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Willoyd's Reading Log 2012

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Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith **

 

A rather quirky detective story, Alison being a divorcee who finds work with the private detective agency that she employed to prove that her husband wasn't cheating on her, but through whom she found he was! Told in a mixture of first and third person chapters, Alison finds herself mixed up with all sort of nefarious activity surrounding companies carrying out illicit genetic experiments, whilst also helping a female friend find an abandoned baby to look after (yes, really!). There's all sorts of cases of mistaken identity and misunderstandings along the way.

The book had a lot of potential - I found the author's writing very easy to read with an interestingly ironic sense of humour, but ultimately it never felt as if it really got going, and the promising plot, just as it felt as if it was ready to take off, just fizzled out and landed up a bit of a damp squib.

Really hope the next book picks up - it's not often I get two 2 star reads in a row.

 

Reading notes for week ending January 21st

Fortunately Don Quixote is proving a far more rewarding experience: I'm loving both the story itself and the reading by Roy Macmillan. Making steady progress, listening on the days I take the train and whilst walking into school: I'm positively looking forward to these days to the extent I'm opting to take this longer commute even when I don't need to.

Whilst I've not actually acquired any books this week, I have ordered two: a deeply discounted rather nice edition of Oscar and Lucinda in the Folio Society sale, and a copy of Patrick French's India, just out in paperback. Just my sort of book, so am really looking forward to getting stuck into this later this month.

Edited by willoyd

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Reading notes for week ending January 28th

I seem to recollect struggling to keep my reading going last January (and February, and March!), and this year is definitely following that trend. Not because I don't want to read, just life (work!) taking over somewhat. It hasn't helped that what I've been reading hasn't really grabbed me - but which comes first, the struggle to sustain reading or the lack of interest in the books? I'm not sure, although I think it's the former, as I'm champing at the bit to get stuck back into Vanished Kingdoms, but simply haven't had the time at home, all my reading being limited to commuting time.

And that has largely been given over to Carlos Zuis Rafon's The Angel's Game. I love his writing, and thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind, but I'm a bit mystified as to where this is meant to be going. It all seems rather more mystical than his last book, something I don't relish. I'm expecting something supernatural any moment, having a strong suspicion as to who Andreas Corelli really is, and to be honest, apart from a bit of fun magic (a la Rivers of London), or a good ghost story (Dark Matter), I don't really do supernatural - there's far too much interest in the real world without introducing unnecessary additions. I'm about half way through now, so should, I hope, find out soon, but this is the third book in a row when I've really wondered whether I'm going to make it all the way. I do hope things pick up soon!

 

Fortunately, and in total contrast, my listening continues to enthrall. I'm about an eighth of the way through now, having just completed the almost slapstick episode where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza get mixed up with a carrier his doxy Maritornes and the brother of Toledo. I think Don Quixote will keep my occupied for some weeks yet, but I'm not complaining. It certainly seems to lend itself to being read out loud or, at least, a good reader, which challenge Roy Macmillan is proving he's up to, and it's episodic nature fits in nicely with my style of listening in relatively short bursts whilst walking to and from work (and whiling away the odd bit of boring display mounting!).

 

On the acquisition front, India and Oscar and Lucinda arrived this week, the latter even more attractive in the hand than on the screen. Hope to get going on one of these soon. I also ordered a copy of Peter Watson's Ideas from Fire to Freud in the Folio Society sale, largely paid for out of Christmas present funds thank goodness. A huge read that will require a school holidays in which to get stuck into it. Can't wait!

Edited by willoyd

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The Angel's Game by Carlos Luiz Zafon **

 

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Shadows of the Wind, I was looking forward to this, and plunged in with some considerable enthusiasm. Zafon has a lovely writing style and The Angel's Game is eminently readable. But as a novel, it was rather more similar to the proverbial curate's egg.

