Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Charming Quirks of Others

This book is indeed charming!  Fans of the Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh, will not be disappointed with this latest offering.  Isabel, philosopher and editor of an ethics magazine, continues to ponder on life's moral questions and tries to assist people in predicament along the way.  Her latest request for help involves investigating the origin of a note, warning of an undesirable incident that occurred in someone's past.  Three men are in the frame to replace the outgoing headmaster of a private boys' school and Isabel has to look into their backgrounds to uncover a less than ethical candidate.

This is a very gentle read with delicious descriptions of Edinburgh, sprinkled with the odd real-life Edinburgh citizen and set in actual Edinburgh establishments.  I always have a hankering to visit again after reading these novels and this one had the added bonus of leaving me quite content and serene.  
Alexander McCall Smith and Augustus Basil (me thinks)

Click here to listen to a short interview with Alexander McCall Smith discussing his latest book, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 12 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series).

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Brother Cadfael

I am quite enjoying reacquainting myself with the worldy-wise and enigmatic Brother Cadfael, thanks to Cornflower's current Book Group pick.  I was first introduced to this series whilst in school (but I only read one book, The Devil's Novice) and years later I watched most of the episodes of the TV adaptation with Derek Jacobi in the lead role. 

Edith Pargeter (a.k.a. Ellis Peters) and Derek Jacobi (Source)
I'm half way through the first novel in this series and I was pleasantly surprised at the subtle humour to be found in this book.  Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine monk in 12th century Shropshire who is of Welsh descent and who lived a very full and worldly life before taking his orders.  There are lovely descriptions of his tending his herb garden and the medicinal uses he has for each plant that he cultivates.  He seems to be a shrewd observer of human behaviour which comes in handy when he finds himsef in Wales bent over the body of a prominent landowner.  Suspicion is cast upon his prior as the murdered man opposed the removal of a Welsh saint's bones to Brother Cadfael's church in England.  A finger of suspicion is also pointed at an Englishman who worked for the murdered man and who had been seeking to marry the murdered man's daughter.

Shrewsbury Abbey

It's a smooth, pleasurable read with rich descriptions of North Wales and Shrewsbury.  Fortunately, I have forgotten most of the plots used for the TV series so I can enjoy this novel on its own merits.  I must say that the Cadfael in my mind looks and sounds nothing like Derek Jacobi and Shrewsbury seems brighter and greener than that portrayed in the series.  Oddly, it seems that the TV series was filmed on location in Hungary!  I think that this will be a mystery series that I will seek out in future especially since I picked up a second-hand book a few years ago of Ellis Peters' Shrewsbury.  I only had a glimpse of Shrewsbury once and that was mostly of the castle and the lush countryside.  I am now aware that there is a Brother Cadfael walk and museum so I would love to visit again to do this historic town justice and to follow in the footsteps of Cadfael.

Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Currently Hooked on... Laurel and Hardy

There's nothing like watching an L&H short to swiftly chase away the blues!  I've been re-watching some of these since the end of last week and it never fails to make me grin - if not splutter with sudden laughter.  I've also come across a few that I hadn't seen before - thanks to my brother - which is such a pleasant delight.

Twice Two (1933)
One of my favourite shorts is Brats wherein Laurel and Hardy also portray their own offspring, who obviously take after their fathers. Clever, cute and comical to see these two grown men behave (legitimately for once!) like little children, surrounded by giant furniture to add perspective.

Brats (1930)

I just love these men.  So gifted... they excelled equally at slapstick, word-play and subtle humour.  Even a cocked eyebrow from Hardy or a silly shrug from Laurel makes me smile.  Hardy's musical interludes are sublime and watching them dance together or do a little spontaneous twirl is sheer joy.  This is truly comfort watching and I have them on in the background sometimes just to cheer things up.

Towed in a Hole (1932)
L&H Jeep Die Cast Model - A gift I gave my Dad a few years ago - it still sits on top of his monitor.

