....and sometimes watches.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Coronation Cookery Book

Compiled by the Country Women's Association fo N.S.W
1947 HB 300pp

"I take great pleasure on commending the Coronation Cookery Book to you for here are a wealth of valuable and attractive recipes which will prove an asset to every housewife."

So types Winifred (unreadable surname) on her Goverment House Sydney letterhead. I know I am going abit domestic goddess on you but I picked this book up yesterday and it is sooo lovely that I know you would like to share.

This book is indeed an asset - not only do you have more recipes for offal than you could every need in one (or indeed many) lifetime/s, you can find directions for making a wool mattress (wool weights included), home curing bacon (simple directions by an expert), household hints including 'repairing iron tanks','good deodorant powder','hints for washing day', as well as many recipes for invalids and the various uses for aspic.

I have a number of these books, precious to me for many reasons not the least being that while we all know what the men where doing during these years, what women went through is such an undiscovered country. People are stunned that I feed my family without a microwave and for many years did without a TV (both voluntarily) but my paternal grandmother raised 13 children without RUNNING WATER in the house.

When the world goes to hell in a handbasket who is going to know how to make candles, or giblet soup or how to prepare suet for use. Me! and well all my friends in the SCA - in theory atleast.

And with that cheery thought I will share with you the recipe inscribed on the inside front cover (do all grandma's write in the same hand??) - not in the handy memorandum provided at the back of the book, oh no but right at the very front. A woman after my own heart.
Words verbatim, formatting my own

Chocolate Fudge
  • 1lb sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2oz milk chocolate
  • vanilla
- Boil, add 2oz butter, boil and stir constantly for about 20 mins, add walnuts and pour into lamington tin that has been buttered, when nearly set, cut into squares and when quite cold wrap in paper.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Vintage-Style Quilts

Flora Roberts
2004 Cico Books 128pp HB

"I've been interested intextiles and sewing for almost as long as I can remember, and vintage fabrics have always fascinated me"

Any book written by someone called Flora Roberts is a winner in my world. This book is lovely.

If you are like me (and I know that you secretly are) then you have many sewing books that you have bought for one or two projects that now languish on shelves next to your granny's hobby-tex pens.

Languish no more. The 25 patterns in this book are all useful and charming, and because they are designed for vintage fabrics can incorporate any fabric that may be torn or stained in places but holds sentimental value. There are quilts, throws, runners, small bags, cushions etc all with very clear step-by-step instructions - lots of photographs! You have to photocopy & scale up the pattern pieces but I always think this gives you more freedom as to final project size.

This book is delightful and I really must clean my desk and organise my scanner as even the front cover is charming.

A book with great re-use value and if anyone out there is short of Christmas ideas here is the ISBN:1 903 116 89 9

Monday, August 29, 2005

Mortal Engines / Predators Gold

Philip Reeve
2002/2003 Scholastic SC 293/316pp

"It was a dark/blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."

"Freya woke early and lay for a while in the dark, felling her city shiver and sway beneath her as its powerful engines sent it skimming across the ice."

I am reviewing both these books together as really they are not meant/able to be read seperately. There is a third "Infernal Devices", but my library did not have it in at the time.

I borrowed these to check out as I have a long standing tradition of reading books aloud to my children - but beware, despite groovy covers and the Blue Peter Award for 'Book I Couldn't Put Down" 2003, I would recommend these only for mid teenagers and beyond.

They are set in a far far future, with an Earth ravaged by the Sixty Minute War and mobile cities that travel across the ruined landscape of Europe. They seem to be on great tank-like wheels and hunt smaller cities for food, fuel and slaves.

"it was natural that cities ate towns, just as the towns ate smaller towns, and smaller towns snapped up the miserable static settlements. That was Municipal Darwinism, as it was the way the workd had worked for a thousand years...."

