Annabel's House of Books

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

Month: June 2011 (page 1 of 3)

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop – the winners are …

Firstly, thank you to everyone who visited my blog during the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. I was overwhelmed by the number of new visitors.  A special thank you goes to those who chose to subscribe to my blog too.  To everyone else, I made no conditions of following or subscribing, but I do hope that some of you come back again – it’s lovely to make new blogging friends and you’re welcome here any time.

Now without further ado, I know you all want to know ‘Who won the books?’  I employed the services of my ten year old daughter to pick the names from the hat, and they are going to:

Ghost Light – Dinda

Adverbs – Sena

Crome Yellow – Jessica Martinez

Well done – I’ll be emailing you to get your postal addresses.  Commiserations to the other hundred plus who didn’t win this time, and thanks for visiting again.

How to live alone and get by, Brookner style…

July 16, which will be Anita Brookner’s 83rd birthday, has been renamed International Anita Brookner Day by Thomas at My Porch and Simon at Savidge Reads.  To celebrate this author, they have set up the IABD Website with a competition to win AB books for those submitting reviews by July 16.  Naturally, I decided to join in the fun, especially as I haven’t read a book by her for some years. The book I chose to read from my TBR piles was …

The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner

This, her 22nd novel published in 2003, is typical Brookner with all her trademark features.  The story is about two women who meet at school but stay in touch throughout their lives.  Two girls, both called Elizabeth meet at school.  They’re both only children, Elizabeth’s parents divorced, Betsy’s died and she then lived with her aunt.  Betsy is the pretty one, and when they both spend some time in Paris, it’s Betsy that falls passionately in love; Elizabeth uses her time there coming to terms with being on her own.

Later back in England, Elizabeth marries Digby, a widower many years her senior. Theirs is a comfortable marriage – no surprises, no passion, no children either. Elizabeth is happy with this, but then she embarks on an affair with one of Digby’s friends – this relationship is one of convenience, physical needs are satisfied, but Elizabeth gradually begins to fall for Edmund.  Then Betsy comes back into her life, and things are gradually turned upside down – and Betsy’s life will continue to impact on her oldest friend’s for years to come.

If you didn’t know the book I was describing was by Brookner, from the description above, you might guess it was by Joanna Trollope say with some complicated entanglements amongst the middle classes.  But it’s not. Through the voice of Elizabeth, Brookner tells the story of an ordinary woman disappointed with life and love, ultimately content with her own company, but somehow deep down wishing she’d had the wide-eyed innocence of her friend to take her down another path.  Elizabeth meditates at length on her life, relationships and friendships, decisions taken, and things not done to keep life unruffled.

This is where I had a problem with this book.  In reality nothing much does happen – at least not to Elizabeth. It all happens to Betsy, but Elizabeth is telling the story, so we don’t know the half of it. Instead, we’re subjected to Elizabeth’s introspection about life, the universe and everything.  Characters’ actions were described in intricate detail in this book, however I felt I never really got under Elizabeth’s skin, despite having over 250 pages to get to know her.  I wish I’d been able to write more enthusiastically about this novel, for I have enjoyed the others I have read, but I feel that The Rules of Engagement is one for Brookner completists, first time readers should probably start elsewhere.  (6.5/10)

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I bought my book.  To explore on Amazon UK (via my affiliate link), click below:
The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner.

The Dark Tower Readalong #2

The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2 by Stephen King

It’s month 2 of the Dark Tower Readalong hosted by Teresa and Jenny at Shelf Love.  If you want to catch up with the first book, click to my review here, as I won’t re-explain what happened before.

Book 2 starts exactly where we left Roland, the last Gunslinger.  On a faraway beach, about to head north.  It doesn’t take long for Roland to encounter a new form of danger in the form of a ‘Lobstrosity’ –  a mutant black scuttling creature with the sharpest jaws imaginable – and before you know it one of them has bitten off two of Roland’s fingers.  Apart from turning him into a one-handed gunslinger, the ensuing infection will also put his life in peril.

