Monday, 24 December 2012

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda was published in 1894. It is Anthony Hope's most famous work, but he was much more prolific than is generally known, having written more than 30 books during his career. I'd certainly heard of this very famous book, without knowing all that much about it.

I feel rather victorious having finished this book. It was a battle to the death, much like those within the story, and I won. Sadly, I can't say that I enjoyed this book all that much. Like all classics, I am glad to have read it though. There was something about the prose that made it quite impenetrable for me. I had to start the first chapter three times before I got through it. I was distracted by non-reading life that week, but still. The very early part of the story I found a bit confusing- too many Rudolfs and Ruperts perhaps?

Our "hero" is a rather lazy 29 year old layabout called Rudolf Rassendyll, who has "two thousand pounds a year and a roving disposition". His sister in law is urging him to take on a diplomatic post as an attache. Young Rudolf does commit in a fashion to taking this position in six months time if "no unforseen obstacle has arisen". He decides to fill this six months with a visit to Ruritania, a fictional German speaking country in Central Europe, despite the longstanding Rassendyll tendency to avoid it. The Rassendyll's were actually descended from the royal line of Ruritania due to the dalliance of a visiting Ruritanian Prince in 1733. Rudolf Rassendyll has the red hair and long noses that mark the House of Elphberg.

When the action got going I did find it reminiscent of The Three Musketeers at times. All that swashbuckling action (although not quite as much hard drinking, and womanising as our favourite musketeers).

'But what? -we're eating dry! Wine, Josef! Wine, man! Are we beasts, to eat without drinking? Are we cattle, Josef?'

I stripped off my boots, took a pull at a flask of brandy, loosened the knife in its sheath, and took the cudgel between my teeth. 

The whole premise of mistaken identity I found rather Shakespearean. I'm not clever enough to remember which plays, but I know I've seen a couple of his comedies where mistaken identity was the central plot feature. Hope himself was apparently aware of this connection. In the introduction to my Everyman edition it says that Hope had been thinking about a story of mistaken identity in 1893 and then he walked past two men one day who looked uncannily alike.

The Prisoner of Zenda actually spawned a whole Ruritanian romance genre! It was a phenomenal success on both sides of the Atlantic, so much so that lawyer Hope gave up his day job, and became a household name. The Prisoner of Zenda became a schoolbook in Egypt and serialized in Japan, turned into a play, and there have been at least 5 movie versions- 4 of these before 1952. I don't think I've ever seen a movie version- I'll have to seek one out at some stage.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

Last weekend we took a rather long day trip to go to the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular at Sydney Opera House. My son is a fevered Doctor Who fan, a process accidentally set in train when we watched the Christmas Special in 2010. Since then he's seen every modern episode (many, many times), and become rather a world expert on Doctor Who. What could be better than tickets to the live Spectacular for his birthday this month?

We didn't know it at the time, but that reflective dish outside the Museum of Contemporary Art is part of Anish Kapoor's new exhibition. Sky Mirror required optics specialists to make sure that the general public weren't blinded.

I have never seen so many adults wearing Dr Who t-shirts.

But it wasn't jsut tshirts they were wearing!

The Cybermen were a really freaky presence
even though you knew they weren't really cybermen...

Mr Wicker was very pleased to be
in the presence of Alex Kingston

The Daleks had to invade!

One of my favourite parts

The Silence were spooky too
I hadn't noticed their creepy 4 fingered hands before

It was a fun event, and a lovely day. Master Wicker loved it.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2012 2013

It's been fun participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year. It became a really successful initiative. Some people have made an outstanding contribution. Over 370 bloggers signed up, we've reviewed more than 1250 books by more than 480 different authors.  Shelleyrae at Book'd Out has read and blogged over 100 books by Australian Women Writers this year!

It has gone on to find international acclaim, not just local success, been featured in the Huffington Post, and has been called one of the 20 greatest moments for women this year.

I've read 13 books and blogged 11 of them so far. I may have read those books anyway, but may not have blogged them, but I do think it's important to highlight the amazing books we read by Aussie Women Writers.

