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

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leeds Playlist!

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Very rarely do I do the plug thing...but
...is such a great idea - run by a book club member no less (waves to @Wandapops) - how could I resist!

 - From the blog...

This is how we do it
To take part in Leeds Playlist you must be in Leeds and on Twitter. It is important to me that it is local and social :)  

  • Make a 10 track playlist based on the current set theme, a freestyle theme of your choice or your take on a previous freestyle theme.
  • You can only submit 1 playlist of 10 tracks per theme. It’s hard I know!
  • Email me your tracklistings  – if it’s for the set theme it must be sent by the deadline given. Freestyle themes can be sent at any time. ( See contact page for details).
  • Include an intro paragraph about why you chose the theme/the songs.
  • Send me a link to the playlist on Spotify, YouTube or as a mix on Mixcloudor Soundcloud – or ALL! (Providing more than one way to listen makes it more accessible to everyone)
  • Please include your Twitter name and the name of the playlist theme in the title.
  • I also need an image to go with the blog post. Bonus points for creating your own.
  • Chat about the playlists via Twitter using #LeedsPlaylist and comments on the blog.
  • Please have fun with it - variety and personality are encouraged!
  • Share, share, share!
I will publish as soon as I can – depending on the amount of playlists received and how often I decide to post in the future (there may be a limit on future submissions for this reason). If you have any questions, please ask!
Please note: As it’s all new, the rules may change as we go along so please check back here before submitting future playlists!

We were delighted to see our playlist up over the weekend (Alice in Wonderland).

If you fancy joining in, drop a line to @LeedsPlaylist

Don't forget to tweet using the following! #LeedsPlaylist 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Guest Blog - Dead Like Me by Adam Troy Castro

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Mark Swain is a friend of Leeds Book Club and writes short fiction here! A huge fan of the horror genera, this is the first time he's reviewed for us - hopefully the first of many!
You can also drop him a line on twitter as @DemonHeadClash

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In this story the author deals with his protagonist surviving a zombie outbreak by acting like one of the undead. Although it slightly reads as a list of instructions in how to act and, more importantly, how not to react, the writing style is never done in a matter of fact manner and therefore the reader connects with the protagonist.

Whilst this might sound a difficult style to follow - given the author is the narrator but also story teller - it works well here and allows the writer to give us an insight into what is going on around the protagonist and also his back story.

Clearly given the main character is acting like a zombie in order to 'fit in' and survive then this story does have it's fair share of visceral imagery but none of it which I would say is over the top and actually adds to helping us paint a picture of this person’s desperate situation. Anyone who doesn’t get a slight pain in their legs when reading the line about rotted away tendons isn’t human!

Having read the story I can see a great deal of themes emerge which are the staples of zombie fiction - loneliness; dealing with loss and facing death to name but three. However this story deals with other issues which are unique to this tale.

I certainly got the feeling that the author was trying to convey a warning regarding how changing yourself for others can force you in difficult positions. Obviously in this piece the character wanders from horrible situation to horrible situation but the
same message could be applied to our modern, faceless society.

The other aspect is the character's approach to the zombies. He has clearly been through, and seen, a lot since he discovered he can pretend to a zombie and in doing so seems to identify with them, a sort of Stockholm Syndrome if you will. In the beginning of the tale the character points out that the zombies are never referred to as zombies simply as 'those Bastards'. However half way through the story having described a particularly nasty bus explosion he states 'you’d feel that the Living were silly bastards’ which seems to indicate the character feels the same about the zombies as he does about the living, we see another indicator towards this mind set when the character states later on that he might eat rat poison by mistake one day and he might
not even notice his own death or ‘maybe it has already happened’. However close to the end the author again refers to the zombies as 'Bastards' indicating there is a battle going on within this person; the part of him which is prepared to do anything to
survive and the part which wants to admit his own humanity.

The brilliance of this story is that it deals with a lot of the themes that we see in zombie fiction without pushing any of them too much and allow the reader to not only enjoy the story but also have an insight into this person's psyche.

