Wednesday 27 February 2008

Two non-fiction books

I'm just going to mention these two books briefly, not because they weren't good, but because I'm still a bit short of time. The end of the month is nigh and I don't want a backlog of reviews building up.

First up, Good Bones by Margaret Atwood.

When I picked this up in the library I thought it was a book of short fictional stories because that was where I found it - in the fiction section. I took it because I hadn't read any Margaret Atwood at all and wanted to see if I liked her style. Well, these turned out to be not short stories but essays. About what? Well all kinds of things really, being an unpopular girl, stupid women, men and all their peculiarities, Gertrude from Hamlet has her amusing say, ecological distasters, theology - all human life is here. It's a short book, but still manages to be both thought provoking and very amusing. I shall certainly move on to Atwood's novels some time this year.

Next up, The Aye-Aye and I by Gerald Durrell.

Another library book brought home on impulse. I read a lot of Durrell's animal collecting books when I was younger and enjoyed them a lot but had forgotten just how much of a good read they are. I think this may be the last book he wrote before he died - several years later. Anyway, it deals with his expedition to the island of Madagascar to collect half a dozen species of animals for his breeding programme in Jersey zoo - including the elusive lemur, the Aye-Aye. There is much about the difficulties such an expedition encounters, about the way of life and people of the island, about the ecological disaster that's happening in Madagascar - the stripping away of the forests - and, of course, about the animals themselves. Durrell tells the tale in an honest and very amusing style and I really recommend this one. I'm keen to reread his early Corfu books now and am eyeing up The Corfu Trilogy on Amazon and trying to resist...

Saturday 23 February 2008

The Hollow Kingdom

In the mood for something completely different I took The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare B. Dunkle, off my tbr mountain. I'm not even sure what it was doing there, where I saw it recced, or why I bought it, but it's new so I must have got it from Amazon - but some time ago now. One of those inspired buys I suspect.

The story concerns two sisters, Kate and Emily. We're not told their precise ages but Kate is around 17 or 18 and Emily, perhaps 12 or 13. They go to live with a reclusive uncle when their father dies. The uncle lives in a forested region beside a lake and the whole place has an enchanted feel to it. Lost, one night, the girls encounter what they think is a band of gypsies, except that they're not. Their leader helps them home but doesn't show his face. He makes it clear though that Kate and he have a future together. When Kate eventually sees his face she is horrified to find that he is in fact a goblin, but not just any goblin, he is the king of the ones who live under the lake. Even worse he makes it clear that he plans to make her his wife and that she will live with him underground and never see the light of day again.

It's rather strange I think how some books completely hit the spot. Was I in the mood for this Beauty and the Beast type of story or does it just happen to be the kind of thing I enjoy - so I was going to like it regardless of when I read the thing? Being a 'Young Adult' fantasy book it's not explicit in any way but it is romantic and sometimes I feel that, for someone who enjoys romantic fiction, I just don't read enough of it. The writing is engaging, pacey and atmospheric. The main characters, Kate and the Goblin king, Marak, are written sympathetically and with humour. The author doesn't try to turn Marak into a pretty boy or handsome hero, he's ugly and she makes no bones about it. But it works! Not only that, it's a delightful read, a page turner in fact; I devoured it in a couple of days. There are two sequels, book 2 is Close Kin and book 3, The Coils of the Snake, referring I think (hope) to the rather humorous charm in the form of a snake that protects all Goblin King wives from danger whilst quoting statistics about the other 167 wives he has protected. I've ordered both books from Amazon and hope they don't take too long to arrive!

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Recent buys

It's recent acquisitions time. I have been trying not to buy quite so many books but I'm sad to say that although the spirit is willing, the flesh is pathetically weak and feeble. Here are the spoils anyway:

The Welsh Girl (wonderful cover) I've seen blogged about all over the place and feel sure I will enjoy it; two days after I bought it though, I saw it in the library. *Bangs head on desk repeatedly*

Blood River by Tim Butcher was a *must buy* for me as The Poisonwood Bible has given me a bit of an interest in The Congo.

The Virago Book of Grandmothers I just couldn't resist when I saw in it the Oxfam charity shop in Honiton. :-)

Not so Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith was also from Oxfam and is about a female ambulance driver in WW1, another 'must buy' for me. Being a Virago book it's pretty certain to be excellent.

Tales of Terror from Blackwood's Magazine - again from Oxfam (they did well from me on Monday). I've never heard of Blackwood's magazine but there are some unusual authors in this so I'm hoping to find some spooky short stories I haven't already read.

To Open the Sky by Robert Silverberg is an eBay buy and was recced to me by another blogger.

