Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: January 2010 (page 1 of 5)

A Fun Way to Learn a Bit of Latin

Amo, Amas, Amat… and All That: How to Become a Latin Lover by Harry Mount

While I love all things ancient and Roman, and can have a go at translating easy bits of Latin, I can’t claim to be able to write it at all. I can hear you exclaiming, “But you have a Latin motto on your blog! What’s that all about then?” “Simples!” (as Alexandr Meerkat would say – sorry!) – Mottos just sound better in Latin. I did have a go at writing it myself with the aid of a quite scholarly grown-up teach yourself Latin book Learn Latin. In the end though I needed help, and my colleague Dr Ridd from Abingdon School sorted my schoolgirl Latin out.

Then my other half gave me this book for Christmas. It combines all the Latin grammar an amateur needs, with added bits about all things Latin and Roman. These include discussions on the famous Monty Python sketch in Life of Brian and Jeeves’ propensity to spout bits of Latin amongst other references. Also included is an etymological list of common Latin expressions in use in English today. All of this is written in a jocular fashion and is thoroughly entertaining.  I’m sure a bit more of the language has sunk in. I’ve certainly got a new appreciation for many a Latin phrase, but also much English grammar along the way. 

I also found out that the author despises the Cambridge Latin course – which was a rather touchy-feely way of teaching Latin introduced into schools in the 1970s (and still going).  Of course that’s how I learned my Latin!  About a third of the O-Level marks were for earned for spouting about ancient Roman life – which was fab.  Unfortunately, you didn’t have to learn conjugations and declensions off by heart as in the trad approach, so while you could always translate the stems – you didn’t always get the sense of the syntax/grammar properly.  I still managed to get an ‘A’, but possibly because we had previously translated the ‘unseen’ Pliny passage in the exam for prep the month before, and I really did know my set text Virgil off by heart …

If you want to brush up your grammar and learn how to use Latin in everyday English, this book will be really useful in a fun way; as a Latin primer though, it’s far too much fun (but good for revision)!  (7/10)

Down and borassic in 1930s London

At the Chime of a City Clock by D J Taylor

This novel is a cleverly portrayed slice of 30s noir. It’s set in the seedy backstreets of London in 1931.

James Ross is an aspiring writer, but there’s no chance of making a living at it. His landlady is always after the rent money – but he’s permanently borassic. (Boracic Lint = Skint). So he gets a job as a door-to-door salesman flogging carpet cleaner – his commission gets him 2/6 – a whole half a crown per sale – could be a nice little earner. Then he meets Susie, a real looker, and falls head over heels for her – it seems she likes him too. She works as a secretary for the odd Mr Rasmussen who, James is sure, is up to no good. Meanwhile a chipper lad called Leo is also trying to make ends meet, but is not above helping out in shady deals.

James is desperately trying to save up enough money to take Susie away for a dirty weekend, when an opportunity arrives to take the place of a friend at a houseparty to which Rasmussen is going – and he’s taking his secretary…

This novel was really successful at recreating 1930s London, when guys wore hats and everyone met at Lyons tea shops where they drank cups of ‘ackermaracker’. The language was full of slang including swear-words – ‘Berkshire’ (Hunt) took me a while to cotton on to! In fact I got out the ever-reliable Eric Partridge Dictionary of Slang to check a few – it appears that ackermaracker comes from an elaborated prison blackslang word for tea!

It was less successful in terms of plot. The front cover proclaims it as a thriller – I’d call it ‘thriller-ish’. There are scams going on, but they’re almost incidental to James trying to make a few bob all the time. At first we alternate between James and Leo which is slightly confusing, but gradually James moreorless takes over the plot.

I enjoyed the read for the evocation of London life, but wished there had been more plot. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme, 7/10)

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #1

I won’t deny that I get loads of ideas and inspiration for posts and blog improvements from other blogs – don’t we all? A huge thank you to everyone who’s inspired me in this way. Something a lot of bloggers do, and I haven’t so far, is a regular round-up post.

Doing a quick survey, Simon at Savidgereads does his Bookish Bits on a Saturday, whereas Jackie at Farmlanebooks does an end of the month summary, and Teresa at Shelflove gives us weekly Notes from a Reading Life as part of her Sunday Salon posts.

