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SandDune's books in 2012 Part 2

This is a continuation of the topic SandDune's books in 2012.

This topic was continued by SandDune's books in 2012 Part 3.

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Edited: May 19, 2012, 4:10pm Top

In honour of my user name I thought we'd have some pictures of sand dunes. This is one a few miles away from my home town in South Wales:

I'm amazed that I've managed to keep going as far as a second thread. Actually, I feel quite proud of myself and pleased that I've read as many books as I have. I didn't think that I read anything like that many.

Reading plans for the next few months include:

- starting my reading for my next English Literature module 'The Nineteenth Century Novel' which starts in the autumn. It's got a heavy reading list and I'll need to get ahead.
- Wales Book of the Year shortlist 2012 - only 3 in the English fiction section so at last a literary prize that I can cope with.
- Orange shortlisted and longlisted books
- and some light reading over the summer.

Edited: Aug 3, 2012, 1:30pm Top

Books Read in 2012:

47. The Forge of God Greg Bear **1/2
46. Gillespie and I Jane Harris ****
45. Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch ****1/2
44. How it All Began Penelope Lively ****
43. Ladder of Years Anne Tyler ***1/2
42. Going Out Scarlett Thomas ***
41. The Exotic Marigold Hotel Deborah Moggach ***
40. Anticopernicus Adam Roberts ***1/2
39. Pollyanna Eleanor H. Porter ****1/2
38. The Last Dragonslayer Jasper Fforde***
37. A Far Cry from Kensington Muriel Spark ***1/2
36. The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury ***1/2
35. The Translation of the Bones Francesca Kay ****
34. The Road to Wigan Pier George Orwell ****
33. Miss Lacey's Last Fling Candice Hern ***1/2
32. Tales from Outer Suburbia Shaun Tan ****1/2
31. Railsea China Mieville *****
30. Jubilee Lines ed Carol Ann Duffy ***
29. The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett *****
28. Little Women Louisa M. Alcott **1/2
27. French Children Don't Throw Food***1/2
26. A Passage to India E. M. Forster ****
25. The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited Stephen Armstrong ***
24. Junk Melvin Burgess ***1/2
23. Lady John Madeleine Robins **1/2
22. Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami ****
21. Wool Omnibus edition Hugh Howey****
20. The Other Side of Truth Beverley Naidoo***1/2
19. The Sisters Brothers Patrick DeWitt ****1/2
18. Jamrach's Menagerie Carol Birch ***1/2
17. The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter *****
16. Coram Boy Jamila Gavin ***
15. Quarantine Jim Crace**1/2
14. Voices in the Park Anthony Browne ****1/2
13. Mr Gumpy's Outing John Burningham ****
12. Dogger Shirley Hughes ***
11. The Arrival Shaun Tan *****
10. Pigeon English Stephen Kelman ***1/2
9. The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes ***
8. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. Mildred Taylor ****
7. Shipwrecks Akira Yoshimura ****
6. Sophia's Secret Susanna Kearsley ***1/2
5. Tom's Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce****1/2
4. Invitation to the Waltz Rosamond Lehmann****
3. Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome****
2. 100 Best Poems for Children ed. Roger McGough ***
1. Peter Pan and Other Plays J.M.Barrie ***

Edited: Aug 3, 2012, 1:02pm Top

Books acquired in 2012:

63. How it All Began Penelope Lively
62. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class Owen Jones
61. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Deborah Moggach
60. The Song of Achilles Madeleine Miller
59. Palace Walk Naguib Mahfouz
58. Going Out Scarlett Thomas
57. Ladder of Years Anne Tyler
56. The Making of a Marchioness Frances Hodgson Burnett
55. Talking to the Dead Helen Dunmore
54. The Comforters Muriel Spark
53. The Public Image Muriel Spark
52. The Ballad of Peckham Rye Muriel Spark
51. Moon over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
50. Death at Intervals Jose Saramago
49. In Defence of Dogs John Bradshaw
48. Miss Lacey's Last Fling Candice Hern
47. Middlemarch George Eliot
46. Northanger Abbey Jane Austen
45. Dombey and Son Charles Dickens
44. Far From the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
43. Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
42. Zola Germinal
41. Railsea China Mieville
40. Jubilee Lines ed Carol Ann Duffy
39. The Keys of Babylon Robert Minhinnick
38. Wild Abandon Joe Dunthorne
37. The Last Hundred Days Patrick McGuinness
36. Gillespie and I Jane Harris
35. Foreign Bodies Cynthia Ozick
34. The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
33. Pollyanna Eleanor H. Porter
32. Fortune's Daughters Elisabeth Kehoe
31. A Far Cry from Kensington Muriel Spark
30. The Magic of Reality Richard Dawkins
29. Children's Picturebooks The Art of Visual Storytelling Martin Salisbury
28. The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited Stephen Armstrong
27. The Complete Maus Art Spiegelman
26. Persepolis Marjane Satrapi
25. The Night Circus Erin Morgenstern
24. Wool: Omnibus Edition Hugh Howey
23. Lady John Madeleine Robins
22. Angry Arthur Hiawyn Oram Satoshi Kitamura
21. The Rabbits John Marsden Shaun Tan
20. The Complete Cosmicomics Italo Calvino
19. Mrs Harris goes to Paris Paul Gallico
18. True Grit Charles Portis
17. The Story of The Little Mole who knew it was none of his business Werner Holzwarth Wolf Erlbruch
16. The Magic Bed John Burningham
15. Gorilla Anthony Browne
14. Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
13. The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznik
12. Blow on a Dead Man's Embers Mari Strachan
11. The Small Mine Menna Gallie
10. The Flood Maggie Gee
9. New Finnish Grammar Diego Marani
8. Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Strout
7. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Ransom Riggs
6. Sophia's Secret Susanna Kearsley
5. Union Street Pat Barker
4. Call the Midwife Jennifer Worth
3. Pigeon English Stephen Kelman
2. Invitation to the Waltz Rosamond Lehmann
1. Dear George Helen Simpson

May 20, 2012, 7:17am Top

Nice opening photo, Rhian!

May 20, 2012, 7:21am Top

Hi Rhian - nice new thread, lovely picture:)

May 20, 2012, 8:00am Top

Beautiful photo, Rhian. Sounds like you will have some very interesting reading to share with us. I'm looking forward to hearing more from your next English Lit module.

May 20, 2012, 9:58am Top

Rhian - congratulations on your new thread and it kicks off with a very apropos photograph. South Wales is a very underrated part of the United Kingdom when it comes to physical beauty. I have cousins, an uncle and an auntie from Ebbw Vale and, of course, the mines dominated most things there but the Valleys were about much more weren't they. btw have you read How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn which I think is a brilliant if romanticised recreation of South Wales at a certain point of time?

Edited: May 20, 2012, 12:01pm Top


This is actually one of my favourite spots. I have fond memories of rolling down the dune as a very young child - you can see from the shadow it's casting that it's is quite high. When I first met my husband we used to walk there from my parents' house - it's about three miles, following the sand dunes all the way, until you get to this point where the sand dunes finish. There's a ruined medieval manor house hidden in the trees just out of sight, dating from a time when it wasn't all overrun with sand. Then you can walk through one of the only villages with thatched cottages in the whole of South Wales, cross the River Ogmore via the medieval stepping stones, past the ruined Norman castle and end up in the pub. Just perfect.

#7 read How Green Was My Valley years and years ago, but I remember enjoying it. All my grandparents and great-grandparents were miners or connected with mining in some way. We used to visit my great-aunt in Treorchy when I was small and I can remember as we crossed over into the Rhondda valley being able to see about four working coal mines from the top of the hill. All of which are gone now of course.

May 20, 2012, 5:38pm Top

One of my father's friends from our London days is a Welsh-born artist who gave Dad an absolutely chilling charcoal on paper drawing he made in the wake of a massive coal mining disaster there in the late 60s. I went looking to see if I could find an image -- it's a grieving woman in the foreground -- and couldn't find it alas, although I did find out that thanks to his later success Andrew is now the richest artist in Britain?? Well, he became a tax exile in Monaco '75, after starting to work for the Saudis (which has meant that I've had a free place to stay there for years!) and the last time I talked to him he had just bought Picasso's old farmhouse, but I didn't realize that he was still raking it in. Pity that I don't really like his later works! I have a fab pencil drawing of a Matlock gypsy, carefully placed out of the light chez moi, which I love, but that was done in the early 70s. He also had done a lot of sketching in Wales (he's from Port Talbot), and those drawings were among my faves.

The whole of Wales deserves more attention than it gets, IMO. One year, I'd love to walk Offa's Dyke... And there are sites in North Wales I'd like to see. And now that I have figured out where my own Welsh ancestors came from, I should probably go check that out, too!

May 20, 2012, 7:33pm Top

#9 I googled who this would be and came up with Andrew Vicari who suprisingly I hadn't heard of, given that as you say he seems to be the richest artist in Britain, and Port Talbot is the next town along the coast from my home town. Port Talbot always seems to have more than its fair share of famous sons though: Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen being the most famous. My Dad claimed that he acted in a amateur dramatic production with a very young Anthony Hopkins which could possibly be true, but he was never one to let the absolute truth get in the way of a good story so I'm not completely sure.

Would the drawing that your father has be from the Aberfan disaster in 1966? A spoil heap from the coal mine collapsed onto the village primary school killing nearly 150 people, virtually all children. I was only 5 when it happened so I don't really remember it but I remember the name of Aberfan sounding completely doom-laden throughout my childhood.

May 20, 2012, 9:05pm Top

Nice pic! I'd love to visit someday.

May 20, 2012, 10:46pm Top

1: Lovely colors!

May 21, 2012, 6:02pm Top

#11,12 Welcome to the new thread Jim and Katherine.

I have some new books to add:

Jubilee Lines: 60 poets for 60 years ed Carol Ann Duffy. This is a very unlikely purchase for me - being published to coincide with the Queen's diamond jubilee this year and me being an ardent anti-royalist. But the idea behind the book was interesting: one poem each by a different poet for each of the last 60 years, some dealing with events personal to the poet and others dealing with events affecting the U.K. as a whole. I heard a few of the poems on the radio and liked them so I thought I would try the collection. I keep meaning to read more poetry but sometimes find it a little inaccessible, and this has a clear theme that I can get a handle on.

Bring up the Bodies Hilary Mantel - Actually my husband bought this one - I have to confess that I haven't actually read Wolf Hall yet for no very good reason.

Edited: May 21, 2012, 6:17pm Top

Yes, Aberfan is the one I was thinking of. It's this immensely gloomy picture that gives me the same chills that the name gives you. It has hung on my father's wall for as long as I can remember.

So, I went back to google Andrew's name & the pic to see if I could find an image. I couldn't, but here is what I did find (and it's a story that amazingly enough I never heard from Andrew...)
"The drinks kept coming and the Krays were knocking back the gin one after another. At one point Reggie started to ridicule Ronnie because he had pledged to buy a painting by the famous artist Andrew Vicari, which was a work of art the artist had painted especially in support of the Aberfan disaster. Vicari was actually born in South Wales in 1938 and attended the Swansea College of Art. Ronnie had won the bidding to buy it for 1000 pounds which was a hell of a lot of money back then. "
(The Krays, of course, were a famously amoral set of criminal twins in London's East End.)

And in the small world category, my late colleague Danny Pearl interviewed Andrew for the WSJ back in 2000, after he and the Saudis had a spat. Andrew called me up in a huff to complain that the story made him look vain. Ahem... :-) Speaking of which, my mother says he appears to be lying about his age; in the late 60s, when we first knew him, he was older than my father. 1938 would make him a few years younger...

May 22, 2012, 1:18pm Top

#10 Andrew Vicari who suprisingly I hadn't heard of

I feel better now - I was slightly piqued by never having heard of him if he was such a famous artist so I did some more research and found an old article from The Guardian which said that despite being very well known elsewhere, he is virtually unknown in his home country. I feel less uncultured now I know it's not just me.

May 22, 2012, 1:18pm Top

Hi Rhian, just dropping by to say hallo and hope you enjoy The Land of Laughs when you get to it.

I remember learning about Aberfan even when I was in junior school in 1987/8 in Hertfordshire - I can't think why now, but clearly it was so devestating that it continues to echo.

I love the sound of the walk you used to take with your husband - clearly I shall have to explore South Wales a bit more. Beyond brief visits to friends in Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons, the only bit of Wales I really know is the mid-west (my grandparents lived half way up a mountain about 5 windy miles from Machynlleth at the bottom of Snowdonia National Park).

#10 "but he was never one to let the absolute truth get in the way of a good story so I'm not completely sure" ;o) Sounds familiar!

#14 Suzanne, I really want to see this sketch now!

May 22, 2012, 1:26pm Top

Nice new thread, Rhian. I love large dunes --- having grown up near an ocean......

May 22, 2012, 1:29pm Top

Fliss, I will take a snapshot of it when I go to see my father next month, and post it on FB.

I think one of the reasons Andrew has never become a household name is that he was always a representational/figurative artist, at a time when pop art and various forms of abstraction were what interested people. He did end up experimenting technically (leading to a lot of the newer stuff that I find garish) but never deviated from that. These days, that is a bit more common, with folks like John Currin in the vanguard, but in the early 70s, it wasn't bleeding edge. Among the Saudis, however... Somewhere in a bookshelf I have a book of mediocre poems that Andrew gave me that he illustrated with fab. sketches of desert scenes in Saudi Arabia -- must seek that out.

May 22, 2012, 1:46pm Top

Hi Rhian

Going back to your previous thread, I enjoyed the discussion about Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier and Stephen Armstrong's follow-up to it. My Orwell reading is rather deficient and somehow I hadn't heard of that book before but it was included in the British Library exhibition I visited last week so my interest is definitely piqued now!

Also sorry to hear about your horrendous experience with Dell but pleased that you might be getting some money from the finance company unexpectedly!

May 22, 2012, 2:06pm Top

#18 Thanks Suzanne! ;o)

Edited: May 22, 2012, 3:29pm Top

#16 The Brecon Beacons are lovely. My husband and son have a traditional of doing the classic Brecon horseshoe walk (Pen-y-Fan, Corn Du, and Cribyn which are the three highest peaks in South Wales) - they've done it every year since J was six. In the early years J used to get quite a lot of suprised comments that he had made it to the top, but no more (sniff). Here he is on the top of two of them age eight.

Generally, South Wales has some really lovely spots, but they tend to be more mixed up with old industrial areas than in the North and West (although that can be interesting). I'd particularly recommend the Gower penninsular and Pembrokeshire if you haven't been.

May 22, 2012, 3:28pm Top

I'm really glad that I looked for those previous photos as in doing so I found my holiday snaps from 2007 which I thought I had lost when we changed computer. I must have looked for them five or six times previously but of course today they were just staring me in the face. We are going to the same place for our holiday this year:

Ithaka for week 1:

Kefalonia for week 2:

(I think our apartment is just behind the biggest tree in the middle.)

May 22, 2012, 3:52pm Top

22> Cute young man and I want to spend a week in that apartment. Or two. :-)

May 22, 2012, 4:04pm Top

Rhian - Ithaca looks lovely as does South Wales in a more rugged manner of course. Would gladly spend time in both places - your son looks happy with them both apparently.

May 23, 2012, 3:51am Top

#24 Yes, he's always been really happy in the outdoors whether it's on top of a windswept mountain or a sunny beach. He does have a hankering to visit your part of the world though - somewhere rather more exotic. He has an ambition that the number of countries he's visited should always keep up with his age. At the moment he's 12 and has visited 12 countries. We didn't go anywhere new last year and we're not planning to this year so next year's holiday needs to be somewhere different! And it's our 25th wedding anniversary so I was hoping for somewhere a little further field, so you never know!

May 23, 2012, 4:21am Top

Congratulations on your second thread. You have some lovely pictures. I like the sound of Jubilee Lines - I'll look out for it. I'm looking forward to the Jubilee, and not just because the only other summer "entertainment" is the Olympics. London seems to be full of "Best of British" shop windows, combining the Jubilee and the Olympics without breaking any of the rules about Olympic-related advertising. And even Transport for London has a Jubilee tea towel!

May 23, 2012, 5:57am Top

Beautiful photos of both Wales and further afield.

I'm so impressed that you've taken your son to twelve different countries! We couldn't afford to go on holiday when my boys were very little and now they are resistent to going anywhere unless we can guarantee sour cream and chive Pringles will be easily available. (Sigh!)

May 23, 2012, 9:05am Top

Oh dear - I have just discovered that rather than being asleep on her bed as I thought, Daisy has spent the couple of hours that I was cleaning upstairs out in the garden chewing up J's cricket stumps. He will not be happy when he gets home.

#19 Heather, I'd recommend George Orwell. I think I've read all his books except Down and Out in Paris and London and Burmese Days and have enjoyed them.

#23 Hi Ellen, the Kefalonia photo is of Assos, which is an absolutely beautiful spot. There are just a few tavernas fronted by a very sheltered beach that's almost cut off from the sea. I'll post another picture if I can find a good one.

#26 Susan, in our household we're probably more interested in the Olympics, but that's grown over the past few years because we've got a sports-mad son. I think the Bejiing Olympics were the first ones I really paid much attention to for a very long time. Also, we're far enough away from London not to have any of the hassle, but near enough to make attending the games a straightforward day out. I can imagine that living as close as you do it all gets very wearing.

