L-Space Strikes Again...

You may remember The Case of the Missing Pratchett Book and The Case of the Karate Library, well The Delightful Mr F has, once again, been truly Delightful. The Folio Society have published a beautiful edition of Mort by Terry Pratchett, and alongside the normal version, there is a limited edition of just 500, which has now sold out. 

Today I was feeling a little bit worn out, and lo, what should appear on the Pratchett book case?... These appeared... I had no idea, and then there they were, wrapped up, and standing in line with all the other books. 

Top: Limited Edition. Bottom: Normal Edition

Top: Limited Edition. Bottom: Normal Edition

Yes, not only had he bought me the normal edition, he had got his mitts on a limited edition one too. So I now own No. 401*.

Limited Edition front plate

Limited Edition front plate

They are both utterly beautiful. The standard edition has a suede cover with stunning artwork on the slip case. The limited edition feels as though it has come straight out of DEATH's library, with a leather cover and gold edged pages, just as it is described in the novel. 

Normal Edition Slipcase and Cover

Normal Edition Slipcase and Cover

Both books have equally fantastic artwork, and I particularly like this one of DEATH in a bar. 

DEATH has cocktail

DEATH has cocktail

You all know how much I love books, but these two made me go slightly weak at the knees. I had to have a sit down (and a read). 

* The Delightful Mr F's delightfulness knows no bounds. He's a keeper, that's for sure. 

The Subprimes by Karl Taro Greenfield

The title refers to a group of people who have become homeless after the subprime mortgage scandal in the US. Set in the near future (close enough to feel horribly real), they travel from city to city looking for ad hoc work and trying to stay out of the “debt rehabilitation centres”.  In this world, the minimum wage has been abolished, as has renewable energy and the world is totally governed by big business which is full of even bigger bullies. Unless your credit score stacks up, your life is meaningless. The masses are entertained with manipulated reality television, where everyone needs a “story”, and the bankers are up to their old tricks with risky investments such as the Carbon Credit Credit Default Swap Swap Swap.

The plot follows a series of characters, including the charismatic Sargam, a motorcycle riding Subprime hellbent on helping her fellow Subprimes find some peace at last. She helps build a small, but successful self-sufficient community in an abandoned housing estate in the desert.

Whilst Sargam and her friends are busy trying to make a life for herself we meet Richie, a failed writer, a very dodgy Pastor and shamed investment banker. Eventually their paths collide in a stand-off which is messy and confused, and feels exactly right.

There were some aspects of the ending which didn’t sit quite right with me, but nevertheless, it is a very thought provoking novel. It is easy to think “this will never happen”, but there were passages that stopped me dead, and made me cringe. We are, in some aspects already in the mire. 

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

We are back with Poirot once more, alas, Hastings is not with him this time. Poor old Poirot is not having a good day. He has to visit the dentist, which is something he does not relish. Having survived the encounter, he is rather surprised when his old chum Chief Inspector Japp calls and tells him that his dentist is dead. At some point between Poirot leaving the surgery and a couple more patients Mr Morley becomes so disillusioned with dentistry he decides enough is enough and shoots himself.

It all looks very clear cut when it transpires that one of the patients that morning was given an overdose of anaesthetic and the conclusion is that in a fit of remorse Mr Morley decided to take himself off to the great waiting room in the sky. Poirot, of course isn’t so sure, and as always he was right. Morley was murdered, but why, and how? It’s a very tricky problem, and one of Christie’s more complex plots. There is espionage, a wealthy millionaire, and a rather do-gooding woman. The actual number of suspects is quite small, but I was guessing up until the end. Actually, to be fair I was still trying to work out exactly what had happened even after Poirot’s summing up. I got there in the end, but I had to mull it over for a while. There are great number of bluffs and double bluffs. It might be as well to have a pen and paper to hand for the final couple of chapters to keep up with what is going on.

It is the first novel which starts to reflect the Second World War with the themes of doing something for the greater good of the country coming through.  I admire Chrsite in trying to reflect the real concerns faced by society in 1940, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - she doesn’t do thriller very well at all. Poirot is wonderful in this, but the plot is hard work. She is much more successful when she sets plots in a more traditional classic crime settingsuch as big houses and English villages and lets the impact of war take their toll at that level rather than worrying about state secrets. The impact of war is no less pronounced, but her handling of it is much, much better.

