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First Half Of 2021 Film Round Up

I’m in a mini rut this year with films; I’ve spent a lot of evenings socialising digitally and time spent in front of the TV has been for comedy shows. Having noticed it I’m planning more Cary Grant film nights for this second half of the year.

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Emma (UK/USA, 1996) – Of Jane Austen fame; Emma, thrilled with her past success in matchmaking attempts to find a match for her lower-born friend amongst Emma’s higher society at any cost. This one’s okay, though if I can compare, I preferred the latest one from 2020.

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (USA, 2017) – A single mother with a demanding career finds luck when her son befriends a man who can be his tutor. Pretty average story however the two leads are two of the better actors in Hallmark/Lifetime/etc Christmas movie land so that makes it a lot better.

The Greatest Showman (USA, 2017) – A man works his way from a regular background to become famed for his circus. the plot is very so-so – it’s the music that’s good.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (UK/USA, 2002) – As per Oscar Wilde, two men pretend to be each other in order to better themselves and everyone is confused. Lots of fun.

Apart from the Cary Grant films, and the latest David Copperfield which was added to Amazon later than I’d thought it would be (thus I forgot to keep an eye on it) I’m not making any plans. I think this year that would be best.

 
May, June, And July 2021 Reading Round Up

It made sense to put these months together; it was getting late last month to write about my June reading, I’d only finished one book, and then I realised I hadn’t accounted for May either. I did a lot of reading during that week-long heatwave where I spent most hours of the day situated outside. I’m also thrilled to say I’m double vaccinated; the second dose gave me a weird half flu for a few days but I’m glad to have had it. Photos suggest bookshops still exist; I’m looking forward to visiting them.

All books are works of fiction.

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Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

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Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

All these books have helped me through the last months, with their balance of fun and escapism with excellent studies and commentary. The fantasies, too, have included their studies. The Gabaldon definitely took a while to read – a few hours in the garden every week or so (it took over four months) – but I’m glad I decided to carry on with the series and am looking forward to getting back to the adaptation.

I’m currently about a quarter of the way through Sharlene Teo’s Ponti and have just begun Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart. The first was a present last Christmas and a long-awaited read that I’m enjoying, the second a newer book that employs the second person, which had me intrigued.

It’s been a while: how are you all and what have you been reading?


Charlie and Rachel Hore (A Beautiful Spy) discuss the life and work of a female spy in the years between the First and Second World Wars, the man who inspired James Bond’s M, and how Rachel took care to do right in her representation of a real person.

To see all the details including links to other apps, the episode page can be found here.

 
March And April 2021 Reading Round Up And Podcast Episodes Missing From This Blog

Things are still all over the place; it was actually only this past week I realised I’d not posted here in so long. We do at least now have a pretty firm idea of the reason for the pets’ problem and are working on it, and when I’m back to not living in fortnightly cycles of worry, my head will be a lot clearer. I want to be writing here properly again.

All books are works of fiction.

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Kate Forsyth: Bitter Greens – A fictional story of the woman who wrote the popular version of Rapunzel, and how she discovered the tale (it includes a retelling of its own). It made my ‘best of’ list the year I first read it, and it would make my best of list this year if I didn’t have a rule of no repeats.

Kate Forsyth: The Wild Girl – The fictionalised tale of Dortchen Wild who fell in love with one of the Grimm brothers and helped them in their task of collecting fairy tales. Very good, hard to put down.

Kimberly Derting: The Body Finder – A girl who can sense the bodies of murdered people aids the discovery of the killer. Very good young adult fiction.

Kimberly Derting: Desires Of The Dead – Violet steps up her act by working with the FBI. It may not be as creepy as expected but it’s a worthy continuation of the series that begun with The Body Finder.

Kimberly Derting: The Last Echo – Violet and her team take on a man who kidnaps girls to be his girlfriend, and this time it’s more personal than ever before. The best book of the series so far.

