Tuesday, 30 June 2009
The Corinthian and Infernal Devices
First up - The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer.
Sir Richard Wyndham is every inch a Regency dandy - tall, dark and handsome, dressed immaculately, a gambler, permanently bored. His mother and sister visit him one day and more or less order him to marry the woman it has been understood he will marry since childhood; he is now 29. Unfortunately the idea doesn't appeal to Richard in the slightest. He gets very drunk the night before he has to go and ask for the woman's hand and on the way home encounters a boy climbing out of a second storey window. Only when he catches 'him' does Wyndham discover that it isn't a 'him' after all... it's a her... one Penelope Creed, aged 17 and merely dressed as boy. Pen is escaping from her adopted family who want her to marry their son. She's on the way to Somerset, to her ancestoral home, and to the man she thinks she wants to marry; Wyndham, in a drunken haze, decides to acompany her. Amongst their many adventures on stage coaches and in coaching inns they discover a stolen necklace, get mixed up with some very rum company indeed, and witness a murder. Will life ever be the same again for either of them?
I hadn't read The Corinthian in a very long time but a post by Danielle at A Work in Progress reminded me of how much fun it was, so I dug it out and wallowed in an absolutely wonderful Regency romance. I seem to recall being charmed and amused by it all those years ago, but with the benefit of even more advanced years, the predicament Wyndham finds himself in and the dryness of his sense of humour is now even more appealing. It was fun too because I know the area where the story is set... that of Keynsham and it's surrounding villages... as we lived there from 1975 to 1979. And now of course I want to dig out more Heyers and gorge on them - once upon a time it wasn't unknown for me to read 20 or 30 straight off and end up overdosing. So I shall restrain myself and read a few over the summer, along with other things.
Next: Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve, part 3 of his Mortal Engines series.
The first two books of this YA series concentrate on Tom Natworthy and Hester Shaw who met in the traction city of London and got into all kinds of trouble and adventures, before settling somewhere on the Dark Continent of post-apocolytic USA. In the eighteen years since the last book they have had a daughter, Wren, and are so isolated that they have no idea that a war has been waging for years between the moving 'Traction' cities and the Green Storm. Life is so quiet in fact that Wren is almost driven mad. She wants adventures like her parents had, but all she seems to do is row with her mother. One night she follows the ex-Lost Boy, now grown up, Caul, and discovers him conversing with Lost Boy, Gargle, beside his vessel. It's clear Caul doesn't want to do what Gargle requires and when Caul leaves, Wren takes his place and offers to steal something called 'The Tin Book' for him. She does this, mayhem ensues on the beach, and Wren is taken prisoner by the Lost Boy vessel. She ends up on the floating city of Brighton, a slave to Pennyroyal, the rogue who once tried to kill her father. A lot of people seem to want The Tin Book. What is it and why are they prepared to kill to get hold of it? Meanwhile Tom and Hester are once more out in the world, frantically searching for their lost daughter. Can they reach her before the book reaches the hands of Stalker Fang, the Green Storm leader, and 'she' discovers its true purpose?
Wonderful. Put simply, this YA series is amazing. It's fantasy but not your ordinary run-of-the-mill fantasy (and there's nothing wrong with that either). The author's sheer inventiveness and ability to inject pace into an already exciting plot is just fantastic. And a world where cities move about the world preying and devouring smaller towns, well who would have thought of that? I just can't praise the series highly enough to be honest. The first two books were superb - this third one is even better, in my opinion. I can't wait to read the 4th., A Darkling Plain, to see how the author resolves all the issues and ties up loose ends. And now there is a 5th. book, Fever Crumb, a prequel, which explains how the traction cities and stalkers came into being. Philip Reeve is definitely one of my favourite YA adult authors and long may he continue to write.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Fantasy author meme
Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...
Susan Cooper (b. 1935)
3 High-Brow, -21 Violent, -9 Experimental and -1 Cynical!
Congratulations! You are High-Brow, Peaceful, Traditional and Romantic! These concepts are defined below.
