Sunday 31 August 2014

Sunday Summaries: Whoops, some books fell on my pile!

Well, here we are at the end of the month and the end (or is it the beginning?) of another week. And what a week it's been: all the jobs squeezed into one day, planned out and then disrupted when The Powers That Be launched a whole load of extra promotions on the very same day. On the last week of the school holidays. Great.

Perhaps because I'm so tired, but I've been not feeling so great about the world this week. Perhaps reading Joe Hill's Horns didn't help my mood. It was an interesting read, and perhaps one that could be used for in-depth philosophical and theological debate if you read it really closely, but I can't in all honesty say that I enjoyed it. When every character we met confesses to terrible, terrible secrets it left a very grim view of the human race, compounded by all the ugliness in the news and on the internet of late.

But enough of the grumbles: I have books! Many books. This week started with a traditionally rainy bank holiday (which seems like such a long time ago now) during which Judith and I made an excursion to the Ryde Bookshop. I'm sure I've talked about that shop before: a small section at the front full of new books, and then a door that leads to a three-story treasure trove of second-hand stock. I came away with three books: Cross Stitch (otherwise known as Outlander, a time-travel romance that has apparently just been turned into a TV series) Foundation,by Isaac Asimov, as I ought to read some more classic science fiction, and Poison Study, which I've been not-buying ever since possibly my first visit to Forbidden Planet in London a decade ago. (Ugh - was it really ten years since I started university? Apparently so.)

Bought new: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the new novel by Haruki Murakami, whose short story collection The Elephant Vanishes I have just finished reading. And the long-awaited Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests. I cannot wait to get stuck into that one, but may leave it until next week, when I should have three days off together.

And from the library: the eighth volume of Sandman: Worlds' End, which was my favourite volume on my first read-through, This Is What Happy Looks Like (because a title like that's bound to cheer me up, no?) The Coldest Girl In Coldtown which Ellie reviewed quite recently and which I sent as a ninja book swap gift but haven't read myself yet, and a book I'd never heard of but which caught my eye: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots. 9 books acquired in a week! Oh, well. In part thanks to last week's readathon, I've read a massive 14 books this month, even if three of them were comic books/graphic novels. I have a lot of reviews to write...

Readers Imbibing Peril IX

For the last few years I've been aware of Carl V. Anderson's RIP challenge, and have watched my fellow bloggers spook themselves with books through autumn, and this year I've decided to join in the fun. I'll be going straight in there with Peril the First: the challenge to read four books in the genres of mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror or other such spine-chilling stories in September and October. I've got several suitable books on my to-read pile, and have selected a shortlist of potential RIP reads (although these are subject to change.)

  • Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
  • The Ghost Hunters - Neil Spring
  • Weirdo - Cathy Unsworth
  • Dream London - Tony Ballantyne
  • The Passage - Justin Cronin
  • The Coldest Girl In Coldtown - Holly Black
  • The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (a reread)
  • The Silkworm - "Robert Galbraith" 

Sunday 24 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Friday to Sunday and Wrap-Up

Apologies for the lack of an online presence during the last two days. Life got in the way, as it has an inconvenient habit of doing.


I worked a four-hour shift across the lunchtime period on Friday, meaning I got a bit of a lie-in and some quality reading time over breakfast. I'd begun Terra on Thursday, and could have read the whole book in a day, but by the evening my attention had started to wander - not through any fault of the book, which is excellent, but due to internet distractions and a bit of DVD-watching.

I spent most of my shift giving the department a very thorough clean, and spent the rest of the day sneezing. After work I met a friend for coffee and cake, and then went around to the other bookshops to browse, and in my case, to see if I could find any other titles to go onto my birthday list. In the evening my parents and I had dinner at a very nice riverside pub, The Bargeman's Rest. When I got home, very full and sleepy, I finished off Terra, which is a really lovely, feel-good science fiction story which leaves you with good feelings about people, read a bit of the Deadpool comic and had an early night.

Friday Stats

Books read today: Terra - Mitch Benn
Deadpool Max: Second Cut - David Lapham
Pages read today: 188
Books finished so far: 4
Quote of the day: "The cleverest of the scientists and astronomers admitted - privately at least - that any really intelligent life would be smart enough never to allow its presence to be detected by the human race. It wouldn't have cheered these scientists and astronomers up one bit to know that they were right."


Well, Saturday was a tiring day. Nothing really awful happened, but it was dull, the jobs I had to do, though necessary, seemed to render the previous week's work pointless, and I had a steady stream of mildly irksome customers. At lunchtime, after spending half the hour on errands, I made a start on Joe Hill's Horns - possibly not the best book to follow on from Terra. Terra left me feeling really good about people - whether human or not - whereas Horns shows the worst in everyone. 

