I wanted to like this. Gill’s passion was infectious and made the subject matter not only one of design but also one of class and the difference between an artist and a craftsman. But somewhere in the middle when it went on and on about the details of the formation of different letters I lost the drive to keep reading. This also coincided with exciting books I’d ordered arriving by post and through the library system so I’ve decided its time to return it.
I saw Fallen Angels at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Its a Noël Coward play written in 1925 with a backdrop of the swinging twenties in London, and reasonably wealthy characters. The set is purely in the sunroom of the flat of the Sterrolls which for this production was between Art Deco and Victorian in style.
Noël Coward was known for his witty scripts and the basic premise of this play as a farce in itself provides good light comedy. Combined with this is the act which most shocked audiences at the time, in which the respectable middle-aged ladies, unable to cope with their own emotions get completely drunk on-stage and have a row. This maintains its humour although no longer as shocking to see on stage, with the audience laughing at the on-stage antics.
The maid (Saunders) is definitely the stronger of the supporting characters, with the best lines and corralling the drunk main characters along, but despite the men being absent for most of this play I think it still manages to fail The Bechdel Rule (unless the interspacing lines about the alcohol they’re drinking to forget him count). Its a sign of the times the play was written in of course, and the men barely talk about anything other than the women too.
Seraphina is a novel about family and racism in a divided community. This is set up in the prologue when we really do start “at the beginning” with the birth of Seraphina and an appropriate amount of shock.
The book then doesn’t mention what was so shocking but instead begins by setting the scene in a pseudo-medieval city with an implausibly talented and senior fifteen year old heroine. We firstly view the racism through the prism of it being something “others” suffer, although there is always compassion for them, and then the prism twists slightly and it all becomes much more personal.
There is of course a love interest, although I was satisfied that this was concluded realistically as I spent a good portion of the book worried that something utterly infeasible would happen. Friendship and family ties is a much stronger theme though, even as decisions made due to desire are acknowledged.
I like the magic involved and how much of it is just taken for granted as “technology” except by the fearful mob leaders. Of course such things wouldn’t remain wondrous for long and would quickly be assumed to just be how life is. These days we all carry a portal to a vast database of knowledge in our pockets.
This is a well-crafted pair of books, not a quartet as Harry Potter had shown publishers that YA fiction did not have to be under 200 pages a book. Writing the “Daughter of the Lioness” books and not making them very like any of the prior series was impressive.
It is another coming of age story, and we start with a bit of teenage rebellion as Aly who has been trained all her life as a spy in the fantasy setting of Tortall isn’t being permitted to make that her career by the newly cautious and protective George Cooper. Instead she runs away, is captured and ends up in the divided county of the Copper Isles, enslaved and trying to work out how to survive and prove herself to take advantage of the circumstances.
I had never before considered the problematic issues that Nawat has with consent, pushing Aly’s boundaries and ignoring what she says. Or how Aly never stops to consider that her attitude to life comes in part from being brought up by Tortall’s elite who changed their country for the better in a generation. Of course Alanna had had to fight such restraints a generation earlier though.
That said, I still enjoy these books for what they are: a spy drama and a reclaiming of a native land by an oppressed people. With magic and gods and immortals obviously.
As I hadn’t heard of Little Fuzzy when this re-imagining was published I decided I would rather read the original first and give it time to settle before reading Fuzzy Nation. Then life happened and I entirely forgot I meant to get around to reading it.
I definitely like how Jack Holloway hovers closer to the anti-hero side in Fuzzy Nation. Its very clear that he isn’t an entirely nice person, with very few people liking him and having a few morally questionable acts in his past. But he has a fabulous dry sense of humour which made me chuckle at otherwise tense parts of the book. Plus the explosive-detonating dog. Who could fail to love an explosive-detonating dog?
Of course it is no longer a new idea, but I still love the Fuzzies. And I definitely love how instead of being entirely innocent beings who are foolish enough to trust humans, they are instead given sufficient intelligence to learn to speak English and to have used Jack by spying on him to find someone who will protect and support them as their planet is being plundered around them. It gives them more agency rather than being purely pawns of the humans. Given they are sapient beings it seems better that they have some freedom to choose how they want to approach life.
Quote of the book:
“I give you my word that I will not punch my client”
Am I Missing Something is the collection of unpublished letters to The Daily Telegraph from 2012-2013. Although the DT isn’t a newspaper I read (except when borrowing my Dad’s copy), this was on the returns trolley at the library, a lazy way to meet the resolution of reading outside my comfort zone.
It is an entertaining read, collecting an array of entertaining letters and astute observations about the world. There is a degree of “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”, but there’s far more letters from people who have a sense of humour. And at least the book acknowledges the stereotype as well. I suspect a large proportion of the letter-writers are also fans of the News Quiz and Now Show by the way in which both the news itself and the reporting style are turned to humour.
My favourite letter has to be:
SIR – What a fool I’ve been! For the past 50 years I have been labouring under the misapprehension that the payment of tax was mandatory. Thanks to Starbucks I now realise that it is voluntary. Put me down for a tenner, Mr Osborne, to cover my liability for the next two years.
Dave l’Anson, Formby, Merseyside
I wasn’t too sure that Granta counted as a book, its more of a magazine/journal but then I ignored the fact that it isn’t a proper book. It has an ISBN anyway so is mostly a book.
But what this whole book brings home is the echoing of wars through years and generations afterwards. How long it takes for people to heal when whole countries have been damaged so badly by wars, and how hard it is to find justice. And then how useless and too little too late that justice is. The non-fiction pieces in particular are heartbreaking and made me wonder how on earth people can do this to each other, even as it has been done throughout history.
I wasn’t expecting poetry when I opened this book: I’d grabbed a book from the “our librarian’s recommend” shelf whilst my son toddled about picking a few books out of the book box for himself, mostly picking it because it had the most intriguing cover and was the thinnest book on that shelf.
But as the title, Bee Journal, suggests the form of the book is a journal, each poem reflecting on a single day for the bee hive, and takes us on a journey which reflects all our mortal relationships and a measure of the time of a life. The scenes painted also give rise to consideration of a slower pace of life, where for a moment you are living with the rural concerns of a beehive.
Whilst nearly all the poems stand alone beautifully, describing the scene of that day, the real strength of this book is how the poems as a collection invoke a feeling of time passing and change. From the optimism of the new hive, life is measured out, swarms are observed and the bitter winter is experienced.
The notes on the author mention that <a href=”http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/New-Poet-Sean-Borodale”>Sean Borodale</a> is from Somerset, which being local is the countryside I had thought of when reading this.
I don’t usually read self-help books but this was a reread of a book group book suited to the New Year as I typically make resolutions and set goals for the year ahead. I might even keep them this year. The Happiness Project has resonated with me for a long time, especially the paragraph:
Jamie is my fate. He’s my soul mate. He pervades my whole existence. So, of course, I take him for granted.
The whole book is about making an effort to do the things that make you happier in the long term without dramatically changing your life. It acknowledges that this is more difficult than the automatic response a lot of the time, but claims the effort is worth it. Making a difference to your own life by choosing how to spend time, and relationships by choosing where to put the effort into something constructive, recognising when you are expecting something unrealistic and choosing when to keep quiet and not overreact.
Of course it so often is, at the end of a day I feel much better if I’ve got some productive work done, done some baking and played with my son than if I’ve lounged around, browsed the internet and snacked mindlessly. Its just finding the motivation to do that former that’s the problem. The idea of being accountable to a “resolutions chart” even if kept privately seems a good idea. Which is exactly why I’m typing this rather than making one.
Harris’s books appear in charity shops frequently, so I find myself buying them as cheap relaxing reads. I couldn’t resist this one when I realised it goes back to Vianne of Chocolat and Lollipop Shoes again.
This has strong parrallels to the original Chocolat, looking at conflict within the traditional rural community of Lansquenet. However this time instead of being set in Lent it is set in Ramadan. But eight years have passed, people have grown up, the community around the chocolate shop has changed and Father Reynaud is possibly no longer The Black Man against whom Vianne has to battle. But the magic still works and communication through food is still at the core of the story.
I was a little worried about how the Islamic component of the story would be handled, especially as at first it felt as though the new community had been brought in purely to provide a different background to Chocolat. Then there was the concern about the new antagonists seeming to be purely from the Islamic community.
Of course Harris moves into a world where life is not that black and white and everyone is shown to have complex motivations driven by plausible experiences, loyalties, guilt, love and fear. I’m still not sure I like the ending: even if it is the only solution it seems too brutal.