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“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Room by Mark Strand

I made this: Avid Reader at 7:26 pm 0 comments Links to this post
The Room
   
   It is an old story, the way it happens
   sometimes in winter, sometimes not.
   The listener falls to sleep,
   the doors to the closets of his unhappiness open
   
   and into his room the misfortunes come --
   death by daybreak, death by nightfall,
   their wooden wings bruising the air,
   their shadows the spilled milk the world cries over.
   
   There is a need for surprise endings;
   the green field where cows burn like newsprint,
   where the farmer sits and stares,
   where nothing, when it happens, is never terrible enough.
 
Mark Strand 
 
 
Table Of Contents - Poetry

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Book Club 6 - The Line of Beauty

I made this: Avid Reader at 1:41 pm 0 comments
Date: July 2011
Time: 5pm - 7pm

Agreed on: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Discussed: The Line Of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

Point to Note - this was the 2004 Man Booker Prize winner.
Although the majority of the club enjoyed this book; it was generally agreed that we read it with less enjoyment or sense of urgency than with, say, Cloud Atlas. As one member noted 'For Cloud Atlas, I'd have missed sleep in order to find out where everything was going. With this, although I liked it while I was reading it; I just couldn't be bothered to pick it up half the time.'

We nearly all of us found the book to be beautifully written with complex characters and a wonderfully realised world (frighteningly similar to today's political community). However, very few of us liked many (indeed any!) of the characters. A few of us really seemed to loathe most of them. 

Those characters that we did view in a positive way were seen as such more because they were marginally less obnoxious than the rest, such as Catherine. Even with Catherine, there were those among us who regarded her as a plot device rather than as a person in her own right. Toby - her brother - was also not actively disliked - though it was also argued that he was only ever depicted as an object of desire - seen through rose tinted glasses as it were. 

Nick was seen as a total wimp by the majority, with most not liking him at all; while simultaneously very much enjoying his glimpse and insights into the elite tory 80's world. At least three people regarded him as a total philistine - that despite his stated admiration and love for all things beautiful; he was actually inherently incapable of recognising it or determining it for himself. He was a reflection of the views of everyone around him. If 'they' thought something was beautiful; he did too (then went and read all about it in order to fake insight and generally show off). 

One of our more genius members compared him to Adrian Mole - a comparison that has me tickled pink! Another noted that Nick was an idealist, that he belonged among the intelligentsia and had to ingratiate himself with the privileged in order to achieve his position within it; that he had this world thrust upon him. This was quickly countered by the viewpoint that he had perhaps thrust himself onto it. Although he was erudite - with possibly more 'right' to privilege via education than those born into it - he had no social graces and was in fact a terrible snob.

While the structure and language used within the book were generally admired; here one or two of us had a few quibbles. One member noted that the language - particularly Nick's was specific and jargon heavy. He felt slightly alienated, as though the book wasn't written for him; with certain references seemingly included purely to go over the readers heads. In places the writing was just a tad pretentious. Another noted that the time jumps within the book were also slightly jarring, that she - in particular - was more interested in the progression of the initial relationship in the book than the subsequent subject matter. Leo disappeared and Wani took over, without any sort of indication of what had occured in the meantime. A tad frustrating. 

On the other hand; we almost universally loved, Loved, LOVED the Thatcher appearances. One member very eloquently noted that within this environment, Thatcher had been perceived in a parallel fashion to Elizabeth the first. (I got it at the time, but was scribbling notes like a maniac and so will have this horribly backwards. If anyone wants more details, I'll pass on the twitter addy for this person) The times required a figurehead; Thatcher was it. Seen as desirable, an intellectual force to be reckoned with and the head of society; she remains the only woman in the book treated with deference and respect - particularly when compared to the wives of the ruling elite.  The class element was also really well expressed - especially with the line "The economy's in ruins, no one's got a job, and we just don't care, it's bliss."

The drugs and sex also provided much subject matter - fancy that! Though some regarded the initial sexual forays to be passionate and powerful; others saw them as decidedly lacking in beauty and romance - especially from one who believes himself to be an authority on beauty. Perhaps it is true that every person is as obsessed with sex as Nick - who constantly stared at crotches and fantasised about having sex with almost every available (and unavailable) character; regardless, some of us found this to be slightly over the top. However, the progression within the book of sex, sex with drugs, drugs with sex, drugs, drugs, horrible realisation of health matters to be very powerful. Those of us old enough to remember the terrifying advert campaigns of the 80's regarding AIDS found it to be very well developed within the book.  

