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county_lady

What are you reading in 2011?

A brand new year so a new thread.

And I'm now reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
KlaraZ

I've just finished reading 'An Unsuitable Attachment' by Barbara Pym. I love her work, but I get very confused about which ones I've read over the years, as the characters and themes are so similar in each one (frustrated but heroic single women, genteel dilemmas, church going etc.) I was fairly sure I hadnt read this one before--it was her 7th novel, the one that was famously rejected by her publisher in '63 and which wasn't published until after her death. Really enjoyed it--I love the wry, gentle comedy.

Now I'm halfway through 'The Swan Thieves' by Elizabeth Kostova, which I'm only partly enjoying.
iwishiwas

Our book group meets next week so I am reading Flowers in the Attic which is this months choice. Not far into yet but seems promising.
Jen M

I'm re-reading Case Histories by Kate Atkinson for my book group.  This book was actually my recommendation as I really enjoyed it when I first read it almost 5 years ago. I considered not re-reading it as I have lots of other things I want to read, but I'm finding that I've forgotten quite a lot of it after all.

I read Flowers in the Attic when I was about 19 - I assume this is the Virginia Andrews one, iwishiwas?  I quite enjoyed it then, but am not sure what I would think if I read it now.  I suspect I would probably still enjoy it; it was the various sequels which I found more and more absurd and far-fetched.  Look forward to your comments!
iwishiwas

Yes Jen that is the one, all my friends seem to have read it in the earlier 80's don't know how I missed it really.
Hector

I finished my second book of the year today although to be fair it's something that I have been reading for a while - Henry Sachs's 'The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824'.

The book is split into 4 distinct sections comprising the first performance of the ninth in Vienna; other contemporary cultutal figures in the post-Napoleon era (Byron, Delacroix, Heine, Puskhkin etc) forming the rise of Romantasicm; an analysis of the symphony itself; and finally the impact of the year and Beethoven on later generations. The first two sections were certainly the strongest with the analysis being the weakest. A fairly enjoyable read where I feel I have come out knowing more about the cultural climate of the year rather than about Beethoven himself.

I have now just started Saul Bellow's 'The Adventures of Auggie March' which I think won the Noble Prize in the 1950's. If it's half as good as 'Herzog' which I read last year then I am in for a treat.

It's so nice to have a bit more free time to read without work always getting in the way. Shame it will end soon.

Regards

Hector
Evie

I am half way through Ian McEwan's Solar, and am disappointed.  It's very cleverly written, and the comic elements are very funny, but I keep thinking that David Lodge would do it better!  Not one of his best - unless the second half wins me over.
Ann

Having read Trollope's Barchester books last year I've begun Can You Forgive Her, the first in his Palliser series. I'm enjoying his discursive style again and the way you are aware he is writing the book as he breaks off to make comments to the reader. However I do find the politics rather tedious. It is interesting to see how 19th century democracy worked but the details don't grip me very much. Part of this, I think, is because Trollope writes about 'amusing' members of the lower classes which makes them seem types not people. However the corruption and hypocracy  is well portrayed.
Gul Darr

Evie wrote:
I am half way through Ian McEwan's Solar, and am disappointed.  It's very cleverly written, and the comic elements are very funny, but I keep thinking that David Lodge would do it better!  Not one of his best - unless the second half wins me over.


Sad I'm disappointed to hear that, Evie.
Gul Darr

Hi Ann.
I'm still working my way through the Barchester series and looking forward to the next one, Framley Parsonage.
Green Jay

Just started my third Lisbeth Salander novel, after trying to put it off for a bit. Already 100 pages in since breakfast, and it's a working day! For anyone who is baffled , it is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the last in a trilogy.
Ann

Hi Gul,
I enjoyed the Barchester series a lot. Barchester Towers is in my reading group list for this year so I shall enjoy that discussion. I think my favourite, though, is The Warden.
KlaraZ

I finished 'The Swan Thieves' by Elizabeth Kostova, which I found deeply disappointing---600 plus pages of plodding narrative, leading nowhere and very inferior to her first novel, 'The Historian', I thought.

But now--oh joy!---I'm reading Paul Magrs---the 5th book in his 'Brenda and Effie' series, 'The Bride that Time Forgot'. For those who don't know, these are Gothic comedies, set in Whitby, where Brenda, the bride of Frankenstein, runs a B. and B. and encounters all kinds of horrors. If you've ever been to a Whitby Goth weekend (as I have!) the scenario is just wonderful! In this one, Brenda's best friend Effie is involved with one Count Alucard...need I say more?
Castorboy

That's good news – now I can read the third in the series knowing there is still another two to go. I wonder if someone will dress up as Brenda and Effie at the next Goth weekend. I will look out for the Whitby videos on YouTube (there is quite a selection there already).
Chibiabos83

I'm reading a couple of books, both excellent though in different ways: Popular Music by Mikael Niemi, and Lady Susan by Jane Austen.
Evie

