Saturday, 31 March 2012

Saturday snapshot

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

A few garden pics today.

My favourite clump of primroses.

This rhododendron is a bit 'Gor blimey!' really...

If the blossom is anything to go by it looks like we ought to get a good crop of greengages this year.

The workers: Grandpa teaching our grandson all about gardening. Bit early for much to be growing outside the greenhouse but the shallots in front of it are doing okay.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

West of the Moon

West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish is my first read for Carl's Once Upon a Time VI challenge. I saw it reviewed on another blog some months ago, apologies for not being able to remember whose, but I was immediately attracted by its Viking background and ordered it out of curiosity. West of the Moon is actually three books in one. The author wrote three shorter books, Troll Fell, Troll Mill and Troll Blood and West of the Moon is an amalgamation of these three books.

Peer Ulfsson is now alone in the world after his boat building father died, when an injury turned septic. The boy hopes to be taken in by kind villager friends but instead his Uncle Baldur - a stranger to him - comes to collect him. The man is huge and clearly oafish. He takes Peer away but Peer hopes that the other brother - Grimm - will be a little better. Of course... he is much worse. The two brothers are monsters and treat Peer as a slave. All the boy has to comfort him is his dog, Loki. Eventually he makes friends with a farming family who live on Troll Fell and meets Hilde, a girl of his own age. Her family make his life worth living... until Peer gets wind of a plot his uncles have to sell him to the trolls on Troll Fell. Things go from bad to worse when Peer discovers they also want a girl...

Three year after the events of part one, Peer is returning from a fishing expedition with his friend, Bjorn. He is now living with Hilde and her family on the farm. As he heads into the village with the catch, Bjorn's wife, Kersten, rushes at him, thrusts her new baby into his arms... and runs into the sea. A frantic search ensues but Kersten is not found. It seems there is some mystery about how Bjorn came to meet Kersten and it could involve seals. Meanwhile, Peer decides it's time to renovate the old mill that belonged to his uncles and is now his. But things are not straightforward. There's 'Granny' in the millpond, lubbers in the privy, and it seems the mill might be haunted as it's working at night with no one there. Added to all this, Peer finds himself attracted to Hilde but Hilde makes it quite clear that she thinks of Peer as a brother. Could Peer possibly have any more problems? Well, yes...

Part three takes place almost straight after part two. Visitors arrive at the village in a Viking ship. The captain is Gunnar and his son, Harald, a headstrong, confident character, immediately takes to bullying Peer. Gunnar has a new wife with him, Astrid. She suggests to Hilde that she would love her company on the ship's impending trip across the Atlantic to Vinland (present-day Canada). Hilde of course wants to go but her parents are horrified. Peer, in a rash moment, offers to accompany Hilde to keep her safe. Reluctantly, Hilde's parents agree. The voyage is long and hazardous and Peer is the constant victim of Harald's spite, but gains the respect of the rest of the crew quite quickly. But Astrid is not all she seems and Hilde begins to regret her decision to go on the voyage. Both Hilde and Peer regret it even more when they arrive in Vinland and make some horrifying discoveries. Will they ever see Norway again?

Sometimes when you've just finished a really good book all you feel like saying is, 'This was wonderful, READ it!' And this is one of those occasions. This YA fantasy was sheer joy from start to finish. Originally the attraction was 'Norway'. It's a country I've always wanted to visit but never have, so anything set there immediately acts like a magnet for me. But this book is much more than a Norwegian travelogue. It's peopled with characters both good, bad and also somewhat ambivilent. Just like real life really. It's a coming of age story for Peer, the main character, and not only concerns his struggles with whatever is going on in his life, but also his more private struggles with his feelings for Hilde... his guilt at feelings he has for a girl who is more like his sister than a potential mate.

