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Over the years I’ve come to prefer Barabara Vine to Ruth Rendell (for they are one and the same). Although I used to read the Wexford novels voraciously, I really rate the psychological approach that she takes as Vine, and The Birthday Present maintains what is a pretty good record (the only one I couldn’t get into was Gallowglass).
The book is set in the 1990s when the Conservative government was moving from Mrs Thatcher’s leadership to that of John Major, and the party was struggling with allegations of sleaze. Ivor Trensham is a Tory MP, a single man with ambition and a promising career but who also has secrets – “unconventional” tastes and a mistress, Hebe Furnal, a married woman with a young son. When he organises a special birthday present for Hebe and it goes horribly wrong, leading to a tragic accident, the issue for him becomes one of avoiding scandal; how long before all this gets out, and who will help protect his reputation?
The story is told in the first person by two different narrators; one is Ivor’s brother-in-law in whom he confides over time, and the other is a friend of Hebe’s. I liked the structure of the story which allows the reader to get the full picture in an uncontrived way given that most of the characters (possibly all of them) don’t know all of the facts. I found the atmosphere of imminent ruin for Ivor really pulled me in, and although I had little sympathy for him I still wanted to know what happened. There are lots of hints all the way through but I didn’t really work out what was going to happen until very close to the end, and by then I was so hooked I didn’t really care whether my guesses were correct. I can see myself re-reading this, which isn’t normally the case with crime novels.
This week’s Thursday Thunk questions were all dreamed up by people who participated in last week’s thunk – so here goes:
- What is your favourite type of soda? Ginger beer.
- Do you believe in astrology?What does your sign say about you? Not really but I know that I an Aquarian, unconventional, intellectual and some other stuff I can’t remember. And people apparently shouldn’t lend me money (according to my Garfield Aquarius Zodiac mug)
- Who is John Galt? No idea.
- What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep at night? Sigh with relief – I’m lying down at last.
- Who’s your Daddy? A very good question…..
- Jelly beans or Jelly Bellies? Jelly babies.
- What do you think about yellow car? Don’t drive so don’t really care, but I suppose it depends on the shade of yellow…..
- Holding on or letting go? Both at the same time, I am nothing if not contradictory.
- What kind of underwear, if any, do you wear? Nope, not going near that one.
- Who is your daddy and what does he do? An even better question than 5.
- Spring – is it here yet? It was until yesterday……
- Does Google Streetview scare you? Not really; all those surveillance cameras do though….
- What is your favourite brand of ice cream? No preference.
- What is your favourite flavour of ice cream? Raspberry ripple.
- Do you ever get tired of your everyday routine? Occasionally, but routines can be comforting as well.
- What inspires you? Other people.
- It’s springtime – do you spend more time outdoors? I’m just not an outdoor kind of girl.
- When do you think Bud will let us see the DVD of him and the French Twins? Who is Bud??
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you and why?A large house somewhere in Perthshire, because it’s a beautiful part of Scotland.
- Why do you blog? Because I can.
- What are electrolytes and why are they good for us? Too technical for me.
- Do you twitter? If not why not? No; I have an addictive personality and would end up twittering all day long.
- What did you dream last night? No idea.
- What is the strangest thing you’ve eaten? I tend to shy away from strange food, but a lot of my friends deplore my taste for haggis.
- What was the last picture that you took? St Mirren Park, 31 January, first football match in the new stadium (there’s even a post)
- What is your favourite part of the spring? The first day I don’t need a coat. Hasn’t quite happened yet. Oh and cherry blossom.
- What is the one thing you did this week that no-one knows about? That would be telling.
- What kind of bandages do you typically have in your household? None.
The Weekly Geeks topic is historical fiction, with an interesting choice of questions to consider. But the more I contemplated it, the more I realised that it’s not quite as straightforward an issue to comment on as I had thought.
