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All good things come in threes – well, they do today, if you are a literature lover and your name is Lizzy.

1) We bloggers love shiny new books and today sees the launch of an online magazine devoted to them.  Hats off to Annabel, Harriet, Simon and Victoria, 4 indefatigable and passionate bloggers whose new collaboration, Shiny New Books, hits the e-newstands today. (Move over broadsheets.)


2) I heard about this at Aye Write! only yesterday.  The Romanticism Blog, sponsored by the Wordsworth Trust, also launches today to commemorate Wordsworth’s 244th birthday.  I’m not sure of the link but keep an eye on @wordsworthians. I’m sure they’ll let us know sometime today.  Last year I did a mini-themed read on the English Romantics and decided I would explore more deeply.  This initiative might just give me the impetus to do that.

3) Oh be still my beating heart – this one is especially for me (and for all German Lit in translation lovers).

The Goethe Institute is launching an online book club. From now on it’s German Lit Month every month! Discussion of Julia Franck’s Back to Back commences sometime today.  Again details on how exactly this is going to work are still a bit sketchy. I’ll be joining in around 17:00 BST.  I hope to “see” some of you there. (At least that’s where I think it is ….)

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Month-to-view: March 2014

It was a busy, busy month full of literariness but not much blogging.  Let me fill the gaps.

First weekend and I discovered Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Lyceum in Edinburgh.  (Actually I’ve been going to the theatre pretty regularly over the past few months but have never written about it.  Perhaps I should try my hand at being a theatre critic?) Anyway this play, about two vain and insufferable people, divorced from each other, who reconnect while on honeymoon with their new spouses, is pretty improbable but absolutely hilarious and definitely not politically correct. You wouldn’t get away with writing the spiralling domestic violence of the second act for laughs these days.  But I loved it and am really looking forward to seeing it again when I get my hands on the Anna Chancellor/Toby Stephens DVD, a version which has just come to the end of its London West End run.  I am also contemplating acquiring the BBC collection of Coward’s plays – can anyone recommend them?

Second weekend I attended the Folio Festival and the Folio Prize award ceremony ceremony in London.  I did manage to write about that.  I didn’t manage to get a ticket to the West End production of Private Lives, but I did bag myself a seat at Simon Callow’s one man show, Being Shakespeare.  This wasn’t quite what I was expecting – which was to see Callow transform into William Shakespeare himself.  Instead Callow narrated Shakespeare’s life story, showing episodes that influenced the plays and occasionally slipping into Shakespearian character.  Good but not as mesmerising as expected.

Around this time I had an unprecedented run of 3 5-star reads in a row.  I reviewed them here and here.  Then I started juggling longlist reads from the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction, the IFFP and the BTBA.  Also preparing for next week’s Glasgow AyeWrite festival.  The books are good but it’s proving hard to match the magic from the beginning of the month ….

…. which might explain why I’ve watched three films in the last week.  (More than I’ve seen in the last year.) 

I thoroughly enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel and suspect I will add it to my personal collection when the DVD is released.  It is a wonderful, if tongue-in-cheek companion to the works of Stefan Zweig and Tilda Swinton’s cameo is fantastic.  Which is more than can be said for her main part in We Need to Talk about Kevin.  The problem with that film is that it was too arty and the editing gave away far too much, far too soon about the horror to come.  I wouldn’t have watched it to the end if a) I hadn’t read the book previously and b) wasn’t working my way through a mountain of ironing ….

The final film proved to be a real treat.  BBC Four are showing 4 Italian films based on the novels of Carlo Lucarelli.  I enjoyed his De Luca trilogy a couple of years ago and I’m going to enjoy the films even more.  Why?  Check out the actor playing De Luca ….. Bye for now.  I have a date with iplayer.

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Not a picture of my TBR … for once

 

You’d think I’d be satisfied with the 3 longlists announced in the last 10 days: The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Best Translated Book Award.  Not a bit of it.  I’m eagerly anticipating the announcement of the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction on April 1.  That’s the longlist pictured above – one which won’t be publicised in full but which we can have fun guessing at in the meantime.

I’m pretty sure that bottom left is Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and top right is my current read, Jhumpra Lahiri’s The Lowland.  Two books below that Hannah Kent’s superb Burial Rites.  Can you spot any more?

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Dakota.JPG
 

Dear Dakota

I know that you and others are continuing the challenge for another month, but I knew that taking on a third month would be one month too many this year. I made a good call, as it has turned out.  March is going to be super busy with a trip to London next weekend for the Folio Festival and reading prep for Glasgow’s Aye Write festival which this year has the best programme it has ever had.  