The injured man continues up the beach, looking for the signs that the Man in Black had predicted for his quest. He reaches a strange door standing on the beach, which opens into another world. It’s our world, in the 1980s; Roland is seeing it through the mind of a junkie on an airplane who has 2 kilos taped around his chest, and the stewardess is beginning to rumble him.  Thus we meet the first of Roland’s future companions; Eddie.  Roland offers Eddie a way to get out of his situation in one piece – by going through the portal and leaving the drugs in Roland’s world, and they go on to sort out the other end of the drugs deal – which goes sour and ends with Eddie taking the one-way ticket back to Roland’s world.

In the first novel, there was a lot of ambiguity about whether Roland’s world was a post-apocalyptic view of our own, or an alternate.  With the nasty creatures and the portals, Book 2 begins to make the case for it being a parallel world much clearer.

The pair continue up the beach until another door.  This one opens into the mind of a schizophrenic black cripple.  Odetta/Detta had a brick dropped on her head when she was a child, then later was pushed in front of a train and lost her legs.  Eddie falls for the beautiful and understanding Odetta, but her nasty alter-ego Detta has other plans and doesn’t want to be part of Roland and Eddie’s quest. The three of them will encounter one more door – and one more potential candidate for the team, Jack Mort – who turns out to be not the man for them, but to explain more would give too much away. The last third pulls many links from the two books so far together, and Roland will have to use the last portal to great effect to complete his team to continue the quest.

This second novel is the team-building one, getting the band of pilgrims together who will carry on the quest to get to the Dark Tower – we still have no idea what the tower is or why Roland has to go there.  The feel of this book is far from the first, which was inspired by spaghetti westerns.  The incursions into our world bring familiarity and King obviously relishes the territory of Eddie’s story in particular.

Eddie is a fully-formed character, particularly as he brings some humour to an otherwise rather serious saga. Eddie is also young and full of conflicting emotions, apart from being an ‘I can give it up any time’ type of junkie; he and the older and wiser gunslinger spark off each other, but gradually come to realise they work well together.

Parts of Odetta/Detta are arguably as well-described, however it is Detta, the antithesis of her gentle opposite side that gets the lion’s share of the centre section of the novel.  Detta is foul-mouthed, totally bigoted, and believes that all men are rapists; she is also cunning and causes no end of trouble to the others.  I can’t say anything positive about Detta at all, but King again obviously had fun playing at reversing stereotypes with her.

Roland proves himself to be a true man of steel and continues to grow in stature – there is much still to find out about the enigmatic gunslinger.  With Eddie at his side, as Robin to his Batman, I am looking forward to the next installment of The Dark Tower.  That said, I didn’t enjoy this book as a whole as much as the first. I did enjoy Eddie’s story, but the trek up the beach between portals became a little tedious. To be honest, I don’t think the lobstrosities, who get a lot of pages in total, added much to the story either – they were McGuffins – a plot device to enable survival on the beach.  (7.5/10)

The page count has also started to increase – Book 2 at 455 pages was nearly double the length of book 1; book 3 is nearly half as long again – I’d better get reading soon for next month!

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To explore on Amazon UK (via affilliate link), click below:
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2

The Literary Blog-Hop – and Giveaway

”GiveThis weekend, it’s the second Literary Blog-Hop run by Judith at Leeswaammes.   The aims are to help people discover more great blogs, and spread a lot of book-love by running giveaways.  The list of participating blogs, of which there are 73, is below. There are loads I’ve never seen before, plus a few familiar friends – so if you have time do visit some new blogs and join in their giveaways too…

But before you do that – here’s my giveaway…

I found three books in my piles of which I had two copies – all new too!  How could I have managed to acquire the same book twice three times?  The books are all as new, and the titles on offer are:

  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor – Set in Dublin in 1907, it’s a novel of theatre life featuring the Irish playwright John Synge. I’ve read good things about this book, but have yet to read it myself.
  • Adverbs by Daniel Handler – who is the author of the Lemony Snicket books. This novel for grown-ups is similarly quirky, actually very quirky, but I liked it a lot. See my review here.
  • Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley. This was his first novel, published in 1921. Set at a house-party in the country – a classic.  This edition has a introduction by Malcolm Bradbury.
Just leave a comment saying which book you would like to be in the draw for.  I will send worldwide (surface outside Europe).  Oh, and if you want to own up to any books you’ve managed to buy twice without realising, do let me know I’m not alone.  The giveaway closes at the end of June 29th.



