Saturday, 28 November 2009

Twenty Ten Book Challenge

This is an interesting book challenge for 2010. I took part in my first book challenge over at Dolce Bellezza's place this year (I'm just about to open my next book for that one) and found that it focused my reading, rather than the freewheeling way it usually takes place.

So here is the challenge hosted by Bart's Bookshelf:-

The aim is to read twenty books over ten categories, in 2010 (Was this challenge based solely around the name? You decide!)

  • Read two books from each of the categories
  • The categories are intended as loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked with **)
  • Categories marked with a** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
  • Each book can only qualify for one category
  • Crossovers with other challenges are allowed
  • Books read from 1/1/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible
So, here are the categories
  1. Young Adult. Any book classified as YA or featuring a teenage protagonist.
  2. TBR**. Intended to reduce that tottering TBR pile. Books in this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/09. No problem there. I'm running out of room on my TBR shelf.
  3. Shiny & New. Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online or supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Oh pretty new books I cannot resist you.
  4. Bad Bloggers***. Books in this category should be ones you've picked up purely on the recommendations of another blogger (any reviews posted should link to the post that convinced you to give the book a go). Bad Bloggers*** is hosted by Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made on
  5. Charity. Support your local charity shop with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops. Lots of them to choose from, the best is the Oxfam shop which has a whole floor of interesting books.
  6. New in 2010. This category is for books newly published in 2010 (whether it is the first time it has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!).
  7. Older than You. Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before, or 100 years prior!
  8. Win Win. Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the one to use, as long as you do not break the rules of the other challenge by doing so.
  9. Who Are You Again? This one is not for authors you have never read before, this is for authors you have never even heard of before! This was the category that sold this challenge to me, I love discovering new writers.
  10. Up to You! The requirements are up to you. Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something wild and wacky? Then this is the category for you. The only requirement is you state it on your sign up post. Someone once said that genres are walls that keep people out so I try and read across them all, however there are a few that I do not read, and one of them is fantasy, so that is the one I'm going with. It will be outside my comfort zone, but I like wild and wacky so hopefully I will be able to find something left field. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

ABC Wednesday - S

A Sand Glass, Sand Clock or Sand Timer. Called many things but at this size it is definitely not an egg timer. It stood in a refectory. Is it the length of time you have to eat a meal, or the length of time between meals? Or, because it is in what was a monastery, has it a deeper meaning, a meditation on the passing of time and lives. It is very plain and functional but its surroundings are not -
the Mont Saint-Michel which stands between sea and land in northern France. It is like an elaborate Sandcastle. At the moment there is a quite ugly concrete causeway between it and the land, with a very large car park along the sides of it. I have managed to miss them on this photo, but to see it with any perspective you would have to include them. Things are about to change. The silting up of the estuary and the causeway has meant that eventually the Mont would become part of the land, but this is not going to happen. A project is in hand to reverse this, the causeway will be demolished and a bridge put in its place. The impression of how it will, potentially, look in 2020 is rather wonderful see here The car park will be moved 2 kilometre away and a tram or their own legs will bring visitors to this UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Lets go in the main door, and up the medieval street, the Grande Rue, and then up lots and lots of steps
to the Abbey itself. Up more steps until we reach the top

where there are beautiful views across the flat and shining sands. But this man is not looking there and is dazzled
by the sparkling gilding on the spire, topped with the winged Saint Michael the Archangel, protector of the Church Militant. I actually took it because of the amazing bubbly clouds that had appeared behind it.

The abbey of Mont St Michel dates back to the eighth century but over its long history new building have been piled on top of each other, mixing styles of Romanesque and Gothic. In past times it was also called 'the Mount in Peril from the Sea'

which is what this sign also warns of, dangerous bathing in stormy weather, although the french peril is a much more evocative word. It also tells us in the top right hand corner that 'the sea is not a dustbin', unfortunately a lot of people in the world do not appear to know this. Minor rant over, and lets go down to Saussaye Beach

on the 'Emerald Coast' Britanny, which has beautiful creamy soft sand with the occasional pieces of seaweed, and on the
rocks behind some sedum, a water storing leaf succulent plant, thriving in the salty air. Moving inland, what is that sssss noise I can hear
it must be a snake. This little adder was basking in the sun and coiled up when it saw me, unfortunately I did not see it. I happened to glance down a a couple of steps away from standing on it. Whoa. By the time I'd managed to get my camera out, realise it was set to macro, alter it and click, this shy creature with stunning colouring was slithering away to hide in the scrub.

