Friday, 29 November 2013

Helliconia Spring

Well, Carl's Sci-Fi Experience 2014 doesn't officially begin until Sunday but, unable to resist the temptation, I started my first book over a week ago.

Helliconia Spring, by Brian W. Aldiss, is science fiction on a huge canvas. This is in fact the first part of a trilogy and the most important thing to understand is the astromony of the system to which the planet of Helliconia belongs. It's one of several planets that revolve around the star, Batalix. All of these in turn revolve around a much bigger star, Freyr. Helliconia is a planet with two suns. What this means for this inhabited planet is that basically it has two years. One is around the same length as ours - slightly longer - and the other is over 1,800 years long. What prevails, climate-wise is the year that is 1,800 years long, which means that the seasons they get are each nearly 500 years in length.

Their winters are like an ice-age, their summers unbearably hot to the point of extinction of huge numbers of the population. In the space of one of these centuries long 'years', whole civilisations rise and then are brought to the edge of extinction again.

When the book begins a young human boy, Yuli, is out hunting with his father. It seems like the dead of a snow and ice filled winter but in fact, unbeknown to them, it is not. The endless winter is coming to an end. They of course know nothing about this. They need food to take back to Yuli's mother who is ill. A massive herd of grazing beasts passes them and a few days later while harvesting the fallen and trampled animals, Yuli's father is taken prisoner by Phagors, the other sentient beings on the planet. Yuli is now alone with nowhere to go.

The boy wanders and eventually ends up in Pannoval, a city built under a mountain. Eventually the boy becomes a priest to try and discover some of the secrets of the city. It's hinted that there are places where the secrets of the history of the planet can be found, but are there?

Yuli's descendants in the town of Oldorando will be the people who experience the huge climate changes that the planet of Helliconia is now undergoing. And it's the women with their thirst for knowledge who will try to change the way humans think and act and who will aim once more at a modern civilisation for the population.

Very, very hard to do this book any justice at all. As I said before it's a painting on a huge canvas. If you're looking for a fast paced, exciting science fiction novel to read then this is probably not it. The story deals with several generations of the same primitive family living in conditions similar to early Native American Indians... and probably those living in the frozen wastes of Canada - at the start anyway. As the weather warms up things begin to change but attitudes remain entrenched... the women do the work while the men hunt. Thus it has always been and thus it will always stay if the men have their way. It's up to the women to try and introduce education but it's an uphill struggle and I found it a very interesting process to follow. Rather frustrating at times as you know the women are right but the men are not good at listening.

Along with all this we learn that orbiting the planet is a space-city peopled with Terrans, and that they are watching and recording events on the planet. They know that the Phagors who kidnapped Yuli's father are carrying a disease. They know what will happen as the climate warms. And thus, little dribs and drabs of information are fed to the reader regarding astronomy, the science of the planet, diseases endemic to the world and so on. It's all utterly fascinating... well I found it so anyway. It might not be to everyone's taste but this mix of factual science and a character-driven narrative suited me right down to the ground.

The world-building in the book is some of the best I've ever encountered. I'm a bit of a sucker for a good alien world anyway... possibly it could have been a trifle more alien as it does read rather like Earth during the Ice-Age... but I found enough differences to keep me happy and mysteries enough to keep me absorbed. There's a lot you're not told that's presumably being kept for successive books. Basically, this is a 'Rise and Fall of Civilisation' book... I gather Brian Aldiss was/is (he's still alive and writing) very interested in that theme.

At 550 pages this is quite a chunky read. The slowness of it might put some people off too; it isn't a quick read, partly because of its length and partly because of all the detail. It's densely written and you need to concentrate while reading. But oh goodness, is it worth sticking with it. I finished this book days ago and am still thinking about it, wondering what the next two books, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter, will hold and whether they'll answer various questions. I now have both books and intend reading at least one more for the sci-fi experience. These books are from the early to mid-1980s and part of me wishes I'd read them earlier as I did know about them. The rest of me is actually grateful I didn't as I'm certain my reading brain is far more mature than it was 30 years ago and I'm not at all sure I would have appreciated this book as much back then as I do now.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty,
but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

~Vincent Van Gogh

Hear, hear. And this quote explains why I was a willing victim of TV shows like Dr. Who, Star Trek, Blake's Seven, Star Trek: TNG and Voyager. They were utterly irresistible to me, couldn't fail. I started reading science fiction at about age 14, read everything the library had and bought a few books with my meagre pocket money. Favourite authors were H.G. Wells, Clifford D. Simak, A.E. Van Vogt, Damon Knight, Edmund Cooper. In the late sixties Anne McCaffrey sprang upon the scene and I devoured Restoree, Decision at Doona, The Ship Who Sang and the first Pern novel, Dragonflight.

And then... well I just I sort of gave up on science fiction! Preoccupied with raising kids, I read historical romances instead. I almost feel embarrassed to admit it. And when I did return to speculative fiction I turned to fantasy and horror - Victorian ghost stories - not science fiction. In truth, I didn't really return until about 6 or 7 seven years ago when someone recommended Grass by Sheri Tepper. I read it, was knocked out, and wondered why on earth I'd not kept up with my sci-fi habit.

Several years ago I started to do Carl's Sci-Fi Experience and, *at long last*, properly rediscovered my taste for sci-fi and the joys of space opera, although I don't remember ever calling it that in my teens. I didn't do the challenge last year and sorely missed it, so this year I'm very definitely going to do it. Excited? Me? Oh yes.

The artwork here is by Stephan Martiniere... Carl always finds the most fantastic artists for his challenges/experiences. The sign-up post is here.

Carl is inviting readers to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

The Experience begins on the 1st. December 2013 and ends on the 31st, January 2014. There are no set numbers of books to read, no pressure, you just get to read what you like, be it one book or twenty: it's up to you.

I have a few books I would like to read but am not sure yet how many I will get to. Three or four would be nice but we'll see. These are a few of them:

Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss
Consider Phlebus by Iain M. Banks
Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg
Doors of his Face, Lamps of his Mouth by Roger Zelazny
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
Dawn by Octavia Butler
Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

And of course, there are others, lots of them. So we'll see how it goes. But one thing I will say, I really do plan to read my own books!


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Read Scotland 2014

I'm at it again. 'At it' meaning finding myself completely unable to resist a tempting challenge. I had told myself that, along with Carl's various challenges, the Mount TBR and the Vintage Crime ones were more than enough for 2014. Ha! Peggy at Peggy Ann's Post has decided to host her own Scottish books challenge. I read about it, resisted... for about half a day... and then decided to participate. What can I say? I have Scottish ancestors and not that far back - my grandfather was a Scot from Aberdeen - so that makes me rather susceptible to anything Scottish. We're also hoping to holiday up there for the first time, hopefully next year. Plus, I investigated the books I have and was shocked at how many I own that will qualify for this one. So, without further ado, Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge:

Challenge levels:

Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books read
The Highlander: 5-8 books
The Hebridean: 9-12 books
Ben Nevis: 13+ books


Read and review Scottish books -any genre, any form- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland.

Challenge runs January 1 to December 31, 2014

Books you read may count for other challenges.

You don't have to have a blog to participate. If you have a blog, post a challenge sign-up and link that post (not your home page) to the links below. Grab a copy of the challenge badge if you want to post it too. If you don't have a blog let me know in a comment below that you are participating and what level you are aiming for.

Post your review on your blog and link the review to the Read Scotland 2014 Review Page I'll be putting up the first of the year. If you don't have a blog and still want to review you can:
1: post a review at any bookseller that allows reviews, and link to it
2: send me a review by email and I will post it here for you.
3: Join the group I started at Goodreads HERE
Or you can also just let us know how your coming along in the comments below the links on the review page.

All that remains is for me to choose the level I want to aim for. I think I'll go for The Hebridean - 9 to 12 books. This might be a bit ambitious of me but it's OK to double up and I can already see that I'll be able to do that easily.

A few books I found on my shelves and Kindle that will suit this challenge. (This is not a list to stick to religiously, just some ideas for my own use.)

Iain M. Banks - Consider Phlebas
Margaret Oliphant - Miss Marjoriebanks
Tobias Smollett - Travels Through France and Italy
John Buchan - Huntingtower
Peter May - The Lewis Man
Dorothy Wordsworth - Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland
Ann Lindsay - Seeds of Blood and Beauty: Scottish Plant Explorers
Barbara Erskine - Kingdom of Shadows
Tales of Terror from Blackwood's Magazine (It was a Scottish magazine.)
John Muir - The Story of my Boyhood and Youth
Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves
Katherine Pathak - Aoife's Chariot
Neil Oliver - A History of Scotland
George MacDonald - The Back of the North Wind
Derek Cooper - The Road to the Isles
Robert Louis Stevenson - Selected Letters
Sir Walter Scott - The Antiquary

A few authors whose books I don't own but which I'd like to read:

D.E. Stevenson
Gavin Maxwell
Katherine Stewart
Mairi Hedderwick
John and Carole Barrowman (Hollow Earth series)
Gavin Esler
Val McDermid
Joesphine Tey
Linda Gillard (Cauldstone)

And there will doubtless be others I'll come across as I read and absorb what others read for this challenge. Looking forward to starting and many thanks to Peggy for hosting this.

Books actually read:

1. Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks
2. Letters from the Horn of Africa - 1923-1942 - Sandy Curle, ed. Christian Curle
3. Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Last Wool and Testament

My first three books for the 2013 Southern Literature challenge, hosted by The Introverted Reader, were what you might call 'quite serious'. In some cases 'very' serious. So I thought for my final book of the challenge that I would lighten the mood a bit and go for something a bit less demanding. The book I chose was Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae.

Kath Rutledge is on her way to her grandmother, Ivy's, funeral, late and speeding, when she's stopped by the local deputy sheriff of Blue Plum, Tennessee. On hearing who she is he says a couple of things about Ivy that Kath finds disturbing and unpleasant. Something is clearly wrong.

Ivy owned The Weaver's Cat in Blue Plum, a shop selling wool, threads, knitting supplies etc. Still grieving, Kath discovers that Ivy may have been a suspect in a murder, the poisoning of one, Emmett Cobb. She then discovers that the house she thought she would inherit now belongs, not to her, but to Emmett's son, Max. All in all, it's a huge mystery. How did Emmett come to own Ivy's house? And who killed him and why?

Kath enlists help from her solicitor, Homer, and from the TGIF group... Thank God It's Fibre... that meet at the shop. And there's also help from an unlikely, supernatural, source - although whether it's help or hindrance, Kath can't quite decide. But this mystery must be solved and soon, before someone else dies...

The joy of this book is in the characters and the setting. The small Tennessee town of Blue Plum is delightful with its views of The Great Smoky Mountains and small-town closeness of the people. I liked Kath, and felt for her with the frustrations of her dire situation. The ladies of the TGIF group were great and I adored the shop; if it existed I'd be there like a shot on our next visit to the USA! Several people were irritating and annoying but you need that to add friction to a story. The seam of gentle humour that runs through the book is absolutely delightful and I laughed quite a lot. The author has a lovely droll way of putting things that I really enjoyed.

Mystery-wise the plot doesn't really get going properly until about 100 pages or more in. And I feel like there were a couple of plot holes which is something I don't usually notice, but now can't really remember so phooey to that...

Truthfully, I liked this book easily enough to buy book 2, Dyeing Wishes, for my Kindle. I'm not massively into cosy mysteries but make an exception for this one for capturing me with good characters and a nice sense of humour.

As well as being my last book for the Southern Lit. challenge this book is my first book for the state of Tennessee for my own personal USA one.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Tredegar House - South Wales

I was reminded yesterday that I have photos that I took in August in South Wales that I haven't shared here on my blog yet. So, without further ado, here is the first batch. We stopped off at Tredegar House on the way to spend a few days in and around Cardiff. The house is owned by the National Trust and is situated on the edge of the town of Newport. The NT website is here along with lots of extra information and a slide-show picture thingy.

First a few shots of the garden:

These old greenhouses have a real charm of their own.

I also love old apple trees.

And colourful patches of nasturtiums (and one day I may even learn how to spell them and not have to look it up in the dictionary every time...)

And now a few shots of the house and stables... with nice gates. :-)

The local dalek. Our grandson was with us, aged 6 at the time, he's a very competent reader... good enough to spot and read a sign near the entrance that there was a dalek somewhere in the grounds or house for kids to search for. Of course, we never heard the end of it then... 'Where's the dalek, where's the dalek???' Eventually he found it...

The Lord of the Manor. He wishes... (My husband in case anyone is wondering.)

So that was Tredegar House, a lovely spot, an interesting house and lovely gardens to stroll around.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

2014 Mount TBR challenge

One thing I suddenly realised - well maybe not as suddenly as all that - this year is that I seem to be concentrating more on reading library books than I do on reading those on my own bookshelves. I sort of understand why. Going to the library once a week is a lovely thing to do... all those books make for a great *free* book fix and there's also the added consideration that if libraries are not used we might lose them. But I also buy books. Not in huge quantities, I will say that, and I also tend to go for the cheapest copy I can find either on Amazon Marketplace or in charity shops. *But* once I buy the book there's this feeling that OK... I now own it and can read it whenever I want. So up on the shelf it goes, and quite often, I'm ashamed to admit, there it stays and off I toddle to the library to pick up something else to read. It's silly. And over the past few weeks I've been thinking that I should try next year to get some of my own books read. I have read some of my own this year. When I counted, out of the 76 books I've read so far this year around 30 were my own, that's less than a half. It's not terrible but I could clearly do a *lot* better and to that end I'm going to have a go at a challenge that will hopefully help me out.

The challenge is the Mount TBR challenge, 2014 and it's being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

These are the challenge levels:

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:

*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade. All books counted for lower mountains may carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2014.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2014.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2014. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised last year--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2014. I will trust you all on that.

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be quarterly check-ins and prize drawings!

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign up and link THAT post (not your home page) into the linky below. Non-bloggers, please leave a comment declaring your challenge level--OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, I will once again put together a group for the challenge there. Feel free to sign up HERE. And, finally, I will once again have a sidebar link for Progress Reports--> ***Coming Soon: Reviews may be posted at links found at Review Headquarters (click link).


OK, so all that remains is for me to choose a challenge level. I've thought hard about this. I've managed 'around' 30 this year without any effort on my part, so 36 is not really challenging myself. 60 is attractive but might be taking it a bit far as some years I don't read much more than 60 books. The logical number is 48, Mount Ararat, so that's what I will go for. Wish me luck!

Books read:

1. The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder
2. Consider Phelbas - Iain M. Banks
3. Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold
4. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
5. Have His Carcase - Dorothy L. Sayers
6. Sundiver - David Brin
7. Good Evening, Mrs. Craven - Molly Panter-Downes
8. The Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers
9. Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
10. West with the Night - Beryl Markham
11. Among Others - Jo Walton


Monday, 4 November 2013

Vintage Mystery challenge

Well, just call me fickle. There I was thinking I should go challenge-free into next year when suddenly a couple of shiny challenges present themselves and I'm falling over myself to sign up! Both of them are being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block and I'll do separate posts for each. First up, The Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge.

Here are the rules:

* All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.). The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library or bookstore.

*Challengers may play either the Silver Age or Golden Age Card—or both. For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960. Please remember that some of our Golden Age Vintage authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original publication date and apply them to the appropriate card. Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive). Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they feature stories first published during the declared Silver Age years and include no stories first published later than 1989. Yes, I admit my dates are arbitrary and may not exactly meet standard definitions of Golden or Silver Age.

*Challenge runs from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. Sign up any time between now and November 30, 2014. Any books read from January 1 on may count regardless of your sign-up date. If you have a blog, please post about the challenge and a little bit about your commitment—if you’re going Silver or Gold…or maybe some of each. Then sign up via one of the linkys found below. And please make the url link to your Challenge post and not your home page. (Links that do not follow this rule will be removed.) If you decide to go for broke and try to score on both cards, you only need sign up once--pick a card, any card for your link.

*One Free Space per card—you may use your Free Space to cover any spot on the board. The Free Space book must fulfill one of the categories from the card, but it may fulfill ANY space you like—even a category you have already fulfilled. For example…if you are having trouble finding a book to meet the “mode of transportation” category, but you really need that space to complete a BINGO then you may read a book that meets any other category on the board and use your Free Space to claim the “mode of transportation” space.

*No double-counting. A book may not count for both the original category (say, "Woman in the Title") and as the Free Space to replace "mode of transportation." A second "Woman in the Title" would need to be read to complete the Free Space and replace "mode of transportation."

*BINGOS may be claimed by completing all spaces in a row--horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You may also claim a “Four Corner” BINGO by reading a book for each of the four corners plus two more spaces—any two. A valid BINGO must have six complete spaces.

*Any challenger who completes one BINGO will be entered in a drawing at the end of the year. Any challenger who completes two or more BINGOs (either from the same card or BINGOs from each card) will automatically be offered a prize from the prize list. Any challenger who covers a card by completing all categories will automatically be offered a prize from the prize list (as referred to in the "two or more BINGOs" section) PLUS a special surprise bonus.

*The categories are open for interpretation. Many of these categories were featured in the 2013 version of the challenge and it may help to refer to the 2013 Challenge List. If you have doubts whether a potential book will meet a category, please email me at phryne1969 AT gmail DOT com. The “Out of Your Comfort Zone” is absolutely up to you. For me—that will most likely mean hard-boiled or spy/thriller—but if that’s what you prefer, then you might go for a nice cozy mystery. *Borrow = from the library, from a friend, using free electronic downloads. In my world “own” means that you have purchased the book (preferably hard copy—but that’s just me, :-) ) or received it as a present.

*You are welcome to count these books towards any other challenges as well.

This is the Bingo card with all the various categories listed:

I've had a look at my shelves and found eight books that qualify as vintage crime (one of those I'm not sure about). I haven't checked whether they make up a line or a diagonal line and I'm not sure it matters. I may just fill in those I can and see what materialises... as in a real game of Bingo. I fully realise that could mean I end up reading the whole chart! To tell the truth I just want to have some fun with this... possibly read some more Dorothy L. Sayers and try a few more vintage crime authors such as Marjorie Allingham, Georgette Heyer, A.A. Milne, Agatha Christie, Michael Innes, and read more Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle. Any author recs would be most welcome as I'm sure there must authors I've never heard of that I would enjoy.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

R.I.P. VIII wrap-up post

I don't know why Carl's R.I.P. book challenge always flies by so quickly. Old-age speeding time up I suspect, but anyway, it's over for another year which is rather sad.

I decided to do:

Which was to: read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux… or anyone in between.

This is the photo I put up of the books I planned to choose from:

Looking at them now it seems I didn't do all that brilliantly at reading these books. LOL. I managed three of them *but* two others I started, gave a fair chance to, and then abandoned when I realised I didn't like them all that much. So I did in actual fact get five books off the tbr pile. Which is 'okay'... 'ish' anyway.

Right... well these are the books I did manage to read:

1. The Woods by Harlen Coben.

2. John Silence: Psychic Investigator by Algernon Blackwood.

3. An Absolute Gentlemen by R.M. Kinder.

4. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.

5. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.

6. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins.

7. Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough.

8. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch.

So, eight books read for this year's R.I.P. Five of them were my own books (one of those a Kindle read) and three from the library. A favourite? Oh gosh... very hard indeed. All eight were really good books and I would recommend them to anyone with a taste for spooky stories, mysteries or horror/fantasy. But all in all I think the prize has to go to:

The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. I liked the Victorian writing, the Cornish setting, the plot of the thing, it was just an all-round excellent read and I definitely plan to read more of his books.

So that's it for another year. I believe Carl is going to start his Science Fiction reading experience a month early this year, on December the first. I didn't do it last year and missed it, so this year I think I will participate. Five books are out and sitting on the shelf already! I'm pretty much hopeless when it comes to reading challenges as I'm also very tempted by a vintage crime one that runs all of next year. Lost cause that's me... but at least it does mean I get a few books off the reading pile.

Happy November reading!