In Chapter 1, Our hero Tom is cast adrift from his city London and from then on the adventures never stop. There are air pirates, cyborgs, 'old-tech', nasty weapons, nasty people, rescues, betrayals, love gained/lost/spurned/recaptured, imprisionments, torture, cool heroines with dark secrets, thiefs, mad people, bad people all mixed in with lots of witty one-liners and cultural references for the grown ups. But as I said, there really are some dark parts in these books - unpleasent deaths of major characters and lots of what I suppost are called 'grown up themes'. In a curious twist, we have no descriptions of nooky - although a major character is pregnant at the end of book 2 - but lots of detail of torture etc.

They are very well written and the world Mr Reeve has invented is fascinating, and are definately worth a read - just not for the little'uns.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Jon Courtney Grimwood
2001 Earthlight 328pp HB

"The sound of fountains came in stereo."

I have to admit to slight trepidation when initially picking up this book. Despite a funky cover, 'The Bookseller' raved about "Vivid gore, sex and high-octane adventure" on the back cover and in the author photo was classic China Mieville, all baldness and brooding black leather. But it was a slow week at my local library and sometimes a girl just has to take a risk.

Well, I can only say that Mr Bookseller was taking some serious drugs and maybe Mr Grimwood always dresses like this, but 'Perdido Street Station' this is not. Not that I have anything against the powerful imagination and fine penmanship of Mr Mieville, but sometimes he is abit 'icky' for me. (Not very scientific I know, but think 'vivid gore and sex' and psychotropics and just a great deal of 'ick'.)

Regardless of crinolines or monastorys or laser pistols, what we are NEED is a really good story and an interesting setting should be secondary to a good plot, I always think. And that is what we have here, in Mr "Surprisingly-Good" Grimwood.

Near future, The Nazis won the First World War and the Ottoman Empire rules the East. El Iskandryia is a North African city (Alexandria??) and our hero Ashref Bey is broken out of a North American Prison and sent to marry the daughter of a rich industrialist. Turns out he is the son of the Emir of Tunis or somesuch. Ashref also has lots of cool 'augmentations' - little AI in his head, night vision, nictating - lets say that word again shall we - Nictating eyelids etc. There is a messy murder in which he is implicated, lots of conspiraries, a 9 year old cousin to look after and the girl he was meant to marry to fall in love with.

So - a very interesting murder mystery, a VERY interesting alternative world, cool complex characters and a VERY charmingly understated ending.

I think I already regret my library only having one of his other novels.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Telling

Ursula le Guin
2000 HC Harcourt Inc, 264pp

"When Sutty went back to Earth in the daytime, it was always to the village."

Miss LeGuin is one of my favorite authors and I will read whatever she writes, as at her most uneven she is many authors best. She is also the author so often quoted by my collegues and I as someone who can write an excellent story in under 200 pages - as opposed to the seeming compulsion for trilogies full of drivvell that fill the sci-fi/fantasy shelves of modern bookstores.

This novel is set in the same universe as the wonderful 'Left Hand of Darkness' and 'Rocannon's World' - both of which come highly highly recommended and will no doubt have posts of their own soon as I read them both on a yearly basis. I sat in the sun yesterday afternoon and read most of this book and cried because some of it is so sad and cried because all of it is so very beautifully written that it makes my heart ache. The loveliest and most evocative poetry in prose - with space travel and aliens and lasers!

Sutty is an Observer on the planet Aka, a new member of the Ekumen and a planet fearsomely embracing a Corporation style government - citizens are 'producer-consumers' etc. All history, literature etc has been ruthlessly suppressed but linguist/historian and allround gorgeous girl Sutty is unexpectedly allowed to travel to a small country town where she discovered all sorts of wonderful things have been preserved.

This novel is quite similar to 'Always Coming Home', where you have the strong sense that Miss LeGuin is testing out political and social theories, and there is certainly no doubt which ones she hates. Sutty comes from an Earth governed by a totalitarian, militant theology :

"In late March, a squadron of planes from the Host of God flew from Colorado to the District of Washington and bombed the Library there, plane after plane, four hours of bombing that turned centuries of history and millions of books into dirt......The Commander-General of the Hosts of the Lord announced the bombing while it was in progress, as an educational action. Only one Word, only one Book. All other words, all other books were darkness, error. They were dirt. Let the Lord Shine Out! cried the pilots in their white uniforms and mirror-masks, back at the chuch at Colorado Base, facelessly facing the cameras and the singing, swaying crowds in ectasy. Wipe Away the Filth and Let the Lord Shine Out!"

