Category Archives: Bookends

The year so far

Booker Prize project: the end is near

If I could get frequent flyer miles for every time I travelled to the land of best intentions this year I’m sure I’d have enough to circle the globe.

So many times I’ve got out of bed with the firm plan to write a review or check out some of the blogs I follow. Then bed-time arrives and I have no idea what happened to all those intervening hours. Other than I never did write the review and the list of unread items in my blog feed doubled.

Instead of blogging I’ve been filling my days catching up with friends from schooldays (I think I know every coffee shop within a 10 mile radius), creating a blog for my family history research; doing a lot of house redecoration (or rather supervising others to do the work) and going to the gym. That’s in between trying to learn German in preparation for a holiday and writing some scripts for performance at a cemetery in Cardiff. I’ve never written anything for performance before so this has been an eye-opening experience. It’s not until you hear the piece delivered by an actor that you realise how clunky some of the dialogue sounds…

Reading has taken somewhat of a back seat. It’s strange but when I was working there were many days where I would think “I’d love to be at home now, curled up on the sofa, just reading.”  But you know what, now that I can, the appeal has diminished….

Consequently I’ve read less this year than I have in all the years since I started blogging.  I refuse to get worked up about that however. It’s not about quantity but about enjoying the reading experience.

Since we’re now just over a quarter of the way through the year it seems like a good time to give you all an update on what I’ve been reading and what the future holds

State of the personal library

Let’s start with the good news …

… the TBR hasn’t gone up (round of applause please)

The not so good news … it hasn’t gone down.

I’m at exactly the same number with which I started the year – 245 to be precise.

I’m still acquiring books though at a vastly lower rate than has been the case over the last 5 years. And have off-loaded some that no longer appealed to the library book sale. Which has given me the space to accommodate the books I get through my monthly subscription to the Asymptote book club (I have yet to any of them so far) and those I need for the two book clubs in which I participate.

Year of Reading Naked

At the start of this year my only plan for 2018 was not to have a reading plan. Instead of creating lists of books to read (and then failing to read them) I decided to make 2018 my year of reading naked. By which I meant choosing what to read based on my mood at the time. I’ve stuck to that more or less. I did join in with the Reading Ireland Month hosted by Cathy at 746books but that didn’t involve making a list in advance. I just went to the shelves and found something by an Irish author. Job done.

This is so much more enjoyable than making a list and then finding when I come to read the books, they have lost their appeal…..

Read so far this year

I read the first of the books in my ‘Year of my life’ project as initiated by Cafe Society. It didn’t get off to a good start. I chose Muriel Spark’s The Comforters to represent 1957. Some of the characterisation was excellent but generally I thought the plot overly complicated and I lost interest long before the end. You can see my review here.

I’m now down to the last four books in my Booker Prize project, having read Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. 

That leaves me with G by John Berger, History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst and James Kelman’s How Late it Was How Late.

Best book of the year so far? That’s a toss up between A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola.

On the horizon

Today marks the start of the #1977club hosted by Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’sbookishramblings, a week where we read, discover and discuss books from this particular year. I wasn’t going to join in because when I looked at the list on Wikipedia of books published that year the only ones that were of interest were ones I had already read. There seemed a lot of short story collections, science fiction and ‘popular’ fiction. But then HeavenAli drew my attention to The Danger Tree by Olivia Manning, an author I have long intended to read. This is the first title in her Levant Trilogy and is set in Egypt where the British forces are engaged in a fierce struggle  against the German forces. The conflict provides a backdrop against which one couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle,  struggle with their marriage. The stars must have been in alignment because I have just finished my current book and was wondering what to pick up next and then discovered my library has a copy languishing in its archive.

After that it will probably be back to the Booker Prize and I have Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine by Gail Honeyman to read for the next book club meeting. And that’s as much as I want to plan right now.