Families took a real kicking in this book. Actually; it was argued that that wasn't necessarily the case. Those families closely regarded - the ones higher up the food chain - were seen as destructive, full of lies, deceit, betrayal and cover up's. The Feddens were all lying to each other. Wani's girlfriend being a beard paid for by his parent was fantastically heartbreaking. Those families further down the social ladder, encountered some of the same problems but seemed to have an underlying basis of love and acceptance that served to cushion the inevitable blows.  
The ultimate 'betrayal' of Nick by the Fedden family was obvious and somewhat lacking in subtlety for some of the clubbers. Here, his status as an outsider was confirmed not due to any action or inaction on his behalf, but due to the families implosion. It did make perfect sense witin the book. Heck; there were some of us who felt that it was the best thing that could have happened to Nick - an enforced step away from the craziness of a world that could not survive for much longer. 

All but two of us would definately read othe works by the author...just not immediately. A heavy duty, fascinating and thought provoking read. 

The Verdict
7.7/10

Next Month's Book
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi









The Cake
A delicious layered coffee cake, brought by the lovely R. 

Find the recipe in our 'Sweet Tooth' section!











* * * * * 
Arcadia LBC


21 - Nov - Hard Times - Charles Dickens
20 - Oct - The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
19 - Sep - The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
18 - Aug - The Princess Bride - William Goldman
17 - Jul - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini GUEST
16 - Jun - Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
15 - May - 1984 - George Orwell GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
14 - Apr - BloodChild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler
13 - Mar - The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna
12 - Feb - Heat Wave - Richard Castle
11 - Jan - The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
10 - Nov - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Blood-A-Thon Book 8 - From Dead To Worse

I made this: Avid Reader at 8:09 pm 1 comments
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
Sookie is back in Bon Temps; slowly coming to terms with the terrible events of the last book. She would like to be getting close and cuddly with Quinn, but he disappeared off the map a few weeks earlier. Amelia (the most annoying witch that has ever been created in the whole entire world of fiction) is still unfortunately living…with Sookie and Bob the cat. She is also sort of dating Pam which leads to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that Pam would kill her in a violent, painful and gruesome fashion. Alas, these come to nowt. While visiting; Amelia’s far-less-annoying-and-possibly-evil father informs Sookie that she is an aunt. Instead of pining for Quinn, she resolves to get in touch with Hadley’s ex-husband, Remy and her child. 

Rather unexpectedly; Sookie is asked to step in as a bridesmaid for Andy Bellefleur’s wedding after an unexpected illness. She would fit the dress, but wasn’t close enough to either to warrant an actual invitation. No matter how close to the supernatural world she becomes, it seems that her abilities will always make her an outsider in Bon Temps.

Eric arranges to take her out; then dumps her with a stranger at a posh restaurant. Turns out he’s Sookie’s great-grandfather, Niall! After longing for children for many years; her beloved grandmother Adele had an affair with a half fairy, resulting in who children (one who fathered Sookie; the other who brought Hadley into the world). Though her grandfather is dead, his full blood fairy father isn’t. Niall is the person responsible for sending Claudine (who turns out to a cousin) to keep Sookie safe. Though he claims to love her and want a relationship; it’s worth noting that he has NO INTEREST whatsoever in Jason. Hmmm, power will out huh?

Sookie is dragged into yet another Shreveport werewolf conflict after several of the female pack members are killed. After Katrina; turns out that it wasn’t just vampires displaced with no where to go. Homeless weres have turned their sights to Shreveport due to the conflicted pack – killing weaker but valuable members to set Alcide against Packmaster Furnan and vice versa, hoping they would wipe each other out before realising the external source. Amelia does another ectoplasmic reconstruction but it doesn’t actual reveal anything of interest. (Given that every time she appears someone makes reference to her being a wonderful witch; she rarely ever does anything useful. Grumble mumble) It’s Sookie who uses her abilities to identify one of the culprits. After a brief and brutal war with the invaders; Alcide emerges as the new pack leader. All hail the king…and all that.

Eric is having a strange effect on Sookie. Through their blood bond, she now feels his emotions, vaguely knows his location and craves him – feeling happiest when he is near her. This is driving her crazy. She’s convinced that it’s only the blood making her react thus, though is aware that she still has feelings for him from when he stayed with her as an amnesiac in book 4.

With Queen Sophie-Anne at her weakest, the King of Nevada (Felipe de Castro) begins a bloody campaign to take control of Louisiana and Arkansas. Sophie-Anne is killed, along with all her sheriffs and many of her vampiric children and supporters. Except for Eric, naturally.
Aside from being one of the primary characters in the series; he is responsible for the largest track of land in Sophie Anne’s kingdom, is older than most, has forged good working relationships with the local supernatural’s, is blood bonded to a telepath and has proven to negotiate the modern world efficiently.

Eric  had left Fangtasia to see to Sookie’s safety – so was well out of the way when the fighting began there. Pam continues to demonstrate her role as the second-in-command every vampire would want – protecting all inside Fangtasia and taking out as many of the invading King’s men as possible. Arriving at Sookie’s house, Felipe’s first in command (Victor) offers Eric (and Bill who showed up to assist Sookie should she need it) the option of surrender. Eric will retain his area, sheriff status and all ‘beneath’ him will be allowed to live – including Sookie. Eric considers for a moment then sensibly decides not to continue demonstrating loyalty to a deceased monarch and accepts the terms presented.  He takes Sookie into her bedroom once he knows that they are definitely safe and takes a moment to adjust to his new status. There, the memories of their time together come flooding back. He can’t believe how contented he had been with Sookie.

With the King, to Sookie’s surprise, is Quinn. His mother many years before had been brutally raped and as a result lost some of her faculties. As a were-tiger she is particularly dangerous when in an unstable state. A few months earlier she had escaped from her (were-aware) care home. In order to find and rescue her, Quinn had become the prisoner of the King. Sookie totally understands that his family will always come first for him – as it should – and gently breaks off their relationship.

Onto the ‘b’ strand – Jason and Crystal had married a few books ago after discovering that she was pregnant. As her brother’s representative, Jason chooses that Sookie should be the one to deliver punishment when it is found that the pregnant were-panther had been unfaithful. She is forced to break the claw (hand in human form) of her friend Calvin Harris. Disgusted with Crystal, the whole Hotshot community but most especially with Jason, Sookie realises that she needs to break ties with him for a bit.

As for the ‘z’ story. Amelia turns Bob back into a person with the help of her mentor, Octavia. He’s pretty pissed at her. Octavia could have done it sooner but wanted to continue to hang out with Sookie and Amelia. As punishment for her deception, Amelia invites Octavia to live with them. Sookie feels totally manipulated but Amelia doesn’t have the attention span or ability to stop gazing at her own navel for long enough to notice or care.

At work, Sam stages an intervention with Eric, hoping to restore Sookie to her usual sunny disposition – absent since Jason used her so callously. Eric – still not sure where he stands with her – only seems to wind her up further. Then King Felipe shows up and Sookie is delighted to escape the pair of them.  Her connection with Eric kicks in as she drives away, resulting in waves of panic she realises are coming from Eric so reluctantly she returns to Merlottes. Almost by accident, Sookie saves Eric and the King from one of Sophie Anne’s most devoted and murderous offspring. The King expresses eloquently that he now owes her one.

Niall – determined to prove his usefulness to Sookie has tracked down Hadley’s ex. She visits, hoping to extend her small family circle and realises that she is not the only member of her family to possess telepathy. She promises Remy that she will be there for her young nephew Hunter, happily chatting to her mentally.

*****

Parts of this book were really well done. The whole insider/outsider was quite well explored. Sookie is welcomed with nearly open arms to all those communities that aren’t actually her own. Her presence in Bon Temp is no longer as strained as in earlier books, but she isn’t seen as one of ‘them’ either. Meanwhile, her interactions with those communities in Hotshot and Shreveport are making her more and more aware that she doesn’t ‘belong’ there either.

I’m glad that Quinn is out of the picture though I literally winced when his mother and sister showed up to ask her why she’d broken up with him. Ouch. I’m also pleased that Eric and Sookie have decided to give their whole thing a proper shot (collective well D'oh woman!). Bill on the other hand – showing up to announce that he loves her and dumped the girlfriend he’s been rubbing her nose in. Grr. Just annoys.

But nothing is as bad as Amelia. WHY IS SHE HERE!!!! Please let her get lost in the next book. Please!!

Score  5/10

Blood-A-Thon Reviews
Book 1  - 2001 Dead Until Dark
Book 2  - 2002 Living Dead in Dallas
Book 3  - 2003 Club Dead
Book 4  - 2004 Dead to the World
Book 5  - 2005 Dead As A Doornail
Book 6  - 2006 Definately Dead
Book 7  - 2007 All Together Dead
Book 8  - 2008 From Dead To Worse
Book 9  - 2009 Dead and Gone
Book 10 - 2010 Dead in the Family
Book 11 - 2011 Dead Reckoning

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Blood-A-Thon Book 7 - All Together Dead

I made this: Avid Reader at 8:54 pm 0 comments
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
Sookie has once again agreed to assist Eric and the Queen of Louisiana. This is despite warnings from her fairy godmother – Claudine - who worries that Sookie will be linked permanently to the vampires and their politics. She is still seeing Quinn, but not as often as she would like.

