Re-reading Old Friends

24 Mar

I am currently reading Stephen Fry’s latest volume of memoirs entitled “More Fool Me”.  Early in the book he wonders why more people don’t reread books, after all, you don’t buy a piece of music and only listen to it once.

I am one of Stephen’s mob.  A happy re-reader of books.  Not all books.  Just those that I consider old friends.

I discovered the Sherlock Holmes canon at age 10.  That Christmas my father gave me my first lot of Sherlock Holmes books.  A huge paperback compendium of all the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, complete with Sidney Paget illustrations.  That volume fell apart years ago.  I currently have a compendium on my Kindle, but still have physical book copies.  My current ones have the BBC Sherlock covers (with the exception of “The Valley of Fear” and “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” that are yet to be issued with Sherlock covers and introductions).  I have two copies of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, an extra one was given to me at Christmas.  Not complaining.  I do tend to wear out Hound quicker than any of the others.  It is, after all, my very favourite Holmes story.

I’ve added a couple of recent Sherlock Holmes pastiches to my pile of favourites.  Two delightful novels by Guy Adams now nestle next to my ACD paperbacks.

Another novel that I have worn out many copies of over 40 years is “The Hobbit”.  My current copy has a charming back view of Martin Freeman on the front cover.  I am inclined to keep this copy even when it falls to pieces.  Martin does have a cute bum after all.

I have a completely mismatched set of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs.  My chosen reading for when I am feeling unwell or just generally miserable.  These wonderful books are a guaranteed pick me up for me.

Mary Renault’s books “The Persian Boy”, “The Praise Singer”, and “The Mask of Apollo” have also gone through many volumes.  Hard to get brand new, I tend to pick up good quality second hand ones when I see them.

Another one that is hard to replace, but can occasionally be found. is Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragon SInger: Harper of Pern”.  I don’t care for the Pern novels per se, but I was enchanted with the story of Menolly at the Harper Hall when I first read the book.  My current copy is being carefully treasured as I haven’t seen this one in book shops for a couple of years.

Unable to be replaced, so therefore guarded closer than Smaug’s treasure, are my copies of Margaret Campbell Barnes’ “The King’s Fool” – a novel about Henry VIII’s jester Will Somers, various volumes of Harry Cole’s police memoirs, and my much loved copy of Dinah Lampitt’s “Pour the Dark Wine” which is a novel of the Seymour family.  These books are all well over 30 years old and never been reprinted.  At least, I can’t find copies.  My Dinah Lampitt is falling apart, but nothing will induce me to part with it.

I can’t even get these books on Kindle.  I do have some other old favourites on Kindle.  “Watership Down” comes to mind.  It’s next re-read is earmarked for the trip from Melbourne to London in July.  I have a mental note to read it on the Dubai – London leg of the trip, as I hope to sleep most of the Melbourne – Dubai run.  I also have a couple of much loved Jean Plaidy novels on Kindle as well.  “St Thomas Eve” and “The Queen’s Favourites”.  Both of which is also noted down to be reread on this upcoming trip.

I honestly do not know what I would do without my favourite books.  Re-reading them is one of the most warm and wonderful pleasures of life.

Sherlock Special…an apology?

17 Mar

I was very interested yesterday to see that Steve Moffat has said that the Sherlock special is set entirely in Victorian London and is not a part of a three episode arc.  It is a stand alone story.

To me this is very interesting.  As I have said before, I am a Sherlock Holmes fan first, and a Sherlock fan second.  With that in mind, I have to tell you that I was deeply disappointed with series 3 of “Sherlock”.  I loved “The Empty Hearse”, but I disliked “The Sign of Three” and “His Last Vow” intensely.  Both episodes went too far off canon for my liking. Mary Morstan was NOT an assassin.  In season 2, Irene Adler as a dominatrix rather than an opera singer was clever.  Both professions are/were a little dodgy in their respective time periods.  But Mary Morstan as a ruthless killer for hire?  No, nay, NEVER!  Holmes disapproved of Watson’s marriage and did not attend the wedding.  He sure as shit didn’t arrange it or was best man.  Too far away from the originals for my comfort.  Way too far.  I am not the only Sherlockian to feel like this.