I’ve read some really good books over the past two months, deviating only once from my TBR to read The Rosie Project prior to a surprise author event at Motherwell Library. I’m calling that a legitimate exception.  Final tally 13 books read in their entirety, 1 audio book completed, 1 book abandoned and 4 others started.  Here’s a picture of all the lovely books that are no  longer pining for attention in my TBR mountain range.  Don’t they look lovely?

TBR_Triple_Dog_Dare_Stack.JPG
 

There’s not a bad book among them but are there any that I feel like shouting from the rooftops about?  Indeed there are: J David Simons, An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful; Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and Amity Gaige’s Schroder (review forthcoming). 

Thank you, Dakota (and James) for shepherding us to our unread books.  Right now though, it’s time to turn my attention to the lovely new books that have found their way to my stacks.  I put them in a box out of sight and temptation’s way until this afternoon when I counted them.  69.  All I can say in my defence is that I had a lot of vouchers to spend at the beginning of the year and publishers have been very generous.

I’d best get cracking although even with the best intentions, and maybe a speed reading course, I expect some of these new books may need to wait until next year’s TBR dare. I do hope you’ll get us all to play again.

Happy book snacking.

Lizzy

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… I shall give away 7 items.

2 sets of 3 book marks which are perfect for animal-loving bookworms.  I also have a copy of my favourite novel of 2013 to give away.  I can’t recommend Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land highly enough.  I stand by every word of my review. (I tried so hard not to gush, but failed miserably.)

This giveaway is part is the 10th Literary Giveaway Blog Hop organised by Leeswammes.  To enter, simply leave a comment telling me whether you’d like to win a set of bookmarks, the book, or both.  

Once you’ve done that, hop around other participating blogs, listed below.  Have fun!  

Competition open worldwide. Winners to be announced on 12th Feb 2014.

 
Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska’s Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia’s Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog

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Now that I am seven …..

…. and all grown-up as a blogger, big books no longer frighten me.   And so, I challenge myself to read seven big books before I am eight!  

Sample selection. Actual books read may be entirely different.

For the purposes of this challenge, a big book has 450 pages or more. Reviews will obviously become less frequent in the interim …. 

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2013 Retrospective / 2014 Forecast

2013 was the year when I officially lost control of my TBR.  I have always kept track of it on librarything but last year for unknown reasons I didn’t do that.  So now I am surrounded by piles of books everywhere not knowing where to find anything. This does not amuse me.  Maybe I am a heretic but I’ve decided it is possible to have too many books.  I shall do something about that in 2014.  Nay I have to do something about it in 2014.  House guests will be arriving during the summer and the spare bedroom must be reclaimed for habitational purposes.  My public library has been put on notice to expect a windfall …..

2013 was also the year in which I didn’t participate in any reading challenges.  I followed my whims, joined a few communal reading events and the results tell an interesting story.

100 books or 30156 pages read.
85 novels or novellas, 2 poetry collections, 2 graphic novels, 2 short story collections, 9 works of non-fiction.
73 published in the 21st century : 46 of those published in 2013.
20 published in 20th century, 7 in the 19th.
46 books had females authors, 50 male. I read 4 anthologies.
37 Translated Titles: 16 from German, 5 from Swedish, 5 From French, 3 from Dutch, 1 each from Japanese, Polish, Finnish, Catalan, Spanish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Italian.

This should be a cause for rejoicing, surely?  But no.  I feel curiously dissatisfied. Main observation: I’m too Euro-Centric. Only 11 of the 100 books read were not from Europe and I didn’t visit South America or Africa at all last year. I don’t want that to happen in 2014 and so I’m joining the 2014 Global Reading Challenge (Medium Level) and the Aussie Authors Reading Challenge (Wallaby Level) to make my reading more diverse.

That said European fiction will still be a major factor in 2014. I’m joining the Read Scotland 2014 (because I am based there and it would be rude not to). I’m taking on the Hebridean level (12 books) and who knows, I may even go to the Hebrides for real this year! Add the 12 Simenons I need to read to stay on track with Penguin’s republishing of the Maigret series. I also want to tackle the German literature TBR, which after 3 successful German Literature Months (thank you, everybody) has suspiciously tripled, nay quadrupled, in size (thank you again). I am, therefore, challenging myself to read an A-Z of German literature this year. Sum total from this paragraph: 50 European books before I even draw breathe!