Sookie and co are flown out to attend a summit in Rhodes (OK – so the books are somewhat silly, but I do love this whole Anubis airlines thing. It’s the little details that make this world so enjoyable), leaving the annoying Amelia at home. Vampires from all around the country are flocking in to witness the trial of Queen Sophie Anne; accused of killing her husband (the King of Arkansas). The Queen – only a few years earlier one of the most powerful vampires in the country – is not only facing a trial has also been hit by hurricane Katrina – decimating her power base, numbers and financial wealth. Those still loyal to her dead king are determined to see her meet the sun. Sookie knows that Sophie Anne is innocent – at least of that crime – so feels that she has to help. Also, any refusal could lead to rather nasty reprisals. 

Bill is also in attendance. His ultra-special super-secret project was to compile a database of vamps across the continent. This is deemed especially valuable as he included as many as he could track down – even those who wished to remain anonymous. Naturally it is only to be sold and used by vamps. Every time he interacts with Sookie he does the sad and repentant thing. Thankfully she doesn’t appear to be buying.  Barry the bellhop – the only other telepath Sookie has ever encountered is also there, working for Stan (the head of the vampire clan that Sookie assisted in Club Dead). Naturally Eric is also on site. Aware now of the time that he and Sookie spent together; he is struggling with his emerging feelings for her.

Requiring every advantage, the Queen plans to use Sookie to listen into the minds of the humans attending various vampires. Naturally, Barry is providing the same service for his vampires. Sookie puts her gift to good use – identifying those who are loyal from those who are not. She even manages to resolve one of the Queen’s most pressing issues by suggesting that Sophie raise one of her ‘children’ Andre – who is bound to her by genuine affection and telepathy – and bond herself to him in a genuine love match, rather than have to tactically marry again.

Barry the telepath
A day or so into the summit, the Queen’s chief accuser and almost her entire entourage are brutally murdered. While the Queen magnanimously offers asylum to the sole remainder of the Arkansas vampires; they are lead to believe that she is tricking them and try to stick it to her at the trial. Like an idiot, Sookie leaps up and uses logic (I know – I hadn’t realised that existed in their world either up to this point!) to prove that the Queen was sincere in her efforts to save them and that she can’t have killed the King. Her word carries through and Sophie Anne is allowed both kingdoms. Just as the Arkansas vampire prepares to reveal who it was that talked him into betraying her; an arrow is thrown into his heart.

(Side note – later on; Sookie realises that the Queen had used her telepathy to send one of her most loyal minions to kill the Arkansas vampires while she had an alibi. Proper #headsmack moment there for Sookie)

Andre hauls Sookie off to an empty corridor and demands that she take some of his blood. She is too valuable to his Queen and he is determined to control her. Eric shows up in the nick of time and offers himself as a more palatable alternative – arguing that Sookie has already proven herself a loyal friend to the vampires. Also, she’s had his blood before. Reluctantly Sookie agrees to the exchange – realising that she is now much more powerfully bonded to Eric; that she can feel herself changing and will now never be totally free of him. And just as the whole thing is done; Quinn happens by. Ain’t it always the way?!

As though a bunch of self-cantered egotistical and violent vampires weren’t enough to worry about; the Fellowship of the Sun has increased the violence and frequency of their attacks. So many powerful vampires in one place would be an irresistible target for them. Barry and Sookie realise together that there is something terribly wrong. Putting their heads together (geddit?) they realise that multiple bombs have been placed around the hotel; set to explode when the vampires are tucked up in their coffins. Actually beds in some cases, but why ruin a perfectly good stereotype!?!

Together they manage to warn some of the more powerful vampires early – Sookie ensuring that Eric, Pam and Bill are safe, while Barry does the same with his entourage – before the explosions take place. The Queen loses her legs, but retains her life. Sookie watches coldly as Quinn stakes Andre to protect her in the future.  

* * * * *

So much better than the last book; the final few chapters are so gripping they are stay-up-past-bedtime-to-finish worthy. The real world touches – aftermath of Katrina; musical cultural reference points and so one – are back and these ground the book in a way the series has been lacking for some time.

The second point I was so grateful to see reemerge was the focus on supernatural shenanigans, horrible happenings and terrible terrifyings; rather than on Sookie’s love life. Yes, there are still some ‘golly gee – all the boys seems to fancy me’ moments, but this isn’t what the book is about. Sookie saves Bill – not out of any deep angst ridden drama – but because she’s a decent person (for the most part) and they are friends/have history together. It's good to sort of like her again.

It’s was also really interesting to return to the telepathic aspect. Sookie is still learning how to control her gift/curse. She still doesn’t know what it all means; and her control isn’t as tight as it could be. Though she has better focus that him; her interactions with Barry demonstrate that while he has been growing in relation to his abilities; she hasn’t progressed as much. Hopefully this angle will continue in future books.