The Dream of the Thylacine by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks

Who Explored Australia? Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, Evans and Strzelecki

Painted Love Letters by Catherine Bateson

Flood by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard

The Children of the King by Sonia Hartnett

Life in Ten Houses by Sonia Hartnett

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester

Nest. The Art of Birds by Janine Burke

One Small Island by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch

I'm looking forward to the 2013 Challenge. I wonder what I'll discover next year?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 19/11/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I recently read the fabulous Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. There were many wonderful words, here are some that were new to me. 

1. Shillelagh (Noun)

"Back in the top hat and shillelagh days."

A cudgel of oak, blackthorn, or other hardwood. 

Picture source

2. Bolas (Noun)

Butler grabbed the offending baton, swinging weapon and bearer like a set of bolas. 

A rope with weights attached, used especially in South America to catch cattle or game by entangling their legs. 

Picture source

3. Gouts (Noun)

That was a lung gone, and gouts of blood were matting the troll's fur. 

A large blob or clot of blood. 

No picture needed I suspect....

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

2012 A Year in Books

I really enjoyed creating my end of year post last year, so I thought I'd do it again this year. Is nice to look back over the year of reading, and remember the favourites. It's been quite some time since I got coordinated enough to participate in Top Ten Tuesday, happily this week in a rare moment of synchronicity I can.

Once again, here are the books that I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads. Slightly (5) more than 10 though. I've tried to work out how to cut them down, and I can't.

Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood The Runaway Hug

Eoin Colfer Artemis Fowl

Craig Silvey The Amber Amulet

Neil Gaiman The Graveyard Book

Edmund White The Flaneur

Theodore Taylor The Cay

Janine Burke Nest

Frances Hodgson Burnett The Secret Garden

Hugues de Montalembert Invisible

Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games

Charlotte Mondlic The Scar

3 Aussie titles

4 picture books

5 nonfiction/memoir titles

7 female authors

8 male authors

I think The Amber Amulet may well be my favourite of the year.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Runaway Hug

The Runaway Hug won the Children's Book Council of Australia Early Childhood Book of the Year this year. And deservedly so, for it turns the cuteness factor up to 11. 

I was a bit surprised to see that I hadn't blogged directly about Freya Blackwood before. We live in the same town in Central NSW, and I've been reading and loving her books for years, and have seen her speak at several events. I did include her in my guest post last year on Whispering Gums

Freya has a distinctive, warm drawing style that is perfect for picture books. She has been remarkably successful illustrating for a broad range of international and Australian writers. Her book with Roddy Doyle, Her Mother's Face, is up there as one of my all time favourite books. 

The premise of The Runaway Hug is cute too. Toddler Lucy wants a goodnight hug from Mum. Mum is busy doing the washing (in her undies) but of course has time to give Lucy a hug. Although it's her last hug and she needs it back. 

Picture source
Lucy has to give a hug to the whole family, whether they want it or not.

Picture source

I think the illustrations of ordinary family life are just great. Beautifully captured vignettes of a family settling down for the night. 

Picture source

It's amazing to read on Freya's blog that she didn't meet Nick Bland until they were both at the CBCA Awards! I guess technology can help bridge the distance these days, but it does seem weird that two people can create a book together, and not have actually met. Nick Bland lives in Darwin, one of his other books, The Very Cranky Bear, has been everywhere this year. I must get to reading it.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Close Encounters of the Spiny Kind

My recent day trip to Bruny Island was even more amazing than I managed to show you last week. We had an extraordinary experience near the Captain Cook Memorial at Adventure Bay.

Soon after we saw the wallaby
we spotted this little fellow

At first he was quite shy

Then he became rather fearless
(a totally uncropped photo)

It was amazing

He still became a bit shy at times

But he ambled happily nearby for quite a while
And then we caught a glimpse of his extraordinary feet

Our friend of course is an echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus setosus in this case).

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Friday, 14 December 2012

Artemis Fowl

I was thrilled to start this book recently. I'd seen Eoin Colfer speak in Adelaide in May. He was astonishing. Such a funny, funny man, it was more reminiscent of seeing Billy Connolly in action than a writerly talk. With a lovely Irish brogue. You can see him in action on youtube (toned down for the kiddies).

