Devising A Bookish Motto …

For fun I’ve been twittering about devising a bookish motto, which once tweaked may become the new subtitle of this blog. The phrase ‘Never leave home without a book’ sums my reading strategy up nicely. Now it needs to be translated into Latin …

Many moons ago I did get an ‘A’ for my Latin O-level. I loved Latin, and got a lot out of it, however having studied the touchy-feely Cambridge Latin course, the conjugations and declensions were never drilled into us in the traditional amo, amas, amat … style. You were taught basic roots of words mostly and picked up the grammar it seemed by osmosis. If you read enough of it, it seeped in sort of.

Three decades of forgetting later though, I’m left with a problem like that of Brian in Life of Brian, (the Python’s best film and one which I had the luxury of seeing an uncut test screening of as a student in the presence of Palin, Jones, Idle and Gilliam – as mentioned in Palin’s wonderful diaries). You must remember the scene where John Cleese’s Roman centurion corrected Brian’s grammar in his graffiti on the city walls – making him write ‘Romani eunt domum’ fifty times for getting it wrong. Classic!

So this is my problem too! I tried using an internet translation site – but getting declensions and conjugations right is beyond it! I’ve got this far: Never = nunquam; to leave = dimitto; home = domus; without = sine; a book = liber/libri which gives so far …

Nunquam dimitto domus sine libri

It obviously still needs some work so I’m off to locate my copy of a rather good Latin primer by Peter Jones –

Learn Latin: The Book of ‘The Daily Telegraph’ QED Series to see if it’ll help me fine-tune my Latin. Watch this space!

Update 6pm: After much poring of the above book, a Latin dictionary and Wikipedia I’ve ended up with this. If there’s anyone who can tell me if I’m right – I’d really appreciate it. Should egredite be in the imperative? Is domo ablative? Is nunquam in the right place?

Egredite domo nunquam sine liber

“Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die”

Numbersthe debut novel for teens (and up) by Rachel Ward is a book very much concerned with life and death, and the quote above by Tennyson, seems to me to capture its essence in a nutshell perfectly.

Told in the first person, this is Jem’s story of the time spent with her friend Spider. Fifteen year old Jem doesn’t really have friends, she doesn’t like to look at people, as she has a unique ability that she sees as a curse – when she looks at someone she sees the date when they will die.

Jem’s Mum died of an overdose when she was seven. She was taken into care and lived in a succession of foster homes. Since she worked out what the numbers meant though, she has tried to tune out of normal life, preferring her own company, and ending up being branded as difficult by the system. Then, one day she meets Spider, both skiving off school, and despite the numbers over his head, they click and become friends. Then one day when they’re in London something terrible happens and due to the circumstances, they run …

That’s enough of the story! This is an absolutely tremendous novel. It’s not without its faults though – the last section of the plot before the end and subsequent coda, is rather contrived and unlikely. Where it succeeds really well though is in its depiction of teenagers and understanding of their problems. The growing sexual awareness between Jem and Spider is handled sensitively. Other issues such as knife crime, drugs and violence are introduced in a way that makes it easy to see how kids get into this cycle of behaviours, when doing things like listening to them before things get out of hand could make a lot of difference. Both Jem and Spider were very credible characters, and you desperately want things to turn out well for them, although adult readers will probably work out the ending well in time. It was totally gripping from page one – and a novel to really make you think. Highly recommended. (9/10)

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

… so said Truman Capote. Going to Venice is like stepping into a time-warp. On the surface, it’s ancient, romantic and beautiful, yet it is mysterious and there’s often a whiff of danger from its history as a great trading city. Much of the paraphenalia of modern living is hidden from the tourist’s view allowing you to wallow in adoration of this unique place.

This is the Venice of The Thief Lord by German author Cornelia Funke. It feels so Dickensian in time, that you are really surprised when a mobile rings. Dickensian is actually an apt adjective, for the book centres around a group of orphaned children who live together in an abandoned cinema, looked after by their Faginesque young mentor – the self-styled Thief Lord. The two newest members of the gang, brothers Prosper and Bo, have a detective on their trail whose job it is to return Bo to the guardianship of his rich aunt; the brothers had run away as they were to be split up.

