Kinga's Books

I'm willing to give anything a go but I could be very cruel to badly written books (regardless of the genre).


I am Kinga from goodreads -

Anna Kavan - Ice

Ice - Anna Kavan

I chose this book because I heard somewhere that it was about ice apocalypse. In snowless England I wanted to read something to make me grateful for a mild climate (which I’m otherwise not that happy with). So yes, this book did make me appreciate a mild climate and also the fact I don’t do drugs (generally).

I am yet to read a book which was published in the 60s and wasn’t completely bonkers. Our generation seems so tame and conservative in comparison. I can’t imagine contemporary big publishers taking a chance on something that makes so little obvious sense.

The great thing about Ice is that you can have fun with it. I mean you can interpret it in a million ways – not sure if it is your idea of fun but for me it is. On the surface it’s a story of an unnamed narrator searching for unnamed girl while fighting another unnamed man for her affection (why name your characters? That’s sooo 1950s.) And all of this while the planet is facing the apocalypse and ice is threatening to swallow everything. The reader follows this frustrating chase which makes less and less sense and it feels like one of those unnerving dreams.

One of the first interpretations that came to my mind was that of the Cold War. The brutal reality of that world, military governments, ice plus the fact the book was written in the 60s all seem to fit nicely with this theory. But why stop there? Anna Kavan was a heroin addict and you will have no trouble with seeing the whole book as an allegory of addiction.

Let’s remove the book from its author and its time. Then really – the sky is the limit. I think my favourite interpretation is that of a power struggle in a relationship. This whole ‘I can’t love you without possessing you’ conundrum. The whole you are the OBJECT (of my affection). Both men in the book are actually one man trying to disown the part of his personality he is not comfortable with.

All in all, it’s a typical 60s book. You finish the last page, close it and ask yourself: what the hell did I just read? And yet, you keep thinking about it. Every now and then something reminds you of this book. Some time later you are reorganizing your bookshelves, or maybe just looking for that book you were sure you had but instead you come across Ice. You open it at random and start reading it again.

“My window overlooked an empty landscape where nothing ever moved. No houses were visible, only the debris of the collapsed wall, a bleak stretch of snow, the fjord, the fir forest, the mountains. No colour, only monotonous shades of grey to the ultimate dead white of the snow. The water lifeless in its dead calm, the ranks of black trees marching everywhere in uniform gloom.”

Andrzej Paczkowski - Wojna polsko-jaruzelska

Wojna polsko-jaruzelska: stan wojenny w Polsce 13 XII 1981-22 VII 1983 - Andrzej Paczkowski

I will not bore you with another review of a Martial Law book. Or will I?
My research is actually complete and my book is almost finished. The bit I still have left to write takes place in 2012 in London. Yet my mum so lovingly found, bought and sent all those books to me that I feel obliged to read them.


Let me just list a few things I have learnt from this volume. This will be more for my benefit than for yours.

- During early days of the Martial Law there were many arrests for the slightest offences. One priest got arrested for putting up a Nativity scene which supposedly contained elements ‘damaging to the interests of the People’s Republic of Poland’. Another priest got six and a half years for distributing leaflets.

- Mieczysław Rokitowski from Przemyśl was stopped by the police with one copy of a leaflet which he found at the bus stop, he was arrested and taken to custody where he was beaten to death. With new laws under the Martial Law they didn’t have to intern people, now they could arrest them as well for all sort of random reasons.

- They cancelled all sport events, theatre shows, cinema showings. They closed museums and libraries. They even suspended Lotto. On the tv you could watch things like ‘Military Songs Festival’.

- The post censorship was an enormous undertaking. In 1982 they controlled 82.2 million parcels and letters (15% of all correspondence). 930 000 were stopped (including Solidarity leaflets, Amnesty International postcards sent from abroad, and all other letters demanding freeing political prisoners. 3 million parcels were censored this way or another.

