Thursday, May 07, 2015

Thursday extracts. A vivid picture from Kate Mosse.

The sun climbed ever higher in the sky. The churchmen suffered the most in their black worsted habits. Rivulets of sweat were dripping down the Bishop's forehead and Jehan Congost's spongy face had turned an unpleasant blotchy red, the colour of foxgloves.

Kate Mosse
Orion Press

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reading off the rails - updated

You might remember at the start of the year I set myself a reading challenge. I only had to get through 24 books in a year, which isn't too much of a problem for me, except I was derailed by the sad death of Terry Pratchett. He was, of course, no stranger to Death. The skeleton everyone loves to read about is a regular character in (almost) every Pratchett book ever published. HE TALKS IN CAPITALS. You can't miss him. And I've been spending time with him since I heard the news of Pratchett's passing. Not as much as Pratchett has, of course, but enough. I read Mort first, the story of how Death takes on an apprentice. I followed that with Johnny and the Dead, the tale of Johnny Maxwell, an ordinary boy who has extraordinary experiences. In this case he finds he can see dead people who 'live' in a cemetery that's about to be demolished to make way for a new development.

I'll get back on track with the challenge soon, but I'm not promising I'll fulfill all the requirements. But then, who cares if I don't? 

Update:   There is a section in the reading challenge that says: "A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realise that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over) "
So I'm claiming Terry Pratchett as my guilty pleasure. I've loved his books since I first found him and I tend to go back to him when I can't think what else to read.  So I've done another one!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A YA novel

Hate List
Jennifer Brown

Back onto the Reading Challenge..............

I wasn't exactly looking forward to the YA novel because, well, I'm not a YA! However, I managed to get hold of a copy of Hate List by Jennifer Brown and I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised. I'm not really sure why it's classed as YA, other than the fact that it's set in an American high school and the narrator is a teenager who attends it.

Valerie Leftman is not exactly at the centre of school life. In fact she's a bit of an outsider. She and her boyfriend Nick draw up a hate list of all the people who annoy them and Valerie keeps a notebook of what they did and why they deserve to be on the list. She thinks it's a bit of a joke. He brings a shotgun to school one day and starts killing everyone whose name is in the book, before turning the gun on himself. In the chaos Valerie throws herself in front of one of the intended victims and is badly wounded in the leg. Hate List covers the aftermath of the event and how Valerie comes to terms with her part in the massacre, after she wakes up in hospital recovering from her injuries.

For a YA novel it deals with some pretty adult questions: guilt, blame, social isolation, mental health, family relationships, broken marriage, recovery and even forgiveness. At no point does the novel talk down to the reader. In fact, if it hadn't told me it was a YA novel I really wouldn't have realised.

I expected the language to be simplistic, possibly even steeped in slang and repetitive, like, yeah? But this was no Fifty Shades of Grey. It was well written, a damn good story, and full of sympathetic characters even an old bird like me could relate to.

This has been a very pleasant effect of taking part in a book challenge. I read something I otherwise wouldn't have dreamed of picking up, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A book that takes place in Asia

 It's been a while since I updated you on the Reading Challenge

The Way of the Traitor
Laura Joh Rowland

It's the tale of Sano Ichiro, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, who is sent to Nagasaki, in theory as an ambassador. But he has been undermined by one of his enemies in the shogun's court and treachery is everywhere. When a Dutch trader's body washes ashore Sano is given the task of investigating the death. The Netherlands and Japan have a valuable trading association but the relationship is strained, and the wrong finding could destroy the fragile peace. Not only could a mistake plunge his country into war, but Sano's own safety is threatened by the very people he is working with.

It's a cracking tale that gives interesting insights into 17th century Japanese politics while offering a tense whodunnit alongside. I worried that the history would drown out the thriller, but I was wrong. There was a delicate balance between education and entertainment and I'd be happy to read more of the series.

Friday, February 20, 2015

And how's the reading challenge going?

See here for an explanation.

I finished the Jeffery Deaver. Pretty typical stuff. The Skin Collector references his arguably most successful title The Bone Collector.

Ironside: Subliminal racism? 
(It was made into a film starring Denzel Washington after all. Nothing intentionally racist - but I never imagined Lincoln Rhyme as black. I could see Thom, his assistant, as black though. I suspect I saw too many episodes of Ironside when I was a kid.  And while we're on the topic of casting book characters for movies.... Angelina Jolie?  Really?")

I digress.

If you've read many Deaver you'll know the formula and you'll be able to work out whodunnit. Or at least it won't come as a big surprise because there's always a twist in the tale isn't there? And this one was a bit predictable really. I guess the real fun in the series is JD's creative ways of killing people, rather than the Holmesian ways he solves the crimes.

(Rhyme is very arrogant in the same way Sherlock was, and I'm not sure which I find most irritating: the gloating, or the conviction that no-one else could do it.)

Anyway, using a tattoo machine to inject poison is a novel way to kill someone and the murder is beautifully described in Deaver's unique and detailed style. A very good start that draws you in, particularly if you are inked yourself.

Currently on  a YA novel that I'll tell you more about another time. I'm still not sure why it's defined as 'YA' (Young Adult fiction) other than it's about a shooting at a US high school and written from the perspective of one of those involved. Of course I'm not a 'YA' and I suspect the author isn't either, so I have no idea how authentic it is, but it's not a bad read so far.

Watch this space. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Maltese, perhaps? Said X marks the spot. (9) *

Like tea, we say, is a daily treat.
In boxes, although not on shelves.
It's completely clear in black and white.
Optimistic writers use a pen.
Do you need a clue? It's cryptic.
I am left blank.  Too down.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reading challenges

It looks from blog browsing as if reading challenges are in this year. I probably should have started back in January, but I've picked a relatively easy one that will require only an average of a book a fortnight.  (just web search for reading challenges to find your own) And since I've already done a couple of the challenges by dint of my ordinary reading I guess I'm not too far behind.

The challenges are:

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people) *
A book published by an indie press
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own **
A book that takes place in Asia
A book by an author from Africa
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
A microhistory
A YA novel
A sci-fi novel
A romance novel
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
An audiobook ***
A collection of poetry
A book that someone else has recommended to you
A book that was originally published in another language
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
A book published before 1850
A book published this year
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)

*  I got the Ian Rankin Rebus anthology for Christmas and I'm well through it already,
** I'm about to start The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver
*** I also got the audio book of Tuesdays with Morrie and I've been listening to it in the car on my way to work.

I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dear Mr Birkin

(A response to a writing challenge set by Rosalind.)

Dear Mr Birkin

Did you know all those years ago how much I hated coming to see you? You represented a lot of pain and suffering in my childhood. Because of what you did to me and inflicted on me I became a victim in almost every area of my life. You made me look different, so I was the target of teasing and bullying from practically every kid in school. (Except Brian, but his sister was one of your patients too, so he understood.)

Let's face it, what you had to do to me was awful. You encased me in a metal frame that forced my spine to stay straight and I had to wear it night and day for years. I could only take it off when I had a bath, then it was back on before bed. Sleeping in it was hard. It was so uncomfortable with its wide leather belt around my middle from hips to ribs, buckled in tight so it wouldn't slip.

Then the metal bars that held up the headrest. They had sliding bars that were held up with screws and bolts. The screws ripped the sheets and my clothes and sometimes they ripped me if I tried to stretch across my front to reach something I wanted.

Yes, coming to see you was always a low point in my life and sometimes we had to do it every two weeks and that was dreadful because it was 60 miles away. People today don't realise how far away 60 miles was back then. You couldn't do it in less than a couple of hours and we always got appointments for early in the morning so we had to set off when it was still dark to be there on time. But when we arrived we were all called in what seemed like a random order, so sometimes we sat in that boring waiting room for another two hours before I was sent for X rays, then another hour before we finally got to see you and whichever medical students you had with you that day.

Do you have any idea what it does to a child to stand, half naked, while total strangers prod and poke you and treat you like a piece of meat? I was never asked if I minded being on show; never asked if it was OK to pull and push me around and stare at my half-naked and probably very cold body.

Three operations and years of X-rays and scans and photos and prodding and poking and being ignored when I asked questions. It went on till I was 21, remember?  I was still standing half-naked in front of total strangers when I was 21!  Then you said ' Right, OK.  I don't need to see you again.' and that was it. No fanfare. No fireworks. No real goodbye. Nothing.

The one thing in my life that I had looked forward to for as long as I can remember was handed to me and then nothing. 21 and nothing left to look forward to. Why, among all the years of treatment, hadn't you warned me that I would need something afterwards? That there would be an afterwards? I had to rebuild my life from scratch and it's not been easy.

So why, all these years later, do I remember you fondly?  You made my life hell. But the thing is, you made my life.  Without your treatments I'd have died years ago, my internal organs crushed within my failing skeleton. So thank you for everything you did. Even though I hated every minute of it.

with brian G
Me and Brian - who didn't bully me because he understood. 
(Published as written - no corrections. So I apologise for inconsistent hyphens and any typos you find.)