Monday, 23 April 2018

Libraries and Gladstone

I may not have finished a book in time for this week but my excuse is a good one. I’ve been just outside Chester exploring Gladstone’s library. It’s the kind of place you dream of reading in – a library full of old books from floor to ceiling. Which is what I did for a little while. And next week I will tell you about what I read. In the meantime you should check out the library’s website in case you need to go exploring too.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Endless Night, Agatha Christie

Endless Night is the last Christie I’m going to read for a while, but it’s definitely my favourite so far. There’s no Poirot or Marple, or any detective at all, just a narrative of how the murder happened. In my opinion the ending wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I would have liked so see the murderer made more of, but they just seem to crumble, somehow it just didn’t seem to fit.

The story is told through the narration of Michael Rogers, who is a working class guy who meets a rich heiress, Ellie. They get married and Michael’s friend Rudolph Santonix, an architectural genius, builds them a house on Gypsy’s Acre.

There are so many ominous things that happen in this story. Santonix says some very telling things to Michael though out the story. He might be a brilliant architect but he is dying, although I was never overly sure of what it was that he was ill with. When he does eventually die his final words to Michael seemingly mean nothing, but Michael puts a meaning to them later on when he sees a ghost.

If you’re not a fan of ghosts and stuff that’s spooky I would leave this one alone.

Gypsy’s Acre is the crux of the story. The local folklore is that the land belonged to some gypsies, who were forced to move off the land, which didn’t make them very happy, so they put a curse on the land. Esther Lee is the local gypsy, and she keeps popping up warning Ellie of the curse and lots of strange and frightening things happen that all attributed to Esther. It all comes to a head when Ellie dies and then all the threads of the story come together.

The title comes from William Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence, which I attempted to read but didn’t get very far with. What really interested me was the dedication, which is to Nora Pritchard and says that it was from Nora Pritchard that Agatha Christie first heard the legend of Gypsy’s Acre. Which gets me thinking – what is the original legend of Gypsy’s Acre. I’ve asked google and Wikipedia tells me who Nora Pritchard is but that’s it. So if you know what the legend is, let this curious one know.

Not sure what I’m going to do now that I’ve overdosed on crime fiction for over a year. I do have Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran if I start to have withdrawal symptoms.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - The Glory of the Cross, Tim Chester


It isn’t Lent anymore but here’s what I read for Lent this year. It’s a devotional for Lent that goes through parts of the book of John. (A detail I failed to read on the front cover and wondered why all the readings were coming from John and no other Gospel). 

I didn’t read it alone – I read it with a friend and then we met and talked about what we read – or messaged about it. I’m not a huge reader of devotionals so I wasn’t sure I would make it through, but I surprised myself and stuck with it.

The first thing that I learnt was that there are a lot more weeks in Lent than I realised. Each week of Lent has a different section and each section starts on the Sunday. You read a big chunk of John and then the rest of the week is spent looking at little bits of what you read on the Sunday. By big chunk I mean part of a chapter – but some of the chapters in John are quite long.

I also played around with what time of day I was reading this. At the start I was reading it last thing at night – but on Sunday nights when you have to read more I found I wasn’t taking it in as well. The problem with first thing in the morning is that there’s a rush to get ready for work and so by the end I was reading it on my lunch break – when I was properly awake and didn’t have to be anywhere.

One of the reasons I’m not so keen on devotionals is if you miss a day you have to play catch up. Probably the fear of catch up is what kept me reading and on top of it. I did miss a few days though but that was ok – during the week the readings are short enough to catch up but not feel like you’re rushing to get through it for the sake of it. The other thing that probably stopped me giving up was reading it with someone. There was no way I was going to show up with nothing to say so I had better get on and read it.

I would definitely recommend it though – and maybe don’t even wait for next Lent to start it. It was nice to read parts of John and see a different take on them. For me the biggest surprise came right at the end on Easter Sunday with the start of John 20. There was something there that I hadn’t noticed before (you need to read it and get to the end if you want to know what it was) and because I was taking my time over it I got to not only notice but think deep about it too.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott


It’s taken me about three months to get through Ivanhoe. Partly because it is fairly long (my penguin edition is around 500 pages) but also parts of it require quite a bit of concentration.

Anyways it’s a story about Ivanhoe – a knight who has come back from the crusades, but at first no one knows who he is. Which, as you keep reading, becomes a bit of a theme in this book. There’s quite a few characters who keep their true identity hidden at first. Although often you can see through it straight away. But back to Ivanhoe. He wants to marry Rowena who he has known from childhood. The problem is his father does not want Ivanhoe to marry Rowena because Rowena is a Saxon princess and he wants her to marry Athelstane, heir to the Saxon throne, so that they can put a Saxon back on the throne of England. So Ivanhoe ends up getting banished because he won’t stop wanting to marry Rowena.