Bookends #4 March 2018

I didn’t get around to a Bookends post last week but I hope this episode makes up for that deficiency. Once again I bring you a book, a blog post and an article that have caught my attention in recent days.

Article: writers resisting oppression

I came across the Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o when I embarked on my World of Literature project with the aim of expanding my reading horizons by choosing books from 50 different countries. I’m up to 36 at the moment.

Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was one of the books that I’ve come across so far. As a tale of a village whose appeals for help go unanswered when the harvests fail and they are left starving, this book was considered so incendiary by the Kenyan government that they imprisoned the author without trial or charge. It took pressure from Amnesty International to get him released.

Interviewed by The Guardian newspaper about his memoir Wrestling with the Devil (out in the UK on April 5) he says that what helped him survive was his power of imagination and determination to resist. “Resistance is the best way of keeping alive. It can take even the smallest form of saying no to injustice. If you really think you’re right, you stick to your beliefs, and they help you to survive.”

Read the interview in The Guardian here but then go out and get a copy of Petals of Blood.

Book: The Book of Tiblisi

Book of TblisiOne part of the world that is all too familiar with oppression is Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. It’s 26 years ago since they declared independence – during that time they’ve experienced two wars with their former ‘master’, a coup d’etat and economic hardship. In The Book of Tblisi published by Comma Press, ten stories from local writers show how the country, and its capital city Tblisi, has recovered its spirit. I don’t normally enjoy short stories but the collections produced by Comma Press in their “Book of …..” series are the exception.

Blog Post: A blogger with courage

Some of you know Jill who blogs at Jill’s Book Cafe, and have been following her posts over the last year in which she described her treatment for breast cancer. There was a lot of humour in the initial posts (one hilarious one dealt with  the difficulties of getting into and out of a bra). She’s needed every ounce of courage in recent months because of the effects of the medication. Do read her latest post called “Hello from the other side of chemotherapy” and give her a virtual hug.

 

Bookends #3 March 2018

Article: 21st century women writers

My chosen article this week was published by The New York Times to mark Women’s History Month. In Vanguard Books by Women their staff writers considered which women writers in the 21st century are at the helm of new paths in writing. They wanted to identify those women who are opening new realms and whose works ” suggest and embody unexplored possibilities in form, feeling and knowledge.”

They ended up with a list of 15 books that they considered remarkable. From Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah to Zadie Smith’s NW, Hang Kang’s The Vegetarian and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado which seems to be a curious blend of fantasy, police procedural and horror. They admit the choices are idiosyncratic and there are numerous good books that were not included. Even so some of the selections are strange. Why choose NW when On Beauty or White Teeth were infinitely better? Why not Ali Smith whose How to Be Both surely counts as inventive? And what possessed them to leave out Hilary Mantel who has surely broken the mould for historical fiction?

What do you think – do you agree with the list or think there are some glaring omissions?

Book: The Fisher Child by Philip Casey 

A little away day to Dublin this week gave me a good excuse to pop into a bookshop. Just at the point where I had to admit I was lost (despite having a map) I saw Books Upstairs, one of the shops Cathy at 746books recommended, and apparently the oldest independent bookstore in the city. What a friendly team they have in the shop – not only did they put me on the right path to my destination but they shared their deep knowledge of contemporary Irish writers. I could have bought at least half a dozen but I my laptop bag was already too heavy so I had to limit it to just one – a novel by Philip Casey, a writer who was a regular at Books Upstairs until his death in February this year.

This is the blurb:

The Fisher Child is in three parts. In the first, Kate is happily married to Dan, both of them second-generation Irish and comfortable in their middle-class north London lives. They have two children, a boy and a girl, with another one on the way. But when Meg is born, Dan cannot accept her as his child, and retreats to Ireland in bewilderment. In Wexford, his family are partaking in the the bi-centenary commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion, and he learns about his ancestor Hugh Byrne, a rebel who was forced to flee Ireland, presumably to America. Dan will never know what the reader discovers in part two – that Hugh had not settled in America but in the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where he fell in love with Ama, a black slave whose genes have lain hidden in Dan’s family for two centuries.