After work I fell asleep, but was awake in time to watch Peter Capaldi's first episode as Doctor Who. I like him in the role - grumpy and a bit rude, but with an unexpected vulnerability too. And I adore the brand-new credits sequence, it's really beautiful.

I still felt a bit too tired and fidgetty to settle down with a full novel or even a short story in the evening, but I finished off Saturday with Deadpool. I've now, for the first time ever, reached and exceeded my readathon target, if you count comic books. 

Saturday Stats:

Books read today: Horns - Joe Hill
Deadpool Max: Second Cut - David Lapham
Pages read today: 117
Books finished so far: 5


Thankfully I've got today and tomorrow off work - I've been almost enjoying my job recently, but yesterday and the day before I've been quite restless and not wanting to be there at all. Some of that mood's followed me into today. I've read over a hundred pages of Horns before lunch, but right now I'm just mooching around not wanting to settle down to anything. I wonder if it's the book, which is a challenging one. The main character wakes up one morning to find that not only has he got a pair of horns growing out of his head, but people are telling him all their darkest secrets. We've gone into flashback mode now, but it's difficult to like any of the characters when we know some pretty awful things about them. It's interesting and thought-provoking, but not an easy read.


This evening I took a break from not-reading to show my parents Frozen, which they'd never seen before. We all enjoyed it, but I was horrified to find myself shedding a few tears through "Do you wanna build a snowman?" Since then I've done a bit of knitting, dithered around on the internet for a while and fell down the TV Tropes black hole, which has got me desperately wanting to reread my favourite Terry Pratchett novel, Night Watch. Although I'm concentrating on the unread Discworld books as my light reading, I expect I'll pick up some of my favourites when I get to that part in the series, but Night Watch is quite a way off yet.

I think there's no chance of me getting much more reading done as long as this computer stays on, so I shall shut it down now and get some more chapters of Horns read before I go to bed. I'd have liked to have ended the readathon on another finished novel for tidiness' sake, but am quite happy with my overall progress. I'll write up some mini-reviews of the books I've read during the week, and will add up my total page count at the same time.


Sunday Stats:

Books read today: Horns - Joe Hill
Pages read today: 262
Books finished so far: 5

Wrap-Up (Monday)

Well, Bout of Books is already over. How did the week go so quickly? Here in the UK it's a bank holiday, and it has kept reliably to the tradition of marking the end of summer by pouring down with rain.

But how did Bout of Books go overall?

The Stats:

Total books finished: 5 (one more than target) : That's Not A Feeling
The Miniaturist
Hawkeye: Little Hits
Deadpool Max: Second Cut
Additional books read from: 2: The Elephant Vanishes 
Total pages read: 1764
Favourite book: A tie between The Miniaturist and
Favourite challenge: As I only took part in one challenge, on the first day, it has to be the Book Monsters' Scavenger Hunt
Favourite new blog discovered: Romancing the Laser Pistol
Best reading day: Wednesday (my first day not working)
Worst reading day: Saturday (Last day working.)

Thank you to Amanda and Kelly for organising this readathon, and to everyone who took part to make it awesome! I've had a great time and it's helped me to get my to-read pile down a bit - although today I broke my self-inflicted book ban and bought three more books from the Ryde Bookshop to replace those I've read last week. Oops.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Wednesday and Thursday

Bout of Books

Today is my first day off work for Bout of Books and it's so nice to have more than half of my working week behind me this early on in the week! I slept in late, although not as late as I'd have liked because the workmen had chosen today to resurface our road. One of our great landmarks is gone! Farewell to the Great Crater of -- Road! I won't miss being splashed by passing cars on rainy days, and the road is shiny and new, quite a notable occasion for an Isle of Wight road, especially a little side road.

I read two Murakami short stories before even getting out of bed: one bizarre and somewhat creeptacular love letter to a stranger, and the other the account of a woman who suddenly stopped being able to sleep and lived a whole other life when the world had gone to sleep. (She mostly filled her hours with reading books and getting drawn into the fictional worlds, so this was a very appropriate story to be reading for Bout of Books.

I spent the rest of the morning cleaning, as a tidy room makes a readathon so much more pleasant, and then settled down with The Miniaturist. It's an atmospheric novel, set in 17th century Amsterdam, about Nella, a young bride who moves to live with her husband and his sister, to find an unfriendly reception. The sister-in-law seems determined to dislike Nella, and while her husband seems a good companion when he notices her, but he rejects her advances and seems barely to notice her. But he gave Nella a wedding gift: a lavish doll's house in a cabinet, made up to resemble their own home. Nella orders a few items to furnish the house from a local miniaturist, but is unprepared for the extra items which indicate too much knowledge on the miniaturist's behalf of Nella's life, home and marriage.

