Sunday 27 April 2008

Three short reviews

The thing with reading several books at once is that you end up finishing them at the same time and are then behind with reviews! So this is a three-in-one post.

First up, The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies.

Esther is the Welsh girl of the title, aged seventeen, she works hard on her father's farm in North Wales and in the evening in the local pub. She's dating a soldier who is constructing a POW camp in the hills behind their farm. The year is 1944. The soldier rapes Esther one night and she soon realises that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Karsten, a German soldier, is surrendering on the beaches of Normandy and enduring the hatred of his fellow captives for doing so. Also involved in the story is Captain Rotheram, a German Jew working for British Intelligence, whose current assignment is to interview Rudolph Hess. The various stories of these people become linked as we find out what happens to them as the war draws to a close.

I expected to love this book, whereas in fact I only 'liked' it. The Welsh setting and details of farming life in the 1940s were fascinating. The strength of Welsh nationalism surprised me, the English really were hated, even during the war. The story of Karsten was equally interesting, his background and feelings about the war were revealing. What I couldn't work out was what all the Rudolph Hess stuff was for. Yes, it was quite interesting but I couldn't see the real point of it where the plot was concerned. No matter, an entertaining read where I learnt a fair bit, but not a keeper, not even for that gorgeous cover.

Next up, Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.

This one came from the library. I'm slowly reading a few books by an author that I can never really decide whether I'm a fan of or not. I was so-so about Stardust, liked Good Omens, enjoyed the anthology, Smoke and Mirrors, and I quite enjoyed Fragile Things. Gaiman never does the expected and I like that.

I'd already read A Study in Emerald several times but after that the stories I enjoyed most were, October in the Chair where the various months of the year sit around and tell each other stories in a competitive manner; Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire (think I got all of that)... a nice little reverse reality sort of story; Keepsakes and Treasures, quite a hard hitting story about a criminal and the boss who owns him and what has to be done to keep the boss happy; The Problem of Susan, which is a fascinating story about what happened to Susan at the end of the Narnia books, and How to Talk to Girls, about how gate-crashing a party is not *always* a good idea (loved that one). A bit of a patchy anthology but the stories that were good were *very* good. I think probably that Smoke and Mirrors is slightly better though.

And lastly, a purely indulgent read for a day when I wasn't feeling too well, The Sea of Adventure by Enid Blyton.

This is the fourth in Blyton's 'Adventure' series that she wrote for children in the 1940s and 50s. Philip and Dinah and Jack and Lucy-Ann are recovering from a bad bout of the measles. Bill Smugs, their policeman friend, takes them off to the islands off the Scottish mainland for a sailing holiday, having been told by Philip and Dinah's mother not have another adventure. Of course they do - first of all they notice planes flying overhead and depositing large packages into the sea, then Bill is kidnapped leaving the children stranded on an island. They can either stay there and hope to be rescued or they can do something positive about their predicament. You're ahead of me I'm sure. *g*

I'm enjoying these books far too much - they're a guilty pleasure and pure nostalgia for anyone of my generation. But it's not just that, Blyton is not given due credit in my opinion for her powers of description. She conveys the wild beauty of that part of Scotland wonderfully and days after finishing the book I'm still wishing I could visit those lovely islands. A terrific comfort read.

Monday 21 April 2008


Another idea stolen from Stuck in a book. Choose your favourite author for each letter of the alphabet and a favourite accompanying book. This is harder than it looks but here goes.

ASIMOV, Isaac - Before the Golden Age 2
BENNETT, Alan - The Uncommon Reader
CHEVALIER, Tracey - Falling Angels
Du MAURIER, Daphne - Frenchman's Creek
ERSKINE, Barbara - Hiding From the Light
FAULKS, Sebastian - Birdsong
GRAHAME, Kenneth - The Wind in the Willows
HILL, Susan - The Woman in Black
I ?
JAMES, M.R. - Collected Ghost Stories
KING, Laurie - The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Le GUIN, Ursula K. - The Earthsea Quartet
McKINLEY, Robin - Sunshine
NIX, Garth - Lirael
ORCZY, Baroness - The Scarlet Pimpernel
PRATCHETT, Terry - The Fifth Elephant
Q ?
ROWLING, J.K. - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
STREATFEILD, Noel - Saplings
TEPPER, Sheri S. - Grass
U ?
VICKERS, Salley - Instances of the Number 3
WYNDHAM, John - The Chrysalids
X ?
YARBRO, Chelsea Quinn - Hotel Transylvania
ZUSAK, Markus - The Book Thief

As you can see I got stuck on five. I can't think of any writer beginning with I that I've even read let alone enjoyed. U? Drew a blank. V? Haven't read any Barbara Vine. Must've read A.E. Van Vogt but can't remember anything specific. There must be others though. I must have read some Ys but again, can't think of any. I cheated with A too as Asimov only edited the Before the Golden Age books but this particular one is a huge favourite of mine as it has Tumithak of the Corridors and Tumithak in Shawm, two novellas by Charles R. Tanner, that I absolutely love. Of course I could have put Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen there but that would have a bit obvious, imo. Plus, of course, there were letters I could have filled in several times over, like K. Good fun.

