Archive for the ‘chat’ Category

Let’s start this post in May 1989 as Lizzy and family are scouting Scotland to determine whether to move there.  They are treated to two weeks of glorious sunshine (with perhaps a couple of forgotten days of rain).  When I say glorious, I mean glorious!  Suffice to say the move was completed …. and it has taken 28 years for Scotland to deliver another May to rival that of 1989!

Which is my way of saying that the great yellow ball in the sky (I believe some call it the sun) has been in evidence of late, and so while there has been much walking and gardening and outdoor reading, there has been little blogging.  Posts have concentrated on my tournament of shortlisted books, which is delivering a series of surprises regarding the number of books that are failing to float my boat!

I will update  tournament outcomes in due course (i.e when and if my poorly ipad ever recovers its health).

Books of May 2017

Nevertheless I find I completed 10 books during May, and posted thoughts – if not fully-fledged reviews –

on 5 plus 3 books read in April. As it has been such a month of contrasts, I’m highlighting review links below with emojis.  Just so you know exactly how I feel.

Confessions of the Lioness – Mia Couto 😣

The Story of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli 😐

Paradise Lodge – Nina Stibbe 😄

To Be Continued – James Robertson 😄

The Wednesday Club – Kjell Westö 😙

Compass – Mattias Enard (DNF)

The Sport of Kings – C E Morgan (On hold)

Fever Dream – Samatha Schweblin 😊

Book of the Month

Much as I enjoyed some of the fiction reviewed above (in particular, Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club), The Moth- 50 Extraordinary True Stories takes this month’s accolade .  I’m waiting to review it because The Moth II has just landed on my TBR, where it will not be collecting any dust.  I will feature both books in a future post.

So the final score on the door at the end of May looks like this:

Total YTD: 47 read, 6 audio books, 6 DNF
Total for May 2017:  8 read, 2 audio books, 2 DNF

Plans for June

Hopefully problems with the ipad will be resolved soon, otherwise blogging will become even more sporadic during June, as travels interrupt an already interrupted blogging flow!

Not that this has stopped me from making my list for Cathy’s #20booksofsummer.  I’m not restricting my list to 20 books though.  I need to cater to my whims, and the list below reflects current reading projects,  interests, new releases jumping to the top of the TBR and the assumption that there will be a #spanishlitmonth in July. Ah, you say, Lizzy there are gaps.  This is true, but I cannot finalise the list until the Edinburgh International Book Festival Programe is published on 13th June.  At which point we will see whether the current list of 30 stretches to become a list of 35 or even 40 …. hopefully with titles already to hand!

20 Books of Summer Provisional List

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So my tournament of books pitched two novellas against two long epic novels, and in both cases the novella KO’d its opponent.  It’s a knock-out when one competitor  doesn’t make it to the final bell page, isn’t it?

Now this surprised me because I’ve been in the mood all year to immerse myself in a    long epic read (450+) pages, but it’s just not happening.  In fact as hinted above, both tournamented epics were DNF, for different reasons.

C E Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Pulitzer Prize finalist, shortlisted for the Rathbone Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and The Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction) came with such resoundingly positive reviews that I was sure that immersed I would be.  And yet at 200 pages, feeling impatient, and with absolutely no investment or even interest in where things were headed, I stopped. For now.  I will revisit this as it’s one of the novels to be discussed on this summer’s online How to Read A Novel reading course (free from the University of Edinburgh). Perhaps I will even finish it.

The second DNF – after only 70 pages – surprised me even more, particularly after the anticipation following my visit to the Leipzig Book Fair earlier this year.  Matthias Enard’s Compass, winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Leipzig Prize for European Understanding, is surely the favourite to win this year’s Man Booker International Prize. Even after only 70 pages I could recognise the intelligence of Enard’s writing, the erudition resulting from his research and the worthiness of the novel.  Compass is a plea for better understanding and cooperation between East and West, and  seemed to be gearing up to encompass a complete history of occidental literary and musical culture within the stream of consciousness of a terminally-ill man. It’s an interesting concept and not necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t entertaining me.  As I am no longer a student, I abandoned it – probably for good.

Interestingly Enard’s opponent in the tournament also features the stream of consciousness of a terminally ill patient and a worthy cause.  But Samatha Schweblin’s Fever Dream is altogether much more – oh, dare I use this word – readable with a page-turning quality that satisfies my need for pleasure, not just instruction.

A full review of Fever Dream will follow in due course  (i.e when the sun stops shining, which won’t be long, knowing Scotland as I do). As will a review of the second giant-killing novella, China Miéville’s This Census Taker.   I don’t know what has taken me this long to return to Miéville; it’s 6.5 years since The City and The City blew me away for goodness sake!  Still I’m here now.  Nor will it be 6.5 years before I read him again.



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Wrap-Up: March/April 2017

I was on the road March into April, and so I have two months of wrap-up outstanding.

I attended not 1, not 2, but 3 book festivals: Glasgow Aye Write!, the Leipzig Book Fair in conjunction with Leipzig Liest, and I’m just back from Newcastle Noir. (More on that later in the week.)

I read or listened to a total of 22 books during that time and I have reviewed only 10, which is not surprising given all the travelling.  A batch of mini-reviews will help me catchup on the thus-far-unreviewed.


