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Books read in 2014: 112 (less than in 2013, 2012 and 2011!)

First book of the year: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Last book of the year: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Favourite books (not counting re-reads): Carry Me Home by Terri Wiltshire; In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

Most spectacular waste of money: Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan; American Assassin by Vince Flynn

Best series of the year: Jeffrey Eugenides' books

Themes: World War 1

Kindle: 65

Library Books: 25 (including Kindle lending library trial)

Hits: Across a Star-Swept Sea (Peterfreund); Low Country Boil (Boyer); Lullabies for Little Criminals (O'Neill); The Night Circus (Morgenstern); Strangers From the Sky (Bonanno); Sure Signs of Crazy (Harrington); Walt Longmire mysteries (Johnson)

Misses: Dead Beat (Hall); Emma (McCall - the free sampler!); The Black-Eyed Blonde (Black); The Dead Wife's Handbook (Beckerman); The German Girl (Wood); The Ghost Files (Baker); The Goldfinch (Tartt)

Does anybody still bother with LJ? Ah, well - my OCD bids me continue. So, despite being unemployed for the greater part of this year - or maybe because of, seeing as I used to work in a library - I seem to have read far fewer books than usual. And most of those, of necessity, were Kindle downloads, or cheap paperbacks bought through Amazon Marketplace. Read a lot of World War 1 fiction, 2014 being the centenary of the start of the Great War; a few more Star Trek novels; discovered Jeffrey Eugenides. That's about it. Onwards!


Books read in 2013: 140

First book of the year: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Last book of the year: The Secret Letters of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy by Wendy Leigh

Favourite books (not counting re-reads): Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (fiction) and Mrs Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill (non-fiction)

Most spectacular waste of money: A toss up between two Austen spin-offs - My Dearest Emma by Jane Chandler and Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

Best series of the year: Star Trek!

Themes: JFK, sci-fi

Kindle: 75

Library Books: 60

Hits: The Shining Girls (Beukes), Ashenden (Wilhide), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Franklin), The Freudian Slip (von Adlerstein), Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Fowler), Jacqueline Kennedy (Kennedy), Doctor’s Orders (Duane), Ghost Ship (Hicks)

Misses: Longbourn (Baker), The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel (Lesley), The Long Earth (Pratchett), Sweet Tooth (McEwan), Redshirts (Scalzi), Archie Goodwin Meets Nero Wolfe (Goldsborough), Stardust (Gaiman), Burnt Norton (Sandon), 11.22.63 (King)

This year I have been revisiting an old love, both on page and screen: Star Trek (the original series)! I was really excited in May, and forked out extra to watch the reboot sequel Into Darkness on IMAX (and in 3-D!), only to discover that the plot was ripped almost word for word from The Wrath of Khan. But not even mercenary screenwriters could completely douse my re(K)indled passion for the original show – I bought all three series on DVD (and some episodes again on iTunes), but since this is supposed to be a book review, what really demonstrates my insanity devotion is the 26 Star Trek novels I also ploughed my way through, mostly on Kindle, some borrowed from the library. From the bottom of the barrel (Enterprise: the First Adventure, Best Destiny) to the cream of the crop (Dreams of the Raven, Devil’s Bargain), if the blurb mentioned Kirk, Spock or Bones, I was there!


Star Trek: Deja Vu

(Quick, quick, let me post this while LJ is actually live!)

Books read in 2012: 128

First book of the year: Titus Groan (Gormenghast Trilogy) by Mervyn Peake

Last book of the year: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (re50-read)

Favourite book (not counting re-reads): The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (fiction) and Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth by Mary S. Lovell (non-fiction)

Most spectacular waste of money: Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Best series of the year: The Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig (I know!)

Themes: Ghosts, French Revolution, sci-fi

Kindle: 46

Library Books: 59 (hey, there has to be at least one perk to my job!)

Rivers of LondonThe Girl You Left BehindThe Orchid AffairHello Bunny AliceThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall

So the surprise discovery of the year for me was finding that, bar the rather dreadful titular novel, Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is not only readable but brilliant fun! In fact, the only reason that I stopped at The Orchid Affair (book 8) is that the Kindle eBook version of book 9, The Garden Intrigue, was ridiculously overpriced.