ETA: Added an author for V. Transferred Chelsea Quinn Yarbro to Y rather than Q because that's how she's listed on Fantastic Fiction. Am now missing I, Q, U and X.

Friday 18 April 2008

Bits and pieces

I was quite surprised to see that I haven't done a blog entry here since last Saturday. That's partly because it's been a busy week with family visiting etc. but also I'm back to reading several books at once and haven't actually finished anything to review. It wasn't helped by the fact that I couldn't decide what to read next. This happens to me sometimes and there's often no reason for it apart from a bad case of indecisiveness on my part, ('I used to be indecisive but now I'm not so sure...') Over the weekend I started another book for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge, Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle. I'd been quite excited to get this so was quite disappointed when, a few days later, I realised I just couldn't read the thing. Why? Well the writing is quite er... challenging and quite frankly I didn't have a clue what I was reading! It may just be that my mood is wrong so I will try again some other time.

Anyway, I abandoned that and after watching an utterly brilliant episode of the wonderful Foyle's War on Sunday, found myself in an 'end of WW2' sort of mood. So I got The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies off the tbr mountain and have been enjoying that, off and on, all week. I've also been working my way through Nocturnes by John Connolly which is, without a doubt, one of the best macabre anthologies I've read in a very long time. And I'm mad about that cover! Also reading Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, from the library, and that too is an excellent anthology. You never quite know what to expect from Gaiman and I like that.

And then I was reading a post by Stuck in a Book about the books of Richmal Crompton and ended up sitting up late last night reading a couple of short stories from Just William.
I have read a few of the William books before (years ago) but had forgotten how funny they are... or maybe I was too young to really appreciate the dry humour back then. The first story had William going to the cinema (the stories are set in the 1920s) to see several films including a cops and robbers, two love stories and a comedy. The result of which meant he ended up playacting the robbers and knocking his father into the rhododendron bushes, then telling the girl next door he was terminally ill with 'lungs' and, lastly, trying to get his sister engaged to a man she isn't interested in and who isn't interested in her. The second story had William playing gooseberry between his brother and a girl who he's fallen in love with. Except that the girl isn't remotely interested in the brother, much preferring the company of William. He pinches his brother's new bike but it's too big for him and he loses control. The brother and the 'love of his life' are having a picnic in a nearby field... and I'll leave the resulting chaos to your imagination. Wonderful, I plan to read a lot more of these delightful stories.

And I've had one new book buy this week, which is The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke. I keep seeing it blogged about all over the place and have a feeling the stories might be similar to those of Charles De Lint and John Connolly. I hope so.

The weather here is more like February than April... the wind is whistling round the house as I write... and as I have a free weekend coming up I plan to spend at least some of it curled up by the fire with a good novel, or maybe some short stories, or...

Saturday 12 April 2008

Two reviews

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, has been sitting on my tbr pile for absolutely ages but suddenly, what with reading his Tiffany Aching series, it felt like the right time to read it. Funny how that happens sometimes.

Eta: I'm adding this next book to my list of books read for Carl's Once Upon a Time II challenge.

Maurice the cat, his band of intelligent rats, and 'the stupid-looking kid', Keith, who plays a pipe, have arrived at the town of Bad Blintz, in Ubberwald, on the Discworld. They've been roaming the countryside running a scam whereby they encourage a town to think it has a plague of rats by spreading their own rats around a bit. The boy gets paid to get rid of said plague, that doesn't exist, and they then move on to the next town. But Bad Blintz is different. The town has a nasty feel to it. There are plenty of rat tunnels, evidence of other rats in residence, but not one rat to be seen. Anywhere. And, if that's the case, why does the town need its own ratcatchers? Keith comes across Malicia, the mayor's daughter, who thinks everything is a story and has a wicked tongue. The two of them, plus the rats and a reluctant Maurice, set about solving the mystery of what's going on in this town. They soon discover the meaning of the word 'evil' and that it doesn't have just the one source in this particular town...

This book is aimed at children aged 9 to 12 but I must admit I found it a complex, thought provoking, novel with quite a few points to make. I suppose it's a book that can be read on different levels though, which is fine. Pratchett's clever humour is, as always, very much to the fore. The intelligent rats for instance are all named after things you might find on tins of food. Thus you have Sardines, Peaches, Hamnpork, Dangerous Beans, 'Selby' (that one made me think) and 'Darktan' (so did that one until I remembered shoe polish) and so on. There's quite an air of suspense and menace about this book too, more than I remember in other Pratchett novels. Possibly this is enhanced by the amount of the story that takes place underground in dark rat tunnels but also there are some quite nasty goings on here and the author doesn't pull any punches. I liked this book a lot and am not sure why I haven't read it before. I think I thought it was perhaps an insubstantial read, a bit fluffy maybe. Pratchett? Fluffy? How stupid can you possibly be...


