Saturday, December 31, 2011

{weekend words}

Farewell 2011...

I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.
Volume 3: 1923-1927 (1985)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

{miscellaneous} summing up

Ah, the time of the year for summing up.

In no particular order, my top five ten twelve favourite books of 2011 are:

No Orchids for Miss Blandish - James Hadley Chase {REVIEW}
The Blue Castle - L. M. Montgomery {REVIEW}
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James {REVIEW}
How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran {REVIEW}
The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson {REVIEW}
The Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester {REVIEW}
In a Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes {REVIEW}
The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett 
The Eye of Love - Margery Sharp {REVIEW}

I read just over 170 books this year. I keep getting a different figure owing to not having enough fingers, toes and concentration (the cricket was on in the background), but, roughly, it breaks down into fiction of the respectable literary type (37), crime/mystery/stuff I should be slightly ashamed of but am not in the least (113), non-fiction (23). Two more stats: e-books (128 - !!!!), re-reads (25). 

At this time last year I was packing away my library as I thought I might be moving. As it turned out, I didn't move. I also didn't unpack. As a result, I have done rather less re-reading this year of old favourites (um, unless I bought them again - bad person, bad person).

The single biggest change to my reading habits this year was caused by buying a Kindle. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of physical books entering the home and requiring homes of their own. This is both excellent - since space is always an issue - but, I do confess, a little sad, as I LOVE BEING SURROUNDED BY BOOKS. Books are beautiful, tactile, comforting, dusty, furnish a room; my library is part of me. But, I also love being able to highlight bits of text (I don't write on real books); I love being able to search electronically for something I only half remember; I love that e-books are cheaper than tree-books (a big consideration for an Australian as books are ludicrously expensive here); I love getting them instantly; I love travelling without a case so full of books I can't fit in a giant box of macarons. I miss: sharing books; the smell of books; not being able to get everything I want electronically (but that's (a) just greedy and (b) kinder on my bank balance).

A couple of new discoveries this year have brought me much reading pleasure - Mary Stewart, Tess Gerritsen, Ira Levin, Alan Hollinghurst, Anne Zouroudi, Jo Nesbø. There were a couple of good sequels in favourite series - Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce, Carol K Carr's India Black. I don't go in much for 'challenges' but I really enjoyed International Anita Brookner Day (I reviewed Lewis Percy) and Paris in July (Zazie in the Metro and Chéri were highlights). I also had a HUGE binge on Patricia Wentworth, some of which were re-reads (favourite: The Case of William Smith).

2012? I want to: read more non-fiction (I feel as though I've read less than usual) and more noir and try to resist starting a new series as I cannot stop myself from reading ALL OF THE SERIES AND STUFFING UP MY READING PLANS. Yes, well, good luck.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

{weekend words}

Some depressing Christmas words from Thomas Hardy:
Christmas: 1924

'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.
More on this "sour little epigram" at war poetry.

Monday, December 19, 2011


This will be my week:
not wholly bookish in content, 
but definitely bookish in perspective!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

{weekend words}

'Remember the chappie who fell into the drum?' asked Mr Gibson tenderly.
They had met for the first time at a Chelsea Arts Ball - Dolores dressed as a Spanish Dancer, Mr Gibson as a brown paper parcel.
'Of course I remember,' whispered Dolores.
'Remember those young devils who started to unwrap me?'
'It didn't matter. You'd pyjamas underneath...'
'I shall never forget how wonderful you looked, pulling me out of the cardboard...
'I couldn't bear to see you laughed at,' murmured Dolores. 'You were too big...' 

Margery Sharp (1957)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


This one probably won't go on anyone else's wishlist unless they are a local. Sorry...!

Chris Stephan and Dianne Mattsson (2011)
FarmgateSA: South Australia's Essential Guide to 
Buying Fresh Food Direct from the Producer

I am fortunate enough to live in South Australia. Our state can boast two of the best wine regions in Australia (and the world) - McLaren Vale, to the south, and the Barossa Valley, to the north of the city of Adelaide. We also have a fantastic food culture with many fine restaurants and - my favourite - farmers' markets. There is an urban farmers' market a mere five minutes from my home on a Sunday. When I saw this book (via lambs ears & honey), it went straight on the wishlist. I think everyone will get one for Christmas so they can go and explore the wonderful producers who sell straight from their farm gates to the general public.

Locals: you can buy it directly from the authors or at the newsagent.

Monday, December 12, 2011

{review} the blue castle

L. M. Montgomery The Blue Castle (1926)

Valancy wakened early, in the lifeless, hopeless hour just preceding dawn. She had not slept very well. One does not sleep well, sometimes, when one is twenty-nine on the morrow, and unmarried, in a community and connection where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man. 
What can I say about this lovely, lovely book that hasn't already been said? I devoured it in almost one sitting, as though it was some light but luscious, slightly sickly choux pastry creation inhaled on the footpath outside a pâtisserie. Like a Ladurée violet religeuse.

