Annabel's House of Books

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

Month: November 2010 (page 1 of 3)

The Fifteen Characters Meme

I spotted this on Claire’s at Paperback Reader’s Facebook page, but I think it’s doing the rounds. Sounded fun so here are my fifteen.

Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen fictional characters who’ve influenced you and who will always stick with you. (Emphasis: influenced). List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. 

  1. Aragorn – from LoTR – dark, handsome and mysterious.
  2. Hermione Grainger – from Harry Potter – the perfect role model for my daughter.
  3. Myrddin – Merlin from Here’s Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve – spin doctor supreme
  4. Charlie Gordon – Flowers for Algernon
  5. Philip Marlowe – the Big Sleep – Quintessential hard-boiled detective
  6. Elizabeth Bennett – P&P – D’Arcy’s stately pile got her in the end.
  7. Mary Anning – real-life fossil hunter who was in Tracy Chevalier’s Beautiful Creatures.
  8. Italian detectives – Brunetti & Montalbano – both love life, food and hate bureaucracy.
  9. Sebastian Flyte – Brideshead Revisited – live fast, die young.
  10. Alice in Wonderland – always wondering, questionning.
  11. Lucy from the Narnia books – emphathetic and lovely.
  12. George Smiley – dogged spymaster.
  13. James Bond – pure fantasy!
  14. Ree from Winter’s Bone by James Woodrell – young pioneer spirit. (Can’t wait to see the film now out).
  15. Anqelique de Xavia from the Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Bookmyre.

So that’s my list.  It was surprisingly difficult – some are more favourite characters rather than ones who truly influenced me, although they all have attributes and/or experiences that are attractive (in one way or another!).

Do have a go!

Fforde does YA and it’s Ffabulous Ffun!

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde has written a new book, and if it wasn’t for heroine being two weeks short of sixteen, no swearing, and no overt classic literary references, you’d be hard pushed to know that it was for young adults.  I expect that many grown-ups will read it anyway and some will be none the wiser as, although it is lighter fare than usual, it will happily sit along with his other titles.

Jennifer Strange is a foundling, not quite sixteen years old, and is running the Kazam agency for soothsayers and sorcerors in the unexplained absence of its owner Mr Zambini. In an age where magical power is diminishing, managing magical talent is an art in itself, and Jennifer has to massage the egos of once powerful mages who are reduced to doing plumbing jobs to make ends meet, as well as doing all their paperwork every time they cast a spell.

Power has been gradually draining away as the dragons started to die out, and now there is only one aged beast left living in the dragonlands between the kingdoms of Hereford and Brecon.  Then premonitions start happening to all the soothsayers around – they are predicting the death of the last dragon, that Big Magic is involved … and Jennifer.

This book lacks none of Fforde’s inventiveness and humour.  It’s set in a dystopian ‘Ununited Kingdom‘ where the counties and shires have devolved into separate kingdoms again and are constantly niggling against each other, and as you might expect bureaucracy has gone mad too.  Jennifer is thrust into a situation where it’s difficult for her to know who to trust, everyone has their own agenda, and ultimately she must go by her own instincts to sort things out. She does have help though from young Tiger – another foundling, Kazam’s magicians of course, and her pet Quarkbeast – the softest, yet scariest pet monster you’ll ever encounter!  Jennifer is a plucky heroine – the sort of girl who’ll grow up into being the next Thursday Next – I really liked her.

In creating this richly detailed world, Fforde doesn’t write down for the younger audience at all.  I enjoyed it so much it was all over too quickly, but I’d heartily recommend to older children and anyone who is young at heart. (9/10)

Pub: Nov 2010, Hodder & Stoughton, Hdbk, 281pp, £12.
I bought this book.

To buy this book from, click below:
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The world of Ephemera #7 – the word is ‘Dirndl’

A dirndl, in case you’ve never heard the word before, is the name for a traditional peasant dress worn in Bavaria, the Tyrol and the surrounding areas. It consists of a fitted bodice, blouse, full skirt and apron. I’m talking dirndls today because I have one – read on …

When I was at junior school, my parents used to help out as chaperones on school trips abroad for a prep-school.  Our nex-tdoor-but-one neighbour was a teacher at this school – and presumably he couldn’t get any of the staff to come on the holidays so he asked my parents – who got a cheap holiday and me and my brother went too.  We went to Wales several times at Easter, but also alternately Switzerland and Austria in the summer the week after the schools broke up – this went on for about five years.