Conversely, I finally gave in and read the other two books in C. Guy Clayton’s ‘Blakeney Papers’ trilogy, a sort of masochistic Scarlet Pimpernel spin-off series. Final verdict: bad, better, worse.

Hits: After You by Natascha McElhone (I love this actress); Murder at Mansfield Park and Tom All Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë; Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking; The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley; The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell (family history not vampires); North and South by John Jakes (civil war not cotton spinning); Suspiciously Reserved by Samantha Adkins (an updated version of Emma that works); Sovay by Celia Rees and The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott (YA F-Rev); Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain; The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (2012’s Marmite nomination); The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; The Reinvention of Ivy Brown by Roberta Taylor; Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch; Georgy Girl by Margaret Foster (film’s pretty good too); Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Charlotte Bronte/Eve Sinclair (ha!); The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks; Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd; The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; Hello Bunny Alice by Laura Wilson; World’s End by Donald James Wheal; Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente; Spreading my Wings by Diana Barnato Walker

Misses: Gave up on the Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (my grandmother is reading them instead); Host by Peter James (sub-Hollywood pap); Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross (overhyped); A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens (the literary snob’s Scarlet Pimpernel); Indiscretion by Jude Morgan; The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (film’s probably better, even with Harry Potter); Girl, 20 by Kingsley Amis; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; Havisham by Ronald Frame


Decidedly non-literary crushes

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)


I could possibly try to ground my love for this kitsch television series in a deeper appreciation of supernatural fiction, only like most childhood infatuations, there is no excuse. I wasn’t even born when the original show first aired in the late sixties/early seventies, but I used to watch the repeats on ITV long before the Reeves and Mortimer remake in 2000, so I’m not even ret-fanning a newer version! Only 26 episodes were ever made, so remaining faithful to one series of a forty year old show takes some imagination, but luckily the DVDs are a constant source of entertainment, even when I know the plots inside out! Friendship, fantasy and fun: the enduring legacy of a short-lived series which might be gone, but is certainly not forgotten.

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Ranty review: Emma (1972)

Emma (1972)

Doran Godwin, John Carson


Ah, the original 1970s BBC production! Truly a labour of love – six episodes running at forty-five minutes each, filled with minimalist sets, an ageing cast and drawn out scenes. Screenwriter Denis Costanduros and director John Glenister were old hands at churning out period dramas, but tastes have definitely changed. This is a very sluggish series, for the devoted fan only. Closest to the novel in dialogue and decorum, Janeites must be satisfied, but any Austen apprentices might be scared off by the stiff acting and slow pace.

'Let us go poor-visiting!'Collapse )

Re-reading Emma by Jane Austen recently, and then watching the woefully miscast Mark Strong transform the hero Mr Knightley into a sort of proto-Mr Rochester, has made me Box Hillappreciate the subtle romance of the original story all the more. I stand by my claim: Emma and Mr Knightley are the strongest of all Austen’s pairings, and deserve to be the happiest. There are no disparities of wealth, station or intelligence for them to overcome. The sixteen year age difference that generally disgusts younger readers only signifies that these two know each other better than they understand their own hearts. Emma has admired and respected Mr Knightley all her life, recognising his good heart and fair judgement more than she would care to admit, while he fell in love with Emma precisely because of all her ‘little faults’.

If I loved you lessCollapse )

girlThis is my hundredth book read in 2012, so I'm glad, in an obsessive compulsive round-number way, that such a wonderful book should move me into treble figures. Found via a review in a glossy magazine, the blurb tempted me into downloading the ebook there and then. And I wasn't disappointed. History, romance, humour and a satisfying - if unbelievable - ending, all in one story. I haven't put my Kindle down all weekend.

