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  1. With an engaging enthusiasm, Nick Procter describes some of the less well known places that he has visited over the years – Luxembourg, Gibralter, Helsinki, and Poole Harbour amongst others. It is also no doubt the first time anyone has ever included the town of Basingstoke in a travel book! (Procter spends about 16 pages discussing the outstanding features of that town including Marks and Spencers, Weatherspoons, Accessorise and Poundland. (It reminds me of when Nandos was voted Preston’s best restaurant…). Proctor writes very well, including numerous anecdotes and as befits a true travel writer is always happy to venture down any physical cul-de-sacs and to follow through with any tangents that come to mind. He includes numerous interesting facts. Who knew for instance that Luxembourg has its own language distinct from both French and German called appropriately enough, "Luxembourgish" My favourite quotes from the book “It remains the only time in my life that I have seen a peacock on a beach and I can’t think of when I will see another one.” “I used the word monkey in the previous paragraph for brevity, but monkey is too casual a term for my liking.” (About a garlic producing farm on the Isle of Wight): "I don't think I've had a better day out anywhere ever" - this is from a man who had visited 5 continents by the age of 14!)
  2. Today is the 125th anniversary of the death of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s amazing how time flies, it doesn’t seem like 8 years since the 200th birth anniversary. The following are some links to blogs with very interesting descriptions of his passing away in that moonlit room at his Sussex house: http://kimberlyevemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/god-bless-you-my-joy-death-of-alfred.html http://fannycornforth.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-passing-of-alfred.html Also, here is a link to a poll where people can chose their favourite Tennyson poem (devised for the 200th birth anniversary in 2009) The Lady of Shalott is featured in a programme on BBC Radio 4 Extra – Sunday 8th October 17:00 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b097m4k3 Also available on the BBC website is the Great Lives programme from 2009: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lv28d The hour long classic “Circle of the Hills” documentary
  3. Just finished it. The writing as others have said is truly wonderful. It's a pleasure to read a book where you can really feel immersed in the world that it portrays. I felt that the main characters were beautifully and sensitively drawn (and unlike most of you, I think quite believable. I feel that sometimes you do get thrown into situations where you just have to rise to the occasion and do your best, undoubtedly what Nella did). I do agree with everyone else that the Miniaturist herself is left unresolved. I also wanted to know what happened to the characters - how did they survive? An afterword would have been a good idea (assuming she's not going to add a sequel?)
  4. It is definitely a great novel and was intrigued to see how the story would pan out. Cathy must be one of the most unpleasant characters in fiction. The hero for me was Lee, Adam's chinese servant - he is such a beautifully drawn character. The novel is undoubtedly flawed - it is too long and the half of it that deals with Steinbeck's relatives especially his Hamilton grandfather whom he obviously hero-worshipped doesn't really work - the real story is that of Adam and his family.
  5. When I was a child, for some reason my family had the Readers Digest for just one year - 1967. I remember they featured this book and for a long time it was the only Steinbeck book I had read (recently I finished East of Eden).
  6. Just a bit of trivia to add - apparently former England football manager, Roy Hodgson, was asked how he dealt with the stress of his former job. He said it was through reading - and the book he was reading during the last championships was this one! (Hopefully it helped him see that there are fates worse than being sacked as England football manager!)
  7. The recent Disney remake of The Beauty and the Beast has an interesting scene where Belle and the Beast are walking in the woods, and Belle quotes a beautiful poem, one that is not too familiar to me at all: A Crystal Forest The air is blue and keen and cold, With snow the roads and fields are white But here the forest's clothed with light And in a shining sheath enrolled. Each branch, each twig, each blade of grass, Seems clad miraculously with glass: Above the ice-bound streamlet bends Each frozen fern with crystal ends. (William Sharp) Then the script writers add their own lines: "For in that solemn silence is heard in the whisper of every sleeping thing: Look, look at me, Come wake me up for still here I'll be." I have never heard of the poet, William Sharp. Apparently he was a friend and admirer of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - his first published work was a memoir of Rossetti. One interesting feature of Sharp's life is that it seems that he developed an obsession for a writer called Edith Rinder. For some reason, this caused him to start writing novels and poems under the pseudonym, Fiona MacLeod. He managed to keep this completely secret, and the true identity of MacLeod was not known until it was revealed by Sharp's wife, Elizabeth after his death.