At about 3PM yesterday's migraine put in another appearance, so I put down the book and walked into town to get some fresh air and Ibuprofen. Along the way I picked up two comic books from the library - a Deadpool and a Hawkeye - and a cinnamon bun. My headache's more or less died down for now, and I intend to spend the rest of the day in The Miniaturist, although I could dip into one of the comics as well.

Wednesday's Stats:

Books read today: The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April Morning", "Sleep", "The fall of the Roman Empire, The 1881 Indian uprising, Hitler's invasion of Poland, and the realm of raging winds." 
Pages read today: 483
Books finished (total): 2
Quote of the day: "Growing older, Nella realises, does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt."


Another day off, and again I started the day reading a couple of short stories from The Elephant Vanishes. Although I enjoy Murakami's writing, I'm finding that reading a lot of short stories all at once, I notice recurring patterns and quirks which start to feel just a little bit repetitive. I guess that's the same with many authors, though: they have their own particular style. 

Spent the morning reading the Hawkeye comic I got out of the library, and discovered that in fact there seem to be two Hawkeyes - Clint Barton, who even the comic book novices like myself know from the Avengers movie (although not well as he spent most of the film under mind control) and his apprentice Kate Bishop. Hawkeye (Barton) seems to spend most of his time getting beaten up - perhaps attributable to the self-loathing that his girlfriend accuses him of, so he goes looking for trouble. It was a fun comic to read, and a character I've enjoyed spending time with, "the normal guy" of the Avengers without any superpowers. The final issue of the volume was told from his dog's point of view - very little text and many simple diagrams, an interesting and unusual viewpoint.

Thursday's Stats:

Books read today: Hawkeye: Little Hits - Matt Fraction and David Aja
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "Lederhosen", "Barn Burning" and "The Little Green Monster."
Terra -  Mitch Benn
Pages read today: 311
Books finished (total): 3
Quote of the day: "There's no point knowing something if you don't even know WHY you know it."

Monday 18 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Monday and Tuesday

Hello and welcome! As I'm at work today I'm doing that amazing time-travel trick of writing the first part of this post last night - although the reading starts at midnight. I've finished my Fringe boxset and the book I've been reading, so should have no distractions, and have finished a book so I'm ready to start Bout of Books with something new. Like last time, I've made a shortlist of seven books from my to-read pile, and aim to read at least four of them. This week I'm working today, tomorrow, a four-hour shift on Friday, and all day Saturday, leaving me with a nice amount of reading time.

The shortlist

Weirdo - Cathy Unsworth 
Terra - Mitch Benn
Horns - Joe Hill
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Silkworm - "Robert Galbraith"

So that's two crime novels, one science fiction, one horror, one novel concerned with mental health, one historical novel which looks like it might be a bit eerie, and a book of short stories which are sure to be at least a little odd because Murakami. Have you read any of these books, and if so, what do you think?


I've been quite busy at work (a bookshop) trying to make space in the stockroom for - groan - the Christmas books that I expect to start coming in at any time. It's August! *whines pathetically.* At lunch time I read the first fifty or so pages of That's Not A Feeling, which is very surreal-feeling without actually being surreal, at least yet.

The Book Monsters have kicked off this Bout of Books with a Scavenger-Hunt challenge, which I couldn't resist - even though I really ought to be settling down and actually reading a bit more of my book.

1. A book that begins with "B" (for Bout of Books): Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

2. A book that has been made into a movie/TV show: Watchmen by Alan Moore.

3. A series you love: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

4. An anthology of poems or short stories: The Oxford Library of English Poetry - 3 volumes. My Grandma gave me this when she sold her house and moved into a retirement flat. I always intend to read more poetry, but find it difficult to know where to start.

5. A book on your TBR (to be read) shelf, or your full TBR shelves: Actually I don't have a to-read shelf, just a pile building up under my windowsill. I've already shown you the shortlist for reading during Bout of Books but here are (some of) the rest of my unread books:

Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
The Gunslinger - Stephen King
The Passage - Justin Cronin
Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind
Cat Among the Pigeons - Julia Golding
The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks
Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson
Dream London - Tom Ballantyne
The Ghost Hunters - Neil Spring
Interworld - Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves - how had I forgotten I had an unread Gaiman?! 
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin
The Beginners' Goodbye - Anne Tyler
The Crow Road - Iain Banks
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
The Ode Less Travelled - Stephen Fry
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Monday stats:

Books read today: That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
Pages read: 242
Quote of the Day: "I didn't like the feeling of separating myself in two: the Benjamin who was doing the thinking and the Benjamin that was being thought about."


