Oct 17, 2010

The Sunday Salon – Catching Up

The Sunday Salon – Catching Up

I don’t want to return to blogging with a huge backlog of books to post about, so I thought I’d try something a little different and attempt to sum up my thoughts on what I read in September in a paragraph or two. Some of these were actually excellent reads, and I wish I could tell you about them at length, but it’s probably about time I give this whole brevity thing a try anyway.

The first book is I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, the fourth and final book in the Tiffany Aching series, and what can I say other than that it’s Sir Terry in absolutely top form? I loved it for the same reasons why I loved The Wee Free Men and the other Tiffany books: it’s sad and serious and complex and thoughtful and immensely wise; it’s about small communities and stories and human nature and being a girl and the difficulties of growing up. Also, I had a complete fangirl moment when a beloved character from an early Discworld book made an appearance, but I won’t say more lest I spoil it for any of you. For more on Sir Terry and his awesomeness, make sure you read this full review over at Magical and Colloquial.

Sadly, my experience with Molly Keane’s 1934 novel Devoted Ladies wasn’t nearly as good. Possibly the problem was one of timing: this is a harsh and unkind novel, which I realise s part of the point, but at such a stressful time of my life, I needed something a little more comforting. Devoted Ladies tells the story of a difficult friendship between two single women in the 1930’s, and what alienated me the most wasn’t really the fact that they’re enemies in the guise of friends. No, the unkindness I was talking about has a lot more to do with the novel’s tone and with how the narrator writes about the characters. You get the feeling that s/he doesn’t much like them at all, and as a result, in the end I didn’t much care what happened to any of them. Possibly I’ll return to this book at another time; Molly Keane is quite a popular Virago author, so I can’t shake off the feeling that there must be something here that I missed. But right now I sadly couldn’t get on with it at all.

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, the very first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, was fortunately an absolute delight. It wasn’t nearly as good as the Harriet Vane books, especially when it comes to character development and social insight (I’m SO grateful that so many of you told me to start with those, causing me to realise right away everything Sayers was capable of), but plot-wise it’s an immensely satisfying novel. And interestingly enough, it really does owe a lot to E.C. Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case. I knew he’d been an influence on Sayers, but I hadn’t realised that her first novel echoed him quite so directly. Having read Bentley’s mystery recently made the ending of this one quite easy to figure out, but that didn’t really spoil the fun. In addition to that, the language was charming as usual, and I loved all the bits about Lord Peter’s WWI experiences and his and Bunter’s relationship. So: perhaps not an ideal introduction to Sayers, as it doesn’t quite reveal the depth of her work, but a wonderful novel nonetheless. Here’s a full review by Memory at Stella Matutina.

Bog Child by Siobhan Down was the 2009 Carnegie Medal winner, and while I can’t say I liked it more than The Knife of Never Letting Go (then again, few books have that honour), I can see why it won. It’s a historical novel set in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, and it’s an incredibly moving and powerful story. This is the book I wish the most I were reviewing in detail – not because I didn’t like Whose Body or I Shall Wear Midnight just as much, but because the reasons why I loved them aren’t very different from the reasons why I normally love Sayers and Pratchett, whereas this is unlike anything I’ve read before. Shiobhan Down (who sadly passed away even before the book was published) writers about “the troubles” in Ireland, about Iron Age history, about archaeology, about growing up, about first love, about social pressure and expectations, about ethical conundrums, about idealism, about freedom, about prejudice, and about hunger strikers and what their families went through – all with amazing sensibility and insight. For a full review, please read this one over at Claire’s blog. (Or this one a Beth Fish's.)

The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit is a slightly steampunkish and very surreal graphic novel set in an alternative New England in the late 19t century. It’s about two brothers with a flair for inventions, about the imagination, about sexuality, about small town life, and I’m not even sure what else. Rickheit’s storytelling is largely visual (even more so than usual in comics, I mean), and the result is one of the strangest graphic novels I have encountered to date. The story grows eerier and eerier as it progresses, sometimes verging on the grotesque, but not necessarily in a negative way. I’m not sure what else to say, except that I’d love to have someone to discuss this with, especially the bits where I can’t quite decide what Rickheit was going for - so if you’re thinking of picking it up, please please do.