Quinn –  despite his oh so dark and moody past (didn’t have room in the review) - seems a bit too good to be true for me. Sure, Sookie likes him, but not the way she likes the dead dudes. In the long run – I think he’ll turn out like Alcide – a nice distraction, but not a proper player. Hmmm, Sam; Alcide and Quinn – I’m thinking that the occasionally furry are just not destined to be with Miss Stackhouse!!

As for Eric? They are becoming more and more tightly bound to one another. Initially it was Sookie who resisted; but in this book we finally see that Eric is starting to wonder if he is too involved with her. He is aware of the changes that are taken place in both of them – though more pragmatic than Sookie – he would rather be bonded to her than dead. His move to protect her from Andre is at once territorial and opportunistic; though it rapidly becomes clear that he is indeed protecting her from greater dangers.

Score 6/10

Blood-A-Thon Reviews
Book 1  - 2001 Dead Until Dark
Book 2  - 2002 Living Dead in Dallas
Book 3  - 2003 Club Dead
Book 4  - 2004 Dead to the World
Book 5  - 2005 Dead As A Doornail
Book 6  - 2006 Definately Dead
Book 7  - 2007 All Together Dead
Book 8  - 2008 From Dead To Worse
Book 9  - 2009 Dead and Gone
Book 10 - 2010 Dead in the Family
Book 11 - 2011 Dead Reckoning

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Book Club 5 - Soulless

I made this: Avid Reader at 2:57 pm 0 comments
Date: June 2011
Time: 5pm - 7pm

Agreed on: The Line Of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

Discussed: Soulless by Gail Carriger

The first in the Parasol Protectorate series.

A polarising book - those who enjoyed it really did while those who didn't were equally vocal against it!

So bear in mind that for each positive or negative point, half of us totally disagreed.

Unfortunately, one or two members had thought that this was a young adult novel and had quite enjoyed it. Then, upon finding out that it wasn't, downgraded their opinion of it. As a YA book it was pretty good; as a book written for adults, they found it less enjoyable - though still better than Twilight! Comparisons were made to Point Horror, the Hardy Boys and Scooby Doo though most agreed that it was a very accessible read and those worked in libraries said they'd order the series in for sure.

A few of the book clubbers found the primary protagonist - Alexia - to be identifiable for the first half of the book. She was feisty, independent and forthright. Also kickass...but only when appropriately dressed! However, for the latter half of the book, her obsession with her male counterpart alienated some of us. 

Though this book was set in a steam punk world, there was surprisingly little detail about it. What there was painted an interesting picture of a world where supernaturals were accepted in a tolerate Victorian Britain. However, given the vast amount of actual technological advances made during this period, it was a shame that they weren't explored in more detail.  As one member put it 'too much supernatural romance, not enough steam punk world'.

On the other hand, the mythology of the supernaturals was interesting, particularly relating to their 'breeding'. (Then again there was a minority who thought that it was a shame that they used vampires and werewolves and failed to use any of the established mythology.)

Some felt that the supernatural romance was over-emphasised taking from the overall mystery of the book. There were certainly some very inappropriate make out sessions - like right in the middle of an escape or while someone (a supposed friend) was being tortured. As a love story; it was both obvious and really poorly explored. Alexia seemed to fall in love primarily because SOMEONE was attracted to her. 

The morality element was also mentioned. Despite being a very forward thinking woman; Alexia required a firm committment before proceding sexually - despite being prepared to go considerably more forward than other ladies of the time.

Another mentioned their irritation at the perspective shown regarding scientists. Progress and technology were always shown in a negative light, while 'natural' things were seen as being cute and cuddly. There was no acknowledgement on all the cultural aspects that have evolved from the pursuit of knowledge. 

A common complaint was the language used. The book lacked structure and was in places clumsy without subtlety.

However, what really irked was that there were unanswered questions at the end of the book. Soulless was an obvious scene setter, never meant to stand alone. Personally, I found this to be rather arrogant on behalf of the author. 


The Verdict

4.7/10 

Next Book Choice!

The Line Of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst  
This was the Man Booker Prize in 2004

Cake
We had a rather delicious cinnamon crumble cake provided for us by @meulop! 

The recipe is now available in our sweet tooth section!!


