Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday extracts: a love story?

I might have spoken (out there the dazzle
flung from the rippled surface, breaking in stars
and flakes on the leaning alders, on the scarred
stone of the bridge; the bird
skiming away, a spark, a brittle
sliver of turquoise light against the hot
pinks of the willowherb and balsam, inking
at the river's turn; and you
twisted towards me, for the barest instant off-
balance, your own
lips slightly parted) but I let it pass.

Jem Poster. Brought to Light. 2001

I found this poem in a magazine many years ago and cut it out and stuck it in a scrapbook. I've always meant to buy the anthology, but I never have.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday extracts: Self medication


Purple-dappled dainty petals,
Seamlessly sewn to make a hat,
On a toddler's finger teasingly to settle,
Or a bell to announce a prowling cat;

Or lividly languid grandpa's nose,
Dripping dew-drops wherever it goes;
And a whistling chest of flutes and oboes;
Elephant feet overflowing his shoes.

His pulse, his life, irregularly irregular,
Since ancient fevers encrusted his heart;
Longed-for landmarks a step too far,
Till he and his dropsy are persuaded to part.

Some ancient wisdom from a gypsy crone,
Not from guidelines in a medical tome;
So salute decoctions of digitalis leaf,
Deliverer of unimagined relief.

Raymond Hume (1945 - )


I've mentioned this before but it's such a good thing that I thought I'd remind everyone. This poem was extracted from a leaflet that can be found at doctors' surgeries across the UK. They're called Poems in the Waiting Room, and they are a quarterly publication, printed on an A4 sheet, folded in three, and given away free.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Six word Saturday

Spent another day in the kitchen

Six word Saturday is a challenge set by CallMeCate on Show My Face. I've not been writing much lately and it's time I started again. Seems like a good way to get back into the habit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday extracts: Feng shui and village planning

Our landmarks are our lake and our wall, and both of them are the result of the superstition and mythology of ancient times. When our ancestors arrived in the valley of Cho they examined the terrain with the greatest of care, and we honestly believe that no village in the world has been better planned than the village of Ku-fu. Our ancestors laid it out so that it would be sheltered from the Black Tortoise, a beast of the very worst character, whose direction is north and whose element is water and whose season is winter. It is open to the Red Bird of the south, and the element of fire and the season of summer. And the eastern hills where the Blue Dragon lives, with the element of wood and the hopeful season of spring, are stronger than the hills to the west, which is the home of the White Tiger, metal, and the melancholy season of autumn.
Considerable thought was given to the shape of the village, on the grounds that a man who built a village like a fish while a neighboring village was built like a hook was begging for disaster.

Barry Hughart. Bridge of Birds. 1985.

I first read this years ago and fell deeply in love with its charming approach to life and fate. I'm sure Chinese life was never anything like this - but it should have been.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

World Book Night - a retrospective

As you know I picked up a book on World Book Night, and I've been looking into what the scheme is all about and how it works ever since. As a result of the find I not only read the book itself, but I also tried another of the titles (one I've been meaning to read for a while). So, I thought I'd have a look at the other books on the list and consider whether or not I'd have enjoyed them.

It was interesting that the UK and US lists were different - although they shared one book, which is now on my planned reading list.

Read it
Read it because of Book Night
Want to read it
Maybe not

Here's the lists:
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice
Read this at school. I can't say it made me want to read any more of her work. I was always much more of a Bronte girl.

