Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Elements of Style

You wouldn't think a style guide would make for good reading. I certainly didn't. But I picked it up, because it's essential for an editor. It's also a good read for anyone who likes to write, enjoys grammar or is studying English. It's made up of a bunch of rules to create forcible writing that is grammatically correct and is concise. I'm a fan of brevity. I don't enjoy either reading or writing waffly, repetitive, unnecessary work.

I enjoyed this, I don't know if you would.

The Lord of the Rings

It's that time of year again. For some reason my thoughts turn towards this book every year around Autumn. Rather like Frodo contemplating adventuring out of the Shire every Autumn. I imagine that LotR is my mental equivalent of comfort food, in somewhat the same way as Enid Blyton is. Also, as I said somewhere previously, I'm somewhat obsessional and my obsessions tend to be cyclical, so I go through a LotR phase every now and then.

My first experience of Tolkien was not a good one. Some years later I was told to read LotR by my Dad, and I did. I loved it. There were some bits that dragged (there still are, but I've read every word multiple times and have no issues with skipping entire chapters if I feel like it), but most of it was phenomenal. I love this book. Until the last few years, I lived at home and read my Dad's copy. Then I moved out. I had no LotR of my own. I was given a beautiful 50th Anniversary edition one year. It's gorgeous. I adore this book. The cover is soft, it has a little box, the edges of the pages are shiny gold, like in very old books and there's a little red ribbon to mark your place. The maps are fantastic, in black and red and there are some images in the book of the pages of the Book of Mazarbul (from the Chamber of Records in Moria). I also have a copy of Two Towers illustrated by Alan Lee. I'd like individual illustrated copies of Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King as well (by John Howe, preferably, but I'll take Alan Lee as well) - this is a book I like to read in the bath and my single volume is too unwieldy and precious for that.

I like to watch the movies too, despite the many and varied objections I have to it (not the least of which is our missing 2nd half of the Two Towers Extended Edition). It's a fun romp through a book that tugs at the heart strings and evokes all manner of feeling. Also, it's pretty and quicker than reading the book. Of course, no sooner than I watch the movie (again) than I want to read the book (again), so they feed into themselves.

Tolkien's precision and profundity are two of the most enduring qualities of this work. The language is exquisite, the descriptions are evocative, the characters are real. This is a book that stays with me, always. The issues are real and - most importantly - applicable to each and every stage of a person's life. Also, I'd make a very good hobbit.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Journeying with God

Yay! I now average one post a day for the month of March! I don't know why I've been aiming at that, but I have. So now I have reached this milestone, I can't say I care that much.

This book (I'll put a picture up once I've found my battery charger, so that I can actually take a picture, since the internet only has ugly, fuzzy images), is not one I would normally buy or read. Nor, for that matter, would I take even a second look at it. I was attracted to it by the cover. So I picked it up and read the back of the book. I'm not even sure I got past the first line ('For many people the thought of a thirty-day silent retreat would be anathema...') before I decided to buy it. A silent retreat has always appealed to me, in quite the same way as the religious life appeals to me. I think it's the reclusive part of me, that would like to withdraw from society and just be left to her own devices (with a few certain necessaries, such as books and [now] Panda).

Anyway, this is the story of a priest (I think) who goes on this retreat after he breaks his leg. It's a wonderful account of the spiritual, mental and emotional growth that you can make on such a retreat, regardless of whether or not you choose to adopt a religious view of the matter. I do not, but I'd still love to go on a retreat (though I think I'd start with a day, then a weekend and slowly build my way up) to experience it.

How I Live Now

Daisy is sent from New York to live with relatives in England because her stepmother doesn't like her. Or something, that bit isn't important. What is important is how she interacts with these new-found relatives who live out in the country. Next thing you know, there's a war on and the only adult in the house is in a different country.

This is a story of survival in the face of horror, and tenacity. It's a story of how bonds are made and sustained. It's a 'young adult' book, which I usually take to mean children, along with things like Nancy Drew and the Twilight series (neither of which you'll find on my bookshelves, though I have read them). This is not a story I'd recommend for anyone under sixteen. It's a harsh, sometimes graphic description of the horrific reality of war and the effects that exposure to this can have on people - both individually and as a group.

It's a fantastic book, well-written and I heartily recommend it to adult readers.

In Death

Typing is a little difficult, after yesterday's adventure under the ground with the giant, evil porcupine. At least I can type, rather than pecking at the keyboard with one hand as I imagine poor Maretha will be forced to do (or try to do, depending on when the morphine wears off). I admit, emergency rooms are much more bearable when you're not the injured one. Also, it's easier to be philosophical.

