Thursday, 29 April 2010

Quiet as a Nun

Have I mentioned how much I love libraries. Lots. More than lots. Infinitely lots. There's a reason why I want to turn my entire house into a library. I'm getting there. I just have to encourage people to buy me bookshelves (I have a birthday coming up. In November. Start saving for those shelves now!), I'm quite capable of filling them with books and arranging said books in the most advantageous (space-wise) manner. Not only do I want to turn my house into a library, but I really enjoy spending time in them. The hushed sound of people doing whatever they're doing quietly. Also, libraries are full of books, every way you turn there are shelves and shelves of books.

You never know what you'll find in a library. On my last trip there (yesterday and I've already read two of the books I've got! Why can you only have seven at a time?) this book caught my eye, so I thought I may as well read it. It was definitely worth reading. There were certain characters (like the main character) that I took a while to warm to, but it was a good read and a well-written thriller. Particularly considering that I had no idea that Antonia Fraser wrote this sort of thing - I thought she only focused on historical stuff. I'll certainly keep an eye out for others in this series, but I'm not sure what my verdict on that will be.I was drawn to this one because of the religious aspect, but we'll see what the others are like before I make a final decision.

Hercule Poirot

I do love my detective stories (I blame Enid Blyton). Naturally one turns to Agatha Christie and her most famous detective, Poirot. I'm always amused by Christie's apparent dislike of the character and I can't say I blame her. I love to read them, but I would hate to be tied to writing such a character for 59 years (first story written 1916, last 1975), though, of course, I haven't read them all yet.

What I particularly like about these books is that the information is (usually) all available to the reader. This gives one the opportunity of figuring out the mystery themselves (the lack of which is the basis for my otherwise unexplainable dislike of Sherlock Holmes). Some people have complained that they can't read Christie's books because of the sheer number of supporting characters (read: suspects) in each book. I have never had a problem with that. What I do occasionally have a problem with is the utter ridiculousness of the plots. Some of them are reasonable, decent murder mysteries. Some of them, like The Big Four, which I read last night, are utterly ridiculous. While it doesn't really affect my enjoyment at the time, it does mean that I'm less likely to reread the book in question. It affects my memory of the worth of the book.

What this comes down to is: I really enjoy detective stories and I really enjoy the majority of Christie's Poirot books. I particularly like the fact that the books are set at the time she was writing and so move through the aftermath of the Great War to the 70s. I also enjoy the fact that these books do not contain graphic depictions of sex and violence, as some recent series do (I'm thinking Stephanie Plum and In Death). While I enjoy those series, that's not always what I'm in the mood for and I particularly enjoy having the choice.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A Candle for St. Jude

The patron saint of lost causes. This is, like all work by Rumer Godden, beautifully written. It's about a woman, a ballet dancer, who is beyond her prime and in very serious denial. She causes suffering to all those around her, as she refuses to accept her situation gracefully. It's a compelling story that entices you into thinking about the future and how you will behave when you reach old age.

[If anyone has a decent picture, please send it to me. My copy is just a plain purple-grey colour, so I can't use it.]

Bel Canto

So, yesterday I took the children's books off their shelves (made up of wooden boxes) and moved those out to the hall, where the phone is. Bum is happy because the phone cord is now hidden and I am happy because I'm slowly turning the entire house into a giant library. I moved biography and sci-fi/fantasy out into the hall and completely (well, sort of) rearranged the books left in my study. I'm much happier with the way things are now. Particularly since I have a lot more space to fill with books. I've also updated my wishlist, which is now eight pages long (two columns per page, I don't even want to imagine what it would be like to print it if it were one column per page). This is all in preparation for my visit to CAFDA next week. I'm due to get blood tests and I'm hoping that CAFDA will provide a decent selection for me to plunder as a reward.

Anyway, this book was a pleasure to read. It was a gift to me from Bum's parents and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hadn't seen much opera at that stage, but since it was only obliquely about opera that was okay. The book is about a bunch of opera lovers held hostage ... that really doesn't do the plot justice. It's a beautifully written book that has stuck with me, though I'm yet to reread it. I think I'm worried that it'll be less magical now that I've seen some of the operas it mentions.

It's one of those books that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Rainbow's End

I picked this up over the weekend. An Ellis Peters that wasn't a Cadfael book and that I hadn't read. It turned out to involve some of the same characters as The Knocker on Death's Door, principally the main character, superintendent George Felse. It's a fun murder mystery that is well worth reading, like just about anything Peters has written, apparently.