The Squirrel Machine

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo is also YA historical fiction, this time set right before and during WWI. It follows two brothers, Thomas and Charles Peaceful, straight from a poor but idyllic countryside childhood and young adulthood to the trenches of Ypres. The story focuses on one specific horrific detail of WWI, only I can’t tell you about it without giving too much away. Sadly I also can’t tell you about the clever thing Morpurgo does with point of view, except to say that I had an “…oh” moment at the end that made the whole thing even more moving in retrospect (and by the time I was already in tears). Back in August I read Morpurgo’s The Kites are Flying, which is about a journalist’s encounter with a small boy from Palestine (thank you again for the book, Darren!), and now I’m starting to think that Morpurgo might be as wonderful a discovery as David Almond was last year.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a graphic novel that has been quite widely reviewed all over the blogging world, so I’ll keep this brief: yes, I enjoyed it every bit as much as everyone else. It’s a smart and sensitive story about being a teenager, being gay, falling in love for the first time, dealing with loneliness and depression, and struggling to be yourself. Possibly this makes it sound like so many other glbtq coming-of-age stories, but trust me, you’ll want to meet Skim. But I’d better shut up now and just point you towards Aarti or Mee’s excellent posts on this book.


Finally, I read Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay, the third book in the charming and wonderful Casson family series. Permanent Rose is not quite as good as the absolutely perfect Indigo’s Star, but I did enjoy it as much Saffys Angel, the first book in the series. The characters are as lovably eccentric as ever, the mix of humour and moving moments is pitch perfect, and there’s more than enough here to appeal to children and adults alike. I suppose I should also say that even though McKay makes an effort to contextualise the story, it’s probably a good idea to read these in order. And I’d better wrap this up now before the urge to use lots and lots of exclamation marks and beg you all to read Hilary McKay TODAY (yes, IN CAPS) overcomes me.

That’s about it. There are a few other September books I want to tell you about at length, namely The Little Stranger and The Murder at the Vicarage, but I’ll leave those for next week. As usual, if you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great Sunday, everyone!

The Sunday Salon.com


  1. I didn't know I Shall Wear Midnight wasn't a Discworld novel, I'm so used to hearing about the series. Good to hear it's a fun read. Michael Morpurgo is a name from my childhood, I remember enjoying his books a lot.

    A good mix for a month of reading!

  2. I haven't read any of these, but most of them sound really good. And I guess I had better durifully add Hilary McKay to my wishlist.

  3. I'm glad to hear that you liked Whose Body? It's been so long since I read it that I don't remember much about it, but I've enjoyed all her mysteries (although the Vane ones are the best). Murder Must Advertise or Clouds of Witness are probably my favorite of the non-Vanes, and Unnatural Death features one of my favorite characters.

  4. great to see you back ana ,a wonderful selection of books ,THE squirel machine looks a lot of fun ,all the best stu

  5. Welcome back!

    I had I Shall Wear Midnight in my hands at the Book Fair the other week but didn't buy it since I haven't read the other books in the series. I will definitely read it though.

    And you have made me add Bog Child to my TBR list :D

  6. Thank you for the link, love, it's so good to have you back ♥

    I really disliked Devoted Ladies too when I read it a few years ago, and for the same reasons, funny how that works!

    Would have loved to discuss The Squirrel Machine with you (sounds really intriguing) but I don't buy graphic novels I haven't read so I'll have to wait till I can borrow it from the library.

    I'm a huge fan of Sarah Waters and yet I couldn't finish The Little Stranger as I couldn't see the point and was starting to be really freaked out. Looking forward to reading your thoughts about it.

    Also, what Sayers would you recommend to start with? I really want to read one of her books, I've just heard so many differing opinions and I trust you most.

    Again, lovely to have you back, hope you're having a fabulous time ♥♥♥

  7. Welcome back, Nymeth! I am sorry that I haven't followed your blog lately (or anybody's blog), but I was busy, as it often happens in life.

