nigel Jones' Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London, last night at Readings' bargain table (browsing while waiting to see the film Paris Manhattan, across the road at the Nova cinema). I immediately flicked to the chapter on the princes but it paints Richard III as a bloodthirsty monster. Sigh.
Wool, Books 1-5
First Shift: Legacy
Second Shift: Order. Hugh Howey [December]
Gulped these down so fast, I couldn't stop. Can't wait for Third Shift (the finale) to come out. Set in a future where man has destroyed the environment and rendered the planet unliveable, so the inhabitants live in massive silos buried deep underground. A self publishing success story.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
The story of Achilles and Patroclus' great love, told through the eyes of Patroclus. Lots of battle scenes of course, but also small, intimate scenes of domesticity. Debut novel for Miller. It got great reviews and I enjoyed it but can't rave about it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,
The Girl who Played with Fire,
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Stieg Larsson
I didn't read these for a long time simply because everyone else was, the whole world was talking about them, and I didn't want to join in because I'm stubborn like that. Ah well I succumbed eventually and of course they're utter pageturners. Big themes, great characters, and I reckon I could now find my way around Stockholm's streets just from reading them. Watched all three Swedish movies and the Hollywood version too (the Swedish ones are much much better, although Daniel Craig is pretty).
The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson
A fictional version of the Pendle Witches case (17th century). Gruesome. Quick, thankfully. Left a nasty taste in my mouth.
The Kingmaker's Daughters, Philippa Gregory [November]
Warwick's daughters Isobel (who married George, Duke of Clarence, the one who repeatedly turned against his crowned brother Edward IV and drowned in a butt of malmsey) and Anne who married Edward and George's little brother, Richard III. Not a lot is known of Anne and from history she appears to be docile, weak, sickly and a bit of a non-event. Gregory livens her up a tad.
The Lady of the Rivers, Philippa Gregory [November]
About Elizabeth Woodville's mother Jacquetta. What a dramatic life she had. Fourteen children, accusations of witchcraft, etc. From the royal House of Luxembourg, married to a French noble and after being widowed she married her late husband's squire and produced dozens of children, including Elizabeth Woodville. A bit of a flowery mystical magicky novel, but interesting nonetheless.
The White Queen, Philippa Gregory [November]
A re-read, but I wanted to follow up after reading The Red Queen. This one is Elizabeth Woodville's story (mother of the princes in the tower, grandmother of Henry VIII). Gregory doesn't follow the usual line that Richard III murdered the princes. About to be a BBC series I see!
The Red Queen, Philippa Gregory [November]
Margaret Beaufort's (mother of Henry VII) story. Fanatically devout, doggedly ambitious.
Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey [November]
Re-reading this for possibly the third time. I need to get it out on a regular basis and refresh my memory of the actual facts and correct timeline, when I'm reading other Wars of Roses/Tudor things. Poor maligned Richard III. Note to self: find the Alison Weir book The Princes in the Tower. Apparently she points out flaws in Tey's theory (noooooo).
Broken Harbour, Tana French
The fourth in the Dublin detective series. (I think I somehow missed the third one, Faithful Place. Not sure what happened). This book was just so so sad and depressing. I felt my shoulders get lower and lower as the end approached. Tragic. These books have also traced the downward trajectory of Ireland's economy and social and financial collapse. French's prose is just beautiful, and she draws broken people so very well.
The Likeness, Tana French
The second in the Dublin detective series, better than the first. Cassie has a dead doppelgänger with a mysterious past. Again, French's characterisations are superb. I got totally lost in this novel, and lived in that big rambling house with those falling apart young people right there with them.
In the Woods, Tana French
A change from the Tudors! The first in the Dublin detective series. I think this was French's debut novel? Anyway, a totally enthralling psychological mystery and police procedural tale. The characters are beautifully drawn and the plot twisty and clever. Not sure how I feel about the supernatural element, and the unexplained bit all was a bit unsettling and unsatisfactory at the end. But! Immediately put the next few on hold. This one featured detectives Rob and Cassie, focussing particularly on Rob. I believe the next one focusses on Cassie.
Sovereign, C J Sansom
Best Shardlake story yet. Set in York during Henry VIII's progress in 1541 and the various plots involving Titulus Regius and Edward IV's supposed illegitimacy. Fascinating. made me re-read Daughter of Time all over again. Must read the next two Shardlake stories ... So many books, so little time.
Dark Fire, C J Sansom
Second in the Matthew Shardlake series and even better than the first I think. Investigation of the "Greek fire"mystery. I do like Matthew.
Dissolution, C J Sansom
Set in Tudor England, a hunchback lawyer is sent by Cromwell to a monastery to investigate a murder. Thoroughly enjoying this.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
Coming of age story set in New York, with several scenes set at The Cloisters which was one of the highlights of my US trip in July. I know a lot of people didn't particularly like this book, or the main character June, but I found her well written. Enjoyable.
Just Out of Reach, Danette Kriehn
Mystery romance! Natalie is a psychologist who also has some psychic ability which she uses to assist her favourite friendly detective. He then partners her with a disbelieving detective named Jake to solve a local murder and sparks fly between them. The author is my [host] sister! Go Danette! I'm waiting for the sequel!
The Messenger, Markus Zusak
By the Australian author who wrote The Book Thief, but you wouldn't believe the same person could write both these books. Vaguely dissatisfying and kind of meh. I read it all though.
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
The Bill meets Harry Potter. A magical cop in contemporary London. Ripping story with a lovely sense of humour. Two more in the series apparently.
Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
Loved loved loved this. I eked it out a few pages at the end of each day, trying to prolong it as I had mourned when I finished Wolf Hall, and wanted to savour this one. Finished it last night. Still mourned. The display of ruthlessness and cold hearted revenge from the previously warm and morally upright Cromwell took my breath away.
The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins
Compulsive page turners, all three.
Bereft, Chris Womersley
Beautiful, haunting prose. The landscape is almost a main character.
Women of Letters, edited by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire
Letters written by women to various themes. Fascinating to dip in and out of. As with all collections some pieces (letters) are better than others. Some are moving in the extreme while a few are a bit tedious. For my bookgroup's first book of the year.
The Murder Stone, Louise Penny
The Cruellest Month, Louise Penny
A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny
Still Life, Louise Penny
Totally loved these Inspector Gamache books. Such a light touch. Must order the latest four (note to self: 5 - The Brutal Telling; 6 - Bury Your Dead; 7 - A Trick of the Light; 8 - The Beautiful Mystery).