The story makes the point that, put under pressure, we are prepared to do anything to survive and after a while that behaviour becomes normal and acceptable. And that is the real horror.

Dead Like Me is available for free online here and is part of 'The Living Dead' anthology as edited by John Joseph Adams.

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Read more of Mark Swain's writings here!

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Table of Contents - Guest Stars

Monday, 20 February 2012

Mount TBR 1# The Shadow of the Moon by M.M.Kaye

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So I know having my first TBR challenge post at the end of February is pretty poor showing on my part, but I have many and numerous excuses for this, mostly along the lines of a)a lot of shit went down for me in the first two months of 2012, most of it for the positive and b)it's not like I haven't read anything, I just haven't read anything I already owned. YOU try working in three libraries and having as many booky friends as I do, and then having a birthday and be given shed loads of Amazon vouchers (thank you) and then reading books you already owned! It's blumming hard, I tell thee!

But what a start to the challenge this was. I gushed heavily over M. M. Kaye's epic doorstopper romance The Far Pavilions, that I found in PovAid for 50p back in 2010, and I've been wanting to read more of her stuff ever since. I found The Shadow of the Moon, her 1958 romance reprinted on the back of The Far Pavilions success in the late 70s in PovAid last summer and once again snapped it up. However, it was, again, epically long, so sat on my shelf looking pretty for months. This February I've been in desperate need of cheap romance novels, however, and after binging on Cooper this tome was calling out to me.

Set for the most part during the 1857 (I think) Indian Mutiny and the months preceding it, this book is beautifully written, gripping from the off and that great mix of romance and terror that made The Far Pavilions so readable.

Winter de Ballesteros (best name ever. Fact) is the orphan heiress who is abandoned by her stuffy English aristocratic family to a arranged marriage with a gold digging bigot when she is 11. Travelling to India to be with her husband as a beautiful seventeen year old, she is placed under the care of dashing Captain Alex Randell. Alex is seemingly the only British officer to notice, or care, that the rule of the East India Company is failing and that the people of the Kingdoms of Hind are spoiling for a fight. Winter, obviously, falls for Alex and together they must survive the bloody fallout of years of incompetent and disrespectful colonialist rule.

Alex is my favourite part of the book. One of those heroes it's impossible not to fall a little bit in love with (which I have done, massively), he's such a good, well-rounded character that he lifts the lesser parts of the book-including the slightly 2D portrayals of the Indian characters-up to soaring heights. Constantly banging his head on a brick wall over the behaviour of his bigoted, ridiculous superiors including the horror that is Conway Barton, Winter's husband, Alex is conflicted within himself to the point of almost changing sides. He doesn't believe in Britain's Divine right to rule, but seeing as they are there believes it must be down to the best of their ability. Like Ashton in The Far Pavilions, Alex uses the disguise of a native Indian, gets to know the local people and their customs and has many varied adventures throughout the book. He is honorable and well mannered and in real life it would be hard not to just launch myself at him.

The romance side of the book is subtly done. We see both Winter and Alex's point of view and what I loved was how instinctive their feelings towards each other were. Alex doesn't moon over his love, he has far bigger things on his mind, but when he collapses in her arms it's real and you can feel the passion there. Winter is a wonderful heroine, though a little bit Stock Feisty for my tastes, and her back story, which takes up the first 200 pages or so, is fascinating.

Writing wise, I couldn't fault this book. Her use of colour, of smell, the way she brings the world around her to life, it's so sumptuous. She makes it seem so easy, parts you can feel her pen gliding over the page. The book is about racists, and includes a long of language that made me wince, so that combined with a slightly rushed and clunky ending (she could have easily stretched the last fifty pages of 200 or so and it wouldn't have felt like too much, that's how stunning the writing is) takes this down to a four, rather than the five stars it otherwise thoroughly deserves.