* * * * * 
Arcadia LBC


21 - Nov - Hard Times - Charles Dickens
20 - Oct - The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
19 - Sep - The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
18 - Aug - The Princess Bride - William Goldman
17 - Jul - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini GUEST
16 - Jun - Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
15 - May - 1984 - George Orwell GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
14 - Apr - BloodChild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler
13 - Mar - The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna
12 - Feb - Heat Wave - Richard Castle
11 - Jan - The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
10 - Nov - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

* * * * *
Book Club - Table of Contents

* * * * *

Canongate Book 1 - And now for something completely different...The Penelopiad

I made this: Avid Reader at 12:25 pm 1 comments Links to this post
On twitter last week, I was asked to recommend some Margaret Atwood books to a friend. A daunting challenge because as soon as you name one of her stellar offerings; you instantly start thinking of another that's just as good!

Requiring a slight respite from all of my Southern Vampire Mysteries (Blood-A-Thon) which - though fun - have become a little repetitive of late; I decided to quickly dip into one of my very favourites - The Penelopiad. 

Released in 2005, this was one of a number of contemporary retellings of classic tales for the Canongate Myth Series. This international project aims to recruit the most vivid storytellers of the day to each recreate a particular story- with their own unique spin. So far authors as varied as Philip Pullman, Alexander McCall-Smith, Michel Faber and A.S. Byatt have contributed - though I have yet to try out any of their offerings. New challenge there I guess!

The Penelopiad takes on the myth of Odysseus' wife Penelope. She has long been regarded as the most faithful and devoted of wives, in contrast with characters such as Helen - considered beautiful but inadvertently (depending on the reading!) destructive. As with many female characters in mythology, Penelope's narrative seems determined by the role she plays in relation to her husband. 

Within the original myth however, there are a few unusual and disturbing factors that were never fleshed out satisfyingly - particularly relating to twelve of her hand maids, who are put to death by Odysseus upon his return. 

A Quick Background to the Myth

The Odyssey is one of two epic poems written by Homer. It is chronologically set after the Trojan war and focuses on the ten year journey home of Odysseus (Ulysses) to the island of Ithaca.

While he is travelling, his wife Penelope is left to manage the island. Odysseus is presumed dead and his wife and son - Telemachus - are forced to deal with the Mnesteres - 108 vying suitors for Penelope's hand in marriage. 

Penelope carrying the bow to the suitors
Unaware that Odysseus has returned to the island; Penelope devises a test for the suitors, who have at this point become openly threatening and violent. Only the man who can string Odysseus huge bow and shoot an arrow through a dozen axe heads is worthy of taking her husbands place.

Suitor after suitor fail at the task. Only the disguised Odysseus is victorious. He then immediately turns on the suitors and - with the assistance of his son and two faithful servants - cuts them down. As part of his cleanup operation he then hangs twelve of Penelope's hand maids for betraying the household by sleeping with some of the suitors before finally revealing himself to a distrustful and hesitant Penelope. Only after describing their marital bed to her does she  believe that her husband has truly returned home.

*****


Review

*****SPOILERS*****
 *****SPOILERS***** 
*****SPOILERS*****
Margaret Atwood's novella explores Penelope's life through her own eyes - from her childhood, her relationship with the coquettish Helen, to her marriage, her life without Odysseus and even her afterlife in Hades.

As Penelope's narrator; Margaret Atwood  presents life on Ithaca in a detailed and human way. She also presents the actions and motivations of the hand maids which I won't divulge here as it's a pretty major spoiler, but it places a fascinating spin on the whole tale!

Between each chapter, the twelve handmaids murdered by Odysseus provide a choral commentary - discussing various topics from their perspective. Each of their interludes are articulated in a different way - a lament, a skipping rope rhyme, a folk song and a court trial amongst them. For me, some of these devices were more successful than others; but it was an excellent tool for allowing them to voice their regrets, fears and opinions with a group voice that remained fresh and vibrant.    

As is typical of an Atwood heroine; Penelope is intelligent, determined and honest throughout the tale. She admits her faults and mistakes readily enough and becomes so much more than a mere lesson in patience and fidelity.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. Then again, I can't recommend any of Margaret Atwood's writings highly enough!


* * * * *
Canongate

* * * * *

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Blood-A-Thon Book 6 - Definately Dead

I made this: Avid Reader at 3:24 pm 0 comments
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
*****SPOILERS*****
This book begins with a giant leap forward in time, which is kind of frustrating.*

At some point between Dead as a Doornail and this book, Sookie has heard that her cousin Hadley had died. She had left the family long before the series started and run a little wild, becoming involved with the Queen of Louisiana and eventually turning into a vampire herself. Leaving all her earthly possessions to Sookie (she'd fallen out with Jason years earlier and obviously still held a grudge), Sookie has been in contact with the Queen's lawyer and arranged to clear her cousins apartment.

