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Reading WomanWell this has been a bumper reading year for me. As always I aim for 52 books in 52 weeks, a challenge that got me into book blogging in the first place way back in 2007. This year I actually read 73 books, both a surprise and a delight. I think the reason I did so well is down to talking more about books with friends both online and in the real world (good thing) and several bouts of illness which meant I was sofa-bound and couldn’t do much other than read (bad thing). And taking part in the the 24 hour readathon in April also helped as I read 8 books in one night (and raised money for charity at the same time).

But what of these books you ask?

Well, I don’t really like best of lists,  and definitely not Top10s because it seems so arbitrary and I just don’t want to have to choose. So what I thought I’d do highlight the things that jump out to me from what I’ve read this year.

  • I’ve been good at keeping on top of or catching up with my favourite series – big stand-outs here were in August where I read four each of Charles Finch and Jacqueline Winspear which took me up to and including their latest published novels (though Finch cheated by bringing out a new volume later in the year, but I’ve read that too now);
  • I’ve rediscovered my love of (mostly genre) short stories;
  • zombies are a thing – if you’d asked me a year or so ago I would have pulled a face about zombie novels but I’ve read and enjoyed several this year;
  • the end of the world (as we know it) is also a thing, often combined with zombies of course but also viruses and such like, and I find them difficult to resist;
  • I still love classic crime – AA Milne’s one and only crime novel being a particular delight, but the British Library classic reprints also look excellent;
  • I read much more quickly on the Kindle app on my iPad;
  • lots of new authors but the two that struck me the most were James Smythe (I read four of his with another waiting to be picked up) and Jeff VanderMeer who’s been around for a while but whose Southern Reach trilogy was just brilliant.

So that was 2014. Wonder what delights 2015 has in store 🙂

www_wednesdays4W… W… W… Wednesdays poses the following questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I have decided that I really don’t want to continue with  A Fire Upon the Deep, it just isn’t grabbing me. The Book God is disappointed but agrees this is not grounds for divorce. I have also set aside Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin, to pick up again after the holidays. Which means I’m *gasp* not actually reading anything at the moment!

The Jonathan Strange Update

Still on page 134. As suspected was distracted by shiny new things. But I am not downhearted and now that I am on holiday until 7 January I am determined to make progress. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.

What did I recently finish reading?

Read quite a lot over Christmas, but most recently finished The Advent Killer which I reviewed here.

What do I think I’ll read next?

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and/or The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross.

18751801What’s it all about?

Two women have been murdered. Different methods, but both around 1 am on consecutive Sunday mornings. Seems to be coincidence until a third body turns up and the police can’t avoid the fact that they are connected which of course = Serial Killer. The events take place on the three Sundays before Christmas so obviously the press dub said murderer The Advent Killer.

As panic spreads across London, DCI Antonia Hawkins, leading her first murder investigation, must stop a cold, careful killer whose twisted motives can only be guessed at, before the next body is found

Thus endeth the blurb

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I must have read something about this somewhere or had it recommended by someone because I put it on my Christmas list and lo and behold, it turned up under the tree. And was devoured, mostly on Boxing Day. I like a good serial killer. In fiction obviously, not real life, though I did work with someone who was booked to go on a civil service training course with Dennis Nielsen. But that’s another story.

What did I think of it?

Like I said above, I read most of it in one day; it’s ideal for curling up under a blanket on the sofa, if you like that sort of thing which I of course do. It’s a fairly undemanding read in many respects but none the worse for that. A solid police procedural with a likeable lead character and all the things I have come to expect in this sort of story:

  • a detective out of their depth, with a complicated personal life and occasional flashes of intuition, in this case made more interesting by the detective being female and apparently the victim of institutionalised misogyny
  • sidekick, with whom lead detective has History of some kind, is brought in to assist once the out of depthness has been recognised by those Higher Up,
  • time pressures – this case must be solved by X otherwise Y will happen (or not happen)
  • a killer with a Mission which makes sense only to them (even after we all know what it is)
  • the Red Herring
  • and of course, it all gets Personal

All of which is done really well and the story moves at pace and you really do want to find out what it’s all about.

Except I actually guessed (and it really was a guess) who the murderer was within the first 90 pages, just because I’ve read and/or watched loads of these things and I just though “I wonder if it might be…..” It didn’t spoil the book for me because I couldn’t actually believe I was right and even if I was I wasn’t sure how it was actually possible (you find out in an aside quite late on in the story) but the Motive was revealed slowly throughout the book and I did want to know what that was all about. Poor thing, no wonder things turned out the way they did…

Anyway, I liked DCI Hawkins a lot, so much so that I’ve ordered the sequel. It’s called My Bloody Valentine. I think I see a pattern here…..