Another busy day at work, and now we have a nice empty corner of the stock room for all the new books when they start to arrive in the next couple of weeks. At lunch time I read most of the rest of That's Not A Feeling, but it was slowed down when my vision started to go shadowy, heralding a migraine. I suffer migraines a lot, and am on two different kinds of medication which keeps most of them away but not all. Usually they are triggered by stress or exhaustion, but today I'm not sure where it came from. I finished my book when I got home from work but then had a lie down before dinner. I'm feeling much better - I didn't get much of a headache this time, just the groggy numb-brain - but the mini-review of That's Not A Feeling will have to wait until tomorrow now. For the rest of the evening I intend to potter around on the internet a bit and visit other Bout of Books bloggers, and read some of the short stories in The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami.

Tuesday Stats

Books read today: That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women", "The Second Bakery Attack" and "The Kangeroo Communique."
Pages read: 161
No. of books finished: 1
Quote of the Day: "McDonald's is not a bakery."

Monday 11 August 2014

How to Build a Girl readalong - the conclusion

This readalong is hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and reads)

In the final part of How To Build a Girl comes the moment we've all been dreading: the point in which Johanna, as Dolly Wilde, attempts to let her father's demo tape loose on the world. It goes about as well as one might expect in the magazine whose staff take much more pleasure in tearing bands down than building them up. I hadn't come to like Dolly or her father all that much but still I felt a pain watching her brutal disillusionment.

In this part, entitled Rip it Up and Start Again, the Dolly Wilde image Johanna has worked so hard to construct, comes crashing down. She finally realises that her boyfriend Tony Rich is just using her, and she is worth more than that! Good for her.

But all her vicious reviews come back to bite her on the backside when she comes face to face with those artists she has insulted. Suddenly she realises the hurtful power of her words. "The indie-rock world is a small world, and I soon realise I have insulted around a third of it." At this point, we are reminded that Johanna is only seventeen and quite naive, and never expected her reviews to actually reach those she wrote about. Why should these big rock bands care what this kid from Wolverhampton thinks? (I suppose on a smaller scale it's like writing a book blog and discovering the authors of the books read my reviews. That's always a bit of a shock even though I post my thoughts on the internet for the world to see.)

We find out why the family's benefits have been cut, and ironically it's because Johanna left school to start work to try to improve the financial situation. It's a lot of pressure to ask a kid to be the main breadwinner for both parents and four brothers, and I'm still not sure how it can make sense to get more income from not working than from working. Still, at least Johanna is doing okay with her journalism, despite the Dolly Wilde fiasco, getting a chance to start over at a different magazine and do what she went into the business to do. There was a lovely conversation between Johanna and her mum, which reminds us that though the family is a big messed-up unit, they all love each other and that's what's important. And it turns out that John Kite is not a creep at all, but is the charming kindred spirit Johanna believed him to be. I'm glad of that. But the epilogue with Dadda shows that he hasn't changed one bit since the beginning, still thinks he's about to be a big rock star. I guess it's good to end on a note of hope, even if it's a false hope - I was glad to be spared the agony of seeing his dreams destroyed, but it's frustrating to see a character staying exactly the same from the start of a novel to the end. learning nothing.

Overall I've enjoyed reading this book, and in such good company too, but I confess round about part four I began to get a bit impatient when the plot started to tail off and turn into Moran's journalistic musings. Still, it was a highly enjoyable novel, laugh-out-loud funny but with thought-provoking social commentary. Moran doesn't beat us around the head with the messages in the book, but prompts us to think about what we take away from the reading. 

Thanks again to Emily for organising this readalong. It's been good fun.

Key Quotes:

"I just thought, like, their press officers put it in a box and it just kind of stayed there, and they just carried on doing what they're doing, and we carry on doing what we're doing, and we all know it's just some fun, I was just riffing, I mean, why do they care what I think?"
"I'm not... your bit of rough. You're... my bit of posh."

Sunday 10 August 2014

Sunday Summary: My Great British Summer Holiday

Hello all. Today's post is a rather late one as I've just been spending the afternoon and evening celebrating my friend's birthday, an age-appropriate event for someone in her late twenties, with board and card games and pizza. Lots of pizza. Gotta love Domino's!

So last week was the week of the great Lake District camping trip, which Judith and I have been planning probably for the last two years or so. I grew up having the Swallows and Amazons books read to me for bedtime stories, and these are among the stories that formed the framework of my childhood. I play-acted Swallows and Amazons, even tried writing Swallows and Amazons fanfiction (with myself as a character with my very own boat.) I think I got about two pages of A5 paper and a drawing! Judith didn't read these books as a kid, although she enjoyed the first book when she read it recently, and was quite happy to go along with my dream of re-enacting these stories - though without the sailing. I wouldn't trust myself in charge of a yacht.

