Friday, 28 January 2011

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is best known for her romance novels set in the Regency period and this is a very good example of those. If you're familiar with the usual Regency fare of Austen this won't bring any surprises. What is surprising for a first time Heyer reader is that she is easily as good as Austen, and in some respects a great deal better.

Fantastic fiction has this summary: "Miss Annis Wynchwood becomes embroiled in the affairs of a runaway heiress, and is thus destined to see a great deal of her fugitive's uncivil guardian. Chafing at the restrictions of Regency society in Bath, Annis has to admit that at least Carleton is never boring." And I don't want to add more because it would ruin the story.

There are no huge surprises in this, once you are about three or four pages in it's pretty easy to see where the story is going, but even so the quality of the writing is most excellent and the story itself does take one or two twists and turns that surprise faintly.

Knowing that her novel An Infamous Army is often hailed as one of the best accounts of the Battle of Waterloo (albeit from the perspective of the women waiting for their husbands and sons to return) because Heyer researched it so well, I'm quite confident that the detail and background in the Regency romances is accurate. I can't wait to pick up my next Georgette Heyer novel.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Since I'm not yet half way through the Discworld output, this blog is going to be quite full of me oohing and ahhing over Terry Pratchet. I imagine.

This one is about religion and how gods exist because people believe in them. The more believers, the bigger and more powerful the god. But actually it's more about how the administrators of a religion corrupt it for their own ends.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

So, along with writing travel books (which I love) Bill Bryson is a journalist and editor and is somewhat of an expert on the English language. In this book he explores where English - that mongrel language - came from. If you take a look at English, especially if you know anything about any other languages, you can see that it has very strange grammar, pronunciation and spelling. And of course the reason is that it comes from so many different places. Not least it is a mixture of Germanic and Romantic languages with grammar that has been borrrowed from Latin. Add to that the way we don't seem to pronounce anything as we spell it, or have, in the case of the -ough ending about 8 different ways to pronounce it - it is an absolute wonder that anyone manages to master it as a foreign language. And yet they do.

There was another of those "OH!" squawks from me as I read it during a section on place names because Oughtibridge (where my parents live) got a mention with, apparently, 4 pronunciations. That is something that I can directly check out next time I'm there.

But I also have to mention that I don't agree with everything Bryson writes in this book, but that just goes to show how language evolves. I also spotted one or two spelling mistakes (admittedly, one was in a German word) which annoyed me.

Generally it was very interesting to read this one, I've previously read Melvyn Bragg's The Story of English which was rather excellent (I got the impression that Bryson didn't like that book)

The biggest problem with this novel is that it really concentrates and focusses on the similarities and differences between British and American English - which is obviously where his expertise lies. But I'd like to have seen a lot more discussion about Australian, New Zeland, Canadian and South African English to start with.

The other thing is that at a distance of a little over 20 years since this book was read we have experienced the communication explosion that is the internet and a whole lot of us are communicating in English with people who speak a very different dialect, or speak English as a second or third language. That means we're exposed to a lot of different aspects of the language compared to people who will have read this book when it first came out.

But it was an enjoyable read and I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in languages generally, and the English language and its development specifically.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

A modern romance. No not a Modern Romance they were a totally rubbish band from what was it, the 70s? the 80s? Gah, now I have an ear worm...

Er. Yes. David Nicholls wrote Starter for Ten which I haven't read but I have seen the film. A film about one of my favourite TV programmes (University Challenge) with one of my very favourite actors (James McAvoy).

This novel starts on 15th July 1988 after Dexter and Emma's graduation party from Edinburgh uni. Then we meet them again one year later, and a year after that and so on. It's like a slice through a cross section of their lives and tells their story, sometimes in the present tense, and sometimes with some brief description of what has happened in the previous year.

It's rather excellent and put me in mind of Nick Hornby. Which is absolutely not a bad thing because I've read all Nick Hornby's books and I need some more similar input.

There's one part which made me sit up and shout "OH!" which surprised both me and the rest of the family.

But then thinking about it, that part of the plot reminded me of a very very similar thing happening in one of Hornby's novels. Which made me a bit cross, but not for long because One Day is really very good.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

I am reading Pratchett, Terry's Discworld output in publication order. That means I've read a lot and I still have a lot to go.

Briefly it's humorous fantasy based on the Discworld which is carried on the backs of four elephants who in turn stand on the back of an enormous turtle, A'Tuin, who swims through the universe.


In this one we meet some already well-known characters: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. They have adventures then they go home.

And it's pretty standard Discworld fare, which isn't to say it's bad or boring. And there are some laugh out loud funny bits, and there are some "roll your eyes when you work it out" references to Earth culture. So for me it jogged along, and being along for the ride with Granny Weatherwax is always worthwhile, although I prefer her sidekick Nanny Ogg (and not only because of her penchant for red boots). But it's not one of my favourites - which tend to feature Death.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Travels With My Donkey by Tim Moore

Travels With My Donkey by Tim Moore was a Christmas present from Gruesome #1. I love travel writing and have recently added Tim Moore to my collection of books by Bill Bryson and Charlie Connelly. The first of Moore's that I read was Do Not Pass Go and it's a trip around the Monopoly Board for real, trying to work out why Waddingtons picked the streets and stations they did when they licenced the game. It was most excellent.

In this one, having heard about the Way of Saint James (the Camino Santiago, which I know as the Jakobsweg, having first heard about it in German). This is the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela which is supposedly the last resting place of St James, the patron saint of Spain. The route begins just over the French border - anyone with a passing acquaintance with European geography knows that this also means just over the Pyraneees.

Over the last decade or so the popularity of this pilgramage has increased and many people undertake it by foot. Some go on bicycles. A few take donkeys and, thinking that if it was good enough for Jesus it would be good enough for him, Tim Moore decides that if he is going to do the walk, it has to be accompanied by his very own beast of burden.

Out of the three writers I've mentioned, Moore is my least favourite, but he does provide rib-ticklingly, belly-laughinly funny prose. He, in common with Charlie Connolley though, seems to start out for his trek woefully under prepared and that tends to annoy me at times, funny though the results can be.

Another reason, apart from a fairly recently acquired passion for travel writing, for reading this one is that - as a family - we have been thinking of tackling the trek to Santiago de Compostela. Not for any religious resasons but becuase as an established long walk it's "relatively" straightforward. Also it doesn't matter how long you take, we plan to do it in stages if we ever get started, as long as you collect all the Scallop Shell stamps in your pass, you get a certificate of acomplishment when you finally get to the cathedral at Santiago.

Moore also mentions a couple of other books about this pilgrimage, including a totally madcap one by Shirley McLaine which I'd like to try.

Being about a third of the way through this book at the moment I can offer one criticism, albeit a small one. Moore does tend to overcomplicate his language and I'm not sure why.

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Winter Holiday is the fourth in the Swallows and Amazon series by Arthur Ransome and was first published in 1933. The four Swallows and two Amazons are back and in addition Dick and Dorothea Cullum appear for the first time.

This time instead of the main focus being on sailing as it was in the first three, the novel is about (as the title cunningly suggests) a winter holiday in the lake district. Ransome cleverly sends the Swallows' mother away (to Malta with their youngest sister to visit their Naval officer father). Nancy and Peggy are living at home with their mother as usual. Dick and Dorothea are having a holiday at the home of their mother's former nurse (Mrs Dixon) while their parents are in Egypt on an archaelogical dig.

With the grownups conveniently gone, the children are free to have adventures in the snow and ice around Windemere: instead of being sailors and pirates they are artic explorers and their project is to trek to the "north pole".

When I read these novels as a child, this was my favourite. Dick and Dorothea wonder at the skills of the other, older, children but they also have skills that the Swallows and Amazons envy. All children share a fantastically vivid imagination and they remind me of myself in some respects.

What has struck me about this series is just how much freedom the children had back then. This would probably frighten the skin of modern parents but for someone who grew up in the 70s in small-town England it is something to be envied. Back when I was a girl it was common for my mum to pack me up some sandwiches, a drink and some snacks and wave goodbye as I rode off for the day with my friend on our bikes. We'd be out until it was nearly dark, roaming all around Windsor Great Park. Even that much freedom seems to scare modern people - but we didn't make fires, camp out overnight or sail around a huge lake in small sailing boats.

Welcome to my new blog!

I love reading. I read. A lot. At work I'm famous for it, everyone knows that when I go for lunch, more likely than not I'm heading to McDonalds (the nearest place) for coffee with my book. Anyone is welcome to join me but there are rules.

Rule 1: you are not allowed to talk to me when I'm reading.
Rule 2: refer to Rule 1.


Up to now I've kept a sort of online diary over at my h2g2 page. But I want to open my reading diary to... well, to whom? To the world, a it happens, and since the relative success of my public transport blog I thought I'd give it a go.

The concept is simple (it has to be since apart from being famous for reading I'm also famous for having a brain the size of a pea). I will make a post whenever I start a new book and then if anyone wants to talk about it they can leave a comment.

But what do I read? Well, everything. Currently I'm working my way through a few series:
  • the Percy Jackson series (waiting for the 5th and final book to be delivered)
  • the Chronicles of Narnia (in publication order - oh look, I'm waiting for the 5th to arrive)
  • the Discworld novels (also in publication order, I'm up to Reaper Man)
  • the Swallows & Amazons series (there will shortly appear a post about Winter Holiday)
  • the Chronicles of Prydian (I've read two, I think there are four but I seem to have lost momentum)
In addition I've recently discovered a liking for reading about science (physics in particular) and science history. I love biographies and autobiographies (official and unofficial). Fantasy features large, as does historical fiction (and romantic historical fiction on occasion). Travel writing is another thing I'm becoming addicted to and am always on the look out for new (to me) writers. Classic and modern, fiction and non-fiction. I particularly also like classic Russian literature but never seem to have the bottle to read it.

For such a voracious reader I'm sorry to say that I don't use the library as much as I should because I love to own the books I'm reading. We are members of our local library, but since the Gruesome Twosome also like to own books (and since I'm such a pushover to "muuummmm I don't have anything to read, can you buy me a book?") we don't use it much. Perhaps we should make that a resolution this year. Use the library.

There is another reason for not using the library as much as we should is that I am very lazy about reading books in German. I hardly ever do and am hoping to rectify that this year. For Christmas I was given a set of 15 Classic German Books and I'm looking forward to making a start on those.

I'm also very happy to receive recommendations and, indeed, I'm hoping to get some...

That's enough waffle. Feel free to comment, make recommendations or generally shoot the breeze.