- All that blocking of information caused rumours and urban myths to fly high. People talked about thousands killed, about people being herded on stadium, and some sent to Syberia. This was a mixture of old Polish fears about being sent to Siberia (no, seriously, it’s almost a figure of speech now, but then of course it happened to thousands of people) and new reports of what’s happening in Pinochet’s Chile

- In 1983 after the end of Martial Law and the lift of the union registration ban, there was a rush of new union. The most bizarre one was the Trade Union of the Polish United Workers’ Party Workers. The workers of the Polish Party of Workers had a union! That’s the so called ‘actually existing socialism’ for you. It’s a beauty.

- In 1982 during a heated family argument a retired colonel, supporter of Jaruzelski and the Martial Law took out his gun and aimed at his son-in-law, supporter of Solidarity. The daughter got up to shield her husband but the colonel was so angry at that point he shot the daughter and then he chased after the son and shot him too. The colonel was drunk, of course. There is a whole novel right here. Maybe I should write that one.

Fun times. That’s when my mum had her first child. Moi.

Sherwood Anderson - Winesburg, Ohio

Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson, Malcolm Cowley

When European artists want to place their symbolical tale in a setting that’s nowhere and everywhere they often settle for Central-Eastern Europe. There are so many countries there, the borders keep changing all the time, no one can keep up, so the artists can let their imagination run wild. They can even invent a whole new country and stick it somewhere between Hungary and Czech Republic. Poland is also a good place. A classic Spanish baroque play – Life is a Dream by Calderón de la Barca takes place in an imaginary Poland. The French Ubu Ori by Alfred Jarry also takes place in Poland (further explained by the author as ‘in Poland that is nowhere’). 

The American equivalent of Central Europe is Midwest. It’s the nowhere and everywhere of the USA. If you looked at those maps on Buzzfeed where Europeans were asked to label American states, you saw that the whole of Midwest was usually covered with question marks.

Sherwood Anderson grew up in Ohio and invented a little town in Ohio to place his stories of sadness and grotesque. He subverts the received wisdom that loneliness is an affliction endemic to big cities, and questions the rhetoric that makes us believe that small towns are oases where humans are there for one another. Anderson proves that just because everybody knows each other’s name doesn’t make them feel any less alienated for this alienation is a condition endemic to all human kind. 

And the greatest tragedy is that we all feel we are the only one suffering from it and we constantly compare ourselves to the other seemingly well-adjusted folks. All lies! We are all lonely and we all feel that life should be something else, something more. We are yearning for that je-ne-sais-quoi, as if someone made us a promise at the beginning of our lives and backed out on it.

"For a month his mother had been very ill and that had something to do with his sadness, but not much. He thought about himself and to the young that always brings sadness."

Anderson is a great poet of a small town, so generous towards his subjects, never sparing any effort to describe their inner lives in the greatest detail. Oh, the frustration of not being able to communicate with the others, to express those suffocating feelings! No wonder all the dialogues feel so stiff and stunted. Anderson takes his own advice (in the book voiced by a teacher):

"If you are to become a writer you'll have to stop fooling with words," she explained. "It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it's time to be living. I don't want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say."

Sadly and ironically, the author could never reproduce the success of this collection. Although he tried and tried he only created washed-down and trite versions of Winesburg, Ohio and nothing quite as poignant as this book. 

Doubly sadly, those that came after him, those that learnt from him and quoted him in their influences turned out to be superior and more talented. 

"Thoughts came and I wanted to get away from my thoughts. I began to beat the horse. The black clouds settled down and it began to rain. I wanted to go at a terrible speed, to drive on and on forever. I wanted to get out of town, out of my clothes, out of my marriage, out of my body, out of everything. I almost killed the horse, making him run, and when he could not run any more I got out of the buggy and ran afoot into the darkness until I fell and hurt my side. I wanted to run away from everything but I wanted to run towards something too. Don't you see, dear, how it was?"

