Saturday, 31 January 2009

In the Woods

I first read about In the Woods by Tana French, here on Deslily's blog. Knowing that we have similar tastes in books and that neither of us are what you might call big crime book fans, it occurred to me that this must be pretty good if she liked it. So I nabbed it from the library and have finished it, so it qualifies for my first book for J. Kaye's Support your local library challenge.

The story is set in Ireland - near Dublin to be precise. Adam 'Rob' Ryan is a detective with the murder squad. He is also a survivor. Twenty years ago, aged twelve, he was playing in the woods with two friends when something happened. His two friends disappeared, never to be seen again, and Adam was found against the trunk of a tree, his shoes full of blood, rips on the back of his T shirt, terrified out of his mind. He remembers nothing of what happened and the police never solved the crime. Twenty years later the body of a twelve year old girl is found in the same spot, close to an archaelogical dig. 'Rob' gets himself assigned to the case. The only person who knows who he really is, is his partner, Cassie, and Rob keeps it that way. The case proves complicated. All kinds of secrets come to light and all the time there is the brooding presence of the wood, affecting Rob's mind, as he tries to remember what happened twenty years ago.

I believe this is Tana French's debut novel. If so it's a splendid debut! She tells the story in the first person, from Rob's point of view, and as such it becomes a very personal story. 'His' story. He's flawed, there's no doubt about it, and we see him warts and all but at the same time it's very easy to see where he's coming from. The author does a fantastic job of getting right inside his head; nothing he does seems that bizarre to the reader.

I liked very much the mix of the cold case scenario and the present day crime, I thought that worked very well indeed. And the setting of the woods was particularly well done. The author used that to frightening effect, reminding me slightly of The Blair Witch movie! I didn't actually guess who the perpetrator of the crime was but I did guess another crucial factor. It didn't spoil it for me in any way because it was fascinating seeing how the author went about revealing this fact and as the reader you kind of wanted to give 'Rob' a good shake and say, 'Look... see what's in front of you, for goodness sake!'

On Amazon there are a few comments about the book's ending. I know what they're referring to and I see what they mean, but I'm not sure how these people failed to understand exactly what happened. It was quite obvious to me and I loved that the author did what she did. Not saying another thing. I loved this book, it might not be to the taste of those who like their crime books to be straightforward, but if you like a psychological sort of yarn that's a bit spooky and where the main characters are very flawed, then this book is for you.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Why don't men read the Pern books?

I haven't done a joint post with anyone before so this is a first for me. Pat (deslily) is posting this on her blog too, to see if we can get some clue as to the answer.

But before I go onto that part of the post I'm going to 'blame' Pat for the fact that I was too creeped out to get to sleep last night. She recommended In the Woods by Tana French to me, a crime book, which I've been reading. Well, I'm not usually the nervous type but when the main character came to spend a night in the woods and eventually fled in terror I was too frightened to turn the light out and when I did, lay there listening to noises! Your fault, Pat. This is clearly a book to be read only in the daylight hours! LOL.

Anyway, onwards.

(This part of my post is written by both myself and Pat.)

Ok... don’t get me wrong, some men have read Anne McCaffrey’s books. But, Pat and I were talking on IM the other day and the topic of dragon books came up and that, naturally, led to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. (..and Master Harper Robinton, which both of us are going to fight over hahaha) While talking the fact came up that it seemed to us that we didn’t know any men who have read any of the Pern books.

They are filled with great and interesting characters, we both agreed. Very strong men who were dragonriders and leaders of the Weyrs. Strong women. Nearly inhuman problems to be solved, and all around fantastic writing.

Some of the reasons we came up with about why men don’t seem to read Pern are:

…some men don’t like to read about strong women.

…some men don’t read books written by women.

…some men don’t like fantasy’s that sound too real.

…some men aren’t “into” dragons.

…some men might see the books as too ‘girly’. Ie. there is romance, not just between people but the dragons are included as well!

Of course none of these excuses have been asked of the men that we know who read fantasy books.

Apart from my own husband that is (Cath's). When I asked him why he’d never read them he replied that actually he had read several. His opinion was that they’re ‘okay’ but nothing special. His reason seemed to be that there wasn’t enough action in them - not enough of the stuff men like such as fighting and war. Plus, there was too much of the kind of thing women like such as emotional and life solving problems. It seems men are not so keen on this kind of introspection.

