Wednesday Witterings – The past is the future…

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

time-travel

This tag has been doing the rounds recently since it was created by The Library Lizard, and has inspired some great posts, so I was delighted when Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles tagged me. Thanks, Jessica! So, here goes…

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

I’m tempted to say the Tudors because that’s probably the period of history I know most about. But actually part of the attraction for me is visiting a period and place I don’t know much about. I’ve been on an Empire kick for the last couple of years, so have been loving anything about India or other far-flung corners of the Empire, like Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in Calcutta under the Raj, or Rebecca Burns’ fine collection of stories about early immigrants to New Zealand, The Settling Earth. And I like books with a Scottish historical setting, such as crime novels like Lexie Conyngham’s Murray of Letho series, or more serious fiction like William McIlvanney’s excellent Docherty. And then there are the spy books set in WW2 or during the Cold War – Exposure by Helen Dunmore or Robert Harris’ great Enigma

High Street, Kilmarnock - the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney's Docherty "High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary."
High Street, Kilmarnock – the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney’s Docherty
“High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary.”

What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I’d rather meet the fictional characters than the authors in truth. I’m sure it would be lovely to have a cup of tea with Ms Austen, but I’d much rather spend the time dancing the cotillion with Darcy. I’d love to spend some time with Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair – she’s so wicked, but great fun! I’d like to get hold of Sidney Carton and just whisper “she’s not worth it!” before he steps into the tumbril. However, I would love to meet Charles Dickens – well, more specifically, I’d like to attend one of his readings. Simon Callow gives a good flavour of them in The Mystery of Charles Dickens, but I’d love to see Dickens own interpretation of his wonderfully caricatured characters.

darcy dancing(Me, in my dancing outfit…)

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

Having recently discovered and loved Anthony Horowitz‘s books for adults, I’d give his books for children to my childish self. I will one day read them anyway, but I’m sure I’d have enjoyed them more when I was a kid, since I’m not an enthusiastic reader of kids’ books as an adult.

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is hard, because when I want a book I want it NOW! So I think I’d give my older self some large-print versions of lifelong favourites – and cheerful ones, like Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat. And Austen. And Dickens…

‘It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’

PG Wodehouse

What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

Mars! I still haven’t given up hope that there’s life there – perhaps intelligent enough to be shielding itself from prying Earthling eyes. So many great books with Mars as a setting – Ken Kalfus’ brilliant Equilateral, Ray Bradbury’s fantastic The Martian Chronicles, HG Wells of course, and his War of the Worlds, Andy Weir’s hugely enjoyable The Martian, and no list would be complete without a mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books – great fun!

Me, in my Barsoom outift...
Me, in my Barsoom outift…

A bit of me wishes we could stop exploring Mars in real life, so it can remain as a glowing red source of inspiration to generations of future writers…

“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

Ken Kalfus, Equilateral

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

Just one? Oh, this is almost impossible! But if I must…

The entire Shardlake series of CJ Sansom is brilliant – each book huge and immersive, and building up a totally credible picture of life under Henry VIII. Shardlake himself has become a real person to me, and I’m hoping he’ll still be there to take us through the disruption that follows Henry’s death. The most recent book, Lamentation, won my Book of the Year award last year.

Best Crime Fiction

And I must be allowed to choose one more – Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in revolutionary France. Tighter and angrier than many of his books, the descriptions of the Terror and particularly of the mob show him at his excoriating best. A frightening depiction of how inequality and injustice can allow leaders to emerge who will use the mob violently and unscrupulously to achieve their own ends – as relevant today as it was when it was written, or in the period in which it’s set.

Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles, the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my father’s house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving peasants.

Storming of the Bastille Jean-Pierre Houel
Storming of the Bastille
Jean-Pierre Houel

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Never! There should be a law against it and when I become the Empress of Bookworld (pushed reluctantly into the job by popular acclaim, obviously, and adored by all my subjects) there will be! The punishment will be that the last nine pages will be removed from every book the perpetrator reads for a period of 25 years.

