At least I think it is week four. Still so many slebs around it is difficult to keep track. I will get better at this as the contestants are winnowed out and things start to focus. So far we have the very good, the middle order, the ok and then the dire. And, as ever, the dire seem to last longer than we think for all sorts of weird reasons. Stuart who is AWFUL has a little puppy dog face and looked so wounded when Craig said he proved the lie to the adage that everyone could dance. As soon as I saw the quivering lip I knew he would survive because the Judges were being Nasty to him. And he did.
Tom and Iveta did a nice foxtrot very sweet and delightful and Tom, who is goodlooking but seems to have a total lack of charisma and seems nice but dim, got through. He was wearing a sort of barrow boy cap and looked rather fetching. Think he knew it too....
Jake, the bald guy from Eastenders (I wonder if there has every been a year when we have not had an Eastender take part?) is a simply terrific dancer and his jive was so fearless and energetic it nearly got out of hand. But he really is good and one to watch.
Pasha and Caroline - I don't know who Caroline is quite frankly but she has a great grin and dances beautifully and Pasha is soooooo sweet.
Sunetra and Brendon - Salsa this week, not as good as their stunning American Smooth last week, but still pretty good and then there was a wardrobe Malfunction at the end and Brendon's trouser seams parted company. On tonight's show there was a shot of Judge Darcy letting out a shriek as she spotted.....well what? This partnership seems to be working well and Brendon has certainly mellowed in the last few years, amazing what marriage and fatherhood can do.
Natalie is a simply gorgeous dancer and lovely woman but she was lumbered with Tim Endicott, from Flog it or Cash in the Attic or Money for Old Rope or whatever the programme is called. He is rather full of himself, sweats tremendously and is very touchy feely. In rehearsal he always wears a scarf tied pirate fashion round his head and there are two schools of thought regarding this. He either wears it to stop his hair dye dripping when he is perspring so heavily or it keeps his wig on. I think it is both actually. Pasa Doble this week and I cannot think of words to describe its awfulness and his lack lustre cape twirling.
Pixie Lott or whatever she is called and her look alike partner Trent give me the willies. They look like refugees from Village of the Damned, all blonde and blue eyed. Actually Trent looks like a refugee from Thunderbirds as well. I find them oddly chilling. They did a rumba and were pretty pleased with themselves and she shed tears and found it all terribly intense and then when the judges were less than pleased look well put out.
I won't go through every single pair but just say that Judy Murray and Anton did a tango that was pretty wooden; Alison and Aliash had a good time; Ola and Steve, not bad and he was throwing her around with one hand and holding her over his head, all very scary; Simon and Kristina who were in the dance off last week, did a Charleston dressed up as a pearly King and Queen. WHY? We also had a VT of them down the East End singing cockney songs with a real pearly K and Q and it was excruciatingly cringeworthy. My mute button came into force. Mark from Essex did a terrific quick step and is totally endearing and is loving every minute.
OK other comments:
Darcy was wearing the most gorgeous dress and looked simply stunning. She is a classy lady and an excellent judge. Len is over egging the cockney barrer boy bit and is beginning to get boring. If he says You came out Full On and gave it a go one more time I think I shall put my foot through the screen. Bruno is a sweetie but the only judge who is spot on and fair is Craig and he gets booed for it.
Tess is totally and utterly dire. Talentless and clueless and gets louder as the evening wears on. She says Look they are all on their feet even more than Brucie used to and has no natural wit and repartee which her co-host Claudia has in spades. The upstairs section after the dances is now much more hilarious and funny and that is because Claude is there. Bung Tess back up and let Claudia front the show, she would do it so much better.
So the dance off was Mark - everyone was shocked at this - and Tim and thank goodness Tim went. Once I used to sit biting my fingernails waiting for the result, now I just check a website around 11 pm and can found out who has gone so I can sit and watch the results show totally relaxed.
Tonight the results show had as special guests, singing a duet together, Tony Bennett and Lady Ga Ga. I will make no comment on this and draw a veil over proceedings........
I hate to mention this word. If I had my way the Christmas shopping frenzy would be restricted to December only but I know the stores have a living to make and so it has begun. I was in Cambridge yesterday and wandering through John Lewis, my favourite store, all their Christmas gifts etc etc were in place. I find JL a pretty classy outfit and the layout and displays are terrific but most shops go in for glitter overload and it all gets a bit wearing. I try and do most of my seasonal shopping on line now and have done so for several years. Certainly makes life easier.