A picture will be coming forthwith, as there are apparently none that you can actually see clearly online.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The Glass Castle

I've been reading this book for over a week now - between my library books and FotR and so on. I can only say: wow. This is definitely a book to digest slowly. If you're one of those odd people who don't read, read this when you do. It's an extremely well-written biography about what appears to be an extremely stressful way to grow up. Would I have turned out so well? Would I have coped so well?

All families and all children have their difficulties to overcome, but some people have it worse than others and some people make it even worse for their children. Adventure is all very well, but regular meals are better.

I say again: read this book.

Know Your Cat: Understand How Your Cat Thinks and Behaves

A great big shiny cat book. I do like cat books and I'm particularly fond of this one because it combines gorgeous and adorable pictures with useful information. Also, I'm quite certain that Baby's parents were both feral cats. I'm also hoping that Baby had actually been abandoned by his mother. The idea of her coming back from hunting to find her babies all gone is heartbreaking. Given that they were a few days old and still covered in placenta suggests that they were abandoned.

Pretty pictures, useful information, pretty pictures...

Love in a Fallen City

This is a lovely book that I picked up at a Wordsworth book sale shortly after seeing Lust, Caution (a movie and experience I enjoyed greatly) with theOtherAmy. This is a set of short stories written by the same author. It's a book of beautifully written stories set in China in the early 20th century. I don't know much about translating works into English, but this seemed very well done as it kept the lyrical quality that I imagine the original Chinese had. It seems terribly wrong to call it 'Chinese' but I don't know enough about the Chinese languages to be more specific.

These are beautifully written, lyrical tales that evoke an atmosphere of a time I never knew. Read them if you can.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday's Kitten is in the Shower

Sadly, this is the best picture I could get of him in the shower. He likes to go sneaking around behind the shower curtains, leaving adorable little footprints all over the bath. He was not pleased to be disturbed and flashed at. You can see how well his leg is healing in this picture too. You can barely tell that he's favouring it.

The point of Friday Kitten posts (beginning today) is to ensure that I upload the pictures of book covers that I keep having to take. Sadly, this involves things like cropping them and making them not-completely-dark, which involves using Picasa. Adding them to an old post from Picasa is time-consuming and irritating. If anyone knows how to make the folders of pictures on my computer automatically sync with the edited Picasa pictures, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know how (or, actually, if you could just make my computer do it that would be even better). I'm also partly annoyed because I'm hungry and the only thing to eat requires cooking and I'm not in the mood. But, cooking is hapening anyway.

This is an exciting weekend book-wise. The Wellness Warehouse is having another market on Kloof Street, including a book stand from Help the Rural Child, on Saturday. This is also the weekend of the V&A Waterfront's book fair, including charity books for sale and double points from Exclusive Books (sadly, I think that only applies to books from them, not books bought from the charity people).

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Jane Austen: Selected Letters

This is probably one of the best gifts I ever received from Sheep. Now, at first glance, Sheep is not a very complimentary name to give to a friend. I suspect, however, that she will not mind terribly. For a start, her name begins with an S. On top of that, it's her fault for moving to New Zealand, which many people associate with sheep. Thirdly, she's Christian and very devoted. As Jesus is the Lamb of God, sheep must be highly valued animals to Christians. Also (and this really isn't complimentary), I consider the blind acceptance of belief that most adherents to organised religions display to be very sheeplike.

Anyway, this is a collection of some of Jane Austen's letters. It's not all the surviving letters that have ever been found (I wouldn't mind Deirdre Le Faye's volume of those, actually, but I've never yet seen it in South Africa). Most of Austen's letters were destroyed by her sister, Cassandra, as she felt they were too private for public consumption. I don't blame her and I doubt not that it was what Austen herself would have wanted, but I do lament it.

The letters give some insight into Austen's life and personality. It's an interesting read and highly recommended (unless you can get your hands on the complete collection, in which case you'll have all of these as well).

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Healing Yoga

I have decided that instead of taking my sore neck and back to yoga this evening, I shall take them to a warm bath instead. This does not, however, mean that I don't think yoga would be helpful. It just means that I have arthritis and rather overdid yesterday's yoga and so need to rest. I might do a bit of stretching before I go to bed to help the process though, and any of that stretching will come out of this book. I do yoga because my rheumatologist told me that I needed to do light, gentle exercise, particularly stretching. This book is particularly helpful when doing yoga at home. It gives daily routines that one can do, which last from five to twenty minutes, depending on how much time you have available. It also lists each 'common ailment' and gives the stretches that are best for people suffering from that. So, having a sore back today I would do some curl ups, setu bandha (bridge) and vatayanasana (knee hug). It gives clear instructions with photos as well as providing alternatives, easier ways and more advanced ways of doing the posture. It also tells you why the stretch is good for that particular ailment, which I particularly appreciate. And this is not your usual non-scientific nonsense, this talks about strengthening muscles, stretching muscles, your joints, your organs and the circulation of blood around your body. There is some woo, but it's in small doses and, given the (as far as I know) demonstrated benefits of meditation and breathing practices on things like anxiety, depression and stress-related stuff, I'm willing to forgive.

