Bookmark for The Game of Kings

There is a cast list of major characters at the beginning of my edition of The Game of Kings.  For anyone joining in my Doing Dunnett readalong, I’ve made it into a bookmark which can be folded in half and glued/laminated should you so wish.

If we make it on to Queen’s play, I’ll do another…


“Lymond is back.”

These are the first words of the first book, The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett’s in her series, The Lymond Chronicles.  I’ve not read any of Dunnett’s novels, and back at the end of August I mused on whether I should get stuck into her books.  The response was tremendous and very encouraging – thank you.

So today, which happens to be International Dorothy Dunnett Day (IDDD), organised by the Dorothy Dunnett Society – I shall embark upon reading the saga.

I previously asked for your advice on whether I should dive in and immerse myself in the books, or take it at a more leisurely readalong pace. There was plenty of interest in reading along, but many of you recommended plunging into the books.  I would usually take the plunge route, not being good at restraining myself, so I’ve come up with a middle path which allows for some concentrated reading, but also comes up for breath …

The first book has four parts of roughly 190, 90, 90 and 200 pages (in my edition), so I propose to simply split it in half and read the first 2 parts this month, and report back on around December 10th, then to read the latter parts over Christmas and report back on around January 10th, so we have two hearty chunks of just under 300 pages each.

My friend Claire (@clairemccauley) has lent me a copy of the first Dorothy Dunnett Companion, so I shall be dipping into that too as needed for reference, and may report back on it in a separate post. I also intend to tweet my thoughts as I read along – see @gaskella.

My fingers are crossed that I’ll love it and will want to carry on with Queen’s Play and the rest of the series at a similar rate of pages to read each month. Please feel free to readalong with me (and Claire).  I’m really looking forward to it, and what better way to celebrate my 750th post than starting a readalong.

* * * * *
I inherited/borrowed my copies of the books. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kings: The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett – Print on demand, s/hand copies available.
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion
by Elspeth Morrison – O/P but s/hand copies available.

A book I wish I’d written …

Now don’t get me wrong, as someone who gave up English lessons at O-level, and has only written reports and policy documents, newsletters and blog posts (of course) since, I really don’t think I have a novel in me. More correctly, at the moment I don’t have a novel in me – much as I’d love to do some creative writing. However, being a quiz-fiend, and fan of good reference books, I have long thought I could write either a fun non-fiction book or a quiz book. In fact in the past I have started compiling some…

Turn your mind back to 2002 when a small, fun reference book became a bestseller… That was Schott’s Original Miscellany by Ben Schott. It inspired many  imitators like Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany, and also sequels and spin-offs by Schott himself.

A few years earlier, I was busy compiling quiz questions on a quiz database and thought, wouldn’t it be great to compile a book of miscellaneous interesting facts – I was thinking of Russell Ash’s books, the Top Ten of Everything series – useful, but mine would be quirkier.  So I have a file full of listy articles about James Bond villains, what the job titles in film credits mean, bands and album names taken from Shakespeare, the colours of Quality Street wrappers, how different languages say ‘Bless you’ when you sneeze, and many more.  Yes, I could have written that book – I like to think so anyway, but Schott beat me to it – and did it so well.  His miscellanies have a great style, and are good fun.

Jump several years, and I was toying with another idea – presenting book titles in graphical form – I was thinking along the lines of …

… obviously I would have got an illustrator to do the graphics nicely.  However, again I never really got the idea off the ground, discovering that it is pretty well covered with books like Pop Charts by Paul Copperwaite, which I actually blogged about here a couple of years ago. I don’t think anyone’s done one about books specifically though – so maybe there is a place for my ideas somewhere (!).

Today I was in the bookshop and I spotted this book, hot off the press and into shops for Chr***mas shopping, and thought “I wish I’d had this idea” – which combines Schott and the Pop Charts concepts into one lovely book. Infographica by Martin and Simon Toseland has some wonderfully quirky lists and lots of stylish graphic design – featuring Political dictators and their beards, the Scobell chilli heat scale, fastest tennis serves amongst its delights, and ones such as the spread below:

Irresistible! It’s now on my shelves – I couldn’t wait for Christmas, however, I would recommend it to you as a nice present idea that is fun, and good to look at, even if it ends up as a toilet book!

* * * * *
To explore any of the titles mentioned on Amazon UK, please click below:
Schott’s Original Miscellany by Ben Schott (2002)
Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany by Antal Parody (2003)
Top 10 of Everything 2012: Discover More Than Just the No. 1! by Russell Ash
Pop Charts by Paul Copperwaite
Infographica: Visualizing a World of Information by Martin & Simon Toseland. Pub 8th Nov 2012 by Quercus, full colour paperback, 208 pages.

Sibling Rivalry, Love and Betrayal

The Heart Broke in by James Meek

Meek, a former journalist at the Guardian, came to my attention with his strange but wonderful Russian novel, The People’s Act of Love which he started writing in the mid 1990s but wasn’t published until 2005, and subsequently longlisted for the Booker prize. The People’s Act was set in 1919 Siberia and featured a strange religious cult and a sociopathic escaped prisoner – I loved it. I’ve not read his other novels, which are totally different in settings, but jumped at a chance to read his new one, hoping for more enigmatic writing…

The Heart Broke In tackles the subject of sibling rivalry, primarily seen through the eyes of Ritchie Shepherd, a rock star turned TV producer, and his sister Bec a malaria researcher. Sibling rivalry might sound a small theme, but this is a big novel, and Meek takes an expansive as well as microscopic examination of the lives of Ritchie and Bec by looking through the lens of love and betrayal…

Ritchie used to be guitarist in a rock’n’roll band, Lazygods, together with his wife Karin. Now, they live in a big house with their two lovely children, and Ritchie the successful producer of an X-Factor for teens style show.

