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

Sunday, 28 February 2010

February Roundup

An image from Romeo and Juliet seemed a good place to start for the month most associated with love. This is a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frank Dicksee.
February has been a good month for reading, productive and fruitful...
Read - almost 2 books.
Completed - The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Currently reading - The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
TBR Pile - currently at 80 books according to GoodReads, with 7 novels added...
The Magicians Assistant by Ann Patchett
A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Master and Margherita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Childrens Book by A S Byatt
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
also some books that are not novels...
The Painter, the Cook and the Art of Cucina by Anna Del Conte and Val Archer
200 Cupcakes: a Hamlyn Cookbook
The Taschen book of 20th century Photography
Go Penguins, a celebration of creativity on Merseyside.
Challenges - Nothing completed, but some books lined up for the 8 Directional Reading challenges.
Wishlist additions -
The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Tuesday with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Discoveries -
The New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme
Events -
Ghost Stories at the Liverpool Playhouse
The Canterbury Tales at The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
The Reader movie with Kate Winslet, after reading the novel last year (review here), I saw the film and really enjoyed it. I think it did full justice to the book, captured the feel excellently, and I cried all the way through it.
March is on its way, plans being made, and hopefully some warmer weather.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

This book was bought for me by a friend as a present, and then recommended by another friend who had read it for her book group. I thought it was a novel until I started to read it and realised it was a work of non-fiction.
The book tells the story of a widely publicized murder in 1860, that had the whole country talking and went on to influence some of our most well known Victorian novellists.
A 3 year old boy is found with his throat cut and stuffed down the outside privy of a well to do country house. The boy is Saville Kent, son of the owner Samuel Kent, and the police are baffled. Did someone break in, snatch the boy from his bed and murder him? What kind of a grudge would cause such an action? Or were there secrets behind the mansions closed doors? Could it possibly be a member of the family? With the Constabulary in its infancy and only a handful of detectives in the country, the local magistrates call for one of Londons finest, Mr Whicher, to solve the case. It is this character, the all seeing detective, and the circumstances of the case, that influenced some of the later works of Charles Dickens (who knew Whicher), Wilkie Collins and Henry James.
Kate Summerscale has written a very thorough account of the crime, with the benefits of hindsight and with the advances in technology and knowledge, we are provided with a well rounded story that had the Victorians stumped. The author uses the official documents of the day alongside private memoirs and newspaper articles from the 1860's, and well into the 1940's. The mystery continues over decades.
I found this a fascinating read from the start, and for such an influential event, I wondered why I had never heard about it. Although the pace flagged a little in the middle, the book kept me interested as each intricate chapter of this complicated case was played out. I particularly enjoyed the history of the police and the descriptions of early techniques of detection. This includes the origins of terminology we use today, like 'clue' and 'denoument'. Also the reactions of the public, to the crime itself and the class arguments it brought to the surface, and the dislike of detectives, spying on people and their private lives. It is surprising how rudimentary their resources were when investigating. After watching the likes of CSI and Silent Witness on TV, I found myself really surprised at how little they had to go on besides gut instinct and one or two pieces of evidence.
I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone with an interest in Victorian England, true life crimes or early crime novels of the 19th century. It would also be a good choice for book groups and some discussion questions about The Suspicions of Mr Whicher can be found by clicking the link.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Big Green Bookshop

There is a bookshop open in Wood Green, London called The Big Green Bookshop. I have not visited it, although I plan to on my next visit to the capital, but they have an excellent website that includes recommendations each month from some of the prominent book bloggers. They have also set up a shelf in the shop to show the book bloggers recommendations and enable you to buy a copy should you want to, after reading the reviews posted by the blogs author. You will recognise some of our fellow bloggers, if not all of them if you visit the book blogs regularly.
I think this is a brilliant idea and I recommend a visit to the site or the shop. They have recognised that this idea will probably catch on with other shops and it is great seeing bloggers getting a new kind of voice and influence. There are some great books recommended too, and you can order them online if you wish. Why not use the links above and take a look for yourself.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

I was given this book for free with the Waterstones magazine. I liked the cover which reminded me of something by Tim Burton. It is only a small book and easy to dip in and out of.
It contains 101 short stories, all told in the first person, about the various girlfriends he has had relationships with. Each story is only a small paragraph in length betraying a skillful hand in writing. They are all complete and cover every topic from extreme happiness, love, jealousy, obsession, boredom, death, all with the authors unique view of the world. Amusing, entertaining, sometimes sad, always weird and unusual, each tale reads as strangely as his girlfriends names. Azure, Tallulah, Sapphire, Mariedel, January and Tortoiseshell. The names are as colourful as the stories.
This book was really easy to read and a delight on each page. Some of the stories made me laugh out loud, all of them made me smile. Anyone with a good sense of humour and a love of anything unusual, dark and off-kilter will like this book. I found myself re-reading some of them. The endings were clever and suitably glib.
This book would make a good present, or as something light and quick to read. The Guardian has called it ' A gleaming box of jazzy miniatures', and I'd agree with that. The author has written some novels that sound equally dark and intriguing. You can check out Dan Rhodes' website by using the link.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye