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Picked up from Cornflower and Harriet Devine, this requires you to find the nearest book, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence then post the next three, so…………

Nearest book is Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (I pulled it from the shelves while writing my thoughts on the film version), and the fifth sentence on page 123 is:

“I thought she too had been murdered!”

Next three:

“I came at a run, and there she was screaming like a madwoman, and she cried out that she must fetch you and she departed, screeching at the top of her voice and telling everybody whose carriage she passed what had occurred.”

He added with a gesture of the hand: “It is in there, monsieur. I have not touched it.”

Lauren Bacall handled it very differently in the movie, of course, not a screech in sight (or sound)!

Why not have a go?

I’m not reading as much non-fiction as I would like, with a pile of historical biographies in particular glaring at me reproachfully. So this seems like a good idea, and I’ve tried to identify a starting list, though these may change:

1. The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford [16 July]

2. Travels with a Medieval Queen by Mary Taylor Simeti [22 June]

3. A Brief History of Secret Societies by David V Barrett [2 July]

4. The Age of Illusion by Ronald Blythe replaced by The Awful End of Prince William the Silent by Lisa Jardine [10 August]

5. Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan [4 August]

The challenge is to read five non-fiction works between May and September 2008, with one that is different from the others (so for me 4 history-type books and one on economics).

Murder on the Orient Express [1974], directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Albert Finney and many, many more.

I have found this a difficult book to review, because once I started reading it I realised that it isn’t really a fantasy; in fact Ryman himself in his afterword (which some reviewers have seen as a part of the novel itself) says that he is “a fantasy writer who fell in love with realism”, in as much as some of the events which make up his story didn’t really happen, or might have happened in a world that is slightly different to our own.

Was tells the story of three people, all of whom have an involvement with The Wizard of Oz. Jonathan is an actor dying of AIDS who was due to play the Scarecrow in a stage adaptation of Oz when he discovered how ill he was, and whose childhood in Canada was affected deeply by seeing the first TV broadcast of the Oz film. Frances Gumm is a child singer who will grow up to become Judy Garland with all that entails. Dorothy Gael is an orphan who goes to live with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas in 1875, where she leads a harsh life including being abused by someone close to her, and has an encounter with a young teacher called Frank Baum which provides some of the inspiration for his children’s story.

The structure of the novel is very similar to that of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, but very different in tone and more unbalanced. What I mean by that is that the novel is really about Dorothy, and Jonathan’s search for her at the end of his life, and there really isn’t that much about Frances. The blurb on my copy describes this as “an epic fable of lost innocence” and I that feels right to me.

As I said at the beginning, whether this is really a fantasy novel in the traditional sense I’m not sure, but I found it very powerful; I became totally gripped about a third of the way through and wanted to know how things were going to turn out. The bleakness of Dorothy’s life in particular will be difficult for some to read, but I’m glad that I had the experience.

This is my second read for the Once Upon a Time II challenge.

Susan over at You Can Never Have Too Many Books put up a fascinating post on reading horror last week, and having thought quite a bit about this, and having consulted the local book-loving vampire bat (from Whitby no less) I thought I would throw in my tuppenny’s worth!

Do you read horror novels?

Yes, but not as many as I used to. I’ve become really disappointed by the number of series there are which get less satisfying the longer they go on (Anne Rice and Laurell K Hamilton spring to mind). I find that I’m reading more and more short stories, where the authors have to work harder to get the feeling of dread across to the reader.

If so, who do you read?

Stephen King is still my favourite (I first read Carrie when I was 15 in 1977, and haven’t really stopped). Christopher Fowler (pre Bryant and May) and Kim Newman are also interesting, along with HP Lovecraft of course, and MR James for ghost stories. New discoveries yet to be read include Dan Simmons and Joe Hill.

What kind of horror?

It used to be anything with vampires would get me hooked (but see my answer to the first question). I don’t mind a bit of blood and gore, but I do like originality, and atmosphere is particularly important for the ghostly stuff. And I do like a bit of Gothic.

If you’ve stopped reading horror, why?

Still persevering, still looking out for new and interesting things. A lot of the good horror seems to overlap with fantasy quite a bit, which suits me fine.

Favourite horror books

Salem’s Lot is still my favourite King, and is due for a re-read this year, I think.

Couldn’t pick a favourite MR James, they’re all too good, and I look out for repeats of the BBC adaptations which are often shown here at Christmas.

At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth are my favourite Lovecraft tales. By the way, if you want a good Lovecraftian pastiche, you can’t go wrong with the Neil Gaiman short story Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar (hope I’ve got the title right, couldn’t find my copy).

Ooh, I nearly forgot Dracula – still the best vampire story. One of my best holiday experiences ever was listening to the Richard E Grant audio version while being driven across the North Yorkshire Moors – fantastic!

