Thursday, 05 March 2015

Celtic Mythology


It has been a good long time, hasn't it! Three years! But, I'm back and I have plans. But to start, the regularly scheduled programming.

This book came highly recommended, but as I'm just starting out in the Celtic mythology realm (which you'll notice will feature heavily for a while, because it interests me greatly at the moment), I found this book entirely too confusing. I feel like it would've been extremely interesting if I'd been able to keep track of who and what it was talking about. But I couldn't. So I may come back to this one another time, when I have a more solid grounding in the mythology.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilisation

This is, quite possibly, the single most depressing book that I have ever read. So much death and destruction could have been prevented. The book is also fascinating. I was already fairly cynical when it came to politicians, but having read this I will be even more cynical about their motives, their aims and even their humanity.

The book presents relevant information chronologically across both Allied and Axis powers. The deceit, war-mongering and lack of humanity were shocking despite the amount of WWII literature I've already read. Apparently I'm also idealistic enough to expect the 'good' side to behave better than the 'bad' side, but history is written by the victors and this book shows just how well it can be done.

This book forms part of the Non-fiction Non-memoir challenge as well as the What's in a Name challenge, where it represents the book with something seen in the sky (which is smoke).

Jane Austen: a life

This is the best biography of Austen that I've read, to date. All the facts are presented clearly, with the usual amount of speculation and guesswork, given that we know so very little. This was fascinating, depressing and inspiring all at once. I found that the majority of the speculation was based in reality and, most importantly, it was based on research of the period in question. The way things were done during the Georgian and Regency periods contrast rather sharply with the following Victorian era, particularly in the area of 'refinement'. Austen comes alive in this book, as does most of the family. More time is spent discussing the information that we do have, than lamenting the lost letters, etc.
I thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in Austen or her work.

This forms part of the non-fiction non-memoir challenge, which does actually allow biographies 
(just not memoirs or autobiographies).

Sunday, 01 January 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe


I saw the movie many years ago and had no idea it was based on a book until fairly recently. Since then it has been on my to-read list and formed part of my birthday gift from Confluence and Hodgestar. Now that I've read it, I'd really like to see the movie again. This is my second book of the year and is my first in the New Author challenge.

I was concerned about how the story would be told because I remember from the movie an awful lot of moving back and forth in time. The novel does this wonderfully. I will suggest that you pay attention to the dates because there is a fair amount of switching around even between the 80s and the past. The characters were very much alive and jumping off the page. The relationships were real particularly the most important two - the one between Ruth and Idgie and the one between Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn. Some of the more important plot points I didn't remember, but I enjoyed rediscovering them.

It appears that Fannie Flagg (who apparently changed her name from Patricia Neal ... I grant you Fannie Flagg is more memorable, but it's not the name I would have chosen) has written a number of other novels, which I look forward to reading.

Saint Peter's Fair

My first book of the new year! The only challenge that this one counts towards is my 2012 GoodReads challenge, to read 245 books in 2012. I aimed for 156 (3 per week) in 2011 and made it to 242, so I think aiming to up my total by 3 in 2012 is perfectly possible.

Saint Peter's Fair is the fourth book of the Cadfael Chronicles, set in Shrewsbury during the Nineteen Year Winter in the 12th century (Not to be confused with darkoutthere's LARP by the same name, inspired by the Cadfael books and excessively fun if you haven't played in it already (and, really, even if you have!)). The book is split into five sections, which is rare in these books, the eve of the fair, the first, second and third days of the fair and after the fair. Events focus on young Emma, a wealthy merchant's niece, come to the fair from Bristol. Another focus of the novel is the unrest from the town, as it had recently been attacked by King Stephen, after declaring for Empress Maud (see One corpse too many, book two in the series). The town is aggrieved that for three days of high business, all income goes to the Abbey and they feel that the Abbey should part with some of that income in order to restore the town's defences etc.

This is a fascinating and enjoyable murder mystery, with a hint of espionage thrown in from all quarters, and well up to Pargeter's usual high standard.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The First Deadly Sin

I first read this many years ago, but since I absconded from the cottage with The third deadly sin, I thought I would collect the lot of them. In this one, Edward X Delaney is still married to Barbara, though she spends almost the entire novel in the hospital suffering her last illness. He's also the Captain of the 251st precinct, which is right next door to him. He decides to retire to spend time with his wife while she recovers (which she doesn't, sadly) but is convinced to turn this into an extended leave of absence and further to spend this time running an unofficial investigation at the behest of the Commissioner and a few others. Politics abound behind the scenes. Thankfully Delaney is utterly uninterested in politics, so we manage to avoid most of it.

