Saturday 28 May 2011

BBC trailer

I'm going to be scarce until Wednesday as we have our grand-daughter coming to stay. I thought I would leave you with a minutes entertainment from the BBC... one of those trailers they're so brilliant at, advertising themselves. The song is iconic in the UK as being connected with the comedy duo of Morecambe and Wise and beloved I would say by anyone over 45.

Monday 23 May 2011

The Islands of the Blessed

I'm still continuing to read for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge despite the fact that I've read my five books. It has another month or so to run and I'm hoping to at least get another couple under my belt. This latest is The Island of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer, book three in her 'Sea of Trolls' trilogy, and my book six for the challenge.

After his previous adventures as The Bard's apprentice, with Vikings, trolls, elves, hobgoblins, and much else besides, Jack is now back living in his home village. He's still having magic lessons with The Bard and is surrounded by those he has met on those adventure, Thorgil the shield maiden in particular. She's her usual prickly self and somedays the two get on, others they don't. A new family to the area are the Tanners, mother and two daughters, slyly intent on causing as much trouble as they can.

Outside the village lives Brother Aiden, a monk, living in seclusion. He has, in his care, a bell named Fair Lamenting. It gives off a beautiful sound but must never be rung. Unfortunately it is and a draugr, the dead soul of a mermaid, is drawn to it and death is hot on her heels - possibly for them all.

The Bard and Jack must work out how to get rid of this presence but their course is not straightforward. First they must visit Brother Severus, an old acquaintance, to find out how he becane entangled with this mermaid and left her to die. Then they must travel to the island where it happened and thence on to Notland, the under-water kingdom of the Fin people, who hopefully will have the answer to their problems. But the path is hazardous and Jack and his friends will have many obstacles to overcome before their quest is fulfilled.

At last I have actually finished a fantasy series! The joy of it for me has been the journey, not just the physical one but the one Jack has undertaken from that of an ordinary young boy, not much appreciated by his parents (his younger sister was always the favourite) to several years later where he's a proper apprentice to The Bard, with all that entails. At the same time he's still a boy... with simmering resentments, a tendency to be rash, and growing feelings for Thorgil which he tries to hide, even to himself.

For me, characterisation is one of the strengths of these books. Nancy Farmer reflects the way people really are, neither all good nor all bad but a mix of both. The two main characters of Jack and Thorgil are very real but I also like The Bard, the albatross, Seafarer, and the Viking crew. The author doesn't try to gloss over the historial role of the Vikings either. Yes, they are friends to Jack and his travelling companions but their way of life is violent and cruel, they trade in slaves, and Jack's feelings toward his friends are ambivilent to say the least... even Thorgil who he knows is quite happy to kill in the name of honour or even just for sport.

All that said, I did really enjoy the travelling element to this series. It takes place in the very north eastern corner of England and the Scottish borders... and stretches from there to Norway. These places are real but of course but the legends, Norse Gods and mythical beasts etc., are not... but they feel real. The area is so wild that you can easily imagine a race of trolls in the mountains, a magical race of Pictish beings in Scotland, or a whole world of people living under the sea who collect riches just to experience the envy of others.

I've no idea why this wonderful trilogy is not more well known. I love it to bits for its sheer imagination and story telling. It cries out for a follow-up trilogy but I believe Nancy Farmer has to rely on her publishers being impressed enough with sales and she said that this last instalment has been largely ignored. What a travesty! These books are beautifully written, exciting, imaginative and even educational and it's a real shame that the story might not achieve its full potential.

Sunday 22 May 2011

A book meme

I do actually have a book review to do tomorrow but I saw this meme on a blog on Live Journal and couldn't resist bringing it here to do.

1 - The best book you read last year: Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry

2 - A book you've read more than 3 times: There are very few books I've read three times but Sylvester by Georgette Heyer is one.

3 - Your favourite series: Just one, gosh er... I think it would have to be Harry Potter.

4 - A guilty pleasure book: Hard question as I don't really feel guilty about books I like. How about the Miss Read books?

5 - A book that made you laugh: My present read - Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson. His description of buying a loaf of bread in a bakers in Paris had me in tears of laughter.

6 - A book that made you cry: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Zoer

7 - Most underrated book: Nancy Farmer's 'Sea of Trolls' YA trilogy. Hardly anyone seems to have heard of them and yet they're excellent.

8 - Most overrated book: Maisie Dobbs. Sorry and all that, but I just don't get it.

9 - A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

10 - Favorite classic book: Pride and Prejudice

11 - A book you hated: I tend to stop reading when I dislike a book so I can't really think of one.

12 - A book you used to love but don’t anymore: Coming up blank with that too...

13 - Your favorite author: Terry Pratchett or Anne McCaffrey.