This is not the point of this post, though. The point of this post is the In Death series by JD Robb (Nora Roberts). I love detective novels. For most of my childhood I dreamt of being a policeman, a detective, an FBI agent - whoever happened to have captured my fancy at the time. Given the arthritis, it would never have happened. Also, given my reaction to being surprised by a perfectly harmless porcupine (assuming, of course, one doesn't walk right into it), I don't think chasing down criminals is probably a smart thing for me to do. Presumably the training would help, but still. So I have a love of crime fiction, as well as crime non-fiction.

One of the things I love about this series is that despite featuring violent murder and other crimes in every book, the one set of covers features these beautifully peaceful images. A lovely dichotomy. The books are set in the future, though not too far, of New York. Eve Dallas is the injured, hard-nosed cop and Roarke is her criminally-inclined fantastically rich and perfect-in-all-ways lover/boyfriend/husband as the series progresses. It's fun, it's fluffy and there's a wonderfully familiar ring about it, despite the futuristic nature of just about everything.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


This is a book for the obsessive-compulsive in all of us. There's no obsessive-compulsive in you? Weird. I'm somewhat obsessive, not very compulsive. Or, rather, I'm not clinically compulsive. Not the kind of compulsive that one thinks about when one hears the word 'compulsive'. I don't feel compelled to do things by some sort of bizarre or grandiose fear that the world is going to end of everyone I know is going to die (well, I do occasionally, but that's usually a compulsion to stay in bed). I'm compelled to fidget, constantly, though some people call that hyperactivity. I have some pretty bizarre mental processes that are required for me to do certain things. I like things to be symmetrical (or at least sensibly asymmetrical), in alphabetical order, in the correct colour order, in the order of size. But I don't have rituals. I'm not a hand-washer. And I don't count the way Grace Lisa Vandenburg does.

Sometimes, I'll count things, absent-mindedly (and sometimes very mindfully, like breaths in yoga), but I've never met anyone who counts things the way Grace Lisa Vandenburg does. She taught maths for a while, only she lost her job because she had a breakdown because things weren't just so. So now she lives on disability (the book was written by an Australian and is set there) and counts. And then she meets Seamus Joseph O'Reilly. Actually, she steals his banana (he didn't need it and she only had nine! Really, it wasn't so much stealing as saving the world from a fate worse than death) and they meet after that. Grace likes Seamus, Seamus likes Grace. Grace counts, Seamus thinks Grace would be better off not counting. And here we have a lovely story about what exactly constitutes mental health and who has the right to decide how a person is able to be their best. Also, it's a quirky romance that's well-written.

The Castle in the Forest

When I picked up this book, I thought it was a biography. It's certainly biographical in style, but it is nevertheless fiction. It didn't take long to establish that it was fiction once I started reading it, given the fact that it makes reference to a number of things that I simply do not believe in. A more credulous reader might actually have believed this to be a biography (though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone could believe some of the things written. Besides, if you actually read the back of the book, it says "blend of fact and fiction", so there really aren't any excuses).

As I've said, I'm interested in why people do the things they do. This book explores the nature of evil, in particular, the nature of evil as expressed in Adolf Hitler. I've read quite a bit about World War II, partly from a desire to understand why (and how) people do such awful things to other people, and partly because I had the most amazing high school history teacher in the world, Sue Harsant. She left me with an indiscriminate love of history and some of the most bizarre wit I've ever come across.

Anyway, this is a very interesting take on the 'evil' of Hitler. It's also one that I disagree with entirely. I do not believe that it is necessary to look any further than humanity, and society in particular, to find reasons for such behaviour. The idea that we must turn to external sources of evil is ridiculous. Particularly after reading The Anatomy of Villainy, despite that author's belief in an actual external source of evil. This is a book that will leave you with a number of uncomfortable thoughts and for that reason alone is worthy of recommendation (there are others, I just think that that's the most important and quite sufficient without all the other stuff about excellent writing and so on).

The Anatomy of Villainy

I'm not sure what button I pressed, but somehow I managed to publish this post after writing 'The' in the title field. Weird.

Another special find from CAFDA. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I'm always interested in books on why people do the things they do and criminals are particularly interesting. I disagree with many things that this author says. For a start, I disagree with his assumption that a purely Christian society would be idyllic. Once you realise that his stand-point is one of middle-of-the-road, fence-sitting Christianity, he makes some very interesting points. Of course, this was published in 1950, so we can't really expect him to meet our requirements for scientific rigour and so on.