Any romance fans out there, get into M.M. Kaye! As far as I can figure out, she's out of print, which is a huge shame. With a bit of an edit (some of the turns of phrase are very very 50s) this could be a best seller now. Beautiful book and I'm really really glad I've finally read it.

Purchased PovAid, Summer 2011

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Ongoing Challenges Table of Contents 

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Sunday, 19 February 2012

ArcadiaLBC Book 11 - The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

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Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: 15th January 2012
Time: 5pm - 7pm

Discussed: The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall

Agreed on: Heat Wave - Richard Castle

Our first meeting since before Christmas and it's felt like aaaaaaaaaagggggggggggeeeeeeeesssssss!

THE BLURB (from BookBrowse)
If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.

With these words Edgar Mint, half-Apache and mostly orphaned, makes his unshakable claim on our attention. In the course of Brady Udall's high-spirited, inexhaustibly inventive novel, Edgar survives not just this bizarre accident, but a hellish boarding school for Native American orphans, a well-meaning but wildly dysfunctional Mormon foster-family, and the loss of most of the illusions that are supposed to make life bearable.

What persists is Edgar's innate goodness, his belief in the redeeming power of language, and his determination to find and forgive the man who almost killed him. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is a miracle of storytelling, bursting with heartache and hilarity and inhabited by characters as outsized as the landscape of the American West.
As is our wont; we got stuck in immediately.

For many of us; this was a book that, though enjoyable in the main, lacked coherency in places. Though there are four distinct sections - hospital, school, family and epilogue - the book occasionally felt lost within its structures rather than securely tethered to them.  The descriptions of the geographical locations were rather beautifully realised, and even the oddities of the weather seemed to create a natural environment for Edgar. Switching from the fist to third person was jarring for a few of us, though others found it to be an idiosyncrasies of Edgar's in line with his injuries. One or two of the clubbers even noted tenuous pattern within its use, but found it tricky to describe.

The majority of us enjoyed the hospital scenes. While the injury itself was grotesque and perhaps a touch ridiculous (the mail man cared so much while Edgar's own family were disinterested and cold; wrapped up in their own lives. We know that it happens, but it was difficult to process nonetheless); the realities of being the 'vunderkid' and hospital darling were well articulated and authentic. The way his fellow patients and nurses responded to him also felt like it could have happened. The mad doctor divided us a bit. While some of us hoped that he was ultimately working for Edgar's good; others found his behaviour towards the other patients (particularly Art) repugnant and couldn't warm to him from that point onwards.

Edgar on the other hand was easy to like. He was totally oblivious to the world around him, with social skills that only seemed to develop on an as and when basis - he was capable of compassion and love but had a harder streak within him because of the horrors of his experiences. We loved the motif of the typewriter - gifted to him in the hospital, Edgar uses it throughout the book. Although it is only mentioned here and there it is a link point that resonated with all of us. In the same vein, Art was a positive albeit distant tether. As the story progresses his character more or less disappeared but the memory of him provided Edgar with a faith in the world that all the troubles life threw at him couldn't shift.   

The school years felt like they were floundering a touch to some of the book clubbers. While it was interesting, it was bleak, heartbreakingly so actually. Forget about the story as a whole for a moment, let's focus on one particular page. In most copies, it was roughly pg105 which featured this truly gross scene that gave a few of us serious ick factors. As one member put it 'it offended her feminine sensibilities'. We all laughed before a (male) book clubber said that it had the same effect on his feminine sensibilities! 
And that was where the writing seemed to let itself down slightly. While the story seemed to follow a particular tone, every now and again there was a scene of incredibly nastiness, cruelty worthy of Chuck Palahniuk that didn't seem to be either necessary or in tune with the book as a whole. 

The friendship and enemies made during those years were poignant and thought provoking for the most part - I was particularly taken by the character with the degenerative disease (I want to say Stirling?) though Nelson seemed very two dimensional in comparison. Given how important his friendship with Cecil was, I was surprised at how quickly he faded from my mind until his tragic conclusion during the third section. 