So no challenges for over a year and then three come along at once! Becky’s challenge looked really interesting, and I’m glad it’s over a long period of time as, despite how much I love the whole Arthurian thing, Camelot overload needs to be avoided. The goal is to read 6-12 books starring characters found in or inspired by Arthurian legends. Still thinking about my list for this, but have the first few marked out:

1. The Coming of the King by Nikolai Tolstoy

2. The Once and Future King by TH White (this is a re-read but in a spanking new Folio Edition so don’t care!)

3. The Enchantresses by Vera Chapman

4. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

5. The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

6. The Merlin Codex by Robert Holdstock (this is a trilogy, haven’t decide if I’m going to treat them as separate reads)

I will probably add to this as I rummage through the bookshelves and find more on the theme.

Another book about a murder, but this takes a very different approach from my previous read.

Julie Myerson’s Something Might Happen plunges you directly into the story. A woman is horrendously murdered near her home in a small seaside town, and this is the starting point for a novel about grief, and the effect that such traumatic events can have on the people they touch. The main character in the novel is Tess, the murdered woman’s best friend, and we see the unfolding events through her eyes as the police arrive and carry out their investigation, and the questions they must ask start to expose complex feelings. Tess herself becomes drawn to one of the other characters, but then another tragedy strikes and makes her reassess her situation.

It’s quite difficult to describe this book without giving too much away, not that it’s a mystery in the conventional sense at all, but the developing emotional situation that Tess finds herself in is so well written and beautifully paced that it would be a shame to examine it too much and spoil the effect for other readers. All I can say is that I found it very moving; it’s really compelling, and for that reason is the first book for some time that I have effectively read in a sitting. Towards the end I found myself close to tears, though not quite as embarrassingly so as with another novel (about a time-traveller’s wife) that I had to stop reading on the bus in case I totally lost control.

This novel it makes very clear that real life is a mess and things are never tied up as neatly as we might like to think. Very, very sad but well-worth reading.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide is, I suppose, best described as a police procedural, a type of crime fiction which I enjoy very much (as long as it is done well). The novel is set in the early 1930s and involves John Madden, a former police inspector who, following a harrowing case described in Airth’s previous novel River of Darkness, has given up his career to settle in Surrey with his wife and children and become a gentleman farmer. His connections with his former colleagues are still very alive, and when he assists with a search for a missing child which results in him finding her mutilated body he inevitably gets drawn into the investigation of what appears to be a serial killer at work.

That’s the bones of the story but what I enjoyed about this novel was the tone, which is rather melancholy; Madden had some terrible experiences in World War One and these colour his attitude to life. This makes Madden a genuinely sympathetic character, to my mind, and gives the novel a moral centre which is there even when we are following the activities of the other characters. I also found the backdrop of growing unease about what is happening in Europe, particularly in Germany, gave the story some depth. Unfortunately it looks like Rennie Airth has only written these two John Madden books which is a shame as I would have liked to see what happened to him. If I’m wrong and there are others in this series I would love for someone to let me know.

So I have managed to complete the first of my five books for the Once Upon a Time II challenge and what a book it was! Forests of the Heart is the first Charles de Lint book I have ever read, and it certainly won’t be the last. I loved the mix of Celtic and Native American mythology which he has used for the foundation of this genuinely magical story, and will be trotting off to look up more background information on some of the figures and traditions he uses.

The novel is set in his fictional town of Newford, with a thriving artistic and musical community partly based in a house called Kellygnow. It’s within this community that we find the beginnings of a struggle between the spirits of the native peoples and those that have travelled across the sea with newcomers, in this case the Irish. Drawn into this story are two women, Bettina, who is Mexican/Native American and a healer with strong magic, and Ellie, a sculptor who doesn’t realise that within her too is magic, and who has taken on a commission which will set something ancient in motion.

As I said at the beginning, I loved this novel, I thought the human realtionships were realistically complicated, and that issues around the place of magic in the modern world were convincingly addressed. I can see now why so many love de Lint’s work, and would recommend it to anyone as a good place to start.

By the way, I’ve decided to start using larger pictures in the blog, as the lovely detail of so many of them gets lost in a thumbnail. Let me know what you think.

march-2008-purchases.jpgWhen I piled this month’s purchases up I was really surprised at the number of books that I had bought without really trying. A good range, I think, with some authors that are new to me:

Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliffe – a lovely limited edition from the wonderful people at Slightly Foxed, with proper bookmark and everything

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – written for World Book Day and mentioned in my post on the Novella Challenge

The Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin – worth looking at Emma’s blog

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – Scandinavian urban vampire story, so how could I resist?

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford – heard him being interviewed by Simon Mayo about his new book, picked this up in a bookshop and became very interested

The House of Lost Souls by F G Cottam – spec buy to make up a 3 for 2 offer, looks interesting but no idea what it will be like

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares – attracted by the cover which is a photo of Louise Brookes, and also in the Novella Challenge

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade – mentioned on someone else’s blog, it sounded like a good read

Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar – couldn’t resist it, looks great

Broken Things by Padrika Tarrant – as mentioned by dovegreyreader

Engelby by Sebastian Faulks – wasn’t sure about this when it first came out but dipped into it in a bookshop and decided to give it a go

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – reviewed by Simon Mayo’s Book Panel, this sounded like geeky good fun

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton – the latest Kinsey Milhone mystery, to add to my towering pile of unread Graftons

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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