Blog Post: A stranded reader

Blogger Harriet Devine had a miserable experience recently which she wrote about in this post. It’s a miserable enough experience having your travel documents, credit cards and cash stolen. Add to the misery the fact that you can’t get home until replacement documents are issued (you may be on a warm, sunny Mediterranean island but even paradise palls when you have no money to spend). But imagine having to endure that without anything decent to read! The bookcases in some hotels may be full of paperbacks other visitors have left behind but they are seldom the kind of book I want to read. And so it proved for poor Harriet….

 

Bookends #2 March 2018

Today’s Bookends post comes from inside my snowy bower in Wales. My village was in the eye of the storm that came through on Thursday, recording the highest snowfall in the country. Though the snow is still coming down it looks as if the road out of the village is now clear. Hope so because after two days confined to barracks I’m getting a little stir crazy. There is only so much baking, eating, reading one can do….

When I relaunched Bookends last week I said that each post would consist of just three things that have caught my attention, aroused my curiosity; stimulated my interest

  • a book
  • a blog post and
  • an article

So let’s kick off this week with a book that has been in my ‘to read’ collection for a very long time. But since it’s International Women’s Day in a few day’s time (March 8), it feels appropriate to highlight a collection that explores the lives of colourful, intrepid women in history.

Book: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

Almost Famous Women

The women who feature in this debut work are creativly impulsive, fiercely independent and sometimes reckless. In They include a cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs, an aviator and writer who lives alone in Nairobi; Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; and James Joyce’s daughter. This is a work of fiction though Megan Bergman based each story on biographical information (sometimes very scanty).

 

 

Blog Post: The Emerald Isle beckons

It’s March so it must be time for Reading Ireland month which is hosted by Cathy at 746books.com. It’s easy to take part — you just read something which is related to Ireland. It could be a book by an Irish author, or set in Ireland or characters who are of Irish origin. If you’re stuck for ideas, Cathy has a list of around 100 suggestions on the site. More info can be found on the Reading Ireland announcement page.

And finally…

Article: Can novels change our attitudes to death?

In an article for Electric Literature, professor John MacNeill Miller asks whether novels such as Lincoln in the Bardo, which deal with the afterlife, can help address our phobia about death.

Maybe not the most uplifting topic for the end of the week but one that got me thinking about death scenes in literature. Two come to mind immediately: Emma Bovary in Gustav Flaubert’s Madam Bovary and Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son. The first is not how most people would want to spend their final moments on this earth; the second is considerably more traditional though rather sentimental.  Have you come across any scenes that are more realistic, neither sentimental nor dwelling on the gruesome?

Books to mark Wales’ special day

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus i chi!

daffodils in snow

March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales —St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh. The celebrations will be very muted this year however with schools closed and concerts cancelled because of Storm Emma, so I thought I would mark the occasion by highlighting some new books from authors and publishers based in Wales.

 

One Woman Walks WalesOne Woman Walks Wales. Ursula Martin is a remarkable account of a courageous woman. After a cancer diagnosis and then Ursula Martin was too weak to  walk more than a few steps. But she is a determined woman so she set a goal  to walk the four miles to her nearest post box every day. Her progress was so slow drivers would stop to offer her a lift. She persevered.

Her next goal was even more ambitious: to walk the 200 miles to her follow up appointment with the medical team. Coming out of the meeting, she headed back home on foot. And then just kept walking…..

In 17 months, she walked the length and breadth of Wales, across its beaches, up and down the coastal paths, through mountains, farms and urban sprawl.

One Woman Walks Wales is publsihed by Honno. If you order direct from their site they will make a donation of £1 to the Target Ovarian Cancer charity.