The first third of the book introduces us to the gang and their life in Venice which is hard, but appears a lot of fun. It takes its time to get going though, but once the detective Victor (who doesn’t normally do lost children) is hard on Bo and Prosper’s trail things start to hot up. Also the Thief Lord is commissioned to steal an object for a mysterious Conte, which would earn them enough money to live well for ages. They can’t resist the job though, and things happen thick and fast with many twists and turns in the plot.

***SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT***
The novel up to this point has been firmly rooted in reality, but it turns out that the object they are looking for is the missing part of a magic roundabout which has the power to either age its riders or make them younger. I felt that the introduction of this fantasy element at such a late stage in the book was detrimental to the story, although it did then allow for very neat tieing up of many ends.

This was the first novel in my Easter kid-lit feast, and overall I really enjoyed it. As an adult it was an easy read but never simplistic. Aimed at around 8-12 yr olds, I feel that the slow first third (it’s nearly 350 pages long) might not hold the interest of some younger readers enough to get to the real excitement, but the chapters are fairly short, so the frequent scene changes may do the trick. The main characters are great – I loved Victor the sympathetic detective with his pet tortoises, and Scipio the Thief Lord was really interesting. All the alleys and nooks and crannies made Venice seem very real, and the smattering of Italian in the text was well-integrated, and explained in a glossary at the back.

I would definitely like to read Funke’s Inkheart trilogy, which are full-on fantasy novels for 10+. On to my next book – Numbers by Rachel Ward a novel for teens about a girl who can see the date when people will die …

"Always winter and never Christmas" in this dystopia

I must admit to a liking for books featuring dystopian futures. It’s really interesting to see what different authors do with the world left after the breakdown of society. Surprisingly then, I’ve yet to read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but it has gone up the list.

In Far North by Marcel Theroux – Siberia has been settled by Quakers from the Americas who had moved there for a return to a simpler life, which in turn was shattered by influxes of outsiders moving north as the environmental changes take impact. Communities are again forced into survivalist mode and it reaches a stage in the town of Evangeline where there’s just Makepeace left.
Makepeace thinks of committing suicide rather than carry on living all alone, but can’t go through with it, deciding instead to travel East to Alaska to see what’s become of the homeland. Makepeace’s journey is not straight-forward, there are many obstacles along the way – from pockets of zealots to slavers and Makepeace spends much time imprisoned in one way or another, but has a strong will to survive.
The gradual reveal of Makepeace’s story contains many surprises along the way, some of which are quite subtle, others less so but they do keep you reading. There are glimmers of hope too amongst the ruins which alleviate some of the bleakness of life lived as purely the survival of the fittest.
P.S. Quote in the title line from The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.

I received my ARC through Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Far North by Marcel Theroux

Change of style

Felt like a change of template. The funky greens were nice, but I was getting a bit bored with them, so I’ve picked classic white – but stretched widthwise to use more of the page. I’m actually rather pleased with it.

My Easter kid-lit feast

I’ve decided that in the run-up to Easter, I shall concentrate on children’s literature and ya (young adult) novels. Like many readers, and notably dovegreyreader’s recent theme of revisiting her inner child, I get an awful lot out of reading proper children’s novels, the best of which are the equal of any adult book. However rather than re-read books I already know and loved as a kid, I intend to read novels that are new to me.

Amongst those on this new TBR sub-pile are: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner which is set during the French revolution, and Numbers by Rachel Ward – a contemporary novel about a girl who can see the date that people will die. However I’m starting off with The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke which is set in Venice (one of my favourite reading themes).

I’m looking forward to reading them very much …

An evening with Doctor Phil

So it was off to Abingdon School’s super Amey Theatre on Saturday evening for a couple of hours with the UK’s Doctor Phil – not to be confused with Oprah’s one!

