iWoz – Steve Wozniak, Gina Smith: I really enjoyed this. I think it was mostly the voice – it was written based on taped interviews, and that shows in many little verbal tics and idiosyncracies that made the memoir endearing as well as interesting. I’d quite like to hear Steve Wozniak speak one day.
Teen Idol – Meg Cabot: I didn’t mean to sound like I was Cabot-bashing last month. I don’t mind her, and this book hit all the things that I really like about her books – the voice that was catchy without being annoying, the highschool-is-hell set-up, the nice person learning to be better (if not as “nice”), a few subverted expectations. Over-the-top and sweet and fun with one of my favourite forcible-makeover scenes (she does do these well).
Size 14 is not Fat Either – Meg Cabot: Light, fluffy, the voice got a bit irritating at times. I wanted the protagonist to take control a bit more, like in Teen Idol.
Underfoot in Show Business – Helene Hanff: So much fun – the story of how Helene Hanff didn’t become the next Noel Coward. New York and Broadway and playwriting and creative retreats and hand-to-mouth artistic existences and the beginning of television and a bad experience with Lord of the Rings.
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens: The BBC miniseries of this is my favourite BBC miniseries, so I did know the outlines of the story going in (sometimes this helps). This book is now my favourite Dickens to date. So rich and complex and interwoven, so funny and sad and beautiful, it is difficult to pick a plot to call the main one. The mysterious character of the kindly but shadowy Rokesmith? The rise of the dustman and his wife, come to an unexpected fortune? The predicament of beautiful, poor, grasping Bella, willed to a man who died before she met him. The moral quandaries of the lovelorn taxidermist drawn into a web of deceit by a scheming ballad seller whose amputated leg he bought? Strong, capable Lizzie, who saves her brother and cannot save her father and must keep saving herself? The myriad of smaller backstories? Is it the loves – dangerous, sweet, murderous, unfaltering? The friendships – of the pawnbroker with the dolls-dressmaker and the factory worker, of Bella with her father, of the Boffins for all those less fortunate than them? The hatred and the paths paved by the love of money, or the paths shaped by the river? I love the book for all of these, for the mistakes and misteps and hard decisions, for the repeated references to Little Red Riding Hood, for the unexpected physicality of relationships, for the dear humanity of clerks in dingy offices, for the heroines who cannot wait by their lover’s sickbed because they have to go to work at the factory, for the descriptions of shops and of rusting chains, for the girl who rescues a victim of violence and carries him to safety, for the sharp tongue of the dressmaker and the many buttons of the false foreman, for the comeuppances and the happy endings, and the bittersweet ones.
Once on a time – A. A. Milne: A short fairy-tale novel. Oh, read this if only for that wonderful, terrible woman, the Countess Belvane. And the army of Amazon(s) marching round and round a tree. And the recommendation that poets wear green when the muse is upon them (as inspiration or warning). And the conclusion that the Gladstone bag has killed romance. But mostly for Belvane, that enchanting, scheming villainess, who keeps a diary and in it writes sadly that today, she became bad.
I can’t believe that you got me interested in reading a Dickens book. You must promise to use your powers only for good, not evil.
But that is good!
It does take a degree of patience, to stick with the story as it twists and turns and know it will pay off, so if you are concerned to know there is a story in there, I can recommend the BBC miniseries as a gateway drug. Also, it has Paul McGann in it.
What an extraordinarily powerful review of Our Mutual Friend! I have seen the BBC series and heard you talk about it, but… you can *write*!
You are very kind, but the book prompted it and deserves to be read!
I join the chorus of admiration for the way you make we want to try Dickens again!
The Hanff sounds lovely too. Have added it to list.
I just reviewed a memoir that you might enjoy – lots of quirky details about life in rural England in the late nineteenth century.
Oh, thanks emmaco! I am glad, and recommend it. I always go into Dickens with a prejudice and come out going, “Why do I *always* forget his stories are good and end properly?”.
And yes, the Hanff is charming and not at all sorry for itself, and very short.
I will check out your review – for some reason my RSS feed isn’t registering livejournal posts so I keep falling behind.
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