I have started Nabokov's Pale Fire.  Wow - what a start!  I have had it for a while, and kept thinking I would need more concentration for a novel written as poetry (at the start, at least) than I had, but in fact of course I don't.  What amazing writing - every word is fabulous - it's like eating a ripe, juicy peach, each mouthful richer and more delicious than the previous one.  Beautiful - the opening couple of stanzas took my breath away, and when I started to relax and just read it, I wondered why I had ever felt that a novel written in couplets would be difficult.  Demanding, yes, as all good books are - but not as much as I anticipated.
Chibiabos83

Well, only the poem's in couplets, as you say - when you've finished that, the fun really starts  Very Happy  Starting to feel like reading it again myself now...
Evie

Yes, I'm onto the fun now!  There were some funny bits in the poem - having his hopes of an afterlife dashed by a misprint, and the shaving in the bath bit.
Joe Mac

I picked up a copy I didn't know I had of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises today. I read it at an impressionable age a quarter century or so ago, and wasn't sure how it would hold up, but I found I was quite drawn in. There's a certain atmosphere he creates in the opening chapter that to me is very engaging.
Joe Mac

I've just started Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, which my dear wife must have acquired at some book sale or other. I probably wouldn't have picked it up, had I not read and enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible a few years ago.
This one is (at the start at least) the story of a young woman from Kentucky who sets out to escape the kind of drudgery her mother and her peers seem fated to - that of ending up barefoot and in the kitchen, more or less. She heads west in a barely mobile VW and somewhere in Oklahoma suddenly and against her will finds herself in possession of a baby.
How did this happen? I'm not going to tell you.
Evie

I am still being amazed by the richness and inventiveness and breathtaking linguistic skills of Nabokov in his book Pale Fire.  The humour is wonderful, it's a fantastic read all round.

RN, I loved The Bean Trees, having read its sequel (Pigs in Heaven) first but not realising it was a sequel.  I actually enjoyed these earlier, slightly lighter books more than Poisonwood Bible - my introduction (via Fiveowls on this board!) was via Animal Dreams, which remains my favourite.  They all have a serious political edge, but it's the warmth of her writing and especially of her characters that I love.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
 I actually enjoyed these earlier, slightly lighter books more than Poisonwood Bible - my introduction (via Fiveowls on this board!) was via Animal Dreams, which remains my favourite.  They all have a serious political edge, but it's the warmth of her writing and especially of her characters that I love.


Yes, I totally agree - that's what makes them a sort of comfort read for me even though they are politically acute and in that way a bit disturbing. But the characters are life-affirming.
Green Jay

I've started In Another Light by Andrew Greig. I do like this author.
Evie

He's wonderful, isn't he?   I haven't read this one - yet!
chris-l

An unexpected, but welcome, Christmas present was 'Letters to Monica', a selection from the thousands of letters Philip Larkin wrote to Monica Jones over the course of their long relationship. So far, I am up to about 1956, but I am enjoying it very much. The picture I have of Larkin from these letters is rather more congenial than the version that came across in Andrew Motion's biography, but of course these are very much 'selections', edited by Anthony Thwaite.

One thing that strikes me is how many of the authors that Larkin admires and writes about are almost unknown today. One such is Llewellyn Powys (brother of the possibly better known John Cowper P), who is clearly a great favourite of Larkin, but of whom, I have to admit, I knew nothing, and even after looking him up, none of his books sounds at all familiar to me.
Evie

I haven't heard of him either, but John CP's Wolf Solent has been on my mental TBR for years and years - really must get hold of a copy!
Joe Mac

Am having second thoughts about Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, after what seemed a promising set-up. The dialogue, particularly, comes across as contrived or unnatural or something in many cases, making it hard for me to believe in or care about the characters and what they're up to.
chris-l

Ths is not strictly my January reading, more a few of the things I have read since I last posted back in September. Forgive me if I have mentioned some of these before: my list of books read has got a little out of order. I will just give a list, although some of the titles merit more discussion and I will try to add some thoughts for those as I begin to catch up. Of course, some of the books on the list may provoke comment from others among you!


De Lillo               White Noise
Feilding               Tom Jones
Dickens               Hard Times
Lewycka              We Are All Made of Glue
Nicolson              The Perfect Summer
Chibiabos83

I'm sort-of promising myself that I will read Tom Jones this year - it sounds like fun. Hope you enjoyed it!
TheRejectAmidHair

I’ve read two of those – and no marks for guessing which ones!

Hard Times is not really my favourite Dickens novels. Of Dickens’ mature output (i.e. roughly from David Copperfield onwards), I find Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities particularly disappointing. It is set in the industrial North, and Dickens seems ill at ease in this unfamiliar territory. There is little sense of place, and, given the industrialised background, it seems strange that there is no description either of the factories, or of the factory workers (except for Stephen Blackpool, who is hardly representative). Neither did I see why Louisa, who for most of her life has kept her own feelings to herself, should suddenly open up in the manner that she does. But as with so many books, it’s been a long time since I read it: but with this one, I don’t feel any urge to revisit. This may be unfair, but it seems to be a novel most highly rated usually by those who don’t like Dickens too much.