In 1917, Sophie LeFevre is living with her sister and family in northern France, helping to run the hotel where she was born. Sophie's husband Edouard, a talented artist, is away at war, along with her sister's husband. The part of France where they live is under German occupation, and when a new enemy officer requisitions the hotel for his troops, Sophie has no choice but to comply. Her neighbours grumble and start rumours about the special preferences shown to Bessette family at Le Coq Rouge, but Sophie knows where she stands - until the officer starts to show more than a passing interest in a portrait of Sophie painted by her husband, and then in Sophie herself. Labelled as a collaborator, Sophie turns to the German officer with a dangerous plea for help. But what became of Sophie, 'the girl you left behind'? Nearly one hundred years later, a young widow holds the answer to half of the puzzle - a portrait of a vibrant young woman, bought by her late husband as a wedding present - and an unlikely twist of fate leads her to seek out the truth about Sophie LeFevre.

I love how the two halves of this story, past and present, are mirrored so perfectly, yet the individual narratives of Sophie and Liv also stand alone and apart. Sophie's account is truly haunting, describing the deprivation and despair experienced in occupied France, while filling the reader with admiration and sympathy for Sophie. Some novels written in the first person sound like exercises in creative writing, but Jojo Moyes uses the personal perspective to really bring Sophie to life, with all of her faults and fears. She is brave, but also foolhardy, and I wanted to shake her sometimes, for never backing down. Liv's story is more of a traditional chick lit romance, with the hard-won hero, eccentric friends and comfortable lifestyle, but no less enjoyable for that. I thought the contrast of sadness and silliness would be jarring, but the two women complement each other. Liv's grief, living alone in the glass house designed by her unforgettable late husband, is somehow no less real than the high drama of Sophie's day to day existence, and I grew attached to both of them.

I was a bit disappointed by the barrage of unlikely coincidences towards the end - hidden journals, surprise appearances - but realise that ultimately, this is chick lit, where every unlucky in love heroine deserves a happy ever after, so decided to go with the flow. Sophie and Liv would probably face far darker fates in real life, but I didn't mind having all the loose ends tie up into a big pink bow when reading such a well-written and emotional fairytale like this.

Recommended for readers of historical fiction (especially WW1) and really good chick lit (which does exist!)

Ranty review: Emma (the other 1996)

Emma (1996)

Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong

In the interests of general unfairness, I thought I should criticise to an equal degree all of the Emma film and television adaptations which are not my favourite 2009 version. So here goes ‘the other’ 1996 Emma, with Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong!

Actually, despite being written by Andrew Davies for ITV, this is a watchable take on Austen’s novel, sticking fairly close to the text. Great chunks of the dialogue are straight from the author’s mouth, if slightly trimmed and rearranged to fit just under two hours of screen time. That should soothe the fevered brain of many a Janeite! Any viewers who haven’t read the novel will probably be able to follow the gist of the story, but the clunky character introductions and swift scene changes play like an abridgement to those who are familiar with the source material. Really, the definitive adaptation to watch if you can’t be bothered reading the book is the 1972 BBC version, but for a livelier pace, have I mentioned that the 2009 miniseries is a modern masterpiece?

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Ranty review: Emma (1996, McGrath)

Emma (1996)

Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam

Warning: high levels of vitriol and hypocrisy abound!
Caps from grandecaps.tumblr.com

poseI feel for older or longer-standing fans of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. In the days before Sandy Welch’s excellent four part adaptation in 2009, with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller, Gwynnie’s shiny happy Hollywood version was the best of the bunch. The original 1972 BBC dramatisation is doggedly faithful to the text but also desperately dull, and the other 1996 Emma, with a younger, pre-orthodontist Kate Beckinsale and glowering Mark Strong, is dark and miserable. So the only light, colourful and visually pleasing screen translation of the novel for many years fell to Doug McGrath’s chirpy chocolate box abridgement, and Austen fans are nothing if not loyal. They love the eternal summer and pastoral fakery of Ye Olde Englande, think Gwyneth is suitably elegant for a Regency heroine, and are willing to forgive the many inconsistencies because fitting a 400 page novel into a two hour film obviously requires that the plot be sacrificed.

Badly doneCollapse )



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