… one more thought was that these are old books and so are not promoted or out there for some to discover anymore.

…And I also wondered if the fact that a woman, Lessa, is the most important character in the first books made a difference. Do men like the most important character in a book to be a man? Personally, I feel that McCaffrey treats men and women as equals in all the books and for me that’s a plus point not a minus.

The Pern books are among some of my absolute favorite books. I’ve read them a number of times. When I do I am totally lost into the world of Pern and the dragonriders with their dragons, the masterharper hall, and other lord holders and the people that live and work in them.

The planet is also very ‘real’. The map and descriptions are so precise that it feels like this place really exists. Especially the southern continent which they rediscover in The White Dragon and it’s like going on your very own voyage of exploration.

I feel drawn to the dragons in Anne’s books because they are friendly. Because you can bond with them the way you do with your own pet dog or cat. Of course you can’t communicate with your dog or cat.. but that isn’t because you don’t want to!

The more I thought about Pern the more I tried to think about, “what don’t I like about Pern and life there?” Well.. besides the obvious of the “killer threads”, life there isn’t easy. There aren’t a lot of “modern conveniences”. But even with that, life there seems more intense.. I want to say they work harder and enjoy life harder. And it’s not even a ‘too perfect’ world. There are unpleasant people as well as nice ones. People don’t get along, are selfish, petty, fall out, just as they do in real life.

Her characters are well developed, as is Pern itself, and you can feel the authors compassion when you are reading her books. (maybe that’s a reason men don’t read Pern?)

So.. we are writing this because we want to know why men don’t read Pern!!

If you know.. let US know!

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Bitten by Kelley Armstrong is a book I've been trying to get around to for ages. It's the first of the Women of the Otherworld series... a series of about eight books that my husband and eldest daughter have slowly been working their way through. They both love them and I knew I at least needed to give this first book a try and, at long last, I've managed it.

Elena Michaels is your average 21st century girl, living in Toronto with Philip her fortyish partner. Except that Elena is not average - she just happens to be the only female werewolf in existance. She used to belong to a pack but left it when she made the decision to lead as normal a life as possible. The pack is led by Jeremy, the aplha male and also includes Clayton, a man/wolf that Elena has some history with. The pack is based at Stonehaven an estate in the middle of the New York state forest. The story starts when Jeremy begins calling Elena... there is a serious problem at Stonehaven and her help is required. She resists at first, not wishing to return to the pack but is persuaded by Philip to go. Philip, not knowing that Elena is a werewolf thinks it's a family problem. When she gets to Stonehaven, Elena is told that there have been murders in the nearby town and that the problem is 'mutts' - rogue werewolves. Between them the pack need to solve the problem before attention turns to Stonehaven and its unusual inhabitants.

Quite a good read this one. I'm not sure I'm quite as enthusiastic as my family but the writing engaged me well enough. Part of the problem was how familiar the whole thing seemed to me, as though I'd read it before when I know very well I haven't. I found the book a lot less irritating that the Anita Blake series and this is down to the writing - Armstrong's writing is much more competant than Laurel Hamilton's, imo, the characters more fleshed out and the dialogue much more believable. That said, it was quite predictable and perhaps that's why it seemed so familiar. I'm not going to rush to read the next one, Stolen, straightaway, even though we own it. But I will read it at some stage; 'something' about them must have gripped my family. I would add for anyone contemplating reading these that they are very much 'adult' books; there is quite a lot of gorey description and some explicit sexuality... definitely NOT a book for anyone under sixteen, imo.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The garden at Godolphin

I posted the first lot of pics of Godolphin House a couple a weeks ago and this is part two, this time concentrating on the garden. It's 700 years old although how much is original is hard to say - the stonework certainly looks it and probably is. This was late October 2008.

Anyway, the first three were all taken around the entrance to the house. Paths, old granite steps, beautiful aged stonework.

I was fascinated by this raised path that you can just see over the wall.

And here it is from the top.

Borders. This was the end of Oct. but there was still a certain stark beauty all around.

The kitchen garden.

The orchard.

I love these old stone steps built to fit around the base of this tree.

And this lovely little stone trough, hidden away.

An old barn.

More beautiful steps.

I like to think that people who've lived in the house used this as a trysting place. :-)

Autumn trees against the skyline.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

City of Illusions

I'm quite a big fan of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels. It's not that easy to explain this Hainish universe but basically it's sort of an organisation of planets connected by a body of people known as the Ekumen. Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it here. Not that it matters that much to be honest and I'm nothing if not a bit confused by it, but that doesn't stop me loving these loosely connected books. Possibly the most famous is The Left Hand of Darkness which I read as my first Hainish novel several years ago. After reading that I decided to start at the beginning and read through all seven or eight of the novels Le Guin has written in this universe. Three books begin the series, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and this third book that I've just read - City of Illusions.

The story itself is quite straightforward. Earth has become a barbarous place. An enemy called The Shing rule it from the city of Es Toch, somewhere in the Rocky mountains, and the human population is either scattered and tribal, or live on small farms in the great forests of eastern North America. To one of these, one day, comes a wild man, so unlike any human with his huge yellow eyes that the community are undecided about whether they should kill him. They keep him instead and set about restoring his empty mind. The result is 'Falk' and he lives among these people, learning more and more every day about their existance but never knowing who he truly is. Eventually, it's decided that he must travel to the distant Shing city of Es Toch to find out who he is. The first half of the book charts his amazing journey. The second half of the book details what happens when he gets to the city and I won't go into that as there are several twists and turns that would spoil it for others who might pick up this book.

As I said before this is the third book in the Hainish series, and I have loved every one of them. All three are old fashioned, traditional science fiction and take me back many years to the time when that was about all I read. There are themes running through all of these books. Colonisation, how alien cultures deal with each other, how easily misunderstandings happen, ecological matters and so on. Authors that remind me a bit of her are Sherri Tepper (Grass), Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow) and Anne McCaffrey's Freedom's Landing series. (I didn't realise I liked this sci fi theme as much as it seems I do...) The next book is The Dispossessed which is apparently a bit of a sci fi classic; I don't have it so have just sent for a copy. I would also highly recommend one of Le Guin's more recent anthologies, The Birthday of the World. I bang on about this short story collection quite a lot but it has quite a few Hainish stories in it, about sexuality (though not in any way explicit), and is quite honestly one of the best anthologies I've ever read. Le Guin apparently calls her Hainish universe, 'My pseudo-coherent universe with holes in the elbows'. Well quite. But I call it simply 'brilliant'.

My first read for Carl's Sci Fi experience.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Bookish meme

I nicked this bookish meme from Deslily who got it from Eva at A Striped Armchair originally, but I couldn't find that post so can't link back to it. Just for fun then:

The Rules
1. Tag 3-5 people, so the fun keeps going!
2. Leave a comment at the original post at A Striped Armchair, so that Eva can collect everyone’s answers.
3. If you leave a comment and link back to Eva as the meme’s creator, she will enter you in a book giveaway contest! She has a whole shelf devoted to giveaway books that you’ll be able to choose from, or a bookmooch point if you prefer.
4. Remember that this is all about enjoying books as physical objects, so feel free to describe the exact book you’re talking about, down to that warping from being dropped in the bath water…
5. Make the meme more fun with visuals! Covers of the specific edition you’re talking about, photos of your bookshelves, etc.

1 - The book that’s been on your shelves the longest:

Goodness, that's a tough one as I have books dating back to when I was a teenager. (*mumblemumble* years ago...) The one that comes to mind is a Penguin edition of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte that my best friend gave to me in 1968; it still has her inscription in it. But my copy of Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier may well be equally as old... and in fact is - 1967 apparently. And cost me 3/6d, which seeing as I doubtless bought it with my pocket money, was probably a princely sum to me.

2 - A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time, etc.):

The first two dragon books by Anne McCaffrey, Dragonquest and Dragonflight. I could hardly believe it when I discovered them as a young mum. Totally blown away by Anne's wonderful universe and I still feel that way about her first books, even now. Another author I was obsessed with around that time was Victoria Holt. I suppose people would scorn her books a bit now but back then her lovely historicals used to transport me to another world. And then I read Katherine by Anya Seton and no historical matched up to that for quite some time.