    I missed reading your fantastic reviews and discovering new books through your blog.

    I haven't read any of the mentioned books, but I am currently reading 'Gaudy Night' and so far, I am really enjoying it. As always, thanks for the recommendation! Thanks to you, I have read some great books that I would have never picked up if you hadn't brought them to my attention!

    I am glad you're back! I hope to be back 100 % in December! Until then, I will try to visit and comment on your blog (and other blogs) when time allows it.

    I wish you all the best and good luck with library school! I hope everything is well and I hope everything will be as you expect it to be! Take care!

  8. Ana, so good to see you! I saw your little self this week in some of the comments, and it was like a ray of sunshine! I like how you blasted through the review of these books...I should try this! I find reviewing books these days almost grievous. It never used to be this hard! Anyway welcome back!

  9. Dammit Ana--even in abbreviated form you went and made me add three books to the wish list!!! (And it would have been more, if a few of them weren't already on the wish list.)

    Skim is the only one of those I've read...and yeah, I agree with you--very good book!

    I think that maybe the one I'm now most eager to get my hands on is Private Peaceful. Chris gave Max one of his books (Kaspar: Prince of Cats)--and we had the most wonderful time reading it aloud. I'd really love trying out some more of his books, and this one sounds wonderful!

  10. Charlie: The Tiffany Aching actually is a part of Discworld, but it's a great place to start - these were the first Discworld books for younger readers, and so he takes the time to contextualise new readers and make things very easy to follow even if you've never read Discworld before.

    Iris: Yes, do! These are some of the loveliest children's books I've ever read.

    Teresa: I'm happy to hear that Clouds of Witness is another one of your favourites, as I also own a copy of that one! I hope to get to it soon.

    Stu: Thank you, Stu! It's so good to be back.

    Zee: You should get yourself The Wee Free Men (first Tiffany book) soon - you won't regret it, I promise!

    Sibylle: Aw, thank you so much! It's great to be back. I was lucky to randomly find The Squirrel Machine at my new local library, actually - the library back home had a grand total of zero graphic novels, so being able to borrow them is such a nice change for me! As for Waters, you're not the first big fan of hers to tell me they found The Little Stranger disappointing. I think that in my case, having been warned that it was quite different from her other books helped. I'm not sure where I'd place it in my personal Sarah Waters scale, but I did enjoy it a lot. And I'd recommend starting Sayers with Strong Poison, the first Harriet Vane book. Then read Have His Carcase, and then Gaudy Night (which is my favourite read of the year so far). It's important to read them in this order; otherwise they don't have the same emotional impact. I think there's a lot about her that you'd like, especially when it comes to how she deals with gender.

    Andreea: Thank you! And no need to be sorry - I've been a very bad commenter myself lately. It's really hard sometimes with so much going on in our lives. I hope your own move went well, btw, and that you're settling in nicely. I look forward to seeing you around more, but there's no rush! Also, I'm so happy to hear you're enjoying Gaudy Night!

    Sandy: Aww, thank you! I know what you mean - after not blogging for over a month, I'm finding getting back to reviewing mode quite hard. I think that now that I'm busy with school, I'll probably mostly review the books that I really have a lot to say about (for good or bad reasons) and either ignore the rest or do short round-up posts like this one.

    Debi: I'm completely sure that you (and the rest of the Stevens gang) would adore Private Peaceful. Just make sure you keep plenty of tissues at hand! It's absolutely heartbreaking.

  11. Overall, it looks like you had a good reading month. Skim really looks good to me.

  12. Hi Ana, funny how I was looking at The Little Stranger just a moment ago and then I saw your post and you mentioned it. I want to hear all about it next week! :D

  13. I'm so glad you liked Bog Child -- I thought it was a great book and gave it one of my highest ratings. There is so much in the book worth discussing. I hope more people give it a try.

  14. Last and final Tiffany Aching? Noooooooooo! I think this book slipped my mind. I shall remedy that soon. Still, noooooooooooooo!

  15. I didn't realise that there was a fourth Tiffany Aching book. I loved the others and I shall look out for them.
    I have had Bog Child for ages and really need to read it soon.