14 - Favorite male character: Masterharper Robinton from Anne McCaffrey's Pern books.

15 - Favorite female character: Ruth Galloway from Elly Griffiths' crime series of the same name.

16 - Your biggest fictional crush: Adam Hauptman from the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.

17 - A Good Quick Read: Any of the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn.

18 - A book that disappointed you: Frankenstein's Monster by Mary Shelley.

19 - Favorite book-to-movie conversion: Harry Potter

20 - Favorite romance: Either Sylvester or Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

21 - Favorite book from your childhood: Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce

22 - A book you can't wait for: Snuff by Terry Pratchett

23 - A book you've been meaning to read for ages: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

24 - A book that you wish more people would read: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

25 - Character you are most similar to: I think I'm a cross between Granny Weatherwax and Isabel Dalhousie. LOL!

26 - A book that changed your opinion about something: How tragic that I can't think of one!

27 - Most surprising plot twist or ending: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters has more plot twists than you can shake a stick at...

28 - Favorite book title: Thud!

29 - A book everyone hated but you liked: Well I only managed 50 or 60 pages of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness but everyone else seems to love it.

30 - Your favorite book OF ALL TIME: I can't choose just *one* so I'll just pick *one* of my favourite books - Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Twenties Girl

I suddenly realised that I'd only read two books for my What's in a Name? challenge which is being hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Time to read another - not that there's any mad rush as I could probably wait and read them all in December, but I really don't want to do that, so, time for book three. This one comes under the heading of A Book with a Number in the Title and is Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

Lara Lington has a funeral to go to. She's reluctant, her whole family is to be honest; Great Aunt Sadie was 105 and not in contact with, or visited by anyone in the family in the old people's home she lived in. The funeral is thus very sparsely attended. The end of the ceremony is approaching when Lara suddenly hears a voice asking insistently where her necklace is. Shocked, Lara realises that she's the only one who can hear this voice. Looking around, she tracks the voice to a young woman dressed in the fashion of the 1920s, wandering around the church still asking for her necklace. Realising that Lara can hear her she tells her that *she* is Aunt Sadie and that Lara must stop the funeral until the necklace is found.

Not without some difficulty, Lara manages this but the few people present, including her parents and her uncle's family, think she has gone completely mad. This is mainly due to the fact that Lara broke up with her boyfriend, Josh, recently and won't let go. She's been texting and pestering him and her family think this is unnacceptable behaviour. Lara has further problems with the head-hunting business she started with her best friend, Natalie. Natalie has gone on holiday to Goa, fallen in love there and left Lara holding the fort, where things are not going too well.

Naturally, Lara cannot tell her family that the reason she stopped the funeral was because a 105 year old ghost told her to. Sadie is rather a demanding ghost and wants Lara to find the necklace, so the two set about investigating. Whilst doing so, Sadie sees a man she fancies, American, Ed Harrison, in an office and makes Lara gate-crash the meeting and ask Ed on date. Ed accepts because Sadie yells in his ear and tells him to. But Lara is still trying to get back with Josh, so how is this all going to work exactly?

Lara finds herself in increasingly bizarre situations as she tries to keep her business going, find the necklace and co-ordinate her love life. And then the two investigators discover who has the necklace. Lara realises that all is not as it seems and in order to get to the bottom of the whole business she must force the very reluctant Sadie to tell her something about her life. Which is when the mystery really begins...

I think this is the fourth book I've read by Sophie Kinsella and she's never failed to impress me (although I do seem to prefer her stand-alone books to the Shopaholic series). On the surface this is quite a fluffy, fun story with a lot of laughs. There's one scene where I was literally in stitches at one in the morning and could hardly force myself to stop reading and turn out the light. And, aside from being humorous, there is also a solid mystery element to this which keeps you guessing and is genuinely interesting and even quite rivetting as Sadie's past history is slowly revealed.

But, as with all of Sophie Kinsella's books, there is always an under-lying question she's asking of the reader. How do we treat our older relatives who are unable to look after themselves and have to reside in homes for the elderly? Do we treat them as individuals with something relevant or interesting to say, a history to relate? Do we visit them or do we hide them away, expecting paid health-care workers to look after them and not bother us younger ones with their existance? It's one hell of a question and one all of have to face at one time or another, either as caring - or uncaring - relatives or as the elderly person ourselves.

The author handles this question brilliantly, not bashing us around the head with guilty facts but gently leading us to question, via a very clever plot, how we value the elderly in a 21st. century where youth and high flying careers are worshipped but no one has time to smell the roses... or visit a lonely old lady in a nursing home.