Once again, crazy doctor Barry lurked in the shadows of the school sections. During this phase, his crazy was much easier to identify thought there were humorous moments every now and again - such as the donning of robes and pretending to be a priest that did relieve the misery of those years a touch. 

Personally; I found the third section to be the most difficult to swallow. While it is understandable that Edgar would do all he could to escape from the school (and to a lesser extent Barry)I found this section began as almost an advertisement for a particular faith. The family themselves felt quite straightforward - after suffering such a loss, it seemed quite natural to want to take in strays - to pour that displaced love into something else.The interactions with the little know it all son, likewise, had a ring of authenticity. However, the female characters were poorly realised - the daughter and mother both seemed to act very oddly, out of character even as thinly drawn people.

In fact, most of the females within the story were caricatures, with few three dimensional characters. While Edgar's grandmother had a definite spark; she featured in the book so very little that she was rendered somewhat meaningless. Her daughter was an alcoholic and nothing else, with no hint of a maternal spark or even personality traits beyond her addiction - more than a little frustrating. His adoptive step mother features no better. She is 'caring' personified until she decides to engage in an affair with Barry - a lunatic increasingly unable to portray himself in a more lucid fashion. It was feeble and contrived. The male characters that are not drawn out in detail still escape the indignity of such base behaviours throughout the book. Well, I say that, Barry did run over a load of rabbits at one point (no, actually) so I suppose it could have been worse.

We were also somewhat divided as to the epilogue of the book. On the one hand, after such a miserable and hard life, it was pleasant that Edgar found some measure of peace, a home, a family that he cold genuinely connect to. 
On the other - what a load of nonsense! The entire book was set up for him to track down the mailman and we find out this? It was like the Wayne's World super-douper-happy ending covered in sugar, dipped in treacle then deep fried and forced onto a diabetic (ahem, I didn't buy into it at all...can you tell?). 

So, a mixed bag. The writing was solid though and a far few of us would definitely give another book by this author a go in the future. The blurb on the other hand - totally misleading. This book is never fall on floor funny or anything close to it. 


Next Book Choice

Heat Wave - Richard Castle
Our first book written by a fictional character - I'm excited and afraid all at once!

A tie in with the TV series Castle, this is the first of three Nikki Heat novels ostensibly written by the titular character. (There is also a Derrick Storm novel for fans of the show.) 

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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

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Book Club - Table of Contents
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Book Club - Table of Contents

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MedusaLBC Book 1 Review and Canongate Book 7 - Ragnarok

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Medusa LBC

Venue: Medusa Bar in Horsforth 
Date:  Wednesday 11th January 2012
Time:  7:00pm

Discussing: Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

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Our first ever meeting at Medusa Bar in Horsforth. The bar was kind enough to offer us HUGE platters of delicious food, so massive thanks for that!

THE BLURB (from Canongate myth website) 
Ragnarok retells the finale of Norse mythology. A story of the destruction of life on this planet and the end of the gods themselves: what more relevant myth could any modern writer choose? Just as Wagner used this dramatic and catastrophic struggle for the climax of his Ring Cycle, so AS Byatt now reinvents it in all its intensity and glory. Ragnarok is the story of the end of the world. It is a tale of destruction of life on this planet and the end of the gods themselves. What more relevant myth could any modern writer find? As the bombs rain down in the Second World War, one young girl is evacuated to the English countryside. She is struggling to make sense of her new wartime life. Then she is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods – a book of ancient Norse myths – and her inner and outer worlds are transformed. War, natural disaster, reckless gods and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that A.S. Byatt weaves into this most timely of books.

This was not only our first Medusa LBC book; it was also one of the Canongate Myth series (ongoing challenge for those who aren't regular blog readers - here). As a result, I'm going to structure this a little differently than my usual book club write ups.

This was also a slightly shorter discussion that usual. A few of us hadn't had a chance to complete the book. On top of that, as our first meeting we were all getting to know each other. 

