Munday Salon – 12 October

fullsizeoutput_89dA day late but that’s how things roll around here sometimes! Today has been all about the rain and thunderstorms and the sad loss of both Douglas Rain and Stan Lee. My nerdish self is rather sad.

But now, to the books!

Currently reading?

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll because I’m all about journalling and stationery and managing my busy retirement. I wish I’d found this while I was still working…..

I’m also about to start Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker, one of my favourite historians (if it’s possible to have such a thing). This is all about war, climate change and catastrophe, but in the 17th century. It’s a chunkster which the Book God read in a very heavy paperback but I have on the Kindle app because of its very size.

Books finished?

  • The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen – the five great mass extinctions in Earth history and whether we’re heading for another one (or maybe even in it already). Lots to think about
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman – I’ve had this for ages but was motivated to pick it up as there is going to be a film made of the story starring Sandra Bullock. It’s horror and will be interesting to see what they do with it

Reviews of both of these will follow soon

This week’s book haul:

  1. The Sentence is Death by Antony Horowitz – the second Daniel Hawthorne novel, I didn’t even realise this was out until I came across it by accident; loved the first one
  2. Someone Like Me by MR Carey – a heart-stopping psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming and a heroine you can’t trust . . .
  3. Notes from the Underwire by Quinn Cummings – memoir type-thing from someone I hadn’t hears of until I saw a brilliant story she told on Twitter and I was hooked
  4. Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth – serial killer in London during the Blitz…
  5. The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter – ooh, family drama + 40 yr old murder + devastating truth = a good read (I hope)

Hope you all have a fabulous reading week!

Phantom Thread

fullsizeoutput_895I love all things fashion so was very excited to see this film. Unfortunately, I missed it in the cinema but treated myself to the DVD on release and I’m so glad I did. It was very much worth waiting for.

Phantom Thread is set in the world of couture in London in the 1950s. Reynolds Woodcock (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dress designer who is famously difficult and requires his home and working space to be rigidly ordered to his particular requirements. Supported by his sister Cyril (the amazing Lesley Manville), he is captivated by a succession of young women who act as his muse, but who are despatched by Cyril once Reynolds inevitably becomes tired of them. Into this set-up walks Alma (Vicky Krieps), a very different type of young woman willing to stand up to Reynolds and his frequently appalling behaviour.

This is a beautifully constructed film. We are quickly brought up to speed with the type of man Reynolds is; a self-absorbed creative talent who uses his position as an artist to get away with demands and behaviour that would be completely unacceptable elsewhere. Obsessed with his late mother, reliant on the practical skills of his sister, he favours young women with his attention until boredom hits and he dismisses them out of hand. When Alma is brought into the household we expect the same pattern to repeat itself, but she is more than capable of holding her ground and will not go willingly. Over the course of the film the two of them battle for supremacy and eventually reach a solution which to my mind is rather drastic but seems to satisfy them both.

The acting is, as you would expect, wonderful; the whole cast seems to thoroughly enjoy delivering a succession of fabulous lines with an air of waspishness which I loved. And of course the clothes are so sumptuous and beautiful I could stare at them for ever. I would love to see them exhibited somewhere but not sure if that will ever be on the cards.

I also absolutely love House Woodcock, a combined living, working and selling space which would suit me to a tee.

If you are interested in fashion and want to experience overbearing masculinity subtly put in its place in a somewhat Gothic setting then I recommend this highly.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread is 2hrs 10 mins long and rated 15 for strong language.

 

Sunday Salon – 4 November

fullsizeoutput_88dThis has been a week full of medical appointments of one kind or another, all routine but not matter how kind and efficient everyone is it’s all just such a time suck. This is when the app on my phone comes into its own and I can merrily read away without lugging books around with me. Heresy I know but I really only read physical books when I’m at home these days.

Talking about books, I haven’t finished any books since the beginning of November but I’m making good progress with both of the works I’m currently reading:

  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman – I’ve had this one for a while but pulled it to the top of the TBR pile so I can read it in advance oft he Sandra Bullock movie which is coming to Netflix (I think) soon; and
  • The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen – as if horror wasn’t enough, I decided to treat myself to reading about the five biggest mass-extinctions in the Earth’s history. Keeps me cheerful

In terms of new books, yes I have bought more despite the fact that I was too embarrassed to share last month’s purchases on t’Internet. Some of these were pre-orders so I don’t feel quite so bad about that.

This week’s haul:

  • Devices & Desires by Kate Hubbard – an addition to my small but perfectly formed collection of books about Bess of Hardwick
  • Henry VIII & the Men Who Made Him by Tracy Borman – written by a former colleague from my PRO days, I can’t resist books about Henry even though I loathe him deeply. This looks especially interesting.
  • Titus Awakes by Maeve Gilmore & Mervyn Peake – more about this later in the post
  • Man With No Name by Laird Barron – crime meets horror
  • Chills by Mary SanGiovanni – horror meets crime
  • Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux – French-Canadian novel about an unidentified woman’s body in a mortuary and 12 variations on what her life may have been like. Very interested in this one I must say.

The highlight of this week was the trip the Book God and I took to the British Library on Friday for their Mervyn Peake evening. Marking the 50th anniversary of his death, it was a lively discussion between Liz Jensen, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell and Fabian Peake, with readings from Gormenghast by Miranda Richardson. A very enjoyable evening with many things to think about. I’ve seen Neil Gaiman live before but not Chris Riddell, who produced the most amazing illustrations on stage while the readings were taking place. It has of course made me want to re-read Gormeghast, and triggered the purchase of the fourth book as mentioned above. Plugging it into my reading plans for nest year which though loose are beginning to take shape. Terrible photo below!