The only thing that saved “The Sign of Three” and “His Last Vow” was the friendship between Sherlock and John.  That was as strong as ever, and as it is the core of the canon, it went some way to redeeming both episodes in my eyes.  Not enough that I will willing subject myself to watching them again, however.

In my opinion “Sherlock” is starting to head into “Elementary” territory, ie, using the character names, but the characters don’t have the spirit of the originals.  Nothing more than a drama using well known characters, but not respecting the spirit of those characters.

I think Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss are aware that they are now treading in dangerous waters.  Waters that could rise up and swallow them.

Hence the special.  A purely Victorian special. Something to make the hearts of all Sherlockians beat faster with excitement.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bringing their special on screen chemistry as Sherlock and John to the more traditional Holmes and Watson.  From what we have seen from the setlock photographs, it is obvious that the special is something of a tip of the hat to past incarnations of the immortal duo.  Several shots I have seen recreate scenes from Granada Televisions wonderful adaptations staring Jeremy Brett and David Burke/Edward Hardwicke.  Other photos I have seen made me think of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, the Billy WIlder film staring Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely that was one of the inspirations for “Sherlock”.  Indeed, the Mycroft of “Sherlock” is lifted lock, stock, and a cellar full of barrels, from the movie.

The special is a return to the roots of “Sherlock”.  To the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that captured the imagination of generations.

In light of this, I am wondering if the special is a form of apology.  An apology to the Sherlockians who came to “Sherlock” looking for a modern take on the icons, and were horrified by the direction season 3 took.

I can honestly say that I am looking forward more to the special than I am to season 4.

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned At Home, Work and Play

9 Mar

“The Arsenic Century etc” turned up as a recommendation for me on Goodreads.  It looked interesting and I thought I’d take a punt at it.

I’ll go on record as saying I am utterly bewildered as to how anyone in Great Britain survived the 19th century.

Going by this book, it seems like EVERYTHING was out to get people. Their books, wallpaper, dresses, sweets, hats, candles….even their socks were out to get them!

The most shocking thing about the book was learning that the various governments of Great Britain over that century were more interested in keeping industry going than protecting the lives of their citizens. It took several major poisoning outbreaks for them to actually legislate against arsenic, and even then the legislation was piss weak.

James C. Whorton’s research is impeccable and his writing style is both scholarly and accessible.  He is an academic with a deft touch with the dry humour, making this book readable for everyone.

Not a book for those without a strong stomach as the descriptions get a little graphic. No photos, thank goodness, but I could have done without the artist’s illustration of a scrotum suffering from arsenic pock. Yuk doesn’t begin to cover it.

A good book for anyone interested in toxins, British legal and medical history, and British history in general.

Highly recommended.

Harvest of Time

1 Mar

“The Harvest of Time” by Alastair Reynolds is an original Doctor Who novel featuring the Third Doctor (my favourite), the original Master (Roger Delgado incarnation) and the folks at UNIT.

There are mysterious happenings at sea and UNIT is drawn in.  But as UNIT is drawn further into the morass, someone is trying to unpick The Master from the fabric of time.  Soon, it will be as it he never existed…

This was a great read that took me right back to my childhood Doctor Who watching. The characters were kept perfectly inline with the actors who played those roles.

There was so much of the Master that I was nearly delirious with joy.  Roger Delgado will ALWAYS be my favourite Master.  None of the others even come close.

The Master is pretty much the star of the book on many levels, so I really can’t say too much about the book without giving away the plot.  Suffice to say Alastair Reynolds has a lot of fun with the Master.

Would recommend “Harvest of Time” to all Doctor Who fans, new Who and old.

Dwarves in Space

26 Feb

First off I will say that I was gifted a copy of the book “Dwarves in Space” by the author, Sabrina Zbasnik, to read and review.

The book was described to me as “Tolkien, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Firefly merged in a transporter accident”.  I honestly couldn’t come up with a better description myself.