Background to the Myth
Battle of the Doomed Gods - F. W. Heine 1882
Based on the Norse myth of a series of future events. Ultimately; it is the end of the gods, featuring the deaths of several of the most prominent characters within their mythology even Odin, the father of the gods. 
More that that; it reflects on how the gods were in fact the architects of their own doom. Their conviction that there actions had no consequences blinded them to the conflict originating within their own ranks, making it feel increasingly relevant to the world today.

The Book Club Reviews
Unfortunately, a few people found reading this book similar to wading through treacle. Though the majority of us found the language to be beautiful; the lack of narrative flow (the story only seemed to kick in during the second half of the book) meant that it was difficult to form a link with any of the characters. Additionally; they were all gods, with a unique view of the world that we couldn't relate to. With all their superpowers; the reader was utterly excluded from their thought processes.

The most important contextual information for the reader wasn't provided until the end of the book - for some of us it felt like the conclusion actually read like the introduction.

Personally, I LOVED this book. Having never read an A.S. Byatt book before; I feel in love with her style, the language used, even the backwards structuring. I'm really looking forward to reading EVERYTHING else that shes EVER written. 

A few of the book clubber did find that although they might not have enjoyed this book so much; they would be inspired to look up the myths and legends that inspired it. From that perspective alone another Canongate winner! 



Listened to a lot of Loreena McKennitt while I was reading this book. There is a passion and power behind the songs that really seemed to resonate with the plot. 

Read it? What music would you pick? 

Book the Next: 

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Venue: Medusa Bar
Date:  Wednesday 8th February 2012
Time:  7:00pm
Address: 8-10 Town Street, Horsforth, Leeds 

For further details, please email me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!

Contact the bar on @MedusaBar

And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #MedusaLBC!

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2012 - MedusaLBC

14 - Mar - Started Early, Took My Dog - Kate Atkinson
13 - Feb - The Black House - Peter May - Postphoned
12 - Jan - The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - GUEST

11 - Nov - Empire of the Sun - JG Ballard
10 - Oct - Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (not *that* one)
09 - Sep - Before I go to sleep - S.J. Watson
08 - Aug - 9 Lives - Clive Rusher
07 - Jul - Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
06 - Jun - A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving - GUEST
05 - May - The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
04 - Apr - Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith 
03 - Mar - We need to talk about Kevin - Lionel Shriver
01 - Jan - Ragnarok - AS Byatt
An exciting new project! - Medusa LeedsBookClub

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Book Club - Table of Contents

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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Books to cheer a person up!

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Earlier this week, a member of the twitterati posted a shout out to her fellow book clubbers asking for recommendations for books that could distract and cheer a person up.
It was surprisingly difficult at first - instantly the most miserable books we've ever read jumped to mind (ahem). Or ones that are personally perfect but more tricky to explain (especially in 140 characters) - such as Anne Frank's Diary or His Dark Materials. 
They lift me up when I've lost my way but aren't exactly works that make you laugh aloud!

We had a right giggle about how miserable our tastes were as a collective before the wheels in our heads started turning and we were able to offer a few (hopefully) viable suggestions. 

Course, once I'd started thinking down this vein, I couldn't stop. So, I've had a think about some of my favourite go-to-when-I'm-down-in-the-dumps books, listed in no particular order below. As always, please feel free to tweet or leave a comment below with some of your choices, questions or comments.

Pride and Prejudice/Bridget Jones' Diary 
(Jane Austen and Helen Fielding respectively)
Introduced to me by my mum, P & P holds a special place in my heart. It's my go-to book whatever mood I happen to be in! The language used is beautiful, the characters are engaging and the romance is at once obvious and lovely. Every line weaves a story around readers that at once captivates and transports. A must read!

BJD is - as everyone and their uncle knows - a modern homage to the Austen classic. Casting my generations Mr Darcy into the films series was an absolutely inspired stoke of genius! I have to admit, I tend to watch this one rather than read it, but if you haven't tried this lovely book yet, I'd highly recommend it!