Friday, 18 March 2011

For Japan with Love and Animal Rescue

Photo source

Thanks to Rachel at Book Snob, I've just been made aware of a blog-based movement who are collecting donations to provide necessary equipment and supplies to those affected by the terrible disaster in Japan.  Like everyone else, I have been concerned and moved by this tragedy and have been thinking of helping in some way.   Rachel's post has provided a nudge. Please visit her blog for more information as she has investigated this charity and found that our donations will be getting to those in need.  If you'd like to donate, please click here.

The plight of humans and animals are interlinked on this earth and my heart goes out to companion and other animals that inevitably suffer during these times of crisis but who do not always get the help required.  This prompted me to search for animal charities in Japan who try to rescue and rehome animals who have been caught up in this disaster.  It's a race against time as Japan's shelters have a kill policy and 72 hours in which a guardian can claim their companion animal.  I've seen the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support mentioned several times in news stories concerning abandoned and lost dogs and cats being rescued.  They are a coalition of three animal charities and no-kill rescue centres with track histories and experience so I think making a donation to them will help ensure that they can rescue, treat and rehome dogs, cats and any other animals in distress without their lives being placed in further jeopardy.

If you'd like to donate, you can do so by PayPal here.  Please be patient as it sometimes takes a while to load.  You you may need to click the arrow in the top right-hand corner for English if the PayPal page appears in Japanese.  HEART (one of the animal groups involved) is collecting the donations and donations are in US Dollars.  There are regular updates on the coalition's Facebook page here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for your help.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Manic March

The White Rabbit - John Tenniel (from The Nursery Alice)
I can't believe that we're already in the middle of March and that it's turned out to be a bit of a hectic month.  Is it just me or is time going by quickly again?  I feel awful at not having posted in two weeks and that my reading ambitions for this year have shifted into a lower gear (for the moment!). 

I've recommenced studying (home study for an accounting qualification) and it demands a lot of time each day so less time for reading.  My body clock's also been a bit out of kilter for some time and I tend to go to bed late which completely throws out the next day and leaves me feeling a bit like Alice's White Rabbit at times... "No time to say Hello, Goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"  

This being the Year of the Rabbit and my Chinese horoscope sign being the rabbit, I was promised a smooth and productive year but I have yet to see it!  Fingers crossed, things will get better as the year progresses.  At least matters are drawing to a close with regards the handling of my father's estate and I'm planing on returning to the UK in a few months.  It'll be a wrench, though, as it always is.

So, I have to take myself firmly in hand and apportion time to all the vital daily tasks, especially reading and blogging.  I have two reviews to post (the charming High Wages and the first Wimsey for the As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge) and I'm currently enjoying my second foray into Sayers' wonderful work.  Thank you to you all who have signed up for the challenge.  I look forward to receiving your links and reading your thoughts.

I hope you all have a lovely March... Spring is in the air for some and for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, autumn is getting closer.  Have a lovely week!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

February Roundup

Reading (1884) - Julius LeBlanc Stewart

Well, February has not lived up to my hopes of reading a fair amount of books.   I managed to finish only three - perhaps the shorter month has something to do with it?  Instead, I seem to have a number of books on the go.

I have Pickwick Papers on my bedside table to dip into at a leisurely pace.  I've covered the first three chapters and am enjoying the company of the Pickwickians and Dickens' descriptions of Rochester.

I am part way through my first re-reading of E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia, brought on by a fit of nostalgia after posting about the lovely Wordsworth and Vintage editions published this year.

I have yet to complete the last Virago book that I started during Virago Reading Week, Pirates at Play, and I'm currently reading and savouring High Wages, which I started during Persephone Reading Weekend.

I don't think I've juggled so many fiction books at once before - at least not for pleasure!  Looking to March, I hope to tackle a few of the challenges that I signed up for.  I have my next Lord Peter Wimsey lined up and I hope to make a sizeable dent in Pickwick Papers.  Then there's the Edith Wharton to look forward to, an Ellis Peters (for the Cornflower Book Group) and hopefully room for something fun and frivolous.  How has the shortest month of the year fared for you?

The books:

1. Mrs Ames - E. F. Benson
2. Bones in the Belfry - Suzette A. Hill
3. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding - Julia Strachey