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sunday-salon-2My reading week started off very slowly but momentum picked up at the end of the week and I have now read two completes novels, The Death House by Sarah Pinborough (reviewed here) and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (which I only finished earlier today so I am still contemplating what I thought of it, apart from it being really excellent of course).

Challenges

My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at eleven books so far. And I haven’t yet started the Cornflower Book Group’s April read of Jane Eyre, though I’m going to take some time out today to plan my reading so that I don’t get overwhelmed or, just as importantly, left behind.

In progress

My current reads are as always shown on the blog sidebar; I am currently working my way through an anthology of sci-fi short stories called Irregularity, which I am really enjoying.

The Jonathan Strange Update

I have finally taken the decision to set Jonathan Strange aside and will write a DNF post about it in the next few days. I am actually very sad about this and not totally giving up on the possibility that I may actually be able to finish it one day.

New books

The book buying embargo is still holding but several books came into the house this week, still technically not breaking the terms but ooh, probably stretching it a bit. One is the new Mary Russell novel by Laurie King, Dreaming Spies, which looks really good but in honouring the terms of the TBR dare as well as breaking with years of tradition I have not only set aside but actually let the Book God read before me. I am stunned by the extent of my own magnanimity 🙂

And on a trip to Manchester I was given a gift by my friend’s husband; a copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists which to my shame I have never read.

I also went to a bookish event on Saturday night to see/hear Den Patrick and Jen Williams talk about their new novels, The Boy Who Wept Blood and The Iron Ghost respectively. A really enjoyable discussion but of course if you want signed books you have to buy them, and as they are both second novels in their sequences then you have to buy the first volumes too, so we walked out four books the heavier. I’m not calling that an embargo breach because The Book God paid for them. Rationalisations, don’t you just love them?

Climbing up the TBR pile

A few of books we already have in the stacks came to my attention this week and have made their way to the top of Mount TBR:

Odds and Sods

One of the things I’m trying to do this year is sort out my study which is so cluttered with books and papers that I would be ashamed to share a photograph of it with anyone. In moving books around to make space for other books I came across a couple which I have apparently had for ages  but have no memory of whatsoever:

  • Encyclopaedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano – apparently I read  this in 2004 and thought it was OK but it isn’t triggering anything in my brain at all
  • The Murder Room by PD James, which it looks like I’ve had for years but don’t seem to have read. I can’t possibly have had a James novel for that long without reading it, surely? I shall have to investigate.

Hope everyone has a great reading week!

23566382What’s it all about?

Toby is one of a group of young people who have been sent to The Death House because blood tests have identified them as being Defective. They are watched over by a team of nurses headed the disturbingly efficient Matron, looking for the signs of sickness that will lead to removal to the Sanitorium from where no-one ever returns. Toby is doing what he can to cope, mostly withdrawing from everyone else, but then some new youngsters arrive, and one in particular changes everything.

Why did I want to read it?

I really like Sarah Pinborough’s work and look out for anything new that she publishes. I have a little virtual stack of her eBooks (if such a thing can be said to exist) and really enjoyed her Jack the Ripper inspired (terrible shorthand but you know what I mean) novels Mayhem and Murder (reviewed here and here).

IMG_0295Also (full disclosure) she personally handed me an uncorrected bound proof of the novel at a book event a few weeks ago in this lovely packaging, and now that I’ve read it I’m going to carefully wrap it up again as I have already pre-ordered for my Kindle app and will get it on publication day (26 February – go and buy it!)

But enough of that because I suspect you want an answer to this question:

What did I think of it?

I normally try not to write blog posts immediately after reading a book because I like to let things percolate and settle before I try to articulate what I thought, but I knew I was going to have to write about The Death House soon because it was just so extraordinary and had such an impact that I didn’t want to forget how it made me feel.

And boy were there feelings.

So. To me this is a book about love and life and grief and coping and doing the best you can under awful circumstances. It’s about having to grow up too quickly. It’s about fear and dread and getting through the day. And ultimately it’s about love and connections and friendship.

All of the youngsters are distinct individuals and totally believable but of course Toby and Clara in particular stand out, though I loved Louis and Will as well. The adults are not so well drawn but that’s deliberate and make sense as under the circumstances I would think they would be very wary of giving anything away to their charges (and when that does occasionally happen there are consequences) and so we see them as the children see them.

One of the strengths of the novel for me was that not everything was spelled out. We aren’t told what the condition the children have actually is, though we know it’s been around for a long time, only strikes the young and presents itself in different ways with each individual. We don’t know where the Death House actually is, except that it’s clearly isolated, and most importantly we don’t know what happens in the Sanitorium (except that no-one comes back). I thought this was all very effective because it’s the relationships that matter.

I had started to read the book soon after I was given it but realised that this was something that I wanted to take care with, so I stopped for a bit because life and work were clearly going to get in the way, and when I sat down to read it I finished it in a single sitting. It’s totally compelling and then it kicks you in the stomach with an event that is so sad that I couldn’t stop myself from crying (luckily I was at home and didn’t repeat the embarrassing experience of reading the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife on a bus and having to stop because I was making a fool of myself) and when I sort of recovered I went through it all over again with what I think was a perfect ending to the novel. It reminded me a little of Never Let Me Go (but only a little, it is very much its Own Thing).

I really do urge you to read this. It’s just wonderful. I will be reading it again soon, but envy anyone who is coming to it for the first time.

10950697_10153076729134664_1858964010029395326_oFor once I actually got to an exhibition close to its opening date rather than turning up just as it’s about to shut down, but John Singer Sargent has always been one of my favourite painters and I wanted to get there as soon as I could. So yesterday, on a sunny Sunday afternoon and undaunted by no trains running on our line due to planned engineering works we braved alternative means of transport (OK, the bus and tube) to get to the NPG.

I was particularly interested in this selection of Sargent’s work because of its focus – Portraits of Artists and Friends – so we weren’t looking at the society portraits for which he became renowned but works, commissioned and otherwise, of other artists in a variety of fields from painting to theatre to music to literature. It was a wonderful chance to see paintings I’d seen rarely or on through reproductions, and it was a real delight. I would have lingered s bit longer but the exhibition was packed and it was also *whispers* a bit warm in the galleries but I may very well go back again to savour my favourites, especially the magnificent Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.

I don’t have much in print form about Sargent (though quite a good  selection of postcards), apart from the following:

  • Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends which we bought in the gallery shop and which does not break the book buying embargo as (a) it was a joint purchase with the Book God and (b) I consider it to be a catalogue, albeit an enormous hardback one (I know that’s a rationalisation but as Jeff Goldblum says in The Big Chill “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalisations”);
  • Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davies which tells the story of the scandal around one of his most famous portraits and which sadly I read before I started this blog and don’t really remember what I thought of it;
  • John Singer Sargent: His Portrait by Stanley Olson which is unread in the stacks somewhere but about to be rediscovered (though sadly doesn’t seem to be available any longer);
  • Sargent: Portrait Drawings showing drawings in pencil, charcoal and pastels and just beautiful.

Oh and before we went to the exhibition we had a peep at The Real Tudors, a fine collection of portraits in a free display, brought together in advance of an extended exhibition in Paris. The fact that Wolf Hall has been on stage recently and currently on TV made this very popular as well. Much to enjoy.

sunday-salon-2I did actually manage to finish a book this week although it was another very busy time at work and I’ve ended most days in a bit of a heap on the sofa. But I was enticed into finishing The Ninth Life of Louis Drax and have already published my review so yay for me!

This afternoon I also read a standalone short story, The Kiss by Kim Curran with whom (full disclosure) I have occasional Twitter interactions. It’s a lovely story and you should check it out (written especially for a previous Valentine’s day I believe).

Challenges

My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at nine books so far. And although it’s not actually a challenge I am taking part in the Cornflower Book Group’s April read which is Jane Eyre, a novel which *gasp* I have never read, always preferring Anne and Emily over Charlotte. But it’s about time I gave it a go, I think, I just need to plan the reading out carefully so I don’t get overwhelmed and/or bored and/or left behind by everyone else (I have previous form in this regard, see my first attempt to read Wolf Hall).

In progress

My current reads are as always shown on the blog sidebar; I am currently immersed (and hoping to finish this weekend) The Death House by Sarah Pinborough in uncorrected proof as it doesn’t actually get published until 26 February. It is very good indeed.

The Jonathan Strange Update

The least said about this the better…..