Anykind of dictatorship or system that denies individual faith or hope or sexuality or abilility to make decisions etc is out in the book. I say Vote Miss LeGuin for GodEmperess and the world will be a better place. And there would definately be more poetry - which is a good thing in any book!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Notes fron A Small Island

Bill Bryson
1996 Cox&Wynam 352pp SC

"My first sight of England was on a foggy March night in 1973 when I arrived on the midnight ferry from Calais."

This is one funny book. This is one funny man.

I started this on Thurs night after a phone call to friend that ended at about 10pm. 'Mmm, not quite tired yet" and as I am in that delightful situation at the moment of being in a SURFEIT of unread books to read (God bless the Salvo's and their 10c book sale!), I thought a chapter of Bill will be a nice nightcap.

Warning - don't fall into the same trap as I did. This is one of those books where I kept thinking 'oh just one more chapter' - this at say Chapter 9 - I would then look up and notice Chapter 12 and think 'oh just one more chapter' and then I would then look up and notice Chapter 15 and think 'oh just one more chapter' and then....

After nearly 20 years in Britain, Bill and his family are moving back to the States, and he is taking one last nostalgic trip around this 'small island'. He comments on all and everything with that wonderful mix of fact (lots of mad Englishman, mad I tell you mad!!) and humour and keen observation of the more ridiculous vagueries of human nature. I laughed out loud about every second page and read aloud many chapters to a friend visiting from Sydney. "Yes, yes, carn the mighty Tigers. Whatever! Listen to This.....!!!!!!!"

I have read his book on Australia and the smaller tome on Africa and even tho' I have not been to Britian this really is a wonderful read.

I would reprint humourous sections here but there is lots of rude words and it would be a shame to dilute it.

Just read it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Blake's 7 - Afterlife

Tony Attwood
Target Books 1984 217pp SC

"In the beginning there were six men and women."

I actually finished this on Sunday - but pesky real-life socalising has delayed this posting.
My verdict - walk away quickly and keep the dream alive.

"The ending was the worst part?!!What about the fracking start?!! You know, the part where they get around that inconvenient piece of plotting involving the DEATH of the entire Scorpio crew [N.B. anorak-wearers: I know we don't see Avon die. Don't even start that #$%^^##$%^ with me] at the end of the TV series. Sheesh, this #$^#%^# makes my blood boil. I shall avoid these books like leprosy, or #$%^^% music."
A more direct gentleman than me tells it like it actually is - I try to see the sunny side of life but really this is the more accurate 20/8/05

This is set after the end of the series. Avon (sigh) and Vila have survived the final, fatal shootout and imbark on a cliche-ridden galactic journey with Korell - attractive blonde double agent type. Avon has some kind of plan to get ORAC back and other stuff happens and not much makes sense. My favorite bit was Servalan's use of black holes - going through one into an alternate universe, building machines & weapons there and then coming back and selling them to the Federation. You see - because these items were built in an alternate universe their molecular structure breaks down in a month or two in THIS universe, which means Servalan can get on with her plan of complete domination- no one can resist her armed takeover - You see.
It all makes thatmuch sense.
Tarrant (Boo!Hiss!) makes a brief and confusing appearance before being eaten by a snow tiger and I guess you sort of find out why Avon kills Blake, but once again its all abit silly and cliched.
The ending Makes No Sense at all - I read the last line and then my eyes kept looking for the non-existant text on the rest of the blank page. An epilogue? No - nothing, maybe they thought there would be an enormous franchise of novels - ala Star Trek.
What Guff I tell you! What Guff!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Blake’s Seven

Terry Nation
1977 Sphere SC 204pp

"The concrete chamber was dank and bare."

