Saturday 25 September 2010

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth

Autumn is now officially here, although it's been feeling distinctly autumnal in the UK for several weeks now. This weekend temps have dipped sharply - the prevailing wind coming from the arctic apparently - and now it really does feel like summer is well and truly over and it's time to get warm socks and cardies out again. So it's the perfect time of year for creepy stories and for getting on with reading for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge. Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley is my second book for this challenge.

Robert is returning to boarding school and he's quite pleased about that because, even though he's not popular there, it's better than being at home with his stepmother. His father is away fighting in the Boer War and Robert actually feels he would prefer to be there rather than spend his holidays with his father's 'dreary amd irritating' wife. As they are sitting on the platform waiting for the train his stepmother falls asleep. She wakes suddenly and it seems she has a premonition dream in which something terrible happens to Robert. Robert pooh-poohs her fears and sets off on the train, glad to be rid of her.

Sitting in a carriage with various dinified gentlemen, Robert himself drops off. When he wakes he discovers that the train has stopped in front of a tunnel and a rather strange woman is now sitting opposite him. They get into conversation but try as he might Robert cannot discover why the train has stopped or what the hold-up is. Instead the woman regales him with various macabre tales. He hears about, amongst others, Oscar, whose father is obsessed with growing some very odd tropical plants; about Penelope who hates her stepsister and discovers that she has some magical friends who are not quite what they seem; about Davy whose father takes him off to the Western Isles of Scotland to live and is warned to keep away from the ancient Crotach Stone on the beach, and about Sister Veronica, the devout nun who doesn't see her come-uppance coming...

Robert tries to hide the fact that he's becoming more and more frightened at the tone of the stories. He dubs the storyteller 'The Woman in White'. But who is she and why are the other travellers in his carriage so deeply asleep that they can't be roused. And why does The Woman in White want him to also fall asleep?

As a lover of M.R. James's rather academic and atmospheric creepy stories I find these 'Tales of Terror' books by Chris Priestley to be irresistible. They're written after the style of the Edwardian writer and done so brilliantly that they're impossible to put down once you start reading. As with the first two books, The Tunnel's Mouth is illustrated by David Roberts and the drawings couldn't be more perfect; they complement these weird tales beautifully.

Apart from this book there are two others: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (I defy anyone to read 'Nature' from that collection and not be wonderfully revolted and terrified) and all three books stand alone. As with the previous two books, Tunnels is a short story collection linked by a background story. This I find to be a very effective method of story-telling and one I'd not come across before. It adds suspense and cohesion to a form that can be a bit tedious as you work your way through numerous stories... in this format, wanting to know how the background mystery resolves itself keeps you turning the pages. Not that you need a lot of encouragement to do that anyway, but still. Highly recommended but anyone thinking of giving these to very young children should possibly consider how sensitive they are first - there is even a warning to that effect on the back covers. 'Grandmas' like me probably need not worry themselves. Much.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Wales - Aug/Sept

We were in Wales for a few days at the beginning of the month and as usual I took lots of photos, a few of which I thought I'd share. That particular week we struck gold with the weather and had a glorious few days of sunshine which wasn't too hot for comfort. The following week it poured down and we wouldn't have been half as free to wander as we were. Anyway, August Bank holiday saw us in Cardiff and we discovered a lovely little town called Penarth where they have a wonderful cliff-top promenade area for walking.

The view up-river. If you click a couple of times you can just see the bridge that crosses the Bristol Channel:

Down-river. The view is across to England and the coast of Somerset. The islands are Flatholm and Steepholm. The next indistinct bump is The Quantocks in Somerset, close to where we used to live, and the next bump is actually part of the mainland - Weston-super-Mare.

The next day we took the park and ride into Cardiff itself. Brilliant. Hubby didn't have to drive into the city, find somewhere to park and so on and so on. Recommend it to anyone.

Cardiff Castle. We didn't do the tour as we thought that the charge of almost £10 was a bit steep.

Next, it was onto the open top tour bus and down to Cardiff Bay where we were planning to see the Dr. Who exhibition. There as well is The Cardiff Millenium Centre for all things opera, ballet, musicals and so on. The Torchwood connection is that the lift from The Hub comes up here somewhere but as there were building works going on, it wasn't very obvious where exactly. But the building is amazing:

Inside the entertainment complex, where the Dr. Who exhibition was, I spotted this rather wonderful muriel:

The Dr. Who exhibition... Cybermen, Daleks etc... all great fun:

From there it was but a short stroll to Mermaid Wharf where we saw the Welsh National Assembly building:

A carousel:

A building I can't name but I loved the Victorian tower.