  8. http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/dec/08/best-british-novel-of-all-time-international-critics-top-100-middlemarch I'm not sure I would have put Middlemarch first though it is a great novel undoubtedly. I certainly wouldn't have put the two Virginia Woolfs at numbers 2 and 3. Overall it seems like a good list (though Atonement at No 15? and Sense of an ending really doesn't deserve to appear). Nice to see Remains of the Day, End of the Affair, Heart of the Matter, Possession, The Blue Flower
  9. Thought people might be interested in another "best novels" list, this time from the Hatchards bookshop: Here is the full list https://www.hatchards.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/hatchards_favourite_novels.pdf Article in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/27/anthony-trollope-tops-hatchards-poll-to-find-best-novel-of-past-200-years#comment-64302650
  10. I did enjoy this book. It is really gripping and I hardly put it down while reading it (unusual for me!). I thought the characterisation of Rachel was interesting - in some ways quite a moving account of what it is like to be a rejected woman, driven into alcoholism and weight gain, and generally undervalued by society. I think it was great to see a heroine like Rachel. I did wonder why she was so penniless when surely Tom would have had to pay her something for her share of the house? But maybe she drank it all away. Having said all that, it has to be said that it's not Tolstoy, the plot is a little bit hard to believe towards the end, and like other people above I also felt that too many of the characters were too similar. The title is also silly - Rachel is a woman in her thirties I would guess. It seems to be the thinking that to sell it helps if you have "girl" in the title. (What happened to the feminist view that adult women should not be referred to as 'girls'?)
  11. This is a magnificent work by an author I had never previously heard of but apparently was the best selling author in the world in the late 1930s. His brilliant prose draws you in until one is emotionally drained and desperate for a resolution of the crisis. I would compare him with Tolstoy and Henry James, and he makes Graham Greene seem like an amateur in comparison. Also, all credit to the translator, the brilliant Anthea Bell.
  12. The film is mildly amusing but spoilt by the usual casual attitude to sex. Also by the presence of Judy Dench who I always find irritating - doesnt matter what role she plays, it's the same matter of fact knowall
  13. I can put up with a small amount of swearing in films especially where it is more or less expected eg an action film but really I would prefer it if they didn't. In books I really can't stand it at all and sometimes has put me off the book completely. That's where it is such a pleasure to read people like Len Deighton - he writes beautifully without swear words even though the subject matter might well warrant it. C.J. Sansom (Shardlake etc) is someone who doesn't over use swear words but uses them occasionally for effect (eg it is quite comical where Barack refers to everyone as an a-hole and finally Shardlake says to him that he is the biggest a-hole around hyere!)) but I still find it grates and rarely adds anything to the story. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night" is one book where every character apart from the boy himself swears constantly. I can see why the author has done it, but for me it ruined the book. It also makes it difficult to use as a school text for which purpose it is otherwise eminently suited.
  14. Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tithonus The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, The vapours weep their burthen to the ground, Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath, And after many a summer dies the swan. Me only cruel immortality Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms, Here at the quiet limit of the world, A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream The ever-silent spaces of the East, Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn. ... A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes A glimpse of that dark world where I was born. Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure, And bosom beating with a heart renew'd. Thy cheek begins to redden thro' the gloom, Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine, Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise, And shake the darkness from their loosen'd manes, And beat the twilight into flakes of fire. Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful In silence, then before thine answer given Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek. Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears, And make me tremble lest a saying learnt, In days far-off, on that dark EARTH be true? 'The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.' ...
  15. I did this review a couple of years ago but it seems to have got lost probably in last year's kerfuffle! Fanny Cornforth is probably the least known of the three women who dominated the personal and professional life of the painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Elizabeth Siddal (his wife) is seen as the typical Victorian oppressed woman, a talented artist and poet in her own right, driven to an early and tragic death by her husband's lack of commitment and flighty ways. Jane Morris is the archetypal artist's muse: silent, superior, and mysterious, a keeper of many secrets and inspirer of fabulous portraiture. Fanny Cornforth in comparison has been regarded variously as a thief, a liar, a gold digger and a prostitute. Walker has written an excellent account of the life of this lesser regarded muse. She traces her life from its origins in the Sussex market town of Steyning, through her "glory days" in London when she was virtually Rossetti's "partner" for 20 or so years, and finally to her probable end back in Sussex in the early years of the twentieth century. Walker does a valiant job, trying to defend the reputation of her heroine against the various charges which have been levelled against her by Rossetti's biographers. I personally think she succeeds. Life was very hard for a working class woman in London in those days and it is easy to see why money became such an important factor in her life. It is also touching to see the genuine affection which Rossetti and Fanny had for one another. The author (who writes The Kissed Mouth blog) also describes every painting in which Fanny appeared. I greatly enjoyed reading these sections while accessing the images in question on the web. This is an excellent book that will be enjoyed by all pre-raphaelite enthusiasts.
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