New books

The book buying embargo is still holding but two books came into the house this week, technically not breaking the terms. One is Jane Eyre which I already own in physical form but have been entirely unable to locate so I bought an inexpensive e-book version for ease of reading. The other is Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar which I got as part of the ticket package for attending the Bloomsbury Institute conversation with her about the book in March. My conscience is clear 🙂

Climbing up the TBR pile

A couple of books we already have in the stacks came to my attention this week and have made their way to the top of Mount TBR:

  • The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, because the author EJ Swift (her blog is here and I had the pleasure of meeting her recently) was recommending it on Twitter and it’s one of the few of Egan’s work I haven’t read – previous reviews are here, here and here;
  • Again on Twitter I saw a reference to the Internet of Things which mentioned that the inevitable outcome had already been identified by Philip K Dick in 1969 in his novel Ubik, so of course that had to come off the shelves as well; and
  • the Book God has been encouraging me to read the books by Max Allan Collins, and suggested I might start with Bye Bye, Baby which is all about the death of Marilyn Monroe (I have a soft spot for her) – not sure about this, I need to be in the right mood for hardboiled…..

Hope everyone has a great reading week!

IMG_0220What’s it all about?

Louis Drax is nine years old and has been prone to accidents and illnesses throughout his short life. The latest incident (plunging over a cliff on a family picnic) has left him in a coma with a mystery needing to be solved – how did the accident happen? His father has disappeared, his mother is suffering from shock and isn’t really giving a coherent account of the events, and of course Louis himself can’t tell. Or can he?

Why did I want to read it?

I do like a really good psychological thriller, and I had read and enjoyed one of Liz Jensen’s other books, The Rapture, which I reviewed here. I spotted that it is being made into a film and that’s always a bit of a hook for me (if I already own the book that is).

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed this. I liked the fact that we saw some of the story from the first person perspective of Louis himself, although it took a few pages to realise that he was already in his coma. I also liked the growing supernatural element, though I’m not sure if that’s the right word (I’ve seen references to sixth sense instead). I did like the other voice in the story, that of the doctor Pascal Dannachet who is treating Louis and gets sucked in to the mystery to his eminent detriment. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as it’s nice to see it develop in front of you but I will say that I guessed a couple of the plot points (and I never liked his mother).

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is pacily written and easy to read in the best way. I will be searching out more of her books.

2509832What’s it all about?

The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows is an original sci-fi anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and winner of the Aurealis Award, which I had to look up and discovered it’s an annual award given for excellence in speculative fiction (covering sci-fi, fantasy and horror). As the blurb says, Strahan asked the contributors to “look past the horizon of the present day”.

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I didn’t actually know that I wanted to read it  as such, but last year I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Neil Gaiman’s performance/reading of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and one of the other stories he read was the hugely entertaining Orange, which I wanted to hunt down and experience myself, and this is the collection it was written for (for which it was written?), (whatever). Of course it’s now been included in his new collection Trigger Warnings but I’m glad I found it here first because this is a really cool anthology.

What did I think of it?

Short story collections are always strange because they can’t help but be a bit uneven, whether they’re by a single author or a number of different writers; we have sixteen of them here. But I thought this was a really strong bunch of stories; a couple of them were definitely not to my taste in terms of theme but none of them were poor or badly written (IMHO at least) and I enjoyed dipping into this over several days. There is a wide range of futuristic subject matter covered, some set classically in space and others set here in contemporary (or near contemporary) Earth. Stand-outs for me (in addition to the aforementioned Orange, obvs) were:

  • Cheats by Ann Halam – immersive gaming, using code to travel between worlds
  • The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffery Ford – love and fate in a tale inspired by the work of Michael Morrcock
  • Sundiver Day by Kathleen Ann Goonan- loss and grief and possibilities, with added cloning
  • The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice by Alistair Reynolds – cyborg space pirates!
  • Infestation by Garth Nix – alien space vampires and their hunters!

A really enjoyable collection, very much worth your time.

sunday-salon-2It’s been a very quiet reading week due to social stuff (mostly a very boozy chat with London and New York friends about books in a swish hotel on the South Bank) and lots and lots of work, plus quite a bit of movie watching.

Challenges:

I’m currently involved in two challenges:

  • the TBR Double Dog – finished my eighth (and first physical) book of the year today, and took delivery of the new Neil Gaiman (pre-ordered last year so technically OK) – feeling virtuous
  • the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge – nothing new this week but a couple of interesting things on the horizon.

In progress

My current reads are shown on the blog sidebar; pleased to have finished my first book of the month and I am definitely in a short story mood.

Events

Nothing literary this week (apart from boozy night out mentioned previously, where two of us ganged up on a third to make them see they MUST read Wolf Hall) though I have things of interest coming up in the next few weeks.

The Jonathan Strange Update

Shock horror! I have read a bit more of this and am now on *gasp* page 148 so nothing to get too excited about but it is progress, people, and not to be sniffed at!

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned since my last post.

So let’s see what this week brings…..