  16. I really like your concise mini-reviews, and your beautiful writing shines here, as always. You've made me want to get my hands on The Squirrel Machine. My first reaction, when I saw that book, was that it would be great for my 12-year-old son. But after reading the rest of your review, it sounds rather dark and adult, so maybe not. :-) You've also incited me to want to read Private Peaceful.

  17. For some bizarre reason, your pictures aren't coming through my google reader. Weird. Except the Salon one - that one came through. Otherwise, none of them! My google reader's been acting up on my lately anyway.

    I'm glad you had so many good reads this past month Ana. And that you decided to give them mini-reviews rather than just not reviewing them at all (which I definitely would have been tempted to do if I were in your place!).

  18. Ana - Thanks for the recommendation, I was thinking of starting with Strong Poison too and you just cemented this decision :)

  19. I enjoyed your attempt at brevity, Ana! I have so many reviews to catch up on and it is tempting to either do so all at once or pick out the best to discuss.

    Was your fan girl moment in I Shall Wear Midnight with a character who is normally preceded with the adjectives "wee" and "mad" or with someone else?

    Thank you for the link and love and thank you for reading Bog Child; it is so powerfully moving and stays with you.

    I haven't read any Molly Keane yet but have heard similar things to your reservations that make me suspect it wasn't just a timing issue.

    Skim was already on my wishlist (as are the Harriet Vane Sayers' novels) but you have me intrigued by The Squirrel Machine.

  20. What a great selection of reads! I really have to get my hands on Bog Child, as I did a lot of research on Seamus Heaney when I was in grad school. He wrote some amazing poetry about Ireland and even the bogs. I'll have to pick this up and see how it compares to the themes and tone of his poetry. Thanks for sharing!

  21. So glad you liked The Kites are Flying :) I've had Private Peaceful on the shelves for a while now. I'm guessing that I should actually read it then? ;)

  22. Most of these sound wonderful, Ana. You did a great job keeping things short and sweet. I have got to get my hands on The Squirrel Machine!

  23. Ana thanks for the linky of Skim! It's quite a memorable book, isn't it?

    The pictures on your posts are still not showing up for me. Could it be just me? But then I saw Amanda has the same problem. I thought it's just google reader, but they're still not showing when I open the page on separate window/tab. The weird thing is the images on your sidebar do show up, so could it be the image host? I'm using Firefox 3.6.9 if that helps at all.

  24. Y'know, I sat here nodding away while I read your WHOSE BODY? reviewlette, composing a comment in which I said I agreed with you... and then I got to the end where you linked to my review. "Oh," I thought, "I guess she already knows."

    On another note, I've got to read the Tiffany Aching books. They sound like exactly my kind of books, and I have a feeling they'll give me a much better feel for Pratchett than THE COLOUR OF MAGIC did.

  25. Good lord, Ana, coming back with a vengeance, eh? :p Oh I can't wait to get to I Shall Wear Midnight!! That means I actually have to read though :/

    Glad you enjoyed Whose Body :) I really need to continue that series!!

    And as for the rest...well you've added The Squirrel Machine, Bog Child AND Private Peaceful to my wish list :/

  26. It sounds like you enjoyed most of these, and really only had a bad reaction to one. To me, that seems like a pretty good reading month! I am making a note of a few of these and adding them to my list, because even when your reviews are short, they are still very enticing!! Thanks for the mini-reviews! I absolutely love this format!

  27. I'm so happy to see you're back to blogging, Ana! And it always cheers me up whenever I see a comment from you on my blog! :D

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on those books you read! Did you say The Little Stranger?! I can't wait to hear what you'll think of that book! ;)

  28. Thank you for the mini-reviews! I am glad to hear you really enjoyed Skim. I really liked that one too.

    And, now I'm anxiously awaiting your review of The Little Stranger! I'm about half way through it and am loving it.

  29. I shall wear Midnight looks good. Have a super week!

  30. Although I love all things Virago and also know so many people who love Molly Keane (who wrote MANY Viragos), I still have not "got" any of her books and I've read about 6. Am quite glad to find someone else who isn't raving about her!