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Downloaded onto the iPad on the recommendation of Stomper, on the facebook Recent Reads group. Have only read the opening pages but it's gripped me already. Ok, just saw this as I updated another book entry and realised I never got back to this. I'm just not in the habit of picking up the iPad to "read". Will go read more now!
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Still listening to this in bits, via the podcast 'Just the Books'. A re-read, but always a worthy one.
The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal
Narrated by the chap who played Juliet Stephenson's new love interest in Truly Madly Deeply. He also played the nasty murderer in The Lakes. Anyway a thoroughly charming and interesting read. Love a book that educates while it entertains. The story of a collection of netsuke (Japanese tiny ceramics) and its owners through Europe in the last couple of centuries.
Julie and Julia, Julie Powell
The book of the famous blog wherein a young spoiled American woman cooks her way through an older American's apparently famous French cookery book, in one year. Narrated by the author herself, whose voice annoyed the hell out of me. Also she hasn't learnt to pronounce many of the French words she writes, which is just lazy. Annoying and self indulgent, overall. Is Julia French the household name in Australia or Europe that she seems to be in the US? I'd not heard of her, but maybe I'm just ignorant.
Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir
The story of the Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine days (between Edward and Mary) and then had her head lopped off. Aged 16. Poor love. Am reading Bring Up The Bodies at the same time as listening to this so having a very Tudor time of it.
Podcast: Desert Island Discs archive.
Loving these, listening day after day on my commute.
The Railway Children, Edith Nesbit.
Listening via Librivox while I knit a baby garment for my cousin's new babe. Somehow I missed out on reading this as a child. Delightful although the class and gender stereotypes are uncomfortable at times. I cried at the end. Read by the same Librivox narrator who read the Austens below. She's good, unlike some of the narrators I've come across at that site.
Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion. My annual Festival of Austen which I seem to undertake every January. Re-watched all the films and series too. Seems to be an unintentional annual ritual.
READ (reverse chronological order)
Self Possession, Marion Halligan
A quiet little coming-of-age novel, which while enjoyable, felt a little dated. The writing is lovely though. I have another couple of Halligan's novels on my bookshelf (from the oppy) so will read them too.
The Taste of Memory, Marion Halligan
Almost as much a gardening memoir as a food memoir. Halligan's writing is just delicious. Serene, quiet, enthused and engaging. Loved every minute of this little diary-like book.
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
Nothing Patchett writes will ever live up to her masterpiece Bel Canto, but all her books are excellent and this one is no exception.
Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
I'm a fan of almost every novel Brooks has written, with the exception of March which I found so tedious I couldn't finish it. Brooks takes an historical incident or fact and weaves an entire tale around it. (Much like Tracy Chevalier, another of my favourite authors). She did it beautifully in People of the Book, and Year of Wonders and now she's done it again. The writing is fluid and elegant, and of the era. Final chapter a bit rushed perhaps.
The Eve Tree, Rachel Devenish Ford
Simply and directly written, this is Rae's first novel. About a family trying to save their farm from fire, about mothers, daughters, wives, relationships, fragility, cheese, goats; the characters stay with you as you move about your day during the reading of this novel. Go Rae. I'm so proud of you.
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg
I'm not usually a thriller/crime reader but this totally floated my boat. Smilla is a flawed and fabulous protagonist. Learnt lots about snow, ice, Denmark, Greenland and ships. Compulsively turned the pages.
The Woodlanders, Thomas Hardy
Started this but faltered, with exams, essays and general end of semester madness. Haven't yet picked it up again yet.
If this is a man, Primo Levi
Memoir of a year in Auschwitz. Heartbreaking. Breathtaking.
Regeneration, Pat Barker
Tale of Seigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart during WWI, being treated for shellshock by the famous W.H. Rivers. Coincidentally the mister saw it on my bedside table and announced he is listening to the audiobook in his car. It's the first in a trilogy about Sassoon's declaration against the war and his spell at Craiglockhart hospital as Rivers tries to turn his views around and send him back to the front. This is a lightly fictionalised account of the real events. Wilfred Owen is particularly heartbreaking to read about. Must track down the next two in the series. There's also a film of the book, titled 'Behind the Lines'. (*edited to add, see the 'Listening' section further down the page, as I listened to the 2nd and 3rd books on audiobook, and also watched the film).
Ransom, David Malouf
Gulped down in one afternoon. A retelling of Book 24 of The Iliad, in which Priam journeys to the Greek camp to ransom Hector's body. Stirring stuff. (I wrote an essay on Book 24 some years ago, when I was especially enamoured of fairy tales and quest/hero tales). Much ink has been spent on Book 24; nice to see Malouf's take on it - his language is poetic yet simple. I've renewed this copy from the library so Son #3, the 12 year old with the obsession with Greek mythology, can read it. (He's currently reading yet another children's version of The Tale of Troy, and the husband has literally just this now pointed out to me an ad for a new children's version of The Odyssey (note to self: Chasing Odysseus, Sulari Gentill) just released. Excellent.
The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg
Feeding my love of dialects, pidgins, accents etc. Borrowed both the book and dvd of the television series from the library at the same time and am having a wonderfully nerdy time each evening. Side effect: slight obsession with Mr Bragg's hair and his tireless hands.
The Mule's Foal, Fotini Epanomitis
I remember when this came out it had very good reviews. Hmm. Set in a Greek village, rural, superstitious, much magical realism etc. Hmm.
Journey to the Stone Country, Alex Miller
Essentially a romance together blended with a woman's journey to self knowledge but the landscape is almost a third character in the book. Kind of mediocre. A bit soapy, a bit sappy, I didn't really care about any of them, the end.
The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler
Came from the op shop. Has gone back to the op shop. Bleh.
The Ancestor Game, Alex Miller
Ditched this halfway through. Couldn't care less about the characters and was bored. Doesn't bode well for his more famous book which is first on the list for bookgroup this year. Oh well.
July onwards: Stopped listening to audiobooks, am now addicted to podcasts. Cast On, CraftLit (this podcast delivers the classics several chapters at a time, plus craft chat. I've listened to Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Bernice Bobs her Hair), Woman's Hour, Desert Island Discs, In Our Time, This American Life, The Moth. Good stuff.