Best stop there. But no I also want to keep up with the Austen project - Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey is one of the most eagerly anticipated titles of the year for me. As are the new books from Barry, Mitchell and Toibin …. And I still have a goodly number of 2013 chunksters to tackle (The Luminaries, The Goldfinch, A Naked Singularity …)

I’m not going to get through all this if I continue to blog in the same way.  The time has come to change the pattern. Starting from today, I intend only to write in-depth reviews for books scoring 4 stars or above. Exceptions will be made if I read a book for an on-line readalong such as January in Japan and Pushkin Press Fortnight, or some other pressing concern. Mini reviews of other reads will appear at the end of each month. I’m hoping this new strategy will buy me the time to read another 30,000 pages in 2014 and ensure that all the excellent books I encounter along the way receive the enthusiastic review they deserve.

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The Best of 2013

A baker’s dozen coming up ……  Links are to my reviews. Clicking on the book image will take you to Amazon.

Best Anthology: Tales of the German Imagination - translated and edited by Peter Wortsmann

Best Black Comedy: The Dinner - Hermann Koch

Best Debut and Best Historical Fiction: Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

Best Second Novel and Best State of the Nation (USA): Fallen Land - Patrick Flanery

 

 

Best Self-Help: The Novel Cure - Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin 

Biggest Surprise: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand - Helen Simonson

Discovery of the Year (Fiction): Kafka’s Short Stories (More reading to follow)

Discovery of the Year (Non-fiction):  Lost At Sea - Jon Ronson

Most Angst-Ridden, Comical and Erudite:  On Writing - A L Kennedy

Most Deserving of the (belated) Hype: The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robin Galbraith (Review to follow)

Most Heart-Warming: The Humans - Matt Haig 

Most Preposterous 5-star Read: The Hundred Year-Old Man who Climbed out of a Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson (Review to follow)

So Good I Read It Twice (and will read it again): Laidlaw - William McIlvanney

Which makes Canongate, with 3 books in my 13, Publisher of The Year but did they snag Book of The Year? Well, The Novel Cure was in the running, alongside On Writing, Burial Rites and Fallen Land.  I’ve been debating with myself since September.  Back and forth, back and forth it went.  It has never been this close.  It wasn’t until I wrote my final review of the year that I decided … which is why I never nominate my best of anything until the very last minute.

Lizzy’s Book of the Year is Tales of The German Imagination translated and edited by Peter Wortsmann.

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Canongate have had a good year.  They turned 40 and published a cracking set of books: 3 of which will appear in my best of 2013 list.  Hyperlinks lead to my review.

1) So good I read it twice: Laidlaw - William McIllvanney

2) Quirkiest and most uplifting novel The Humans – Matt Haig.

I read it during one of my gallivants and so didn’t have time to review.  So the question is, how can a novel about an assassin from outer space turn into the most uplifting novel of the year?  Watch this video to find out.

3) Best self-help book: The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies - Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud

I don’t usually disclose my best of list until 31st December.  So why am I telling you this?  Because they’re all available right now for silly prices (i.e up to 60% off) on the Canongate website. Go on, treat yourself!

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When Nick from Grammarly asked if I would write a sponsored post, I wondered why. Grammarly is an automated online proofreader, and, after running a couple of my recent posts through it, I realised he was offering a helping hand. I certainly wouldn’t be walking away from an English Language O-level with a grade A pass these days.

I know that my style on this blog is casual and that cardinal sins are committed: split infinitives, passive tense, and sentence fragments being particular favourites. But I never start or end a sentence with a conjunction. Never. No, siree, not me!

As a linguist, I do enjoy the rules of language and, after spending an afternoon playing with Grammarly, I could become utterly obsessed. It is so simple to use. Just drop your text into the box and press review. Nod knowingly or scratch your head in bemusement as you read the headlines that pop up as the text is being reviewed: dangling/limiting modifiers, faulty parallelism, comma splices. Be ashamed when your carefully crafted review is scathingly scored 46/100 by the rules of general English usage. It fares a little better at 62/100 when checked against the rules of creative writing. Judgement is pronounced as “needs review”. (That’ll be a “must do better” on the school report.)

I can see that this would be an excellent tool for professional writers and editors with the plagiarism checker being particularly useful.  (Although Grammarly claimed to have found plagiarism in my post, I can honestly say that all the words (and mistakes) were my own. See footnote.) However, this blog is a hobby and a pleasurable means to record my thoughts in my own (un)grammatical way. You see, I really am a lapsed pedant. If I worried about perfection, I’d never post anything.  So  I’ll subscribe to the Grammarly service on the day I find a book in me to write.  That might be a while.  I’m too busy reading the works of others.

For reference: I gave this post the Grammarly once-over at http://www.grammarly.com.19 issues found and 57/100 measured against the yardstick of general English usage or 8 issues and 76/100 against casual usage.  Hmmm, it appears I should stop lapsing.  :)

Footnote: Grammarly was correct!  It recognised the text from my blog!

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