Sunday, 5 June 2011

Stasiland (Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall) by An Funder

I've been interested in what went on behind the Iron Curtain ever since I found out that it existed. This meant that as soon as I was offered the opportunity to learn Russian I grabbed it with both hands, and was lucky enough on two occsions to get a personal glimpse behind that curtain and even try out a bit of my schoolgirl Russian.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

A Georgette Heyer Regency romance. Fantastic. The writing is equally as good as other famous regency writers of that time (yes, Jane Austen, I'm looking at you) and this is no exception. There's also a bit of a murder mystery - although the murder happened before the novel begins.

This time the cast includes a dashing nearly-anti-hero, a dashingly reckless hero, a feisty heroine and a reckless young heroine. It jogs along beautifully, nicely paced with no horible surprises - actually not many surprises at all but that's not a bad thing.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Critical Mass by Phillip Ball

Wow. What an interesting book. After what seemed at the time to be a slow start, it turned into a ripping read about how social science can learn from the laws that are usually applied to statistical physics.


This wasn't any part of my coursework for my social science studies, but it fitted in with them perfectly and I'm sure that I'll be referring to it in future.

Highly and thoroughly recommended.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

This is a follow up to his phenomenally brilliant first novel, Child 44. This time Leo and his wife Raisa are trying their best to be good parents to their two adopted daughters who are not cooperating. And then Leo's past comes up to bite them...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

I'm always happy to pick up a Discworld and find out that it heavily features death. This one turns out to be a bit complicated, but fun and I really enjoyed reading it.

Monsieur Pamplemousse by Michael Bond

Yes, that Michael Bond. Of Paddington Bear fame.

The first of a series about Monsieur Pamplemousse - late of the Paris sureté - and his side-kick, Pommes Frites - ex-police bloodhound. M. Pamplemousse now works for France's premier culinary review, like the Gault Milleau, and is inspecting a restaurant to determine if it will keep its two "stock pots" or, indeed, be awarded another.

But instead of getting the chef's signature dish, M. Pamplemousse is served up with what appears at first glance to be a man's head. Much hilarity and ridiculousness follows until the case is solved.

A most excellent start to a series.

Broken by Karin Slaughter

This one is marked as read but I stopped very soon after starting it. I didn't enjoy the writing and I didn't like any of the characters who seemed very two dimensional.

I was quite proud of myself for actually putting this one aside and not continuing with something that I didn't like and wasn't enjoying. Reading is for pleasure and now I've started my OU course in earnest I have to be more selective with my fun reading, and ready to cast a book aside even if I haven't read it to the bitter end.

Monday, 25 April 2011

America Unchained by Dave Gorman

I didn't know who Dave Gorman was  or is - actually I'm still a little unclear - but when I mentioned that I like travel-writing an internet friend suggested this and then sent it to me. Cool.

I like travel books to have a theme and this one is quite interesting. Very interesting in fact. The plan was to drive from the west to the east coast of America using only independent retailers to refuel, overnight and buy supplies at. The great American tradition of the Mom & Pop store was to be tested, in fact. I like the idea of this because although I've not been to America I have seen it on film and on TV and I have a lot of American friends. I live in Europe and I am often surprised (and not in a good way) that I could be in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, London or Berlin (or Soltau, Sittard or Sheffield or countless other towns in Europe) and there will be retail outlets, hotels and petrol stations that I recognise.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Let's Parler Franglais! par Miles Kington

This book reminds me of countless afternoons spent at the dentist's surgery as a schoolgirl. I was at boarding school and, at Red Maids at least, the custom was for the boarders to have their appointments (after the check-up which was carried out at school) on Wednesday afternoons. There would typically be five or six of us, and we'd go together either with a matron if we were all young ones, or in the charge of one older girl.

And there we'd sit, waiting for our turn.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

People who read the Discworld novels often say to me: oh the ones with the XXX are the best. It could be the Witches, the Unseen University, the LĂ­brarian or The Watch. They all have their afficianados.

I like the Witches, and I love the Librarian. But the Watch are the boys for me, after reading this one I've finally decided which of the books I like the best: this one.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

So this is described (on the jacket) as "a mesmerising thriller - told in reverse!". Stete Berry - a New York Times bestselling author, no less - said "brilliantly conceived, perfectly executed. Fresh, Exciting, bristling with originality."