I've loved all the books by Sophie Kinsella's that I've read so far, but this is by far my favourite. I loved the mystery element, the humour, the poignancy, the characters, the romance, the scattiness. It was so readable that I found it hard to stop reading when I had to and when I wasn't reading it was constantly thinking about it. Sophie Kinsella is quite simply one of the best writers of light, modern fiction around today, in my opinion. I can't wait to see what she writes next!

Saturday 14 May 2011

Recent book buys and gifts

I haven't done a book porn post in ages so, as I seem to have acquired a few new ones recently, I thought it was time.

I had a birthday recently so first up here're the four I had for that event:

The top two were from my daughter - Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt, which is a sci fi romance yarn, and West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish which I believe is her Troll saga trilogy in one book. The bottom two were from a dear friend - Light on Snow by Anita Shreve and The Book on the Bookshelf which is a book on the history of bookshelves and is beautifully illustrated and looks wonderful.

And from my husband:

A lovely slate blue/grey cover for my new Kindle.

And these I bought for myself in a weak moment. (Well, several weak moments actually.)

The bottom two books are as a result of reading this post by Kay at My Random Acts of Reading. I'm sure I don't need another series to start but the idea of a crime series set in Wyoming and the fact that they might be a bit cowboyish meant I had no hope of resisting the impulse to buy the first two. The Christmas Train by David Baldaci was grabbed from a charity shop. I like to read Christmassy books around Christmas and I gather he's a good author - my husband reads him - so that one jumped off the shelf and into my hands... funny how books do that. And Boneshaker by Cherie Priest did a similar thing in Waterstones in Exeter on Thursday, mainly because their library should have had it and didn't, so I got myself a little belated birthday present.

Added to this another dear friend gave me a Kindle token for my birthday and with that I got today, Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt and A Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde.

So those were my book fixes for the last two or three weeks and ought to last me for a bit now. Maybe.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Court of the Air

I can't belive it's taken me two whole weeks to read The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, but it has. Admittedly it is a bit of chunkster at over 580 pages - and I have been busy this last couple of weeks (actually, all through April and the first week of May). But that doesn't fully explain it and I suspect it's more to do with the fact that I found this one quite a challenging read. Anyway, whatever, it's my book five for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge and means I've finished the challenge really, but, of course, I've no intention of stopping *now*...

Molly Templar lives in Middlesteel, the capital of the kingdom of Jackels. She's a workhouse girl in a world that resmbles Victorian England but also differs in many respects. The workhouse want to be rid of Molly as she's old enough to fend for herself, but she can't seem to hold down a job.

Oliver Brooks is, ostensibly, better off. He lives in a large house with his uncle and goes to school. But Oliver's movements are restricted as he's a registered boy. He is part Fey having spent 4 years in the Feymist, survived, and somehow kept his sanity. Except that he can't remember any of it.

Things are not right in the kingdom. Revolution is in the air and it's impossible to judge who is on whose side. The King is a sick man, but has no power anyway, having had his arms symbolically chopped off to stop him 'raising his arms against his own kingdom'. A kind of communist government is in charge now, or trying to be. Watching over all is a mysterious, almost mythical, group known as The Court of the Air who observe and spy from airships in the sky.

Molly's life is suddenly turned upside down when a masacre takes place at her new place of work - a brothel. She survives and runs for the workhouse only to find that everyone there is also dead. Realising that the killer was after her, she goes on the run.

Oliver's existance takes a similar turn, only this time it's his uncle and members of the household who are killed. He's rescued by Harry Stave, a mysterious spy type who helps Oliver escape and goes on the run with him.

Clearly someone or some group is after both Molly and Oliver, but why? What is this strange affinity Molly seems to have with machines? Is Oliver's feyblood the reason someone wants him dead? Both youngsters have a very long journey ahead and many shocking discoveries to make before any sense can be made of the bizarre and dangerous situation.

I have to say that that short synopsis doesn't really cover this book. It's been a long time since I read anything quite as complicated, plotwise... and also complicated in its world building. It was 'challenging', there's no other word for it. And I'll be honest I was at page 200 before I really decided that 'yes' I would carry on to the end. Oddly, I discovered that both my daughters had had this one from the library: my eldest had given up after about 100 pages, my youngest had finished it but found it wanting. I understand. It was almost *too* complicated. I sometimes wondered if pieces of history or places had been added just for the sake of keeping the reader on their toes.

I'm also going to say that I didn't think the characters of Molly and Oliver were fleshed out enough. They weren't two-dimensional exactly, but neither were they rounded individuals that I felt I really knew by the end of the book. I had more empathy with a race of people called steammen, who were machines with souls, and a very real and sympathetic race. Much more interesting I felt than the two main characters.