And this view where we sat and ate a picnic lunch along with loads of others out enjoying the end of summer sunshine.

This is across Cardiff Bay to Penarth, on the headland, where we'd been the day before. I have to say we fell completely in love with Cardiff and its beautiful surrounding countryside and coastline. So much to see and do, the people all so friendly - just an all round brilliant city. More photos to come as that's only about half of them!

Sunday 19 September 2010

The Enchantment Emporium

At last I've finished my first book for Carl's R.I.P. V challenge! The reason I've taken so long is that I've been reading two books at once and that always slows me up. Anyway, The Enchantment Emporium was given to me by Pat at Here There and Everywhere and I was delighted to receive such a lovely surprise in the mail as it was a book I'd long been covetting.

Alysha Gale is a 'Gale girl'. Her family is headed by thirteen 'aunties'... witches aged from around fifty to over eighty. Her grandmother, Catherine Gale, is one of these so called 'aunties'. As a family they produce mainly girls, powerful girls... and the occasional boy who also tend to have powers, but can go 'rogue' at some stage. Catherine Gale owns a shop in Calgary, but she's gone missing, presumed dead, and lets it be known that Alysha, 'Allie', is to take over the shop. Seeing that Allie has just lost her job she sees it as an opportunity to spread her wings - the aunties are rather over-protective - and put a little distance between her and the family.

When Allie arrives in Calgary she finds the junk shop deserted, full of extremely odd objects and protected, 'charmed', to within an inch of its life by her witch grandmother. Why? What's going on? It isn't long before before Allie hires a leprechaun who was known to her grandmother but not liked. She is also approached by a reporter, Graham, who wants to do an article on the shop but who seems more than a little too interested in the doings of Catherine Gale. Graham is clearly not all that he seems, or rather 'more' than he seems. Allie is very attracted to him so it's no hardship to see more of him and try to find out if he knows what happened to her grandmother. It's clear to one and all that 'things are happening in Calgary' and that Allie is sorely needed to sort it out and, maybe, even save the world.

Well, I have to say, I really liked this one. It did take me a little while to get into. The first fifty pages are full of new characters and things are alluded to and it's quite hard to get a concrete handle on what's going on. After that, the plot takes off at a rollicking speed and it's a pageturner.

This is actually my first book by Tanya Huff. I know she's popular and I've had her other supernatural books recced to me often enough, I've just not got to them. My husband has, and he really likes them. Her style is pacey, easy going, with quite a bit of funny, snappy dialogue. Running through the whole book is a lot of sexual ambivilence, what Jack Harkness might call 'omnnisexuality'. In fact, it's clear Huff is a Torchwood fan as both Jack and Torchwood get a mention... something which delighted me. I liked that ambivilent aspect of the book a lot... this is not a children's book but neither is it explicit in an adult manner, simply open to different ideas.

I also liked Allie - she reminded me a bit of Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs's series. She's a modern, independent woman who looks after herself and takes no nonsense from anyone. Other favourite characters - cousin Charlie (a woman) who can get magically from place to place by flying through 'the wood', Joe the leprechaun, and Graham although I would have to say that, in general, the male characters do not have the same depth as the women in this book.

Overall, a good first read for this Halloween challenge. FantasticFiction lists this one as a stand-alone. I hope it's not! I'd love to read more of Allie's adventures in Calgary and I would say the book is very open to this... lots more to discover about all the characters - especially the aunties I'd say. And I would like to know how Allie's relationship with Graham continues and matures. Recommend this to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy with a touch of horror.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Four books in brief

Well, once again I seem to be four books behind in my book posts and once again I'm going to do a quick run-down of them for the sake of catching up. Hopefully once I've done this I can return to normal service and do one at a time!

First up it's On Royalty by Jeremy Paxman.

Paxman, as most Brits will know, is a well known TV journalist who works primarily for the BBC. I can't say I like his interviewing technique all that much - he's one of a band of interviewers who think it's clever to ask a question, allow the interviewee to get four words out and then interupt. As someone who often wants to hear what the person has to say I find this infuriating. That said, I still like him. He has a keen, intelligent, brain and uses it in his writing. I very much enjoyed his book, The English and have now enjoyed On Royalty. It's not really a subject I'm all that fascinated by; I'm not a fanatical Royalist, nor even a moderate one to be honest. But nor would I do away with them and I'm interested in as much as I enjoy history. Paxman's book is a mixture of pure facts, opinions and anecdotes and not at all a dry, chronological retelling of the lives of Kings and Queens of England. His lively sense of humour is very apparent and he uses it in the retelling of his weekend at one of Prince Charle's house parties, in the introduction. Truthfully, it's worth reading this book just for that. Not bad.