Me, in my Empress outfit...
Me, in my Empress outfit…

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Hmm… I’ve already mentioned dancing with Darcy, haven’t I? Well then, I would go to Sherwood Forest and get Robin to teach me archery. That could take a while, so the Time Turner would come in very handy. And I might lend it to Robin so he can rescue Marian from the wicked Sheriff, while Friar Tuck and I do a bit of feasting…

Me, in my archery outfit...
Me, in my archery outfit…

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov tells of how people from the future have developed a method of time travel which they use to make subtle alterations in the timeline to minimise human suffering. However, those pesky time paradoxes mean they affect humanity in unintended ways…

In truth, though, my favourite take on time travel isn’t bookish at all – it’s the two Star Trek series, The Next Generation and Voyager, which return to the vexed subject of time paradoxes again and again. Not only does this give them a chance to visit the present day or recent past quite often, but it allows for the occasional appearance of characters like Mark Twain in the future.

mark twain star trek

Some of the episodes dealing with time-travel are light-hearted fun, like the one that suggests the sudden advances in computing and technology in the ’80s and ’90s were as a result of a crashed time ship from the 27th century falling into the wrong hands. But some are dark indeed, like the timeship whose captain made a calculation error, accidentally wiping out the colony in which the woman he loved was living, and now spends eternity making changes to the timeline to try to correct his mistake, causing chaos to all the worlds in that sector of space.

Me, in my Star Trek outfit...
Me, in my Star Trek outfit…

It may be just a sci-fi show with unbelievable aliens and no technical problem that can’t be solved by setting up a tachyon burst, but Star Trek at its best examines the ethics and morality of science as deeply as the best written science fiction. And, delightfully, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize surely means I can also expand the meaning of literature to include script-writers…

Captain Janeway: "Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I'd never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes - the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache."
Captain Janeway: “Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.”

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

Without doubt, The Great Gatsby. The first time I read it I was totally blown away. I was about twenty at the time and working in the office of a hospital. They used to have a little fund-raising thing where everyone brought in books and you could rent them for tuppence (shows how long ago it was!). I rented Gatsby one lunchtime, started reading and absolutely couldn’t stop! I took it back to the office in the afternoon and kept reading. My boss came in at one point to ask me something about work, and I fear I told him he’d have to wait till I finished my book. Fortunately, he was a reader too, took a look and said “Ah! Gatsby! OK, I’ll catch you later…”

(Dear government, I promise I made the time up later… 😉 )

gatsby glasses

* * * * * * *

Thanks again to Jessica for tagging me on this one – I thoroughly enjoyed reminding myself of some of the great historical, and futuristic, fiction I’ve read over the years!

And now, I tag you!

you talkin to me

Yes, YOU!

Wednesday Witterings – The Great Debate…

A European Referendum Special…

eu flags

It is a real possibility that in 48 hours I will no longer be politically European. As I watched the final big televised debate last night, I began to relieve the tedium by seeing if I could find a book that I had reviewed for each of the 28 countries in the European Union. I failed with a few and had to stretch a bit for a few more, but here goes…

AustriaVienna Nocturne

Belgium1914 Goodbye to All That
– about the impact of WW1 & 2

BulgariaThe War that Ended Peace
– a history book about WW1

CroatiaThe Skeleton Road
– war in Croatia

Republic of Cyprus – don’t have a book for this

Czech RepublicThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
– Jews fleeing the Nazis

DenmarkRedemption

FranceAn Officer and a Spy
– spying, anti-semitism and war

GermanyThe Collini Case
– the aftermath of WW2

GreeceThe Honey Trap
– a short story within the OxCrimes collection

HungaryA Kingdom Far and Clear
– a fantasy based on the Austro- Hungarian Empire,
about the battle between absolute monarchies and dictatorships

IrelandNora Webster
– touches on The Troubles in Ireland

ItalyThe Murdered Banker
– the author was killed for protesting against Italian fascism

Luxembourg – don’t have a book for this one

MaltaThe Maltese Falcon
– a book about Nazi gold

NetherlandsThe Night Ferry

PolandForest Ghost
– a horror story based on a real-life massacre in Poland in WW2

PortugalThe High Mountains of Portugal

RomaniaThe Black Church

SpainThe Sun Also Rises
– the aftermath of WW1 on the ‘lost generation’

SwedenThe Voices Beyond
– partly about the terror of life under Stalin

* * * * * * *

I don’t have separate books for the Balkan and Baltic nations within the EU but I feel this one covers them all, since they all spent time under the Stalinist yoke.

