Tag Archives: toby barlow

Books in February ’13

The end of the month snuck up on me! I thought it was Friday and not Thursday! Oh well…

February turned out to be a very bad slump month. I started a couple of books but ended up abandoning them, lazed around online, and wrote stuff for school. I took a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland, a fun class but a lot of reading included, which also ate at my pleasure reading. I doubt I’ll do any better during March and April, but by the summer I intend to pick up some speed!

Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two

Affairs of honour, affairs of the heart, and all the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has made her own are exquisitely revived in these eleven short stories of the Regency.

(Goodreads)

This one is a collection of Heyer’s short stories, all of them Regency – and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed every single one! They are written in the typical Heyer style, but I found them even better executed than her novels: there is a twist in each story, and I kept guessing what it was only a couple of lines before it was revealed. Very thrilling, I tell you, to feel like you are a step ahead of the story! Mind you, if you are not into romance you might not enjoy them to the same extent I did, but they’re worth it for the technical skill and beautiful prose.

Published: 1960

Pages: 205 (Arrow Books edition; 13 short stories)

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

(Goodreads)

I was positively surprised. I knew absolutely nothing about this book, and actually picked it up solely because I have a mini series adaptation of it starring Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, and Rupert Graves. But turns out I really enjoyed the book. I was a little surprised that it begins with a male perspective, as it’s not something you would expect from a Brontë (I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but actually Jane Eyre is the only Brontë sister novel I’ve read before this, so don’t be fooled), but the female voice comes to play before halfway. Some of the diction shocked my 19th century sensibilities, which was actually rather refreshing, although I’m not completely convinced I liked it. Not the author’s fault, obviously.

It could happen I’ll return to this book sometime in the future. It’s the kind of story that I think will change when you grow older.

Published: 1848

Pages: 378 (Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

Yup, I reread this again! And guess what! This time I finally pieced together the back story and people’s motivations! And it feels fantastic!

You can read more about Sharp Teeth in its favourites post!

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen’s characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen’s letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.
Written with flair and based on a lifetime’s study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will allow readers to appreciate Jane Austen’s work in greater depth than ever before.

(Goodreads)

Mullan’s book caught my eye at the bookstore. As an Austen-fan, I’m always ready to learn more about her books, and boy, does Mullan bring out things one rarely thinks of while reading! The subtitle of the book, Twenty critical puzzles solved, tells you a lot: there are twenty topics discussed, among them the right way of proposing, money, and, perhaps my favourite, the importance of weather.

If you’re not a fan of Austen or unfamiliar with her works, I wouldn’t recommend this. Mullan goes to deep detail and doesn’t bother to explain the plots – which as it should be, since it frankly baffles me why anyone who hasn’t read Austen would even want to read this book. The chapters are short, 15–20 pages, so it makes wonderful regular night reading! I’m now eager again to read Austen’s novels again, just to see how much I have taken away from Mullan’s work: the details of people blushing, frequency of exclamation marks in the free indirect bits, and so on!

Published: 2012

Pages: 320 (Bloomsbury 2013 edition)

Books bought:

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? (no picture this month since it’s just one book)

Currently reading:

David Mitchell: Back Story (not that David Mitchell, I’m talking about the comedic actor!)

I’m off to Amsterdam on Saturday, as the reading week has begun, and I will report about it when I get back! So meanwhile, keep reading!

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Books in November ’12

Hello hello hello hello hello, and welcome, to the – ! Okay too much QI. I apologise.

This has been a measly month when it comes to books. School has been really busy, and I’ve been so lazy to read anything after the Victorian pile we did. Hopefully Christmas holidays will allow me more time to read – I plan to have a whole ten days off school stuff between a Television Studies essay and writing the first draft of my thesis. I have some books I plan to read, but we’ll be seeing about those later.

Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift

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Man or monster?

Anne Rice reinvented the vampire legend. Discover what she’s done with the werewolf myth.

After a brutal attack, Reuben finds himself changing. His hair is longer, his skin is more sensitive and he can hear things he never could before.

Now he must confront the beast within him – or lose himself completely.

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

I started reading Anne Rice in the first year of high school, and stopped sometime during the third year. So in a way, starting The Wolf Gift felt a little like coming home. I actually tried to start quite another book, but it didn’t draw me in immediately. Wolf Gift did. And it was such an engaging book I had a hard time putting it down from time to time to attend to school stuff.

Rice doesn’t do to werewolves what she did to vampires, though she brings up a new twist to werewolf lore. But that is something you will have to find out on your own. What you might want to know is that Wolf Gift is not just horror – it’s also a thriller, a philosophical work, and just beautiful prose. It’s not heavy, despite the frequent descriptive bits, and it’s a good one to have with you if you commute. You get easily sucked into the story, and the characters are very likable, although I felt some of them remained somewhat flat. On the other hand, this leaves open the possibility of other books dealing with werewolves. And I would like that very much.