Though born in England, Susan Cooper currently lives in the United States. She is most well-known for her The Dark Is Rising sequence, which has received substantial critical acclaim, the second book (also called The Dark Is Rising) in the series winning a Newbury Honor and the fourth book (The Grey King) being awarded the Newbury Medal, one of the world's most prestigious awards for children's literature. The series is one of the finest examples of contemporary fantasy: the kind of fantasy where magic happens in an actually existing place. The Dark Is Rising is set in Britain, where two common themes of fantasy are combined; that of a magic world parallel to ours, which later became so popular with the Harry Potter books and that of ordinary British school-children playing a role in the struggle between Good and Evil, which had earlier been explored by C S Lewis.
Cooper manages to use the idiom of traditional children books to tell a tale of epic proportions, as evil beings from Celtic legends appear on Earth to do battle with the Old Ones, a secret society of people with magic powers. She is also able to combine this rather romantic vision with important messages, the compassion of one of the children being vital to the cause of Good at one point in the story. In Cooper's world, what you think and do matters on a grand scale, a message children and adults alike should take to their hearts.
You are also a lot like Ursula K Le Guin.
If you want some action, try China Miéville.
If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Lian Hearn.
This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.
High-Brow vs. Low-Brow
You received 3 points, making you more High-Brow than Low-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, rather than the best-selling kind. At their best, high-brows are cultured, able to appreciate the finer nuances of literature and not content with simplifications. At their worst they are, well, snobs.
Violent vs. Peaceful
You received -21 points, making you more Peaceful than Violent. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you aren't, and you don't, then you are peaceful as defined here. At their best, peaceful people are the ones who encourage dialogue and understanding as a means of solving conflicts. At their worst, they are standing passively by as they or third parties are hurt by less scrupulous individuals.
Experimental vs. Traditional
You received -9 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don't change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.
Cynical vs. Romantic
You received -1 points, making you more Romantic than Cynical. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, romantic people are optimistic, willing to work for a good cause and an inspiration to their peers. At their worst, they are easily fooled and too easily lead.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
We were too early for the walled, kitchen garden unfortunately, so we toodled off elsewhere and never did go back - we plan to within the next week or two.
A small meadow of what I think are ox-eye daisies.
A closer look.
Fallen branches in the woods.
The ferns in the woods were stunning.
Originally this was the stable block but now houses the National Trust's shop and cafeteria etc.
One of the many vistas to be seen from the gardens.
The pond - it was alive with swallows going after all the insects. If you click on the pic you can just see one of them between two clumps of yellow flowers.
Another form of wildlife... our grandson enjoying his new hobby of fence-climbing.
Fungi growing on a tree. Not sure what this type is called but it was layered like shelves. I asked Hubby to lift me up to take a better photo but he didn't seem all that keen...
Another vista which sort of shows where we live... we're to the left of that communications mast on the edge of the woods - somewhere in that block of white houses, probably behind that big tree.
And here endeth your trip to darkest Devon for today.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
OuaT III wrap-up
My final read for Carl's Once Upon a Time III challenge was Wings by Terry Pratchett.
This is the third book in the Bromeliad trilogy and tells what happened to the nome, Masklin, and his companions, Gurder and Angalo, while Grimma was fighting her battles in the quarry in book two.
The three nomes travel first to the airport in search of Grandson 39, and, in pursuit of him, board a Concorde flight to Florida. They're hoping he'll help them to get into space somehow and thus onto the spacecraft belonging to their ancestors that they know is out there somewhere. But first they have to negotiate the foreign landscape that is Florida, make peace with the natives, and somehow get to NASA in time for the next shuttle launch. And as if that weren't enough to cope with, they have many questions to ponder - about the nature of the universe and their place in it. Masklin almost looks back with fondness to more simple times when he lived in a hole and only had to try to eat, each day, without being eaten - these days he has more responsibilities and problems than he knows what to do with - and no sign of it ending any time soon.
An excellent end to a delightful trilogy. From start to finish this YA series has been consistant in its quality and Pratchett's peculiarly British sense of humour lights up and enhances all three stories. If you've never read anything by this author and don't know where to start, this would be a very good place; such a gentle introduction to his work would suit nearly everyone I would think. Children, teens, adults - there's something for all in these books. Highly recommended.