Again, the narrative is beautifully interwoven between Delaney and the killer, which allows a reader to experience both view points and to appreciate the effect that each is having on the other. There's a fair amount of philosophising, mostly done by Celia Montfort - a woman that is ostensibly the killer's girlfriend, but about whom there is almost no information available at all. Though, to be fair, we know as much about her, her brother and her manservant as the killer does. Delaney also spends a fair bit of time philosophising, but given that his wife's condition is rapidly deteriorating, I'm willing to forgive his dwelling on the meaning of life, etc.

The ending is rather depressing and I'm not sure that it's entirely realistic. I suspect that a serious break with reality is required for it to occur and I thought it well-written and believable, though I do wonder about it's likelihood now that I'm finished reading.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Awakening

This is the first audiobook I listened to from books should be free. It's the story of Edna, a woman who finds herself constricted in the acceptable roles of wife and mother that were open to women in the late 19th century. The book was highly controversial when it was published in 1899 and ruined the rest of Chopin's writing career.

It's beautifully written with a lyrical style that makes listening to it a pleasure. I have to say, though, that the main character is not particularly likeable. There were many moments where I just wanted to slap her and tell her to stop being so self-centred and think of someone other than herself for a change. Of course, being a woman her choices were limited at the time. And yet, that did not manage to stop her from doing whatever she felt like, whenever she felt like it.

In a review I read, someone described the ending as a surprise. I can't say the same - it was quite obvious to me from quite early on. Unlike that person, I was not left feeling very pleased with the book. I would have preferred for there to be consequences. I would have liked to see Edna decide how she wished to live (which was apparently in a whimsical way where everyone attended to her fancies while she did as she pleased) and then to try and live like that in Louisiana at the turn of the 20th century. I would have liked to see what would happen if her husband decided he'd been patient and permissive enough. I would have liked to know what the results of her spending so much time - and plenty of it alone - with a known womaniser/adulterer would have been.

This is definitely worth reading and it certainly gives a sense of the limitations of life for ladies of leisure at that time. It doesn't deal with what I think are the more interesting questions relating to that topic, but we can't have everything.

The Third Deadly Sin


I read this many years ago. Seeing it at the cottage when I had nothing to read (prior to the trip to the Simon's Town Library sale, obviously) I decided to reread it and, since I enjoyed the series, to abscond with it. Since I recognised it as being one of Dad's unwanted books that were variously placed at the cottage or used book stores (or my shelves), I felt that would be perfectly acceptable. Besides I don't think anyone else reads the books down there.

Anyway, this book features Edward X Delaney, who used to be a police chief and has a thing about sandwiches. The book made me hungry, with all its talk of food. Delaney is approached by an old friend who needs his help solving a series of apparently unrelated murders committed by one person. That would be Zoe Kohler, having adventures, which as far as I can tell involves dressing up like a hooker and murdering the men that pick her up. The police's attempts to find her are fascinating and really do show the value of painstaking, methodical work as opposed to the intuitive behaviour of Poirot (for example) - but that's at least partly the difference between having suspects and not having suspects.

Sanders writes well, though I don't enjoy all his work. This is one that I can recommend without reserve. It is both a police procedural, following the investigation through Delaney, who has the advantage of being able to step outside the strict lines of protocol, being retired. At the same time the book traces the journey of the killer and how the investigation impacts on her life and her kills.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sanditon

I've never bothered with Sanditon because Austen didn't finish it and, really, no one could manage to complete it properly. I found this at the Simon's Town Library sale and couldn't resist, since it was cheap and right in front of me. Apparently this version is the one that was completed by a woman who sometimes calls herself Marie Dobbs and sometimes Ann Telscombe and quite possibly other things as well. Austen wrote the first eleven chapters before her illness caused her to be too weak to continue.

In the first eleven chapters we are introduced to Charlotte Heywood, likely to be the heroine, who is taken out of her home environment to Sanditon, a seaside resort, through a chance encounter with Mr and Mrs Parker. Mr Parker's relatives - an excessively meddlesome (Miss Diana Parker) and hypochondriac (Miss Parker and Mr Arthur Parker) family - come to visit and we meet his friends - the wealthy and autocratic Lady Denham, her repulsive relations Sir Edward and Miss Denham and her companion-niece Miss Brereton - in the neighbourhood.

The first eleven chapters are short, but there are all of Austen's hallmarks in the characters presented. The existence and likely arrival of other characters (the wealthy Miss Lambe from the West Indies, Mr Sidney Parker, the girls school) is mentioned and there things ended for many years.

