January 10: Book bingo

I’ve had a bingo card hanging around for a while. Time to go through last year’s books and see how I did…

Colour in title

99 Red Balloons by Elisabeth Carpenter. This was a rather confusing crime/psychothriller novel with several characters narrating several different timelines, and a twist ending that I ought to have seen coming. The song in the title is only mentioned very briefly, which is odd, and the characters are not people I would like.

Family relationship in title

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić. Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but Baba is translated as “grandmother” in most Slavic Languages. This is a book with several threads that seem disconnected, but turn out not to be. It’s a kind of “road” story, and the female characters are very interesting. Hard to describe, and really needs to be read.

First in a series

Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn. I hated this. It was a dreadful story of child abuse, and the rest of the series was no better. It is being made into a TV programme, starting Benedict Cumberbatch. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Red cover

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts. I really liked this. It is weird, like other books I have read by this author. It is set in Russia, which I like. It is SF and spies and possibly aliens, but they are ambiguous enough not to upset me too much. I love the fact that the title is a clever play on words and has nothing to do with the story. Yes, I liked this a lot.

Play or adaptation of play

All Our Children by Stephen Unwin

A very disturbing play, where the ethics of eugenics take centre stage. Needs to be seen as a performance, which I was lucky enough to do.

Non-fiction

CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine by Olga Syutkin. This showed a bleak picture of just how awful the food was in the Soviet Union, and how hard it was to get. An interesting insight into an aspect of modern history.

Award winner

The Power by Naomi Alderman. This won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction In 2017. The story is about women gaining the ability to give electric shocks by touching, thus placing them in a position of power over men. An interesting format, the story is told as a future-history, post-post-apocalypse.

Food in title

Hard Cheese by Ulf Durling. This was a locked room mystery, and was very enjoyable. And there was actually cheese in the story.

Animal on cover

The Blue Fox by Sjón. This was very short, and quite lovely. It could have sat in several categories here- it is a prize winner, a historical novel, a literary novel… read it and enjoy

Dystopia

Archangel by William Gibson. A graphic novel by one of my favourite authors. This has a terrifying resonance, particularly in the final frames. The story is set in an alternate universe, but the resolution to the tale sets us up for something worse.

Historical setting

King Dido by Alexander Baron. This is set in 1911, so I am counting it as historical. It tells the sad story of a man hounded into crime by the underserved suspicion and hatred of a powerful police officer. Dido is not a nice person, but he doesn’t deserve to end up the way he does. This made me think hard about prejudice and power.

A book with music in it somewhere

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This could fit into a number of categories, but the song which gives this book its title is quite central to the main character, and so it fits here nicely. This is a dystopia. It is science fiction, it is literature. It is very depressing, and vaguely unsatisfying.

Science Fiction

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson. This is a nice little hard SF tale with a massively twisted ending. Lovely.

Literary fiction

Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I admit to being disappointed in this. Orlando is a man who has some adventures. One day Orlando wakes up as a woman and has some more adventures. There is no explanation for this transformation, or if there is, I missed it. It has not inspired me to read more Woolf.

Translated work

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. This was a dark, strange and nasty story, set in Nazi Germany, and following the life of the central character, Oskar, from pre-birth to adulthood. (Yes, pre-birth). I didn’t warm to any of the characters, but the book itself was very interesting.

A “banned” book

Nothing for this category, surprisingly. The previous year there were three (Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Melville) and I have a couple on my “to -read” pile for the coming year, but an empty square for this one.

LGBT character

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin. Set in Istanbul in 1836, this is a detective story with a difference. Yashim the detective is a eunuch who likes to cook, and his sidekick Preen is a trans woman dancer. I have the rest of the series on my list to read.

Non-human character

Grandeville by Bryan Talbot. The protagonist is a police detective, who just happens to be a badger. His sergeant is s rat. The Grandeville books are graphic novels, and really excellent, if gory. Not for children, but I loved this.

One-word title

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. This was an odd little book. Literary, definitely. Memoir, possibly. Poetry, hmm. All about Blue. And I was surprisingly disappointed to find that bluets are cornflowers.

Number in title

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama. A police procedural, giving a particular insight into how matters of “face” affect the investigation of crime in Japan. I liked this a lot.