All these pictures were from my September holiday in France. I am dreaming of those blue skies because we have had two weeks of almost continual rain. A fast moving subtropical jet stream moving over the ocean has brought lots of wet weather directly to Cumbria, still if there is a break in the clouds, and I get my camera out, I may have W sorted.

Slip over to the ABC Wednesday meme to experience more interpretations of the letter S

Monday, 23 November 2009

In the Miso Soup

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
(translated by Ralph McCarthy)

A happy little title, but don't be fooled, enter the dark and seedy world of the red light district Kabuki-cho in Tokyo. A morally ambiguous area with schoolgirls going on 'compensated dating', oniai matchmaking clubs layered over prostitution and exploitation.

Kenji has just turned 20 and takes foreign tourists on sex tours of the bars, strip joints and date clubs. His mother thinks he is enrolled in a college preparation course. He has no intention of going to college and is saving up to go to America.

Frank, a strange, overweight American tourist, hires him for a three night guided tour of the nightlife. There is something not quite right about Frank, and Kenji cannot get it out of his mind that he might have had something to do with the dismembered body of a schoolgirl, found recently in the area. Jun, Kenji's girlfriend is not happy that he has been hired for three days, because he has promised to spend New Year with her.

Strange incidents happen, and Kenji is more and more convinced that Frank is a killer on the loose, his eyes are "cold as dark marbles" and his stories are shifting truths.

When Kenji finds something like a scrap of paper stuck to his door his girlfriend looks at it as asks what it is. Nothing he says, throwing it away, but Kenji is horribly convinced it is a piece of human skin.

"Malevolence is born of negative feelings like loneliness and sadness and anger. It comes from an emptiness inside you that feels as if its been carved out with a knife, an emptiness you're left with when something very important has been taken away from you. I can't say I sensed a particularly cruel or sadistic tendency in Frank, or even that he fit my image of a murderer. But what I did sense was an emptiness like a black hole inside him, and there was no predicting what might emerge from a place like that"

The book covers three days but is also constructed like a three act play, which may be the influence of Ryu Murakami's other profession of film director. The first part is an exploration of this particular Japanese subculture, the second is Quentin Tarantino violence territory, the third is an exposition and a complicity of corruption.

Ryu Murakami's characters are all either drifting, lonely or empty vessels. The Tokyo district of Kabuki-cho runs like a fault-line through the book and Murakami is a vivid writer. The translation is excellent. Sometimes books in translation can feel as though there is a veil between the writer and reader but not in this translation.

Would I want to read more of Ryu Murakami's view of Japan, I'm not sure. If I did it would be the quality of writing that would lure me more than his dark picture of the human condition. He has been compared in the blurbs to Bret Easton Ellis and that is someone I have never thought of reading.

A Murakami interview from the Daily Yomiuri where he discusses his view of the Japanese character see here

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Rain it Raineth Every Day

Barrow Park
After a week of rain a glorious sunny day and here are group of lads making the most of it on the 'all weather' pitch. The ducks are enjoying the unexpected lake that has appeared. Yes my local park is very wet. I came back with very muddy shoes.

Up in the Lakes rivers have broke their banks, homes have been flooded and the ground is so sodden that the water is pouring out of the fields onto the roads. They are advising caution on the roads so I thought I would stay close to home today.

Cumbria Live TV have a film of a rather wet trip on the roads around Grasmere and pictures of the rivers side walk that is now, well a river. Go and have a look here

More rain tomorrow apparently, but it is nice and warm with southerly winds so not all bad news.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

ABC Wednesday - Rusland

R is for the Rusland Valley
which lies folded between the lakes of Windermere and Coniston Water in the southern Lake District. The road in is lined down one side with over 50 beeches. We are blessed they are still there. The National Park Authority wanted to clear fell them all in the name of 'safety', but a local campaign sprang up to combat this vandalism and had the trees surveyed. Result, all perfectly sound apart from half a dozen. For the history of the trees see here
In the end the campaign was successful and only a few were chopped down (including the largest one) and new beeches were planted to replace them. A story with a happy ending.