Which is the Saxon part of the story.

The Norman part is about Richard the Lion Heart and Prince John and also Robin Hood. So basically the whole story is about who should be King of England.

The whole thing about Saxons and Normans made the start of the book a bit hard to get through. But at the start you meet two of the best characters, Gurth and Wamba, who are both at the bottom of the food chain but are brilliant and probably braver than some of the knights. Gurth – another one who hides his identity for part of the story – runs off to follow Ivanhoe and although later gets in trouble for it ends up saving the lives of Ivanhoe’s father. And Wamba isn’t far behind him when it comes to heroic rescues.

Along with Gurth and Wamba you have some characters that are supposed to be serious but come off as hilarious. Brian de Bois-Guilbert needs to make up his mind about whether he is good or bad, and ultimately about what he wants. Athelstane, probably not meant to be serious, but all he is about is food and drinking and at first I wasn’t a fan of him, but he comes good in the end.

Robin Hood also features, but not as much as I thought he would. While everyone else is charging around on their horses he is keeping an eye on things and making sure he is always handy with his bow and arrows when needed.

Oh and Ivanhoe spends most of the book wounded and out of action. Yet makes at least two people fall in love with him.

For all that I did enjoy reading it. Scott makes you love or hate the characters he creates and the story is exciting. I just wouldn’t take his novel as historical fact or anything like it.

Monday, 26 March 2018

This post was going to be...

...about Ivanhoe. But I'm ten pages from the end and I can't stay awake any longer to finish it, let alone string a sensible sentence together about what it's like.

So next Monday will be Ivanhoe... I hope.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Quiet, Susan Cain

I feel like I was very late to read this book – well actually that’s probably the story of my life, but anyway every time I told someone I was reading this they would say “oh yeah I’ve  read that.” Often this was followed with a “it’s really good.” Which I was discovering. It’s taken me nearly a year if not longer to read it so now I’m really late. So if, like me, you’re late on this too here’s what it’s about.

First off it’s a book about introverts. And this introvert likes to read – so perfect – it’s like reading a book about what I’m like. Kind of. There’s a lot of science to get through – or enjoy if that’s what you like. For me I didn’t understand all of it, but the parts that I did understand made a lot of sense. What resonated the most were the parts that talked about how introverts interact with extroverts. Which in my world is as little as possible. But that’s starting to change.

There were quite a few moments when reading this that I thought – yeah I totally do that. And when you tie that in with the science suddenly I was thinking that maybe my need to be alone isn’t as anti-social as I first thought. Curling up with a book and shutting out the world for a bit is ok. Also the fact that I have no problem standing up and speaking to a room full of people but then have major problems spending time with more than four or five people at a time, is no longer a mystery to me.

If you’re in any way interested in the human mind and how it works then this is a good book to read. I find it fascinating, but my interest has mainly been about how the brain processes and deals with language – seriously it’s amazing. This is dealing with a different part of the brain to the parts that I’ve studied in the past, but it’s been no less enjoyable.

There’s more to this book than just science – so it’s worth working through it if science puts you off. I enjoyed the sections on history – how being an extrovert became what everyone wanted to be and thought you should be – and also the sections on how different cultures have different ideas on whether being an extrovert or an introvert is better. Towards the end there’s stuff on how introverts can navigate the world and thrive. I guess for me the danger is that I will hide behind an introvert label and use it as an excuse not to make an effort with people when I really don’t feel like it.

I finished the book with lots to think about – which is a sign of a good book right?

Oh and did I say that the cover looks great? Because it does.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Interval


I’m nine books into my year – books being the best way to measure time of course and I feel that it is time to take a deep breath and order popcorn and ice cream and get ready to settle in for the next chapter.

In the next three weeks I’m hoping to finish these three books:
Ivanhoe ­– Walter Scott
Quiet – Susan Cain
Endless Night ­­– Agatha Christie

If you’ve read any of them comment below and let me know what you thought of them. I’ve loved all of them so far, but the biggest surprise was Ivanhoe. From the way it started I really didn’t think I would get on with it but it’s brilliant – so wonderfully melodramatic.

Endless Night is the last Agatha Christie I will be reading for a while and it is fast becoming my favourite. I read half of it in one sitting. And I’ve been glaring at everyone who has tried to talk to me while I’ve been reading it – yes it’s one of those.

It’s taken me nearly a year to read Quiet not because I don’t like but just because it was on my books to take my time over pile. Most people who I’ve talked to about this have already read it, so I’m late to the party but if you haven’t read this book and you’re an introvert, stop reading this blog and go buy it. If you want a little taste of what it’s like follow the link.

As well as reading I’ve also been busy writing with SallyMiller – maybe one day I will be able to measure time by how many writing projects I’ve finished. But for now I will just stick to measuring it by books. Anyone else measure time like this?