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Reading Life: 24th January 2020

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

Whilst I’m currently in the middle of writing a couple of further thoughts type posts, one in particular that I thought would take only an hour or so and then ballooned in the research department, I thought I’d have a think on what I’ve been reading so far this month, though not everything because that would make this post very long and I don’t want to descend into naval-gazing. As I said on Monday, it’s been a fair amount, and I hope to finish at least a couple more. It’s also been immensely satisfying.

I started the year by finishing a book I’d carried over, Sherry Thomas’ Delicious. This is different for me as I like the idea of that first book of the year, a brand new page. But I did find that finishing a book you’ve carried over feels the same as if it were new, which was a nice discovery – I know, it probably should have been obvious. This all said, whilst it was a carry-over, I was only a quarter of the way through it, and this was because I was finding it difficult. I’d read three of Thomas’ romances before, liking two a lot and disliking the other, so I knew it was possible I’d like this next one.

(I’ll say here that I’m specifying Thomas’ romances because whilst she is known as a historical romance writer, in recent years she’s written Young Adult fantasy which I want to read regardless of the general ratio I find in regards to my enjoyment of her romances – her use of language has always been stunning.)

I found Delicious difficult because it was confusing, at least to me – perhaps if I’d read it quicker, with fewer breaks for other books, I’d have been less confused, but the basics of the plot are that a woman has relationships with two brothers, and she feels she has to hide her face from the second years later because it had up to then been a one-night stand and awkward. She also seems at the start of the book to be some sort of ex-Lady, which was also confusing at that point.

Anyway, over all I liked it enough. Subjectively I suppose it was always going to be less successful for me because it’s about a cook and I can rarely get into fiction books where food is a big feature. But I’m glad to have finished it. I will try another of Thomas’ books at some point, I might just double-check the storyline.

I’ve read Table Manners and The Forgotten Sister as you know, and I read E C Fremantle’s The Poison Bed.

Then I have my bedtime read – the short story collection Reader, I Married Him – which is a concept I’ve essentially instigated because I’ve been having trouble sleeping; I suppose Christmas hasn’t quite worn off. I picked a book I’d had for a while in the hopes that I wouldn’t be too excited about it – when thinking about the recommendation of a bedtime routine to foster good sleeping habits, I have to pause at the advice to read as a way to calm down. It is great advice, unless you like to write notes, or review, blog, and so forth. How am I to relax and get ready to sleep if I’m needing to make notes in the book or, in my case, note down anything I should remember for a review? Reading is relaxing, but not as much as I expect the people who write these guidelines expect it to be. Needless to say it’s not working as I’d hoped – I hope that’s a not yet – but it is at least enjoyable; I like that I have a book I’m reading in the evenings followed by a change to another book. It’s an unintentional nicety but I reckon switching books during an evening helps keep away any burnout, and the effective procrastination I’ve found previously when trying to change books for whatever reason doesn’t happen when there’s a routine reason for the change.

I don’t think that’s what the original advisors were imagining when they came up with reading as an aid to sleep, but it’s been an interesting experience.

Reader, I Married Him is effectively what you would expect it to be – a collection based on Jane Eyre, and the sentence in all its emotions and meanings. Some stories are quite distant to the classic text, others very close to it; this is to say there’s a fair amount of variety in it. I’m enjoying it – some of the stories I’m not quite ‘getting’, I believe, but it’s fun. It’s also more lengthy than you might think when picking it up, the differing subjects perhaps adding to the length as you have to ‘reset’ your thoughts ready for a different location, time period, and author.

So it has been a good month so far – I hope I can add a few more books to it.

Completely off topic, Lit Hub has compiled a list of the many literary adaptations coming to screens this year and it is worth a check if you haven’t seen it already – there are tons and a variety of genres are included. I’m looking forward to David Copperfield with Dev Patel myself.

Do you read before bed?