Carl's Once Upon a Time III challenge finished yesterday I believe. I'm quite pleased with how I've done this time, having read nine books:
Larklight - Philip Reeve
Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper
Daughter of the Blood - Anne Bishop
Here, There Be Dragons - James A. Owen
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Morrigan's Cross - Nora Roberts
Truckers - Terry Pratchett
Diggers - Terry Pratchett
Wings - Terry Pratchett
My favourite was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop but, to tell the truth, practically all of the books were very good. Only the Nora Roberts was a bit average and even that was not truly terrible. All in all, a really enjoyable challenge and thank you to Carl for hosting it again this year.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Books set in Cornwall
And, being a lover of lists, a new list was born - fictional books set, or with scenes in, Cornwall. This is for my own benefit really, so that I can add the link to my sidebar and add to it as and when. But if anyone passing through can think of any more, please don't hesitate to leave a comment.
Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier
Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
The House on the Strand – Daphne du Maurier
The Loving Spirit – Daphne du Maurier
The King's General - Daphne du Maurier
Crossed Bones – Jane Johnson
The Poldark series – Winston Graham
Deep Down - R.M. Ballantyne
Mistress of Mellyn - Victoria Holt
The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins
A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy
The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins
Away From it All – Judy Astley
Just for the Summer - Judy Astley
The Shell Seekers – Rosamund Pilcher (And other books by her.)
The Carousel - Rosamund Pilcher
A Week in Winter – Marcia Willett
The Cornish Legacy – Barbara Whitnell
The View from the Summerhouse - Barbara Whitnell
The Last Lighthouse Keeper - Alan Titchmarsh
Sea Music - Sara MacDonald
The Returning Tide - Liz Fenwick (Any book by her in fact.)
Making Waves, September Song, A Cornish Christmas, Easter Holiday - Nell Dixon
A Cottage by the Sea - Ciji Ware
An Exaltation of Larks - Daisy Treadwell
Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan
Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan
Zennor in Darkness – Helen Dunmore
The Cammomile Lawn - Mary Wesley
Hold My Hand - Serena Mackesy
Summer in February - Jonathan Smith
Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale
The Wycliffe crime series - W.J. Burley
The Rose Trevelyan crime series – Janie Bolitho
Touchstone – Laurie R. King
The Lighthouse - P.D. James
The Murder Bird - Joanna Hines
Wait for What Will Come - Barbara Michaels
The Jewel of Seven Stars – Bram Stoker
Cornish Tales of Terror - ed. by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
The Little Country – Charles de Lint
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper
Greenwitch - Susan Cooper
The Valley of Secrets – Charmian Hussy
The Mousehole Cat - Antonia Barber
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship - Chris Priestley
Dead Man's Cove - Lauren St. John
There may well be more by Daphne du Maurier. Not having read all of her books, I can't say where the less well known ones are set.
The artwork for the railway poster in this post is by H.A. Tripp.
Saturday, 13 June 2009
Over Sea, Under Stone
Great Uncle Merry is a bit of an enigma - always here, there and everywhere, off on some mysterious quest or other - and there was something about him that made his family, the Drews, reluctant to ask where he'd been or what he'd been up to. He hires a house in a Cornish fishing village, near St. Austell, one summer, and Simon, Jane and Barney and their parents go to spend the holidays with him.
One wet day they go exploring in the house and find a door, hidden behind a wardrobe, that leads to the attic. Picnicking up there, Barney throws an apple core away, goes to retrieve it, and discovers a scroll in a hidden cranny. It turns out to be a map, but the children can't make head or tail of it as the language is ancient and the condition of the scroll, very poor.
An adventure begins as they start to unravel the meaning of the script and solve various clues. It appears the map on it might be the coastline around Trewissick, where they're staying, but it isn't quite the same. Jane finds a local guide book, with a proper map, in a locked trunk, and takes it off to the vicar who she thinks has written it. Only the author is long dead and the current vicar feels sinister to Jane and overly interested in why she feels the coastline is all wrong.
