Scilla in the Banzoota school library
Scilla in the Banzoota school library (from The Winter Sleepwalker)

I’ve always been a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to marking certain times of the year — birthdays, New Year and so on. No doubt that’s down to some disappointment in childhood which I’ve since rationalised away by arguing it’s just mere superstition to grant significance to certain dates, an accident of an arbitrary calendar. But I’ve been trying to mellow a bit in recent years and, while I draw the line at New Year resolutions, I’m willing to contemplate a look back at the past year of blogging. Here’s hoping you don’t Bah Humbug what follows!

First, a look at some titles I’ve reviewed during 2014. I’ve selected a range of genres, from history to drama, classic to thriller, pulp fiction to science fiction, fantasy to autobiography. Continue reading “Resolutions”

Literally challenged

Via Goodwill Librarian on FacebookPost by Goodwill Librarian.

I’m not an organised sort of person. I like to think I’m spontaneous, but I’m told that this my euphemism for lazy. I’m allergic to lists, whether written by someone else or, especially, by me. And lists of New Year’s resolutions? Forget it.

What, however, if the list was about something close to my heart, something I blog about? This Reading Challenge from Goodwill Librarian on Facebook lists fifty-two cues to help the floundering reader lost at sea with no lifelines. The idea, I suppose, is to research the cue, then spend a week reading the title you’ve chosen, all to take a year. And there are a lot of options, aren’t there?

Too much to take in? Looking at the list, many of the choices can be combined. A book with more than 500 pages can also be one by an author you’ve never read before. A book based entirely on its cover could easily be a graphic novel as well. A book by a female author (hmm, I wonder if the list was written by a man?) might also be authored by a writer with one’s own initials. And so on. This is starting to become more manageable.

Here’s how I might  proceed. First I’ll look at my shelves and decide which book or books I want to read or re-read. Then I’ll see which box or boxes it ticks. Then on to the next one. As the year goes on, with many boxes ticked, I can see where the gaps are and make more of a conscious effort to search for a book that’s won a Pulitzer (or any other) prize, includes a colour in its title, counts as a memoir or has garnered bad reviews. Or indeed, fits two or more of these categories.

Or, remembering that allergy, I might not.

Spine tingles

Haunting bedtime reading?

Joan Aiken A Touch of Chill:
Stories of Horror, Suspense and Fantasy

Fontana Lions 1981 (1979)

These fifteen short stories, six published for the first time in this collection, are full of mystery and surprises, not least because UK and US editions feature — apart from a core of eight — different selections. I first read these tales in the early eighties, but apart from the odd déjà-vu moment I regret I didn’t remember any of them in this reread — my failing, not Joan Aiken’s, because these are wonderfully dark narratives.

I don’t know who made the final choice for the order of the UK edition but it was curious that pairs of succeeding stories are often linked — witches both black and white, Irish or Welsh characters, youngsters climbing through windows, murder intentional or otherwise, sinister automatons, and finally tales which somehow become true. But despite commonalities each story is very different, very distinct. Continue reading “Spine tingles”

Half sick of shadows

Georgian door

Jane Austen Sense and Sensibility
Edited with an introduction by Tony Tanner
Penguin English Library 1980 (1811)

Because [Elinor and Marianne] neither flattered herself nor her children [Lady Middleton] could not believe them good-natured; and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps without exactly knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify. It was censure in common use, and easily given.

With a title like Sense and Sensibility it’s easy to think this is merely a novel of contrasting dichotomies. Elder sister Elinor is the sensible one (“sense”) while her younger sister Marianne is the sensitive one (“sensibility”);  Continue reading “Half sick of shadows”

Passion, poetry and … biology

Lynn Margulis The Symbiotic Planet:
A New Look at Evolution

Basic Books 1998

I’m a sucker for popular science books. As a minor member of one of C P Snow’s Two Cultures, I am respectful of but in no way conversant with the scientific mind (and even less so with technology), so popular science writings are my way of consuming regurgitated scientific principles without too much indigestion. (Too many mixed metaphors, methinks.)

Lynn Margulis is a celebrated microbiologist who has, by all accounts, done sterling work on the relationships between bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Her main contribution to science is her endosymbiotic theory, which postulates Continue reading “Passion, poetry and … biology”

Zine, not herd


Magazines come in all shapes and sizes, finesse and finish, from professional to amateur, glossy to gauche. With its largely leisure associations it’s strange to realise the word has industrial and even military origins, from the Arabic makhazin (“stores”) through French magasin and Italian magazzino (“warehouse”), and on to its conflation with arsenal. It only acquired its modern meaning of periodical after the 18th-century Gentleman’s Magazine included it in its title to suggest a “storehouse of information”.

So we’re all familiar with the concept of magazines now but, innocent that I am, I’d never come across mini-zines before. So I was pleased to be sent (via an offer on Lory’s blog Emerald City Book Review) two Elsewhere Minizines. These really live up to their name. Continue reading “Zine, not herd”

Erudite yet entertaining

Maelstrom Carta Marina, WikipediaCropped version of Carta Marina.jpeg (Wikipedia Commons)

 A S Byatt The Biographer’s Tale Vintage 2001

The Maelstrom: how evocative that name is, the Charybdis that tempts you, the whirlpool that draws you down into its watery depths, a volatile spiral maze from which there is no escape. The Maelstrom, or Moskstraumen as the Norwegian original should really be called, features only sporadically in The Biographer’s Tale but its symbolism permeates the whole novel. Continue reading “Erudite yet entertaining”