Saturday, 14 December 2013

Tipping the Velvet

Image sourced from here
Ah this book. I have wanted to read this book for years and years, I finally thought about it at the right place at the right time (while in the bookshop instead of at home) and managed to pick myself up a copy. And over the last year of it sitting there, I've just  heard again and again how good a writer Sarah Waters is. So for an historical fiction challenge, I decided I should pick it up.

I watched the BBC miniseries of the book 10 years ago when I was much more naive. I had some friends who had taped it off tv and brought it around while I was housesitting. I turned down a date with Lexx (it was the first few weeks we started seeing each other) to sit at home with the girls and watch "a lesbian, Victorian, possibly bdsm, tv show". He offered to bring some wine and come along too (very selfless of him (piffle) but we had plenty though). But I had no idea what I was about to watch. Not so much bdsm, but I never knew the BBC made shows like that (far cry from The Bill for example). I've wanted to read the book ever since. Except the few times it came up that my Mum's friends loved it... that was a weird convo.

So with an history and a build up like that, it had to be good. And it was. It was mostly brilliant. I love historical fiction that you just engage with the characters and follow them unconditionally where they are going. I just abandoned a book as the language was so jarringly "I'm reminding you this is ye olde-y" it was horrible. Tipping the Velvet didn't do that at all. They used Victorian language but you didn't notice too much (a lot of the "quaint" words were still reasonably frequently used for me anyway), you just went with them on their journey.

Again, back to place. She is remarkable as well with this. yes, it helped I was walking some of these streets a few weeks before, but I was 130 years in the future. You could completely feel, smell, see the world or environment she was building. For me, this is so important in a book. I want characters I can believe, an interesting story and to feel like I am placed in that world. I know, I don't ask for much.

I did feel like the story started to drag a little once or twice, particularly in the last third of the book. It just needed a bit of editing. And I can't remember how different the ending was to the miniseries (to be fair we had probably drunk our 19 year old body weights in wine while we watched the whole 6 hours, so god knows if I remembered the ending the next day). But I liked the ending in the book. Who cares about the series, the book's what matters! That's what I'm meant to say, right?

Out Stealing Horses - #42

Image sourced from here
This book is a fantastic example of what I am loving about Scandinavian lit at this point in time. I was hesitant about it when a friend of mine recommended the book. I mean, the premise doesn't sound overly interesting. A story of two boys and they steal horses one morning, and then "their lives change forever". Not really a gripping concept, not to mention that phrase is over done. But I am glad I stuck with it.

The plot really is about one boy Jonas, and the summer in 1948 he spends with his dad in the Norwegian woods. It's not one event that changes the direction of Jonas' life, but the discoveries that Jonas finds out over the course of the whole summer, along with events that occur that change him and his family.

The narrative is mainly told between Jonas now as an old man, and him in the summer of 1948. But there are flashbacks to just before and after that summer as well. It's not told in a horrible overworked way, but flows almost seamlessly between them all.

It's just a beautiful little book. It takes a simple story and twists and turns it into something intricate and compelling. I'm also really lucky that these last few reads had such a beautifully feeling of place, and this book is no different. You feel like you can reach out and touch the Norwegian trees, the tiny little creek and it's rowboat, the fir needles under your feet, see the almost unending twilight in the northern Norwegian summer.

Treat yourself and read it.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - #41

Imaged sourced from here
I remember first hearing about this series when my step-father asked for it one Christmas. I was slightly bemused being young and judgmental. But then the hype and acclaim got louder and louder. And I knew I was being silly.

But I have still left it until now to read about Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency. I am actually glad this challenge kicked me up the butt to read this book. Did I think it was as amazing as all the reviews have told me for the last 10 years? No. Was it a fun read? Yes. I did feel it was a little tainted with the overhype, but that is not the book's problem.

What actually impressed me about the book was two things. One was the sense of place. Alexander McCall Smith has an amazing way of describing the landscape and the surrounds that you actually feel like you are there. I saw an interview with him and he was just so in love with the landscape of Zimbabwe (where he grew up) and Botswana, and that makes complete sense as it it comes across in his writing. It was like the country and the environment was a character in the story. As someone who comes from a very ragged country herself, it was lovely to have that kind of environment talked about in a book. None of this Thomas the Tank Engine style of manicured landscape, this was real.

Secondly, there is no doubt this book is a cozy. However, there are so many topics and taboos that are talked about in this medium that don't usually fit. It was refreshing. Cozies have a tendency to be so clean and sanitised. None of that horrible life stuff (besides murder of course). But this one talks about rape, witchcraft, domestic violence, sacrificial killings, etc. It was an interesting mix. And yet a very safe way to raise these issues. I was impressed with the sensitivity to the audience, yet the lack of glossing over the truth.

Did I completely fall in love with it? No. Will I go back for a second helping? Yes. I need to see how it develops. I probably won't stick around for the whole 14 books, but I have a bit more time in me for Precious and her agency in the meantime.

Tephra, the new chicken, decided she wanted to write to you all too. I include her blog post below: "25555555555555555555555555555555555thuiuiuiuigggynutuul,;l'[=K9.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll568655555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555556+"

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Something Fresh

Image sourced from here
While I was overseas, I finally bit the bullet and started a Wodehouse. This is an important time in every girl's life, and I am very happen that it occurred while I was actually in Wodehouse country. I am really quite serious about that last part. I cannot imagine a better intro to Wodehouse than I have had.

I picked up Something Fresh, the first in the Blandings Castle series, in a bookshop in Oxford. I had luckily discovered that morning, that I had brought the wrong book overseas with me for the September Challenge I was running. So I just had to buy another book. Life is so incredibly hard sometimes.

The book starts in the West End of London, which we had just been spending the last week wandering around exploring. I could imagine perfectly the streets or buildings, if I didn't know the exact area it was describing. When we weren't in London, we were up in Oxfordshire visiting my brother who was in an old family manor/stately home which had been converted to a hospice. But it was very similar to what I imagine Blandings would have been like. Just a bit smaller.

The book itself was fun. A little old fashioned, but no more than other writers of that era are now. But I can see why he is such an acclaimed writer. The book introduces us to the Threepwood family, their staff and friends. This time we meet them when it looks like Freddie, the youngest and particularly useless Threepwood, has just gotten engaged.

The story honestly is a little thin, but that's not why you read Wodehouse. You read him for his interactions between people and his observations of just about everything around them. And when he is does this and pointing out the slight absurdity of it all, he is brilliant. I am not a huge fan of slapstick either, but when it is written in such a dry, sarcastic... British, way. Oh I was nearly crying with laughter on the train. I highly recommend picking it up for a light, fluffy read.