 
Latest Acquisitions (December 2019 – January 2020)

This Christmas I asked for books; first time in a while. And this current month has been fairly busy; I’m reading review copies a few months ahead of their publication, and it’s been a lot of fun. (I’m also managing to put that ‘read by month’ goal to good use; it’s only January, still, but I’m happy to have started the year this way.) I should have an early review this week. I’m excited about the below books in general, and plan to get them all read within a short time.

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Bernadine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other – This was on my Christmas wishlist. I’ve never wanted to read a Man Booker win as much as this one. I am purposefully not finding out what it’s about, though the title does give you an idea.

Camilla Bruce: You Let Me In – From the publisher; to be published on the 5th March. This is a Gothic thriller by a Norwegian writer. A novelist has got away twice with murder, so when she disappears, leaving only a letter, her family suspect her conscience has got to her. But the letters tell two stories that make them question it all.

E C Fremantle: The Poison Bed – I had read Fremantle’s previous four books (under Elizabeth Fremantle) and had had this on my list; bought it this month so that we could talk about it on the podcast, which is out next Monday. The book is about the factual case of Frances Howard and Robert Carr who are arrested for a murder.

Imogen Hermes Gowar: The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock – I’ve wanted this one ever since it was published and then, later, it was on the Young Writer of the Year shortlist. Received for Christmas. Like the Evaristo, I only know so much and am keeping away from the specifics, but it looks at antiques, museums, and the murky past.

Nicola Cornick: The Forgotten Sister – This will be published in April and I plan to review it later this week. It’s a dual plot novel revolving around the death of the wife of Elizabeth I’s favourite – Amy Robsart, who was married to Robert Dudley – an event that is still a mystery today.

Did you receive or buy any books over the holiday period?

 
2020 Goals

A photograph of Hardy's Cottage

We’re in the second full week of January, I’m writing my goals, and I haven’t that many specifics. I think at this point, because I don’t want to leave it any longer, it’d be best to look at the general ideas I have and stitch them together. I achieved about half my reading goals for last year – I wanted to go back to some review copies I’d missed, which I did, and read more classics. But I didn’t get to the books I’d noted.

I know that I want and need to re-read more; this is simply a continuation of the latter months of last year. I also know that at present, I’ve a plan to finish that ever-present Thackeray and to read a good few more books, if possible, by the end of this month. I’m liking the idea of repeating that in February.

It strikes me that it might be best to concentrate on reading more in general, hesitantly moving a step further than my oft-stated ‘read as much as I comfortably can’. (Although that in itself isn’t cancelled out by trying to read more.)

I also know I want to carry on increasing my reading of classics; I didn’t manage to complete my Classics Club list – a lot did change in five years’ reading – but emphasising the idea that ‘classics’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘old’ definitely helps. In the last year I’ve noticed an increase in the number of times I’ve picked up on references to classics in other books and articles.

On the first few evenings my Christmas decorations were up, I found myself wanting to watch Outlander series 2 (I watched the first series at that time so there’s a weird feeling of Christmas to it) and following a couple of weeks’ worth of internal debate over the ‘appropriateness’ of watching it when I hadn’t read the second book, I did so. Inevitably I have now decided that yes, I should read the second book, so that’s one more specific thing to add to my list.

So, in 2020 I will aim to:

  1. Read more by the month, looking at shorter periods of time rather than the longer period of a year, in the hopes that that lessens any thoughts of ‘oh but it doesn’t matter that I’ve not read much in these first two, three, five months, there’s so much of the year left’. (Because I do do that.)
  2. Read more classics of all kinds (and if one of them happens to be the Charlotte Mary Yonge I planned for last year, great).
  3. Get to that Thackeray and get it done.
  4. Read Dragonfly In Amber

Yes, that’ll do.

Do you have any reading goals for 2020? And if you read by year, so to speak, do you ever feel complacent in the first months?

 
Second Half Of 2019 Film Round Up

Lots of classics here. I’ve listed the Hallmark made-for-TV Christmas movies at the bottom; whilst some are really good I can’t deny that they are guilty pleasures.