On goodreads the author mantions that it's been described as a cross between The Bourne Identity and The Time Traveller's Wife.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Wallanders Erster Fall (Wallander's First Case) von Henning Mankell

(Don't worry - the review isn't in my excrable written German...)

I've seen Wallander on German TV and on English TV - with Kenneth Brannagh in the title role in the English language version, and with subtitles in the Swedish version which meant that I missed all the action. Coming in, fashionably late as usual, to the trend for Swedish "krimis" (as the Germans call detective stories) I decided to give the novels a whirl.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

We Need to Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown

Now. Don't be confused with this one and think it's We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver*. This one isn't a novel, it's about physics. The subtitle of the Kelving book is everyday things tell us about the universe' and it consists of eleven chapters, each of which explains how an every day thing - your reflection on a pane of glass (apparently that shows us that light isn't made of waves but particles) or a teacup falling and breaking, but not unbreaking (this shows us that the universe started with a big bang).

Got that?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis

Definitely my least favourite of the 7 books, and I read them (every time) in publication order rather than in Narnian chronological order (and I don't care what CS Lewis himself said, I think they are much better that way).

This one hands us Narnia's very own creation myth, the beginning of that world, the introduction to it of evil and - well not much else apart from the moment at the end when Digory makes a wardrobe...

As I have one more book in the series to go, I thought I'd make one monster review when I've finished that one. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dragon in the Harbour by Rosemary Manning

This seems to have been written quite a long time after the other three that belong to this series, and it's quite different. I'm not sure I buy the idea of a dragon that lives in the water and moors himself up next to boats.
But it's a sweet story, featuring a dragon who gets grumpy when he's hungry, on his holiday (from Cornwall) in Weymouth.

For those of you not familiar with this series, it starts with Green Smoke in which R. Dragon meets a little girl who is on holiday in Cornwall. He tells her stories, and they're both sad at the end of the holiday when she goes home to St. Albans.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Breakfast at Tiffinays by Truman Capote

Well. What to say about this one? On the cover it says "one of the twentieth century's most gorgeously romantic fictions."


Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

I read the first five of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency in quick succession and then decided not to bother with any more because they were getting a bit "samey". But actually I was doing them a disservice - they are most excellent but better read, I now feel, spaced out over a longer period of time.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

British History for Dummies by Sean Lang

I decided that I didn't know enough about British history so I looked around for something to fill the gap. This is the one I chose, being familiar with the Dummies books from my early days fighting with computers and Microsoft Windows.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Ah, the witches. And the wizards. The librarian and elves. What's not to like about the magic of the Discworld?

I'm like a lot of others and really enjoy the Discworld novels when Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg make an appearance. And I definitely have a very soft spot for the librarian.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Faber Book of Greek Legends ed. Kathleen Lines

I read a version of the Iliad and the Oddessy when I was about 10 and have been vaguely interested in Greek Myths since then. I actually bought this for the Gruesome Twosome but they appear not to be interested at all, even the one who is reading the Percy Jackson series - which is why I finally read this one.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Tales of Beadle the Bard by JK Rowling

Just a few "folk" tales the muggles didn't know about previously...

I've been ill and off work for the best part of a week and my brain couldn't cope with anything more strenuous. This is a rather silly book, written for a good cause and now I can take it off my "to be read" shelf and put it with my other Harry Potter books. I need never read it again.

But as a wee bit of fluff to pass a few bored hours it did the trick. (the tale of the Three Brothers is told so much better in the first of the Deathly Hallows films anyway)

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

I didn't like this as much as the others in the series so far, mostly because there is too much technical sailing jargon and discussion of sandbanks to really grab me, as a non-sailor.

Basically the action moves from the Lake District to the east coast - Harwich to be exact. The Walker children meet a young boat skipper, Jim, and (after their mother has checked his background) they're allowed to spend the night on his boat, the Goblin, as long as they remain in the harbour.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Oh my goodness. What to say about this? Both the book (which was unputdownable) and what Shackleton did (incredible).