We had a gorgeous campsite, a pitch in a woodland clearing with just two or three other tents around us, and it was just a very short scramble down to the lake. Of course we went swimming - we couldn't exactly not! Lake swimming is very different from sea swimming - no waves, and some weird squidgey plant life underfoot, so it's better just to stay afloat. It was bliss.

The day after we arrived we attempted to climb "Kanchenjunga," or the Old Man of Coniston as it is called in muggle terminology, one of the highest hills in the UK. In Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale, six children between the ages of eight and about fourteen climb this mountain without even using the path, and then the youngest walk back to their camp across the moors afterwards (getting lost in the fog, but that's another story.) Sadly, we had to conclude that this story must have had its basis in fantasy, and had to turn back long before reaching the summit, having run out of drinking water. Still, it was a jolly good climb, with some beautiful scenery!

After last week's not-grumble about the summer being too much, in traditional British fashion the weather decided to turn on us while we were under canvas, and on Tuesday night we got very little sleep as the rain beat down incessantly onto our tent. I was afraid I would wake up to find myself lying in a puddle, and at its heaviest we did get some spray dripping onto us through the tent. We spent most of the next morning sulking in our soggy tent, but when the sun came out again we discovered things were not as bleak as they had seemed, and were able to bale out the puddles with a paper cup, dry the tent with the cloth and leave our sleeping bags to air in the sun. We walked along the lake shore to Wray Castle, a monstrosity built by a Victorian couple with more money than taste, wanting to give the impression of having inherited a medieval palace instead of being "new money." This was quite newly open to the public, and was an odd experience, not being furnished with original or period furniture but instead giving an impression of the work that goes into conserving other historic buildings. The rooms were almost bare, but I did love the library, with pictures of blank books painted on the walls for visitors to write their favourite titles onto them. Anne of Green Gables and The Lord of the Rings had helpfully been filled in already, so I made Neverwhere my contribution.

We came home on Thursday, and Friday marked the end of Cowes Week, the huge annual Isle of Wight sailing regatta, which finished with a Red Arrows display and fireworks. (Here, if you talk about "fireworks night" chances are you're referring to this first week in August rather than November 5th. Half the Island seems to migrate to Cowes. I'm surprised it doesn't capsize!) Again, the rain pelted down and we got soaked, but made up our minds to enjoy the evening nonetheless.

I've got one more day of holiday tomorrow, during which I intend to do very little (although I think my parents are planning to take me and my sister, who is visiting, out for lunch) and then, alas, back to work on Tuesday. It feels impossible that my holiday is already near its end!

Saturday 9 August 2014

Mini-reviews: Doctor Sleep, Landline &L. M. Montgomery

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King

After rereading The Shining earlier this year and surprising myself with how good it was, I approached its long-awaited sequel Doctor Sleep with some trepidation. Stephen King says he periodically asked himself: "what's Danny Torrance up to now?" and Doctor Sleep sets out to answer this question. When I started reading, I felt that I didn't really want to know what the adorable precocious child turned out like as an adult, and the start of the book confirmed this. Danny, now known as Dan, has inherited many of his father's self-destructive traits and starts off in a very bad place. Unlike his father, however, whose attempt to save himself and his family in isolation led to catastrophe, Danny finds redemption in a small community, with good friends and a job that uses his unique talents to help people.

As a horror story, Doctor Sleep isn't a patch on The Shining. The monsters look like a harmless group of elderly people who travel in camper-vans, but are actually a kind of vampire who achieve immortality by murdering "shining" children. "The True Knot," as they call themselves, repulsed but did not really engage me. I've said before and will say again that Stephen King is more than just a horror writer - his stories' strength is in making you care for the characters. I really wanted everything to work out for Dan and his young friend Abra Stone, a bright girl with far stronger "shining" powers even than Dan himself. And on an emotional level, the novel provides a satisfying sense of closure to the tale that began all those years ago. Dan breaks the cycle of destructive behaviour, and Jack Torrance gets atonement through his son. There is a beautiful moment which made me unexpectedly sob on the train.
You didn't need to be Ebenezer Scrooge to know there were good ghostie people as well as bad ones.

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

There's been a lot of hype about Landline in the blogging world, which has fallen head-over-heels in love with Rainbow Rowell like the characters in her books. I've found Rowell's books are all very different in tone: Attachments is cute, Eleanor and Park is raw and heartbreaking, while Fangirl felt like a chapter from my own life. Landline felt darker than Rowell's previous work, even Eleanor and Park, sad in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, an examination of a marriage that might be in trouble. The story takes place over the Christmas period, when television writer Georgie decides to spend the holiday at home working while her husband Neal and their daughters go to visit his family. Being plunged into the situation at the start, my thoughts were "That's a real shame - at Christmas! - but why is everyone assuming that divorce is on the cards?" Of course, the book reveals that the marriage has had its ups and downs for a while. Luckily, in Georgie's old bedroom there is a magic telephone that allows her to phone Neal - but Neal in the past. "How does that work?" I asked when I read the premise. "How can that possibly not cause a time paradox?" But Rowell handles it well, and reveals how these telephone calls had an impact on their relationship in the past as well as in the present.

