Book of the Week, memoirs, reviews

Book of the Week: Year of the Fat Knight

My final BotW of 2020 continues the Year of Non-fiction, except this is one from the to read bookshelf and not from the library. If you’ve missed my look back at my reading obsessions over the year, you can find them here, and also my best books of the year. Coming up tomorrow, instead of the stats, is my look ahead to some new books coming in 2020. The stats will follow later in the week. Because I’m that good to you. Anyway, to the review.

Year of the Fat Knight on a bookshelf

Ever wondered what it takes to be an actor? Or more particularly if you’ve got what it takes to be an actor? You sort of half think it might be an easy life right? Wrong. Over the course of this book you watch (in your mind’s eye at least) Antony Sher agonise over taking a part, preparing for the part and playing the part. And as you read, you realise all the hidden hard work that goes into crafting a performance, an interpretation of words on paper.

The Fat Knight of the title is Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s iconic creations. But not, as Sher muses, one that The Big Names often play. He muses that there are traditionally two tracks for Shakespearean actors – one leads to King Lear, via Macbeth and Hamlet, and the other to Falstaff (via parts like Bottom) and that never the twain shall meet. But here is Sher – who famously played Richard III as a young man (which Sher also wrote a book about) and who I saw play Macbeth just after the turn of the century* – considering an offer, from his partner no less, to play Falstaff. Illustrated with Sher’s own drawings, it’s fascinating and eye opening and incredibly readable. Sher’s partner is Gregory Doran, a director who at the start of the book is just taking over the helm at the RSC so as well as the musings on Falstaff, you get a peek behind the curtain at the RSC and in the world of theatre generally. The two are named as a power couple in the media in a couple of lists during the book, which perplexes Sher but reminds the reader that there are fairly large stakes here professionally. The production – and Sher’s performance – were a success but that never feels anywhere near certain as you read it.

I raced through this and although I didn’t see the productions of Henry IV Sher is writing about, I have seen a couple of the others that are mentioned in it and have seen some of the other actors in other things which made for an added bonus as a theatre nerd.  I don’t know that you need to be a theatre nerd to enjoy this though – I think you just need to be someone who is interested in process and creation.  If you’ve ever wondered how a production of Shakespeare is put together, whether the actors really understand what they’re saying and how they create a character, this would certainly interest to you.  But if you’re a creator of something else, I think this would be worth a look as well – and you can compare your process in your field to this.  I’m sure you’d get something out of it.

I had this on the shelf – I think it came from a work book sale a year or so ago (it came out in , but you should be able to get hold of a copy fairly easily from a bookshop with a theatre section.  Mine is a hardback, but there is also a paperback edition now. If you want to buy online, may I suggest you go direct to Nick Hern Books, the publisher, where the price is within pennies of that of Amazon as I write this and will undoubtedly benefit them more direct.  They’ve got 20% off everything at the moment – so in one of life’s more predictable moments, I ordered myself Sher’s other two books on acting – the aforementioned Year of the King and his latest, Year of the Mad King about King Lear – when I went to check this out.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

*Gosh that makes me feel old saying that, but although the turn of the century automatically makes me think of the start of the 20th century, we’re far enough into the 21st now that I probably should get used to it.  I saw Macbeth with Sher and Harriet Walter at the Swan in Stratford sometime around 2000 – I still have the poster somewhere, but I’m not getting it out to check!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: December 23 – December 29

I do hope everyone had a good Christmas.  I got a stack of books (see picture) and ate a lot of lovely food.  But as well as Christmas, this was the week that the RWA (Romance Writers of America) set itself on fire (if you missed it, here’s a good timeline of what went down from Clare Ryan – but suffice to say it was such a big deal that the AP wrote an article about it) – so now seems like a good time to remind you about my Diverse Romances, from back in March, which was written because of the RITA nominations drama but has loads of recommendations for good stuff written by interesting people that it seems the RWA doesn’t really care about. Sigh. In actual reading terms, this week I have mostly been reading books from the TBR bookshelf because I have a spread in my bullet journal that I want to complete before the end of the year.