Tom Jones, I thought, was an utter delight. Fielding makes his own authorial presence very keenly felt, and it’s a most convivial and civilised presence: Fielding presents himself as a man who is courteous, humane, and genial, who respects goodness and virtue, but who is nonetheless tolerant of human weaknesses.
The novel is about as well-plotted and as well-paced as any I have come across. The pace is quite stately (the frantic pace of Tony Richardson’s film had little to do with this novel), but Fielding always holds one’s attention. I really have to read more by Fielding – I wonder why I haven’t!
chris-l

Himadri, I tend to agree with you about 'Hard Times', although I am prepared to forgive quite a lot of the shortcomings simply because of the wonderful creation of Josiah Bounderby. He is a totally self-serving hypocrite and villain, yet so credible that I see his like on the news every day of the week. I did, though, find it hard to understand Dickens' hostility to any attempt by the workers to better their conditions. It seemed as if they were to be admired and pitied only so long as they knew their place.

'Tom Jones' is, of course, wonderful. It  seemed to me, in fact, to move at a fair pace, and the coincidences and chance meetings would render if incredible if the characters were not so appealing as to make the willing suspension of disbelief an absolute pleasure. Fielding's authorial voice is always compassionate and balanced and I couldn't help but wish that we had a few more such commentators on contemporary life writing today.
Joe Mac

I'm reading some short stories by Leo Tolstoy, the first one of which is called The Invaders. It's narrated in the first person by a fellow accompanying a military party on an engagement in the Caucasus. I find Tolstoy's descriptions of the people and the landscape luminous. It is very easy and pleasant reading. One feels quite present in the story.
blackberrycottage

The reading plans have gone awry. I still haven't got round to my planned New year read of An Unequal Music. So far I have read Hakan Nessur's Woman with Birthmark, set in a nameless north european country where men are are found shot in the chest and genitals. We know from the start who the killer is, but not why. There were a couple of odd translations but it was very good. Next was Patricia Hall's Deep Freeze, about murder in a women's hospital, the scientifics of aided conception and travellers. I do like Hall's characters and town of Bradfield. I am now reading her False Witness, where a not nice head teacher of a school for children with learning disabilities has been killed. So far we have racism and social regeneration. In between I read Sara Banerji's The Waiting Time. I liked the Transita imprint, but their stories stretch credibility sometimes. The proof reading was awful - Ann became Anne, Julia became Julian and Jewel changed to Jool without good reason.
Green Jay

Now reading Theft by Peter Carey. Brilliant so far. You just sort of jump straight into the two characters who narrate it. I don't know how he does it, makes you so thoroughly in their thoughts, and understanding them, with very little artificial feel of giving you the back-story, although it is a substantial one.
Evie

I am now reading City of Thieves by David Benioff, recommended by a friend - set in Leningrad during WWII, a teenage boy has been arrested for looting from the body of a dead German parachutist, and instead of the usual punishment - execution - he has been given the task of finding 12 eggs somewhere in the city so that the colonel's daughter can have a wedding cake.  That's as far as I have got - he will have to use his ingenuity and be prepared to steal; he has a fellow prisoner working with him.  The novel begins with a man asking his grandparents to tell him about the war, and this is his grandfather's story.  I am not very far in, but am hooked.  It's a much easier read than Nabokov!
Jen M

I'm reading To Kill a Mockingbird, for my Reading Group.  I first read this for O level, and there is much about it I have forgotten.  I'm very much enjoying it so far - I am about 100 pages in.  Will post more when I've finished it.
Joe Mac

To Kill a Mockingbird. I have such fond memories of that book. I wonder how it stands up after all these years. I think I was about 13 when I read it.

As it happens I'm reading another novel set in the south, called 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett. Quite engaging so far. Three different narrators - two of them black female servants in well-to-do white households in Jackson, Mississippi circa 1962; the other a white woman searching for the black housekeeper who raised her and loved her.
Evie

I am shortly to read The Help, for a book group (that I don't really belong to any more, but am staying on the fringes - it's in a different city!).  The book was mentioned by one of my Southern American students, so it was already in my mind - she is a girl who grew up with a black housekeeper, and never really thought about it until she read this novel...
Evie

Now reading A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor.
chris-l

I'd love to hear what you think of 'A Game of Hide and Seek', Evie. My daughter bought it for me a couple of years ago for my birthday, in the special edition Virago issued for their 30th birthday (my bd was rather a bigger number than that!). I was initially a little disappointed by the book, but it is one of those that has grown on me, so that I find myself thinking of the characters and their situations rather often. I hope your satisfaction will be more instant, but if not, don't dispair - there is lots of good stuff in there, but in my case at least, it took a little while for it to be fully absorbed!
Green Jay

Evie, I wonder if you have read Peter Carey's Theft, as it is about a contempoarary (1980s or so) Australian painter making his art, and about the production and authentication of the work of an artist from the cubist period? There is a lot about methods, paints, how provenance is proved, and certainly a lot about what is meant by the 'worth' or 'value' of a piece of art, and what snakes dealers and collectors are. I know you are in two minds about fiction about art, but if you've read this I'd be interested to know what you thought. Peter Carey seems to be knowledgeable or to have done his research well - although I say this from the point of view of a non-artist (!)
Evie

Thanks, Green Jay - have just seen your write-up of it - I haven't read it, but have enjoyed the Peter Careys I have read, so will add it to the TBR list!

