Reading round up

With a bit more time on my hands and a newly minted library card, I’ve been getting through a handful of novels a week lately. The downside of being dependent on the library is that I’m on the long, slow-moving list for the latest Galbraith, Rankin, Pat Barker, Sarah Perry and some others. I tried to add Tana French’s The Wych Elm but it’s not even published here yet, I think the US got it first. I’m simply steering clear of bookshops because my resolve will almost certainly crack.

But the positive is that I can take a punt on novels I’m not sure about or that are quite short. Full price, but c.300 page books are those that I’m least likely to buy, regardless of reviews, because they’ll be gone in an afternoon. If I can drop them back to the library a day or so later, then it doesn’t matter. Mostly, these experiments have worked out well.

In no particular order, here’s a bit of a round up,

Books I’ve loved

So Much Life Left Over – Louis de Bernieres. It’s the sequel to The Dust that Falls from Dreams, which I have on audio and could not get through. But, L de B was on Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year podcast and this sounded great so I grabbed it and tore through it. Now I’ve gone back to TDTFFD.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood. I remember seeing loads of reviews of this when it came out, but it never got as far as my TBR list. It’s a really entertaining narration of the year or so Patricia and her husband moved back in with her parents while they were saving money. Her father is a Catholic priest (who converted after he was already  married with kids) and an extreme character who prefers to spend his time at home in as little clothing as possible, often playing loud electric guitar.

How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. Because the older I get, and the more pissed off I get, the more interested I get in feminism. Particularly as we seem to be moving backwards as all the poor, under-appreciated white men start to feel threatened by absolutely anything that suggests that society might move shift in the direction of equality, thereby curtailing their god-given right to behave however the fuck they want towards women at all times. Did I mention getting more pissed off?

How to be a  Woman is a collection of essays that interposes Moran’s tales of her own growing up with the current state of play, and what she learned along the way. And it is very fair, and very reasonable and entirely full of common sense. E.g. being pressured into make up or heels or fashionable clothing is all nonsense; of course women do not have to children to validate their existence. When I have got some money again, I will buy my own copy and carry it around with me at all times. And whenever things are bad I will open it at random and reflect on the wisdom within. It can be my personal tool for bibliomancy.

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks. Which is his collection of short stories that you will already know about unless you’ve been under a rock, because they were rave reviewed everywhere. And justifiably so. Elegiac, touching, funny, sad, deftly written gems of stories. Plus lovely pictures of old typewriters.

Books that were meh

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel. Very much in the ‘give it a go’ category to start with, because I am so over these pseudo-thrillers with the twist or surprise ending. There wasn’t any surprise with this one and I feel as though I had read all its different elements about a dozen times before. Family mystery, missing girl, black sheep returns to home town to figure it all out and reconnects with old boyfriend who never got over her. See what I mean?

Fatal Inheritance – Rachel Rhys. So, to start with the title, the inheritance is not fatal. But I suppose Slightly Threatening Inheritance wasn’t as dramatic. Secondly, I can’t stand unbearably naive heroines who create problems for themselves by failing to say or do something any normal person would say or do. Thirdly, the fact that characters keep arguing as evidence of thinly disguised sexual tension only works if there is the slightest reason for one of them to fancy the other in the first place. Which is something else I also struggle with in respect to unbearably naive heroines.

Anyway, woman mysteriously inherits part share in house in south of France and escapes overbearing, dull husband to visit and try to find out why. Meets fellow inheritors and faithful family retainer, continues to dress badly and be unable to hold her drink but blossoms in sunshine etc. Dull, overbearing husband arrives to take her home (because she hasn’t bothered to communicate with him, so obvs.) and also to underline difference between grim home life in suburbs and glory of independent life in southern France. Mystery resolved.

Books that I abandoned/would have thrown across the room if it was my own copy

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar. What an awesome name the author has. So this I just abandoned, can’t tell you how far in because I couldn’t be bothered to check. After Mr Hancock has got his mermaid back from the brothel, having been shocked by explicit goings on. I think he’d just sold it and decided to build houses in London with the money. Abandoned because I realised that at best I didn’t care about any of the characters, at worst I disliked them. And I’m not hugely interested in the details of the C19th whoring scene.