I read this in one sitting last night – aahh Saturday nights in the country. Please don’t ask me to tell you if this is a good book or if I read it through the rose coloured glasses of a Complete Fan – I can’t do it. I should warn you that I was a major Fan – started an official fan club – and in the days of the dinosaurs – before VCR - used to sit with my tape deck next to the television and audio-record the story, then the next day TYPE out the script! My original copy of this is in a box somewhere – complete with all lines by Avon underlined in red.

What a hoot! – Poor Blake, once a political activist now mind wiped by the evil Earth Administration- is just one of billions kept docile by suppressants in the food and water – and lots of reality TV and football I suppose. He witnesses a terrible massacre and is immediately set up on false charges and sent to Cynus Alpha – Prison Planet. Whilst on board the transport ship he meets our heroes:

Jenna – smuggler “quite tall, slim, with dark hair, and even in the dim light Blake could see that she was extraordinarily beautiful”
Vila Restal – thief “small agile man, doing a little dance, and spreading his arms wide like a conjuror”
Kerr Avon – big spunk “seemed to regard himself as a cut above the others, no doubt thinking them all small fry in the criminal stakes”
Olag Gan – gentle giant “a tall powerfully built young man”

Through a series of wonderfully amazing (and to the best of my memory never quite explained) coincidences they find themselves in control of the Liberator – alien technology far in advance of the Federation. Yeah Blake’s Seven is born.
Well not quite, they have to go and knock out a communication centre on Saurian Major where they meet:
Cally – telepath “tall, slim, athletically supple and ..incredibly beautiful into the bargain”

(Well, girls we know now that it wasn’t only daleks that got Mr Nation going.)

Its not the greatest story, but that is like saying that teleporting bracelets that always seemed to fall off at the vital moment is a foolish invention. I will suspend all disbelief for my heroes.

To my great joy, my local library also had to novel set after the end of the tv series - ooh who knows what mysteries will be revealed?

This Island Earth

Raymond E. Jones
First Published 1954 This Ed:1991 Grafton Books SC 191pp

“The offices of Joe Wilson, purchasing agent for Ryberg Instrument Corporation, looked out over the company’s private landing field.”

‘The Sci-fi classic that inspired the world-famous movie

When I first started to read this groovy little book, I immediately had the thought that it reads like one of those 1950’s sci-fi stories – the sort in an anthology edited by Isaac Asimov. I looked at the dates – an there it was – 1954 – my keen literary detective nose justified. What I then had lots of problems with was exactly ‘WHY’ it read like a novel from that era – and this long before factory sabotage was blamed on “those red commies”. Maybe it’s a clear straightforward narrative that doesn’t actually read like a proposed screen play, there are no scenes that scream “CGI me now baby”, no cussin’, no sex, no sequel. I am too long away from my uni essay days to be able to pin it down.

Cal Meachem was a soldier in WW2 and now wants to use his engineering expertise to do only good, not evil. He is intrigued by some astoundingly advanced machinery that comes his way and is quickly recruited into the ‘Peace Engineers’. Well, from here it all goes to hell in a handbasket for poor old Cal – the factory he works in is a front for aliens – the Llanna – who are fighting a epic space war – for generations our people have fought the implacable evil enemy etc etc – and are using planets like Earth to manufacture vital equipment. Cal is forced to face the moral consequences of his decision to stay in this fight – arguments handled well by Mr Jones, you really get the sense of the dilemma Cal is in. There is danger, excitement, space travel, good aliens and gross slimy aliens – who are bad. The main plot really does creep up on you and there were a number of twists and turns that I did not expect.

I wish I could say that the treatment of Dr Ruth Adams – MD, PhD is what clued me in to the age of this book. She is the psychiatrist where Cal is working – and over the course of several months discreetly and no doubt in 2 single beds becomes his wife. Post grad degrees asides, she listens, she cooks, she waits, she puts up with Cal being a utter pig while he saves the universe, she puts up with Cal completely ignoring her when she warns him about a double agent. I guess if it was a modern day story, she would have been an exotic dancer. That’s progress for you.