So, not one of my favourites, but it is Evil Under the Sun next, which I am very much looking forward to.

 

Meadowland by John Lewis-Semple

The sun is out! And not just a weedy, hiding behind the clouds type of sun, but a full on, sun glasses required, knitwear shedding sun. This has meant that the Fennell Towers kitchen garden is springing into life, carefully tended by the Delightful Mr F. At the end of the garden we have a little meadow, and I love seeing how this changes through the seasons. So, what better book to pick up just now than Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field?

It is a truly glorious book. John Lewis-Semple owns a farm on the boarders of Herefordshire and Wales and he follows the ebb and flow of the seasons in a diary format, with a chapter for each month of the year.  I love the countryside and natural history, and my Reader’s Digest Book of British Mammals is one of my treasured childhood books. This isn’t your traditional, natural history book though. It doesn’t have photos and advice on how to tell your Dunnock from your Sparrow. It is a book about one man and his relationship with the land he tends.

The detailed observations of the flora and fauna which live and die in his field are beautiful, if sometimes rather graphic. Nobody can accuse Lewis-Semple of glossing over the more violent side of Mother Nature. The narrative is carefully constructed and the effect is for the reader to truly understand the lifecycle and ecosystem in just this one field. He writes about the countryside with a passion and poetic subtly entwined with references to history and literature. It is littered with interesting facts, and on almost every page I was looking up and informing The Delightful Mr F of a new nugget of information. Did you know that some flies can lay their eggs in cow pats before they have even hit the ground? Me neither.

The writing is beautiful, Lewis-Semple has a wonderful turn of phrase, coupled with an eye for detail, the patience of someone who tends the land, and a real respect for all the residents of the field. From the flowers and insects through to the voles, hedgehogs, owls and his own cattle. Much of what I have read will stay with me, but one phrase in particular, which I have long thought myself, but could never have put so eloquently:

“A lawn, when you come to think of it, is nothing but a meadow in captivity”*

Read this in the sunshine and then go out and do something to help support out beautiful British wildlife. You won’t be able to help yourself.

 

*I really dislike lawn, I don’t see it does anything for nature at all, especially when sprayed with weed killer. And don’t get me started on artificial turf…

Reading Spa No. 8 (or possibly 9)...

The Delightful Mr F, as long time readers will know, is delightful in many a way, but he has a particular knack with present buying. His complete understanding and appreciation of my book addiction knows no bounds, and he happily supports my literary cravings by giving me Mr B's Reading Spas at least once per year. I have lost count on how many I have had*, but it doesn't matter, each one is as different as the last, and all are marvellous. 

The Delightful Mr F and I pottered up the M4 in good time last Friday to have a pre-reading spa breakfast at Rosarios. After a little wander around the town we headed back to Mr B's where The Delightful Mr F left me with in the capable hands of Ed. My favourite part of the spa is talking with one of the Mr B's team about what I have read, what they have read, the latest books, recent discoveries and new favourites. Due to The Important Things, I hadn't read as much as I normally have by this point in the year, nevertheless we had a good chat about The Vegetarian by Han KangStoner by John Williams (more of that later) and the rather dark nature of my recent reading**. I was then left with a few books to look at, and a very nice chocolate brownie as Ed headed off to find me some more reading material. 

I hadn't asked for anything in particular, and Ed bought back a lovely eclectic mix of dark, unusual, feel good and classic books for me to choose from. I bought the lot***.  So here they are, have you read any of these?

Books from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

Books from Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

You can find them on the Mr B's webshop if you fancy getting copies yourself, and of course they will be reviewed here in due course. I'm particularly looking forward to The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage which Ed tells me is better than Stoner. Better?! Well that's a lot to live up to.  City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is one I would never have looked at on my own, and I have a feeling my open up a whole new genre for me to explore. 

A Reading Spa at Mr B's is one of life's pleasures as far as I am concerned, and so, see if you can get yourself down to Bath for a natter with one of Team B. Your book joy will spilleth over.  

 

* Mr B - do you know? Is it 8 or 9?

** Not dark for a reason, they were just short books and I couldn't face anything longer than about 200 pages. 

*** I always do, I have no willpower, and a strong husband to help me carry them back to the car. 

 

I'm Back and I'm Blogging!