False Colours, Georgette Heyer
The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
The third and final in the Regeneration series. In this one we learn more about Rivers' earlier life as an anthropologist in the Pacific, and about his childhood. His father was the speech therapist who treated Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the fictionalised memoir is very interesting. Led me to Wikipedia's entry on W H Rivers. Oh, and I watched Behind the Lines, which is the film of Regeneration, featuring Jonathan Pryce as Rivers. Pretty faithful to the book, although the Siegfried of the film didn't match the Siegfried in my head, nor the Siegfried as voiced by Peter Firth in these audiobooks. Gosh he's a marvellous audiobook narrator. I'm not as irritated by Prior this time - I think this one has less Prior and more Rivers and is the better for it. Although there was an awful slitting of wrists in the bath scene and I had to pull the car over and put my head between my knees due to squeamishness. Fastforwarded the rest of that CD. Dangerous when driving! Sheesh. Ugh I'm getting all wobbly-kneed typing this. *Thinks of fluffy kittens*
The Eye in the Door, Pat Barker
Second in the Regeneration series. Didn't enjoy this one as much as the first as I was a bit tired of Billy Prior and his brattish behaviour. However someone told me the third one in the series is the best so I pushed on through. Billy Prior is the only fictional character in this series - all the others were actual people.
Regeneration, Pat Barker
Listening to the audio version of the book I've just read. I wanted to hear the voices read by Peter Firth. Have the sequel in my car awaiting its turn.
Started early, took my dog, Kate Atkinson
I read this last year when it first came out. Listening to it again is wonderful. So densely packed and finely plotted. Only disappointment is that the narrator is not the same chap who's read the previous three Jackson Brodie books so Jackson's voice sounds all wrong. Still wonderful though. Wonderful.
Mr Darcy's Dream, Elizabeth Aston
Austen fan fiction! The two main characters are nieces of Mr Darcy (Jane Bennett's daughter and Georgiana Darcy-Hawkins' daughter), both sent to Pemberley for the summer. Both find husbands (of course) and Elizabeth and Darcy make a brief appearance at the end (of course). Light and easy and a great driving companion on these dark autumn evenings.
An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer
Yet more Heyer (time for a break now methinks) and yet again there are characters from the previous two books. This is set in the days immediately prior to the Battle of Waterloo, and during the battle. The woman's research is meticulous. The final two cds are just of the battle itself. The detail is incredible.
These Old Shades, Georgette Heyer
More Heyer, and some of the characters are the same as in the previous book, although it's twenty years earlier. I should have researched this and
Devil's Cub, Georgette Heyer
My very first Georgette Heyer (again on the recommendation of Stomper and Kate who went into ecstasies of delight at craft camp recently when they discovered their mutual enthusiasm for Heyer. They spent a happy hour dissecting all their favourites and I took careful note). This was the only Heyer audio book on the library shelves but I will definitely be ordering more. It's rather Jane Austen-like, full of humour and sarcasm, frills and furbelows, and features a young gel of impeccable taste and sensibility trapped in a family of illmannered buffoons (but with aristocratic ancestors, ensuring our heroine is a worthy match for the noble rake from whose clutches she rescues her foolish sister). The narrator is lovely; he does a great many voices and accents, and renders them equally realistic and authentic-sounding. There was a duel and a kiss. What more could one wish for?
My second Lord Peter story (I borrowed them at the same time, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered with a second). This one had less Lord Peter in it and the break from the teeth sucking was a relief. Also a different actress played Harriet and she was quite lovely to listen to, thank goodness. Quite enjoyed this one and I didn't guess the culprit until just before the revelation, so, uh, bonus.
Thought I'd try some Lord Peter Wimsy mysteries, on the recommendation of Stomper and Kate. Brief and annoying. I didn't realise this was a full BBC dramatisation complete with sound effects and many a What ho! in overly plummy accents and Yes m'lud s on a regular basis from the rude mechanicals. Slightly tedious. Couldn't bear the chap who played Lord Peter; sucked his teeth once too often, which doesn't go well on radio. The woman who played Harriet sounded nauseatingly horsey.
The King's Secret Matter, Jean Plaidy
Henry VIII's project to declare his marriage to Katherine of Aragon null, void, illegal, or just divorce her like whatever. I think I like Plaidy's books mostly, despite the repetition. She does like to hammer it home, doesn't she?
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
Festival of Gothica. Loved this. I read the book a few years ago but listening to it again was very pleasing. I'd forgotten how elegantly plotted and written it is. Knowing the twist didn't tarnish my pleasure one iota. The narrator is Jenny Agutter and she is perfect as the voice of Margaret, the sad, quiet young bookseller/biographer/storyteller. Highly recommended.
The Distant Hours, Kate Morton
An interesting story. All very gothic - a castle, a mystery, sisters, madness, etc. Just like The Thirteenth Tale, now that I think about it. Even the narrator is a young woman publisher whose boss is a father figure, while in Thirteenth Tale the narrator is a young woman who runs an antiquarian bookshop with her father. However, how I wish audio book producers would think about matching novels with narrators. If a book is set in England, please select a narrator who can actually produce an English accent. This is embarrassing.
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
For bookgroup. I enjoyed this although I wasn't mesmerised as I've been with some of Kingsolver's other works. It set off a minor research interest in Frida Khalo, complete with digging out the film Frida for another viewing.
The White Queen, Philippa Gregory
Typical Gregory. Enjoyable and light. Pretty frocks.
After Elizabeth, Leanda de Lisle
Dry. Didn't finish it.
Look Who's Morphing, Tom Cho
For bookgroup. A big show-offy wank. I think all the sex was meant to be ironic but oh it was awful.
Dancing Backwards, Salley Vickers
Vickers doing what she does so well. Didn't grab me as much as her other books, all of which I think are brilliant, but it was still a great read.
Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
Love love love. I met the author, got my book signed and had a big girly gush about how I adored her book. I love* all of Dunant's renaissance Italy novels. Brilliant scene setting and capturing of detail, together with heartbreaking and/or breathtaking ripping yarns. Must re-read them all. Now.
* bonus magpie singing if you follow that link
Labyrinth, Kate Mosse
Interesting but clunky. Also too long - needs editing by a third I reckon (hark at me, the expert). I picked it up because of the Templar aspect. Meh.