On a final note, let’s not forget how revolutionary this volume must have been at the time. Some of subjects discussed were: premarital sex, paedophilia, alcoholism, religious zealousness, physical desire, etc.

Linda Howard - Up Close and Dangerous

Up Close And Dangerous - Linda Howard

We had no winter in UK this year. This was probably the first winter in my life with absolutely zero snow. I know the US had quite the opposite of that but we just got loads of rain. I’m Polish – I miss the snow and I miss the cold, so I asked people to recommend me romance novels with lots of snow and cold and people having to share their body heat to survive or some such.

‘Up, Close and Dangerous’ was a perfect choice. The hero needs to crash land a plane with the heroine on board somewhere up in the mountains. Of course they don’t like each other at first but they need each other to survive, etcetera, etcetera. The survival bits were fantastic. I was very happy I was provided with every single detail – what they ate, what they drank, what they wore, how they built a shelter, and what afflictions they suffered from. I do love me a good survival story. The romance itself though, was lacking. If you took away all the excitement of being stuck in the wilderness, there just wouldn’t be much to it.

First of all, there is one lesson I learnt from Sandra Bullock in Speed the Sequel and that is that the relationships formed in extreme circumstances hardly ever survive (that’s how they explain the lack Keanu Reeves in the sequel), so maybe these two should slow down with their talk of moving in together, marriage and living happily ever after, because even though I’m sure they learnt a lot about themselves in those three days of sharing their body heat, I don’t know if it is quite enough. I mean, they should be a bit traumatized after that ordeal and maybe some time off would actually be useful. Additionally, there is that final twist, and while I appreciate the author trying to make things more interesting, that twist means that both the hero and the heroine would need at least six months of intense psychotherapy to even be a normal, trusting person again. Jumping head first into a super-serious relationship would be the last thing anyone in such circumstances would or should do.

And yet, I gave it four stars. Because in the end it did what I wanted it to do and that was to have a good snow-related survival story and outdoor sex scenes.

PS. I have absolutely no idea what that cover is about. There were exactly zero cars in this book.

Donna Hill - Touch Me Now

Touch Me Now - Donna Hill

Here are some of the things that were wrong with this book:

-          The writing
-          The plot
-          The characters

The author seems to think that using ‘OMG’ or ‘WTH’ as a part of a third-person narrative is somehow a thing to do. There is no plot to speak of. The heroine is a masseuse and the hero is a scarred war veteran. She gives him massages, he gives her orgasms. Other than that, he switches between ‘chuckling’ and ‘brooding’ every page for no reason other than being completely unstable and bipolar. The reason he is so upset with the world and his family is because of something that happened many years ago which could have been cleared out with a five minute conversation but of course isn’t because what would an unimaginative romance writer do without the Big, Ridiculous Misunderstanding?
Also, this masseuse with no actual professional training is able to heal his leg by just kneading him a little here and there – something none of his doctors and physiotherapists managed to do. This is obviously a paranormal romance.
Additionally, there is a ridiculous product placement that I bet the author wasn’t even paid for but still she will let you know and won’t let you forget her heroine has an iPad.
Here are some of my favourite quotes:
“He rested his head against the back of the chair and was just about to close his eyes and let the pain medication settle in when movement to his right drew his attention. At first he thought that perhaps it was an apparition, a vision like the ones he would see at the end of the tunnel of light—beckoning him through those painful nights of recovery. That light and the ethereal image at the end of it were the only things that gave him hope and the will to go on. He hadn’t seen the vision since he’d left the military hospital in Afghanistan, until now. But it wasn’t his imagination and the image wasn’t a result of hallucinations from the pain. She was real and she moved as if walking on air. The lightweight white clothing that she wore gently floated around her, lifted by the gentle breeze.”
“ “Humph, humph, humph. That is one specimen of a man, cane and all,” she whispered. She definitely wanted him to sign up to be on her client list so that she could see for herself just how hard those muscles really were. She gave a short shake of her head to clear it. “