Read:

Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

I Go by Sea, I Go by Land by PL Travers

Design for Living by Noel Coward

The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter by KJ Charles

Trivial Pursuits by Frank Vickery

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

Binny for Short by Hillary McKay

Waiting in the Wings by Noel Coward

Year of the Fat Knight by Antony Sher

Started:

The Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

Still reading:

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

I bought a few books this week – mostly ebooks and preorders supporting various authors caught up in the aforementioned RWA debacle. And obviously there was some incoming from Christmas…

Bonus photo: The Christmas book arrivals (the the tbr bookshelf in the background).

Best of...

Best (new) books of 2019

You may remember my halfway point round up from back in June.  Well here we are at the end of the year and it’s time to decide what my favourite, favourite picks are from the whole year. There are a few things that haven’t changed though as you’ll see.

Mystery Fiction: Death of an Angel by Derek Farrell

No change here, because I haven’t read a new crime novel in the second half of the year that I liked more than Death of an Angel. I continue to love Derek Farrell’s creation – this is not the first time he’s appeared in a best books of the year post – and I’ve got a Danny Bird short story waiting for me to read because Fahrenheit Press have got Death of a Sinner in a special edition with Jo Perry’s Everything Happens and I have been saving it for a Christmas treat.

Honourable mention (also no change!): Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

Contemporary romance: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

The first change from the half year list. Evvie Drake Starts Over was just perfect for me.  I could have spent hours longer with Evvie and Dean, just watching them go about their lives.  I’ve spoken a lot about the fact that I miss the romantic fiction of the early 00s – where people fix themselves at get love as a bonus, and this is the best example of that that I’ve read this year. The the characters are great – their lives are messy and imperfect just like real people – and the romance is wonderful.  I have the paperback pre-ordered, so that I can read it again, lend it out and keep it on the bookshelf.

Honourable mention: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (my pick at the halfway point)

Historical Romance: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Another change. And I thought about it a lot because I do love A Duke in Disguise, but Hattie from Brazen and the Beast, was the heroine I needed this year. She knows exactly what she wants from her life, she’s got a plan for how she’s going to get it – and she doesn’t want it it if she’s only getting it as a gift from someone else. My kind of girl.  Also a bit of a theme in my reading.  As I mentioned in my 2019 obsessions post, I’ve had trouble with historical romance this year.  There are a lot less of them on the list than usual and some authors who have dependably put out novels that I love have let me down.  But Sarah MacLean didn’t let me down – this was exactly what I wanted at this point in time.

Honourable mention: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Literary Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

No change from the halfway point mostly because this easily my most recommended book of the year.  Daisy is a force of nature, the story is so clever and not a manic pixie dream girl in sight. Daisy is smart and clever and not afraid of saying that she had a plan and she did the work – it wasn’t just handed to her.  There have been other books that I’ve liked a lot – including The Starless Sea just a week or two back but I have found myself coming back to this all year: I read it in March, I’ve listened to it on audiobook as well now and I still think it’s brilliant.  I’m a bit nervous about the TV adaptation, because I don’t know how you can make it work – how do you create the music and make it feel believable?  The paperback is out in the UK on January 9 – I haven’t pre-ordered it, because I already have a (signed) hardback. So all I can do is hope that there won’t be too long a wait for the next novel from Jenkins Reid.

Honourable mention: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Bonus: Foyles and Waterstones have the hardback half price in their sale at the moment)

Non-fiction: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

At the halfway point, this was called non-fiction history – but now I’ve read a stack of other nonfiction too and so we’ve added a subdivision because they both deserve a mention and this is the not-history pick. It’s only a few weeks since this was a Book of the Week, but I’ve been recommending this to everyone.  It’s just that good.  It’s meticulously researched, but wears it lightly.  It reads like a thriller but it’s real life.  I’d read a lot of articles about the Harvey Weinstein story before I read this, but I still felt that I learned a lot of new information from it.  It’s now got a tie in podcast – and I’m still learning more from that.  And with a trial coming up in te new year, this is not a bad time to read this either – before it needs an epilogue on the next edition to explain what happened next.

