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You may have noticed over the past week that both here and at the home of the Screen God I have been valiantly attempting to catch up with posts. And having done so I have come to the awful realisation that I haven’t finished a book since 11 April (end of the read-a-thon.)
That’s over a month ago (yes I know, stating the obvious but that’s my thing, OK?)
So I got to thinking about why that is, and there are a couple of obvious things that spring to mind:
- my morning commute is currently taking place at a time when I have to stand, making the reading of books difficult (for me, clumsy woman with poor balance and lack of natural grace) and then
- work is still really really busy despite the ending of a major project, and
- although my evening commute allows me to sit down my concentration is entirely shot by then and I’m tired, which inevitably leads to
- vegetating in front of the TV when I get home and falling asleep before my head hits the pillow (neither conducive to reading) and all of this means that
- my weekends are spent catching up with loads of other stuff
And much as I’m reluctant to say so, I just can’t get into my current read, so there’s no incentive to even try.
So going to permit myself to ignore challenges and just find something interesting to read, even if I have to open every book in this house – and believe me, that’s saying a lot.
So I want it noted for the record that I love Gladys Mitchell, and have done so for years. I read my first one (The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – my old paperback has an absolutely hideous cover) in 1991 and was sad to see them go out of print, despite quite a good BBC adaptation starring Diana Rigg, who was brilliant in the main role despite being far too glamorous for the character.
However, chuffed to see that Vintage is bringing the novels of the Great Gladys (so named by Philip Larkin) back and grabbed the opportunity to pick up one I hadn’t read before as a way of rounding off the read-a-thon.
First published in 1941 When Last I Died kicks off with Mrs Bradley visiting a reformatory school where she has been asked to consult as a psychologist on behalf of the government. She subsequently takes a house on the coast to give some of the boys a chance for a break from the institution, and once they’ve been packed off she spends some time there with her grandson, who finds rather an interesting diary. The diary’s author (now dead) used to work at the same reformatory and was once accused of murdering her aunt. This is the starting point for a mystery involving haunted houses, investigations of the paranormal and missing schoolboys.
And I absolutely loved it. Really satisfying story, clever plotting and Mrs Bradley is a gloriously grotesque character. Suspect I will be building up my collection over the next few months.
Oh Lordy. So, I’m back in that place where I always seem to find myself these days, trying to write a review months and months after everyone else has read the thing and (almost) everyone has loved it and articulated their feelings about it much better than I think I can (I refer the jury to Carl’s review as exhibit number one).
Your view of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is I think going to depend on how you feel about Flavia de Luce, heroine and amateur sleuth, 11 years old and plunged into a murder investigation when the body of a man who may or may not be known to her father is found in the cucumber patch. Given that Flavia’s mother died when she was very young, her father is her only family apart from her two fairly odious sisters, so she naturally sets out to get to the bottom of the whole thing.
We are in 1950’s England, recovering from the Second World War, and Flavia is part of a family fallen on hard times and living in a mansion that has seen better days. She has a remarkable chemistry lab which sounds fabulous (even though I don’t do smells), her father is obsessed with his stamp collection (can understand that, I drool over my own occasionally) and their household staff are pretty odd but very loyal.
The plot is irrelevant in lots of ways, though it is fairly enjoyable and although I suspect there are several plot holes I quite happily went along with it all simply because, precocious and faintly unbelievable though she may be, I really liked Flavia.
Like my other read-a-thon books this probably benefitted from being read in a sitting (more or less) and it certainly got me through to the wee small hours. Looking forward to the sequel which is probably out already but I’m saving for later in the year.
For suffering and misfortune are certainly all around her, and try as she might she cannot always warn or protect the innocent.
Or something along those lines.
Nightmares and Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time is a creepily inventive little book of new horror stories and twisted re-tellings of fairy tales, all in graphic form. Wicked nuns, cruel parents, and even poor old Cinderella get the full treatment.
The only thing that saves this from totally over-the-top-grisly-goriness is the fact that it’s in black and white, but it’s still fairly horrible. And therefore right up my street!
This was my fifth read for the 2010 Graphic Novel Challenge, and did a lot to keep me awake during read-a-thon (largely cos I was too scared to sleep……..)
It’s actually going to be quite difficult to review Anthropology, a book of 101 short stories, each just a page long and all about love in its various aspects and all narrated in the first person.
The stories are arranged in alphabetical order, so we move from Anthropology (where he explains how he lost his anthropologist girlfriend to the culture she was studying) to Words (about what keeps a marriage together). Some of them are very funny, some of them rather sad, but they are all little gems.
This was another read-a-thon book, and again I read it in one sitting. Looking back I wonder if that was entirely wise and whether some of the stories lost their impact because I read the book like a novel. It made me wonder what the best way to read short stories actually is.
I remember listening to Simon Mayo’s book review podcast ages and ages ago when he was interviewing (I think) Anne Enright and the subject of how to read stories came up. The two approaches discussed were reading one, savouring it and closing the book, as opposed to doing what I’ve just done. Someone compared it to how you might eat a box of chocolates, and I suppose I just have to confess that I handle both the same way – once that box is opened I very rarely have the self-control to just have one chocolate….
I’m going to look for some more Dan Rhodes as I really admired his style, and as a bonus they all seem (like this one) to have a fabulous David Roberts cover illustration.
Finally getting around to reviews after another (and not yet finished) busy period at work, and of course all the excitement of the UK General Election (which is still distracting me from other things – as a civil servant I am keen to know who my next set of bosses is going to be….)
All this means that I’m not reading as much as I should – I often go through these patches driven sometimes by not being able to find something that I’m interested on reading just at that particular point, but more often (as now) just not finding the time to read regularly.
So, After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson is a detective novel in the classic style, set in 1920s Scotland and is huge fun. In terms of plot, there’s a bit of a scandal brewing amongst Dandy (short for Dandelion) Gilver’s social set when some valuable diamonds are stolen after the eponymous ball. Asked by her friend Daisy to do a bit of sleuthing she gets pulled into something much darker when Cara Duffy, the youngest daughter of the diamonds’ owner dies in a fire in a remote cottage, and it becomes clear that this might not have been an accident.
Which is about all that can be said without giving away too much of the plot. It’s well-written, pacy, has a nice sense of location and time and an attractive heroine who is easy to identify. This was my first read-a-thon book and so benefitted from being read in one sitting, and I enjoyed it so much I’ve already bought the second in the series.