Landline is saved from becoming depressing by Rowell's trademark humour and the cute moments captured on paper, little details unique to this couple, this family, and an adorable ending that had me crying happy-tears. It was a quick read which provides a lot of food for thought about communication and compromise, the essential ingredients to any successful relationship.
When Georgie thought of divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volumes 1 and 2 (1889-1921)

It's no secret that Anne of Green Gables is one of the books that made me what I am today, so when I found the journals of author Lucy Maud Montgomery in the Oxford University Press shop, I couldn't stop myself from splashing out, curious about the woman who invented the beloved redhead. Montgomery lived with her grandmother on Prince Edward Island until the latter's death, and then married a minister and moved to Ontario. Her diaries give a picture of the joys and frustrations of being an intelligent woman at the turn of the last century, with an untamed imagination but having to conform to social expectations. Montgomery, known as Maud - never Lucy - was an observer of life, but not a people-person, which made her role as a minister's wife at the heart of a community a difficult one indeed. She writes of the strain of being expected to socialise with people she had no affinity with, and being unable to make close friends within the parish for fear of showing favouritism.

Those familiar with the Anne books will recognise phrases and incidents that later got translated into fiction, as well as the familiar dreamy prose. The diaries from the war years are particularly interesting to read alongside Rilla of Ingleside as a contemporary account of World War 1 on the home front. The journals are also illustrated with Maud's photographs, and she and some of her friends look far different from the usual stern Victorian and Edwardian portraits. Maud looks like she really lived, her eyes revealing an intelligent sparkle and amusement. I could tell just from the photos that she was a kindred spirit. There are also some
pictures of a pair of china dogs, brought back from honeymoon, which must have been the model for the ornaments Anne falls in love with at her boarding house. I couldn't really understand from the description in the book what was so alluring about these dogs, but the photos reveal them to be positively cute and cheeky little creatures, very different from the austere hounds I had imagined.

L. M. Montgomery kept these journals from the age of fourteen until near the end of her life, and they reveal a fascinating social history of one woman's life in a changing world; as a girl, wife and working woman.

Monday 4 August 2014

How To Build A Girl readalong: Part four

Chapters 16-20

This readalong is hosted by Emily at As The Crowe Flies (And Reads.)

When we last saw Johanna Morrigan, a highly respected critic had given her a dangerous new element to add to the recipe for "Dolly Wilde": the label Trouble. Yes, she likes that label, and proceeds to live up to this reputation as well as she can. Her fangirl gushing has gone out of her window and her writing becomes vicious, tearing the bands she reviews to shreds all over the national music magazines. Outside of work, she embarks upon satisfying her curiosity about... other matters... and perhaps I brought a different set of values to the reading of this section than Moran put in, but I felt that "Dolly" was heading down a self-destructive road, sleeping with people who had no real interest or respect for her. I feared she would end up getting hurt.

I confess I'm not sure that I like this new Dolly very much, and she irritated me a lot in her conversation with her brother when she told him she'd love a gay friend - like a trendy new accessory - but not Kenny from the magazine, because he's "the wrong kind of gay." Johanna hasn't figured it out yet, but if you've read the cover blurb, and probably even if you haven't, her big mouth is being all kinds of offensive towards her closeted brother. Just shut up already! (I know I'm being very harsh on a tactless teenager, probably because she reminds me of some of the worst parts of myself at the same age.)

Most of this week's section dealt with Johanna's outrageous and hilarious musings about her new voyage of discovery. Here the plot started to fizzle out a bit, Moran's usual style of entertaining journalistic anecdotes taking over. Yes, these were fictional rather than autobiographical (though I continue to wonder how much of her own experience informed this book) but structurally, the writing didn't feel like the end of the second act of a novel. It becomes a string of laugh-out-loud funny incidents (and a Star Trek reference that had me longing for the brain bleach.)

The last chapter of Section Two culminates in a big, angry rant about why this working-class girl feels the need to write such brutal reviews of music, about power and revenge and voice - and then the monologue changes to something else, a retrospective look at how, actually, this isn't her role after all... that she got into music because she loved it, and somewhere along the way she missed the point of it all and could be responsible for destroying the very thing that she loved. Again, this is very Moran, very passionate and moving - but I thought it was quite weak for fiction, as the epiphany happens as retrospective prose rather than as action. It read like journalism.

