Tuesday 30 March 2010

Historical - People of the Book

I've finished this book at last! I seem to have been reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks for weeks on end although it is, in fact, probably only ten days. Anyway, this is my third book for the Year of the Historical challenge which is being hosted by
Lurv a la Mode.

Hanna Heath is an Australian restorer of ancient books and texts. The phone rings in the middle of the night and she's offered the opportunity of a lifetime - that of restoring a centuries old Haggadah, which is a Jewish, illuminated book. Unfortunately, the book is in wartorn Sarajevo where it was saved from the bombs by a librarian. Hanna travels to Bosnia to meet 'Ozran', who saved the book, and to examine the volume for herself. In the process of restoring it she finds several clues to its journey from the 15th. century to present day... an insect's wing, a grey hair, a couple of stains, salt crystals. Hanna's life is complicated, she never knew her father and has an unsatisfactory relationship with her mother who is an eminent brain surgeon. She also has difficulty maintaining relationships with men, shrugging them off the minute they start to get close.

The story within the story focuses on the Haggadah's history. We journey back through the Bosnian war of the 1900s, see how it survived the Nazi invasion of the Balkan states, witness Vienna in the 1890s, Venice in the 1600s and so on, right back to the book's creation in Seville in 1480. Various characters people the account, priests, a young Jewish girl escaping from the Nazis, a Jewish book restorer who is addicted to gambling, a young slave girl...

Running alongside this is Hanna's story - her investigations into the book, conclusions she reaches about the clues she discovers, her train-wreck relationship with her mother and the eventual discovery of who her father was and what that leads to. When she accepted the job, Hanna had absolutely no idea that it would change her life forever.

I wish I could say that I loved this book because I really did want to. That's not to say I *dis*liked it - not at all. I found it interesting, heart-wrenching, educational... all kinds of things in fact, but hardly ever gripping. If I put it down I was never bothered about picking it up again and sometimes actively avoided doing so. Until the last fifty pages, when I suddenly became wrapped up in events and wanted to read on to see what happened to Hanna. I can't really explain it, because I can't name anything that was actually wrong with the book at all. I'm inclined, though not convinced, to think it might have been my mood. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit more challenging and maybe I'm just not at the moment? I don't know; it makes no sense.

Anyway, this is going to the charity shop unless someone wants to grab it off me? You would be most welcome. I'm in the minority with my reaction to this one - most seem to love it. As it's my plan to read quite a few books off my tbr pile this year and weed them out a bit, I have no complaints about doing that with this book.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Library loot

I'm unlikely to be updating until probably mid-week so I thought I'd plug the gap with a library and recent acquisitions post. I haven't done either in a while and a little bookporn is always welcome in my experience.

First up, my current library pile:

Two reserved books were ready to collect this morning so I had a bit of a spring-clean of the pile and took a few back that I didn't feel in the mood for right now. The resultant pile of eight books is a bit more manageable I feel. I can have twelve but when I do I tend to feel overwhelmed by them all, sitting on the shelf, eyeing me accusingly.

From top to bottom:

One Fine Day - Mollie Panter-Downes
Greenwitch - Susan Cooper
The Right Attitude to Rain - A. McCall Smith
The Careful Use of Compliments - A. McCall Smith
The Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart
44 Scotland Street - A. McCall Smith
The Janus Stone - Elly Griffiths
Remnant Population - Elizabeth Moon

It seems I'm on an Alexander McCall Smith kick at the moment!

Next up, a few recent acquisitions. I'm trying not to buy too many books at the moment and these are about all since Christmas. It's no good me putting myself on a complete ban as it just wouldn't work. Restricting myself is far more effective and the few books I am acquiring are really appreciated.

The three books from the Pitt series by Anne Perry were simply too irresistible I'm afraid. Novel Notes by Jerome K. Jerome I found in a charity shop. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a gift from a blogger friend who just couldn't get on with this book. And Storm Front by Jim Butcher and Nightlife by Rob Thurman are really just two random buys from the fantasy and horror genre, which is a particular weakness of mine.

