Thursday 31 July 2014

The City of Endless Night by Milo Hastings

If your reading tastes are anything like mine, then you've doubtless read a lot of books about the Second World War. But how often has that Second World War been in the 1980s?

That is the premise to the 1920 novel The City of Endless Night, which takes place in 2151. Despite my aversion to sci-fi, I found this book really interesting and good - and so unexpected for 1920. My full review is over at Shiny New Books...

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Simon and Andrea's Film Club

My friend Andrea and I have a two-person film club. Once a fortnight we hold it at either of our houses; the host surprises the guest with the choice of film. We then put our mini-reviews and marks out of ten in a book.

Now that we've finished our first notebook, I thought I'd share the films we've seen - along with our marks out of twenty.

11 - Shakespeare Wallah (1965)
13 - The Edge of Love (2008)
14 - I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945)
14.5 - Portrait of Jennie (1948)
14.5 - A Bunch of Amateurs (2008)
15 - On Approval (1944)
15 - The Way We Were (1973)
15.5 - Carrie (1951)
15.5 - Peter's Friends (1992)
15.5 - Passport to Pimlico (1949)
16 - Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
16 - Stand By Me (1986)
16 - Thank You For Smoking (2005)
16.5 - Mildred Pierce (1945)
16.5 - Evening (2007)
16.5 - Star! (1968)
17 - Separate Tables (1958)
17 - Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
17 - Suddenly, Last Summer (1992)
17.5 - And A Nightingale Sang (1989)
17.5 - The Enchanted April (1991)
17.5 - The Innocents (1961)
17.5 - Private Lives (2013)
17.5 - The Queen (2006)
17.5 - Mr Skeffington (1944)
18 - Like Crazy (2011)
18 - Funny Face (1956)
18.5 - Casablanca (1943)
19 - Secrets and Lies (1996)
19 - Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
19.5 - Life in a Day (2011)

Monday 28 July 2014

Reading a lot of books...

I'm on the opposite of Reader's Block now, where I'm starting lots of books and liking them, but going into overdrive. I love starting books, and can't resist picking up more before I've finished the ones I'm on with. Although I have finished two or three books in the past week, I was getting the sense that things were getting out of hand, and gathered together all the books I hadn't finished, but had read some of in the past few weeks. And it turns out there are eleven. I usually have 6-8 on the go, so this is definitely Too Many.  Let's have a quick overview, from the bottom...

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith
This is a Shiny New Books review copy, but I've actually just given up (and will pass it on to someone else to see if they can do better). It was gorier than I'm happy with, but I actually gave up out of boredom, which really surprised me as I love the Harry Potter books. And they're anything but boring.

The Liar in Your Life - Robert Feldman
I was hoping this would be in the Quirkology line of books, but it's a bit less gripping... still, I'll probably finish.

The Literary Conference - Cesar Aira
I took this to the literary conference I was at last week, as the idea amused me! Very short, so I'll probably finish it soon.

One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty
I bought this in the Lake District and read half of it on the train on the way home, but was very tired and don't remember much of it, so might need to start again.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler
A book group book I didn't quite finish for last month's meeting, and have dipped into since - I need that final push! I didn't love it was much as I'd hoped I'd love Anne Tyler. I found it just ok.

Red Sky at Morning - Margaret Kennedy
I'll pick this up again for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week later in the year!

Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence
Another book group book I didn't finish on time... I can't decide how I feel about this one. I love Lawrence's writing, but I wish he had a sense of humour.

Crome Yellow - Aldous Huxley
Only started this yesterday, and going well so far!

Seeing Voices - Oliver Sacks
I do love some Sacks. Not been reading this one long.

Pigeon Pie - Nancy Mitford
I got chatting to another Mitford enthusiast at the conference, and it made me dig this out.

Among You Taking Notes - Naomi Mitchison
I always have letters/diaries on the go, and this is my current one!

Phew! Yes, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by them all. Do you read lots in one go, or one at a time?

Friday 25 July 2014

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week

Have you heard about this? Head over to Fleur's for more info...

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Many things Milne

Issue 3 of Shiny New Books had not one, not two, but three posts about A.A. Milne & family - and I'd really encourage you to go and read them all.

