April Reading Thread

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Following my reread of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I've just read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke, which for some reason I never got around to reading before. It is a collection not made up of short stories in the usual sense but mostly of fairy tales like the ones in the footnotes of Strange & Norrell, only longer and more complex.

The roots of these stories in traditional English folklore are very clear (particularly in "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower" and especially in "On Lickerish Hill"—which happens to be a variant of one of my favorite tales), giving the stories a sense of authenticity within that tradition, yet there is also a very strong flavor of Susanna Clarke, so that I think those who were enchanted by her fairy tales in Strange & Norrell would be very likely to get the same pleasure from these.
 
Following my reread of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I've just read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke, which for some reason I never got around to reading before. It is a collection not made up of short stories in the usual sense but mostly of fairy tales like the ones in the footnotes of Strange & Norrell, only longer and more complex.

The roots of these stories in traditional English folklore are very clear (particularly in "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower" and especially in "On Lickerish Hill"—which happens to be a variant of one of my favorite tales), giving the stories a sense of authenticity within that tradition, yet there is also a very strong flavor of Susanna Clarke, so that I think those who were enchanted by her fairy tales in Strange & Norrell would be very likely to get the same pleasure from these.
I read The Ladies of Grace Adieu just in February, having not come across it before and I would also recommend it to anyone who was captivated by her work. For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed most of the tales, with the final three being my favourites, especially Antickes and Frets. (By coincidence my current non-fiction read is about Mary, Queen of Scots and her love of textiles and the symbolism of fabric, colour and design at the time, which fits in nicely with Clarke's tale.) I have to say, though, that I was disappointed with On Lickerish Hill. It was very cleverly written, but for my taste it overstayed its welcome.
 
Following my reread of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I've just read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke, which for some reason I never got around to reading before. It is a collection not made up of short stories in the usual sense but mostly of fairy tales like the ones in the footnotes of Strange & Norrell, only longer and more complex.

The roots of these stories in traditional English folklore are very clear (particularly in "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower" and especially in "On Lickerish Hill"—which happens to be a variant of one of my favorite tales), giving the stories a sense of authenticity within that tradition, yet there is also a very strong flavor of Susanna Clarke, so that I think those who were enchanted by her fairy tales in Strange & Norrell would be very likely to get the same pleasure from these.

I enjoyed The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories quite a bit and I think my enjoyment led to trying, and enjoying, Angela Slatter's A Feast of Sorrows, Theodora Goss' In the Forest of Forgetting and Kelly Barnhill's Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories. I think Clarke's might be the best prose, but the others are also quite good and the play of fairy tale, fantasy and the occasional intrusion of horror makes for heady reading in all of them.
 
For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed most of the tales, with the final three being my favourites, especially Antickes and Frets. (By coincidence my current non-fiction read is about Mary, Queen of Scots and her love of textiles and the symbolism of fabric, colour and design at the time, which fits in nicely with Clarke's tale.) I have to say, though, that I was disappointed with On Lickerish Hill. It was very cleverly written, but for my taste it overstayed its welcome.
"Antickes and Frets" was one of my favorites. In fact, I think it was one of the stand-outs in the collection. And though "On Lickerish Hill" drew so heavily on Edward Clodd's rendition of "Tom Tit Tot" (which is is a popular choice for Fairy Tale collections and, as I said, a favorite of mine) I didn't feel that it improved on the story or added anything of particular value. Indeed, the most entertaining details were lifted directly from Clodd's 1898 version. So I was disappointed in that one, too. On the whole, though, I admired the book.

(I'd be very interested in the title of that book on Mary, Queen of Scots. It sounds like something I might enjoy.)
 
Actually reading through a kid's book: Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Its mythology is charming, but I wasn't too thrilled to learn how the "Ethiopian" got his skin. Common stuff at the time, of course.
 
I'd be very interested in the title of that book on Mary, Queen of Scots. It sounds like something I might enjoy.
It's Embroidering Her Truth: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Language of Power by Clare Hunter, published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton in 2022, but I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. It carries praise from Hilary Mantel, including "Dense with fascinating information" which is certainly true, and I can't fault Hunter's research and commitment -- she has 20 pages of bibliography setting out her sources -- and the facts she produces are indeed fascinating, though sometimes given in a way that's too dense, and a tad repetitive. She's not an elegant writer, and the prose is workmanlike rather than memorable.