And last, but by no means least, a gift from Pat, (Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere), my 'sis' across the pond who knows of my weakness, not only for bookmarks, but for TV and movie actors. Three beautiful 'fannish' bookmarks, and one from her novel, to use and enjoy. I love them. Thank you, Pat.


Thursday 25 March 2010

The Museum's Secret

The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn: The Museum's Secret, by Henry Chancellor, is part one of a newish Young Adult series and my first read for Carl's Once Upon a Time IV challenge. Before my grandaughter pointed it out to me in her city library, saying how good it was, I'd never heard of it. *But* she has good taste in YA literature and I knew the OUaT challenge was coming up, so I happily took it from her.

Tom Scatterhorn's father has disappeared after developing an obsession with insects. He's gone abroad and no one knows where he is until a postcard arrives from Mongolia. Tom's mother promptly sets off to look for him leaving eleven year old Tom with his Uncle Jos and Aunt Melba. They are the proprietors of the Scatterhorn museum, a large, ramshackle, barn of a place housing many curiosities but primarily a collection of very realistic stuffed animals.

The Scatterhorns have had an ongoing, centuries old, feud with the Catchers, a family who inhabit Catcher Hall, across the valley. Apart from one period in Victorian times when taxidermist and scientist, August Catcher, was very friendly with Henry Scatterhorn, a 'daring-do', hunter/explorer type. Together they were the founders of the museum. But now Catcher Hall is empty and the museum is falling into disrepair. Onto the scene appears Don Gervase Askery and his daughter, Lotus, who claim to be long lost relatives of the Catchers. But are these two very odd individuals what they seem? And what is it they're searching for?

Tom, lonely and facing Christmas without his parents, begins an exploration of the museum. He soon discovers that all is not as it seems. One night, shocked to find a talking eagle in his bedroom, he's tricked into spending the night inside the museum. It seems that the eagle is not the only animal that can come alive... various talking specimens include a mammoth, a dodo, a snake, a troupe of bible-bashing mice and a very large tiger.

Tom's conversation with the animals is interrupted by two policemen who think the museum is being burgled. They give chase and the boy takes refuge in a travel-chest full of rags, stored in a cupboard. He burrows deep into the rags and finds himself falling... right smack into Victorian times where two of the first people he meets are Henry Scatterhorn and August Catcher. And, to his dismay and horror, Don Gervase Ackery and his daughter. Can things possibly get any weirder? Well yes as a matter of fact they can... and Tom's adventures are only just beginning.

Well, I have absolutely no trouble seeing why my grandaughter loved this one. I suppose one would have to say that the idea of animals coming to life in a museum is not exactly original - the movie, A Night at the Museum, springs to mind of course. But that's about the only similarity betwixt movie and book, as the story here is very different. This is a pacey, time-travelling yarn, which is more of a 'boy's own' adventure, inhabited by some quite gothicky villains and mad scientist inventor types. It's highly imaginative and nicely historical too with it's Victorian settings and even a trip to the India of the Raj. It also keeps you guessing. The author gives little away about the origins of the villains or in fact what is going on at all; the reader is just as confused as Tom, but it's an awful lot of fun guessing! A cracking good read to be honest, appealing, I would think, to both boys and girls of, say, nine to fifteen, and grannies like me who love a good, well written, YA adventure yarn. Book two of the series, The Hidden World is already out and book three is out this year I believe. Yes, I will be reading them...

Very pleased to have my first Once Upon a Time read under my belt. I now have to finish People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks before next Thursday (the 1st. April). Which sounds easy but sadly it's not inspiring me much and there's a lot of other stuff I would really rather be getting my teeth into. Hopefully, it'll grow on me as I go along.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

The Once Upon a Time IV challenge

It's that time of year again! Spring is almost here and The Once Upon a Time challenge is once again upon us.

I feel as though I've been waiting for this one for weeks... my books all ready and waiting and piled up on the shelf. As always it is hosted by Carl and as always there are several options to choose from. I'm going for...

