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Surrey, United Kingdom

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Looking forward to 2010

It's always interesting to look back at the end of the year and ponder on achievements, disappointments and start thinking about plans for the coming year.
My resolutions for 2009 were:
  • Run a 5k in under 30 mins (and run all of it!)
  • Have a piece of writing published
  • Eat five portions of fruit/veg a day
  • Drink eight glasses of water a day
  • Reduce caffeine and refined sugar intake
  • Be more considerate (includes managing my temper!)
  • Lose three stone
  • Take better care of appearance
  • Be more active
  • Make better use of my free time
  • Write daily (and publish on blog!)
  • To clear my book backlog - buy no new books (although second-hand allowed)
  • Stop hoarding - clear the clutter
My success in achieving these aims is mixed. I haven't improved my fitness or diet in any measurable way. I have only just begun to post regularly on my blog and I have failed to write anything, let alone get anything published. On the other hand, I have made steps towards clearing my backlog of books (although I did crumble a couple of times on buying new books and became a regular in the local charity shops...) and I have become much less of a hoarder. I also think more about what I wear and how I look. So, what should I aim for in 2010? Much remains the same as in 2009 and reviewing this list has actually made me think about what I feel is important and what is not worth worrying about. So, I think I can trim the list a little which will hopefully make it more achievable:
  • Be more active - find an activity I enjoy
  • Eat more healthily - eat to live, not live to eat!
  • Write, write, write - be it blog, general jottings or the start of something more substantial
  • Make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and family
I'll also be sticking to the 'no new books' resolution. My 'To Be Read' shelf is still groaning with titles awaiting my attention.

Anyway, rather a self-obsessed post, but it has been useful for me to just get some things in focus and I now feel read to face 2010. BRING IT ON!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top 10 Books Read in 2009

Everyone's doing it, and far be it from me to miss an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. Most other book bloggers whose lists I have read have either had me nodding in agreement, or reaching for my list of books to read in the near future. I hope that anyone reading this list will find it equally engaging! Some of these books I had read before I began blogging reviews properly, so I haven't written a review for them (with the exception of The Shrimp and the Anemone, which I haven't finished yet, but know already it is one of my favourites this year!)* I'll endeavour to write up my feelings on these books over the next couple of weeks...

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to give my top 10 without giving the other side of the coin. Not all the books I have read in 2009 have been as enjoyable as I had hoped. The reasons for this vary, so without further ado, here are the (dis)honourable mentions:

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor - I had read and enjoyed Andrew Taylor's Roth trilogy and An American Boy previously, but this novel fell far short of my expectations.
The Dice Man by Luke Reinhart - I suggested and read this for my Book Club, having heard a great deal about it and it's status as a cult novel. As it turns out it seemed little more than titillation and pop psychology.
The Jewel Box by Anna Davis and The Art of Love by Elizabeth Edmondson - both these books were, I admit, fun to read but to me their ease in reading is coupled with an instant forgetability. No strong characters and join-the-dots plot. Borrow these from the library by all means and enjoy the moment - just don't expect to be blown away!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

Well, I certainly can't complain about my haul of Christmas goodies. I received several books from my Amazon wish-list and a couple of 'pleasant surprise' books too!

Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy

What a wonderfully compelling and interesting biography this is! I suppose you could argue that writing the biography of someone with such a colourful life would be an easy job, but there are many things that make Anne de Courcy's book so wonderful. It is clear that she got much of her material from first-hand sources - she cites conversations with Diana and many of her contemporaries and the whole book reads like a deliciously scandalous novel. Diana's personality shines out of the pages - charismatic, charming, single-minded, determined, witty and vivacious. What impressed me was that even the questionnable aspects of her personality seemed, if not excusable then at least acceptable as part of the whole package. Her devotion to Sir Oswald Mosley in the face of such persecution is strangely admirable. The overall feeling I get is that while it would be easy to dismiss Diana as a traitor, fascist and selfish aristocrat it is only by reading her story that you come to realise that her life choices came at a high cost, which she accepted without complaint.

I have read several of Anne de Courcy's books - The Viceroy's Daughters, Debs at War and 1939: The Last Season and have thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend all of them. Her style is fluid and simple, but obviously thoroughly researched and her passion for each of her subjects shines through.

Currently Reading:
The Art of Love by Elizabeth Edmondson (I will admit I am struggling with this, but am halfway through and determined to see it through to the end)
The Shrimp and the Anemone by L P Hartley (I remember reading excerpts of this at school but have never read this or any other Hartley until now!)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson

It might be lazy, but there are times when all you want is a quick read and something that you can get engrossed in for a day or two. For me, that means a Peter Robinson novel. I bought a 'box-set' of his novels about a year ago and love having them there as a stand-by read, when I really can't decide what I am in the mood for. Inspector Banks is a great character - no great quirks or idiosyncracies just a solid, no-nonsense man who has seen and experienced a great deal during his time in the police. In this novel, we get to learn more about his past in London and how the experiences he had lead him to move to Yorkshire. Peter Robinson's books are not lurid or shocking - I would describe them as unsettling and realistic. In Past Reason Hated the murder victim is Caroline Hartley, a woman in her mid-twenties. We find out that she has a troubled past - she ran away from home in her teens and went to London. Despite Caroline being dead from the opening of the novel we learn so much about her that she feels like a complete character. I think this is Peter Robinson's main talent - his characterisation is subtle but effective and while the novels don't appear bogged down in descriptive detail all his characters are strong and effective.