So, that's it. The sad story of my downfall. But oh! just look at them - aren't they gorgeous?

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Two short reviews

Life outside the blogisphere has got me running around a bit at the moment. And the thing that's suffered is my online life - e.mail and reading my favourite blogs and updating my own. I'm behind and it's frustrating as it's very important to me but, hopefully, it's just a temporary thing and life will soon be back to normal. I'm really not a person who wants to be on the go all the time!

Anyway, needs must so I'll talk about the two books I've just finished briefly. The first is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

I could just say, 'If you only ever read one book about Africa, read this one' and leave it at that. But I won't. *g* It took me three to four weeks to read this book. Not the book's fault, mine, for being so busy. I'd have preferred to read it a bit quicker than that but in fact it's a story to be savoured and maybe it's a good thing I took so long to read it. The story is about the Price family. Father, mother and four daughters. The father, Nathan, is an evangelical, southern Baptist, who takes his family off to The Belgian Congo on a religious mission. It's 1959 - close to the time of the country's independence from Belgium. The narrative is told from the pov of the mother and the four girls in turn, never the father. It's a tale of family relationships, ignorance, tragedy and, most of all, 'Africa'. It's also a tale of the effect *our* interference has had on African countries, specifically The Congo, and by that I mean European countries and the USA. If only half of what's implied here is true, our governments should be ashamed. A brilliant, brilliant book, and one that's certain to make it into my best book list at the end of the year.

Trollope the Traveller, edited by Graham Handley, has been my bedtime read for the last three or four weeks. Put simply, it includes selections of his travel writings from 1859 to the late 1870s and includes The USA and Canada, The West Indies, Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. This is not a politically correct book. He expresses opinions which, to our 21st. century sensibilities, might be a bit questionable. That didn't bother me, I'm always able to look at this kind of writing in the context of when it was written. It's also no bad thing to see how far we've come I think. Other than that the writings are sheer joy. Trollope writes with humour and honesty, not just about the big things - political situations and so on - but about the little things as well. In fact I think I found the small things more interesting - how he was put up in the Transvaal by some Boers who were kindness itself, but he couldn't sleep in the bed because it was so filthy; his little nit-picky Post Office observations that were serious to him but so funny to the reader. Fascinating stuff and I'm looking forward to starting The Warden now that I know a bit about the man himself.

Monday 4 February 2008

Kipling bits and pieces

One of the books of short stories that I'm dipping in and out of at the moment is Animal Stories by Rudyard Kipling. I think most of the tales are from his 'Just So' collection but not all. The first thing you see when you open the book is this lovely little poem:

The Camel’s Hump

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.

Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!

We climb out of bed with a frouzly head
And a snarly-yarly voice.
We shiver and scowl and we grunt and we growl
At our bath and our boots and our toys!

And there ought to be a corner for me
(And I know there is one for you)
When we get the hump—
Cameelious hump—
The hump that is black and blue!

The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire.

And then you will find that the sun and the wind
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump—
The horrible hump—
The hump that is black and blue!

I get it as well as you-oo-oo,
If I haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We all get hump—
Cameelious hump—
Kiddies and grown-ups too!

The moral of the story? Get thee to the garden. It works for me. :-)

I haven't read all of the stories yet but one that I particularly enjoyed was The Cat that Walked Alone. It's written as a bit of a fable, imo, kind of 'Adam and Eve' stuff with 'man' discovering 'woman', whereupon she sets about domesticating him.

She picked out a nice dry Cave, instead of a heap of wet leaves, to lie down in; and she strewed clean sand on the floor; and she lit a nice fire of wood at the back of the Cave; and she hung a dried wild-horse skin, tail-down, across the opening of the Cave; and she said, ‘Wipe your feet, dear, when you come in, and now we’ll keep house.'

She then sets about domesticating the dog, the horse and the cow. What happens when she tries it with the cat is the subject of the tale. All owners of cats will sympathize! It's available to read online here.

Friday 1 February 2008

End of Seafaring challenge

Time to wrap up the Seafaring Challenge which officially finished on the 31st. January.

I read three books for the challenge, 'two books with a sea theme from any genre and one classic'. And those were:

Abarat by Clive Barker
Castaways of the Flying Dutchmen by Brian Jacques
High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

This gave me the exalted rank of 'Commodore'. I was planning to go for Admiral but that's okay, sometimes these things just don't happen. I enjoyed Abarat and High Wind in Jamaica the most, both were slightly away from the norm for me and that's good. A fun challenge and many thanks to I Heart paperbacks for organising it.