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Although I haven't posted any book reviews since late January, there is a stack of work to be done, and there is now some time to get to it.  We'll get back to speed with an easy read. Book Review No. 3 is F. Beverly Kelley's Denver Brown and The Traveling Town.  It was de-accessioned from the Circus World Library and a bargain purchase for me at the recent circus model show.  Mr Kelley worked as a circus publicist and Broadway front-man. Denver Brown would be shelved in the youth or young adult collection in a library.  Young adult writing used to present gritty realities in a less direct manner.  Thus, if you want the seamier details of circus life, stick with Water for Elephants.  But Denver Brown makes it clear that the circus is a hard-knock life.  Its protagonist is a young man struggling in school who runs away with the circus.  But several people reinforce the idea that finishing school first is a wise move, even for a young person with sawdust in his hair.  And along the way, one learns a lot of the tricks of the animal-trainer's trade.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book 131: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Book 131: Cat Out of Hell.
Author: Lynne Truss, 2014.
Genre: Black Comedy. Horror. Magical Realism.

Other Details: Hardback. 240 pages. Unabridged Audio (5 hours, 13 mins) Read by Mike Grady.

The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams. Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat.

The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting. The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant. 'Shall we begin?' says the cat ...
- synopsis from author's website.

I totally adored this short novel even though in it cats are cast as minions of the Devil. After all this is a horror novel, produced under the Hammer Horror imprint, even if a comic one .However, over time the ability of cats to do evil has diminished. As one character reflects: "They get all the best seats in the house, they have food and warmth and affection. Everything is on their terms, not ours. They come and go as they please. Why aren’t they permanently ecstatic? Well, now it’s explained. It’s because they’re conscious of having lost their ability to do serious evil, and they feel bloody humiliated."

Whether someone loves cats, as I do, or hates and mistrusts them this novel has a lot to recommend it. There are also quite a few Sherlock Holmes references given that retired librarian Alex has a beloved dog that he and his late wife have named Watson in tribute. The presence of a talking cat as well as a giant black cat reminded me of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and I noted that this modern classic of Russian literature had been mentioned by a number of newspaper reviews for Cat Out of Hell.

It's pure fun while still keeping with the tropes of horror fiction with plenty of charm and wit. I loved it enough to both read the print edition and also listen to its audio release. It was adapted by BBC Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime in March 2014.

Book #33: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Number of pages: 282

In this Narnia book, the fifth in the chronological order, but the third in order of writing, Lucy and Edmund are sent to stay with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (he and his mother almost seem like the original version of the Dursleys from the Harry Potter series).

Eustace has heard about his cousins' fascination about Narnia, and mocks them for it as he thinks it is all make-believe (there are definite parallels with Edmund's behaviour towards Lucy at the start of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not long into the book, the three children are whisked into Narnia, this time through a picture that appears to portray a Narnian ship. They are promptly picked up by the crew of the Dawn Treader, captained by Caspian, now older and also king of Narnia (although it is not mentioned explicitly, the age difference can be explained by the fact that time in Narnia runs faster than in the real world).

This sets the scene for a sea-bound adventure that feels very episodic in nature, as the story tells of what happens on each island that the travellers arrive on. The McGuffin that sets all things in motion in this case is that Caspian is searching for the lost seven lords of Narnia. Just about every adventure they have leads to the discovery of one of the lords (the exception being a section of the book involving the invisible Dufflepuds). I also noticed that Aslan doesn't appear much, but nevertheless becomes increasingly present as the book moves towards his conclusion.

I remember at times this book felt like it was aimed at a slightly older audience than some of the previous books in the series, particularly the plot revolving around characters being sold for slavery and a lot of conversations between the grown up characters that as I recall probably caused me to abandon reading the book out of boredom when I was young. I think what prompted me to read the book in its entirety as a kid was seeing the BBC's 1989 adaptation of the book, in a four-part serial that followed immediately on from their dramatization of Prince Caspian. Reading it again, I spotted a few things I didn't notice when I was younger, particularly Caspian wondering why they couldn't cross into "their world" (this becomes relevant at the end of the subsequent book, The Silver Chair.

There are a couple of chapters near the start that feel a little tedious, but the book becomes increasingly compelling after about a quarter of the way in. I liked the fact that Reepicheep came back, as a crew member on the Dawn Treader, and got a bigger part than in the previous book. Eustace is initially portrayed as the absolutely vile and dislikeable character, and this is expressed most vividly through his diary entries that come across as constantly narcissistic and self-pitying. However, eventually I found myself liking Eustace, mostly through a particular chapter...

Eustace is turned into a dragon by a magic curse, and slowly begins to realise that the other characters don't hate him; he also has the task of proving who he is, before Aslan turns him back into a boy.

I remember I was surprised by the way it was written; in the BBC adaptation (presumably because it looked better dramatically0, Aslan was seen appearing before the dragon and peeling away his scales to reveal Eustace underneath; in the book, Eustace appears as a boy again to Edmund, and tells him the story in the form of a flashback. The whole chapter feels like a figurative absolving of sins, adding to the fact that Aslan represents Jesus.

Overall, I enjoyed the fact that I can now understand more of the religious symbolism of the book, and there are definite recurrent themes of gold, greed and even covetousness as various characters struggle with different temptations. "Aslan's country", mentioned several times, is clearly a metaphor for Heaven, or the New Creation. The other thing I enjoyed a lot was how vividly the sea near to the end of the world was described, in a style reminiscent of Jules Verne.

This made for an immensely satisfying read, and this is one of my favourites in the series.

Next book: The X-Files Season 10, Issue #7 (Joe Harris, Elena Casagrande, Silvia Califano, Arianna Florean, Azzura M. Florean)
Book 80: The Elephant Whisperer.
Author: Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence, 2009.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Natural History. Africa. Conservation. Memoir.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 'rogue' elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his commonsense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival - notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn't take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape...

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This memoir has been my out-and-about book for the last couple of months, reading it when I had a chance at the zoo or waiting for appointments and the like. I found it a very informative and inspiring account of Lawrence Anthony's work in Africa, not only with this adopted herd of elephants but dealing with the day-to-day challenges of running a game reserve. As might be expected the biggest issue was poaching, which led to some genuinely frightening confrontations.

There were some heart-breaking moments in the book as well as moving and funny ones. He doesn't sugar-coat the challenges associated with his work. I likely will read his latest (and sadly last) memoir, The Last Rhinos, that continues the story of Thula Thula though think it would be too upsetting to read Babylon's Ark about his work in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Even the bits he shared here in the last chapters were inspiring but painful to read.

I was sad to read that Lawrence Anthony died in 2012 though his legacy continues at Thula Thula and with The Earth Organisation that he founded.

'The Elephant Whisperer' Official Website includes background and links to Thula Thula.
Book 32: Atticus Claw Lends a Paw (Atticus Claw #3).
Author: Jennifer Gray, 2013. Illustrations by Mark Ecob.
Genre: Children Book. Fantasy. Animals.
Other Details: Paperback. 224 pages.

Atticus Grammaticus Cattypuss Claw, the world's greatest REFORMED cat burglar returns in his most thrilling adventure yet! When an ancient book of Egyptian hieroglyphs showing the way to the Lost City of Cats is stolen from the British Museum, Atticus - newly promoted to Police Cat Sergeant - discovers that only HE has the power to trace it.  In a race against time, Atticus and his friends must battle across the hostile desert after the robbers. Can Atticus solve the mystery of the Lost City and beat his old enemies Klob, Biscuit and the magpies to the Cat Pharaoh's treasure? The tabby with cat-titude faces the toughest test of his nine lives as a brush with history forces him to choose where his ultimate destiny lies. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The third in this charming series that has been written for children but is sure to delight cat lovers of all ages. Here Atticus learns more about his background and even his previous lives!

As the cover and synopsis indicates this adventure is partly set in Egypt and Bastet gets a mention. There was some very funny laugh out loud sections and I did read a few passages aloud to my cats who were sitting with me while I was reading. I think they approve of Atticus even if they are not tabbies. Again I was a little surprised that the illustrations of Atticus' nemesis Ginger Biscuit, who is always described as a ginger cat, is shown as a black cat. Black cats are cool!
Cat lovers will laugh out loud at the quirkiness of their feline friends with these insightful and curious poems from the singular minds of housecats. In this hilarious book of tongue-in-cheek poetry, the author of the internationally syndicated comic strip Sally Forth helps cats unlock their creative potential and explain their odd behavior to ignorant humans. With titles like "Who Is That on Your Lap?," "This Is My Chair," "Kneel Before Me," "Nudge," and "Some of My Best Friends Are Dogs," the poems collected in I Could Pee on This perfectly capture the inner workings of the cat psyche. With photos of the cat authors throughout, this whimsical volume reveals kitties at their wackiest, and most exasperating (but always lovable).

This was a Christmas present and it made for a quick, amusing read to end the year. Really, the best word to sum up the book is "cute." The poems are simple, whimsical, and fully intended to be humor that cat lovers will immediately get. No deep, analytical poetry here. Instead, you get gems that make you smile like "I Lick Your Nose:"

I lick your nose
I lick your nose again
I drag my claws down your eyelids
Oh, you're up? Feed me

There are various mentions of urine and I recall one mention of sex, but it's a read that would probably be suitable for tweens on up. The only real requirement is that you're familiar with cats. This is one of those books I'll lend to family so they can pass it around and smile.

Final Count for 2012

Yes, that says "2012."  The past two years have been so busy that not only have I not reached the goal set for this or last year, but I am only now getting around to posting my Final Count.  Hopefully it won't take me so long to post my 2013 list.

2012 was my personal worst in terms of reading:  My goal was to read 75 books, and I read 34.  Ouch.  I guess that's what taking classes year-round does to your reading schedule.

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Late December 2013 - Books 49 & 50

In the past week I’ve finished my reading goal for the year. Here are the last two books.

49. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This is a classic “locked room” mystery, in which the room is actually a house on a remote island cut off from the mainland by weather and circumstances. Ten people are summoned to the island by way of vague but plausible invitations that meet each recipient’s situation. In each room is a framed copy of a British nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers,” which figures prominently in the plot of the story. Aside from a married couple hired to be cook and butler for the rest of the group, the invitees do not know each other; all the guests, however, have been responsible for wrongful death(s) in which there were no legal consequences. Starting after dinner the first night, the guests die one by one. I’m a big fan of mysteries but have been somewhat intimidated by the British mystery sub-genre, so I’m glad I finally ventured into the realm of Ms. Christie’s work on paper. It’s among her best-known and best-selling works, and it was a good starting point.

50. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. If you’ve seen the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, you’ll recognize many of the poems in this collection. I wanted to sing along in my head, so I gave in and listened to the soundtrack while I read this book. My favorites in both formats are “The Old Gumbie Cat (Jennyanydots)” and “The Rum Tum Tugger,” in part because I have used them as the basis for nicknames of cats that have shared my home. Anyway… these poems also stand on their own as delightful and clever, unless you don’t like cats at all, then you’ll probably roll your eyes all the way up in your head.

Next I will be frantically trying to watch all the movies that are scheduled to disappear from Netflix by the end of the year!

50+ books for 2013!

Is it too early to post our lists? I crossed the 50 book finish line, so I'm going to post mine now.

Each book title links to my review of it. Next to the title is a rating based on five stars/levels (Hated, Disliked, Okay, Liked, Loved.) Under each title is a little blurb from my review.

I hope people find interesting books on my list and new reading material for 2014!

1) Goliath (book 3 of Leviathan trilogy), by Scott Westerfeld. (Loved)
"I don't think there was one thing I disliked about the trilogy as a whole... except that it ended. I actually said "Noooo!" out loud as I finished the last page."

2) Call of the Wild by Jack London (Liked)
"If Mary Sue and Gary Sue wanted a pet, it would be Buck (the main character/dog from this book). Near the end of the book I skimmed four pages straight describing just how perfect of an animal Buck was."

3) White Fan by Jack London (Liked)
"Unlike Call, it didn't have page after page of "he's so perfect, every muscle was perfect, every hair in his pelt was perfect, his eyes were perfect, his breath was perfect...". White Fang was perfect in most ways, but at least this time London didn't go on and on about it for multiple pages..."

4) Letters of a Woman Homesteader a collection of letters by Elinore Pruitt. Also here. (Okay)
"'s an incredible look into what the west was like back then [1913]..."

5) Infected: Prey by Andrea Speed (Disliked)
"Earlier this year I read White Fang and Call of the Wild (published in 1915 and 1917), and they were way less dated than this book (published in 2010). At one point the main character said "Every teenager in the world has a MySpace page", and I laughed out loud."

6) Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalup (Loved)
"This was the very rare sort of book that had me saying out loud "This is a very good book" while reading the first paragraph."

7) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (Hated)
"Amazon has a quick answer for why I didn't like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader very much. It's listed under: › Books › Religion & Spirituality"

8) Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Hated)
"The book had such potential, but these idiot characters rarely treated imminent death as anything more than a mild annoyance because it interrupted their angsting about not being with the person they loved."

9) Kazan the Wolf Dog by James Oliver Curwood (Loved)
"... I think somehow the issues made it better. I enjoyed wondering how in the world Curwood came to such inaccurate conclusions. (How does one picture a beaver able to move 10 pounds of stuff with a scoop on its chin? Did he see a beaver once and think its tail end was its front end?)"

10) Chanur's Venture by C. J. Cherryh (Loved)
"This is one of those classic scifi series."

11) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (Okay)
"It felt like the book was more of an excuse to teach people how wrong and evil slavery was..."

12) Dragon and Thief: The First Dragonback Adventure by Timothy Zahn (Hated)
"If you would name your kid Sapien, you might like this book."

13) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepety (Loved)
"It feels strange to say I enjoyed a book about a horrible period of time in which people were abused and killed, but I did."

14) Harmony by Satoshi Ito (Hated)
"Eventually it got to the point that the characters were comparing their society to Nazi Germany (Godwin's law...) because apparently the Nazis wanted to wipe cancer out, too."

15) The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake (Hated)
"These two kids outsmart every adult they meet. In a physical fight, they beat multiple cops. The two kids hitch a ride with a trucker. The boy watches the trucker drive. Five minutes into the trip the trucker stops the truck. The boy physically beats the trucker in a fight and then the two kids drive away in the tractor trailer, able to drive perfectly after watching for five minutes."

16) Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Loved)
17) The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi (Loved)
"Now and then I don't want to review a book. It's not that the book is bad, just the opposite: it's that it's so good I know I can't do it justice."

18) The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Liked)
"The rule of this series seems to be: The further I get from the first half of the first book, the less I like the story."

19) Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi (Hated)
"Scalzi said this was the hardest book he ever wrote. I wish he would have given up on it."

20) Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Hated)
"Yes, somehow Fuzzy Nation was somehow worse than Zoe's Tale. That's saying something."

21) Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (Liked)
"This part of the book was somewhat less interesting for me. All rah rah military we run 20 miles for fun and piss manly man piss. And guns! Lots of guns! (By this time I had known the author's feelings on [guns], and it colored this part for me.)"

22) Zoo (The Enclosure Chronicles) by Tara Elizabeth Part two of review here. (Hated)
"The author has a title for every chapter. One was " :) ". There is no texting in the book. The kids have no tech at all, all they do is talk. I wanted to drive my head through a wall at that point. Are you so damned lazy you can't figure out some words you want to use as a title? "

23) G.I. JOE: The IDW Collection, Volume 2 (Loved)
"The story was as mature as I could have wanted, and wonderfully dark. Oh so dark. I loved it so much."

24) Tamed by Douglas R. Brown (Okay)
"While the idea of the plot is very, very interesting, unfortunately the author isn't very good. He's not horrible, and happily his grammar is fine and he knows how to use a semicolon, but other than the technical aspects of writing? Sadly he falls short."

25) G.I. Joe: Tales From The Cobra Wars (Loved)
"When I say that five of the seven stories didn't really work for me, it might make the book sound bad, but that's not the case at all. If I had paid for the book, the last story alone would have been worth the money, and one of the others was really enjoyable, too."

25) The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough (Disliked)
"This was typical of the symbolism in the book -- kind of 'beat you over the head'ish."

27) Clean Slate Complex by Megan Thomason (Loved)
"The main character was a teenage girl, and boy am I tired of reading stories told from their POVs. Snarky, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, confident to a fault -- every teenage girl from a YA book always seems the same. At least this one was the least annoying of all the ones I've read recently."

28) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Loved)
"Which leads to what made me sad about the book: OASIS sounded so great, I'd happily live and work in it. "

29) The Narrowing Path by David Normoyle (Loved)
"This was a brutal, dark book, and I loved it."

30) Catchall "book" for all graphic novels, short books, kids' books, etc. See end of list.

31) Blood of the King by Bruce Blake (Liked)
"If you ever played D&D or read a fantasy book, it will be familiar in a good way."

32) Wool by Hugh Howey (Loved)
"I loved the ending so amazingly much. This may be my favorite book story of the year."

33) Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Loved)
"A few people are born Graced -- they're the best in the world at something. It could be something useful, like fighting, designing weapons, riding horses, or it could be something somewhat helpful, like being able to bake the very best cherry pies in the world, or it could be totally useless, like being the best person in the world at spotting pictures in the clouds or counting backwards."

34) The Flesh Cartel, "books" 1-8 by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau (Disliked)
"I'm torn as to call these books a scam or not."

35) The Commodore's Daughter by Jamie Brazil (Loved)
"I feel like I just need an explosion of words across the page instead of organized sentences and paragraphs: I REALLY REALLY LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO AND JUST TRUST ME ON WHY IT'S ONLY $3 ON AMAZON WHICH IS TOTALLY RIPPING THE AUTHOR OFF SO JUST TRUST ME AND GO READ IT."

36) Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Loved) Part two of review.
"The problem with trying to describe this book is that every little detail is a spoiler. In fact, I'd encourage you to go to Amazon and buy it without reading the site's review or any customer reviews."

37) Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman (Disliked)
"Unfortunately Sky Jumpers became one of those stories where all the kids outsmart all the adults with an unbelievable ease, where all the adults make stupid decisions, and where none of the action could be believed."

38) The Island by Jill Minkman (Okay)
"So, it was an okay book. Not horrible, not good. Would have been many times better without the "romance"."

39) Island of Fog by Keith Robinson. (Okay)
"In conclusion: It's worth the price [free]. It wasn't a bad book, I just had no emotional connection with it and little drive to finish it."

40) The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition by Quark (with help from Ira Steven Behr) (Disliked)
"If I had paid for this book, I would feel cheated. (Ironic, huh?)"

41) Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 1) by J.R. Ward (Loved) Part two of review.
"Surprisingly I'm liking the story. A lot. The glossary isn't the author's only sin (her characters are named things like Rhage, Zsadist, Dhestroyer, Vishous, and Phury, which makes me froth at the mouth..."

42) Mind Bond by Julie Haydon (Hated)
"Rereading my post, I feel more frustrated than anything. I still want to read the book I thought this was!"

43) The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke (Hated)
"I did like Songs a lot at first. The first quarter of the book was nicely science-heavy, but soon enough that fell away and was replaced by nothing but characters I felt nothing for and relationships I didn't care about."

44) Extinct by Ike Hamill (Hated)
"Gods above, the characters (all of them!) were just so stupid. Except the kid. The other main character was a kid who was smarter than anyone else (not really that hard, I guess...). Worst of all, whenever he was in the same scene with adults, the adults got even more stupid just so the kid could look smarter!"

45) The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, book two) by Patrick Ness (Loved)
"A good book, but not as good as the first one."

46) Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking book 3) by Patrick Ness (Loved)
"While this book is marketed as a YA book, there is no way in hell that I would describe it that way. Such serious, violent, dark (sort of -- the kind of dark normal humans in bad situations might do), human things happened!"

47) Three short stories set in the Chaos Walking world by Patrick Ness (Okay.)
"This story also illustrated something I really like about Ness's writing: He can be subtle. He writes adult themes (same sex relationships, physical sexual relationships), that could be missed by younger folks but that adults can see."

48) More Than This by Patrick Ness (Hated)
"I didn't like the characters and didn't buy any of them as real. I even less bought the world as real. The whole book just didn't work for me, no matter how much I wanted to like it."

49) The Cruel Path by David Normoyle (Loved)
"My only disappointment with the book was how short it was. I hadn't realized it wasn't a full book (e-book version), so it ended way, way, way before I was ready for it to."

50) Lord of the Flies (Hated)
"Still, I enjoyed reading the wiki page a lot more than the 60% of the book that I got through, so I suppose it's for the best."

51) The Darkling Sea by James Cambias (Hated)
"It's possible I wasn't the right audience for A Darkling Sea. The men were Macho Men and the women swooned before them (okay, maybe not swooned, but fell in love for no reason)."

52) Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat (Loved)
"This story wouldn't have worked nearly as well if the author hadn't been such a great writer. Every character felt real, every one had a unique voice, and it was great fun keeping track of all of the motives."

I don't count graphic novels, really short books, or any book I don't read at least 50% of in my official count, but since I do spend time reading them, I count them all as one book's worth of credit.

I hope all the links work! If you run into a broken one or something mislinked, let me know and I'll track the right one down.

Lots of catching up here Books 44-58

Life got a little busy toward the end of summer, and my posting of read books dwindled. So, here's a recap of August to now.

44. Heartless by Gail Carriger

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45. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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46. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Childreny by Ransom Riggs

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47. Timeless by Gail Carriger
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48. The Third Gate by Lincoln Child
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49. The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
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50. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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51. This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
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52. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Magic. Death. Incest. Death. Court intrigue. Death. Dragons. Death.
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53. Fairy Debt by Gail Carriger

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54. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
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55. Dark Days by Manel Loureiro

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56. Midsummer Night by Deanna Raybourn

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57. Anthem by Ayn Rand

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58. World War Z by Max Brooks

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Books completed: 58/50
Book 204: Atticus Claw Settles a Score (Atticus Claw #2).
Author: Jennifer Gray, 2013. Illustrations by Mark Ecob.
Genre: Children Book. Fantasy.
Other Details: Paperback. 220 pages.

Atticus Grammatticus Cattypuss Claw, the world's greatest REFORMED cat burglar, is back! This time, the tabby with talent is on the right side of the law. And when Jimmy Magpie and his gang are busted out of jail by a mysterious villain and an evil cat called Ginger Biscuit, Atticus knows from bitter experience he's going to need all his skill and courage to catch them. Can Atticus overcome his murky past with the help of the Cheddar family in order to prevent the biggest crime in history AND settle a score of his own? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

As indicated by the cover art the Tower of London features in this adventure for Atticus. There is also a cameo by HMtQ and the royal corgis.

I've been reading some quite heavy books recently and combined with writing for NaNoWriMo I needed a bit of a break. This provided the perfect respite. As with the first book in the series, Atticus Claw Breaks the Claw this was an old fashioned charming fantasy written for children but with a broader appeal, especially for cat lovers.

I had to laugh when Atticus was described as a "pampered pussycat pet" by his nemesis Ginger Biscuit. It really sums up my adopted cat, who has now lost all his street smarts in favour of being a pampered pussycat pet.

My only concern about the book was that Ginger Biscuit, who is repeatedly described as being ginger, is shown in the book's illustrations as a black cat. Not fair! Black cats have enough bad press over the years and in this case it was a ginger cat who was the baddie.

Book #61: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Number of pages: 208

This is a book I absolutely loved as a kid so decided to read it again. It's not the first in the Narnia series, but it was the first written and most scholars agree that this should be book to start with when reading the Chronicles of Narnia.

The story opens with four children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - being evacuated during World War 2 to an old country house inhabited by a professor and his housekeeper. When the weather prevents them from being able to explore the countryside, Lucy discovers that the wardrobe in an attic room leads into a woodland that turns out to be the land of Narnia.

She is approached by a faun by the name of Mr. Tumnus, who befriends her but secretly plans to hand her over to the self-proclaimed ruler of Narnia, the White Witch, who has cast a spell over Narnia to make it "always winter, never Christmas". Lucy manages to convince Mr. Tumnus to let her go and they become friends.

Of course, no one on the outside world believes where Lucy has been, and when Edmund accidentally finds Narnia and meets the White Witch, he still pretends this is all a game. Eventually all four children find themselves in Narnia while trying to hide from visitors, and this is when the adventure begins and the children find themselves being told that the great lion, Aslan, is on the move and that only he can rescue Narnia from the White Witch.

This book is, at face value, an enchanting children's tale about a fantasy world/parallel universe; anyone who reads deeper into this might even see parallels between the war that is taking place in Britain at the time of the book and the conflict between good and evil that takes place in the book. Many people who read this book will surely realise that this is also a Christian book, and in this case it is mostly an allegory to the life of Jesus (who is represented in the Narnia series by Aslan). The most obvious reference comes near to the end...

Aslan allows himself to be sacrificed in the place of Edmund, who previously betrayed his brother and sisters. This fulfils an ancient prophecy and after his death, Aslan is resurrected.

When I read Michael Ward's The Narnia Code, I found that there were other similes made by the theme of the children being crowned in Cair Paravel to the concept of "wearing a crown" in Heaven that features in the Bible.

Overall, I found this book to be just as enjoyable as it was when I was young; certainly reading it now, I can tell it is aimed at a young audience because of the way it is written (C.S. Lewis constantly reminds his audience they should not shut themselves in a wardrobe), it the final battle felt like it was a bit too short, but that was mainly from having seen TV and film adaptations that milked that particular scene for all that it was worth. I also liked the characterisation of the children, particularly how Edmund starts off as a character who should be very dislikable, but gets transformed by the books events into a heroic character. C.S. Lewis was an incredible writer and I will hopefully get a chance to re-read the rest of the Narnia series soon.

Next book: The Truth (Terry Pratchett)

Book #58: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 317

The whole premise of the Discworld series revolves around the fact that the Discworld itself is supported by four giant elephants, who are standing on top of a giant turtle. This book introduces the legend of the Fifth Elephant, who originally supported the Discworld, but was somehow hurled off the turtle's back and then came crashing to the ground, creating all the continents.

The title is a nice play on "The Fifth Element", and this book has a very nice cover illustration, but the weird thing is that the book as almost nothing to do with the Fifth Elephant, except for a few mentions in the text.

The plot primarily satirises politics and international relations, as Commander Vimes is sent to Uberwald as an ambassador in the run up to a coronation; however, the City Watch do have to deal with the matter of the dwarves' "Scone of Stone" being stolen. The plot also involves Werewolves who end up pursuing Vimes across Uberwald, although this isn't until quite late in the book (I don't count this as a spoiler though as this is mentioned in the plot synopsis, perhaps because it makes the book sound more exciting than it is).

Terry Pratchett added a few extra storylines, one of which brings back Gaspode the talking dog; there is also a strike by members of the watch against the new Captain Colon, who is in temporary charge, and also a Vampire who is attempting to go "cold turkey".

Overall, I didn't think this was the best Discworld novel; it felt a bit too long and the plot seemed quite slow moving. Some of the plotlines in this story felt like they'd been done before, particularly with the references to an upcoming war involving the dwarves. It also featured an allusion to what is Bela Lugosi's most famous line that would have been good, if Pratchett hadn't put something similar in his previous book.

The book is pretty average; it definitely has its moments, but at the same time it doesn't feel like Terry Pratchett writing at his best.

Next book: The 32 Stops (Danny Dorling)

Book #57: Sphere by Michael Crichton

Number of pages: 385

An apparently alien spacecraft has been found at the bottom of the ocean, and when a team of scientists arrive to investigate, they find that it houses a bizarre spherical object. This is just the start of Michael Crichton's tense sci-fi/horror novel, which entirely revolves around the attempts to unravel this mystery. Things start to get very scary, particularly with the appearance of a giant squid that attacks the scientists' submarine.

I remember reading previous Michael Crichton novels and finding them to be a bit long-winded and full of overly technical speak, and this seemed true for this novel at first, which seemed very slow to get going. However, the book became increasingly gripping as I read further into it, and I found it hard to put down. I found myself loving the characters, who all felt very well-rounded, and there was a good sense of camaraderie between them.

The story becomes more intense quite early in when the characters find that they are stranded under the ocean for an indefinite period of time, and the book starts to feel very claustrophic, with tensions gradually mounting between the characters. I found the writing style to be reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series, and with the underwater setting there were inevitable echoes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Michael Crichton, aware of this, put in a few references to Captain Nemo). The best part of this story is the subtlety of how it is written, so when the apparent alien inhabitant of the sphere shows up, it's not a case of some bizarre monster appearing, but it is manifested through the mysterious "Jerry" sending increasingly sinister messages to the crew, and forming a presence not untlike 2001's HAL. I found the appearances of the giant squid that attacks the main characters to be particularly alarming.

The best thing about it was that it built up to a very tense and gripping climax, which I enjoyed immensely. A recommended book.

Next book: The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)
Book 188: The World According to Bob (Bob the Cat #2).
Author: James Bowen (with Gary Jenkins), 2013.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Memoir. Cats.
Other Details: Hardback. 286 pages.

This is subtitled 'The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street Wise Cat' and the memoir is exactly that. Bowen recaps a little on the material contained in 'A Street Cat Named Bob' (2013 Book 112) and then provides more tales of his and Bob's life during the period between James' weaning himself off methadone and the publication of the first book.

This again was a heart-warming inspiring story and even though I know that the publication of the first book and what followed allowed James to turn his life around, it was still great to read about the process. There were some difficult sections when James and Bob encountered bullies and people who objected to them but in general there were less distressing moments here than in A Street Cat Named Bob.

I wish James and Bob many years together though he deals with the difficult issue of what will happen when Bob is no longer around with maturity. The last few pages had me tearing up and hugging Miss Buffy, one of my beloved feline companions.

Book 189: The Memory Box.
Author: Margaret Foster, 1999.
Genre: Contemporary. Family drama.
Other Details: Paperback. 288 pages.

Catherine's mother Susannah died when she was just six months old. However, Susannah had left a memory box for her daughter though when it was first presented to her Catherine rejected it. Then years later when she is clearing the attic following the deaths of her father and stepmother, she finds it again and opens it. Inside are 11 objects, each wrapped and numbered, but with no explanation as to their significance. At a loose end in her life Catherine decides to play detective and in the process learns more about her mother's past and in the process herself.

The official synopsis from the publisher reads: "secrets are discovered, truths uncovered, and Catherine realises that maybe there was something more to her mother, something that her family has kept from her." This sounded quite promising almost in the Gothic vein of a Victoria Holt novel but the actuality proved much more mundane, which is one of the reasons this book was something of a damp squib for me along with pretty much everyone in the reading group where it was our October selection.

The novel consisted of Catherine's rambling and not very much happened. Catherine came across as a spoiled, immature 31-year old, who really needed to get a grip. Despite the positive relationship she claimed with her father and step-mother she is a very insular person with only her gay cousin as an intimate. He likewise is a taker, even if a charming one.

In the group we did discuss the author, whose work dates back to the early 1960s and included the novel, Georgy Girl, whose film adaptation in 1966 captured the spirit of Swinging Sixties London.

Book #51: The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 281

Discworld is a world and a mirror of worlds.
This is not a book about Australia. No, it's about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit ... Australian.
Still ... no worries, right?

The first page of this book sends up its tone quite neatly, and sets out the fact that it unashamedly parodies everything Australian, largely through cultural stereotypes and pop-culture references.

The next part of the review contains spoilers for both this book and the previous book in which Rincewind the Wizard appeared.

The last time Rincewind appeared was in Interesting Times, which ended with him stranded in an unfamiliar place that sounded suspiciously like Australia. Picking up where that left off, this book sees him trekking across the "Last Continent", the place in the Discworld that was created last, on a quest that involves sorting out some issue with the space-time continuum that he has apparently caused, assisted along the way by various characters involving a talking kangaroo.

Meanwhile, at Unseen University, the librarian (who is also an orang utan) has contracted some mysterious disease that causes him to morph into random objects. The wizards start suggesting that they should find Rincewind, who is the only person apparently who was present when the librarian got changed into an orang-utan (in The Light Fantastic), and therefore will know the one thing that has eluded everyone ... the librarian's name; this seems to be all in an effort to make him human again, although previous books have established that the librarian does not want to be changed back.

This leads to the discovery of a window that is some sort of magical portal connecting Unseen University to a beach, which forms a part of the Last Continent. The wizards initially go onto the beach to see if some fresh air will cure the librarian; however, they end up stranded after someone carelessly shuts the window.

The wizards' attempts to get back involve them meeting an "evolution god", and a lot of the plotline involves the theory of creation and evolution, and it eventually transpires that they are also several thousand years in the past. The story largely involves rock paintings that come alive, culminating in a large drawing Rincewind does that somehow brings the other wizards back into the present.

While some parts of the book were a bit too bizarre to fully understand, this makes for an enjoyable story, which largely involves Rincewind getting into various scrapes and running away, so not surprisingly I found this to be very enjoyable and also hilarious.

Overall, I would say that this is one of the best books in the Discworld series and would definitely recommend it to others.

Next book: Setting Hearts on Fire (John Chapman)
Book 172: Atticus Claw Breaks the Law (Atticus Claw #1).
Author: Jennifer Gray, 2012.
Genre: Fantasy. Mystery. Children.
Other Details: Paperback. 212 pages.

Meet Atticus Grammatticus Cattypus Claw, the world's greatest cat burglar. He's a tabby who spells trouble. And he's been hired by the fiendish Jimmy Magpie to steal all the jewels in Littleton-on-Sea. Atticus needs a temporary home - preferably one with lots of sardines provided. But when he adopts Inspector Cheddar and his family, Atticus starts to wonder, is a life of crime really for him? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was a delightful tale and one I'd happily recommend for children and the young at heart. I fell in love with Atticus Grammatticus Cattypus Claw from his first appearance. The book had me it stitches, especially the magpies who seemed to get many of the best lines.

I didn't know people were still writing this kind of whimsical fantasy. When I returned this to the library I spoke to the librarian in charge of the Children's Section, who found the second book for me on the shelf and agreed that this was a lovely series, especially for cat lovers.

Books 77-82 for 2013

77. The Element of Fire by Martha Wells. 337 pages

This is Wells' first novel, set in Ile-Rien like several of her later novels, but much earlier in its history.

There's a distinct flavour of "the Three Musketeers" about it somehow, without any real reference to Dumas (not that this is a bad thing).

Evil sorcerers, treacherous fay and would-be usurpers combine to make a rollicking adventure plot. Very enjoyable, if a somewhat abrupt ending.

78. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers. 337 pages

This is probably my favourite Peter Wimsey book and the one I reread most often.

Peter has at last married his beloved Harriet Vane and they set off for their honeymoon in the country house he has bought for them. But when they arrive there's no one to let them in and no sign of the previous owner, who, they discover the following morning, is in fact the late owner….

79. Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers. 90 pages

Short book of three short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Slight, but fun, although I disapprove of the treatment of grass snakes in the last one.

80. Murder with Puffins by Donna Andrews. 235 pages.

Another outing for Meg Langslow and her wacky family.

Meg and boyfriend Michael set off for a relaxing weekend on an island off the coast of Maine, but instead of peace and quiet they find murder and mayhem.

Good-natured fun.

81. Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm by Alice B. Emerson. 101 pages

Children's book, written in 1920, about an orphan girl sent off to live on a farm for the summer by her well-meaning uncle. Unbeknown to him, the farmer is a terrible miser and although, as a paying guest, Betty is treated slightly better than the farmer's downtrodden wife and workers, her summer is hardly the relaxing time her uncle had intended for her….

The story is slight and not marvellously well-written, but it's interesting for the look at the customs and expectations of the time and since several more of Betty's adventures are available as free ebooks, I may well see what she gets up to next.

82. The House at World's End by Monica Dickens. 132 pages.

Rather unlikely Joyce Stranger-ish story about a family of four children whose father is sailing round the world and whose mother is in hospital with a broken back who go to live in a run-down old former inn. Fairly simple story and a firm message about the importance of kindness to animals, but still quite enjoyable.

Book #47: The World According to Bob by James Bowen

Number of pages: 286

This is the sequel to last year's popular book, A Street Cat Named Bob, in which James Bowen talked about how the stray cat he found helped him turn his life around and quit his drug addiction. I first found out about this book in a magazine that, somewhat unfairly, slammed the book before it had even been published.

This book picks up where the original left off and tells of James and Bobs' lives up until March 2012, when A Street Cat Named Bob was first sold in the shops. It felt a bit more like a series of anecdotes than the last one, as each chapter takes a separate subject, mostly talking about what James likes about Bob and bizarre things that have happened to them; for example, in one entertaining chapter, Bob is at a friend's flat and James finds him out on the roof; his attempts to get him back almost see him getting stuck himself. The book does not forget about James' past though, and the fifth chapter contains a harrowing account of an addict dying from a heroin overdose.

Most of this book was enjoyable, although it did start with a recap of what happened in the previous book, for the benefit of anyone who didn't read it; I found this a bit annoying as I was keen to read a new story about James and Bob. I enjoyed most of the stories, though there were a few episodes about scrapes with authorities and particularly James getting into trouble about breaking rules while selling the Big Issue felt like the book was retreading old ground.

When I started reading segments that were about the planning of James' first book, I felt like the bottom of the barrel was being scraped; I was reading a book about the writing of another book; however, I found myself enjoying the account of a conversation with Sir Paul McCartney, and the day of James' first book signing, where he worried that nobody would come to buy his book (at one point he worries that he'll find most copies thrown in the bin). Incidentally, when I came to buy this one on the first day of sale there was a queue around the block, showing that his fears were unfounded.

Overall, this was a decent book and it is worth reading if you're a fan of the original; however, I don't think there's much scope for a third Bob book.

Next book: Jingo (Terry Pratchett)

Book #46: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Number of pages: 835

I made the decision to read the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series after hearing lots of good things about the Game of Thrones TV series, and enjoying watching the first season.

My impression of the storyline was that it was sort of like a fantasy soap opera for adults, with the large number of characters and intertwined plotlines, but I found that it grew on me easily.

This first book introduces the reader to the various characters, as George R.R. Martin's world is home to a large number of families, with the kingdom ruled by Robert Baratheon, with Ned Stark as his right-hand man. The book talks about the fierce rivalry between the Stark and Lannister families, which escalates into a battle later on in the book.

Quite early on in the story, Ned's son Bran Stark is pushed out of a window while eavesdropping and there is lots of talk about a conspiracy revolving around the death of Arryn Stark. There's another storyline about Danaerys Targaeryn living with a tribe known as the Dothraki, which also involves dragons' eggs. This is also mostly at the behest of Danaerys' obnoxious brother Viserys, who has been promised a "golden crown".

The next bit contains spoilers, so I'll put it behind a cut:

When Viserys finally receives the crown, needless to say it isn't what he'd expected, as he succumbs to a very original death, which involves molten gold being poured over his head. The later parts of the book also deal with the King's desire for Ned Stark to take over the throne as his spoiled son and heir, Prince Joffrey, is too young to be King yet. However, Joffrey is having none of this and has Ned arrested as traitor.

Now, comes the shocking part that I did not expect; after Ned Stark - told he will go free - acknowledges Joffrey as King, he is beheaded anyway. I think I was particularly shocked when I watched the TV version, having not read the book yet, as I was expecting him to somehow be rescued. However, this is a book where every character can be killed off without much warning, and that's what makes it all the more exciting to read.

I found it useful to read the book after watching the first season on TV because it made it easier to follow what was going on at times. What makes this fantasy series original is that it focusses significantly on all of the behind-the-scenes political dealings, mostly related to the various feuds taking place. This does mean that the story is very character-driven and there is a lot of talking, but the dialogue for all characters is written very well.

Overall, I enjoyed the way this book was written, as it was very descriptive about what the world was like, and went into a lot of detail about backstories. There was a good impression of atmosphere, particularly in the sequences revolving around characters in the Night Watch. While at times it felt a bit long-winded, I found myself compelled to keep reading so despite the book's length I got through it in just over a week.

A recommended book.

Next book: The World According to Bob (James Bowen)

Sep. 9th, 2013

I've been away on holiday so this is a bit of a catch-up book post. I'll cut it, both for length and because one of the books is new in hardback and another is part of a long-running series and thus spoilers may creep in.

Cadfael, Thursday, Peter and ZoeCollapse )

Book #45: The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

Number of pages: 193

When I was young I read all of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia, and watched the BBC's adaptation of four of the books. I remember noticing how similar the events near the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was to the Crucifixion, and almost certainly telling my parents, "That's like Jesus".

It wasn't until I was older that I realised that all of the books are full of Christian symbolism, with some obvious (there are books that refer to creation and the apocalypse, for example, plus the fact that the lion Aslan represents God/Jesus), and others more obscure.

In this book, Michael Ward tells of how he was intrigued by the seven Narnia books, and how he eventually found a poem on the planets by C.S. Lewis, and how each book ties into a different verse about Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus the other heavenly bodies - the sun and moon. Throughout the book, Ward explains how each book represents the "spirit" of each planet as Lewis described it in his poem. The book discusses the apparent confusion caused by Father Christmas appearing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and how C.S. Lewis was urged not to include him at all, but the book explains how he represents the jovial spirit of Jupiter.

After explaining this symbolism, Ward manages to effectively extract Christian messages from each of the books, and there was a lot of stuff I had never thought of before, so much that I now want to re-read all seven books. I thought this was a really enjoyable book, which felt like it was painstakingly researched.

Next book: A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)

July 2013 - Books 21 to 24

I’m still behind the pace to meet my reading goal for the year, but I’m not terribly worried about it. In any case, it’s fun along the way.

21. Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison – from my library’s summer reading list but not at all a “summer” book in my opinion. This is a rich, dark, and sad historical novel told from the point of view of Rasputin’s oldest daughter Masha and roughly covering the period of the Russian Revolution. After her father’s death, she and her younger sister lived with the Romanov family until they were sent to Siberia, and during that time Masha was tasked by the czarina to take her father’s place in caring for the young doomed heir to the throne. The novel is mostly a story of their growing friendship but also includes a lot of biographical information about Rasputin himself as well as a glimpse into Masha’s later life in exile – told in a somewhat linear fashion but with significant divergence both forward and backward in time. This definitely gave me a deeper insight into that period of history, albeit from a very particular point of view, but I was also saddened and frustrated by the excess and waste involved with the “end” of the story.

22. Animal Cracker by Andi Brown – discovered via twitter. A young woman quits her job at a high-powered ad agency to work PR for an animal rescue charity and discovers shenanigans in the organization. This short book features fun characters, madcap adventures, personal empowerment, animals, and a villain who’s a little bit “too bad to be true.” It’s not high literature by any means, but it was an entertaining and funny antidote to dark and dreary Russian zealots.

23. As Sweet As Honey by Indira Ganesan – from the summer reading list. A South Asian extended family experiences weddings, births, separations, deaths, reunions, and many sumptuous feasts. The main structure of the story deals with the narrator’s extraordinary aunt Meterling, who struggles to balance tradition and personal choice as she raises her young son. For the most part I enjoyed this book. The author successfully captures the literal and figurative flavor of the respective settings, and it’s clear that despite their arguments and disagreements that the family members are deeply committed to each other. My main quibble with the book was the use of first-person narration by one character when so much of the story revolves around another character whose innermost thoughts and fears she could not possibly know to the depth that she conveys.

24. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – another from the summer reading list and one of my favorites of the year to date. Clay Jannon is an unemployed web designer with a healthy zest for life and a wry sense of humor. Soon after he takes a job as the night clerk in a 24-hour bookstore, he discovers that most of the customers are there to borrow and not to buy, and the books they borrow are not ones he can find on any search engine. With the help of friends and associates he sets out to learn the truth of his very quirky place of employment. This is a deliciously geeky story featuring references to Star Wars, D&D, Google hegemony, and other topics near and dear to a nerd’s heart. It takes place in two of my favorite cities, San Francisco and New York, and the characters reminded me in various ways of different people I know. I read this book in one day, and there were several times I literally laughed out loud.

June Reading: 90-114/200

There was a lot of fanfiction read this month so I'm going to put that under a cut.

Chance Encounters by Linda Wells
The Woodcutter by Kate Danley
SNOG: A Puppy's Guide to Love by Rachael Hale
The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo
Crimes of Passion by Howard Engel
The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

The Woodcutter is an excellent story of mixed fairytales and the kind of loyalty/sense of duty that only exists therein...or in Ned Stark :) I found it in sci-fi/fantasy and would read something else of Danley's.

The Birthing House is Ransom's first novel but I hate it when people use that as an excuse. Either a book is enjoyable or it isn't, and this one wasn't. It could have been but rather than take the novel down the psychological route it seemed to be headed, the route that made the most sense, Ransom tries to pull a Stephen King--but without any of the effective description or forethought--and instead wishes to present this book as a shock value-type tale of possession.

Fanfiction ReadCollapse )
Title: Doctor Dolittle's Post Office
Author: Hugh Lofting
Genre: fantasy, animals

Doctor Dolittle wastes no time in setting up the most efficient mail service in the world when he discovers that there is not only an animal language, but animal writing as well. “The Swallow Mail”, as it is called, soon boasts good pens in the post office, postmen who tap once for a bill and twice for a letter, regular afternoon tea for both staff and customers, a reserve of thrush, gull, and penguin helpers to assist with deliveries in the colder climates, and most exciting of all – the great mail robbery. (from the inside flap)

A nice easy read.

On his way home from West Africa, where previous adventures have taken place, Dr. Dolittle is diverted to the (fictional) kingdom of Fantippo...where he discovers a 'post office' that doesn't work well because the principle was admired, no one in Fantippo had any idea how to run a postal service in a practical matter. So the doctor sets about fixing it – using the Royal Mail as his template – with the help of several animal friends, including a Cockney sparrow.

Soon, it becomes clear that running a postal service is a responsibility, an adventure, and can be an agent of change. The doctor cures diseases (which leads to a great line in the text, showing Lofting's ability to work with puns); makes new friends; changes the economic, cultural, and political life of the area he's in (in ways that the Star Trek fan in me reacted strongly to); hears stories from some extraordinary animals, and makes several discoveries in one of his main fields, natural history.

There's also a section in the middle in which the doctor, and some of his “pets” as the book calls them, tell stories they plan to publish in an animals' magazine. I think that's a great device, because each animal narrator's point of view says something about their species' “culture” and way of looking at the world. My favourite story – meaning the one I think is the best narrative – is told by the owl Too-Too...but I found the “Piggish Fairy Tale” (by Gub-Gub, a pig) and the very short tale of human-animal interaction in a domestic setting (narrated by the duck Dab-Dab) very interesting as well.

Overall, I liked the book – although references to the “ignorance” of “these people” (also described, at least by the cheeky sparrow, as “heathen”) – as as well as other instances of casual racism and (Great) White Man Saving The Day, were jarring and unwelcome (even if I knew the book was written in an era when they wouldn't be).
Book 112: A Street Cat Named Bob.
Author: James Bowen (with Garry Jenkins), 2012.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Memoir. Cats. Drugs.
Other Details: Paperback. 279 pages.

When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea just how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet. Yet James couldn't resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas. Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other's troubled pasts. A Street Cat Named Bob is a moving and uplifting story that will touch the heart of anyone who reads it. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Well the publisher certainly called it right on this tale of one cat and his man; it was moving and uplifting. Bob and James had received a fair amount of attention last year as reported here on BBC News (video).

Bob Reading
This month one of my reading groups elected to choose from a selection of autobiographies, biographies and memoirs rather than all of us reading the same book. I opted for this one having recalled the news stories about this heart-warming story about the street cat, Bob, and his guardian.

It was a lovely story and having given homes to a number of homeless cats through the years can well appreciate what a force for change Bob has been in James' life. It was a very quick read and happily incidents of peril to Bob were minimal. I'll certainly keep a look out for the new volume, The World According to Bob, due this summer.

There also has been a special adaptation written for younger readers titled: Bob No Ordinary Cat. I expect that this has omitted the material on James' drug use when younger and his experiences weaning himself off methadone as well as some of the threats he and Bob had to deal with on the street.
Title: Enid Blyton's Coral Storybook
Author: Enid Blyton
Genre: kidlit, short (really short!) stories, toys

Enid Blyton is one of the best-loved children's authors of all time. This is a new edition of a collection of her stories for younger children, delightfully illustrated by Angie Sage. While the stories are an ideal length for reading aloud, the vocabulary is simple enough for the beginning reader to tackle for her or himself. (from the blurb)

An interesting collection of sixteen short stories that I would put into five broad categories:

- learning to accept/changing preconceived notions about others (“Jinky the Jumping Frog”, “Thirteen O'clock”, “The Beautiful Cricket Ball”, “The Clever Toy Drum”, “Goldie and the Toys”)
- those who are mean getting a taste of their own medicine (“The Kick-Away Shoes”, “Holes in His Stockings”, “Big-Eyes the Enchanter”, “The Naughty Sailor Doll”)
- mostly about animals (“The Dog Who Would Go Digging”, “How John Got His Ducklings”, “Muzzling the Cat”)
- mostly about fairies (“He Didn't Believe in Fairies”, “The Little Toy Stove”, “The Real Live Fairy Doll”)
- light humour (“Dame Thimble and Her Matches”).

The last one is the most explicitly humorous story in the collection; while some others had funny moments, this one - about a woman who wants something from someone but has to do a string of other things first - was most clearly a comic story.

Two of the stories had familiar themes. I think Blyton may have used the plot of “Holes in His Stockings” in another story as well. I say that because one of the earliest stories I wrote (at a time when I did that often) was a piece that altered the situation and characters, but used the main twist of this story pretty much wholesale. However, I didn't get this book till many years later.

I also recognized the story of “Muzzling the Cat”. I wonder if Blyton borrowed the general idea of an older story - putting a bell on a cat so that its enemies (birds in this case) would be able to tell where it was - and re-wrote it for her audience; if her story had been retold elsewhere, where I read it; or if it is a common enough plotline that several people have used it independently.

A young child reading this book may wonder about the titular stove in “The Little Toy Stove”. It's presented as a young girl's toy, but at the same time it seems that it's not just a piece of plastic (or whatever) with a picture of a hob painted or stuck on...the mother of the little girl in the story won't let her do “real cooking” on it, because it's dangerous.

And while the blurb says that the lengths of the stories are “ideal” for reading to or by young readers, some of them felt a little too short for that to me, although I've never had to read a story to a small child (to get him/her to sleep or otherwise), so that opinion can be taken with a grain of salt. I think readers/listeners may want to follow or precede those stories (particularly “The Little Toy Stove”) with another one from the collection.

A pleasant collection, overall. As a fan (and as a collector!) I'd like to get my hands on the other books in this series as well.
Title: Mystery and Adventure Stories for Girls
Author: Various; edited by Eric Duthie
Genre: short story, anthology

This book, from 1962, is a collection of stories that - even while being labelled “for girls” (since girls are at least one of the main characters in each story, I wonder?) - I think can be enjoyed by anyone. Some modern readers may need to get used to some of the word choice, narrative styles, and some descriptions of girls' roles and expectations – in some cases the 'period piece' quality is quite clear. Another thing that may draw some readers out of the story briefly, or at least make things a little unclear, are indicators of the past such as now-defunct money denominations.

Wind, William MayneCollapse )

Ship Aground, Kathleen FidlerCollapse )

Risk, Margery SharpCollapse )

Sir Richard, Rosemary SutcliffCollapse )

Peril in the Hills, Gillian BaxterCollapse )

Flight to Adventure, Elisabeth BeresfordCollapse )

The Silver Chain, Rosemary WeirCollapse )

Just Fishin’, Margaret RuthinCollapse )

Adventure with a Film Camera, Michaela DenisCollapse )

Caroline and the Lunch Hour Mystery, Pamela MansbridgeCollapse )

Into the Blue, Viola BayleyCollapse )

Chienniang: A Chinese Ghost Story, retold by Lin YutangCollapse )

The Sire de Malétroit’s door, Robert Louis StevensonCollapse )

Finders Keepers, Showell StylesCollapse )

The Saint, Antonia WhiteCollapse )

The Children of Camp Fortuna, Pamela BrownCollapse )

Sentimental Value, Gerald BullettCollapse )

The Snake Pit, Gerald DurrellCollapse )

Overall, not bad at all. Most of these stories were hits rather than misses for me.

Book #27: The Oxford Book of Exploration by Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Number of pages: 530

This book is an anthology of travel writing, which I've been slowly reading over the last few months.

Throughout the book are several excerpts from diaries of explorers (some famous, others more obscure) and other writing about them by fellow travellers.

At times, I found this book quite heavy going, although I liked the fact that there was a separate chapter for each continent in the world, and it was enjoyable to know what these peoples' thoughts were as they went on their journeys.

At times it felt a bit repetitive, with a lot of accounts of meetings with naked, or nearly-naked, natives, but some of the incidents recounted were very entertaining to read. Probably the most enjoyable, and emotional, was reading about Roald Amundsen's journey to the South Pole, followed by Captain Scott's own journey, and his discovery that he was not the first person to reach it.

This book was at times quite long-winded, and it was hard to read large amounts in one sitting, but it is definitely a recommended book for anyone interested in exploration.

Next book: The Teleportation Accident (Ned Beauman)

Book #24: Clay by Melissa Harrison

Number of pages: 272

Melissa Harrison's debut novel opens with a young boy called TC being questioned by social workers about his relationship with Jozef, a Polish fast food worker. From here, it flashes back to the sequence of events that lead up to this moment.

The book introduces the reader to the main characters; TC comes from a broken home, his mother doesn't seem to pay much attention to him, and doesn't even realise that he is skipping school to pursue his interests in wildlife. His Dad has left home, and it is fairly clear from the dialogue that he was an abusive figure (although he is only mentioned in the book and does not appear in person). The book also introduces Jozef, who has a passion for carving animals out of wood; other characters include Daisy, a young girl, and her grandmother, Sofia, who has recently been widowed.

TC leaves the house to avoid an argument his mother is having with her boyfriend, and Jozef sees him outside in the rain, so invites him indoors to get food, sensing that he is being neglected. Throughout the course of the book TC makes friends with Daisy, but also forms a close bond with Jozef, who is in his forties; because of this, people start to make assumptions about his motivations for hanging around with TC.

While I was critical of a recent book I read, The Bellwether Revivals for opening with a flash-forward, I found the narrative method of this novel to be quite effective, and you get the sense that things will not end happily. I was unsure of the story at first because of how slow it was, describing what various characters were doing, but on reflection it was very good at providing backstories for everyone, and most of the characters were made to be sympathetic, although I found myself disliking TC's mother towards the end because of her lack of caring and refusal to explain why she and her ex-husband split up. What struck me most was the social commentary and the implicit critique about how people make assumptions; this book addresses the obvious social taboo of a child hanging around with an adult who he is not related to, and later in the book Sofia makes a good observation about how the age difference should not matter, just how you get on with the other person.

The book is also very harrowing at times, particularly a scene where TC witnesses some youths organising a dogfight, and I did find my eyes starting to water towards the end. The tone put me in mind of the movies of Shane Meadows ("Somers Town" and "This is England", for example).

Overall, I loved this book a lot and would recommend it to other readers.

Next book: London's Strangest Tales (Tom Quinn)



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