Also coming soon from Honno is Albi by Hilary Shepherd which is set in Spain in 1930s. The Civil War turns everything upside down for nine-year-old Albi and his family. They are under siege from outside and held captive by secrets within the home. Albi must sometimes close his ears and his eyes if he is to survive.

The Glass AisleSeren Books have a strong poetry collection, the newest addition to which is The Glass Aisle by Paul Henry. It features twenty eight poems including an elergy  to displaced workhouse residents, set on a stretch of canal in the Brecon Beacons National Park. A performance version of  The Glass Aisle, featuring songs co-written with fellow musician and songwriter Brian Briggs, (‘Stornoway’), is currently touring festivals.  More details can be found on the Seren website.

I mentioned another of their recent publications May by Naomi Krüger in my recent Bookends post. It’s a novel written from the perspective of a woman with dementia who is trying to piece together the fragments of her memory. Definitely one I am going to be buying.

Hummingbird.pngWelsh publisher, Parthian, is offering Hummingbird by Tristan Hughes, a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Wales. Born in  Ontario, he spent his childhood on th Welsh island of Ynys Mon. Hummingbird, his fourth novel takes him back to Canada, to a remote location where fifteen-year-old Zachary Tayler lives a lonely and isolated life with his father. One summer the enigmatic Eva Spiller arrives in search of the remains of her parents and together they embark on a strange and disconcerting journey of discovery. This novel won the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award for 2018. More details are on the Parthian website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookends #1 February 2018

It’s been a long time since I last did one of my Bookend posts. Not sure why I stopped doing them. Maybe I was travelling and didn’t get the time to write them for a few weekends and just got out of the habit. Or maybe I just ran out of steam.

But Simon’s weekend miscellany posts at Stuck in a Book have given me the motivation to give Bookends another go. In its original incarnation, Bookends was a round up of miscellaneous bookish news. I’m going to streamline this a bit and in future each post will consist of just three things that have caught my attention, aroused my curiosity; stimulated my interest

  • a book
  • a blog post and
  • an article

Book: May by Naomi Krüger

May

Here in Wales we will be celebrating our patron saint’s day (St David) next week. So it seems very appropriate to highlight a new title from Seren, one of the independent publishers in Wales. May is the debut novel of Naomi Krüger, creative co-director of the North West Literary Salon and a lecturer in creative writing. It caught my attention because it’s written from the perspective of a woman with dementia who is trying to piece together the fragments of her memory. I’m currently reading and loving Three Things About Elsie  by Joanna Cannon which is also about an elderly woman and her past. I also enjoyed Emma Healey’s debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, which had an octogenarian narrator. Maybe Naomi Krüger’s novel will complete my hat trick? May is published by Seren on March 12. Details are on their website here https://www.serenbooks.com/productdisplay/may

To whet your appetite, here is the blurb:

The door to the past has been locked to May but fragments of memories still remain: a boy running on the green, his fiery hair, a letter without a stamp, a secret she promised not to tell. She can’t piece together the past or even make sense of the present, but she revisits what she knows again and again. The boy, the letter, the secret. She can’t grasp what they mean, but maybe the people she’s loved and lost can uncover the mystery of the red-headed boy and his connection to May.

Blog post: Anticipating the Man Booker International Prize List

The longlist for the Man Booker International Prize will be announced on March 12. Tony Messenger has put together his own wishlist; titles that he thinks will be on the judges’ list; or should be. Do you agree with his predictions?

Article: In Praise of Negative Book Reviews

In the journal The Baffler, author and columnist Rafia Zakaria argues the case for more  negative book reviews. “The general tone and tenor of the contemporary book review is an advertisement-style frippery”, she claims, consisting of “vapid and overblown praise”.  She doesn’t give any examples unfortunately or cite the offending publications but I can’t say I’ve noticed a preponderance of “forced and foppish praise” in the newspaper review sections I read. Have you?