Clean Your ReaderSo I signed up to this challenge on 2 January with the intention of reading a minimum of four, maybe six books, and yay for me, I actually managed to finish seven.

These were:

  1. The Wide Carnivorous Sky by John Langan (6 January)
  2. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (10 January)
  3. North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Balingrud (11 January)
  4. Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh (14 January)
  5. The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (17 January)
  6. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (19 January)
  7. The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (30 January)

So I’m very pleased with that indeed, though hankering slightly after a physical book for a change. I will also try to remember throughout the year that I have an e-book TBR “pile” too 😀

IMG_0218What’s it all about?

The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth in the series of novels set in The Laundry, the really really secret bit of the British Civil Service that deals with nasties from other dimensions, the Old Ones and their ilk.

This time Bob Howard, our hero, is contending with, well, the impending Apocalypse. Specifically, an attempt to awaken Something from Another Dimension (capitals always seem necessary here) which Bob has come across before, mostly in his dreams nightmares.

This time round he has the “help” of two external assets – Persephone Hazard (who is basically a witch) and Jonny McTavish (who has form with the kind of cultish religion involved here).

Oh and they are in Colorado dodging the local equivalent of the Laundry (amongst other things).

Why did I want to read it?

As I’ve said before I’m working my way through the series in order (as is only right and proper). Thoughts on The Atrocity ArchivesThe Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum have already been shared as linked.

What did I think of it?

I don’t know whether it’s because I read this so close to finishing the previous volume (and that’s why I usually take longish breaks between elements of a series) but it took me a bit longer to get into The Apocalypse Codex than normal, and the use of a greater amount of third person narrative (as opposed to us mostly seeing the action through Bob’s perspective) might not have helped. But once the Big Bad was identified and the action got under way then I was sucked in as per usual. The main new characters this time round were Jonny and Persephone (as mentioned above) and Gordon Lockhart, a senior manager in the Laundry who looks after External Assets. So lots of new people and consequently not enough Mo or Angleton for my taste but once we are in the USA dealing with a completely bonkers evangelical church with a charismatic leader and a plan to bring forward the end of the world and save us all whether we want to be saved or not then those reservations all passed.

Of course the bad guys are (partially) unwitting dupes of something other than they expect, and of course the new guys underestimate Bob’s talents and skills because he looks like a boring civil servant, and of course it all goes a bit pear-shaped and they have to make it up as they go along, but the end of the world is diverted once again, we learn a lot more about the internal workings of the Laundry and things change for Bob, probably in a good way but we’ll wait and see.

I am still really enjoying this series and have one novel and three short stories to go to catch up, but may give myself a break for a bitto keep it all fresh. But as always, recommended if Lovecraftian-related administrative shenanigans are your bag.

sunday-salon-2So here we are; one month out of the way already. Where does the time go? Anyway, time for a round-up I think.

Challenges:

A couple of challenges finished on 31 January

  • the Sci-Fi experience – over the two months the challenge ran I managed 1 x novel, 3 x standalone (i.e. not in a collection) short stories and 2 x movies. Not bad, but would have liked to read more, just couldn’t find the right thing. But I’m sure there will be more sci-fi throughout the year….
  • the Clear Your Reader challenge – all seven books I’ve finished this month have been on my Kindle app so yay me!
  • the TBR Double Dog – the seven books read this month all count towards this; the buying embargo is firmly holding under extreme provocation. A couple of pre-orders downloaded this week and I got two books as part of my birthday presents yesterday, but all tucked firm away until the beginning of April.
  • I haven’t previously mentioned the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge which runs throughout the year. I’m doing particularly well with this one – 2 x short story collections and 2 x novels so far; suits my taste at the moment. Which probably says something, I’m just not sure what!

In progress

Most of my current reads are shown on the blog sidebar; after a good reading month in January I’m dithering a bit, jumping from book to book before I (hopefully) settle on something.

Events

I attended my first Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting in London last week. Particularly pleased to meet EJ Swift (whose short story The Spiders of Stockholm is up for an award) and who is now firmly on my wish-list, and Sarah Pinborough. I was very lucky to be given directly from her own hand an uncorrected proof of her next novel  The Death House which is out in February. I think the rules of the TBR Dare will allow me to include this one; at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it 🙂

The Jonathan Strange Update

I’m still where I was on Christmas Eve, page 134, mostly because I just haven’t been reading much. But I had an interesting conversation with a couple of people I met at the SRFC and it seems that Jonathan Strange is one of those books people are glad to have read in retrospect but struggled with a bit while they were actually reading it. Glad I’m not alone!

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned since my last post.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

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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