I’m back and I’m blogging! Yes, the Important Things which have been taking up so much time have finished for the time being, and so I have returned to the blogosphere charged up and ready to go. Heaven help you all.

As you may recall, the Important Things, have taken up a lot of time, and sapped me of all my reading energy. My reading mojo is never away for very long though. Yesterday I had a little surf on the interwebs and discovered lots of lovely books to add to the “would like to read” list.  

Next week I am off to Mr B’s for Reading Spa No.8* which The Delightful Mr F bought for me, because he is delightful. I should have some lovely new books to bury my nose in and literary balance will be restored.

So, as I have been out of the literary loop since before Christmas, hit me with your recent reads, which you would recommend?

Happy reading!

 

 

*I think it is number 8, it might be 9. Either way I’m a happy bunny

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

So here we are, we have arrived at one of Christie’s most famous and arguably best mysteries. There was a marvellous adaptation on the BBC at Christmas, which if you haven’t seen, is well worth the watch.

The set-up for this book is ingenious. 12 people are invited, for various reasons, to an island off the coast of Devon. On arrival, their host is nowhere to be seen, and the weather closes in, leaving them stranded. At dinner on the first evening a disembodied voice, which turns out to be a record playing in the next room, accuses them all of getting away with murder.  One by one, each of them is murdered… until then there none.

As the bodies pile up, the remaining guests  search for the killer on the island, until they come to the conclusion that it must be one of the party. Then the paranoia, accusations and fear really kick in. All semblance of good manners, and standards go out the window as they refuse to eat food the others have prepared and lock their doors at night.  The unravelling of the English ladies and gentlemen, normally so formal, is fabulous.

The resolution is fantastic too, the reasons the killer had for murdering all these people strike me as rather contemporary, and ahead of its time. It is all rather marvellous as a crime story goes. Great characters, atmospheric weather, a high body count, and a cold, clever and calculating murderer.

I honestly didn't think it was possible...

... that I would read myself out. I honestly can't bring myself to read another word. "Where is Helen, and what have you done with her? ",  I hear you cry.  Dear readers,  a great calamity has befallen me. You may have noticed it has been somewhat quiet around here since the beginning of the year, with just the odd review materialising every so often. The sad fact is that I have been working on other Things, very Important Things*, which needed my undivided attention. The upshot is that I have had to rely on posts I had written some time ago and put on the "in case of emergency" shelf in the blogging cupboard. I have been raiding this shelf on a regular basis and blowing off bits of fluff and dust from these reviews and posting them on here as and when I have had a moment. 

These Important Things have required me to read and read and read. In fact I have read over 1000 pages of text, three times since the start of January, and frankly I can't read another word. The text wasn't even a good story, just technical stuff, with really small typeface and bad formatting.  It is now Easter Sunday, prime reading time, but frankly the thought of running my eyes across the page is causing some distress. 

The good news is that the Important Things will all be done and dusted in a couple of weeks, when I hope that my reading muscles will be back in full force and  I can once more pick up my To Be Read pile and make some headway.  Perhaps a visit to Mr B's would help?

Do Important Things get in the way of your reading and have you ever read yourself out completely?

*Note the capital letters, that shows just how Important these Things are

Stoner by John Williams

This novel was proposed as a potential read at the book club I go to, I had read it before and had a copy. After a frustrating search for it* I settled down to read. Readers, I was transfixed. The note on the front of the copy I have says “The best novel you’ve never read”. And that about sums it up.

It is really a book about an everyman. Set in the US over the lifetime of the main character, Stoner leaves his parent’s farm to go to University. There he discovers a love of English Literature and goes on to gain a PhD. World War I passes him by as he settles into a teaching post at the university he studied at. It is an odd book in that nothing really happens, but everything happens. Stoner has an average career, marries, has a little girl, his marriage hits problems, and he deals with office politics. This is not the tale of a remarkable life, or a man swept up in a great adventure, it is the story of the problems all of us face.

The prose has very little dialogue in it, which is something that doesn’t always sit well with me, but in this instance was absolutely right. The reader is the observer of Stoner’s thoughts and feelings as he stumbles his way through each day. I particularly liked the descriptions of the interactions between the university staff members, as the try to out manoeuvre each other.

