Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Memoirs of Cleopatra (Margaret George)

--The blurb--
"The story of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. This saga of ambition, power and passion is told in the first person, from the queen's earliest memories of her father's tenuous rule to her own reign over one of the most glittering kingdoms in the world."

--The review--
The story of Cleopatra is a tale that has held the general public for generations, not only through Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" but also through the medium of film in particular. Margaret George addresses what most would consider an insurmountable task in documenting a fictionalised (though heavily based on deep research) version of Cleopatra's entire life, from that as a child ruler to the moment of her death. The result is over a thousand pages long, and yet despite this it is not difficult to read. It is written in accessible language and yet pays suitable homage to the rollercoaster of facts and emotions.

The author has clearly undertaken considerable research in order to bring this magnum opus to completion, but it is not only George's manipulation of facts that make this novel a success: it is her ability to 'become' Cleopatra and express appropriate emotions so vividly, allowing the reader to vicariously experience the same. This, perhaps inevitably, means that the novel is (intentionally) biased, and I would be interested to see an effort from George on the life of Octavian (later Caesar Augustus), Cleopatra's rival, in order to consider a picture of this time of history in even greater depth.

The novel also does not fall into the perhaps obvious trap of being a narcissistic portrait of the Queen of the Nile. It is realistic, acknowledges flaws, and besides this, has the quality of making the reader feel equally deeply for Cleopatra's children and aides, who all have very real personalities that George has successfully fleshed out from the available facts. Plot and character are not the author's only talents: rather than riding the novel out on the magnificent story alone, George writes incredibly well, introducing vividness with all five senses and in every conceivable scenario, whether Cleopatra is giving birth, riding on a boat through foetid marshes or surrounded by the splendour of her palatial home. Despite the novel's length, the reader is able to simply float through the story and relish in the high-quality prose: it is in no way a chore.

Interestingly, despite these admirable and positive qualities in George's writing, her work is little-known in Britain, with readers turning instead to the works of Philippa Gregory and Robert Harris. While the great British public's devotion to these novelists is not without good reason, it seems a shame for George's work to be so underrated. However, since she will soon be releasing a novel based on the latter part of the life of Elizabeth I, Britain's fascination for all things Tudor could mean that this is George's big British break. Better late than never.

Other works by Margaret George
The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers (1986)
Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles (1992)
Mary, Called Magdalene (2002)
Helen of Troy (2006)

A Winter's Tale (Trisha Ashley)

--The blurb--
"A charming romantic comedy about a hard-up single mum inheriting a stately home - and a host of headaches. The perfect novel for curling up with during the long winter nights. Sophy Winter is not your typical Lady of the Manor. When she unexpectedly inherits Winter's End - a crumbling mansion in the beautiful Lancashire countryside - it seems like all her prayers have been answered. She eagerly swaps life as an impoverished housekeeper in favour of her own team of staff. But Sophy quickly realises the challenge on her hands - the house is decrepit and its eccentric inhabitants are a nightmare. And once it is discovered that Winter's End played host to a young Shakespeare, the entire village of Sticklepond becomes curious about Sophy's plans, especially charming Jack Lewis. But is he really smitten by Sophy, or her newly-acquired cash? Meanwhile, Sophy's gorgeous head gardener Seth is the strong and silent type. But does his passion bloom for anything beyond the horticultural? As Sophy gets to grips with squabbling relatives, collapsing buildings and the ghostly presence of one of her ancestors, she wonders if Winter's End is not so much a gift from the gods as a mixed blessing. ..A charming romantic comedy for fans of Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell - guaranteed to thaw the coldest of hearts!"
blurb from

--The review--
Given to me as a Christmas gift due to the tenuous Shakespeare connection, I was concerned from the outset that I would not enjoy this piece of obvious 'chick lit' from this author who was unknown to me. However, the inaccuracy of my own prejudice soon combined curiously with the accuracy of a first impression. The main character, Sophy, was unconvincing: her first-person narrative was littered with ill-aimed humour about trying to keep off the extra pounds, which didn't seem to come very naturally in keeping with the rest of the writing, and the idea of the woman who apparently couldn't keep her brain out of her knickers (without even any well-written sex scenes to compensate) was not only irritating but a generally weak and lazy plot device. Ashley also allows the villain of the piece to escape far too easily with little comeuppance, which smacks of the author's impatience to finish the novel, which is never preferable to a desire to finish a piece of work well. However, this feeble characterisation (and the equally dubious characterisation of Seth) thankfully did not preclude engagement with other characters in the novel, such as Alys and Lucy. The novel would have been a far more valuable addition to the chick-lit canon without the frankly silly attempts at romance et al.

