Review: I Can't Begin To Tell You, Elizabeth Buchan

Elizabeth Buchan takes a step into historical fiction with this stunning and powerful novel set in 1940s Denmark.  Buchan is an established name in romance and 'chick lit' but I Can't Begin To Tell You marks a major departure.  Tales of derring-do from World War Two are hardly new, even while the conflict was still being fought films such as Went The Day Well were being released, allowing those on the sidelines to imagine themselves at the heart of the drama.  I Can't Begin To Tell You takes a more subtle approach however; it is a very feminine approach to espionage and rather than gunfights and high-jinx, Buchan considers the personal cost of involvement with wartime surveillance.  While contemporary stories such as Agatha Christie's nauseating Tommy and Tuppence in N or M might make light of intelligence work, I Can't Begin To Tell You has a more mournful tone and from the very beginning, the reader feels braced for devastating consequences.

Review: How To Be A Heroine, Samantha Ellis

By title alone I was always going to want to read this.  Reading the synopsis turned it into an over-whelming need, particularly since nearly all the books on the cover were ones that I had adored passionately too.  I wanted this book so bad I didn't even wait for the paperback.  Having finished it, I just want to invite Samantha Ellis round for a cup of tea so we can talk things over further.  I would even be prepared to bake for the occasion (I really like baking so that isn't a hardship but my point is that I would want to impress).  This is a Book To Treasure.

How To Be A Heroine (Or, what I've learned from reading too much) was prompted by a chance conversation; a trip to Top Withens in Haworth with her best friend led to the question of which heroine was best, Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw.  Samantha assumed it was Cathy, "Obviously Cathy."  Her best friend disagreed.  A reread made her feel that she had been living her life like Cathy when she should have been following sensible Jane's example.  Naturally this prompted an literary identity crisis as Ellis wondered what other characters' examples she had been unconsciously following and so the book was born.  As Ellis takes her trip down her personal literary memory lane, we step with her through each stage of her life and ponder what reading can mean and how far we can ever take advice from the behaviour of fictional characters.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Fictional Parents

I have been thinking about this one for a little while - there are a myriad of parents in fiction but all too often they function simply as cardboard cut-out background characters.  In children's fiction, parents often go through the entire novel without ever even being awarded a first name.  They offer a chance for the protagonist to unburden themselves, a secure place to return to.  Alternatively, they can also be the 'dark past' which explains the main character's demons.  I wanted this week to consider which characters are fantastic family members.  I ruled out the plot-device parents (sorry Marmee March) and focused on those who really go beyond the call of duty to be there for their children.

Book tube #3 - Reading Habits

I picked up on this tag from Kirsty from The Literary Sisters and decided to have another go at Booktubing!

The questions were:
#1 - Do you have a certain place for reading at home?
#2 - Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?
#3 - Can you just stop reading or does it need to be at the end of a chapter or a certain number of pages?
#4 - Do you eat or drink while reading?
#5 - Do you read one book at a time or several at once?
#6 - Do you read out loud or silently in your head?
#7 - Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?
#8 - Breaking the spine or keeping it new?
#9 - Do you write in your books?
#10 - What are you currently reading?

Whether you want to answer in blog or booktube format, I nominate CGrace, Lory and Vicki W to join in too.

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Review: The Clown Service, Guy Adams

Toby Greene is told within the early pages of this novel that 'If the Security Service is the The Circus, then Section 37 is where we keep the clowns'.  After one screw up too many, that is exactly where Toby is headed.  Guy Adams' novel is like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy crossed with Fringe in the style of Jasper Fforde.  Toby finds himself in the department that everyone would rather forget, he is charged with defending Britain from paranormal terrorism.  His new boss and sole colleague is August Shining, a dapper gentleman who has been working cases since the Cold War.  Naturally enough, within days all hell breaks loose and Toby will have to work hard to save London from a threat that he is still struggling to believe in.

Saturday Poem - It's Good To Be Here

For the second week in a row, I picked up an anthology of poetry, closed my eyes and then opened it at random.  Once again, the result was thought-provoking.  This poem comes from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, a magnificent anthology if you haven't come across it before.  There are a lot of poems here that can make your scalp tingle and this is no exception.

It's Good To Be Here

I'm in trouble, she said
to him.  That was the first
time in history that anyone
had ever spoken of me.

It was 1932 when she
was just fourteen years old
and men like him
worked all day for
one stinking dollar.

There's quinine, she said.
That's bullshit, he told her.

Then she cried and then
for a long time neither of them
said anything at all and then
their voices kept rising until
they were screaming at each other
and then there was another long silence and then
they began to talk very quietly and at last he said
well, I guess we'll just have to make the best of it.

While I lay curled up,
my heart beating,
in the darkness inside her.

Alden Nowlan

Review: Succession, Livi Michael

It is not hard to contract medieval fatigue particularly concerning The Wars of the Roses.  I enjoy historical fiction but even I do find it repetitive on occasion.  Either it's the frothy and ultimately nauseating Philippa Gregory-esque frolics through the boudoirs of the court or we have the bloodied battlefields of Conn Iggulden and his ilk.  Now and again though an author is able to offer an entirely fresh perspective and that is what Livi Michael offers here.  Succession was a riveting read and breathed new life into the more ignored moments of the conflict - this is historical fiction with an emphasis on the history and a clear eye for the minds and motives of the people who lived through it.

Review: The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Djinni is Wecker's début novel and I was drawn in because it had a sign above recommending it to fans of The Night Circus.  Both novels set their action in the real world with a sprinkling of magical realism and they share a certain dream-like quality.  Still, while I remember The Night Circus as a real feast for the senses, I found The Golem and the Djinni to be slightly more confused in its purpose.  Did it set out to be romance, Bildungsroman, historical fiction or fantasy?  There were moments in the novel that were truly stunning but ultimately I found the strands of the narrative to be so varied that the conclusion failed to bring them all back together.  I enjoyed The Golem and the Djinni but finished it feeling dissatisfied.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Minor Characters

I haven't felt terribly inspired by the last couple of topics suggested by The Broke and Bookish so I decided to pick one from the archives again.  I think it's a mark of a good author if they can create intriguing and appealing secondary characters - it's all too easy to have your hero or heroine and then the cardboard clichéd supporting players who fade into oblivion as soon as the story has finished.  The ones I have picked are characters who have truly stuck in my mind a long while after the story finished.

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James

During the summer of 2009, I did not get Swine Flu.  I was working in a summer camp and people were dropping like flies all around me.  Sourcing Tamiflu became an unexpected part of my job description as a solid three quarters of our clientèle were incapacitated.  I did not get ill.  Until eighteen months later of course.  Long after the threat had passed, I came out of the cinema one evening and suddenly felt shivery.  And headachy.  By the next morning I felt like death.  It took a month and a half for me to feel normal again.  In much the same way, I did not succumb to Fifty Shades Fever two years ago even though everywhere I looked, people were reading it.  I refused, more or less to be awkward.  But the recent trailer was intriguing ... so, I cracked.  Yes, I finally read a book that started life as Twilight fan fiction.  Reader, I actually read Fifty Shades of Grey.