The book left a lasting impression on me, I wondered why things had happened to Stoner, and could he have changed things if he had wanted. It’s a fabulous read and I would happily read it for a third time. If you want an intelligent, beautifully written book following a very human character we can all relate to on some level, then this is the one for you.

 

*I eventually discovered it on a random bookshelf, far away from where I originally thought it should be. Why is that? I am sure books move on their own.

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

I will admit that I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover. Isn't it stunning? The wonderful discovery I made is that the novel which sits inside that wonderful artwork is just as brilliant. 

Set during the Second World War we first meet James, a young officer who finds himself in a German prisoner of war camp. To try to insulate himself from the horrors he starts a study of the family of red starts, small birds, which have nested just outside the fence line of the camp.

Back in the UK Jame's wife, Rose finds herself alone while her husband of just a few months in the camp. She embarks on an affair with another young soldier who quickly also heads off to war. Meanwhile Enid, Jame's sister is bombed out of her flat in London and decides to ask Rose if she can move in with her. 

As we follow James, Rose and Enid through the war and into peace time the theme of nature goes with them. Each of them retreats to the natural world around them. I am a great believer in the power of nature on wellbeing and this aspect of the book really connected with me. 

James, Rose and Enid go through the mill one way and another, and their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the situation they find themselves in feel totally authentic. This is a beautiful and subtle tale of how people cope in difficult times against a backdrop of stunning descriptions of the natural world. 

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah

This is a lovely collection of creepy ghost stories, which I read during a howling gale in a remote cottage in Devon when The Delightful Mr F and I were last on holiday. The climatic conditions contributed to my being quite considerably spooked. 

The stories are unnerving, mainly because the set-ups are so mundane. The description of a children's birthday part had me laughing at the stress of the host's parents as they try to stop crips being trodden into the expensive Axminster. My smiles disappeared pretty quickly as it becomes clear that one little boy hasn't been collected by his parents. 

Another story sees a young Mum at the school gates struggling with the politics of the school Mum clique, it doesn't end well. 

Add to those two stories, the mystery as to why a new boyfriend is so desperate for his date to sign his visitors book and why someone in a post office queue appears to be dead, and you have a great set of plot twists. 

May I recommend renting a cottage somewhere remote during a storm to get the full effect?

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

I read The Great Gatsby a very, very long time ago and so when I saw it in the library during a jaunt around the fiction section, I thought it deserved a re-read. 

I always forget just how short this book is, more of a novella really. For those who don't know the story, it is narrated by Nick Carraway over the summer of 1922 in Long Island. Newly back from fighting in Word War I he moves to the town of West Egg, to a small house next door to the insanely wealthy Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby is known for his extravagant parties where the rich and beautiful gather. 

Nick's cousin Daisy lives in East Egg with her husband, who is having an affair with the wife of a mechanic near New York City. It all gets rather tangled when it transpires that Gatsby is an old flame of Daisy's and is still hopelessly in love with her. I won't got on to spoil what happens next, but the reader can see where it is all headed.

A little research on the book has shown there are many interpretations of what the plot means, from the excesses of the super rich to the folly of youth and the destruction of the class system. I'm not one to pontificate on these matters, particularly when there are more learned people out there doing just that, and far more eloquently than I ever could. Suffice to say, it's a great read, beautifully plotted with very real characters and a storyline which will ring very true. 

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I am rather embarrassed to admit this, but I have never read this book. I have seen lots of TV adaptations, lets not linger on the recent ITV series, but never actually read the book. So as I was wandering through the library the other day, I saw it on the shelf and thought I’d give it a whirl.  It is much shorter than I expected, more of a novella, and it is far darker, more creepy and thoroughly more horrifying too.

The story focuses on Mr Utterson, Dr Jeckyll’s friend and lawyer who is concerned over his pal’s odd behavior and instance that if he disappears his estate is to be left to Mr Hyde.  Mr Hyde, is of course Dr Jeckyll’s alter ego after he takes a potion developed in his lab. Mr Hyde is reputed to give everyone who claps eyes on him quite a turn, seeming to be the embodiment of evil.

The idea that a person has both good and evil inside them is synonymous with this famous book, and even though I knew the story I was still gripped. It goes a long at a terrific pace, with scenes of a dark Victorian London, and the ever present possibility that the evil Hyde will do something monstrous. Marvellous, marvelous stuff. 

