Books and Opportunities

14 Apr

I’ve been doing a fair bit of book shopping at opportunity shops recently.  I think you call them good will stores in the USA, and charity shops in the United Kingdom.

You can get some interesting books, and you are giving someone a helping hand.  Twice, if you donate the books back once you’ve read them.

The thing is, I have started to notice several patterns.

Firstly, there is the collection that has been donated.  Grandma or Great Aunty Phyllis has passed on and no-one wants her entire collection of Barbara Cartland novels, so off to the local op shop they go.  The same goes for Great Uncle Bert’s collection of westerns.

The month or so after Mother’s Day will see a rise in biographies and autobiographies of film stars and celebrity cookbooks.  After Father’s Day the pattern repeats, but the books are biographies and autobiographies of sports stars and rock bands.

The New year sees a systematic dumping of the latest hot novels that have obviously been unwanted Christmas presents.

The main pattern, however, is one that shows just how much longevity some books have.  I have seen the odd Harry Potter book in op shops, but the main stay seems to be Twilight.  Every shop I’ve visited seems to have at least two copies of each of the novels.  The largest shop had an entire book case of them!  They obviously don’t bear re-reading by the hoards of fans who originally swarmed all over them.  The same goes for the Fifty Shades series.  The same large op shop had four shelves of various copies of that series.  Buy it, read it, dump it.

Some authors though, are obviously well loved and collected.  I rarely see Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s books.  And I have NEVER seen any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books.  Some books are read until they fall apart and then new copies are purchased.  I’ve never seen any Tolkien books either, most likely for similar reasons.

I have, from time to time, come across real gems.  Odd books I’ve been looking for for ages, but have been unable to find.  An odd little novel I’d heard about, but never seen, called “Sherlock in Love” turned up at one of my local op shops about three months ago.  It’s sitting in my To Be Read Pile for future enjoyment.

A book I read many years ago by Rosemary Sutcliffe called “Flowers For Adonis” turned up in the same shop.  That was snaffled for a re-read.

Even if you don’t buy much, it is lovely to browse and see what other people have passed on.  The old saying of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is never more obvious than at op shops.  If you are a reader and have an op shop or two in your area, pop in, you never know just what you will find.  Me, I’m hoping for a copy of Dinah Lampitt’s “Pour the Dark Wine” in better condition than my poor old copy.

Bless Her Dead Little Heart

6 Apr

“Bless Her Dead Little Heart” by Miranda James marks the start of a new series by the author.  The sleuths in this new book aren’t librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel.  This time around the amateur detectives are Misses An’gel and Dickcee Ducote, whom we have meet in previous books.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure about the idea, but I have fallen in love with this pair of anti-bellum Miss Marples.

When the Ducote sisters sorority sister comes to them for sanctuary claiming her family are trying to kill her, An’gel and Dickcee are initially skeptical.  Until there is a suspicious death right before both their eyes.

It is now a race against time to work out who is doing the killing and who the real target is before the body count reaches epidemic proportions.

Face paced, witty, and absolutely delightful.  I am eagerly waiting for the next volume in the sister’s sleuthing career.

Jeremy Clarkson – a Few Thoughts

30 Mar

I have been more than a little disturbed by the back swell against Jeremy Clarkson’s sacking by the BBC.  The man committed an act of violence against an employee and people want him to keep his job?

I am going to ask you a question.  I don’t expect you to answer, but I would like you to think about the question a lot and reply honestly to yourself.

Would your attitude towards Jeremy Clarkson be different if the producer he had abused and then hit had been a woman?

There should be no difference, but the inbuilt sexism of the majority will mean that there is.  The sex of the victim should make no difference, but in the eyes of the media and of the general public, it frequently does.  Violence is not acceptable.  A tendency to use fists to settle arguments shows the character of a person quite clearly.  And it is not an attractive picture.  Only brute animals use violence to get their own way.

There is NO excuse for Jeremy Clarkson’s behaviour.  He verbally and then physically abused another human being.  For no better reason than there was no hot food.  There would have been hot food if he hadn’t larked around in a pub drinking for hours.

Actions have consequences.  Most people learn this before they are five years old.

Jeremy Clarkson belongs to that annoying subset of humanity known as the “self entitled celebrity”.  These people think the world should make exceptions for them.  Never mind that the hotel staff were tired after a long shift and wanted to go home.  His irresponsibility kept them there until the manager made an executive decision to send his staff home.  As any good manager would.  Clarkson should have accepted that his actions had meant there was no hot meal.  He had no right to go off at the producer the way he did.  Face it, if your toddler behaved like that, your most likely response would be a smacked arse and time out.

The BBC really had no choice but to sack Clarkson.  Not just because he was on his last warning.  I don’t know what the workplace safety laws are like in the United Kingdom, but if that had happened in Australia Jeremy Clarkson would be in a pile of ordure up to his neck!  Bullying, verbal harassment, physical harassment, physical harm – Clarkson would be looking at huge personal fines and perhaps jail time, as would the BBC for allowing it to happen!  This is without the possible criminal charges that would stem from such an altercation.

Maybe now Clarkson will learn about the necessity of taking responsibility for his own actions.  That every thing that he does will have consequences.  This has been a lesson a long time coming, and only time will tell if it has been thoroughly learned or not.

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.


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