Honeymoon – Tina Seskis. Full on shoddy thriller territory, this one. Cuts back and forth in time, between a woman on her honeymoon on which her husband has gone missing, and her earlier dating life. What drives me nuts in this type of literature is the artificiality of the attempted suspense, created by really obviously hiding some information. In this instance, it’s the name of the husband that is dodged, which means that all the dialogue, including the internal dialogue, avoids mentioning his name. Clunk. This is in order to protect the part-way through reveal that the husband is, in fact, the brother of the guy she was dating! Gasp! Or rather, snore, because you can’t deliberately avoid a character’s name for that long without it being a massive red flag that you’re trying to fuck with the reader’s expectations.

Dunno what happened. Don’t care.


NaBloPoMo and out

1. US to S’s flat, Oxford (June 2010)

2. S’s flat to Summertown (July 2010)

3. Summertown to Glympton (September 2011)

4. Glympton to Piddington (December 2012)

Yes, that’s four moves in two years, which is going some even for me. Stick a fork in me, people. I’m done. Next time my belongings are relocated, I intend to be out of the country enjoying a holiday while professional movers wrap, fold, box and pack everything; then unwrap, unfold, unbox and unpack everything at the other end. I will simply leave detailed instructions and oversight to someone I can trust.

The new place is lovely, and in about two weeks’ time, when everything is sorted and I can step through the front door, into warmth, and have a glass of wine popped straight into my eager hand, it’ll be terrific. My plan now is not to move house in 2013 at all. If I suggest otherwise at any point next year, I give all of you permission to stage an intervention.

In other news, this has been NaBloPoMo. I missed one day, but what the hell. Stats went up to a stratospheric 70 views, and are now pretty much back to normal, but I do seem to have picked up some new followers. So, ‘Hello, new people! I hope you stick around.’

Let’s go with the pretty things

Since the cottage is what is technically known as ‘fucking freezing’ and looks like an explosion in a cardboard box factory, I need warming things to cheer me and distract me. And lo, Banana Republic stepped right into the breach by emailing about new stuff. Screw the-season-that-shall-not-be-named, but what I do appreciate about this time of year are the lovely gifty things and the beautiful colours.

Like this bracelet, which could certainly bring a little glitz to my life. My proper jewellery is all silver but every now and again warmer tones are called for.

Meanwhile, did someone say ‘cashmere’? I lurve me some cashmere, and ok, I already have one cashmere scarf but it’s black and not so long and fluid and comforting as this one.

That colour is apparently ‘saucy red’, and I think we can all get behind that as a choice, n’est ce pas? Thought so.

In which case, staying with the saucy red [someone is going to pitch up at this blog and be very disappointed at where their search terms landed them – Ed.] cashmere theme, what about this sweater dress?

Now, admittedly it is nowhere near the lost sequinned gorgeousness. But, I’d probably wear it about once a week for the rest of winter, and therefore if I did have any money and wasn’t just window shopping, it would be darn near a sensible choice.

Ok, so the fact that I have just taped up a fairly large box of handbags might suggest to the uninitiated that I didn’t need any more bags. ‘Pah’ I say. And also ‘Pfft’. I’ve had a hankering after something orange ever since I returned the beautiful orange chiffon, grecian style summer dress that I bought in a moment of madness on my last trip to NY. Realising that, in fact, I lived in England where hot colours don’t play, I took it back to the store for something more practical. Which turned out to be a good decision given that we had no summer at all this year and even the replacement capri pants and lightweight sweater barely made it out of the closet.

I digress. Back to handbags.

This is such a fab colour, and I know BR do good bags because I keep looking at them and not affording them. I’m not usually a fan of tumbled leather, but d’you know, I’m willing to make an exception in this case.

Small print: Honestly, this post is not sponsored by BR. Although, it could be if they sent me something…