The Darling Buds of May, E M Bates
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
The highlight of my reading year. Thrilled to hear Mantel is working on a sequel. The writing is just superb and I mourned when I finished it. I still miss hearing Cromwell's voice in my head.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
Loved this even more than I loved Cloud Atlas which was my introduction to Mitchell a couple of years ago. Interesting story, educational, absorbing and elegant. He's good.
Started Early, Took my Dog, Kate Atkinson
Another contender for the book of my 2010. I could not wait until this came out. I'm a die hard Atkinson fan and a Jackson Brodie tragic. Thrilled to hear the BBC (?) is making a tv series based on the first couple of the Jackson books. Atkinson's books are brilliant - she writes about dark disturbing events with a light touch and manages to make you laugh out loud while simultaneously sobbing. She had better write more Jackson Brodie or I will be
Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
I took months to read this. Kept reading other things in between (and writing end of semester essays), but always came back to it. An interesting story about a dwarf living in rural Germany during the early twentieth century and then WWII. My copy was a gift from dear Babelbabe.
The Facts of Life, Graham Joyce
The husband put me onto this author. He picked up a couple of Joyce's books at the library and insisted I read them too. Set in Coventry during WWII. Elements of fantasy/magical realism, and thoroughly enjoyable. I now want to work my way through everything Joyce has written.
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
Supposedly the It book of late 2010. Confronting and well written, great story. Aaargh, teenagers. BoardingSchoolTeenagersSexDrugsPaedophilia. Confronting.
The Limits of Enchantment, Graham Joyce
More Joyce. Set in a village in England in the 1960s, featuring pagans and midwives and healers. Excellent. Lent it to my mother while staying at her place; she wolfed it down in two days but declared it meh.
Thames: Sacred River, Peter Ackroyd
Full of gems and some fascinating anecdotes but irritating. Ackroyd makes grand statements as if a) they're fact and b) they proceed logically from his previous factual statement. They don't. Also some parts are just tedious lists of places or dates or events without any explanation or context. Frustrating. Pretty cover.
also in 2010 ...
(lots of books, articles and papers for my
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Mr Rochester is such a dick. Listening to this again (I read it many years ago) led to me watching every film and tv version of Jane Eyre I could get my hands on. Jane Eyre now has the added bonus of always making me think of Sara's unintentionally hilarious blog post. Read what she wrote and then make sure you read the comments.
The Captive Queen of Scots, Jean Plaidy
Ditched this after one or two cds I think. Boring, Ms Plaidy. Boring.
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Splendid. This was a re-read and I enjoyed it all over again although the main character still irritated me.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy ChevalierAnother re-read. Love everything Chevalier writes. LOVE. (Did I read Remarkable Creatures in 2010 or was that 2009?)
The History Boys, Alan Bennett
I hadn't realised this was recorded onto audiobook as a play, with different actors playing each role, and sound effects and all. Took me a while to get the hang of who was speaking (too many voices to keep track of and some sounded similar) but it was enjoyableand moving. I do like Alan Bennett. Brother of Gordon, presumably.
The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier
Love Chevalier. I think this one, about the famous 15th century tapestries, is my favourite of all. A re-read/listen. Then I lent my copy of the paperback to shadygrey because she had just been to Paris and seen the tapestries in the flesh. Jealous.
Teatime for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith
One of the Mme Precious Ramotswe series. A bit tedious but listenable. Writing this now some months later I can't remember a thing about it except for the fact that it does insist Mme Ramotswe is traditionally built, over and over. (Point. Laboured).
La's Orchestra Saves the World, Alexander McCall Smith
When will there be good news? Kate Atkinson
Hooray for Kate Atkinson and Jackson Brodie. This was a re-read and was every bit as good as the first time. Each Jackson Brodie book is better than the last. Side effect: huge crush on
Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
2009 and 2010 saw me on a bit of a Hardy kick. When I finally find and upload my list of '09 books you'll see that I read Tess, The Return of the Native, and um, something else. Oh yes The Mayor of Casterbridge. I also watched as many film versions of them as I could get hold of through my library, and those that I couldn't get I watched on YouTube in 10 minute increments. I did enjoy Far from the Madding Crowd. Bathsheba is an interesting character (fab name) and oh ... that stoic, patient shepherd.
The True Darcy Spirit, Elizabeth Aston
Does this count as Austen fan fiction? It's set a generation or two later and Lizzie and Darcy are only mentioned once or twice. Apparently they have five children, and the heroine of this story is a cousin or great-niece or something. Light and enjoyable. Sometimes you need light to get you through yet another traffic jam on the ring road.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
A re-read. It's an excellent book, but don't make the mistake of watching the appalling film version. Okay? Okay.
Good Wives, Louisa May Alcott
I'd forgotten I'd listened to this! (But the list never lies). I've read the book several times although not for many years. Amy! Jo! Laurie! Meg! TWINS!! Oh ... Beth ...
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
Most excellent. Watched the movie version with Ciaran Whatsit after listening to this.
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Another re-read, and a convincing argument regarding Richard III and the princes in the tower. Shows how "history" is so manipulated yet carried on down the line as if it's the gospel truth.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J K Rowling
Getting ready for Part 1 of the final film, I needed a refresher course of the last few books. Watched all the films too. This is the one where Sirius snuffs it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J K Rowling
See above. Heaps of people snuff it. Mrs Weasley swears. Children around the world sob over Hedwig.
The Lambs of London, Peter Ackroyd
Uses historical people and events to weave a story. A good yarn; London, books, forgeries, Shakespeare. What's not to like?
Hmmm, it appears I didn't keep proper or complete records. But excerpts from the blog in 2009 show the following:
Margaret Irwin's Elizabeth trilogy on audio book -Young Bess, Elizabeth: Captive Princess, and Elizabeth and the Spanish Prince. They waffle and get side tracked a bit, as if the author found some really interesting little tidbit when doing her research and then had to work out how to incorporate it into the story. Good though, mostly.
Philippa Gregory's The Constant Princess, about Catherine of Aragon, and The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. Gregory tells a gripping story usually although she is occasionally a bit repetitive and also has an annoying habit of giving her protagonist some little quirk or habit to denote anxiety/moral dilemma etc which she then bangs on about forever until you are ready to scream YES, WE GET IT NOW LET THE HAIR TWISTING/NAIL PICKING/SMUT WIPING ALONE. I don't know why I just typed all that - I've read all Gregory's books and enjoyed them, perhaps I've just read them too close together (ie all in the last 12 months). Alison Weir isn't a particularly elegant story teller; her prose can be quite bland and strangely stilted, but at least you know her research is spot on, being An Important Historian and all.
