Friday, 8 February 2013

Quotations from some of my recently read books

Edward Marston – The Queen’s Head (1988)

Truth then caught up with Rumour and plucked its feathers.

"I have tried to hide my light under a bushel but I have never been able to find a bushel big enough."

He had insinuated his way back into the outer suburbs of her affections.

John Dickinson – The Cup of the World (2004)

(A wedding vow) Say the truth to one another. Let your lives be as a mirror to one another. Keep the promises you have spoken.  You are man and wife.

Tad Williams – The Dragonbone Chair (1988)

….and everywhere books, books, books, dropped half-way open or propped upright here and there about the chamber like huge clumsy butterflies.

Penelope Fitzgerald “The Bookshop” (1978)

His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether.

The right-hand wall she kept for paperbacks.  At 1s 6d each, cheerfully coloured, brightly democratic, they crowded the shelves in well-disciplined ranks.  They would have a rapid turnover and she had to approve of them yet she could remember a world where only foreigners had been content to have their books bound in paper.

“I don’t know if men are better judges than women,” said Florence, “but they spend much less time regretting their decisions.”

Guy Gavriel Kay “Under Heaven” (2010)

At the lowest ebb, of a person or a nation, the first seeds of later glory may sometimes be seen, looking back with a careful eye.  At the absolute summit of accomplishment the insects chewing from within at the most extravagant sandalwood may be heard, if the nights are quiet.

The voice she also remembers, too vividly. Why, and how, does one voice, one person, come to conjure vibrations in the soul, like an instrument tuned?  Why a given man, and not another, or a third? She hasn’t nearly enough wisdom to answer that.  She isn’t sure if anyone does.

Looking back, Tai would name that day as another of those that changed his life. Paths branching, decisions made. Sometimes, you did have a choice, he thought.

Sometimes the one life we are allowed is enough.

Kim Stanley Robinson “Galileo’s Dream” (2009)

“It only proves that when all your dreams come true you realise that you were an idiot to have such dreams.”

We all have seven secret lives. The life of excretion; the world of inappropriate sexual fantasies; our real hopes; our terror of death; our experience of shame; the world of pain; and our dreams. No one else ever knows these lives. Consciousness is solitary. Each person lives in that bubble universe that rests under the skull, alone.

The less people know and understand… the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them; while on the other hand, to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgement upon anything new.

“You need to remember what helps you, and forget things that don’t help you. But you have not achieved that. Few people have, I have found.”

But surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time.  Of talking with those who are in India… (Possibly a quote from Galileo’s manuscripts.)

…all human history is a fleck of foam on a grain of sand…

It made him think of Ariosto’s stanzas about the princess confined to a walnut shell and yet holding court there just as always.  You could not help but love such a gift for sizing one’s ambition in accordance to a real situation.  He had never been able to do that.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Another catch up

James Long “The Lives She Left Behind“ (2010) In a Somerset village, a teenage boy tells a teacher about a story he should know nothing about. The boy's impossible knowledge uncovers memories the teacher has done his utmost to forget. As the teacher relives his past, three girls arrive in the village of Pen Selwood, one of them drawn by an ancient instinct.  Her actions reignite the love story begun in "Ferney".  An interesting follow up to the wonderful "Ferney" but it lacks the impact and craft of the first book. 7/10

Michael White “The Medici Secret” (2008) A paleopathologist makes a strange discovbery in the tomb of the Medicis.  The resultant adventures searching for the Medici Secret leave a trail of deaths in their wake.  In between the thrilling action of the twenty-first century the book flips back to the 1400s and the activities of the Medici family at that time. 8/10

Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea “Depraved English” (1999) A cornucopia of weird and wonderful words gleaned from a variety of sources but all indicative of unusual (and often unpleasant) appetites and ways of acting. Certainly not for the prudish.8/10

Susie Dent “Words of the Year” (2008) (re-read)

Peter Ackroyd “The Great Fire of London” (1982) An uninspiring Little Dorrit for the late twentieth century.  6/10
John Tingey “The Englishman who posted himself and other curiosities”  (2010) The amazing story of Willie Reginald Bray who spent much of his life playing with the postal services and collecting autographs by post.  The Post Office in the first half of the twentieth century was obviously far more amenable to being used and abused.  Bray was clever insofar as he had a copy of the PO rules and twisted them to his advantage.  His autographs were collected by writing to people – often in unusual ways – and he became the self-styled but undisputed autograph king. 9/10

Gustave Flaubert “The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas” (translated c1968) A wonderfully sarcastic look at the mores and ‘appropriate’ things to say in the 1850s.   One cannot grasp the mood of any oarticular entry - some are very facetious while others are almost genuine and there is an element of truth in so many of them (as there is in many cliches).  A highly amusing book and a great example of plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose. 9/10

Kim Stanley Robinson “Galileo’s Dream” (2009) This book mixes the exploration of a scientific discovery with tremendous characterisation and a real joy in the use of words.  It also takes Galileo, and us, well into the future to explore the planets on foot. The quotations from Galileo’s writings are most enlightening while the plot is a science fiction and time travel novel with a difference.  Kim Stanley Robinson was born in 1952 and, after travelling and working around the world, has now settled in California. He is widely regarded as the finest science fiction writer working today, noted as much for the verisimilitude of his characters as the meticulously researched hard science basis of his work. He has won just about every major SF award there is to win and is the author of the massively successful and lavishly praised Mars series. 10/10

Daryn Lake “The Mills of God” (2010) This book is awful.  Written by someone whose grammar would have had them thrown out of my school, it only kept me reading because the unbelievable plot had a promising murder mystery that I wanted to solve.  Imagine my frustration when the ‘solution’ bore no relationship to the events that had gone before.  It is probably the only book I have ver finished that was so bad - normally anything like it would only last a few pages before being put on the pile for the charity shop. 2/10 and I’m not sure why I’m even giving it 2!