This is an interesting book, with an interesting conclusion on what makes someone a 'villain' and why this societal construct endures. Favourite quote: "a monster who ate fried baby for breakfast".

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

So, the other orphan book (though, really, I have loads of them, this is just the one I mentioned in the previous post). This is the first book in the series Three of a Kind by Marilyn Kaye. I'm going to have to photograph this book as well, since there's no cover for it anywhere on the internet.

It's a fun book about three very different orphans who do not get along at all. On the other hand, they live in an orphanage with, really, only each other. Each of them is given a chance to go and stay with a couple interested in adoption. Naturally each of them wants to be chosen, at first. After that, you'll have to read the book yourself. I've kept an eye out for others in the series (there are six) and her other series, of which there seem to be many. It'll never be a favourite book, but it's certainly an interesting take on the usual teenager-series.

Ruby Holler

I picked this up at the Exclusive Books sale. I can't find a decent sized image of the cover I actually have, so you'll have to made do with the first edition cover (or at least a reprint thereof, since it has the little Carnegie Medal thing on it). I don't usually hold with children's books that have won awards, more because of some vague prejudice that those books must be ridiculously boring than for anything factual. And given the fact that I pay absolutely no attention to that when I'm actually purchasing books, probably means (a) I'm less prejudiced than I think and (b) whether or not a book has won an award or not is completely irrelevant to me.

Anyway, Ruby Holler was my second orphanage book in a very short space of time (the other is from CAFDA and I'll talk about it later). This is a wonderful book, with two very fun, very real main characters - the brother and sister orphans. The orphanage owners are your requisite evil villains (why is that such a stereotype? I presume it's at least partly true, or it wouldn't be a stereotype, but surely there must be some pleasant orphanage people out there?). The prospective adopters are old, but loving, and live out in the country - also a prerequisite for these types of books, why is it that 'country' is always seen as better than 'town' or, the lowest of the low, 'city'?

Anyway, I love these kinds of books and this one comes complete with a mystery to solve and hidden treasure and a happy ending. An enchanting book.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Dandelion Diary: the Tricky Art of Walking

I can't recall, off the top of my head, where exactly this book is from. Probably one of the Exclusive Books sales, given that it looks like I'm the only one to have read this copy. I do think, though, that I'm going to have to take photographs of certain covers [updated: now done] to get the pictures to be decent sizes here. What's the point of having a picture of the cover if no-one can see it?

Anyway, having arthritis I'm interested in stories about how people cope with and overcome other debilitating diseases. Not that my arthritis is debilitating, but it could be one day. I do, however, like these to be well-written, rather than anecdotal (my cousin's wife's grandfather found ______ really helpful). In this case, the disease in question is Friedreich's ataxia, which, just like ankylosing spondylitis, makes me really glad I only have arthritis.

This is the story of how Marguerite discovered that she had her disease - her older brother suffers as well - and how this affects her life and her family. It's a moving account of denial, acceptance, anger, despair, hope and courage. And so much more. It's a book I would recommend to anyone.

The Discworld

On my last visit to CAFDA, I had the good fortune to spot Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett. What, exactly, it was doing in the children's section rather than the fantasy section is beyond me, but I grabbed it up as soon as I could.

I love the Discworld series. I love some characters more than others (I have to say that I frequently find the Wizards very irritating) and there are some books that I can do without. However, every Discworld book I've ever read has belonged to someone else, usually my dad. Now, I have the beginnings of my own collection.

I have to say that reviewing the Discworld series seems somewhat superfluous. How can there be people in the world that have not read and enjoyed this series? Granted, the humour may not be to everyone's taste (like my mother, for instance), but they're just such fun! Particularly when they parody particular real-world myths, stories and other things. I'm particularly fond of those books. Also, any book that has significant periods of Death, Tiffany Aching and other witches, the Wee Free Men, etc. I'm also fond of the City Watch.

In short, before I go gushing off again, I shall say that these are just books of fun. A quick afternoon read of happy absurdity before returning to more mundane or serious matters.

Cecilia: an ex-Nun's Extraordinary Journey

I'm beginning to think that it would be simpler to just photograph the books myself. At least then I'd get decent sized pictures. On the other hand, that involves cables and effort and so on, so it's unlikely to happen.