Before she heads off, Quinn - who had worked as the umpire at the Streveport were leadership contest - comes calling. He's interested in Sookie and as he seems way less complicated than either of her last beaus, she agrees to go out with him. They head to Streveport for a date and are jumped by some newly turned werewolves. Quinn is able to take care of them, but Sookie is shaken, with no idea who has it in for her...now.

The Queen is to be married to the King of Arkansas - strictly a business arrangement -  but would like the opportunity to speak with one of Hadley's living relatives so insists on setting a meeting up with Sookie after she clears her new belongings.

The apartment has been placed in stasis by the instantly annoying Amelia - a very big headed witch and Hadley's former landlady. 
Once the spell is lifted, the two are attacked by a newly turned vampire who had been stuck in a sort of magical limbo under the spell. 

At the hospital, Bill and Eric both stop in to check up on Sookie. Eric orders Bill to tell her the truth about their past. Reluctantly, Bill confesses that the Queen had sent him to Bon Temps specifically to seduce her. Once Hadley had met the Queen, she had bragged about her gifted cousin. The queen wanted to know more and so he was sent. While he maintains that he actually fell in love with her, Sookie is skeptical, heartbroken and furious.

Sookie had already been summoned to meet the Queen the following night. She goes - though is secretly still livid at how she has been betrayed by her first love. While chatting, she mentions that Amelia is going to do an 'ectoplamic reconstruction' of Hadley's last night. The Queen, as though on a whim, decides to attend with her entourage. Her ulterior motive is to catch one more glimpse at the woman she truly loved, and to ask Sookie to search for an engagement gift Hadley stole and hid. If the King discovers that it is missing, he will use it as an excuse to steal Louisiana from the Queen. 


Quinn happens to be in town - he runs a company that organises supernatural events - and he and Sookie try for another date. Once again they are attacked by were's and this time are taken captive. There is a completely daft walk through a forest with Quinn as a tiger. It's hilarious in its surreality, but that's about it. Sookie's captors turn out to be the Pelt's. Turns out, Debbie was the sane and rational member of the family. Eric shows up - just in time once more - and Sookie is able to negotiate a sort of peace settlement with the totally psychotic Pelt family. 


The Queen and Bill...plotting...
Sookie and Quinn attend the 'marriage' together. Sookie is able to slip the Queen her stolen braclet (having found it in a coffee tin - the most obvious place ever! Why would a vampire have coffee in their apartment?!?). The King decides to attack regardless and the party quickly turns into a blood bath, with the Queen's side ultimately victorious. 

Sookie returns to Hadley's apartment, finding that Amelia has turned her beau into a cat and needs to get out of Dodge. In the most foolish decision in a series of books that lets face it, features more of those than the average, Sookie decides to bring the two dimensional Amelia and Bob the man turned cat home with her.


*****
Right. 

I'm getting a little sick of all these books now. I can't wait to finish this Blood-A-Thon and read something different. I'm thinking something historical.

So maybe you should bare this is mind when I say that this is one of the MOST STUPID BOOKS I'VE EVER READ! While the other books in the series were not necessarily the most intellectually stimulating, they had a humour and a nuance that is totally missing here. 

*There is a short story 'One word answer' in the anthology Bite that fills the gap here between this book and the last. Well thanks so much for not bothering to point that out to the reader Miss 'If-You-Like-My-Books-You'll-Obviously-Read-My-Short-Stoies' Harris. I'm disgusted that the reader was left confused, wondering if they'd miss a chapter somewhere or other just because the author was too arrogant for a 4 line summary.
Aside from that there is way too much going on in this book and none of it seems to be linked. All these disperate threads, with no logical connection. There are too many men and while Quinn seems nice, its instantly obvious that there is going to be a catch. I've never been a Bill fan, but sticking the whole 'seducer of innocent virgins' in is just weird. It seems totally out of character for him.  It makes him weak, a bit pathetic and his previous actions ridiculous.

The resolution with the Pelt family is just as daft. Having spent much of the book trying to kill her, Sookie is happy to trust them on their word that they won't come after her again. Puhlease. No one is that naive. 

Score 1/10
Blood-A-Thon Reviews
Book 1  - 2001 Dead Until Dark
Book 2  - 2002 Living Dead in Dallas
Book 3  - 2003 Club Dead
Book 4  - 2004 Dead to the World
Book 5  - 2005 Dead As A Doornail
Book 6  - 2006 Definately Dead
Book 7  - 2007 All Together Dead
Book 8  - 2008 From Dead To Worse
Book 9  - 2009 Dead and Gone
Book 10 - 2010 Dead in the Family
Book 11 - 2011 Dead Reckoning

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Catherine Cooksonath V - Fenwick Houses

I made this: BookElf at 7:12 pm 0 comments Links to this post



I am now utterly convinced that Cookson should be reclaimed as a feminist writer. This book is just a massive list of reasons why we need equality of the sexes. The heroine, Christine, who tells the story in first person, is a tragic example of why heteronormative patrichal values are EVIL and should be STAMPED OUT.