I am going to recommend some books for Christmas. Sure I will find plenty more but this year I have to mention the British Library. Their publishing arm is doing great stuff and I have been the lucky recipient of their largesse. I have reviewed books by John Bude on here, recently Oppenheim (ripping yarn par excellance) and last Christmas I read and loved The Santa Klaas mystery.
As well as John Lewis, I had a roam around their Waterstones which is one of the best I have been in and, as my feet were aching and so was my back, sat down in the crime section and had a look at what was on offer.
Delighted to see on the display tables several British Library titles. They catch the eye as the covers are stylish and glossy and in period and immediately make you want to buy them. One that I spotted and thought 'Mmm that looks interesting' was Mystery in White A Christmas Crime Story by J Jefferson Farjeon with a terrific pic of a snowbound train on the front. Shades of Murder on the Orient Express come to mind. I love murders set at Christmas time, there have been occasions during the enforced jollity of the Day when I have felt like murder but a second vodka usually helps. Seems the passengers of this train have to take shelter in a deserted country house where the fire has been set for tea BUT nobody is home.
Right up my strasse thinks I, must contact the British Library and blag a copy. I arrived home and open a parcel waiting for me and, yes, there it is! I am saving it up to read in December so my review must wait till then, but thought I would mention it now as it is the perfect stocking filler for (a) crime afficionados and (b) lovers of mysteries written in the thirties.
Two other books I must mention. I am not sure when I will review them as they are not the kind of books you sit down and read right the way through. The first is London, A Literary Anthology and so far I have spotted E F Benson (Lucia in London), Hugh Walpole, Doris Lessing, Defore, Dickens (of course) and John Buchan to name a few. It is one of those publications that are just a joy to look at and hold, printed on gorgeous paper, beautifully illustrated and full of joyful things. If you have a lover/friend/partner/parent who loves London and literature, then you must buy them this.
Second is The Ladybird Story a history of those marvellous books for children that I am sure most of us can remember fondly. They are still going strong and my granddaughter Florence, now nearly five, learned her shapes and colours from two Ladybird books I bought her, as did her mother at her age. Too many wonderful things to list here but it is a tremendous book and guaranteed to bring happy memories to mind.
And finally, a book which perhaps is better suited to Halloween - The Face in the Glass and other Gothic Tales by Mary Elizabeth Braddon who is probably better know as the author of Lady Audley's Secret. I have never read it I am ashamed to say...
So a positive cornucopia of glorious books. Books I receive for review from this source are not passed on to friends or anybody else, I keep them and gloat over them and these are no exception.
I am not going to say Merry Christmas just yet but do recommend all the above. If somebody gave me one of these for a present I would love them for ever. Sadly, nobody buys me books any more in case I already have them or, as my lovely old mum would say, 'You don't need any more books. You have got enough'
I sometimes feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland 'Oh my ears and whiskers I'm late" as I realise that I have a heap of reviews to do and so little time as I bounce backwards and forwards between London and Colchester. I find the drive no strain now and, in fact, I am beginning to get rather fond of the North Circular....
So another of my roundups and catch ups to try and readuce the heap lying on my table. Here goes.
Emma - Alexander McCall Smith. Another in the so-called Austen Project. I read Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope which I quite enjoyed, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid I abandoned half way through but I was rather looking forward to this one as I do like AMS and his writing. This is the best of the three largely due to the warm and gentle writing though he does not let up on Emma and her interfering ways. The trouble is that characteristics and attitudes that are OK in Austen sound and look odd in the light of modern day. Mr Woodhouse and his paranoia about his health is dealt with in an amusing and subtle way but it all rings a bit Blimey how am I going to do This as does the whole book if I am really honest.
I enjoyed it in a mild sort of sit down with cup of tea and a suggestive biscuit kind of way but I have almost forgotten it already.
The Grand Duchess of Nowhere - Laurie Graham. Now this I adored. I have read quite a few of this author's books and I love her writing style, her wit and humour and this one was no exception. Her previous books have featured the Kennedy family and Mrs Simpson (this one particularly delicious) and her take on real life people is spot on. This latest title is about Ducky, Princess Victoria Melita who was in love with a Romanov cousin but not allowed to marry him. Her father is Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's son and her mother is Grand Duchess Marie the daughter of Tsar Alexander II. It is Ducky's fate to be married off satisfactorily and she ends up marrying Ernst Hohenlohe-Langenberg who she is fond of but nothing more than that.
Her sister, the future Queen of Romania, has a pragmatic view of it all. "I rather like Romania now that I have got used to it. And things are better since Mother had a word with Nando. He has made his own arrangements and I will probably do the same in a year or two" Missy was planning to have affairs. I was shocked. "Well why not?" she said "I've done my duty".