 

I was a hundred or more pages into the story before the problem that had been lurking in the corner started to dawn on me - it was going nowhere very fast. Or, more precisely, it was always offering to go somewhere, but never getting there. And, rather more fundamentally, I found I thoroughly disliked the main protagonist (and most of the rest of the characters too!), I also disliked the fantastical element - for me this needs to be either full on (think Harry Potter or Rivers of London!) or not at all (generally the preferred option!), but not this hinted sense of magic, demons (the devil anybody?) and the like. And the ending was a complete nothing. However, in between it was fine, and the book earns 3 stars out of 6 primarily for the writing itself. A pity though - this should have been so much better.

 

Later edit (early March): Nah! If I'm really honest, this didn't work for me - too many things I didn't like. The writing might have been good, but the rest was a genuine disappointment. So I've downgraded to 2 stars. First time I can recall three 2-star reads in a row. Just relieved Gavin Young was reliable!

Edited by willoyd

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Oh dear, it sounds as if you've had quite a few boring reads in a row! Here's hoping your luck (ok next book) improves! I've been lucky this month and 4 out of the 6 books I've read have been really really enjoyable, 5/5! I'm pretty meticulous about picking what I read though :blush: I don't think any one tooth combs their wish list like I do :lol:

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Yes, it's not been a great start to the year (although I have been enjoying listening to Don Quixote). Which has surprised me as I expected it to be very different: I loved the previous books that I've read of both Zafon and Pears, and was really looking forward to these. it's very rare for me to get a run like this, so it'll be interesting to see how things work out. I have gone over to a non-fiction read to help break out of this tendency though!

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Reading notes for week ending February 4th

Finished The Angel's Game late on Thursday night, sitting up till the 1am, largely to get it done and dusted. I love Zafon's style, but as suggested in the review above, the book itself never really gelled with me. However, I couldn't not finish another one so soon after the last failure, and it wasn't that bad - indeed the very fact that it kept me reading to the end says much. I think it was just that The Shadow of the Wind was so good, that I expected more.

In spite of some more extensive buying of books than I had planned lately (so, what's new?!), I hadn't got anything immediately lined up to read, so Friday evening was partly spent browsing the shelves making decisions. After a string of fiction, it had to be non-fiction, and I haven't hit the travel books for a while, so eventually plumped for From Sea to Shining Sea by Gavin Young writing about his travels through American history and literature (the first section he visits sights related to Moby Dick, the second he follows the trail of Sherman's march through Georgia). It's a fair while since I read his Slow Boats to China, but I loved it, so have high hopes after a series of disappointments. Early reading keeps me optimistic!

 

Don Quixote progresses slowly but surely - it'll be a few months I think, but pleasurable ones for all that.

 

I seem to have had a bit of splurge on books this week. Unusually, two Kindle Deals of the Day appealed - The Lily of the Field (John Lawton) and Sixty-six Degrees North (Michael Ridpath). I bought the latter partly because I'm a sucker for anything set or about Scandinavia - along with Germany, my favourite part of the world. This will also partly explain my buying Keeping Up With the Germans (Philip Ottersley), new out and all about the relationship between the Brits and Germany as seen through the eyes of a German expat. After years of not much interesting being published about Germany (other than WW2 or some very silly 'travel' books), there seems to have been a bit of a surge lately (although even that might be a bit of an exaggeration!).

Volume three of Jonathan Sumption's history of The Hundred Years War is, at last, out in paperback, so bought that to make up the set, whilst a quick browse through Waterstones whilst out shopping on Saturday resulted in my first purchase in the shop for an age: Periodic Tales (Hugh Aldersley-Williams), with £4 off the paperback. The Waterstones style does seem to be changing for the better, but I'm still buying most of my full price books through my local independent and my discount books (paper or electronic) through Amazon - Waterstones is sort of getting squeezed in the middle; I do find that more and more I can have a browse and come out with nothing, something that hardly ever happened once upon a time.

Edited by willoyd

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Interesting review of The Angel's Game - I've noticed a fair few people that agree to the idea that it's not as good as The Shadow of the Wind. I really enjoyed the latter, to the extent that it was one of my favourite reads of last year, but I could never drag myself to reading The Angel's Game for some reason - most likely just knowing that it wouldn't be as enjoyable. Interestingly his new one, The Prisoner of Heaven is out in June, so here's hoping that it's an improvement.

