The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Friday, 31 October 2008

I've been tagged...

Michele from over at A Readers Respite has tagged me with this random facts: book edition tag. You have to share 7 book related facts about yourself. I am not sure that mine are that weird but they are random and it sounded like fun so here goes...

1. I bought a copy of Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd over 20 years ago and it is still sitting unread on my shelf. It was the strange language that originally drew me to it and I still have every intention of reading it. Every now and then I pick it up and can't believe I still haven't read it. Maybe I will set it as a New Years resolution.

2. When I graduated in 2005 after doing a part time degree in Literature over 6 years, one of my friends, who I have known for a long time, bought me a first edition of my favourite book, Precious Bane by Mary Webb as a celebratory gift. Published in 1924 it is a lovely hard covered book bound in leather. I have no idea how she got hold of it but it is certainly a very treasured possession and I was both touched and surprised by her very thoughtful and very apt present.

3. Ever since I picked up a little hand made paper book, in a funny little bookshop in Covent Garden, London, by a poet called Brian Tasker, I have been completely taken with Haiku poetry. The bookshop is sadly no longer there on Neal Street East but I still have the little book, and have been adding steadily to my collection over the years. I now have 19 books of these wonderful 3 line poems, a number of which make it onto my 'Haiku of the week'.

4. My love of literature also extends to plays. I did a year of Shakespeare as part of my degree and I now work in the theatre as a direct result. It fascinates me how the meaning of the written word can change depending on what is on stage and how the words are performed.

5. I have a weakness for buying old versions of classic books that I have enjoyed. I especially love it if it has something written in the front cover, like 'to Fiona on your 21st birthday with love from grandma, 1917'. I always feel privileged to come across these treasures.

6.When I was little, about 7 or 8 years old, I used to wake up early on a Saturday morning, deliberately while everyone else was asleep, and get my books down to read off my shelf. I had 3 shelves above my bed, and I would read until I had to get up, usually Enid Blyton at the time. I saw it as a secretive pleasure, something no one else knew about.

7. I wasn't especially good at Maths, and mediocre at games at school, but I learnt to read very early on, astounding teachers and outgrowing the books appropriate to my age at school. Very often they simply let me get on with it as I was way ahead of the other children who needed more help to get started. I just took to it and have run with it ever since.

So there you have it, my secrets laid bare. Who should I tag now? Here are my 7 tags. You can continue this conversation with your own facts if you want to, and I can't wait to read your entries.

Gentle Reader at Shelf Life

Teabird at Tealeaves

Verbivore at Incurable Logophilia

Jeane at Dog Ear Diary

J C Montgomery at The Biblio Brat

Bookfool at Bookfoolery and Babble

Katrina at Katrina's Reads

The instructions are at the top of this post.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde

This was another present bought for me, and another cover and title that intrigued me. I don't often pick up murder mystery thrillers so it was a really nice change to come across this book. It has also been mentioned on Richard and Judy's book club.

Diana, a very successful and talented surgeon who runs a contraversial abortion clinic, is found dead at home, and it looks like murder. We are taken into the lives of the people who knew her and the two detectives assigned to the case, exploring the investigation in present time and also in flash back, building up a picture of what happened to Diana and why she died.

The central characters, and whose view we visit the most, are, naturally, Megan her daughter, Huck, the younger detective and Diana herself, although there are quite a few others relevent to the story. Megan is a free spirited and confidant girl of nineteen, indulged by her parents since the death of her young brother who had Down's Syndrome. She has been brought up to think for herself, and she does, sometimes a little selfishly but also showing unexpected levels of maturity too. Huck, the detective, is twenty six, has a nose for crime, but seems to be drifting within his personal life, despite having a girlfriend he is comfortable with and who loves him. Then there is Diana, who outwardly seemed strong and in control, dealing with a stressful job by believing in a woman's choice to 'reset her button' regardless of the personal circumstances that led to the unwanted pregnancy. Diana deals with the emotion and the controversy (protestors and death threats) with a determined and professional air, while inwardly she struggles with a compromised family, her son's death, her decision to have him in the first place, and her husbands disagreement, plus the strain of constantly justifying her chosen career.

There are several possibilities as to how she ended up dead in their new pool, suicide or accident included. There are also several people on the suspect list for the detectives to pick around. Diana had heated arguments with her husband and her daughter on her last day, as well as a meeting with her most vehement opposer, the Rev. Stephen O'Connell, the leader of an anti abortion movement, plus an abortion that went wrong and also contact from an obsessive ex-boyfriend of Megan's. There are plenty of skillful sub plots that all have their own place around the main core of the story.

The language is very straight forward and easy to read. It is uncomplicated and there is very little word play or lyricism. It is made interesting with observations and contemporary details, that make this an up-to-the-minute thriller which is pretty slick in its execution and therefore very recognisable. Those who love complicated thrillers with lots of twists and turns, may feel a bit short changed with this one. The eventual conclusion is given very readily, although quite late on, and is not that surprising. For anyone who likes character studies however, this is for them and it helpfully replays Diana's last awful day in its entirety so that we can leave the book with satisfaction. This is not a book that plays with ambiguity.

There is quite a bit of exploration regarding abortion issues, as you can imagine, giving interesting opinions for both sides without ever forcing anything either way. I feel it does not get bogged down with this, providing enough of an insight into a highly emotive subject to provide a sound base for a mystery of this sort. There are, however, some images that are alluded to that may be too much for readers with sensitivities in that area.

I enjoyed this book as an insight into the complexities of peoples lives, which are only exposed after a huge tragedy or other drama that forces them out. I liked following the people in it, how they interacted to find out who was responsible. Its only weakness to me was the portrayal of the husband, which was a little weak, and there is very little mention of any grief, after such a massive tragedy. These are reasonably small niggles. It is because it concentrated more on their lives and gave less precedence to the mechanics of the murder that I got more from it. It was like stumbling across a really good late night movie that you become engrossed in, and are glad that you watched. I feel it would make a good holiday read for that reason, and there are lots of issues for readers groups to get their teeth into.

If you would like a reading group guide then click on this link...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


I know, I couldn't believe it either, but I won again.
Michele over at A Readers Respite had Buy A Friend A Book Week (BAFABW) a little while ago and very generously offered to buy someone a book as a giveaway. You just had to name a book you would like and leave a comment on the post as well as an invitation on Library Thing for her to be your friend, and one person would be picked at random. I didn't really think it would be me. A lovely hardback version of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows came in the post this morning. It looks like a lovely book and I have read so many good things about it. I am very excited to read it. Thank you so much Michele, and also for your blog which I love reading!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

In the bin!

Over at bookchase this week Sam was talking about books that everyone seems to love except you. This conversation started over at Faemom's and both came up with 10 examples. While I can't quite get to 10, I have printed my own examples below to continue this train of thought.
I would never throw a book away, preferring to pass them on, but metaphorically, I put loads of stuff from life in the pedal bin that lives in my mind. The following were consigned there...
1. The biggest offender, the one that is often accompanied with "don't get me started..." from me, is The Magus by John Fowles. I was recommended this book by quite a few people as 'amazing' and for the duration (and it was an endurance) of time that I read it people would come up to me and say things like 'that book changed my life' and they would go all dreamy eyed. On holiday in Greece you could go on a Magus tour of Spetses island, where the book is meant to be set. Someone even told me her ex-boyfriend had Magus tattooed on his arm after reading it. Wow, I thought, this is some book. However I was struggling through it, mainly because I found it difficult to follow (this is a story where nothing is as it seems) and I was also bored stiff, but another friend told me it all comes together on the last page. It took me months to finish it. The book had wafted me through re-plays of classical mythology, to an underground courtroom where everyone is dressed up as animals, and no one is who they say they are, playing mind games with the main character and you. The last sentence was in Latin, it bore no light in translation. I have asked the people who loved it to explain it...they all went a bit quiet, 'I'm not sure I remember it now' they said evasively. I have begged others to read it and enlighten me. One day I will come across someone who will adequately explain why they loved it so much and put me out of my misery. Until then I will always view this book as a self-indulgent tome that was a waste of time to me. Deep breath...
2. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. I love Dickens (I have not read them all), and after totally enjoying Great Expectations I was pleased and excited to see this one on my course list for the final year of my degree. It was so awash in sentimentality and gender stereotypes I just got bored. I didn't even batt an eyelid for 'Poor Paul'. Another tome that was so unreal I was glad to reach the finishing post and put it behind me.
3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Another course book, for obvious reasons, and I understand why, the gothicism, written by a woman, and the concept is truly amazing. But actually reading it...the coincidences were too much for me and I got bored.
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger. One I share with Sam from Bookchase, I didn't hate it, but felt it passed me by without moving me in any way. I would love to go to a seminar about it to find out what I missed out on.
5. Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen. We did this one for our reading group and everyone loved it, were quoting bits from it and finding it hilairious. Except me. I couldn't get into it and never finished it.
Which books have you read that everyone else loved except you? Which ones would you put 'in the bin?' Any Magus lovers who can shed any light and convince me otherwise???