In short, my favourite yoga book.

Emma

There's a charity book fair at the V&A Waterfront this weekend. You should go and buy books. I'm going to (because that's a surprise).

Anyway, Emma is not one of my favourite Austen's. I enjoy the book and I like the characters but I can't stand to reread it very often. This is because Emma's behaviour makes me cringe. It's just embarrassing. Having read it multiple times I know what the reality of everyone's behaviour is and to read Emma misreading virtually everything around her and being so oblivious to the truth is just too much. I can't handle it very often. And the Box Hill scene! Emma's snobbery and unthinking cruelty is just too painful for me to read. Mrs Elton's snobbery, pretentiousness and so on is hysterically funny. And dear Miss Bates is such a font of information if you only know what she's really saying (particularly since she usually doesn't).

If you haven't read Emma, I recommend it.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mundo and the Weather-Child

There's a beautiful rainbow in front of Table Mountain this morning - the other end is going over Lion's Rump and I could see it from the bedroom. I'm not sure whether or not it's going to rain again today, though.

Anyway, this is a wonderful book - another coming-of-age story, there seems to be almost nothing but those around - about a boy who moves to a new house with his family. As you can imagine, he doesn't like this and wants to go 'home'. This house has a big rambling garden, which Edmund does not like. Come winter, he can't hear anything, except the mysterious child in the garden that he makes friends with. This is a beautifully written whimsical book that you should all read.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Later Days in Highbury

This is a sequel to Jane Austen's Emma written by Austen's great-grand-niece or something similar. Actually, this is a sequel to a sequel (or whatever the word is for the same book through someone else's eyes - A Visit to Highbury) but this is the one that the library had. Austen-Leigh writes well. She focuses on minor characters and new characters. She manages to make the new characters interesting people that you care about. She doesn't do anything too awful to existing characters - they appear to be acting as they would if written by Austen. The opinions certain characters hold about certain other characters are not always ones I'd agree with and I do wonder which viewpoint is the author's own.

This is an Austen sequel that I would recommend.

Biting the Wax Tadpole

Goodness it's been a while. This is partly from a disinclination to be online and partly from a disinclination to review old books when I'm reading new books. Of course, the problem with that is that I've already reviewed the Cadfael Chronicles, so I can't review the ones I've just read. A bit of a weird dichotomy.

Anyway, this is a fun romp through languages weird, wonderful and, occasionally, made-up. It reignited my love of languages and introduced me to some I'd never even heard of. It's a delightful book for anyone with a love of or interest in languages.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Peter Pan

When I was little I had a big yellow (Disney) picture book telling this story. I remember it fondly. And, I will say only this: if you have fond memories of the story from your childhood, do not ruin them by actually reading the book. The book itself is dreadful. There are only two decent characters in it: Tootles (a Lost Boy) and Liza (the Darling's maid). The narrator is irritating and ingratiating. The Darlings are ridiculous. The children are spoilt and horrible. Peter Pan is the worst of the lot. Tinker Bell is an awful example of fairies. The 'Picaninny' tribe of 'Red Indians' is the most offensive characterisation in the book. The pirates are ridiculous, with Captain Hook the most foppish dandy that ever led a group of cutthroats. The prose is ridiculous and... well... words cannot describe how disappointed I was by the reality of this book.

Do yourself a favour, remember this story fondly and do not read the book.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Equal Education and Shine

Just a quick note to talk about the Bookery that is where Charly's Bakery used to be on Roeland Street. I'm sure there are similar places in the areas where you live. I will now be donating my unwanted books to them (unless they're 'unsuitable'). Equal Education is calling for every school in South Africa to have a functioning library with a librarian or other qualified administrator to run it. It has been shown that the pass rate is higher in schools with libraries (though I cannot actually locate the citation they give - maybe you can: Bhorat & Oosthuizen 2008). And, quite frankly, I cannot imagine going to a school that didn't have a library. How do these children cope?

A similar movement is the Shine Centre, which targets specific children in a few schools (I don't know if they do it anywhere other than Cape Town though) and helps them to raise their literacy level. Essentially, it's an hour a week of reading with them as they just don't get enough attention in the overcrowded classrooms and are failing.

So if you can, support these ventures or similar ones near you. The future of the world depends on a literate body of people (also, this might all go towards showing the government that books are not 'luxury items' and dropping the tax on them).

