Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cosy Mystery September

My first ever Challenge, hosted by Too-many-books. I am quite excited. I am very partial to a "Good, Clean Murder" - I like the mystery, I don't want the details! I don't want to nominate too many books as I know I am easily distracted, so here is my list:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie;
The Clocks by Agatha Christie
Past Caring by Robert Goddard
I Am the Only Running Footman by Martha Grimes
Help the Poor Struggler by Martha Grimes; and
The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes.

Looking forward to getting into them. One day to go!

The Careful Use of Compliments

I was very excited this Tuesday as I had the opportunity to go and hear Alexander McCall Smith speak. As he is one of my favourite authors I couldn't pass it up. He is as entertaining in person as he is in his books. Anyway, I got copies of latest two The Careful Use of Compliments and The World According to Bertie. And, I got them signed! I was a little disappointed that I got starstruck when I met him and only managed to get a question in about when the next Von Igelfield novel will be published. FYI - it will be Christmas.

Thus far, I have managed to read The Careful Use of Compliments. For those acquanted with AMS's writing this is the fourth novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series. In this book she is in a relationship with Jamie (the ex-boyfried of her niece, Cat) and they have had a baby, Charlie, together. She discovers she has been dismissed from the editorship of the Review of Applied Ethics, and investigates a possible art fraud. I love AMS's writing because it is light and, yet, there are quite strong truths in it. For instance, I like the quote on page 182

"Jamie had looked at her and said, 'That's a very strange remark, Isabel. You talk complete nonsense sometimes. Flights of fancy'.

She had not minded. 'I like to think about things,' she said airily. 'I like to let my mind wander. Our minds can come up with the most entertaining possibilities, if we let them. But most of the time, we keep them under far too close a check.'"

As a side note, I had The Careful Use of Compliments sitting on my desk at work yesterday, having read it on the train going in. The day previous I had had A short history of tractors in Ukranian in the same place; a title my boss had taken note of. Yesterday he came over said "Oh, you've finished with the tractors. And now its, The Careful Use of Compliments. You do read some strange books!"

A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian

Well my Military Man is off at a Dining-In tonight so I am left alone to entertain myself. A good opportunity to post on a couple of books I have read this week. I have been meaning to read A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian for a while, after having heard an interview with Marina Lewycka on Classic FM. Last week I was taking a rain-avoidance shortcut through Borders (very dangerous), noticed it was on the 3-for-2 pile and couldn't resist. I must admit I initially had a bit of trouble getting into it. However, soon the quirky characters and the plot caught my attention. This book has certainly done the rounds of the book blogs already so there is probably not a lot of point giving a synopsis of the plot. In brief, it is the story of a Ukranian immigrant in his 80s who falls in love with a conniving 30-something Ukranian woman. His daughters set out to get her out of his life and out of Britain. Very amusing. I don't know whether I will make an effort to get hold of Marina Lewycka's second book, Strawberry Fields, just yet though as I notice that Dovegreyreader wasn't that impressed with it. I have a feeling that this style of writing might only work as a 'once off' as it is its uniqueness that makes it so interesting. Still, if a see a low priced copy......

Friday, August 24, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

This week's Booking Through Thursday (on Friday)
When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

I come from a bookish, reading family. My Mum started to teach me to read when I was four. She used to do it while we drove the half hour to kindergarten – being a long term year one teacher she could teach while still (at least I hope) paying attention to the road. I seem to recall my first ‘read’ was about traffic lights changing between red and green. Actually I think ‘red’ and ‘green’ were the only words that featured in the book. By the age of five I was sufficiently proficient to be the narrator for my Pre-Primary musical play ‘The Bluebird’.

My parent’s house is full of books. Mum’s tastes run close to mine. We both like, as my Nanna would say, “a good clean murder”. Apart from that, it was my Mum who introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s writing – whose regency stories occupied a good deal of my time the summer I turned 16. When I was young Mum and I were hardened book scouts; leaving no garage sale, fair, church fete etc untouched. This habit helped fuel my youthful penchant for 1950s and 1960s boarding school stories. Woe was me that I only went to school as a daygirl.