A great story under 200 pages !! – Read it!

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Years with Laura Diaz

Carlos Fuentes
Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 2000 HB 520pp

" I knew the story. What I didn't know was the truth."

Wow – what a book!
Laura Diaz is the heroine of this epic tome – her parents, life, marriage, love and death – growing up and old in Mexico during a turbulent century that saw more than one member of her family killed by the Government. Laura and those characters – including the wonderful Frida Kahlo - that surround her in this densely populated novel are rich and complex, flawed and often unredeemed. That marvellous ‘South American’ style of writing - the words more like poetry than prose, so descriptive and evocative, so very very sexy – the sights and sounds – and the cooking, mmmm the cooking….

”rice, beans, plantain, and pork, shredding the meat and adding lemon juice for the dish called ropa vieja, “old clothes”, marinating octopus in its ink, and reserving for the end the meringues, the custards, the jocoques of clotted creama nd the tocino del cielo – the sweetest sweet in the world, which had gone from Barcelona to Havana and from Cuba to Veracruz as if to stifle with sweetness all the bitterness of those lands of revolution, conquest, and tyranny…”

There is a great deal of political commentary – for all her life Laura is involved in ‘movements’- she marries a union activist, her lover and his friends are fleeing from the Spanish Civil War, later friends are victims of McCarthyism. The political turmoil of Mexico constantly in the background – which to my unlearned ears makes me even more glad that however much I disagree with those currently in power atleast they got there without bloodshed. And forget those ‘family’ picnics protesting IR changes, think murders and corruption and great rolling waves of protest and unrest that make no distinction between ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’.

It is not a book to browse, or read while distracted or filling in time. It is a book to saviour; language rich enought to swim in – kept me warm on these wintery nights.

An education.
A joy.

That’s Life- Issue 33

My name as the winner of a $50 bottle of the Avon perfume ‘Today’. Miracles do happen!
As the spokesperson for this person is Selma Hayek (Not that I ever read Avon catalogues, oh no – it was just on in the room when I walked past) – I shall imagine that I am her when I wear it – perhaps from that first time you see her in Dogma!

Mmm maybe not

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Hermit of Eyton Forest

Ellis Peters
Futura 1987 224pp SC slightly foxed

"It was on the eighteenth day of October of that year 1142 that Richard Ludel, hereditary tenant of the manor of Eaton, died of a debilitating weakness, left after wounds received at the battle of Lincoln, the the service of King Stephen."

There are things in life that are stereotypes or platitudes simply because they are so good and so helpful that we fall back to using or saying the same things in times of great joy or great sorrow. There are also a select band of authors for whom reading is always a great pleasure - there is never a disappointmant, a missed step or a last chocolate in the box.

This was a book that I had in the car as my Waiting Book. It is usually a magazine - something I can pick up and put down when I am waiting for things to start or for things to finish. In retrospect, it was very silly for it to be this book because after 3 days of reading a few pages in that window between parking and bells ringing I have had to bring it inside to finish it. The weather was even so charming as to rain today - Perfect.

This is the Fourteenth chronicle in the Brother Cadfael series. There is - not neccessarily in this order - a murder or two, a love story (sigh), great injustice, political intrigue, great wrongs righted, justice in the spirit if not the letter of the law and a final page that brings - Every Time Without Fail - such a feeling of peace and completeness and A Great Good sense of Rightness about the world.

As stated earlier, you could say they are formuliac and sometimes predictable, but that would be like saying the first morning smile on your childs face is predictable or that lemon gelati is dull because you know beforehand it is going to be just sooooo good every time.

Here is an author who can WRITE right, boys and girls. Buy These Books. They will stand you in good stead for years to come. Miss Peters deserves your royalties! Go on - Get out there and Posssess!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Liar

Stephen Fry
Heinemann Ltd 1991 277pp HB

"A Fame t-shirt stopped otside the house where Mozart was born."