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Star of Kazan

Another Eva Ibbotson. I picked this one up at random because I liked the cover (this is a picture of the audiobook cover 'cause I couldn't find a decent-sized image of this version of the book cover. Eventually I'll replace it with a photo. Really [really. It's done now]) and it was cheap (how many times have you heard that?). There were bits of it that were just too predictable, but on the whole it was a beautifully written story of the naivete of a young girl and the consequences of having all your dearest wishes come true.

This is well-written - you care about the characters and you wish to walk down to the square and see the houses. Even though you can tell there's something not quite right you can't do anything about it, no matter how much you want to. And you do. You want to take poor Annika in and show her how much better off she is before her deepest desires come true and she has to learn the hard way. At least, I did. You might do something different.

Presenting Miss Jane Austen

This is the book I read this morning. A surprisingly quick read, this biography of Jane Austen is beautifully illustrated in black and white with pictures of, among other things, the places in which she lived. Much of what I read in this book I already knew, from other books and Austen's letters. I was surprised by how easy it was to read this and how much it felt like reading about someone that one already knows. There is much to be gained from a book such as this. I have to say that I don't really have much to say about it. I don't believe that it presented any new information, though all of it was interesting and the situation might have been different in the early 1950s when the book was published. There was no speculation about Jane's illness or anything else and hardly a hard word for anyone. I believe the appropriate description I'm looking for is insipid, though enjoyable.

The Knocker on Death's Door

So many books, so little time. I should just stop reading for a couple of months, finish up my backlog and then start again. Of course, that's not likely to happen. So I shall just have to deal with the backlog as I reread books. So, on with the first book that I've finished since yesterday (I'll post the book I read this morning later or tomorrow - I have a thesis meeting with Judy later and so might not have the time).

This is a book written by the author of the Chronicles of Cadfael series, Ellis Peters. While looking for some information to link the title to, I see that this is the tenth book in the series about Inspector Felse, though it's the first time I've seen (or read) one. It's a fun, if rather predictable, story. I will certainly be looking out for others in the series. The characters that have stuck with me so far are not the ones that will be seen in other novels of the series. The detective is a rather shadowy presence, whereas the principal villagers involved in the tale have much more life to keep them in the mind. It was fun, but not necessarily a pinnacle of excellence and though I'd recommend them if you enjoy the genre, they wouldn't be my first choice for a new reader of crime fiction.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Wind Eye

This is a great book about a long dead saint and his interactions with a modern day 'blended' family. I do loathe that term. Family is family - regardless of how many mothers and fathers and children there are (or aren't). Anyway, this family has a fairly long journey to go in learning to love each other and get along with each other. It takes a couple of miracles and supernatural experiences for it to happen, but eventually they're ready to devote their lives to the 'family business' as it were. Leaving behind devoted (if dogged) scientific scepticism aside. Although, to be fair, one can only judge the world through one's experiences and given the experiences related I too would abandon certain ideas I hold about the world. Of course, I wouldn't be quite so closed-minded (as the father) in the first place.

Anyway, this is a fun read and well worth it.

Flyleaf

This is a novel by South African poet and author Finuala Dowling. She's a lovely woman who runs delightful poetry workshops (though it's been a while since I've been to one). I can't help feeling that the book is semi-autobiographical, but I have nothing on which to base that except a knowledge of certain parallels in the author's life.

This book is about so many things that I don't really know where to begin or how to describe. It's beautifully written and you should all go out and buy a copy so as to support local authors. Also, there's just something timeless about the struggle to survive - a divorced woman with a child to bring up, who takes badly paid teaching jobs and tries to circumnavigate bureaucracy and various other things in an effort to actually teach her students something worth learning.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

St. Clare's

Among other things, I discovered that the Wellness Warehouse has a market every second Saturday. Included in the market is a book stand belonging to Help the Rural Child, which is some sort of charity, similar in nature to CAFDA. Their prices are higher, but I was impressed by the selection (hello Enid Blyton and Cadfael!) Unluckily I didn't have my list with me, but I only bought one duplicate, which is actually in better condition, so the other will be going to CAFDA. I do tend to use CAFDA rather like a library - if I don't like a book I just take it back.

This series was written before Blyton's other school series Malory Towers (I'll get to that one some time). I like each series for different reasons. And there are a couple of reasons why I don't particularly like either series sometimes. I'll leave the comparisons for when I review Malory Towers though. The only book in the series that I don't own is Second Form at St. Clare's. There are a number of girls that make up the form we're interested in, chief of which are the O'Sullivan Twins, Pat and Isabel. They start off as terribly stuck-up and unwilling, but learn to be model heroines. Naturally all the stereotypes are there - the arty girl, the musical girl, the sporty girl, the pretty girl, the rich girl, the spiteful girl, the mousy girl. Nevertheless this is a fun series with interesting characters that still seem fairly fresh.

