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Challenge Tuesday – 34

I’m pretty tired tonight so although I have two books to tell you about, for today I’m only doing one. The other will follow tomorrow!

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins. Jack Howard is an underwater Archaeologist, desperate to find the truth behind the mysterious Pharaoh Akhenaten: was he the Pharaoh who saw the Exodus described in the Bible? And did he play a part in saving those fleeing slaves by destroying his own army? As Jihadi extremists take over in Egypt, the trail Jack follows for the truth takes him into the very centre of a violent uprising…

I have read another book about Jack Howard, although checking back I think it pre-dates the 52 book challenge – The Mask of Troy. I really liked the mixture of history, intrigue, archaeology and scenery in that story.

Unfortunately, the mix in this one wasn’t quite right for me, in a specific ways.  For example, the history was very detailed and fed in large chucks so I found it hard to keep it all in mind. Also, the politics felt heavy-handed and although the concept is understandable, this required suspension of disbelief that didn’t work so well when the rest of the story focussed on real details in a pretty consistent way.

It isn’t that I didn’t like the story but I thought the book as a whole was less enjoyable than the previous one of the series I read.  I felt the historical detail hindered the flow of the story and was almost like an academic lecture in some points.

Nevertheless, if you can get past the fairly dense sections describing various historical events, and the highly intricate descriptions of diving gear and protocols, there is a fun action-adventure which takes place on land and under water, with some excellent locations and the archaeological favourite of secret chambers.

Plus, if you are particularly interested in Egyptian history it ties in a few strands of possibility very cleverly.

I will be back to finish off the week’s reading tomorrow, when I’ve had a bit of sleep!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

A New Dawn

Since my break, I’ve lost track of what week I am on and after some deliberation I have decided it doesn’t matter. Writing is not a project where I have to report on progress against my targets or identify any risks and mitigations – it is a way of living my life. So for now I am dropping my weekly count.

If I change my mind, you’ll know soon enough!

As I said on Thursday, I wanted to get back into the habit of writing poetry. I have succeeded in pulling a short draft piece together and although its probably not ever going to be for human consumption, it has unblocked me a little and helped me process some thoughts and feelings that have been building up in my mind.

For this particular poem I have dealt with the frustrations of being unwell and how time loses all meaning when your normal daily experience has been undone in some way. I feel better for it.

Writing is a great form of therapy. It is an empowering way of taking strong emotions and owning them – crafting them into art and then making a choice about their future. It gives back a sense of control, which is incredibly important to me, and I’m sure I am not alone.  I have poems on all sorts of subjects from grief to embarrassment to physical pain to joy – and whether or not anyone else ever sees them, I am glad I produced them because they are a record of how I got where I am.

I don’t tend to choose poetry subjects before the writing but this week I want to write more about what’s uppermost in my mind to clear the decks, so to speak. Once I have done that I will be ready to build up my portfolio a little more.

It feels great to have some output for the first time in ages, and even better to feel this is only the start.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

I’ve mentioned recently that because of health issues I’ve not really been up to writing: looking at a calendar today I see it’s over 12 weeks since I last put words on a page.

If I am not writing, I am not a writer – and 25% of the year not writing is a pretty massive chunk. It’s horrible to feel that writing is something I did, not something I do, so it’s time to make writing accessible again.

I will not set myself an unreachable target with regard to my novel. I have to accept that isn’t the way forward for now, and trust that what I have completed so far will stand the test of time – and if not, it just means it wasn’t the right story after all.

Instead I need to pick up writing again, in a positive way. I need to be a poet for a while.

It’s no secret here that I enjoy the art of writing poetry more than novels, and part of that is the way I have always used poetry to process thoughts and feelings.

More importantly for now, though, is that they give me a sense of achievement. I produce a rough stone of a first draft, of course – but with a little cutting, a little polish, they end up as shiny gems in my portfolio.

So that is where I will start: building some glitter into my barren writing life and getting back into the habit of being a writer.

I don’t want to be in the habit of not being one, after all!

Happy writing,
EJ
🙂

Having caught up with all my completed novels in Thursday’s post I made a bit of a rookie error, because I didn’t finish the book I was in the process of reading at the time – so now it’s a failed challenge week!

So to replace books tonight I will tell you about another new challenge I have taken on – learning to sew. I was inspired by a chat with Mrs Fox over at Mrs Fox’s Finery about making clothes that suit our own styles. That led me on to a conversation with a friend who lives a few doors from me about finding a sewing coach – and she offered to coach me herself!

So today was day 1 and I made a mini cushion cover, a prototype for a project I will be working on soon.  It was really just to give me a change to get familiar with the machine using basic stitches but I was very proud of my slightly wonky creation.  I would have shared an action shot if it weren’t for the problems I am having with my newly-upgraded computer…

I do love that rush of excitement when something works out; and until I feel up to proper writing again this is a less intensive way to fulfil my creative needs.

