Saturday, 31 July 2010

Holiday time!

I'm heading off to Greece for a couple of weeks, where I expect there will be a little of this:

And quite a lot of this:

I have been deliberating for the best part of a week on what reading matter to take. After all, the last time we went to Greece, I read ten books, so I want to ensure I have taken enough. Here's a list of what I'm planning on taking at this point in time (although it may well change before 10am tomorrow!)

1. Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie
2. The Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith
3. The Serpent and the Moon - HRH Princess Michael of Kent
4. Collected poems of T.S. Eliot
5. The Gourmet - Muriel Barbery
6. Tom Holt omnibus
7. Mary Anne - Daphne du Maurier
8. The Diary of a Nobody - George and Weedon Grossmith
9. Up a tree in the park at night with a hedgehog - P. Robert Smith
10. Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant

Have a lovely fortnight - I look forward to regaling you of my adventures!

Kate Morton and the art of secrecy

Secrets, by their very nature, are hard to keep.

It therefore follows that secrets in novels are even harder to keep concealed from the reader. They (the secrets) are always wanting to be found out and it takes a skilled author to weave enough subplot and red herrings to keep the suspense alive.

One such modern author who is able to do this is Kate Morton, creator of 'The House at Riverton' and 'The Forgotten Garden'. Both novels concern themselves with secrets hidden for generations and move between the past and present with a deft ease that captures the reader and sweeps them along in the whirlwind of all that life can encompass.

They are intensely readable - both are doorstops of novels, but the pages are quickly turned. I had intended to take 'The House at Riverton' on holiday, but found myself too engrossed to go slowly, and it was a matter of two days before I found myself at the final pages.

Secrets are hard to keep, but at least the readability of Kate Morton's books are one secret I am able to share!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Other people's thoughts

Once upon a time, people blogged in an entirely different format. This was called 'writing a diary' and is a custom that seems to have, almost entirely, died out.

Unlike those of us who choose to expose our thoughts to the censure of the world almost immediately after they have popped into our heads, these diarists wrote (mostly) for themselves and to remind themselves of their daily lives. Only occasionally did they have an eye on posterity.

So, with my interest in blogs, it is fairly safe to assume that I like diaries too - yet I very rarely read them. There's so many mundane musings to trawl through until you get to the entries that really capture the interest. What's needed is an anthology of the creme de la creme. And, thankfully, someone at Canongate books has obliged.

'The Assassin's Cloak' is an anthology of the world's greatest diarists. Split out into the days of year, each date has a handful of entries from writers that range from the likes of Peyps and Alan Bennett, to Peter Hall and Fanny Kemble. It is a rich store of life and offers some very different perspectives on the passing years.

Take today's date, for instance - July 22nd. Nestled amongst musings on the weather in 1873 and the roads in 1990, are these two interesting entries.

William L. Shirer (author of 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich') wrote in 1940 'Hitler has given Mussolini a birthday present. It's an anti-aircraft armoured train.'

In stark contrast, we find Andy Warhol commenting in 1986 'I've been watching this stuff on Fergie [Duchess of York] and I wonder why doesn't the Queen Mother get married again.'

It's a wonderful book to dip into now and again, when you're not quite sure what book to throw yourself into next, but are in need of a little literary sustenance. Why not try it here - comment with a date (birthday, or just something at random) and I'll pick out an entry that intrigues and enthralls!

I'm in love with a Wonderful guy

He he. This blog gets fed into my facebook page - how many people on there will see the heading and jump to conclusions!

So this wonderful guy - who is he? Ladies and Gents may I introduce you to Mr Wilkie Collins. Ah, I see I have company!

Victorian literature has always been a big part of my reading, but up until this year, I had mainly stuck to the likes of Dickens and Eliot. Then, on a visit to a friend, I was given a copy of The Moonstone and I was immediately pulled into the heady world of Victorian England, which was very different from any I had experienced thus far. I took it to New Zealand with me, where it so managed to engross me that I kept devouring it, even as the scenery whizzed by (although in my defence, there's only so many violet coloured mountains one can look at at any given time).