The only thing I am glad of regarding this novel is that it is not my first introduction to Stephen Fry. I am so glad of Blackadders Melchett, Lord Snot in the Young Ones, the look on his sweet faced when Emma Thompson pleaded with him to ‘fill her with little babies. If I had only ever read this book, I would have the impression that Mr Fry is, if you will excuse the expression (and you’ll have to as I am going to use it lots) a complete tosser.

I hope the autobiographical feeling of this book is fake, as that would in fact make Mr Fry a complete tosser. That’s what his ‘hero’ Adrian does. Spanking the monkey, spasms of pleasure, Milk Shake Clubs, rent boys,etc etc. It seems all a good english Public School education teaches you.

“…I never really wanted to be a train driver, you know. I mean, they told me while at school, if I got two CSEs, when I left school I'd be head of British Steel. That's a lot of nonsense, ennit? I mean, you look at statistics, right. 83% of top British management have been to a public school and Oxbridge, right? 93% of the BBC have been to a public school and Oxbridge, right? 98% of the KGB have been to a public school and Oxbridge. All you get from a public school, right -- one, you get a top job, right, and two, you get an interest in perverse sexual practices. I mean, that's why British management's so inefficient. As soon as they get in the boardroom, they're all shutting each others' dicks in the door! "Go on, give it another slam, Sir Michael!" BAM! OW OW OW! "Come on, Sir Geoffrey, let's play the Panzer commander and the millkmaid, EW EW EW EW! YOO HOO!"…”

Alexei Sayle ‘Bambi’ The Young Ones

Dormitories of young spunky (sorry!) boy flesh doing that gross soggy biscuit routine. By Chapter 2 all I could think was ‘too much information’. It was like a mantra I had to repeat so I would not be able to remember too much else of the text. It stood me in good stead until page 160 when I just gave up.

There is lots of witty dialogue but Adrian is such a complete wanker - even when he go to univeristy - that the effect is more laboured than humorous. There also seems to be some kind on spy plot but once again I stopt reading before it really developed.

Lets all be glad Mr Fry didn’t give up his day job.

The Love Song of J.Edgar Hoover

Kinky Friedman

Simon&Schuster 1996 238pp HB

"It was New Year's Day."

Well, T.S Eliot this may not be, but very funny nonetheless. I had this feeling that my sisters had discussed Mr Friedman but could not remember whether it was good or bad – had they read him, heard him, dated him? The reality of listening to him play at the Basement last year probably did not match my more lurid imaginings, but atleast I know that one of his personas from this novel is real.

Mr Friedman writes here in the first person – the Kinkstah is a Private Investigator who takes on the case of a Missing Husband at the same time as attempting to solve the mystery of a good friend supposedly being followed/bugged/stalked.

Deshell Hammet mixing bad country-western lyrics and a wicked sense of humour – lots of snappy dialogue, gratuitous name-dropping and foolish puns plus a surprisingly cool mystery that keeps you turnin’ those pages. Ooh, and conspiracy theories…Recommended

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Australasian Science Vol 25/No. 9 Oct 2004

This is a slim magazine of the type that fascinate me despite my inability to understand more that the opening paragraph of the majority of articles. I suppose I must be a ‘big picture’ kind of girl.

“The government stages one annual bash with scientists, a black-tie dinner in Parliament House for the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes. In previous years John Howard delivered essentially the same speech – how he didn’t study science at school but, through his Science & Engineering Council came to realise the value of science and wanted its public esteem to be as high as sport…[Despite the federal election], departmental advisors [confirmed] that Howard would still be attending and speaking.

Six hundred people turned up, only to find that the great man was nowhere to be seen. The Prizes were promoted in the PM’s name, so where was he? Education & Science Minister Brendan Nelson sad he was “in Sydney”.

Howard materialised in the Harbour city at a rugby league awards dinner, where he posed for photographers alongside Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins…..”

Thank you to Pockleys Razor, who I am sure would have given me permission to reprint this article had he been asked. I am only disappointed that he chose to see Mr Howards choice of dinner venue as a cynical vote buying exercise. When has our PM ever been guilty of such a thing?