Curiously enough, none of them are actually reviews of books by A.A. Milne himself (as in the books weren't by him... neither were the reviews, but that is perhaps less surprising.)

I reviewed a long-term favourite, which I re-read as Bello have just reprinted it - Ann Thwaite's brilliant, award-winning biography A.A. Milne: His Life. Review here.

Another long-term favourite is Christopher (Robin) Milne's The Path Through the Trees, the middle of his autobiographical trilogy - so it's not so much about being Christopher Robin as it is about fighting in WW2 and opening a bookshop, but I love it. Claire (The Captive Reader) reviewed Bello's reprint here.

And then I put together Five Fascinating Facts about A.A. Milne.

Let me know which Milne books you've read, or would like to read!

Sunday 20 July 2014

Glow by Ned Beauman

I don't often read new novels... but, when I do, they're by authors on Granta's Best Young Authors list. In Issue 1 of Shiny New Books I reviewed and interviewed Helen Oyeyemi; in Issue 2, I have done the same with Ned Beauman.

Following on from loving his first two novels (Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident), I also really liked his third, Glow; review over at Shiny New Books. As before, you wouldn't have thought I'd enjoy the book by looking at its ingredients - sex, drugs, and clubbing, basically, but with virtual reality twists - but Beauman is such an imaginative and inventive writer that it works.

He kindly agreed to do a quick Q&A too. Do go and have a look!

Saturday 19 July 2014


Sorry for an unannounced disappearance! I've been in London since Thursday attending The Space Between conference, which was absolutely wonderful (albeit extremely hot - I had to make a lunchtime trip to buy t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops as I couldn't face the idea of wearing conference clothes in the evenings). Such lovely, fascinating people, and easily my favourite bit of academia - and the bit I can cling onto!

I gave a paper called 'Let Other Pens Treat of Sex': Metamorphosis, Marriage, and the Middlebrow, talking about David Garnett's Lady Into Fox and Ronald Fraser's Flower Phantoms in relation to changing ideas about women's sexuality in 1920s marriage - and it was very well received, I'm pleased to say.

I also bought a fair few books... will report back on those soon!

Wednesday 16 July 2014

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

One of the best books I've read this year is My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff's memoir of working in a literary agency in the 1990s. I was sold by the description when Bloomsbury emailed me (thanks for the review copy, Bloomsbury!) but it might have languished on my shelves unread if Victoria, my Shiny New Books co-editor hadn't enthused about it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I have not one, not two, but three My Salinger Year links!

1.) I've reviewed it over at Vulpes Libris today.

2.) Victoria reviewed it at Shiny New Books.

3.) Best for last - Victoria interview Joanna Rakoff for Shiny New Books, and I think it's the best thing we've had there yet. Great questions, thoughtful answers - definitely go and read it!

Sunday 13 July 2014

The Listener by Tove Jansson

It's no secret that I love Tove Jansson, and I was pleased to get the chance to read the latest collection of her work from Sort Of Books; a new translation (by Thomas Teal) of her first collection for adults, The Listener (1971).

I read it for Shiny New Books; my review is here. You can also win a copy - along with the other editors' favourites from their sections - by entering the competition on the homepage. And then have a browse!

It feels a bit lazy to be pointing to my reviews elsewhere, but then I remember that I still spent time writing them... probably more time, as I do more double-checking etc. for SNB reviews! And I hope that regular SIAB readers still have fun looking at those reviews.

Song for a Sunday

Happy Sunday, everyone. I'll be spending much of it writing a conference paper, as I've been silly and left it til late in the day... but that isn't a good reason to mope when you can be reliving your teenage years with a slice of All Saints. This song, I argue, is underratedly classy.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald

46. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald

The first of my reviews I'm going to point towards, over at Shiny New Books, was the most unexpected treat. Indeed, it's going on my 50 Books list - which is coming towards a close now, and that makes me nervous. (What if I read something superlatively brilliant just after putting the 50th book on the list?)