This all begs the question of what on earth kept me reading this book to the end. It is indeed comfort food for the brain, with some well-drawn characters and a suitably picturesque setting. However, where Ashley really comes into her own is where the plot is concerned: apart from the villain's escape from justice, the threads of the novel's plot generally tie together well, with thoughtful and yet still accessible links with Shakespeare and his work as a sort of bonus. The running of stately homes is well-researched without enough detail to bore the reader; the set-up, romance aside, nicely combines realism with escapism. It is also, perhaps needless to say, easy to read: vocabulary and syntax meant that I raced through it. Ashley also shows rare glimmers of excellence in her writing skills, such as using 'spectral coral' as a simile, which lit up the otherwise cosy writing.

While my virginal experience with Trisha Ashley's work would have been much improved with the absence of clumsy attempts to 'connect' with the author's alleged audience, this was not an entirely joyless experience - which, I suspect, was the main aim after all.

Other works by Trisha Ashley
Good Husband Material (2000)
Every Woman For Herself (2002)
The Urge to Jump (2002)
Singled Out (2003)
The Generous Gardener (2004)
Sweet Nothings (2007)
Lord Rayven's Revenge (2008)
Sowing Secrets (2008)
Happy Endings (2008)

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Les choses (Georges Perec)

--The blurb--
"Jerome and Sylvie, the young, upwardly mobile couple in Things, lust for the good life. They wanted life's enjoyment, but all around them enjoyment was equated with ownership. Surrounded by Paris's tantalizingly exclusive boutiques, they exist in a paralyzing vacuum of frustration, caught between the fantasy of "the film they would have liked to live" and the reality of life's daily mundanities. In direct contrast to Jerome and Sylvie's cravings, the nameless student in A Man Asleep attempts to purify himself entirely of material desires and ambition. He longs "to want nothing. Just to wait, until there is nothing left to wait for. Just to wander, and to sleep. Yearning to exist on neutral ground as "a blessed parenthesis," he discovers that this wish is by its very nature a defeat."
blurb from Barnes & Noble

--The review--
I read this in the original French, but it is also available in translation in several languages, including English. "Things" is often sold in the same package as "A Man Asleep", although they are very different novels. The writing style is immediately arresting: the novel barely seems to be about anything, and yet as Perec's rich description flows, it somehow becomes about something, even though there is very little actually taking place. Consumerism and, as suggested by the title, 'things' and materialism all take centre stage along with Sylvie and Jerome's greed and melancholy perspective. It is reminiscent in some ways of the paradox presented by the main character of George Orwell's "Keep the Aspidistra Flying", who aspires after wealth but simultaneously revels in poverty.

Empathy with the characters doesn't seem to be one of Perec's main aims, in a detached Camus-esque fashion. Because the aim is made clear from the outset in the equally aloof style of writing, where things are the immediate focus rather than people, this doesn't prove a negative aspect of the novel. However, the languorous style doesn't mean that Perec is short of surprises: even a novel about nothing has an event to disrupt the tale's previous state of equilibrium, it seems, and yet it seems an appropriate end to the novel. While in many ways it is about 'nothing', it addresses contemporary problems (which, curiously, are still contemporary, despite this novel being written in the 1960s) in a captivating style, largely driven by the momentum of the lives of two ordinary, flawed people. A highly recommended work by an author who should be far better known outside France.

Other works by Georges Perec
Which Moped With Chrome-Plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard? (1966)
A Man Asleep (1967)
A Void (1969)
The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex (1972)
Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (1974)
W, or The Memory of Childhood (1975)
Life: A User's Manual (1978)
A Gallery Portrait (1979)
Ellis Island and the People of America (1980)
53 Days (1989)
The Winter Journey (1993)

*For the interest of my Anglophone readers, this is a list of works that have been translated only; there are other Perec works which are not available in English.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