Iain M Banks The Player of Games
I quite enjoyed this when I read it but I much prefer Ian Banks (who is the same person, of course).
Mark Billingham Sleepyhead
Looks like a nicely creepy crime novel.
Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island
Read it. Hated him.
Paulo Coelho The Alchemist
I like the looks of this one.
Martina Cole The Take
I've tried a couple of her novels and don't really get on with them.
Bernard Cornwell Harlequin
Not really my kind of thing but I'm not ruling it out.
Roald Dahl Someone Like You
Not sure what colour to make this. Mostly blue. I've read a lot of Dahl's short stories but not this complete collection. They're good.
Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities
Another one from my schooldays - but I quite like Dickens, and Two Cities is one of the better ones.
Emma Donoghue Room
Never heard of it before. Looks good.
Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
What can you say about poor Mrs DeWinter? Wonderful, atmospheric, recommended read.
Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day
Tried it once. I just couldn't get into it.
Stephen King Misery
I don't do Stephen King. Too gory.
Sophie Kinsella The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopoholic
I have read some of her books but they didn't grab me enough to read any more.
Andrea Levy Small Island
Looks very interesting. Post war Britain. Socio-political novel.
John Ajvide Lindqvist Let the Right One In
12-year-old boy and a vampire. Maybe not.
Cormac McCarthy The Road
Its own blurb calls it 'bleak'. Life's too short to read bleak novels.
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveller’s Wife
Oh but this was one of the nicest books I've read in a long time and it made me cry at the end.
Maggie O’Farrell The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
I've got a 'non-existent' family member and it's too late for me to ask questions now. I think I might enjoy this one.
David Pearce The Damned Utd
It's football. Maybe not.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Good Omens
The first thing by either of these gents that I ever read. If you haven't read it, go find it now. Even if it's only for their explanation of the purpose of the M25!
Meg Rosoff How I Live Now
Not really sure but I'm not ruling this out.
Joe Simpson Touching the Void
I'm not sure I'll enjoy some of the detail in this. But I've wanted to read it for a while.
Dodie Smith I Capture the Castle
Another I'm not sure about. But I think I SHOULD have read it by now.
Markus Zusak The Book Thief
The shared book. Now on my want list.


Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Coming of age book. Not sure it’s high on my list.
Laurie Halse Anderson Wintergirls
Seems to be about teenage girls and anorexia.
Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I have at least heard of this. I might try to track it down.
H G Bissinger Friday Night Lights
American Football. Maybe not.
Octavia Butler Kindred
Now this looks like a good book. I really must track that down

Orson Scott Card Enders Game
It's science fiction and I'm not a huge fan.
Chris Cleave Little Bee
I'm fascinated by the reviews of this, which seem to be determined to tell you nothing about it.
Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games
The movie trailers have put me off this.
Michael Connelly Blood Work
I don't read Michael Connelly - too blood thirsty.
Junot Diaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I'm not sure why I want to read this. But the blurb is interesting.
Kate DiCamillo Because of Winn Dixie
I loved the Tale of Despereaux so I think I'd like this too.
Dave Eggers Zeitoun
I've tried Dave Eggers before but not enjoyed his writing style.
Leif Enger Peace Like a River
Definitely fancy this one.
Robert Goolrick A Reliable Wife
Sounds good
Sue Grafton Q is for Quarry
I'm fond of a bit of crime fiction.
Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner
Has a good reputation but I just don't fancy it somehow. I'm prepared to be persuaded.
John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany
One of my all time favourite books. I love it.
Stephen King The Stand
I don't like Stephen King. Too scary.
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible
I've got this on my 'to read' list
Nicole Krauss The History of Love
I like the look of this one.
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
It hasn't grabbed me from the blurb.
Tim O’Brien The Things they Carried
Vietnam wasn't my war but the stories behind it are probably still relevant.
Ann Patchett Bel Canto
Interesting idea. Love among the terrorists.
Jodi Picoult My Sister’s Keeper
They need to change the cover on this because I wouldn't pick it up in a bookshop. But the subject matter is something that I care about.
Marilynne Robinson Housekeeping
The blurb gives this a sort of John Irving feel so I might enjoy it.
Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones
I'ne seen the movie. It might have spoiled it for me.
Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Definitely a subject that's close to my heart.
Patti Smith Just Kids
To read biography I have to care about the subject. And I don't.
Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle
'A memoir'. That phrase deters me.
Markus Zusak The Book Thief
See above.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book review: The Time Traveller's Wife

Henry DeTamble is a man out of time. Cursed with a gene that gives him only a loose grip on the present, he slips in and out of the past and future, always arriving naked and not knowing when or where he is.

And that is how he meets six-year-old Clare Abshire, a very young version of the woman he knows he will eventually marry: has already married in her future and his past.

The Time Traveller's Wife is literally a timeless love story. Henry and Clare  are destined to be together, but as the book progresses it becomes clear that there can be no 'happy ever after' for their relationship. It is a beautiful tale, told with skill, from Clare's first fascination with finding a naked old man in her meadow, to 28-year-old Henry's confusion on meeting a captivating young woman who seems to know all about him.

He has time-travelled all his life and is used to the unusual, having spent much of his childhood with his older self, visiting museums and galleries, but he is lost in the face of Clare's assured approach to their first date, because he is besotted with her from the start.

I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read this book. I have been meaning to for some time and finally fell into it after finding it on this year's World Book Night list. It is a beautiful story and I read most of the last third in one sitting, because I found it almost impossible to leave the company of Henry and Clare once I met them. A week since I finished reading, I still miss them. I have not felt like that about a fictional character for a long time.

If you are one of the few people left who do not know this book, I beg you to find a copy immediately and fill that gap in your life.

The Time Traveller's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger. 2004. Vintage

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday extracts: A Bon(e)fire

Zozobra started to growl. It was like the deep noise an old man makes when woken from a good nap. It was like the sound of an engine revving on a Dodge Charger. The growling didn’t stop.

Lucy shifted from foot to foot in the dark, not sure what to expect next. She had to admit she was a little bit anxious. She had never been to Zozobra before, but then she’d only lived in Santa Fe for a year and a half. Her boss, Harold Richards, who had been city editor at the Capital Tribune for the past twenty years, described it as “a bunch of people standing around while they torch a big puppet.” She hadn’t believed him at first. It had sounded so silly—and so pagan in a city as Catholic as Santa Fe, whose very name means “Holy Faith.”

Still, Zozobra had been a Santa Fe tradition for more than eighty years. It was the opening salvo in the fiesta party arsenal. The actual Fiesta de Santa Fe didn’t begin until tomorrow. Like any good Catholic celebration, the weekend started with the fires of salvation and ended in acts of sin. Tonight was about redemption. Tomorrow was about partying your ass off.
The Bone Fire  Christine Barber  2010 Minotaur Books (Thomas Dunne) e-edition
I reviewed this book yesterday so I don't want to waste too much time explaining the plot.  This is from very early in Chapter 1 - the set up for the rest of the novel. It turns out there's a child's skull inside the burning effigy and it starts a major murder investigation. Getting essential information into a story without losing the flow is a key skill. I admire the way Barber sums up all you need to know in the phrase “a bunch of people standing around while they torch a big puppet” and how she introduces it. The rest is pure atmosphere.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Book review: The Bone Fire by Christine Barber

Across New Mexico they mark the Day of the Dead by burning effigies that are supposed to carry away sins and cares. In the clean-up on the morning after one such festival in Santa Fe, a child’s skull is discovered among the ashes. Local gossips are quick to assume that it is the remains of a young girl who disappeared the previous year. A murder investigation is launched, and there is no shortage of suspects among the girl’s dysfunctional extended family.

Detective Sergeant Gil Montoya is forced to sort his way through the confusion of evidence, and his hunt becomes harder when more bones start to appear among offerings on altars at churches around the town. Reporter Lucy Newroe finds herself embroiled in the investigation because of a previous connection with DS Montoya, and her part-time role as a volunteer with the emergency services.

The Bone Fire is a well constructed story about the search for a potential psychopathic killer and I guarantee that you won’t predict the final outcome. It is Christine Barber’s second novel. I’m now planning to read her first, and hope she produces many more.

The Bone Fire Christine Barber 2010 Minotaur Books (Thomas Dunne) e-edition

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

High days and holidays: a chance to read

Hello all. I've not been posting much on here lately, and the absence of the G-Man (Get well soon Galen!) means I'm not even forcing myself to write my 55 words for a Friday.  (Though I'm doing my best to keep going with the Thursday extracts.) On the other hand, it means I'm catching up on my reading, and somehow I seem to have found a run of pretty good tales to absorb me.

The recent holiday helped, which coincided with World Book Day and my sad encounter with Bill Bryson. I had time and opportunity to read because I didn't have to go to work, and the fact that the book was free gave me a motive.  I'd taken a few novels with me on my e-reader (I always do take several books on holiday) so I had plenty of supply too.

And I spent Bank Holiday Monday morning in bed, completing the final hundred or so pages of my latest choice.

So you'll be reading my reviews over the next few days, because I'm now forcing myself to write them.  My own works of fiction might take a little longer. Or then again, they might not. I'll have a word with the muse.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Thursday extracts: R I P

A girl in our village makes love in the churchyard.
She doesn't care who, but it must be the churchyard.
They say she prefers the old part to the new -
Green granite chippings maybe rankle, warm slabs welcome.
And after, in her bedroom, she sees the mirror's view
Of her shoulder, embossed "In Loving Memory".
Anne, why did you do it? You've eight O-Levels.
Why not Anne? If bones remember, you'll give them joy.
It's as good a place as any, close by Nave,
Rood Screen, Chapel of Ease, Peal of the Bells,
Bob Singles and Grand Sire Doubles.
And, when you half-close your eyes,
The horned gargoyles choose.
But it had to happen.
Oh Anne, tonight you were levelled.
William James, late of this parish, was cold beneath you
And his great-grandson warm above, and you rose,
Although your shoulder didn't know it,
In glorious expectation of the Life to Come.
Alan Garner
I first heard this poem at a live show in the Theatre in the Round in Scarborough. Back in the days when it was still above the library. Two very funny guys called Henry Livings and Alex Glasgow performed songs and recitations, while drinking a fair amount of beer (and spilling quite a lot at appropriate points in the evening). It was a wonderful evening, full of laughter and fun, and I was sat next to my dad. (If you want to know the full significance of that see here. ) I've been looking for a copy of this for some time, but finally tracked it down, thanks to the marvels of the Interweb.
It still makes me laugh. And I can still remember my mother's disapproving face because I laughed at the time!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island

American Bill Bryson penned his Notes from a Small Island after living and working in the UK for twenty years. It is supposed to be a travelogue as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. The problem is that after two decades he is not sure whether he is a Yank or a Brit, and he just comes across as a jerk.  Notes compares Bryson's memories from when he arrived in 1973 with his experiences during a 'valedictory tour' after he decides to return stateside in 1993.

He pines for the England he remembers from his early days, but he recalls a Britain that never actually existed.  It becomes clear that he is missing the cosy image of the UK as featured in 1970s television. It was not there in 1973, and still not there in1993.  He is angry that he cannot find what he is looking for.   He is actually angry about a lot of things: dogs (he wants to kick small ones and beat big ones with a stick); fat people (because they get to the dessert trolley before him); and Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the Times. (OK with hindsight he might have been right about that one.)

Bryson would be a most objectionable travel companion: glaring at anyone he deems less than perfect; ranting whenever he fails to get his own way; penny pinching on food and accommodation, then surprised at the poor standard he receives.

He spends a great deal of the book complaining, or damning with faint praise.  In spite of his regular assurances that he loves the country and will miss it when he leaves, he seems not actually to like a single thing in it. In fact at one point he devotes a whole page to listing things he dislikes about Britain, including Oxford. Within a very short time it becomes clear that he is a rude, self centred, overbearing, bad tempered tightwad.  

Perhaps he is trying to be funny, and there are moments in the book that made me laugh out loud, but even after twenty years, in common with many Americans, he fails to understand irony, and when he attempts it he just ends up being cruel.