A year and a day before I was born, Cecilia left the Sisters of Mercy convent she'd spent her entire adult life in and became an ordinary woman again. This memoir covers parts of her childhood, particularly as relates to her decision to enter the Convent. It covers a fair amount of life in the convent and the doubts and concerns she had to deal with. It then advances on the challenges and excitement of entering the secular world, around the age of 40, rather than 20.

This is a touching story, one I recommend for anyone interested in what could drive someone to enter into the religious life in this way. The Sisters of Mercy seems to be a particularly strict order and things are, of course, not done in the same way as when Cecilia was a member of that order, but it's still an interesting life to read about. It's also an interesting version of the traditional coming of age story, if you choose to look at it in that way.

The Swiss Family Robinson

Ah, a long weekend. I should have read piles of books. Right? Apparently not. Apparently that's not when I read. Or, at least, it wasn't this weekend. I feel like I should have read something vaguely in keeping with it being Human Rights Day on Sunday (in South Africa). Instead I spent a large amount of time at Kirstenbosch, saw (and heard) a beautiful performance by the Cape Philharmonic and managed to read a single book. It's a book I've always wanted to read and have only read snippets of here and there.

The Swiss Family Robinson is an educational book for children, in the style of Robinson Crusoe (hence the name). I have to say that while it's a fun adventure story, anyone with even a vague comprehension of geography, flora and fauna will find it ridiculous. Or, at least, the collection of the most useful plants and animals across the world on one island will be considered ridiculous. But, it is a fantasy, so one should make allowances. What I really find difficult to stomach is the dialogue. I don't care when it was written, why it was written or any of that, people just don't talk like that. Especially not six-year-old boys. I'm willing to overlook some things, but there comes a point when my disbelief cannot be suspended any further.

It's a fun classic that should definitely be read, but don't expect something believable (unless you're under ten).

Friday, 19 March 2010

Non-Believing Clergy

I'm certainly taking advantage of the whole 'post as much as you like' thing!

Bum sent me the link to this article, which I recommend reading if this is a topic that interests you. I am an atheist. I do not particularly want to be an atheist (most likely due to suffering from 'belief in belief' as they put it in the article), but I'm yet to find something I can actually believe. I have considered taking the veil, but haven't because I feel that would be completely hypocritical, given my atheism. I have never suffered from what the men in this article suffer from. I am coming from the opposite direction. I have never believed in anything, despite multiple attempts. That's part of why I like the Unitarian Church, they're all about supporting your individual spiritual journey. Even so, admitting to being an unwilling atheist does not make for pleasant conversation, so I tend not to do it. Believers immediately want to convert you to whatever they believe and get upset when you question things and don't just believe. I suspect that they are as unable to comprehend my continual scepticism and disbelief as I am unable to comprehend their blind faith. Atheists can't understand why you might want to believe in anything. These are sweeping generalisations, but they're based on the people I know.

The point, is not to pontificate on myself, but to say that we need more papers like this and we need for more people to be aware of such studies. Perhaps one day atheism will not be so stigmatised and there will be one less thing in the world to fight over.

The Famous Five

I went to visit my baby today. He's stuck at the vet, waiting for his body to conform to what he believes about his body. His next x-ray is on Tuesday and then we'll find out when he can come home (I hope). Anyway, after a delightful visit of much love and cuddles, I was starving. This is probably partly due to the fact that it was lunchtime and baby spent most of the visit eating. So I trotted off to Meadowridge Park 'n' Shop, where I would get myself a sandwich before heading home. Now, I know that there's nothing worse than eating by yourself with nothing to do. Being a local girl, I know that the Meadowridge Library is across the road from the shopping centre and that they have books for sale for 50c. A good price, considering that the books the library tends to want to sell are either the stuff that no-one reads or the really badly damaged books.

So I found The Famous Five in Fancy Dress. Being a collector, I knew instantly that this wasn't written by Enid Blyton. I didn't need the fact that her name appears nowhere nor the fact that it's clearly been written sometime in the 70s, nor the fact that the writing is horrific. This is part of Claude Voilier's continuation of the series. I don't recommend it and I won't be reading any of her others. I don't particularly like the original series, but this is just horrific.