Anyway, that’s taken us a long way from the book talk I am here to share.  I will probably finish the book tomorrow, irritatingly, and will therefore tell you all about it next week!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

This post brings me up to date with the books I have read over the last couple of post-free months and Challenge Tuesdays will revert to their normal place in the calendar!

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty. Scribbly Gum Island sits off the Australian coast near Sydney, and is famous for the Munro Baby Mystery, where a couple seemingly vanished into thin air and left their baby behind. Only a handful of people live there – sisters Rose and Connie, who discovered the Munro baby; Enigma, the Munro Baby herself, now a grandmother in her 70’s, and her daughters. When Connie passes away, she leaves her house to Sophie – the ex-girlfriend of Enigma’s grandson. But as Sophie discovers, life on the island is not quite what she was anticipating, and the family are harbouring a secret about the Enigma’s missing parents…

Those of you with good memories might remember that I read another Liane Moriarty book back in 2014; I can’t remember it in great detail but I do think the slightly choppy style – short sentences, half-reported conversations etc – is very similar.  However, I was fairly ambivalent about that one whereas I really enjoyed this book.  The characters are distinct and their experiences have a sense of truth to them even in a fairly unlikely story.  For example, 39 year old Sophie wants children, and fears that she may have lost her chance; new mum Grace is terrified that she doesn’t have the ‘right’ feelings for her child and fears her thoughts to such an extent she becomes suicidal.  Margie is a 50-something who has been belittled and ignored by her husband for years despite her obvious skills and business acumen.  Thomas lost the love of his life and settled for a woman who could give him the family stability he craved.

There is a sense right from the start that the Munro mystery is not what Connie and Rose said it was, but there’s also a feeling that at some point it stopped mattering because it is their bread and butter – and it has made the family incredibly wealthy.

The interesting choice Moriarty made was to create the island not as a small, claustrophobic place, as it could be but as something like a theme park.  When Sophie moves onto the island her life opens up and suddenly there seems to be a wide horizon open to her.  Quite literally, in some scenes!

The story covers a lot of emotional ground – sex, love, loneliness, depression, joy, attraction, lies, shame – but at no point did I find it heavy handed.  The idea that someone would give their house to an almost stranger seems unbelievable but on the other hand, the way the characters are written it becomes a lot more believable that I would have imagined.  As you probably remember, I also appreciate it when the ending is satisfying but not unrealistically perfect, and this book got the balance pretty much perfect for me.

Overall I found this book extremely engaging.  I wanted to know the secret, but I also wanted to know the characters, see how they progressed.  I wanted Grace to be well, Sophie to have the child she craved, 88 year old Rose to tell the truth she so desperately wanted to tell.  I cared about the characters.

There’s a twist in the tale that caught me by surprise too – so right to the last page the book is giving something to the reader.  I can’t really ask for more than that!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

Challenge Tuesday – 32

After my recent re-reads, I decided to try something new again.  I didn’t realise what an odd story it would be!

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark.  Miss Brodie teaches at Marcia Blaine School, in 1930s Edinburgh; one of the generation of women who lost their loves in the Great War.  She is an educator, a Svengali figure to her favoured students: the six girls who become known as the Brodie Set.  She tells them how she dedicates her prime to them and in return they offer an unswerving loyalty, until one girl realises that Miss Brodie’s truths are not her own…

Well, I’m not sure where to start with this one!

Miss Brodie is a manipulator, a woman whose ‘prime’ is wasted on schemes for her pupils and love affairs with unsuitable men.  She is a deceiver, a fascist sympathiser who teaches her ‘girls’ about the benefits of Mussolini and Hitler.  She lives vicariously through them, even encouraging a love affair with the married man she loves, in order to ask for details. She considers herself a talented teacher, bringing forth the personalities of her favourite few even as she belittles and pressurises them.  Her relationship with the girls continues long after she stops teaching them, even into their adulthood, and yet she never seems able to be honest with them.  When her teaching career ends as a result of her politics, Miss Brodie’s decline is rapid.  She never forgets that one of her own girls betrayed her.

Miss Brodie is both a sympathetic character – her first love killed in Flanders aged 22, her second a married man and her third proposes to their colleague without telling her – but also deeply unpleasant with her bullying ways and scheming.  She brainwashes the young girls into believing her view of the world is the only one, and that their value is what she places on them: if only they behave as she says, they will be the ‘créme de la créme’ she thinks they can be…

Meanwhile, the girls are a lumpen bundle, their personalities and choices contingent on each other and Miss Brodie, their world view shaped by hers.  They follow paths she has set down for them, behave as she has demanded.  Their childhood given oven, in part, to her vanity.  Despite all being ‘famous’ for some reason they merge into a collective whole that is exposed to an adult world long before they are equipped to deal with the consequences.