Tracy Crisp - Black Dust Dancing
Spare, thoughtful, elegant and simply lovely. Even though I've never "met" Tracy, I count her as a friend (which all of you will understand but people who don't read blogs do not) and it was lovely to be able to read something written by a friend, and know it to be beautiful and successful. Also just to hold the book as a physical object, see it in bookshops and libraries, and feel pride and pleasure for that friend - love it. Squee!
The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Apparently every bookgroup in Australia is currently reading this French book (translated into English only last year so still new on the circuit), and library waiting lists are up to the 70s. I bought it instead, thoroughly enjoyed it, and handed it straight to Mr Soup who started it last night. It's another thought-provoking book, and quite unusual, and I can recommend that you read it. You might cry at the end too. I did. It's touching and funny and any book that can combine Russian literature, philosophy, manga, kairos and music and make it flow seamlessly together in one elegant narrative has got to be worth $27.95.
Which brings me to a brief rant about how expensive books are here. On the way to the Pancake Parlour on Friday I dragged Son #3 sideways into Dymocks quickly to see if I could find a certain book mentioned earlier (I couldn't - it is obviously Only Available in All Good Bookshops) to send to a certain friend in the US because she can't get it there, and saw two new books I'd also love to buy - the new Philippa Gregory book which was only available in hardback at $35.00, and the new Sarah Dunant which was $32.95 in paperback! I don't know about you but I can't casually walk into a bookshop and drop nearly seventy bucks on two books. It makes me cross. Particularly as there is also the new A S Byatt to buy too, and the new Audrey Niffenegger although I didn't see either of those. Good thing too as I was wanty enough by then. Ok, [/ end rant] and thank heavens for public libraries.
And just quickly because really, is anybody still reading this ramble? I read Ann Patchett's Run this week and although slower to sink its hooks into me than her masterpiece Bel Canto, by the middle of the book I couldn't put it down. Patchett's characters always live right alongside me in my daily life when I am reading her books and this was no exception. I am eternally grateful to another dear friend whom I've never "met" but who I seriously think of as one of my closest pals these days, for putting me onto Ann Patchett (and many other amazing authors).
[ ] discussed DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little at bookgroup and agreed it is unlike any other book we've read before which does not necessarily translate into yes I liked it
[ ] finished my audio book copy of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and am positively totally bereft. No more Jackson Brodie until she writes her next novel. Hurry up, Kate.
[ ] also finished reading (finally!) Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton and enjoyed it immensely. A cross between a memoir, historical fiction, genealogy mystery but it is more than the sum of its parts and totally engaging.
2008 still no decent records, what is wrong with me? So here are some more bloggy excerpts from the 2008 archives
I still can't find my book notebook, in which I record all the books I read and the audio books I listen to. Most frustrating. I wanted to do a 2008 recap. Here's a taster anyway ... Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen were both absolute highlights of my literary year. So too In my Father's Den by Maurice Gee, several things by Philippa Gregory and Tracy Chevalier, and I re-read The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers which was even better the second time. Helen Garner's The Spare Room was spare and touching and made extra real by hearing her speak at work (a sort of In Conversation event that I attended). Sandra Gulland's Josephine Bonaparte trilogy - magnifique! An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I didn't think much of the rather scattered structure and unlikeable characters in Kate Atkinson's Emotionally Weird but have loved everything else she's written. Actually that last one was this year not 2008 so just consider it an early addition to my reading round up post due some time around 31st December 2009. Ok, I think I can get away without a full 2008 list now, reading back over that paragraph! I did read some beauties. A few duds too, but I won't bother recording them here.
Current audio book, Tobsha Learner's The Witch of Cologne. I hadn't read any of Learner's books before, but it had good blurbs from respected critics on the cover so I picked it up. It's kind of compelling but there's rather a lot of sex. I'm subjected to copious descriptions of pendulous breasts and aching loins at around 9.10 am each day on the freeway, which isn't really my cup of tea. Plus it's read by an Australian actress with exaggerated dick-see-yun, desperately making sure the vast sums spent at ello-cue-see-yun lessons and drama class weren't wasted. One can almost hear her leaning towards the microphone, throat thrust forward, emoting passionately. It's tiresome, frankly. But as I said, the story is compelling. And historically interesting, with lots of tidbits about midwifery, witches, Inquisitors, Jews, heretics et al.
Prior to that I listened to In My Father's Den by Maurice Gee. Excellent, moving, and beautifully understatedly read.
Thank you to whoever it was recommended I read/listen to Joanne Harris' The Lollipop Shoes, the sequel to Chocolat. Apart from the unfortunate title which makes it sound like hot pink chick-lit, it's a ripper. Darker than Chocolat [hahahha] and with more bite [hahahaha], I thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially liked learning the back story, which was hinted at in the first novel, but not really explained. Now on my commute I'm listening to Roald Dahl's Boy which is read by Andrew Sachs. I've heard Roald Dahl read it himself at some stage too - I remember his lovely dry, rather expressionless reading - but Sachs does a fine job, and if you listen closely, every now and then a tiny bit of Manuel slips in when he gets excited.
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Light, easy to read, terrible. The end. (Actually, no, not the end. I find I have to rant some more about spoilt white rich women who engineer an emotional crisis because they have too much time on their hands and then make money out of it).
I'm on a Philippa Gregory roll. I recently watched The Other Boleyn Girl(the movie, not the BBC improvised thingie) and thought it was so mediocre (except for the frocks which were very fetching and Eric Bana who was also rather fetching although swarthy which isn't usually my thing but hey he wore tights and a ruff) that, you know, I just ached for more. So I googled and discovered the general consensus that the book is better. What a surprise. And lo, my keyboard somehow put on hold every Philippa Gregory audio book it could find at the library and now I've listened to not only The Other Boleyn Girl (yes, heaps better than the movie) but am now onto The Virgin's Lover (about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley) which gets a bit bodice-rippitty at times but is holding me in thrall. Next up is The Boleyn Inheritance and I am beginning to suspect that Ms Gregory is a bit of an English history nut.