Was thinking of you today, as I am reading another EH Young, as well as the Elizabeth Taylor - The Misses Mallett.  (I now have a new part-time job, and am back to having different books in different places!)  EH Young really is a seriously good writer - there is a muscularity and sap to her writing that impresses me so much.  Marvellous characters.
Caro

I have been reading non-fiction recently - read Anna Quindlen's Imagined London preparatory to us spending some time there soon.  She, an American writer, talks of the houses and streets of London from a literary perspective and links the writings of the past to present-day London, sometimes to contrast, sometimes to compare (immigration, naughty young people etc.)

Now I am reading for our book group Where do Underpants Come From? by Joe Bennett.  Joe is a NZ newspaper columnist, perhaps the best-known one, originally from England.  Generally his books are humorous, but though this one has elements of humour, it is a serious look at production in China and global and commenrcial enterprises.  He goes to China to trace the journey of his packet of $9 underpants (five in a packet).  On the way he tells us plenty about how life in China looks to a westerner who has never been there before.  

Cheers, Caro.
Freyda

Hello, all. I feel I've have been away from this board for so long it is not worth listing what I've read in the last few months - and I have  been very remiss about noting them down in my "what I've read" book.

My reading over Christmas and New Year has been mostly non-fiction, including a number of gardening books which I can dip into. "The Adventurous Gardener" by Christopher Lloyd was very enjoyable, although my dear old stiff paperback copy is falling apart. In time for  the new garden season I have been looking at "Seeds" by Jekka McVicar but it is just a technical book and not full of the author's character in the way the previous book is! I am also impressed by "A House of Air", a generous collection of reviews and essays by Penelope Fitzgerald. I am also trying more short story collections, the pile beside the bed includes "Waving At The Gardener" an anthology of well-known and new women writers edited by Kate Pullinger, "The Biting Point" by Catherine Smith, and "The Fahrenheit Twins" by Michel Faber. All very different.

Talk of Jane Gardam and E H Young makes me want to get hold of more of their fiction. Maybe I will feel a bit more inspired and find more time to read properly. Roll on Spring.
Evie

It's lovely to see you, Freyda.  I now have a square of concrete that I call a garden, and it's been a delight to plant things in containers and see them grow, and to grow from seed, so I am starting to read gardening books too.  I am very much enjoying Carol Klein's new series about her garden on Friday evenings, even though she has a very different garden from mine!  I am thinking of getting hold of her book on propagating plants, as that's something I know nothing about, and she is always very practical on television.

The Penelope Fitzgerald sounds good too - I love her novels, so may also have a look at her essays and reviews.
Green Jay

Evie, I have Carol Klein's book about propagating. It is based on her last year's TV series and is very good, much more specific than anything else on the subject I've come across, which makes me feel I may be more successful. I like her as a presenter as she is so passionate and enthusiastic - almost too much for some people's tastes, I think - and she is an older woman, and her hands are the opposite of well-groomed.  Very Happy

I do hope you enjoy your little garden, especially when we get round to the sunny & warm weather. It's fun growing things in containers. I do that a lot to keep things away (some hope) from the cats, slugs and snails. Just think, you can get a comfy garden chair and sit out there and read.
Evie

I love Carol - and yes, I love her hands especially!  She's a proper gardener, with the hands to prove it!  But looks stunning when she dresses up for Chelsea, etc.  This is the second year of my garden, and I really want to do more with it this year.  Thanks for the info on the propagating book - am trying to decide whether to get the book of the current series too!

Chris - thanks for your comments on Game of Hide and Seek - very helpful, as I have struggled with the first chapter - I found it really hard to work out how all the characters were connected, what sort of time frame there was, etc.  I can't work out if it was deliberately confusing (she is not usually a confusing writer), or if I wasn't concentrating!  But ch. 2 is going better.
Sandraseahorse

I have at last finished Thomas Hardy's "A Laodicean."  What a strange book it is.  I would say that it is unlike any other Hardy book I have read ( and I have now read all his novels) except I thought that about the previous three books by him that I read.

I found "The Well Beloved" strange because its plot had an almost fairy tale aspect to it.  This has been mentioned on this board before.

"The Hand of Ethelbertha" was atypical Hardy in that he described it as a comedy and it was largely a comedy of social manners with the central part of the book set in London.

"Desperate Remedies"  had heavy Gothic overtones and seemed more like a Wilkie Collins novel.

"A Laodicean", as Mike Harvey has mentioned, deals with professional upper middle classes and declining aristocracy.  There is a lot of what was then new technology in it with false telegrams being sent and a photo being doctored.  There is a romantic pursuit across Europe which seems to go on forever.