I imagine most people are horrified that I could possibly be an Enid Blyton lover and not absolutely adore the Famous Five. I grant you that certain of the books (such as Five go to Smuggler's Top and Five on a Hike Together) are good, solid adventure stories. Some of them, however, are the worst of children's literature. The fact is that Enid Blyton was able to write one of these (and in fact, wrote many of her books) in a single week, or less. Some of them have poorly thought out plots, some are excessively ridiculous and, the thing I hate most about the Famous Five, the characters are more like caricatures. Julian: oldest, kind of bossy, super-sensible, amazes the grown-ups and is always right. Dick: extra boy, able to get into trouble and behave stupidly as he's not the oldest, able to get into fights. George: super-independent girl, 'as good as a boy', cheeky, hot-tempered, fiercely loyal. Anne: girly girl and wimp-extraordinaire, takes delight in cleaning, cooking and home-making, always scared and in need of protection. Timmy: the most anthropomorphic dog ever. The Famous Five novels are also the clearest indication of Blyton's classist opinions - other children are frequently 'beneath' the Five and need to be taught how to behave properly. For some reason I can deal with the racism and sexism, but not the classism.

I collect these books, because of their nostalgic value and for the few that are actually worth multiple-reads. Also, I want the full set. This, however, is not a series I'd recommend for someone who didn't grow up with them. These are not characters we want a future generation of children to emulate.
[Another difficulty of multiple pictures per post: not putting the picture halfway through a word.]

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

Another children's book, which I read yesterday, wanted to post about and found I couldn't as I'd already used up my post for the day. Releasing myself from such a restriction was a fantastic idea! Anyway, this is a children's book about a ghost of the poltergeist type. Poor James is constantly being blamed for the acts of the ghost, who doesn't seem to understand that it's no longer the 17th century. Eventually, James learns that to get rid of a ghost, you need an exorcism. Only there's a problem: this particular ghost has been exorcised before and isn't about to fall for that again!

There is, of course, a happy ending, but if you want to know how it comes about, you're going to have to read the book yourself. There's a reason it won the 1973 Carnegie Medal. It's certainly worth reading.

200 Four-Ingredient Recipes

I have elected to abandon my 'one post a day' rule. I will now be posting whenever I damn well feel like it. This means that I will post when I finish a book, when I'm bored (I have an enormous back log!) and probably every morning.

My big sister gave me this book for Christmas and I've used it quite a few times. It has some lovely recipes in it, though it will insist on considering 'salt and pepper' as one ingredient and occasionally forgetting that 'water' is a fifth thing. Being of the totally easygoing nature that I am (no, really), I don't mind it occasionally getting confused about the exact amount that 'four' represents. I would also like to point out that if you look at the word 'ingredient' for any length of time, it starts looking very very wrong. If anyone knows the etymology of it, please share.

This is a highly recommended cook book, quick (and sometimes not so quick - read the instructions for the soy-marinated chicken carefully), simple recipes that taste fantastic.
Tonight I'm making chilled chocolate and espresso mousse (except with weak coffee not espresso as the Wendy is allergic to caffeine) and roast chicken with lemon and cheese (or something).

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Stephanie Plum

I like a good mystery story, no matter what age group it's aimed at. I also like a certain amount of romantic chick-lit (for a particular definition of 'romantic') and, as an adult reader, nothing makes a mystery more enjoyable than a murder. On the other hand, as we've already discussed, I'm a little on the morbid side and probably don't have quite the normal response towards death and the dead (for a given value of normal, of course).

I have read all the numbered books in this series (though I don't own them all) and one of the four 'between the numbers' novels. Though a quick glance at the author's website tells me that number sixteen is about to come out. The first book (One for the Money) is nowhere near as good as the later ones, though I do think there comes a point where the series needs to stop. I don't know that this series has reached that point yet, it's difficult to tell. The books are just pure fun, complete fluff and require absolutely no brain power. In fact, the less brain power the better, as you're less likely to notice how incredibly ridiculous the entire thing is. Stephanie Plum is exceptionally well written in that she's both the clumsy, awkward girl we all are, as well as being the woman we'd all like to be, what with the combination of Morelli and Ranger being all over her.

If you've got an afternoon to kill and are in the mood for something light and fun, these are a must read. And the best part is that there's no need to read them in order, even though earlier events are occasionally referenced.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice

I'm sore today. The reason that I'm sore is quite simple. After an absence of far too long, I went back to yoga yesterday. Riva seemed determined to make me suffer. Well, it's my own fault really, if I went more regularly I wouldn't be so sore. Even doing just a little bit at home each day doesn't make that much difference because I'm not yet good enough to tell when I'm out of alignment. And to have Riva there to correct the posture makes such a difference. Of all the yoga teachers I've ever had, Riva is without a doubt my absolute favourite. If only she had more than one class a week. Riva does Iyengar yoga, which I prefer to the other forms that I've been exposed to (specifically Ashtanga) because of its insistence on getting the posture right. And, more importantly, on those slight muscle movements that make all the difference.