Ritchie was at the Rika Films studios before eight next day. By mid-morning shivers of panic were rippling through the building. One of the acts, a band of fourteen-year-olds from Rotherham called The What, had shown such rapid improvement from the original audition that the team was convinced it had been swindled. As it stood the kids sounded too professional to be put on the show and they’d been brought into the studio early to get them to recapture their previous, possibly fake, hopelessness.

I wonder how true that is?  Apart from production troubles, there’s a hotly denied rumour going around that Ritchie has been seeing a fifteen year old. Well, he was, but he finished it – it cost him around £30k.  Very sad, very rock’n’roll, very of the zeitgeist. You just know that it will come back to bite him eventually.

Whilst Ritchie’s life is constrained by family and job, his younger sister Bec has no such ties now.  She was going out with Val, the Editor of a red-top newspaper, but when he got too serious she called it off. A medical researcher, she’s a free spirit, going where her work takes her. Then she makes a discovery that is going to curb her freedom a little. In Africa, She finds a microscopic parasite that gives partial immunity to malaria. She infects herself – only trouble is that uncontrolled, the parasite causes spells of temporary blindness.

Bec compounds her medical success by falling in love with Alex – a medical researcher making breakthroughs in stem cell treatments for cancer. Alex just happens to have been the drummer in Ritchie’s first band – he still drums his fingers all the time, ‘as an elaborate form of fidgeting, it helped him think.’

Science’s golden couple make big news, eclipsing Ritchie, who’s also taken aback by finding out that it was Karin the fans worshipped in the Lazygods.  Alex has family problems of his own, he works for his Uncle Harry who is dying of cancer, and Harry is leaving everything to Alex, rather than his own son Matt who is too God-fearing for him, and this is complicated by the arrival of his layabout brother Dougie down from Glasgow on the scene. Meanwhile, Alex is desperate for a baby with Bec, and it’s just not happening. It builds up so there are just too many secrets, lies and barriers to communication in Ritchie and Bec’s families. The dam is going to break and they are forced to choose between love and betrayal.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Bec – she was mesmerising as a character, serene, slightly aloof in a good way, independent, and then there was the whole self-experimentation thing – foolhardy or brave? A bit of both, I’d wager. The science could have got quite difficult, but Meek has a light touch with it and although I’m not a biologist, it all felt very authentic and well-researched.

The personality of Ritchie too, despite all his faults, is sympathetically drawn. He is on the verge of a mid-life crisis at the beginning of the book, and you do want to find out what’s going to happen. Schadefreude, yes, but also hope that he can pull himself together.

There is a huge amount more to the brother and sister relationship – what happened to their father in particular, and Alex’s family too, that I’ve not mentioned above. The dynamics are complicated – and reminded me somewhat of The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale, which also has a science and TV background and explores complex emotions.  Both books are solid and totally gripping, full of moral dilemmas. I really enjoyed this novel. It’s a big read in all senses. (9/10)

* * * * *
I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore further, please click below:
The Heart Broke in by James Meek, pub Aug 2012 by Canongate. Hardback, 550 pages.
The People’s Act of Love by James Meek
The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale

Half term movies

I’ve been to the pictures twice this half-term – two very different films and two gooduns.

First, I went with my daughter to see Tim Burton’s new stop-animation film, Frankenweenie.  Inspired by Frankenstein, natch, it’s the story of a boy and his dog, and like all the best classic horror films, it’s in black and white.  Victor’s dog Sparky gets run over and the poor boy is wracked with grief and retires to his attic where he puts a plan into action, inspired by his new science teacher (who looks like Vincent Price and is voiced by Martin Landau), which brings his dog back to life during a thunderstorm. Of course, it’s near impossible to keep the revitalised dog a secret, and havoc ensues…

It was a lovely film, both funny and touching, and it was chock full of references to all the great classic black and white films. At one point, Victor’s parents are actually watching Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror film as Dracula on the TV.  There are some horrors, and a graveyard scene, but it’s not really scary being a PG family entertainment.

Then this week, I went on my own to see Skyfall – the 23rd James Bond film.  I’m a huge Bond fan, and IMHO this new film is one of the best.

I’m not going to tell you the plot, save to say there is an amazing opening chase, there are exotic locations, there is a beautiful girl or two, a charismatic baddie played by Javier Bardem with weird blonde hair, some brilliant action sequences, plus M and Q of course.

M and Q get to feature more than usual this time. Judi Dench reprises M who is up really up against it as this time it’s personal; the new Q, meanwhile, is the willowy young actor Ben Wishaw and he was perfect scoring points off Bond until they found their mutual admiration for each other.

Daniel Craig was superb in his third film as Bond, and director Sam Mendes makes him more human than in any previous movies – he’s a bit world-weary, and bored with what he does for a living, but comes to life again when the security of the realm is compromised. There’s also a neat look back towards his childhood that I really liked, which was introduced by Fleming in the novel of You Only Live Twice, and continued by Charlie Higson in his Young Bond novels.

Skyfall has its weaknesses, but I was more than happy to overlook them and enjoy every minute of the whole film from its gripping start to the neat epilogue. I think that Craig has finally overtaken Connery as ‘my’ Bond too…