The author has also filled the book with more mythical creatures than you can shake a stick at. Trolls a plenty of course, but also ghosts, Granny in the millpond... the lubbers in the loo are funny but dangerous, and then there's the Nis who cleans the house and befriends Peer. In book three the creatures are more Native American than Norse, but no less dangerous.

Part three in Vinland was definitely my favourite section. It's a real travelling adventure and turns very interesting indeed when native American tribes enter the equation. The author has done her research and this part is very realistic in content and for someone with a fascination for North America like myself, utterly fascinating.

It's not often that I don't want a book to end. As rare as hen's teeth in fact. But I could happily have read on and on and on about Peer and Hilde and was very sad to reach the end. I'm assuming there won't be any more... no mention of it anywhere so I'm not hopeful. Never mind. I can always read this one again - and very definitely will. A good start to the Once Upon a Time VI challenge.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Some photos of South Wales

I promised (threatened?) a few photos of the trip I took with my husband, last week, to South Wales. We stayed, as usual, in Cardiff. This time we were determined to get to the museum (we've put it off several times) so that was what we did on the first day. The National Museum Cardiff turned out to be well worth the wait, with a rather amazing art gallery in the top storey. I don't believe we saw half of what there was to see so a return visit is on the cards. My favourite paintings though were by John Brett, John William Waterhouse, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Edward Lear. They also had a couple of Turners, a Constable and a Lowry scene of Abertillery, S. Wales. If you're ever in Cardiff, its museum is *well* worth a visit.

Day two we set off exploring, working our way along the coast from Porthcawl (below) back to Cardiff.

Llantwit Major has a beach about a mile from the village with very strange rock formations along the cliffs. Not sure what geological name they come under, I must find out sometime.

From that coast you can see across the Bristol Channel to Somerset in England. If you click twice to view this better you'll see a dark shape in front of the cliff which looks like an island. It is in fact part of the cliffs at Minehead known as North Hill and we looked out on it from our house when we lived up there 10 years ago.

I liked these stripey stones in a brook that was pouring out onto the beach.

Later in the day we stopped off at the Cosmeston nature reserve near Penarth. Very pretty spot. Lots of wildfowl and so forth.

Some trees there... I loved the bare, twisted branches against the blue sky.

The next day we planned to visit Castle Coch outside Cardiff but we got our directions mixed up, decided it was not meant to be this trip and took off for The Valleys. The heritage there is coal mining and there are various museums and experiences you can visit, which we have on numerous occasions. This time we just wanted to look at the scenery. It was a very hazy day so the photos are not as clear as I would like.

This is a small church we came across in the middle of nowhere - Llanwonno church. My husband chatted to the retired church warden while I took photos. Apparently they've had trouble with thieves pinching copper piping - and lead off the roofs. It seemed incredible to me that this could happen in such an out-of-the-way place. And incredible that anyone would stoop that low.

The view from the churchyard across the valleys.

My husband had to take this photo. I have no head for heights and we were practically on top of the mountain looking down on the mining village of Ferndale. It was one heck of a drop!

A bit further on, on another road. This is a spot called Craig-y-Llyn. My photo doesn't do the view justice.

What you're looking at - the stones in the field - is the remains of either a stone-age or iron-age village. I can't remember which it is now. But what a view those pre-historic villagers had.

Another spot further along the same road... the village, I believe, is Ogmore Vale.

Looking in the other direction from the previous photo. All over the valleys were the stunning colours of dry grasses and heather.

I daresay we'll be back again later in the year as Cardiff and Glamorgan continue to hold us in thrall. We haven't seen the half of it really - not history-wise or scenically. I love a place where there is always more to discover.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Once Upon a Time VI

Almost the first thing I did after I'd unpacked (just back from a few days in Cardiff - some photos soon) was check to see if Carl's post for Once Upon a Time VI was up yet. Of course, it *was* and I'm once again thrilled that it's spring and it's time to turn my thoughts to one of my favourite genres of books: Fantasy.

“Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

~William Butler Yeats

What a fantastic pic and I love the quote to bits.