Honourable mention: The Great Successor by Anna Fifield

Non-fiction History: Maud West Lady Detective by Susanna Stapleton

This survives as my favourite history book of the year. Maud West is such a Venn Diagram of my interests – early twentieth century, women in history, detective stories, forgotten lives and Golden Age Crime.  Maud is a fascinating woman – very hard to pin down because she really didn’t want you to be able to – and Stapleton’s details about her search are fascinating too.  No date for a paperback release yet – but hopefully it will get one.  And if anyone wants to write a fiction series about a lady detective like Maud, then I am totally here for it.  But it is also worth noting that the honourable mention in this category (in June and now)- The Five by Hallie Rubenhold – has been picking up prizes all over the place.

Honourable mentions: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Coming up next: A look ahead to some of the books I can’t wait to read in 2020!

Best of..., The pile

My 2019 Obsessions

After yesterday’s look back at my 2018 obsessions, here is the lowdown on how my reading life has evolved this year.  I thought this was going to be really hard to put together, but then when I actually looked at my stats and the goodreads lists for the year, it actually was fairly obvious…

The Year of the Library

The biggest change this year has been the sheer number of library books I’ve read. What’s changed? Well ebook borrowing.  I’ve maybe only borrowed a couple of physical books – but I’ve read so many ebooks.  It’s been amazing.  I’ve glommed on series, read new authors, and been able to do it on my kindle.  It’s also cut my book-buying expenses massively.  I’m so much less likely to buy odd e-books here and there – because I can check in with the library and borrow them that way or get in the hold line.  It means that I can spend the money I put aside for books more wisely – pre-ordering favourite authors (it helps them with their publishers don’t you know), buying nice editions of books that I like etc – without feeling guilty about the money I spent on an ebook I bought as a kindle daily deal and hated after a couple of pages. The downside of all this is that the to-read bookshelf is as full as it was at the start of the year – because I have had so many good ebooks on tap at all times!

The Year of Non-Fiction

I think I’ve read more non-fiction books this year than ever before and this ties in to obsession number one because I think this is mostly down to the availability of them as e-books from my library. In the past, I’ve had loads that I want to read, but various factors have been holding me back – price, availability and the fact that they’re so big they’re unwieldy to take in my handbag to work.  But also sometimes you can only read a little bit of non-fiction before you need to go and read something lighter and if they’re on your kindle, you can just dip in and out alongside your romance novel…

The Year of Contemporary Romance

After having spent years saying that I don’t really like contemporary, it turns out that I do! I’ve had much more success with contemporaries this year than I have had with historicals – which is totally bucking every other year in my reading life since I’ve been keeping track.  And it has even included sports romances like Intercepted and The Bromance Book Club as well as sort-of sports romances like The Right Swipe and Evvie Drake Starts Over (the heroes are both retired sportsmen). I’ve read angsty stuff (Alisha Rai‘s Forbidden Love series) and funny stuff (The Unhoneymooners) and stuff that I hated so much I wanted to throw it across the room (no I’m not telling you what) but even they helped me refine and workout what I really like in contemporary romances. So maybe next year I’ll be good enough at reading between the blurb lines that I will only pick up stuff that I like?!  We can but hope.

And so onward into 2020. Who knows where it will lead.  I mean this time last year, I had no idea that we would move house this year and yet, we did (and the books were only packed away for a few weeks while we did it!) I’ve got some reading resolutions made – mostly to do with reducing the reading backlog, but the lure of new releases usually proves too much for me…

I hope you’re having a good festive season – and aren’t working too hard!

book round-ups, reviews

My 2018 Obsessions – Revisited

Welcome to my annual revisit of last year’s obsessions to see what has endured – or not. You can find last year’s obsessions post here – and last year’s revisited post here.  Coming tomorrow is a look at this year’s newly acquired obsessions.

The Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton

I still haven’t finished this series.  I love them – and I don’t want them to be over.  I’m slowly reading V for Vendetta – but trying to make it last because this really is a case where when it’s done, it’s done.  And I still haven’t found another series that does anything similar for me – I don’t like Katy Munger’s Casey Jones books anywhere near as much and I find it hard to work out what to search for when looking for similar books – Goodreads gives me Janet Evanovich (been there, read all those!), Dick Francis, a weird selection of older cozy crimes (mostly really quite hard to get even if they did appeal) and then books that have covers that look way too dark and violent for me.  Suggestions in the comments please – help a girl out.

