Saturday, March 31, 2012

{weekend words}

I wrote a very satirical letter to Merton, the wine merchant, who gave us the pass, and said, “Considering we had to pay for our seats, we did our best to appreciate the performance.” I thought this line rather cutting, and I asked Carrie how many p’s there were in appreciate, and she said, “One.” After I sent off the letter I looked at the dictionary and found there were two. Awfully vexed at this. 
Weedon & George Grossmith (1892)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

{review} rosemary's baby

Ira Levin Rosemary's Baby (1967)

'The dreams I had,' she said, rubbing her forehead and closing her eyes. 'President Kennedy, the Pope, Minnie and Roman …'
She opened her eyes and saw scratches on her left breast; two parallel hairlines of red running down into the nipple. Her thighs stung; she pushed the blanket from them and saw more scratches, seven or eight going this way and that.
'Don’t yell,' Guy said. 'I already filed them down.' He showed short smooth fingernails.
Rosemary looked at him uncomprehendingly.
'I didn’t want to miss Baby Night,' he said.
'You mean you—'
'And a couple of my nails were ragged.'
'While I was – out?'
He nodded and grinned. 'It was kind of fun,' he said, 'in a necrophile sort of way.'
She looked away, her hands pulling the blanket back over her thighs.
'I dreamed someone was – raping me,' she said. 'I don’t know who. Someone – unhuman.'
'Thanks a lot,' Guy said.
Oh I love Ira Levin. He is the master of uneasiness and menace. Are events for real? Is his protagonist imagining everything? Are we imagining everything? - or does devil worship lurk under twinset and pearls?

Rosemary and Guy, a young married couple, find their dream apartment in the glorious Bramford building in New York only to discover that the building has been the scene of some very nasty events in the past. Nevertheless, they settle down into a seemingly idyllic life ("She made Guy chicken Marengo and vitello tonnato, baked a mocha layer cake and a jarful of butter cookies.") and make friends with their very friendly neighbours Minnie and Roman. They think about starting a family. Rosemary is a stay-at-home wife; Guy is an actor struggling for a really good financially rewarding part. There are little hints of uneasiness from the beginning - "She was nine years younger than Guy, and some of his references lacked clear meaning for her" - but as Guy gets more and more involved with the oh-so-helpful neighbours and Rosemary learns more about the Bramford's dark history, the sense of menace grows. 

Has Rosemary's husband made a pact with the devil or is her pregnancy making her crazy?
Not long after telling Dr Sapirstein about the nearly raw meat, Rosemary found herself chewing on a raw and dripping chicken heart – in the kitchen one morning at four-fifteen. She looked at herself in the side of the toaster, where her moving reflection had caught her eye, and then looked at her hand, at the part of the heart she hadn't yet eaten held in red-dripping fingers. After a moment she went over and put the heart in the garbage, and turned on the water and rinsed her hand. Then, with the water still running, she bent over the sink and began to vomit.
This is an utterly spellbinding (ho ho) book - so chilling, so spooky, so witty ("The baby kicked like a demon"), so unputdownable, and with a typical Levin twist at the end.

Rating: 10/10.

If you liked this... I loved The Stepford Wives {REVIEW}. I loved The Boys from Brazil {REVIEW}. I've also now read and loved A Kiss Before Dying (see Teresa's incisive review).


Monday, March 26, 2012

{review} the hunger games

Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games (2008)

Hit dystopian roman - and now film - du jour, The Hunger Games left me rather cold. It seemed so derivative from other stories. Also a lot of squirrels died. Can't like that. And I like a strong female protagonist, but you can keep the uncomfortable teen romance. A gift for present tense fans: it was indefatigably in the first person present tense. It wasn't a bad book; it just wasn't for me. I worry that this is a sign of grumpy old age. ;-)

This would be great though (more utopian than dystopian):
Instead of struggling with the knots in my wet hair, I merely place my hand on a box that sends a current through my scalp, untangling, parting and drying my hair almost instantly. It floats down around my shoulders in a glossy curtain. 
Rating: 3/5. Unusually, for me, I can resist the urge to finish the series.

If you liked this... it did make me go and watch Arnie in The Running Man (1987) again. Classic. I had no idea the work on which it was based was written by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman [1982]).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

{weekend words}

She looked for less than a second and then accelerated and drove by at sixty, trailing cold air and whirling grit and tyre whine. Reacher watched her go. A good decision, probably. Lone women shouldn’t stop in the middle of nowhere for giant unkempt strangers with duct tape on their faces.
Lee Child (2010)

Monday, March 19, 2012

{review} lamberto, lambero, lamberto

Gianni Rodari Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto (1978; English translation 2011 of C'era due volte il barone Lamerto)

I had to read this after I saw Marg's enthusiastic review. This book was such fun.