IMG_0204What’s it all about?

Mystery in White is part of a series of classic British crime novels being republished by the British Library (and I have bought several of them in physical or electronic formats). A group of people who don’t know each other (apart from David & Lydia who are brother and sister) are sharing a compartment on a train which has become stranded in heavy snowfall. It’s Christmas Eve and they decide to head cross-country to another station to see if they can continue their journeys. But the weather closes in and they take refuge in a house which seems deserted, despite fires burning away and the table set for tea. Where is everyone? What’s happened?

Why did I want to read it?

I can’t resist a decent classic crime mystery, and the Christmas setting for this made it ideal for a Christmas Day read.

What did I think of it?

This is great stuff. It’s one of those mysteries that really draws you in. The main group of characters – David & Lydia, Thomson the clerk, Jessie the showgirl, Hopkins the elderly bore and Maltby the psychic investigator – are (mostly) likeable and certainly an interesting bunch. The unfolding of the crime is ingenious. Or should I say crimes because it becomes clear there is more than one and not all of them happened recently. There is a potentially supernatural element but that could be explained in a completely scientific way and adds lots of atmosphere to what is already a pretty edgy story.

Think about it.

You’re in a strange house with a group of people you don’t know and a criminal on the loose. You’re not exactly sure what the crime is and you aren’t certain who the bad guy is and it’s getting dark and the weather is closing in and you can’t call for help. Very creepy.

I loved this and read it in one sitting. It would make a fantastic TV film so I hope its unexpected success brings it to the attention of the right people to make that happen, because you can never have too many bright and snappy and clever murder mysteries set in the 1930s for my liking, and I would watch this in a heartbeat. If this is typical of the standard of these reprints then I’m really going to enjoy the others I’ve bought. Recommended.

Last of the Spirits frontWhat’s it all about?

Sam and his sister Lizzie live on the streets of Victorian London, and on a freezing Christmas Eve beg for money from a wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge who rebuffs them nastily, filling Sam with anger and a desire for revenge.

Later that night they are huddling together for warmth in a cemetery when they see a ghost rising from a grave and heading towards Scrooge’s home. And in that way they become witnesses to the events of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Why did I want to read it?

I am a great fan of Chris Priestley’s works which I’ve been reading over a number of years. This is the latest in his re-tellings of well-known stores for younger readers (the others are Mister Creecher and The Dead Men Stood Together). And as I’ve said on my Screen God blog I love A Christmas Carol, so reading The Last of the Spirits was a no-brainer.

What did I think about it?

I just loved this beautifully written short book. I have always enjoyed stories that are written from the perspective of an onlooker to major events (the two that spring most easily to mind are Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Hamlet)) and although Sam and Lizzie become direct participants in Scrooge’s story they fit into that trend very well, of an observer illuminating a well-known story by presenting it from a different point of view. And of course given the story we’re watching here it has a happy ending.

Just lovely and will become a regular read for Christmas in the future.

Christmas lootIt’s that time of year when all good book bloggers brag about their presents. Who am I to argue with that tradition? So here goes:

  • Dust by Elizabeth Bear – “Can a broken angel save a fallen world?”
  • The Advent Killer by Alastair Gunn – “Christmas is Coming. One body at a time.” (Confession – I read this on Boxing Day, review will follow soon)
  • Catalina by W Somerset Maugham – “The last of Maugham’s novels, Catalina is a romantic celebration of Spain and a delightfully mischievous satire on absolutism.”
  • The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh – “Becoming the Duke and Duchess of Denver has not ended the detective partnership of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.”
  • Through the Window by Julian Barnes – seventeen essays and one short story
  • Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige – “Remove the Tin Woodman’s Heart. Steal the Scarecrow’s Brain. Take the Lion’s Courage. And then – Dorothy must die.”
  • Jackaby by William Ritter – “Miss Rook, I am not an occultist.”
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley – what to read and how to write
  • Elfrida by Elizabeth Norton – “Wife, mother, murderer, ruler: the first biography of the most powerful and notorious woman in Anglo-Saxon England.”

And one literary-related CD thingy:

What bookish delights were you given?

www_wednesdays4W… W… W… Wednesdays poses the following questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I’ve started but not made much progress on A Fire Upon the Deep as mentioned before, and I’ve also started one of my planned re-reads, Goodbye Without Leaving by Laurie Colwin. But if I’m honest I’m in a slight pre-Christmas mini reading slump..

The Jonathan Strange Update

I have shamed myself into reading a bit more of this and am now on page 134. Really am going to try to make progress with this over the holidays. Well, as long as I’m not distracted by shiny new book-shaped Christmas presents 🙂

What did I recently finish reading?