 

Snapshot February 2018

Throughout 2017 I was making a note on the first day of the month of what I was reading and the level of what I call my personal library (otherwise known as the TBR mountain). I forgot to do this in January but here’s how things stood on February 1, 2018.

Just read

I limped my way through Muriel Spark’s The Comforters which was her first published novel. Such a disappointment after the other two novels I’d read by her: Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means.

Currently reading

When I complained recently that I’d hit a reading slump there were many bloggers coming forward with ideas of how to get the enthusiasm back. Melanie at Grab the Labels recommended: “return to a book or genre you deeply enjoyed before you started blogging” which advice I duly followed that very evening when I was looking for something new to begin reading. Two writers called out to me: Louise Penny whose Chief Inspector Gamache series I’ve loved so far and Emile Zola who I have sadly neglected this last year. Since I had recently read and listened to a few crime fiction novels I plumped for Monsieur Zola.

Melanie’s advice proved the perfect medicine. I am now happily ensconced in the world of a Parisienne department store in the nineteenth century via The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames). It was one recommended by Lisa at ANZLitLovers to whom I shall be eternally grateful. Zola’s usual approach of conducting meticulous research before writing his novels is very much in evidence here. We get details about how every department works, from the cashiers to the sales people who work the floor, and some colourful details about the wonders to be purchased in this emporium. Department stores are nothing remarkable to us now but in the time Zola was writing, they were a revolution.

State of the personal library

Once again I find my numerical skills – or is my cataloguing skills – leave something to be desired. I thought I was doing a pretty good job last year of keeping track of all the owned but unread books in my home. I even had a spreadsheet with formulae designed so that I wouldn’t have to do the counting manually.

Well something clearly went wrong because instead of the downward trend I was congratulating myself upon all throug

h the year, I thought I ended 2017 with 225 books in my library. But somehow I have started 2018 with 245. Where that extra 15 books came from is a mystery. But no amount of double checking my spreadsheet or my formulae is giving me the answer. So I just have to accept that the number is 245.

But instead of going down, it’s already gone up from that…

Joanna Cannon

I won two books in a giveaway hosted by Kath who blogs at Nutpress. I might just be the only person on the planet who hasn’t read Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. I now have no excuses since Kath presented me with this plus Cannon’s latest novel Three Things About Elsie. 

 

 

I’ve also just taken delivery of the first book from my year-long subscription to the Asymptote Book Club. As part of this I’ll receive 12 books from around the world. January’s choice comes from the Indian sub-continent. Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was written between 1937 and 39 and looks at the conflict created between the need to cultivate the land for food and shelter and the need to preserve ancient forests and the traditional ways of life followed by its indigenous population.

My recent blue period also saw me indulge in a few purchases….

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty. This is the selection for our next book club meeting in March

Since I was in the shop buying this I couldn’t help but have a mooch. So ended up buying a book I’ve seen attracting a lot of comment recently. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Walker is a professor and Director of the University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab so he knows a little about sleeping. In the book he explains the science about sleep and the consequences of too little sleep (clearly not something I should be reading on nights when I wake in the wee hours and can’t get back to sleep again).

I’ve also picked up a copy of Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett. This wasn’t an intentional acquisition but driving to the gym one day I noticed a little free library outside a house. It’s the first one I’ve seen in the UK. So of course I had to stop and have a peek at the contents …. a lot of the titles were thrillers or crime so not of interest but I saw the Bennett and knew I had to have this because most of this series which is set in the fictional Potteries towns of Stoke, are out of print. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…..

Hopefully by the time March 1 comes along and it’s time for another snapshot I will have actually read something from my growing collection….. But I won’t guarantee it.

A touch of the January blues?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that January is the least favourite of months for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Sleet, rain and wind do not a happy formula make especially when combined with chilly mornings and loss of daylight around 4pm. Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled to get back into a reading and blogging groove this month.

gentleman_in_moscowThe beginning of June, things looked promising. My first book of the year was a stunner -— A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I was curious how Towles would manage to sustain interest in a 400+page novel about a member of the Russian aristocracy under house arrest in a plush Moscow hotel. Wouldn’t it get rather repetitive I thought? The short answer is no, absolutely not. This is a master class in how to construct a narrative. I’ll get around to posting my review shortly but in the meantime I’ll simply say that if you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing something special.