I also listened to Joanne Harris' Chocolat which is truly madly deeply superior to the movie and was narrated by Alan Rickman's Truly Madly Deeply costar, the honey voiced Juliet Stevenson on whom I've had a crush ever since she and Mr Rickman sang When I'm Without Yoooouuuuu loudly and out of tune in her tumbly down full-of-dead-people London flat. Anyway, if you get a chance to read (or listen to) Chocolat I highly recommend it. Much darker and more poignant than the film and with a different but more satisfying ending. Interesting that the filmmakers chose to make the baddie the town mayor, rather than the priest as in the book. Hmm yes, funny, that.
:: I lay in bed until nearly midday yesterday (first sleep-in in MONTHS), ignoring my children and wolfing down Helen Garner's new book The Spare Room in one big gulp. It's very HG - spare, conversational and brutally honest in its tackling of the tickly subjects of friendship, anger, death. Lots of food for thought. My criticisms would be that the only character we really get to know is Helen herself; I would have liked to hear more about the dying friend and then perhaps I would have liked her more? Or at least felt a bit more sympathy. Also the ending felt a bit rushed with its list of one liners about what happened immediately prior and post death, but then one could argue that the story was about the journey towards death ... anyway, it's very moving and lovely to read with its starkly simple prose. And it's set in my old neck of the woods - she mentions Bellair St, Newmarket Station, Racecourse Road, taking the green arrow into Macauley Road, etc. I got a small thrill with each little marker of familiarity.
:: I'm listening to Patrick White's The Aunt's Story in the car right now and getting thoroughly fed up with the pretentious dialogue ("Do you believe in saints, Ludmilla?" "I believe in a pail of milk, with its blue rim" etc). That sort of thing is fine occasionally but it's constant and wearing. Does that mean Patrick White is dated, or I'm just old/cynical? I remember being very impressed with this book when I was about twenty. Let's just say Helen Garner's writing was a breath of fresh air. Time to hit the library for another audio book.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Good yarn (haha) and I was quite moved at the end, but oh the main character annoyed the hell out of me. I don't care if she was rebelling against her posh mother, no naice gel from Double Bay "sucks on a tinnie of beer" or says "rozzers". Rozzers??! It just didn't ring true. And it makes me cringe, all that "matey" business.
In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. To get me in the mood for August (for a Renaissance Venice subject next semester, not my next career move). Narrated by the dwarf servant, set in Venice. Colourful. I do like me a decent historical novel. Although I did turn away from a luridly covered paperback at the op shop yesterday interestingly called An Autobiography of Henry VIII with Notes by his Fool Will Somers. So you see I am fussy. (If you google that and end up at Amazon, I can tell you the cover on the edition I picked up [and put back] in horror was far far worse).
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. It leapt out at me from the For Sale pile at the library - I couldn't quite believe that such a book was on the shelves of the withdrawn, and for $1. Such an author, and the book itself is a hardback with a glorious cover featuring a painting by Il Padovino titled Orpheus Leading Eurydice out of the Underworld. I thought Orpheus played a lute, but in this painting he has a violin strapped across his back. Beautiful anyway. And we have the cd of the music so I can listen to it each evening when I'm reading. Music, love, obsession. Started yesterday, unputdownable. Yes that's a word, shut up.
I've almost finished Broken for You and am thoroughly enjoying it. The premise is interesting, the characters engaging, believable and likable to boot, and the writing is elegant. The large print edition I grabbed from the library is proving useful at the boys' 6.00 pm soccer training sessions. I can read in the [near] dark.
Alan Rickman narrating Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native is just divine. His beautiful and soothing voice accompanies me on my commute to work; I've even been known to go and sit in my car at lunchtime just to hear a few more minutes. Rickman does a credible West Country accent (all Cap'n Birdseye, guess what I put in my fish fingers, type of speak) and has a pleasant singing voice too - he sings little Wessex ditties and a lovely piece in posh French. The rest of the time it's sonorous Thames Valley RP all the way. Absolutely lovely. Well, except for the bits where the tape is stretched (it's a 1985 recording) and his voice gets deeper and deeper and slower and slower until I nearly fall asleep and drive off the road until the click of the tape giving in altogether wakes me up. I had to go to the library at work (handy, working at a university sometimes ...) and get the book to fill in the missing bits.
In reading terms, I made a start on the big pile that's been languishing by my bed for the past few weeks. I picked up Allegra Goodman's Intuition which I'd had to abandon when life went crazy. I had been about a third of the way through but I can't get back into it. I'm sick of the lab, the mice, the postdocs with their lovers' tantrums. It went back to the library this morning, unfinished. Next in the pile is Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos which I picked up at the library the other day when I was looking for a new audio book but purposely avoiding the print books until my essays and crazydays life was over, and accidentally fell over the large print aisle. BabelBabe recommended this one and she never fails me (well, except for Intuition) so I picked it up. (Reading large print books is odd though; makes me feel like I'm being shouted at).
Audio book-wise, I just finished listening to Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith which was totally inoffensive and passed the time nicely. The narrator has a beautiful soft Scottish burr (Edinburgh maybe? Quite unlike the Glaswegian tones of Mr Soup's late parents), and the story features a niece who runs a delicatessen. Where I am I going with this, you're wondering? Well, there was a great deal of cheese discussion and I kept waiting for her to say gorgonzola but she didn't. Camembert, reggio, parmesan, brie, but no gorgonzola and now I have a quite irrational and allconsuming desire to hear someone with a strong Scottish accent say it. Isabelle? (I even asked Mr Soup to say it like your mum would, but it came out like a growly drunken soccer fan which was not the effect I was after. It was useless to say, pretend you're a woman, and you're from Edinburgh and you're genteel. He was already looking at me very oddly).
I can't remember what I listened to prior to FLC, but I gave it a B+. When I remember I'll come back and update. [Update: It was Unless by Carol Shields. Excellent stuff.] Next up is The Return of the Native which I grabbed because
• Last night I started reading The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett and can't put it down. Looks like it will be as good as Bel Canto if not better. Hooray!
