Monday 29 October 2007

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf has been on my tbr mountain for a couple of years now. I decided to read it for the Books to Movies challenge, a challenge which sadly I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to complete. (RL turned busy and difficult just after I signed up for it in August.) But I did, nevertheless, want to read this particular book as I've long wanted to find out whether I'm a fan of Woolf's writing - or not.

So, am I a fan? To tell the truth - decisive as always - I'm not sure. I started this book and got to about page 70. I struggled all the way with her rambling style, her going off at a tangent about this, that and the other. I don't know why it irritated me, I usually have a lot of patience with that style of writing, maybe I wasn't concentrating hard enough, I don't know. Sometimes she just totally lost me! So, I gave it a rest for about a fortnight. Read a couple of other things and then went back to it. The story, btw, is about the Ramsay family who own a holiday home on Skye. Really it's about the family and their hangers-on, the dynamics of the relationships between them and especially what kind of marriage Mr and Mrs Ramsay have. So, anyway, after a fortnight or so I went back to the book. And somehow it didn't seem as bad. Suddenly I didn't feel like flinging it across the room but was reading it quite happily. Did she stop rambling after seventy pages? Was I in a different mood? I haven't a clue. Nor can I decide whether I actually liked it or not. I couldn't help comparing it to a wonderful Persephone book I read in the summer called Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton. That too was a book about families set around about the same time, if memory serves me correctly. I'm very much afraid the Woolf book came up wanting. Family Roundabout was so much more involving, crisply written, amusing - I was desperate to know what happened to all the members of the family. Sadly, in To the Lighthouse I wasn't really all that bothered. Does this make me a Philistine? The fact that I prefer Richmal Crompton's writing to that of the genius that is Virginia Woolf? I'll have to think on that one. Maybe try one or two more of Woolf's books or essays before I cast judgement on my own judgement (so to speak). The thing is, I really want to like her writing. I feel as though I should like it for some bizarre reason. After all, I saw and enjoyed the movie of Mrs Dalloway and yes, I know a film is a very different kettle of fish to a book, but nevertheless I found the story interesting and liked what it had to say. I honestly don't know what to think (no change there then) and clearly will have to try another of her books in order to form some kind of definite opinion.

Currently reading: Abarat by Clive Barker.

Friday 26 October 2007

Seafaring challenge

I've been trying to get around to listing my books for The Seafaring challenge, hosted by I Heart Paperbacks, for weeks.

The details for this challenge are here:

Seafaring challenge

I'm aiming high and going for the rank of Admiral and for that you have to read four seafaring themed books before January 31st. 2008. My pool of seven books are as follows:

Abarat by Clive barker
Castaways and Flying Dutchmen by Brian Jacques
Whale Road by Robert Low
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
The Lycian Shore by Freya Stark (non-fiction)
High Wind in Jamaica by Robert Hughes
Journey to the Sea (anthology) edited by Sarah Brown

I haven't added links as I don't have time at the moment but will do so later.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman is the fourth book of my RIP II challenge for this year.

So far the only books I've read by Neil Gaiman are Stardust and Good Omens, penned with Terry Pratchett of course. I liked both of those and I liked this anthology as well but I'm still not certain if I would like his other books such as Anansi Boys, American Gods and Neverwhere. Just not certain that they would be my sort of thing. My husband recently read Neverwhere and didn't rate it... mind, we don't always agree on books so that doesn't mean a lot. *g*

Anyway - Smoke and Mirrors. A good antholgy. I didn't like all of the stories but then when do you ever? I think, like a lot of people, I would say the best story is 'Chivalry', a story I read for one of the Short Story Sundays and reviewed a few weeks back. But there is plenty more to enjoy. I liked 'The Price' very much indeed - a story of a cat taken in as a stray but who is getting into terrible fights during the night. Its owner keeps him in for four nights to recover and finds the family have terrible luck during those four days and nights... 'Troll Bridge' was also very good. It tells what happens when a boy goes for a very long walk along an abandoned railway track and eventually comes to a bridge. He makes a bargain there that he will revisit many times during his life. Atmospheric and intriguing that one. 'One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock' I liked a lot too. Unless I'm mistaken this isn't really a sci fi story at all but I liked it all the same. It's just a story about a boy's school days and his love of Michael Moorcock's 'Elric' fantasy stories. It was delightful and slightly autobiographical I gather. Other stories of note, Looking For the Girl, When We Went to see the End of the World By Dawnie (charmingly written as a child would write), We Can Get Them For You Wholesale and Snow, Glass, Apples (for those who think they know the story of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves;-)). In fact, there were only a few in the whole book that I didn't care for.

This book has reminded me of how much I like short story anthologies. I used to read them a *lot* but hardly any these days, and that's a shame so will try to put that right. The only word of warning I would add is that I know there are folks out there who don't care for a lot of sexual content and a couple of the stories are quite explicit, or are of the sort where the author calls a 'spade a spade' if you get my drift. But if that's okay with you then you should enjoy this anthology.

As I've now read four books for Peril the First, I suppose I've officially finished the RIP II challenge. I've done a couple of Short Story Sundays (hope to do another next Sunday) but probably won't have time now to read the extra book, which in my case was The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker. I still plan to read it though and probably the rest of the pool as they're all books I want to read. I'm currently reading The New Lovecraft Circle edited by Robert M. Price and am enjoying that a lot. Hoping to review a couple of the stories for Short Story Sunday if I have the time.