--The blurb--
"Great Expectations opens unforgettably in a twilit and overgrown churchyard on the eerie Kent marshes. There the orphan Pip is disturbed to meet an escaped convict, Magwitch, but gives him food, in an encounter that is to haunt both their lives. How Pip receives riches from a mysterious benefactor, snobbishly abandons his friends for London society and 'great expectations', and grows through misfortune and suffering to maturity is the theme of one of Dicken's best-loved novels. In Great Expectations Dickens blends gripping drama with penetrating satire to give a compelling story rich in comedy and pathos: he has also created two of his finest, most haunting characters in Pip and Miss Havisham."
blurb from

--The review--
As someone who studied English at university, I should have arguably read this before now. However, my first acquaintance with Dickens in Bleak House (which was part of my studies) was perhaps not the best start: it is long and intimidating, although there is a good story underneath, and so plucking up the inclination to go near another Dickens creation took some time. Reading Dickens can still be, I've found, like wading through treacle: it isn't concise and would probably be sent back by a modern-day editor with lots of red pen on it. However, occasionally through the treacle Dickens manages to cut like a knife with well-chosen words, a breathtaking passage of description, or with a touch of sardonic wit, so the prose is perhaps worth savouring for these hidden gems alone, although it can be hard work.

Dickens' mastery of imagery is as clear here as in his other works, and he illuminates a variety of different settings wonderfully, from the slush of central London to the misty marshes. Equally, the characters were easy to visualise, and the unusual ones, such as Miss Havisham, are what make the book what it is. However, I found it difficult to empathise with any of the characters, or form any real connection with or feeling for them (even along negative lines), which is rarely a good sign. My motivation to continue reading was more out of the effort already expended rather than out of any genuine desire to discover the characters' fates. Perhaps more crucially, unlike other Dickens novels such as Bleak House or A Christmas Carol, where the story makes it worth wading through the prose's treacle, the storyline of Great Expectations seemed to me to be implausible in an otherwise plausible context, and too much effort was made to link the story to the title, to the point of seeming unnatural.

Unusually, I found the contextual information provided with my edition of the novel to be most illuminating: reading the alternative ending proved fascinating, for instance. It is also worth bearing in mind that Dickens wrote originally in serials for newspaper audiences, so the style required for this purpose may not carry over so well to a full-length novel, in much the same way as Jeremy Clarkson's columns are funny in the Times every Sunday, but more wearying when they appear as aggregated collections in his books. In this format, then, the story would perhaps be more enjoyable, although the plot is complicated in places, particularly concerning the connections between some of the characters, so a serialised format may make these more difficult to follow, rather than less.

Dickens' mastery of description only compounded my disappointment with Great Expectations: it almost seemed a shame to only enjoy it for this, without any enthusiasm for the plot or its characters. While enjoyability is subjective, I would perhaps steer interested readers in the direction of Oliver Twist, for example, for a more vibrant cast of characters and overall more satisfying read.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Coming soon this December...

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Les choses (Georges Perec)
The Memoirs of Cleopatra (Margaret George)
A Winter's Tale (Trisha Ashley)

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Author of the "Prometheus Bound" (CJ Herington)

availability: More widely available than it initially appears to be, but several sellers can be found when searching the internet, usually based in the US (and thus retailing in USD). UK enthusiasts can purchase from .

--The blurb--
"The Prometheus Bound has proved to be both the most problematic and the most influential of extant Greek tragedies. Especially during the past two hundred years, the character created here has transcended the boundaries of nationality, ideology and race: Goethe, Shelley, Marx, and - to judge by recently published translations - modern Russia and China have in turn been fascinated by this being who is tortured by the Gods for furthering the progress of man. Yet the interpretation of the play itself and its relation to the group of now lost plays with which it was originally produced continues to arouse violent controversy. At the centre of the controversy stand the questions, raised with increasing urgency during the present century, when the play was written and whether it is by Aeschylus at all. The original version of this work was composed for a seminar on ancient tragedy held during the American Philological Association's meeting in Toronto in December of 1968."

--The review--
As a one-time classicist I'm constantly on the lookout for various tidbits to indulge my interest. The tale of Prometheus is familiar, however, even to plenty who don't have a classical background (it was spoken of in Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, for instance), so even for those who haven't read Prometheus Bound yet, Herington's analysis of its background may well inspire the interested to do so.