After that things went downhill rapidly.

I’d agreed to review the fourth book in a crime series which pays homage to the Golden Age of detective fiction. Sadly, A Death in the Night wasn’t much more than just ok. So then I turned to Muriel Spark and her first published novel The Comforters. I chose it because it was published in 1957, the first year of my ‘reading my life’ project. Now I’d enjoyed two other novels by her: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means so I had similar expectations to be as entertained by The Comforters. Far from being entertained, I found it a struggle to get to the end and was heartily glad when I did. Clearly her kind of humour isn’t for me.

Even my audio book choices have been disappointing this month. I’ve abandoned most of them: The Untouchable by John Banville (about an esteemed art historian revealed to be a double agent); Father Brown Stories by G K Chesterton and Agatha Christie Close Up (a collection of archive radio programmes about Christie). None of them held my attention.

I’ve also struggled to get enthused by blogging this month. Hence why I am way behind with reviews, many from last year even. I’m way behind also on reading posts from other bloggers even those that are my favourites. As for Twitter, well I seem to barely look at it some days. I’m just a tad tired of seeing message after message about book cover reveals…. So if you’ve not heard from me for a while, I promise it’s not because I don’t love you any more.

This fug is not anything I’ve experienced before. I hope it doesn’t last much longer. In fact I hope I can break out of the cycle tonight when I’m going to be opening a new book. In keeping with my intention to make 2018 the year of reading naked I have a completely free hand in selecting that book. There has to be something in my bookshelves that will tickle the taste buds back to life again.

 

From African crime to games of English politics

It’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation. This month we begin in Botswana and the colourful detective Mma Precious Ramotswe (isn’t that a delicious name?) created by Alexander McCall Smith for his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I did enjoy the book but never went on to read any of the later titles, nor watch the TV adaptation.

Crime and Africa provide me with my first link. There’s even a direct connection to book 2 in the chain because on the back of my copy of Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartery is a comment from The Booklist  that the novel will be relished by fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

Wife

Actually Quartery’s novel is much darker than McCall Smith’s because in order to solve the  murder of a young female medical student, the investigating detective has to contend with a veil of secrecy about a practice which sees young girls offered as trokosi (or Wives of the Gods) to fetish priests. He finds important clues in the Adinkra symbols that are used to decorate the cloth worn as wraps. Never having heard of these symbols I spent an enjoyable hour searching the web for images to explain their symbolism.

Lives of Others

The book in my next link also dealt with fashion accessories, but this time in the form of the jewellery worn by Indian brides. The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee blends family saga and political turbulence in India during the second half of the 1960s. For light relief we get the squabbling members of the Ghosh family and their petty jealousies over gifts of saris and wedding jewellery. Looking at some images of young brides dressed in jewel-encrusted saris and double their body weight in gold, I remembered a visit to the royal jewellery collection at the Kremlin. What the Tsarinas had to wear for their coronation was so phenomenally heavy I couldn’t imagine how they managed to stand let alone walk.

The moonstone

A gift of jewellery from India is the catalyst for the plot of the next book in my chain. The large diamond in Wilkie Collins’ novel The Moonstone was stolen by a British army officer and bequeathed to his niece Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. But on the night of her party it goes missing, believed stolen, an event which results in unhappiness, turmoil and ill fortune for her and the cousin who had hoped to be her husband.

jewel-in-crown

Jewels+India+turmoil= The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. This is the first part in his Raj Quartet collection about the dying days of the British in India and one of my favourite novels of all time. You can see why it has such a special place in my affection by reading the ‘Books that Built the Blogger’ post I wrote for Cathy at 746books.com (here’s the link if you’re interested.)