  31. I haven't read any of them, but I've added 5 new books to my wishlist. Thanks Nymeth. :-) On a different note, how do you get your bookcover pictures into one image like that? I can't get it work out so neatly...

  32. Great collection of reads there Ana! Lots to interest everyone, I think.

  33. Welcome back! I probably should go about catching up the way you did! Anxiously awaiting your Sarah Waters review... she's on my list & not sure which on to pick up first.

  34. I can't believe you just read Permanent Rose - I just came by the library to pick up Saffy's Angel! I was suddenly possessed with the urge to reread this and Indigo's Star (and then read the latest Permanent Rose, of course) so I requested Saffy just the other day. I must have picked up on your Hilary McKay vibes :)

  35. Glad to see you back, Ana! You did a good job of covering so many books in one post!

    I always thought it's better to read the Wimsey books in order -- you get to see him grow and evolve over time -- from bachelor to married man, for one thing.

  36. Kathy: I read a lot more than I expected to in September, what with the move and everything. But then again, most of these were pretty short :P

    Alice: My rambling is now up ;)

    Beth: I loved your review of Bog Child! I'd temporarily forgotten you'd reviewed it, but I went to read it again and you said everything I wanted to.

    Lightheaded: He said it was the last one, but he might change his mind :P

    Vivienne: You need to read them both, as I really think you'd love them!

    Stephanie, you're far too kind! About Squirrel Machine, yeah, I wouldn't recommend it for that age :P But I saw you got it from the library, so you probably saw that for yourself by now. I can't wait to read your thoughts!

    Amanda: I have no idea what the deal with the pictures is, but just to be safe I've started uploading them onto blogger itself and not a third-party site. I hope that solves the problem!

    Sibylle, you're welcome! I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

    Claire: Someone else, though the characters who are normally preceded with the adjective "wee" never fail to make me happy :D This is a character from the very early days of Discworld who hadn't been heard of in a long, long time!

    Becky: Heaney has been on my to-read list for ages. I must get to him sometime soon! And I really hope you'll enjoy Bog Child!

    Darren: Yep :P

    Gavin: I'd love to hear your thoughts on that one! It's such a strange book - which only makes me want to discuss it with others more.

    Mee: Argh, I'm so sorry about the pictures thing! I'd guess it was a problem with Photobucket, but it's bizarre that the sidebar imagines so show, as they're also hosted there. Just in case, though, I'll start uploading pictures onto blogger itself. Hopefully that will solve the issue.

    Memory: Yes! They definitely will. Oh, I so hope you love them.

    Chris: I assume you haven't had much reading time lately? Sorry about that, Chris :\ It's about to get really busy for me as well...sigh.

    Zibilee: I guess I should try it more often then? :P

    Melody: Aw - thank you and likewise :D

    Iliana: And I can't wait for your review!

    Sheila: Thank you so much!

    Verity: That makes me really reluctant to try Keane again, as it really doesn't seem that it was just me!

    Joanna: You're most welcome :P As for the collage, I normally do it in Word: I copy the individual book covers, resize them, align them together, and then do a print screen and crop the imagine. Nothing very fancy, but it serves its purpose :P

    Elisabeth: I'd recommend Fingersmith as the one to start with, but really, it's hard to go wrong with her.

    Emily: yay for Hilary McKay! I currently have Caddy Everafter reserved at the library. I can't get enough of her!

    Valerie: I guess we'll agree to disagree on the Wimsey books :P To be honest I still haven't read them all, so I might well change my mind, but I know Sayers wouldn't have captured my heart the way she did if I hadn't started with Strong Poison. And if I had stuck to publication order, who knows when I'd get to that (AND to Gaudy Night)? I can definitely see your point, though, and I bet that re-reading them in order some day will be a lot of fun.

  37. I really, really, really want to read I Shall Wear Midnight, but I've listened to the other three Tiffany Aching books, and Stephen Briggs is absolutely *brilliant* reading them, but (as far as I can tell) there is no audio version of the new one out yet, or even coming out anytime soon, and I hate changing formats mid-series. Arrgh! Booo!


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