Let's start with Shackleton. His plan was to be the first man (with team) to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. To that end he got sponsorship, found a ship and got a crew together: some of whom would take part in the track accross the continent.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis

I really don't know if there is anything else to say about this book that hasn't been said elsewhere and better.

It's the only of the Narnia books which is set wholly in Narnia and has nearly no involvement of any of the children from our world (and then, only late on, briefly, as grown-ups).

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

When I was a girl we had a family Saturday tradition. We'd get up, do the supermarket shopping and head into town to visit the market and run our errands. The last thing would be to go to WH Smiths (opposite Windsor Castle and I never failed to gasp as I came out, the view is breathtaking) to spend my pocket money.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Max und Moritz: Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen by Wilhelm Busch

One of my books of Classic German Literature that I got for Christmas. It's a series of short poems about the very naughty Max & Moritz who came to a very sticky and final end.

God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

As an atheist I'm interested to see what other atheists have to say about the whole God and Religion theme. I'm reluctant to read Richard Dawkins at the moment because I find his brand of atheism a tad on the firebrand side - a bit, if I may say it 'evangelical'.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Percy Jackson: the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

As I started this I suddenly realised that I can't really remember much about the others that went before, beyond the basics.

But nevermind - I didn't expect them to grab me in the way, say, the Narnia books did because I've come to them as an adult (#2 of the Gruesome Twosome is currently reading number 4 and loves them and remembers every tiny detail)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

The cover quote from Ian Hislop says "Bizarre, Bonkers ... rather brilliant" and it is all that and more. Much, much more.

The blurb on the back tells us a little bit more: 'Fat Charlie Nancy is not havinga good week. His estranged father recently dropped dead on a karaoke stage and has left Fat Charlie with much more than embarrassment. Because, you see, Charlie has discovered that his dad wasn't just any dad. He was Anansi the trickster spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and even baffle the devil. No wonder Fat Charlie's life is about to be turned upside down.'

Friday, 28 January 2011

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is best known for her romance novels set in the Regency period and this is a very good example of those. If you're familiar with the usual Regency fare of Austen this won't bring any surprises. What is surprising for a first time Heyer reader is that she is easily as good as Austen, and in some respects a great deal better.

Fantastic fiction has this summary: "Miss Annis Wynchwood becomes embroiled in the affairs of a runaway heiress, and is thus destined to see a great deal of her fugitive's uncivil guardian. Chafing at the restrictions of Regency society in Bath, Annis has to admit that at least Carleton is never boring." And I don't want to add more because it would ruin the story.

There are no huge surprises in this, once you are about three or four pages in it's pretty easy to see where the story is going, but even so the quality of the writing is most excellent and the story itself does take one or two twists and turns that surprise faintly.

Knowing that her novel An Infamous Army is often hailed as one of the best accounts of the Battle of Waterloo (albeit from the perspective of the women waiting for their husbands and sons to return) because Heyer researched it so well, I'm quite confident that the detail and background in the Regency romances is accurate. I can't wait to pick up my next Georgette Heyer novel.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Since I'm not yet half way through the Discworld output, this blog is going to be quite full of me oohing and ahhing over Terry Pratchet. I imagine.

This one is about religion and how gods exist because people believe in them. The more believers, the bigger and more powerful the god. But actually it's more about how the administrators of a religion corrupt it for their own ends.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

So, along with writing travel books (which I love) Bill Bryson is a journalist and editor and is somewhat of an expert on the English language. In this book he explores where English - that mongrel language - came from. If you take a look at English, especially if you know anything about any other languages, you can see that it has very strange grammar, pronunciation and spelling. And of course the reason is that it comes from so many different places. Not least it is a mixture of Germanic and Romantic languages with grammar that has been borrrowed from Latin. Add to that the way we don't seem to pronounce anything as we spell it, or have, in the case of the -ough ending about 8 different ways to pronounce it - it is an absolute wonder that anyone manages to master it as a foreign language. And yet they do.

There was another of those "OH!" squawks from me as I read it during a section on place names because Oughtibridge (where my parents live) got a mention with, apparently, 4 pronunciations. That is something that I can directly check out next time I'm there.

But I also have to mention that I don't agree with everything Bryson writes in this book, but that just goes to show how language evolves. I also spotted one or two spelling mistakes (admittedly, one was in a German word) which annoyed me.