Khlevniuk jkt ks.indd

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator

Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia

* * * * * * *

And lastly…

unfinished empire

United KingdomUnfinished Empire
– I guess some people still haven’t realised… it’s finished now.

* * * * * * *

Hmm… so out of 28 countries, 20 of the books relate to European wars of the last century. Though none of the wars took place in countries that were members of the EU at the time.
(See how sneakily I snuck that political point in?)

Wishing peace and prosperity to us all! #Remain

remain poster

Have a great Wednesday! 😉

 

Wednesday Witterings – A triumph of hope over experience…

New Year’s Bookish Resolutions

 

darcy overcome

The purpose of resolutions is not to achieve them, but to ensure we remain humble through contemplation of our failures each year. And yet still to show the resilience of the human spirit by going on to set ourselves up for the self-same failure in the next year…

In January I made the foolish move of posting some reading resolutions for the coming year. Join me in contemplating my failure…

 

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

Last year I had 17 unread review copies as the year ended. This year I have 25. In total, I have reviewed 76 freebies this year as opposed to 66 in 2014. Hmm…

Failed!

 

2) Make time for re-reads.

9 re-reads in 2015, which is better than the 5 I re-read in 2014, but still not good. Hmm…

Qualified success!

 

3) Reduce the TBR to no more than 70 by the end of the year.

HahahahahahahaHAHAHA! Was I drunk when I made that one? TBR at end of 2014 – 133. TBR at end of 2015 – 160!

rafa federer laughing

Failed!

 

4) Stop reading so many new-to-me authors and catch up on the back catalogues of authors I know I enjoy. (NB Fiction only, since nearly all factual books I read are by authors new to me.)

In 2014, 44 of the books I read were by new-to-me authors. In 2015, the total was 41. Hmm!

OK, catching up on back catalogues. 2014 – a miserable 6. 2015 – a slight improvement – 9!

Minor success!

 

5) Read more classics, including some Dickens and a book a month for the Great American Novel Quest.

Oh, dear! Only 6 books read for the GAN Quest, I fear. But yay! I also read 6 British classics, including Dickens, Austen, Scott and Stevenson. So 12 classics in total. (More, depending on how you define classics – I read a fair amount of classic crime this year which I haven’t included in the count.)

Better than 2014, when I only read 5 GAN Quest novels and 5 other classics. (And very little classic crime.)

Better but still…

Failed!

6) Read more sci-fi/fantasy.

Well, since I only read 3 sci-fi/fantasy books in 2014, this wasn’t a hard target to beat. And in 2015, I read 13!!

WOOHOO! MAJOR SUCCESS!!!

 

Total – 3 failures, 1 qualified success, 1 minor success and 1 major success! I call that a good year… 😉

 

joey

* * * * * * *

So with the enthusiasm inspired in me by not being a total and complete failure, here are my resolutions for 2016…

1) Cut back on taking freebies for review.

(Read the 25 outstanding which will take until March/April and then no more than 2 a month on average. And have no more than 12 outstanding at the end of the year.) Achievement of this one is crucial in giving me time to achieve any of the rest, so this year I mean it!! Really!!

2) A minimum of 12 re-reads.

One a month shouldn’t be hard, should it?

3) Reduce the TBR!

OK, let’s be a bit more realistic this year!

a) Reduce the overall total to 130.

b) There are currently 65 books on it dating back to 2014 or earlier. Target – reduce this to 30.

c) That leaves 95 books added to it during 2015. Target – reduce this to 50.

 

tom cruise

 

4) New-to-me authors.

Well, looking at the existing TBR, there are zillions of them, so setting a limit of a number to read this year seems futile. But why should that stop me? I’ll go with… 25!

And… no more than 20 books by new-to-me authors to be added to the TBR during 2016. *gulps*

Increase the number of catching-up-on-existing-authors to a minimum of 20 books (should be easy – they make up the bulk of the TBR and it’s only because of the constant freebies of new releases that they linger there unread.)

5) Classics

Read at least 10 GAN Quest novels and at least 5 other classics, including Dickens. (Classic lit-fic, that is.)

