Sunday Salon – 13 January 2019

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Not very much happened this week apart from lots of post-Christmas chores including (finally) taking down our Christmas tree which was only a week later than planned. So lack of activity means a short Salon post this week.

Books read

None finished but I made progress with…

Currently reading

Global Crisis – still working my way steadily through the 17th century; things that stuck in my head from the two chapters I read this week (Iberian Peninsula & France) :

  • The Portuguese rebellion was the only one in mid-seventeenth century Europe to become permanent
  • In 1639 Arthur Hopton, the British ambassador in Madrid, predicted that the ‘unquietness’ of Portugal ‘is not yet settled, the minds of the people being as ill-disposed as ever’
  • The King of Spain intensified the impact of climate change more than any other seventeenth century ruler by making appalling policy choices
  • Anne of Austria, Queen Regent of France, managed to overlook the danger of (as described by Cardinal de Retz) “lifting the veil that must always cover what one might say and what one might believe concerning the rights of the People and the rights of kings, which always keep the best harmony when silent”
  • Also Olivares was a twit and a total liability (my considered opinion)

The Behaviour of Moths – didn’t read any of this novel this week, just wasn’ty feeling it for some reason

The City of Mirrors – the third in Justin Conin’s Passage trilogy; I started to read this (which I’ve had for a while) becasue a TV version arrives later this week

New Books

I may have been on a bit of a Kindle spree, so much so that there will need to be a separate post. Have pity on me, I am a chronic tsonduko sufferer 🙂

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Other stuff

We binged the last half of season one of Berlin Station. Loved it. I gather there are two more series and I will be looking out for those.

 

A Christmas Carol @ The Old Vic

aac-18-017A Christmas Carol is my absolutely favourite Dickens work and probably one of my favourite stories of all time. I have seen so many versions on film (my favourite of course being this 1951 version with Alastair Sim, and the most recent A Muppet Christmas Carol which *gasp* my husband had never seen) but it has been a long time since I saw a version on stage, so when I relaised that the Old Vic was repeating its hit from 2017 I bought tickets for us to see the production, which we did on 4 January.

It was totally worth it.

A Christmas Carol was written by Dickens in just 6 weeks during 1843, fueled by his rage and disgust at the poverty he saw around him and the lack of care, sympathy and, most importantly, practical help from those in society who were signifcantly better off. Or, as Dickens himself put it in a letter to a friend, the

sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, overfed, apopleptic, snorting cattle

The staging in this production is nothing short of magical, with mince pies and satsumas being handed out as you enter the auditorium and lanterns hanging from the ceiling – I took a picture when we arrived which you can see on my Instagram feed.

The story has been re-worked but is still essentially that which we know and love, and the changes both make sense and are successful which is all that you can ask for, really. Stephen Tompkinson takes on the role from Rhys Ifans (whom I would have loved to have seen, having just caught him on TV as Hector in season one of Berlin Station) and is really very good indeed in the role. The use of music is wonderful, with everything from Christmas carols to handbell ringing, adding up to a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

It’s on until 19 January I believe, so if you get the chance do go and see it 🙂

Mary & the Witch’s Flower

mv5bndvkymfinmqtmjc3ni00yty5ltk0ntatzdc4yjzizju2yjnlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjm4ntm5ndy@._v1_sy1000_cr0,0,684,1000_al_It’s a tradition chez Bride to select a positive, feel-good film to watch on New Year’s Eve as a way of avoiding the often terrible TV coverage, though we always make sure to be done by the Bells when we will have a glass of whisky and some shortbread.

I’m Scottish, what can I say.

This year’s film was Mary & the Witch’s Flower, a Christmas gift from my brother to the Book God . Mary is the first film from Studio Ponoc, the successor to Studio Ghibli, and is based on the 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart (or Mearî Suchuâtô as she is in Japanese.)

Mary is spending the summer at her great-aunt’s house waiting for her parents to return from a trip. She’s bored and spends her time investigating the local woods in the company of a black cat where she finds a beautiful blue flower and a broomstick. Temporarily possessed with magic powers, Mary finds herself at Endor College, a sort of proto-Hogwarts, where she makes a significant impression. But things are not at all what they seem.

This is a simply lovely film, full of beautiful imagery and excellent animation. Mary herself is a very engaging character. I hate the word feisty but I can’t think of an alternative just now to describe Mary, a child full of adventure and confidence.

There is darkness in the film, as the staff of Endor College (voiced by Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent) are obsessed with experiments in transformation which have a real Doctor Moreau feeling.

A number of the elements in the story are very familiar, and I would have liked to see more of Mary’s relationship with her great-aunt which has an important role in the later stages of the story in a way that felt a bit too convenient. But that doesn’t detract from a beautiful story which proved to be an ideal end to 2018.

Dazzling details: directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Meari to majo no hana (original title) is 103 minutes long and rated U – suitable for everyone as long as you don’t mind very mild threat.

Sunday Salon – 6 January

img_2218Welcome to the first Salon of 2019. Which I managed to type correctly the first time, surprisingly, so yay me! It’s been a quiet week but none the worse for that. So what have I been up to, bookishly?

Books read:

I sneaked another book under the wire on New Year’s Eve, finishing The Hanging Tree in one final push. Very enjoyable; you can read my thoughts here.

I also continued to read Global Crisis and had confirmed what I already knew – the Thirty Years War was a Very Bad Thing Indeed.

Books bought since my last Salon post, so includes a couple from the very end of December):

  • An American Story by Christopher Priest – “A powerful meditation on loss and memory seen through the prism of 9/11, by one of our greatest authors.”
  • Currently by Sarah Mensinga – “Set in a unique fantasy world inspired by the ocean travel of the early 1900’s, Currently is a sometimes funny, sometimes gritty exploration of how to survive when you’re surrounded by power but have none yourself.”
  • Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart – “High in the rugged Pyrenees lies the Valley of the Storms, where a tiny convent clings to the beautiful but lonely mountainside. Jenny Silver arrives seeking her missing cousin, and is devastated when she learns of Gillian’s death following a terrible car accident”. But……
  • Changeling by Matt Wesolowski – “On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found.”
  • The Old You by Louise Voss – “Lynn Naismith gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together. Now, ten years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words.”

Currently reading:

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams; my first read for the Mount TBR challenge. I’ve apparently had this for almost 10 years without reading it, which is not unusual and a very good reason for taking part in this challenge 😀

A good start to the year I think. Hope you have a good reading week.

The Hanging Tree

61d9sdyio4l._sx310_bo1,204,203,200_The Hanging Tree is the sixth novel in the Rivers of London series featuring PC Peter Grant and the Folly – the Met Police’s little-loved organisation called in to investigate crimes with a magical element.

It’s fair to say that new readers should probably not start here. There is a lot of referring back to previous cases and also developments in the main story arc, so although it would be possible to read this as a standalone a first-time reader would miss so much of the richness that is one of the pleasures of the series.

So, Peter is back in London and has been pulled into the investigation of a young woman’s drug-related death at a party in an expensive flat in Mayfair. Not normally his kind of thing in policing terms, but River Goddess Lady Ty’s daughter is involved in some way and so favours are being called in. It quickly  becomes clear that magic is involved; the young woman shows signs of being a magical practitioner. Cue the usual mayhem and double-dealing, especially when the Americans get involved.

There is a lot to be enjoyed in this novel. As always, Peter’s first person narration of the story really works and doesn’t suffer from the problems other first person stories often have. It also helps that his voice is distinctive and often very funny. All of the supporting characters are well-rounded and recognisable as individuals. And the ongoing story of the series’ Mega Villain (The Faceless Man) gets a major development that is both very satisfying and augurs well for future volumes.

The only quibble I have, which I’ve seen mentioned by other reviewers, is that there is insufficient Nightingale. But then I always think that’s the case…..

We all had to wait a long time for The Hanging Tree, but because I delayed reading it I already have the next volume (plus the novella released in between, and the comics) to hand, though I think I’ll space them out over 2019.

If you are a long-time reader of this series you won’t be disappointed.

The Lego Batman Movie

MV5BMTcyNTEyOTY0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAyNzU3MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_It’s Batman, Jim, but not as we know it. Or as IMDB would have it:

A cooler-than-ever Bruce Wayne must deal with the usual suspects as they plan to rule Gotham City, while discovering that he has accidentally adopted a teenage orphan who wishes to become his sidekick.

Batman learns an important lesson about teamwork.  That is all, but more than enough 🙂

It’s an interesting fact (to me at least, YMMV) that I have always preferred DC comics to Marvel but of course prefer the Marvel movies to those from DC. Apart from Wonder Woman which was and will forever remain awesome.

You will not be surprised to know that The Lego Batman Movie is the exception to this rule. It is a huge amount of fun, with one of the best iterations of Batman ever. It is full of amazing set-pieces all rendered in overwhelmingly bright colours with a catchy theme song over the end credits (though not as catchy as Everything is Awesome – I only have to hear (or type) the title to have that song stuck in my head) and so much detail that you don’t really know exactly where to look in case you miss something.

The voice cast is astonishingly strong but of course Will Arnett is the standout as the Bat, with Ralph Fiennes a very close second as Alfred. We missed this in the cinema but were able to watch it at home over the Christmas break and could not stop giggling.

Favourite quotes (the ones I remember, after all there are SO MANY every second):

I like to fight around

Okay, Robin. Together, we’re gonna punch these guys so hard, words describing the impact are gonna spontaneously materialize out of thin air.

The creators of the recent incarnations of the DC universe could learn a lot from this film, especially in relation to dialogue. You may not want this many jokes but the script is clever and entertaining without getting in the way of the action.

Very funny and highly recommended.

Dazzling details: The Lego Batman Movie was directed by Chris McKay, is 104 minutes long and is certified U – suitable for everyone unless you are offended by mild comic violence, rude humour and/or very mild bad language

2019 Reading Goals

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So after a very successful reading year I’m hoping to keep up the good work in 2019, including reading

  • more physical books,
  • more books that I already own (ie not just bought and read immediately), and
  • more books from series that I’ve read some of in the past or have yet to start.

I will be setting my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge to 75 books – up from my usual 52. I think I should be able to achieve that as I read 63 books this year, including a real dip in the last few months of the year so that’s a conservative outcome.

I will also be taking part in the Mount TBR Challenge, hosted on Goodreads by Bev. This is my first year participating and I’ve decided to be ambitious and aim to climb Mont Blanc; that will account for 24 books included in (not in addition to, I’m not mad) the 75 mentioned above.

The key rules for the climb are:

  • books must be owned by the reader prior to January 1, 2019 – so that includes Christmas gifts, hurrah!
  • any re-read may count, regardless of how long the reader has owned it before 2019, provided it hasn’t been read in last five years
  • ebooks can count if they are owned and are one of the primary sources of backlogged books – however, I’m only going to include physical books because that’s where my problem lies; I find it easier to read on my iPad

I will set up a page on the blog so that you can track my progress, should you wish to; my main reading goal will be tracked on my Goodreads page.

Does that make sense? I hope that makes sense. To the Reading Chair!