• That book Heroic Australian Women in War, the selection for bookgroup tonight which I was so looking forward to, was terribly disappointing. If I were less polite I'd say it was appalling. How could the publishers let typos, spelling mistakes, sloppy scholarship and lifeless writing get through like that? I noticed that the front of the book states that the author lectures at the University of Queensland, yet when I got to chapter three, there is a little sticky note on University of Queensland letterhead saying (and I quote) "Much of the info contained in this chapter is not accurate and the quotes attributed to A.K. are manufactured. This work should not be used as an academic text." Then throughout the chapter are little pencil marks denoting all the errors. (I wonder if the author still works at UQ? My guess is no.) I must say I felt vindicated when I read the note as I always feel oddly guilty if I criticise a book, especially one from a respected publishing house. Is it just me? I always presume people who choose to write about facts check their work, and that they have editors who recheck their work, not to mention provide ghost writers to wrangle flat, dull writing into elegant prose. Sigh ... I stopped reading at the end of chapter two. Updated to add: looks like her latest book is just as shambolic, if this review is anything to go by.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I've spoken about this several times recently, but can report that I finally finished. Verdict: Far too long, in need of a bloody good edit, waffly, inconsistent, irritating and dated. As previously reported, I read this back in the day and was impressed and inspired but now I'm old and cynical and I just cringed at a lot of it. (Sorry Stephanie).
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I think I wrote about this too; I'm getting repetitive aren't I? Mr Soup is now reading this as I saw him perusing the bookshelves and thrust it into his hands, assuring him he'll love it. He is. Fast, interesting, characters you engage with, colourful. Also the cover is pretty.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. My god, I loved this book. I finished it last night and I'm feeling completely and utterly bereft. It would make a great play, or an opera as Ann Patchett said herself in an interview. The story is gripping and I became totally enamoured of the characters as they lurched toward the-ending-that-couldn't-be-helped. (Although the epilogue was surprising). I've been listening to this on audio tape during my commute to work and as it came to the final tape I was filled with the dread of the knowledge that it would end and my companions of the last week or so would be gone, either dead or devastated by the events of the four and a half months that the book covers, and also that I couldn't somehow prolong it. Which is exactly what you're meant to feel. It's beautiful, elegant writing too. Just wonderful. I've put it on the bookgroup list for later in the year.
Now in the car I'm listening to The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan but I am still grieving for the Bel Canto folk and can't quite get hooked into Amy Tan's characters just yet. I feel like an adulterer; it's too soon. It is read by Tan herself though, which is a bonus. I remember thoroughly enjoying The Joy Luck Club and also The Kitchen God's Wife but Tan's books are getting a little repetitive now. Ah well, it was the only decent story tape on the library shelves last night and my tape of Black Swan Green by David Mitchell hasn't yet arrived. (His Cloud Atlas was one of the best things I read last year).
Last bookgroup book was Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I read the first three pages and returned it to the library. Life's too short.
Saturday by Ian McEwan, whose books I haven't readily enjoyed thus far. Was bored by Atonement (but loved the film) but liked Enduring Love very much (but hated the film). I'm only on the first chapter so we'll see. Time to take a cup of tea to bed and try chapter two.
For those of you waiting on the book news, I gave up on The Gathering after skimming the last few chapters and deciding it was all too miserable. Over Easter I gulped down Water for Elephants by the campfire and loved it. Lots of action, atmosphere and characters I cared about. Very visually evocative too - there'll be a film of it soon, you mark my words. I'm still struggling through The Bloody Overrated Mists of Avalon because I HAVE TO, but the Mary Stewart Arthurian trilogy is far far superior and remains my favourite. Am on the final audio tape of Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson in the car and love how once again Atkinson writes about horrible miserable things (incest, domestic violence, time travel [ok, not horrible] and murder) but makes it entertaining, matter-of-fact and thoroughly enjoyable. I think I might be a little bit in love with Kate Atkinson.
I've also just finished listening to Salman Rushdie on tape (The Ground Beneath her Feet) and was fairly meh over that too. It's a [very] loose retelling of the Orpheus myth but is very long (again with the waffly) and frankly I didn't care about any of the main characters. Perhaps it's just my mood lately but everything I read is just blah.
I’m on a roll at the moment, reading some of the best books I’ve come across in years.
First up was Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare which I gobbled down in a matter of days. Fast, no-nonsense and thoroughly engaging, and has been added to the growing pile of bard biographies on our shelf.
I quickly followed this with the new Tracy Chevalier book Burning Bright which I’ve wanted to read for a few months now so I bought it for Mr Soup for his birthday (along with The Kite Runner which I had to return to the library when I was halfway through. I put so much love and thought into my partner’s presents, don’t I?) Anyway, it was quite mesmerising (the Chevalier, I haven’t made it back to the Kite Runner yet) and I promptly put two more of Chevalier’s books on hold at the library (The Lady and the Unicorn and Falling Angels).
At the same time as I was reading those two, as seen on my bedside table, I was listening to Anita Shreve’s Light on Snow on audio book in the car. I’d listened to another Shreve recently, called something totally forgettable like Where or When and it was abysmal. (You know, in my humble opinion). Boring, pointless, occasionally histrionic and with odd bits of sex and rude language abruptly thrown in here and there as if to garner a certain corner of the market. So why did I borrow another Anita Shreve from the library? Well, I was desperate and it was either that or another Maeve Binchy. The shelf was bare. Actually speaking of Binchy, I did listen to one of hers called Scarlet Feather, read by her cousin and it was delightful. And the accents were contagious so I found myself sounding like a leprechaun for a couple of weeks.
Anyway, back to Shreve - Light on Snow was great, despite my low expectations. The narrator is a young girl and it’s partly a coming of age tale, partly a straight story about love and tragedy and healing. Recommended for a light, quick read.
Next I moved onto the wonderful Salley Vickers and the only novel of hers I hadn’t read thus far, Mr Golightly’s Holiday. Vickers is such an intelligent, engaging writer and this book is very richly layered. It’d be a wonderful book group book. At first you think it’s just a quiet, gentle book about life in a village from the point of view of a visitor come for the summer. But as you read on, little hints are dropped such as the visitor’s ‘great work’ and his sadness for his dead son and you realise something else is at play. Go read this one and then email me with your thoughts. (I now officially love all of Vickers’ books).
Now I’m reading Charmian Clift’s book Mermaid Singing for bookgroup next month. I’m only on the second chapter so far but it’s making me want to chuck it all in and go live on a Greek island. As you do. Well, as Charmian Clift and George Johnston and their children do. Every time I hear Clift’s name I think of my dear ex neighbour who was quietly obsessed with her and had collected every piece of writing Clift ever produced, done lots of extra research on her life and was considering a deeper study thesis type thing. I wonder if she ever did.