This continuation is attempted to be in Austen's style and to have a plot similar to all her others (marriage after misunderstandings/difficulties for worthy couple). Unfortunately the other lady is not Austen and it shows. The plot is a simple romance with plenty of misdirection and meddling. There is none of Austen's brilliance and there is a shocking lack of character development. The heroine comes across as rather unintelligent and very priggish. Few of the characters are terribly likeable and most of the plotting is blazingly obvious.

It was a fun read, but unless you wish to read everything ever written that's remotely related to Austen, I wouldn't recommend it.

Original Sin

The 9th Adam Dalgliesh, this one is actually set mostly in London, which is fairly rare for the series. The setting is a firm of publishers, who have suffered from natural deaths, a suicide, a number of malicious pranks and, finally, a murder. And things don't stop there, a number of other murders follow on, generally involving attempts at being disguised as either suicides or accidents.

This is an excellent novel, with one major setback. I did not find the motive convincing. The motive is essentially an extremely long-term attempt at vengeance and, while I'm sure such things do occur, I thought it lacking. I did think the manner of attaining vengeance well-thought out and very well-planned, however. The final twist was rather depressing, particularly given the fact that I think the intention is for the reader to sympathise with the murderer (which may be why I found the motive troubling). I thought some of the characters behaved in ways that were very out-of-character (third-police-officer-whose-name-I-forget in particular), which rather spoils my enjoyment of the book, as I find it very jarring to be thinking "but that makes no sense - they wouldn't do that", though it may well illustrate my inability to understand human behaviour rather than anything else.

Cargo of Eagles

I've read one other Margery Allingham, Police at the Funeral, which I enjoyed very much. This one was also enjoyable, but not quite as good. Perhaps I've just had enough of those secret agent style books with spies and international intrigue and the Cold War and so on. In which case I should take a break from those books. This has some fantastic parts and is well worth reading, however. Particularly if you enjoy mystery stories. There were certain aspects that, while important for the story, are terribly dated and rather unnecessary, in my opinion, such as the idea that young people on motorcycles are automatically violent or criminal or less-than-respectable.

Simon's Town Library

As always, when going to the cottage, there's the danger that I just won't bother to come back. Consequently I was gone a lot longer than intended. And while there, I discovered that the Simon's Town Library has a book sale every Saturday from 9-12. A room of books, donated by dying and downsizing retirees, at the end of the peninsula (sort of) where no one ever goes. As you might imagine we picked up quite a haul and I have piles to review now. Also, if you're ever down there for any reason on a Saturday morning, stop in. They deserve the support and have some wonderful items!

Thursday, 01 December 2011

Lacey Top

This took forever to make, but was well worth it. A word of advice, however, don't start learning something new (a) with something complicated or (b) while studying. Which is part of why you're not getting a picture of the back - I messed up the lace pattern on that panel. I would have liked this to be a bit longer - I feel like I spend all my time pulling it down, but it may just be that I'm getting a bit plump now that I'm not walking over to Hiddingh every day. Lace is really easy, and I would happily make more lacey things. I really like the edging, even if it does require you to sew. I made the neck edging a little big, so it doesn't really sit flat and I put in a little lace detail because I could. I'm really pleased with how this turned out, but I'd knit an extra set and a half or so of the lace pattern at the beginning to make it longer, if I made it again.

The pattern is here.

The ABC Murders

The 13th Hercule Poirot book, I quite enjoy this one. It really is quite ingenious in many ways. I like the idea of the murders - A name A surname in A town, followed by B name B surname in B town and so on. It would be quite interesting to have a serial killer working in that way (though X and Z may prove difficult, it'll have to be an international killer). Despite all appearances, however, this is not your ordinary serial killer. This is someone smart enough to hide a very personal, ordinary murder under the guise of a serial killer. I quite enjoyed the psychological assessment - exactly what one would expect from the time, and yet so amusing and quaint from a contemporary perspective. It does make one wonder what our 'cutting-edge' theories will appear to be in fifty or seventy-five years time. I particularly liked the murderer's attempt to frame an appropriately initialed man, though I found the characterisation of that man unbelievable.

Definitely an enjoyable holiday read.

The Body in the Library

Miss Marple number three. Miss Marple's dear friends, Colonel and Mrs Bantry, wake up one morning to find the (dead) body of a young blonde in their library. Naturally the village begins to talk and of course they all think that it must be a woman that Colonel Bantry was carrying on with. Cue Miss Marple, on a quiet crusade to clear his name. Out of a fair number of missing girls, the woman is identified as a young dancer from a nearby hotel/resort by a relative she was staying and working with. A couple of days later a burnt car with the body of another girl is discovered, confusing everything.

Naturally Miss Marple saves the day, explaining all those odd little twists and turns that are really very simple, once you know what happened.