6) Keep going with sci-fi/fantasy, which has dropped back again over the last few months.

Target – 12 minimum, mixed between classic and new.

* * * * * * *

Given that I read on average 120/130 books a year, about 100 of which are fiction, these targets should be achievable and mean that I have room to be as eclectic in my reading habits as usual.

Wish me luck! And stop laughing!!

 

laughing 1

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HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

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LANG MAY YER LUM REEK!

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edinburgh fireworks

 

Wednesday Witterings…

Pretty pictures…

 

lord of the rings

Well, folks, I’ve got nothing today – run out of reviews! So since I spent last week re-watching the wonderful Lord of the Rings movies, I thought I’d share the joy by reminding you of the cast in pictorial form. Now I know that some suspicious people think I only post pictures of handsome men on this blog, but that would be so shallow of me! As you will see from this post, I recognise that Eowyn, Arwen and Galadriel are just as important to the story as any orc, and the three women who play them are fine actors/actresses* as well as being exceptionally beautiful women. I hope this post will finally quash the vicious rumour that I rig my posts to favour hunks men…

*delete whichever one you find offensive

* * * * * * * * *

The Fellowship of the Ring

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Gandalf Ian McKellen - a fine actor
Gandalf
Ian McKellen – a fine actor

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Boromir Sean Bean - a very fine actor indeed!
Boromir
Sean Bean – a very fine actor indeed!

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The Hobbits Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin Fine actors all!
The Hobbits
Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin
Fine actors all!

.

Legolas Orlando Bloom - another very fine actor!
Legolas
Orlando Bloom – another very fine actor!

.

Gimli John Rhys-Davies - a fine actor!
Gimli
John Rhys-Davies – a fine actor!

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Faramir David Wenham - he;s not in the Fellowship but he's a very fine actor!
Faramir
David Wenham – he’s not in the Fellowship but he’s a very fine actor!

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Aragorn Viggo Mortensen - a very, very, very fine actor indeed! Oh yes!
Aragorn
Viggo Mortensen – a very, very, very fine actor indeed! Oh yes! Very fine!! Indeed!!

.

 

The Women

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There! That should prove once and for all that I’m completely unbiased!

Have a great Wednesday!

Wednesday Witterings – The Secret Code…

The shock truth revealed!

 

(Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but the scheduling all went horribly wrong this week…)

One of the things loads of bookie people comment on is the annoying habit publishers and authors have of splashing the covers of books with straplines that bear little relationship to the actual content. After many months of dedicated research, involving top secret undercover work and great personal danger, I can now reveal the true meanings hidden behind these coded messages…

michelle_of_the_resistance

* * *

“The next Gone Girl!!”

(Please, please, please buy my book! I’m desperate!)

* * *

“The most inspirational book ever written!!”

(I haven’t read it, but I share a publisher with the author…)

* * *

“The No. 1 Bestseller!!”

(In Inverurie where my mum lives.)

* * *

“Shocking and hair-raising!!”

(And that’s only the grammar!)

* * *

gullible 1

* * *

“Sweet Sixteen and So In Love!!”

(Comes complete with free sick bag…)

* * *

“Award-winning author!!”

(Winner of the 1986 prize for Best Handwriting in Auchtermuchty Primary School.)

* * *

“The next Jo Nesbo!!”

(But Irish. And female. And chicklit.)

* * *

gullible 2

* * *

“Brand New Short Story!!”

(2 pages followed by a twenty-page ad for my next novel.)

* * *

“As mentioned in The New York Times!!”

(In the small ads when I sold my old bike.)

* * *

“First book in an exciting new trilogy!!”

(It doesn’t have an ending.)

* * *

eeyore

* * *

In the public interest, if you know the true meaning of any other straplines, please post the information below…

Wednesday Witterings

A scientific experiment…

 

A recent blog conversation has led me to ponder one of the great mysteries of life, and I’m seeking your help in solving it.

 

A definite lefty!
A definite lefty!

 

You see, when I raise a quizzical eyebrow, I always raise the left one because it goes higher than the right one. I recently became aware of the remarkable fact that the same applies to Professor VJ Duke – his left eyebrow rises higher than his right too!