The aged and infirm Baron Lamberto, owner of 24 banks, possessor of 24 illnesses and "the world’s greatest chamomile collection", takes a tip from a fakir and employs a group of people to speak his name over and over and over, continuously 24 hours a day -- growing mysterious younger, fitter and handsomer in the process. But will his miraculous renaissance be hijacked by his greedy heir and a gang of Red Brigade-style bandits?

This book is wonderful and witty. The language (translation by Antony Shugaar) is gorgeous and I desperately want to read it in Italian, though being appallingly lazy I probably won't. Preferably, I'd like to read it again during a lovely holiday in the Italian Lakes region.
"We should also speak to Signora Zanzi about the way she draws out the second syllable of Lamberto, and then clips off the third and final syllable. She sounds like a sheep bleating—be-e-e-eh, be-e-e-eh—and we can’t have that." …
"I’ll attend to it, My Lord. If I may venture to do so, I shall also ask Signor Bergamini to be a little less emphatic in the way he punctuates each of the three syllables. There is, if I may say so, the faintest reminiscence of a soccer cheer: Lam-ber-to! Lam-ber-to!"
Rating: 5/5.

If you liked this... something somewhere between Andrew Kaufmann's The Tiny Wife {REVIEW} and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

{weekend words}

Baron Lamberto has the world’s greatest chamomile collection. He has chamomiles from the Alps and the Apennines, from the Pyrenees and the Caucasus, the Sierras and the Andes, and even from the high valleys of the Himalayas. Every variety of chamomile is carefully catalogued and stored on special shelves, with an index card indicating the place, year, and day it was harvested. 
“I would suggest,” said Anselmo, “a 1945 Campagna Romana.” 
“Quite so, you’re the expert.” 
One day every year, the villa opens its wrought-iron gates and hardwood portals, and tourists are invited in to see Baron Lamberto’s collections: the chamomile collection, the umbrella collection, the collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings...

Gianni Rodari (1978)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

{review} worth dying for

Lee Child Worth Dying For (2010)

Reacher waited for quiet and pumped the gun, a solid crunch-crunch, probably the most intimidating sound in the world. 
Oooh, the ?15th Jack Reacher novel. I wasn't so keen on the last two, but this one is a return to form (at least, I mean, the sort of form I like) with the seemingly immortal Jack Reacher emerging nigh-unscathed from all sorts of completely improbably trouble -- despatching the bad guys, saving the townsfolk (especially the women), fixing his own broken nose with a whack against a wall, and then strolling off into the wide, wide spaces of America.

This one hit the spot like a Reacher punch to the chest:
[He] lay completely still. Not breathing. No visible pulse. No signs of life. The standard first-aid remedies taught by the army medics were artificial respiration and external chest compressions, eighty beats a minute, as long as it took, but Reacher’s personal rule of thumb was never to revive a guy who had just pulled a gun on him. He was fairly inflexible on the matter. 
This particular Reacher book was also funny; almost tongue-in-cheek. I've missed humour in the last few books. It's a nice feeling when a series you've sort of given up on, comes back with a bang.

Rating: 3/5.

If you liked this... you should really start at the beginning. The first couple are awesome.  I've reviewed 61 Hours here.


Monday, March 12, 2012

{review} the language of bees

Laurie R. King The Language of Bees (2009)


The knife hilt grew warm in my hand, then damp. I moved it briefly to my right hand to wipe my palm, then took it back, my fingers kneading it nervously.
It is such an easy thing, to become prey. Especially for a woman, for whom biology and nurture conspire to encourage a sense of victimhood. When terror sweeps through the veins, we become rabbits, cowering in a corner with our eyes closed, hoping for invisibility. And a large man with a gun is a truly terrifying thing. I regretted coming, berated myself for not bringing someone with me; stood helpless, waiting for my death to come up the stairs. Bad judgment yet again, to face a gun with nothing but a sweaty-handled throwing knife.

It's ages since I've read a book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. Every now and then I am overcome by the pressing desire to re-read the brilliant first book in the series (The Beekeeper's Apprentice), and late last year I read the short story Beekeeping for Beginners in which Laurie R. King presents a part of The Beekeeper's Apprentice from Holmes' perspective (very interesting indeed: {REVIEW}).