3 - A book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.):

My copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. At school we were told to write an imaginative short story - I think it must have been the all of 3rd. 4th. and 5th. years in the school but I'm not sure. Mine got picked to be entered for a prize - known as the Brooke Bond National School Awards. I don't know if I was the only one from the school entered or if there were a lot put forward. No idea. Next thing I knew my English teacher was calling me into his office and telling me I'd won a prize. I don't know if one person from every school got a prize, or whether it was regional thing, again, no idea. I *do* remember that my mum's jaw hit the floor when I told her and that she cried on Speech Day when I picked up my *extra* prize. Awwww.

4 - The most special YA book I've ever read

Hmmm. Another difficult one as I read a lot of YA these days. I think perhaps it's The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, which I read last year and was bowled over by.

5 - A book that’s been with you to the most places:

Um, well the second book of Lynn Flewelling's 'Nightrunner' series, Stalking Darkness, visited half a dozen US states with me in 2006. And Grass by Sheri Tepper came to London with me one time because I was halfway through it and just could not bear to leave it behind. Yes - it IS that good...

6 - The most recent addition to your shelves:

See end of this post.

7 - A bonus book that you want to talk about but doesn’t fit into the other questions:

Well okay. Here're a few pics from one of my favourite books. It's called The Atlas of North American Exploration and it does exactly what is says on the tin.

I love this book for several reasons. Firstly, I'm a bit of a map freak. Give me a map - especially if it happens to be in the front of a fantasy book - and I'm a happy bunny. Secondly, I'm really rather fascinated by the discovery and opening up of the North American continent. And thirdly, it is SO beautifully illustrated. I can't remember where I got it - I think it was from a book club I belonged to years ago. Whatever, it's one book I would never part with.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Godolphin House

It's time for a few more photos of our Cornish trip in October. I completely forgot I hadn't posted more of these, so here we go.

Godophin House, near Helston in Cornwall, began life as a 15th. century, Tudor manorhouse, and has been added to over the centuries by various owners. It's become almost derelict and has now been bought by the National Trust who are gradually restoring it. The garden is one of the oldest in the country, being around seven hundred years old. I took loads of photos so will start with some of the house and *do* the garden later in the week.

Approaching the house and passing the stable block.

The main house. The restoration work is quite obvious.

A sideview of the house.

These next four are of the inner courtyard which you get to through that centre opening in the main house.

A back view of the house.

A pretty cottage attached to one of the side wings.

More soon.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


One 'New Year's Resolution' type of thing that I am definitely not doing this year is to make a list of the books on my tbr pile that I plan to read in 2009. I did this last year, full of enthusiasm, and ended up not reading ONE of the titles. I did continue with several series - Mary Russell, Armand Gamache, Sherlock Holmes etc. - but really and truly my efforts were feeble, so I'm not doing it this year.

Challenges. Well, I'm not quite the challenge junkie that some are *g* but I do suffer from a kind of 'initial enthusiasm' for them that, like my best laid plans for my tbr mountian, fizzles out the minute the books are sorted and sitting on the shelf. Thus, I failed miserably at two challenges last year: Annie's What's in a Name challenge and Becky's Cardathon challenge. For the former I only managed a pathetic 3 books out of 6, and the latter, 4, when 6 - 12 were recommended. I tried, that's all I can say.

I did however succeed at a few: Becky's Heart of a Child challenge, for which I completed 4 books, Stray Talk's Here be Dragons challenge (3 books) and Carl's Once Upon a Time and RIP III challenges.

So that was 2008 and this is 2009. I have two ongoing challenges. The first is The Book Awards reading challenge which finishes in June, requires 10 books read and I've so far read 3. The second is The Library challenge which runs all year and my aim is to read 25 books borrowed from the library. I just about do that most years so that should not be a problem.
Apart from these two and Carl's various challenges I probably will not be taking on any more. I really want to read what I fancy this year rather than give myself a list of required books to read.

One thing I do plan to do for the first two months of the year is have some fun with Carl's sc fi experience.

This is not a challenge, merely a 'if you read some sci fi, blog about it' kind of thing. And as I'm well overdue for reading some sci fi rather than fantasy, I shall do just that.

Right, well, having got all that off my chest I just want to wish all the people who stop by this blog a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2009 will be a good year for everyone.