The children confide in Great Uncle Merry who is stunned at what they have found and explains the danger they are now in. Other people are after this very same scroll and want the object it points the way to. There is no time to be lost as they desperately try to solve the clues and avoid the sinister bunch of people who are menacing them in order to get hold of the map. Who is friend and who is foe also becomes a complicated issue and the children find themselves thrown back on their own resources as the adventure reaches its climax.
Well then, this a children's book from the 1960s - 1965 to be precise, when I would have been 12. A perfect age for this book and I can't work out how I came to miss it. I'm certain I would have adored it, quite frankly, and it probably would have made my '15 books that have stayed with you' list. So, here I am, a middle-aged grandma reading it for the first time, beaten to it by my grandaughter in fact, but loving it to bits all the same. And it no doubt helps that the story is set in a Cornish fishing village, although I don't know the St. Austell area well. I tried to place it - Mevigissey would be the obvious choice but it didn't feel like that village to me, it felt much more like Mousehole... and maybe the author didn't have a precise place in mind. Who knows? Or cares? It was pretty darn accurate as regards atmosphere, I could smell the sea, hear the gulls, feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. Wonderful.
Not only that, the children felt like children and I reckon Susan Cooper had met my uncle John when she created Great Uncle Merry. Oh, wait a minute... he wouldn't have been old enough then. Never mind. *g* The author also got older Cornish people spot on. The dialect was perfect, and that's *very* rare, and I had to laugh when she had the housekeeper singing hymns as she did the housework, because that was exactly what my gran used to do... 'The Lord is my Shepherd' and 'Abide with Me' were her favourites, and the song, 'Red Sails in the Sunset'. People just don't sing like that any more it seems to me...
I can't find any fault at all with this children's book, to be honest. I realise how biased I am and all, being Cornish, so maybe I'm not a the best person to judge, but a couple of people mentioned at one stage that actually this first book is not the best of the series. Goodness! The rest must be pretty special then if that's the case. Luckily, I have book two, The Dark is Rising, ready to read pretty soon... I want to finish Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad series before I read that.
Anyway, cue entirely superfluous photo of the sea off the coast of Cornwall:
(Taken by me in 2007 at Marazion.)
Thursday, 11 June 2009
15 books meme
"This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes."
1. Minnow on the Say - Philippa Pearce
2. Frenchman's Creek - Daphne du Maurier
3. Katherine - Anya Seton
4. We Speak No Treason - Rosemary Hawley Jarman
5. Dragonquest - Anne McCaffrey
6. The Valley of Adventure - Enid Blyton
7. Puck of Pook's Hill - Rudyard Kipling
8. The Water Babies - Charles Kingsley
9. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
10. The Harper Hall trilogy - Anne McCaffrey
11. The Crysalids - John Wyndham
12. Cosmic Engineers - Clifford Simak
13. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
14. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
15. Frederica - Georgette Heyer
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Gerald Durrell by Douglas Botting I bought with part of an Amazon book token. I love Durrell's autobiographical and animal collecting books to bits and have long lusted after this biography. Thrilled to bits to have it at last.
City of Pearl by Karen Traviss is a sci fi novel I saw blogged about somewhere. It sounded interesting so I grabbed myself a copy on Amazon Marketplace.
Born in Fire by Nora Roberts was a birthday gift.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a book I've long wanted to read but was just waiting for it to crop up in a charity shop. It did and I nabbed it.
Light One Candle by Solly Ganor is a book I read an excerpt from in the book about books, A Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan. (Coincidentally you can just see it at the top of the photo.) It tells how two young Jewish boys hid books from the Germans during the war and supplied friends and neighbours in the ghetto with various titles. It led to something awful and I was determined to get hold of the book in order to read the author's whole story. I bought this one with the rest of my Amazon book token.
Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop. It's here! It's HERE!!!!!
Now all I need to do is work out which of my burgeoning bookshelves can stand the extra weight.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Daughter of the Blood
The universe that this book is set in is split into two parts - the land of the living and, below that, the land of the living-dead: Hell. The land of the living is ruled primarily by female witches of the incredibly cruel variety who specialise in torture, and the colour of the jewel you wear dictates your place in society - black being the most powerful kind. The witch, Hekatah, rules over all, with Dorothea as a sort of second in command, and together they've created a world where no one is safe.
