Royal Mail Elastic bands harm hedgehogs. If my British followers could sign the below petition I'd be really grateful.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/413/275/845/discarded-elastic-bands-harm-hedgehogs/?z00m=21391524&redirectID=1441386407

Postards to hand to the postie and letterbox size stickers are also available by email from info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk
i.o


31 Dec 2011

YES!!!!!!!!!! IT'S A 100+ READING CHALLENGE WRAP.

Many of my fellow bloggers have asked how I manage to read such a lot. Well ........

Contrary to the popular belief amongst certain of our friends I don't sit with the mouse in one hand and a book in the other.

Ok, so I do read a lot but then I have the luxury (or not) of being able to do so.

I say the luxury OR not of being able to read a lot as it really is a mixed blessing that I am able to so. Part of me longs to be able to say alas I don't have the time to read as I need to do such and such, that I need to get to X, Y and Z but the reality is due to my health problems I'm unable to work, find getting out and about difficult, and so, with daytime telly being one of the other really viable option, spend most of my days blogging and reading.

Combined with the fact that I don't sleep very well and so often spend a lot of nighttime hours with book in hand, and read a fair few books aimed at children/young adults, it means I generally read two to three books a week, more if I'm sleeping really badly or it's a shorter book or aimed at younger readers.

Anyway, onto my post proper and my .......

wrap.

It's been an amazing year book wise, I've travelled far and wide, met many different peoples, both human and otherwise over a wide period of time ........ and I've loved every minute of it - well, almost every minute of it.

And so to wrap up I thought it would be fun to award some trophies .............

  • My favourite book(s): The Help by Kathryn Stockett - Simply unputdownable. The Ship Of Brides by JoJo Moyes - A fictionalised account of actual events, totally memorable. Alone by Lisa Gardner - Probably the cleverest book I've read this year.
  • My least favourite book(s): The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Too political for me.
  • Best loved character(s): Harry Dresden in Grave Peril, Storm Front, Fool Moon, and, Summer Knight by Jim Butcher - Wizard, Private Investigator, and all round nice guy who is not without his failings.
  • Best villain(s): Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. Such a tyrannical character made all the worse because the abuse is aimed at such vulnerable individuals. Judge James Gagnon in Alone by Lisa Gardner. A man totally corrupted by the power money bought him.
  • Book(s) I was most disappointed by: Mrs Hartley And The Growth Centre by Philippa Gregory - A huge fan of this author I felt so let down by this particular novel. Room by Amanda Donoghue - An enjoyable enough read, it just did not live up to all the hype in my opinion.
  • Book(s) that most surprised me:The History Of Lucy's Love Life in 10 1/2 Chapters by Deborah Wright. I had expected to enjoy this but not to the degree I did. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult - I was surprised by just how strongly I felt about certain characters.
  • Best series: The Dresden Files, starring Harry Dresden, by Jim Butcher. I love the story lines, I love the characters, I love the humour.
  • Author(s) I'd like to read more of: Paulina Simons - I really enjoyed her book Eleven Hours and hear all of her books are good reads. Aliza Kellerman - Having read Prism which Aliza co-wrote with her mother Faye Kellerman I'd like to see what she can write as author in her own right. Jodie Picoult - I'm participating in the Jodi Picoult Project and I'd like to see if all of her books are of the same formula as My Sister's Keeper and Sing You Home.
  • Most nostalgic read:The Pebbles Go To Town by Michael Cooper - The first book I ever bought.
  • Favourite cover(s):




So, what are your memorable reads of 2011? What have you liked/disliked? What would you recommend as a good read?


PS. Oops! Nearly forgot ....... the links to all of the books mentioned above as well as all the other books read for this challenge can be found by clicking HERE. Here's to happy reading in 2012.

30 Dec 2011

ALONE.

ALONE by LISA GARDNER.

An armed man has barricaded himself in with his wife and child. Through the scope of his sniper rifle, State Trooper Bobby Dodge watches the hostage stand-off enfold - and has only a split second to react ........ Twenty-five years ago, Catherine Gagnon was buried underground during a nightmare of abduction and abuse. Now her husband has been killed and her father-in-law, Judge James Gagnon, blames Catherine.