Victoria, a Life - A N Wilson. One wonders if there is anything left to write or discover about Her Maj and, without wishing to sound big headed, there was very little in this book that I did not already know. I hasten to add that this does NOT include all the political machinations over the long years of her reign, but more about her domestic life and her family. This is touched upon by ANW but his main thrust of this biography is the political aspect of the Victorian age and the Queen's prescence and knowledge of it all. The blurb makes much of the fact that the Queen's true character and strength of mind came to its flowering after she was widowed and she no longer had to defer to her husband, though this she was happy to do while he was alive. I think this is a conclusion that most of us who have read widely about QV already realise but ANW takes it further and proves that the Queen was no fool and, though being related to half of Europe could have its disadvantages, it could also be extremely helpful.
A huge fat tome I read it over a week and, as always, when I read about QV I become more and more fascinated and more and more fond of her. I think she was a terrific woman. Yes, I am sure she was a pain and her behaviour to the Prince of Wales was awful etc etc but I like her. And it is worth noting that through all the Widow of Windsor years when she was not seen by the public, she was still involved in the political process and working very hard.
Also highly recommended.
The Canterville Ghose - Oscar Wilde. Another of these simply gorgeous books from Hesperus who are on a roll at the moment with their current catalogue and their reprints, particulary the junior list. I had never read this long/short story about a ghost haunting the stately home Canterville Chase, now owned by an American family who could not care less about the ghastly spectre. They leap out on him when he is drifting and haunting and scare him something shocking and is in despair as the recurring bloodstains on the floor and his clanking chains have no effect whatsoever. The final straw is when the twins of the house dress up as a ghost and leap out and scare him..
Witty, of course as it is Wilde, and had me laughing. Also rather sweet and sad. Loved it.
Graham Hurley was recommended to me by some of my welcome visitors to Random and have just started reading the crime series. Have enjoyed the first one I tried, not hugely, but enough to make me try some more and as there are a lot of them they will keep me going.
Also picked up an Inspector Diamond book by Peter Lovesey. I remember reading his Victorian detective stories years ago but had not read of these. Thoroughly enjoyed and have downloaded three on my Kindle and there are loads to go so I am a happy bunny.
Phew. Well I have made a start and am home this week so, hopefully, I can catch up on the other books that are looking wistfully at me as I write.
The latest issue of Shiny New Books is now up on the web so do take a look at it. This is the wonderful new online book review Magazine boasting four of the best bloggers around as editors, Simon of Stuck in a Book, Harriet Devine, Annabell Gaskell and Victoria Best who blogs as Litlove. I have been following their blogs for years and I am delighted and privileged to be able to review books for them.
This issue has two reviews from me - both reprints of titles by Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Lost Prince and Lady of Quality. The first is one of my most favourite books and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it. The second, Lady of Quality, is a first for me and I find it interesting more than lovable as it is FHB outside her normal historical period. It is a one off and I get the impression she had enormous fun writing it.
I ended up the review by saying it was not my favourite but it might be yours, so do nip over and check it out.
Also do check out a simply marvellous book by Sybil Brinton: Old Friends and New Fancies, written in 1916 and the first Jane Austen sequel. The author takes the view that all the characters in all of Austen moved in the same circles and would know each other and they do and it makes for fun reading and is witty and spot on. Also in the reprints section and another gem from Hesperus Press as are the two Burnetts above.
I remember when bloggers first started appearing on the web how dismissive critics were of their abilities and, what is more, their right to express their opinions on books. I remember the Guardian being particularly toffee nosed about it. My how things have changed and Shiny New Books demonstrates this perfectly.
Well I never thought I would say this but Come Back Brucie all is forgiven. While Tess was located upstairs with the dancers and interviewed them as they came off she was bearable, just. Now that she is fronting the main part of the evening her inadequacies and lack of natural talent is exposed. Claudia should be doing it as she has the knack and looks relaxed and easy. And as the evening wears on Tess starts getting louder and louder so by the end of it all she is SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HER VOICE. You are miked dearie, yes you are.
The dancers are beginning to fall into natural camps, the good, the wonderful, the so-so, the not bad down to the dire, embarrassing and awful
Into the latter category we have Judy Murray who is simply not up to it and looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights Stiff, akward and lacking any kind of natural grace, which is surprising seeing as on the tennis court, as she was shown in one of those interminable VTs before each dance, she moved beautifully. Andy said she would be awful and sadly he is right.
Gregg Wallace is just boring and irritating, working so hard at gurning and being Mr Hilarious that he totally forgets to dance.