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From Sea to Shining Sea by Gavin Young ****

 

After a few slightly disappointing reads, I was really looking for something to engage me, and Gavin Young didn't let me down. It's some years since I read his Slow Boats to China, but I have very fond memories of it, and was intrigued by the premise of this book, where he travelled across America exploring key sites from American literature and history, from the New England of Moby Dick, via Sherman's March through Georgia, the Alamo, the Grapes of Wrath, Philip Marlowe, The Battle of the Little Bighorn, finishing up in the Alaska of Jack London and the Gold Rush, in the heart of winter. It led to a far more episodic book than Slow Boats, each section being eminently readable on its own (indeed the Moby Dick chapters had previously featured in a series of newspaper articles), but it still retained an overall coherence, of venturing beyond the mythology of America with which we are perhaps most familiar to find an America that is more complex, more human and a lot more 'real' than the mythology portrays. This was no radical expose, more a fairly gentle reality check, Young even shying away from some of the more gory details ("His [Tom Custer, brother of General Custer, killed at Little Bighorn] throat had been cut and the scalp almost completely ripped off, leaving just a few hairs at the nape of the neck. There are other details too. But enough is enough"), but I still found this deceptively simply written view of this vast and varied country absolutely fascinating, not least because these are the very sorts of places that I would love to explore myself. I really must dig out some of his other work: he wrote a sequel to Slow Boats, called Slow Boats Home, along with books on Vietnam, following Joseph Conrad, and living with the Marsh Arabs. Indeed, his own life would probably be worthy of a book in its own right, as his 2001 obituary suggests.

Edited by willoyd

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Keeping Up With the Germans by Philip Olterman ***

 

Philip Olterman is a German who first came to England in the late 90s in his early teens, and now appears to be fairly firmly ensconced here. Keeping Up With the Germans is his take on the present day relationship between the two nations and how it has been influenced. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Second World War hardly features. but then for his generation, it is distant history (thank goodness!). This examination is carried out through the lens of 8 meetings, ranging from the one between philosophers Theodor Adorno and AJ Ayer, through a totally uncomprehending meeting between Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher, to more abstract occasions, such as the Beatle and the Mini, all of them described and discussed in parallet to Olterman's own personal experiences, mainly in school.

 

I'm fascinated with the interraction between Germany and England, and read this book with some relish. It's not only the reading - the presentation is definitely a cut above the ordinary with larger format, glossy thick covers, cover flaps, and a decent size print! However, it's the content that was my main focus. In that regard, it was certainly highly readable, and, when writing about his personal experiences or the more concrete encounters, proved, clear, reasonably precise and concise, and well argued. I have to say, however, that on the more abstract concepts, I struggled to follow the thread, to the extent that I really couldn't see sometimes the relevance of what was being discussed. Fortunately, however, the bulk of the theoretical discussion took place in the first half, and so reading picked up as the book progressed, with the best and most focused chapter being the epilogue.

 

The book was certainly an enjoyable read, particularly the passages relating Olterman's own experiences as a school age immigrant. Given the abysmal track record of books on Germany in recent years, it was a really pleasant change to read a book that took the Germans seriously (not surprising given the authors origins!), but not overly so. It certainly left me somewhat mystified as to why there isn't a more positive approach to Germany in this country, although the last few pages indicated that the author at least has observed some green shoots in that respect.

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As I've not finished any books this week, it's back to the weekend notes. I'm really glad I started these, as already I'm finding it good to be able to look back even if only a few weeks ago!

 

Normally half terms see a big kick up on the reading front, and to some extent that was true, as I managed to finish off a whole book last weekend. This week has been a bit patchier, with so much else on: I may not have been at work, but there was still plenty to do, and the odd week off like this always seems to get consumed in catching up on jobs that need doing outside work. Termtime is a bit one track!!