Friday 12 October 2007

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

I've now finished the third of my RIP II challenge books, the YA adult book, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, by Chris Wooding.

Compared to some of my other latest reads this was a very easy read indeed. Not simple... I don't mean that... just incredibly readable, 'a page turner' as they say.

The story is set in London but not a London that we know. It's Dickensian in nature but there are some nasty things coming out of the woodwork at night, the wych-kin, literally the stuff of nightmares. Thaniel Fox is a wych-hunter, a good one. He's tracking down a cradlejack one night when a terrified girl, Alaizabel Cray, literally runs into his arms. She has no idea who she is or where she's come from but it's clear she's been abused by someone and is being haunted. Gradually the story emerges, she has some connection with The Fraternity, an evil, secret society made up of some of the well-to-do and most powerful people in the city. So what's going on? Whatever it is it seems it might spell the end of London as a city and life as they know it, and Alaizabel is the key to unlocking the mystery and saving them all.

As I said before, this is a page turner. A rollicking good yarn which is nice and spooky, pacey, and well told. It's YA so nothing too horrible (thank goodness) and I seemed to detect a slight touch of Cthulu Mythos about the tale too. The Dickensian aspect of the city was more than a little attractive to me - I love a good 'seedy, 1800's London' yarn and here it was well done with even a crime element included with a serial killer at large. So this is a real mix... historical/horror/crime etc. And it works! I loved it and will read more of Chris Wooding's work if I can find it. In fact he has a new book out on the 18th. of this month, The Fade, which sounds like it might be really good.

Thursday 11 October 2007

The Historian and A Time of Gifts

At last, a free morning to catch up on reviews. I'm behind for a variety of reasons but hopefully when I've done these two I'll be able to keep up better.

The Historian has been such a popular book for this challenge and so many people have written excellent reviews that I feel like I haven't a lot to add to what they've already said. Most people seem to have loved it and I'm no exception.

The story concerns a young woman - I'm not sure we ever learn her name - who comes across a book in her father's library. It's empty apart from an illustration of a dragon in the centre. Disturbed by the drawing the girl questions her father, who is upset to learn that she has found the book... or rather that the book has found her. Over weeks and months she gradually draws a very long story out of him, despite his obvious reluctance. The story concerns the disappeareance of the father's tutor, Rossi, when the father was a student and how he went searching for him across Europe. And thus how he met the girl's mother and how the quest tied in with the history of Count Dracula.

This is not a quick read. It's a story to be read slowly and savoured, not least because several histories run parallel to each other and you need to keep your wits about you while reading it. I think for me one of the best qualities of the book is that it doesn't treat its reader like an idiot. It's unashamedly about a book about people who love books and who are very well educated, and I like that a lot. I'm not clever enough to be part of such a world... but oh, how I would love to be! Another plus for me was all the wonderful travelling depicted. I'm such an armchair traveller and lover of travel books that all the too-ing and fro-ing around Europe was definitely part of the book's attraction, imo. And it was nicely creepy - not all the way through, but enough to make it something other than a travel and history narrative, and book about books.

One other curious fact for me is that the BBC are currently showing Michael Palin's new travel show and where should he be exploring but Eastern Europe where much of The Historian is set of course. I call that an odd coincidence. And it's making me enjoy the series even more than I would normally.


A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor has been sitting on my tbr mountain for a couple of years. I believe it and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, are classics among travel books and I can easily see why. The reason I picked this one up now was because of The Historian... I just wanted to read some more European travel stories and this one fitted the bill nicely.

The book is actually about the author's walk from Amsterdam to Constantinople in 1933. He is only 18 and not well off so he stays in cheap places or with friends he makes along the way. This first book takes him through Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and into Hungary. Germany at this time was just entering its Nazi period and the author had one or two experiences of that but not as much as you would have thought. Basically, he found nearly everyone to be very kind regardless of nationality - their's and his. But Europe was changing and it was very odd reading about a way of life that would only continue for a few more years until the start of The War.

This is another book which assumes a certain amount of intelligence on behalf of its reader. The language was something else. Nearly every page had a couple of words I'd never heard of, but then I was expecting this as I'd heard about it on LibraryThing. The writing itself was beautifully descriptive especially when dealing with the winter landscapes the author travels through. 'Possibly' I would have liked more in the way of human stories instead of so many descriptions of architecture but that's a small quibble. I enjoyed the read and will certainly read its sequel very soon.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Home again, home again...

I've been back from holiday for a couple of days now, but up to my eyes in laundry and cooking ratatouille and stewed apple for the freezer with all the tomatoes and apples we have around at the moment. We had a wonderful holiday down there in Cornwall, as soon as I have my own computer back I'll post a few of the photos I took. Son-in-law is coming to look at my pc this weekend so crossed fingers would be appreciated. :-)

I want to thank all the kind people who commented on the sad loss of my sister-in-law recently. Everyone is so kind, even though I've hardly been on Blogspot any time at all. The funeral went very well and the next day we scattered her ashes off The Cobb at Lyme Regis... a spot made famous by Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman of course, and a place my sister-in-law loved very much.

A review of The Historian and A Time of Gifts will be forthcoming tomorrow hopefully. Time allowing. I'm now reading the third of my RIP II books, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding, and loving it. I'm pretty certain of completing the challenge but not sure if I'll have time for the extra book by Bram Stoker. We'll see. It's been so busy and will continue to be (though not quite so bad) until the end of the month.