What brings Bobby and Catherine together is a moment of violence - but what connects them is for more dangerous. A killer is loose - and no one will see death coming until it has them cornered, helpless, and alone .......
...... Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): He'd put in a fifteen-hour shift the night the call came in.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 175): They're gonna bring in your family. Were you a violent child, did you always love guns? They're going to dig into your lifestyle - young, single officer. Do you frequent bars, sleep around, get into brawls? Too bad you're not married with kids, it always looks better if you're married with kids. What about a dog? Do you happen to own a cute dog? A black lab or golden retriever would be perfect.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: Without a shadow of a doubt I'll be keeping this.

Oh my goodness, one of the best books I've read this year and certainly one of the cleverest.

Alone is wonderfully multi-layered, a real page turner, I was totally engrossed from page one. Bloody in places its true but this is nevertheless more of a psychological thriller than anything else.

Suspenseful and full of a gathering menace, Alone questions the rights and wrongs of the fateful evening when Dodge is called out to the Gagnon household, to just what extent a mother would go to protect her child, a husband to protect his wife, whilst looking at just how earlier childhood experiences may affect the decisions made by the characters as adults.

And talking of characters ...... brilliantly written, each and every one of them is, to some extent or other, flawed and damaged by life. Not always easy to tell the 'goodies' from the baddies' I loved the way the story unravelled in ways that were, for the most part, totally unexpected leaving the reader with an ending that, though it was full of unanswered questions, did not disappoint.

The 109th read for my 100+ Reading Challenge. Alone, which was passed on to me after being read by my mam, is a great read that we both highly recommend.

29 Dec 2011

A 2011 BLOG LOOK BACK.

First things first, may I wish a very happy first birthday to a very special little boy, our great-nephew, Little Plum, is one today. I hope to have some photographs of his birthday bash come the new year.
Having seen this 'FIRST LINES' MEME hosted by Suko featured on several blogs I thought it would be a great way to end the old year and welcome in the new.

The idea being to " take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year" I thought it would be a great trip down ......



  • JANUARY - Yes, I bet there are a few of you out there feeling rather the worse for wear - thankfully the little graphic to the left doesn't come with side effects so there is no danger to those of you who may be feeling, err, a little, shall we say, delicate.
  • FEBRUARY - Book 7 in the 100+ Reading Challenge.
  • MARCH -Searching the 'www'. for inspiration (as you do) I was playing around with various calender sites when I came across this ..........
  • APRIL - The cash-strapped government in the eastern European republic Of Romania has found a new way of raising money.
  • MAY - An interruption to normal service folks, I'm afraid her ladyship is feeling a tad unwell and not capable of putting finger to keyboard or pen to paper.
  • JUNE - ........ OR just fed-up with Blogger?
  • JULY - It's been a while since I last posted a poem, mainly because none really caught my attention until ..........
  • AUGUST - Apologies, what with few posts and very little visiting I have been a bad, bad blogger buddy of late so I promise from now on .......
  • SEPTEMBER - Now I know not everyone shares my love of that delightful, prickly gardener's friend, the hedgehog, but please indulge me.
  • OCTOBER - As promised here are some of the photographs from our recent Silver Wedding Anniversary trip spent in Pooley Bridge in the Lake District.
  • NOVEMBER - One of the entertainments we planned for our Anniversary Party in September was a caption competition.
  • DECEMBER - As promised, my memorable moment from The Winter Solstice (The Sacred Traditions Of Christmas) by John Matthews as reviewed yesterday.
Hmm, not too sure just how accurate a representation this is ....... over a 100 books read and yet there was only one mention made of a book review (February) and not a single mention of my Monday Media posts which have become an almost weekly feature. That said, there was a good mix of things that I think pretty much sum up what my blog is all about, journal entries, informative posts, a post that shows my love of the hedgehog, poems, and 'It's A Mad Old World' post, these 'first liners' also chronicle my health issues and at least one of the many battles I've had with the Blogger gremlin this year.

All great fun,

 It only remains for me to thank you all, thank you for visiting me, thank you for following me, thank you for all your comments, for all your support, for all your best wishes, thank you for being you - here's to 2012.

Oh, and if like myself, SUKO and, HEALTHIER AND WEALTHIER you have posted/intend to post this meme be sure to let me know so that I can also take a walk down your Memory Lane.

28 Dec 2011

RUSO AND THE DISAPPEARING DANCING GIRLS.

RUSO AND THE DISAPPEARING DANCING GIRLS by R.S. DOWNIE.

Britannia, AD 117.

Primitive, cold, and a touch damp.

For army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso, this oversea posting is no picnic. He has vast debts, a slave girl too clever for her own good and an overbearing hospital administrator to cope with ...... not to mention a serial killer stalking the local bar. Dancing girls are being washed up with the tide and everyone expects Ruso to investigate, even though the breakthroughs in forensic science lie centuries in the future.

Will the gods smile on Ruso before he falls prey to the murderer? If only it were possible to find  good Falernian wine in Britannia, life would seem so much rosier - and perhaps the locals might stop killing each other .....
...... Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): Someone had washed the mud off the body, but as Gaius Petreius Ruso unwrapped the sheet there was still a distinct smell of river.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 185): Ruso closed his eyes briefly and dreamed of a world where women stayed quietly at home and sewed things and understood the value of modesty and obedience - not to mention not turning up dead in suspicious circumstances.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: Not.

I was intrigued by two things before I even started reading this novel. (1) Why was it also published under the titles of both Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls as well as (in the US) Medicus: A Novel Of The Roman Empire? And (2) I've never before heard of a publisher offering money back if the reader did not find the book as good as the book(s) by another author ........ A sticker printed on the front of the book states 'As good as Lyndsey Davis or your sestertii back'.

Hmm, never having read any of the books I wasn't in a position to comment, let alone ask for my money back..... just as well as the offer ended way back in 2008.

A debut novel and the first in the Ruso series (I believe there are now another two books available) by R.S. Downie (she writes as Ruth Downie in the US) I'm sure that this series may prove popular with many readers as I feel there is plenty left to learn about main character Ruso.

As for as I'm concerned though it may well be that Ruso and I will part company at this junction as on the whole I felt it didn't really work as crime fiction and yet wasn't substantial enough to be of much interest as historical fiction either. A shame really as I'm fascinated by most 'Roman' novels.

Not altogether a bad read though. It did leave me pondering on the fate of the 'dancing ' girls (a euphemism for prostitutes) who as Ruso pointed out, at what cost the human misery that lay behind the 'entertainment' industry that served the Roman Legion?


A charity shop buy, Ruso And The Disappearing Dancing Girls was the 108th book read for my 100+ Reading Challenge.


26 Dec 2011

A 2011 POST FROM FC.

Dear Friends,

Well I must say it isn't very often that we get such letters here in the North Pole ..... more often than not we receive all manner of correspondance telling us what a good boy/girl such-and-such a child has been. Not so one Petty Witter who sent the following ..........

Oh well, at least I suppose it was honest.

Seasonal greetings to you all,


23 Dec 2011

THE NATIVITY STORY ....... WITH A DIFFERENCE.

Not a fan of rap I have to admit I did quite enjoy this seasonal offering from the Reverend Graham Tyte.




And now all that remains is for me to wish you and yours a ......



See you all on the 26th or thereabouts.

22 Dec 2011

UNCLE MONTAGUE'S TALES OF TERROR.

UNCLE MONTAGUE'S TALES OF TERROR by CHRIS PRIESTLY.

Edgar likes to visit his uncle in his house beyond the woods, and hear his stories. But one day Uncle Montague tells him a particularly chilling set of tales, and Edgar discovers the house is full of objects that appear in these ghastly narratives. How did his uncle come by such a grim collection?

But there is no time for answers. Edgar must return through those wood before dark ....... or are the answers OUT THERE?
........ Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): The way to Uncle Montague's house lay through a small wood.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 180): "Give me a funeral over a wedding any day," said Uncle Montague with a sigh. "The conversation is almost always superior."

KEEP IT OR NOT?: Probably not as though this is a good read I think I'll find it at its best on the first reading as it is the twist in the tale that makes it so special and to know that twist will, I believe, greatly reduce the magic that is Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror. I will, however, be passing this on to Niece #2.

Having seen this recommended by several blogger buddies and, I confess, loving the cover (it has to be one of my favourites this year) I was tempted to buy a copy but alas the voice that is my self imposed book buying ban fairy whispered in my ear and I managed to restrain myself, that is until I saw it in a charity shop for the bargain price of 75p...... well, it was for a good cause.