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Hope you all have a fabulous reading week!

 

Monthly Round-up: October 2018

fullsizeoutput_888So here I am back again after an unplanned hiatus. I really did mean to blog while I was away but that just didn’t happen, and then when I got back home I was unwell and life took over with lots of appointments and stuff. I’m hoping that over the next couple of weeks I will catch up on my backlog as I have lots of Notes about Things.

Watch this space.

Anyway, this is a quick recap of the last month!

Books read:

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
  • Unnatural Causes by Richard Shepherd
  • Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

Books bought: too many to list here. Seriously, it’s almost embarrassing. There are a lot.

Other stuff:

Our break in the east of England was really enjoyable, full of wonderful places and great food. I’ll be writing about all of that separately. Maybe not the food, but certainly all of the history stuff.

Lots of good TV around at the moment. Watching Killing Eve (in regular time, no binge watching) and loving it deeply, along with the return of Criminal Minds, one of my all time favourite series.

 

A Quick Update – 9 October

A short post as all my thoughts have been concentrated on getting ready for my annual holiday which kicks off today. If I can get my act together I should be posting while I’m away, but if not I hope you won’t miss me while I’m gone, should there be any danger of that 😉

I shall leave you with a picture of a beautiful gown from the Azzedine Alaia exhibition I attended last week. More in that in a future post.

Femme Fatale: Sick, Sweet & Evil

IMG_0770I didn’t know anything about Chelsea Cain and her series of books about Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell until I came across a TV series called Gone; when I realised it was based on a novel I went looking for it and found the author’s other works. I love a decent serial killer so tried the first one and became hooked.

Since then I have read the first three in the six-book series and I know that I will be reading the remainder (in fact I already have book four on my TBR list) simply because they are so easy to read – I usually devour the whole thing in a single sitting.

But why?

For a start the premise is interesting. Archie Sheridan is a detective investigating a series of murders when he is captured and tortured by the serial killer herself, Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen has inserted herself into the investigation by posing as a psychologist and of course because she is stunningly beautiful and very intelligent no-one suspects that she is the one responsible for what she claims to be 200 murders over a lengthy period of time.

None of this is spoiler territory because it’s all made clear at the very beginning of the first book. She tortures, kills and revives Archie and then surrenders to the police. Once he recovers Archie visits her in prison regularly and for every visit she gives him information on where another of her victims can be found so that closure can be given to the families. Archie thinks he is in control but of course he isn’t; Gretchen is an expert manipulator and through all three of the books she is effectively directing the action.

I won’t go into the plots of the novels; although each is focussed on a particular case the main event is of course the warped relationship between the two main characters as well as the involvement of Susan Ward, a reporter for a local newspaper who is drawn into the ongoing drama.

As with a lot of serial killer novels this is in no way true to life or at all subtle. Gretchen is an almost mythical figure who becomes something of a folk hero to a certain type of person. She is a complete monster in the vein of Hannibal Lecter, with no scruples and an overwhelming desire to cause pain and suffering, though it’s clear that she can stop killing for periods of time when she feels like it. The books are pretty gruesome and almost veer into horror territory but not quite. The problem with series of this type, if you can call it a problem, is the need to keep increasing the tension and gore without falling into camp. The books have managed to avoid that so far.

Having said all that, and noting that if Gretchen really is so striking why does nobody ever seem to notice what she’s up to until it’s too late, I love these books and would recommend them for a quick and enjoyable read.

Slow Horses & Dead Lions

IMG_0771I was drawn to reading the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron via a recommendation from Jen Williams (@sennydreadful on Twitter and a fine author herself), and before I finished the first one had already bought the second.

That should tell you something.

Slough House is the (as far as we know, fictional) part of MI5 and located near the Barbican in London. It’s where those members of the service who have blotted their copybooks are sent to endure a miserable, slow decline in the hopes that they will see sense and voluntarily resign; in my experience in the civil service the equivalent is being assigned to Special Projects or being sent to work in the library when you aren’t a librarian, though to be honest I could never understand why that was thought to be a punishment.

Anyway, the books.

Slow Horses is the terribly tortuous punning name given to those who “work” there, carrying out a series of meaningless tasks and boring paperwork. But Jackson Lamb knows what he’s doing and when, in the first novel, he senses that there is something not right at all about the hooded figure tied up and threatened with death on the interwebs, he finds a way for his team to get involved in a proper mission to resolve the issue. I won’t say any more about that.

In Dead Lions, the fallout from the previous novel is still being felt – and that’s one of the things I like about the series, it builds on what’s gone before – and when a former colleague is found dead on a bus (that’s what you get these days on  rail replacement services) he feels the need to investigate, at a time when a couple of members of his team have been assigned to protect a visiting Russian oligarch. It slowly become clear that the two issues are connected.

I really enjoy a good spy novel – one of my favourite reading experiences was le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy which I found in my then father-in-law’s bookshelf (and why didn’t the BBC film that?) – and these are wonderfully seedy, with that depressed air you get in some parts of the public service where everything seems futile. The characters are really strong, there are the obligatory wheels within wheels and of course lots and lots of double crossing. And when things happen there are real consequences.

There is a very good interview with Mick Herron in the Guardian which gives some insight into the characters he’s created, and this in particular made me laugh:

[…] I’m a London-bound commuter and an open-plan-office worker, and anyone who’s been either of those things knows that bile and venom are only ever a hair’s-breadth away.

So true.

I fully intend to read the whole series and if you like a good post-Cold War spy story you should give them a try too.