My relationship to historical fiction has changed over the years; in my teens I really enjoyed Jean Plaidy (especially her series on (surprise, surprise) Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Medici), but as I studied more history (that’s what my degree is, after all) I pulled away from reading fiction set in the period I was most interested in – the sixteenth century. And that’s because the little things, the niggly not quite right stuff, the playing about with the facts for dramatic purposes began to annoy me more and more.
So most of the historical fiction I read is in the crime genre, particularly the Victorian period and even more particularly anything vaguely reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes.
But if you asked me to pick the one historical novel that really impressed me and that I have gone back to more than once, then I would have to say Katherine by Anya Seton. A huge, sprawling, romantic blockbuster of a novel which had a huge impact, and I say that as someone who doesn’t do romance at all. I first read it when I was fifteen and fell in love then and there with John of Gaunt, and nothing I’ve learned about him since has changed my mind.
I never know how best to review a picture book, especially one which is designed at least in part for children. They tend to be very short so it’s almost a cheat describing it as something that I’ve read, but they are always beautiful things that deserve to be celebrated, and that’s certainly the case here.
Blueberry Girl is a poem written by Neil Gaiman for his friend, the singer/songwriter Tori Amos when she was expecting her little girl. It’s a prayer wishing for all that’s good to be given to the child so that she grows up to fulfil her potential.
The poem itself is very moving, and is wonderfully supported by gloriously colourful illustrations by the great Charles Vess, filled with animals and flowers.
It’s a gorgeous book and one that I’m sure I’ll go back to; and it’s also my first read for The Dream King Challenge.
Halting State is only my second Charles Stross novel but I think it’s already clear that he and I are going to have a long and productive relationship as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both reads so far (see this review for my previous foray).
So we are in Edinburgh and Sergeant Sue Smith has been called to the office of Hayek Associates, a company which produces and supports online games. There has been a robbery, but not one of your usual smash and grabs; this time the robbery has taken place inside a game, and has been carried out by a marauding but organised band of orcs, supported by a dragon.
Add to this mix Elaine Barnaby, a forensic accountant with practical skills in weilding very large swords in medieval role playing games, and Jack Reed, a games programmer who just happens to be unemployed at the right time and with the right skills set to assist in the investigation, and you have the three main characters in a tale of gaming, programming and international terrorism in a 21st century which is a bit of an advance on the one we recognise. And one of the questions is: when is a game not a game?
I loved this; I’ll admit it took me a day or two of typical reading-on-the-train commuter time to really get into the story but once I was housebound with the dreaded Head Cold 2: This Time It’s Personal, this book was exactly what I needed to escape from the depths of feeling sorry for myself. And what more can you ask?
I’ve never played World of Warcraft or any of its competitors but I can see the attraction it has, and although I’m sure you would get a lot of additional pleasure out of this story if you had a background in online gaming, I found I knew enough to make the story intelligible. The techy stuff was really interesting and was very happy with how the plot all worked out in the end. Another recommendation, and another read for the 42 Challenge.
It’s that time of year again and I have really been looking forward to Once Upon A Time, but as always it’s choosing exactly what to read that’s the problem.
I’m plumping for Quest the First (as I did last year) and will be reading five fantasy works from the following pool:
- Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt
- The Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
- The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
- Hrolf Kraki’s Saga by Poul Anderson
- The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint
- The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
- Here There Be Dragons by James Owen
- White Apples by Jonathan Carroll
- Aegypt by John Crowley
- The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
- Fevre Dream by George Martin
- Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
Off work suffering from a really bad cold again which serves me right for thinking that Spring had arrived and not wrapping up warmly enough…
So here we go:
- The last flight of stairs you walked up/down – were they carpetted? – Oh yes, living in a town house my life is all stairs and they definitely have carpets.
- Green or purple grapes? – Both, whichever is sweeter at the time.
- Do you like Peeps? – I’m Scottish, I don’t think I know what they are so will have to investigate…..
