Wednesday, January 22, 2014

{reviews} her father's name & the golden child

I have just read two really enjoyable books in a row, and it would certainly be remiss not to share these. They were quite different books, but both made me laugh and reminded me why I love books.

Florence Marryat Her Father's Name (1876)

Leona Lacoste was a woman who would never give in—until she died.
I chose this one because I read a tantalising blog post on it by Catherine Pope, who has published the Victorian Secrets edition of the text. The novel is available free (e.g., archive.org), but this edition is well worth having - actually, I'd say indispensable - for the absolutely wonderful Introduction by Greta Depledge, in which she provides all sorts of contextualization on the author and the varied and often kooky themes of the novel. 

Basically, if you like 'sensational' novels and you admire a strong heroine (with admirable bosoms, "body supple as a cat-o'-mountain's" and "eyes of burnished bronze, like... the eyes of a spotted panther in repose") who scorns the conventions of polite society in order to escape a fate worse than death ("Bah! In a country where the girls marry at fourteen! But were she twelve it would make no difference. She is old enough for me." Ew.) AND clear her father's name of a heinous accusation, then this is for you.
"I am quite determined, father. I shall never marry. Marriage is slavery, and I was born free. I will never be such a fool as to barter my birthright for any man."
But wait, there's more: cross-dressing...
She commenced to stroll leisurely in the direction of the cabin as she spoke, and as Valera followed her, he could not help wondering at the easy grace with which she filled her part, and the admirable disguise it was, to which, however, the effeminacy of many of the men in those southern climates much assisted her.
... hysteria, sweaty sickbeds, effeminacy, a touch of Sapphism on the chaise-longue, duelling, travel, disguises, faint downy moustaches, guitar playing, ethnic stereotyping ("I shall not faint, doctor, I have too much European blood in me for that") and really tall women who smoke cigars. What more could you ask? 

This is my second Marryat, and I'm loving her more and more. I previously reviewed The Blood of the Vampire (1897), which was one of my 'best of 2012'. 

*

My second recommendation is by an author who made it onto my 'best of 2013', although I never managed actually to review that book. That was Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop (which all lovers of independent bookshops should read: what could possibly go wrong with one woman's ambition to bring a bookshop to her country town?). 

I'll try to do better with my second Fitzgerald: Penelope Fitzgerald's The Golden Child (1977):

       
'Three minutes to go... We are all quite clear, I take it. Slight accidents, fainting, trampling under foot — the emergency First Aid posts are indicated in your orders for the day; complaints, show sympathy; disorder, contain; increased disorder, communicate directly with my office; wild disorder, the police, to be avoided if possible. Crush barriers to be kept in place at all entries at all times. No lingering.'
What made me love this? I did wonder if my list of things that I love might only be applicable to me, but I hope not! The British Museum, a golden treasure from a lost civilization, a group of highly eccentric curators and academics, a quick trip to Russia, and a murder or two. No, surely there's universal appeal there?
Half over the sill, the eminent maniac was holding Untermensch by his two thin wrists, hanging him down outside while he sawed the wrists to and fro on the frame. The Professor’s voice came only faintly: ‘Spare me! I alone can read Garamantian!’
Waring Smith is the naive but practical assistant curating a huge British Museum exhibition (inspired by the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition of 1972) of golden treasures from the mysterious civilisation that was Garamantia in Africa. 

Few know anything about the artifacts which were discovered by Sir William Simpkin many, many years ago: there is Professor Untermensch (Fitzgerald's names are brilliant) who has written the definitive study of the Garamantian script, Garamantischengeheimschriftendechiffrierkunst; there is "Tite-Live Rochegrosse-Bergson from the Sorbonne - the distinguished anthropologist, anti-structuralist, mythologist and paroemiographer" (anti-structuralist - still giggling about that; he also believes in "the irresistible impulse to stop thinking at all"); and there is, of course, Sir William himself, who refuses to visit the exhibition. Is this because of an alleged curse? The museum's Director sees the exhibition as a cash-cow, and Sir William as another source of funds which can all go towards his love of French "dix-septième" objets: "He particularly hated Oriental rugs, which took up an immoderate amount of display space." 