Currently reading:
Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy (I know, I know - hoping to finish this later today; I got distracted by Past Reason Hated)
The Art of Love by Elizabeth Edmondson - I have not read any Elizabeth Edmondson before, but this novel caught my eye in the library.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

I didn't really know much about this film before going to see it, although I had seen the trailer. The main reason I wanted to see was the cast - George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and goats...in one film? What was there not to like? It turns out, there was quite a lot not to like. For quite a short film (93 mins) it really dragged and I think this was due to a lack of plot. The whole story could have been summed up in about 15 mins, which leaves rather a lot of slack. The other thing that I found distracting was Ewan McGregor's American accent. Now, I don't know if it is because I know that he is Scottish, but I just found his accent throughout the film confusing. I'd love to know what Americans think of his accent and whether it is really as dreadfully embarrassing as I fear it is. The whole question of accents in films is very interesting and one which Mark Kermode explores with relation to Valkyrie here
There were some big laughs, and having just re-watched Burn After Reading I am becoming more convinced that George Clooney's true talent lies in comedy.
So, probably not a film worth paying to go and see, but good fun all the same. And certainly very pleasing on the eye ;)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Glorious 39

I have this week off work and rather than doing my usual vague pottering and trash tv watching I decided to be productive this time. So, yesterday I went to Croydon to do 'the Christmas shop'. Usually this would be a complete disaster but for once I got myself organised and wrote a list, stuck to it and consequently am about 95% complete on the Christmas shopping front (pending deliveries from both Amazon and Play). Today, I went into Reigate (a very different kind of shopping experience) and did some shopping then took myself off to the cinema to see Glorious 39.

Now, I don't know about you, but there are few things in life quite as enjoyable as going to the cinema on your own in the afternoon. It somehow just feels so decadent! I treated myself to some milk chocolate honeycomb pieces and sat slap-bang in the middle in front of everyone else so I could feel as though I was there on my own. As it was, there was only about six other people in the cinema (again, the joys of a small independent cinema cannot be underestimated!)
Now, on to the film. I heard about Glorious 39 during the London Film Festival. The director is Stephen Poliakoff, who is a favourite of mine - everything I have seen of his has been really interesting, not to mention beautifully shot. He tends to also introduce an element of the unusual, which I love. Glorious 39, therefore, is a little more than a straight-forward period drama. I don't want to give away the plot, but basically it centres around Anne, the eldest (adopted) of three children in an aristocratic family. She discovers some unsettling plots connected to the outbreak of war and slowly things begin to unravel as she discovers who the 'bad guys' actually are. I absolutely loved every minute of this film. There was a real undercurrent throughout the film and some of the characters and situations were genuinely menacing. Watching a character fall apart is emotionally difficult and I found myself spending the journey home thinking about the true horror of the war and it's cost both emotionally and physically to everyone.
Romola Garai was engaging and beautiful, and all the supporting cast were equally strong. It was interesting to see Bill Nighy in a serious role, which I don't think I have seen him play before. I also loved Juno Temple, who is simply gorgeous (and got to wear some enviable outfits) And on top if it all, I adored the all the clothes, period detail and cinematography. A definite 5* film and one I can't wait to own on DVD.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

Finished reading The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir on Saturday morning, just in time to return it to the library! It was one of those books that I never quite got into. I enjoyed reading it, but the compulsion to read on to the next chapter when I really should be doing something else wasn't there. It was an interesting imagining of Elizabeth's early life and there were enough historical facts there to make it convincing. If anything, I would say that the facts were a little intrusive and my overall feeling was that I would rather have read a straight biography of Elizabeth. I did read Elizabeth by David Starkey a few months ago and will confess that I think that was a more enjoyable read (but then, despite his more dislikeable qualities, I am a big fan of David Starkey). For me, Tudor historical fiction doesn't really come any better than Philippa Gregory. I am yet to try any Suzannah Dunn and would be interested to hear what other bloggers think of historical fiction - who are your favourite authors and what period of history do you most enjoy reading about? For me, it's Tudor, or Victorian to Edwardian.

Currently reading:
Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy (only about 100 pages to go, so review coming soon!)

Recently bought:
Picked up a copy of Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (ed. Michael Davie) in the local Oxfam bookshop today

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mariana by Monica Dickens

Finished reading Mariana by Monica Dickens yesterday and not ashamed to admit that I was genuinely sad when it ended. I had been so swept along in Mary's story that it was not until she fell in love with Sam that I remembered how the novel had opened. This sense of impending doom made sure I read the last pages with my heart in my mouth. For me, what was so wonderful about the novel was Mary herself - I found her such an endearing and sympathetic character, with many traits that I could identify with. Being surrounded by other more colourful characters didn't even detract from her, by comparison, simplicity and plainness. It reminded me of so many other stories I have enjoyed, but was in no way an imitation or inferior to them. It evoked so effortlessly my image of life in the early twentieth century when everything seemed more innocent and simple. Those wonderful summer holidays in the country with her cousins, the heartbreak of unrequited love and the passionate affair with the sophisticated and fascinating man which eventually fizzles out all seemed so real, almost as if they could have been my own memories. If you're looking for a book that will totally engross you, as well as make you think about the nature of love, then Mariana should serve you well.

I also, by chance, came across another Monica Dickens in the wonderful Oxfam bookshop not far from where I work (too close, some might say!) At £1.99 I could hardly resist and so have The Angel in the Corner now added to my To Be Read pile. There doesn't seem to be much available info about this novel on the Amazon website, but I think the very short review by 'A Customer' convinces me that it will be worth a shot:

"A middle class girl with a smothering mother falls in love with a spiv - a working class man on the make who dazzles her by flashing his cash."

I have also come to the conclusion that I have been writing this blog all around the wrong way...I get so excited about reading a new book that I rush straight in and talk about it before actually reading it, which makes me feel like I'm repeating myself when I come to write my review of it! So, from now on, I shall simply mention the book(s) that I am reading at the end of my review.

Currently reading: