....and sometimes watches.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafon 2001 Text Publishing PB 521pp

“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.”

This was a birthday present from Beloved Sister C and the perfect thing to take to the bath after sleeping half of Monday last through with a horrible headache. Yummy Lush thing, sore head and a charming book involving people much worse off than me.

Daniel’s dad is a bookseller in Barcelona just after World War 2. The city has suffered greatly and there are many dark and dreadful secrets out there. Daniel stumbles upon just one – a tragic tale of love, lust, betrayal, regret and loyalty across the generations - and with an eccentric circle of friends, is determined to solve the mystery of the author Julian Carax and his incedinary back catalogue.

The language is so evocative – all depth and shadows and adjectives and melancholy walks in the twilight. I love this style – like Garcia Marquez without the ‘magic’ – the story just wraps around you like a snuggy warm blanket and draws you in completely.
The only time Mr Ruiz Zafon stumbles in his writing I feel is when he tries to put the same richness into the mouths of his characters, which results in a sense of melodrama and falseness.

Lots of love and heartbreak in this rich romantic tale
Recommended with a good glass of red and a sooky heart

Friday, March 24, 2006

Studio Ghilbi

I should premise this post by saying that I am a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and their wonderful stunning completely hand-drawn animation. They leave Disney for dead in every category you care to name. The movies are so good for children and for adults. Even after watching ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ a dozen times in the first fortnight we had it, I was still happy to have it on in the background.

Spirited Away
The very first one that we watched. And watched and watched. Chihoro’s parents are turned into pigs when they greedily eat food meant for the Gods and Chihiro must rescue them. Chihiro is a wonderful character, scared to begin with but then becoming braver and more confident. Tender, funny, loving – full of friendship and cool monsters. The bathhouse is amazing and that train going over the water…sigh, it is so beautiful......

My Neighbour Totoro
This film has to win some kind of award for best kid’s film ever. My 11yr old son still loves it - I still love it. Great for the little ones too. Two sisters (I want a ‘Mei’ for my own!) move with their Dad to the country side to be closer to their mother who is in hospital and very sick. The girls discover Totoro: a tree spirit and met CatBus and other wonderful characters and have adventures and fly and everything. So Very Good
Nausicaa The Valley of the Winds
My son’s favourite. Includes voices by Patrick Stewart and Edward James Olmos. Nausicaa is a young princess living in a world ravaged by war and environmental destruction. Her father is murdered by an invading army and Nausicaa must rescue them all. Strong Environmental message. Gorgous pictures. Quite nail biting in places. Maybe not for the very small

Laputa Castle in the Sky
A princess falls from the sky holding the key to an ancient mystery. Cool Pirates and Scary Robots. I find this a very poignant film with the lost floating kingdoms and once again the animation is gorgeous.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki is a young witch who must leave home and find her own town to a witch in. Phil Hartman does the voice of her black cat. No messages here other than ‘believe in yourself’. Very sweet

Princess Mononoke
Not for the littlies. Demons and monsters and evil men with a powerful be-good-to-the forests message. It is quite scary and graphic in places. Strong main characters and stunning animation. Does anyone anywhere do better water and sunlight and trees. The kids and I watched it twice on the day we first bought it. A big fave with my son

Howls Moving Castle

Last night, my daughter and I went halves in the new 2 disc set of this film that had a theatrical release last year. It is an adaptation of the book by Dianna Wynne Jones, a book which completely rocks. The movie strays from the plotline of the book but stays true to the spirit. Sophie Hatter is turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste and having nothing to lose, has the courage to leave her home town and have some adventures. She moves in as cleaning lady to the castle of Howl, evil heart-eating wizard, who is really a big spunk. Calcifer the fire Demon is so very funny and there is a subtle anit-war message. Once again, the animation is gorgeous. Read the book too

These are all the movies we own and having them all is just a matter of time, just as saving up to go the Studio Ghibli in Japan is. I hear they are doing ‘Wizard of Earthsea’ next, so that will be interesting. Well, we can garentee that is will have strong female characters, super cute sidekicks, humour, kindness and the most beautiful scenery in the history of....history

Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood Virago Books 1996 PB 545pp

“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing”

I finished this book a couple of days ago and continue in two minds about this “extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery”.
This is the first book by Margaret Atwood that I have read, having been so disturbed by the movie version of ‘The Handmaidens Tale’ all those years ago. I do not dispute that she writes well, but I hesitate to say that she writes what I want to read.

True Crime History – icky double murder in the mid 1850’s Canada. Young Grace Marks and surly James McDermott tried, found guilty and James swings for his crimes. Pretty little Grace spends 30 years in the gaol before being released and disappearing off the face of recorded history. There is so little known about this pair and their story that is could easily be construed as a authorial blank canvas. The voice of the author is heard strongly and the constant stories of abuse and mistrust and betrayal of women and children at the hands of men seem to be the point for the whole book rather than an examination of politics or the judicial system or an interesting story about a young girl or any of the many spins that could be been taken.

‘Alias Grace’ tells the imagined story of Grace’s life, from poverty in Ireland to Domestic Servant in Canada. The crime is recounted towards the end in flashback. Then there is a happy ending. Miss Atwood does write well – I was quite disturbed by this book - I would read it for a while and then lie there thinking ‘Are all my relationships based on greed and selfishness and weird sexual intrigue? Is there nothing honest and kind and true about any of the people that I know? Are my children doomed to unhappiness and loneliness and cruel manipulation?’

While there is not a female character in this book that you would happily invite for cake and gossip, I would not hesitate – even for a second – to send every single man in a rocket ship straight into the sun. No-one could ever accuse me of not being a card-carrying Feminist and supporter of Girls Who Write, but I do not see that all the men in such a genre have to be so very very very awful. It reads to me like whatever the girl equivalant of Misogyny is and is equally as distasteful.
The happy ending just feels tacked on and there really is no resolution of the ‘mystery’.

Back to St Vinnies for you, my dear

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The New World Order

Ben Jeapes Random House 2004 PB 441pp

“The castle stood alone and aloof at the top of a hill, surrounded by a hostile army.”

There are some days when you visit the library and you feel the best, the very best that you can hope for is a book NOT part of a trilogy.

With a cool front cover and a decidedly dodgy back cover – boys looking as uncomfortable in Cav as only boys uncomfortable with their sexuality can – somedays readers cannot be choosers.

Surprisingly this book was good – not great, not great by any means, but as brain candy goes, enjoyable enough.

Lumpy ol’ Cromwell and stuttering Charles are battling over Britian and in comes an invading force from another dimension. Looking like us – a bit stronger, better hearing etc – they are advanced enough to have zepphilins and machine guns which is enough to conquer the land, but not such a gap in technology there is no chance they will ever lose. They are lead by Dhon Do which is a stupid name but he is quite cool and I had the teeniest crush on him. Which then meant I wanted the invading force to win. It is left open for the sequel, but I am not sure if there is one.

Also fun is saying ‘jeapes’ - Try it – ‘jeeeeapes’ . I have included the picture of him with a cyberman ‘cause I have always held true to the tenet that if you are going to look like a nerd, then look like a nerd with a large silver robot by your side.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Orley Farm

Anthony Trollope 1st Pub:1862 This ed: (a replica reprint )Dover 1981 320pp
Illustrations by John Everett Millais

“It is not true that a rose by any other name will smell as sweet”

Ha Ha – all my esteemed literary readers will laugh along with me I am sure. I read this book because a) I do so love a good Victorian melodrama and b) I thought it was by one on my favourite authors – you know, that guy who wrote ‘Vanity Fair’ one of my favourite all time books. *Ha Ha* I can hear you all laughing now – imagine getting Trollope mixed up with Thackeray. Anthony with William Makepeace – I chortle still.

This was still a very enjoyable read – despite it having come to my bedside table under false pretences. A dense courtroom drama – perhaps not for the nervous beginner - revenge, love, retribution, lawyers, goodness and badness and several sweet romantic sub plots.

I think there is a vision of Victorian England as being very moralistic and hypocritical – fundamentalist even – in its views of right and wrong. I am sure that was true in the majority of cases, but books such as this delve deeply into the complex human psyche and no one is allowed to be simply all good and all bad. Our heroine, Lady Emily Mason should be a criminal but many work to save her from this fate – feelings of lawyerly professional pride or friendship or an innate sense of justice inspire them but in the end, Trollope asks us, who can be said to be good and who bad? Who should judge? And who decides the standards that we judge by?

Sitting somewhere between the serious social commentary of Elizabeth Gaskell and the more sugar-coated Dickens, despite not being by Thackeray, this novel is definitely worth the effort.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sandman Vols 1-4

Preludes and Nocturnes
The Doll’s House
Dream Country
Season of Mists

Neil Gaiman and a highly talented group of artists, DC Comics early 1990’s

Now, I once owned a number in this series, but alas they went the way of many ‘negatively charged’ items during those bright & shiny days before my son was born. I of course now regret this – if only because they are so expensive to replace and I have to borrow them from my sister. And then when I do borrow them, I am so polite that I only take the first four – and then of course I read them all quickly and now have to wait a long time before I have a chance to borrow the rest.

Dream takes the centre stage in these stories and is so very cool – all dark and brooding – as he charts the hero’s journey from his imprisonment and the subsequent path through freedom, loss, retribution and eventual forgiveness. He is not alone – the rest of his family ‘The Endless’: Death, Destiny, Despair and Desire do what siblings do best – help or hinder according to their nature. Of course, they all look stunning at the same time. Especially Death – I want to grow up to be her!

They are called graphic novels for a reason – Book 2 ‘The Doll’s House’ has ‘adult themes’ that have haunted me for the last 15 years. The art is amazing, from the traditional cartoon line drawings to the eerie/creepy/spooky/seriously weird-me-out photomontages at the beginning of each story. Definitely not for kids!

Grown up fairy stories – the old fashioned kind where Red Riding Hood gets eaten and the Prince slips on all the blood after stepsisters chop off their heels to fit the glass slipper.

Highly Recommended

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pecked to Death by Ducks

Tim Cahill Vintage 1993 PB 375pp

“During the occupation of Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers often defecated in the finest rooms of the finest houses they could find”

This collection of 42 articles by the esteemed author of such classics as ‘A Wolverine is eating my leg’ and ‘Jaguars ripped my flesh’ originally appeared in such magazines as ‘National Geographic’ ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘GEO’. An edgier more adventurous Bill Bryson – same humour value.

If I was richer and had some kind of fitness, it would be very cool to work my way through this book – sea kayaking off Southern California, rescuing giant sea clams in Tonga, being laughed at by apes on Mount Karisimbi, discovering the pristine gypsum caves of Lechuguilla – it just goes on and on.

Very funny, very enviable. Inspiring to keep me saving so I can trek that Inca Trail in 2009!

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