The story of Edgar who, visiting his uncle Montague in his decidedly spooky home, is told 11 stories, all of which are scary and kind of sad, especially the last one which is Uncle Montague's own story - I found the reading of this needed two tissues.

Scary to varying degrees (I certainly wouldn't recommend this as suitable for younger readers), to be honest, I found the novel as a whole a bit of a hit and miss affair with some stories hitting the mark and others, well, not. 

Kind of Gothic in tone, and relying heavily on a feeling of menace, each story has a connection with an artefact belonging to Montague (a pocket watch, a telescope, and a gilt frame to name but a few) and involves a child.

But best of all is the relationship that develops between uncle and nephew as stories are told, tea drunk and cake eaten. Wonderfully written, the atmosphere positively thickens as Edgar begins to wonder just how much truth is in the telling of his elderly uncle's tales, and just where did the artefact's come from?

And that's not all - also adding to this magical little book are the pen and ink illustrations by David Roberts. Beautifully crafted, they are simple and yet wondrous to look at, complimenting the book perfectly.

The 107th book read for my 100+ Reading Challenge.

21 Dec 2011

YOU CAN BLAME HD FOR THIS ONE AND MP FOR THAT ONE.

There was a man who worked for the Post Office whose job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses.


One day, a letter came addressed in a shaky handwriting to God with no actual address. He thought he should open it to see what it was about.

The letter read:


Dear God,
I am an 83 year old widow, living on a very small pension.
Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension payment.
Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with, have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope.. Can you please help me?
Sincerely, Edna.

The postal worker was touched.. He showed the letter to all the other workers. Each one dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few pounds.



By the time he made the rounds, he had collected £90, which they put into an envelope and sent to the woman.


The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would be able to share with her friends.


Christmas came and went.

A few days later, another letter came from the same old lady to God.


All the workers gathered around while the letter was opened.


It read:

Dear God,
How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me?
Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift.
By the way, there was a tenner missing.
I think it might have been those thieving ******** at the post office.
Sincerely, Edna.

- Thanks to Husband dearest for this.


A man in Scotland calls his son in London the day before Christmas Eve and says, "I hate to ruin your day but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough".

"Dad, what are you talking about?'" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer", the father says. "We're sick of each other and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Leeds and tell her".

Frantically, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone, "Like hell they're getting divorced", she shouts, "I'll take care of this".

She calls Scotland immediately and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife and says, "Done! Not only are they're coming for Christmas - but they're paying their own way too."

- And thanks to Mad Priest for this.

20 Dec 2011

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY by  JOHN BOYNE.

A fourteen-year-old boy, John Jacob Turnstile, has got into trouble with the police on one too many occasions and is on his way to prison when an offer is put to him - a ship has been refitted over the last few months and is about to set sail with an important mission. The boy who was expected to serve as the captain's personal valet has been injured and a replacement must be found immediately. The deal is struck and Turnstile finds himself on board, meeting the captain just as the ship sets sail.


The ship is HMS Bounty: the captain is William Bligh and their destination is Tahiti.
....... Inner front cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): There was once a gentleman, a tall fellow with an air of superiority about him, who made it his business to come down to the marketplace in Portsmouth on the first Sunday of every month in order to replenish his library.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 89):"That's not the men screaming, you damned fool," he said. "Good lord, lad, don't you recognise the pipe of the wind yet? It's sweeping across the decks, challenging us, daring us to go further. The screams are its battle-cry! The roar its strength! Know you nothing of the sea yet?"

KEEP IT OR NOT?: A reading group read, I went out and purchased this copy such was my enjoyment of the book.

As I said a reading group read, I must confess that when I saw we were going to be reading this my first response was not favourable. But hang on a minute ......... this was a new take on the story, written by none other than John Boyne, author of THE BOY IN THE BLUE STRIPED PYJAMAS, which I loved.

Hmm, I'm reminded of 'Olive Twist'  to start with as we meet John Jacob Turnstile, orphan and pickpocket, who suffice to say has a choice to make after being caught, err, liberating the pocket watch of a French gentleman.

Not giving away too much, Turnstile (soon to also become known as Turnip) finds himself aboard HMS Bounty under the captaincy of one Lieutenant William Bligh.

Different from many of the film versions I've watched (I can't comment on any of the books never having read any) in Boyne's novel Bligh rather than the usually portrayed abusive, somewhat cruel individual is portrayed as a rather stubborn but kindly, often lenient, man who takes a particular interest in the young Turnstile.

Ah yes, Turnip. I found this character particularly engaging and loved how his story saw him develop from an abused boy to a young man whose experiences on board The Bounty and respect of Bligh was to transform his life, colouring everything he did.

Based of course on a real event (you can read more HERE) this fictional account was so well written that I could well believe it was an actual account. Pretty harrowing at times (especially the passages dealing with events after the mutiny)it was nevertheless funny, heartwarming, and life confirming. Filling the reader with hope, it was a very descriptive read, at times brutal, and often claustrophobic, a book I'm so glad I read.

The 106th book read for my 100+ Reading Challenge, this was a real good rollicking yarn, story telling at its best.



19 Dec 2011

LITTLE PENGUIN, LITTLE PENGUIN ON THE DUSTY ROAD.

Long gone are shepherds wearing dad's dressing gown and a tea-towel.

Shepherds and wise men are ­losing out to penguins and dinosaurs in school nativity plays.
Growing class sizes, trying to keep children interested and a desire to be politically correct could be behind the trend, according to Debenhams, which carried out the research. The Express (12/12/2011)

And talking of penguins ....... what a way to promote the release of a DVD.

ICE SKATING PENGUINS. Shoppers at Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush were left puzzled after seeing a small colony of penguins sliding around on the ice rink.
The six penguins waddled across the new ice rink to make a visit to the centre's Santa Claus, to ask for gifts of fish, but more so to promote the release of the DVD for Jim Carrey's film, Mr Popper's Penguins.
The movie follows Mr Popper, a businessman who inherits six penguins and decides to turn his apartment into a winter wonderland, after his family takes a liking to them, changing his life forever. - Aaron-Spencer Charles, The Metro (12/12/2011) Husband dearest and I saw this very film way back in August. Amusing in parts but it relied too much on penguin pooh jokes for my liking.

And so from penguins to .........

SQUIRREL MUNCHES SLICE OF TOAST almost as big as itself. - Jimmy Nsubuga, The Metro (14/12/2011) Hardly big news but soooooo cute.


And from penguins to toast eating squirrels to reindeer.

DOBBEY THE REINDEER HAD A VERY SHINY NOSE VAN. If any of Santa’s sleigh crew gets sick before the big night next week, here’s a willing replacement to help make those all-important deliveries.
Animal-lover Gordon Elliott, 68, took over rearing Dobbey (8) soon after he was born when his own mother rejected him – and now the pair go everywhere together, including trips in his van to local shops, the pub and even on and off trains and buses.
“It’s a bit of a squeeze getting him into the cab. I open the door and he just jumps in. I put him on a lead and take him for walks down the high street and we go to the burger bar or
the pub. I’ve taken him on the bus and Tube. He loves people and is always well behaved. - The Mirror (14/12/2011)

And if that didn't convince you us Brits were mad, how about these two articles? The first one being my favourite story of the week ......

UK TO HOLD FIRST EVER WORLD WATCHING PAINT DRY CHAMPIONSHIPS. Apparently the most boring thing to do is watch paint dry so what better test of endurance and concentration than the World Watching Paint Dry Championships, which are due to be held in the UK next year.
Those looking to compete in the championships must send in a picture of themselves watching paint dry and state the longest time they’ve managed to stare at a wall of drying paint without looking away.
They will also need to tell organisers what their favourite colour is and why.
A shortlist will then be drawn up and those contestants will be invited to attend an ultimate final in front of media at a location in central England.
The final stare down will see six paint watchers from around the world fight it out for the international title and an iPad. - Jimmy Nsubuga, The Metro (13/12/2011)

THUNDERBIRDS GRANDAD GO. A grandad who is obsessed with Thunderbirds has built his own version of Lady Penelope's Rolls Royce, complete with a homemade doll in the back seat.
Brian Vann, a 74-year-old retired construction worker from Evesham, Worcestershire, pimped his 10mph scooter to emulate the car from his favourite television show of the 1960s.
Using cardboard and tin foil, Vann carefully crafted the model around his scooter, painting the wood and even using a Barbie doll to create his own version of the Rolls Royce emblem on the front. - Aaron-Spencer Charles, The Metro (16/12/2011)

We've had unseasonably warm weather here in the north east of England but nothing as freaky as this.

APPLES FALL FROM THE SKY. Stunned motorists were forced to brake sharply to avoid the falling fruit, believed to be swept up by a vortex caused by freak weather conditions in Coventry.
An avalanche of more than 100 apples rained down over a main road in Keresley, Coventry on Monday night.
The street was left littered with apples after they pelted car windscreens and bonnets just after rush-hour.
The bizarre downpour may have been caused by a current of air that lifted the fruit from a garden or orchard. - Donna Bowater, The Telegraph (14/12/2011)

And so onto my last article of 2011, another tale of an incompetent thief.

THIEF CAUGHT BY TRAIL OF PINE NEEDLES. You wouldn’t need to be in special branch to have cracked this crime ......
A blundering thief left police a long line of clues after nicking Christmas trees from a nursery – a trail of pine needles. 
Officers simply followed the fallen green spikes for half a mile and found the loot dumped in a garden. They were joined by the nursery’s boss John Dacre, 65. - Paul Byrne, The Mirror (17/12/2011).

Yes, you read correctly, though I shall be posting other things as normal this is my last Media Monday post of 2011, many thanks to all of you for your visits and comments and ..........

 Seasonal greetings and best wishes for 2012 to all of those who are having a break over the holidays.


PS As always wherever possible I will endeavour to bring you the links to articles I have used in my Media Monday posts but this is not always possible.

PPS. I saw these advertised in some newspaper or other over the weekend (I forget which one) and so want a pack. Available from John Lewis department stores at £10 for a pack of 12 bin liners, sadly they are out of stock.

18 Dec 2011

THE BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS.


When a beautiful Lady  refuses to marry the Lord her father has chosen, her father is furious. So furious he locks her in a tower with her maid.

But the maid realises there is something deeply sinister behind her Lady's fear of the Lord, something which means they could be in danger beyond the walls of the tower than imprisoned within them.......
...... Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Day 1): My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 91): ..... But I laid her out on the open steppes under the Eternal Blue Sky, with her feet pointed to the Sacred Mountain so her soul would know which way to walk.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: No, this is one for the charity shop.

A bit older than the average reader of this, The Book Of A Thousand Days (you can read the first few pages by clicking HERE) is aimed at a teenage audience, I found myself wondering just what all the fuss was about, just why did teenagers find this book, a Whitney Awards Best Speculative Fiction winner in 2007, so enjoyable?

The story of a lady, Saren and her maid, a 'mucker' called Dashti, the novel is based on Maid Maleen, a fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm, and is told in diary format - if only I could decide which made the most mundane reading  the one sentence entries OR the entries that went on for page after page?

Expecting something truly magical, a 'spellbinding story of love, fear, courage, and one true heroine' I was disappointed from the start, finding the plot plodding, the pen and ink illustrations poor, unimaginative and unexciting and as for the characters? I did not connect with a single one of them.

No, not even the 'big reveal' (not that I'm going to tell you what that was),  as unexpected as it was, did anything to improve my flagging interest. Coming too late in the story, it was just too little too late, a bit of a damp squib really, I think the author could have made a lot more of this.

But what I liked least of all was the lack of detail. Ok, so the illustrations provided some clues (as did the alternative cover pictured right) but it seemed to me that the author had 'borrowed' from so many different myths and legends (she acknowledges that she had to take liberties in her quest to find Dashti's story) that it became confusing (perhaps Hale had taken a liberty too far) as to just what the characters were all about, what made them the people they were. Not important it could be argued but I like to picture my characters in my head and I'm afraid I just couldn't get a clear image of any of them.


The 105th book read for my 100+ Reading Challenge, this was not a novel without its moments, beautiful in places as my Memorable Moment shows, though all things considered I was disappointed with it.



17 Dec 2011

MRS SCROOGE.


Scrooge doornail-dead, his widow, Mrs Scrooge, lived by herself
in London Town. It was that time of year, the clocks long back,
when shops were window-dressed with unsold tinsel, trinkets, toys,
trivial pursuits, with sequinned dresses and designer suits,
with chocolates, glacé fruits and marzipan, with Barbie,
Action Man, with bubblebath and aftershave and showergel;
the words Noel and Season's Greetings brightly mute
in neon lights. The city bells had only just chimed three,
but it was dusk already. It had not been light all day.
Mrs Scrooge sat googling at her desk,
Catchit the cat
curled at her feet; snowflakes tumbling to the ground
below the window, where a robin perched,
pecking at seeds. Most turkeys,
bred for their meat, are kept in windowless barns,
with some containing over 20,000 birds. Turkeys
are removed from their crates and hung from shackles
by their legs in moving lines. A small fire crackled
in the grate. Their heads are dragged under
a water bath - electrically charged - before their necks
are cut. Mrs Scrooge pressed Print.
She planned
to visit Marley's Supermarket (Biggest Bargain Birds!) at four.

- By Carol Ann Duffy with illustrations by Posy Simmonds (2008)

Not usually a big fan of Carol Ann Duffy, I love this poem which can be read in its entirety by clicking HERE.

16 Dec 2011

JENNER'S GIVING TREE OTHERWISE KNOWN AS MOLLY'S PIG.

Inspired by Jenner's WRITER'S WORKSHOP: LETTER TO SANTA CLAUS in which she mentioned that her son's school had a giving tree, where the kids pick out a tag for a child in need and  buy them some gifts for the holidays, I thought I'd share one of my festive experiences as a teaching assistant working in a primary school with boys and girls aged 3 to 11.

Now I think its pretty accurate to say that most classes have a child who, generally for no obvious reason, just isn't popular with the other children, who no-one willingly chooses to play with, who isn't gladly welcomed to birthday parties unless some mother or other, knowing they are the only child not to be invited, insists that they come, and the schools I have worked in were no different.

I well remember working with a group of 'year 2' children aged between 6 and 7 in which the child to be left out happened to be a lovely little girl whom I'll call Molly. No real difference from the other children, Molly just wasn't accepted, not that the other children bullied her in the usual sense of the word (there was none of the normal name-calling, hair pulling etc etc) they, perhaps even more cruelly, just didn't seem to notice she existed.

As a consequence lots of time was spent making sure that Molly didn't feel too left out, that the children were given every opportunity to get to know Molly and that Molly was given every opportunity to get to know them but I digress.

I don't know if Christmas cards play a part in your child's school life and if so how this is dealt with ....... as a girl we had a post-box in the school assembly hall and every day two children were chosen to act as the elves who delivered the cards to all of the classrooms and in this way no-one child was noticeably left out as if they got no cards that day, it was just presumed that they would the next.

I've never yet worked in a school that operates in this way, its often cited as a health and safety issue to have children wandering around the school. Instead they all have their own methods, one of which is for the teacher to provide a list of all the children in that class which, supposedly, makes sure that no child is left out, that each child will get a card from every other child - not so in the last school (Molly's school) I worked in, to do this was cited as a health and safety issue as it alerted parents to the names of all the children in that class (as if most of them didn't already know this).

Anyway, this particular school insisted that all cards were brought into school on one specified day as the children were felt to be distracted by the cards and it was more than enough to be distracted on one given day rather than on many.

So getting back to Molly, this year she got not one card, no, not a single boy or girl bothered to think of Molly. What to do?

It was decided that the next year we would do away with the children bringing cards into school but instead would pick a charity and encourage parents to donate the money they would have spent on cards to the school's chosen charity which happened to be Oxfam who, depending on the money raised, would send chickens/a pig/a cow/a donkey etc to a remote village in Africa.

Now Molly hadn't seemed to show any unhappiness at not getting a single Christmas card the year before, her parents, naturally upset on her behalf, saying they couldn't understand that she hadn't even mentioned any cards, BUT this year Molly was distraught, upset to the point of making herself sick, to think that a, a ........  (I think it was a pig) was being sent to someone and she hadn't helped to pick it let alone helped to wrap it as she always did with presents for her family.

Hmm, it just goes to show we may well have been worrying over something when all along we needn't have.

15 Dec 2011

SMUT: TWO UNSEEMLY STORIES.

BAH-HUMBUG!!!!! Getting away from all of those festive posts that have been appearing on Pen and Paper lately, today I thought I'd bring you a book review.

SMUT: TWO UNSEEMLY STORIES by ALAN BENNETT.

Both 'unseemly stories' in Smut concern women in middle life: Mrs Donaldson, whom sex takes by surprise, and Mrs Forbes, who is not surprised at all.
....... Inner front cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1, 'The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson') "I gather your my wife," said the man in the waiting room.

MEMORABLE MOMENT: (Page 139, 'The Shielding Of Mrs Forbes'): Elsewhere Mr Forbes had not been allowed to forget his despicable behaviour at the wedding and he spent several months in more or less permanent exile to the garden shed.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: A reading group read, I have no intention of buying a copy.

Chosen as one of my reading groups December read, I can hardly wait for our January meeting to find out what people thought of this one. A bit of a prude myself, I can only begin to imagine some of the comments that will be made - mind you, they could all be a lot more liberated than I expected and have really enjoyed the book.

Smut? I guess the title says it all.

Two short stories within the one book, 'The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson', and, 'The Shielding Of Mrs Forbes',  smutty they might well have been but I also found them quite/very funny in that they combined the (almost) 'normal' with the outlandish bordering (or is this just me?) on the perverse.

The funniest of the two books in my opinion, 'The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson' is about a widow who, her husband having died, makes extra money by working in a hospital, playing the role of patients presenting with various ailments to student doctors, and, letting out her spare room to young couples, the first of whom set a precedence when, unable to pay the rent they, well, lets just say they find an alternative means.

The second, 'The Shielding Of Mrs Forbes', I found less funny (probably because it didn't have the advantage of the humour of the hospital scenarios) and was more predictable. The story of a middle class family headed by a mother who believes her family grander than they actually are, her beloved son is about to marry a woman who is not only ugly but, she believes, totally beneath him.

Cleverly written, it seems to me that the author has a big talent for making things sound ruder than they actually are, I would nevertheless recommend caution as though there is nothing too explicit in these stories and what there is is largely dampened with droll humour they are quite rude in an almost typically English end of pier type of way meaning that they are full of an understated, nudge-nudge-wink-wink type of humour that is full of innuendo.

The 104th book read in my 100+ Reading Challenge.

14 Dec 2011

FROM BAUBELS TO GARAGE DOORS ....... WHAT NEXT FOR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.

I know that many of you decorate your home for the festive season, but would you go as far as this .......



WOMAN DECORATES CEILING WITH 1,700 CHRISTMAS BAUBELS. A woman has decked out the ceiling of her living room with a whopping 1,700 Christmas baubles.
Sylvia Pope, 68, started decorating her home in Swansea at the end of September and doesn't expect to finish until Christmas Day.
She already has a bauble collection that numbers 1,700 - which has been brought from all around the world - and each year she spends a further £100 buying new decorations. - The Mirror (December 2011)

OR

How about this?





Browsing the internet I recently came across this article in the motoring section of the Telegraph. Featuring the site Style-Your-Garage.Com, it takes a look at a German based company that produces garage door covers amongst which is a festive range, an example of which can be seen above.

Click HERE to see the Telegraph article in full - I think you'll be amazed at these Christmassy garage doors which can be viewed in their entirety by clicking on the arrows at the side of the image or you could always click HERE to visit the Style-Your-Garage site, their promotional video is kind of fun and, wow, their range of designs (Christmas, Halloween and Animals included) are really something special.

BUT

What happens when it all goes wrong?




FATHER CHRISTMAS RIPS TILES OFF PUB ROOF. Landlord Andrew Marler has had his pub partially demolished by a 'violently shaking' 30ft tall Santa Claus.
The sky-high Santa, costing £3,000, lights up at night and is so colossal it can be seen by passing planes. Six men were needed to lift it onto the chimney where it still has pride of place but has proven to be a one-man demolition derby with strong winds causing the decoration to pull down tiles from the roof of the Old Manor pub in Potters Bar. - The Metro (December 2011)
 


PS. Have you or are you intending to post any photos of your festive decorations? If so, please be sure to let me know.