Published 2017

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves. The central character in this book is one of my favourite TV detectives, Vera Stanhope. This is the newest book in the series, and the first I have read, so I was surprised to see that the TV series has moved forward far more quickly than the books seem to have done. The book Vera is a little rougher around the edges than the TV one, and sadly, she drinks more ( I don’t like this trope). The book was still enjoyable though, and I am going to go back to the start of the series.

Water on cover

Earthly Remains by Donna Leon. This is the 26th book about Commissario Guido Brunetti, and I swear I will never get tired of him. He is older, which I like. The stories are more focused on politics and environmental issues, which I also like. The portrayal of Venice from a Venetian eye rings true.

BME character

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch. This is the latest in the Rivers of London series, starring Peter Grant. I love these stories , crime and magic combined with the most diverse set of main characters you could ever imagine.

A book with a cat in it somewhere

Why Did You Lie? By Yrsa Sigurdadóttir. The cat isn’t a main character, but it is a plot point, and sadly, it comes to an unhappy end. The story leaves a lot of open ends, which I expect will lead on to other books. I didn’t like the characters enough to want to buy more though, sadly.

A “classic”

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Famous for the Jarndyce and Jarndyce legal case. As always, some of the characters got seriously on my nerves, especially Mr Skimpole. The story was clever, but I find Dickens’ attention to detail tedious. I don’t need five pages describing what someone has on their desk.

Advertisements

9th January: Reading

I have had a soft spot for science fiction crime novels ever since I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a long long loooong time ago. Going through the lists of new books coming out in 2018, the blurb for John Scalzi’s Head On caught my eye. It’s not out until April, but I noticed that there was an earlier book with the same characters…

I liked the idea that technology can be used to allow people with severe disabilities to live an active life. One such person is the protagonist, who is “locked in” , but has his mind downloaded into a “threep“- a robot body.

The crime element of the book is interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and believable (given the sci-fi context). I liked the diversity of the characters, mostly, but I wish the protagonists’s female cop partner didn’t have to resort to the old booze and random sex tropes to deal with her demons.

I enjoyed this book very much, and will definitely be buying the new one when it comes out.

January 4th: Writing

I mentioned a few days ago that I was planning to write about a couple of my characters this year. So, I was browsing through Twitter, and up popped an interesting challenge that an artist has set herself (check out the details here ). She has specifically asked for her art to be shared, so here is the first in her series of illustrations.

It triggered an urge to revisit Billy, an old character of mine, which in turn led to a 1000-word opener to what might be an interesting fill-in of a major gap in his story. I’m not posting the link to the story, as I keep my writing persona away from here, but I haven’t written anything new for a long time, so I feel it is worth mentioning.

January 3rd: Reading

Last year I wrote about almost everything I read. This year, I’m only going to mention things I have really liked.

So, to start the year, I treated myself to a full set of Bryan Talbot’s Grandeville graphic novels.

I loved these books. I gave them 5 stars on Goodreads, and wished I could have given them more. They are beautifully drawn, and full of Easter eggs that made me smile each time I spotted one. Asterix and Obelix make a brief appearance. Tintin’s dog Snowy features in one of the books. And there are bears. Paddington Bear. Rupert Bear. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (!)

If you don’t know these stories, imagine a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade (the Rupert Graves version); add in an alternate history setting and a steampunk style. Oh, and the lead character is a badger.

It sounds weird. It is a bit weird, but not as weird as you’d think. There are some very bad villains (I won’t spoil it by telling you just who the worst villain turns out to be), and some clueless coppers. There is also a LOT of gory death. This is not a children’s comic.

The five books form a story arc, which is completed at the end of the final book. I want more though, and I hope that sometime in the future, Archie LeBrock will return.

January 1: Resolutions

Happy New Year!

No pictures today, and a new blogging regime. Last year’s resolutions were to do something cultural every week, to lose a bit of weight (doctor’s orders), and to read 100 books. All three accomplished, although I sometimes had to be a bit creative about the culture.

This year, pretty similar.

I have a to-read pile of around 30 books, so my plan is to work through that and try to get it down to zero before I start buying from my wish-list, which is enormous.

I intend to be a bit more discriminating about my cultural activities. Three theatre trips in one week is probably overdoing it a bit.

I want to exercise a little bit to build up my post-illness stamina, although I have to say even staying upright is hard work at the moment.

I want to brighten up my living space. I have a pile of tester paint pots in shades of pale green. Time to get them on the wall and choose one!

Finally, I have had a couple of characters mulling around in my head for a while. Time to get them down on a page. Watch out for Frankie and Alex in a story near you soon.

That will do for now. Time to get 2018 started.

Week 52

Last entry for 2017. No cultural outings this week – a quiet Christmas, followed by a sick in-between week wherein I am fairly sure I poisoned myself and various family members.

I finished my Reading Challenge!

img_0478Some highlights from the list: Yellow Blue Tibia – probably the best pun in a title ever; King Dido -a historical crime novel I would recommend to anyone; The Night Sessions, excellent SciFiCri.

I won some audio books, all Maigret stories, and listened to some of them; I read a few graphic novels, and some children’s books, including The Dark Is Rising, which I wasn’t supposed to finish until the new year, but I couldn’t resist.

I finally got to grips with Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and made a dent in the Dickens backlog. There were six cookbooks, and three books I bought because I didn’t think I would get to see the plays based on them, and then actually did get to see them all . There was a new Donna Leon, a new Dave Hutchinson, a new Christopher Fowler, a new Jo Nesbo and a new Ragnar Jonasson (do you detect that I like a crime story?)

Finally, there were two new Hogarth Shakespeares, based on Othello and King Lear.

It was a real challenge to read 100 books this year, as well as keep up my weekly culture outing. Next year’s challenges will be simpler, I think.

 

Week 51

It’s Christmas!

AFB4478B-8586-48ED-A936-CB5597849D31

In the week up to Christmas Eve, there was enough seasonal entertainment to exhaust the most hardened pleasure seeker…

Theatre

Wilton’s Music Hall

Piers Torday: The Box Of Delights

0208C2C1-9BE0-4F53-A37D-561E6D975BE7

This was a vastly chopped-about version of the story, and was rather difficult for younger children to understand. Some elements were slapstick, some were very frightening indeed, and all were over-acted. The set was clever, and there was some imaginative use of puppets and projection, but overall, the whole thing was grey and misty, and not just from the over-use of haze. I had hoped to be entranced, but it didn’t quite happen.

Gigs that don’t quite fit into categories

Conway Hall

Robin Ince: Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

95C6D45F-7781-4E51-9850-2B98A433F9E1

This was a fast-moving but strangely over-running variety show, full of science, comedy , music and a man cooking eggs with a wallpaper steamer. Oddly, this show was the most Christmassy thing I saw this week.  I laughed a lot.

O2 Arena

Disney on Ice:Passport to Adventure

07EA50F1-0BD3-4D29-A8EA-5C0C52BA038A

What it says on the tin. Disney characters on skates. Some of it was good, some a bit long-winded. The Peter Pan section could have been chopped in half without losing anything, and there was room for a bit more Frozen.  It was fun. Children in the audience loved it. I had a problem with the expensive and ridiculous merchandising, but I suppose that’s what it was really all about.

Books

Reading Challenge 

Two more this week, bringing my total up to 96

DF88930B-AB6C-45CC-99FD-C414243F6DAD

I am reading a lot of children’s books lately. (Deciding what to buy young relatives for Christmas is difficult!) I had heard good things about the Velveteen Rabbit, but I was a little disappointed in it. I wanted to learn more about the Skin Horse. I wanted the rabbit to have more trials to overcome. I suppose I wanted a book for the 10 year old me…

Mr Penumbra irritated me intensely. It is ostensibly about a bookshop, but is actually about a Dungeons and Dragons style quest without the dragons, and with added computer nerdery. Not a classic.

#thedarkisreading

CA1B2E40-FAC0-40F0-B7B7-0E3A0F4FB749

I have never read the Dark is Rising, so this year I joined a Twitter reading group to do it properly. The book begins on Midwinter’s eve, which happened to fall this week. This book won’t be part of my 100-books Challenge, because I don’t plan to finish it before New Year. So far, I am enjoying being part of a pretty large community of readers. Other people’s perspectives are really interesting.

Week 50

Theatre

Shoreditch Town Hall

Carl Grose: The Tin Drum

2759427E-FE73-4437-84FF-8A7C6C1EADBF

This was a wonderful production, full of music and humour. The puppetry was excellent, with the transition between puppet miniatures and live-action in the Koljaiczek arson-and-police-chase being particularly inspired. I thoroughly enjoyed this show.