If you like lists...

...here is a nice freebie from Penguin. They have produced some free downloads for keeping a record of your reading. There are several designs, all different, but i rather liked the one below. They would be great to print out and keep in a binder as a record of what you have read. I do keep a reading journal, and I have a special reading journal project which is taking shape. I'll share it once it is in a fit state to be seen by anyone other than me!

Do any of you keep a reading journal? 

Kettlebell Challenge - 2000 Swings Complete!

This morning, bright and early, and I mean early*, The Delightful Mr F and I were in the garage doing our kettlebell training. I have progressed a lot since I started on January 1st. I am now swinging a 16kg bell, for 10 reps per minute for 10 minutes. More importantly, today saw me reach 2000 swings, which means I am 20% of my way through my challenge. It is all rather pleasing. 

I have to admit that this morning's session felt hard. After a very long, but lovely day out yesterday, my legs were not operating quite at their peak performance. The key with weight training is that as long as you can keep good form, you will be OK. So despite my tired muscles at minute 2, I pressed on whilst The Delightful Mr F kept watch to ensure I didn't end up getting scrappy with my kettlebell swing technique.

I made it to the end dear readers, but I don't mind admitting it was a struggle. It did however give me a good excuse to have a lazy day. Recovery you know, is just as important as training.  

 

*7am dear readers, 7am! On a Sunday morning!

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Yeong-hye has a dream, and the following morning becomes a vegetarian, much to her husband’s disgust. From that point forward Yeong-hye starts to fade from herself, her refusal to eat any living thing results in mental and physical decline.

I am going to struggle to explain this book to you, dear readers, but I’ll have a go, and if you don’t read any more of this blog post, then just read this: Get a copy of this book, read it and be amazed.

The story is told in three parts. Yeong-hye’s husband, a frankly horrible man who works in an ordinary job in an office and is shocked at his wife’s change, narrates the first section of the book. Rather than try and understand and help her, he leaves her. Admittedly, She is firmly committed to her newfound lifestyle, but she doesn’t explain why.

The second part focuses on Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, an artist, who becomes obsessed with her. In the final section we see her older sister trying to help Yeong-hye, who by now is fading, she isn’t eating and is in mental health facility.

We hear very little from Yeong-hye herself, other than some short paragraphs detailing her thoughts, which range the mundane to the bizarre.

Taking the story on face value, it is a sad account of how a young woman for reasons known only to her, starves herself and succumbs to an eating disorder. I am not going to claim I know what the underlying meaning of the book is, although it feels to me to be a parable. Once I read it, and looked back on it, I could see multiple layers fluttering within it, but all of them quite hard to grasp. It is haunting, and violent, and made me question free will, the right to die, families and personal principles.

The language is rich, shocking and colourful, and I suspect that each person who reads it will take something different from it. I will re-read this, perhaps next year to see if my interpretations are different. I have a feeling that this is one of those books which impacts you in vastly different ways depending on when you read it. 

10,000 Kettlbell Swing Challenge...

Remember  this? Well, I started on the 1st January 2016, and yesterday I completed my 1000th swing. The delightful Mr F counted my last set for me with a flourish... 998, 999, 1000! So, 1000 down, 9000 to go. Somehow I feel much better about this now I am in four figure territory. 

I am quite impressed with myself in that I have managed to train so consistently.  I haven't missed a session since I started, training three times per week. And I have to say, I feel jolly good on it. I am feeling stronger and generally more chirpy. 

We train in our garage which the Delightful Mr F as set up as a dojo/gym. My only moan is that when it is cold the kettlebell handles, which are metal, are freezing, and they chill my little hands to the bone*. 

Under the guidance of The Delightful Mr F, I am doing on the minute training, the 16kg kettlebell being my weapon of choice.  At the start of the minute I complete one set, and then I get the balance of the minute to rest, before the start of the next minute rolls around and I do another set. I started at 6 reps per minute for 10 minutes, and am now at 9 reps per minute. I'll work up to 10 reps per minute for 15 minutes, and then move up a kettlebell size, drop the reps back down and start working back up again. It is all terribly satisfying, and being me of course, I have a spreadsheet to collate the data. I am pleased to report that so far, my 1000 swings mean I have moved 16 tonnes worth of weight. 