It comes to something when you're reduced to filching library books off your grandaughter! But when we went to pick her up on Monday this was the book she'd just finished and, coincidently, it's exactly the book I've been wanting to read for a few weeks. Anyway, she happily let me read it before it went back and we had a lot of fun while she was here because she asked me several times a day where I was in the book and then wanted to tell me what was going to happen next. She hasn't quite grasped the concept of 'spoiling' a book for someone yet. ;-)

Like the two previous 'Aventure' books by Enid Blyton I reviewed here, The Island of Adventure is about Jack and Lucy-Ann (brother and sister) and Philip and Dinah (also brother and sister). In fact this is the very first book where they meet and become friends. It happens when Jack meets Philip at summer school; Lucy-Ann is there as well as her and Jack are orphans and she has nowhere else to go. The three become friends and when they eventually leave they all end up at 'Craggy Tops', the home of Philip and Dinah's reclusive uncle. The house is on a cliff top overlooking the sea and there's an island where it appears there are secret goings on. The children meet Bill Smugs who is camping out in an old shack nearby and they assume he has something to do with the weird 'goings on'. Naturally, they have to investigate; naturally, they get into trouble and, naturally, a full blown adventure ensues.

Not hard to see why my grandaughter liked this one so much. It's full of fun and suspense and, for someone my age, nostalgia. I'm a bit of a sucker for 'lost in caves' and 'secret tunnel' sort of books and this is a good'un. Great fun, and one I don't think I'd previously read. Only one complaint - I really hate this cover! Anyway, I've now read the first three of the eight in this series and plan to read the rest over the next few months.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Film rec.

We've had our seven year old grandaughter staying here with us for a few days and have done all sorts of things - gardened, gone for walks, shopped, read and talked about books, and she really enjoyed spending a day with her 18 month old cousin yesterday. Today though we went off to the cinema and we had such a good time that I felt I should recommend the movie to all and sundry. It was The Water Horse and here's a link to the website where you can watch an excellent trailer and find out all about it.

The story is about a young boy called Angus who lives with his mother and sister on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland. It's the height of World War 2 and Angus's father is away fighting in the navy, or so we are led to believe. The boy is a bit of a loner, afraid of the water, but drawn to it nevertheless, and it's while he's rock-pooling one day that he finds an egg. He takes it home and hides it in his father's old work shed but that night the egg hatches and a small dragon-like creature is revealed. The next day a platoon of soldiers unexpectedly arrives and nothing is certain any more, least of all the creature that comes to be known as Crusoe, a magical water horse, whose behaviour is chaotic and unpredictable but who is the only friend Angus has.

The film stars thirteen year old Alex Etel.

It nearly drove me mad all through the movie trying to remember where I had seen him before. Tonight I checked the imdb and felt so stupid - he played the boy 'Harry' in the BBC's wonderful adaptation of Cranford. Believe you me he is every bit as impressive in this film as he was in Cranford.

Anyway, the film itself was pure delight. Yes, it is for children but there is plenty there for adults as well and my husband and myself both loved it. The cast were all excellent, the story was beautifully told, and the Scottish scenery was out of this world. If you don't see it for any other reason, see it for that!

The movie is actually based on the book of the same name by Dick King-Smith.

I've already ordered it for my grandaughter, from The Book Depository, and am hoping she'll lend it to her grandma when she's read it!

Saturday 5 April 2008

Illustrated books

I think I must be a big kid at heart because I like nothing better than discovering that a book I've just bought is illustrated in some manner, be it glorious paintings, pencil sketches or even just pretty chapter headers. Three recent purchases are a case in point.

The first is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Now, I have a couple of copies of this wonderful book already. So, when I saw another in a local National Trust shop I looked briefly at it, saw it was fabulous but that it was £15 and walked away. But these things nag at you don't they? I went back for a closer look, actually left the shop then, and then couldn't get this gorgeous book out of my head. So yes, you're ahead of me... I went back *again*... and decided to buy myself a rather early birthday present. This is what I treated myself to:

The book is lavishly illustrated on every page by Robert Ingpen and I've done my best to photograph a few of the paintings.

I think that it is easily the most beautiful copy of The Wind in the Willows I've ever seen and after I *had* seen it, there was no way I could leave it behind. And everyone who's looked at it since reckons it's worth every penny of what I paid for it

Then there was an Oxfam shop find - Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell.

I didn't really bother to look to look inside, I saw what it was, saw that it was only £1.49 and bought it. When I got it home I found that it was illustrated with some lovely pencil drawings, the artist being Ralph Thompson. These photos aren't too great but they give you an idea.

And last but not least Dragons of Autumn Twilight which is the first in the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, recently blogged about by deslily at Here, there and everywhere.

I pounced on this one in yet another Oxfam shop. It's the paperback not the hardback so I hardly expected an illustrated version, but that was what I got! I took photos of these too but they really are not good, this one being the best and will give you an idea of the drawings that are all through the book. The artist here is Denis Beauvais.

I really think it must have been my lucky week. Wandering into town yesterday and up to the market I came across a stall with a sign that said, ' The books on these two tables are free to a good home, please help yourself '. So I did.

I have to admit, I felt like a thief walking away without paying and kept expecting a tap on the shoulder! But wow... seven free books and I could have taken loads more, but thought I'd exercise a bit of self restraint for once. Where books are concerned I'm not exactly famous for it...