Friday, 30 July 2010

The Queen of Crime

I'm not a fan of the crime novel, in fact the closest I've really come to the genre is the Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence. Recently a friend lent me a pile of novels by Agatha Christie and I've been dipping in and out.

I've watched, with half an eye, several episodes of Poirot (David Suchet) and Miss Marple (Joan Hickson) and debated with Mr Norfolkbookworm as to who really is Miss Marple - he says Margaret Rutherford. However despite being a voracious reader all my life I didn't 'do' Christie at any point in my teens or twenties. This surprises me on reflection as I loved playing Cluedo...

I've started to rectify this now and have read And Then There Were None, The Body in the Library, Murder on the Orient Express and the Mystery of the Blue Train recently.

Now I wonder am I missing something? They are an enjoyable way to pass my lunch breaks - they don't take a lot of concentration so I can read them in the noisy staffroom - but that is about it. I am finding them, well, a bit daft really. The denouements are often so convoluted that I am more confused after them than I was before, I've usually worked out 'who dunnit' but not the reason why and often that is no clearer after it has been explained to me!

There must be some reason why they are so popular, and I am finding them quite addictive (I hope to swap the pile I have for another stack at the weekend) but I have to confess to being more interested in Christie's life than her fiction...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Reading electronically

I think that is is clear that I like reading. In fact my worst nightmare is being stuck somewhere without a book. Even thinking about it can send me into a panic. That is why I like my (sorry our) eReader. It can store so many books that providing I remember to carry it around with me I'll never be without something to read.
Bonuses of the eReader include that I find reading books on it a pleasure, and that Norfolk Libraries have an eBook catalogue with which my device is compatible.

However I am a bit of a gadget nerd and in particular I like Apple products. I have a MacBook, and iTouch and an iPhone and I was lusting after the iPad.

Just before we went on holiday I upgraded my iPhone to the iPhone 4, and this comes with the iBook application. I've downloaded quite a lot of books into my library now, and read a few books in this format so I think I can comment on my new gadget, and compare it with my BeBook (and the real thing!).

The pros to the iPhone:
well I always have my phone on me and so now I really will always have something to read with me.
The graphics are incredible. The new phone has such an impressive screen that it makes looking at illustrations a dream.
The graphics also make turning the page a delight, it really does mimic reading a book in a way that my eInk reader doesn't.
There are lots of books available to download on to it, and many books have sample chapters so that you can try before you buy.
Using iTunes you can buy a book absolutely anywhere you have a good phone connection, you don't need to connect the phone to a computer to get new reading material


I don't like reading on it as much as from a physical books or even the eReader.

I think that a lot of this is to do with the screen size, perhaps an iPad would eliminate this as the screen is bigger.
The eInk is easier on the eye for reading, although the iPhone can be read in the dark.

I think that the main problem is that you can do so much more on an iPhone/iPad that I was getting distracted from the book, where as once you have a real book in front of you (or the eReader) all you can do is read.

Oh and thanks to DRM issues I can't download library books onto the phone (yet).

I am pleased to have a *good* book reader on my phone and for reading familiar books, or light weight tomes it is fine but I found it impossible to immerse myself in a book.
In fact I have purchased an electronic book and then had to get a paperback version of the same title because I just couldn't get into the version on the phone.

I love my new phone and all that it can do, but I think that despite all of the publicity the advent of iBooks has in fact lengthened the life of the real book rather than shortening it... for the moment!

Monday, 26 July 2010

What I did on my holidays!

As I said in an earlier post I did a lot of reading on my holiday, some books were better than others but I don't actually regret the time spent on any of them (for once!)

1) Lorna at Wynards - Elinor Brent-Dyer. This was a re-read and the one I took to read at the hotel the night before we went. As I knew the story very well it wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't finished it. This book is the first in a two part series and loosely connects to the Chalet School series.

2) Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Morriarty. This was a lovely thick, young adult proof. I've enjoyed other books by this author in the past but found this one a bit hard going, too many back references to books I've read long ago and little confusing in style. It does chart the chaos of the last two years at school quite well.

3) The Boy I Love - Marion Husband. This was an impulse buy and quite enjoyable but a really quick read - in fact it didn't last the 4 hour flight to Kos. I didn't really empathise with any of the characters and I've read better books about the problem of adjusting back to the real world after fighting in the First World War. However the style of writing did make it enjoyable.