Published: 2012

Pages: 580 (Arrow Books paperback edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

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Reread for the fave post, so you can just click here and read why I love this book to tiny little bits.

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

Jules Verne: The Castle of the Carpathians https://i0.wp.com/i43.tower.com/images/mm100788706/castle-carpathians-jules-verne-paperback-cover-art.jpg

The descriptions of the quaint villagers of Werst, their costumes, manner of living, and belief in the supernatural world would in themselves prove an interesting narrative, but when coupled with the exciting adventures of Nic Deck, the two Counts, the cowardly Doctor, and the beautiful La Stilla, the story is undoubtedly one of the most enchanting ever offered.

This mysterious tale takes place in the area which in just a few years would become known as Dracula’s homeland. Jules Verne has the knack of it. He knows how to make the scientifically romantic story. You might not know what a “nyctalop” was, but if you saw one flapping his wings around the dark fortress in the Carpathians, you would run for it, as did Nic Deck.. Orfanik is head conjurer, and in his trial he explains how he brought into play for a wicked purpose a variety of ingenious inventions.

(Goodreads)

Second book for the fantasy course in Comparative Literature. I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. It starts slowly, switches characters around before we actually meet the main character, and unfortunately the end is rather predictable if you know anything at all about Verne. It wasn’t particularly scary, or even very exciting. The main character’s history was, I grant, interesting, but it is not enough to make me like the book. Translation, of course, can be a part of my disinterest, as the Finnish used was adequate but not exactly compelling.

First published: 1892

Translation: Pentti Kähkönen 1978

Pages: 211 (WSOY 1978 edition)

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

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Meek little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. In the almost one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. This Penguin Classics edition features an appendix of the letters in which Grahame first related the exploits of Toad.

(Goodreads)

I didn’t like this one too much. Of course, it is a classic children’s story – and I hear I liked it a lot when I was a kid – but right now it felt very slow-paced, and some of the chapters felt unnecessary. That is, of course, partly a rather charming detail that tells a lot about the time the book was published: “The Wayfarer” is about as important to The Wind in the Willows and the Tom Bombadil interlude is to The Lord of the Rings, and neither section would be printed today. It seems that in the first half of the 20th century relevance and progressing plot weren’t quite as important, at least not in Britain – could this have something to do with the tradition of serially published novels? I don’t know, but I’m inclined to think so, as also the Victorian novels seem to have these unnecessary bits that make me want to bang my head against the table. Well, not when I’m reading for enjoyment, but when I’m in a hurry and not particularly fond of the book it’s among the most annoying things.

The Wind in the Willows is very English in style, and the style is very similar to The Hobbit, or rather the other way around. The class distinctions and propaganda are clearly there, with the “good” animals representing the middle and upper classes, and the weasels and stoats standing in for the working class. My favourite character might be Mr Mole – he undergoes some delightful character development, unlike the other characters. He reminds me a little of Neville Longbottom.

First published: 1908

Pages: 207 (Oxford Children’s Classics 2008 edition)

Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army

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In 1815, beneath the aegis of the Army of Occupation, Brussels is the gayest town in Europe. And the widow Lady Barbara Childe, renowned for being as outrageous as she is beautiful, is at the centre of all that is fashionable and light-hearted. When she meets Charles Audley, the elegant and handsome aide-de-camp to the great Duke of Wellington himself, her joie de vivre knows no bounds – until the eve of the fateful Battle of Waterloo…

(Back cover of Arrow Books edition)

As my initial plan was to write my thesis about things happening around the Battle of Waterloo, it was very natural to pick up this book of Heyer’s. I’d read The Spanish Bride before and was ready for the war descriptions, although in this book they definitely contain many more names and detailed information about the position of troops et cetera. If you’re completely unfamiliar with what went on during the battle, I advise you to do some light reading on it before starting, if just to acquaint yourself with the main personage and the leaders. This book is absolutely riddled with people who really existed, and I was at times bummed because I wasn’t sure if someone was real or fictional.

There are also characters from Heyer’s earlier books, including my favourites from The Devil’s Cub! I may have squealed in delight when I realised they were present.

Even more than with The Spanish Bride, this book contain two main storylines: the first one is the courtship of Barbara and Charles, and the other one, naturally, the war. They fit together admirably, although are still very clearly distinguishable from each other.

The prose is usual Heyer: Austen-esque, witty, and very flowing. As always, be prepared for long sentences. When you get used to it you don’t have to think after every comma, What does this refer to again? Trust me, it’s worth it.

First published: 1937

Pages:  427 (Arrow Books 2004 edition)

A. A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh

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To my surprise I really enjoyed Winnie the Pooh. It’s a pleasant read, easy to get through, and at times so accurate in its way of describing things I’m starting to feel disappointed I wasn’t introduced to it earlier in life. I’m even planning on getting my own copy, as particularly some of Eeyore’s scenes really made an impact on me. This, I think, is a very good children’s book. Easy, fun, and yet meaningful. Well done, Mr Milne – well done!