Generally it was very interesting to read this one, I've previously read Melvyn Bragg's The Story of English which was rather excellent (I got the impression that Bryson didn't like that book)

The biggest problem with this novel is that it really concentrates and focusses on the similarities and differences between British and American English - which is obviously where his expertise lies. But I'd like to have seen a lot more discussion about Australian, New Zeland, Canadian and South African English to start with.

The other thing is that at a distance of a little over 20 years since this book was read we have experienced the communication explosion that is the internet and a whole lot of us are communicating in English with people who speak a very different dialect, or speak English as a second or third language. That means we're exposed to a lot of different aspects of the language compared to people who will have read this book when it first came out.

But it was an enjoyable read and I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in languages generally, and the English language and its development specifically.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

A modern romance. No not a Modern Romance they were a totally rubbish band from what was it, the 70s? the 80s? Gah, now I have an ear worm...

Er. Yes. David Nicholls wrote Starter for Ten which I haven't read but I have seen the film. A film about one of my favourite TV programmes (University Challenge) with one of my very favourite actors (James McAvoy).

This novel starts on 15th July 1988 after Dexter and Emma's graduation party from Edinburgh uni. Then we meet them again one year later, and a year after that and so on. It's like a slice through a cross section of their lives and tells their story, sometimes in the present tense, and sometimes with some brief description of what has happened in the previous year.

It's rather excellent and put me in mind of Nick Hornby. Which is absolutely not a bad thing because I've read all Nick Hornby's books and I need some more similar input.

There's one part which made me sit up and shout "OH!" which surprised both me and the rest of the family.

But then thinking about it, that part of the plot reminded me of a very very similar thing happening in one of Hornby's novels. Which made me a bit cross, but not for long because One Day is really very good.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

I am reading Pratchett, Terry's Discworld output in publication order. That means I've read a lot and I still have a lot to go.

Briefly it's humorous fantasy based on the Discworld which is carried on the backs of four elephants who in turn stand on the back of an enormous turtle, A'Tuin, who swims through the universe.


In this one we meet some already well-known characters: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. They have adventures then they go home.

And it's pretty standard Discworld fare, which isn't to say it's bad or boring. And there are some laugh out loud funny bits, and there are some "roll your eyes when you work it out" references to Earth culture. So for me it jogged along, and being along for the ride with Granny Weatherwax is always worthwhile, although I prefer her sidekick Nanny Ogg (and not only because of her penchant for red boots). But it's not one of my favourites - which tend to feature Death.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Travels With My Donkey by Tim Moore

Travels With My Donkey by Tim Moore was a Christmas present from Gruesome #1. I love travel writing and have recently added Tim Moore to my collection of books by Bill Bryson and Charlie Connelly. The first of Moore's that I read was Do Not Pass Go and it's a trip around the Monopoly Board for real, trying to work out why Waddingtons picked the streets and stations they did when they licenced the game. It was most excellent.

In this one, having heard about the Way of Saint James (the Camino Santiago, which I know as the Jakobsweg, having first heard about it in German). This is the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela which is supposedly the last resting place of St James, the patron saint of Spain. The route begins just over the French border - anyone with a passing acquaintance with European geography knows that this also means just over the Pyraneees.

Over the last decade or so the popularity of this pilgramage has increased and many people undertake it by foot. Some go on bicycles. A few take donkeys and, thinking that if it was good enough for Jesus it would be good enough for him, Tim Moore decides that if he is going to do the walk, it has to be accompanied by his very own beast of burden.

Out of the three writers I've mentioned, Moore is my least favourite, but he does provide rib-ticklingly, belly-laughinly funny prose. He, in common with Charlie Connolley though, seems to start out for his trek woefully under prepared and that tends to annoy me at times, funny though the results can be.

Another reason, apart from a fairly recently acquired passion for travel writing, for reading this one is that - as a family - we have been thinking of tackling the trek to Santiago de Compostela. Not for any religious resasons but becuase as an established long walk it's "relatively" straightforward. Also it doesn't matter how long you take, we plan to do it in stages if we ever get started, as long as you collect all the Scallop Shell stamps in your pass, you get a certificate of acomplishment when you finally get to the cathedral at Santiago.