And in the car? Listening to the long, rambling and thoroughly enjoyable White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I think if I were reading this I’d have given up by now. There is a very slow bit early on and I can well see how people may toss it aside in impatience. A touch of judicious editing would have helped, again in my ever so humble opinion. However I’m currently on tape 14 of 16 so am at the point where I can’t wait until the next time I’m in the car alone so I can hear the next bit. I’ve wanted to read this novel for years, ever since it first came out to all that hype and excitement and all those awards. Smith’s two other novels, On Beauty and The Autograph Man were among the stack of books Hilary the Blogless generously gave me (thanks again Hilary), so I’m looking forward to reading those this summer.
Herewith, my readings lately:
The generous and darling Babelbabe sent me a beautiful hardcover copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful work Animal Vegetable Miracle which I see has been affecting people all over the blogosphere in much the same way Jackie French’s book Backyard Self Sufficiency did to me several years ago when I became obsessed with filling my tiny innercity garden with productive plants, heritage apples, unusual fruits and heirloom vegetables. That real This Book Changed My Life kind of feeling. I’ve always been a label reader in the supermarket and generally shopped in the free-range, organic, crunchy aisles, but Kingsolver’s book has made me take things a step further, and vow to actually ditch the zucchini and green beans in winter, not just sigh and say But I need tomatoes on my winter pizza. As a result our intake of The Ugly Vegetables (turnips, swedes, parsnips and the deliciously hideous celeriac) has gone up alarmingly. The buy local thing is a tad harder. I like to buy organic butter for instance, but when I read the label, I discovered it’s from Denmark. And all those natural organic goodies don’t make up for the fossil fuel miles. Ah, the evangelism of the newly converted.
Moving right along.
I am re-reading the 6th Harry Potter in an attempt to refresh my poor ailing mind as to all the important plot bits that I’ll need in order to be right up with the twists and turns of HP7 which was smuggled into the Soup Residence on Monday. [Trans. The 13 year old and the 11 year old found it immediately and are taking it in turns to read and I’m not getting a look in].
Um, what else?
I recently read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A good read that kept me turning the pages and a twist at the end which I brilliantly foresaw and so felt extremely clever indeed. Not a brilliant raveworthy book, but a decent timewaster and with old crumbly gothic mansions and overpainted elderly crones with dark secrets and lots of Jane Eyre references, what’s not to like?
I listened (on story tape from the library) to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and just loved it. A ripping yarn all about historians, librarians, archivists and Dracula. Yum. Must keep an eye out for it in the op shops so I can have a hard copy on my bookshelf. Currently every time I go into my local oppie they seem to have acquired yet another copy of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Bridges of Madison County. Why is that?
When I finished listening to the above in the car, the library only had a couple of books-on-tape of books which I had already read (on paper the old fashioned way, which reminds me, there’s a fabulous Youtube video out there called something like Middle Ages Tech Support, which I can’t link to because I’m at home and this old machine doesn’t do youtube but I watched it yesterday at work courtesy of my boss [she’s a great boss] …so go google it all you medievalists and historians, yes, you’re welcome) um … oh yes I picked up Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, as I said, both books I’d already read, but it was wonderful revisiting them by ear, so to speak. (World’s longest most terrible sentence in one paragraph? Why, yes).
After they had finished I found The Song of Troy which I grabbed somewhat greedily, owing to my mild Homeric obsession, and then glancing at the cover noticed it was by Colleen McCullough. Yep, that one. Oh well, I thought, might be something in there to feed the obsession. Somewhere, in those 28 cassettes in the enormous box. Well, it was fun. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, both Trojans and Greeks, and some get more than one turn. Okay, much of it is heavy handed, and some of the characterisations were awful (I didn’t like Hector being turned into a boor, and Helen was ghastly but hey that’s a perfectly valid character interpretation I guess …) and the scene from Iliad Book 24 in which Priam pleads Achilles for Hector’s body was woeful and oh I could go on. But there was a lot of inventive stuff too about the argument between Agamemnon and Achilles being a ruse thought up by Odysseus to lure the Trojans out from behind their walls, and a failed rescue attempt of Iphigenia by Achilles and Patrocles that formed a central psychological reason for Achilles’ anger, that made me ponder. Some bits worked and others didn’t but it was all interesting. Well you know except for the boring bits. And the gory bloody bits. Hey, it’s a fairly long commute to work and back twice a week and one can only listen to 774 for so long. I finished the tapes yesterday and now it’s back to Red, Jon and Lindy until I can get to the library. Another thing I wanted to say (collective groan?) was that the way McCullough dealt with the divine elements in the Trojan story reminded me of Mary Stewart’s treatment of Merlin’s wizardry in her Arthurian trilogy (the Arthurian legend being another mild obsession of mine, ahem). The magical or divine elements are shown to be ruses or simple tricks of deception, yet the gods are a central part of daily life. And it’s this move away from fantasy into the realms of more plausible historical narrative that attracts me, not being much of a fantasy fan really. (I’ve tried to read Lord of the Rings, I’ve really tried. The movies are better because I get to admire Orlando Bloom’s um ... acting).
Bored yet? Half of you gone off to Youtube?
I have by my bed Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. For bookgroup. I do find Margaret Atwood hard going sometimes though. I loved Alias Grace, was mesmerised by The Handmaid’s Tale (shudder) but struggled with The Blind Assassin a couple of weeks ago and gave it up. A friend told me to try again, but I’m not in the mood currently. Am going ok with Oryx and Crake and it’s holding my interest so far, but HP6 is fighting for top of the pile status.
I gobbled down in one night (!) (a triumph rarely achieved by me since the heady days of Enid Blyton’s boarding school books) The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. This is one of Karen Armstrong’s commissioned series of myths retold by modern authors including A.S. Byatt, Jeanette Winterson and Chinua Achebe among others, none of which I have read although I do have the introductory volume A Short History of Myth by Armstrong herself. The Penelopiad is told by Penelope from her home in modern day Hades, and is full of humour and wit mixed with grief at the fate of the twelve hanged serving maids. There’s some interesting stuff at the end about the relevance of the maids’ death to the old matriarchal religion, but the strength of the book is in the worldweary voice of Penelope. I’ll definitely be looking out for the other myths in the series. To feed the obsession, you know.
Oh, I also got halfway through The Kite Runner before the library demanded it back to give to the next person in the queue. I immediately put it on hold again and the computer informed me that I am number 37 in line. So I bought it for Mr Soup for his birthday. Nothing like a thoughtful, sincere birthday present eh? I am such a classy woife.