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

I was bought this book as a present a while ago, and I knew very little about it or the author. The cover picture is very inviting and reminded me of my own time in India, those warm, earthy tones and splashes of colour.
We are transported into the life of a family in India, where 2 sisters, Uma and Aruna, live with MamaPapa, a fusion of 2 people who, although individuals, present a force of tradition that dictates the family's way of life. Into this situation is born a son, Arun, a boy who unwittingly changes the course of the family's dynamic with his potential and his value.
The novel begins with emphasis on Uma, the bespectacled, clumsy, childlike older sister. Forever a disappointment to her controlling parents , she is expected to help bring up Arun, and is emotionally neglected by her parents in favour of the other siblings. Uma also has fits and her family finds this embarressing and unnecessary, as if she deliberately courting attention. Two unsuccessful marriage attempts after many rejections before she is even met, lead to 2 stolen dowries, and a stigma that is neither of her making, nor one she can ever hope to escape.
Uma's only allies are 2 outer family members who are disapproved of, her aunt who pays random visits on religious pilgrimages, and her cousin who hides his physical afflictions by being brash and loud, but eventually turns his back on his family and becomes a hermit. Uma's aunt believes her fits are a mark of the lord. 'You are the lords child' she says, and Uma is given some respite from her family when she accompanies her aunt to an ashram. It seems Uma's only real happinesses come in brief and desperate bursts, while viewing her Christmas card collection when her parents are out, or more sadly, when she nearly drowns after stepping off a boat and is disappointed to be pulled from the peaceful waters. It is not a suicide attempt, merely somewhere quiet, non-judgemental.
Interspersed with Uma's story we learn of Aruna's marriage to a successful business man and her move to fashionable Bombay and 2 children. However, despite her deliberate flaunting in front of her parents, and Uma in particular, she is also unhappy at heart, as her obsessions with having the best overtake her life and render it sterile. There is also their beautiful cousin's marriage which ends in cruelty and then tragedy. Are their any women who triumph in this novel? Any women who are allowed to be themseves? It seems only the next door neighbour is content, and only after a long battle with her mother-in-law.
Two-thirds the way through the book we have a sudden shift in direction. We are taken to USA where Arun is at university and staying with a family during the holidays. Arun is now a timid and reclusive individual, weighed down by his fathers aspirations and relentless education, and thrown into an alien environment he finds baffling. Surprisingly this forms the most humourous part of the book, and I laughed out loud at some parts. The American family are drowning in their own problems of Western psychological neuroses, of obsession, delusion and dysfunction. Arun is horrified, but also recognises similarities with his sisters situation, and instead of embracing his freedom, he retreats further inwards, missing his own dysfunctional family.
The title of the book clearly comes from the comparison of those who have little and those who have too much. A lot of the imagery and episodes and comparisons take place around food but this is only used as a metaphor to illustrate constraints or abundance of freedom and its subsequent problems.
This book is not for those who enjoy plot driven novels full of action or even conclusions. It is a beautifully written study of characters, a skillful set of observations, but it offers no answers, only presentations of comparisons. Although I enjoyed the last part in America, it was the weakest part of the book because of its abruptness, and its stereotypes. I just did not believe in the family being so unredemptive and hopeless. I longed to get back to see if Uma had hauled herself away from her prison with her family. We never find out. And for all of their faults I never viewed her family as hopeless.
There are many beautiful and colourful descriptions in both parts of the novel and I was attatched to Uma, willing her to find a way out and knowing she probably would not. I enjoyed this novel because of these things and its subtle comedy. My favourite quote comes after a painful evening with the Pattons at a compulsory barbecue (Arun is vegetarian), the episode is wryly wrapped up by the author...
"The blue oblong of electric light that hangs from a branch of the spruce tree over the barbecue is being bombarded by the insects that evening summons up from the surrounding green. They hurl themselves at it like heathens in the frenzy of their false religion, and die with small piercing detonations. The evening is punctuated by their unredeemed deaths."
For a reading group guide:-
For more about the author:-

Monday, 6 October 2008

Another winner...!!!

I won a book over at Book Club Girl. A lovely hardback copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski and a mousemat came through my door this morning. We were asked to write about our favourite pets and I told about my lovely 2 cats, Maddie and Prue who sadly died, age 16yrs old, very close together earlier this year. They have left a big hole and we loved them both very much. We hope to get some more little ones soon.

Anyway, I was one of the winners and I can't wait to read the book. A big thanks to Book club Girl, and a raised glass to Maddie and Prue!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The winner is...

I picked the winner randomly and the Roger McGough book will be going to gentle reader from Shelf Life.

However, a runners up mystery prize will be on its way to tea bird from Tea Leaves.

Thankyou both for taking part, I hope you liked the poems, its always good to discover new writers I think. E-mail your details to me and look out for your goodies in the post!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Banned Books Week Sept 27th-Oct 4th

The American Libraries are celebrating the freedom to read by having Banned Books Week and I thought I would like to contribute. Some of the books that have been banned or challenged are surprising and A Readers Respite has been featuring some of those books with explainations as to why they were found to be controversial. There is a list of banned books here so you can see which ones you have read or want to read. There is also a Top 100 Banned/Challenged books in 2000-2007 list.

There are quite a few books on the list that I have read and enjoyed, important works that have influenced, inspired and entertained us and many more that I would like to read. So go on, read a banned book today...

Banned books I have read:-

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Awakening by Kate Chopin

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

and of course by Shakespeare...Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.

Which ones have you read?

The Guardian Newspaper has a Banned Books Quiz. Click here to have a go!

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye