Saturday, 22 September 2018

Ten of the Best #134

Hey people - it's Saturday. Time for the Ten, or eleven or twelve best clips and articles from my social media feeds this week. Have fun.

This interpretative dance clip won for me this week. David Armand must have rehearsed so hard. I'm surprised they didn't interrupt him with a guess ten seconds into the song, but very glad they didn't. I can't stop watching it. There are more similar clips on Youtube, BTW. I know what I'm doing later.

A little history and backstory behind the Booker prize decisions over the years fascinated me - click the comment by the judges for the story from The Guardian. 

And in the BBC short story competition - judged blind - guess what happened?

The highlight of the Emmys was the marriage proposal...which says a lot about the Emmys.

Paddy passports are available for those fearing Brexit. And in other news, travel restrictions for minors into and out of SA are being relaxed. Come on foreigners, visit beautiful SA - it's going to be sunny till at least May, and even after that in JHB and KZN. 

The tweet is the SA news, click it for the video on the paddy passports.

Children and animals - I loved these photos, but didn't get into the comments. I fear if you do, you may not love the photos so much anymore....

The story of Jono Robinson and Bean There coffee - for those of you who don't know. 

Hadley Freeman asks whether it's acceptable to laugh at Trump's mushroom? From The Guardian, again.

Robyn, who started Faithful to Nature talks sense about stress in this, and some interesting ideas about healthy ways to cope.

If you're into following people on Twitter, Dick King-Smith is great. Here's a little clip on how to parent. By animals. Click the cute pic.

And in a similar vein - this clip cracked me up. No comment necessary.

We're on eleven, but I feel like I've cheated a bit with all the animal clips this week, so lets have one more. It's Catherine Tait. Sorry about the subtitles, it's the only version I could find.

That's it folks - have a great weekend.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Friday Books - Broken Ground

Welcome to BookBeginnings and Friday56 -where we share books on Fridays. It's a great way to start the weekend.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

The slap of spades in dense peat was an unmistakable sound. They slipped in and out of rhythm:overlapping, separating, cascading, then coming together again, much like the men's heavy breathing.

So what do you think the men are doing? My first thought was digging a grave. But they're not, although this book has at least one body in peat. It's Val McDermid's latest, featuring Karen Pirie, and so far, it's great.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's an excerpt from page 56 of Broken Ground by Val McDermid.

She cut the music and rang the number of her best friend. She thought it was going to shunt straight through to voicemail, but at the last second, Karen Pirie's voice filled the car. "Hey River, how's tricks?" It sounded like they were doing the same thing, driving on a fast road at speed.

How often does that happen? River is listening to Amy Winehouse belt out Valerie, and Karen has Chris Rea, Road to Hell playing. Both are driving on the motorway, not far from one another, as it happens.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

It's a brave move when an award-winning author changes direction in the writing of her novels. We're quite a fussy bunch, that way - not too much the same - it becomes formulaic, and not too different - you will lose your audience. You can imagine the discussions with the publishers.

And that's exactly why Sharon Bolton changed publishers to write this one. She grew up in Lancashire, was raised on the legend of the Pendle witch trials. (Sheds some light on how she's able to make all her novels so dark and twisty.) According to the  Pendle Witch website (that's a few hours of your morning gone now!)  [the witches] were executed at Lancaster on the 20th of August, 16I2, for having bewitched to death 'by devilish practices and hellish means' no fewer than sixteen inhabitants of the Forest of Pendle.

But what else is this about? Well, Florence Lovelady, in 1999, together with 15 year old Ben, her son, returns to Sabden for the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, a man she helped convict 30 years ago, when she was a young detective and he confessed to burying children alive - he was the undertaker after all - together with clay effigies. Told in both Florence's revisiting of the places she detected in the 1960s, and her memories (sometimes dual timelines annoy - but here they flow together like tributaries of a river), we meet the local DC Tom Devins, the sexton, Dwane, Larry's wife and children, and Avril and Daphne, who run the local coven.

Evidenced by an average rating of 4.23 stars on Goodreads, and countless reviews saying 'I don't read witchy stuff, but I'd read anything Sharon Bolton writes', this is already a resounding success. I agree. It's creepy and menacing, the stakes are stupendous, and added to the voices of the ghosts that cry out for justice from the graves, is the young Florence (Flossie) in a tough world where women's voices are never heard, trying to do a great job despite the prejudice and sexism rife in the force.

In a word, this is brave.

It worked for me. If you 'don't read witches', you may want to start with this one. She doesn't write witches either, but hell, she can.

ISBN: 9781409174110

You may also enjoy Sharon's first novel, Sacrifice, or Dead Scared, or what about Little Black Lies, Daisy in Chains, or Dead Woman Walking?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Burning Chambers by Kate Moss

The Burning Chambers opens in Carcassonne in 1562, after a prologue entices us - set in a graveyard under the fierce Cape sun in Franschhoek.

Minou Joubert is 19, running her father's bookshop, and taking care of her younger brother and sister. It's a lot of responsibility, and she takes it all in her stride. The protestants are fighting with the catholics, and there are soldiers on every corner, curfews and locking of city gates at night and raids during the day.

In the shadows and the pubs, men gather and discuss plots and subterfuge, and Minou receives a note - SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE, which means nothing to her. She also meets a huguenot - Piet Raydon, who needs her help.

The action moves to Toulouse, at the children's aunt's home, where the conflict and the bloodshed continues. As does the mystery of who SHE is, which involves family history, secrets kept for generations and a great degree of intrigue.

It's as beautiful as its pretty cover, steeped in fascinating history of the religious wars in France, and the first in a new series, which may just bring us to Franschhoek, South Africa. I can't wait.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

ISBN: 9781250202161

4 stars

You may also enjoy Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, or Mistress of Rome.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

I'm always enticed (and more than a little intimidated) by the Julian Barnes books I see in the bookshop. They do look very literary, but also like the man knows what he is writing about. An authority on every topic and also the way to write about it.

And maybe I'm also a bit scarred - the look of Barnes's books reminds me of Ian MacEwan, the last one of which I read (Nutshell) didn't appeal. The Children Act was beautiful.

Now that I've finished my first Barnes (lent to me by a friend- I never did overcome that intimidation), I can say with assurance, that I was right to judge this one by its cover.

A love story. Paul meets Susan in the 1960s at a tennis club, where they are thrown together in a doubles tournament. He is 19, she close to 50. They fall in love, and this is a poignant look back at their story.

“Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.”

“Perhaps love could never be captured in a definition; it could only ever be captured in a story.”

“Strange how, when you are young, you owe no duty to the future; but when you are old, you owe a duty to the past. To the one thing you can’t change.”

It's beautiful. The author makes wonderful use of the first, second and third person narrative throughout the rendering - which would make for a good case study in a writing course.

I will be frequenting the library and my bookshop until I've read some more Julian Barnes books - nothing to fear here except the intimidation of excellent and inspirational writing.

4 stars

ISBN: 9781787330696


Monday, 17 September 2018

Back to the future

Good morning. Time to rise and shine.

I love days like today. There are no more excuses. No check-ups, no hidden lurgies lurking in lungs, no clouds in the sky, and we have every reason to do this, and to do this right.

We're starting the week off with a run (or a walk, whatever your poison), and we are going to keep running (or walking) until we reach our fitness destination.

Spring and summer stretch ahead, full of promises of awesome long days, warm sunny weather. We've got our shoes, our heads in the game and there isn't anything that is going to stop us now - not even any thunderclouds and lightning, or silly splashes of rain.

We've even got our jam - it's Europe - The Final Countdown. It's old, but it feels right for today.

Who's in? Come run with me.

Last week's Monday Motivation. (From two weeks ago - Rise 'til we fall).

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Ten of the best #133

G'morning everybody. It's been a newsy, entertaining week. I reckon I'll get to twelve of the best stories from your timelines without pausing for thought. Let's start with the storms in the U.S., shall we?

Plaid shirt guy clearly also disagrees with quite a lot of what Trump says.

And clearly, the lies are getting worse, not better - here's someone keeping track. I'd forgotten that August was the month in which he let rip on SA.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Friday Books - The Burning Chambers

Welcome to BookBeginnings and Friday56 -where we share books on Fridays. It's a great way to start the weekend.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

28th February,1862

The woman stands alone beneath a sharp blue sky. Evergreen cypress and rough grasses bound the graveyard. The grey headstones are bleached the colour of bone by the fierce Cape sun.

"Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further."

I have just finished this book, and I loved every minute. It's also the first in a trilogy, with the next one due out next year.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse.

The soldier turned on her. 'You, tend to this harridan, this shrew. Perhaps a spell in the pillory will teach her to curb her tongue.'

Boiling with fury, Minou crouched beside her friend. Madame Noubel's eyes were closed and a thin trail of blood was dripping down her cheek.

We're still in the 1560's on page 56, with an unexpected raid on Madame Noubel's house - her guest is suspicious to the soldiers in Carcassonne.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton


A sitting U.S. President is missing. 

President Bill Clinton partners with No. 1 bestselling author James Patterson in a powerful, one-of-a-kind thriller filled with the kind of insider details that only a President can know.

I wish I'd read the blurb before I started the book. But I don't, so I didn't. And seriously, I think the attractive sentence here is that second one - don't you agree that most U.S. inhabitants wish they could say that their sitting U.S. President had gone AWOL. I wonder how many pray for it?

Anyhoo, you can rest assured that - as with most blurbs, actually (and in this case, the title too) - that is not even the point of this. Neither do you feel that Bill Clinton has given any major insight into life at the White House, Camp David, Mar-a-Largo or any of the famous gathering-in-crisis spots of the President. As Goodreads reviewer Ron Charles penned...

"The CIA can relax. Surely, no black felt-tip pens went dry redacting classified material from this manuscript. “The President Is Missing” reveals as many secrets about the U.S. government as “The Pink Panther” reveals about the French government. And yet it provides plenty of insight on the former president’s ego."

As we know, any James Patterson novel written over the last few years, is not actually written by James Patterson, including this one. So one must assume that Mr.Patterson's ghost-writer consulted Mr. Clinton extensively. About what remains the mystery.

But back to my point - this is a story about the President and the U.S. being under attack, about a traitor in the inner circle, about cyber terrorism and the President's enemies and rivals - seeing an opportunity - circling the blood in the water. Not about a Missing President. I'd love to trash the flimsy plot - I have serious concerns about so many aspects of the hacking and computer part, or to call out the preponderance of CIA/FBI/ex-military types - all male, white and so clichéd, or to be annoyed by the presence of the token female assassin(s), who were so obviously written by males. But piercing through my angry cloud of annoyance like forked cracks of lighting is the sound of Dennis Quaid drawling through the trite dialogue in the Audible version. It was awful. Just so bad.

So why did I finish? Well, I had a morbid fascination with how it would turn out. Since it's probably true that most people who pick up this book share my morbidity (let's face it, I did suspect I'd be disappointed by this), we may as well get the full caricatured, clichéd, served-with-a-large-amount-of-cheese experience.

I'm not going to tell you to avoid it. I'll just tell those of you who do read it after this warning to buy me a beer and let our eyes meet over the foam. I'll know. I'll commiserate with you.

Never again.

No stars.

ISBN: 9781780898407

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Nabokov's Favourite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? How can we judge a book by its cover?

Ben Blatt is a statistician and journalist. It's an unusual combination. But he likes the same things as me - numbers (especially statistics) and words.

Now that I've finished the book, I'm going to mess up the stats. Something like 85% of all that has ever been written is now available electronically, for algorithms to trawl through, counting words, word combinations and interesting things about the data. This compares to something like 20% a short while ago.

It's not just books - websites, articles, blogs, journals, it's all available for us to interrogate. I love this stuff - for instance, this meme that shows the most common verb usage after "he" and "she" in 100 000 plot descriptions. It isn't from the book, and if you click the graph, you'll see the article by David Robinson, another data scientist.

The trick is to ask the right questions, and Blatt does this - starting with all the sexism evident in writing - but are male authors bigger culprits than females? Well yes, they are. He then goes to the great advice that is given in writing courses - don't use "-ly" words, show don't tell, don't use clichès, and so on. It's really fun to see whether Hemingway follows his own advice, and Stephen King too.

He confines his database to the classics in some studies, and also does some interesting comparisons between fanfiction and their original inspirations. Covers, opening sentences, reading levels are all investigated, with fascinating results.

It's a light, fun read, if you're interested in this kind of thing, but I admit with no small degree of reluctance, it's not for everyone. 

4 stars

ISBN: 9781471152825

You may also enjoy Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier or Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

More books.