Here's what Carl says:

The Once Upon a Time VI Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

While this event retains the word “challenge” from its earliest days, the entire goal is to read good books, watch good television shows and movies, and most importantly, visit old friends and make new ones. There are several ways to participate, and I hope you can find at least one to your liking:

As usual there are several levels of participation. The one I've chosen is:

Which is to:

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

My shelf of books has been sitting waiting for a few weeks now:

A fair mix there I think, including... *peers at photo*... two that shouldn't be there at all. Oh well... Also fairly obvious is the fact that one book has a bookmark already in it. This is because I'm already more than halfway through my first read for the challenge: West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish (it's excellent).

And of course *cough* I'm just back from holiday and tend to buy books when I'm away. And *of course* I had a particular challenge in mind while I was looking in Waterstones, Cardiff. Here's what I nabbed:

I haven't checked these out properly on FantasticFiction yet but I think all three are first books in their respective series. If anyone has read any of them, let me know what you thought...

The only other thing to add is that I noticed Carl is going to have group read of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman in May and I may well join that as I've long wanted to read that one.

OK then... I'm off to investigate what others are going to read.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Off on my hols

Off to Cardiff for a few days from tomorrow.

We've become addicted to this city I think, and can't stop going back. And we don't even do anything that exciting... we stroll around, visit the museum and castles, the dock area (photographed above), raid the bookshops etc. When we venture out of the city we don't go far... Caerphilly, The Gower peninsula at Swansea, the Brecon Beacons if the weather permits. Hopefully it will as last week's fog has now cleared. Anyway this is just to say that if I'm not around commenting where I usually comment it's not because I have the grumps, it's because I'm not here. :-)

Book-wise I'm still in that moochy sort of mood. I finished the book of short stories, called 'Stories', I was reading. It wasn't bad but as with most anthologies the stories vary tremendously. I always think I'm going to enjoy books of short stories more than I actually *do*. But I live in hope.

I then started West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish, a YA fantasy set in Norway. Getting a start on the Once Upon a Time challenge really... I think it starts next week while I'm away. It's so good, I'm already halfway through it but as it's three books in one (they were published separately originally I believe) I shall leave off after book 2 and finish the book when I get home.

Of course I'm taking books to Cardiff. I bought a Kindle for this very reason - to take on holiday - but I still have a bunch of half a dozen books I want to take because, well, I might fancy one of them. (Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless.) They include, A Traveller's Life by Eric Newby, Partnership by Anne McCaffrey, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling by Lawrence Block (one of the tales in 'Stories' was by him, the best imo, so I want to try his novels), Gravity by Tess Gerritsen, Ill Wind by Nevada Barr and Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler. Think that'll be enough? Yeah, me too...

Have a good week!

Monday, 12 March 2012

A few bookish thoughts

I wish I'd watched My Life in Books with a notepad and pen to hand. The two week series hosted by Anne Robinson was a delight - a few episodes not as good as others of course but that applies to everything in life. The trouble is, some of the books sounded excellent but the next morning I'd forgotten them because my brain is 58 and addled. Pam Ayres was my favourite celebrity but then I adore her so that was a no brainer. I was also extremely charmed by the actress, Fiona Shaw. (Photo from the BBC website.)

Apparently she's a well known classical actress but, being a bit of a moron, I didn't know that but knew her immediately as Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia! What really surprised me though was her rich Irish accent. I had no idea she was Irish. Anyway, she was on with Rick Stein, a well known celebrity chef here in the UK - he famously has several top-notch restaurants, specialising in fish, in my home county of Cornwall. It was sad to hear that both had endured difficult childhoods with autocratic fathers. Rick Stein was particularly moving as he talked about his father's manic depression and how he particularly picked on Rick when he was a child. You could see from Fiona Shaw's face that she completely understood. Very poignant. And it was because of her that I picked this up from the library this morning.

Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. She spoke so eloquantly about the story and its heroine, Maggie Tulliver, that I wanted to rush out and get the book immediately. I found it free for my Kindle, but am not really sure I want to read such a classic on Kindle; I think I want a real copy. So I nabbed it from the library this morning. If it appears that I love it as I go along, I'll buy my own.

I'm still umming and ahhing about what to read. I've just started The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift, which is a book about the creation and history of a beautiful garden in Shropshire.

I'm reading that with Susan from You Can Never Have Too Many Books. It's Nigel Slater's favourite book and already I can see why. If they ever did an audio version he should do it, imo.

Deborah Mitford continues to entrance in Home to Roost. She says:

The trouble with book thieves is that they don't see themselves as such. They borrow and forget with no criminal intent.

How true! She goes on:

I seldom read for pleasure but every now and then something takes my fancy and I mind so much when I've finished that, like my father, I can't bear the thought of beginning another. In an effort to keep my loved ones, I have got them penned, as it were, in my bedroom.

She then goes on to tell about the books she keeps penned up in her bedroom. Quite a few are of an agricultural bent as it's one of her main interests, especially chickens. There are books by her husband and books by her sisters. One book she talked about elsewhere in Home to Roost is obviously a big favourite - A Late Beginner, an autobiography by Priscilla Napier.

It charts the author's childhood in Egypt. I think Deborah Devonshire must've made it popular because if you search the book on AmazonUK up come Debo's books as well. Sadly the book is too expensive for me to consider buying and my library doesn't have it. Other books loved by Debo: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, Peter Rabbit and Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling's book of verse, The Oxford Book of English Verse which belonged to her sister, Unity, as a child and which, poignantly, she says is now her constant travelling companion.

Other favourites include Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island:

The brilliant Bill Bryson notices so much about this country which we take for granted but are fascinated to see described as new. It beats me why he is so fond of England and its natives - it's amazing that he stayed here after arriving on a foggy midnight in Folkestone to the typical English opposite of a welcome.

And Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader:

How does he do it? I wish I knew. There are copies of this book all over the house. They won't last long.

Debo is clearly not quite the non-reader she makes herself out to be. Home to Roost is charm itself and I'm positive it'll make my top 10 at the end of the year.

Since my last post where I couldn't decide what to read I've done a reread of The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey.

I nabbed this one off my eldest daughter... the book was delightful. I didn't remember that it was really a book of short stories or episodes in the 'life' of Helva who is a human brain who's been installed into a ship because her body was so deformed at birth. I thought this was a gorgeous read, even after 40 years, and have borrowed several more in the series, that I haven't read, from my daughter.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Down Under

It seems that what I really like in books is humour. If an author can make me laugh, he or she has me for life. The trouble is, it's rare. Often, what other people think is hilarious I'm simply not impressed by at all. Which makes me realise that sense of humour is a very personal thing and what makes one person laugh will not necessarily have another rolling on the floor in hysterics. I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan for instance, I find his way with words very funny and it's all connected with how clever he is with said words. My husband is not at all smitten with Pratchett, thinks the humour is forced - which it might well be - and just doesn't get it. He is not alone.

For me an author rather similar to Pratchett is Bill Bryson. It's not necessarily what he says... but how he says it. From Down Under:

This led to a fond recollection of other near-death experiences with animals, of which Australians always have a large fund - an encounter with a crocodile in Queensland, killer snakes nearly stepped on, waking up to find a redback abseiling on a thread towards one's face. Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country's dangers are vastly overrated and that there's nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dash-board and bit him in the groin, but that it's OK now because he's off the life-support machine and they've discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.

To me, this is funny. Very funny. Okay it's also a clear example of black humour and shouldn't be funny at all, but it is. It makes me wonder which nation this kind of humour represents. Bryson is American but is also very much an Anglophile. To me his writing style doesn't seem to be overtly American but perhaps the drollness of his humour is. I know that the way Americans put things makes me laugh a lot, their turn of phrase... often just a couple of well chosen words... (I'm looking at you, Pat!) can have me in fits.