 

Even so, have been making steady progress with Oliver Twist. I've decided to read through the Dickens novels chronologically over the next couple of years, but as I only reread Pickwick Papers months ago, gave myself a pass out on that one. I'm sure I read Oliver when a teenager - it was a set book at school - but I've no recollection of it. Oliver is one of those books that are embedded in our culture, and with which everybody is sort of familiar, not least I suspect because of the success of the musical. Well, all I can say is that it is massively better than the musical!! It's not as complex as some of his later works, both plotting and language, and there is a distinct youthfulness to some of the writing - it's in places a lot lighter than I expected. I had expected to struggle a bit with it, but I'm loving every second, with perhaps the only caveat being Dickens's tendency to sentimentality especially when dealing with young female characters. I feel a bit like a little boy going 'ugh' at seeing someone kissing, but it really is a bit OTT for modern taste. In cntrast, when he's on the more gruesome side - I love it!

 

Don Quixote has been put on the backburner - I really only listen to audiobooks when commuting.

 

Book acquistions have been a bit OTT as well the past couple of weeks, not least because of having a bit of a splurge on a number of Brief Histories being sold as Kindle Bargains, including the 4-volume set of the Brief History of Britain, as well as volumes on Cloud Computing, and histories of France, the Universe, the Third Reich, and Classical Civlisation. So much for cutting back, but at £1.20 each, and not exactly taking up space.....!

I've also bought three Kindle Daily Deals: Diamond Queen (Andrew Marr), Sixty-six Degrees North (Michael Ridpath) and The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty. Beyond that, I've given up for the moment in the hunt to finish off my set of first edition Virginia Woolf essays, by buying the paperbacks of volumes 3 and 4 - they are fabulous for dipping in reading. One day they may come up on the market somewhere, but I've not seen sight nor sound of a copy for a few years now.

Edited by willoyd

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Even so, have been making steady progress with Oliver Twist. I've decided to read through the Dickens novels chronologically.

Alan decided to do this many moons ago but only read Sketches by Boz, Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist & Nicholas Nickleby .. he came to a crashing halt at The Old Curiosity Shop .. he just couldn't get into it and hasn't got any further (though I think he read A Christmas Carol at one point.) I've already read quite a few but randomly, from the above I've only read Pickwick and the Carol but have also read David Copperfield, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, Great Expectations, The Chimes and A Tale of Two Cities.

 

Have to agree with you about Dickens sentimentality .. he lays it on like treacle sometimes. It's like the bits of a Robin Williams movie that I always have to look away from .. ughhhh! :D Especially when eulogising about young females .. he had a thing for them (well I know ... most men do :smile:) but he had an almost unatural obsession with young innocents (this is Dickens I mean .. not Robin Williams :D) I agree though that when he is at his most gruesome or comic .. there's no-one better.

 

What a shame you weren't able to find vols 3 & 4 of Virginia's essays. They're bound (? :D?) to come up at some point though so keep looking. Loving your bookshelves btw .. I'm just going to have a good squizz at them in a minute .. lovely close-up pics .. can read the titles and everything .. heaven :smile:

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Alan decided to do this many moons ago but only read Sketches by Boz, Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist & Nicholas Nickleby .. he came to a crashing halt at The Old Curiosity Shop .. he just couldn't get into it and hasn't got any further (though I think he read A Christmas Carol at one point.) I've already read quite a few but randomly, from the above I've only read Pickwick and the Carol but have also read David Copperfield, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, Great Expectations, The Chimes and A Tale of Two Cities.

Bleak House rates as one of my top half dozen favourite novels. I read a fair few of the others when younger - but that's some three to four decades ago, and am finding that my memories are very limited. Pickwick was as good as I remember, but I know it's very different to most of the rest. The Old Curiosity Shop will be the first of those I've never read, so it'll be interesting to see, but I have enjoyed enough to think I should enjoy the challenge. We'll see! Any particular reason he hit a wall with TOCS? Or had he struggled with the others?

 

he had a thing for them (well I know ... most men do :smile:)

Perhaps, but not all!

 

Loving your bookshelves btw .. I'm just going to have a good squizz at them in a minute .. lovely close-up pics .. can read the titles and everything .. heaven :smile:

I'm so glad! I must admit, I just love perusing other people's shelves. I can't resist having at least a peek whenever we visit anybody, much to OH's embarrassment sometimes! People do seem to understand though (indeed, I've never known anybody not welcome it!) - I suspect anybody who loves books knows that they would want do the same.

Edited by willoyd

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens *****

 

As I said in my reading notes last week, Oliver Twist is one of those books that's deeply embedded in our culture: just think of the iconic figure asking for more, and the roll call of well known characters of the likes of the Artful Dodger (a surprisingly minor character in the book), Fagin, Bill Sykes, Nancy and Mr Bumble. It's one of those books that we think we know, even if we've never read it. And as with so many of that ilk, once I actually sat down to read it, it was so much more complex and more deeply drawn than any of the derivations. Even so, I was still surprised at what a good book OT actually turned out to be. It's obviously earlier Dickens: the writing, even when dealing with some pretty black affairs, is much lighter, and the language is (a bit) more straightforward; there is a strong streak of ironic humour which is less apparent in some of his later works. However, the plotting is hallmark Dickens, as are the London settings, and his handling of the characters, with his oh so nice hero, his overly sentimental view of any female younger than thirty, his villains drawn in the blackest of inks (although I developed a sneaking regard for Fagin) and his usual roster of larger than life minor characters. It doesn't quite achieve the full six though (at least at this stage), not least because Dickens really does overdo the coincidence. The one upon which the plot hinges I could just about handle - they do happen - but there are one or two more minor ones later on where I just metaphorically threw my hands up in despair! But there again, that's hallmark Dickens - totally overegging the pudding! Bearing all that in mind, it remains one that I would thoroughy recommend, and, being one of his slimmer volumes, a book that would provide a newcomer with a great taste of whether they might enjoy the rest of Dickens's work.

Edited by willoyd

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Bleak House rates as one of my top half dozen favourite novels. I read a fair few of the others when younger - but that's some three to four decades ago, and am finding that my memories are very limited. Pickwick was as good as I remember, but I know it's very different to most of the rest. The Old Curiosity Shop will be the first of those I've never read, so it'll be interesting to see, but I have enjoyed enough to think I should enjoy the challenge. We'll see! Any particular reason he hit a wall with TOCS? Or had he struggled with the others?

I don't know, I think it was a number of things. I don't think it's one of Dickens most accessible stories and it co-incided with him having less time to read. The strange thing is though .. because he didn't get through it .. he hasn't read any of the others (except for the short stories.) I think he should just skip over it (though that would take him to Barnaby Rudge .. which I'm not sure would be an improvement) and come back to it later, he'll miss some great reads otherwise.

 

Great review of Oliver Twist :smile: I really must read it. It's difficult to get up the enthusiasm to read a book that you feel you know well already but I know from all of my previous Dickens reads that there is so much more to the written story than you ever see in the adaptations.

Were you able to visualise your own set of characters Willoyd or were Alec Guiness/Robert Newton or Ron Moody/Oliver Reed ever present in your mind?

 

I saw the David Lean version a month or so back .. the infamous Nancy & Bill scene in it is terrifying and yet all you see is Bullseye scrabbling to get out of the door.

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Great review of Oliver Twist :) I have had it on my shelves for ages now, but as Poppy says, it can be quite hard to work up enthusiasm to read a book when you already feel that you know the story anyway. I have no doubt though, that as you say, the story is probably a lot more complex and detailed than expected. I actually felt the same way about Pride and Prejudice, but when I eventually read the book, I thought it was delightful - hopefully the same might apply with OT.

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It's difficult to get up the enthusiasm to read a book that you feel you know well already but I know from all of my previous Dickens reads that there is so much more to the written story than you ever see in the adaptations.

I was like you and Ruth - it really was only because I've set myself to read them all chronologically that I tackled it. As you have gathered, I'm so glad I did!

 

Were you able to visualise your own set of characters Willoyd or were Alec Guiness/Robert Newton or Ron Moody/Oliver Reed ever present in your mind?

It's a while since I've seen either, so I found it relatively easy. Reading it, I alternated between my Kindle copy which has the original illustrations, and my Folio Society copy, which is illustrated by Charles Keeping. I think my visualisation was most influenced by the Keeping pictures if anything. Certainly not the originals which, to be honest, I found rathe weak.