1970 was an Austria year – and we were based in the Tyrol.  Day trip to Salzburg, visiting the Mozart Geburtshaus and Mirabell Palace. Sadly, The Sound of Music was far from my mind – I probably didn’t associate the wonderful fountain with Do Re Mi – well I was only ten.  (I really want to go back to Salzburg some time and do the full SoM tour!).

Anyway, my Mum bought me a dirndl and the receipt is on the left there.  At the time there were about ten Austrian Schillings to the pound, so it cost a mighty £27.50 old money which was an awful lot.  You can see a skinny me wearing it (complete with pigeon toes and Clarks playdeck sandals) on the right – and there’s also my little brother lurking in the background with a silly hat!  It’s a shame you can’t see the skirt properly behind the apron, it’s scarlet sprigged with emerald green flowers.

But I can rectify that …

Putting in a rare appearance on the blog is my daughter modelling the outfit in our garden back in spring 2008. Granny had found the dirndl and brought it to us on a visit.  I expect it won’t fit my daughter any more as she’s put on a big growing spurt since,  but I’m not getting rid of it – it’s too special a souvenir for that.

New Stories from the Mabinogion #3

Ronnie’s Dream by Niall Griffiths

See my previous post here for some background on this series of comtemporary retellings of the medieval Welsh story cycle the Mabinogion, and the first two titles in the sequence. The Dreams of Max and Ronnie to give this book from the second pair its full title comprises two novellas based upon separate stories involving dreams.  It starts with Ronnie’s …

Ronnie and his mates are Iraq-bound.  They go to visit Red Helen to get a little something for a last hit before they ship out.  Ronnie takes his pill and falls asleep for three whole nights and has the weirdest dreams.  In them a ‘grinning man’ plays war games while armies and gangs of men from around the country get in the mood but wait like sheep for their orders.  In between Ronnie’s dream sequences, we have snatches of what’s happening in the real world …

And DUMPHA DUMPHA DUMPHA DUMPHA goes the soundtrack to Britain’s life, pounding and meaningless, to this stage in the growth of one of the oldest democracies on the planet. Apparently. Supposedly. Pounding and pulsing and unchangingly repetitive. Beating and battering, a cudgel. Sound of the cat-pissed house. Sound of the seemingly deserted village, shop gone, pub gone, chapel now a holiday home….  Thumping soundtracks unchanging like a diseased heart to the parks in which young people are kicked to death, to the dark skins that are slashed open or punctured, to the back rooms or garages on estates or in suburbs in which figures hunch over chemical that when mixed turn volatile, to bomb factory, to murder scene. To those that move, all of them alike, to those that trudge alone unheeded or those that band together to share hatreds and those that plead and those that sneer and those that beseech and those that disdain and those that thieve and those that lose and those that have their meagre belongings removed from them, to those that add another nugget of gold to the gleaming mountain range they already possess to those that bomb and those that are blown apart and those that are stabbed and all of them watched by a million mechanical eyes on lamp-posts and roofs, every twitch of every limb and every expression on every face monitored, every lost face that moves between giant signs that say nothing but DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T and tannoyed voices filling the airspace that say nothing but DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T and the millions of silent screams in the millions of heads that nod nod nod towards the grave and leave nothing but longing in the mud. And, before he is sent to fight for this, to kill for this and be killed for this, Ronnie sleeps on on his lucky moo-cow blanket and Ronnie goes on dreaming.

This wasn’t an easy book to read or love, yet it was extremely powerful as you can see from the slightly shortened paragraph above.  Nearly every page was protesting about (the Iraq) war, the futility of it all, the waste of life, and also people wasting their lives away, our celebrity culture in which every boy wants to follow the herd and be David Beckham or Robbie Williams, that you should always question the ‘grinning man’ (Blair).  The writing was by turns coarse and blunt, then poetic – these 90 pages or so make a very angry and pessimistic tale  indeed. The author in his afterword describes it as a Swiftian satire but that didn’t really come through for me.

By contrast, Max’s dream was a bit of a let-down for me.  The story of a gangsta and his crew.  Max is tired of his life of clubbing and whores in Cardiff – he wants a wife.  Hearing of a film being made up north, he sends his crew on a recce with his photo in the search for the perfect woman, but of course nothing is as easy as it seems.  If the first tale was angry, this was nihilistic and not as full of ideas, but equally condemning of the nature of Man.