The object of this is to:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time IV criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

These are the books I've collected together for my pool *but* they're not necessarily the exact books I'll read. I tend to read a few off my own pile and also get inspired by what others are reading and end up reading a few off their piles too! Such is the world of book blogging. Anyway this is my pile:

From the bottom:

The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn by Henry Chancellor. I know nothing whatsoever about this book. My little grandaughter gave it to me on a recent trip to Exeter city library and said that it was 'really good' and when she does that I always try to read whatever she's recommending so that we can chat about it.

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. Book three of her 'Over sea, under stone' series that I've loved so far. There's only one copy in Devon libraries and I nabbed that too while I was in Exeter.

The Magician by Michael Scott. Book two in his Nicholas Flamel series. I read book one last year and it's about time I got to book two.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. This has sat on my tbr mountain for years but just recently my husband and daughter have been gushing about this series so it's time to see what I'm missing.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik. Another series I've been wanting to read in forever! This one will double up for my Year of the Historical challenge.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. I've never read the first couple of Discworld books and am reading them for the Terry Pratchett challenge Marg is hosting. So this one will also be a double-up book.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher. The first in a series that I've been wanting to read forever. Now's my chance.

So that's it. The challenge runs from the 21st. March to the 20th. June and I can't wait to start reading.

Books actually read:

1.. The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn: The Museum's Secret - Henry Chancellor
2.. The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett
3.. Temeraire - Naomi Novik
4.. Greenwitch - Susan Cooper
5.. The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett


Sunday 14 March 2010

Three short reviews

Happy Mothering Sunday to those who celebrate it on this day, which is *us* in the UK but I'm not sure who else to be honest. I think it's in May in the USA? Anyway, I have a cold so, although I got cards and choccies etc., I'm not otherwise celebrating; a quiet day at home is what I need and no hardship at all.

I have three books to give a quick mention to. These have all been bedtime reads and read slowly and savoured over a month or two, so here we go:

Book Psmith has been reading a lot of books by Miss Read lately and when I saw A Country Christmas in a charity shop I was inspired by her to grab it for my own! I read a few of her early books many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed them, and the first thing I realised when I read the first story, entitled Village Christmas, was that I'd read it before. Funny how these things stick in your mind even after what is easily thirty years. The Fairacre Ghost was a good ghost story, creepy and tragic, and I also really enjoyed the saga of The White Robin, a story about an albino robin that arrives in the village of Fairacre and the reactions of the school children and villagers. This was quite a long story which I'm fairly sure must come from a separate book. Anyway, this was a delightful read. I was going to say 'nostalgic' and it is in a way. But then I realised that, but for a bit of technology, villages and schools such Miss Read's still exist, unchanged, all over the country. Attitudes are a little different maybe but, by and large, these books are not as backward looking as they might at first seem. I now have Miss Read's biography of her early years, A Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered from the library. I've just started it and already I'm finding it completely charming.

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, is a kind of a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs which I blogged about a few weeks ago. That one dealt with the education of Judy Abbot and was written in letter form. This book is also epistolary but this time deals with Judy's school friend Sallie McBride. Judy and her new husband have given Sallie the job of 'making over' the orphanage where Judy was brought up. It's old fashioned and bleak and there is a lot of work to do. At first Sallie hates the job but gradually we see, through her letters to Judy, that she is coming to love the children and enjoy her task. Her relationship with the Scottish doctor in charge of the orphanage is another matter though; he's dour in nature, never smiles or jokes, and Sallie has her work cut out in becoming his friend. Another delightful read... apart from some rather odd scientific ideas about inherited characteristics they had back then. I didn't think this was quite as charming as Daddy-Long-Legs but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, is book two in Alexander McCall Smith's 'Isabel Dalhousie' series of books. When I first started book one I wasn't at all sure I would take to Isabel. She's a touch superior and a philosopher to boot, which means she thinks things to death:

'The problem with being me, thought Isabel, as she walked along George IV bridge, is that I keep thinking about the problem of being me. Her thoughts went off in all sorts of directions, exploring, probing, even fantasising. She suspected that most other people did not think like this at all.'