The Man Who was Thursday – A Nightmare

G.K. Chesterton
First Published 1908
This Ed. 1986 Penguin 187pp SC

‘The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.’

Gabriel Syme is a Poet. An occupation that makes me adore him. He is also an undercover police detective – infiltrating a dangerous ‘cell’ of anarchists in London his mission.

“He was one of those who are driven early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering folly of most revolutionists…His father cultivated art and self-realization; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa…The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism…’

Gabriel becomes ‘Thursday’ – each of the seven members of the Central Anarchist Council for reasons of security calling themselves a day of the week. This non-stop tale of action, betrayal and adventure folows Gabriel as he seeks to bring down Sunday - the leader of the group before plannng to blow up the Czar and the President of the French Republic in Paris.

Mr Chesterton writes with that depth of vocabulary that makes you realise how limited modern English is becoming. He is able to discuss the philosophies and motivations of men who will kill for their beliefs whilst maintaining a lovely ironic tone that keeps the story moving forward. There is no let up in plot and the ending is only confusing if you forget that this story is in fact ‘a nightmare’.

It was kind of quaint for me to read about the terrible ‘Anarchists’ – a word that conjured up for me images of Doc Martens and safety pins rather than dynamite and assassination. But as Kingsley Amis reminds up in his enthusiastic introduction, at the time of writing they were a real and potent threat - as quaint as any modern terrorists.

Bravo Mr Chesterton, what a hoot of a story! I am story that I have neglected you all these years.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

‘Howl's Moving Castle’

Diana Wynne Jones

1992 Metheun 212pp SB

‘In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

This is the book that proves that J.K.Rowling is the luckiest woman alive. Originally published in 1986, the version I have is at least the 5th edition and Why Ms Wynne Jones is not richer that the queen is a Complete Mystery. Ms Wynne Jones has an impressive list of titles and a visit to her web site is evidence of her high appeal.

Now, I have to admit that while I may have read her books before, I only found ‘Howls Moving Castle’ in a second hand store last week and is the first one I owned. I knew of the title as the new movie by (sigh) Hayao Miyazaki. The esteemed Japanese director of the glorious ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ completed the animated version last year and apparently Madman might release it here later this year. It has great reviews, but I did not know that it was based on an English book. I feel Shame.

Sophie is the Heroine of this story – eldest of three thus doomed to an unlucky/unexciting life “..she was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success..” , she is trimming hats when a misunderstanding with a wicked witch changes her life. There is humour, adventure, good guys, bad guys, bad guys who turn out good, good guys who turn out bad, magic and such a sweet, sweet ending that more that one tear was shed, let me tell you.

It is just so well written – I read it in one evening and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. The writing is so rich and descriptive and the world so charmingly and artfully created – it is a book to thoroughly immerse yourself in. Ideal to read to children; whilst simple enough for the little ones, there is more than enough depth and subtlety in the strongly drawn characters and situations to satisfy the adult imagination. Miyazaki does a wonderful line in strong female characters and I can see why young Sophie Hatter caught his eye.

I now own two other books (in 1992 there were at least 12 others) by this wonderful author – Stay tuned!

‘Holes’ Soundtrack

2003 Walt Disney Records

okay okay – and sometimes listens......

This is the soundtrack to the Disney (don’t Freak – its really cool!!!)film that is based on the book by Louis Sachar (on the list). The soundtrack is Very Funky – and my first international ebay purchase. There are 15 tracks that I am not really qualified to comment on – I am so out of the loop that I have only heard of Moby ‘Honey’ and Shaggy ‘Keep’n it Real’. There are several songs obviously written for the movie – Fiction Plane’s ‘If Only’ and D-tent Boys ‘Dig it’, Very Fine tracks. Other stand outs are Stephanie Bentley ‘I will Survive and Therese James & The Rhythm Tramps ‘I’m gonna be a Wheel Someday’. Please don’t disturb my fragile ego and tell me these people are some kind of terrible commercial Brittany clone – unless its Brittany from an alternate universe where she makes groovy music. The CD is highly recommended and the first new music purchase I have made in several years. Have a Listen – Hey it makes me Dance!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

“The Journal of Anotonio Montoya”

Rick Colligan
1996 Fourth Estate HB 217pp

“..José Montoya’s mother and Father were killed early one warm August morning by a cow…”

This slim book written in my beloved magic realist style is apparently the first novel by Mr Colligan, and I can only presume that being a professional roofer for 20 years gives one a special perspective.

