June books

Jul. 8th, 2016 12:56 pm
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
[personal profile] ladyofastolat
I've failed badly in my resolution to write reviews of everything I read in 2016. Blame holidays, which got me out of the habit.

For several weeks, from late May to the middle of June, I was reading through Dorothy L Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels. I did so in a fairly random order, the first book (Murder Must Advertise) being chosen for me out of thousands of possibles by a series of die rolls. From a random beginning, it seemed fitting to carry on in a random order, so I went to Strong Poison, which I liked, and Gaudy Night, which I liked a lot. I'd read one or two of the series some years ago, but I found them too lacking in emotion for my taste at the time. I don't know why I reacted better to them this time. Perhaps I was just in a different mood. Perhaps it was because Gaudy Night gave me an emotional way in, being a lot more focused on such things than some of the other books. I do often struggle to warm to a main character until I've seen them through other people's eyes, which is why I often find first person narration unengaging. But, anyway, whatever the reason, I read my way - in a fairly eccentric order - through most of the novels, and then went on holiday to Wales, where I got waylaid by King Arthur, so moved on without quite completing my reading of the series.

At some point during my reading of that series, I paused to read The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon - a brief YA retelling of Norse mythology, from before the building of Asgard all the way through the Ragnarok and beyond, all told in the first person by Hel. The voice is that of a modern teenage girl, informal, colloquial and very angry. It's had some rave reviews, but I just found it grim, depressing and unengaging.

I also read Ferguson's Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters, by Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck. Ferguson's Gang were a mysterious group of people who raised money for the National Trust in the 1930s, and presented it masked, in a variety of dramatic and headline-grabbing ways. This was in the early days of the National Trust's involvement in preserving buildings, and Ferguson's Gang arranged and funded their purchase of several small buildings across the country, including Newtown Town Hall on the Isle of Wight. I spent ages one day in Newtown Town Hall reading the facsimile of "The Boo," their minute book. All the members took on assumed names and personas, and The Boo is full of jokes, jollity and japes; it reminded me quite a lot of the minute book of various student societies I was involved in, full of digressions and in-jokes. All the members were women graduates in their 20s, from a variety of backgrounds, so it fitted in quite nicely with my reading of Gaudy Night. One of the authors of the book is the granddaughter of "The Arthichoke," the gang's tame architect, who raised his family in one of the buildings the Gang preserved. The book tells the story of the Gang and of the real people behind the pseudonyms, many of whom had colourful lives, and I found it extremely interesting and readable.

While in Wales, I read the Four Branches of the Mabinogion (Penguin Classics edition) and meant to carry on, but reached the bit when Culhwch spends 6 pages listing every single one of Arthur's warriors, and laid it down for a while, weary. I misaimed on picking it up again, so ended up dipping in and out of Gerald of Wales instead, both his tour of Wales and his description of Wales. I do like Gerald, with his shameless bias towards his own birthplace and family's lands, his ability to go off on long tangents about the habits of beavers, and the way he misses no opportunity to plug his latest book or have a dig at Geoffrey of Monmouth. (Must reread him, too.)

I tried to read the Maginogion sequence of novels by Evangeline Walton, but really didn't take to them at all, so gave up very early.

Since getting back from Wales, I've been obsessing on Arthurian legend, but I did take a brief break from it to read Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay - one of the few children's book authors who gets me to read out of my usual favourite genres. I particularly love her Exiles series - humorous mini-misadventures of a family of four book-obsessed sisters - but I'm enjoying this current series, too, of which this is the third. Set in a small Cornish village, it deals with 12 year old Binnie, her family and her various nemeses - she always seems to have a nemesis. There are no massive dramas and no heavy-handed Issues. It's just the small dramas of daily life, with nice characters, lots of humour and some lovely turns of phrase.

Date: 2016-07-08 01:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] louisedennis.livejournal.com
I seem to recall from when I had a Wimsey binge in my teens (having enjoyed the TV dramatisations of Strong Poison, Have his Carcase and Gaudy Night) that I felt there was a notable up-tick in their quality somewhere around the "Have his Carcase" point. The earlier novels (with the possible exception of Clouds of Witness) but including, sadly, Strong Poison, all feel a bit mechanical and by the numbers, whereas Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night are all excellent. Busman's Honeymoon gets a pass for having started out as a play and actually being quite funny in places.

Date: 2016-07-09 09:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wellinghall.livejournal.com
I have seen the mid-30s film of the play of BH. It's very ... stagey.

Date: 2016-07-08 01:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] philmophlegm.livejournal.com
One day I'll run an epic Arthurian RPG campaign, maybe The Great Pendragon Campaign.

Date: 2016-07-08 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] siglinde99.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed the Lord Peter Wimsey books the last time I read some. I found them a bit strange at first, but suddenly fell in love and started tracking down copies for myself. You tempt me to go back for another read, but I have been trying to read all the books I have never read before, and those getting "one last read" before I give them away. I still have about a year's worth, unfortunately.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Date: 2016-07-17 09:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] phina-v.livejournal.com
The Hilary McKay books sound great. Fiorella has really taken to reading (hurray!) so I'm looking for authors she can read that will be challenging but not disturbing or just involve themes she can't/shouldn't deal with yet. I've ordered some Lulu books for her fifth birthday.

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