Bronte book challenge

Only a mini challenge this time. Unlike last time.

Samantha Ellis, author of How to be a Heroine and writer of a very funny 2-actor play called How to Date a Feminist, has a new book out. As far as I understand, it’s on why Anne Bronte is the best Bronte.

If you are a Bennet sister, everyone in the neighbourhood compares your looks. If you are a Bronte, they compare your writing. That’s probably better really.

I have no wish to be more intimately acquainted with Wuthering Heights than I already am. I consider it to be full of horrible people being horrible to one another, sometimes in an impenetrable accent.

I have read Jane Eyre, but not recently, so I will reread it. I will ease in gently by reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which is sort of about Jane Eyre but not really.

I have not read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or the other one, so I have no knowledge of Anne Bronte at all. I can’t even summon the name of the other one without looking, so I shall read both in order to fully appreciate the arguments in favour as Anne as “the best Bronte”.


The Light Years (The Cazalet Chronicles) – Elizabeth Jane Howard

One of my regular complaints when visiting historical sites is that I don’t get enough detail about everyday life. Yes, the tiles are beautiful, but what kind of furniture did people use? Yes, that’s the kitchen, but how did they cook, what did they eat, what time did they get up? Why are there not pictures of how this would look when it’s full of silk curtains and platters of dates?

Some of my curiosity about everyday life in the past is being sated by The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

The Cazalets are a large extended family who regularly get together in one place in sufficient numbers for me to forget which of the boys is the eldest, and which of the small children belongs to which brother.

In 1937, the generations span the times so that grandmother (the Duchy) is still suitably Victorian in her attitudes, while one granddaughter is starting to wear trousers. (shocking, I know) A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy reflects on how many married women have a few children, a large gap, and then one last baby. She can’t quite figure out who she could ask how to become unpregnant.

And the food! Louise learns how to make Bath buns and is rather good at them. Marie biscuits are kept by bedsides. Someone (Polly perhaps?) doesn’t really like milk chocolate but can’t tell her father because he meant it as a kind gesture. Two children on a rotating basis are allowed to eat dinner at the big table, rather than having supper in the nursery.

The Light Years was published in 1990, but the author has lived through these years (her ages approximately matches that of the elder grandchildren) so it combines the authenticity of a contemporary book with a slightly more modern style of writing, and the ability to look back.

If you like this sort of thing, you should read these books. The closest comparison I can think of is Diary of a Provincial Lady, which can either function as a recommendation for this (if you liked that, you might like this) or an additional recommendation,



2015 Book Challenge – #18 – The Versions of Us

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett, was recommended by a friend who actually knows the author. This is her first book, and my friend’s excitement was quite infectious. I was excited too when I saw an advert on the tube.

If I were pitching this, I would say this is part Sliding Doors, part One Day, and part Life After Life. The lives of two people (and many of their friends and family) and how they progress over 60-odd years, through three variations on one starting point.

I liked: seeing how experience changes people, poignant descriptions of relationships, that there is no “good version” of the world (each had positives and negatives), the Cambridge references in the early years.

I disliked: characters thinking “I feel like I should know you” – as far as I’m concerned that’s not how multiple universe work, no more books to read by this author (yet!).


2015 Book Challenge – #17 – Station Eleven

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel, was recommended on Twitter. Actually it wasn’t even directly recommended, I just overhead a conversation and had to join in.

How could I resist?

How could I resist?

Station Eleven is not set on a station of any kind. It’s set slightly before, and 20 years after, a flu epidemic has killed 99% of the world’s population. The station of the title is one in a science fiction comic that we see coming in to being, passing from hand to hand, and linking some of our characters in unintended ways.

I love a bit of post-apocalypse, and I like it when we know how the apocalypse came about – or at least that we try to find out about it. If the story is set after-the-end in our world I always feel a little disappointed if we don’t get a glimpse of how it happened.

The links between the people we know “now” and the people we see “then” start off tenuous and then become more entwined.

I don’t want to say any more other than that if you like this sort of thing even a bit, you should read it. If you know anyone who likes this sort of thing, and they are aged 12 or over, they should read it. (in terms of suitability it’s less violent or sexual than the Gone series by Michael Grant, which is definitely deliberately aimed at kids).

2015 Book Challenge – 11 – Whose Body?

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

This book is interesting in being recommended not by the internet, not by a person I know in real life, but by another fictional character. In To Say Nothing Of The Dog (which I highly recommend) a man time-travelling to the late Victorian era models his behaviour on this series’ protagonist, to reasonably good effect.

Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers is the first in a series of books about Lord Peter Wimsey, a gentleman detective. And there is plenty of whimsy.

This is, in essence, a good old Agatha Christie sort of thing, with dead bodies and clues and riddles and butlers and  mispaced pince-nez and a handy this is how I did it at the end to round everything off.

The most interesting part to my mind came at the end. After the denouement, the book had an extra piece that seemed to have been added on in the manner of “a note from the author on reissuing an edited/amended version”. However in this case the note was not from the author, but from the main character’s (fictional, of course) uncle, noting that Miss Sayers had corrected some errors and giving us some back story that was sorely missing from the main part of the book. It feels rather as if this was not intended to be 1 of a series, so little effort was made in telling us precisely why Peter suffers from “shell-shock” – or perhaps at the time this was no so unusual as to require explanation. After a number of books were written, perhaps the author decided that a deper introduction to his past and character was required.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like it. If you do not, this will not convince you. Will I read some more? Maybe, if I am feeling in the mood.

2015 book challenge – #7 – Suite Francaise

(not a challenge to read 2015 books – explanation here)

#7 in the challenge is Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky.

Yes, I copied and pasted to get the accents right.

This was recommended by a friend who has lived in France, and with the emphasis on “read it before the film comes out”. The film has been reviewed unfavourably everywhere I’ve seen it, and described as a prettied-up romance.

I felt that this book was more like a piece of music than a story. It was beautifully written and there were wonderfully expressed emotions and feelings and atmospheres. The tension of the exodus from Paris was palpable. The conflicted feelings about “the enemy” who were also young men far from home reminded me a bit of some of the “nature of personhood” issues that crop up in science fiction.

Sadly I didn’t feel engaged with the characters, and I can see why a film adaptation would want to focus on a characater-led story rather than an atmosphere-led piece.

It was also VERY FRENCH. I was reading in English and the translator had clearly done a brilliant job in keeping the Frenchness. Even the nighttime activities of a cat were expressed in a dramatic and indulgent way, as if the cat were an old luvvie (one who pronounces it ac-TOR) narrating his everyday life as if it were a grand tragedy.

Why I love my Kindle (books vs kindle)

The case is scruffy – I’ve had it two and a half years. That book is about 4 inches deep.

I’ve just read Mummy Barrow explain why she loves books over a kindle.

I don’t disagree with any of her points – but I can’t bring myself to get sentimental over physical books. Some people are fussy about “breaking” the spine of a new book (note it’s not breaking at all, just bending so that you can see the bloody pages), others like the story told by the accumulated stains and bends and folded-down corners and pencil notes. I just see books as a way of getting words into my brain, via my eyes.

The one thing that books do have going for them is the ability to lend them – I love getting friends to read books and introducing them to new authors. But this can’t make up for the fundamental amazingness of the kindle. I can carry so many books!. In a small, thin thing that is easier to carry than most paperbacks, and a lot easier to carry than the hardback version of the latest book in a fantasy series that I’ve been reading that I had to get in hardback because it took years for the latest book to come out, I can carry the book I am reading right now, the book I think I want to read next, and a few spares in case when I finish this book I feel like something different. I’ve even been known to connect my kindle to the internet via my phone in order to get hold of a new book RIGHT NOW.

There’s nothing that a bunch of paper glued together can do to outweigh the amazingness of being able to carry lots of books all at once.

So that’s why I love my kindle,


PS – don’t get a Kindle Fire. A proper e-reader e-ink kindle does one thing very well. It lets you read books. A Kindle Fire is less good at that, but not good enough at other things. It’s not “like a kindle only better”, it’s “like a tablet only very locked down, with adverts on the lockscreen”.

PPS I’ve just seen the following quote “This 1000-page tome is the best argument you’ll have all year to get an e-reader, because you HAVE to have this book, but you might not be muscular enough to carry it around.” This relates to The Way of Kings, which I would heartily recommend if it weren’t for the fact that it’s #1 of a series where only one has been written. Go read the Mistborn books in the meantime, by that point maybe there will be more of these.