The Tramshed, Woolwich

indefinitearticles: The Magic Lamp

78DAF6E2-36BA-4BAC-BD4C-9EDC506122CA

This was as low-tech as it is possible to be. Two actor-storytellers, no costumes, no scenery, almost no props. The magic came from two old overhead-projectors, some oil, some paper, and a sheet suspended from the ceiling of an empty studio space. The very simple shadow puppetry worked well, and the largely young audience were  engaged for the hour or so that the story took to unfold. This was not sophisticated, but it was enjoyable.

Reading Challenge 

A6EC336D-3B0F-42C7-A616-4488FDB8104F

This now stands at 94. It looks as if I might make it!

This week’s offerings are varied, but do all count among the less-enjoyed volumes this year.

I chose Günter Grass’s Tin Drum because I wanted to find out the rest of Oskar’s story, beyond what was portrayed in the play. I have to say I didn’t really enjoy it. The book was a bleak sideways look at wartime politics, mental ill health, physical disability, religious fervour, nasty sex, sleazy underworlds and black markets, and it was quite a relief when I reached the end.

The Maigret was an irritating mistaken-identity story. Very run of the mill, and not at all gripping.

Thd final book this week was the latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare rewrites, this time King Lear. I don’t like Edward St Aubyn’s work much, but hoped for something better than his usual nastiness. Sadly, the two “evil sisters” showed their evilness through perverted sexuality from page one, and the book wasnt a good version of the play. Only two or three of the characters were recognisable. The Cordelia character’s end seemed completely gratuitous, and Dunbar’s madness seemed to switch off and on too easily. Not recommended.

 

 

Week 49

It’s snowing!

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson: The Hound of the Baskervilles

img_0469

This was a comedy romp. Three actors playing all the parts, no set, but lots of foggy haze. It was a fun afternoon, but oh, such a cold day. I found myself almost onstage, having to wrap my scarf around my face to help with the enormous amount of haze, and to keep my neck warm in what seemed to be an unheated auditorium. I enjoyed the play, but would have preferred proper melodrama to farce.

Ballet

ROH Live: The Nutcracker

img_1214

It isn’t Christmas without a Nutcracker, and this was a lovely production. Seeing it up close via a live broadcast made a great difference to the experience. You can see facial expressions and costume and set details that might be missed in the theatre.

Popular culture

London Christmas Lights

img_1219

The Regent Street lights are beautiful, without the tacky commercialism of recent years. A pity it was so cold, or I would have walked to Trafalgar Square to see the tree. I did take a picture from the bus, which shows the lights.I wish that the style of lighting was better. This years tree looks rather like a giant cactus.

Reading Challenge

Three books this week, bringing my total to 87.

img_1229

Archangel is the latest offering from one of my very favourite authors. An alternate-reality dystopia with a bit of time travel thrown in. It is a graphic novel, which is a new direction for Gibson, and works very well.

The other two are seasonal titles, and they would fit very well on my winter shelf. The Advent Killer isn’t really an Advent killer at all, and was so full of tropes and false reveals that I stopped taking it seriously halfway through. And I guessed the killer.

The new Nigel Slater is wonderful. He keeps to his style of writing around the recipes, and sets the scene for the season very nicely.

Week 48

Advent begins, the decorations go up, I dig out my playlists of Christmas tunes, and start my yearly quest to see as many versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as I can.

Theatre

The Old Vic

Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne: A Christmas Carol

This was a beautiful, wonderful production, with some excellent moments, from the mince pies and oranges given away at the start of the show by Victorian street sellers, through the brilliantly over-the-top weight of Marley’s chains to the beautiful snowfalls during the second act. There was some mucking about with the text, but nothing that harmed the story. Go if you get the chance.

Books

Time to dust off my winter shelf.

Reading challenge

Two books this week, bringing my total to 84.

99 Red Balloons was a little confusing. I felt there were to many PsOV, and it was difficult to remember what was happening when. The villain was a surprise, I must admit, but I think more could have been made of the song the book was named for.

The second book was another of my prize audiobooks. This was one I had seen as an adaptation for TV, so I was listening out for differences between the two versions. I have discovered a liking for audiobooks, which surprises me.