The conventional happy ending of the book is undermined by a wistful and potentially ominous comment as the last sentence.  Having achieved my objective of reading all of Hardy's novels, I now feel a bit deflated.

Ah well.  There's always the Dickens-thon to plan for in 2012.
TheRejectAmidHair

Sandraseahorse wrote:
Ah well.  There's always the Dickens-thon to plan for in 2012.


I think Marita referred to such a project as a "Charleston".
Mikeharvey

Hello Sandra,  'A Laodicean' is very unlike what we think of as Hardy. Had it been written by anyone else, or by him under a nom de plume, I doubt whether it would be read much nowadays.  
Have you tackled 'The Dynasts'?  I might try, if I could find my copy.  
Good luck with Dickens, Sandra.  I have read all Dickens except 'The Old Curiosity Shop' and the one about his Italian travels.  Oh, and there's all that journalism. And a prodigious quantity of letters.
Jen M

Hi Sandra

I read most of Hardy's novels in my early 20s but recall that I didn't quite manage all of them because I found a couple of the last few disappointing.  I can't remember why, now - perhaps I need to re-visit them, and perhaps start with those I haven't read.

While looking for a list of his novels, I found the following website: http://www.hardysociety.org/  
2011 is the 120th anniversary of the publication of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and the Hardy Society have some events planned.  I find the idea of the walks appealing; my A level class asked our  teacher if we could do a Hardy Field Trip, tracing Tess's steps and visiting locations in the books, but this wasn't taken seriously.  I will be in Dorset at the end of May/beginning of June but our dates don't coincide with any of the events.
Sandraseahorse

Mike, I'm afraid I haven't read "The Dynasts".  There was a production of it at Chichester Theatre some years ago, re-titled "Victory" but at the time I was living in North Hampshire and wasn't able to get to it.

Jen M.  My mother lives in Dorset, near Wareham (Anglesbury in Hardy's novels) so I've managed to visit many of the Hardy sites; his birthplace at Brockhampton, the Stinsford church which features in "Under The Greenwood Tree" and its churchyard where Hardy's heart is buried, the house he designed and lived in at Max Gate, etc. .

I do have a book "In The Steps of Thomas Hardy" by Anne-Marie Edwards but I've tended to visit by car places mentioned in the book rather than do the actual walks.
chris-l

I think I'm shaping up to have a Thomas Hardy year! In addition to this discusssion, my sister and her husband have promised (as a late Christmas present) to take us to one of the Hardy Players productions of 'Tess of the Durbervilles' this coming summer. The date has yet to be decided, but we hope to explore a few other associated sites while we're down there, and of course, a reread of 'Tess' will be a requirement at some point soon.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I am reading Philip Larkin's 'Letters to Monica', and Larkin is clearly a great admirer of Hardy's poetry (and to a lesser extent his novels), so I also need to follow up some of the references in the letters too. I love it when one book leads on to several others in this way!
Castorboy

I have started Crybbe by Phil Rickman the second novel he wrote. The title refers to a creepy village on the Welsh Border and has Gomer Parry making an appearance.
county_lady

Bill Bryson's -At Home: A short history of private life, this was meant to be my holiday read over Christmas but I was unable to fit it in.
A journey through the rooms of his Victorian rectory home gives rise to a diverse and rambling pleasant trawl through the history of homes; building materials, servants, engineering, cooking and what we ate, the invention of lunch, the coming of electricity and the phone. Oh and so much more and I'm only just over half-way.
A book that would be great for dipping into but also very entertaining (well so I'm finding) to read straight through.
Jen M

Sandraseahorse wrote:
Jen M.  My mother lives in Dorset, near Wareham (Anglesbury in Hardy's novels) so I've managed to visit many of the Hardy sites; his birthplace at Brockhampton, the Stinsford church which features in "Under The Greenwood Tree" and its churchyard where Hardy's heart is buried, the house he designed and lived in at Max Gate, etc. .

I do have a book "In The Steps of Thomas Hardy" by Anne-Marie Edwards but I've tended to visit by car places mentioned in the book rather than do the actual walks.


I've also visited Hardy's cottage, in the early 90s when my daughter was small.  During the same holiday, I spotted "Hardy's monument" on a map, and duly visited it.  I was most disappointed to find that it had nothing to do with Thomas Hardy, but the Hardy who sailed with Nelson.   Embarassed   The view from the top of the hill was fantastic, though.
Gul Darr

I was going to try one of Hardy's minor novels this year; but this discussion has made me have second thoughts.  I loved all 5 of his major novels, but didn't really get on with his short stories at all. But I'd love to visit Dorset again.
Plenty of Dickens still to be read though. I've got my eye on David Copperfield this year.
Sandraseahorse

I'm now reading for my book group Laurens Van Der Post's "A Story Like The Wind."  I'm finding it rather long-winded (which makes its title rather appropriate) - especially as our last book, Nelson Mandela's autobiogrpahy, was written in such a lucid way.