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Kimberly Derting: Dead Silence – Violet now has her own echo playing in her head, and her next assignment involves a young group of people. Still holding onto that strength.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – Jimmy Han wants to make something of himself, away from his father’s restaurant but things start to go a bit amiss; this all kicks off after Jimmy’s conversion with family friend Uncle Pang, and as Jimmy tries to work around the issues and becomes close to employee/consultant Janine, the cracks in the lives of those who work at the restaurant start to show, and they’ll need work to overcome. A difficult book to summarise without revealing too much, this is a book that studies immigrant parent-child relationships and other familial relationships in the against the backdrop of a busy restaurant.

Liz Fenwick: The Path To The Sea – The impending death of Joan causes her daughter Diana to wonder what exactly happened to her father, who died when she was young; it causes granddaughter Lottie, whilst happy to return to the home she spent her summers at, to look at her current relationship and where she went wrong with her first love; and meanwhile we learn the story of Joan’s days as a spy in the Cold War. Three very good narratives (I personally most enjoyed Joan’s) that will appeal to many give its scope, use of time, and the different characters.

Louise Douglas: The House By The Sea – When Edie’s ex-mother-in-law dies and leaves the house in Sicily to her and her ex-husband, Anna’s son Joe, Edie is forced to go to inspect it with Joe despite the hatred she feels for the woman – Anna was babysitting young Daniel the day he died. A great book about forgiveness and redemption with a heroine as well written as any of Douglas’ previous.

My reading the past couple of months has been very satisfying, a mixture of great re-reads and good new books. I particularly enjoyed the Douglas as I had time to read it slowly, which felt fitting.


Email subscribers may need to open this web page in their browsers in order to see the media players below. The episodes can also be found on all major and most indie podcast apps; links to the biggest are on the page linked to at the bottom of this post.

Podcast episodes 34-38

Charlie and Lillian Li (Number One Chinese Restaurant) discuss racial prejudice in Chinese restaurants, looking at the narrative of immigrant parents and sacrifice, and how her editor pushed her to increase the impact of themes and ideas.

Please note that I have not censored the swear words in this episode because the over all effect would be different without them.

Charlie and Liz Fenwick (The Path To The Sea) discuss the success of spies in the Cold War who were – on the face of it – ‘just’ housewives, bringing new characters to more prominence and bringing past characters back from other books, and the age-old question of cream or jam first.

Charlie and Kate Forsyth (Bitter Greens; The Wild Girl) discuss the story and history of Rapunzel – which was part of Kate’s doctoral thesis – as well as the woman who told the Brothers Grimm many of their tales, and the progression of change those tales went through as the brothers pursued success.

Charlie and Kimberly Derting (The Body Finder) discuss publishing a dark YA series in the wake of Twilight, avoiding romance and family tropes, and the further lives of her characters beyond the final page.

She’s back! Nicola Cornick (The Forgotten Sister; The Last Daughter) returns to discuss Amy Robsart and the mystery of her death, the relationship between Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I, and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

To see all the details including links to other apps, the episode pages can be found here.

 
February 2021 Reading Round Up + Podcasts

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog. One of my rabbits has required two emergancy vet visits in as many months, having also had an issue at Christmas which we just managed to catch before it became urgent. It’s a common intestinal issue, GI Statis, where if you don’t treat or catch it early enough the rabbit dies. It’s been constant stress and rushing around and now we’re waiting for blood test results to see if we can find out what’s going wrong. Suffice to say February and March have been overwhelming and my read list is a bit… sparse.

But I did get some reading done, three books that I very much enjoyed, and I hope to review the two that were new reads.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Catherine Cho: Inferno – A short while after giving birth to her first child, Cho was sent to an involuntary psych ward in the US (she was visiting from the UK) having experienced Post Partum Psychosis; she details the experience, interwoven with the events to the run up. Stunning book; Cho’s story needs reading widely and her handling of the literature side of things is phenomenal.

Fiction

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Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Secret Passages In A Hillside Town – Mundane, boring, Ollie, who lives in his own world and doesn’t even seem to know or care what his son’s name is, has a blast from the past when a past lover adds him as a friend on Facebook and Ollie starts to be imbroiled in a present-day version of his fantastical childhood. Fantastic, strange, out and out weird – I still haven’t worked it all out but there’s no question; it’s amazing.