Scott Mills and Joanne - I gather he is a DJ. I have never heard of him but that means nothing. He is awful, tango dire, bum sticking out and spent most of the routine walking round the floor.
Tim from the auction show, the name of which I have forgotten, is charming and he and Natalie did a gentle waltz. She looked stunning in a gorgeous white dress. He is in the middle not bad category but should last another week or two.
Alison and Pasha did the foxtrot. Now she is a large lady, we all know this and as she herself said This body is not built for ballroom, but she has a fantastic personality and is a delight to watch. Pasha and she seem to be getting on so well and having fun.
I wont go through every single couple as there are still so many of them that by the end of the show I had forgotten half the routines. Stand out of the evening was Jake who I gather is the obligatory refugee from Eastenders this year, and he did the most terrific salsa. He looks as if he is going to biff you over the head, sports a gingery stubble and is not exactly George Clooney, but once he got on the dance floor, well what a transformation. Craig said his hip swivels could 'crack coconuts'. Best dance of the night.
Gorgeous good looking Tom carried on looking gorgeous and essayed the salsa this week. Not bad at all but he has a look on his face as if he doesn't know what is going on half the time. Just vaguely bemused. But he really did look good in his red vest so I forgive him his gormless look.
Trixie Lott brilliant and she has obviously had previous dance training which helps, Frankie from the Saturdays did a great Charleston with Kevin from Grimsby, Mark from TOWIE unexpectedly did a delightful American smooth and was practically in tears again he loved it so much, Simon and Kristina did a good tango, oh cannot remember the rest.
Random thoughts - why does Tess call everyone Luv? Annoying.
Why are the judges making their entrance dancing across the floor?
Why is Darcy's hair a different colour this week? I swear she was blonde last Saturday. Looking forward to seeing what it will be on the next show.
Claudia has had her fringe cut and she looks weird. So used to watching her peer through the shrubbery seems odd to see her forehead. She has also cut back on the Dusty Springfield eyes which is a shame.
But all in all, the show is bedding in nicely.
And now they are filming the Results Show for tomorrow night after Darcy, Tess and Claudia have changed their dresses so they can pretend tomorrow that it is today when in fact it is yesterday....
And I am off to a website later on to find out who is going as it is always leaked by 11pm. I think that the person leaving will be out of Judy, Scott or Gregg. I hope it is Gregg as he is acutely irritating.
I am at home this week and enjoying relaxing, resting and reading and have been catching up on some really fun and interesting reads. As per I am getting behind with my reviews so I will be trying to catch up on all ro my recent goodies over the next few days.
Let us start with The Great Impersonation - E Phillips Oppenheim. This has been republished by The British Library who are making a great impression with all the long forgotten titles which they are bringing back to the notice of the public. I am the recipient of their largesse and am very grateful indeed as they are all great fun.
This particular title is simply terrific. A John Buchan type ripping yarn full of heroics, bravery, love of one's country, an impersonation and two beautiful women, one an adventuress and one a loving wife. Oh and a double bluff/twist. What more could you want?
A disgraced British aristocrat, Everard Diminey, wrongly accused of murder and driving his wife to insanity, fled to East Africe and there he has languished and lived a hopeless and aimless life. One day he stumbles out of the bush, ill and alone, and comes face to face with the German Baron Ragenstein. They knew each other at university and look so like each other that they were often mixed up by their friends. Diminey stays with him recovering his health and strength and Ragenstein, who is also exiled for killing someone in a duel, is sent on a mission to redeem himself and the arrival of Diminey is essential to his plans. He plots Diminey's murder and returns to England, as a rich and successful reformed aristocrat, taking his place at the heart of English society where he can report back to his German masters on the English attitude to the possibility of war between the two countries.
But his disguise is in danger when dining at a restaurant he is approached by Princess Eiderstrom, his former lover, who has recognised him:
'Her red gold hair gleamed beneath her black hat. She was tall, a Grecian type of figure, large without being course, majestic though still young. She carried a little dog under one arm and a plain black silk bag, on which there was a coronet in platinum and diamonds in the other hand.
"You mean to deny that you are Leopold von Ragenstein? You do not know me?"
"Madame" he answered "It is not my great pleasure. I am Everard Diminey"
But she is not fooled and he realises his disguise is in danger.
OK not saying any more. Just to say that the author who died in 1946 was one of the most popular and successful writers of spy fiction in the early twentieth century and was known in his time as the Prince of Storytellers. He wrote over 100 novels of which The Great Impersonation has always been the most acclaimed.
