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Scan 30What’s it all about?

The Child’s Child is a book within a book, or at least a contemporary story wrapped around a tale of an unmarried mother in Devon which starts off between the wars. Grace is working on her thesis about illegitimacy in the English novel and is asked to read the story of Maud and her pregnancy and the things she has to do to maintain face at a time when this sort of thing was a major problem (disowned by her parents, that sort of thing). The events of Maud’s story start to echo what’s happening in Grace’s life as she shares a house with her brother Andrew and begins to deal with his partner James who moves in with them setting off a chain of events that will change them all.

Why did I want to read this?

I really like the Barbara Vine novels; I’m pretty sure I have read all of them over time, and I certainly have come to prefer them to Ruth Rendell’s (for it is she, of course) more straightforward police procedurals. So it’s always a bit of an event when a new Vine is published.

What did I think of it?

I enjoyed reading this novel but the lingering feeling I have, almost six weeks later (I am SO behind on my posts) is one of vague disappointment. I came to find Maud really, really annoying, and although I know that the way she behaves is a product of what has happened to her and the way she has had to adapt to her circumstances but I came to find her deeply unlikable. I know very well that you don’t have to like a character to find their story compelling but I came to care about the futures of almost everyone except her. At the same time I wanted to know more about Grace and the modern-day setting which I found much more interesting and which seemed to me to be a bit rushed. And for me the connections between the two narratives were a bit tenuous.

dewey-300x300So by no means bad, well written as always and worth reading, it just seemed to be missing something for me at any rate. Will still look forward to her next novel, though!

This was my final book for Readathon !!

Scan 29What’s it all about?

This is a story set some time in the future, where the world has gone through some form of environmental crisis and large numbers of people no longer want to continue living. And in order to help them shuffle off their mortal coil(s), the Tuvache family has for many many years run The Suicide Shop, providing a range of means to end it all to suit all pockets. They are a family suited to this work, a mournful bunch. But then something extraordinary happens – Mme. Tuvache gives birth to Alan (named after Alan Turing who of course committed suicide himself), who turns out to be a bit of a disappointment – he really enjoys life, and sets out on a mission – to make his family happy.

Why did I want to read this?

I came across this initially not as a book but as a film, an animation which sadly doesn’t seem to have been released in the UK and isn’t available on DVD unless you can speak French (which despite many years of school I still haven’t managed). The Book God found out that the novel was published in English and having read and enjoyed (if that’s the word, and I’m really not sure it is) Eat Him if You Like by the same author I decided to give this a go.

What did I think of it?

I enjoyed this short novel very much. Alan is a lovely character, completely subversive, going about the business of changing his family quietly and steadily and against all the odds. It’s described as a black comedy and that seems fair; it’s amusing rather than laugh out loud funny and is also actually very sweet.

I won’t give away whether Alan succeeds, I’ll only say that I found the end both unexpected (though perhaps I shouldn’t have) and satisfying, and would definitely recommend this to you if you would like something a little bit different and, yes, very French. I would love to see how the film handles the story.

This was my seventh and penultimate Readathon book.dewey-300x300

Scan 28What’s it all about?

The Dead Men Stood Together is a re-telling of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, from the perspective of a young boy serving on the voyage, whose uncle is instrumental in the terrible events that befall the ship and its crew.

Why did I want to read it?

I love Chris Priestley. I think I now have all of his published novels and short story collections, whether in hard copy or as e-books. He has a wonderful way with the ghostly and the ghoulish and the downright creepy. And of course who can resist the Ancient Mariner, an iconic tale.

What did I think of it?

Thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as the traditional elements of the tale it gives a both a back story to the events and a resolution which is really moving (well I thought so anyway). The prose is simple but the story is totally compelling even though it is entirely familiar (to anyone who has read the poem of course; and if you haven’t then go and do so now. I’ll wait). dewey-300x300

It is dark and atmospheric and another good book to read in the dark in the middle of the night. Recommended.

Though someone does really need to start thinking about the poor old albatross.

This was my sixth Readathon book.