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Aladdin (USA, 2019) – This mostly follows the same storyline as that used in Disney’s 1992 cartoon version. It’s awesome. It was evident that they acknowledged Will Smith is very different to Robin Williams so instead they aligned the genie to Smith and it worked incredibly well. Loved the changed lyrics. Didn’t think giving Jasmine a new plot thread worked as well but understand why they did it.

Charlie’s Angels (USA, 2000) – Three women employed by a mysterious man they have never met look to stop a killer. Maybe it’s the age of the original showing through, but I wasn’t keen.

Enchanted April (UK, 1992) – Four women of differing personalities and backgrounds club together in order to rent a castle for a month’s holiday. This has all the atmosphere of the book and is quite wonderful. I found myself appreciating Scrap much more (though her nickname is left out in the film) and it brought to my attention the way that Briggs and Scrap being together would mean the seven of them would be able to return. The only drawback from the film was the way everything seemed to happen over a matter of days but that’s just the nature of a film trying to show a month – the script did include plenty of references to the passing of time.

His Girl Friday (USA, 1940) – A newspaper editor tries to sabotage the new relationship of his ex-wife, a reporter, getting her to cover a story only two hours before she’s due to catch a train. This was fulfilling in a technical way – it’s a dialogue-heavy play on screen and very funny. Unfortunately it also uses a word we consider racist – it’s used once but does make a mark. The film is in the public domain.

McLintock! (USA, 1963) – Based on The Taming Of The Shrew, a landowner’s estranged wife returns from the city and he tries to get her back. I’d never seen a John Wayne film and as one of his films that’s in the public domain it’s easy to find this one in good quality (Amazon has at least two). Best viewed in its full context, in which it’s enjoyable enough.

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Mughal-E-Azam (The Great Mughal) (India, 1960) – A prince falls in love with a court dancer and his father becomes enraged. I’d wanted to see this classic and I’m glad I did, but in this case I’m also glad it’s behind me as whilst the story itself is okay the father’s wrath just gets worse and worse. I watched the colourised version, which has been done very well.

Sholay (Embers) (India, 1975) – Two thieves are summoned to the aid of a policeman who once arrested them; he needs their help to catch a murderer. Like the previous film, I’d been wanting to see this one for years but in this case I’m truly glad I did; its blockbuster factors are in evidence. Essentially an Indian wild west film with lots of good humour and many pairs of flares, nowadays just beware the violence.

Top Hat (USA, 1935) – A man wakes a woman up tap dancing in the apartment above hers and decides to pursue a relationship with her; all the while she mistakes him for the husband of her friend. Other than the pursuing, this is a great film, and I say that as someone who isn’t into tap dancing in musicals. The humour works incredibly well still today.

Wonder Woman (USA, 2017) – The daughter of a god chooses to leave her people’s island sanctuary to help the allies in World War Two fight against the Germans, who she believes are led by an enemy god. For me, that it was about a real event didn’t work, much better if it had been pure fantasy.

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Christmas With A Prince: Becoming Royal (USA, 2019) – The continuing story of a paediatrician and her romance with her childhood acquaintance who happens to be a prince. Watched purely because it was a sequel and thus a very easy option on a sick day; I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise, it’s very contrived.

Christmas At Pemberley Manor (USA, 2018) – An event planner helps a town reestablish their Christmas festival, aiming to use an old house owned by a famous billionaire that is due to be demolished. There is only a slight resemblance to Jane Austen here in the main characters’ names and the house, but the film itself is nice enough.

A Christmas Movie Christmas (USA, 2019) – A woman who loves Christmas films, together with her sister who couldn’t care less, wake up on Christmas Day to find themselves in a perfect Christmas village, complete with the Christmas-loving sister’s favourite actor already set up as her boyfriend. This film is essentially a parody of Christmas films and it’s a lot of fun for what it is, the sisters foreshadowing events that take place. The ending is pretty great, too, almost parodying the parody.