- The smell of Vicks – like it? It’s one of the few things keeping me going at the moment, so a definite yes
- Do you put decorative cling-ons on your windows for different holidays? Absolutely not.
- Finish the sentence – I spent too much money on _______? My handbag collection
- Which celebrity should be flown into outer space or placed on a desert island? I don’t think I care enough to choose – besides, who am I to judge – I can be fairly annoying myself
- Would you support schools changing the “open” time? Such as 10am – 5pm for example? Don’t have children so no opinion on this one
- Do you go fishing? No, I try to stay away from anything that wriggles as I suspect a fish on a hook would
- What question should we ask next week? Spring – is it here yet??
So I’ve been watching Jeremy Paxman’s series on Victorian painting on the BBC, and obviously the pre-Raphaelites feature quite a bit, and I haven’t started any of my reading for the Art History challenge, and the Book God asked me a question about flowers (I think, may have imagined that) so I toodled off and picked this up from the bookshelf. Just to dip into you understand…..
Some time later I had read it from cover to cover; not a huge book but a lovely selection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings featuring flowers and a page on each one explaining what the various plants actually mean.
Interesting diversion into the language of flowers; there wasn’t just one dictionary of meanings apparently, and many a young man had to cope with the tears that ensued from a different interpretation of the bouquet he’d just presented.
The reproductions are lovely and the text interesting. And in case you are wondering, the cover is Rossetti’s “La Ghirlandata”, painted in the 1870s, and the flowers it includes are honeysuckle (affectionate devotion though Rossetti saw it as a symbol of sexual attraction); pink roses (the sexual attraction thing again as they are at their full bloom) and surprisingly monkshood (approach of a dangerous foe) – though William Rossetti thought his brother meant to paint larkspur (an emblem of lightness and levity). So even great artists get it wrong sometimes too.
This is my first read for the Art History Reading Challenge.
They pick a subject and I interpret it how I want. So this week…
- You are walking down the road and you look down. There is a bug. Do you step on it? – No, absolutely not, bad karma.
- What is one fantasy that you want to come true more than any other? – No, you aren’t going to get me to admit that, not in polite company anyway….
- Someone knocks on your door. Do you look out the window to see who it is before you open it? Do you open it regardless of who it is? – Well our door is at the side of our town house and the accessible windows are at the front, so I either entirely ignore the doorbell and have a sneaky look as they’re walking away, or I go downstairs to open what is a glass door, so by that time they’ve seen me too and I can’t get away with anything other than opening it. But mostly I just hide in an antisocial way.
- Have you ever eaten Play Doh? – No but my brother has (he’s 41 now so I can say these things without fear of retribution)
- What was your favourite Saturday morning cartoon as a child and why? – Tom and Jerry, closely followed by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck; I liked the absurdity.
- Are you a “people watcher”? – Oh yes….. and I have the restraining orders to prove it.
- I have a bowl of fruit. There are apples, oranges and pears. You help yourself to one – which one do you choose? – Apples every single time. Pears at a pinch. Never oranges; I don’t like the texture.
- What is your pet peeve in the blogging world? – All the shorthand stuff – YMMV, for example, but mostly LOL – yes definitely LOL. I’m the kind of person who writes text messages in full sentences with proper punctuation.
- What is one religion that you could just never see yourself joining? Any of them.
- What word do you use far too often? – Cool
- How long do you spend in the shower? – Depends on how slow and tired I am but probably 15 minutes; it’s a good place to think about work.
- If you were to write a personal ad about yourself what would it say? – A variation on the profile in my sidebar (presumably without the happily married bit) but honestly I can’t see myself doing it at all.
- Your favourite flavoured soup is – carrot & butterbean, closely followed by pea & ham – Baxters, obviously.
- You are sitting on a bench in the park and a bug walks in front of your feet …. do you squash him? – In the unlikely even that I noticed him at all (because I’d probably have my nose in a book) I would let him be – see the bad karma thing mentioned above.