It was when I realised that, actually, I do think a bit like that and probably so do many others, that I liked her a lot more. This particular story involves Isabel involving herself in the plight of a man she meets in her niece's deli. He's had a heart transplant and is suffering what is known as cellular memory, where the recipient of the organ finds him or herself with memories or personality traits pertaining to the donor. This man feels that a face he keeps seeing is threatening to the point where he might die if he doesn't find out the cause of the hallucinations. I found this part of the story fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed the mystery element and the further insights into Isabel's life and times. A delightful series which I will definitely continue with. Alexander McCall Smith is rapidly becoming my favourite comfort read author, and maybe already is.

Friday 12 March 2010

The Classics Challenge

One of the things I wanted to do this year, but haven't so far, is read some classic books. I'm quite a lazy reader in that I tend more towards genre reading rather than reading that will stretch my, all too few, lonely brain cells. Thus, when I saw this challenge on another blog, I realised it would be a perfect way to make myself read some classics. So, I'm going to do The Classics Challenge which will be hosted by Trish.

The challenge runs from the 1st. April to the 31st. October. There are three levels of participation and I'll be doing the first level, The Classics Snack - which is to read four classics. The list can change at any time but at the moment these are the four books I'd like to read:

No Name - Wilkie Collins
The Warden - Anthony Trollope
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

I'll also be taking part in the bonus read but haven't decided which to read yet.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The Crossing Places

I don't really play the 'blame game' with points where reading books is concerned, but if I did I think Kay at My Randon Acts of Reading would be streaks ahead of the competition. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths is yet another of her reads that she wrote about here, that, once I'd read her thoughts, I really could not wait to read. Luckily, the library came up with a copy.

Ruth Galloway is happy with her life. No one else seems to be - her parents, friends, colleagues, all feel there should be a man in her life, that she should lose weight, and that she ought to move away from the isolated spot where she lives on the saltmarshes of the North Norfolk coast. But Ruth is content with her job as an archaeology lecturer at the local uni and with her life in her own little cottage with her two cats.

Into her life comes Inspector Harry Nelson, a brusque northerner, who needs her to look at some bones recently discovered buried in the saltmarsh. He is hoping it might be the remains of Lucy Downey, a child who went missing ten years ago. It's not, it's the remains of an iron age body, probably a ritual sacrifice, but it opens the door for Nelson to ask Ruth's opinion of the letters he's been receiving about the Downey case - possibly from the potential murderer.

Life suddenly becomes complicated for Ruth as she tries to juggle work with helping the police, and the situation is not helped by the memories being stirred up of what she herself was doing ten years ago. She was involved in a dig on the saltmarsh with a group of people, and the various relationships were very intense... and still are. Is there a connection between that dig, with the discovery of a henge, and the disappearance of Lucy Downey? Could one of the group she was, and still is, very close to possibly be responsible for this awful crime? And then, just when Ruth thinks things could not possibly get more tangled, another child goes missing...

This is the first book of a new series about professor of archaeology, Ruth Galloway. Book two The Janus Stone is just out I believe and I couldn't be more pleased as I really enjoyed this first instalment. I think the reason for that is probably Ruth herself. I love the fact that Elly Griffiths didn't make her glamorous and gorgeous but decided instead on someone very ordinary - an overweight woman who likes her own company and tells it like it is. She very much has a 'take me or leave me' attitude and that is so refreshing. That's not to say she doesn't have conflicts in her life. Her born-again Christian parents drive her nuts, her friends hint that her life might not be all that it could be, and work can be a real pain. She's real in other words and that's wonderfully easy to identify with.

The mystery aspect of the story was good. I have to admit I knew who the culprit was very early on, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment and there were other aspects to the story that, quite frankly, were just as fascinating. Especially the setting of the North Norfolk coast which I felt was very well done. It's bleak and it's lonely and the atmosphere of the place was beautifully depicted. I'm no archaeologist so I can't speak for the accuracy of those particular details; for a layman like myself they felt fine - an expert might not think so.