While I like the idea of the Sunday Salon it is closed to new sign-ups having reached the number of contributors that the software can cope with. Looking for an USP, I thought I’d make my round-up ‘Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany’. It won’t happen every week, but it will appear on Wednesdays. So here goes …

*****
Simon T’s Ten Random Books Meme, is spreading. It was such fun to do, and my version is here, and here are more fascinating results for your delectation …

*****

Last Thursday I took part in a Blog Blitz organised by Kelly at YAnnebe to highlight great YA novels that not many people have read. Kelly used the power of the Librarything tagging system to analyse the numbers of LT users that owned each YA tagged book. Over 25,000 LT users own Twilight for instance, but there are thousands of books owned by 500 people or less. Then invited LT users with public catalogues who are bloggers to highlight some of their favourite rarely owned YA titles, and even gave us personalised lists to work from. This must have been a massive project and nearly 50 bloggers took part by posting – and I’ve added to many to my wishlists from others’ posts! To sum it all up, Kelly is publishing some final data from all the books highlighted. Go Kelly!!!

*****

Lastly this week – Incoming. New arrivals at Gaskell Towers include:

  • The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar – it’s steampunk. A masked terrorist is putting bombs into books – oh no!
  • Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. First published in 1947 in Germany, this book chronicles the horror and terror of German life during WWII. It’s also a chunkster with over 500 pages.
  • The Mayor’s Tongue by Nathaniel Rich. Scott Pack said this reminded him of Paul Auster . Well anything Austerish will attract my attention.
  • Intuition by Allegra Goodman, a novel of Bad Science. This medical thrillerish novel was bound to appeal to the scientist bit of my brain.
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – I finally gave in on and bought this one – in hardback too even though the paperback is out this month.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – after all the posts and comments around on this book – I succumbed.
  • And finally, with many thanks to the lovely Dovegreyreader, a boxed set of Oxford Bronte essentials arrived. I won this set in one of her Twelve Days of Christmas giveaways. Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights in nice new Oxford World Classics editions will now grace my shelves.

But darling the virus won’t affect us, will it?

The Death of Grass by John Christopher

The 1950s saw an explosion of science fiction and cultural dystopias. In 1951 there was John Wyndham’s ground-breaking novel Day of the Triffids, followed by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. Then there was Quatermass on the television. William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies was also published in 1954.

Then in 1956 The Death of Grass was published. John Christopher was an established author, but this was his breakthrough novel. Readers may recall The Tripods BBC TV series which was made in the mid-70s from a trilogy of books he later wrote for older children. But back to The Death of Grass. It’s not really a science fiction novel, despite the catalyst for all that’s to come being a rather realistic virus that kills grass (compared with the monstrous triffids). It is dystopian though, and survival is the key.

In the beginning we meet two brothers, John and David Custance. David grows up to inherit the family farm in a remote Westmorland valley, John becomes an engineer in London and has a family of his own. John and Ann, and their best friends the Buckleys, Roger and Olivia live a nice life in suburbia with their kids. They fervently believe the virus which is rampaging in Asia will burn itself out or be cured before it reaches them, but governments are planning for the future…

At the beginning of September, the United States House of Representatives passed an amendment to a Presidential bill of food aid, calling for a Plimsoll line for food stocks for home use. A certain minimum tonnage of all foods was to be kept in reserve, to be used inside the United States only.
Ann could not keep her indignation at this to herself.
“Millions facing famine,” she said, “and those fat old men refuse them food.”
They were all having tea on the Buckley’s lawn. The children had retired, with a supply of cakes, into the shrubbery, from which which shrieks and giggles issued at intervals.

And they continue to bicker about the famine in the East…

Roger stared back. “We once agreed about my being a throwback – remember? If I irritate the people around me, don’t forget they may irritate me occasionally. Woolly-mindedness does. I believe in self-preservation, and I’m not prepared to wait until the knife is at my throat before I start fighting. I don’t see the sense in giving the children’s last crust to a starving beggar.”
“Last crust…” Ann looked at the table, covered with the remains of a lavish tea. “Is that what you call this?” …
… Olivia said: “I really think it’s best not to talk about it. It isn’t as though there’s anything we can do about it – we ourselves, anyway. We must just hope things don’t turn out so badly.”

All so nice and cosy, but there are intimations that the men are willing to be heroes if needed, and of course they are to get their chance. Things get much much worse, and they get just a few hours notice to get out of London before it’s sealed. The two families plan to go north to Westmorland, but stop off first at a gun-shop where they meet the owner Pirrie, who’s a good shot. ‘Persuaded’ to take him with them, the rest of the book tells of their journey north. But the army are already manning road-blocks out of London, and it’s amazing how quickly the men transform from well-meaning middle-class blokes into ruthless killers.

They are to encounter many more troubles as they make their way north. Pirrie, (who reminded me of Donald Pleasance in nasty mode), makes himself very useful to the group’s leader John, who finds himself having to make tougher and tougher decisions as they travel and to harden his heart. Ann his wife, remains the group’s conscience.