Katherine of Aragon

The link to book number 5 in my chain may be a bit obvious but I’m going there anyway. Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir is the first in her series about the women who wore the crown of a Queen of England by virtue of their marriage to King Henry VIII. Some managed to hold onto it for a few years, others lost their head over it which just proves the validity of that line from Shakespeare’s Henry 1V part 2 ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

In Alison Weir’s novel we first meet Katherine as a young and beautiful bride to be who has left Spain to marry the heir to the English throne, Prince Arthur. When he dies she marries his brother Henry and gets to be queen. Weir shows Katherine as more than a match for Henry’s intellect and energy but fate, and Henry’s roving eye, means she ends up divorced and a lonely figure banished to draughty manor houses well away from the court.

Wolf_Hall_cover

Katherine in her role as abandoned wife is a key figure in my final book. Hilary Mantel’s dazzling novel Wolf Hall  vividly recreates the life of the man the former queen holds responsible for her demise: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief advisor. Cromwell is usually depicted in fiction as a shrewd, manipulative and cold figure who will go to any lengths in his master’s service. Mantel turns the traditional portrait on its head and shows Cromwell also as a loving husband and caring father. It’s an extraordinary work of historical fiction; lyrical yet tightly written, bursting with scenes and images that linger in the mind. Quite simply, the most inventive and thrilling historical novel I’ve ever read (apart of course from Mantel’s follow up Bring Up the Bodies).

And so we’ve reached the end of this chain. We’ve travelled from Africa via India to England, from crime and sensational fiction to historical fiction. Is there a connection between our starting book and the one with which I ended? Maybe it’s stretching a point to call the way Katherine was treated as a crime, but she was certainly an innocent victim in a political game.

If you want to play along with Six Degrees of Separation head to Books Are My Favourite and Best where Kate sets us off with a new book each month.  As always all the books I’ve included are ones I have read though not necessarily reviewed.

Reading Bingo 2017

 

I’ve come across Reading Bingo several times over the years since I started this blog but never joined in because it seemed the idea was to commit to reading books that fitted the squares. I know from experience I am hopeless at reading to order. But this year I’ve seen a few bloggers  Marina at Finding Time to Write , Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks   and Susan at ALifeinBooks fill in the squares in retrospect first. Since I am too stuffed with Christmas pudding to move too far from the sofa it seemed a fun way to look back on the year and see how well I could match my books read with the 2017 bingo card. I’ve done way better than I expected with just two blank squares…

Book bingo 2017

A Book with More Than 500 Pages –  weighing in with more than 600 pages is the Booker-award winning Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

A Forgotten Classic  – Gerard Reve’s The Evenings has been called a masterpiece of Dutch literature (I’m not convinced about that). Published in Amsterdam in 1946 it took 60 years before an English language version became available. 

A Book That Became a Movie –   You may not have heard of the book Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac  but I’m confident you’ve heard, and may have watched the version by Alfred Hitchcock.

A Book Published This Year – Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch brilliantly captures the atmosphere of Hull in UK at the time when the poet Phillip Larkin was head of its university library. 

Reservoir 13A Book with a Number in the Title – one of the best two novels I have read all year is Jon McGregor’s superbly constructed Reservoir 13, A contender for the Booker Prize in 2017, it sadly lost out in the final round. 

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty –   I don’t know Alys Conran’s exact age (it would have been impertinent to ask her when I met her at the Wales Book Awards) but I’m confident she is younger than I am so that’s enough for me to justify including her hear with her multi award-winning debut novel  Pigeon.

A Book with Non-Human Characters –  Limited options here since I dislike books of this kind. The nearest I can get is Strangers by Taichi Yamada which features ghosts. 

A Funny Book –   HagSeed by Margaret Atwood is a touching and imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There are some genuinely funny scenes set in a prison where the inmates become the cast members and have to decide what swear words will be acceptable.