This is so professional. I hope all ‘massage therapists’ think of their clients that way. And why stop at massage therapists? I hope that's what gynaecologists think too - 'oh, can't wait to stick my fingers in there'.
“Layla touched a few icons on her iPad and sent the images to Desiree. “
Ah, I almost forgot Layla had an iPad.
“It was her image, her light that finally led him out of the grip of his nightmare. Although he could not see her in his dream, he understood that it was her. How, he was not certain. But he felt it in the depths of his being.”
“What a mess. She’d made the biggest mistake a woman could make—sleeping with a man that she barely knew.”
Yes. That is the biggest mistake a woman could make. Except for maybe adding water to sulphuric acid and having the thing burn your face. Or, I don’t know, buying a computer with Windows Vista on it. Or, in fact, reading this book. I’d rather sleep with a man I barely know.
“Layla was finally able to breathe only to realize how damp she was between her legs.”


Wait, what? Does she breathe through her fu fu?
“He opened her door and helped her in before rounding the front of the car and getting behind the wheel of the silver gray Audi A8.”


One more product placement and this will read like a rap song.
“Was he putting her on? Was he for real in his apparent attraction to her? Was this all some elaborate ruse to get back in her panties? She didn’t know.”


OK. This is illogical. Why would anyone prepare an elaborate ruse to get back into the panties of someone they are NOT attracted to?
“He looked at her for a moment and then tossed his head back and laughed, a deep soul-stirring laugh that rumbled deliciously in her center. “ 
The hero is supposedly deeply sad and depressed, yet he constantly laughs (either a chuckle or a deep soul-stirring laugh) at things that are completely unfunny.
“ “Show me how to be different,” he said on a ragged whisper. “Tell me how to reconcile my two worlds. Teach me what you know about healing, because I’m all messed up inside.” Her throat squeezed and a tear spilled down her cheek.”
Now I’m crying too. Over all the trees that had to die so that this could be printed.

Roddy Doyle - The Commitments

Commitments (Vintage Contemporaries) - Roddy Doyle

I went into this book knowing nothing about it, not having seen the movie, certainly not having seen the musical and not being familiar with the Irish institution that is Roddy Doyle.

Initially I thought there was a mistake and I somehow obtained the screenplay for the film rather than the novel. Doyle shows a true bravado in his disregard for what we assume to constitute a novel. His narrative is composed almost entirely of dialogues and some diminished descriptions which are no more than stage directions.

Yet, somehow, despite those self-imposed constraints and in just 140 pages he manages to capture the essence of teenage dreams, how they burn and then burn out, how they get lost in arguments and get flooded by hormonal rivers. It’s all there in a story of a few Dublin teenagers who form a band and try to bring some soul into the Irish capital. Make no mistake, though, this is not a novel about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s a lot more innocent than that. It’s neither glamorous, nor bohemian. It’s just working class. It’s like that Lorde’s song Royals.

Even though the format of ‘The Commitments’ didn’t quite work for me, because I’m attached to the more Dickensian kind of narration, it did manage to extract some emotional response from me. However, I think this is one of the few instances where I think ‘the movie is better.’ And that is without actually having seen the movie.

*Knowledge of 60’s r’n’b and soul music desirable but not essential for the enjoyment of this book.

Henry Abbott - Camping at Cherry Pond

Camping at Cherry Pond - Henry Abbott

Like the other thing by Henry Abbott I have read, this is also full of quaint nature observations such as:

“The bear will gorge himself on these cherries, and he is no conservationist. He climbs a tree if it is a large one and breaks off all the branches. If it happens to be a small tree, he will tear it down and break it limb from limb, or he may pull it up by the roots, thus destroying the crop for another year. The bear is a typical American.”

As well as practical tips about the survival in the wilderness. This time I learnt a little about building different sort of shelters, from more sophisticated hunting cabins to simple lean-ins. Now I'm fully prepared for the apocalypse. Bring it on!