This is one of those books that you pick up in the sure knowledge that everything is going to turn out alright for the likeable heroine and her hero, despite the very long odds:
"Oh, if I could only have a house of my own—ever so poor, so tiny—but my own! But then," she added bitterly, "there is no use in yowling for the moon when you can't even get a tallow candle." 
It's like a check-list of everything one wants in an L.M.Montgomery book: fab scenery, gruesome but dainty deaths from tuberculosis as punishment for moral infringement, a secret fortune, mistaken medical diagnoses, and, oh yes, Lurv with a capital L.

Valancy is that dreadful creature, a spinster with romantic longings, living under the thumb of a bullying mother and stern gossipy community.

People like prudish "Second Cousin Sarah Taylor, with her great, pale, expressionless eyes, who was noted for the variety of her pickle recipes and for nothing else. So afraid of saying something indiscreet that she never said anything worth listening to. So proper that she blushed when she saw the advertisement picture of a corset and had put a dress on her Venus de Milo statuette which made it look 'real tasty'."

The writing is so wickedly good, which carries what is really a roll-call of (delightfully grim) clichés. For example, the line, "After all their bright hopes at the funeral!", or "'Fun!' Mrs. Frederick uttered the word as if Valancy had said she was going to have a little tuberculosis."

"I don't know what it would be like not to be afraid of something". Valancy daydreams away her sorrows by living a secret life filled with romance in the 'Blue Castle' of her imagination. She is thoroughly annoyingly spineless: "Valancy never said what she thought". Her mother is thoroughly stereotypically an evil [step]mother.

And then something happens that I'm not going to tell you and Valancy is presented with an opportunity to live large. Will she take it?

Words to drop in conversation: lambrequin.

Rating: 10/10 for sheer, gorgeous escapist romance coupled with ingenious plot and lovely writing.

If you liked this... it's got to be Anne of the Island. I don't think I ever got over Gilbert's narrow escape from death. Montgomery writes a great near-fatal illness.

BTW: I read this on the Kindle via a not wholly typo-free $4 copy on Proof-reading, folks...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

{weekend words}

Loved the Oxford English Dictionary 'Word of the Day' from yesterday (9/12/11):


"A young woman of unexceptional appearance and talents, regarded as timid, dowdy, or mousy; (originally) such a person who can nevertheless achieve professional and personal success through determination."

Apparently it is "Chiefly U.S. (humorous)." 

Subscribe to WOTD here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

{review} grand hotel

I am away for a few days, staying - as it happens (she says, so casually but gleefully!) - in a grand hotel, so here is a little something from the archives:

Vicki Baum (1929) Grand Hotel:
Ideas of conventionality were elastic in the Grand Hotel.
I find Vicki Baum's books a bit hit and miss. Some have aged badly. Once in Vienna (1943), for example: total miss (tale of narcissistic overwrought suicidal lovesick junior opera divas who take far too long to meet their Maker). Grand Hotel, though: absolute hit. An astonishing read. Why has this gone out of print in English? Of course, I may be biased by my adoration of the film (Grand Hotel: 1932, starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and two Barrymores), but there is no doubt that Baum brilliantly captures the Weimar 'moment' of the late 1920s.

The copy which I'm reading was translated by Basil Creighton (from Menschen im Hotel [People at a Hotel] - a much better descriptive title) and published in 1930 in London by Gregory Bles. It too suffers in places from the stifling emotional atmosphere familiar from Baum's other novels, but the story-line's relentless progress towards inescapable disaster is so compelling that this book is unputdownable.
"Will you be kind to me?" he asked softly. And as softly with her eyes cast down to the raspberry-coloured carpet, Flämmchen answered: "If it's not forced on me----."
In a cold March week in Berlin in 1929 the lives of a disparate group of painfully lonely people are changed forever during their residence in the 'Grand Hotel'. The action is contemporaneous with a pivotal moment in history, as we learn from the newspapers: "Scandals, panic on the Bourse, colossal fortunes lost"; and the shifting fortunes of the cold world outside are mirrored in the transitions underway with those inside the comfortable hotel.