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Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Ella becomes the long-awaited 10th member of a society that involves the country’s greatest writers – but are they the greatest writers, really? A very good look at ideas and writing in general.

I had a ball with my February reading. Three excellent books. The categories are incomparable and I couldn’t pretend to choose a favourite.

So far in March I have read one book and have tentatively started another. I’m going to continue doing what I am and taking it one day at a time.


Two podcasts today as I’m behind in posting them here. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media players below.

Charlie and Susmita Bhattacharya (Table Manners; also The Normal State Of Mind) discuss her world-wide travel and moves abroad – including a visa-less stopover, the experiences of recent immigrants to Britain, and having your work featured and serialised on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Charlie and Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (The Rabbit Back Literature Society; Secret Passages In A Hillside Town) discuss dreams that become literature – vampires; books where words and plot points change in a sort of book plague; secret passages that wipe your memory, and many more – writing a book that’s difficult for a reader to work out and not knowing yourself what the answer is, creepy and traumatic fictional games, and issuing an alternative ending to your novel in a brand new publication.

To see all the details including links to other apps, the episode pages can be found here.

 
2021 Goals And 2020 Data + Podcast

A photograph of Hever Castle gardens in autumn

In 2020 I read 57 books. Twelve were by men, 45 were by women. Fourteen were by non-white authors. Four were collections, 2 non-fiction, 17 re-reads. I didn’t read any poetry – I do have one at the ready but didn’t manage it for it to count for the year. I’d like to improve those numbers, particularly I’d like to read more, but I’m going to go careful.

Something very noticeable was the number of new books I read: the most numerous year was 2020 (11), the year of the reading, somewhat understandable with the podcast but I didn’t expect it to be quite as many. The furthest-away year was 2007 (1), which is utterly rubbish; I need to do better there. Further numbers: 2019 (7); 2018 (7); 2017 (8); 2016 (9); 2015 (1); 2014 (1); 2013 (2); 2012 (2); 2011 (1); 2010 (2); 2009 (3); 2008 (1).

I have ummed and ahhed over setting goals. I have ended up with three, and two are different to all other years. I pretty much failed last year’s goals but I think that’s true for a lot of us! Last year’s goals were as follows:

  1. Read more by month, looking at shorter periods of time rather than the longer period of a year: I didn’t do the former, but did do the latter. Going by two weeks at a time all the time really emphasised the passage of time – for quite a while, the slowness of it.
  2. Read more classics of all kinds: failed completely.
  3. Thackeray: it’s still on the list.
  4. Read Dragonfly In Amber: I didn’t actually get a copy until very late in the year; I’ve been purchasing very little and present-giving events were small. Thanks to my Second Mum, as I call her, I now have a copy and hope to get to it soon.

So, this year, I’d like to read at least one classic. I’ll be seeing the word ‘classic’ in terms of ‘older classic’, because at the moment I don’t think Gabaldon should count, and neither do I think George R R Martin, who I hope to get to, should count.

In addition to this, I’d like to get to more books received as presents; I’m thinking from recent years. These are Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti, Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock, and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.

And, lastly, more bookish-related than about specifics books, I want to try and work past an issue I have where the feeling of being daunted by starting a new book (all those pages ahead of me…) means that it takes me time to get into the book. I need to get better not only at just starting and getting past the first pages – after which the issue disappears and I’m away – but also a (potentially) related issue, which I’ve spoken of before, where I never really take in the first page or so. Yes, this, despite my interest and focus on first lines.

Did you make any goals for this year?


This Monday’s podcast episode is with Elizabeth Baines. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Elizabeth Baines (Used To Be; Astral Travel; also The Birth Machine; Balancing On The Edge Of The World; Too Many Magpies) discuss writing for radio, short stories – the relative importance of their first lines and differences to novels – writing a book about trying to tell a story, and the difficulties in labelling someone complicit or a victim in the context of past societal values.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 

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