But things are about to change. Someone is coming - a witch so powerful that things will change forever. But will she be good or will she be evil? Daemon Sadi, one of Dorothea's sex slaves, himself a powerful warlord and son of Saeton, who rules Hell, knows instinctively that he was made to follow and love the coming Witch. But where is she? When will she come? The one who can eventually answer this question is Saeton. He is visited in Hell one day by a young girl, named Jaenelle, who has found a way to bridge the gap between the land of the living and Hell. She shouldn't be able to do this but she can and thinks nothing of it. The one known as 'Witch' has arrived and Saeton is very soon in thrall to this beguiling child.
Jaenelle asks him to teach her basic 'craft', a sort of magic, at which she is very poor. Saeton soon discovers that the girl's powers are so strong that she can do things way beyond her age and thus, basic craft is below her; he has to start at an advanced level and work back.
Meanwhile, Daemon Sadi has committed a heinous crime and has been sent off to the island of Chaillot; the Angelline family who rule the island are the only ones willing to take him in. Here Daemon discovers three generations of women, grandmother, daughter and a grandaughter, Wilhelmemina. It doesn't take him long to find out that Wilhelmina has a sister who has been sent away to an institution for the mentally disturbed. Something drives him on to discover who this girl is, but before long the girl returns in a pretty dreadful condition and Daemon Sadi experiences a profound shock. Where the girl has been and what happened to her is the central theme of this book and estranged father and son, Saeton and Daemon, find themselves working together to solve the mystery and to try and ensure that the girl survives.
I should probably start with a warning and that is to say that this book might not be for everyone. Some of the themes within are extremely adult in a sexual manner and I've seen a couple of reviews on Amazon where the reviewer has found the book deeply unpleasant - and I can understand why. That said, I have to add that 'most people' seem to love it and I did too. Likely as not Daughter of the Blood will be one of my books of the year in fact. Why? Well, amazing world building for a start. Bishop has created a universe which is totally believable. And characterisation - I adored Daemon Sadi, he's wicked but good if that makes sense and the same goes for Saeton, his father. Both characters are beautifully drawn. I *did* feel slightly that the female witch characters were almost caricatures... a bit too evil with all the cliched wickedness you can think of, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment at all.
I will say also that it did take me a while to get into the book. It's complicated at first with many new characters appearing in a few pages and I must admit to being a bit confused at times. In fact it wasn't until about 100 pages in that something suddenly clicked and *then* I knew I was reading a little gem. Or perhaps I should say a *big* gem because really I have to admit to being blown away by it. Such fantastic writing, a plot that's pacey and very much edge-of-your-seat stuff, and characters that you really find yourself rooting for and wanting to win out. Brilliant. Book two is on the way - I wish it was here already to be honest. If you're going to read Daughter of the Blood I'd say make sure you have Heir to the Shadows on hand before you start. I'm as enthused with this series as I am with Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson books and that's saying something. Both series have that certain something that make me love them... and if I knew what it was I'd bottle it and make myself a fortune!
Also reviewed at:
The Written World
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Book awards fail
So. This time the failure is... *fanfare*...The Book Awards challenge hosted by 1morechapter.com
And the reason for the failure? I only managed to read nine books, not ten. These are they:
1. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (Gov. Gen. Canada)
2. Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones (Comm. Writer's Prize)
3. Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle (Mythopoeic)
4 Mortal Engines Philip Reeve (Nestlé book prize Gold winner, and Blue Peter book of the year, 2003.)
5. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman (Newbery)
6. A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine (CWA Gold Dagger Award 1987)
7. The Reaper - Peter Lovesey (CWA Diamond Award for Lifetime Achievement)
8. The Sedgemoor Strangler - Peter Lovesey (As above)
9. The Circle - Peter Lovesey (As above)
I really did enjoy the challenge I must admit, despite not finishing it, and would like to thank 1morechapter.com for hosting.
ETA: I meant to say that I thoroughly enjoyed all nine books too. Not one of them was a dud... a favourite is thus quite hard to choose but would probably go with The Handmaid's Tale, followed closely by The Graveyard Book and Mortal Engines. But Tamsin was terrific too... and The Reaper. I'll stop. Now.