Deciding on whether to DNF a book

I think I’ve written about this before, but the following post popped into my feed recently and I thought I’d write about it again.

I never DNF books: Here’s why

For anyone that doesnt know: DNF means Did Not Finish. DNC is Did Not Complete. Both are essentially the same thing….the reader started a book, and had to make a decision over whether or not to finish it.

Some readers will NEVER DNF a book (see above post).  Some will DNF with various caveats. I’m in the latter camp. I havent taken a picture of my recent TBR (To Be Read) pile, but it has spread from the shelves to below and above the coffee table, several piles on the sofa and a huge pile on the bedside table. At the rate I’m reading at the moment, I dont have time to finish the books I actually enjoy, never mind the books I dont.

When I come across a book that I’m not enjoying and I’m thinking of abandoning it, I have to make a decision as to why.

  • Do I have a problem with the book itself (e.g. they way it’s written, the characters, etc)? If that’s the case, I will put in the “go somewhere else” pile and never look at it again.
  • Is the book potentially ok, and I’m currently not in the right mood for this right now?  This is always possible, and generally why I don’t prescribe a set order in which to read a book. I find this is too close to “homework” and I will instantly dislike a book that I could have loved under different circumstances and times.  Therefore the book gets put back on the shelf, to be attempted again later. Often I’ve forgotten I’ve tried that book before so I often go in “fresh” to a book!

So, dear reader, what is your stance? How do you approach a book that you are struggling with?

 

 

Book Sharing during Covid

Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
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I have a number of bookshelves around several counties that I normally look to help keep stocked with books, but because of Covid I have been unable to keep shelves stocked. I have so many books and not the chance to go to let books be free. If my abode looked like a second hand book store before – it’s even worse now!

In an attempt to keep my flat a bit tidy, whilst keeping my neighbours entertained, I’ve kept an unofficial shelf in the Foyer of our building. There is a postit on the mirror telling people the books are free to take away and either keep or bring back (I dont assume that they understand the idea behind Bookcrossing – I’ve know I’ve never discussed it with anyone).

I leave up to 20 or so books there for a one or two months, and see what goes and comes back. Fair play, people are using it. They don’t bring their own books, but they return the books they took. I’ve tried to guess what people like (to little avail) – all I know is that someone likes books from the Collins girls! (waiting for that second one by Joan to come back!).

I’ve been surprised by the books they haven’t gone for – the police procedural, the romances and the satirical books have not been taken up.  I’m doubting my ability to know what my neighbours like to read. Perhaps I *should* put out the kinky vampire books, and see if they go!

So, dear reader, are you reaching out to your neighbours? Books? Shopping? Something else? Anyone surprising you?

 

 

Book Review: The Vine Witch by Luanne G Smith

A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.

For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.

Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.

 

I will admit I got this a while ago, and it was only when I had the chance of an extended break that I got the chance to sit down and read it. 

I thought it was my oldest ebook from Netgalley, but when I checked Netgalley – Ai!!  Yes, it’s an “old” ebook, but not on Netgalley – I need to know where else I need to post this review.

It starts with a woman, under an enchantment that made her a toad, finally escaping her enchantment (losing a toe in the process). She returns to the house and the “family” she remembers, only to find that she has been away for 7 years, and the vines have fallen into disrepute during her absence.

The vineyard has been brought by a man of science and law (from the city) since her disappearance, and he doesn’t appreciate her return as someone who practices “magic” (i.e. “not science”) over the vines.

Meanwhile Elena (the now-ex-toad) has her own theories over who cast the spell to make her a toad – only to be accused of his murder.

The remainder of the book introduces us to various characters and plot devices to resolve the issue of who killed who, how and why.

Whilst this (to me at last) was a slow start, it was easily consumed in a few days when I had the chance to sit down and read it. It wasnt “gripping” enough for me to put it down in the beginning, but was enjoyable and fast paced enough when I finally had the chance to sit and complete it.

Even whilst the denouement was fairly heavy with magic, there is a reasonable balance between science and (black) magic, so most people should be able to accept this as a story.