The next destination is a small nature reserve which is designated an SSSI.
A raised bog, woodland, open low fell and lakes in between Rusland Hall and Hay Bridge
The Hay Bridge Nature Reserve has been established for about 30 years. In the past it did not have boardwalks as it has taken time for the ground to revert to its natural condition. Before the boardwalks water could be up to your fetlocks after long spells of wet weather and it is still
reet clarty in places, translation if you are not from the north of england, quite muddy in parts.
There is firm ground by the streams that run through the wood. It is a peaceful, magical place and the only sounds that can be heard are birds. There are red deer, badgers, brown hare, weasels and stoats.

Q How do you tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel?
A. One is weasely distinguished and the other is stoately different.

How did that 7 year old child get in here?
In spring and summer there are lots of flowers, but even at this time of very late autumn, there are still some in the streams. In summer there will be huge numbers of dragonflies and damselflies at this place.
There are also a few large sheltered ponds surrounded by trees, wonderful for of all types of wildlife, and beautiful when the water lilies are in flower. For an overview of the species at Hay Bridge Nature Reserve see here
But not all is wetness. If you walk on to the little mound only 125 ft above sea level where sits the Tissie Fooks memorial, and where you too can sit and contemplate, (the hills pointed out cannot be seen on this hazy day)

the surrounding woods and pasture are all in view.
Leaving the reserve behind us and walking on, the sheep at High Longmire stand to have their picture taken, the farm is hidden behind the trees. The valley has scatterings of farms and
Kirkthwaite Cottage

some with immaculate lawns
and some with a river running by at the bottom.
Here I end my tour at Rusland church. Our car was parked outside and the heavens opened as we walked then ran down the road, but I could not resist this photo of the light in the church door. Unfortunately as you can see the photo gods were not smiling on me as, unknown to me, I did not manage to keep the rain off the lens.

Run Rapidly over to se a Range of Rs at ABC Wednesday

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

The year is 1976, the place Laos and Dr Siri Paiboun is the only coroner in the country. He was looking forward to an easy retirement in Vientianne, after "reassembling broken soldiers and avoiding bombs" in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam for 35 years but the Lao People's Revolutionary Party have other ideas.

"We've decided to make you the Republic's chief police coroner" He looked into Siri's green eyes for a hint of pride, but only saw bewilderment. He might as well have told him he was to be the Republic's new balloon bender or unicyclist"
"I've never done an autopsy in my life"
"Ah. Its all the same. Putting them together; taking them apart"

He inherits a team of two, Nurse Dtui and mortuary assistant Mr Geung and settles into a routine, until Comrade Kham's wife dies unexpectedly. Cause of death is elusive, have her tablets been spiked with poison? Khan wants her cremated as soon as possible, and the body is taken out of the morgue. Dr Siri goes in search of answers and finds he is enjoying the investigation and the "cloak and daggery" of it all. But this is just the start, tortured Vietnamese bodies bob up to the surface in a lake, mysterious deaths occur in the provinces.

"Whats happening to this job? For nine months we plod along nicely: a couple of old ladies, the odd electric shock and a bicycle fatality. No murders, mysteries, or mayhem. Then, all of a sudden, the body business explodes like an atomic bomb."

Someone does not want any of these mysteries to be solved, reports disappear, investigations are hampered. But Siri Paiboun has another resource, he sees the dead in his dreams which encourages him to "show respect to cadavers, once he knew the former owners would be back", and maybe they will give hims some clues to find answers, but his main resource will be his scientific mind and resourcefulness.

The historical setting as the communist government overthrows the royal family and takes charge, the shortages of every type of equipment, the power struggles and beginnings of corruption, together with the uneasy relationships with Vietnam and the politics make this interesting but unfamiliar territory for a crime novel.

The book has a real sense of place and community in urban Vientianne and to a lesser extent the border territory of Kumsing, where Dr Siri will find more than he bargained for.

There is an interesting cast of characters and as this book is the first in a series I would hope that this element would be developed further. Dr Siri is a charismatic figure and we learn more about him throughout the book.

An entertaining book with dry wit which could be described as a cozy crime, apart from the body dissections, prophetic dreams and a hint of shamanism. I am certainly going to search out the next in the series 'Thirty-Three Teeth'.

Verdict: Rattling Yarn

Colin Cotterill lives in Thailand and his website contains both his writing and cartooning skills. Another interesting project he is involved with is the blog of the International Crime Authors , a collection of writers whose detectives ply their skills in Turkey, Thailand, Palestine and of course Laos.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

ABC Wednesday - Quay

Oh does that look like a Q? Of course it does, especially if you are looking at it with ABC Wednesday eyes. And what luck it is also on a Quay. Tie your boat here after sailing on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

Bigger boats require
something more sturdier. The ferry tying up on the St Malo quay after a rather choppy, possible queasy, crossing of the English Channel, or La Manche (the sleeve) if you are looking at it from the French side.
Then there are the calmer waters (on this particular day), of Bantry Bay in the beautiful south east of Ireland. These fishing vessels are tied up on the Bantry quay. The area is famous for its blue mussels, filter feeders, living in intertidal areas and filtering 10-15 gallons of seawater a day. They in turn are eaten by the tourists dining in the Bantry restaurants, but I chose a cheese and onion flan for preference.
Possibly less sustainable fishing here. Fishing trawlers from many countries, as far as the eye can see, docked on the Ijmulden quay in the Netherlands.
Honfleur, Normandy, France

From working vessels to people enjoying their leisure. This is a scanned photo; I was trying to work out when I had taken it, (having found in an envelope of unrelated pictures) by looking at the clothes. Not too many clues apart from tight shorts. I've narrowed it down to the 20th century.
Zebu, Albert Dock, Liverpool
The last quay so board the quarterdeck, raise our glasses and Splice the mainbrace

Quick for Quality Qs go to the ABC Wednesday meme hosted by Mrs Nesbitt.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Black Combe Walk

After a week of rain Sunday arrived with clear blue skies. We toddled out to take a walk to the top of Black Combe. The bracken is now all golden brown
and Moorgill Beck bubbled and gurgled in the lower reaches. A couple of raptors glided in the sky while nervous stonechats called 'tscak tscak'.
There were lots of wax-caps at our feet. I think these yellow ones are the Golden Wax-cap
and this is the Slimy Wax-cap. These particular fungi are an indicator of ancient grasslands and like moss and short grass. The sheep have been on these uplands for many centuries keeping the grass nice and short.
The trig point on the top had been newly painted a brilliant white. The Remembrance Day crosses had been placed at the bottom and a couple of poppies on the top in memory of those who no longer walk the Lakeland hills.

The breeze on the top was chilly but the sea below was still and the views were clear. The mountain ranges to the north, the Isle of Man and the Calf of Man to the west and Blackpool tower to the south. Looking towards the tower with binoculars The Man Who Knows said he could see the Big Dipper as well. Perhaps he could.
Path down from Black Combe foreground; In the sea - Barrow and end of Walney Island, top, with Hodbarrow Lagoon, lower left.

Returning on the lane down towards Whicham church here on this November day was a Foxglove. The hedge and all around was bare but this was budding and flowering. The Autumn days have been warm, almost spring like, so perhaps this mysterious flower had been enticed into life by the temperature.
Further along the lane the hedge's tops had been cut but a few branches were budding and also appearing, new leaves.

So perhaps the end of Thomas Hood's poem 'No' is not quite true for this month.

"...No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

ABC Wednesday - P

Portsmouth is our starting point and where this ship is heading for port. In the distance is the 170 metre Spinnaker which was constructed in 2005 and has three viewing platforms, including one with a glass floor. Its location is the Gunwharf Quays, the name of which is a clue to the fact that this has been a important naval base for centuries.

Here is the Ark Royal aircraft carrier in the early evening and here is the

ships crest. It is the fifth ship to have this name. The first was part of the fleet that was sent out to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588 as it headed for English shores. The weather in 1588 was stormy, as it has been here this week, there has been a great deal of precipitation over the weekend and some flooding (an Arc might have been useful). The lawn became a lake but by Monday morning it
had reduced to a puddle. The birds will not be short of water.
The definition of a puddle is small enough to step over or shallow enough to walk through,
but unless you are under ten, the walk through option is usually comes after squeeze round or jump on rocks.
The poor old pampas grass has taken a few beating so far this month, and has been very bedraggled. This piece stuck to my car rear window
but a good breeze dried it out. Every year it throws its fonds up in late summer
fresh, white and straight. Every year the wind and rain pummels it in the winter until only the small and strong survive. It produces a million seeds in a lifetime, probably trying to find its way back to South America.

Pop over to ABC Wednesday to peruse more possibilities of the letter P