And so we are left with a story of childhood warped, of personalities frozen in amber.  Only when they leave school do the girls have a chance to slough off the ties and make their own choices.  You are left with the feeling that this is the greatest betrayal of all.

I found this book densely written, confusing in how it swapped from one young mind to another, from the past to the future to the present rapidly and without warning; there is a lot of inner dialogue as well as lectures from Miss Brodie that contain questionable truths.  It’s a short book that demands focussed reading.  Some of the girls seemed larger than life and some faded into insignificance long before the end of the story, but the strongest voices also had the most interesting stories.

I can’t really decide if I enjoyed the story or not.  It’s strange and not at all what I expected.  It’s described as a ‘brilliantly comic novel’ but is certainly not something I would consider a comedy, at least not in the laugh out loud sense.  There is a ridiculousness to the behaviour of Miss Brodie that is darkly humorous, and the foolishness of the children sometimes raises a smile, but it’s also disturbing at its core.

Seeing this through a modern prism will no doubt influence that view – these children are being radicalised in multiple ways; one girl is even encouraged to run off to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, leading to her death.

So overall, would I recommend it to others?  No, probably not.  I am intrigued by it though, and that may yet make me want to re-visit it.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

What follows is not a review, as such – these books have been reviewed to death, they have spawned films, fan fiction, websites, fan clubs and even theme parks. I myself enjoyed the studio tour here in the UK, and frequently do Harry Potter themed food for Halloween🙂

But, the challenge is to share what I have read, so here goes!

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling. The first book of the series in which we meet Harry, and are introduced to Hogwarts and its life of magic, friendship and evil. What I enjoy about this one is the magic – the sense of the impossible becoming possible and Harry’s delight and amazement. It is also lovely to see the burgeoning friendships that support Harry throughout his experiences. I have read this book a few times and even now the sense of wonder at the magical world makes me feel happy.

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling. The second book, where we find out that Harry has the hallmark of a dark wizard, and that fame isn’t reality! This book brings us Dobby the House-Elf, Professor Lockhart, Cornish Pixies, and a memory that can take form. This book starts the journey towards the darkness of the series; with a ghost haunting the toilets and Petrified people around the castle, this book has a heaviness and sense of foreboding throughout. It feels like the cold darkness of the Chamber permeates the story.

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling. With a prisoner on the loose trying to reach Hogwarts, Ron and Hermione at loggerheads and Hagrid trying to save a Hippogriff from execution, Harry has a lot to think about. But when he starts to see the Grim, he worries whether he is going to live long enough to care… This third book focusses on the impact of actions – the choices the characters make and how they affect the future is the theme throughout. This book also plays with the paradox of time travel, and the opportunity to put things right. Finally, it introduces us to the Dementors, whose soul-sucking kiss is a pretty strong concept for children’s books.

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. In this book, Harry is mysteriously entered into a competition to compete in the Tri-Wizard tournament – a dangerous and challenging contest set up between three Wizarding schools of Europe. In the classroom, there are other challenges to survive – not least the humiliation of articles written about him by gossip queen Rita Skeeter. But it all pales into nothing when Harry’s fate is revealed, and the world changes for everyone… This book is far longer than the previous ones, full of details that expand the world, if not the story itself. This is where the darkness really takes hold – murder, torture, cruelty, fear and anger fill the pages, with the slight leavening of first romances and school dances. This is the point at which Harry leaves behind his childhood.

It’s been a while since I re-read these books – not since The Deathly Hallows came out, actually (2007) – and my opinion of them has changed over time.  Accepting that the first three are definitely for younger people as the stories get more complex and adult in tone as Harry ages, I think I prefer these nowadays.  I love the magic: the joy of seeing this whole new life open up.  From secret alleyways to auto-knitting to ghosts who live in U-bends via thinking hats and moving pictures, there are so many fun concepts to delight the reader that it’s hard not to think positively about them.

As I re-read four, I could feel how dense it was, how the story had too many strands to contain in a normal-length book, and it took me far longer to read this time than first time round.  The magic was darker – curses, hexes and dark magic dominate the storyline.  Mistrust is a key theme, and that sets a distinctly different tone to other books. Even friendships are damaged in this one.

Those who love the series will love the series.  Those who don’t, don’t.  I continue to enjoy the books but as I get older, I guess I enjoy the innocent joy of new experiences within the earlier tales more than the dark foreboding of later ones.  However, this was never my favourite story of the series and perhaps I’ll change that opinion with the next book.

For now though, I am leaving Harry where he is and reading a couple of new stories.  I’m taking my own summer holiday from Hogwarts now!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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