Next: Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry is pretty much accepted in this country as a National Treasure. It would be hard to find anyone who is not a fan of his wonderful sense of humour and intelligence. This is his first autobiography, or memoirs, or whatever you choose to call them, and deals with his life from birth to around the age of twenty. Born to well off parents - his father was a boffin type - he had quite an idyllic childhood and was sent off to prep school in Wiltshire at the age of eight. The book deals exhaustively with his life at both prep and, following that, public school. Interspersed with the facts are Stephen's thoughts on everything you can think of. He is very self-critical of himself and his behaviour as a child and young adult, and very kind and tolerant of everyone else and their actions. The over-whelming impression I came away with was, yes, he made mistakes, but he never blames anyone but himself. It takes a strong person to take that attitude, many would be muttering, 'Poor me...' A wonderful book, probably the best non-fiction I'll read all year. His second autobiography is out in a week or so and my copy is already preordered.

Next Cameron: The Rise of the new Conservative by Francis Elliott and James Hanning.

You'd have to have been living under a rock not to have known that we have a new government here in the UK and that our new Prime Minister is one, David Cameron. Fascinated by the whole coalition thing I sent for two biographies and this is the first. The authors have done a warts and all study of their subject, starting with his childhood - prep school, Eton, Oxford etc. and also revealing a lot about his family, friends, colleagues etc. There's a lot of political history of the last 25 years or so included; this was, at times, a bit dry but never less than readable. I found the personal stuff much more interesting and the chapter on the death of his disabled oldest son, Ivan, actually brought me to tears. All in all, the thing I came away with most was how like Yes Minister! political life really is. All that back-biting, scheming, lying through your teeth, having to know the right people and so on and so on. A fascinating read and I would now like to read more books with a political slant. Mandelson's 'New Labour' book is on my radar but I'm told John Major's autobiography is also rather good. Haven't made up my mind about Blair's book yet.

And lastly some fiction - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

It's quite hard to know what I can say about this book without giving away any spoilers. Basically, I was reading it because I'd done a search on books set in schools, as the Stephen Fry book had piqued my interest. This was one of the books the search came up with. I have to say, it was not at all what I was looking for! (Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players is closer to the mark.) But, nothing daunted, I ploughed on even when I realised the direction in which it was heading. In brief, it starts with a girl looking back on her life in a residential school, her friends and so on. It's clear she is now some kind of carer and that the school was a special school. You get hints and I very quickly guessed the gist of the thing. More than that I'm not going to say. The author writes beautifully, the book is intense, frightening and not one you'll want to pick up if you're feeling a bit down in the dumps. He also wrote the very well known, Remains of the Day, which I haven't read but have seen the very beautiful and poignant film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I think I'm intrigued enough to read more by him... but not just yet.


Saturday 4 September 2010

R.I.P. V challenge

I returned yesterday from a second short break in Wales... Cardiff this time... a thoroughly lovely and relaxing break - photos will be forthcoming. The weather was absolutely stunning, sunny all week but not stiflingly hot. Now that I'm back it's turned very autumnal and perfect because while I was away Carl announced the R.I.P. V challenge. I'm obviously several days behind with this but 'better late than never!' so here I am.

It is time to celebrate things that go bump in the night; that favorite detective that always gets his man, or woman, in the end; that delicious chill of a creak on the stairs, of the rogue waiting in the dark, of the full moon and the flit of bats wings.

Some categories of books that can be read for this challenge:
Dark Fantasy.

I'm going to try for:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

I haven't been reading as much as usual over the summer but I've picked up a bit now so am hoping that four books is attainable. I think so.

I've picked a pool of books to read from, though that doesn't necessarily mean I'll stick to it. *g*

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett
The Picture of Dorian Grey - Oscar Wilde
The Evil Seed - Joanne Harris
Footsteps in the Dark - Georgette Heyer
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth - Chris Priestley
The Five Jars - M.R. James
Haggopian and other stories - Brian Lumley
Blood Sinister - Celia Rees
The Enchantment Emporium - Tanya Huff
Paragon Walk - Anne Perry

These are a mix of suspense, mystery, classic horror, modern horror, short stories and humour so they ought to keep my interest. A couple are cross-overs with two other challenges I have on the go... the Pratchett and the Oscar Wilde. As always with me, I would love to read all of them but doubt that will happen. Whatever, I plan to have a good time trying. Thanks to Carl for once again hosting this challenge.