 

The definitive quizzical eyebrow surely...
The definitive quizzical eyebrow… and another lefty!

 

Now the astonishing thing about this is that I am right-handed and he is left-handed, and yet this does not appear to influence our eyebrow-raising lopsidedness in any way!

 

...but Ian Carmichael will always be the definitive Lord Peter to me...
I think we’re seeing a pattern…

 

Which leads me to wonder – are higher left eyebrows one of the constants of life? Are we, as humans, genetically designed to always be leftly quizzical? A sinister thought…

 

Not another one!
What a show-off!

 

So please help me by sparing a couple of minutes of your busy life to sit at your mirror and raise each eyebrow in turn. Then come back and complete the poll below. Your answer will be kept in strictest confidence and under no circumstances will it be revealed to insurance companies, cloning laboratories, taxidermists or Area 51…

 

* * * * * * *

 

Aha! A righty! But then he's also not human. I rest my case...
Aha! A righty! But then he’s also not human. I rest my case…

 

Thank you so much for your participation! 😉

 

Wednesday Witterings

Things I have never heard a reviewer say…

(Bitter ramblings provoked by a severe case of reviewer’s block…)

Like most of us, I read a fair number of book reviews on my travels around the blogosphere, agreeing with some of them and disagreeing with others, which is always a useful reminder of how subjective reading tastes are. Anyone who has read a few of my reviews, for example, will know that I grumble about first person present tense narratives on a regular basis, while recognising that other people enjoy them. But as I was trying desperately to think of something original to say in a recent review, I inadvertently achieved that state of empty-mindedness to which Zen masters have aspired for centuries, and into this vacuum unbidden popped the thought that there are some things I’ve never heard a reviewer say!

After hours (well, five minutes) of intense work aided only by copious supplies of coffee and chocolate cake, here’s my shortlist…

1. The plot was too believable…

2. I wish it had had more bad language in it…

no-foul-language

3. If only it had had a few more sub-plots to pad it out for another couple of hundred pages…

4. I wish the font had been smaller…

tiny font

5. It didn’t have enough descriptions of bodily functions…

6. It would have been better if the detective was an alcoholic…

Photo: drunkard.com
Picture: drunkard.com

7. I hate books written in the third person past tense…

8. I really enjoyed the foRmatting erro    rs

9.

10.

My cake was finished before I could complete 9 and 10, so please help by leaving your suggestions below. Or, in the unlikely event that you have used one of these phrases, tell us when – and why??? 😉

Wednesday Witterings – Book Banning

Since last week was Banned Books Week there have been a lot of posts around the blogosphere on the subject, so I thought I’d throw in my Tuppence-worth…

 

Tuppence - she's worth a lot! Laser eyes don't come cheap...
Tuppence – she’s worth a lot! Laser eyes don’t come cheap…

 

I think the real problem with book banning is determining who gets to decide which books to ban and which criteria should be used. So, always willing to help, I reckon it would be best if I make all the decisions in future and save everyone else the trouble. (No, please – don’t thank me! It’s a tough job, but I’ll be happy to do it…)

* * * * * * * * *

 

I’ve given it a great deal of thought (at least 13½ minutes worth) and here are the initial criteria I’ll be using. Books that fall into any of the following categories will be banned and the authors will be denied all access to chocolate for a term to be set…by me.

* * * * * * * * *

 

1) All books with a first-person present-tense narration.

2) All books with ‘Fifty Shades’ in the title.

 

 

3) All literary fiction, no matter how beautifully written, where the author has forgotten to include a plot.

4) All crime novels with a drunken and/or angst-ridden maverick detective.

5) All books about baseball.

 

calico joe

 

6) All books that are described as “the next Gone Girl”.

7) Magical realism.

8) All ‘continuation novels’ – no more Poirots, Austens, Holmeses (though obviously I will have to read them all first to be sure they really are bad).

 

 

9) All books that are longer than 400 pages (except Dickens).

AND

 

the goldfinch

 

10) Ms Tartt will never know the delightful taste of chocolate again.

* * * * * * * * *

 

Please let me know if there are any other criteria you would like me to consider. Or, in the exceedingly unlikely event that you wish to save a book destined for oblivion, make your case below… but hurry!

bonfire