The Daisy Dalrymple Series (Carola Dunn)
Leeds Book Club discovered this series not long after we started the book club. Each of the original three members would pick up a book when and where we could and share them, reading I think 8 in the space of a few weeks.
Set in the flapper era of the 1920's, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is a journalist and amateur detective - solving crimes in a discrete and often hilarious way. She is young, energetic, enthusiastic and determined. The sort of character that you'd love to meet and befriend.
The mysteries are not the *most* elaborate, but the books are well written and feature frequent nods to those masters of the genera such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers.    

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
I've just realised that I haven't read this book IN TIME!
Clearly, I must remedy this!
A mad, strange, oddly poignant and hilarious look at the end of the human race; this book (based on a radio show) is one of those romps that just has you racing to finish so that you can start it all over again!
The first book in a trilogy of five, all (except the somewhat sobering final book) are uplifting with just the right degree of odd.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl. And you'll never look at your towel the same way again.

And remember, Don't Panic!

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Actually the reason I'm living in Yorkshire. OK, maybe not the *only* one...
Magic, mystery, friendship and family. This book is all good things in one perfect little package.
While I can't be sure, I think that I remember my parents reading this to me in my very youngest years.
Certainly it's a book I can't ever remember not having within reach.
I do know that this was one of those books that I reached for over and over again during my formative years, especially when I felt my world crashing down on me.
Simple, gracious and deeply moving, perfect for any age.

Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling)
I've already written about this series before - I guess everyone knows how much I love both the books and the films. Ever since first picking up the books, I've had regular re-reads of the full set. In fact, I happen to know that the SP has just completed her full set re-read too!
A classic tale of good versus evil, hope despite the odds, redemption, betrayal and everything in between - Harry goes through the gauntlet of emotions, taking the reader with him. The world always cheers me up!

James Herriot/Gerald Durrell
Slightly cheating here - two in one and all, but I discovered these two authors around the same time.
Though the styles and content are totally different; both sets revolve around the restorative powers of the natural world; the grace that exists all around us, right under our noses.

Featuring exaggerated characters and situations, these books put the real world into a blissful relief, reminding us over and over again that we have to live our lives in harmony with the world around us to achieve the same within ourselves.
Also, gigglicious to the extreme - particularly the Corfu trilogy.

Roald Dahl
Yes, Yes, I know. I may have mentioned this once or twice in the past.

Suffice to say; I enjoy both his children's books and his far darker adult novels in equal measure. 

For cheering up; I'd personally turn to his poetry for a giggle and a whole new perspective on the world. 

Agatha Christie
The Queen of Crime. 
With over 66 detective novels and 14 short story anthologies, Christie manages to keep even the most grumpy reader intrigued. 
And with so many different detectives, you're bound to find a personal favourite. 
I return to the elusive Harley Quinn, over and over again when I'm in a bad head space. The idea that the past can allow for more than mere reflection is one that keeps me going no matter how bad the scenario.     

The Green Gables Series (Lucy M Montgomery)
A book about new beginnings, finding family and making friends, the series does not shy away from the harsher realities of life but manages to remind us to put a positive spin where we can, focusing on hope, rather than despair.

The red haired orphan (with an exceptionally pretty nose)bounded onto the Prince Edwards Island in 1908 and into the hearts of generations of readers all around the world every since.
It's a joy to read and re-discover every few years.

Fancy giving the series a try, find the first book on Project Gutenberg

Join Me (Danny Wallace)
The very witty tale of an accidental cult leader and his Karma Army.
This book charts the (apparently) totally unplanned creation of a movement for social good; from it's inception.
While I don't totally believe that the whole movement happened entirely by accident; Wallace writes well and seems to be an eminently likable chap. I very much enjoyed the read and look forward to reading Random Acts of Kindness - the follow up.  

Special Mention:
What Katy Did...(Susan Coolidge)
I can almost see t'Elf rolling her eyes - she's heard me go on about these books for so many years.

