104 in 2014: 9. The sweetness of reading

How’s that reading challenge working out for you all? Sweet?
Here are the next 10 on my completed list, all of which I was reading back in May and June, so it’s past time to let you know what I thought about them, right?

#81Sprig Muslin cover Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer (Read 25/05/2014) Hear that dreadful shrieking noise? That’s the rusty old brakes being applied to my grand plan to re-read all of Heyer’s Georgian romances in chronological order of publication. But it’s not the fault of this little piece of delightful frippery. It’s the next on the list which has me stalled. Never mind. Sprig Muslin is charming, with an nice pair of characters at its heart. Sir Gareth is a Corinthian who offers marriage to his friend Hester (an elderly spinster at 29) because he can see she would be much happier away from her family situation, he needs an heir, and he believes he will never fall in love again after his rather reckless and headstrong fiancee died in an accident years ago. Hester says “no”, which quite baffles him and everyone else except the reader who can see that Hester loves him, has always loved him, and doesn’t want to marry him on those terms. How he comes to love her with the unwitting assistance of a willful teenage runaway and a young, romantic poet forms the core of the plot. It’s an amusing way to while away a few hours.

#82The Morning Gift cover The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson (Read 27/05/2014) In many ways this is an outstanding book. The historical setting is very interesting and largely drawn from the author’s own experiences of being a member of a family of non-practicing Jews who were part of the intelligentsia of Viennese society in the 1920s and 30s. The main character has difficulty getting out of Austria after the Nazis invade, and she ends up being rescued by the offer of a marriage of convenience to a British academic who is a friend of her father. The characters are beautifully drawn and the descriptions of Vienna and music and culture contrast so heartrendingly with the experiences of the refugees in London. My main difficulty with the story is that the whole fake marriage, growing friendship and love, fabulously unpleasant rival for his affections plot is undermined by that tired old romance novel cliche of the hero and heroine misunderstanding a single thing, and not talking to each other. It could have gone more like this:
“Darling, I so love you, did you like the gift I sent you as a sign of my affection?”
“Oh! I must admit, when I saw it, at first I thought you were brushing me off with a morganatic morning-gift.”
“A what?”
“Oh, surely you remember? We discussed this obscure medieval term a little over a decade ago, when I was just a child! It’s where the upper-class husband gives his lower-class wife a gift the morning after their marriage is consummated. It lets her know that although they are legally married, she’s not really up to par, so she’s not getting anything else from his estate and their children will be legitimate, but unable to inherit.”
“…”
“Remember?”
“Um, yes, I suppose so, but that really wasn’t uppermost in my mind after our night of passion.”
“Well then, that’s alright.”
And they lived happily ever after…

#83Hinterkind cover Hinterkind Vol. 1: The Waking World GN by Ian Edginton (Read 1/06/2014) This graphic novel has what could have been an interesting post-apocalyptic plague premise, with the surviving humans under threat from an angry and vengeful fairy kingdom intent on reclaiming the world, as well as a secret group of power-mad humans who have misused science to ensure their own survival. But I found the way the story was told sadly flat, the art didn’t lift it out of the ordinary, there is just awful dialogue and I couldn’t really care about the characters – they all seem selfish and stupid, which is no good thing. Not for me.

 

#84Hyperbole and a half cover Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Ellie Brosh (Read 1/0/2014) I don’t know how Ellie Brosh manages to make such simplistic drawings so funny, but she does. Feeling down? I have two online sources of guaranteed pick me up and make me laugh out loud humour, and one of them is the Hyperbole and a Half blog. This book is comedy gold. Are you a dog lover? Does your dog do weird things? You will laugh out loud at this book, guaranteed. Her dog stories had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, I could only rock backwards and forwards, flapping my hands, with tears rolling down my face. Tales from her childhood – the cake story! the letters to her childhood self! the party whilst heavily medicated! – are priceless. What is truly amazing is that even the stories about her depression, which are painfully honest and true, are funny. Oh, and the goose in the house! No, really, you have to read it.

#85Seven Deadlies cover Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale by Gigi Levangie (Read 2/06/2014) This collection of modern cautionary tales was going along OK. I was cutting it some slack for cheesy character names and contrivances, and for the slightly preachy tone because, hey, they’re cautionary tales and they’re not meant to be read as entirely reflective of reality. The most interesting part was the narrator’s relationship with her mother, which formed a constant and intriguing counterpoint to the dissolution of modern American families in the tales. And then the epilogue COMPLETELY ruined it for me and made me feel like reading it had been a waste of time. Cheers.