So there we have it, not a bad start at all, and all being well I shall be able to keep this up until I hit 10,000 and then the habit of training three times per week will be well and truly ingrained*. 

 

* I'm such a wimp. The Delightful Mr F will often do his training first to warm the handles up for me. He's such a gentleman. 

* And with any luck I will have a body like a warrior goddess. Or possibly not. We'll see. I will at least have swapped some flab for muscle. 

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie

This is another Christie that starts on a train. Newly returned from overseas, former policeman Luke shares a carriage with an old lady called Lavinia Pinkerton who announces she is off to Scotland Yard to report that there is a serial killer on the loose in her quiet English village. Luke puts her down as a batty old woman, but starts to change his mind when she is killed in a hit and run before she makes it to Scotland Yard.

Intrigued by the series of murders Lavinia clams have been committed he heads off to the village for a spot of undercover detective work. There he meets a wonderful cast of villagers, and it appears that Lavinia might well have been on to something, a lot of people have died in odd ways.

This is the funniest Christie I have read in my challenge so far.  The conversations between the characters are hilarious. They are full of that restrained level of insult English people can trade when they don’t want to be outright rude, but need to make a point.  I read parts out to The Delightful Mr F, and we were both in fits of laughter.

The mystery of who is bumping people off, is extremely satisfying, and quite unusual a motive for Christie, it is actually quite sinister and somewhat gothic which sets off the laugh out loud moments perfectly. I think this might be my new favourite. 

Reader's Reads #13: Richard Staples

Of late I have become an obsessive listener to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Clever, famous (not necessarily the same thing) and interesting people are interviewed and asked to choose eight records they would like to have with them on a desert island. I wanted to get to know some of my readers a little better, so thought it would be fun to feature readers and their favourite reads. This spawned the rather natty, although probably not originally named "Reader's Reads".

If you would like to be featured, please contact me via the email button (bottom left of the main page) and I'll email out the bits and pieces to you. 

Each reader has a comfy seat, anywhere in the world, real or imaginary, a beverage and snack of their choice and a bookcase which will only hold eight books. 

Today we have Richard, the bold founder of our local book group, his patience in putting up with my ever increasingly bizarre suggestions for book club reads is endless. Over to you Richard!

Beverage of choice: Kir -  For me, drinks go hand in hand with places and settings, and what might be a perfect marriage in one setting could easily be a nightmare combination in another.  My drink of choice has therefore largely been dictated by the location of my comfy chair and bookshelf.  If the chair were to be in an English garden on a summer’s afternoon, then I would have to go for a pot of tea or maybe a Pimms.  Similarly, if it were to be by the fireside on a winter’s evening in a Scottish castle, then a single malt would be the obvious choice.   As it is, Kir is the perfect fit for where I would like my chair to be, bringing back many happy memories of time spent in the brilliant southern French sunshine. 

Snack of choice:  A bowl of ‘posh’ crisps -  Whilst I can take chocolate or leave it, I am a complete sucker for salty, savoury snacks.  A bowl of Kettle chips or similar at my side would be the ideal accompaniment to my Kir and chosen reading material!

Location of comfy chair and bookshelf:  On the terrace of a villa, overlooking the sea in the South of France -  I have a mental image of my dream home, which is on a hill in the south of France, overlooking the Mediterranean.  The sun is blazing in a cloudless sky, and my deckchair has been judiciously placed in the shade of an umbrella on the terrace, giving an unbroken view over the sparkling sea.  The chilled Kir and the crisps are waiting for me on a small table beside the chair, along with the stack of books and the much needed hat and sunglasses.  Perfect.

The one which kick started your reading habit:  Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

One day when I was six years old, my dad came home from work with this book for me, - the first in the Famous Five series.  The book was a total revelation to me, being my first “real” book, with text rather than pictures.  I found the book wildly exciting and very quickly worked my way through the entire series of 21 Famous Five books.  I took great pride in having them all lined up in order on my bedroom shelves.

Although it is now easy to criticise Enid Blyton for painting an outdated and idealistic view of the world, I would defend her skills as a children’s story teller, and for me there is no question that my love of reading was triggered by the Famous Five.