Artemis Fowl is the first in what was to become a series of 8 books. It tells the story of 12 year old Artemis, our classic "oprhan" hero, his father has been missing for the past year and his mother is bedridden with her despair. Artemis vows to restore the family fortune back to the billionaire status at the expense of the fairies, who of course have lots of gold, and really quite sensational technology for their underground lives. As the back cover says, these are not the fairies of bedtime stories- they're armed and dangerous.

I was a bit surprised that this most Irish of tales actually starts in Vietnam, before moving on to Italy and finally to Ireland. I loved the espionage tinged with fairies, rogue trolls, and swear toads. Wonderfully grounded in the mythology of Ireland, and Ireland itself. Colfer is certainly not afraid to have a go at either.

And it was also here, unfortunately, that the Mud People were most in tune with magic, which resulted in a far higher People-sighting rate than you got anywhere else on the planet. Thankfully the rest of the world assumed that the Irish were crazy, a theory that the Irish themselves did nothing to debunk. 

I also liked the occasional eco-political view scattered throughout, here Commander Root approaches the whaling vessel off the coast of Ireland:

The commander swooped low to the gunwales. It was an ugly craft, this one. The smell of death and pain lingered in the blood-swabbed decks. Many noble creatures had died here, died and been dissected for a few bars of soap and some heating oil. Root shook his head. Humans were such barbarians. 

An espionage thriller complete with an evil boy genius, fairies and kleptomaniac dwarves! Sensational. A cracking pace, and lots of foreshadowing along the way. Exciting til the end. I look forward to more exciting adventures with Artemis.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Foodies Read 2013

The Foodies Reading Challenge has been going for several years with the lovely Margot from Joyfully Retired at the helm. Next year Vicki from I'd Rather be Reading at the Beach will take over. 

I'm looking forward to participating in the Foodies Reading Challenge again next year. Even though I've been a bit slack this year I always have many food books on the reading horizon. Actually you could drop food from that sentence and it would still be correct too.

So many books qualify for the different categories- cookbooks, fiction, memoirs/biographies and nonfiction. 

I will try for the Pastry Chef level of 4-8 books. 

What will I read? Possibly

Amy Thomas- Paris My Sweet

Michael Pollan- In Defence of Food

Jane Paech- A Family in Paris

Pamela Druckerman- French Children Don't Throw Food

Michael Paul- Sweet Paris

Are you seeing a bit of a theme? I'm visiting France again next year, and looking forward to my visit very much, and I know I will love those books, and they will in turn enhance my holiday. What could be better?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Bruny Island

On my recent trip to Tasmania I spent an absolutely delightful day on Bruny Island with my friend and her son. I'd only heard the name Bruny Island recently, when I bought Fifty Places to go Birding Before You Die. Bruny Island is one of the two Australian sights listed. Then as it so often turns out when I went to the author talk by David Hill he spoke of Bruny d'Entrecasteaux. And it was too much synchronicity. How lucky to end up there the very next month!

Bruny Island is quite a large island off the south east coast of Tasmania. A car ferry travels from Kettering to Bruny Island, it's a short trip, 15 or 20 minutes or so.

The queue for the car ferry, too long even on an average Sunday morning
We got the next ferry

A gorgeous trip across.

Bruny Island Oysters
We had a dozen of the freshest oysters

Boys the world over love digging

Bruny Island Neck
such a fabulous view
there were lots of black cockatoos screeching about
The walkway up to the lookout

Truganini Memorial at the top of the lookout

"Don't get wet!"
The weather around us looked a bit threatening at times,
but it always passed by

Even though we were in the remote wilds of Tasmania
there was a cafe to serve us a delicious lunch
herb damper, smoked salmon and a glass of red
Yes thanks!

And artworks pop up in odd places

A rather sad 1970s memorial to Captain Cook
Adventure Bay was his last Australian stop in 1777
before he was killed in Hawaii in 1779

A little friend enjoying the day too

Bligh Museum- what was a private collection
relating to all the early explorers

It was low tide in d'Entrecasteaux Channel on the way back to the ferry

We didn't see roos doing anything bizarre to the cars
but there were plenty of warning signs
so it must be quite common
The end to a perfect day

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books