All that said, this really is a stunning book and I wish I could put my finger on why, as it's a far from a perfect piece of work. I think I was overwhelmed by the concept. Yes, the world building is confusing at times... I often struggled to remember who was loyal to whom, why someone was doing what they were doing - even what the heck was going on in some instances! But goodness me what a world Stephen Hunt has invented. It's dark, dangerous and mysterious... there are underground cities, closed cities - the city of the steammen in the mountains was amazing. And all of it powered by a very strange and imaginative technolgy of machines. And let's face it, it could easily be my own fault that I was, at times, confused. My memory isn't what it was and I sometimes find that if I can't read a book as fast as I would like I don't always remember the small detail.

There are four books in the 'Jackelian' series at the moment with book five coming out in July. I'll be getting book two, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, for my Kindle because I'm so intrigued by this world that I want to read more. I gather book two is not actually about Molly and Oliver anyway but about a minor character, Professor Amelia Harsh, going on an expedition to find the lost city of Camlantis. I have to read it so The Court of the Air clearly made quite an impression on me. In point of fact I rather like it when I love a book despite its imperfections. :-) Lastly, I don't know whether this book could be described as 'steampunk'... if it is then I think I want to read more so if anyone has any suggestions for other titles, do leave a comment.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Fruit crumble and soup

In my previous post on Monday I mentioned I was planning to make a fruit crumble. A couple of people asked for photos so Hubby and I (confirming his fears of my impending insanity) proceeded to take some pics of the dish as it was being put together. So here ya go:

You can use any fruit for a fruit crumble. Apple is common and rhubarb very popular. I enjoy mixing fruits so this one is raspberry and blueberry (sometimes I'll put tinned peaches with these two). Raspberries from the garden, frozen from last year, and two lots of blueberries - the smaller ones frozen from the garden from last year, and a few from the supermarket, which are much bigger and I cut in half to let the juice out. All this I sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

Here it is with the crumble topping spread over the top. Recipe is very simple. 6ozs flour with 4ozs butter or marge rubbed into it (I use a mix of both). Into the rubbed in mix stir 4ozs of sugar (demerera or golden castor is nice) and 2 ozs porridge oats. You can also mix in some powdered cinnamon or ginger if you like but my husband likes his crumble unadulterated, so I tend not to.

Pop it in the oven, about 175C for 20 - 25 mins. After which it should look like this:

And like this after us gannets have been at it:

And some days you wake up and just know you have to make soup. So I did.

The basis of this one is chicken stock raided from the freezer. I added that to a load of sweated carrots, onions, sweet potato, garlic, and celery. Then I added some cold new potatoes lurking in the fridge, some of my husband's frozen squash purée, some red lentils, various herbs such as sage, oregano, marjoram, chives and garlic chives, and a hunk of left-over smoked bacon joint. When I make soup like this from bits and bobs I don't always know what I'm going to end up with. LOL. This time I seem to have produced a really nice smokey flavoured ham and vegetable soup which we'll have for tea tonight.

And on my wanderings around the garden collecting my herbs these grabbed my attention:

Aliums are part of the onion family I believe. Whatever, I think they're stunning flowers.

Osteospermums. They close up at night but during the day with the sun shining on them they look like this. Not for nothing is May my favourite month of year.

Monday 2 May 2011

April's books

Rather a busy month for myself and my family, it's a wonder I managed to read anything really. Our few days in Cornwall was nice, so was our extended Easter, and various other comings and goings. I also feel a bit as though I'm suffering from Royal Wedding withdrawal but that too shall pass I'm sure. The calendar for May is mercifully empty and I have no complaints about that whatsoever! This week we need to get bedding plants out into the garden, the warm April made them grow very quickly but all of a sudden it's turned cold and showery so maybe that can wait a day or two. I did at least weed, dig and tidy the ground this morning so that's one thing off my list of today's 'things to do'. The other things were to write this post, make a raspberry and blueberry crumble... and READ. I'm almost half way through The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. It's 580 pages long and I feel like I'm running a marathon with it - a couple of times I've felt like giving up but I think in the longrun I'll be glad I persevered. I hope so anyway.

So, without further ado, these are the books I read this month.

21. The Apprentice - Tess Gerritsen
22. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
23. Affairs at Thrush Green - Miss Read
24. Thyme Out - Katie Fforde
25. Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde
26. Door into Fire - Diane Duane
27. Clerical Errors - D.M. Greenwood

Seven in all. Three for the Once Upon a Time challenge, a couple of crime yarns and a couple of sundry fiction. All of them good.

This month I want to read more for my challenges, get rid of my library pile so that I can go and raid Exeter city library for the four books they have that I want, maybe gain a few new books for my birthday... and a cover for my Kindle! Do other Kindle users own covers for them? I didn't think I would need one but as soon as I got a Kindle I realised I probably do. I'm nothing if not contrary.

Happy reading for the month of May - my favourite month.