4) Mrs Harris Goes to Paris - Paul Gallico. This is one of the Bloomsbury reprints and has been recommended on a few other book review blogs. I loved it. Mrs Harris is a char lady with a dream, however like so many dreams not all is as it seems. Pure farce in the Wodehouse style but I enjoyed it far more.

5) To Serve Them All My Days - R F Delderfield. This is one of my favourite books of all time and I enjoyed rereading this. A school story but this time set in a boys school and told from the staff view point.

6) Fire From Heaven - Mary Renault. I'd read one of her contemporary novels but somehow had missed her Greek books. This was one of the highlights of holiday reading and since we've been back I've 'acquired' nearly all of her books and have nearly finished the sequel to this one!

7) Operation Mincemeat - Ben MacIntyre. This was a true account of one of the madder schemes from World War 2. A little graphic in places, but a wonderful insight into the world of spying pre-Cold War. The author is coming to a Norfolk book festival in the autumn so I hope to go and hear more about this.

8) Corduroy Mansions - Alexander McCall Smith. This is another book that first appeared episodically in a newspaper and while it started well I found that it quickly petered out and that I was bored reading it. Also no ends were tied up making it humorous but unsatisfying.

9) The Story of the Night - Colm Toibin. I read Brooklyn by this author earlier in the year and loved it so had high hopes for this one. They were met. The book is set in Argentina around the time of the Falklands War and is about many thing all of which are covered realistically and movingly.

10) The House of Special Purpose - John Boyne. When will I learn to leave anything by this author well alone? This was about the Romanov family and as I like that period of history and the book was called a novel and not a fable I thought I'd be okay. I read it to the end by I did want to throw it across the room many times as I was reading it. I won't spoil the book by saying why I loathed it so much, I don't regret reading it as I can now have an opinion and rant about it but if you like historical accuracy in books DO NOT READ!!

11) The Help - Katherine Stockett. This was the highlight of my holiday reading. I was a bit nervous as it has had a lot of media coverage, and was picked by the Channel 4 book club, but it was incredible. So scary to think that this could happen less than 50 years ago, but this really deserves to become a classic, not least for the author's honesty in the afterword.

12) Their Finest Hour and a Half - Lissa Evans. I read this in eBook format and enjoyed it a great deal. It is about an advertising copywriter called up by the Ministry of Information to help write patriotic films during WW2. Lots of humour and sadness but anyone who likes films made by the Ealing Studios is likely to enjoy this.

13) Rose in Bloom - L M Alcott. Another re-read but this time using iBooks on my phone. A good book but I'll write more about iBooks later.

14) Clover - Susan Coolidge. as above
15) In the High Valley - Susan Coolidge. as above

16) Turbulence - Giles Foden. Another WW2 story but this one fictitious although based on fact. It is all about trying to predict the weather in advance of the D Day Landings in 1944. The mathematics went over my head but the tension and chaos kept the story moving and although I knew the outcome it was fascinating reading how they came to make the decision. I want to read more factual accounts about the planning now.

17) Magician's Apprentice - Trudi Canavan. I didn't finish this one until we got home but I did start it while we were away so it counts as holiday reading! I loved Canavan's first series but didn't get on with her second so I was a bit nervous of this one. I needn't have been - it was just the sort of fantasy I like. Well crafted, strong female characters and a believable world from start to finish. I'm pleased to see that the next book is also going to be set in this world too.


I've now almost read my way through the huge 'to be read' pile. I have some new Mary Renault books to read, but I want to savour them but apart from that I'm looking for new books to try - all recommendations gratefully recieved.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hurrah...but doh!

The 2010 Branford Boase Award was announced last night. I was in three minds about this as two of my top books from last year appeared on the shortlist, as did one by an author I met and liked hugely earlier this year.

In the end the prize went to Lucy Christopher's Stolen, and I am very happy about that as it was one of my top books of 2009, but I think that I really wanted Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda to win.

A good result and one that I am really happy with but at the same time I really do wish that the prize could have been split two ways.

In other news I've just spent a pleasant 2 weeks lounging around on a Greek island eating, drinking and reading too much. Just like earlier in the year the eReader was a blessing, but this time also had a new iPhone complete with iBooks to keep me going. There really isn't (for me) a much nicer way to relax than laying on the beach under a palm shade with a good book.

Shame about the laundry when you get home...