Even though I’m rather against modern day hunting which is just a pointless rich man sport, I’m always rather taken with those older books about hunting and fishing. In ‘Camping at Cherry Pond’ Henry and Bige go out to hunt deer but days go by and they are unsuccessful and reduced to diet of flapjacks and onions. Henry will have you know that he likes both flapjacks and onions but such a monodiet eventually dampened their spirits. It’s when they almost give up hope to ever eat meat again, they see a family of deer frolicking about. The sight is so beautiful they completely forget to shoot them.

“This was a show worth the price of admission, and we sat and watched it for fully ten minutes, when a shifting breeze apparently carried our scent to the mother, who instantly sounded a note of warning, and the family party quickly disappeared through the brush into the tall timber, and we paddled back across Cherry Pond to our breakfast of flapjacks, syrup, and onions.

As we approached the landing place it occurred to me that the hammer of my gun was still up, and that the gun had not been lifted from my knees during the entire performance. As I let the hammer down and removed the cartridge from the barrel, I was conscious of a sense of relief that nothing had occurred to disturb the pleasant relations of the happy family.

After breakfast I went over on the Wolf Mountain tote road and shot four fine fat partridges. That night we had roast partridge for dinner. Have you ever eaten partridge that had been roasted in a Dutch oven before a camp fire? Well, say! "Jes take and have 'em stuffed with onions, baste 'em well, and roast 'em brown with a lot of gravy."”

Drodzy humaniści moi mili

Znowu się wyzłośliwiam:



Sorry guys, another one in Polish!

Lisa Kleypas - The Devil in Winter

The Devil in Winter  - Lisa Kleypas

Colour me baffled. Why does everyone love this book?

At least finally we have a genuine rake here – meaning a total selfish, overbearing asshole. He is a rake alright. He is also a rake in need of money. And then we have a shy, stuttering, abused heroine who has grown up in a family that can be described as pathological. In a way it all makes sense, she would gravitate towards overbearing assholes, while he enjoys being one AND getting praise for being a little better than her fucked-up family.

So the shy, stuttering heroine (who slips in and out of her character throughout the whole book) approaches the vicious rake and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. She would share her inheritance if he promises to marry her and take her out of her messed-up domestic situation. So far, so good.

And then, inexplicably, England’s number one playboy falls in love with her. Why? Honestly, fuck knows, The book hardly makes it clear. It is finally his best friend who makes a guess that it is because the heroine is ‘so sweet and innocent’ (or something along those lines). I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Please spare me this virginal nonsense, I beg you. So he whored around for the better part of his life but now he wants to settle down with an innocent flower. He never knew love because how could he love those slutty women he banged. They were spoilt goods. But there is his virgin and he is gonna love her the best he knows how, meaning, by being a controlling, overbearing asshole. Ideally he would lock her up in a country house, where she could be ‘safe’, you know. How romantic!

Because there are men out there who take a rich heiress, drug her, try to rape her and force her to marry them. Oh wait, that’s the hero of this book in the previous instalment of this series. But he apologized in this novel, so it’s all good (even though he apologized the woman’s husband, not the woman herself, but that’s normal, as women belong to their husbands).

Nie wąchajcie książek

Tu napisałam po polsku:



Sorry, the above is just for my Polish speaking friends. :)

New Year, New Office

Our office moved and we started 2014 in an entirely new space.


I was initially worried, because as a rule I'm not comfortable with changes at first (and then I become over-excited). The pessimist in me thinks any change must always be for the worse. So I was worried about everything - I feared my commute would be worse, I would have less sunlight in the office, my desk would be small and all the other crazy little things that make up the office cubicle reality.


However, when finally, towards the end of Friday, all the furniture was assembled and the computers hooked up I decided it wasn't half bad. My new commute is actually very pleasant as well, now that I was able to ditch the meat-grinder of the Central Line.


Here is my new office corner (sadly not a corner office yet.)