#27 Dee, I was quite old (38) when J was born and after not being able to afford many holidays in our 20's, we spent our thirties making up for it. I suppose by the time he came along we were quite settled in the type of holidays that we liked and just carried on. Suprisingly, the holiday that we've had that's worked least well was planned with him in mind. When he was 6 I decided that he needed other children to play with and more entertainment, so we stayed in a tent in a French campsite with lots of children's stuff laid on. My husband absolutely hated it - he said there were far too many British people and it didn't feel like being abroad at all. I won't say that it was a complete disaster but at one point I was seriously contemplating abandoning my husband to go and have a holiday with J somewhere else. J did like the campsite, but even so that holiday came quite low in his holiday rankings, compared with others. So after that we abandoned the family holiday idea and just went where we wanted. It does have the advantage that he is used to going to lots of different places so has always been fairly flexible about things like food, mealtimes etc.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 12:42pm Top

Here are some more pictures of Assos on Kefalonia. This is really making me want to go on holiday straight away.

May 23, 2012, 9:46am Top

I'm enjoying the conversations re. Wales. My father's family was from Bangor Wales. They settled a small community in NE Pennsylvania and gave the town the name of Bangor as a tribute to where they came from.



The area of Bangor, PA is rich in slate and those from Bangor Wales came to mine the slate.

I hope to visit Bangor Wales some day.

My mother's family is "Cornish"


May 23, 2012, 12:01pm Top

I've never been to Bangor itself (it's about as far from my part of Wales as you can get) but I was very close to it the Easter of last year when we had a trip to Snowdonia. It's amazing how many places in the U.S. have been named after places in the U.K. Several times recently I've seen an event mentioned on LT, and thought that I could go to it, and then I realise that rather than being in the U.K. it's in the U.S. town of the same name.

I've done some work on my family history and found that some of my great-grandfather's siblings emigrated to the U.S., but I've haven't yet tried to trace any of them. As a child my aunt told me that two female relatives from this branch of the family came back to Wales to visit, and were then drowned when they returned to the U.S. on the Titanic, but I've never been able to prove this one way or the other, as I can't remember their names and my aunt died some time ago. It might be true - she was a fairly accurate source of information on family history - a lot of the things she told me I have been able to corroborate - so you never know.

May 23, 2012, 4:32pm Top

Good Luck with your new course!

May 23, 2012, 4:53pm Top

Great list! I hope your course lives up to them.

May 23, 2012, 8:04pm Top

29> This is really making me want to go on holiday straight away. That makes (at least) two of us.

The reading list for your new course looks wonderful. Is this a course you're taking in the fall? (or teaching?)

Edited: May 24, 2012, 3:29am Top

#33, 34 Linda, Joe, thanks for the good wishes.

#35 Yes the course starts at the end of September, but the feedback from previous students says that the workload is high and unless you do a lot of the reading first it's very easy to get behind. Over the summer I plan to at least read Middlemarch and Dombey and Son as they are the longest, as well as Northanger Abbey and Jane Eyre which are covered in part 1 of the course. I'm definitely taking the course not teaching - no way am I qualified to do that!

May 25, 2012, 6:52am Top

We hoped when we got a dog that she would deter the black cat from the house behind us coming into our garden. He regards our garden as part of his territory and regularly beats up our own cat, who is a bit of a wimp when it comes to standing up for herself. Well it does not seem to be working. This morning when I looked out to see what Daisy was barking at in the garden I saw it was the black cat who was sitting on the wall. Far from being put off though, he ignored Daisy completely, and just jumped down into our garden to chase flies about. Daisy on the other hand looked very worried and retreated about 15 feet away from the invader.

I haven't done much reading recently - hopefully I will make it up over the weekend. After finishing my final assessment I just wanted to veg out in front of the TV for a bit, and we did find some good TV to watch: the Danish/Swedish production of The Bridge which I would very much recommend to anyone who likes crime thrillers. It comes a very close second behind The Killing in my list of favourite TV shows. We're also going through a box set of the Swedish version of Wallender. It's quite odd that such a lot of the things that I am really enjoying at the moment are in a Scandinavian language.

I've also been doing some work on my family history which I attack periodically. I'd promised my Mum that I'd do her a proper family tree of her grandmother's family as soon as I'd finished my course but there's a bit of work to do before it can be printed out in an intelligible form. She's been asking for ages, so I do want to actually finish it fairly promptly now, and it 's rather been taking up my reading time.

May 25, 2012, 9:53am Top

wow, great photos! (and the puppy photos from the last thread too!:)

May 25, 2012, 6:20pm Top

Wonderful photos all over your thread, and I love the reading list for your fall course.

I think I've read all of them at some point (I'm a big fan of 19th century novels!) except for Dombey and Son, Dracula, and Germinal--but I will be interested in following your progress through the course.

Edited: May 26, 2012, 5:16am Top

#38,39 I have to confess that the sand dune photo wasn't taken by us, although all the other ones were (at least on this thread).

#39 I wouldn't recommend Dracula - I remember thinking it was very melodramatic and hackneyed. It may be it's suffered from a century and a half of Dracula movies since, and it seemed a lot more innovative when first written, but I'm not 100% convinced. I didn't enjoy Germinal either but it is one of those books that has really stayed with me and I'm looking forward to the reread. I think when I read it first I objected to the portrayal of the coal-mining community, my own ancestors being coal miners, but I think I need to get over this. I'm beginning to wonder whether I have actually read Dombey and Son. I've definitely started it - but did I finish it?

May 26, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Fabulous photos, Rhian!

Edited: May 27, 2012, 5:22pm Top

After reading the review in yesterday's Guardian of China Mieville's new book Railsea I felt compelled to rush out and buy it before the shops shut. I do like China Mieville. Here's the review:


In the same paper there was also a short article about the relaunch of the Penguin English Library, the first books of which have been launched. Apparently this includes Dracula as well as other gothic works such as Matthew Lewis's The Monk, and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. There's obviously more to Dracula than I saw on first reading. Here is that article:

May 27, 2012, 1:45pm Top

I want to try Un Lun Dun but the copy in the library is so filthy that I refuse to touch it. One for the Kindle, I think, once I've cleared a bit of Mount TBR!

Edited: May 27, 2012, 5:01pm Top

#43 I'd really recommend Un Lun Dun - I read it with my son a few years ago but I'd definitely read it again as an adult. My absolute favourite of Mieville's books is The City and the City which I stayed up until 1 o'clock to finish. I picked it as my last reading group choice and I know several of the group members were very dubious about it beforehand as they didn't normally read any science fiction or fantasy, but in fact it was universally popular.

May 30, 2012, 3:12am Top

Have heard today that a friend's mother has just died suddenly. My friend has been going through an awful, awful time over the last couple of years because of a difficult marriage break-up, and it's so sad that she has now got to deal with this on top of everything else. Her mother was her only close family and I know they were close.

May 30, 2012, 10:13am Top

My heart goes out to your friend. Sometimes life kind of piles it on. :-(

Jun 1, 2012, 6:50pm Top

Hi Rhian! I'm not sure how I missed your thread, but I've starred it now. You've read some great ones so far this year. That course sounds good as well - Thomas Hardy is one of my favorites, believe it or not.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 2:47pm Top

29. The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett *****

This is a re-read, brought about probably by non-stop mention of the Queen on the U.K. media over the last few weeks as a result of the Diamond Jubilee, as well as being reminded of Alan Bennett in the context of libraries with the closure of the Kensal Rise Library in London, which was an issue on which he campaigned.

While out walking the corgis the Queen discovers the City of Westminster mobile library parked in one of the yards at Buckingham Palace, the only occupants being the driver/librarian Mr Hutchings and Norman Seakins who works in the palace kitchens. To be polite she borrows a book, a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett, and in line with her philosophy of life dutifully finishes it despite finding it very dry. Returning the next week, she finds herself borrowing The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford and so begins a love affair with reading which worries and irritates her staff, especially her over-conscientious private secretary Sir Kevin Scatchard, as once she begins to devote so much of her attention to books, she has much less attention to devote to the duties of being queen. A shared love of books liberates Norman from the kitchens to wait on the Queen personally, much to the irritation of the longer established staff, who manouever to get rid of him (and the books) from the Queen's life.

I love Alan Bennett's writing in general and I really love this book. I think it portrays beautifully the delights of reading: of how one book leads to another and how reading can been seen as a muscle that can be developed. The chasm between the reading world and the non-reading world is portrayed so well, for example where the Queen's equerries try to brief the people she meets about any likely conversation and warn them that:

'these days she was more likely to ask what the person was currently reading. At this most people looked blank (and sometimes panic-stricken) but nothing daunted the equerries came up with a list of suggestions. Though this meant that the Queen came away with a disproportionate notion of the popularity of Andy McNab and the near univeral affection for Joanna Trollope, no matter; at least embarrassment had been avoided.'

I should say at this point that I am a fairly ardent anti-royalist, who would vote to abolish the monarchy tomorrow if we had a referendum on the issue - not that that's at all likely of course. But that doesn't affect my love for this book which reads so much like a modern fairy tale.

Jun 3, 2012, 2:47pm Top

30. Jubilee Lines ed by Carol Ann Duffy ***

I've been slightly disappointed by this anthology of poetry. Edited by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, it is published to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee with each poet being given one year from the Queen's reign to commemorate in whatever way they chose, so the subject matters range widely from the birth of a child to political events. Again, not my normal sort of buy given my views on the monarchy but I heard three of the poems read on the radio and liked them all. But having read the whole anthology, unfortunately only one or two of the other poems grab me in quite the same way.

Here are excerpts from my favourites:

1955 Running Away to See Gillian Clarke

The dunes were molten glass. We slowed to a dawdle,
rippling sand with our toes, grains of gold
through our fingers, on our skin, in our hair,
wirhout words to say why, or who, or where.

This I remember. The hour was still, bees
browsing sea-lavender, and beyond the dunes
the channel as blue as the Gulf of Araby,
a name from the drowse of a day-dreaming lesson.

I'm prettty sure these are my dunes.

1985 Another Country Sean O'Brien

You stand for everything there was to loathe about the South-
The avarice, the snobbery, the ever-sneering mouth,

The lack of solidarity with any cause but me,
The certainty that what you were was what the world should be.

About the 1985 miner's strike in the U.K.

2012 The Thames, London 2012 Carol Ann Duffy

History as water, I lie back, remember it all.
You could say I drink to recall; run softly
till you end your song. I reflect. There was a whale
in me; a King's daughter livid in a boat.
A severed head fell from its spike, splashed.

The River Thames's recollections up to the River Pageant today.

Jun 3, 2012, 2:58pm Top

I love the sound of The Uncommon Reader - definitely one to look out for at my library.

Jun 3, 2012, 2:58pm Top

I loved The Uncommon Reader when I read it last year; I immediately went out and bought my own copy (I'd gotten it from the library) so I could read it again in the future. I absolutely love the ending :)

Jun 3, 2012, 4:58pm Top

I also chime in having loved The Uncommon Reader when I read it back in 2008. Quaint with the occasional nod to sage words of wisdom is how I remember it.

Jun 3, 2012, 5:57pm Top

Have booked tickets to hear China Mieville talk about his new book Railsea on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to this a lot - I really wanted to go to a talk by him last year but it was the evening before my son's SAT's and he needed moral support so we couldn't go.

Strictly speaking it is my book club evening on Wednesday but I have completely failed to read any of the book: Fortune's Daughters by Elisabeth Kehoe which just hasn't appealed at all. It is the story of the Jerome sisters, American heiresses who married into the British upper class at the end of the nineteenth century, one of whom was Winston Churchill's mother Jennie. As the blurb on the back says: 'an astonishing description of how to pursue a life of luxury as debt piles up on debt' - just not something that I really want to read about especially as it's 400 pages of really small print.

Jun 4, 2012, 3:33am Top

Lucky you, I've only read two of his books so far and have loved them both. Sounds like it will be much better than the book club chat.

Jun 4, 2012, 5:07am Top

I was trying to get hold of Fortune's Daughters last year, but mistakenly borrowed Sisters of Fortune, which had exactly the same theme, but different sisters (and was excellent). But I can see that 400 pages of non-fiction small print (with footnotes, no doubt) is something that you have to be in the mood for. Your talk sounds much better :-)

Jun 4, 2012, 7:11am Top

#47 Welcom Kerri, I've read quite a lot of Thomas Hardy in the past too, although not for some time now. I think Far From the Madding Crowd is one of my favourites, along with Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

#50 I'd definitely recommend The Uncommon Reader.

#54 I think China Mieville's about my favourite author at the moment although I haven't yet read all his books. I particularly liked The City and the City. It'll be interesting to see what he's like in real life - I always think from his pictures that he looks like someone you might not want to meet alone on a dark night!

#55 I thinks Fortune's Daughters is supposed to be quite good - it just didn't appeal to me. I read very little biography - I have to be very interested in the person the book is about to even be tempted, and I just wasn't interested in these sisters at all. For some reason I always find it easier to get through a novel which doesn't appeal than a non-fiction book. I find even if you don't personally like a novel you can still get something out of it as long as it's reasonably well written, whereas a biography is always going to be a slog if you don't want to know about the subject.

Jun 4, 2012, 3:28pm Top

#54: Yes, he does come across a little sinister with that shaved head & earrings. I watched the 'BBC Meet an Author' video online and he sounds really nice.

Jun 6, 2012, 8:07am Top

#56 - My favorite is Jude the Obscure, but I also love Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I plan to read a Thomas Hardy biography this summer as well.

Edited: Jun 6, 2012, 5:56pm Top

#56 Jude the Obscure is the only one of his main works that I haven't read. Its reputation for being really depressing has always put me off.

Just came back from the China Mieville talk, which I went to with my son. He came over as very intelligent and modest and incredibly well read. Slight confusion before the start as my son commented that he didn't look anything like his picture but then I realised that not having been to this sort of thing before he had assumed that China Mieville was the one manning the book sales counter.

Will post some more thoughts tomorrow.

Jun 7, 2012, 2:51pm Top

Yesterday's China Mieville evening took the form of him reading briefly from his new novel Railsea, which he described as a novel for all ages, and then a fairly lengthy question and answer session. Railsea is very much a homage to Moby Dick, but with whaling trains criss-crossing the railsea in pursuit of the great white mole, and he went through some of his influences both literary and film.

He had some interesting points to make regarding the use of fantasy and science-fiction elements in literary fiction, which he felt were usually but not exclusively used as a form of metaphor, whereas in genre writing they were used for their own sake. He felt that this frequently made the genre writers world-building more believable as they themselves believed in their own worlds more. He did think that genre writers and readers should be more critical of the quality of the writing that is being produced for their genre.

He gave his own obsessions as: monsters, octopuses, trains, rubbish and abandoned buildings, and felt he needed to ration the use of these in his books. Trains were now off the agenda for quite a few years as he had used them in Iron Council and now Railsea, and rubbish had several years to wait before it could be reused after Un Lun Dun.

A surprising comment was that he is currently spending a lot of time looking at Regency romances, although he wouldn't commit to whether or not he was considering writing something in this genre! He said he liked to analyse different genres to work out how they worked to use those elements in his own writing.

Jun 7, 2012, 2:59pm Top

Sounds like it was interesting and illuminating. Regency romance hmmm...

Jun 7, 2012, 3:01pm Top

I've been thinking about trying China Mieville for a while now and maybe suggesting him to my son. What would you recommend for me to begin with and possibly pass on to a fourteen year old?

Jun 7, 2012, 5:45pm Top

#62 I haven't read all of his books as yet - they do tend to be unusually different in character from each other. Un Lun Dun and Railsea are the ones aimed at young adults - it sounds like Railsea is aimed at a slightly older audience, but I think both adults and teenagers can enjoy Un Lun Dun as well.

Of his adult books I would start with The City and the City and I'd say a 14 year old would probably be OK with that as well. I picked it for my choice at my book club last year - I know that more than half of the group were extremely doubtful about reading it at all as they wouldn't normally have touched anything in the fantasy / sci-fi section of the bookshop with a barge pole (we pretty much read literary fiction normally) but it proved to be one of the most popular choices all year. It's basically a crime novel with a twist set in a (slightly) alternate reality, and it kept me awake for several nights after I'd finished it just thinking through some of the ideas. Kraken is also quite an easy read set in a slightly alternate version of London.

Some of his other books are set in the completely alternate world of Bas-Lag - with lots of alien species - if you want to go for one of these Perdido Street Station is the one to start with - but they are long and you'd probably be better starting with one of the others if you don't read much fantasy at the moment.

Jun 7, 2012, 10:11pm Top

Delurking to say fascinating discussion going on here. And I don't have to ask what to start with, having never read anything by China Mieville before because you already suggested The City and the City. So, I'll add that to my WL. Thanks, Rhian!

LOVED your review of The Uncommon Reader, by the way - it is already in my TBR, but I think I have to bump it up a bit after reading your lovely review.

Jun 8, 2012, 1:50am Top

Thanks Rhian. Un Lun Dun is the one I'm most aware of and have hovered over but now I'm very tempted by The City and The City too.

Also agree with what Mamie said about The Uncommon Reader. I have it on my TBR (ahem) "pile" and your review has suddenly made it look a lot more appealing. I love that you themed your reading over the long Jubilee weekend with that and at the Jubilee poetry compilation!

Jun 8, 2012, 1:23pm Top

Lovely review of The Uncommon Reader--I loved it too when I read it last year (appropriately enough on a flight home from London).

I've never read Jude the Obscure either but my favorite Hardy's are Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native--ESPECIALLY the Alan Rickman-narrated audio version.

Jun 8, 2012, 2:07pm Top

I'm another one who enjoyed your An Uncommon Reader review, and loved that book.

For it's worth, my sister and I are both Mieville fans, and neither of us liked Un Lun Dun. (We both read lots of YA, too, so that wasn't it). But we both loved The City and the City, and that's the one I suggest for those starting, too. I like your reasoning and comments on Perdido Street Station. Great to hear your book club, despite many doubters, ended up thinking well of The City and the City.

How interesting it must have been to hear him talk! Regency romance?! It's obvious he likes trying out different genres, or at least making them part of his own unusual works. Now we'll have to keep an eye out for what he's taken away from reading romances.

Jun 8, 2012, 4:28pm Top

#66 I can appreciate the Alan Rickman narration - he's got a wonderful voice. Back in the dim and distant past we saw him in the London stage version of Les Liaisons Dangereuse - he was so much better than John Malkovitch in the film version who I always though was miscast.

#67 I'd be interested to know what it was about Un Lun Dun that you didn't like? I've seen comments that it is the most British of his novels and I think that is definitely true. I've been thinking recently about why some books translate better than others between the U.S. and the U.K. My thoughts are that books with a really strong sense of place translate well even if the reader is unfamiliar with the place involved but others which depend more on shared experiences or cultural references do less well. I don't know if this is relevant here or not - just a thought.

I've just collected my first batch of six books for my course and am feeling slightly daunted. Even the ones which I had mentally put down as quite short (Jane Eyre and Germinal) seem to be much longer than I had remembered.

Jun 9, 2012, 6:08pm Top

Hi Rhian. Glad you enjoyed the China Mieville talk.

"I always think from his pictures that he looks like someone you might not want to meet alone on a dark night!" Hee hee! I've also thought the same thing!

I read Perdido Street Station a couple of years ago and was completely bowled over by it. I've picked up a few of his other books since then but for some reason haven't got round to reading them yet. Must bump The City and the City nearer the top of the TBR pile.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:06am Top

Sounds like a wonderful talk Rhian. I'll have to get hold of Railsea:)

Jun 10, 2012, 7:22am Top

#68: I had to read Jane Eyre for the Level One humanities course a few years ago and it was longer than I thought it would be. I've still got the paperback (ah, the pre-Kindle days) and just looking at it now I remember being a bit alarmed when I picked it up. Actually I'm not sure now that it was a course text, but more of a "you might also like to read" suggestion for one of the modules, which I assumed would be a quick read.

The talk sounds excellent. And I'm intrigued by the Regency romance aspect too! Everyone comes around to romance in the end :-)

Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 4:03pm Top

31. Railsea China Mieville *****

Described by China Mieville as a novel for all ages Railsea seems to me to be a young adult novel in the true sense of the words, rather than a children's book which has been given a YA label to appeal to 10 to 12 year olds desperately trying to prove that they are teenagers. Neither the vocabulary used or the construction of the book talks down to the intended audience: it's the subject matter and the age of the main protagonist which marks this out as a YA novel rather than any overt simplification.

What really interests me in a fantasy novel is the world that the author creates and it's frequently a desire to understand that world that keeps me turning the page rather than the plot. For me China Mieville does this to perfection. The world of the Railsea (which might be the Earth in a distant future after an apocalyptic event - or perhaps might not) is an incredibly constructed world where an apparently neverending tangle of train tracks covers dusty plains: a world where the earth between the tracks is a hugely dangerous place full of predatory animals. Packs of dog-sized naked mole-rats and great southern moldywarpes the size of small islands pursue earthworms as thick as a man's arm and are themselves pursued by the moling trains which ride the rails. If it is the Earth it is changed out of almost all recognition:

There are two layers to the sky & four layers to the world. No secrets there. Sham knew that, this book knows that & you know it too...

We're talking about the fourfold of the world. There is the subterrestrial where the digging beasts dig... The railsea, sitting on the flat earth, that is the second level... Extending forever... The lands & the countries & the continents are level three.... & over & above all that, where the peaks of the larger lands reach, protrude through the miles of breathable downsky into the upsky, above the borderline, are the cloggy, cloggy high-lands. On which poison-mist-&-dodgy-air-obscured levels creep, scurry & stagger cousins of the upsky flyers, poison-breathing parvenu predators.

But as well as the world-building Railsea has a plot worth paying attention to. Clearly inspired by Moby Dick it tells the story of the orphan Sham (or Shamus Yes ap Soorap to give his full name), an unenthusiastic apprentice doctor aboard the moling train Medes, whose captain is obsessed with finding the gigantic ivory coloured moldywarpe who was resonsible for her losing her arm. Sham is less clear on the direction his life should take, but has an fascination with arche-salvage - the searching out of incomprehensible and ancient remains from the wrecks that scatter the railsea and from the earth itself. But the finding of a much more modern train wreck containing the body of its former captain sets Sham on a course to discover what it is he truly wants to do.

Altogether, a marvellous book which has confirmed China Mieville as one of my favourite authors.

Jun 10, 2012, 3:42pm Top

#69 Heather, I enjoyed Perdido Street Station as well but for some reason it didn't grab me as much as some of his others have done,

#70 Welcome Calm - having finished Railsea now I'd strongly recommend it.

#71 Liking both Georgette Heyer and China Mieville I have to admit that it sounds a really interesting combination. I just can't quite imagine what a China Mieville written Regency romance might look like.

Jun 10, 2012, 3:46pm Top

Another very nice review, Rhian. I like the way you describe a story.

Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 5:36pm Top

32. Tales from Outer Suburbia Shaun Tan ****1/2

A surreal collection of stories written and illustrated by Shaun Tan, who has become one of my favourite author-illustrators of children's books. All 15 stories have a magical and whimsical quality which can equally be appreciated by adults as well children. From 'Eric', the story of the very unusual exchange student who leaves a wonderful present in his host family's pantry, to 'Our Expedition', where brothers discover that the world really does come to an end where their father's roadmap come to an end, to 'Distant Rain', which tells the story of what happens to all the unread poetry in the world - all are thought provoking and beautifully illustrated. In Shaun Tan's eyes suburbia is a strange and wonderful place.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:37pm Top

I liked the review of Railsea, too, Rhian. Sounds like one I'll want to read.

I love Shaun Tan, too, including this one. He first hooked me with The Arrival.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:51pm Top

#74 Thanks Mamie, I'm getting a little bit more confident at writing reviews now. I found it quite nerve-racking at first to write something that somebody was actually going to read.

#76 I read The Arrival earlier in the year and absolutely loved it. It was a library copy - I've got to get my own copy some day.

Jun 10, 2012, 6:53pm Top

OK, I have never heard of Shaun Tan before, but it sounds like I am about to make his acquaintance - I love the sounds of that book you reviewed Tales from Outer Suburbia. Another addition to my list - you are on a roll, Rhian!

Jun 11, 2012, 2:35am Top

#78 I hadn't heard of Shaun Tan before this year either. Some of his books were recommended as further reading for the picturebook section of my children's literature course.

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 12:19pm Top

#76 Hi Joe, I'm feeling guilty that you've posted on my thread several times but I haven't posted on yours at all. I think my brain works at a hugely slower pace than your thread seems to run, so I find it a little scary! I will pluck up courage one of these days.

Edited to add - as soon as I posted I realised I'd already replied to your post - you see how slowly my brain works!

Jun 11, 2012, 12:24pm Top

Wonderful review of Railsea! I've read Perdido Street Station, but that's it. I keep meaning to get to rest of the trilogy and some of the others. The talk you attended sounds fascinating. I almost heard him speak at a conference once, but he had to cancel at the last minute, due to travel issues. (By the way, am I the only one who finds him ruggedly handsome, rather than somewhat frightening?)

Jun 11, 2012, 12:47pm Top

>80 SandDune: Not to worry, Rhian! It would be nice to see you at the cafe if you have time, but we all have to balance LT and RL. We've got plenty of slow-goers, too, so don't worry about that. I just enjoy your thread.

Jun 11, 2012, 5:37pm Top

#81 am I the only one who finds him ruggedly handsome, rather than somewhat frightening?)

Kerri, actually having met him in person I can see what you mean. He just comes over as very, very nice - not scary at all.

Jun 12, 2012, 12:13am Top

Great review of Railsea. Adding to my Mieville TBR list.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 3:33pm Top

Have bought the following books for my son:

Ribblestrop Andy Mulligan
Ministry of Pandemonium Chris Westwood
Crawlers Sam Enthoven
Six Days Philip Webb
Blood Red Road Moira Young
The Ruins of Gorlan John Flanagan
Epic Conor Kostick

We're into pre-holiday planning mode which means he needs new books and he's read all the available ones from the current series that he likes (Artemis Fowl, Alex Ryder, anything by Philip Reeve, Timeriders books by Alez Scarrow, Percy Jackson, etc etc.). So that means finding new books - and quite a lot of them. Last few holidays we have probably taken about 10 books for him and he's got through most of them, and at various points we've had panic excursions to try and find a bookshop selling English language children's books in whatever European country we happen to be in at the time, from which I've drawn the following conclusions: The Netherlands - no problem; France & Germany - can be done in a big city; Croatia - tricky (although we did find a really good English language book shop in Split it had virtually no children's books). Last holiday he didn't get through quite as many, but I think that was more to do with the active nature of the holiday (we were in the Alps and the Jura) rather than any tailing off in the reading. But this time we've got a beach holiday which will have much more reading time and no TV for one week, and will be on a smallish Greek Island with no opportunities for book replenishment so we've got to get this right. The key idea is that if he is engrossed in his book we can also be engrossed in our books!

Some reading in France last year:

Anyway, if anyone has any recommendations for reading along similar lines I'd be very happy to take suggestions. He basically likes fantasy, anything realistic is usually rejected straightaway, and suprisingly he doesn't like historical fiction despite the fact that he loves history non-fiction. And any books with relationships, romance, etc etc are rejected even quicker.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 3:30pm Top

Mark and I both loved Blood Red Road, Rhian, and I'm a fan of the John Flanagan series.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 4:07pm Top

#86 I'm really hoping that the John Flanagan ones work out as I can see that there are an awful lot of them and if he likes them it will keep him going for some time.

Jun 12, 2012, 4:07pm Top

Has he read anything by Oisin McGann? I read the first in a trilogy Ancient Appetites a while back and have been meaning to get back into it, it's sort of steampunk/fantasy. Alison Croggon, Steve Augarde, Charlie Fletcher are others worth looking for.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 4:21pm Top

#88 Thanks Kerry - the Oisin McGann ones look like they might do the trick. He's read Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher before and didn't like it at all - I'm not sure why not. I'd picked it out as something that he would probably like but obviously it just didn't grab him for some reason.

Jun 12, 2012, 4:34pm Top

Another recommendation, if he hasn't already read them is the Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes. There are some parallels with Harry Potter: great characters you grow to love who have unusual abilities and make friends and enemies at an equally unusual school but this one is in Cornwall and has been set up by the government to protect the children from attention and to test those unusual abilities.

We all really enjoyed these!

Jun 12, 2012, 4:45pm Top

I've only read Stoneheart and hoped that the next two books sort of took off, but he might not have liked the boy-girl quibbling in it. The other trilogy that I just thought of is Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish - this was really fab.

Jun 12, 2012, 5:24pm Top

#90 He's read one Ali Sparkes book (not the Shapeshifter series) and enjoyed it so that might work.

#91 Monster Blood Tatoo looks really good.

I wish our library had a better selection of books for this age group. It's fine for younger children and then sort of loses it when they get to 11 or 12. His school does have a decent library and he does bring books home from there, but at the moment he's not brilliant at picking stuff. He always tends to go for the tried and tested rather than anything new.

Jun 12, 2012, 9:04pm Top

I just posted this for you on my thread because we had been talking about it, but I'll put it here, too, for easy access.

Okay, so thinking about books your son might enjoy, I was thinking back to what my son (now 17) read at that age and also about what my youngest daughter likes to read (she's 13) - she likes the kids of things you son does. She says, "I want adventure without all the drama of the mushiness!" So, here are my suggestions:

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

The Inheritance Cycle - the first one is Eragon

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians - this is the first in a series that fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson wrote for kids, and Birdy read every one of these

The Alchemyst - this is the first book on a series by Michael Scott, there are six books in the series so far and two novellas

Leviathan - the first in a trilogy by Scott Westerfield

Like Joe and Mark, I loved Blood Red Road. My middle daughter read the Flanagan books and loved them.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 9:42pm Top

Rhian - other fantasy series set in ancient Asia that might tempt him are Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori books or Carole Wilkinson's Dragonkeeper trilogy.
Here's a link to a 2011 booklist for boys by Wayne Mills, of the Kids Lit Quiz fame.

And he might still be a bit young but I also recommend The Borribles trilogy for future consideration, it's a favourite of China Mielville.

Jun 13, 2012, 3:01pm Top

#93, 94 Lots of really good recommendations here - thanks a lot. I remember seeing a review of Leviathan a while ago and thinking it looked ideal - and then I obviously forgot all about it. China Mieville mentioned The Borribles last week, and I'd heard of it before but for some reason I'd put it down as a book for younger children which I can see now it isn't.

When he was younger I had no difficulty at all in finding new books for him to read but I think in the last year or so I've taken my eye off the ball a bit. Probably because I've assumed that he will find more or his own books now - but as I said above - he still does need a bit of assistance.

Mamie, I really loved your comment of 'adventure without all the drama of the mushiness'. That seems to be how he feels exactly.

Jun 13, 2012, 5:22pm Top

I read The Borribles trilogy over the past couple of years and really loved it, probably would add it to my all-time favourite list if I ever made one. My younger children are in their later teens now so I've been around the YA fantasy field for a few years. Another writer worth looking out for is William Nicholson.

Edited: Jun 15, 2012, 4:42am Top

We listened to The Wind Singer on audiobook last year on holiday and J really liked it. So much so that he picked Book 2 to look at for his first reading project in Secondary School last September. Unfortunately that one didn't go down well at all - too much emotion from what I could gather. I think we'll definitely have a look at The Borribles though.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 7:16am Top

#33 Miss Lacey's Last Fling Candice Hern ***1/2

After China Mieville's comments about Regency Romances last week I've had a hankering to read one, and thought I'd try something other than Georgette Heyer for a change. This one seemed to have some quite good reviews on Amazon and while I didn't find it as good as Georgette Heyer, it was an enjoyable read.

Since Rosalind Lacey's mother died of illness when Rosalind was just 14, she has taken over the role of mother to her five younger siblings, which has left no time for any fun or amusement of her own. Now aged 26, past the age at which she is likely to find a husband, she persuades he father to let her go to London for a visit to her slightly disreputable Aunt Fanny so that she can experience a London season of her own, as her younger sisters have done. What she doesn't tell her father is that she is expereincing the same symptoms that her mother had in the months before she died, and has consulted a doctor who has confirmed that she has the same illness and has only months to live. Determined to enjoy herself whatever the consequences (as she will not be around to face them), and with the help of her aunt who was rumoured to be one of the lovers of the Prince of Wales when younger, she succeeds in taking London by storm. But of course as allways in this genre, there are complications.

(edited to add review)

Jun 15, 2012, 10:41pm Top

Marvelous photographs, specially the Brecon beacons.

Your course reading is so fine, so delicious, I expect you will enjoy every minute of it. I hope.

Edited: Jun 18, 2012, 12:21pm Top

Welcome Lucy, I am looking forward to the reading but it's a little daunting at the same time.

Jun 17, 2012, 3:42pm Top

Well, the first book that J's read out of the new pile has been a success - Epic by Conor Kostick. Unfortunately, he has no inclination to read the next book in the series which he says looks like the same plot rehashed with different characters. But at least he really liked this one - he was complaining yesterday that I made him stand outside the supermarket with Daisy for five minutes while I popped in to buy a newspaper, rather than letting him sit in the car so that he could finish it. But standing outside the supermarket is the best socialisation for Daisy that I know - apparently at least five people came up to make a fuss of her in the time I was in the shop.

A few weeks ago we were talking to the mother of one of the other boy's on J's football team who is a social worker in one of the more deprived parts of London. Apparently, a blue staffie like Daisy is the dog of choice for most of the problem families that she deals with. Whereas around here people think she is very unusual and all comment that they haven't seen a dog her colour before.

More books into the house: Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell and Merckx: Half-Man, Half-Bike by William Fotheringham. But not bought for me for a change. J bought the first one for his Dad for Fathers Day, and I've bought the second for A. for our anniversary tomorrow.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 7:16am Top

34. The Road to Wigan Pier George Orwell****

In 1937 George Orwell travelled through the cities and towns of Northern England investigating the living and working conditions of the unemployed and working class of England, in particular in coal mining areas, and this two part book was the result. The first part is a polemic detailing the sometimes appalling living conditions that poorer people had to put up with at that time, and the second a more discursive section on what should be done about it.

The first section stands up well today as historical evidence for some of the worst conditions of that period. In particular the chapters on housing and diet are sobering with the details of large families crammed into tiny damp, back-to-back houses with only one or two bedrooms and no bathroom, and with toilet facilities shared between dozens of houses. What I'd have liked, however, is some assessment of how widespread these conditions were among the working class in general at that time. I know from my own family that many people in these types of job did not always live in conditions such as those described. My mother, born the daughter of a coal miner in 1921, was brought up as one of three children up in a solidly built council house larger than any of those described in the book, which would be an acceptably sized house to bring up a family of that size today. My father, the youngest of six children of a stone-mason working at the same colliery, was brought up in a solid stone built privately rented house, which again would still be an acceptable house today. It may be that housing conditions in South Wales were generally better than those in Northern England (it's not a subject I know much about); my perception is that there was less wholescale slum clearance in South Wales than in the north of England which might suggest that the housing stock was better to start with.

As a member of what he describes as the lower upper-middle class, the Eton-educated Orwell was suprisingly sympathetic to the problems of 'the working classes', although perhaps as a consequence of his own background he does seem to consider working people as a homogeneous mass, all with similar aspirations and values, which I think leads him into over-simplification in some areas. For example he comments that 'Working people often have a vague reverence for learning in others, but where 'education' touches their own lives they see through it and reject it by a healthy instinct'. This doesn't ring true with the picture of my mother who left school at 14 in 1936 after coming fourth in the exam to win a scholarship to grammar school where only three places were available, and 77 years later has not completely got over her disappointment. Or my father who always resented the fact that he'd failed his grammar school exam because he had not been able to have private lessons in French.

So overall, a flawed but intensely interesting book, which has relevance today in the UK where falling levels of social mobility and the unaffordabilty of houses in many areas are key political issues.

Edited to add review.

Jun 18, 2012, 2:26pm Top

#72 Great review of Railsea Rhian (and thumbed). I need to read the two Mieville books I own but haven't read before I buy that one.

#75 And thank you for the reminded about Shaun Tan's other books - I'll reserve that at the library.

#85 I love the fact that your son likes reading so much. Did you know Philip Reeve has a new book out - Goblins. Not sure what the intended age is.

Another one I thought of is The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. It's a female protagonist but there's no romance/relationships at all. Quite surreal and funny. There's a sequel out in hardback (The Song of the Quarkbeast) and the third book in the trilogy is out this autumn.

Marcus Sedgwick might also be worth a try, the only fantasy one I've read is My Swordhand is Singing which does have some relationship stuff. Revolver doesn't but is more historical fiction than fantasy.

Patrick Ness might also be a good author to look out for as he gets a bit older (or they might be fine for him to read now. I find it really difficult to judge age appropriateness - sorry).

Terry Pratchett's written some young adult novels but I'm struggling to remember whether there was any relationship stuff. I don't think there was in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents or in Nation. There's also a series featuring a young witch, Tiffany Aching, which starts with The Wee Free Men. I think there is some relationship stuff in the later books but no mushiness.

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Coraline are also really good.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel might also be worth a try although I never read further than the first book for some reason.

Hope those suggestions give you some ideas - I feel like I've listed lots of things which might be helpful rather than given you anything definite to go on (and it's hard to imagine what I'd think of them if I were twenty years younger and male!)

#93 I second Mamie's recommendation for Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. There is a romance that very slowly develops as the trilogy goes on but it was very gently done. Not yucky.

Jun 18, 2012, 6:01pm Top

#103 Thanks for the recommendations Heather. He has read The Last Dragonslayer and did enjoy it. We're waiting for the sequel to be out in paperback. Ditto Neil Gaiman which he also enjoyed.

His school had Marcus Sedgewick for an author talk before Christmas and we had a look at his books then, but I think they might be a little bit old for him at the moment, although promising for a year or so's time. Similarly, Patrick Ness - he has read the first one of his trilogy but hasn't wanted to read the next and I think it's the subject matter's just a little bit too old still. Terry Pratchett's a good idea though - I've never been keen on his books myself so I'm not too familiar with them but they might be just up J's street. I'd not heard of Airborn so I'll look into that one.

Leviathan is definitely the one out of all the suggestions that I'd put most money on him liking, so I think we'll definitely be trying that one.

Edited: Jun 18, 2012, 9:45pm Top

Riveting (to me anyway!) review of Wigan Pier.

Back to say I wanted to thumb it but it's not posted on the review page, but perhaps you'd rather not put it there? Consider it thumbed in any case!

Jun 18, 2012, 10:22pm Top

simply stopping by and waving hi

Jun 19, 2012, 3:26am Top

#106 Hi Linda

#105 Lucy - I was intending to post it but it was 11pm and I was tired. I will get around to it today. I wish my copy of the book had a foreword and notes as I'd have really liked a dispassionate overview for comparison. That doesn't detract from the book - Orwell obviously pours his heart and soul into it, but at a distance of 75 years it would be helpful.

Jun 19, 2012, 4:27am Top

#102: That's an excellent review of The Road to Wigan Pier, Rhian. But I agree with you on the education comments. My grandmother (born 1898) had to leave school at 13 (she was living in NZ by then, though) but never stopped being interested in things, and reading, and was one of my biggest supporters when I wanted to go to University. Education had a huge value to her, and I think that, had she had the opportunities I have had, she would have made the most of every one.

Jun 21, 2012, 6:52am Top

#108 I do feel quite concerned that we're going back to the days when unless you were had a reasonable amount of money, university was just incredibly difficult. I went to university in 1979 which was probably the best time to go financially as everything was paid for and you still got a grant, and I can see that in the current economic climate we can't go back to that, but at the same time I think there must be a better way to do things than the current system. My next course with the Open University will cost £735 as I registered for a degree course before the fees went up; for new students it would cost £2,500 (unless I moved back to Wales in which case it would still be £735). That's a huge hike in costs.

I've got a copy of my Mum's final school report from 1935 showing her average mark as 91.6% - it's such a shame that someone who obviously loved school and learning so much was prevented from continuing, but it very much coloured my upbringing - education was almost a religion in our house. Here's my Mum's school photo age 5 in 1927 - she's second from the right in the second row:

At least her situation wasn't as bad as my husband's mother, whose father made her leave school at 14 when she really wanted to continue but made her brother stay on until 16 when he didn't want to, because 'he didn't believe in education for girls'. I'm pretty sure that my grandparents would have let her go to the grammar school if she'd got a free place even though they would have struggled with the cost of the uniform and books.

Jun 21, 2012, 7:51am Top

#109 - Thanks for sharing the photo and family story. My mother had a similar story in the U.S. in the late 40s/early 50s - A very bright student, but wasn't allowed to even consider college, because she had to start working. Tragic and infuriating.

Jun 21, 2012, 8:55am Top

#110 Hi Kerri, I'm sure an awful lot of families will have these stories if you go back far enough, whether the lack of opportunities came about through lack of money, or prejudice or class distinctions. And not just for girls - my husband's grandfather had a burning desire to teach, and the money and the opportunity was there for him to do so. But his father insisted he enter the family business as a baker. He was a baker for the next 45 years and disliked it all that time.

You wouldn't believe how long it took me to post that last photo. I tried to scan it on Tuesday night but the printer seemed completely unable to recognise that the printer existed when scanning (although it would print OK). After messing about with it for an hour I decided to phone HP customer support but they had all gone home. Yesterday had a 1 hour and 40 minute phone call with HP. The solution seemed to rest with uninstalling the printer software which the computer completely refused to do. HP went away to have a think about it, and I had another 2 hour phone call with them this morning when they did manage to get the software uninstalled and reinstalled again but scan to computer would still not work. They have given me a work-around using the printer IP address which is a bit fiddly but at least I can scan to the computer now. But to get it working properly the only thing they can suggest is a complete re-install of Windows on the computer which they say will definitely fix the problem. It seems what has happened is about a month ago we had a replacement printer from HP as the original one broke, and somehow when we switched the printers the original printer was not removed properly and the software has got confused.

Jun 21, 2012, 10:12am Top

Sounds about right. We had a similar incident that drove the s.u.(spousal unit) bonkers.

There were similar issues in my mother's family!!! Proper young ladies didn't really 'need' to go to college since they were going to marry well and etc. One aunt got into Bryn Mawr in the early 1900's but her father thought it would addle her brain and ruin her. My mother was one of the first to go to college and she married and got pregnant (after promising them she wouldn't do the latter) and so out she went after freshman year at Wellesley -- she did finish up at UPenn eventually, a pioneer in adults going back and then got an MS). On my father's side, Scottish Glaswegians mostly teachers and medical types, college even as far back as the 1880's was considered very important. I'm proud of that - when my daughter goes that will be 5 generations of college women on that side.

Jun 21, 2012, 10:34am Top

111: the software has got confused
Urgh, sympathies. I do this stuff for a living and it still drives me crazy.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 5:04am Top

Now I'm really annoyed with the computer. When J got home from school he discovered that his user account was completely inoperative - so another half an hour on the phone to HP. They insist it's nothing to do with the changes they made yesterday but i'm not convinced - they were messing around with user permissions a lot. They say that we have to do the restore thing as soon as possible but there's no way I can until the end of next week at the earliest. We can't risk the computer being non-operational for my husband's last week of term. The computer's only about 7 months old so I'm not happy that we have problems with it already.

What I want to know is this - at age 12 isn't J supposed to be better than me at this sort of stuff by now? I'm so looking forward to when that happens - at the moment any sort of technical issue is always down to me to sort out - I don't mind doing my fair share but I would like not to have to do it all the time.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 5:41am Top

#112 In my family it was my generation that was the first to go to university but I was the youngest of that generation by quite a long way and so by the time I came along it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would go. I can't actually remember ever thinking that I wouldn't go. Talking of Bryn Mawr, I remember the first time I heard of it being really surprised that a prestigious U.S. college had such a Welsh name!

Going back to housing conditions in the The Road to Wigan Pier I've dug out some recollections that my Dad wrote before he died, about his childhood in a mining village in South Wales in the 1920's. He paints a picture of poverty, but not the squalor and degredation described by Orwell. As I said above, I don't dispute that such conditions existed but I'd like to understand better how representative they were of the conditions of the working classes as a whole.

Here are some of his thoughts:

... Electricity came into the homes about 1925 when each house was allowed to have three bulbs only...

... The rooms then were called scullery, kitchen (or living room) where everyone lived and ate, middle room if one had a larger house, and parlour which I remember was always beautifully furnished but only seemed to be used for funerals. One was never allowed to go into the parlour, in case of making the room untidy, it always had to be left immaculate...

...as a large family we could not afford biscuits of any description...

...although there was not too much money around we were always well fed with plain food and well clothed...

...the other thing that I disliked (about his grandmother's house) was the toilet facilities as the only toilet was down the bottom (of the yard) and had no flushing, also it was very dark to use at night time...

I think I need to read some more social history of the U.K. in the early parts of the twentieth century.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 7:16am Top

35. Translation of the Bones Francesca Kay ****

This novel which was longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize is ostensibly about the effect of a supposed miracle on the members of a Catholic church in London. But it's about so much more than that: motherhood, suffering and the desire of human beings to belong. In fact I would say that it captures the emotion of motherhood better or at least as well as any book that I've read.

Mary Margaret, a devout woman with learning disbilities who helps with the cleaning of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, decides to give the statue of Jesus in the chapel of the Holy Souls a special clean. While balancing on a chair she thinks she sees tears from the eyes and blood from the wounds and that she hears the voice of Jesus speaking to her, and the shock causes her to fall and break her arm. But this is London in the twenty-first century where the diocesan office's view is that 'outbreaks of hysteria are to be discouraged. They are not healthy and do not give glory to God. The face of Our Lady on a pizza, Our Lord on a slice of toast! Such a load of hocus-pocus, with no place at all in the contemporary world.' But the effect of the miracle works out in unexpected ways: on Mary-Margaret herself; on her hugely overweight mother Fidelma, imprisoned in her flat by her bulk and her own childhood ghosts; on Stella Morrison, the wife of an M.P. who desperately misses her son away at boarding school, on Mrs Armitage worried for her adult son serving in Afghanistan; and on the parish priest himself Father O'Connell.

This is a beautifully written book - Kay can write just a couple of sentences that set out everything you need to know about her characters. Mary Margaret decides on buying materials to clean the statue at the Body Shop on the King's Road. 'The mingled scents she found there befuddled her a little, and she wasn't sure what to say to the powdery lady who bore down on her with an offer of help and a sample of glow enhancer. But she stood her ground and found the shelves of brightly coloured bottles arrayed under the heading Body Care. ... The containers came in two sizes; she chose the smaller. It was still expensive.' Someone who finds a Body Shop shop intimidating (a shop which is ubiquitous on British high streets) is clearly placed on the margins of society. And everything you need to know about Stella's relationship with her husband is in this paragraph: 'Stella did not tell Rufus anything of this because she knew he would not be interested. And he would not have time in any case to listen. He didn't get back from the House that night until eleven o'clock, and he was hungry. Stella was hungry too but Rufus expected her to wait for him; he disliked eating on his own. She cooked fillets of trout with tarragon and crushed potatoes and she listened while Rufus talked about the crisis over the MP's expense claims.

Altogether a lovely book although very sad.

Jun 22, 2012, 8:49am Top

This sounds like a book I could enjoy, probably more than this year's OP winner. WLed.

Both my parents didn't to college or high school either, but being born in Germany in 1945/1946, they had other worries during their childhood and youth than higher education. I was the first university student in my family (starting 1992) and even the first one with a high school diploma, but most of my younger cousins have followed me since.

I love those old school pics. The kids almost never smile, but you see they'd like to and were certainly told to look all serious. It must have been quite a job to get such a big group of 5year olds to stand still and look towards the camera.

Jun 22, 2012, 5:17pm Top

#117 I was quite surprised when I started studying the picture carefully how many of the girls had short hair, but then I realised that it was the 1920's and of course short hair was the thing.

Jun 22, 2012, 5:41pm Top

Lots to catch up on!

In my family, I think I'm only the second generation of women to have a full 4-year university degree. One grandmother worked as a nurse all her life, but that was on the job training back then; the other was (briefly) a nutritionist. Interestingly, I have two connections to pioneering women teachers. My g-g-grandmother was one of the first licensed female teachers in Ontario; the aunt of another g-g-grandmother opened one of the earliest schools in part of SW Ontario, back before licensing teachers was thought of. Neither had college degrees. Indeed, only one of my four grandparents had a college degree.

Rhian, your son sounds like the kind of obsessive reader I was at his age; my father sent me a bunch of family pics dating back to when I was 6 to 14, roughly, and there are several of me sitting on a picnic blanket with my nose in a book. Like you, we had difficulty finding bookstores on trips; my mother had to ration my books but they inevitably ran out. It obviously traumatized me, so I now travel with a dozen books AND my Kindle.

Sadly, don't have any suggestions to contribute as his tastes & mine are v. difft.

That said, a friend of mine was recently raving about China Mieville, and specifically The City and the City. He has almost pushed me to the point where I'll try it...

Jun 22, 2012, 8:18pm Top

Rhian I love your review of Translation of the Bones and it seems like we read it very similarly. And The Road to Wigan Pier review is very interesting and makes me curious about the book.

Jun 22, 2012, 10:15pm Top

Rhian - a little bit behind as I was - need to delurk to say:

Great review of The Road to Wigan Pier which is a classic of reportage in any era - and what a wonderfully striking cover.

Thanks so much for sharing your Mum's photo and story. My gran was an eloquent and passionate irish born / english raised lady not given the opportunity to fulfil her enormous potential and your own story and family experiences strikes a chord with me and mine. Don't think it was so much a gender thing as a class barrier that prevented them. In my own family I was the first to go to University amongst my cousins and none of my aunts or uncles ever had the chance. I am grateful to the UK government in retrospect for providing that to me and for my forefathers/foremothers for fighting for such an entitlement.
Your post #115 is particularly successful in evoking my own experiences too growing up in a Yorkshire mining village in a time of terminal decline and whilst the benefits of the welfare state were still able to be felt and not abused. We were considered fairly affluent for the area as my father, to be fair to him, was for all his faults a good provider although we rarely got to see him, bu my Auntie living in the same village had all those experiences of outside privies and a front room that nobody was allowed to enter.

The Francesca Kay also looks like a winner.

Have a lovely weekend.

Jun 23, 2012, 1:42am Top

Rhian, the photo of the school class is so sweet, and I also love their 1920s hair cuts, with the straight-across fringes.

Jun 23, 2012, 6:15am Top

I loved the class photo too and share your concerns about the (backwards) direction of further education.

There were a few things that annoyed me about Francesca Kay's treatment of a couple of her characters in Translation of the Bones but she can write beautifully and I agree totally about her ability to capture the emotion of motherhood. She does it heartbreakingly well at times!

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 7:04am Top

#119 Yes J is an avid reader - I think he probably reads for about an hour a day most days even if it's just dipping into a non-fiction book, and more on holidays. He does get quite traumatised without a book - if he walks home from school he can walk past the local Waterstones bookshop and it always seems to come as a surprise to him if we go somewhere where there isn't a decent bookshop within a couple of miles. I think he gets it from my husband - I remember a holiday on the Outer Hebrides (South Uist to be precise) a very long time ago when Mr SandDune insisted we go on a wild goose chase in search of a shop selling books. Needless to say there wasn't one - there weren't really many shops selling anything very much at all, but he insisted there had to be one somewhere.

#120 Hi Ann, I'm going to be looking out for her first book as well. Have you read that?

#121 Even when I was growing up my mother tried to keep our front room pristine. Despite the fact that it was a pleasanter room as it faced south, and always had more money spent on it for furnishings and decoration, we always used the other room. But by then it was an extremely old-fashioned idea and the only other people I came across who did this were of my grandmother's generation. By the time I was an older teenager Mum had to relinquish the idea so that I had somewhere to chat with my friends but she did so reluctantly.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 8:19am Top

It was Speech Day at J's school today and Mr SandDune had to wear an academic gown:

J thought he looked hilarious.

Jun 23, 2012, 10:35am Top

Mr SandDune looks very distinguished!

I meant to comment on your OU fees post above. I looked at doing the Level 2 philosophy course, but it is indeed £2,500, and I can buy a lot of pirate romances for that amount...I wonder how the OU will get on with the higher fees, because I think they have (or had) a lot of students studying just for fun or interest rather than for formal qualifications, and if they lose those people then it's going to have an effect on the range of courses they can offer for everyone. Like you, I was lucky enough to be at University when fees were low and there were bursaries available, and came out with no debt (although I did also work part time, and lived at home). The amount of debt these days is mind-boggling. I think it will certainly lead to an increase in vocational degrees like law, medicine, engineering and so on, because if you're going to spend all that money then there had better be a job at the end of it. It is going to be too expensive for people to spend three years doing a more general degree and then thinking about a career.