This is about the third or fourth book by Sabrina Zbasnik I have read, and I have to say that her writing style improves with each book.

“Dwarves in Space” is brilliant.  The characters are well rounded, interesting, and individualistic enough that it is easy to develop favourites.  I am really hoping for more books using these characters as I really want to see more of the Elven assassin, Talesin.

The book follows the adventures of Captain Variel of the Elation-Cru and her merry band of misfits: elves, a dwarf, an orc, a djinn, and an accidental human passenger.  Not to mention the slightly insane onboard computer.

“Dwarves in Space” does have the feel of being the introductory novel for a series, but that does not detract from the enjoyment of it.  The first sequence sets the tone for the back story, which is not fully explored… I expect that will be in later books.  Then it’s on to a rollercoaster ride of spills, thrills, chills and the occasional outbreak of lunacy.

Read.  Enjoy.

The Will of the Dead

23 Feb

An elderly man is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs and his Will is missing.  Meanwhile a series of jewel robberies is taking place across London; carried out by “iron men”.  Scotland Yard is at its wits end.  Enter Sherlock Holmes.

That’s pretty much the plot for “The Will of the Dead”, and it’s a ripper of a read.  I started it last night and did not put it down until I had finished it.

The book could be considered pre-steampunk, as it ties into George Mann’s ‘Newbury and Hobbes’ series of books, with the events taking place many years prior to “The Affinity Bridge”.  The link between the worlds, however, is via Charles Bainbridge, who in this book is an Inspector at Scotland Yard and a friend of Lestrade’s.  Newbury and Hobbes do not appear.

“The Will of the Dead” is also an excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiche.  Mann has captured the friendship between Holmes and Watson perfectly.

The book is also well plotted and well written enough to satisfy even the fussiest Sherlockian.

Highly recommended.

Blue Nun, Black Tower, and Pixie’s Pee

15 Feb

Over the weekend I was reading Graham Norton’s memoir “The Life and Loves of a He Devil”.

It was startling to realise that Graham and I had similar upbringings, even though we’re different sexes and were raised on opposite sides of the world.

The thing that made me laugh the most was his comment that in Ireland during his childhood there appeared to be only three wines available: Blue Nun, Black Tower and Mateus Rose.

Those wines are pretty much central to celebrations during my childhood too.  My dad had a burning dislike of Mateus Rose.  He always referred to it as Pixie’s Pee.  The one occasion I took a surreptitious sip from my mother’s glass, I immediately agreed with him and came to the conclusion that the pixie in question needed to see a urologist urgently.  I’ve never attempted to drink it again.  Just the sight of a bottle gives me tremulous shudders of disgust.

Blue Nun was another I felt had a picture of the factory on the bottle!  It was the most appalling wine I had ever tasted when I was young.  I was strongly convinced that they’d put vinegar in a wine bottle by accident.  Blue Nun is probably the reason that I am not overly fond of dry white wines these days.

Black Tower was a different proposition.  I loved the vaguely medieval styled label on the bottle and the wine was sweet enough to appeal to my palate without being cloying.  A romantic through and through I would sip away daydreaming that I was actually drinking the popular medieval sweet wine rhenish.  No idea if Black Tower is a literal descendant, but it was certainly a romantic one in my book.  It’s also the reason that I have no time for wine snobs.  Just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean it tastes good, in my book.  Black Tower is the only white wine I view fondly.  Mention Black Tower to a wine connoisseur and watch them have a hissy fit of epic proportions.

In New Zealand there was a fourth wine making a quartet of cheap and cheerful wines.  This was a sparkling red known as Cold Duck.  My father, the evil bugger that he was, solemnly informed me that Cold Duck was made from the distilled, fermented blood of frozen ducks!  It was a wine that most bottle shops turned a blind eye to underage individuals purchasing.  They knew that there was no way kids could get drunk on it.  It wasn’t in the system long enough for the alcohol to take effect.  Two glasses and you’d be heaving up the whole horrible fizzy mess.

Graham’s book made me feel more than a little nostalgic.  I wonder if the local bottle shop has Black Tower?

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