The Charles Paris series by Simon Brett

I’ve finished this series off now and listened to all the radio dramatisations too.  I find Charles such an engagingly flawed hero.  He never really learns or changes and you know he’s going to drink too much and mess it up with his (estranged) wife again, but he’s just so charming while he does it – especially when voiced by Bill Nighy.  I’ve started on another of Brett’s series now – Mrs Pargitter, but I don’t like them quite as much so I’m reading them a little bit slower than I did these.  And again – this is another case where I struggle to find anything similar, because I don’t know what I’m searching for.  The Flaxborough series are a similar vintage, but not similarly funny (and I’ve read them all anyway) and they’re cozy crime, but they’re comedy cozy crime. Again – suggestions in the comments, I need some more light relief!

Cat Sebastian

Well.  Having glommed on Cat Sebastian last year, all I could really do was read her new books – and I’ve done that.  I mentioned last year that her first “traditional” m/f romance was due out in 2019 but A Duke in Disguise was more than that – yes it’s the first book that she’s done with a “traditional” male/female pairing, but to reduce this book to that is to underplay what Sebastian is trying to do. This is a clever subversive romance which doesn’t focus on the world of the ton (although they do appear and the nobility plays a role) with feisty, smart, sexually experienced heroine and a neurodiverse, virgin hero. Total catnip right? I hope it’ll tempt readers who haven’t yet read Sebastian because they “don’t do” LGTBQI+ romances to try Sebastian’s work and see what they’re missing out on.  It made it into my favourites of the year so far in June – you’ll have to wait and see if it’s made the end of year list – but it really was a cracker.  I’ve tried to expand my romance reading into more authors writing LGTBQI+ stories this year because I liked her novels so much and it’s been great.

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Crime at Black Dudley

Long term readers will be aware of my love of Golden Age detective fiction, so it may not be a surprise that this is my choice this week.

Cover of The Crime at Black Dudley

Yes, I’ve finally managed to read the first Albert Campion book.  And no, I didn’t realise when I was reading it that I had read it before and just not made a note of it. I’ve written about the series before – and you can definitley see why those Wimsey parody conclusions were drawn.  In this Albert is a side-character who you never really get to know (but want to know more about) as he helps unravel what is happening.  The main characters here are George Abbershaw and Meggie Oliphant, who find themselves caught up in the mysterious death of the host of a house party that they’re attending, and then imprisoned at the house by forces who believe they have stolen something valuable. Like many of the later novels in the series, it’s more of an adventure-thriller than a murder mystery and there are mentions of things that crop up again in later stories.

If you like this sort of caper, it’s a good example of its type.  If you have an interest in the era and the genre, it’s definitely a good one to have read.  I enjoyed reading it for more than just the thrill of filling in part of of the Campion story that I was missing. But, like so many first in serieses, it’s not the best of the character – I think I would still tell people to start with Sweet Danger or the Tiger in the Smoke.  But if it comes your way, do not turn your nose up at it!

My copy came from the library, but you should be able to get hold of any of the Campion books fairly easily – the ebooks have been published by Vintage in the UK relatively recently and the series is still in print in paperback.  On top of that you can often find them secondhand in the book section of the charity shops

Before I go, I should give an honourable mention to Christmas Secrets by the Sea though – a late entry into the festive reading stakes.  As you may have seen in the comments from last week’s Week in Books, I quite liked this and wanted to like it more.  I didn’t think you understood the heroine well enough until quite late on and I also I didn’t didn’t think the resolution did everything it needed to. But it was still better than a lot of the Christmas books I read this year…

Happy reading – and as it’s Christmas Eve – Happy Christmas.  I hope Santa brings you all the books you asked for!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: December 16 – December 22

Lots of bonus posts last week – you can catch up  here, here and here. But I can also confirm, I have the lurgy. This is not a drill. A week of earlies on top of the end of the election campaign and I got to my day off and got ill. So unfair. But I’m not the only one. My only hope is that it’ll be gone in time for Christmas. It’s feeling a bit forlorn at the moment though I have to say.

Read:

Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

Upon the Midnight Clear by Tasha Alexander

Look Alive, Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich

Christmas Secrets by the Sea by Jane Lovering

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

Equal by Carrie Gracie

Started:

The Blood Card by Ellie Griffiths

Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

Still reading:

N/a

Bonus photos: some filming in Fitzroy Square on Thursday afternoon.