 

I saw the David Lean version a month or so back .. the infamous Nancy & Bill scene in it is terrifying and yet all you see is Bullseye scrabbling to get out of the door.

I have all sorts of memories of the film - I think the black and white 'colour' served it well. I have it on my DVD shelf ready to watch now I've read the book! Edited by willoyd

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Capital by John Lanchester ****

 

I had started reading Jane Smiley's Moo, but it was dragging a bit, and I dipped into this. Before I knew it, I was engrossed! This has had very mixed reviews, largely on the negative side, and I can see why. It's one of those multi-threaded novels, with several parallel stories running at the same time, the one common point being that they are all based in or around a street in South London, and that all the residents have been subject to some sort of slightly threatening campaign by a mystery individual. There is an irony here, in that the campaign is all about "We Want What You've Got", yet none of the recipients can understand why - they'd happily exchange quite a bit of what they've got for something else!

The problem is, though, that few of the stories every really connect: they largely stay separate throughout. Equally, the characters themselves are all somewhat stereotypical: the banker anxious about his bonus with his shopaholic wife, the Asian family at the corner shop, the last 'original' (I.e. born in the street) inhabitant, the Polish builder, etc et, all a bit superficial. And some fairly obvious things happen (it is all pretty predictable). It's certainly not a patch on some other 'London novels' like Michael Moorcroft's Mother London or Norman Collins's London Belongs To Me (both superb!). And yet.....

And yet, I raced through it, and really enjoyed it. Whilst it was predictable, I still wanted to know what happened and how things were going to turn out; I found most of the characters very 'normal' and likeable (apart from the shopaholic wife!), even if I didn't like individual characteristics. They weren't drawn with any great depth, we didn't get any great insights, but at the end I felt that this what life is like. So, not a great book, certainly not as great as it feels the author is aspiring to with way too many flaws, but an enjoyable, readable one, that I found I wanted to keep reading to the end.

Edited by willoyd

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Reading notes for week ending March 9th

Finished Capital earlier in the week, and had a go at kickstarting Moo again, but in spite of the fact that it's perfectly readable, I really can't get going with it: I think it's that I really don't relate to the characters very much. OH openly confesses that she just can't (on the whole) get on with American writing, and I know what she means as I sometimes have similar difficulties, but on this occasion I think it's a bit more to do with the rather flat character development - something to do with the number that she's trying to handle? ust too many names to juggle, and none that I particularly relate to.

 

So, I started Lynn Shepherd's Tom All-Alone's instead. I can see why the reviews are so much more positive: it's a mystery story based in Victorian London, it really evokes the city almost as strongly as the best in business , The way it closely echoes Bleak House is starting to grate a little bit, but the atmosphere, the sense of place and the characters do compensate somewhat!

 

Book acquisitions over the past couple of weeks have slowed up a fair bit too - about time (!) - although I do have an Amazon voucher burning a bit of a hole in my pocket! I've got my eye firmly on The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens and/or John Lanchester's Lives of Novelists; I find I'm a bit reluctant to go for a pure reading book as I've got more than enough lined up already!

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Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd ***** (out of 6)

 

A classic Victorian detective mystery in the tradition of Bleak House and The Woman in White (two of my favourite books) set in classic Victorian London. Indeed, Lynn Shepherd actually positions her novel in a gap between the two stories in such a way that incidents and characters cross over backwards and forwards almost seamlessly between the Victorian novels and their modern counterpart. It's not necessary to have read these classics beforehand, but it certainly adds to the enjoyment if one has. Several of these characters fill out convincingly - for instance the lawyer Tulkinghorn from Bleak House is developed so much further in Shepherd's book. Even more enjoyable are the twists that the author adds; you think you've spotted a parallel, and then she turns things on their head and you realise, very pleasurably, that you've been had.