For personal reasons Katy and the Carr family are heroes of mine. I love the three Katy books so very very much - they helped me through some of the darkest days of my life.

If you'd like to read it, the books are on Project Gutenberg.

(Did you really think I'd be able to leave him out!)

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Review Table of Contents

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Scaring Children? I'm all for it!

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A regular Leeds Book Club member (and current @PeopleOfLeeds!) lent me Dark Season - a young adults book written by Russell T Davies (the man responsible for bringing us the revived Doctor Who in 2005!).

Released concurrently with a 6 part TV series, this book consists of two interlinked stories - featuring three young teenagers battling evil dominating and insidious...grown ups!

(Did you spot the oh-so-very young Kate Winslet?)

Now, it was a quick and very enjoyable read - I finished it in one sitting with two (rather large I grant you) mugs of coffee. I looked forward to returning it to my mate, knowing we'd have a good natter about links between it and the tales of the Timelord.

And that would have been that. 

Except there was this piece on one of the breakfast shows this morning (possibly yesterday depending on when I post this!) about a recent study showing that parents are shunning fairy tales in favour of more modern tales; deeming them too scary for children.*

Apparently one in five sets of the polled parents would rather read more modern fare to their sproggits - such as the Hungry Caterpillar or the Gruffalo. One third of those polled had children burst into tears after having Red Riding Hood read to them (they should have tried the Roald Dahl version). Parents - according to this study - didn't want to have to explain particular concepts, or have their children exposed to anything that might stimulate rather than soothe them. 
Dark Seasons - while not written for a particularly young audience - would almost certainly NOT be deemed suitable. Our protagonists are in danger throughout the novel - both mentally and physically, having to make decisions with long reaching consequences.

Taking a closer look at the fairy tales, I suppose I can sort of see where they are coming from - Goldilocks is a thief and squatter chased away by her victims; Rumpelstiltskin threatens to kidnap a future offspring; Jack abandons his family to climb a Beanstalk resulting in his murdering a giant in cold blood; Cinderella provides slave labour for her extended family.

I could continue, but I'm sure you See where I'm going with this!

Now, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with gentle, fun and imaginative stories, designed to soothe a young child into sleep. Or that it isn't a parent's right to protect their young un's for as long as possible. Of course it's up to mum and dad whether their specific child is emotionally ready to have these tales read to them. No one has the right to DEMAND that particular tales be read.

However, I would point out that fairy tales have been around for hundreds of years; told to a dozen generations of children and ...you know...look around. The vast majority of us have turned out just fine.

Sure, some of these tales have definitely fallen out of favour (All Fur by the Brothers Grimm for example - dealing with a daughter fleeing an incestuous father)or changed to fit more modern audiences and their expectations (the feminist fairy tales and politically correct tales my parents procured for me just LEAP to mind) or utterly changed to fit a particular corporate identity (Hello Disney's Little Mermaid).

However, the point of fairy tales is that they demonstrate that life is full of adversity; that good will eventually overcome evil; that many of life's greatest challenges can be best tackled with just a touch of common sense. They are for many children, the second (after mum and dad) moral base to cling too. It is from our parents that we learn - even at a very young age - how to respond to the world around us.

Children are often far tougher cookies than we grown ups (*ahem*) give them credit for. They need to be just to survive other children! However to allow them to take on life challenges and emerge as confident, well adjusted youngsters/teens/adults, parents need to set the tone - if a child finds a story scary perhaps an explanation, a bit of a cuddle and the realisation that they are protected and loved, even when bad things do happen will better prepare them adequately and appropriately for the next stage in their lives..

The Guardian have a hilarious post on this topic here.

This study was organised by Watch (a TV channel) as part of promotion for new show 'Grimm' - an adult look at fairy tales - as part of their promotion for the show over here.

Find the trailer below!

*Now the study didn’t actually specify too many details – for example the ages of the children’s, but still, it set the old neurons blazing, resulting in this piece! 

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