This immediate transformation of the country into a miriad of small fiefdoms and garrisons, with its accompanying moral disintegration may have happened rather fast, but kept things moving towards the conclusion. John and Roger were ex-Army, so had the discipline to do what they had to do, the women were 1950s housewives, but at least Ann had a mind of her own, despite some rather dated, arch and cheesy dialogue.

This new Penguin classics reissue with the super cover also has a great foreword by Robert MacFarlane, the landscape writer, which puts it into context and surveys the (eco-)dystopian sub-genre. For another excellent review, you can visit John Self’s blog at Asylum.

I was totally won over by this book. It’s our Book Group choice for next month, I’ll report back on what they thought of it later. I feel I may have to revisit the Triffids though. (9/10)

A tale of two families at war with themselves

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

There is a much used quote of Leo Tolstoy’s from Anna Karenina: -“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is particularly true to the two chronicled in this novel.

Firstly we meet Meridia. Her mother Ravenna had nearly died giving birth to her, and her father Gabriel never forgave her for being a girl. Her father and mother have barely spoken to each other since, and the atmosphere in the house is arctic. Her father holes up in his study and her mother rules the kitchen. Her parents’ displeasure at each other is personified by coloured mists that encircle the house.

Then one day Meridia meets Daniel and they fall in love. Time to be introduced to his parents – Elias the jeweller, and his wife Eva. Eva is an elemental force and when she’s wound up, the bees buzz all around. When she and Meridia meet, it’s obvious that it will be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immoveable mountain. Eva tries to micro-manage every aspect of Daniel and Meridia’s lives together. Meridia is strong however, and is able to hold her own against her conniving and manipulative Mother-in-law.

The novel is set in an old-fashioned town which feels hot and Mediterranean – there are no cars or telephones – but there is a cinema, and life revolves around the marketplace where much bartering goes on. The three women rule this novel. Of the menfolk, Daniel and Elias appear rather timid and doormatish, letting Eva get away with far too much. Gabriel has pushed his emotions so far down, he could be an Easter Island statue – only Ravenna can stand up to him and it’s driving her mad. They all have secrets, and it’s Meridia’s job as matriarch of the next generation to work out what is behind both families’ strangeness. But will that knowledge help sustain or corrupt her own new family?

While, at over 400 pages in hardback, the book was too ong and I got fed up with most of the characters some of the time, I did have to keep reading to see if Meridia would get to the bottom of her parent’s cold war; to see if she could outwit the scheming Eva; amd most of all to see if her relationship with Daniel would survive. It has been billed as a fairy-tale, but the magic of the bees and mists is essentially incidental to the family drama within. An engrossing debut. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme, 7/10)

A tale of two families at war with themselves

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

There is a much used quote of Leo Tolstoy’s from Anna Karenina: -“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is particularly true to the two chronicled in this novel.

Firstly we meet Meridia. Her mother Ravenna had nearly died giving birth to her, and her father Gabriel never forgave her for being a girl. Her father and mother have barely spoken to each other since, and the atmosphere in the house is arctic. Her father holes up in his study and her mother rules the kitchen. Her parents’ displeasure at each other is personified by coloured mists that encircle the house.

Then one day Meridia meets Daniel and they fall in love. Time to be introduced to his parents – Elias the jeweller, and his wife Eva. Eva is an elemental force and when she’s wound up, the bees buzz all around. When she and Meridia meet, it’s obvious that it will be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immoveable mountain. Eva tries to micro-manage every aspect of Daniel and Meridia’s lives together. Meridia is strong however, and is able to hold her own against her conniving and manipulative Mother-in-law.

The novel is set in an old-fashioned town which feels hot and Mediterranean – there are no cars or telephones – but there is a cinema, and life revolves around the marketplace where much bartering goes on. The three women rule this novel. Of the menfolk, Daniel and Elias appear rather timid and doormatish, letting Eva get away with far too much. Gabriel has pushed his emotions so far down, he could be an Easter Island statue – only Ravenna can stand up to him and it’s driving her mad. They all have secrets, and it’s Meridia’s job as matriarch of the next generation to work out what is behind both families’ strangeness. But will that knowledge help sustain or corrupt her own new family?

While, at over 400 pages in hardback, the book was too ong and I got fed up with most of the characters some of the time, I did have to keep reading to see if Meridia would get to the bottom of her parent’s cold war; to see if she could outwit the scheming Eva; amd most of all to see if her relationship with Daniel would survive. It has been billed as a fairy-tale, but the magic of the bees and mists is essentially incidental to the family drama within. An engrossing debut. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme, 7/10)

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