When I first saw this book (at Wordsworth) I thought that it was something I'd like to have. I'm always trying to do more yoga because (a) it's good for me and (b) it fits with my mental image of the person I want to be. I didn't buy it because (a) it was too expensive and (b) it was written by a model. I've never had a very good opinion of models. This is probably partly because all clothes are made to fit skinny women with excessively long legs and having to pay for clothes and then pay more to make them smaller has always seemed wrong to me. Anyway, I regretted not buying the book and decided to make it my 'yay I finished my thesis' present to myself. Except that by then it was no longer in stock. A week or two later and I was at the Exclusive Books sale. And it was that part of the sale where the sale prices had been halved (I really can't resist their twice yearly sales. It's like a drug, only I get books. I just keep going back and spending more money. But I don't drink, or smoke or do those other things that normal people my age do [sadly this includes having an actual job at the moment, but I'm working on that], so I feel justified in buying piles of books). Anyway, there I spotted this book, albeit with a slightly different cover. So I bought it.

It's both an account of Christy Turlington's yoga practice and how it was established, as well as showing a number of postures. This is an inspirational book designed to help you incorporate yoga into your daily life. I'm not really sure who this book is aimed at, but I enjoyed it. It has a lovely mix of history, biography and instruction.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Adventure Series

I love children's books, I've said this before. One of my favourite authors is Enid Blyton. Not the 'updated' Enid Blyton that has edited out all the racism and sexism of her era. I like the original Enid Blyton. It's both a period piece and a good adventure story.

My favourite Enid Blyton series (and she wrote over 500 books!) is the Adventure series about Philip, Dinah, Jack, Lucy-Ann and Kiki, with guest appearances by Bill Smugs, Mrs Mannering and, of course, Philip's menagerie. The first in the series (The Island of Adventure) was written in 1944, the final book (The River of Adventure) in 1955. There certainly doesn't seem to be an eleven year period between the first and the last book and I know I'm not the only reader sorry that she didn't continue with this series. Blyton could have easily used this series to explore far more of the world than she did. The children travel across England, Wales and Scotland, as well as going to Austria, the Near East, Morocco, the Mediterranean and a fictional country.
The only book we didn't own as children was The Circus of Adventure, the one set in a fictional country. I did take it out of the library as a child, but it was never as well read as the ones we actually own. To date, it is still my least favourite in the series. My favourite was always The Valley of Adventure when I was growing up and our copy of the book shows that clearly. The Island of Adventure is fun, but it has all the problems of a first in the series - the characters need to be introduced to each other and to the reader.
The Castle of A
dventure became my favourite as an older teenager. I had always read it least because, up until then, it had been my least favourite of the ones we owned. I suspect that was partly due to the presence of Tassie. I've never been fond of having other characters being anything other than firmly in the background. This is probably also part of why I dislike Circus so much. Not only is there the addition of Gussie right from the beginning, but the entire book revolves around Jack (frequently my least favourite character) and the various people he meets. Not my idea of what one of these stories should be.
The Sea of Adventure is also great fun and frequently one I choose to read. It is similar to Valley, in that the children are supposed to be spending their time with Bill. Something happens (who am I to give the excitement away to someone who hasn't read these), and the children find themselves alone and stranded. That's my idea of a fun adventure story for children. A group of children having to deal with each other, and deal with a stressful situation all at the same time. Frequently when I'm looking for a light, familiar feel-good story I'll pick up either Valley or Sea. Sometimes Castle, but mostly one of these two.
Next up comes The Mountain of Adventure. This is the one set in Wales and, as an adult who happens to have done more than her fair share of science, this is absolutely hilarious. I'm sure, though, that it's perfectly believable for children in 1950, when this was first published. Of course, even without the ridiculous science, this is the least believable of all the novels in this series. Following Mountain, is the original ending of the series, The Ship of Adventure. Mrs Mannering, fed up with their adventures, is determined not to let the children out of her sight, not will they have anything to do with Bill, who is clearly a bad influence. If that went well, there wouldn't be a book, would there? Lucien is irritating and while this is fun, it's not particularly believable. It's not a favourite, but it's not bad. Ranked about the same as Mountain.
The final book, The River of Adventure, is a fun ending to the series. It's not as good as the early books, but it's fun and adventurous, even with the two extra characters attached to the main group.