My father is the academic type. His book collection starts in his study and extends to the garage where books are stacked three deep in metal shelving. As a side note, we actually lost my poor kitten, Sandy, in these shelves for about 2 days when I was six. We discovered him only after hearing a pitiful ‘meow’; he was firmly wedged between books and the shelf above. Dad favours fantasy and science fiction novels, but for non-fiction has every genre imaginable. I guess the bulk of his collection are chemistry books, his specialisation, but he even has the books of the bible in Ancient Greek; having decided in his early twenties he was going to learn the language! My favourite ‘book memory’ of my Dad is when I was about nine and he bought me two Arthur Ransome books I had wanted for so long. The reason: I had patiently waited while he spent hours in A&M books, a school resource shop, selecting textbooks for the new school year!

I can’t finish this post without mentioning my Grandparents. I admit I was an indulged only grandchild. My Grandparents used to pick me up from primary school on a Friday afternoon and, while I was young enough, Nanna always had a Babysitter’s Little Sister for me to read on the way home. That was, until she realised I could read them in approximately ten minutes. We moved on then. Nanna used to read to me whenever I slept over (at least every Friday night). I recall her reading me, inter alia, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and Ballet Shoes. She also introduced me to Dickens with tales from an abridged version for children her father had won as a prize at Dunfermline High School, near Edinburgh, in the early 1900s. Another memory is when I read Swiss Family Robinson, became obsessed and decided I was going to build a model of their house. Granddad helped out by constructing ladders out of brown plastic garden lattice!

Maisie Dobbs

Three big cheers to my Mum who not only recommended this book by Jacqueline Winspearto me, but then sent a copy of it winging its way across the 4000km of desert between us. I have wanted to read Maisie Dobbs for a while but it is one of those novels I have never quite got around to. I am glad my Mum encouraged me to read it. I am saving the next one Birds of a Feather, which I already have a copy of, until Cosy Mystery September! Though, technically, here in Australia it should be starting to get slightly warmer then; so I don’t know about the term ‘cosy’.

The novel passes between Maisie’s youth and the ‘present day’ of the late 1920s. In the past…..Maisie’s mother dies and her father Frankie is no longer able to take care of her. So, despite having won a scholarship to go on to a Grammar School, Maisie enters the service of the Comptons. To fulfil her desire for an education, Maisie takes to rising very early in the morning and reading books from the Comptons’ study before she starts her daily chores. One morning she is ‘discovered’ when they return late from a dinner party. They decide to allow her to continue to read from their library and even find her a tutor Maurice Blanche for a bi-weekly lesson. The result is that Maisie is able to go on to study at Cambridge (which the Comptons pay for). When the First World War comes she takes a leave of absence from her studies and becomes a nurse; going to France to help the injured. At this time, she falls in love with an English doctor Simon.

Fast-forward a decade and Maisie has become a psychologist/sleuth. A client comes to her and asks her the age old question: is his wife, Celia, having an affair? Maisie follows her to find out. She discover that Celia is not; she is regularly visiting the grave of an old friend Vincent who committed suicide after being unable to come to terms with his war injuries. What puzzles Maisie is that his grave only bears his first name. After some investigations, she discovers he died while residing at ‘The Retreat’. A home established by Major Jenkins for men with unseemly facial war injuries. It emerges that he is not the only man who died in this manner while a resident there; it seems Maisie has a mystery to solve!

The Colour Purple

I chose to read The Colour Purple (and I know I am using Australian spelling for colour there) by Alice Walker because it came highly recommended by Oprah Winfrey. Now, I was a big fan of Oprah while I was at university and have read, and enjoyed, other novels she has recommended. I can’t really say the same for this one. It reminded me of a short story I had to study in my last year of high school: ‘real land’ by Joanne Burns. I had to learn quotes from it for my TEE exam and I remember struggling because all my brain wanted to do was correct the grammar, and put some capital letters and full stops in! I will warn any prospective readers of The Colour Purple – it has almost no punctuation and is full of slag.