Arguments have been made that Malory Towers is a far better series simply because Blyton's daughters had started at boarding school by then and she had a better idea of how things worked. As it happens, I myself have never been to boarding school (though I did work in one for a year) and I really can't tell what differences there are that make Malory Towers seem more real than St. Clare's. One of the things I particularly like about St. Clare's (and which infuriates me about Malory Towers, but we're not talking about that) is that as the series moves up into the higher forms we keep with the same characters. There is some interaction with the lower forms in the last book as the lower form girls have to wait on the older girls to a degree and one of the girls has a sister in the first form that year. At Malory Towers, however, the last couple of books move from a focus on the main characters to being half about the main characters' younger siblings and other relatives as if Blyton felt that the older girls wouldn't be interesting to her readers.

All in all this is a fun series that's worth reading and rereading. I even have some interest in having a look at the sequels written by Pamela Cox, though I'm not sure what they're like.

[I am reminded again why I don't like the whole multiple-pictures-per-post thing.]

Friday, 09 April 2010

I, Nigel Dorking

The subtitle reads: 'an autobiography about an unusual boy with a suit of armour, an unshakeable dream and a most unusual vocabulary, written by that very boy, Nigel Dorking.' This is a book about a boy who is, undoubtedly, one of those geeky outcasts destined to become a roleplayer. As you might imagine, this is a kid I can relate to. I was never really an outcast, but I was always one of those bookish types that's too smart for their own good. Nigel, however, also has a younger brother with some sort of mental/developmental disease. Not something designed to make other children treat you with kindness. And then, his parents get divorced and there are the possible step-parents and their children. All-in-all it's yet another coming-of-age story. This one, however, is well told with an emphasis on fantasy and a hint of roleplaying that sets it apart and makes it loads of fun. Even if there isn't any actual roleplaying. There's almost LARPing.

[Picture will be coming forthwith.]

Saint Francis of Assisi

This is the biography by GK Chesterton I mentioned earlier. My copy is the updated edition published in 2008, I have no idea when it was originally published (though I imagine I could find out without too much trouble - wikipedia says 1923) but it is very much in an old-fashioned style. It's well written, well researched and everything else one can expect from a biography by Chesterton. Chesterton was a Christian Apologist, which for a very long time I thought meant that he was apologising for Christianity and the horrors committed in its name. I have a better understanding of it now. As one can imagine, his books reflect his views and this one is no different. It is, however, a very readable biography of a man who, if other biographies I've read are right, was quite a radical in his day. It also interests me because Saint Francis was born not long after Cadfael 'lived', though in Europe rather than England. It gives me an interesting perspective on history to contrast the life of the real man with the life of the fictional monk.

Thursday, 08 April 2010

Father Brown

I imagine you're all astonished that with my constant posting, there was not a single thing written here yesterday. I am less surprised, as I know that I went to CAFDA yesterday. I must admit that it was the hardest time I've ever had spending money there. Usually the books pile up within minutes, but it took me about half an hour to find the first one. The advantage of this, of course, is that I pick up all sorts of unlikely things. I will say that I found a lovely (though unillustrated) copy of Fellowship of the Ring, so I can now read LotR in the bath quite happily until I get to Return of the King.

I picked up two volumes of short stories, which I do very rarely. The only other volume of short stories I own is a collection of Agatha Christie's Poirot from before he had full length novels of his own (I'll review those sometime). These were written by GK Chesterton, who I thought only wrote non-fiction and religious non-fiction at that (I have a biography he wrote of St Francis that I'll review sometime as well). These are stories of a Catholic priest who solves mysteries/crimes. They are somewhat reminiscent of Cadfael, except that the similarities end with the Catholic crime-solver bit. Father Brown lives in the 19th Century and drifts slowly and dreamily through mysteries solving them through intuition and a knowledge of human nature. He reminds me a great deal of Hercule Poirot, who I was particularly reminded of when I saw the full name of a major character - the Frenchman Hercule Flambeau. Rather makes you wonder about Christie's inspiration.

There are lovely, simple detective stories without the gory violence we've become accustomed to these days. A break for those tired of the violent descriptions so prevalent in modern detective fiction. Also, a good introduction to the genre for younger readers, as it combines crime and occasionally murder with a detective without too descriptive violence, no sex and less intricate plotting and fewer characters than Poirot.