In terms of characterisation, Philip and Dinah are probably the two most real characters in the book. I don't doubt that girls like Lucy-Ann existed (and probably still do), but she's weak and annoying (though, I grant you, nothing near as awful as Anne from The Famous Five). Jack is selfish, arrogant and annoying. Kiki is ridiculous and unbelievable, though an enjoyable curiosity. Bill is, well, Bill. Having had a certain amount of hero-worship going on for most of my childhood, I don't think that I'm qualified to say anything. Mrs Mannering is annoying. Yes, I realise there has to be someone to object to their schemes and adventures, but really, you'd think after the first three, she'd have gained a little more of a realistic perspective.

The series is well worth reading and is highly recommended for all lovers of adventure series. In my opinion, it's the best series Enid Blyton ever wrote. [And just so you know, having multiple pictures in one post is really frustrating.]

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Poison Principle: a Memoir of Family Secrets and Literary Poisonings

I'm a huge fan of (auto)biographies. I don't know why, but I'm sure there's a good reason for it. I'm also a little on the morbid side, being an archaeologist. Exploring a cemetery/graveyard is a fun way to spend an afternoon and is probably why I'm so fond of churches, since the two are commonly associated. I've exhumed graves and sorted out physical anthropology collections (ie: boxes of skeletons). I have a somewhat irreverent attitude to death and the dead. I'm fond of murder mysteries and I have a small piece of my (maternal) grandfather's humerus in a match-box on my 'dressing-table'.

As a result, I picked this up expecting a fascinating tale about the discovery of murder in the family. I was disappointed. It was, however, a fascinating description about the suspicion of murder in the family and a woman's quest to uncover the truth of the matter. This also gave some insight into personality and how people can distort the truth for their own ends, sometimes without even realising that that's what they're doing. The effects that such secrecy and suspicion can have on the following generations of the family is also something that interests me. How many family secrets do I not know about, that affect the ways my families interact with each other?

John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor

This is one of those biographies that I got at the scary Christian bookstore. I went in looking for a particular book on Saint Francis and picked up a bunch of things, including this. I had only a vague idea of who Calvin was and why he was important. Having read this, however, I now understand what the Reformation was, what it means to be a Dutch Reformed Church (for example). I also understand that this started out as a revolutionary movement - teaching everyone to read? Unthinkable. This was the first step at taking power away from the church and the priests and giving it to the people. The idea was that everyone (which really meant all European men, but I'm feeling forgiving today) should be able to read the Christian Bible (and that they should do it everyday, but that's not really important), which enabled people to begin to interpret passages for themselves and, more importantly, to question the interpretation and the doctrine of the Church. Is anyone surprised that people wanted him executed?

I disagree with a large amount of what Calvin believed and don't really care very much about what he did. Except for two things: he was instrumental in the first steps of bringing literacy to the masses and as a result should be considered instrumental in bringing the ability and power to think critically to the masses as well. If only everyone made use of the opportunities he brought to us.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Mere Christianity

So, in my bid to understand the religious, I occasionally go into that scary bookstore and see if they have anything interesting or informative. I'm particularly partial to biographies (I'll get to those sooner or later, I'm sure), but on one of my forays into Christian literature, I happened across CS Lewis's Mere Christianity. If I knew nothing of Lewis but his abysmal Narnia series, I would not have looked twice at this book. However, I knew that he was a friend of devout Catholic and admired (by me) author JRR Tolkien. I knew that he had been an atheist who, (as I understand it) converted to Christianity as a result of religious discussion with Tolkien and other friends. Button informed me that his writings on religion (particularly The Great Divorce, though I haven't come across that one yet) would interest me greatly.

So I bought this book. And then I read this book. And I was almost converted. This is the most eloquent argument in favour of Christianity and explaining Christianity that I've seen. This is the only explanation of Christianity that makes sense - by which I mean the doctrines and whatnot, not the fact that loads of people believe it without understanding it. Of course, I was not completely converted, unwilling atheist that I am. This did explain a lot and, if you'd like to be converted, or convert someone, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you'd like to understand how people can believe in Christianity, this is the book to read. Though, I grant you, most 'Christians' barely know what they believe and certainly don't understand how or why. But perhaps I'm a little cynical. (If you're looking for reasons not to believe Christianity, I suggest Mike Earl, a complete git, but one who makes a good point nonetheless.)
The point is that this is an informative book, that makes as good a read now as it was good to listen to back around World War II.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

Religious people fascinate me. I am drawn to the religious life (by which I mean monks and nuns), but to a large degree I can understand them. What I don't understand is blind faith. I don't understand why people believe the things they do (and what is it that I believe? Do I believe anything?). Which is why they fascinate me. So when I pick up a book at random and find it involves religious themes, I devour it hoping for greater understanding of such a large proportion of the planet.

Which is what happened with Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, by Rumer Godden. I recall Rumer Godden (and I'm 80% sure it was her) from my childhood, with books about small dolls that came to life. Or something. So I picked up a book of hers at random while at CAFDA and enjoyed it. So I picked up a few others, including this one. This book tells the story of a woman who, after being released from prison, enters a convent. The book covers both her new life and her old life, leading up to how she landed up in prison. It's also a story that appears to have been picked up by Catholic booksellers and made much of as a tale of redemption and salvation. To me the religious aspect of this novel is interesting, but not the focus. This is a story about humanity and compassion and the ability we all have to change ourselves into the person we'd rather be.

Tom's Midnight Garden

Another thing I'm particularly fond of is children's books. I presumably fell in love with them as a child. Quite possibly the fact that every time I started reading one of my parents' grown-up books I got into trouble (presumably due to the fact that I was under ten and there was violence and sex involved) cemented that love. Whatever the reason, I have a collection of children's books (the biggest section in my modest library) and every time I go (book) shopping I'm sure to add to that collection. CAFDA tends to have a large selection of what I'm looking for. I also find all sorts of new things there.

One of my recent 'new' finds was Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce. I have to say that this book did not have an auspicious beginning. The beginning was, in fact, boring. But I pressed on, certain that the good part was coming. And it did. This is a charming book that introduces the concept of time travel to children, without mentioning time travel at all. The ending is blazingly obvious as an adult, but children might not find it so. The book touches lightly on serious subjects, making them accessible and thought-provoking without making it clear exactly what it's doing. A definite start for any future fantasy-readers.

The Cadfael Chronicles

Have I mentioned how much I love CAFDA? Very, very much. It's kind of like the land of free books. Now I could try the whole extended metaphor thing with Sea Point being the enchanted wood, but (a) I don't remember the the Faraway Tree books well enough for that (I see rereading in my future) and (b) I've never been very good at the whole extended metaphor thing. I'm much more of a metaphor mixer than a metaphor extender.
Anyway, the point is that CAFDA has lots of good books, in varying condition I admit, for virtually no money. Also, they're some sort of charity, so the money presumably helps people in need. Or whatever their charity does (as you might imagine I'm more interested in the books than the charitableness, but that's always good too. There's nothing quite like benefitting others while you behave in a purely selfish manner).

At CAFDA, I recently discovered the Cadfael Chronicles, by Ellis Peters (pseudonym of Edith Pargeter). I have read (1) A Morbid Taste for Bones, (2) The Devil's Novice, (3) Dead Man's Ransom and (4) The Potter's Field. They're historically accurate detective novels set in the twelfth century with Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk who took his vows at the age of forty, as the central character. The only detail I find difficult to credit is the number of murders that took place in a relatively small area in a relatively short space of time. But this is a requirement of any detective series, so I suspend my disbelief as best I can. There are no forensics, no autopsies, no fingerprints and little in the way of physical evidence in general in these books, and yet they still manage to come across as real and plausible investigations. Somewhat similar to Christie's Poirot in the reliance on what people do and do not say. Unlike the In Death (JD Robb) and Plum (Janet Evanovich) detective series, there is no real action and absolutely no sex. And yet, the series does not suffer for it and, in fact, is far less fluffy than either of those series. Also, there's the advantage of learning about British history of this period quite accidentally.
Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 09 March 2010

Witch Child

I have resurrected this blog out of nothingness, as I feel a need to record all the books I read (of which there are many. If you want to donate a bookshelf to the cause, I'd be most appreciative).

As you might have guessed from the title, the subject of this post is Witch Child by Celia Rees. It's a historical novel - in about 1659 Mary's grandmother is hung as a witch. As she would come under suspicion, a mysterious benefactor dresses her up as a Puritan and sends her off to the New World. This is one of those novels that pretends to be non-fiction. It's actually fairly well done, with a 'typewritten' bit at the beginning and end, claiming that these pages were found sewn into a quilt and if anyone has more information, they should get in touch.

The narrative is powerful, mixing themes of women's rights, community, colonisation, superstition and religious (in)tolerance. The plot is, itself, fairly predictable, but it's worth reading anyway.