 

 

Book Review: The Girl Behind the Gates by Brenda Davies

Girl Behind the Gates Book Cover

1939. Seventeen-year-old Nora Jennings has spent her life secure in the certainty of a bright, happy future – until one night of passion has more catastrophic consequences than she ever could have anticipated. Labelled a moral defective and sectioned under the Mental Deficiency Act, she is forced to endure years of unspeakable cruelty at the hands of those who are supposed to care for her.

1981. When psychiatrist Janet Humphreys comes across Nora, heavily institutionalised and still living in the hospital more than forty years after her incarceration, she knows that she must be the one to help Nora rediscover what it is to live. But as she works to help Nora overcome her past, Janet realises she must finally face her own.

Sent to me by the publisher Hodder, what I read was an Uncorrected Proof ahead of the publication date of 28 May 2020.  I now find myself in, having finished the book in late May/Early June and still not having reviewed the story. 

So in the late 1930s, not only does Nora find herself at the mercy of an abusive father (and a mother not ready to accept anything different), but finds out she’s pregnant from a one night stand with a cousin she believed loved her. At the time, her father, the church and the local doctors agreed that to be pregnant out of wedlock meant that a woman was morally and mentally defective (remember, there was no NHS at the time and certainly no Mental Heath Statutes). In this book, it goes without saying, there were also no consequences placed on the man for sleeping with a woman outside of marriage.

Moving on….Nora is placed in a psychiatric unit, from which it proves impossible to leave – she cant do it from inside the unit and despite the options explored by her family (which we find out about later), nor can people on the outside get her out.

The book takes us through various phases: Nora and her immediate tea m who are all under the “thrawl” of the doctor – What the doctor says goes, even if it contravenes what we now consider to be basic human rights.

Finally Nora gets a different set of Doctors and nurses who have to navigate the ever changing legislation and the fact that such facilities over stretched, and ultimately closed down. Having spent most of her life in an institution, Nora now has to learn how to live on her own again, now with the help of many, including a female doctor who has had a very similar experience in losing a child and a relationship.

For a first book this is a decent read, and well paced. I’m not sure I would seek out this author in a shop (have you seen my TBR, lol), but I am willing to read another book by her should the opportunity arise

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Book Review: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s profoundly irreverent novels are consistent number one bestseller in England, where they have catapulted him into the highest echelons of parody next to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.

In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can’t refuse — especially since being, well, dead isn’t compulsory. As Death’s apprentice, he’ll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won’t need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he’d ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.

Possibly my favourite Discworld book ever – certainly the one I recommended to my brother (and therefore Niece) as such. It’s a fairly early Discworld book and has any of my favourite Characters (#1 being DEATH) and many of my favourite lines (I DONT KNOW ABOUT YOU (says death early on) BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY)

For me, I reread this in 2020, during the pandemic, and I definitely consider this as a “Comfort” read. Yes, every reader needs to decide what they class as “comfort” and some may see reading a book where the main character collects souls as a bit morbid, but that is not what I take from this. This book has Love, Romance, Morals, Doing the Right Thing, Responsibility, Thinking of the long game (and others), self identity, cultural perception and ultimately, the delivery of a damn fine line – preferably whilst walking through a wall like it is not there.

Some of the comfort for me came from the expectation of certain lines/jokes, some of which did not appear in this book (It turns out I miss the stories of the other 3 horsemen of the apocalypse going down the pub more than I realised). That means they appear in other books, so I need to do a full re-read in order to get my “fix”.

So: This is a good Entry Level Discworld book. It sets the reader up for several characters and concepts that pop up in later books (e.g. Why does Death have a grand daughter and why is she so significant in later books etc?).

Book Review: Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Skilled in the art of card playing, Deborah Grantham, a gambler’s daughter, uses that skill as her sole means of support as mistress of her aunt’s elegant and exclusive gaming club in 18th-century London. The beautiful young must find a way to restore herself and her aunt to respectability, preferably without accepting either of two repugnant offers. One is from an older, very rich and rather corpulent lord whose reputation for licentious behavior disgusts her; the other from the young, puppyish scion of a noble family whose relatives are convinced she is a fortune hunter.