But then things start to go awry and Waring Smith is dragged in well over his head:
And the Museum, slumbrous by day, sleepless by night, began to seem to him a place of dread. Apart from the two recent deaths, how many violent ways there were in the myriad rooms of getting rid of a human being! The dizzy stairs, the plaster-grinders in the cast room, the poisons of conservation, the vast incinerators underground! And the whole strange nature of Museum work, preserving the treasures of the dead for the curiosity of the living, filled him... with fear.
The Golden Child is black humour at its best - gentle, ridiculous and wonderfully well written. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

{misc.} 2013 in review



2013 in numbers: 145 books read

Kindle: 110 ~~ Tree-books: 35
Crime/mystery/espionage: 63
Other fiction: 59
Fiction for younger readers: 18
Non-fiction: 10 (needs work)
Australian writers: 9 (hang head in shame)
Graphic novel: 1 (not my thing)
Short story collections: 2
Christmas-themed books: 4 (and one short story)
Re-reads: 38
Agatha Christie re-reads: 15
Georgette Heyer re-reads: 7
Female authors: 99 ~~ Male authors: 46


On the whole it would seem that I love e-books by women writers and tended to get carried away with re-reading the same.

Favourites? 

I excluded re-reads from this, but I couldn't get it down to 10:




Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey (1949)
A brilliant story of a young man who may or may not be a long-lost relative returned to reclaim his place - and a fortune - in the family. Tey is one of my favourite writers - I also read Miss Pym Disposes this year {REVIEW}, which is entirely different to Brat Farrar and just as magnificent.

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym (1952) {REVIEW}
I read this for Barbara Pym Week, hosted by heavenali, and it was my first Pym and, oh, what an impression it made. Single women of the world, unite! (Cats optional.)



Tampa - Alissa Nutting (2013) {REVIEW}
A controversial book on a controversial subject - but so wittily done. (Also, cover of the year.)


  

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary - Ruby Ferguson (1937) {REVIEW}
This was like watching a classic B&W 1930s weepy film. An absolutely charming book.

The Home-Maker - Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)
This may be my absolute favourite of the year. Another Persephone title: the story of a woman trapped by domestic expectations who gets a chance to shine.


  

Miss Cayley's Adventures - Grant Allen (1899)
A lost classic: whipsmart Cambridge graduate takes on the big bad world on a bicycle and triumphs.

Heartburn - Nora Ephron (1983) {REVIEW}
The book for lovers of food and NY-style romantic agony.


  


Hit Man - Lawrence Block (1998) {REVIEW}
Funny, wry episodes from the life of a stamp-collecting hit-man.


Desert of the Heart - Jane Rule (1964) {REVIEW}
Remarkable and painful journey of lesbian self-discovery set in a vintage Las Vegas.


  


Under the Skin - Michel Faber (2000) {REVIEW}
Wow. Do not hitchhike. Ever. You never know who - or what - may be out there. Faber seems to reinvent himself with every book, and this one was superbly bizarre.

Lazarus is Dead - Richard Beard (2011) {REVIEW}
Writing Lazarus back into the Jesus narrative: a wonderful play on pseudo-scholarship. I described it as "rich and imaginative and funny and playful (and brutal, stomach-turning and occasionally utterly horrifying)"


  

The Fortune of Christina M'Nab - Sarah Macnaughtan (1901){REVIEW}
A find! A canny young Scotswoman inherits a fortune and sets out to reinvent herself as a lady with the assistance of her helpful ex-fiancé (who bears a startling resemblance to the Apollo Belvedere).

Come Out of the Kitchen! - Alice Duer Miller (1916)
Another lost classic (rediscovered by fleur in her world): a rich young man rents a house from an impoverished family, only to discover a host of servant problems - such as the world's prettiest cook.


 


The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald (1978)
Gorgeously melancholic but humorous book about a widow who only wants to start a bookshop in what turns out to be a bookshop-shy town.

The Good Soldier - Ford Madox Ford (1915)
An excellent recommendation from stuck in a book: a slow start as the odd style rather threw me, and then - bang! - unputdownable story of absolute tragedy about the disintegration of all one's loves and illusions.

I really enjoyed my 2013 reading year, and I have no other reading aims for 2014 than to read everything that catches my fancy.


Happy New Year!

{READ IN 2017}

  • JUNE
  • 55.
  • 54.
  • 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
  • APRIL
  • 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
  • MARCH
  • 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
  • FEBRUARY
  • 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
  • JANUARY
  • 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

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]