The Language of Bees is a decent addition (the ninth) to the series. There's a nice big fat shock to get the game afoot. The puzzle - involving a sort of Aleister Crowley figure and sacrificial murder - and the symbolic trappings (the bees) weave together nicely. I always feel that King manages to make her reader feel that they have never wholly penetrated all of the symbolic mystique. I rather like authors who can pull that off without making me feel either cheated or really dumb. The Language of Bees is primarily Mary's story, with Holmes popping in and out with necessary facts here and there. A good, solid read, though I can't say it is my favourite in the series. 

It ends with the sort of ending that has already made me buy the next one - The God of the Hive - although I have one little anxiety about this... A small child appears in The Language of Bees in a minor role but with the potential for this to develop in the future. I just don't like books with annoyingly precocious kids in them - especially books where almost everyone else in there already has quite alarming amounts of precocity! - so I hope things don't develop in that direction.


BTW, I loved this little wink to 1920s' crime-novel lovers:
If I could not prise what I needed out of them, I should have to pass the task to a certain friend, whose title would have the staff scraping the floor in their eagerness to serve. I wanted to avoid bringing him in, if I could manage on my own -- the fewer who knew... the better, and this particular amateur sleuth would put the whole picture together in a flash.
Rating: 3/5.

If you liked this: you have to start at the beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. It is amazing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

{weekend words}

She rented a two-room apartment on the top floor of a converted brownstone house in the East Fifties. She furnished it with a great deal of care. Because the two rooms were smaller than those she had occupied in her father’s home, she could not take all her possessions with her. Those that she did take, therefore, were the fruit of a thoughtful selection. She told herself she was choosing the things she liked best, the things that meant the most to her, which was true; but as she hung each picture and placed each book upon the shelf, she saw it not only through her own eyes but also through the eyes of a visitor who would some day come to her apartment, a visitor as yet unidentified except as to his sex. Every article was invested with significance, an index to her self; the furniture and the lamps and the ashtrays (modern but not modernistic), the reproduction of her favourite painting (Charles Demuth’s My Egypt; not quite realistic; its planes accentuated and enriched by the eye of the artist), the records (some of the jazz and some of the Stravinsky and Bartók, but mostly the melodic listen-in-the-dark themes of Grieg and Brahms and Rachmaninoff), and the books – especially – the books, for what better index of the personality is there? (The novels and plays, the non-fiction and verse, all chosen in proportion and representation of her tastes.) It was like the concentrated abbreviation of a Help Wanted ad. The egocentricity which motivated it was not that of the spoiled, but of the too little spoiled; the lonely. Had she been an artist she would have painted a self-portrait; instead she decorated two rooms, changing them with objects which some visitor, some day, would recognize and understand. And through that understanding he would divine all the capacities and longings she had found in herself and was unable to communicate.
Ira Levin (1953)


Monday, March 5, 2012

{review} mrs. miniver

Jan Struther Mrs. Miniver (1939)

She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber's hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jig-saw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the 'Blue Danube' waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.
Mrs Miniver had me from the moment I read that perfectly contrived description of an idyllic English "tea". This book offers a perfectly worded and eminently quotable gem of propaganda-worthy hearth-and-home sentiment on almost every page. This could prove somewhat glutinous (especially given that, unlike her peer The Provincial Lady, Mrs. Miniver is financially secure in her world), except that Mrs Miniver is leavened by an often quite startling commentary on these idyllic pictures.

When Mrs Miniver has described the post-Christmas scene ("The room was laced with an invisible network of affectionate understanding"), this is cut with the comment that,
This was one of the moments, thought Mrs. Miniver, which paid off at a single stroke all the accumulations on the debit side of parenthood: the morning sickness and the quite astonishing pain; the pram in the passage, the cold mulish glint in the cook's eye; the holiday nurse who had been in the best families; the pungent white mice, the shrivelled caterpillars; the plasticine on the door-handles, the face-flannels in the bathroom, the nameless horrors down the crevices of armchairs; the alarms and emergencies, the swallowed button, the inexplicable earache, the ominous rash appearing on the eve of a journey; the school bills and the dentists' bills; the shortened stop, the tempered pace, the emotional compromises, the divided loyalties, the adventures continually forsworn.
Astonishing, isn't it? 

Rating: 5/5. Loved it.

If you liked this... I don't think Mrs. Miniver will overtake The Provincial Lady for top place in my affections. There are less laugh-out-loud moments (except those swans: "Conceited brutes. They always look as though they'd just been reading their own fan-mail"). Must watch the film again. I retain the impression that I didn't like it.

That is a truly horrid cover.

{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
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