Lady Mablethorpe was aghast. Her young son, Adrian wanted to get married Miss Deborah Grantham–a gambling-club wench! Thus she sent her trusted nephew, the vastly wealthy, clever, and imperturbable Max Ravenscar, speeding to the faro tables to buy the hussy off. A renowned gamester, and the first to own that he is untroubled by a romantic disposition, Ravenscar regards all eligible females with indifference, preferring horses, cockfighting or cards.

To Ravenscar’s surprise, Deb turned out to be besides remarkably handsome, witty, and–he could scarcely believe it–well-bred. Nevertheless, he expected she’d be grateful far the price he offered to give up her young suitor. Arrogant Ravenscar always gets his way and comes to buy her off, an insult so scathing that it leads to a volley of passionate reprisals, escalating between them to a level of flair and fury that can only have one conclusion. As they lock horns, they become increasingly drawn to each other. Amidst all the misunderstandings and entanglements, has Ravenscar finally met his match?

Regular readers of this blog know that I do have a thing for Regency Romances. Last year I decided to swear off certain Romances, especially from non-established authors who I’ve found tend to write (or edit/publish) for an American audience (it was having London Regency distances being measured in “blocks”).

Anyway, Georgette Heyer is one of those authors who escape the exemption by being one of the better quality Regency Romance authors, and I’ve written reviews on a number of her books before.  In late 2019, I managed to pick up a whole swathe of her books by various means, and this was one of the first in the pile to be read. You’ll have to forgive me, as I actually read this a few months ago and I’ve only just gotten around to reviewing it.

The set up is relatively standard: a young man, soon to be of age, has been frequenting the gambling houses and has taken an idea that he is in love with Deborah Grantham, the niece and Faro table hostess in one of the more genteel Gambling Houses. (Faro is a card game that ultimately got replaced by Poker).   Adrian’s mother is horrifed to find out who her son plans on marrying, so sends her older and richer nephew to sort things out.

Expect the usual comedy of errors, where people grow up, fall in love with people they didn’t expect, plans that go awry, huge bets placed/lost/won, and somethings not being what people thought.   Everything gets sorted out well in the end.

The one relationship I have issues with is, unfortunately that of the hero and heroine. Yes, both are head strong and like getting their way. Deborah (having grown up in gambling houses) knows how to handle men and over amorous suitors, however, the behaviour she displays towards Ravenscroft in particular (and why he puts up with) I never got to understand. Therefore I never truly believed in the Chemistry and Romance between the two, for which I am saddened.

On the whole, I like Heyer books, and despite this not being one of her better books (in my opinion), it will not prevent me from reading the other books of hers I’ve picked up recently.

Dust Jackets – Yay or Nay?

Dust Jackets: do you keep them on or remove them as you read the book? I’m the former – I believe they are there for a reason, (to protect the book) and therefore should be kept on the book whilst it’s being read.

Back when I lent out hardback books that had dust covers, I lent the majority to someone who removed the jacket for safe keeping. The specific hardbacks he borrowed were the Terry Pratchett books, where the Dust Jackets were a piece of art in their own right, and his thinking was that the Jackets were as much a part of the book as the actual book itself. He returned the books in as good a shape as when I lent them (which is why he got to borrow more) but…it still annoyed me.

Meanwhile, I no longer lend out books. I have two piles: Books that I will keep and never lend; and Books that I will happily give to others, without the expectation of ever getting back. Unfortunately I have had too many instances of lending someone a book, with me stating “I want this one back”, only to find they’ve given it to a charity shop or “lost” it and refuse to replace it with something equivalent.

What would you do?

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia”—a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions—a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time. 

I read it when at school – I was 14 in 1984, and my English Lit teacher thought it was an appropriate read – and I thought it was ok. Whilst it was in the late Thatcher years, I was not paying much attention to politics or news.