Office Corner


Now I feel optimistic (and over-excited). I think 2014 will be a great year filled with happiness and craploads of fantastic books. And I wish you all the same!

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

Has there ever been a more perversely English book?

From the paragraphs meandering around and telling the reader what in the narrator’s humble opinion makes a great butler to the descriptions of the unobtrusive beauty of the English countryside it somehow manages to be the saddest love story ever told. Also as my friend Lewis says: “it’s the best example of dramatic irony in contemporary literature.”

The narrator, Mr Stevens, is the ultimate tragic hero. He is so repressed that he doesn’t even know how to be honest with himself. His only identity is that of a butler and he had been wearing for so long that whatever personality he might have had is long gone. And morphing into his profession is what he twistedly defines as ‘dignity’ - the quality he admires most of all. And all we get are his monologues, monologues that frustrate us and depress us. This book should be unreadable, and yet it is a page turner. Not much happens, which is symptomatic to Mr Stevens’ life and yet this meticulous character study is so emotionally involving that even though I’m reviewing it a long time after finishing it, it is still very fresh in my mind and proves to me that those five stars I gave it were fully deserved.

All in all, it’s a cautionary tale – what if you wake up one day towards the end of your life and realise that you have wasted it, that all you believe to be good and true turned out to be a sham? Would you just plain deny it or would you just try to make the best of the remains of the day?

Henry Abbott - Camps and Trails

Camps and Trails - Henry Abbott

Here I am, still alphabetically reading the books from the public domain which I have found on the Gutenberg Project website. This means I basically read things written by people whose last name was Abbott. I should rename it as my 'Abbott Project', rather than 'Gutenberg Project Project'.

This little marvel was one of 19 little tales written by Henry Abbott which concern mostly his hunting and camping expeditions up-state New York with his partner Bige. The whole collection is called 'Bitch Bark Books', although I think 'The Sketches from a Hunter's Album' would be more apt. That, however, was already taken by Turgenev.

What did I learn from Camps and Trails?
I learnt that picnickers have always been littering, noisy assholes, even back in 1915.

I also learnt that goshawks are even worse assholes.

"Every guide and hunter of my acquaintance in the North Woods, is the sworn enemy of this bird of prey. No man is thought to have performed his duty if he allows one of these hawks to escape. The goshawk destroys many song birds, but his particular object in life is to kill partridges. The partridge is one of our most desirable game birds. He has many enemies among the four footed residents of the forest. The owl also, will kill a partridge at night, while he is roosting in a tree; but the goshawk (sometimes called partridge hawk) pursues a policy of frightfulness amounting almost to extermination of the partridge. He will sit all day, and day after day in a tree in that part of the woods where a flock of young partridges live, watching his opportunity to pounce upon and kill them one after another, until the last one is disposed of; when he will go on a hunt for another flock. [...] I suspect that our feeling of enmity toward the goshawk is not entirely due to sympathy for the defenseless partridge. Mixed motives may inspire us to acts of revenge. We, ourselves sometimes eat breast of partridge.

More usefully, I learnt how to blaze a trail which will come in super handy post the apocalypse.

But the most beautiful part of this tiny thing was this great paragraph about getting lost in the forest. Because getting lost in the forest is at the same time the best and the worst thing that could happen to you in the forest.

"The first impulse of one who thinks he is lost in the forest is that of haste. One is always in a desperate hurry to get somewhere quick. If this impulse is obeyed and the now alarmed traveler rushes off at headlong speed, the danger is, not only that of going in the wrong direction, but in nine cases out of ten, the victim travels in circles. The psychology of deliberation is like first aid to the injured and the victim soon begins to realize that he is not really lost. He is only temporarily mislaid and will soon pull himself out and locate some familiar landmark."

"I have also, many times been misplaced in the forest while hunting or exploring and am always on such occasions reminded of Bige's advice to "never argue with your compass while in the woods." Whenever my compass tells me that camp is in a direction opposite to that which reason and memory and the lay of the land indicates, my practice is to sit down on a log, lay the compass on the log, stand the gun up against a tree far enough away so the steel of its barrel will not influence the compass needle and try to arrange in mind the topography of the country I am in. After a reasonable rest I am always willing to follow the pointing of the compass at least for a limited distance.'

2013 in books

The Remains Of The Day - Kazuo Ishiguro Morfina (Polska wersja jezykowa) - Szczepan Twardoch

This post might end up being really tedious to read because it is a direct result of my love for making spreadsheets.

So how was my 2013 in books? I have read 76 books (I might squeeze in one more before the year ends, as I'm almost finished with Winesburg, Ohio). I think it is a good number. I think anything between 50 to 80 is good. More than that and you're risking just swallowing books without giving yourself enough time to think and digest them. Not enough time for some critical assessment.

That, of course, assumes that one has a full time job and some sort of life. If your full time job is to read and think about books, then I guess you can read more. And if you read mostly genre fiction, which does not need be mulled over for days afterwards, then of course you can go through them like a fast train. I can read three romance novels in one weekend if I put my mind to it.

Out of 76 books I've read I gave five stars to fourteen books and two of them I gave my 'special place in my heart' accolade. They were 'The Remains of The Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro and 'Morfina' by Szczepan Twardoch. 'Morfina' STILL hasn't been translated to English but it is soon coming out in German, so if you read in German, do yourself a favour and buy it.

I wonder if there is anything those two books have in common. I suppose you can say they both try to explore to some extent the question of national identity. The narrators of both books seem to be stuck in their respective Englishness/Polishness. 

In the category 'I should have really read this by now' I'd like to say I have finally read my first Dickens and my first Steinbeck and duly appreciated their greatness (although with some reservations).

In the category 'I shouldn't really be reading so much of it' I have to say I have read 23 romance novels and, sadly, that's really the only thing that's keeping my reading list gender-balanced. Out of the remaining 53 books, only 19 were written by women, 33 by men and one was mixed-gender anthology.

I'm also not doing very well on the non-English front. I have read only 20 things which were not originally written in English, and most of them were Polish books on history which I'm reading as a research for my novel.

I guess these are my literary New Year's resolutions - read more by women, read more non-fiction, read more translations, read more in Polish and Spanish.

Patrick McGrath - Constance

Constance - Patrick McGrath

Hi Patrick McGrath, thanks for phoning this foetus of a novel in!

Was this written on a napkin during a barbecue on a long weekend? Because this is what it felt like. There was a good idea or two in it, but everything, including the writing, felt so stunted.
My friend suggested that maybe ‘Constance’ is a satire on Freudian case studies. This was a very interesting and charitable interpretation but I think this book takes itself way too seriously to be a satire or pastiche of anything.

What do we have there? A young woman with ‘daddy issues’ who marries an older guy. There are quite obvious secrets to be revealed and so much melodrama it could be enough for at least 30 episodes of Jersey Shore. The perspective changes from Constance to her husband but God knows why, because Constance has absolutely nothing to reveal about her feelings or emotions. It seems like the author believes that women are such mysterious, esoteric creatures that they are in fact a mystery to themselves. Her narrative voice was childlike (despite the fact, she was supposed to be an editor, so should be fairly eloquent) and it was a grand mess with only one clear message ‘I hate Daddy! Why didn’t he love me?’

On the other hand, the husband changes between mansplaining Constance’s emotions and her ‘psyche’ to the reader and telling us she is impenetrable and he can’t understand her.

It is not that the characters were unlikeable, as I don’t have any problem with that - I’m not reading books to make friends (and if you do, then I suggest you go out more). The issue was that the characters were incongruous, they didn’t make sense most of the time. They were affected by things that shouldn’t affect them, and ignored the things that should really make an impact on them.

The plot was also all over the place, as if the author forgot that things in books should happen for a reason. If you make something happen, there should be some aftermath. In ‘Constance’ too many things happened and too few of them had any consequence.
I gave the book two stars because there were a few ideas that could be good if they were developed properly, and there were a few scenes that felt powerful and were in fact wasted on this mediocre at best novel. I’m not giving up on Patrick McGrath yet because some people promised me that he has written way better books than this potboiler.

Snow, Ice and Cold Books

Ice - Anna Kavan The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata, Edward G. Seidensticker Touch - Alexi Zentner Cold: Extreme Adventures at the Lowest Temperatures on Earth - Sir Ranulph Fiennes Up Close And Dangerous - Linda Howard A Night of No Return (Harlequin Presents Series #3098) - Sarah Morgan One Snowy Regency Christmas: A Regency Christmas Carol / Snowbound With the Notorious Rake - Christine Merrill, Sarah Mallory

As a Polish ex-pat living in London where snow is as rare as a free seat on the tube, I find myself missing real winters terribly.

If I can't have snow and ice in real life (and I can't until I move to Canada, which is definitely going to happen next year) I need to surround myself with winter books.


For the past week I have been asking round for suggestions and recommendations, as well as trawling the internet and my own shelves to prepare that ultimate winter reading list. And here it is, in case you need some ice and snow in your lives too.


Anna Kavan - Ice

I discovered this one accidentally while mindlessly clicking 'random book' on goodreads (which is something I do when I get bored with refreshing my email inbox and scrolling facebook up and down). It fit the bill so perfectly I couldn't believe my luck. It's some sort of post-apocalyptic science-fiction. Quite bleak and weird, apparently. Also written by a rather mysterious writer addicted to heroine. Needless to say, I went to an actual brick and mortar bookshop on the very same day to buy it.


Eowyn Ivey - The Snow Child

This one was recommended by my colleague Henna (who is from Finland, so should be an expert on all things snow). Miraculously I seem to already have it among 160 books I have accumulated on my Kindle (damn you, Kindle Daily Deal). This looks a little less bleak and more magical than ice. And the cover is beautiful


Yasunari Kawabata - Snow Country

When I asked my boss Patrick to recommend a book about snow, he said 'Snow Country' without any hesitation. He said it before I even finished asking. The internet tells me it is a story of wasted love set in the coldest part of Japan. Sounds wonderful! My own copy (with a different, prettier cover) is already on its way to me (thank you, Amazon marketplace).


Alexi Zentner - Touch

This was recommended a while ago by my sister Basia because it has so many things I love: snow, loners, fishing and... Canada! I've already managed to acquire some ex-library copy and I don't even care that apparently this book flirts a little with magical realism.


Ranulph Fiennes - Cold

This was recommended by another colleague - Alex. Non-fiction written by a man who definitely loves cold more than I do. I haven't bought it yet because I think it might be a bit too cold (he lost fingers, for God's sake) for me and it's probably best read during summer.


Of course, I needed some romance novels featuring snow - ideally with a hero and heroine snowed-in somewhere up in the mountains. I contacted my two online friends Kathleen and Jill with this request and they proceeded to flood my with recommendations. After MUCH deliberation I chose these three titles:


Linda Howard - Up Close and Dangerous

Crashing a plane in the middle of cold wilderness? Stranded with a handsome pilot? Yes, please.


Sarah Morgan - A Night of No Return

"Money, charm and sensual skills don't make up for a heart colder than ice…"
Oh, the lol of lolz. How could I not read this? "
Arriving at his rural castle in a snarling snowstorm, he craves only complete isolation.… But it seems oblivion can take an unexpected and highly intoxicating form!" You had at me the 'snarling snowstorm'.


Sarah Mallory - Snowbound with the Notorious Rake

Honestly I didn't even read what this one was about. The title is so perfect I didn't want to ruin it. Snowbound with the Notorious Rake? Are you kidding me? Yes, I'll take that, yes.


Thank you everyone for the recommendations. I hope it will be a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know!


If you have more recommendations, please do leave them in the comments. Let's make it a very very long winter!