Tuesday, 06 April 2010

Real Family Food

I think I pick up all my cookbooks at the Exclusive Books sales. This one I picked up after paging through it and deciding that there were quite a few things in it that I wanted to try. I don't usually think very much of television chefs and yet, thanks to Exclusive's sales, I now own two books written by such people. This one appealed to me because it really is food that I am likely to actually make (and I have, some more than once) with flavours that I (mostly) enjoy. There are some things I can't imagine ever making (Bubble and Squeak is at the top of this list), but it's full of decent, simple recipes. There are some more complicated recipes (make a note - you want to make the Pumpkin Gnocchi hours in advance. Seriously). One of my favourite features of this recipe book is the colour coding. The colour coding takes the form of a robot (traffic light, for you foreigners). Green means you can eat the dish as often as you like. Orange dishes should be eaten no more than three times a day and you can only have one red dish per day. A handy guide to how healthy each recipe is (though what the red dot beside the lemonade recipe means is beyond me - one glass per day? One batch per day? It has to be diluted, so the dot is really unhelpful in this instance). It's also liberally peppered with anecdotes and information on how he deals with his kids in relation to food and eating habits. Possibly something parents might be interested in.

[On an unrelated note: Blogger needs an undo button. The number of times I've accidentally hit backspace and deleted the picture instead of delete to remove the space above the text is uncountable!]

Mansfield Park

A good long time ago, before I read Northanger Abbey, this was my least favourite Jane Austen. It has since grown on me, such that it's one of my favourites. Austen's novels are, for me, divided into three categories: favourites (Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park), enjoyed (Pride and Prejudice, Emma) and disliked (Northanger Abbey). I imagine every Austenite has their own division of the novels, but I imagine to the non-initiated, the fact that Pride and Prejudice is not the automatic favourite of every lover of Austen may be surprising.

Anyway, I was recently watching MP1 and was struck by how much better it is than I remember it. It really brings out some aspects of the novel that I think are frequently missed. For a start, Fanny's strength. Fanny Price is generally considered the most insipid of Austen's heroines. She is not outspoken, she is not brave. She is timid and religious in a way that is grating to modern sensibilities. However, what most people don't realise is that she has a strength of character that is overlooked by readers as much as her family. She knows what is right and wrong and she is not prepared to compromise her principles, no matter how you may beg her. She knows that Henry Crawford was inappropriate in his behaviour to the Miss Bertrams and she will not be prevailed on to think otherwise. Unlike Edmund, her eyes are not blinded to the faults of the Crawfords or her own relations because of this strength of character. Fanny is overlooked and unappreciated, yet she does not use that as an excuse to change her behaviour and her attitude to the prevailing one around her. She sticks to her principles and it is this that has endeared her to me over the years. Hers is a quiet strength that requires much observation to be seen.

If you've read Mansfield Park and disliked Fanny, read it again with this in mind. She's still annoyingly timid and preachy, but she's nowhere near as insipid as she appears.

The Snow Kitten

Probably not the best book for me to be reading at this time. This is the story of a kitten who has been abandoned, with winter approaching and no one willing to take him in. It is absolutely heart-breaking. I cried when I first read this story. If you can't handle sad stories, this is not a book you should read. Eventually the kitten finds a home and there is a happy ending, but as a kitten-mother I'm not sure I'll ever manage to reread this book.

Monday, 05 April 2010

The Lord of the Rings: a Reader's Companion

This is a must for anyone who is interested in the way in which Tolkien wrote LotR, as well as anyone interested in extraneous information. The two authors are two of the best Tolkien scholars, I gather, so it's a very informative read. It's a hefty tome in and of itself, so trying to manage it and my enormous copy of LotR together is a bit difficult (I've never tried it with Panda in the house, I suspect it would be a complete failure). It's a fascinating read. Information varies from explanations of the text to suppositions of inspiration and influence to discussions on Tolkien's writing process. Probably not a book that everyone needs to own (though I keep seeing it at every book sale, so theoretically everyone could own it) but it's one I'm very pleased to have on my shelf.

Tigger on the Couch

Yet another thing I picked up at an Exclusive Books sale. This is a fun analysis of fairy tale and other characters, attempting to diagnose whatever mental maladies they may have. In addition to that, I found it useful in explaining a variety of personality disorders (some of which I'd never even heard of!) in a fun and accessible way. I wouldn't recommend reading it through in one sitting as I did though. It can get a bit repetitive, there are a surprising number of characters suffering from the same problems. I suppose that shouldn't be surprising when analysing fairy tale characters, but it does make the book a little flat in places.

Journey to the River Sea

This is a delightful book. There's something enchanting about the way in which Eva Ibbotson writes. This tells the story of an orphan who is shipped off to some relatives who live in Brazil. They do not meet her expectations and soon she's off having an adventure with a boy who lives on the river. This is a story about dreams and reality. It's about making your dreams reality in spite of obstacles. It's about the futility of trying to separate yourself from the environment in which you live. It's about so many things and told in a way that they all creep up on you while you're having a fantastic adventure on the Amazon.

Sunday, 04 April 2010

The Healing Power of Jane Austen

Being an Austenite and a Pemberlian, I found this article particularly interesting. The idea of fiction as medicine is not one I'm unfamiliar with, but I've never seen it so clearly and bluntly expressed as it is here. I too delve into particular favourite books based on my mood. If I feel the need to cry, the chapter where Beth dies in Good Wives (the second volume of Little Women and not given the separate title in the US) is a guarantee and the one I almost always turn to. On the other hand, I'm very good at making myself cry. It's really helpful in LARPs, even if it does give me a headache. Austen, Alcott, Blyton, Tolkien - these are all authors I turn to when I feel that there's something not quite right, something missing. After reading Austen or Alcott I almost always feel uplifted and just better about myself. I could say the same about LotR, but I don't usually read it for that purpose as it takes too long and has a more variable effect on me. It worries me greatly that a large proportion of people are taking tv as medication these days, without it having quite the same effect. Perhaps that's just my opinion, but people who aren't readers miss out on so many role models and examples - not just of how to behave and pull yourself through adversity, but how not to behave. And while you can argue that many of the moral messages are overly religious and outdated, they have the same impact. The moralising, preachy tone of Little Women doesn't bother me in the slightest. I delight in it. It's part of the reason I read it. For them, the story of Jesus is the blueprint of how to live a good life. For me, reading Little Women shows the advantages of doing what needs to be done, what is necessary, before you do what you want and have fun. I know many other people will have different choices for their "medicating literature" and I'm always interested in the choices that people make in terms of what they read in this way.

Sense and Sensibility

Since that thing down on the side of my blog says that I'm Elinor Dashwood, I thought it appropriate that I review a Jane Austen. Unsurprisingly I picked Sense and Sensibility. This novel ties with Persuasion for my favourite Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne (there's a younger sister, Margaret, who is almost a non-character except in the 1995 adaptation). Elinor represents sense, she is responsible and always does her duty. Marianne represents sensibility (closer to sensitivity than sensible), she is emotional and open, everyone knows how she feels and she indulges her emotions at every possible opportunity. The novel is the journey that the sisters take to discovering a middle ground. Marianne learns to appreciate the feelings of other and be less selfish. Elinor learns to occasionally let people in and not always hide her feelings from those close to her. This was the first novel Austen had published and the language reflects that. In places the language is very dense and it's difficult to get into the book, unless you appreciate the language. This is, however, one of Austen's most convoluted and intriguing romances and, in my opinion, one of her best.

Saturday, 03 April 2010

Love, Aubrey

I picked this up at Exclusive Books (not a sale, sadly) on the the strength of the title font along the spine. I glanced at the cover, flipped it over and read the back. I opened it up, read the first few pages and decided I was taking it home with me. Surprisingly, this doesn't usually happen. I frequently pick up books because of the way they look. Reading the back usually induces me to put them back on the shelf. If the book passes that test, I read the first couple of sentences and, usually, a few random passages through the book. Rarely will I read the first few pages, instead of just the first few sentences. When a book manages to draw me in like that I buy it. Which is what happened with this book.

This is a heart-breaking story about death, grief and loss. It should be required reading for all children, and everyone who is too old to have had it required of them. Every single one of you should read this book. This is not a typical children's book. This is a book that deals with real life issues in a way that does not require the metaphor of fantasy. It's an emotional survival handbook that is relevant to anyone who has ever lost someone to grief.

Riverford Farm Cook Book

Another Exclusive Books sale book. This is a particularly lovely book because it talks about each vegetable/fruit in alphabetical order describing how to grow it and store it. There's information about different varieties and just an enormous wealth of information that I would never have come across any other way. In addition to the information on the food, there's little snippets about a variety of other things.

The recipes are divided up, on the whole, according to the major ingredient and are presented after each item's entry. I was really excited to try a number of items in here and I finally have. The major excitement was the Chocolate Courgette Cake (those are zucchinis for any Americans). My resident American tells me that it tastes slightly like Zucchini Bread (apparently similar to Banana Bread, only with courgettes). The GuineaPig gave it a huge thumbs up, along with the rest of the dinner from this book.

This is a book I definitely recommend. As an archaeologist I object to organic farming because it requires you to dig up naturally formed phosphate. Not only is this far more expensive, it's (in my opinion) much worse for the earth than just making some phosphate in a lab. Besides, phosphate is made out of bone, so phosphate miners tend to dig straight through bone-beds, which just gets my scientific hackles up. So, I generally tend to ignore all the 'organic' this and that and just use whatever is available locally. I'm in favour of local produce, where possible (and given that it's generally better for the environment, though there are exceptions), just not strictly organic food. Organically farmed food that uses fertilisers that don't include organic phosphate is much more palatable to me, sadly wholesale mining is required for food to be labelled 'organic'.

Anyway, the point is not for me to rant on about the pitfalls of marketing around the organic movement, which is a good one in theory. The point is for me to say: buy this book. It's full of fantastic recipes.

The Father of Forensics

I do like my crime books. This is one I picked up at some museum in Washington (we went to so many that I can't remember which one. I'd like to say natural history, but I'm not sure. It's equally likely to have been science and technology. There are a lot of museums in Washington. Anyway, this book is essentially about the origins of modern crime scene investigation (the CSI tv programmes are insufferable when you can't suspend disbelief properly. If you can, they're fun. If you can't they do horrific things to science and procedure). Sir Bernard Spilsbury investigated a lot of cases and this is the story of his life and how he made immense advances in the field. It's also an account of his personality, by all accounts a formidable one. It details the mistakes he occasionally made and the consequences of that (at least, I think that's in this book. I have a few and that's in one of them, but I can't actually tell which one off the top of my head).

It's an interesting account of both the advances in forensics and getting the science and the evidence accepted legally as well as the personality behind that.

Friday, 02 April 2010

The Silmarillion

The first couple of times I (tried to) read this, I was unable to finish it. It's a dense book full of strange names and places and relationships. This is (part of) the history of the elves of Middle Earth. I knew that one day I would make it all the way through, so I bought myself a copy and, when the next Tolkien-phase struck, I delved in. I was obviously of the right frame of mind this time. I made it all the way through and absolutely loved it.

Suddenly, all the weird names and their relationships to each other made sense. I haven't read it nearly as many times as LotR (or even the Hobbit), but it's definitely one I'd read again. This, however, is not a lazy afternoon read. The Silmarillion requires the use of a fair amount of brain power to keep track of who everyone is and why you care about them. It's a fascinating story and an essential read for anyone with an interest in Middle Earth.

The Tiger Rising

This is an enchanting book. It's intensely atmospheric and even somewhat dreary, but that just adds to the story. I don't know how I'd feel about this if I'd read about it as a child. As an adult, it's a haunting story that deals with real issues that children face. It's filled with simple, delightful metaphors and, really, is a coming of age story that is very different to all others that I've ever come across. Well, as different as a coming of age story can be.

This is highly recommended.

Thursday, 01 April 2010

The Story Giant

This I picked up at an Exclusive Books sale, because it looked like great fun. I was right. This is a lovely book for children, particularly for reading to younger children. It's well illustrated and filled with various tales from around the world.

I really don't know what to say about this, beyond: buy it and read it to your children or grandchildren, nephews or nieces or cousins. It's a wonderful book.

Cries Unheard: the Story of Mary Bell

I picked this up somewhere - probably a craft market, but it's hard to be sure - because I was interested in the subject. A child convicted of murdering two other children. On the strength of this book, I have bought and will continue to buy, others written by Gitta Sereny.

This is a wonderfully written biography. It is haunting and disturbing. There is nothing sugar-coated here. This is an account of a young girl who turned into a murderer, before she was really old enough to fully comprehend her actions. I highly recommend it to parents, teachers, anyone who works with children and anyone with an interest in this sort of thing.

The Hobbit

This was my introduction to Tolkien, sometime in primary school. Wandering about the library, one of the student-librarians (Carolyn Stewart for those of you who would know her) suggested I try this. I'm not sure I made it past the first paragraph. I know I didn't make it past the first page. To this day, I still rather dislike the Hobbit.

I've read this book a few times and, like most things, familiarity is tending to make it more and more preferred. It's well-written, a good story, lots of fun and interesting. I'm a rereader. Thankfully I read fast enough that I can reread many books as well as reading many new books. I reread LotR once a year. I reread a fair amount of Enid Blyton and other favourites (Stephanie Plum, In Death, Cadfael Chronicles, etc) every year. Sometimes more often. This book, however, I reread about once every five years. For some reason I just don't enjoy it that much. There's no good reason for it, it's just one of those quirks. I suspect that at least part of my dislike stems from the fact that the narrative is weighted heavily towards the dwarves and Bilbo - the anthropologist in me wants more variety to study.

It's still a book to be recommended. It's just not one I particularly enjoy most of the time.
[On a side note, I had to sift through ten pages of google images to find a picture of the cover I have.]