Just bits and bobs and a few sci-fi short stories which I talk about here.

What do I think I’ll read next?

I’m saving Mystery in White for Boxing Day, and The Last of the Spirits for tonight (a suitable read for Christmas Eve) and I’ll continue with the books mentioned above. And of course Santa may have left something interesting under the tree. Expect pictures!

I do love a good sci-fi short story and recently read three for Carl’s Sci-Fi 2015 Experience.

IMG_0196A Tall Tail by Charles Stross

A really enjoyable is-it-or-isn’t-it-true story set at a Pentagon-hosted conference about the 100 Year Starship, where our author bumps into the rocket scientist twin brother of the writer Gregory Benford who introduces him to  Leonard-not-his-real-name who tells him the tall tale/tail of the title, involving all sorts of Cold War shenanigans. Great fun, and apparently most (if not all) of the science is accurate. Stross is becoming one of my favourite sci-fi writers.

IMG_0202The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is just a wonderful but sad but hopeful short story. It starts off with the Lady Astronaut herself being given a check-up by her doctor Dorothy (from Kansas who lived with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on a farm before a dreadful space-related accident, so yes, it’s that Dorothy). Dorothy came to Mars because she was inspired by the LA, Elma, now elderly and with an ailing husband and a burning desire to go back out into space. She is unexpectedly given the opportunity to do so and has to make a difficult choice – go and leave her husband behind or stay and watch him pass away. Lovely, nominated for a Hugo and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a little bit reading this. A new author to me but I am going to look for more of her work.

IMG_0203A Short History of The Twentieth Century by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Or When You Wish Upon A Star. This is the story of Carol, whose parents were both scientists but whose mother gave up her career for the reasons women did in the 1950s. Her Dad was a rocket scientist with leftist leanings who didn’t like the use made of German science brought to the US after the War. Influenced by the future as described by Walt Disney, Carol wants to follow in her Dad’s footsteps but it’s not a career for girls. According to Amazon (annoyingly) this is only science-fiction by association. I’m not sure I agree with that. But a lovely and inspiring story and I loved Carol’s Mum and how hey watched the moon landing on TV (something I do vaguely remember, being only 7 at the time). I read a couple of Goonan’s novels many years ago and this reminded me why  liked her and that I really should pick up her work again.

IMG_0259On Saturday the Book God and I made a second attempt to visit the British Library to view their Gothic exhibition (we failed earlier in the month as I had been unwell). I was very keen to see this because (of course) I love all things Gothic but also because we’d seen a number of the supporting TV programmes on BBC4 and our interest had been piqued. (I love that word and should definitely try to use it more!)

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination covers the period from the 1790s (lots of Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill which, despite it only being about five stops along the railway from us I have yet to visit) to the present day through a wonderful range of books, manuscripts, illustrations and other artefacts. There are also some fabulous film clips playing in the background – Boris as Frankenstein’s Creature, Lady Dedlock from Bleak House, The Wicker Man, The Innocents – and interviews with modern figures such as Neil Gaiman (talking about Coraline).

Much to look at and enjoy. Wonderful selection of related material in the exhibition shop; I can’t decide whether I am appalled or pleased that I already had so many of the books on sale on my shelves at home, but I did nobble the exhibition catalogue and some lovely postcards.

IMG_0258Earlier this week I took a day off to do some pre-Christmas stuff, meeting a friend for lunch in Covent Garden and then meeting another friend (MargaRita, Queen of Speed, a friend of the Bride’s blog, previously mentioned here) for drinks at the splendid St Pancras Hotel. In between I spent a few hours around Piccadilly, mostly shopping but also finally getting round to doing something I’ve talked about in previous years – visiting the Chris Beetles Gallery to view their annual exhibition of illustration.

The Illustrators: The British Art of Illustration 1800-2014 is a feast for the eyes, exhibiting original works by many of the greats – Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle (those are just some of my favourites) – as well as artists less well known (at least to me). The walls are crammed with these wonderful pieces of art, all for sale. Sadly, much as I would have loved to I couldn’t quite put my hands on the £17,500 for Dulac’s Asenath from 1907, let alone the £250,000 for Rackham’s The Fairies Are Exquisite Dancers from Peter Pan (1906). A girl can dream though.

So I made do with a copy of the exhibition catalogue which is a beautiful thing in itself.

There was also a fantastic exhibition of Quentin Blake illustrations and some original drawings for Paddington, any of which would have looked very nice framed on my study wall.

A lovely way to spend a winter’s afternoon.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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December 2014