Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: May 2011 (page 1 of 3)

Legi, Lego, Legam – May into June reading

I thought it was time I started writing monthly round-up posts. In the spirit of my blog’s Latin motto (Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book), I’ve called this post – Legi, Lego, Legam – I read, I am reading, I will read – sounds so much clunkier in the English translation.

This month, I’ve been so absorbed in the on-going problems of dealing with my too large collection of mostly unread books, that reviews have tended to get submerged in the navel-gazing – although all your comments on that have been extremely helpful to me – Thank you.

So back to the books, of which I finished seven. My monthly average is slightly down this year – as I’ve been rather busy and preoccupied with other things lately. Title and ‘Buy’ links, where appropriate, click through to Amazon UK…


  • Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (7.5/10) Review Buy
  • Exegesis by Astro Teller (5.5/10) Review Buy
  • Salmon fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday Buy Review coming soon
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (10/10) Review Buy
  • The Dark Tower Bk 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (8.5/10) Review Buy
  • Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen Buy Review coming soon
  • The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato Buy Review coming soon

Book Group:  Salmon fishing in the Yemen will be discussed at Book Group next week, so review to follow. Last month’s choice was The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, which I reviewed this month here.

Book of the Month: I read one standout book in May. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best thing I’ve read this year.  The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, is a wonderfully witty, yet emotional rollercoaster of a Western set during the San Francisco goldrush era. I likened it to The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood, and hope that it might appeal to some of you too – It was mighty fine!

Readalongs: I am currently engaged in just one – The Dark Tower readalong hosted by Jenny & Teresa at Shelf Love. I enjoyed the first installment, The Gunslinger, very much and hope to be along for the whole ride…


I am currently reading the latest James Bond novel – Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver whom I saw talk about it here.  So far, it’s jolly good fun!  Deaver may have skipped some decades but his Bond, although modelled strictly on Fleming’s books, is definitely in the Sean Connery mould which ain’t no bad thing at all! :)


Definite June reading plans include:

Then some of the following from the top of my TBR pile perhaps:

  • Lasting Damage
  • Something Borrowed, the second Brenda and Effie novel by Paul Magrs – been meaning to read this for ages.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – this has gone straight up the pile after reading Simon Savidge’s grilling of the author (click here).
  • Briar Rose & Spanking the Maid two novellas by Robert Coover given a new Penguin Modern Classics edition.  After discovering Coover’s brilliant short story The Babysitter in a Penguin Mini Modern I am looking forward to these very much, and Just William’s Luck reviews them here
  • Scarlett Dedd by Cathy Brett – a very novel novel for older children that looked so much fun that I have to read it before audition it for my daughter.

I’ve also been debating whether to join in with Jackie’s Gormenghast readalong.  I have been planning to re-read the books for years, but rather than read a few chapters per week, I’ll go full immersion and join in at the end of each month if I can fit it in. I’ve also acquired the DVD of the BBC’s rather good TV adaption from 2000.

I’d better go and get reading!  What are your plans?

Book Nostalgia and multiple copies…

My question today, in my never-ending project to get my personal library down to manageable proportions is …

When you have multiple copies of books, how do you decide which ones to keep? Dogeared childhood copies vs shiny new ones…

Somewhere in the house, I have around three and a half sets of the Narnia books.  My dogeared and play-library adorned childhood copies; a cheap set of new paperbacks I bought for Juliet (who was showing the possibilities of becoming a book-wrecker, but now I’m not so sure); my posh Folio set; and assorted other editions we’ve been given over the years. Obviously the Folio set stays, but should I get rid of the rest?  Or keep one set – if so which one?  The Pauline Baynes covers on my childhood set are lovely, but they are falling to pieces; the modern set have boring covers. Another dilemma.

I have similar problems for Ballet Shoes, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and countless others. I own a proper hardback edition, Folio or otherwise, plus one or more reading copies, mostly Puffin paperbacks, including my childhood ones.

I can’t sell my dog-eared childhood copies – they’re in no state to pass on. Many of the pictures have been coloured in. Yes, I was a book-wrecker as a child – I think I changed to the opposite persuasion once I had a decent job and could afford to buy books rather than go to the library. The upshot of this is that I’d have to recycle the oldest copies, which are mostly well-tanned too by now too, tend to have small type and are not easy to read in their state of gentle decay.