More from Bryson, this time on cricket:

After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players (more if they are moderately restless). It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

See? Wonderful... although I am in no way a cricket fan and perhaps if I was I might not be quite so tickled by the several further pages of comment he devotes to the sport. (On the other hand I *am* a Trekkie and still adore the movie, Galaxy Quest...)

Bryson just seems to hit the spot for me and Down Under was just a glorious read, every bit as good as my erstwhile favourite by him, A Walk in the Woods.

I'm not going to say a huge amount more. Basically he went off to explore Australia in the late 1990s. It's a massive country but he explains that the vast majority of the country is uninhabitable, being mostly desert and bush-country. He explores the Australian psyche but feels he never really gets a handle on that, though he seems to love Australians regardless and you can see why.

There is much about the history (both white and Aboriginal) of the country which I found absolutely fascinating. The various explorations by white men are absolutely rivetting - their bravery but also stupidity. Some of the stories sound like they come from 'Boy's Own' type of books and are fictional. Not so.

There's also a lot about the flora and fauna and how each of those is more dangerous in Australia than anywhere else in the world. I'm sorry to say I enjoyed far too much the many stories about how people have come to grief in the country - abandoned on the Great Barrier Reef (!), lost in the outback, killed by crocodiles, attacked by box jelly-fish - one PM dived into the sea and was never seen again. The list is endless and, for me, totally fascinating: luckily Bryson thought so too so I'm not a the only blood-thirsty weirdo.

What I would say is if you know nothing about Australia and would like to then this book would be an excellent place to start. It's a gem to be honest. The copy I read is a library book but if I see it in a charity shop anywhere I'll grab it as I want to own a copy of my own. I'll let Mr Bryson finish this review:

Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral. It doesn't have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn't need watching, and so we don't. But I will tell you this: the loss is entirely ours.


Thursday, 1 March 2012

February books and the Sci-Fi Experience

The 1st. March today and I'm wondering where the first two months of 2012 went. I feel like I blinked and they were gone. And how sad that February should come to a close with the death of a much loved pop idol from the late sixties - Davy Jones. Aged 14 I was a huge Monkees fan along with my best friend, my favourite being Mike Nesmith, hers Davy Jones. Such lovely memories I have of that time - I still have all their albums tucked away - and how much my friend and I adored the TV shows which showed a very different kind of life in Californa. So this is very sad. RIP, Davy.

Anyway, onto something a little more cheerful. Carl's Sci-Fi Experience came to an end yesterday.

It was hugely enjoyable, so much so that I intend to carry on reading the pile of books I took out, and, in fact, added to extensively! I started with 4 or 5 and ended with 13 and that's despite actually reading 3 off the pile. LOL. Books read were as follows:

At Winter's End by Robert Silverberg
Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg
Time for the Stars by Robert Heinlein

I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, but if I had to choose a favourite it would be Downward to the Earth, which had everything I require from a science fiction novel.


Now onto books read for the month of February - seven in all.

Holmes on the Range - Steve Hockensmith
Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg
Time for the Stars - Robert Heinlein
Look Back with Love - Dodie Smith
A Cold Day for Murder - Dana Stabenow
Love and War in the Apennines - Eric Newby
I am Half Sick of Shadows - Alan Bradley

It was a good month, I enjoyed everything I read, and there was plenty of variety which is what I like. The two stand-outs for me would be Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg and Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby. Both of those books were, for me, outstanding.

So now I'm having a moochy few days with reading. I'm slowly working my way through All in One Basket by Deborah Devonshire, likewise America Observed by Alistair Cooke. And the other book I picked up after much deliberation was... At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read. Starting it was like picking up with an old friend after a years absence... just delightful. It seems I want easy reading at the moment, nothing too stressful, and there's no harm in that in my opinion. Happy reading.