The aim of the work is made clear from the outset: like many ancient works, the authenticity and dating of the play and its attribution to Aeschylus is uncertain, and Herington sets out to decode the Prometheus's origins, chiefly by comparison with Aeschylus' earlier plays. The slim volume is concisely expressed and clearly laid-out, with the author first addressing comparative linguistic trends (not only in those of Aeschylus' plays, but also in the works of other ancient authors) and then turning to a more topic-based analysis before concluding. It's a well-researched piece of work with solid premises and confident rebuttals of earlier academic approaches.

However, readers should be prepared for what I consider the book's one failing: the lack of translation of the Ancient Greek used. It is the one aspect of Herington's work to render it inaccessible to many potentially interested readers (including dramatists, who may not be interested in the play from a classicist's point of view), and I genuinely believe that all academics citing other languages in their works should take it upon themselves to translate them for accessibility's sake, whether this is in the footnotes, in appendices, or in the main body of the text. Despite this, though, the book is not rendered unreadable as a result: the points that Herington makes are still lucid and are finely restated in the volume's conclusion, while tying in neatly with the aims set out in the introduction.
The announced intent of the New Delphin Series is "to make accessible the critical and scholarly work consonant with the approach of the Arion school of classical criticism...ranging from traditional philology to literary criticism to translation." While, as I mentioned, this is perhaps let down on the accessibility point by the lack of translation provided on the author's part, a little further research on the principles of Arion Journal of Humanities and the Classics certainly confirms the concurrence of Herington's work with these. Arion, today as ever, aims to publish work that needs to be done and that without its help may not ever have been done. They pride in swimming against the mainstream, opening up rather than polarising classical studies, and encouraging intellectual daring.

Herington's work certainly concurs with this: it is an unusual and well-crafted piece of work on an oft-neglected topic, approached in a positive and unconventional way. Greater promotion is needed, however, both of the series and of Herington's overall oeuvre, in conjunction with the still encouraging availability of this particular piece of Herington's research.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

All In The Mind (Alastair Campbell)

--The blurb--
"The novel details the lives of its main protagonists over one weekend. There is Arta, an asylum seeker, who, having fled Kosovo, is raped in her adopted homeland; Emily, a teacher who cannot come to terms with the terrible facial scars she suffered in a house fire; David, whose abandonment as a child by his father seems to be the cause of his depression; and Ralph, whose alcoholism threatens not only his marriage but his career in the Cabinet. Linking them all is Professor Martin Sturrock, a revered and successful psychiatrist whose devotion to his patients hides the fact that he is fighting a few serious problems of his own."
blurb by Tom Harris at the Daily Mail

--The review--
The start of this novel is not especially enamouring in terms of its style; it seems clunky, awkward, and with too much 'telling' rather than 'showing'. However, despite this, there seemed to me to still be a good story in there, and it turned out to be rather fortuitous that I kept on reading. The characters are very realistically painted (although one of the characters, not aged 12-13, occasionally comes out with lines that sound like something I would have written in my diary at this age, which rather goes against the realism aspect), and by the end of the novel there is definitely room for empathy with one or more of the characters. It's difficult to tell, though, how well the 'life-changing' weekend idea really works: could so many people in such challenging situations, all so close to each other, really have revelationary moments almost simultaneously in one weekend that somehow render their lives changed? Can someone really go from apparently sane to totally mad in three days? However, as Campbell (or Alastair, as he requested we call him at the evening with him at WHSmith Paris) gets into his stride with his writing style, gradually the whole scene unfolds more believably, and by the end of the novel, you could well be riveted.

With the exception of the occasionally incongruous thirteen-year-old-girl-style statements, Alastair Campbell also writes very well in the female voice - as any aspiring writer knows, writing as the opposite sex can be a very difficult feat to accomplish. If you read this book without knowing who'd written it, it could have feasibly been written by a die-hard feminist. The sincerity and realism surrounding the women's issues in this novel is a remarkable achievement in itself, and yet when asked on how he attained this state of apparent utter empathy, all the author could say was that it had come very naturally to him, particularly after certain events he had witnessed in Kosovo.

The novel is also particularly diverse in the way in which it is peopled with characters, ranging from a shy young woman who can barely face the world to a high-profile politician. Such diversity requires considerable adaptation both of one's writing style and one's mode of thinking, and it is accomplished most satisfactorily here. The novel also aptly expresses the current state of the British press as, in Alastair's words, the best and worst media in the world.