I read it again during the late Blair/Daily Fail/Murdoch years when I was much much older and oh boy. I understood the use of the government and the media to manipulate the message being given to the populace, the pressure from everyone to conform “for the good” and how acting or believing differently can label you an outcast, and can even lead to facism, communism or anarchy.

I think this book is best read at least twice, once with an eye on the “spin doctors” and one eye on the message being presented to you by others. The book has resulted in many lines and concepts that have subsequently been introduced into general usage: Big Brother (TVs/Computers constantly present in the home and people being constantly monitored for everything you do and say); Room 101 (being confronted with the very thing you fear as a behaviour modification technique); Doublespeak (saying one thing that means another).

Book Review: The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones (narrated by Dan Jones)

The fifteenth century experienced the longest and bloodiest series of civil wars in British history. The crown of England changed hands violently seven times as the great families of England fought to the death for power, majesty and the right to rule. Dan Jones completes his epic history of medieval England with a new book about the the Wars of the Roses – and describes how the Plantagenets, tore themselves apart and were finally replaced by the Tudors.

With vivid descriptions of the battle of Towton, where 28,000 men died in a single morning, to Bosworth, where the last Plantagenet king was hacked down, this is the real story behind Shakespeare’s famous history plays

 

I was not a fan of history when I was at school, and I feel I’ve learnt more from reading historical fictional novels as I got older, watching programs like “Horrible Histories” – why were we never engaged like this as kids?

Moving on: as I’ve grown up, the Tudors have held me in a certain thrall…..perhaps the first line of monarchs to bring a certain stability to England, even at a high personal cost. I picked this up on Audible as one of their “Daily Deals”. I wouldn’t have necessarily spent full price or my one monthly credit on a non fiction history book.  My problem with long Audiobooks is that I do have a tendency to switch off, or at least forget certain facts, which does require me to rewind to an unmarked place if a later fact suddenly becomes important. (at least with books you can go back and look…..!). This is entirely my fault, I will admit.

Dan Jones is used to being a TV and Audio historian, so has a certain approachable presence. This was his 3rd book, published in 2014.  He has written well, in as near as a chronological order as what makes sense, going back in time as he deems necessary (to paraphrase: in 1495 x happens, as a direct result of what happened in 1479).

As a narrator, Jones is clear and articulate with an appropriate level of energy.  This is not presented in a boring monotone, but is also not a overexcited child reading words followed by too many exclamation points.

I did have to listen to this several times before writing a review, but as stated above,  this is due more to my inattention to detail rather than the writer or narrator.

I do have other audiobooks by this author/narrator which I expect to consume (hopefully) soon – but no promises!

 

 

 

Working from Home – Has my Reading got better?

Unfortunately, not really. In fact, if anything, it has got worse.

I used to commute, which gave me the potential of at least 90 mins of Public Transport travel where I at least had the chance of reading or listening to a book, I didn’t always take the chance to actually read a  book – normally I would take a nap; listen to an podcast or some kind of audio download;  watch an episode on Amazon Prime (i pay for it, I’m sure as hell going to watch available video!).

Since I now “start” work at 8am, rather than 9am, there’s an hour of commute i lose. I like being able to finish at 4, instead of 5pm, and I’ve lost another hour of a commute, no matter what time I finish.

I have a remarkable amount of Audible books, as well as ebooks and paper books. However, i have yet to change my non working hours to take account of the fact that I have lost several hours of potential reading – I really need to assess how I do things during the week.

I have yet to change my habits for the weekend where i often spend my days in bed. I tend to repeat the stuff I have listened to before, as it means i can fall asleep for several minutes or hours without missing any updates – I hate falling asleep in the middle of a book and therefore miss out on something potentially critical later in the story.

I’ve also noticed that I cant have two streams of verbal coming at me at the same time. So if I’m working and reading emails/having meetings, I can have an audiobook, talk radio, or random tv/radio shows going at the same time – one takes precidence.

 

Tell me, constant reader, how has your reading/book consumption been during lockdown?