 

#86Burma chronicles cover Burma Chronicles GN by Guy Delisle (Read 2/06/2014) Another excellent example of a graphic novel that would appeal to a much wider readership than would normally go looking for their next book amongst the graphic novels. Well, this one’s a travelogue memoir of a year that the French-Canadian author spent in Myanmar. His wife is a doctor with Medecins Sans Frontieres and he spends his time looking after their infant son, drawing, writing and kind of mooching about. The military junta impacts obliquely on the stories in a number of ways, and he can be a frustrating narrative voice, quite flippant and wrapped up more in his obsession with the air-conditioning and the benefits of membership of the Australian ex-pats club, than social justice. But, then, he’s human, right? He shows small moments from everyday life, and your opportunity as a reader is to reflect on them.

#87The History of England cover A History of England in 100 Places: From Stonehenge to the Gherkin by John Julius Norwich (Partly read 12/06/2014) I ran out of puff with this one. It’s a good idea – the author picked 100 (just 100, which he admits was a difficult task) place in England (just England, not the rest of the UK) and discusses them chronologically, explaining their relevance to history. It’s a hefty book, and I found it tough going. The author certainly knows his stuff, but there was something about his tone which I did not enjoy, a slight condescension as to the pearls of wisdom he was imparting, and he’s not shy about picking a side in any question of historical adversaries. I gave it up about halfway through for these reasons and that it’s not very well illustrated, which I found very frustrating, probably more so than I would have if it had simply not had any images at all.

#88The completely superior person's book of words cover The Completely Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler(Read 16/06/2014) This is the perfect thing for anyone who loves words – big, obsolete and specialised words in particular. You don’t actually have to have any pretensions to dragging these out in public to be amused by them. The author’s wry turn of phrase, especially in the examples of how words can be used in ordinary conversations makes it the sort of book you feel compelled to read bits out loud to random passers-by. Well, I did. Amusing. Some of the examples are a little dated, betraying their origins in one of three word books for superior persons published by the author as early as 1979, but who could resist this compendium edition of all those lovely words? A little light Googling has revealed that the author is also Australian and the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Abbey Museum up in Caboolture, which is an awesome place, so now I like this lovely little book even more.

Look, I never said these reviews weren’t outrageously influenced by stuff other than the actual contents of the book, OK?

#89The case of the missing books cover The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom (Abandoned 21/06/2014) What is wrong with me? How could I not love a cosy mystery about a librarian? In Ireland? In a little town full of quirky characters? Well, I suppose my problem with this book was that the main character was a complete dud. I despised him. He was utterly abrasive to everyone and his complete inability to interact with other humans was put down to him being so well-read that he couldn’t relate to other, lesser, beings. Annoying. But I didn’t feel sorry for the people he was inflicted on. I didn’t like any of them either. The first four sentences of the blurb on the book contain six statements of fact – within a couple of dozen pages I realised that five of these are simply not true. Was this supposed to amuse me? The book is touted as humorous, and if slapstick is your thing then you might enjoy the drawn out passages where the character bumps into things, or has things spilled onto him, or injures himself in some other way. Not for me, though. I dumped this one and I’ll be assiduously avoiding the rest of the series.

#90becoming queen Becoming Queen by Kate Williams (Read 23/06/2014) I’m researching the reign of William IV, so I was pleased to read this interesting dual biography of his nieces, Princess Caroline, the only legitimate child of his brother George IV, and Queen Victoria, the only daughter of his brother Edward, the Duke of Kent. Caroline died within hours of giving birth to a stillborn son, plunging Britain into mourning for their princess, and her uncles into an undignified scramble to produce an heir. Between them, the children of George III may have had as many as 56 illegitimate children, but Caroline was the only child born within a legally recognised marriage. More contemporary royal scandals kind of pale in comparison. Anyway, the author here can’t find a nice thing to say about any of the Hanoverian Princes (but, then she’s not alone in that) and documents an interesting time in British history, as well as the profoundly dysfunctional family lives of these two princesses.

And that’s a wrap for 10 more titles added to the reading challenge stack. I hope there’s something here you will like (say, for example, THE AMAZING HYPERBOLE AND A HALF!!!) and I’ll have a full report on my next 10 titles soon.