The novel is not without its failings: I despise name-dropping of companies and brands in novels à la Franzen's The Corrections, as it detracts from their timelessness: it grates on me to know that your sandwich is from Prêt à Manger or that your music player is an iPod, as it limits my own visualisation, which is important to the general reading experience. It also perhaps detracts from the novel's "humanness" by homogenising what people do and use, and given that the humanity of the novel is arguably its most important quality, this is not a point worth glossing over.

It pleased me to know that Alastair has two new novels in the works. He is clearly a valuable addition to the seraglio of contemporary authors, and, more importantly, for his evident skills, rather than for his name.

Other works by Alastair Campbell
The Blair Years

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

La Petite Danseuse de Degas (Michel Peyramaure)

--The blurb--
"Marie Von Goethem was born into a poor Belgian family. Her father was a tailor, her mother a laundress. The family arrived in Paris in 1861. Like her two sisters, Marie became a "petit rat" of the Opera - a poorly-paid member of the corps du ballet. Her participation in shows and her willingness to pose for artists alike allowed her to contribute visibly to the family income.
Her path soon crossed with the artist Degas, who used her as a model for one of his most original pieces. How did this meeting come to pass? What relationship was established between the painter and his fascination with bodies and forms that led him to create one of the most magnificent and most celebrated statues in the world?
The story ties itself up with various passions and dramas. Michel Peyramaure recounts all of the story's flavour, resuscitating the artistic universe of the second half on the 19th century and the beginnings of impressionism."
*blurb from; translation mine

--The review--
Born in 1922, Peyramaure has established a long and solid career of writing relaxing historical fiction, and has an impressive trail of work from which interested readers can choose. I do not often read historical fiction; however, the beauty of such fiction is that it can and does appeal to a wide user base: not only because we are all interested in different aspects of history (even if we are not historians) but also because of the generally open and accessible style of writing that comes with this genre. Peyramaure is arguably the best-known historical fiction writer in France, and he certainly seems to tick all the boxes. His research is tight, and while he addresses relevant historical issues, such as Degas' declining health and the true nature of his relationship with Marie van Goethem, his style also leaves the novel suitably open-ended so that the reading public can make up their own minds on aspects that even the 'real' historians don't know the answer to. While there is perhaps a slight bias in terms of the relationship's integrity, this is countered by the old argument of the reliability of the narrator, meaning that there is satisfactory room for exploration by the reader.

As an enthusiast of all things dance, I found that Peyramaure's vivid descriptions of the dimly-lit theatre and the ballerinas' movements and clothes did not fail to disapppoint. Equally, as a long-time lover of Degas' art, I found that the author treated both the art and the man himself with appropriate respect and realism in equal measure. It was illuminating to have provided as much of a glimpse as is possible into the life of the man behind the paintings, and 'flesh out' the artist's personality in the reader's mind, while still leaving enough gaps so that imagination can be used to fill in the rest.

Peyramaure is clearly a master of imagery: initially, as a resident of Paris, I was not sure about all the name-dropping of various famous Parisian locations. However, they quickly became integral to the story and a delight to read, becoming as much a part of the novel as the man and his projects.

Perhaps strangely, one is left with a feeling of nostalgia at the end of the novel: a reflection, it could be argued, on the degree of success of the portrayal of this part of Degas' life. There is also to an extent a feeling of sadness: you cannot help feeling the loss of the artist, despite knowing that it is coming. Despite Peyramaure's employment of the third person throughout the novel, there is a very intimate, first-person feel to it that lingers far longer than the reading of the book itself. As a haunting and taut introduction to Peyramaure's work, it is perhaps to be held up as proof that it is certainly worth investigating more of his oeuvre.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Tout le monde s'en va (Wendy Guerra)

--The blurb--
"This debut novel takes the form of a private journal, that of Nieve, who is growing up in Cuba in the 1980s. She confides to the diary the defining moments of her existence, from childhood to the cusp of womanhood.
Torn between artistic and bohemian parents who are splitting up, she will soon know a future made up of constant departures and successive separations. The reader follows the personal, intellectual, political and artistic evolution of this young girl. As a child, just as her parents have separated, she goes to live in Cienfuegos with her mother and her mother's Swedish lover, who gives her a love of games and of reading. However, her father obtains custody of her and takes her to the mountains with his troupe of puppeteers. Having been subjected to maltreatment from her father, Nieve is then placed under the care of a Child Protection Centre (Castrist jargon for an orphanage), before being able to live with her mother again and leave with her for La Havane, where they never stop hoping for a permit to leave Cuba.
As the months and pages go on, Nieve's pen becomes more self-centred, to the point of becoming more self-analytical. Her experiences with relationships contribute to the awakening of her artistic sensibility and political conscience. Creative and artistic compulsion is at the heart of this work, as are the themes of accomplishment and resistance."
*blurb from; translation mine