Will the ageing ballerina Grusinskaya (the role stunning recreated by Greta Garbo) find peace?
The bed was turned down, and a pair of little bedroom slippers were by the bed. They were rather trodden down and shabby - the slippers of a woman who is accustomed to sleep by herself. Gaigern, as he stood by the door, felt a fleeting tenderness of pity at the sight of these little tokens of resignation on the part of a famous and beautiful woman.
It had come to this, she thought. She poured out a cup of tea and took a packet of veronal from the bedside table. She swallowed a tablet, drank some tea, and then took a second. She got up and began to walk rapidly to and fro across the room, four paces this way, four paces that. What is the use of it all? she thought. What is the use of living? What is there to wait for? ...With a rapid gesture she took the bottle of veronal and emptied them all into her tea...
Will the aristocratic thief Baron Gaigern make his fortune and be redeemed by love?
"He's the handsomest man I've ever seen in my life - this Baron," she added in Russian. Her voice as she said it sounded as cold as if she spoke of some object displayed for sale in a saleroom.
Whenever he passed through the Lounge it was as if a window of sunshine were opened in a cold room. He was a marvellous dancer, cool and yet passionate. There were always flowers in his room. He loved them and their scent. When he was alone he stroked and even licked their petals - like an animal. He was quick to follow girls in the street. Sometimes he would merely look at them with pleasure, sometimes he would speak to them, and sometimes he would go home with them or take them to a second-rate hotel. Next morning the Hall Porter would smile, when with a feline and innocent air he made his appearance in the elegant and more or less irreproachable Lounge of the Grand Hotel and asked for his key.
Will Dr Otternschlag, the hideously scarred drug-addicted doctor, the "living suicide", escape the demon that is his eternal loneliness?
No, nothing happens, nothing at all, he muttered. He had once possessed a little Persian cat, called Gurba. Ever since she forsook him for a common street tom he had been obliged to carry on his dialogues with himself.
Will Otto Kringelein, the deathly ill lowly factory book-keeper, have one good time before he dies?
It is not very nice to go to one's grave at forty-six without having lived at all and only been harassed and starved and bullied by Herr P. at the works and by the wife at home.
He sat on the edge of the bed and talked, not like an assistant book-keeper... but like a lover. His secretive, sensitive and timid soul crept out of its cocoon and spread its small new wings.
Will the miserly Herr Generaldirektor Preysing save his Saxonia Cotton Company but lose his soul?
He had never yet committed the least irregularity. Nevertheless, there must have been a bad spot in him somewhere, a minute nucleus of moral disease which was destined to get a hold on him and bring him low. Yes, there must, in spite of all, have been just the merest trace of some inflammation, some microscopic speck on the irreproachable purity of his moral waistcoat. . .
Will the falling angel Fraulein Flämmchen escape a fate worse than death?
"You must tell me, too, what salary you ask," he said in a flattering tone. This time it took Flämmchen even longer to reply. She had to draw up a comprehensive balance sheet. The renunciation of the incipient affair with the handsome Baron figured on it, also Preysing's ponderous fifty years, his fat and his heavy breathing. Then there were one or two little bills, requirements in the way of new underclothing, pretty shoes - the blue ones were nearly done. The small capital that would be necessary to launch her on a career in the films, in revue or elsewhere. Flämmchen made a clear and unsentimental survey of the chances the job offered her. "A thousand marks," she said. It sounded a princely amount, and she was under no illusions as to the sums that were nowadays laid at the feet of pretty girls. "Perhaps a little extra for clothes to travel in," she added... "You want me to look my best, naturally."
"You need no clothes for that. On the contrary," Preysing said with warmth.
The fish out of water, Kringelein - the poor provincial clerk in the unfamiliar rich world of the hotel and the nightlife of Berlin (yes, a bit for Isherwood fans here) - is the main focus of the narrative, much of which we see through his eyes: "...eyes in which was so much yearning expectation, wonder and curiosity. In them was hunger for life, and knowledge of death."

Yes, this is a sad book but it is a wonderful book too. Baum captures the sights, sounds and even scents (she's particularly good on the smell of things) of the transitory inhabitants of that microcosm, the Grand Hotel, and the ephemeral world outside in a Berlin where, too, no one seems to have belonged since the end of the war.
These two had come together from the ends of the world to meet for a few hours in the hotel bed of Room No. 68 where so many had slept before them...
For readers with an eye to history, this book is even more rewarding. As the Baron says, "Nowadays being in Germany is like being in clothes you've grown out of."

Rating: 8/10

If you liked this... instead of the obvious (Isherwood) try something with a feel for European journeys of the era: Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins (1936: made into the 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes) or Graham Greene's Stamboul Train (1932: also filmed in 1934 as Orient Express). 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

{weekend words}

Not only am I currently spending a long, long weekend interstate in lovely Melbourne, but I am lucky enough to be staying at The Windsor, a wonderful old hotel in the Grand Hotel tradition. Kerry Greenwood captured the Windsor so beautifully in her first Phryne Fisher mystery, Cocaine Blues (1989), set in  Melbourne in the 1920s.

'Where we goin' first?' yelled Bert. Phryne screamed back over the noise of the labouring engine, 'First to the Queen Victoria Hospital, then to the Windsor Hotel, and we aren't in a particular hurry.'
'You staying at the Windsor, Miss?' asked Bert, removing his pendant cigarette and flinging it through the rattling window of the taxi. 'Toffy, are you? The time will come when the working man rises against his oppressors, and breaks the chains of Capital, and. . .'
'. . . then there won't be any more Windsor,' finished Phryne. Bert looked injured. He released the steering wheel and turned his head to remonstrate with the young capitalist.
'No miss, you don't understand,' he began, averting death with a swift twiddle of the wheel that skidded them to safety around a van. 'When the revolution comes, we'll all be staying at the Windsor.'
'It sounds like an excellent idea,' agreed Phryne.

As this publishes, I shall be having Afternoon Tea.

{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository