Sunday, 23 September 2007

This and that

Things are rather busy here at the moment. I need to do a review of The Historian, which I finished a couple of days ago, but doubt that I'll have time to do that for a while. My sister-in-law sadly passed away on Friday night. She had a brain tumour, so truthfully we were actually glad that she hardly suffered at all. This coming week is going to be busy therefore and probably quite difficult for all. Add to that that we're on holiday in Cornwall the week after so have stuff to do for *that*, plus my computer crashed on Tuesday so I'm using my husband's, *and* I have a cold so am not feeling one hundred per cent... I really doubt any reviews will get done this week and certainly not the week after. I am enjoying escaping the stress by reading everyone else's blogs though, and getting some reading of my own done. I enjoyed The Historian so much that I wanted to read something travelish about Europe so I'm reading A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. It's an account of his walking trip from Holland to Constantinople, at the age of 18, in 1933 - the first part anyway - I have the second instalment on the tbr pile and may take it away as holiday reading next week. It's quite a classic among travel books, I gather, and I can understand why as it's really very good indeed.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Chivalry - SS Sunday

I'm too absorbed in The Historian to spend too much time on short stories for the RIP II challenge, today, but I did want to read one in particular. It was Chivalry by Neil Gaiman from his anthology, Smoke and Mirrors. Christina at I Heart Paperbacks and Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere reviewed this one and it sounded fun so I read it this morning.

Chivalry is a simple little tale about Mrs Whitaker, an oap who buys a chalice from the local Oxfam charity shop. Not accidently, she knows what it is - it's the Holy Grail - and so does the chap who turns up on her doorstep the next day. He's wearing a suit of armour and his horse is outside, nibbling Mrs Whitaker's gladioli...

If you need a bit of cheering up, this is a good story to choose. I laughed and laughed - not because it was hysterically funny but because our quirky little ways in the UK are so beautifully observed. I believe the author now lives in The States but it's clear he's been into one or two UK charity shops in his time.

"The (Oxfam) shop was staffed by volunteers. The volunteer on duty this afternoon was Marie, seventeen, slightly overweight, and dressed in a baggy mauve jumper that looked like she had bought it from the shop."

Now, own up, we've all met her haven't we? ;-p

'Joyous' is all I can say. The only Gaimans I've read are Stardust and Good Omens. I've very little experience of his short stories apart from the one he wrote for Shadows Over Baker Street which was very good too. He's clearly an author I ought to pay a lot more attention to and I'm certainly going to read the rest of the tales in this book. 'After' The Historian...


A quick tech question. Would anybody have any idea why some of the text in my blog is now turning up in German? For instance the line about the use of 'html' under the comment box. I have my language settings set to UK English so I'm a bit bemused by this.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Book of Lost Things

This is my first official book for the RIP II challenge, (midway through September and I've only finished one book - I need to get my skates on). Anyway, I added this one to my book pool as an after-thought after reading so many good things about it on other people's blogs, and I'm really glad I did.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is about twelve year old David who loses his mother through illness just at the start of World War II. Rather too soon for his liking his father finds another wife, Rose. Determined not to accept her overtures of friendship David retreats into his books of myths and fairytales and begins to hear them whispering to him. Not long after, he sees The Crooked Man for the first time. One night a German bomber crash lands in the garden and, outside and facing certain death, David makes a dash for a hole in the wall and enters, via a tree, another land. This land is peopled by characters from his fairy stories and other things much worse and far more threatening, including The Crooked Man. David needs to find his way home but there are those that don't wish him to do so and who try to stop him getting to the king's palace to see The Book of Lost Things, which could provide him with a route back to his own land.

Well, this book wasn't exactly what I thought it would be but then I'm not sure what I was expecting so that's probably a daft thing to say. The first few chapters were certainly very sad and so realistic that you soon realise that although this is a book about a child and about children's stories, it isn't really a book for young children. Older children, yes maybe, but not younger ones. And don't look for happy endings to each section. As David travels towards the palace he has many encounters and although most are character building they're not necessarily happy. Snow-white, for instance, is no Disney heroine! Although the seven dwarves are still a great comedy act... And there are some very dark things inhabiting this realm which don't appear in any fairy story. Where they come from I'm not saying but the wolves are er... interesting.

This is a beautifully written book. One of those where you can't stop turning the pages because you have to know what happens next. There are twists and turns galore, most of which I really wasn't expecting. I particularly liked the ending which was both happy and sad in equal measure and that suits me fine. That life is like that is a discovery that David makes for himself and you find yourself cheering him on all through the book - but weeping for him at the start when life is so hard. It's that kind of book and I'm so glad I squeezed it into my book pool for the RIP II challenge.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Short Story Sunday

For RIP II Short Story Sunday I've chosen three stories from one of the books in my book pool - Tales of Unease by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The New Catacomb

Kennedy and Julius Burger are two young archaeologists working in Rome. The former is from a well off background, the latter is not and has had to make his own reputation by dint of hard work. Both love their work to the point of obsession. Burger has found a new catacomb but won't tell Kennedy where it is. Kennedy, used to getting his own way, has to know and Burger makes a bargain - that if his friend will tell him of his dealings with a certain young woman he will tell him the location of the new catacomb. Reluctantly, Kennedy gives in and tells him. To say more would give away the outcome, which, once I'd read a certain sentence I could see coming a mile away. A nicely written short story though, atmospheric, especially in the tunnels, and with a satisfying ending.

The Brown Hand

Dr. Hardacre relates the story of how he, out of the whole of his large family, came to be named heir to Sir Dominick Holden, an eminent surgeon who had spent many years in India. Holden had removed the hand of an Indian native and taken the hand in payment for the operation, for his pathological collection. The one stipulation was that the native wanted it back when he died. The hand had subsequently been destroyed in a fire and certain events were now making the retirement of Holden and his wife a complete misery. Dr. Hardacre was able to render them a certain service and thus became Holden's heir. A bit run-of-the-mill this one, but atmospheric enough and nice descriptions of the prehistoric Wiltshire countryside.

The Terror of the Blue John Gap

The title of this suggested to me that it was probably set in the Derbyshire Peak District so it was a story I really wanted to read. Of the three read, I think this was probably the strongest, both in atmosphere and plot. Dr. John Hardcastle is convalescing from an illness and goes to stay on a farm, run by two spinsters, in The Derbyshire Peak District. Close by is The Blue John Gap and the mine where the beautiful and rare Blue John mineral is mined. Legend has it that there is 'something living in the depths of the mountain' and Hardcastle is curious enough to investigate. Enough said. This is an engaging tale, written in the form of a diary. I loved the parts that took place underground in the caves and cavern, finding them creepy and claustrophobic. The Peak District itself is very well described; it's an area I like very much so I can vouch for its authenticity. Not a bad yarn.

Based on these three I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in this book. They certainly varied in quality, ie. whether they were creepy enough for my taste. The Terror of Blue John Gap was the best in that respect and if there are more like that in this volume I will be quite happy.

Currently reading: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly for the RIP II challenge.

Saturday, 8 September 2007


This is one of those odd instances where you're sure you've read a book but it turns out you haven't. I must have been confusing film with book that's all I can say but I quickly realised as I was reading that I certainly had *not* read Dracula before. Hardly anything about it was familiar and I think that's because it's written in diary form and thus, to my mind anyway, is quite unlike any of the movies.

The story begins as Jonathan Harker, representing his Exeter firm of solicitors, is on the way to Transylvania for a meeting with Count Dracula. His subsequent experiences scar him for life and he's lucky to escape with said life intact. In the meantime the count has set off for England with his boxes of native earth in tow. Harker's fiancé, Mina, is in Whitby with her friend, Lucy, when the count's ship lands up there with all hands dead. Lucy has a deadly encounter with Dracula in the churchyard and thus begins her decline. Dr. Van Helsing from Holland is called in to help and joins forces with Lucy's fiancé, Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, a doctor in mental health, Quincy Morris, a friend, Mina herself and Jonathan on his eventual return from Europe. Together they hatch various plans to ensnare the clever and evasive count and there are many twists and turns before they finally have to pursue him back to Transylvania.

I was really quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. It was creepy, full of suspense and beautifully written. There were times, I have to admit, when I thought, 'How can they be that stupid?' But many books rely on the stupidity of its characters, so that's okay... there would be no stories if everyone used their common sense. I very much liked the 'diary' format of the book, I think it was used a fair bit back then (late 1800s) in supernatural writing - not so much now perhaps. It enables you to get the story from many points of view in a way that works very well and Stoker gets the voices right, imo - even down to Van Helsing's not quite correct English. The blood transfusions made me smile. I've no idea when the medical profession started doing those but I'm thinking that in 1897 they didn't know about different blood types! But, small nit-picks aside, this is such a good read and I honestly have no idea why I never bothered to read it before.

I feel fully prepared now to read Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, looking forward to it in fact and intrigued as to how it connects to the events or people in Dracula.

Edited to add: Beware! Spoilers for Dracula in comments!!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

New books

I thought I'd post a few pics of recent book purchases. I'm a terrible book buyer, seeming to be able resist anything except temptation. I do frequent charity shops, I will say that in my defense... and therein can be found some excellent bargains, cheaper even than eBay because no postage is involved of course.

The top four books here are all to do with WW2 and my interest in The Holocaust and the beginnings of Nazism. The Anne Frank is the newer uncut version so I'll be interested to reread that to see what was left out. And David Copperfield was £1.97 in Tescos! Bargin!

A couple of new ones here but mainly charity shop or eBay buys. I'm especially pleased with The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill. I read this years ago from the library. It covers a year in the author's life in rural Oxfordshire, has the most wonderful etchings as illustrations and is quite delightful. The two sci fi books are Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card because I plan to take part in the Cardathon challenge next year and Before the Golden Age 3 edited by Isaac Asimov. The latter bought because I have '2' and love it so much as it includes Tumithak of the Corridors and Tumithak in Swawm, two of my favourite sc fi short stories. So, I could hardly leave '3' on the shelf could I? The Freya Stark I bought because I know she's a classic travel writer but I've never read any of hers, so this book, The Lycian Shore will be a good starting point.

And these final two are the book pool for my RIP2 challenge... purely because I just couldn't resist taking a pic of them. I should probably get out more.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

August books & RIP update

Can it really be the 2nd. September already? Answer: yes it can. August was incredibly busy and I'm rather hoping that the busy spell is now at an end. I did manage to read a few books but less than usual - five instead of my average six to eight. Never mind, it's quality not quantity and I enjoyed what I did read. And those titles were:

Lighthouse by Tony Parker
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin

I'm now reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not for my RIP challenge but so that I can read The Historian for said challenge. I had a feeling it might be useful to do so and had that feeling confirmed by Booklogged. Anyway, Dracula, which I thought I'd read but have decided I haven't, is such a good read that I'm having trouble putting it down.

I've also added a further title to my RIP book pool and that is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Added because I keep hearing so many good things about it (and couldn't resist). I now also own The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker, a book I'd never even heard of before now so hope to be able to fit that in at the end of the challenge.

Anyway, I'm hoping for some really good reads now that autumn is well and truly on the way. The weather here in the UK has turned very autumnal indeed and that's okay by me, I love this time of year more than any other.