Loved every moment of it and waiting for my attention is another by this author The Spy Paramount and I am really looking forward to reading that one as well. Will report back soon.
I shall be writing about Strictly on a regular basis, not sure how often we shall see, but I always find the first few weeks rather bewildering. So many people leaping around and I have difficulty sorting them out. This year's selection of Slebs is rather boring and there is nobody really exciting there at all. Wonder if they have difficulty in getting people to appear but I would not think that likely. Have heard rumours that Pippa Middleton was going to be on it, but thank the lord no sign of the Decorative One. Also heard that they asked Paul Hollywood and he turned it down. Now what wouldn't I give to see Himself doing a cha cha cha??
I had hoped that now Brucie was gone my mute button would be less used, but alas no. I could just about tolerate Tess before as she was upstairs with the contestants most of the time and her banalities were limited. Now she is fronting it all her total lack of class is even more evident and I am simply amazed that she has this job, I really am. Claudia Winkleman does a wonderful job with chatting up and interviewing the couple as they come off and she has a natural ease that Tess lacks.
Judges are the same: Craig the pantomime villain (though he was very generous this week): Darcy with her drawl and Yah; Len with his cockney wit, for want of a better word and Bruno drooling over the men with muscles which can get a trifle wearying after a while.
Tom, the handsome ex-rugby player, was a tad wooden and though he said he welcomed constructive criticism, he did not look too thrilled. Got the impression he thought he just had to turn up and pose and he would be fine, not so. Alison, who I gather is on morning TV, is a large lady but burstring with personality and her cha cha cha brought the house down. She looked as if she was having a simply wonderful time and this was transmitted to the audience who responded generously.
Mixture of good and very good and then the DIRE and Greg Wallace takes the crown this week. Think of Dad dancing at a wedding only worse. He is so bad that he may just last a few weeks which is what usually happens as the Great British Public always like to see people make fools of themselves.
Judy Murray looked petrified and was dragged round the dance floor by Anton who was wearing a kilt. I am saying nothing....
WIll do a more detailed review of it all when the contestants have been winnowed out a bit, always gets more interesting by week three.
One thing I note is that Kristina Rihanoff has, apparently, been given somebody to partner who is 'not in a relationship' such is her reputation for breaking up marriages, engagements etc. I shall be interested to see what transpires with the other couples this year.....
The kick off is tonight and then tomorrow with the first contestants strutting their stuff. I always feel these first outings really show us who is going to be good and who is going to be useless. The Slebs have had at least three weeks to work on the dance for this week so they should be able to do it OK. If not, then how are they going to manage when they only have one week to learn a new one?
I am in London at the moment so will not be seeing the show until I get back and will then catch up on Saturday night. I am a huge Strictly fan as you all know by now, but hoping that my usage of the mute button will be less now that Brucie is no longer there, though I usually silence the set throughout all those tedious VTs they insist on putting in.
I am hoping to comment on each week's show so if you are interested do check it out. I have my tube of fake tan at the ready, some fishnet tights and a jewelled bustier ready and waiting so off we go.
I am catching up on my reading and have a few reviews coming up but it is always difficult staying ahead of the books that drop through my letterbox. These are a source of great joy to me so I am not complaining, just that I sometimes feel guilty that I am not getting round to them in a timely manner.
Here are a few that have arrived in the last week or so:
I have read the Laurie Graham title and will be reviewing soon, ditto the reworking of Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, the Lost Prince (this review is for the online book mag Shiny New Books but will link to it), am halfway through The Great Impersonation and at the top of the pile is a new Classic edition of The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, my most favourite Persephone and I shall love writing about this again.
And then these arrived from the wonderful OUP Classics series, new editions of the Barchester Chronicles. I do love books from the OUP - so lovely to touch and stroke as the paper is always so good. I am sad to see, however, that the wonderful Ardizzone illustrations from my old editions are not in these updates, so I may have to hang onto my older copies as I love his drawing.
And then the autobiography which I read once, a long time ago, and shall now revisit. I was left with the impression after reading it that AT was a throroughly nice man.
With the winter ahead of us I always turn to Victorian literature. Not quite sure why but there is something so immensely comforting about being warm inside, mug of tea to hand and reading something like Barchester Towers or Middlemarch or Bleak House. I think it is because they have such a solid base with a start, a middle and a finish in which everything is sorted out and all relevant strings tied up. Makes one feel safe somehow. That probably sounds totally daft but there we go.
Off to Ealing tomorrow to see, collect and look after my darling girls so back on Saturday. I take a book with me to read every time but I never have time to open a page!