After several chapters of lots of incidents, lots of pondering, but not a lot of plot development, Moran ends the section on a whammy of a cliffhanger that made me very worried indeed.

That's the one positive thing about being so young. You've got plenty of time left to make things right.
Except, as it turns out, I haven't got plenty of time.

What do we think, guys? What dramatic circumstances are going to shatter Johanna's naive youthful delusion of immortality? A terminal illness - for her or a loved one? A car crash, caused by her father's drink-driving? Or is she going to lose her job, her reputation and her security? Part three is entitled "Rip It Up And Start Again," so my money is on the Dolly Wilde image coming crashing down, repercussions from all her negative reviews and wild behaviour.

Key Quotes
"This is not my first time at a rock star bath-party."
"Because rich people, powerful people, cool people or the kind of swaggering men that form these bands, are the kind of people who would usually look down on a fat teenage girl from a council estate, and in the one place I am more powerful than them - the pages of D&ME - I want my revenge - revenge on behalf of all the millions of girls like me."
"For when cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible."

Sunday 3 August 2014

Sunday Summary: Adventures in and out of books

It's a gorgeous Sunday afternoon as I write this. The sweltering heat seems to have died down a little, but if it can stay at this warm sunny level for the next week, I would be most grateful, thank you very much. I've been working long hours at work but now I'm on my summer holiday - hurrah! Tomorrow my friend and I are finally going on a holiday we've been planning for what seems like years: camping by Lake Windermere. I grew up having my mum read me the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, adventure stories for children from the days before health-and-safety, and now we're off to that part of the country for our own adventures - though on a National Trust campsite rather than an island, and we'll have to make do with barbecues because campfires are not allowed. I've been rereading Swallowdale, the second book in the series, in which the children are shipwrecked and have to make do without their beloved boat Swallow, as "research" for the holiday. I've warned Judith to expect me to talk in the language of the books while we're away.

I haven't done much reading lately. Looking back over July it seems I've only read 7 books - usually I manage 8-10 - and three of them were Discworld books. I'm blaming the heat. I'm not one to complain that it's "too hot" - I grumble enough during the winter not to tempt fate that way - but I did find myself lacking in energy or inclination to do very much mentally or physically. I've got a whole list of reviews I still mean to write, but some of them may end up on a combined mini-review post if they're ever to be written.

But Bout of Books 11 is coming up in two weeks' time. My love of books, never very far away, has returned and I mean to make up for lost time. I'm only working three days on the week of the readathon, and if it's still summery weather I expect I'll be doing a lot of my reading in the garden or on the beach. I'll aim for my usual target of 4 books, though I'll decide nearer the time which ones those will be. I'll probably make a shortlist and choose from those.

Bout of Books
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.
- From the Bout of Books team

Saturday 2 August 2014

Fringe - Season 3

Contains spoilers and complicated plot details.

Though the first two seasons of Fringe, I have said that the show is far more interesting when the episodes focus on part of a series-long plot arc than when it is merely weirdness-of-the-week. By season three, the weird-of-the-week format has almost gone. Yes, the Fringe teams in both universes have their strange events to investigate, but these are secondary to the main plot which is getting bigger and stranger with every episode. For one thing, the series has expanded to focus on two universes, and two versions of the cast. And the two Olivias are in the wrong worlds. "Our" Olivia is trapped in the universe with zeppelins, while the "other" Olivia has taken her place in "our" world - and in Peter's affections. Meanwhile, the sinister alternative Walter Bishop duplicate - "Walternate" - has tampered with "our" Olivia's mind so that she soon comes to believe that she is the other Olivia in the other world. Ah, my favourite kind of mind-trickery: making a person question their own identity and sanity!*

Walternate's purpose for putting other-Olivia into our world is to send her to find the pieces of a machine glimpsed at the end of season 2, a creepy-looking machine buried in pieces before the dawn of time, apparently prophesied by a pre-human civilisation to destroy one of the worlds, and whose fate is bound up with Peter Bishop's (and later, it emerges, with Olivia's.) The actions of Walter, 25 years ago, in crossing from one universe to the other and bringing back Peter, set in motion all the weird-science catastrophes that threaten the other universe's existence, and Walternate believes that only destroying our world can restore the balance. Meanwhile, our universe, too, is starting not to make sense. When I started watching Fringe I was not entirely convinced by the pseudo-science at the heart of the "pattern" (which, come to think of it, is a word that hasn't been used for a while.) By now, I've kind of got used to it, suspending my disbelief and just going along with it. But in the second half of season 3, even Fringe pseudo-science can't explain why the two heaviest metals in the world are making people able to fly. The reason is: the universe is broken. Science doesn't work any more. Anything goes. I wasn't sure if that was appalling laziness or brilliance, but it worked for me.