Dominated her entire life by her abusive brother, and his friend's Dom and his younger brother Sam, and kept under lock and key by her mother who is terrified she will be ruined because of her beauty, Christine is never taught anything other than she must remain pure, and keep the family respectable. When this doesn't happen, the fall out leads to her family collapsing and, in order to cope, she turns to drink.

This book reminded me a little bit of Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (though its not as good, that has to be one of the best books I've ever read). I was made so angry and fustrated by what happened to Christine, but at the same time it made me want to fight all the harder for people's rights to body autonomy,for the right to choose to be a parent, for the right to be respected and not be be abused or mistreated, and for complaints of abuse to be taken seriously.

I officially love Catherone Cookson now.

Cooksonathon 

Book 05 - Fenwick Houses

Book 04 - The Black Candle

Book 03 - Hannah Massey

Book 02 - The Blind Years

Book 01 - The Girl

The Challenge

Catherine Cooksonathon IV - The Black Candle

I made this: BookElf at 6:45 pm 0 comments Links to this post



Loved Loved LOVED this. Like Wuthering Heights/Thorne Birds in that its a tale of two generations, the first one fucking everything up for the second, and JUST like Wuthering Heights and The Thorne Birds the first half of the novel is a billion times better than the first. So I'm just going to talk about that bit, if that's OK, cos this book is looooong and to be honest, I skimmed the second half.

Bridget Mordaunt is the ballsy, brilliant owner of two factories and several other business interests. She is sharpe, and efficient, riding around in her breeches shocking the county, refusing to wear make up or nice clothes much to the disgust of her cousin and ward Victoria, who she has cared for since they were children.

Again, I don't want to go into the entire plot because its a little complicated and also, I would recommend you reading this book. One thing though, I did develop a crush on a literary character, which I haven't done for a veeeery long time, in the form of Douglas Filmore. A wiry, strong, artistic, clever, liberal thinking, sensitive romantic Northerner type? Oh go on then, if you must...

I am LOVING this challenge, even though I'm massively behind, because the books are so different. I've heard so many people complain Cookson's books are all the same but thats clearly bullshit, so far I've read books ranging from 1850-1970s and the only thing that connects them is the themes of family, and that could be applied to any author. I cannot believe I've never read Cookson before, and unlike last year's Steelathon, I haven't wanted to throw the book or the characters accross the room. I'd even go as far to say that Cookson is a wee bit of a feminist writer (though sure she'd disagree) in that her books show the need for equality of the sexes. Bridget Mordaunt is a bit of a hero, and I'll be def doing a 'fictional character special' on her in the future.

Cooksonathon 

Book 05 - Fenwick Houses

Book 04 - The Black Candle

Book 03 - Hannah Massey

Book 02 - The Blind Years

Book 01 - The Girl

The Challenge

Catherine Cooksonathon III - Hannah Massey

I made this: BookElf at 6:06 pm 0 comments Links to this post



Wow. This is such a complete opposite to what I had expected from the Cookson 'image' that I'm not sure what to write. I really don't want to do any spoilers because I would recommend this book as a book that you should read.

It's not a romance, the opposite in fact, this is a Sopranos style fall out. Hannah Massay is a witch of matriach, that has dragged her large noisy family up from Bog's End to Grovesner Road, with ambitions of Brampton Hill. She does this through manipulation and robbing her twelver sons, which she appears to have had purely for the wages they could have brought into the house. Idolising materialism, with no appreciation of learning or intelligent thought, she has disowned one son for marrying 'up' and becoming a school teacher and won't let anyone in her front room to sit on her suite. She is tyrannical and mean, all smiles and laughter on the outside, but keeps her sons closer than Aunt Ada Doom and is mean and rude to her lodger, Hughie, to the point of cruelty.

This isn't her story, though, but that of her daughter, Rosie. The book begins with her mysteriously leaving London with an empty basket and ten pounds from a hastily pawned ring. There is some Massive Mystery as to why she returns to Newcastle and her family, which unfolds beautifully, and isn't what I thought. There are parts of this books that belong to Cookson Bingo, but only a couple, and they sort of fit in with the rest.

Overall, I really enjoyed. Hannah is a great creation, and they should adapt this for TV Drama, she'd be a joy to play. 4/5

Cooksonathon 

Book 05 - Fenwick Houses

Book 04 - The Black Candle

Book 03 - Hannah Massey

Book 02 - The Blind Years

Book 01 - The Girl

The Challenge
 

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