Saturday, 31 August 2013

Eltham Palace and Gardens

Eltham Palace, English Heritage, gardens, meadows, visit, England

I recently jollied off to the wonderful Eltham Palace and Gardens. It's a fascinating mismatch of architecture, there is a medieval great hall and then some glamorous art deco additions.
great hall, Eltham Palace, wood, old
The beautiful wooden celling in the great hall 
The great hall was really impressive Built in the 1470's by Edward IV, the great hall still stands despite been bombed during WWII, the scorch marks from the incendiary bombs can still be seen.  
Eltham Palaces, gardens, great hall, Henry VIII, visit, English Heritage
Eltham Palace was the boyhood home of Henry VIII, but as he favoured his palace at Greenwich, Eltham was neglected and the palace did not remain a royal residence . Various additions where made by owners throughout the years. In 1930's the extremely wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld built a modern art deco extension adjacent to the great hall.    
1920s, Eltham Palace, vintage, sitting room, art deco, Virginia Courtald
The circular entrance hall, I can just imagine flappers lounging on the sofas having a smoke 

Carol Anshaw- Carry the One

Carol Anshaw's Carry the One was part of my library haul from the other week. 

Carry the One, Carol Anshaw, book, paperback

The Plot: Returning from a wedding, a car filled with drunk and stoned guests accidentally run over and kill a child on a country road. The consequences of that night reverberate for the next twenty-five years, shaping the lives of all those involved. Siblings Carmen, Alice and Nick all react differently to the tragedy, and the novel follows their relationships and guilt.

If you enjoy novels about family dramas, this would be a good choice. The sibling relationship is beautifully observed, and anyone with brothers and sisters will recognise truths in Anshaw's novel. Carmen, the eldest, is an over-achiever, maternal and has strong convictions. Alice, is creative and talented, but has a disastrous love life. Nick is intellectual but self destructive.

Carry the One is good at balancing the small dramas of everything day life (marriage, parenthood, divorce etc.) with the far-reaching, life altering event of the car accident. Through a whole cast of well-developed characters, Anshew portrays a whole range of reactions to tragedy.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Home of Charles Darwin- Down House

black and white, skulls, mantelpiece, Charles Darwin, Down House, visit, English Heritage

To make the most of the sunny back holiday earlier this week, we took a trip over to Down House, former home of Charles Darwin. It was here that he wrote 'On the Origin of the Species' and  where he collected specimens in the extensive grounds.
Down House, Origin of a Species, Charles Darwin, English Heritage, visit
Down House

greenhouse, Down House, Charles Darwin, flowers, visit, English Heritage

flowers, wall, Down House, Charles Darwin, English Heritage

There was an informative exhibition on the life and work of Darwin, including a first edition of 'On the Origin of the Species', which is undoubtedly rare and expensive.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

see the future seek the truth


Margaret Atwood- Happy Publication day!

Margaret Atwood- what an absolute legend. She is one of my favourite authors, so I was  incredibly excited to find out that MaddAddam, the third book in her post-apocalyptic trilogy was out to day.

MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood, Year of the Flood, Oryx and Crake, publication, fiction, books, trilogy
The Maddaddam Trilogy 

I pre-ordered my copy, and have just finished reading it. The review will be up in a couple of days, I just need to work out what I thought of it!

book stack, Margaret Atwood, collection, paperbacks, books
Some of my Atwood collection

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin, secondhand, paperback, book, flapper
I picked up The Blind Assassin second hand when I was backpacking around Cambodia. I spent the whole day sat in hammock, drinking cheap cocktails and reading this. Pure bliss.  

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood, vintage, book, paperback
Handmaid Tale- probably the most famous of Margaret Atwood's books- they used to teach it at A Level, I'm not sure if they still do?  
I've read most of Atwood's novels. I particularly enjoy her dystopian fiction, her descriptions are so vivid, she can craft a very believable, scary world, it's like she's a prophet.

Tea Obreht- The Tiger's Wife

Hmmm I have mixed feelings about this one, some parts I really loved, other bits I found a bit dull. I'm glad I read it, but I'd have reservations about recommending it to other people. Still, it was the 2011 Orange Prize for fiction, so it isn't all bad.

The Plot: Set in Yugoslavia, soon after the Yugoslav Wars,  Natalia, a young doctor, attempts to vaccinate an orphanage. Whilst on her philanthropic mission she hears of the death of her beloved Grandfather. Grieving, Natalia reminisces about her Grandfather's stories; the legend of an escaped tiger who forms a bond with a deaf-mute girl and The Deathless Man, an enigmatic figure who can predict when other people will die, but who cannot die himself.
Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife, review, paperbook

No surprises, given my love of fairy-tales, the aspects of The Tiger's Wife I enjoyed where the stories of The Deathless Man and  the tiger and the deaf-mute girl. The myths were carefully interwoven with the Grandfather's account of his childhood. Magical realism fits comfortably with the surrealism of the aftermath of war.