There is some interesting character exploration for the two Walters in this season - though I don't really see them as separate characters so much as separate possibilities for the character's development. "Walternate" is a sinister, ruthless character, and yet he has moral lines which he will not cross, morals not shared by "our" Walter, the lovable, bumbling eccentric, at least not in his past. "Our" Walter amuses and evokes pathos, so perhaps we forget for a while that he and William Bell have committed some pretty horrific acts in the name of science. The Walters do not sit comfortably in a pigeonhole of good or evil. Perhaps that is why Walter Bishop is such a brilliant character. Fringe doesn't have simple good guys and bad guys. I spent the first two seasons trying to decide what to make of William Bell and am still not sure. He seemed to be behind so much of the bad stuff, but then he helped Olivia, Walter and Peter in the season 2 finale, and sacrificed his life. Or did he? This is Fringe, after all, and Bell had taken some steps towards achieving immortality, which come about in one of the weirdest and most unsettling ways imaginable. Not that he spent some episodes possessing Olivia - that is pretty much part of a day's work for this show. But actress Anna Torv's impersonations of Leonard Nimoy had me wondering if there was some dark magic at work off-camera as well as on it. The voice, the manner, the eyebrows - I found myself forgetting that I was watching a young actress and just accepted that I was watching a charming but creepy mad scientist of about eighty, who happened to look exactly like Agent Dunham.

As if that's not weird enough, this is followed by Walter, Peter and Bell taking LSD in order to rescue Olivia's consciousness, which has lain dormant since Bell took over her body. The episode switches to an animation, and the characters are aware of the change in genre. Perhaps becoming a cartoon is a side-effect of drugs, or maybe just when taken in the name of science. I'm not an expert on these matters. But ultimately, Bell's plans for immortality don't seem to work as they fail to upload him onto a computer. (I don't think he would have liked being a computer anyway.) Though this immortality storyline was most entertaining, ultimately it seemed to be a bit of a shaggy-dog story that led nowhere. But there are two more seasons to go. Of course I can't say for sure at this point, but Fringe seems to be tightly-plotted enough not to have straggling story threads.

The grand finale comes as the hole in "our" universe starts to get out of control, and the doomsday machine apparently switches itself on. Peter makes an attempt to switch it off... and finds himself in a grim future in which "our" universe has destroyed the other, and is now slowly destroying itself. I was very much reminded of the Epitaph episodes of Dollhouse, which I watched last year.  What is this machine? I wondered. Was it a time machine - and was this future set in stone? Has Peter skipped fifteen years along time as a straight line - a one-way journey? Or is it just one possible future, a journey through the "big ball of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey... stuff?" My money was on the latter, even before Walternate (a survivor from the other universe) killed Olivia right out of the blue. Surely not. 

Fringe is a series that tends to answer one question but ask three more, but the season 3 finale would have made a pretty satisfying conclusion, if the show hadn't been renewed for fourth and fifth seasons. Yes, this was a vision of the future, of sorts: Peter didn't physically travel in time, but (to cut a long story short) was contacted across time by future-Walter and given the information he needed to change the worlds' fate. If you think of time as the aforementioned wibbly-wobbly ball, all existing at once, it almost makes sense. Way back in season one, the season's Big Bad mentioned, offhand, that not only could he teleport through space, but he could travel in time. Now, Walter built the machine in the future, buried it in the prehistoric past and assembled it in the present, in order to speak to Peter and bridge the gap between the universes.

Unfortunately, this creates a time-paradox, and if you know your Doctor Who, the universe doesn't like time paradoxes and does what it must to clean up after them. And as Peter was the centre of this paradox - whoops! Not only does he fizzle out of existence, but he ceases to have ever existed at all.

And on that note, season three ends...

Best Episodes:

10. The Firefly: In which Walter befriends one of his favourite musicians - and discovers another tragic consequence of bringing Peter to this world 25 years ago.
14. 6B: In which the strange activity in an apartment building comes from the flat of a grieving widow.
15. Subject 13: Another flashback episode (with its wonderful '80s credits sequence) dealing with what happened to Peter and Olivia as children.
16. Os: in which it emerges that Walter broke science.
17. Stowaway: I refuse to believe dark magic was not involved in Anna Torv's William Bell.
19. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: In which the cast take LSD and become bad cartoons.
20. 6:02 AM EST: In which the world really starts to fall to pieces. More than usual, I mean.
21. The Last Sam Weiss: In which the Fringe team have a race against time to save the world. As you do.
22. The Day We Died: Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Complicated but satisfying season finale - but what a cliffhanger!

*As a fictional device!
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