My main gripes are two-fold. Firstly, to me this is a subject crying out for lots of images with specific notes drawing our attention to details we might not pick up immediately ourselves, and while there are some 16 pages of illustrations in my paperback edition, not all of the images relate to clothing or other textiles and so far (I'm about half-way through) there's little reference to them, so they're simply there as adornment rather than as illumination for the text. I can understand that cost comes into that issue, though, and the choice of images might well have come long after the text was written. What's less forgivable to my mind is the repeated insertion of Hunter herself into the narrative -- not just her "journey" of discovery of Mary and C16th textiles, eg seeing records for the first time or discussing a banner with experts, which is irritating enough, but her own life and career in textiles, or clothes she's worn and why, which completely rubs me up the wrong way. (But I get very curmudgeonly about authors and presenters intruding themselves into the text/TV programmes.)

I've just had a quick look at Goodreads, though, and most people are giving it 4 or 5 stars, with no reviews mentioning my dislikes, so it seems most people are happy enough with how it's written!
 
I am reading A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke, a man who has spent many years looking for ghosts and has never seen one. It's basically a social history, in which each chapter discusses a particular case or set of cases and the issues they bring up. Inevitably, there's a lot of rumour, exaggeration and outright fraud involved, but Clarke doesn't seem interested in coming to a conclusion on whether ghosts actually exist (although I am certain that they don't). As with a lot of books like this, there's a certain rambling, idiosyncratic quality to it, and I wonder if anything important has been left out, but it's an engrossing and entertaining read.

Incidentally, I got this book and several others very cheaply at The Last Bookshop in Oxford, which is worth a visit.
 
Tinker tailor soldier spy re-read, I'm also starting And put away childish things by Adrian Tchaikovsky
 
Let me know about the Tchaikovsky one, Danny. I've really enjoyed his short stories.
 
Let me know about the Tchaikovsky one, Danny. I've really enjoyed his short stories.
I got maybe a quarter of the way through but DNF....it was a bit Narnia-ish (they had a wardrobe!) but IMO the writer was trying a bit too hard to mould it into a Laundry Files urban fantasy with forced humour.

Not my thing really - TBH I thought it would be sci-fi, it was one of his 'terrible worlds' yarns after all and none of them has been fantasy until now
 
I am well into The Annotated Snark (1962), which is Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "The Hunting of the Snark" with notes by Martin Gardner, as well as bibliographic information, a reprint of a mock scholarly article which interprets the poem, and other stuff.
 
Finished:
Small Favors by Erin A Craig - A YA, horror, fantasy novel that manages to be creepy and fairly entertaining.
The Castle in Transylvania by Jules Verne. Lots of scenery (Verne could have become a travel writer if the adventure stories didn't pay), a creepy gothic mystery involving a castle that sadly has no vampires (we will ignore that this book was published 5 years before Dracula).
 
Finished sometime last week:
A history book: Conquest: The English Kingdom of France by Juliet Barker. This is what happens in France after the English King Henry V dies and leaves an infant son (Henry VI, who also became disputed King of France shortly afterwards on the death of his maternal Grandfather French King Charles VI) and what is essentially a committee in charge of both England and his newly acquired French possessions (What could possibly go wrong :rolleyes: ). I hadn't realised quite how short Joan of Arcs military career was. A no frills, business like book. Could have used more maps. Timeline was included (which is useful).

Listened to an English translation of a Japanese novel (novella?): If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura. About death and life and what is important. Also features a deal with the Devil. A bit too saccharine, but it gave me something to listen to while messing around in the kitchen.
 
Lady Sapiens - breaking stereotypes about prehistoric women.
Could you say more? The reviews I've found are singularly unhelpful --- One complained that it was a paperback, another said it was a "beautiful book" whatever that meant. (I had the feeling he was talking about the cover.) -- One frustration is that it is available as an ebook only in French.
 
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