Anyone else read any Laurens Van Der Post?
Freyda

I have begun - perhaps foolishly as I haven't much time for reading - on a thick book called "The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton, an Australian author. I was given it because it had garden in the title! But I'm quite a way through and have not come to the garden yet. It is quite light women's fiction, not too badly written, though with little overwrought touches every so often. There seemed to be three strands: 2005, 1975 and 1913. A small girl, Nell, is found abandoned on the dockside in Australia, her origins unknown. In 2005 she dies and her granddaughter, Cassandra, whom she was close to, follows up a strange birthright back in England; in 1975 Nell also takes a trip to England to try and find out more about her own background. There is a theme of Edwardian lady authors and enthralling fairytale books and famous painters with works in the V & A which reminds me of a downmarket version of A S Byatt's "The Children's Book". But now I have just reached another strand, set in London 1900, which is not very well-written - a bit of a mix of Dickensian horrors and Bart Simpson in his cockney mode! I fear there is rather too much plot here, too, as there are also hints of a tragedy in Cassandra's past. I have trouble stretching out the characters' lifelines over the interminable decades since 1913: Nell seems very old, and Cassandra, though about 40 in 2005, seems weak and passive, and like a much younger woman; Nell at 65 also seems nervous and lacking in confidence. Surely an antiques dealer in her 60s - and an Aussie, to boot - could cope admirably with stuffy antiquarian bookshops and records offices?! The author photo makes Morton look very young and sweet - perhaps too young to really envisage people in their 40s or 60s?

I was given another book in the autumn because it was themed about a country house - a mix of Knole and Brideshead, I think - which did not really work either. Again, a gift because I'm known to be interested in houses & gardens. This was "The Art of Keeping Secrets" by Eva Rice. It was meant to be a nod to the Nancy Mitford novels but was not anything like as good, and set in the 1950s too, with odd references to the coming of Bill Hailey and Elvis. But there were so many glaring errors in plot and style that it simply annoyed me. I failed to sympathise or be charmed by characters who were supposed to be charming and amusing. And I could not picture the house at all from the writing. Ah well. I ought to steer clear of gifts or "must reads", I know they seldom work well for me.
John Q

About a hundred pages into All the Pretty  Horses by Cormac McCarthy, someone I have never read before.    I am surprised to be rather liking it.  All surface but some great descriptions of scenery.  I enjoyed the description of Cole and Rawlins riding among the stars,  that does give you a great sense of landscape.    Curious epic way of writing.  The reader has to apparently fill in a lot of the narrative gaps themselves.   The two main characters so far seem remarkably mature for their ages.  Maybe they are precocious up around San Angelo, Texas way.
Nikki26

Recently finished 'Immortal Dreams' by Rob Watson, a new author I know little about. Just spotted that his next novel 'Searching for Scarlet' is up for sale so I've just ordered that. First one is a character piece based in the world of professional sport, the second is a crime thriller. Personally I find it refreshing for an author to have such variation in their novels.

Nikki
Jen M

I read The Forgotten Garden a few years ago, Freyda, and agree with your reservations, particularly about Cassandra.  The book could have  been set 10 years earlier and lost nothing in terms of plot (nothing that I remember, anyway).  I didn't especially like the fairy tales. I did enjoy it overall, though, and you will come to the garden.

I do have some concerns about time frames in books like this one. I'm not sure that it works, now, to have characters in books who were young in 1913 or whenever, living in the almost present, and having grandchildren living in our present who have yet to do anything with their lives.  The time frame is too long.  OK, the dates just about work, but one has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief in order to make the story work.
Joe Mac

I'm reading Typee, by Herman Melville. This seems to me to be a boys' adventure story, along the lines of Treasure Island, although it is apparently the true (true-ish?) account of Melville's desertion of a whaling ship and his sojourn among the Typee cannibals of Nukahiva in the Marquesas. It's a good bit of fun, although unnecessarily (as it seems to me) encumbered by the elaborate language that authors of the day apparently felt constrained to use. I find myself wishing Melville would cut the nonsense and lapse into the colloquial language he and his friend, as sailors and whaling men must have used. But no such luck. One is prevented by the ornate narrative from really engaging with the characters; from feeling a part of the action.
I can't believe this represents how these fellows really talked or thought.
Apple

I am reading something which is considered on here something not worth the time or the effort of publishing or reading and of no literary value ...I am reading a celebrity autobiography.Smile

To be precise I am reading Ozzy Osbourne: I am Ozzy It's full of profanity but also incredibly honest - brutally uncomfortably so in some places.  I have been a big fan of his music for many years (since I was a teenager - and trust me that was MANY years ago!!  Very Happy ) and despite what historically the general consensus has been regarding these "types of books" on here I am not ashamed to say I am thoroughly enjoying it, mainly because of Ozzy's very colourful life make for interesting if somewhat shocked reading (seriously - that man should not be alive!!) but there is also quite a bit of humour albeit dark humour at times, with Ozzy's ability to laugh and poke fun at at himself I am about half way through now and its keeping me turning the pages.
Castorboy

The Price of Love comprises a novella giving the back story before DCI Alan Banks locates to Eastvale and ten stories all on the theme of love and the forms it can take. Published in 2009 from Peter Robinson – the first time I have read any of his shorter fiction.
Evie

Apple - there are celebrities and 'celebs' - Ozzy Osbourne is a genuine celebrity, and an interesting person - Katie Price, to choose the obvious example, is neither...  :0)
iwishiwas

Finally my reserved library book arrived, When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant. A wonderful book, I can't put it down, no surprise it won the Orange prize.
Wendy

Hi all, I've just finished reading 'Searching for Scarlet', a crime thriller by an author I hadn't heard of, called Rob Watson. I've read a LOT of crime fiction over the years and I have to say that this is as good as anything I've read. Kept my attention throughout and kept me guessing right to the end. Also it includes two stories, two different cases for the same detective duo, which I thought made a refreshing change.
Has anyone else read this???

