This is not a snow post. We have had snow. We are, in fact, all racketing about the house as the schools have officially called a snow day. I was supposed to be going to London today to see the Box of Delights with my friend, Claire, but we are also having a snow day, but have managed to reschedule rather than cancel. Huzzah.
Enough of weather talk. This is another book post. Sleep continues to elude me despite all the things I am doing to tempt it. Sanity is firmer than last week, but anxiety looms large. Reading continues to be a solace. As I am off on my jollies in less than a week and will be reading up a storm there as well, another round up is due.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes – The Princess Bride is one of my favourite films of all time. My friend Andrea and I saw it at our local flea pit, the year it came out, and spent the time waiting for our respective parents to pick us up, duelling on the pavement using our umbrellas. It has never grown tired (the film, or duelling with umbrellas). Cary Elwes was Wesley, the hero of the piece, and this gentle, non-scandalous memoir tells the tale of his time making the film. It’s affectionate, sweet and undemanding.
Through Your Blood by Toby Campion – Toby is a performance poet from Leicester (where I live, me). His mum is a dear friend of mine. He’s a lovely chap and his poetry is excellent. He is a performance poet, and you can see some of his work on Youtube. My favourite of his poems is here. Through Your Blood is his first, published collection and it is rather wonderful. It’s assured and powerful and beautifully collated so that the poems link together to form something you can easily read as a kind of ongoing narrative by theme. I’ve seen him perform some of the poems, but others are new to me. It’s great to see them both live, and on the page.
A House In Flanders by Michael Jenkins – Michael Jenkins went on to become a world famous, diplomat, but this is his reminiscences of travelling to France as a teenager and staying with a French family who treated him as one of the family. It’s a fascinating look into a time when France was trying to come to terms with the legacy of two world wars and occupation. I thoroughly enjoyed this rather poignant memoir.
As Mad As Some: Idiot Verse by Laon Maybanke – I picked this up on my perpetual treasure hunting trip somewhere. It was a rather interesting binding with hand drawn pictures and the one page of verse I perused before paying for it was in the Ogden Nash line so it seemed worth a risk. It isn’t. Vanity publishing and terrible verse which may once have seemed amusing but is now largely offensive. It’s an hour of my life I won’t get back. Don’t do it. Luckily I cannot find a copy to link to to save you even thinking about whether to read it anyway.
Under The Paw by Tom Cox – I discovered Tom Cox via Twitter a few years ago, and this year I actually got round to reading his books. This is the first book he wrote about his cats. There are four, largely cat related works and I have read them in reverse order. They’re not your typical cat books. Cox is a brilliant writer, funny, observant and with a knack for writing lovingly but unsentimentally about animals. I pledged for his latest book: 21st Century Yokel, on Unbound this year, and am taking it on holiday with me. I am really excited to read it. Anyway, I recommend reading the cat books in the proper order if you think you’ll enjoy them. Start here. If you’re not sure, you can read a tonne of his writing for free on his website. He’s wonderful.
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham – This was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for my review. Allingham is probably best known as a writer of classic crime fiction. Her books about Campion and his side-kick Lugg made her name, and her most famous work is probably The Tiger in the Smoke. This is her memoir of the outbreak of World War II and what it meant to her and the community she lived in. It’s written as the war is still raging, starting in 1938 and finishing in early 1941, and as such is both interesting as a contemporary account, and frustrating because she seems rather hesitant in some areas to be frank. It seems to have been written with an audience in mind, and given that the villagers she lives with, sign the back pages of the book, possibly with their ongoing input, which may explain the caution. I found it tricky to get into, and then just as I was really starting to enjoy it, it ends. I’d loved to have known what happened to everyone and how they coped with the rest of the war.
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – This was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for my review. It’s available for pre-order and published on January 11th 2018. I really liked this. I didn’t think I would when I first started reading it. I thought it would be another one of those heart-warming books about how fun the elderly are when you really think about it. Which are fine, but rather over done now. This is much more than that. It’s a double mystery. Firstly you have to figure out what’s going on in terms of the narrative, and then there’s an actual mystery in the book. It’s rather tense, it’s quite funny and has a nice, dark seam of grimness that I really enjoyed.
The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon – I usually start reviews of short story collections with the fact that I don’t like short stories. Except that in the last few years I have read some exceptional short stories and I think it’s fair to say that I am now firmly on the side of the short story. This collection is up there in my top reads of 2017, if not at the actual top. It’s incredibly dark, wonderfully written and absolutely perfect. The first story, The Pier Falls, is so perfect, I had to have a lie down after I’d read it. It’s the best thing I’ve read in years. Terrible and wonderful.
The 45% Hangover by Stuart MacBride – This is a novella and only 99p on Kindle at the moment. If you are a fan of MacBride’s Logan and Steel detective books, which I am, this is a great, between the numbers filler. It’s not got the grim, darkness of the novels and concentrates more on playing it for laughs and the ludicrous relationship between Logan and Steel. I loved it.
Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav – This was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for my review. I’d never heard of Lang Leav before this. Apparently she’s a poet who made it big using the internet and social media and has an adoring readership which has meant that her books are all best sellers. This one is out on February 8, 2018. I am not destined to be an adoring fan. Her poetry is, to my mind (and my view is purely subjective) rather trite and full of heartfelt, greetings card style philosophy about love and heartbreak. If I had read this at 18, I may have indeed loved her, although I had and still have, Sylvia Plath for that kind of thing, but my enduring thought whilst reading this was ‘I am too old for this shit.’ The poetry is not particularly poetic. It makes an easy read, but if you’re looking for deep metaphor and anything other than basic doggerel verse, this is not for you. I want to be nice to her, because she seems lovely, but I did think this was terrible and I couldn’t, in all honesty, recommend it to anyone. I think I’m genuinely too old, and too cynical for this book.
A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon – This was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for my review. It’s available now and as it’s as festive as Maigret is ever going to get, it would be a good Christmas read, if you like your seasonal literature with a hint of menace. Simenon is crime classic royalty, and rightly so. This is elegant, unfussy and full of a kind of coiled menace that lurks behind the descriptions of a Parisian Christmas. I love Maigret for his world weariness, his (not-so) secret hankering to be on the mean streets and, in this book, his bewildering attempts to placate his long suffering wife on Christmas day.
In terms of children’s fiction I read:
The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris – This was given to me by Amazon Vine in exchange for my review. Neil Patrick Harris is best known to people of my age as Doogie Howser M.D. However, since having children of his own he has leapt into children’s writing. I believe this is co-authored with another writer. As an adult I found it a little clunky and with gaping plot holes. Reading as a child I would absolutely love this, and it’s available now if anyone wants to purchase it as a gift. It’s fast paced, it’s full of adventure and harks back to the days of Blyton and running away to join the circus. It’s got secret codes for the reader to crack, and how to do magic tricks of all kinds interspersed amongst the chapters. It’s got great, cartoon like illustrations and I know that were I eight and someone had given me this for Christmas, I’d be driving everyone mad trying to pull coins out their ears and planning on my escape to a life of adventure. I’ve reviewed it in slightly more detail over at Making Them Readers.