It did take me a little while to get used to the fact that the story is written in the present tense. That was slightly odd but, once used to it, I found I wasn't bothered and it actually added to the suspense in the end.

All in all a very good read and I'm looking forward to reading book two in the series as soon as possible.

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Wednesday 3 March 2010


I'm only doing two challenges this year - until the Once Upon A Time one starts on the 21st. that is - and both of them are going well. Two books read for the Year of the Historical and now two books for the Terry Pratchett one. This is book two, Nation, for the latter challenge which is being hosted by Marg at Reading Adventures.

Mau is returning to his island, from Boy's Island, when the wave strikes. When he reaches home he will be a boy no longer and will join the ranks of the single men. Somehow he survives the giant wave but when he reaches his own island he finds that no one else has: he is alone. Devastated, he has to bury his family and friends at sea and copes with this by mentally withdrawing. But someone is helping him by leaving food. Mau has no idea what's going on until he follows a trail through the forest and finds the ship. And a girl.

Ermintrude is a Victorian English girl on her way to join her father, who is the new govenor of one of the island chains in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean. She too is an only survivor... but from a ship this time. Terrified, she tries to shoot Mau, who actually has no idea what she's doing as he's never seen a gun before. Or a trouserman for that matter, which what his people call white people from the northern lands.

Ermintrude decides to become 'Daphne' and slowly but surely, Mau and Daphne learn how to speak each others languages and find out about each others cultures. More people turn up and Mau finds himself in the position of chief, taking responsibility for his people's safety and well being. Daphne, intelligent and resilient, finds out more than she ever wanted to know about delivering babies and feeding old women with no teeth, but the upside of it all is that she is freer than she's ever been in her life.

As the scattered survivors become a community and things settle down there is still one over-riding worry. The cannibalistic 'Raiders' are destroying all in their path and Mau knows they are on the way and that his fledgling community is not strong enough to withstand an invasion. What's to be done?

I always find it hard to review books by Terry Pratchett as his work always leaves me simply thinking, 'This is brilliant - read it!' He is just *so* insightful and clever and makes me think things I'd never thought to consider before.

'And when your father comes in his big boat? What will happen to us then?'

'I... don't know,' said Daphne, which was better than telling the truth. We do tend to stick flags in places, she had to admit it to herself. We do it almost absent-mindedly, as though it's a sort of chore.

'Hah, you fall silent,' said the priest. 'You are a good child, the women say, and you do good things, but the difference between the trousermen and the Raiders is that sooner or later the cannibals go away!'

'That's a terrible thing to say!' said Daphne hotly. 'We don't eat people!'

'There are different ways to eat people, girl, and you are clever enough to know it. And sometimes the people don't realize it's happened until they hear the belch!'


Nation is not one the Discworld books and is thus a very different kettle of fish. And yet there are similarities. Most of Pratchett's books have strong female characters who are often striving to fulfil their destinies or even simply to be taken as seriously as the men. Tiffany Aching springs to mind, 'Malicia' from The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents or Grimma from the Bromeliad trilogy - all of them want their intelligence to be appreciated while still retaining their basic feminity. I admire Terry Pratchett for doing this - he so gets it and that's very unusual in a man.

What else? Well this book will make you think hard about religion and gods, responsibility, respect, freedom... the list is endless. Pratchett writes 'thinking' books and it's rather sad, imo, that he gets very little respect for that from the literary world. I remember several years ago reading an article in The Telegraph where a book reviewer had to read the current top ten fictional books - it might have been the top twenty, I'm not sure. One of the books was a Pratchett book... I can't say for sure which one but I think it might have been Going Postal. The reviewer in question completely refused to read it saying, 'I'm sure Terry Pratchett's legions of fans are thrilled that he has a new book out, but I just can't bring myself to read it'. How totally closed-minded and stupid. And, without a doubt, his loss.

This is brilliant - read it!

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