I hope all these introspective posts about dealing with the problem of having too many books aren’t boring you all to sleep, but I am genuinely interested in your experiences.

  • Can you bear to get rid of your dogeared childhood editions when you have shiny new ones available?
  • Does the argument about having reading copies so that posh ones can be preserved hold any water?
  • Why were the old Puffin covers so lovely compared with today’s versions?
  • Would a pictorial record be enough to preserve the memories for posterity?
Do let me know your thoughts …

Carte Blanche for Jeffrey Deaver

Bond is back in print.  Carte Blanche is the latest edition to the James Bond canon, written by thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver – he of the quadraplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector and subsequent novels.

Deaver is only doing three events in the UK. The book was launched at St Pancras on Wednesday complete with a girl on a motorbike (BSA Spitfire) and Royal Marines rapelling down from the roof to deliver the tome; the third is at the Hay Literary Festival.

The middle event though was a real coup for my local bookshop Mostly Books.  They linked together with the truly high-tech Bondian location of the Diamond Light source at Harwell just outside Abingdon (left), to tempt Deaver into the Oxfordshire countryside for a talk about the book. No Bond event could be complete without a car or two either …  Bentleys in this case (see below) – for Bond is back in his original marque for this book.

Deaver, as you might expect, was a consummate pro at the microphone, throwing in lots of humour into his talk.

The new Bond book is set in 2011 with a thirty-something Bond joining a new top secret government agency with one aim – to protect the realm.  The action moves from Serbia to Capetown via London and Dubai. All the hallmarks of a Bond novel are there: cars, gadgets … and girls (plural), including one called Felicity Willing.  Deaver explained how he wanted to write his Bond novel as a typical Deaver one – a rollercoaster, with lots of surprise endings. The women are all strong characters – he doesn’t hold with the popular view of Bond as a misogynist; and did I mention the surprise endings?

He went on to talk a little about how he writes his books.  “Rule No 1 – This is a business.”  As a thriller writer, he is writing to an audience, to give them what they want, including twisty and scary plots. He likened it to creating minty toothpaste – who would want a different flavour?  Then he outlines for around eight months – research, character biographies, devising the plot – treating it like an engineering plan. He choreographs the ending, for in thrillers, the ending is the most important part of the book, (plus the surprise endings all the way through of course).  Then the first draft takes his around two months, and after that he re-writes it.

Then we moved to questions, and as they finished, he dropped a little bombshell – in Carte Blanche Bond has given up smoking!

At this point, my camera ran out of charge, so I couldn’t get a photo of Jeffrey signing, but when I got home, I was able to scan this …  Yes – you probably all know I’m a big Bond fan, and I engineered by luck got ticket number 007 and Deaver graciously signed it and my book for me.  Now I have a bookmark and a half!

* * * * *
Carte Blanche will be the next book I read.   To buy it from Amazon UK, click below:
Carte Blanche (James Bond)
The Bone Collector

The Dark Tower Readalong #1

The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

It’s simply years since I read any Stephen King, and then I only read his horror stories.  I was only vaguely aware that he had written a series which was a dark fantasy.  Then Shelflove decided to launch a readalong of The Dark Tower, a series that King himself has described as his Magnum Opus. I decided that if Teresa and Jenny loved it, I probably would too. I duly ordered book one, The Gunslinger, and was quickly immersed in the strange world of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger.

I have to say, it was not what I expected at all – it was far better! I think I was anticipating an overt homage to Lord of the Rings, but instead we got a mystical The Good, the Bad and the Ugly set in the post-apocalyptic territory of The Road in this first volume. There is a very dark, deep fantasy element which subtly creeps in from Arthurian legend. There are too, parallels with LOTR, particularly Frodo’s journey through the Mines of Moria; but there were also no hobbits or other mythical folk, unless you count a few zombie/lazarus and mutant types.