The one which changed your view of the world:  Roots – The Saga of An American Family by Alex Hailey

Having been brought up in a very conventional “middle England” environment, I spent my early life blissfully unaware of many of the terrible injustices which blight the history of what we consider today to be civilised nations   Roots and its sequel Queen gave me a much needed wake-up call in terms of my understanding of the horrors of slavery.  I was a little too young to see the famous 1970s TV adaptation, but the books made a powerful impact on me when I read them in early adulthood.

The one you go back to again and again:  The Collector by John Fowles

If there is one book which I wish I could have written myself, it is this one, - for me it is literary perfection.   Dark and disturbing, and with the interesting technique of presenting the same set of events from the perspective of two protagonists, this short novel contains one of the biggest shock moments I have come across in any book.  The fact that it is John Fowles’ debut novel makes the achievement even more impressive.

The one you comfort read:  Christine by Stephen King

My guilty pleasure is horror or psychological fiction, - possibly a legacy of the James Herbert novels which were furtively passed around between classmates in the fourth form at school!  There are many examples of the genre which I could have picked, but Christine is one which I found particularly unnerving.  The idea of a possessed car sounds ridiculous in the abstract, but works only too well in this case. 

The one which you had an unexpected response to:  Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses was a set text on the curriculum of my degree course.  An epistolary novel made up of letters sent between French aristocrats in the 18th century was never going to have much appeal for a 20 year old British male student in the late 20th century, and I put off reading it again and again.  How wrong can you be?!  The depth of intrigue, sexual tension, sophistication and sheer malice at the heart of this novel is simply breath-taking, and stands comparison with anything that could be written today.  I was utterly gripped when I first read it, and have since gone back to it several times, as well as having seen the stage and film versions.  It is a real pleasure to be able to include in my list of all-time favourites a work which I had initially so easily dismissed.

The one you wish you had time to read:  War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The sheer size of War & Peace, along with some mixed experiences of Russian literature, have meant that I have never had the courage to tackle this.  Everyone I know who has read it says it is brilliant, and I have a permanent ‘note to self’ telling me that I really should grasp the nettle and plough in.  Proust’s In Remembrance of Things Past is very much in the same category. 

The one with sentimental value:  Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A previous partner of mine was a big fan of Thomas Hardy and it is on her recommendation that I read Tess, along with many of the other Hardy novels.  I find the storyline in Tess absolutely heart-breaking, and the novel contains some of the most poignant lines that I can think of.  I am not ashamed to say that this is one which always brings tears to my eyes.  Absolutely beautiful.

The last one you read:  The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is right up there on my list of all-time favourites, and I had mixed feelings when I saw that someone had been commissioned to continue the series after Larsson’s death.  Happily, David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web has met with generally positive reviews, and I completely agree that he has not made a bad fist of it at all.  It was always going to struggle to achieve the heights of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but then what could?!

Thank you Richard! This is a wonderfully diverse list of books, a few of which have ended up on my  "would like to read" list!

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

This is the second book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, confusingly also called The Dark Is Rising and is all part of my The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon.

In this book we leave the Drew siblings, who found the Holy Grail in Over Sea Under Stone, and we join Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son the day before his eleventh birthday. His birthday is the 21st December, Midwinter’s Day, and when he wakes he finds a deep blanket of snow. He also finds that he has left the modern world and outside is the world as it was centuries before.

He goes on to meet Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones of the Light, pitched in an eternal battle with the Dark. Merriman tells Will that he is the Sign Seeker, an Old One, with a special role to play. Will has to collect the six signs, which will make the ring of power, required to help defeat the Dark.

The book is incredibly atmospheric, with Will travelling backwards and forwards through time as the Dark pile on ever more destruction in the modern day. There is never ending snow, bitter cold, and then floods. The village in which Will lives in is set in the Thames valley, and the descriptions are stunning, as is the plotting. The whole story slowly builds momentum until the Dark unleashes the peak of its power on the twelfth night and Will truly starts to understand what being an Old One means.

It all sounds quite full on, and it is, but lovely family scenes break the tension as the Stanton family prepare for Christmas. Seeing Will go from being an ordinary eleven year old boy to an Old One with ancient knowledge is wonderful, and your heart will be in your mouth as he finally faces The Dark. 

PS. Don't judge the book by the film, which was a travesty.