A powerful addition to this series, but not an easy book to enjoy.  (7/10)
Book kindly supplied by the publisher.

To buy from, click below
Ronnie’s Dream (New Stories from the Mabinogion) by Niall Griffiths

Don’t call me Vicky!

Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky.

Meet V.I. Warshawski – friends get to call her Vic, never Vicky. Indemnity only is the first in a series of 13 novels featuring the sassy Chicagoan PI.

One evening she meets a new client, a banker, who wants her to find his son’s missing girlfriend. Vic goes to the boy’s pad to find him dead at the kitchen table with an expertly placed bullet through his head.  No sign of the girlfriend.  However it appears that she was set up to find the body, the banker turns out to be a union boss and the girlfriend is his daughter, and its obvious that the gangs are involved too. From there Vic goes on to eventually uncover massive insurance frauds, but not before getting badly beaten up, having a bit of romance too  – and there’s still the missing girl to find.

I liked Vic immensely – she’s strong, feisty and very independent; she’s feminine too.  She had a Polish father and Italian mother, both now passed away.  Her father was a good policeman and Vic takes after him having a very strong sense of social justice – it seems almost natural that she should have become a detective. Meanwhile her mother has left her with a love of opera and fashion – what other PI could get beaten up in a navy silk suit (chargeable!).

Some years ago, I read one of the mid-series titles which I enjoyed, and I always planned to read more.  Earlier this year, I went to an event with Sara Paretsky which I reported on here and now I’ve finally got round to starting back at the beginning (with my signed copy!).  The book is set during the late ’70s going into the ’80s having been published in 1982. Back then Warshawski was one of a kind and she’s become a popular crime heroine.  Sure, the dialogue is a little clunky at times, but Chicago comes alive. Plot-wise, it’s quite complicated being set in the world of finance, but the action makes up for that keeping it fast moving and easy to read. 

Now we’ve met Vic, I’m looking forward to reading more as there’s a lot of corruption still out there for her to tackle.  (7/10) I bought this book.

To buy from, click below:
Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky.

Bookish Gifts for Older Children

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I have a fondness for reading children’s books – not just all the Twi-likes (I’m getting fed up of them – “Finally!”  I hear you say), but proper novels for children nine upwards.  I thought I’d highlight a few that I’ve spotted or enjoyed recently in case you were looking for books for gifts.  In this post, all links will go through to should you wish to see more…

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde.
New out this month in hardback (RRP £12). I only bought this book a few days ago and haven’t read it yet – but what’s not to like about it?  It would appear to have all the inventiveness and humour of Fforde’s Thursday Next series for grown-ups, with more magic thrown in for older kids/teens.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar.
Nominated for the Costas, this book tells the story of Anne Frank and beyond through Peter’s eyes – Peter being the son of the other family hiding with the Franks.  This too is in my TBR pile, but I have read her contemporary novel Waves and enjoyed it very much. Dogar was taught by Philip Pullman.  Difficult subject matter, but one for teens who have already appreciated Anne Frank perhaps.

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
I read this marvellous Gothic spine-chiller last month and reviewed it here.  Chris Priestley is carving a niche for himself as the Susan Hill of Horror and Ghostly stories for children.  This one is suitable for around 10 upwards.

Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John.
The first in a new adventure series for 10+ pays homage to the Famous Five and is set in Cornwall, but is bang up to date plotwise.  I reviewed it here, but don’t take my word for it – see The Girl Who Read Too Much (who is a 12yr old relative of Simon Savidge). We’ve given it to a couple of daughter’s friends for birthday presents too and it’s gone down very well.

Ottoline at Sea by Chris Riddell.
I’ve raved about Chris Riddell’s illustrations before (click here), but he has also written illustrated books as well as his collaborations.  This, the latest is the third in his Ottoline series which my daughter adores.  Written for 7+, the drawings and quirkiness will enchant anyone who reads it.  This book has the added extra of having coded pictures in which need the glasses supplied to see what’s hidden which makes it extra fun.

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick.
I love Sedgwick’s books, of which this is the latest. I’ve yet to read it, but I’ve not read anything by this author that I didn’t love reading as an adult, not just auditioning them for teenagers. This one is a bit of a Gothic thriller set in the 17th century about two girls who become friends one summer and uncover secrets best forgotten.

That’s it for now.  If you’d like to recommend any other recent books for older children or teenagers, (especially if you think I’d enjoy them), please do comment.

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