The first book splits into two main sections: – We meet Roland Deschain on his quest.  He rests with a smallholder at the edge of the desert, and recounts the story of his days in the last town he passed – a place he came to and nearly began to feel part of. That wasn’t to be, and hounded from town the gunslinger leaves the townsfolk of Tull changed forever. Then he takes up his quest proper to hunt down the Man in Black and find the Dark Tower. After a long journey involving much hardship, and a friendship with a ten year old boy raised from the dead, Roland does catch up with the Man in Black, who has both revelations from the past to stir things up further, and prophesies for Roland’s future. Sprinkled in between is the story of Roland’s later adolescence and his coming of age initiation as one of the youngest gunslingers ever, in a society which emulated the Arthurian ideals of chivalry.

I was never quite sure whether this dystopia was set on our Earth, or an alternate one. References to earthly things abound, notably The Beatles’ song Hey Jude, the chorus of which wafts through early chapters. It was never quite as obvious as in Planet of the Apes, where they eventually discover a half buried Statue of Liberty in the sand. I liked that ambiguity which added to the mystical feel of the novel.  The landscape may be sprawling, but this novel moves on at a fair pace despite all the thinking that Roland does.

This made for a good read although, for me, King sometimes likes to stick in an occasional elaborate word that seems out of place – ‘Neither of them had any means of telling the clock, and the concept of hours became meaningless, abnegate. In a sense, they stood outside of time.’  But minor stylistic quibbles apart, King’s writing was full of strong descriptions, and Roland will surely evolve into a character to be really reckoned with.  I read the 2003 revised and expanded version – King revisited this novel to iron out inconsistencies, tweak the plot into a more linear form and make slightly less dry for new readers.  King explains this in a new introduction and foreword to the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Western-style dystopia in which the chivalric order no longer has a place.  King has created a frightening yet thrilling vision, with plenty of questions to be answered and room for dark magic in the following books.  Yes, I shall be carrying on with this readalong, book 2 is on order!  (8.5/10)

* * * * *

To buy items mentioned from Amazon UK, click below:
The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Bk. 1
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2

My TBR Poll #1 – the results…

Thank you to all those who voted and/or commented in my TBR poll last week.

I learned that if I wanted to get larger numbers of votes I should have listed more books so that more people may have heard of them. More books listed would also have meant more books to go in the end.  I may repeat this some time in the future when I’ve amassed another larger pile of TBR books I’m not sure about keeping.

Meanwhile, three books received nul points – so out they go without further ado. (by ‘out’ I mean, try to sell on Amazon for more than 1p, car boot, then give to charity shop).  The three were:  The final confession of Mabel Stark, The funnies, and But Beautiful.

Four books received multiple votes, so they stay – The Winter Rose, The luminous life of Lily Aphrodite, and Hopeful Monsters, as did 26a. This last book divided opinion, which makes it more of a must read to see which camp I fall into!

The rest got just one vote. I’m going to keep Eleven as Flossie T spoke up for it so well. The others will join the discards including Pies and Prejudice which I did dither over for a few seconds before deciding that I’d give the north a miss at the moment.

So that’s over six inches of shelf space freed up for a few minutes, but also a tiny patch of floorspace reclaimed once the shelf is refilled. Thanks again.  Back to book reviews soon…

An appropriate address …

I’m still sifting through the home library and TBR searching for books I can bear to part with. Yesterday I came across more of my childhood books.

Astronomy and its companion volume Exploring the planets, both by Iain Nicholson and published in 1970, taught me all I needed to know about the universe back when I was ten.  Astronomy covered the history of the subject before moving onto the solar system and stars with the all important star charts for spotting constellations. Exploring the planets centred on the solar system, space exploration, eclipses, seasons and the like.

I loved these two books, and they were included in my play library which I previously blogged about here – both bear the scars of staple marks from the library inserts, but the thing that tickled me this time was the address I’d written inside the front cover of Astronomy

Did you ever do that as a kid?

Of course, I could have gone a lot further and exploited my geographical knowledge too … England, Great Britain, UK, Europe, but I rather like that I kept to astronomical locations with added ‘ax’.  The ‘not soil’ was obviously my little ho, ho joke. I didn’t do the same in the other book, it just has my earthbound address of the time, maybe once was enough!

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