Christmas Around the Corner (USA, 2018) – A workaholic decides to spend Christmas in a small town working at a bookshop that can be hired by tourists. Whilst still definitely made for TV, this film is pretty good – it obviously helps that it’s about a bookshop and that the character wants to bring in more custom – but it’s a fair film objectively, too.

BBC iplayer now has a dedicated category for classic films so needless to say I’ve already watched one film this year and plan on another few before they’ve been taken down from the application. Other than that I have a long list on Amazon that I need to sort through, and I’m looking forward to it.

Which films have you enjoyed recently?

 
2019 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read 47 books in total, and have three books carrying over into this year. It’s not a particularly high number, but I’m happy with it. The nine books in November really helped, as did re-reading. (I’ve had a number of re-reads this year, many of which made the best of list for the year I first read them. For this reason I’ve excluded re-reads from this years’, though I’ve included them on my list of personal favourites below.)

As always, books that have been reviewed include a link in the text. From here until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you want to skip the objective list, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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  • Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance – A collection about the poet’s life as a Jamaican Brit, a person in the deaf community, and various related historical and contemporary stories. Utterly fantastic.
  • Samantha Sotto: A Dream Of Trees – As Aiden waits to die he is joined in his hotel room by a stranger, a lady who wants to help him by taking him to his ‘rooms’ in the period between life and death. It’s incredibly hard to sum up this book in one sentence, not least because there is so much mystery involved – it is an incredible and very moving fantasy/magical realism story of souls and unfinished business told with an immense amount of heart.
5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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  • Ali McNamara: Secrets And Seashells At Rainbow Bay
  • Guy Stagg: The Crossway
My Personal Favourites

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I did well on the classics and older decades front – I’ve 13 books noted for ‘pre-1970’ and they are all from the 1940s or earlier which is good. (1970 was the date I chose for the ‘split’ but it nevertheless often seems too young.) I could certainly have done better on the gender front. I did okay on my goals, which I’ll discuss next week. Certainly the biggest change was in the re-reading statistics; I’m happy with the way it’s changed my reading. Beyond the natural consequence – learning more about a book the second time around – I’m also finding I re-read quicker, which for me is excellent as I’m naturally pretty slow.

Quotation Report

In Anne Of Avonlea a woman, so fastidious about her house, lays newspaper down not only on her floors but all the way down the garden path, and requests her visitors to wipe their feet before treading on it. And, unrelated to this, a little boy wonders why male angels can’t wear trousers; he’s the very same boy who later pulls up his plants by the roots to see how they are getting on at the other end. Unsurprisingly, his twin sister’s garden is more successful.

Lawrence, on the changing nature of England:

“I consider this is really the heart of England,” said Clifford to Connie, as he sat there in the dim February sunshine.
“Do you?” she said, seating herself in her blue knitted dress, on a stump by the path.
“I do! This is the old England, the heart of it; and I intend to keep it intact.”
“Oh yes!” said Connie. But, as she said it she heard the eleven-o’clock hooters at Stacks Gate colliery. Clifford was too used to the sound to notice.

In The House Of Hardie the irony of women having the strength to get through multiple births is noted alongside the expectation that they also be completely afraid of mice. Noted also is the fact an education is important in moving up in the world, and that novels ending with wedding ceremonies doesn’t account for the wedding being a beginning.

I’m going to leave this as is. From Good Wives:

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that which is readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind regardless of rank, age, or color.

In Conversations With Friends, the narrator ponders the idea of kindness, whether it’s more about being nice in the face of conflict, and whether she only wonders whether she’s kind because she’s a woman. Whilst in This Must Be The Place, a teenager, new to the age group, discovers one of the changes that come with moving away from childhood, that lack of total oneness of self and the innocence of a child in regards to the rest of the world and life.

Next up is my film round up post. I’ll be thinking about goals next week and I’ll have a review for you, too.

What was on your best of list for 2019?

 

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