Books Read March 2017

Total YTD: 39 read, 4 DNF, 3 audio books
Total for March 2017:  Read 7 plus 1 audio book
Total for April 2017: Read 11 plus 2 audio books


Books Read April 2017

Reviews March/April 2017: 10

What’s to Become of the Boy? – Heinrich Böll
 Mini-Reviews: Under A Pole Star – Stef Penney,  Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak, Billionaire’s Banquet – Ron Butlin, The Intrusions- Stav Sherez
Sand – Wolfgang Herrndorf
My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
Maigret’s Memoirs – Georges Simenon
Where Were You, Adam? – Heinrich Böll
The Hour of the Jackal – Bernhard Jaumann

Book of the Month March 2017: Stav Sherez’s zeitgeisty and scarey The Intrusions

Book of the Month April 2017: I’m excluding Janice Galloway’s Clara as it was my Book of the Year in 2007.  Nevertheless, this is still a tough call because 2 of the books I read for the 1951 club were superb: Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel or Böll’s Where were you, Adam? It’s neck and neck until Böll steals it with the power of the final image.

Finally an update on purchasing targets.  I have bought more than I intended over the first four months of the year, BUT I have also culled many more than I thought I would.  The upshot of this is that according to my 2017 allowance equation,  I start May with an outstanding purchase allowance of 5 (and a wishlist of 205!)  Next update in August Wrap-Up – following the danger that is the Edinburgh Book Festival!

(2017 purchase allowance = 2 per month + (total books read + total books culled)/5)

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It’s shortlist season!

With last night’s announcement of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, I think all shortlists of interest have been declared.

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (1)

Best Translated Book Award (1)

Bolinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2)

International Dublin Literary Award (2)

Man Booker International Prize (3)

The Petrona Award (1)

Rathbones Folio Prize (2)

Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (4 plus 2 already read)

The numbers in brackets indicate the number of shortlist titles in my TBR.  It’s clear that some judging panels didn’t take that into account when making their choices! 😂 Nevertheless, with some crossovers (titles appearing on more than one shortlist), and 1 or 2 purchases (OK 3), I now have 16 shortlisted titles.  Just enough for a tournament to keep me entertained and away from further purchases until publication of the Edinburgh Book Festival Programme on June 8th ( following which there will be a flurry of acquisitions.)

Where possible books competing for the same prize are paired with each other in the first round.  Otherwise my logic – just go with it.  The resulting draw (edited on 22.04 with the late inclusion of two titles from the Helen and Kurt Wolff translation prize shortlist) is as follows.  I’m quite pleased with this.  Two groups: one for Anglophone fiction, the second for translated.  The two meeting only in the finaL

The Barry vs Tremain bout has been settled as I read both novels for the Costa Prize in January. I’m reversing the decision I made then, because Days without End has simply stayed with me better than The Gustav Sonata, and Walter Scott Prize Winners are always memorable!

Onwards …

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Simon and Karen are once more hosting an event based on the books written in one particular year.  This time it’s 1951.   I’ve read a selection of books from that year, though it appears most were pre-blog. For example:

Suspicion – Friedrich Dürrenmatt

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Mist over Pendle – Robert Neill (Must read for Lancastrians.)

The Catcher in the Rye – R D Salinger

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

1951 was also the year in which Dennis the Menace made his first appearance!

And yet, I don’t get the impression that it was such a tremendous year for fiction. Only the Wyndham in the list above knocked my socks off.  Many of the authors I’m interested in didn’t publish that year.  Neither have Persephone Books published anything from 1951. Still I have put together a capsule TBR now vying for my attention.  Perhaps these books will change my mind about 1951 in general.

Given the imminent film release, I’ve started with Du Maurier ….

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I have returned to the cold, grey skies of Scotland after a hectic but satisfying fortnight in the warm, blue skies of Germany where there is a beautiful spring in progress. (Sigh) You guessed that much, but to which cities did my four travelling companions accompany me?

1) Berlin – Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of A Polar Bear is partly set in Berlin, and you could say that I was partly there too. My stop-over lasted a couple of hours – enough time to transfer from airport to railway station, grab lunch and snap a covert picture of the Reichstag. It’s there on the left.


2) Leipzig – I was on my way to the Leipzig Book Fair, which is quite unlike any Book Fair I’ve previously visited. Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Sand was the 2012 winner of The Leipzig Book Fair Prize and Clara Schumann, the heroine (for heroine she was) of Janice Galloway’s Clara was born there.


3) Bonn – Clara’s husband, Robert Schumann, died in a mental instition in Endenich, Bonn. The city is also the location of Heinrich Böll”s most popular novel The Clown (and the Bönnscher Brewery. 😊 )


Reviews of the Leipzig Book Fair and three novels to follow.

I reviewed Clara back in 2007  when it deservedly became my Book of the Year. In the meantime I have travelled extensively round Germany and seen many of the places Clara Schumann lived and worked, and that really augmented this long overdue reread. I didn’t intend for this trip to become a Clara Schumann memorial tour, but in many ways that is what it became. Places I visited in Leipzig: the Gewandhaus, the concert hall where she played her first concert at age 9; the church where she married in Schönefeld, and her first marital home at Inselstrasse 32. In Düsseldorf her final marital home at Bilker Strasse 15.

Not that you need to have seen these places to appreciate Galloway’s wonderful novel, but they show how modestly the Schumanns and their huge brood lived despite their superstar status,  and how their histories have been sanitised. You’d be hard pressed to detect any kind of struggle in their lives at all. I can only recommend you read Galloway’s novel to discover the real-life passion and the pain in the life of a creative genius.

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I like to take reading material related to my destinations when I travel, and these are the companions I have chosen for my current trip. So where am I going? All is likely to be revealed on Twitter in the next few days. In the meantime, the blog will be taking a breather. Back soon.


These four books represent a 3 city tour

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