I returned to the sunny(!) reaches of England and promptly dived into The Woman in White. Here again I devoured and couldn't stop until the final page had been turned. Both novels are fantastically written, moving at a terrific speed, and use numerous narrators, thereby ensuing that as many sides of the story are seen and understood. The Moonstone, in particular, has been hailed as the first detective story, as the genre is known today, although I think The Woman in White is perhaps even more so. I've started Armadale now, and have so far been sunk into the world of stolen identity, revenge and shipwreck .... all in the first few pages.

So, yes - a new author to add to the ever burgeoning list of favourites. Watch out Mr Dickens, there's now a rival for my affections!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Keeping the wolves from the door

I have always been a fan of historical fiction so it is a surprise that I didn't pick up 'Wolf Hall' as soon as it landed on a bookshelf and devour it instantly. I think, perhaps, it has to do with the fact I'm not overly fond of Hilary Mantel.

So - as someone gave me a book voucher for my birthday (in March), I decided to dip my toe into the Mantel waters (white paperback, if anyone is interested). And I was hooked.

Charting the meteoric rise to fame and power of Thomas Cromwell, from his humble beginnings being beaten up by his father in Putney, to chief counsellor and confidante of Henry VIII, it is a book that is on the epic scale.

It might perhaps not be to everyone's taste. The way in which it is written can be a stumbling block. An entire narrative written in the present second person (he has fallen) can make it tricky at times to discern what is happening. Even Mantel appears to trip over at times - particularly in a three way male conversation, when there is a sometimes a need to state who exactly is talking. 'He, Cromwell' interrupts the flow slightly.

With this minor niggle set aside however, it truly is a fascinating book. It traverses history that is well known to most people, but with a fresh insight of one of the key string pullers. Cromwell has always had a bit of a bad reputation, seeing as how he was so involved with the events that shaped English history; but the man we are presented with is so human, full of mystery, passion and knowledge, that one can't help but warm to the man that became Wolsey's successor. Mantel leaves us as Cromwell seems to be reaching the apex of his power, but we all know how the tale will finish.

Mantel is currently planning a second volume but has already said she will find it hard to write the final disastrous and bloody ending. I know I'll find it hard to read, although I am already filled with anticipation, for if the second volume is like the first, I'll be rushing through it at great speed!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Roll up, Roll up!

Before I have get back to the weighty issue of the books that have captured my attention recently, I would like to tell you about a Book Blogger meet up, organised by Stuck-in-a-Book.

Now, I missed the last one, seeing as I was watching Julie Andrews gliding about a stage and breaking my heart with her rendition of Funny Valentine. This time, I WILL be there - not least because it's being held in my lovely home time.

Hopefully we won't be emulating the above picture too much, although I'm sure there will be time for a little quiet reading in amongst the fervent discussions.

It's being held on 25th September (venue TBC), so if you're interested in joining in, email simondavidthomas @ - Bloggers of the world unite (or I suppose the UK, in the instance - unless anyone happens to be travelling) !

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Time and tide wait for no man

My goodness - has it really been over three months since I last wrote here? In my defence, I have to say that ever since I came back from New Zealand, it's been totally crazy busy at work, and I've just not felt the inclination to put my thoughts down. I've been reading - I doubt there will be a time when I ever give that up - but when it comes down to a choice between reading and writing, the former won hands down every time.

So, to ease me back into the swing of things, I shall post some photos of the past few months. It's been so lovely, weather wise, the past few months, that there have been quite a few outings!

So - firstly there is New Zealand - These are the mountains of Queenstown, looking suitably Lord of the Rings-y

Here is Mum and I drinking the best wine I've ever tasted!

And this was taken on top of the Franz Josef Glacier!
Back in the UK, I saw Julie Andrews on stage - she's the one in the middle (I was very far away!)
Simon introduced me to this marvel. I've been there three times, and love it!
And here we are, enjoying cake in the sunshine

The weather has been wonderful for the past month or so, and Somerville has been looking particularly beautiful.
And I bought myself the most fabulous 50s dress ever. Here I am testing the wonder that is a two layered petticoat.

Of course there has been much reading, and I have fallen in love with a couple of authors, but more on that later. I fancy a stroll down the river now ....