A Book By A Female Author:  The most extraordinary novel I read all year was  The Vegetarian by the South Korean author Han Kang. It’s a short novel but deals with some big issues such as the clash between personal desire and society’s expectations.

A Book with a Mystery –   an easy one this since the word mystery appears in the title.  The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts, comes from the Golden Age of Crime and is part of the British Library Classic Crime series. A meticulously plotted murder mystery that will test your powers of memory and logic.

A Book with a One-word title –  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi won multiple awards and a six figure advance from a publisher (good going for a debut author). I enjoyed many elements but overall felt it could have been an even better novel.

A Book of Short Stories – Failed on this one. I have several collections of short stories but seldom get around to reading them. I did start one collection but only read three stories. 

Free square –   My Antonia by Willa Cather, a classic of a farming community set in Nebraska. It was so beautifully written I’m keen to read more by Cather. 

A Book Set on a Different Continent – Even though I haven’t read as many novels in translation as I would have liked this year, I did read a few set in Australasia. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey was one I highly enjoyed. 

A Non-fiction Book – The Good Women of China by Xinran relates the real life stories of women who live within the constraints of a society that doesn’t value women. All the stories were featured on her radio programme.

The First Book by a Favourite Author – Fail again. Although there were a number of authors I read this year whose work I have enjoyed in the past (John Banville, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Atwood for example) none of the books were their first published works.  

A Book You Heard About Online – I can’t believe it took me so long to discover We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson but it was only through other bloggers that this came to my attention. 

A Bestselling Book –   Published in 1930, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, may well pre-date best seller lists so I can’t tell you how many copies of this have been purchased. But it’s never been out of print and has spawned many tv and screen adaptations including one in 2016 so on the basis of its enduring popularity I’m classing it as a best-seller.

A Book Based on a True Story – Off to Philadelphia in the Morning by Jack Jones is a fictionalised account of the life of Joseph Parry, one of the most famous composers to hail from Wales. Born into the extreme poverty of the iron and coal-mining town of Merthyr Tydfil he moved to Philadelphia with his parents at a young age. On his return to Wales he became the first person from Wales to gain a Doctorate in Music from Cambridge University. 

A Book at the Bottom of Your TBR Pile – as a literature student I dipped into A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf regularly but never read the whole essay. I corrected that ommission this year. You could say I left it a bit late after 37 years but at least I got to it …

A Book your Friend Loves –  I read By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie as part of the #1968club hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at kaggsysbookishramblings. My sister, who is a Christie fan, loved it more than I did. 

A Book that Scares You – Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel isn’t a scary book in station eleventhe sense it is populated by aliens or things that hide in the woodshed. But it did send shivers down my spine with its premise that the world is hit by flu pandemic so virulent its victims die within 48 hours. In a few short weeks it claims the lives of 99.99 per cent of the world’s population. What made me nervous was that the survivors find a lot of the objects and technologies they had felt essential to their lives (like mobile phones) prove useless in this new world. I started to worry that I don’t have any of the skills that would help me survive.  

A Book that is More Than 10 Years Old –  What a joy it was to read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Yes it was sensational and a romp of a story but du Maurier also managed to underpin this with a more thoughtful theme about the female situation. 

snow sisters

The Second Book in a Series –  Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a prequel to his best seller Shadow of the Wind but was actually his second to be published. It’s more patchy in quality than Shadow of the Wind but is still a fast moving adventure story that can be enjoyed just for its setting in Barcelona.

A Book with a Blue Cover –   Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin. The story is complex (multiple narrators and timelines) but is handled well and is strong on atmosphere. The cover is gorgeous. 

 

If you haven’t come across Reading Bingo before, do give it a go. You might be as surprised as I was. And do take a look at the other bloggers who have participated so far this year:

Marina at Finding Time to Write

Emma at Book Around the Corner

Cleo at CleopatraLovesBooks 

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