First published: 1926

Pages: 161 (E. P. Dutton 1998)

So that’s it.

Books bought:

I’ve bought a few books, but they haven’t arrived yet except for one: Wellington – Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford. I’ll take a picture of the books for next month!

Currently reading:

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One (Loving it so much)

I wish you all strength for the rest of the year – I know I’m stressed and can’t wait for the holidays!

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Favourites: Sharp Teeth

Better late than never – here’s the second to last favourite books post!

FAVOURITES

TOBY BARLOW: SHARP TEETH

 

Published: 2008 Harper Collins

Pages: 313

An ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A., and its numbers are growing as the pack converts the city’s downtrodden into their fold. Stuck in the middle are a local dog-catcher and the woman he loves, whose secret past haunts her as she fights a bloody one-woman battle to save their relationship.

It was getting close to Christmas of 2008 when I saw this book in the “new releases” shelf at the bookstore. It looked fascinating: the cover, the title, the blurb at the back, all good. I’m a bit of a sucker for werewolves, and leafing the book and reading bits from the beginning convinced me to put it on my Christmas list. Santa was kind enough to bring it, and so I read it over the New Years.

So what is Sharp Teeth about, exactly? You can see some of it in the blurb, although I don’t think it does the book much justice. It exaggerates the love story. It’s there all right, and it’s a quite a central bit, but it’s not just a love story. There’s also more than one pack, which adds tension.

Oh yeah, and I guess the blurb leaves out the fact that it’s written in beautiful blank verse.

Yup. It’s nothing to be scared of – I speculate that that’s why it’s been left off the cover altogether – quite the opposite! It adds much to the action, to the general flow. It’s dynamic and intense. Sometimes it’s so pretty I have to put the book down for a while to muse over a nice turn of phrase.

Bone, love, meat, gristle, heat, anger, exhaustion, drive, hunger, blood, fat, marrow

 

Fifteen men lying in one house.

Listen to the night as

they softly growl

someone chases something in his dreams

desperate for satisfaction

then silent.

There’s one woman here.

There’s one leader here.

The pack does what he says,

she comes and goes

as she pleases.

There are lots of different kind of elements in the book. Love is a big one – the dog-catcher and Her above all, although other couples are seen as well – but between the lines there’s coincidence, or, more like, the explanations we tend to form for things that happen completely by accident. The main observer of these coincidences is Detective Peabody, who gets more in the middle of the whole business than the lovers mentioned in the blurb do. And then there’s revenge, on several levels.

For this post, I read the book for the fourth time. I now noticed how enticed I’ve always been by Barlow’s style: this is the first time that I actually managed to piece together the details that make up the connections between events. Let me tell you, it’s like magic. I think this book needs to be read a couple of times at least, unless you’ve got a good head for small, off-hand details. I’m not sure it’s even possible to link the details the first time around because you don’t know where it is all going. On subsequent readings the details become more significant, and the puzzle starts to form a picture.

It’s got some very heart-wrenching sections. Amusing sections. Sections filled with intense action.

There has lately been talk of a movie. Simon Beaufoy is working on the script, and Danny Boyle (they’ve worked together before, in Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) has expressed keen interest. I’m a little scared, naturally. I’m afraid they’ll make the movie pounce and attack, when I want it to prowl, to stalk. And I have this irrational fear that they’ll cast Michael Fassbender… (Before anyone asks, I have nothing against him per se. He’s a good actor. It’s just that he’s sodding everywhere! And he doesn’t fit the part of anyone in the book. As I said, it is a completely ridiculous fear, but there you go.)

There is also a new book coming from the author, apparently due to be released next year! It’ll be called Babayaga: A Novel, and I hear it’s about Russian witches in 1950s Paris. (If you do a search on Babayaga, you’ll find she is indeed a witch from Russian fairy tales.) Looking forward to it!

Let’s sing about the man there

at the breakfast table

his olive hand making endless circles

in the classifieds

‘wanted’ ‘wanted’ ‘wanted’

small jobs little money

but you have to start somewhere.

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Announcement: October’s Favourite Post

So here’s the thing – school has been hectic, and so I haven’t had time to reread the October Favourite, which is Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and refreshing my memory is pretty much necessary before I introduce it.

Not to mention that I need to finish The Fractal Prince before the Book Fair.

And then there’s the fact that I’ll be leaving for Scotland the coming weekend. This means that I won’t have the time to read the book or write the introduction by Sunday. So here’s what will happen:

I’m going to move this fave post to November, hoping it’ll be way less busy. It’ll be up on the second to last Sunday as usual, just wrong month. (This won’t affect the last favourite, which will be up on schedule.)

Just realised I’ll need to figure out something regular to post next year. Any suggestions? Favourite classics? Movies? Characters? Authors? Covers? Adaptations?

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