Ramona fled her small Mexican town to be a painter in big city America and after her parents death has returned to the tumbling down house she grew up in. She paints. She watches the sunset. She keeps to herself.

Brother Flavio and sister-in-law Loretta are killed and Loretta appears to Ramona just after the funeral asking her to look after young José. At home Romana’s parents are in the kitchen – her mother cooking tamales and her father grumbling about the irrigation of the fields

Charmingly understated vignette that while covering a space of only several days stays true to its genre with hundred year old journals, time travel and discoveries of the past which impact importantly and richly on the present. Love, letting go, family and place – all covered here. Like an early Garcia Maquez short story. Sweet - hope he publishes the recipes next time

“The Legend that was Earth”

James P. Hogan
2000 Baen Books HB 346pp

“Sunday was cloudy but warm in Washington, D.C…”

Mr Hogan, a ‘..science fiction writer in the grand tradition..’ is a man with a message. No chance of missing that.

A Near Future Earth visited by the Hyadeans, - aliens who luckily look much like us but have advanced technology and Spock-like emotions. (Although those that go native seem to appreciate greatly the ‘sensuality’ of Earth Girls). This results in a few private concerns trading cheap earth labour/recourses/land for lots of cash – and bombing those ‘guerrillas’ who disagree out of existence.

This is an interesting premise with the potential to be a cool political/sci-fi novel showing the ways a government invents enemies as a method of increasing profitable arms dealing and by manipulating the media maintain control over a frightened population etc etc. With space travel and blue-skinned aliens.

Unfortunately, Mr Hogan prefers rhetoric and includes very little story of actual interest. About 20 pages in I got thoroughly bored, and proceeded to skim the rest. No spoilers here - the book fails to retrieve itself.

The characters are completely interchangeable – especially after the aliens learn proper English and drop that “..things there our publics are not telled….” rubbish. There is much financial dealing done by rich people gone bad – that pork belly buy low sell high lingo that quickly becomes dull & irrelevant (after the 8th time any way) and even the characters themselves get confused.

In over 300 pages of stilted jargon and repetitive description (potted history of Bolivia any one?), not once does Mr Hogan let the story or his characters tell their own story. A double agent (picked that one up a chapter before its ‘announcement’) is not shown to be one – we are told she is one. Then told Again. And Again. The Hyadeans invented spaceflight as they base their science on facts rather than the Earthman process of inventing a theory and then attempting to squish reality into that theory. This is spelt out for us very clearly. In case we missed it we are told again. And again. We even have whole italicised chapters reiterating these details.

The story rushes through a series of increasingly complicated manoeuvres on the parts of our heroes Roland – a previous high flying friend of the aliens – and his ex-wife Maria – an operative in the resistance – whilst the world goes promptly to hell in a hand basket when the truth of the now alien-controlled government comes to light. The USA splits apart, Nuclear Attack in the Andes etc etc.

Luckily Australia has a history of minding its own affairs in regional issues and Cairns becomes a haven of utopian hippies, living a free life with the more sexed-up aliens and without government control.

It only takes two pages for Mr Hogan to get us out of the pretty mess those fascist capitalists got us into. Like I cared by this point. I was cheering for anyone able to nuke the site from orbit.

We have Aliens, Conspiracy Theories by the bucket, James Bond, Marxism 101. How could this be boring? Well, it is. Trust Me. Don’t waste your time - go plant a tree or take up pottery. That way we can all live Mr Hogans dream and not actually have to read this book.

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