The story takes the form of letters from Celie first to God and then to her sister. In the second half of the book there are letters received by Celie from her sister, Nettie. Essentially this is a story of Celie’s self-discovery. Celie is a poor, young African-American who has been sexually abused by her father since puberty; and fallen pregnant to him twice . Celie is forced by her father to marry the abusive widower Mr ________ (and, no, I haven’t forgotten his name, that is how he is referred to in the book) and essentially become his and his children’s slavey.

Mr _______ has a mistress, Shug Avery, who he brings to live with them when she contracts an STD and becomes violently ill. Shug treats Celie contemptibly. Despite this, Celie gradually falls in love with her and they become lovers. Celie tells Shug that she believes her sister is dead as she has not heard from her in years. Together, the women search the house and discover that Mr ________ has been hiding all of Nettie’s correspondence. By reading the letters Celie learns that her children are alive and living in Africa with their adoptive parents (who are Missionaries) and Nettie, their companion/servant.

Celie and Mr _______ eventually reconcile. Celie becomes an independent woman, supporting herself by sewing pants. She starts to find contentment in her life and experiences great joy when, after 25-30 years, she is finally reunited with her sister and her grown children.

I didn’t overly enjoy this book. Not that I was put off enough to stop reading; but I wasn’t engaged by it. The quote I like best is the origin for the title. Shug and Celie are discussing their faith. Shug describes what she thinks God does to please people: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”. How true. It made me think how often I let the good things in my day pass unnoticed and gripe about the small things. In doing so, I forget to acknowledge God for what a truly wonderful world he’s made.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I found my first Monica Dickens novel One Pair of Hands at a fair at All Saints Church in Huntingdon when I visited England a couple of years ago. It certainly passed a number of the hours of the 28 hour trip back to Australia most pleasantly. At the Lifeline book sale a several weeks back I spotted a few more (though, alas, I lost one at the hands of a particularly dextrous old lady) including My Turn to Make the Tea - which was such a fun read. This past weekend at Bong-Bong books in Bowral I found six more which I didn't have (I might have got a little carried away!). Anyhow one I picked up was Mariana - actually the lovely Gentlemen who owns the shop gave it to me for free as it had no price in the cover. I have been coveting the Persephone Edition of this for some weeks now but, since the most important thing about a book is what is inside its covers, I am contenting myself with my 1965 Penguin Edition.

What can I say about Mariana. Sheer Delight! Anyone who enjoys the domestic details of bygone eras will love this. It is one of those "curl up on the sofa, cosy feeling" sort of books. I loved reading about Mary's childhood and her adventures in Paris - it sounded so glamorous. My favourite quote came from near the end of the book when Mary is recaling her honeymoon: "she remembered chiefly the deepening discovery that another person could be oneself. That being with him could be like being alone without the loneliness". Being in my first year of marriage myself I could not get over how apt this was.

I am very glad I read Mariana and think it might, despite the Australian Dollar to UK Pound gulf, be worth the investment in a Persephone edition one day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Murder in Grub Street

A great find from a recent Lifeline booksale. I do enjoy a good mystery and rewarded myself with a read of this one after the challenge of Lady Chatterley's Lover last week.

In Murder in Grub Street Bruce Alexander takes us back to London of the mid eighteenth century. A Grub Street printer and his family have been brutally murdered. The poet John Clayton who was staying with them at the time is the only survivor. Found carrying a bloody axe, he is charged with their murder. John Clayton has a split personality and can not account for his actions on the night in question.

Sir John Fielding, the local magistrate, and a member of his household - 13 year old Jeremy Proctor set out to prove John Clayton's innocence. Along the way they encounter a youthful pickpocket, and some religious zealots recently returned from the colonies who are making life for the locals of Sir John Fielding's jurisdiction anything but pleasant.

I found this quite a fun read and see it is one of a series. I hope that I can scout out a few more.