I had thought Penelope Fitzgerald was already represented, as I've loved The Bookshop and At Freddie's - but apparently neither quite made the list. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends is a little more outside the box - being a biography of a turn-of-the-century poet - but has just as wide an appeal, honest. It's one of the few biographies I've read where the subject mattered less than the writer - not ostentatiously in the writing, but in my response to it.

Do head over to my Shiny New Books review for the complete picture...

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Cinderella Goes To The Morgue by Nancy Spain

Image from here.
Sadly no d/w with my copy.
In amongst all the excitement of a new issue of Shiny New Books, I've remembered about a little pile of books that have been waiting a while to be reviewed. Most of them are books I started before my reader's block, and staggeringly finished some time later - such as Nancy Spain's Cinderella Goes To The Morgue.

I posted about Nancy Spain back in April, after coming across mention of her in a re-read of Ann Thwaite's wonderful biography of A.A. Milne, and asked if anybody had read her detective novels. There was quite a lot of interest, and Scott was even reading one as he wrote. Karen later followed up with a lovely review of Poison For Teacher, but I was lagging behind. I bought a copy of one of her books which filled a gap in A Century of Books, and eventually managed to finish Cinderella Goes To The Morgue (1950), which came somewhere in the middle of her detective novel output.

It stars her 'detective' (not much detecting seems to go on), the lovely Russian Natasha DuVivien. We know Natasha is lovely because we are told so more or less every time she does anything - and she does a lot more of crossing and uncrossing her lovely legs than she does anything else. She is a rather enchanting mix of naive and worldly-wise, never nonplussed but also a little detached from the doings of lesser mortals. And, being a Russian in a 1950 novel, she is always having the most curious syntax:

"I am so sure," said Natasha, "that you are right. But what motive could anyone ever have for killing another person? It is always worrying me. Unless, of course, they are mad people," she added vaguely, looking out of her window. 
Her breath made a little fog of its own on the glass, within the world, yet not of it. 
"Oh," said Mr Atkins briskly, "jealously, ma'am. Jealousy and passion and hate. And greed. The usual things." 
"The Seven Deadly Sins," said Miriam gently. "Lust and anger. Any of them, in fact, barring sloth."

This excerpt hopefully demonstrates the archness of Spain's writing (I love that 'within the world, yet not of it' - a sort of paraphrase of John 17:16 - and how many authors would say it of foggy breath on glass?) and also serves to introduce us to Miriam. She is Natasha's slightly more worldly (and, it has to be said, slightly less lovely) friend. And it is she who gets them tangled up in the local pantomime.

The title is a bit of a red herring. Early on in the book, it is actually Prince Charming who pays an unexpected visit to the morgue - and Miriam steps into her shoes. She isn't the last body to be carted out of the theatre (the show must go on), but the murder mystery plot is really incidental to the novel. It's not an Agatha Christie situation, where whodunnit is paramount - and brilliant. In Cinderella Goes To The Morgue it is neither. The solution is cursory and unconvincing, but that really isn't the point. My favourite sections, indeed, were those which didn't deal with the murder mystery, such as:

Outside some shrill little voices were suddenly raised in screaming and breathless information about 'Good King Wenceslas'.

"How odd it is being," said Natasha inconsequently, "that this old man who is once looking out of a window and that is absolutely oll I know about him."

"He was deep and crisp and even for a start," said Timothy.

"No, no," said Natasha. "That was his page."

I loved these interludes, and only wish there had been more of them. Spain often sneaks in unexpected words or slightly silly descriptions of things, in the middle of a police questioning or a discussion about potential murderers, which are easy to miss if one isn't careful. I'm going to keep coming back to that word 'arch', but it describes Spain perfectly.  I'd have quite liked her to take it up a notch or two more, so that the novel was a step nearer farce, but she still has plenty of fun satirising the detective novel ("Look at her now! She deserves to be murdered") and the theatrical world. Although my dramatic ventures have gone no further than the village stage, I still loved her riffs on people who abuse the limelight:
"Hampton," said Tony Gresham suddenly. "Hampton has given Mic and Mac carte blanche to ad. lib. in the Baron's Kitchen. Isn't it dreadful?"