List of all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)
  4. Teadevotee (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Bibliosue (Int)
  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)
  8. write meg! (USA)
  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)
  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)
  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)
  13. Book Journey (Int)
  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  15. Col Reads (Int)
  16. The Book Diva’s Reads (Int)
  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)
  19. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Int)
  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)
  21. Book’d Out (Int)
  22. The Readers’ Suite (Int)
  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  25. Miel et lait (Int)
  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
  28. Book World In My Head (Int)
  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)
  31. Nishita’s Rants and Raves (Int)
  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)
  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)
  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  36. Gaskella (Int)
  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)
  38. chasing bawa (Int)
  39. 51stories (Int)
  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)
  1. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  2. Nose in a book (Int)
  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)
  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)
  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)
  6. Caribousmom (USA)
  7. breienineking (Netherlands)
  8. Let’s Go on a Picnic! (Int)
  9. Rikki’s Teleidoscope (Int)
  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)
  12. Elle Lit (USA)
  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)
  14. The Book Stop (Int)
  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)
  16. Joy’s Book Blog (Int)
  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)
  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)
  20. Tony’s Reading List (Int)
  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)
  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)
  23. Kinna Reads (Int)
  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)
  25. Books in the City (Int)
  26. Lucybird’s Book Blog (Europe)
  27. Book Clutter (USA)
  28. Exurbanis (Int)
  29. Lu’s Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)
  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)
  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)
  32. Lena Sledge’s Blog…Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)
  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Never mind the quality, feel the width – doesn’t feel quite right for this tome!

Whilst I’m in the middle of getting this month’s volumes in two readalongs finished, (Stephen King’s Dark Tower books at Shelf Love and Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake at Farm Lane Books since you ask), I’ve a little poser for you today.

Let me introduce an old book to you…

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. I do love the sub-title ‘A tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty’.

This edition isn’t dated – but a sticker on the inside cover tells me that my Mum bought it for 4/- in a secondhand book shop in Streatham, which places it as 1950s at latest, and it’s probably considerably older.

The binding is deep red leather with blocked gold on the spine and it has marbled-effect endpapers. It’s in the ‘Oxford India Paper Dickens’ series, and is complete with 76 illustrations.

Lastly, onto the dimensions of said tome, which are not large – 110 x 175 mm (just a tad smaller than a standard small paperback), and just 18mm thick including the covers.

So my question to you is … from the information above:

How many pages do you think this volume holds between its covers?

I’ll append the answer tomorrow!

… and here it is…

786 pages (including the illustrations, and all blanks and frontispieces etc), so you were all very close with your estimates!

What surprised me is that although that’s an awful lot of pages to cram into about 16mm, it’s nice quality.  Thin for sure, and you can just see the shadow of the text through the paper, but it’s by no means like tissue – being smooth and very white.

What I didn’t mention before, is that I haven’t actually read this book – but as this edition will take up half the shelf space of a modern paperback, I’ll probably hang on to this one!

A Wartime Romance

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

In the same way that we all rejoiced when the TV powers that be gave us Downton Abbey and resurrected Upstairs Downstairs, not to mention the Oscar-winning success of The King’s Speech, we should also be delighted that Natasha Solomons has given us a WWII equivalent in novel form.

The Novel in the Viola has much in common with all those mentioned above. It is cosy – there’s nothing wrong with that; but it’s not sentimental with it. This novel has a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, most of which you’ll come to love within pages of meeting.  It also has a real sense of its place in time, starting in 1938, just before war breaks out, which gives a sense of urgency behind the narrative.  The sense of place is also palpable – a big old country house in a large estate, by the south coast; Tyneford is as much the star as any of the characters.

The story is deceptively simple.  Elise Landau arrives at Tyneford to become a parlourmaid in 1938 to the Rivers family. Mr Rivers is a widower, his son Kit is up at university. Elise, who comes from a well-to-do family in Vienna, is Jewish; giving up her genteel life in Austria and travelling to England to enter service is one of the only ways of getting out of the country after the Anschluss. At first it is hard for her to become a servant, especially when she has to act as ladies maid to two sisters guests at Kit’s 21st birthday party…

Diana sat down at the vanity table, gazed into the mirror and rolled her eyes.
‘Lordy! I am such a mess. Can you fix hair – what-was-your-name?’
‘Elise. And I can try if you like.’
I picked up a brush and a couple of pins and reached out for a stray blond curl. She slapped my hand away.
‘Stop it. You’ll only make it worse.’
I bit my lip with the effort of not answering back.
Juno sank down on the window seat. ‘This weather is awful. Why he’s having the party now, Christ only knows. He could have waited till June or July and some decent chance of sun. This place is absolutely horrid in winter.’
Diana fluffed her curls. ‘The countryside is a hobby, not a place where one actually lives.’
I chewed my tongue. Had i ever been like this? I hoped not, though Hilde would have spanked me if I’d tried. Diana looked at me in the mirror.
‘So Ellis, you are a German Jewess?’
‘Austrian.’
‘Oh yes. Same thing,’ she snapped, impatient.
‘I am from Vienna.’
‘The Viennese are very fashionable.’ She turned to her sister. ‘I heard that Jecca Dunworthy was waited on by a Viennese Countess when she stayed with the Pitt-Smyth’s in Bath.’
I said nothing and picked blond strands from the hairbrush. Diana reapplied her lipstick.

I haven’t mentioned Kit properly yet. He makes friends with Elise, he helps with her English lessons, and of course you hope that they’ll end up together – they are obviously attracted to each other from the outset.  There are many obstacles in the way of a relationship between these star-crossed lovers, not least the war. Their romance is truly fairytale stuff, but ultimately more interesting is the relationship between Elise and Kit’s father. They strike up a friendship after he finds out that Elise’s father is the famous novelist Julian Landau – Mr Rivers has all his novels.

One of this novel’s great strengths is how it shows what happened in big households when war came, as one by one the younger servants leave to join up, and the family’s sons go off to be officers. The older butler and housekeeper try to keep standards up, but it becomes too much, and there is a certain amount of bringing together upstairs and downstairs which works in this household, and Mr Rivers mucks in on the farm, and with the fishermen happily, preferring to be busy.

I found this novel to be utterly charming, with lovely touches of humour alongside the bittersweet romance. Underlying it all was the fact that the war changes everything, and that it really was the end of an era. The characters were wonderful – Elise starts off as the slightly spoilt, wide-eyed innocent, and grows into an assured young woman page by page. Oh, and in case you’re wondering (and as it’s mentioned near the beginning, it’s not really spoiling), there is a novel in the viola – I won’t explain more!

I really hope this novel has been snapped up for a screen adaptation – it would be perfect in the Sunday drama slot. I really wish they hadn’t put a fluffy cover on the paperback though (above right), as it makes it seem like any old romance, and this book is much more than that.  (9.5/10)

My copy came courtesy of Amazon Vine, but I’m off to dig out my own copy of Solomons’ debut novel now – Mr Rosenblum’s List.  Read another post about The Novel in the Viola, and an interview with the author over at Savidge Reads.

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To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate links), click below:
The Novel in the Viola and Mr. Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons:
Downton Abbey – Series 1 [DVD]
Upstairs Downstairs [DVD]
The King’s Speech [DVD]

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