Phil Hammond is a doctor in general practice and a very funny comedian, and we were treated to his one man show full of typical doctor’s humour in which he discussed how to live longer, (dogs play a big part in his philosophy) and what to do if the person sitting next to you has a heart-attack. Apparently, the General Medical Council insist he has an element of patient education in his shows if he is only GPing for one day a week, it was very funny education though. In the second half he answered loads of questions submitted anonymously from the audience, including testing a urine sample someone had brought in – but he was obviously expecting this having the requisite test strips to hand! (was that a plant? – even if it was, it got the laughs!)

Medicine Balls: Consultations with the World’s Greatest TV Doctor is Dr Phil’s latest paperback and very funny it is too – partly based on his regular columns for Private Eye. He’s originally from Australia, but has been based in the West Country since age 7, and will be familiar to UK readers from his many TV appearances including on ‘Have I got news for you’.

Uncharacterisically I managed to get in the photo – usually hiding behind the lens, but here we are… I’d recommend his shows and books though which go a long way towards proving that laughter is the best therapy.

Loser’s Town by Daniel Depp

Loser’s Town is the first novel by Daniel Depp, half-brother of the more famous Johnny.

As a Hollywood insider, it is full of satirical glimpses of life in the public eye and what goes on behind closed doors. Dave Spandau, ex-stuntman turned private eye is an intelligent and gruff hero that you can’t help but warm to, and let’s hope that Depp has plans for more outings for him.

The plot involves Bobby Dye – an up and coming he-man movie star who has encountered a problem and needs help from someone like Spandau to sort it out. Add in a low-life drugs baron Richie Stella who wants to become a movie producer, his two dumb henchmen, Spandau’s mad Irish friend and some girls and you have the ingredients for a monumental cock-up as they all get reeled into what’s happening.

I really enjoyed this book, but overall it felt like a slightly sub-par Elmore Leonard with added raunch for me. The characters were all parodies of types we all know, but most worked well during their lifespans in the book. One minor quibble, on the movie set, I did think naming the drunken old Brit Lord Sir Ian, (as would using any other existing Sir’s name like Ben or Anthony etc), was rather distracting though. An entertaining debut – hope for more.

Boring Postcards by Martin Parr is anything but!

Boring Postcards by Martin Parr

This was a book I rescued from a local charity shop for just £1 and fell in love with instantly. Presented in their original size, beautifully printed onto heavyweight paper with plenty of white space surrounding them, these postcards make a brilliant topic for an art book from Phaidon, masters of the subject. Also these postcards from around fifty years ago, that would have seemed completely boring twenty years ago, are now absolutely fascinating to look back on with our love for all things retro at the moment. They are anything but boring.

What is really amazing is how much of that brutalist concrete architecture still exists; there are views of several town centres that I know intimately and still recognise the main features today. These were also the days when flying was a luxury, caravans by the sea were more likely to feature in holiday plans, and if you had to drive there, the new motorways and their service stations were all part of the experience. All are represented here in all their glory!

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any suitably ‘boring’ postcards from my own files to scan in as illustrations. Instead I offer two snaps taken in Orrell, (near Wigan in Lancs) as poor modern day equivalents. This roundabout (top) has been built on the site of my other half’s old primary school! And this view over the fishing lake at Orrell Water Park is very boring indeed when the sun’s not out…

P.S. Mike (see comments) – we got one of where you work too!

Dr Phil Hammond in Abingdon tomorrow!

Dr Phil Hammond – scourge of the medical establishment and a very, very funny man is bringing his one man show to Abingdon TOMORROW! He’s appearing at the Amey Theatre in Abingdon School at 7.30pm, Sat March 21st as part of the Abingdon Arts Festival.

Dr Phil will be answering audience questions and performing free examinations (confidentiality assured). The best question or most interesting lump wins a free swab, a sick note for a year off with recession-related stress and a copy of one of his bestselling books.

He will be joined live on stage by Buddy, his resuscitation dummy, to teach you what to do if the person next to you in the audience stops breathing.

Dr Phil regrets he may not be able to answer every question on the night but the best ones will appear in his new book, Dr Phil, Warts and All, out later this year.
There are just a few tickets left at £12, (£10 concessions) and he will be signing copies of his other books. You’re guaranteed an evening of thought-provoking hilarity.
Contact Mostly Books on 01235 525880 for tickets.
I’m helping out at the event, so I may see you there …