 

I loved the settings - this is truly the London of Dickens - and I thoroughly enjoyed the panoply of characters, none less than the central character, Charles Maddox. At one point, I did think that the literary parallels were starting to grate, but then Shepherd picked the pace up and started really developing her own take on the characters, and any sense of irritation evaporated. But above all, I enjoyed the story, and the twists and turns of one of the most intriguing plots I've encountered in a long while. It doesn't surprise me that the reviews on Amazon are so positive: these are no puffs, the book really does deserve the praise. I can't wait to try her earlier novel, Murder at Mansfield Park.

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I've not read Bleak House but I loved the Woman in White so I'll definitely be adding this one to my wishlist :smile:

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Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd ***** (out of 6)

 

A classic Victorian detective mystery in the tradition of Bleak House and The Woman in White (two of my favourite books) set in classic Victorian London. Indeed, Lynn Shepherd actually positions her novel in a gap between the two stories in such a way that incidents and characters cross over backwards and forwards almost seamlessly between the Victorian novels and their modern counterpart. It's not necessary to have read these classics beforehand, but it certainly adds to the enjoyment if one has. Several of these characters fill out convincingly - for instance the lawyer Tulkinghorn from Bleak House is developed so much further in Shepherd's book. Even more enjoyable are the twists that the author adds; you think you've spotted a parallel, and then she turns things on their head and you realise, very pleasurably, that you've been had.

 

I loved the settings - this is truly the London of Dickens - and I thoroughly enjoyed the panoply of characters, none less than the central character, Charles Maddox. At one point, I did think that the literary parallels were starting to grate, but then Shepherd picked the pace up and started really developing her own take on the characters, and any sense of irritation evaporated. But above all, I enjoyed the story, and the twists and turns of one of the most intriguing plots I've encountered in a long while. It doesn't surprise me that the reviews on Amazon are so positive: these are no puffs, the book really does deserve the praise. I can't wait to try her earlier novel, Murder at Mansfield Park.

 

I have Murder at Mansfield Park on my tbr. Have been VERY tempted by Tom-All-Alone's. I've read Bleak House, but not The Woman in White. However, I do have TWIW on my tbr as well, so I might try to read that one before T-A-A's.

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I'll definitely be adding this one to my wishlist :smile:

Me too .. great review Willoyd :smile:

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I've not read Bleak House but I loved the Woman in White so I'll definitely be adding this one to my wishlist :smile:

 

Lynn Shepherd's other book, Murder at Mansfield Park, is today's Kindle Daily Deal. I've grabbed it!

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Almost French by Sarah Turnbull ****

 

Having met Frederic on her travels round Europe and been invited to stay at his flat for a couple of weeks (but intended to only stay one), Almost French is the story of Australian Sarah Turnbull's experience of learning to start living in France and her efforts to integrate into French (Parisian) life over the eight or so years that she's actually been there (it's more now, as this book was first published in 2003)! This is far more than the average (ghastly) 'aren't these Johnny Foreigners cute/odd/funny' type books. Instead, it's a sensitively written and sympathetic account of what it was really like to get to grips with and to understand a completely different culture and lifestyle, and of how the couple learned to adjust to each other's very different backgrounds. There is no doubt that, whilst she is proud and very fond of her Australian roots, she has developed a deep affection and respect for France and the French, although there is equally no doubt that she found adjusting very difficult at times.

 

I'm not a particular fan of ex-pats writing about their experiences abroad. Indeed, I've positively disliked most examples of the genre that I've dipped into or tried reading. However, I loved this book, having picked it up whilst browsing in a bookshop, and found myself very reluctant to put it down. The author is now an experienced journalist (she gives the impression of being fairly new at the career when she first arrived in France), and this shows in her writing, which is highly readable, decidedly unfussy, and has the impression of being very honest. I also found it very self-deprecatingly funny in places (not laugh out loud, more internal!), and that in itself is very rare for me. I ripped through it, reading until the early hours twice, and getting up early to finish it off this morning, even though I didn't really want to do so! All in all, highly recommended.

Edited by willoyd

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Great review of Capital. I've been watching this one, and have been disappointed by the negative reviews as I have high hopes for it. It looks like my kind of book, so I think I will give it a go (when it gets a bit cheaper!)

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