Jun 24, 2012, 1:22pm Top

I was approached by the author Stephen Benatar in Waterstones yesterday promoting his books When I was Otherwise and Wish her Safe at Home. I've read the first of these and enjoyed it and have the second sitting on the TBR shelf so didn't want to buy anything, but it reminded me that I need to read the second of these. Apparently his books are self published (although they don't look it) and he adopts a very personal approach to his publicity. Rather then sitting behind his table trying to catch someone's eye, he adopts a much more positive approach wandering around the bookshop approaching people individually to get them to look at his books. Surprisingly, as he is in his mid-seventies and seems very, very polite and old-fashioned, this seems quite a successful technique and he seemed to be doing quite well yesterday. Apparently he's very happy to attend book groups and I know that one of the members of our group has thought about selecting one of his books as her choice and asking him to attend our meeting.

I think he's an an author who deserves to be much better known and I must get around to reading another of his books.

Jun 24, 2012, 3:44pm Top

I read a newspaper article about Benatar which mentioned that he does this and has done for some time. It sounds bizarre but he obviously gets away with it, maybe because of the manners and old fashioned charm.

I think Wish Her Safe at Home has been published as a NYRB classic. I wonder if this means he has a publisher in the USA but not the UK?

Jun 24, 2012, 5:06pm Top

#128 I think Wish Her Safe at Home has been published as a NYRB classic. I wonder if this means he has a publisher in the USA but not the UK?

I think you're right. My copy is an NYRB classic - I think perhaps it's only his other books that are the self published ones.

#126 I think the fees hike at the OU will really put off those people who were thinking about starting studying but not yet sure about whether they can cope with a full degree course. I am really concerned the way education seems to be going these days for lower income students generally. Over the last couple of days I have seen reports that schools will only be funded for their students to do 3 A levels, which will mean that state school students will be disadvantaged when compared to those from independent schools who usually do at least 4 A levels. And also that mature students will not be funded to do A levels in Further Education Colleges, which seems to be the last thing you should be doing when we need to increase the education levels of the workforce.

Jun 24, 2012, 5:18pm Top

Rhian - Haven't seen or read anything by Benatar but he sounds an interesting fellow pigeon holing potential readers - he does sound a charming old guy I must say.

We do have slightly different ideas about choice in education but I must say that I thoroughly agree with your comments above about funding for "further" education. It is just plain wrong that the state will only fund three a-levels when it is getting ever harder to "qualify" for Uni - the government should be ashamed of itself. I came through the state system and did 4 A Levels (including general studies it must be added) and choice issues to one side you are right that education should not be about pounds and pence or dollars and cents.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:43pm Top

36. The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury ***

I'm not 100% sure about this one. I haven't read much Ray Bradbury - I think only Fahrenheit 451 - but I saw it on display in the library to mark Ray Bradbury's recent death and thought it was one of those books that I should have read, so gave it a go. My copy of the book doesn't seem to be a complete version as several stories mentioned in other reviews seemed to be missing from my copy.

Written as a series of interlinked stories in the middle of the twentieth century, the book tells the story of the first expeditions to travel to Mars, and its subsequent colonisation by people from Earth. But this Mars is not the planet that we know, but a canal crossed desert planet older than Earth, with a thin but breathable atmosphere, inhabited by an ancient civilisation. It's the Mars of H.G. Wells and other early science-fiction writers and it's very appealing. It doesn't matter to me that it's factually incorrect.

I found that the stories have dated to some degree, with the social structures very much those of America in the 1940's and 1950's. In the main this didn't worry me too much as I think that you need to judge books according to the values of when they were written - it's no good looking at a 60 year old book and expecting it to be written in the same way as a contemporary novel.

In the main I think my main problem with the book was in its depiction of the character of the first explorers and colonisers. Despite mainly seeming to consist of scientists and engineers of one sort of another, with very few exceptions the members of the early expeditions have hardly any curiosity about the planet which they have arrived at or about its inhabitants. In the story 'The Earth Men' for example, the members of the Second Expedition are disgusted to find that instead of being given the ticker tape parade that they seem to be expecting, they are treated as madmen for claiming to come from Earth. At no time do they show the slightest interest in what is around them, or consider that the Martians might reasonably be something other than delighted to see them or might even be hostile. They come over as a group of petulant small children who are upset at not being given a toy after doing something clever. As the colonisation of Mars continues it's obvious that Bradbury is making a point here about the effects of contemporary society, as the human colonisation on Mars starts to have as detrimental an effect on that planet as humans have had on the Earth of the book, but it just seems rather overdone.

So altogether I'm glad I read the book and I liked the style of writing and the ideas, but the characterisation and motivation of the characters just didn't quite work for me.

Jun 24, 2012, 5:53pm Top

#130 Based on my reading of When I was Otherwise I would certainly recommend giving him a try. I know that my friend was equally impressed by Wish her Safe at Home which I think is regarded as his best book. Apparently it was nominated for the Booker prize in 1982, and was thought by the chair that year (John Carey - who writes the preface to the book) to be one of the best books of that year - but this view was not shared by his fellow judges who found it disturbing. And then apparently his books just didn't take - so he has been self-publishing ever since.

General studies A level always seemed an odd one. We didn't do it at our school - I think it wasn't common to do it Welsh schools for some reason, although that didn't seem to cause any problems in applying to University. We had to do Use of English instead which was like an advanced O level. Getting into university is so much harder now, as far as I remember I got offers from all my university choices and the highest grades I was asked for was CCD. I dread to think what it would be today.

Jun 24, 2012, 6:09pm Top

Loved Mr. SandDune in his finery and your review of Wigan Pier!

Jun 24, 2012, 6:20pm Top

Hi Rhian,
I am FINALLY catching up on your thread! I'm marking some of the earlier messages about books for your son as favourites, because I suspect they will be useful in 3 or 4 years - Fletcher is an avid reader now but not ready for any of the titles you've mentioned yet. If he has a pile of good books, he is happy, but he is amusingly picky already so I bring home loads of different series and one-offs.

You've got me lookimg up Mieville in the library catalogue. I might see if I can borrow The City and the City - it's way out of my usual reading zone so you have been very persuasive!

Jun 24, 2012, 9:36pm Top

I went for Politics, History and English at University and applied to Warwick, Newcastle, Aberystwith, Lancaster and UEA. I got offers from the first four as the last one was, I'm sure slighted that the comprehensive schoolboy had deigned to place them last on his UCCA form. I think my offer was CCC. Changed to Construction Management after a year when I realised I would never get a job with my chosen and, much preferred, course.

Jun 25, 2012, 3:51pm Top

#134 Has Fletcher tried the Larklight series by Philip Reeve, sort of steam punk for 8-12 year olds, or The Phantom Tollbooth? They're aimed at a slightly younger age group and Jacob really liked those.

#135 I applied to Sheffield, King's College London, Leeds, Leicester and UEA, and did Zoology at Sheffield in the end which wasn't the most marketable course either. But then I became an accountant and in my experience most accountants have degrees that have absolutely nothing to do with accountancy so that didn't really matter.

Jun 25, 2012, 5:51pm Top

Zoology in Sheffield - appropriate location for such a course - it's a jungle out there!

Edited: Aug 3, 2012, 1:04pm Top

No posting for a few days as I have been compiling my list of my favourite books from 1900-2011, which took longer than I thought:

1900 Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
1901 The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix Potter
1902 Anna of the Five Towns Arnold Bennett
1903 The Call of the Wild Jack London
1904 The Tale of Benjamin Bunny Beatrix Potter
1905 Where Angels Fear to Tread E.M. Forster
1906 The Man of Property John Galsworthy
1907 The Tale of Tom Kitten Beatrix Potter
1908 A Room with a View E.M. Forster
1909 none
1910 Howard's End E.M. Forster
1911 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
1912 The Lost World Arthur Conan-Doyle
1913 Pollyanna Eleanor H. Porter
1914 none
1915 The Rainbow D.H. Lawrence
1916 Trifles Susan Glaspell
1917 Summer Edith Wharton
1918 none
1919 none
1920 In Chancery John Galsworthy
1921 The Black Moth Georgette Heyer
1922 The Enchanted April Elizabeth Von Arnim
1923 Riceyman Steps Arnold Bennett
1924 A Passage to India E.M. Forster
1925 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
1926 Winnie-the-Pooh A.A. Milne
1927 The Midnight Folk John Masefield
1928 The House at Pooh Corner A.A. Milne
1929 Goodbye to All That Robert Graves
1930 Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
1931 none
1932 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
1933 Frost in May Antonia White
1934 Miss Buncle's Book D.E. Stevenson
1935 The Stars Look Down A.J. Cronin
1936 South Riding Winifred Holtby
1937 The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkein
1938 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day Winifred Watson
1939 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
1940 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
1941 Frenchman's Creek Daphne du Maurier
1942 The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis
1943 none
1944 The Wind on the Moon Eric Linklater
1945 Animal Farm George Orwell
1946 An Inspector Calls J.B. Priestley
1947 If This is a Man Primo Levi
1948 Cry, the Beloved Country Alan Paton
1949 1984 George Orwell
1950 The Grand Sophy Georgette Heyer
1951 The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
1952 The Borrowers Mary Norton
1953 Childhood's End Arthur C Clarke
1954 The Fellowship of the Ring J.R.R. Tolkien
1955 The Magician's Nephew C.S. Lewis
1956 Harry the Dirty Dog
1957 The Leopard Giuseppe di Lampedusa
1958 A Bear called Paddington Michael Bond
1959 Tom's Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce
1959 Cider with Rosie Laurie Lee
1960 Our Ancestors Italo Calvino
1961 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
1962 The Slave Isaac Bashevis Singer
1963 The Spy who Came in From the Cold John Le Carre
1964 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
1965 Frederica Georgette Heyer
1966 The Witch's Daughter Nina Bawden
1967 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
1968 The Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K Le Guin
1969 The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K Le Guin
1970 The Tombs of Atuan Ursula K Le Guin
1971 Dragonquest Anne McCaffrey
1972 Watership Down Richard Adams
1973 The Inverted World Christopher Priest
1974 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John Le Carre
1975 The Periodic Table Primo Levi
1976 The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins
1977 The Road to Lichfield Penelope Lively
1978 The Far Pavilions M.M. Kaye
1979 The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
1980 Rites of Passage William Golding
1981 Goodnight Mr Tom Michelle Magorian
1982 On the Black Hill Bruce Chatwin
1983 Waterland Graham Swift
1984 Empire of the Sun J.G. Ballard
1985 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
1986 The Stone Raft Jose Saramago
1987 Moon Tiger Penelope Lively
1988 A Time of Gifts Patrick Leigh Fermor
1989 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
1990 Possession A.S. Byatt
1991 The Kitchen God's Wife Amy Tan
1992 Pigs in Heaven Barbara Kingsolver
1993 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
1994 Feersum Endjin Iain M. Banks
1995 Behind the Scenes at the Museum Kate Atkinson
1996 Neverwhere Neil Gaiman
1997 The Subtle Knife Philip Pullman
1998 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets J.K. Rowling
1999 Girl with a Pearl Earring Tracey Chevalier
2000 The Amber Spyglass Philip pullman
2001 Atonement Ian McEwan
2002 The Crimson Petal and the White Michael Faber
2003 The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time Mark Haddon
2004 Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood
2005 A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian Marina Lewycka
2006 A Brief History of the Dead Kevin Brockmeier
2007 The Arrival Shaun Tan
2008 The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman
2009 The City and the City China Mieville
2010 Room Emma Donaghue
2011 The Sisters Brothers Patrick Dewitt

Five years from which I have not read a single book. For some of the early years before the World War I it definitely seemed to be all or nothing - I either had at least 2 really good books competing for top slot or nothing at all. In some cases I hadn't even heard of any books. Some years are weak in particular 1994, 1984, 1983, 1973, 1971, 1941, 1916, 1917. I enjoyed the books I've put down, but I can't think that they were the best works published.

Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 5:53am Top

I've realised that one thing the list is telling me is that maybe I ought to read the Anne of Green Gables books which I completely missed out on as a child. They'd fill in a couple of the holes nicely. We spent a week on Prince Edward Island in 2008 within walking distance of the Green Gables house and we didn't go, much to the disgust of two friends of mine whose main reasons in visiting Canada were to do just that. I've been feeling slightly guilty about not having even read the books ever since.

Jun 29, 2012, 9:07am Top

Fabulous list, Rhian! I think you've come the closest to Paul in reading a book every year from 1900-2011, right?

Jun 29, 2012, 10:40am Top

#140 I don't know - I thought that several people had a fairly complete list but I could be wrong. The early years of the century are really down to me having read a lot of E.M. Forster and Arnold Bennett, as well as Beatrix Potter. (Although I wouldn't have had three Beatrix Potter books if I had read more in those years, I would have retained The Tale of Peter Rabbit which I absolutely love.) The years around the first World War were definitely the hardest, and then things got quite easy for the 1920's and 1930's - I used to read a lot of fiction from this period.

There were some really good books that I wanted to include but they clashed with another favourite: The Old Wives Tale Arnold Bennett; Just William Richmal Crompton; Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf; Redundancy of Courage Timothy Mo; The Shipping News Annie Proulx.

Jun 29, 2012, 10:47am Top

I have to switch into proud mother mode for one post. J. came home today from his last day at school before the holidays with a Gold Certificate for the UK Junior Mathematical Challenge, which means he was in the top 6% of candidates doing the challenge in the UK as a whole.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:45pm Top

37. A Far Cry From Kensington Muriel Spark***1/2

This is the book choice for my next book club meeting. I haven't read much Muriel Spark before - just The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which I'd enjoyed a lot, and I'd heard good things about this one, so came to it with high expectations.

Written in 1988, the narrator Mrs Hawkins reflects back over 30 years to when she was an overweight, 28 year old war widow living in a respectable but somewhat down-at-heel rooming-house in Kensington. Her current life is clearly a far cry from her life then, and even by the 1980's Kensington is also a far cry from what it was in the 1950's. (I looked it up and the average property price in Kensington today is a somewhat staggering £1,500,000 - and that includes flats!) As an editor in a small publishing company she is increasingly irritated by the untalented and annoying Hector Bartlett, eventually accusing him of being a pisseur de copie, literally a urinator of journalistic copy. But the offended Hector has a powerful friend in the shape of the best-selling novelist Emma Loy who manages to get Mrs Hawkins sacked from not just one but two publishing jobs.

As the problems multiply in Mrs Hawkins's working life, so also do her problems at home. Wanda, the Polish dressmaker living on the floor beneath her, starts to get threatening letters and phone calls - a mystery which Mrs Hawkins attempts to resolve. And in doing so her professional and private life become entangled in a surprising way.

I did enjoy this book - it's a really evocative portrait of this period - and I like Muriel Spark's writing style. There are some gently funny sections. But somehow the plot lost me about three quarters of the way through: the denouement just seemed too unlikely and not in keeping with the characters as they had been established earlier in the book. So a good read but not a great one.

Jun 29, 2012, 7:20pm Top

Hi Rhian! I've been away from LT for awhile and I'm making the rounds and catching up on threads. I am now caught up on both of your threads. I'm too late to join in any of the interesting conversations, so, I'll comment on the photos.
Daisy is gorgeous. I love her coloring.
Nice pics of the son and of Wales. I have no idea where Ithaka or Assos, Kefalonia are, but I will look them up and hopefully get there someday. They seem beautiful and isolated.
Impressive reading list for your new course. Happy Reading!

Jun 29, 2012, 7:42pm Top

Hi Rhian - I think I'm caught up now after being away for a bit. Also, I forgot to compliment you on the excellent and thoughtful review of The Road to Wigan Pier way up there. On the wishlist it goes.

Jun 29, 2012, 8:26pm Top

Rhian - Muriel Spark was a wonderfully quirky writer and A Far Cry From Kensington is representative of her better stuff.
I think Casvelyn got a complete 20th C list too if I'm not mistaken.
Have a lovely weekend and I hope the weather is a bit brighter back in the old country.

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 12:06pm Top

Here is my list from 1811 to 1899:

1811 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
1812 The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm
1813 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
1814 Mansfield Park Jane Austen
1815 Emma Jane Austen
1817 Persuasion Jane Austen
1818 Frankenstein Mary Shelley
1819 Ivanhoe Sir Walter Scott
1820 none
1821 none
1822 none
1823 none
1824 none
1825 The Talisman Sir Walter Scott
1826 none
1827 The Betrothed Alessandro Manzoni
1828 none
1829 The Chouans Honore de Balzac
1830 none
1831 none
1832 The Lasy of Shalott Arthur Lord Tennyson
1833 none
1834 none
1835 none
1836 none
1837 Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
1838 none
1839 The Fall of the House of Usher Edger Allen Poe
1840 none
1841 The Old Curiosity Shop Charles Dickens
1842 none
1843 A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
1844 none
1845 Modern Cooking for Private Families Eliza Acton
1846 Book of Nonsense Edward Lear
1847 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
1848 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Bronte
1849 Shirley Charlotte Bronte
1850 David Copperfield Charles Dickens
1851 none
1852 none
1853 none
1854 Hard Times Charles Dickens
1855 North and South Elizabeth Gaskell
1856 Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
1857 Tom Brown's Schooldays Thomas Hughes
1858 none
1859 Adam Bede George Eliot
1860 The Mill on the Floss George Eliot
1861 Great Expectations Charles Dickens
1862 Les Miserables Victor Hugo
1863 The Water Babies Charles Kingsley
1864 none
1865 Wives and Daughters Elizabeth Gaskell
1866 Felix Holt, the Radical George Eliot
1868 The Moonstone Wilkie Collins
1869 He Knew He was Right Anthony Trollope
1870 none
1871 Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There Lewis Carroll
1872 Erewhon Samuel Butler
1873 Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne
1874 Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
1875 none
1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
1877 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
1878 The Return of the Native Thomas Hardy
1879 A Dolls House Henrik Ibsen
1880 Heidi Johanna Spyri
1881 none
1882 The Prince and the Pauper Mark Twain
1883 Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
1884 The Complete Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales Hans Christian Anderson
1885 King Solomon's Mines Rider Haggard
1886 The Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy
1887 The Woodlanders Thomas Hardy
1888 Plain Tales from the Hills Rudyard Kipling
1889 Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome
1890 The Picture of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde
1891 Tess of the D'Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
1892 Diary of a Nobody George Grossmith
1893 none
1894 none
1895 The Time Machine H.G. Wells
1896 none
1897 Dracula Bram Stoker
1898 The War of the Worlds H.G. Wells
1899 Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. E. Somerville M. Ross

Far more gaps here - I just haven't read the right authors to fill in the 1820s and 1830s, but not too bad after about 1845.

Jun 30, 2012, 9:22am Top

#144 Hi Kelly - Kefalonia & Ithaka are two of the Greek Ionian Islands, off the west coast of Greece in the direction of Italy. Assos is just a little village on Kefalonia. We're off on holiday a week today and I am so looking forward to it, although a little bit worried about the best thing to do money wise. Rumour has it that with all the uncertainty about whether Greece will or won't stay in the Euro, a lot of restaurants have stopped taking credit cards, and there have been reports of low limits on the amount of cash that can be taken out from ATM's or even ATM's running out of money. Usually I don't like taking a lot of cash on holiday, just pay by credit card and get some cash out from an ATM when needed, but I think we are going to have to carry more cash this time.

#145 Hi Kerri - nice to see you passing through.

#146 Paul, weather is a bit better here in the south-east - hence a surprising amount of play at Wimbledon considering what it has been like - all the bad weather has moved north though where they have had floods, massive hailstones and severe travel disruption. It said on the news this morning that April, May and June have been the wettest on record in the U.K. which I can well believe.

Jun 30, 2012, 9:57am Top

Rhian I have always wanted to do the Greek islands and I'm sure that you will have a whale of a time - probably good that people go and spend there to help you poor sods get some liquidity.
Wettest months on record, but what do you hazard on a water shortage being declared as soon as the sun shines for a fortnight.

Jun 30, 2012, 11:43am Top

#149 Until a few weeks ago we did have an official drought in place and a hosepipe ban - not that any one would want to water their garden with a hosepipe while the torrential rain poured down day after day. But that has now been lifted despite the water companies insisting earlier in the year that rain in spring and summer was the wrong sort of rain and would not fill up the reservoirs because it all evaporated. Obviously there is a limit to how much rain can evaporate!

Jun 30, 2012, 12:06pm Top

Rhian what marvelous lists! I haven't yet got past 1950..... I can't wait to see what I find on the 1800-1899 list! Happy to see Return of the Native, the Irish RM, Moonstone, such gems! You know there is an audio book of Alan Rickman reading the Return of the Native which is utterly swoon-making. Utterly. And the only book he's done, drat it.

Jun 30, 2012, 4:43pm Top

#151 I actually found the nineteenth century list a lot easier. I either had read some classic book that had stood the test of time or I hadn't. Whereas in the 1990's say I'm sure I read loads of good books that weren't prize winners or hugely popular but as I wasn't tracking my reading then it's difficult to remember.

Jul 1, 2012, 12:17pm Top

#116 Translation of the Bones was one of the books on the Orange list that really caught my eye - glad to hear you enjoyed it. I'm trying to hold out until the paperback's out.

#126 Wow, that's a huge increase in the price of the OU courses. I've occasionally thought about taking an OU course for fun but that price puts it completely out of my range. It seems really sad.

#131 I've got The Martian Chronicles lined up for next month - I haven't read much Bradbury before, only Fahrenheit 451, so it will be interesting to see how this one compares.

#142 Go J! I was a maths geek at school too.

#147 I really struggled with the 19th century before 1835 too - I hadn't realised how much of Victorian reader I really was!

Jul 1, 2012, 4:23pm Top

Hi Rhian, so nice of you to visit my thread and comment on The Remains of the Day : ). I love your 19th century list, full of many favourite classics.

Gorgeous photos of Wales and Greece!

Jul 1, 2012, 4:24pm Top

#153 I definitely couldn't afford the OU fees at their current level either, but as I have already registered for a degree course I can still pay for the courses at the old level of fees. But it does mean if I want to finish my degree I have to take a course every year and can't have a break, otherwise I have to pay the full fees.

Started watching the Tour de France yesterday - together with the Six Nations rugby tournament this is probably the key sporting event of the year in our household. This year we're going to be on holiday for the last two weeks so my son wants to record every day's highlights programme and watch them back to back when we get back! We wanted to be back in time for the Olympics - originally on the grounds that we would be able to get more tickets than we did. Eventually we only got tickets for handball and volleyball but we might also go and see the cycling road race.

We finally got to see J play cricket this morning. He'd been picked for three matches before but in line with the awful weather all summer they were rained off. He was really nervous as it was his first ever match but he did quite well and got a wicket, so should be more confident next time.

Jul 1, 2012, 4:35pm Top

#154 Welcome to the thread Nancy - I hope to be posting more Greek photos in the not to distant future when I get back from holidays.

Jul 2, 2012, 12:18pm Top

Hi Rhian,
What a lot of treasures there are on offer here! I love the mining town reminiscences, the old school photos and thoughts on the educational accomplishments of previous generations. Also lots of great reviews. The more I hear about China Meliville, the more I think that I need to check out some of his stuff soon. I also have The Martian Chronicles on my TBR pile, so that was an interesting review for me too. Also, lots of other books I haven't heard of that you are now getting me interested in.....keep up the excellent work!

Jul 2, 2012, 12:37pm Top

>152 SandDune: Rhian I found doing the 19th century list to be much easier too. Fewer books in all, and even fewer that I've read.

I also thought it was a lot of fun--it gave me a real sense of the chronology of literature in a way I don't think I've ever had a reason to think about before--my 19th century reading has tended to be somewhat compartmentalized, so I have a timeline in my head for American literature, and an unrelated and non-overlapping one for Russian literature, etc. It was interesting to see who popped up when!

Jul 2, 2012, 1:58pm Top

#157 Welcome Hannah I've been enjoying your thread too but I've got a bad habit of lurking and not posting things on threads as often as I should.

#158 Doing the lists made me realise that I have got some gaps in my reading. Apart from reading some Steinbeck and Hemingway (not much) I have really read very little American literature from the nineteenth or earlier twentieth centuries. And I think I need to read a lot more Russian literature - I've hardly touched on that either.

Went to the dentist again today as a piece of my tooth broke. It seems it is the tooth that I had problems with earlier in the year and I will have to have it crowned, but they won't do it until I get back from holiday.

Jul 2, 2012, 2:10pm Top

159: I've got a bad habit of lurking and not posting things on threads as often as I should.
Delurking for a moment to say me too...

Jul 2, 2012, 2:30pm Top

159/160 - Ditto:)

Jul 2, 2012, 4:06pm Top

I'm taking a few minutes today to visit threads and yours is one that I have sadly, woefully neglected. Tis a pity because I so enjoyed visiting here.

Your husband does indeed look distinguished. I am enjoying the conversation regarding a college education and the cost of such.

I work in academia as a publications adviser. The tuition here is very unaffordable for the "average" American. I believe it now tops aat $55,000 per year, not counting room and board.

Because of economic circumstances, my grandmother had to quit school in 8th grade. It was expected she would earn her keep and help support the family.

Indeed, she was one of the smartest (and most kind) ladies I've ever known. She would have benefited greatly from formal education.

But, I do wonder how it would have changed her. I truly loved her for her kindness, compassion and consideration. Those are all qualities that education cannot impart.

Jul 2, 2012, 8:29pm Top

I feel bad too that I haven't read Anne of Green Gables! I just spent Canada Day in Cavendish and none of our group wanted to go see any of the Green Gables sites. I should add it to my TBR pile too!

Jul 3, 2012, 10:43am Top

Hello SandDune,
I know it's already quite some time ago that you had the discussion on Mieville, but I really enjoyed that. I have only read Kraken and Embassy Town which I both liked very much for different reasons.

I also like your picture frome Wales. I have not been there for some years, but my son likes to go again - as he has got so many good memories from that time. I think our son's are about the same age. My son is 13 at the end of the month :)

Jul 3, 2012, 10:52am Top

Great lists Rhian and you've reminded me of Harry the Dirty Dog which was one of my favourite picture books when I was a kid. I don't think I had my own copy but we borrowed it from the library a lot!

Jul 3, 2012, 6:14pm Top

#160,161 Hi Qebo and Calm - thanks for dropping by.

#162 Linda $55,000 seems a huge amount. The highest fees here are £9,000, so £27,000 for a normal three year course, unless it's a course like medicine which would be longer and of course that's before room and board as well. When I went it was completely free, with a grant for maintenance so it was possible to leave university debt free.

#163 Chelle, I hope you enjoyed P.E.I. as much as we did. I would probably have got to the Anne of Green Gables sites left to myself but I was out-voted by husband and son who thought it was too girly.

#164 Hi Drachenbraut, yes my son is 12 - not 13 till February. Glad yours likes Wales so much - there are some really nice spots.

#165 Dee - I never discovered Harry the Dirty Dog as a child myself but it was J's favourite book when very small and I really loved it as well.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:46pm Top

38. The Last Dragonslayer Jasper Fforde ***

I've been rushing around like a mad thing all week and this has provided just the sort of light relief I needed. It's not a great book but it was good fun. I think that this is the first book that Jasper Fforde has written for a YA audience. I've tried some of his stuff for adults before - well when I say I've tried it I've picked up a book, read the first few pages and put it down again - but they havn't really appealed. But based on this I might give him another go.

Jennifer Strange is a foundling and the acting manager of Kazam, one of the few remaining Houses of Enchantment in the UnUnited Kingdoms. But magic is not what is was, the powers of wizards and soothsayers are fading, and the House of Kazam is reduced to the provision of mundane services such as organ delivery by magic carpet or the magical rewiring of houses. But then a soothsayer has a premonition that the last dragon will be killed by a Dragonslayer on the following Sunday, which means that the dragonlands, protected for centuries, can be claimed by whoever gets there first after the dragon's death. Followed by the fearsome but loyal quarkbeast, nine-tents velociraptor and one tenth Labrador, Jennifer's life gets very complicated.

Jul 5, 2012, 2:40pm Top

After a really busy week am now fairly organised for going on holidays. We've had the annual audit at work this week, which meant that I've been a lot busier than usual, and then I've been sorting out all the packing as well. Got over all the usual panics about lost bits of documentation which I normally have before holidays, and everything has been found except J's EU insurance card which we realised was probably in his wallet when it was stolen on his school trip to Germany before Christmas. Am now feeling really guilty about putting Daisy into kennels - I'm sure she'll be OK but I don't think she'll like it very much.

Jul 5, 2012, 3:42pm Top

US college tuition -- especially for the elite private universities -- has reached utterly obscene levels. Kids either have to be born into well to do families or take on large amounts of debt to complete degrees. Let's say you luck out by getting into Harvard. Well, you'd better opt for a career that will pay well, or have parents with $$, because otherwise you'll be struggling with debt into your 40s. And student debt can't be discharged via bankruptcy. One thing that I do wonder about is whether the sky high fees mean that teaching caliber is better at the top colleges in the US? If that is the case, it's simply something else that reinforces inequity in the US, and that is contributing to a further widening of the wealth gap.

Jul 6, 2012, 8:24am Top

#169 At least here you don't have to start paying back the student loan until your income reaches £21,000 and then it's repaid at 9% of income above that. I think if your income never reaches that amount then you never actually repay anything.

Off on holiday in a couple of hours so will probably be posting less frequently - unless I can find a reliable WiFi source. Don't want to run up huge bills on my phone.

Jul 6, 2012, 8:25am Top

Have a great time, Rhian! I'm sure the weather will be better, at least :-)

Jul 7, 2012, 2:25am Top

Have a fantastic holiday, Rhian!

Jul 7, 2012, 4:29am Top

I hope you have a wonderful time, Rhian.

Jul 7, 2012, 2:23pm Top

Ha! I had no idea Fforde wrote a YA book. Have a wonderful holiday!

Jul 7, 2012, 5:19pm Top

Have a great vacation!

Jul 8, 2012, 3:30pm Top

39. Pollyanna Eleanor H. Porter ****1/2

I started reading this a couple of months on my kindle when I needed some extra-curricular reading to illustrate one of my points for my final assessment on my Children's Literature course, and I picked it up again on the plane to Greece, probably because I'm a nervous flyer and needed something non-taxing for the flight. It was one of my childhood favourites and I was prepared to be disillusioned - I read What Katy Did last year and came away wondering why I had ever enjoyed something so apparently sanctimonious - but that didn't happen. I could see exactly why I had loved Pollyanna as a child and sat there on the plane sniffing at the sad bits and wishing I had remembered to pack the tissues in the hand luggage.

For those that don't know the book, here goes. Incredibly happy young orphan girl Pollyanna goes to live with her bad-tempered spinster Aunt Polly in the early years of the twentieth century. Pollyanna's cheerfulness touches the heart of everyone she meets, changing lives and eventually melting the heart of the stone-faced Aunt Polly. Obviously there's more plot than that but that's it in a nutshell. Incredibly sentimental and I loved every minute of it.

I have to say though that I can't imagine a modern child reading and enjoying it the way I did. Childhood's moved on too much. But I still loved it.

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 3:34pm Top

40. Anticopernicus Adam Roberts ***1/2

A novella, this one, or maybe a long short story. An enjoyable read - I think science fiction often works well in a short story format, as it's often the ideas which are the most interesting and they can be conveyed quite quickly.

The human race has made first contact with an alien race. An alien spaceship has appeared on the edges of the solar system and initiates contact with humans. It seems that the aliens have studied Earth for some time and have learnt English but their communications are confusing and make little sense. They will come no nearer to Earth than the Oort Cloud and a spaceship is dispatched to meet them: a journey that will take at least a year. Meanwhile, Ange Mlinko, initially expecting to be one of that spaceship's crew, is dispatched on a routine flight to Mars instead. But the two events become intertwined in a surprising way and our basic assumptions about the way the universe works are brought into question.

Jul 8, 2012, 3:38pm Top

I loved Pollyanna!! Great that it has stood up well.

So are you there? (Doh, you must be.) Is the weather gorgeous?

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:49pm Top

41. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Deborah Moggach ***

I struggled to decide what I finally thought of this book. Initially I didn't like it very much at all: the characters seemed stereotypes and their situations didn't seem altogether believable, and at the beginning the book jumped around introducing one character after another at some depth so that I seemed to lose track of the earlier ones. However, it did grow on me halfway through. How much this was due to an improvement in the book and how much to the fact that I listened to the second half of the book on the terrace of our holiday apartment in Greece looking out over the Mediterranean, I'm not sure. I listened to this as an audiobook and I think it would have been better read: I'd have probably read it more quickly and enjoyed it more.

Ravi's father-in-law Norman is the bane of his life: blacklisted at all the local care homes for his lecherous attention to the female staff, he is once more living with Ravi and his wife Pauline in London. After he accidentally sets fire to their kitchen, Ravi pours out his troubles to his cousin Suni, a businessman on a visit from his home in India, who comes up with a solution to Ravi's problem and a idea for a new money spinning venture at the same time. Why not outsource the old people of England to India: Indian prices would be so much cheaper that their retirement savings would pay for a much better standard of living. The perfect venue is found: The Exotic Marigold Hotel, a slightly run- down establishment which is reminiscent of the last days of the British Raj. The old people are collected: Norman himself; Evelyn a self-effacing woman lost in the modern world without her husband; Dorothy, an ex BBC producer who was respected but not much liked in her profession life; Muriel, a working class woman from Peckham who lives for her son Keith; and several more. All are transplanted to India, where as seems usual in this sort of book about India, they undergo various transformations as they find their true selves in the community of the hotel. And that's one of the reasons that the book falls down for me: I'm not a great believer in a change of country being a huge life-transforming experience - the people themselves are still the same. Those who make a success of retiring abroad always seem the ones who were reasonably happy in the UK anyway - unhappy people generally take their unhappiness with them. Certainly with the film of the same name I get the impression that you were supposed to come away with a lovely fuzzy warm feeling, which I didn't get from the book.

Jul 9, 2012, 1:06am Top

Enjoy your holiday!

I loved Pollyanna too but haven't reread it for a long time. But reporting in on a "modern child," my 17 year old also loves it.

Jul 9, 2012, 8:50am Top

I think I'd read the book before seeing the Hayley Mills movie, and I was disappointed by the sappiness of the movie, the book was a good read.

Jul 10, 2012, 10:53pm Top

Rhian -Not sure what happened. Somehow I lost your thread. But now I have found it again, and I will keep a closer eye out. I'm off to catch up on all that I have missed over here.

Jul 10, 2012, 11:37pm Top

The book sounds as if the characters were slightly different -- I may try to read it. I did like the movie, but not as much as my mother did. I think the acting made it work so well. I agree re audio books -- listening is a very different experience altogether.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:51pm Top

42. Going Out Scarlett Thomas ***

Luke is 25 and has not been outside his house since he was 7 years old: he has a rare disease known as XP which means he is allergic to sunlight. His best friend is his neighbour Julie, who is equally trapped by her own fears in a town where she has never really fitted in. Expected to get straight A's at A level with a place waiting for her at Oxford, she deliberately failed her exams and is now working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant. But when Luke is contacted on the internet by a friend of a friend who claims that he can cure him, it means a trip to Wales involving a VW campervan with dodgy brakes, a homemade spacesuit made out of wellies and aluminium foil to keep Luke out of the sun, and a driver (Julie) who insists on using only B roads. And various friends who all have issues of their own.

Altogether not a great book but a fairly relaxing read. The details of the plot and its repercussions seem a little far fetched but the characters are believable. In particular, it's very evocative of the area: the Essex towns bordering the A12 between East London and Colchester.

Jul 13, 2012, 3:09pm Top

I saw Going Out in a charity shop in York recently but was so weighed down with other books by the time I saw it that I left it there. It does sound intriguing but you only gave it three stars so maybe I didn't miss too much!

Jul 14, 2012, 9:07am Top

#171,172,173,174,175,180 Thanks for the holiday wishes everyone. We're having a lovely holiday - it is hot - about 35degrees most days (sorry no idea what that is in Fahrenheit), but being as we are not going very far from the water, and the sea is cool and the beaches usually have some shady trees on them, it is not a problem. So far we've spent most days pottering up the coast on a little boat or snorkelling.

#180 Anne, it's nice to know that Pollyanna is still appreciated. Not having a girl myself I find it difficult to judge what they might like.

#181 Lucy, I've never seen the film but I would imagine there's great scope for over sentimentality.

#182 Hi Mamie - I'm forever losing threads myself. I think it comes of usually looking at LT on my iPhone or iPad.

Jul 14, 2012, 9:48am Top

#185 Dee, Going Out is quite fun. I'm changing my rating system so that *** is a reasonable read that I enjoyed instead of just OK. It probably works much better for a UK reader than a non-UK one as there are a lot of references to Essex stereotypes which a non-UK reader wouldn't pick up on.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:52pm Top

43. Ladder of Years Anne Tyler ***1/2

I haven't read an awful lot of Anne Tyler which is surprising as I really enjoyed The Accidental Tourist which I read years ago. I picked this up under the impression that it was a new book, which confused me rather when I started reading it as the main character just didn't seem believable for a contemporary novel. Then I noticed that it was first published in 1982 and it made a lot more sense.

Delia Grinstead is the wife of a family doctor and mother to two teenage boys and a girl. Married at 18 to her father's assistant, she has always lived in the same house in the same town. Increasingly, her family don't seem to need her or even to particularly notice that she's around. When she realises that her husband had thought about marrying one of her father's three daughters before he had even met them, so that he would inherit the practice, she becomes disillusioned with her life. Initially beginning a (very chaste) affair with a man she meets in the supermarket, she eventually walks away from her family on a beach holiday and does not return. And it's symptomatic of her place in the family that no one is sure about her height, or her eye colour, or what she was wearing.

Anne Tyler paints the day- to- day realities of family life very well in this novel, and it's reminded me that I need to read more by her.

Jul 15, 2012, 9:58am Top

1982! My goodness! How the time flies. I have more or less read Tyler's novels as they come out, although I am one or two behind at this point. For all the calm surfaces of her books, there is often a motherlode of bitterness and a sort of .... puzzlement at how messy life is..... lurking behind things.

Jul 15, 2012, 3:55pm Top

Nice review, Rhian. I have that book on my WL thanks to Lucy. Hope you are having a great weekend. Hope J is reading something excellent!

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:53pm Top

44. At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories Kij Johnson ****

An early reviewer book this one, and I realised as soon as I looked at it that I had already listened to the first story, '26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss', on EscapePod, a science-fiction story podcast that I used to listen to quite regularly. A selection of 18 fantasy/ science fiction stories which mainly feature animals to a greater or lesser degree. There were a few I didn't like but in the main the stories were really enjoyable: several of them I think I'll remember for a long time.

My three favourites were:

'At the Mouth of the River of Bees': a woman travelling with her dog in Montana comes across a police road block - the road ahead is closed due to the River of Bees. Not a normal river in flood as she originally thinks but a river made up of living bees.

'The Man who Bridged the Mist': in an unknown land a bridge builder comes to construct a bridge over the river of mist which separates the two halves of the empire. But not ordinary mist, caustic swirling mist which can rise up and destroy riverside villages, and in which live mysterious creatures which no one has ever properly seem.

'The Evolution of Trickster Stories among the Dogs of North Park after the Change': after the change, an event which is never explained, dogs and other domestic animals are able to talk. But humans become less and less comfortable with the changes that this brings to their relationship with their pets and dogs are abandoned to live as strays.

Jul 16, 2012, 3:30pm Top

#189 there is often a motherlode of bitterness and a sort of .... puzzlement at how messy life is..... lurking behind things. Lucy, that is such a good way of putting it.... a sort of quiet disillusionment with how things have turned out.

#190 We're still in Greece - crossed over from Ithaka to Kefalonia on Saturday - so weekend went very well. We're having such a relaxing holiday and I'm getting such a lot of reading done - quite different from our last few holidays where we have been touring around and sight-seeing much more so not as much reading time. Weather has been hot - I was reading that it was the jet stream being too far south which is giving the UK such bad weather but heat waves in the US and Southern Europe - but tonight there is a big storm so we can hear the waves crashing on the rocks beneath our apartment. I find it quite relaxing as it reminds me of home - I was brought up very near the sea and I could always hear the waves pounding if there was a storm. J seems to be enjoying his holiday reading at the moment - he's not yet read all his books, which is good.

Jul 16, 2012, 5:38pm Top

Rhian - SO glad to hear that you are having a good time. And Greece - how fabulous! I love vacations where you really feel like you get to relax, but you are also in a wonderfully different location. Safe travels and may Js books hold out until you return home.

Jul 16, 2012, 6:50pm Top

Rhian - lovely to see that you are having such a relaxing time on the Greek isles. Always wanted to see them myself. Hopefully you will post up a few photos when you are safel home.

Jul 16, 2012, 7:39pm Top

Sounds like a lovely holiday so far. I hope you are having some fantastic meals as well. I've been looking through a few Greek cookbooks lately and must admit I'd love to pop over to eat lunch in a local taverna.

Jul 17, 2012, 2:49am Top

#193 We've been to the Greek Islands a few times and it's our number one destination for a relaxing holiday. I have actually manage to get J to read a book on the kindle as he really wanted the new Artemis Fowl book which wasn't published until we were away, so I'm not as worried about him running out of books as I was. If he'll read one book on the kindle he'll read another.

#194 Yes, pictures will follow when we get back - much too complicated to post when travelling.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:54pm Top

45. How it All Began Penelope Lively ****

I used to read a lot of Penelope Lively and then around ten years ago we had a big clear-out of our bookshelves and I got rid of most of the old Penelope Lively books that we had (except Moon Tiger, one of my favourites. I think I had just read too many of her books in a short space of time and was a bit bored. And now of course, I'm regretting that we no longer have those books and want to re-read them. How it All Began is her latest book, written at the age of nearly eighty, which deals with the ramifications spreading out from a single chance event, and in doing so deals beautifully with the realities of ageing and family life. So it covers the same areas as two of my recent books, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Ladder of Years, but I think does it better than either of them.

Charlotte is mugged: an independent woman in her seventies, she is forced to move in temporarily with her daughter and son-in-law while her broken hip heals. But the ramifications from her accident spread far beyond her immediate family. When her daughter Rose is forced to cancel her trip accompanying her employer, Lord Henry Peters, an ageing historian, he asks his niece Marian to accompany him instead, which forces her to text a cancellation to her married lover that is picked up by his wife. And without the ever efficient Rose, the lecture notes are forgotten, forcing Lord Peters to confront the signs of his own ageing as he stumbles through a talk that would once have been child's play for him. And Charlotte's introduction of an Eastern European immigrant to her daughter's house, as she continues to give the reading lessons which she has previously provided in class, has implications for Rose's own future.

Altogether a very good read: in detailing the different reactions of Charlotte and Lord Peters to the aging process it seems to provide much more insight into the realities of growing old than did The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I think that I'll be going back to read more Penelope Lively in the near future.

Jul 18, 2012, 1:55am Top

#195 Kerry I have to admit that Greek cooking isn't my absolute favourite - after 2 weeks it starts to get a bit samey - not like Italian or French which I could happily eat for the rest of my life. But saying that we have has some really good meals and I really love the whole Greek taverna experience, especially when you're eating within a few feet of the sea. J loves eating outside full stop and is very taken with the cats - I don't know if you've been to the Greek Islands but there are always some cats who feel that the restaurant is their territory and miaow at you for bits of fish. On Ithaka his record was seven cats around our table, which I think will stand for the holiday as there aren't quite as many cats where we are now.

Jul 18, 2012, 6:19pm Top

I'm a fan of Mediterranean food in general so all that sounds good and especially love the small tavernas, trattorias, bistros etc etc. I've had my share of Greek Island food from a couple of stays on islands in the past but am due for a revisit and you remind me of the fish restaurants in Tiberius beside the Kinneret, they too were known for the stray cats, not sure if it has changed since I was last there. I remember visiting a small island on a lake north of Milan that was jam-packed with cats, just can't remember where it was exactly.
Your son might like to read The Last Black Cat by Eugene Trivizas, quite a good read and set on a Greek island.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:58pm Top

46. Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch ****

This is actually my husband's book - bought for his birthday by J after recommendation by me. But for some reason I didn't fancy it myself - I'd put it down as more of a male book - I'm not quite sure why - and it's not as if I normally read particularly girly books. Anyone I started reading this on holiday and really enjoyed it. A sort of urban fantasy police procedural in a London where magic is a reality, although that is not apparent to the general public.

At the end of his probationary period with the Metropolitan Police, Constable Peter Grant is guarding the crime scene of a murder in Covent Garden when he is accosted by a ghost who claims to have valuable evidence about the crime. Following this lead brings Peter into contact with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a self-proclaimed wizard, and the sole member of the police department that deals with magic. More murders follow, seemingly law-abiding members of the public start acting in anything but a law abiding way, and to add to Peter's troubles violence flares between the sons of Father Thames and the daughters of Mother Thames (who suprisingly is Nigerian) in the river gods' battle for territory along the river.

A really fun read this one - but I think to appreciate it fully the reader needs at least a vague knowledge of the geography (and maybe some history) of London as it's very bound up in the place. Incidentally the British title Rivers of London seems much more appropriate than the US one 'Midnight Riot' which refers to only one event from the book, whereas the rivers theme runs throughout the book. And I love the British cover as well which features a section of Stephen Walter's The Island London Series. I saw the original print in the Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library recently: it's a beautifully complicated depiction of London as an island, separated from the rest of the UK, which is often how it seems in reality. I'll try and post a link when I get back from holiday as it's well worth taking a look at if you're at all familiar with London. This is the first in a series, and I'll be definitely reading the next one in the not too distant future.

Jul 19, 2012, 10:09pm Top

LOL re J and the cats -- that would be me!!

I think I had read something about Rivers of London; may need to read this.

I did read the Penelope Lively book and loved it -- elegant prose, pitch-perfect story, intriguing characters. Must read more...

Jul 20, 2012, 5:28am Top

Hi Rhian - you've reminded me that I need to get to the second Aaronovitch - sometime:) I do agree about the UK title and covers.

Also good to see some positive reaction to Penelope Lively as I recently borrowed her Spiderweb from the library following Dee's (soupdragon) recommendation. It will be my first Lively.

Hope all is well where you are and that you and the family are enjoying your holiday.

Jul 20, 2012, 10:35am Top

I loved how it all began as well. I'm about to take it back to the library.

Rivers of London sounds intriguing.

Jul 20, 2012, 4:11pm Top

#199 I've only come accross the cats in Greece. There seem to be more manageable numbers and they seem better fed than when we first came to Greece about 20 years ago. One tom cat has adopted our apartment and while he seems happy if you give him something to eat he doesn't actually look that hungry and is more interested in being stroked.

#201 elegant prose - that's very much how I think of Penelope Lively as well - she writes beautifully - I think the thoughts on ageing in How it All Began are so much more poignant coming from someone going through the process herself.

#202 Hi Calm, I hope you enjoy Spiderweb - that's one I haven't read. If you do I'd put in a good word for Moon Tiger - definitely my favourite thing that she has written.

#203 Anne I'd recommend Rivers of London -I think I might be getting the sequel as soon as we get home.

Jul 21, 2012, 2:12pm Top

#197 - Nice review! She's on my list of authors to read. I have The Photograph on my shelf. Have you read that one? I wonder if I should just start with Moon Tiger.

Jul 22, 2012, 5:56am Top

Rhian positive reviews for Rivers of London from both Stasia and yourself. Will have to take it off the shelves soon. Greek food is not widely available in Malaysia and I would like the chance to discover it more. SWMBO makes a lovely salad with Haloumi and I do sometimes miss the sound of breaking plates and the aroma of Ouzo and the taste of Retsina. If you are still there quaff a few of those vicarously for me if you don't mind.

Jul 22, 2012, 5:18pm Top

Back in the UK now. Last day of the holiday was pretty much perfect as far as I was concerned. We hired a boat and spent the day crossing over the channel between Kefalonia and Ithaka, snorkelling and reading (Gillespie and I as far as I was concerned.) And then in the evening there were some people playing Greek folk music in the restaurant - not tourist stuff - they just seemed to be a group of friends out for a meal and they started playing informally when they had finished. But what really made the day for me was I got my exam results in the morning and I'd got a distinction for the Children's Literature module. I'm really pleased with this - I'm halfway through the degree course now and should be on course for a good degree if I can keep this up!

Jul 22, 2012, 5:39pm Top

Congratulations on your exam results.

Jul 22, 2012, 6:10pm Top

>207 SandDune: - That sounds absolutely perfect, Rhian.

Jul 23, 2012, 4:32am Top

Congratulations on your exam. Children's Literature sounds incredible interesting.

Jul 23, 2012, 4:41am Top

Congratulations on your results! That's fantastic.

I've just started Gillespie and I - I'll be interested to know what you think of it.

Jul 23, 2012, 8:14am Top

Will add my congratulations too Rhian - well done on obtaining a distinction.

Jul 23, 2012, 12:02pm Top

#205 I haven't read The Photograph but looking at its description it seems quite characteristic of her style, so it's probably as good a place to start as any. I hadn't realised how many books she had written: I have read eight (Passing On, The Road to Lichfield, Judgement Day, According to Mark, Treasures of Time and A House Unlocked as well as Moon Tiger and How it All Began), but there seem to be loads more.

#206 Paul, you'd have to pay me serious amounts of money to get me to drink a full glass of Ouzo or Retsina: I can't stand either of them. Surprisingly, we hardly had any wine at all on holiday - usually I'm a wine drinker but when it's so hot I tend to switch to beer which I never drink at all the rest of the time.

#208, 209, 210, 211, 212 Thanks for everyone's good wishes. I'm finding it very satisfying to know that I can do something so different from what I've done before. I did sciences at school, and then Zoology at University, and then became an accountant: all subjects where there's a definite right answer. Whereas in my literature studies there's no right answer. They expect you to be able to comment on the academic writings studied but you're not expected to agree with them: you're equally encouraged to put forward your own ideas as long as you can put forward a coherent argument.

Jul 23, 2012, 2:49pm Top

Really pleased about Bradley Wiggins's win of the Tour de France yesterday, and Mark Cavendish's win on the final stage. As I said on Paul's thread, it is a bit annoying that the first Tour de France that we haven't watched pretty much every day for years is the one which has the first British winner ever (and second place too). We sometimes miss the last couple of days, but by then it usually done and dusted as to who will win, but we haven't missed such a big chunk since 2005. I'm really hoping Cavendish gets the gold medal at the Olympic road race next Saturday. But what I want to know is - why do they have do have such screechy sopranos singing the national anthem at these sporting events? Within a couple of seconds of the national anthem starting all my family were rolling around on the sofa with their hands over their ears, and even Daisy (who was fast asleep after a long walk) woke up with a start, jumped off the sofa, and started looking round the television with a worried expression on her face trying to see where the noise was coming from.

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 5:02pm Top

47. Gillespie and I Jane Harris ****

This has had so many good reviews on LT. I should say to start that I didn't find it so mind-blowingly good as some reviewers but a very good read nevertheless. I read it quite quickly on the beach and I do feel that it would have been better read more slowly over a longer period. Certainly it warrants re-reading and I am quite tempted to do this in the not too distant future, to see what (if any) clues I missed to the development of the story.

In 1933 Miss Harriet Baxter, a spinster aged eighty, looks back on her relationship with the Glaswegian painter Ned Gillespie. Told in a series of flashbacks to the 1880's, the main narrative is interspersed with the story of Harriet's issues with her companion in the 1930's (which may or may not be connected with the events of 50 years previously). Travelling to Scotland to see the Glasgow International Exhibition, Harriet becomes acquainted with Ned Gillespie's mother (who she saves from choking to death) and his wife. Invited to tea, she becomes intimate with his family and makes herself indispensable in any number of ways. But things are clearly not destined to run smoothly, as Harriet recollects in the first few pages what with all that silly white-slavery business and the trial, and what starts out as a seemingly light-hearted book gets progressively darker and darker in tone.

Without giving away the ending, I can say that at first the events described did seem a little far-fetched, but the more I think about them, the more plausible they seem. I think that this is likely to be a book that stays in my memory for a long time,

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 5:06pm Top

Some holiday pictures:

J reading:

Me on our boat:

And J steering a rather bigger boat:

Kioni on Ithaka - really pretty:

And Assos on Kefalonia - ditto:

The three of us at the ruins of ancient Sami (with me being the short one in the middle):

And finally a cat on Kefalonia:

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 4:32pm Top

Here is the link to Stephen Walter's 'The Island' map that I mentioned earlier. If you know London at all it's worth zooming right in and looking at the detail.


Jul 24, 2012, 2:10am Top

Lovely photos! And the map looks excellent. I will have a good look later. I'm about 30 pages into Gillespie and I. I'm really only reading it because everyone on LT seems to be reading it - I'm not sure whether I'm going to continue but I'll give it another chapter or two and then decide.

Jul 24, 2012, 9:35am Top

Welcome home! Glad the weather is improved in England - I've heard horrors! Glad Greece was its sunny warm self. Thank you for the photos. I'm not in a travel phase of life right now and all I can do is travel vicariously!

Edited: Jul 24, 2012, 2:43pm Top

#219 Apparently the weather has been awful while we were away but it is forecast to remain nice all week now. We could tell how much rain there had been when we went for a walk on Sunday in the countryside near us. It was a warm sunny day and we had just got back the day before from Greece so I didn't think of it being muddy. But it was - very muddy - with large puddles everywhere - as we were only wearing sandals our feet were filthy when we got back. At least there was plenty of water for Daisy to cool off in - she is turning into quite a little water dog and likes swimming. She came back from the kennels looking considerably rounder than she went in - I forgot to warn them what a greedy guts she is - and we're trying to give her plenty of exercise to slim her down again.

Jul 24, 2012, 12:40pm Top

Enjoyed the review of Gillespie and I, loved the photos of the happy holidayers and must note that Kioni looks delightful.
Beer is a wonderful warm weather drink but then again I'm partial to the stuff whatever the weather.
Will be rooting for the British lads of course in the Road race. Bit miffed at the UCI and IOC in that they have limited the countries to one competitor an event and Chris Hoy will miss the sprint. They have also taken away some of the track events just to make sure we don't win everything - shameful if you ask me - an Olympics with no individual pursuit?!

Jul 24, 2012, 2:49pm Top

#221 The track cycling was the main thing that we wanted to get tickets for, but needless to say we didn't get tickets. We didn't get tickets for any of our first choice events at all in fact. But looking forward to seeing it on the television.

Jul 24, 2012, 3:03pm Top

Congratulations on the exam results and I'm glad you had a lovely trip.

Very nice review of Gillespie and I. I also found it a very good read (but, as you say, not necessarily mind-blowing)

I'm resolved to read more Penelope Lively too: I have Moon Tiger checked out from the library and own copies of Heat Wave, The Photograph, and City of the Mind. It's funny that for an author who's written so many books, the only one I've read is the latest one.

Jul 25, 2012, 9:01am Top

47. The Forge of God Greg Bear **1/2

I thought I was going to enjoy this book a lot more than I did, as it was nominated for a number of awards, but disappointingly in practice it didn't really work for me at all.

Jupiter's moon Europa has suddenly disappeared: not exploded or knocked out of orbit, just gone. And then new geographical features appear on the Earth overnight where none existed before, a miniature Ayers Rock in the Australian Desert and a new cinder cone in Death Valley, from which appears an English speaking alien bearing the bad news that the Earth is about to be completely and inevitably destroyed by a different alien race who have previously destroyed its own planet. Scientists Arthur Gordon and Harry Feinman are recruited as part of a US presidential advisory committee to deal with the situation, but are soon sidelined as the president becomes convinced that the destruction is part of God's plan to punish a erring human race and that the coming destruction is the biblical apocalypse. While the president pursues his own path, there are increasing calls for him to be impeached, but political machinations look increasingly unimportant as the destruction of the Earth seems more and more likely.

I had a number of issues with this book which cumulatively meant that I didn't enjoy it very much - OK at best:

- It was far too US centric. OK I know that every disaster film ever made in the history of the world is US centric but at least you usually do have the obligatory picture of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben toppling to the ground. After the initial interest with Australia there is hardly any indication there any others countries exist at all. This wouldn't be a problem for me if the book focused on the reaction of people other than politicians or top class scientists, but it doesn't - surely the end of the world would have needed a little bit of international communication? Particularly with the increasingly erratic pronouncements from the US president?

- There are no credible female characters - and this is a book that was written in 1987 not 1957. Women appear as wives, girlfriends or potential girlfriends to the all-important male scientists and politicians.

- The end of the world scenario just didn't ring true for me - no riots, no major civil disorder - just everyone mainly going about their normal business or coming together in a happy clappy sort of way. And I found the characterisation of the main characters as Armageddon approaches a little unbelievable as well.

There seems to be a sequel Anvil of the Stars but I don't think I'll be looking out for that one in a hurry.

Edited: Jul 26, 2012, 5:46pm Top

Realised that I've got seriously behind with recording books acquired. Three books bought in Waterstones yesterday ( I went in for one but you know how it is):

In Defence of Dogs John Bradshaw
Death at Intervals Jose Saramago
Moon over Soho Ben Aaronovitch - what I originally went in to buy - the sequel to Rivers of London.

As well on Sunday I found a used book sale at the local National Trust property and bought five books for £2:

The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Public Image, The Comforters, all by Muriel Spark.
Talking to the Dead Helen Dunmore
The Making of a Marchioness Frances Hodgson Burnett

I could have found some more there but was being hurried along on the grounds that we were supposed to be out for a walk not buying books.

Jul 27, 2012, 9:39am Top

Another visit to the dentist today - to have a tooth crowned. I'd never had a crown before, and this was the first time with a new dentist (my old one had left the practice) so I was quite nervous. But everything went well (apart from the price) so now I've got a temporary crown and will have to go back in two weeks for the permanent one.

Anyway, looking forward to the Olympics Opening Ceremony tonight. We have tickets to see the volleyball next week and handball the week after. We're quite conveniently placed for the Olympics and most people I know have a selection of weird and wonderful sports to go and see.

Jul 27, 2012, 4:45pm Top

Ok, all caught up here, Rhian. Your vacation sounds lovely, and your pictures were fabulous - thanks for sharing. Loved your review of Rivers of London - adding that to my overburdened WL. Skipped your review of Gillespie and I as it is I'm my TBR - I'll come back and find it after I have read the book. Adding my congratulations to your exam results! WahHOO!! I have not read any Penelope Lively, but it sounds like I should correct that. Jealous that you get to see a bit of the Olympics live - how wonderful! Your book haul is also wonderful! Now I am wondering what J's favorite read from vacation was - so if you could ask him for me? Please give Daisy my love. See? All caught up. Glad you made it home safe and sound - thanks again for sharing your travels.

Jul 27, 2012, 5:56pm Top

wow, what a fab vacation! I had to chortle when I saw that the pic of yourself that you posted involved you reading a book...

Crowns are obscenely expensive. 'nuff said.

CONGRATS on the exam results!

Love the map of London, am feeling a tad homesick as it's been four years -- a record -- since the last time I was there. I must try to go before the end of the year, if I can swing it. My childhood home in Knightsbridge, my later home off Abbey Road (only about a block or so from the Saatchi Gallery. Yes, the nutters do indeed speak at Marble Arch, but what I'm really hankering after right now are the Proms concerts, one of my favorite things in the world. Not so much the Olympics crowds.

I'm hoping to watch some fencing, some archery and some of the sailing, kayaking, canoeing stuff online.

Jul 27, 2012, 9:49pm Top

What incredible photos!

Jul 28, 2012, 3:40am Top

Well, I really enjoyed the Olympic Opening Ceremony but a bit tired this morning as it finished 1am UK time. I was a bit worried when it started with all the traditional views of green countryside and cricket players as it's such a cliched view of Britain, and one which is unrealistic for most of population and has been for a very long time. But then the dark satanic mills started to grow with the molten iron being forged and I really loved it. I thought the organised chaos of so much going on at the same time worked really well and provided a much better idea of Britain than the synchronised choreography often seen. Loved the music as well.

Jul 28, 2012, 10:14am Top

#227 Hi Mamie. We would have gone to see more events If we could have got tickets. Originally applied for the opening ceremony (wasn't really expecting that one but thought it was worth a go), track cycling (the ones we really wanted), white water canoeing (taking place only about twenty-five minutes from where we live) and a athletics session (mainly because we thought it would be good to go to the main stadium). We didn't get tickets for any of those - pretty much all of the more popular sports and quite a few of the less popular ones were heavily over-subscribed so went to a ballot. We got the handball and the volleyball on the second round of applications which was limited to all the (substantial numbers) of people who didn't get anything in the first round. We've got tickets for the Paralympic athletics as well so that we can say that we've been to the stadium. J went on a trip to the Olympic site a couple of years ago when it was still a building site, so he's really interested to see how it has changed.

J seemed to enjoy quite a few of his holiday reads, in particular The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (I had to get the second book in the series on my kindle for him to read while we were away, and he's now wanting the third book. Second favourite was Leviathon Scott Westerfield - he's reading book 2 Behemoth at the moment.

Jul 28, 2012, 10:17am Top

#228 The reading picture is my son, not me! But you're forgiven as it's only the back of his head!

Edited: Jul 29, 2012, 9:36am Top

Just got back from a friend's house where a damper was put on the evening rather by J managing to hit one of his best friends on the head with a cricket bat. A complete accident - J missed the ball and his friend was standing just that little bit too close - but there was quite a lot of blood and I think J was almost as shaken up as his friend was with what has happened. Anyway when all was cleaned up there didn't seem to be too much damage done apart from a nasty cut on his eyebrow but his friend will have a black eye in the morning.

Jul 28, 2012, 7:23pm Top

Rhian - envy more the availability of the used book stores rather than the tickets for some of the sports in the Olympics (although that's great too).
As a Yorkshireman I grew up with cricket and always played with older boys. Have a permanently but thankfully only slightly twisted top lip as a result of failing to make a caught and bowled (how I didn't lose my teeth I've no idea) and can see the incident as though I was there as it happens with boys all the time. Hopefully J's bat wasn't damaged in the process (hahaha). His friend will have a story for school when it restarts.

Jul 29, 2012, 9:42am Top

#234 Once the initial shock was over, both boys seemed to think that a black eye would add to his street cred! I have to admit cricket isn't really my thing, but I would rather watch Jacob play cricket over football any day. Mainly because it only takes place in the summer and they don't play if it's raining. Beats standing on the football touch line on a cold wet day in January.

Edited: Jul 29, 2012, 10:57am Top

Cheers Rhian :)

I'm so glad you delurked! I was missing something indeed by missing your thread!! I really enjoyed the pics (cute fam!! beautiful countryside!!), the cat stories, the lists and your reviews. Nice work! If you come on this side of the Channel give me a shout -- we're in Rouen.

Jul 29, 2012, 10:59am Top

#236 welcome Susan - we've been past Rouen a few times but never actually stopped there. Not sure why not.

Jul 29, 2012, 11:42am Top

#224 - Sorry this one was disappointing. I usually like Greg Bear and have this one on the book shelf, but haven't read it yet. Treatment of female characters is a never-ending battle in sci-fi, isn't it? I recently read his Moving Mars. He seems to have a thing about planets and moons disappearing.

Beautiful photos, by the way.

Jul 29, 2012, 11:43am Top

#184 I was really pleased to see they seem to be reprinting some of Scarlett Thomas's earlier books as I've really enjoyed her more recent novels.

#200 Glad you enjoyed the Ben Aaronovitch book - I've really enjoyed the first two books in that series and been meaning to get a copy of the third for a while.

#207 Congratulations on your distinction!

#226 Well done on snagging some Olympic tickets. We applied for as many as we could, but like most people I know, we didn't get anything. I'm comforting myself with the idea that I will probably get a better view from the TV.

Jul 29, 2012, 12:41pm Top

#238 I'd probably be prepared to give Greg Bear another go (actually I think I've got Eon sitting on the TBR) but I don't think I'll be in a great hurry to do so. I quite like old Sci-Fi and the absence of female characters in that doesn't bother me a bit - I just think by the late eighties society had moved on and I would expect a book written then to reflect that.

#239 Most people I know who were interested in going to the Games did get something, although not necessarily their first choice. Quite a few seem to have a very weird and wonderful selection of sports. I do know one family who got all their first choice tickets (about four events I think).

Jul 30, 2012, 12:23pm Top

That's so great that you're going to see the stadium - what wonderful memories these will be for J! And thanks, by the way, for answering my question about which books he enjoyed on vacation - both those series were popular in our house. Hope your week is off to a wonderful start!

Edited: Jul 31, 2012, 2:42pm Top

I'm actually quite jealous about the handball and volleyball tickets! Hubby's Hungarian, and we've been glued to the handball as it is one of the sports Hungary excel in. It's actually a really exciting sport to watch I think, as it's fast paced, highly athletic, and scorelines are normally very close, so it has an element of tension throughout. If by any chance you end up watching the Hungarians, be sure to ingratiate yourself to their army of fans by shouting "Hajrá Magyarország!" (pronounced Hoy-ra Mod-yar-orsag. It means, "Come on Hungary!")
I always get slightly rueful watching it, as I think I would have loved to play it myself (it wouldn't be eveyone's cup of tea - it can be eye wateringly violent, in a fairly low key way), and rather wish I'd been born in a country that plays it. As it is, I had to make do with totally non-violent netball ; ) I've also really enjoyed watching the volleyball at these Olympics - you probably didn't see the GB ladies first ever Olympic victory, as it was on in the middle of the night, but we watched most of it and it was thrilling!

Jul 31, 2012, 2:58pm Top

An hour or so in the Natural History Museum this morning and then off to Earls Court to see the men's Olympic volleyball: Italy beat Argentina in a close match and USA beat Germany in a less close one. Really good atmosphere, despite the fact that volleyball is one of the sports that you got if you couldn't get your first choice of tickets, and probably about half the crowd had never seen a volleyball match before in their lives.

I have to say as well that the organisation was very good. Starting from our local train station about 30 miles outside London there were three or four Olympic volunteers helping with any problems; the venues were really well signposted on the tubes; loads and loads of volunteers to make sure no one got lost between the tube and the venue; and a quick security process.

Jul 31, 2012, 3:14pm Top

It's good to hear that everything went smoothly and you enjoyed it. I saw lots of volunteers in central London yesterday (more than people needing help!) and they certainly seemed keen. Was the Museum busy? There are alarming stories on the news about a big drop in visitors to museums and theatres, because people have apparently been scared off by all the doom-mongering about crowds.

Edited: Jul 31, 2012, 5:30pm Top

#244 It didn't seem that busy in the museum - but we weren't in the busiest parts - we missed out the dinosaurs. We're doing our bit for the London theatre over the next couple of weeks though. We're going to see Chariots of Fire next week and Julius Caesar the week after. We haven't been to London for months and now we're going four times in two weeks.

What surprised me today was just how busy our local station was. The (very large) station car park was completely full which I have never seen in the twenty years that we have lived here. But thinking about it at least 50% of the people that I know living locally are going to see at least one event so I suppose that that must be causing a lot of extra traffic.

#242 I'm looking forward to the handball - we're not going until the last Saturday of the games and I think it's the semi-finals that we're seeing, but I can't remember whether it's the women's or men's. If it's Hungary we'll remember your chant.

Jul 31, 2012, 6:41pm Top

Oooh, Julius Caesar!! Is that at the NT? I'm really irked that the one close friend I could always stay with in London moved back to Toronto recently, leaving me unable to afford a trip over. This is by far the longest I've gone without being in London and the opening ceremony left me whimpering...

Oh well, c'est la vie.

Hungary is big in water polo, too, no? Must be all those open air swimming baths in Budapest... :-)

Jul 31, 2012, 6:50pm Top

#246. Yes indeed - the Hungarians are crazy about it, and the men's team are going for an unheard of fourth gold medal in a row at these games, though judging for the amount of muttering in the house this morning, they haven't got off to a great start. I was once swimming at one of the aforementioned open air swimming pools when the Hungarian waterpolo team turned up for a practise, which was......quite a sight ; )

Aug 1, 2012, 5:14pm Top

#246 It's an RSC production of Julius Caesar, apparently set in an African dictatorship. We used to go to the theatre a lot before J was born, but it was really difficult to go when he was small as living where we do means that we needed a babysitter from very early in the evening, and after being let down at the last minute after buying quite expensive tickets, we gave up for a while. We're now gradually trying to get back into it, and taking J along as well. Hence the Chariots of Fire production as he does like dramas with a sporting element and so we thought that might appeal. Last year we saw NT production of The Pitman Painters and Kevin Spacey as Richard III, but I'd like to go a bit more frequently in future.

#247 I've never been to Hungary but it's one of those places that I'd really like to get to. Open-air swimming pools sound lovely - I much prefer swimming outdoors, but I suppose the weather isn't usually good enough here.

Aug 2, 2012, 8:04am Top

I'm loving attending all these events vicariously!

Aug 2, 2012, 3:55pm Top

#249 Glad to be of service! We don't usually have anything like as much going on as we do at the moment. J and Mr SandDune's school works on Saturday mornings, and J plays for a football team on Sundays, so term times and the football season are really busy. To compensate they have nine weeks holiday in the summer rather than the six weeks that is normal here, so we always feel that we need a reasonable amount of activity to stop J getting bored, and I always want to catch up with some of the things that we haven't managed to do for the rest of the year.

Took Daisy for her six month check up yesterday and everything was fine. After discussions with the vet we've decided to get her neutered the middle of this month. For once, something is actually a lot cheaper than I thought it would be - £173 for the operation and follow-up - I'd assumed that it would be considerably more than that. J was quite keen to let her have puppies, but we've decided against it. If she was a rarer breed I might give it more consideration, but in the U.K. at the moment the rescue centres are stuffed full of staffies. Staffies and staffy crosses seem to be the dog of choice on a lot of problem estates, which has put a lot of people off them. It's such a shame, as they are such lovely dogs and very friendly with people. Daisy likes to stand on our sofa and look out of the front window and we can aways tell when someone is walking along the road as her tail starts to wag, and wags faster and faster the nearer they get, and then slower and slower again if they go past our front door.

This topic was continued by SandDune's books in 2012 Part 3.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

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