--The review--
Published under the title "Todos se van" in Spanish, this oeuvre is unfortunately as yet unavailable in English. However, since none of us know what the future holds, let us proceed. Realistic child characters, both in personality and language, are difficult to create and still maintain integrity. Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend" was spoilt for me because of this. However, Wendy Guerra not only manages to achieve realistic dialogue and thoughts for the narrator's age at the start of the book (six or seven) but also manages to successfully capture the character's growth throughout the book (again in terms of the use of language as well as sophistication of thought).

The other characters are also all painted excellently, with both their good and their infuriating points shining through. The imagery is therefore vivid: the neurotic mother, the alcoholic father, the increasingly self-righteous teenager. However, I didn't feel that I could really 'connect' with Nieve, though perhaps (in an existentialist sort of way) I wasn't meant to - it's always difficult to tell whether or not this is the author's intention. However, I could empathise with some of the emotions, even though attachment to the character herself was not strong.

Learners of French or Spanish would do well to read this book: the language becomes progressively more complex in a realistic way, which serves as a very positive tool for learning. The novel is also not over-peopled with characters, meaning that while emotions meander as the character grows, the story also possesses a quality of sharp focus. It is a sophisticated and well-constructed coming-of-age story that deviates from the clichéed examples of this genre that are usually cited. However, this difference from other well-known exemplars is not easy to pin down: it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. Some qualities that do come to mind, though, are Nieve's obstinacy, which is admirable rather than irritating; a lack of attempt to be amusing, as is often common in fictional young diarists; and a lack of whininess, which makes the character more likeable than her other fictional contemporaries.
Reading about Wendy Guerra's life gives the reader some sense that Tout le monde s'en va is to an extent autobiographical, but this in no way seems to cheapen it, particularly as there is no particular overriding message or patronising missive of morality from the author as the reader reaches the book's end.

A promising novel from an author who deserves to be better-known across Europe.

Other works by Wendy Guerra
Platea a oscura (1987) - poetry
Cabeza rapada (1996) - poetry

Welcome, book lovers!

As someone who reviewed books for three years for her university rag, it's perhaps understandable that I should miss doing it a year after leaving. I tried joining the 50bookchallenge community on Livejournal last year, during my master's degree, but was unsatisfied with it for several reasons. However, I enjoyed the process of reviewing books, so have decided to return to it for your delectation.

A little about me: I studied Classics and English at Exeter University, UK, from 2004-7. Immediately following this, I read a Master's degree in Linguistics at Oxford University. After a summer on unemployment benefits (through no fault of my own, I assure you!), I moved to Paris where I now work as an English teacher in an international, bilingual secondary school and live with my boyfriend (and yes, we are glad to be out of the ridiculous long-distance arrangement that we had going for 3.5 years!).

As part of living in France, I read a lot of books in French, and I will be reviewing these as well. The reviews I write initially (i.e. in November and December of this year) will be to get me back into the swing of reviewing more than anything else. As of January, my reviews will be accompanied with a figure for my own interest, so that I can chart how many books I read during the year. The first year that I counted this, I managed 43 (not including rereads). It perhaps goes without saying that I hope to equal or exceed this in 2009.

The maxim that "a day without writing is a wasted day" is certainly something I ascribe to, although I don't spend nearly enough time on my novels and poetry as I should. I am, however, constantly tapping away at my beauty product reviews over at my beauty blog. When not teaching, reading, or writing, I enjoy singing, listening to all kinds of music, travelling, sleeping, food and drink, calligraphy, and anything Christmas.

I should probably also say what kind of books I enjoy reading. It's difficult to classify, but generally speaking, as long as it's of a high quality (and this doesn't mean reading classics all the time - some are abysmally bad!), I'll probably enjoy it. I can't stand overhyped literature and am generally not carried along by the crowd. A pretty vague description, and I'm sure you'll agree that someone who studied English at university level for three years should be able to sum up better than that. You'll soon find out what I like and what I don't. I hope you enjoy the blog regardless, and if I can make any improvements, please let me know.