Wendy xoxox
Evie

Hello Wendy, and welcome!  How did you hear about Rob Watson?  Seems such a coincidence that two new members of the board have both read him and neither of you had heard of him before!  (Nikki is the other one.)  Has he been given some publicity somewhere?
Wendy

Hi Eve, thanks for the welcome! I know I've just noticed a post by Nikki in a different forum. In my case it was just a friend of a friend type situation. He sent out an email promoting he own work, I'm guessing to all his email contacts, a cuople of 'forwards' later, I had the email. I read a lot of crime fiction and I'm always on the look out for new authors, so I bought a copy, read it in a couple of days, I do have lots of leisure time at the moment!

Thanks again for the welcome, it looks like a really pleasant site and I look forward to finding out about other new authors!!

Wendy xoxox
Evie

Ah, good for him!  Glad you found us, and look forward to hearing about your other reads.
Castorboy

Same for me - I'd like to hear about his other work. What is so special about his writing? Could be a new talent and we are the first to hear about it!
Ann

I've just started The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson and all I can say is Wow! This is such a macabre and engrossing book and I'm looking forward to picking it up again later today. The narrator is a porn star who gets very badly burnt in a car accident caused by driving while high on cocaine. The graphic description of his crash and injuries are gruesome but he has little self pity and just wants to die. Then a strange mad women enters his ward and talks in a cryptic and tantalising way about his predicament and its links to the thirteenth century! The cover says intriguing things about it, for example 'Mixing romance, classic allusion and reality, Davidson's debut is a bravura performance'.

As you can see I'm loving it. Very Happy
Chibiabos83

I'm just embarking on book 3 (of 16) of the early 13th century Grail romance Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. After finding it very heavy going for the first couple of books (lots of riding about on horses, hundreds of confusing names it's impossible to keep track of, lack of narrative drive), things have suddenly picked up now Parzival has (at last) been born. Not quite like anything I've read before. It is showing signs of developing into something special (which is the least one might expect, given the blurb on the back of the Oxford World's Classics edition I'm reading ranks it alongside Dante).
TheRejectAmidHair

This is fairly esoteric stuff! You'll be reading Chetien de Troyes next!
Chibiabos83

I'd like to be thought of as a man with esoteric tastes, but this may be a bridge too far. Quite a bit of it's based on Chrétien's Perceval, apparently, so I think I will give these people a wide berth for a bit once I've finished this. Eschenbach's a bit more jokey, claims the translator, but I've seen little evidence of it so far. Feeling less disposed to abandon it now than I was yesterday, though, which may be progress.
Joe Mac

I wondered if The Gargoyle would ever come up here. I read it a couple of years ago and recall that it was quite gruesome to start off, but gripping, to say the least. I won't say anything more about how it develops - don't want to ruin the suspense for you Ann!
Joe Mac

Oh yes, and what I'm reading is Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving. If I keep at it, it'll be the first Irving I have finished, despite one or two earlier attempts. I recall finding A Son of the Circus annoyingly precocious in its attempt to shock the reader with quirky sexual nonsense. I just got tired of it.
Last Night is plenty quirky too, so far. Set a sawmill town in northern New Hampshire in the 1950s (at least to start), it features a cook and his 12-year old son who have to flee after the son accidentally kills his father's lover whom he mistakes for a bear in flagrante delicto.

Irving's stories are renowned for drunks and deviants of various types and this looks to be keeping up the reputation. The style is a bit odd - not as smooth as I expected from a veteran. Kind of clunky in some respects - lots of parenthetical remarks and a surprising use of this unfortunate thing !!!!!.
Nevertheless, a reasonably compelling story begins to emerge.
Ann

R N Singer I will look forward to talking to you about The Gargoyle. It is certainly one of a kind!
Gul Darr

RN Singer, I have a copy of Last Night In Twisted River waiting to be read, so interested to hear what you make of it. I quite enjoyed A Son of the Circus, but as you say, Irving's obsession with sexual nonsense does become rather tiresome. But I do love his quirky characters. Have you read Owen Meany or Cider House Rules?
Gul Darr

RN Singer, what I meant to say is have you attempted to read Owen Meany or Cider House Rules!
Green Jay

I have just started another Tim Winton - Cloudstreet. All a bit confusing so far, but I have only read the first 30 pages or so, and - how can I say this? - very Australian?  Smile  I could do with a glossary at times.