Moore also mentions a couple of other books about this pilgrimage, including a totally madcap one by Shirley McLaine which I'd like to try.

Being about a third of the way through this book at the moment I can offer one criticism, albeit a small one. Moore does tend to overcomplicate his language and I'm not sure why.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Winter Holiday is the fourth in the Swallows and Amazon series by Arthur Ransome and was first published in 1933. The four Swallows and two Amazons are back and in addition Dick and Dorothea Cullum appear for the first time.

This time instead of the main focus being on sailing as it was in the first three, the novel is about (as the title cunningly suggests) a winter holiday in the lake district. Ransome cleverly sends the Swallows' mother away (to Malta with their youngest sister to visit their Naval officer father). Nancy and Peggy are living at home with their mother as usual. Dick and Dorothea are having a holiday at the home of their mother's former nurse (Mrs Dixon) while their parents are in Egypt on an archaelogical dig.

With the grownups conveniently gone, the children are free to have adventures in the snow and ice around Windemere: instead of being sailors and pirates they are artic explorers and their project is to trek to the "north pole".

When I read these novels as a child, this was my favourite. Dick and Dorothea wonder at the skills of the other, older, children but they also have skills that the Swallows and Amazons envy. All children share a fantastically vivid imagination and they remind me of myself in some respects.

What has struck me about this series is just how much freedom the children had back then. This would probably frighten the skin of modern parents but for someone who grew up in the 70s in small-town England it is something to be envied. Back when I was a girl it was common for my mum to pack me up some sandwiches, a drink and some snacks and wave goodbye as I rode off for the day with my friend on our bikes. We'd be out until it was nearly dark, roaming all around Windsor Great Park. Even that much freedom seems to scare modern people - but we didn't make fires, camp out overnight or sail around a huge lake in small sailing boats.

Welcome to my new blog!

I love reading. I read. A lot. At work I'm famous for it, everyone knows that when I go for lunch, more likely than not I'm heading to McDonalds (the nearest place) for coffee with my book. Anyone is welcome to join me but there are rules.

Rule 1: you are not allowed to talk to me when I'm reading.
Rule 2: refer to Rule 1.


Up to now I've kept a sort of online diary over at my h2g2 page. But I want to open my reading diary to... well, to whom? To the world, a it happens, and since the relative success of my public transport blog I thought I'd give it a go.

The concept is simple (it has to be since apart from being famous for reading I'm also famous for having a brain the size of a pea). I will make a post whenever I start a new book and then if anyone wants to talk about it they can leave a comment.

But what do I read? Well, everything. Currently I'm working my way through a few series:
  • the Percy Jackson series (waiting for the 5th and final book to be delivered)
  • the Chronicles of Narnia (in publication order - oh look, I'm waiting for the 5th to arrive)
  • the Discworld novels (also in publication order, I'm up to Reaper Man)
  • the Swallows & Amazons series (there will shortly appear a post about Winter Holiday)
  • the Chronicles of Prydian (I've read two, I think there are four but I seem to have lost momentum)
In addition I've recently discovered a liking for reading about science (physics in particular) and science history. I love biographies and autobiographies (official and unofficial). Fantasy features large, as does historical fiction (and romantic historical fiction on occasion). Travel writing is another thing I'm becoming addicted to and am always on the look out for new (to me) writers. Classic and modern, fiction and non-fiction. I particularly also like classic Russian literature but never seem to have the bottle to read it.

For such a voracious reader I'm sorry to say that I don't use the library as much as I should because I love to own the books I'm reading. We are members of our local library, but since the Gruesome Twosome also like to own books (and since I'm such a pushover to "muuummmm I don't have anything to read, can you buy me a book?") we don't use it much. Perhaps we should make that a resolution this year. Use the library.

There is another reason for not using the library as much as we should is that I am very lazy about reading books in German. I hardly ever do and am hoping to rectify that this year. For Christmas I was given a set of 15 Classic German Books and I'm looking forward to making a start on those.

I'm also very happy to receive recommendations and, indeed, I'm hoping to get some...

That's enough waffle. Feel free to comment, make recommendations or generally shoot the breeze.