Miriam paused in the act of tucking her hair into a superb white wig with side curls.

"No!" she cried horrified. "You can't mean it. Well, we'll be lucky if this pantomime is over by one in the morning. Very lucky."
There are a whole host of characters I've not mentioned at all, from angry producers to the delightfully appalling 'Tiny Tots' (and their aggressive Stage Mothers). All the ingredients are there - I have to confess, though, that the novel didn't quite live up to the sum of its parts. I very much enjoyed it, but had hoped it would become a book to add to my 50 Books List... I don't want to add on a negative note, and I can't pinpoint any reason why this isn't an all-time favourite, but I also don't want to oversell it!  But anybody with an interest in arch detective fiction and mid-century silliness could do a lot worse than tracking down Nancy Spain. Do report back if you do!

Monday 7 July 2014

Shiny New Books: competition

And my first post about a specific Shiny New Books item is to point you towards the competition on the homepage - you can win copies of the editors' favourite books from Issue 2 (including my choice of Tove Jansson's The Listener) by telling us about your favourite independent bookseller. Go over and enter - and, whilst you're there, have an explore!

Shiny New Books: Issue 2!

It is with excitement, pleasure, and pride that I announce that Issue 2 of Shiny New Books is now live! We have new colours, new images, a new competition, and - most importantly - lots and lots of new reviews and features.

Image borrowed from co-editor Annabel

I'm excited about reading it, because I've only seen the pieces I wrote, edited, or proofread - and there are over 100 posts to read in total. (If you've written for us, or sent a book, we'll be in touch separately - but it might not be immediately, with so many lovely people to contact.)

I'll be pointing towards things I've written over the next few weeks, and some other personal highlights, but for now - go and browse!

Once again, a hearty and affectionate 'thank you' to Annabel, Harriet, and Victoria, my co-editors - and equally hearty apologies that I napped through our Skype appointment yesterday, and final adjustments were thus made later than intended...

Saturday 5 July 2014

Your posts were brought by the letters...

Long overdue, sorrrry, but here is a round-up of your posts following that meme I made up the other day! Sorry that I didn't manage to comment on them individually (I really did mean to, but it was such a busy week) - I loved seeing them, and hope you all had fun.  It was only while putting this list together that I realised how far it had spread!  Every link went off to more and more... oh, and some are in the comments of the original post.

(I've based this off the comment section on that post and those I could find; if I've missed yours, let me know and I'll add it. Or, if you've not put it up yet, let me know when you do!)

Becky's Book Reviews

Nonsuch Book
Books as Food
My Reader's Block

Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

Annabel's House of Books 
Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

Mrs Ford's Diary
Colin's Online Diary
With My Book and a Quilt

Harriet Devine
Natalie Hearts Books

Wordy Evidence of the Fact
Catching Happiness
The Captive Reader
Reading is not the Challenge

So Many Books

Dolce Bellezza
Our Vicar's Wife

For the Love of Stories

Anakalian Whims
An Adventure in Reading

Books Please

Lakeside Musing

The Indextrious Reader
What's With Today, Today?

Lark Writes
The Emerald City Book Review

Peacocks and Sunflowers

Travellin' Penguin 

Snow Feathers

A Work in Progress
Books and Buttons
Carol S

Claire Thinking
Samara's Thoughts

Our Vicar (in comments section)

Angela Young
Little Thoughts About Books



James Reads Books

Thursday 3 July 2014

Busy week...

...with, amongst other things, lots of final prep for Issue 2 of Shiny New Books. It's coming out on Monday!

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Half a Century of Books

Six months in, let's assess where I am with A Century of Books. You may remember that at the three month point I had only read 22, and was a little behind.  Well, at halfway, I have read... 51!  Yes, ironically my Reader's Block meant turning to Agatha Christie, and I can wolf those down in a couple of days, so she filled plenty of places in the century.

Let's take a look decade by decade...

1914-1923: 6
1924-1933: 7
1934-1943: 6
1944-1953: 9
1954-1963: 4
1964-1973: 6
1974-1983: 5
1984-1993: 4
1994-2003: 1
2004-2013: 3

How are you getting on, if you're doing the Century of Books?