 

Scan 26So, this is an odd little book. We are in the basement of the library where our unnamed narrator, one of the librarians, is setting up for the day and has found one of the library patrons who has managed to get himself locked in overnight (I’m pretty sure it’s a man though I can’t remember if that’s ever made explicit) and as she can’t let him out until the library is actually opened. She explains this but I’m not sure if it’s true or she just wants a captive audience for her to vent.

Because we are very much in the world of the unreliable narrator and she is going to let it all out, not just her view of her own position (disappointed in her career), her colleagues and the various strictures of librarianship but the passion she has developed for a young man called Martin who comes to the library to carry out research.

The Library of Unrequited Love is translated from the French and I’m not sure if that’s why the way in which the narrator spoke didn’t ring entirely true with me, but she certainly has a lot to say in such a small book.

dewey-300x300I have the feeling that she is older than Martin, not that that matters at all of course but it gave me a sense that her love would remain totally one-sided. Not sure I would like her in person but it was interesting to spend an hour in her company.

My fourth Readathon book.

Scan 25At its simplest Levels of Life is a book about loss and grief  and love and sorrow. It brings together a number of disparate characters who are linked through their experience of ballooning – Nadar, an aerial photographer, Colonel Fred Burnaby, a British soldier and Sarah Bernhardt, the actress with whom it is thought Burnaby had an affair.

In considering their stories Julian Barnes also talks openly about his own grief at the loss of his wife, the absence that is in his life and his reaction to it.

You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice it at the time, but that doesn’t matter. The world has been changed nonetheless.

You put together two people who have not been put together before. […] Then, at some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible; but it is emotionally possible.

This is a terribly sad book, and his emotions will be recognisable to anyone who has lost someone close to them, though the loss of a partner is not something I’ve experienced and must represent a real shift in perception of the future; the person you thought you were going to spend your whole life with is not longer there.

dewey-300x300Deeply moving.

My third Readathon book.

Scan 24What’s it all about?

We are in Edinburgh and it is 1874. Jack comes into the world on the coldest night imaginable; his heart is frozen and Dr Madeleine, who has delivered him, has to perform an operation immediately to ensure that he lives. But she is an unusual doctor, and her response to the crisis is to surgically attach a cuckoo clock to his chest. So, clearly we are in the land of fairy tales. And all is well (more or less) until he falls in love…

Why did I want to read it?

This is one of those occasions where I was definitely attracted by the lovely cover. I bought it in Forbidden Planet on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue on a book-buying jaunt with (I think) Silvery Dude. And I’m embarrassed to say that I have had this in my possession for years, and it’s made its way on and off Once Upon a Time challenge reading lists. But this year I was determined to read it.

What did I think of it?

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart is a wonderfully dark story of love and obsession and difference and rivalry and jealousy and people doing what they think is the right thing without really considering the consequences. One to go back to, I think.

My second Readathon book, and my first completed read for OUAT VIII. (Edit – though of course it wasn’t , it was my second, duh!)

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onceup8200

Scan 23What’s it all about?

Antony Gillingham is in the country and realising that he is not too far away from The Red House where his friend Bill Beverley is spending the weekend decides to wander over on a surprise visit, arriving just in time for a locked room mystery; the discovery of a dead body, a missing host and a soon-to-be-baffled local constabulary. And of course he decides to look into the matter himself, because that’s what you would do, wouldn’t you?

Why did I want to read this?

Recommendation from someone else’s blog (and sorry to that person, I can’t remember exactly where I saw this mentioned) plus attractive cover plus love of classic era whodunits made this irresistible.

What did I think of it?

The Red House Mystery is the only detective novel written by AA Milne, he of Winnie the Pooh fame, and the latter fact is hammered home to us several times on the cover of  this book.

Far from the gentle slopes of the Hundred Acre Wood lies The Red House

[..] a lost gem from the time before Tigger [..]

and so on; you get the drift. And in some ways the harping on at Milne’s more famous creation seems to suggest the publisher is almost apologetic about this book which is a real shame as this really is a little masterpiece of detective fiction and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The lead characters are charming, the mystery is just mysterious enough and although I guessed the “twist” quite early on (which just shows that I spend far too much time watching crime shows on TV) and I had a fairly good idea of who the killer might be, I had absolutely no inkling as to the motive and none of this spoiled my enjoyment of a brisk and breezy read which was really great fun.

dewey-300x300And as a bonus there is an introduction from Milne who outs himself as an aficionado of this type of fiction and makes very clear his likes and dislikes and that basically he wrote this novel for himself.

Such a shame that this is his only one. Really smashing, and a good start to Readathon.

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore is another ghost story but couldn’t be more different from The Small Hand, though equally atmospheric.

This is set in 1952, and Isabel, newly married, moves to Yorkshire with her husband who is a GP. It’s a time of austerity with rationing still in force and their flat isn’t very warm or welcoming. Isabel is left very much to her own devices as her husband is constantly busy. One night Isabel wakes freezing and wraps herself in an old greatcoat she finds at the back of a cupboard wakes.

And then there is a knock at the window and she sees a young RAF pilot wanting to come in….

This is a story of unfinished business, loneliness and passion, the impact of war  and how the recent past can come back to haunt. Very intense and powerful.

This was my seventh and final  Readathon read (or at least the last one I finished).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere before how much I love Gladys Mitchell’s books and what a fabulous character Mrs Bradley is. I really enjoyed the TV adaptations though Diana Rigg was far too glamorous for the part given  that a common adjective for Mrs B is grotesque, but setting that to one side they were great fun and you should seek them out if you haven’t seen them already.

Watson’s Choice is up to her usual standard. Mrs Bradley and her secretary Laura are guests at Sir Bohun Chantry’s party to celebrate the anniversary of his great passion, Sherlock Holmes, and everyone is instructed to come dressed as one of the characters from the canon. However, scandal erupts when the very wealthy Sir Bohun announces he’s going to marry the governess (naturally poor as a church mouse) and the shenanigans begin with the unexpected appearance of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

And then of course there is the murder….

This is great fun. Mrs B is wonderful, Laura not quite as annoying as I had at first feared, and there are the usual red herrings, suspicious foreigners, staff who may not quite be as devoted to their employer as they appear, small boys coming across clues, and a harpoon.  All sorted out in the end in a satisfying manner, of course.

My favourite line? “Red-haired people are naturally impulsive”. May have to test that one out on a couple of my friends….

There is a very, very lengthy list of “also by Gladys Mitchell” titles at the beginning of this book and I’m mildly appalled at how few of them I’ve read, though secretly pleased that they seem to be coming back into print and I may have the chance to read them all if I try hard enough!

This was my sixth Readathon read

And this is (if scheduling has worked properly) my 500th post. Woo hoo!

It seems only fitting that as Carl announces his RIP VII challenge (more of that in a future post) I finally get around to collecting my thoughts on one of two ghost stories I read during April’s Readathon.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill is the tale of Adam Snow who is a bookseller specialising in hunting down antiquarian volumes for a mostly wealthy clientele. On return from a visit to one of his clients he gets lost on a country road and finds himself confronted with a decaying mansion with which he becomes totally fascinated.  He walks up to the entrance and as he stands there he feels a small hand slipping into his own, just as if a child was holding on to him.

He convinces himself that he has imagined the whole thing (as you do) but as he goes about his daily business he starts to experience panic attacks and nightmares, and on occasion the small hand returns, even when he thought himself to be safe on a trip abroad. Needless to say Adam decides that he needs to get to the bottom of this mystery and heads back to the house….

This was a lovely atmospherically ghostly read and benefitted (as all the Readathon books did) from being devoured in one sitting. For some reason once I’d finished it I kept on getting it confused in my mind with The Winter Ghost, which is absurd really as they share little in common apart from being set (partially in this case) in France and having an air of melancholy and unfinished business (which you always get with a ghost story, let’s face it).

The Small Hand is beautifully written and rather sad and I enjoyed it very much.

This was my fifth Readathon read.

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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