Mark Forsyth “The Horologicon” (2012) Following on from his highly successful “Etymologicon” this is a day’s jaunt through the lost words of the English language.  Like its predecessor it is a must for all logophiles. 10/10

David Crystal “Johnson’s Dictionary – an anthology” (2005) A potpourri of 4000 of the most entertaining and historically stimulating English words and definitions from Abactor to Zootomy extracted from the world’s foremost feat of lexixography selected by the superexcellent linguist and verbally gymnastick David Crystal.  10/10

Nick Parker (Ed)  “Bling, Blogs and Bluetooth” (2006) Modern language for Oldies!  A compendium of articles about some of the words to have come into common usage
in recent times. 8/10

Nigel Rees “A Word in Your Shell-like” (2006) Some 6000 curious and everyday phrases explained.   It is 768 pages of very small print so I have only dipped into it  and not read it from cover to cover.  I thought some of the explanations questionable and some seemed to be merely copies of Brewer’s Phrase and Fable but despite these reservations it is an essential reference work for anyone’s shelves.  9/10

The National Trust “Mothballs and Elbow Grease” (2004) Sayings, proverbs and catchphrases which show how many of our everyday phrases have their origins in the commonplace.  8/10

Elizabeth Knowles with Julia Elliott (Ed.s) “The Oxford Dictionary of New Words” (1997) New words that have been in the news during the decade and a half from the early eighties to the mid-nineties.  It includes about 2000 high profile words showing how each came to prominence.  8/10

Strangest Books ‘Strangest Museums in Britain and the best Worldwide' (undated – and without any copyright information which is, in itself, very strange) ISBN 978-0-9543202-4-9  A most amusing and fascinating read.  9/10

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Guy Gavriel Kay and others...

This is a list of books I have read since I last posted on my book blog.  I have rated them out of ten but not made much of an attempt to tell you about them.  Hopefully the best ones will be reviewed on my book blog at some stage.

Guy Gavriel Kay – Sailing to Sarantium (1998) – Brilliant mix of history, politics, drama and fantasy set in a fictional representation of the Byzantine Empire. 10/10 (It would get 11/10 for story-telling but like all of Kay’s books it doesn’t stretch one’s linguistic abilities and the quotable bits are fairly rare though there is some good philosophy in it.)

Guy Gavriel Kay – Lord Of Emperors (2000) – Sequel to the above. 10/10

Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana. (1990) Fantasy 9/10

Guy Gavriel Kay – Last Light of the Sun (2004) Fantasy evocative of the Celtic and Norse cultures. 10/10

Guy Gavriel Kay – Under Heaven (2010). Pseudo-8th Century China - fantasy. 10/10

Guy Gavriel Kay – A Song for Arbonne (1992).  8/10 The first of his books I read and the one which set me looking for more.

Guy Gavriel Kay – The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995) 8/10 Fantasy set in a version of medieval Spain.

Guy Gavriel Kay – Fionavar Tapestry series
1. The Summer Tree (1984)
2. The Wandering Fire (1986)
3. The Darkest Road (1986)
A wonderful series with modern man (and woman) transported across into another world – one of many woven in the tapestry.  10/10

Guy Gavriel Kay – Ysabel (2007) If you only read one of Kay’s books read this one or Sailing to Sarantium.  On one holy, haunted night of the ancient year, when the borders between the living and the dead are down and fires are lit upon the hills, Ned, his family, and his friends are shockingly drawn into this tale, as dangerous, mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, claiming and changing lives.  Although it is listed as a stand-alone novel there are characters in this that appear in the Fionavar Trilogy so it could be considered a spoiler for those books if you read this first.

Michael Popek – Forgotten Bookmarks (2011). Disappointing

Dan Simmons – Drood (2009). A fictional account of some supposed adventures of Charles Dickens.  Not worth the effort. 6/10

John Dickinson – The Cup of the World (2004) Fantasy 8/10

John Dickinson – The Widow and the King (2005). Fantasy – sequel to the above but didn’t match up to it. 7/10

Tad Williams – The Dragonbone Chair (1988) 8/10 Fantasy – the first part of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Good but not enough to hunt out the next part of the series.

Lian Hearn – Across the Nightingale Floor (2002) 8/10 Fantasy – the first part of the Tales of the Otori.  Good but not enough to hunt out the next part of the series.

Helen Spring – Memories of the Curlew (2009) 7/10  Historical novel based on the life of Gwenllian, daughter of the King of Gwynedd (b 1096), who became known as 'The Welsh Warrior Princess'. A fine adventure / romance for older children and a good insight into Wales at that time.

Penelope Fitzgerald – The Bookshop (1978). 8/10 My main comment about this would be a spoiler so I can’t make it. Suffice it to say but for one thing it would be rated higher.

Stewart Binns – Crusade (2012) 9/10 It is 1072 and England is firmly under the heel of its new Norman rulers. The few survivors of the English resistance look to Edgar the Atheling, the rightful heir to the English throne, to overthrow the Conqueror but end up fighting in The Holy Land.  I shall definitely be reading his other two novels – Conquest and Anarchy.

Mike Ashley – The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives (1995). 8/10  A collection of short stories from some of the most famous writers of historical crime.  A great book to dip into.

Edward Marston – The Queen’s Head (1988) An Elizabethan mystery. 7/10

 Hope Mirrlees - Lud-in-the Mist (1926) 10/10 commented upon elsewhere.

James Long – Ferney (201 ) 10/10  A sort of historical love story with a touch of time travel / slippage.  One of those books one does not want to end because it captures your imagination and involves you with the characters in a way that only the best books can.  My ‘read of the year’ (and thanks to Friend-über-special for sending me it).