It struck me that he features an enormous number of loveless relationships in his books, either parent/child or husband and wife. He does have some loving ones, but I think the rough, raw, often violent ones, outweigh these. He tends to write about working class families and I think he is saying that the struggle just to get by and the tough conditions of small-town Australian life encouraged this, although he isn't condoning it.  Children were treated very roughly just as a matter of course.
Joe Mac

Hi Gul. I think I read a few pages of Owen Meany once, probably in a book store. Haven't looked at Cider House though. Do you recommend them?

I haven't read enough of Irving to make a useful comparison, but it surprises me that some of Last  Night in Twisted River is put together so clumsily, almost amateurishly, as it seems. It just about has to be deliberate, although why I can't imagine.
Castorboy

As a break from fiction I have started on Peter Sallis' autobiography Fading into the Limelight. As it happens he was 90 on February 1st.
iwishiwas

An excellent day for a birthday!!
joeturner

I want you to do me a favour. I bumped into a reference to a children's book in An American Wife, a novel based on the life of Laura Bush. The main char is a librarian whose favourite children's book is The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. I happened to be in a book store so i fished The Giving Tree out of the stacks and read it. I then googled the book and discovered that it is one of the most controversial children's books ever published in America. Some parents hated it; some loved it. Some said immoral, unethical; others thought it taught a great lesson.

I'd like you to read it the next time you're in a library or a book store. Five, ten minutes. Please tell me youropinion of the worth of the book. Thanks
Evie

Intriguing, Joe!  Will be very surprised if my library has it, but will certainly look for it next time I'm there.
Evie

Do you mean The Giving Tree?
joeturner

Yikes, Evie, you're right!  The Giving Tree.

I gave my grandchildren a copy in English and a copy in French. I should have sought some guidance earlier.

Nice to talk.
Chibiabos83

It's strange - reading American books about children's literature, one comes across Silverstein's name time and time again - he's huge in the USA - but I'm not sure I ever saw his books on library bookshelves in my youth. I'm sure we have lots of British authors who don't travel well. I'll certainly look out for it on my next trip to the library.
Chibiabos83

Doesn't look as if I'll have much luck, though - the catalogue shows no Silverstein in all of Cambridgeshire, apart from a couple of poems in anthologies edited by Roger McGough.
Caro

If you liked it, Joe, then I wouldn't worry about what other critics have said.  I was reading a site about my son's favourite children's book, Not Now Bernard, and most comments were favourable, but some found the neglect of the parents very distressing.

Will try and remember to check out this book to see what I think.

Cheers, Caro.
Rebecca

It's here:

http://www.atel.org.uk/the_giving_tree.htm
Evie

My county library has it in French, which I might order - they don't have it in English - not sure what that's all about!  Having read a bit about the book since Joe's post, I do want to read it now.
joeturner

Thanks, Yasmin. But I think the drawings by Silverstein add a great deal to the sense of the story.
Wendy

Castorboy wrote:
Same for me - I'd like to hear about his other work. What is so special about his writing? Could be a new talent and we are the first to hear about it!


I always put authors into two categories, 'writers' and 'storytellers'. As time goes by there seems to be more storytellers and almost no writers. I would definitely put him in the storyteller category, certainly no Joyce or Fitzgerald. But what I liked about Searching for Scarlet was that it was an enjoyable crime novel because it did virtually all u want from a crime novel. It kept my interest and kept me guessing throughout, I never knew what was going to happen next, but always wanted to find out. Another thing I liked was the dialogue, in a lot of crime fiction, even the very good stuff, the dialogue is very cliche and even cringeworthy at times. But for me at least I didn't find the dialogue in this book to be at all predictable, but it was at times used well to tell the story

Wendy xoxox
Castorboy

Wendy wrote:
It kept my interest and kept me guessing throughout, I never knew what was going to happen next, but always wanted to find out. Another thing I liked was the dialogue, in a lot of crime fiction, even the very good stuff, the dialogue is very cliche and even cringeworthy at times. But for me at least I didn't find the dialogue in this book to be at all predictable, but it was at times used well to tell the story.Wendy xoxox

That sums up for me exactly what I need from a good crime novel. At this stage our library hasn't received Searching for Scarlet so will just wait till it turns up.
Castorboy

iwishiwas wrote:
An excellent day for a birthday!!

Duly noted for next year Wink
Mikeharvey

Somewhere in this house there is a book of poems by Shel Silverstein that I remember from my teaching days. Can't remember what it's called. If it ever surfaces I'll let you know. M.
Caro

Reading the story on the internet, without the pictures, I felt it was a very moving story of aging from both the point of view of humans and of things of nature.  it might not be suitable for very young children, though the rhythm of it might well still appeal.  But for a child faced with the death or illness of a grandparent it could well be a wonderful lead-in to some comfort from parent to child.  Or a way of teaching a child that everyone has been young once and done the things they are doing now.  

A beautifully realised portrayal of a life, I thought.   What were the criticisms based on, Joe?  

Cheers, Caro.

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