I also enjoyed reading about Yugoslavian superstitions, it's the Victorian in me coming out again, I found the morning rituals fascinating. Apparently when someone dies, their possessions and house should not be disturbed or cleaned for 40 days, so the soul is anchored to a familiar place and does not  wander aimlessly causing trouble. After the 40 days have passed, the soul is collected at the crossroads. I love things like this, the stories and rituals that are created to explain death, keep order and provide comfort are so imaginative and culturally significant.

My reservations about The Tiger's Wife, come from the fact that apart from the Granddad's stories and the folk tales, the book is rather forgettable. I read it just under a week ago, but I can't recall the ending.  Natalia didn't really resonate with me, her character wasn't half as interesting as her Granddad. I found myself racing through parts of the book, as I wanted to more know about the Deathless Man and was uninterested in Natalia's chat about becoming a doctor or listening to Bob Dylan.   

I'd recommend this book if you're a fan of The Life of Pi or A Hundred Years of Solitude.

Potted Potter

picture taken from here

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter,  new covers have been designed. Personally, I prefer the new covers, they look more dynamic, but  neither of the American covers can compete with the original British versions. Though the Harry Potter dust jackets aren't the most striking, (I remember when I was 10 resisting reading the first HP, as the cover made me think it was about train-spotting) I'm still nostalgically loyal to the originals.

If you want to have a look at Harry Potter cover art from around the world, have a look here.

Also, in other Harry Potter related news- I saw this advertised on the tube, Potted Potter, all 7 books condensed into 70 minutes, with only 2 actors. It's got some good reviews, so I might have to try and get tickets.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

You're a dog! You're a dog!

"My grandfather would pet the dog, and, in a voice that made him sound like some kind of children's program puppet, he would say: "You're a dog! You're a dog! Where are you? You're a dog!" [..] After a few hours of this, I said, " Jesus, Grandpa, I get it, he's a dog", not knowing that, just a few years later, I would be reminding every dog I met on the street that it was a dog, and asking it where it was."
- Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife 

When men die, they die in fear

'"When men die, they die in fear," he said. "They take everything they need from you, and as a doctor it is your job to give it, to comfort them, to hold their hand. But children die how they have been living-in hope. They don't know what's happening, so they expect nothing, they don't ask you to hold their hand-but you end up needing them them to hold yours"
- Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

Thursday, 22 August 2013

"In London, love and scandal are considered the best sweeteners of tea" - John Osborne

If you want to have a rummage around second hand and independent bookshops, one of the best areas you can go in London is around Leicester square.

books, bookshop, Cecil Court, London, vintage
There are loads of bookshops waiting to be discovered in the vicinity, we stumbled upon Cecil Court (WC2N 4EZ) completely by accident.
books, bookshop, Cecil Court, London, vintage, Watkins
Established over 100 years ago Watkins specialises in occult books 

books, bookshop, Cecil Court, London, vintage, Alice Through the Looking Glass, visit
Alice Through the Looking Glass

books, bookshop, Cecil Court, London, vintage

After having a wander around the bookshops and The National Portrait Gallery we were parched, so went to probably one of the most unusual places we have ever had a cup of tea- the crypts of a church

By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show - Samuel Johnson

It is easy to forget how much history and beautiful architecture London has when you see it everyday, so I grabbed my camera and had a stroll around some of the main tourist destinations in the city.
Houses of Parliament 
Big Ben
Boudicca is a heroine of mine, ever since I went on a school trip to Colchester Castle. She was Queen of the Iceni tribe and led an uprising against the occupying Roman empire. She created such chaos that archaeologists are still finding evidence of burnt buildings and artefacts from when she set the city alight in AD60.  

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

beauty is woman's sceptre

"Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round it's gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison"
-Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication for the Rights of Women  

Monday, 19 August 2013

Once upon a time there lived a girl who liked to write lists...

Following on from my previous post, I've got some suggestions of fairy-stories for adults, some are traditional and others are reworking of classics. So in no particular order:-

1. Brother's Grimm, Selected Tales
brothers grimm, fairy tales, red ridding hood, penguin classics, paperback
ISBAN: 9780140444018
Well no fairy-tale list would be complete with out the Brother's Grimm, so I thought I'd get it out the way first. There are several editions out there from child-friendly picture books to collector's editions to a free kindle version.  I have the penguin classic, which includes over 65 stories, notes and a through introduction.

2. Philip Pullman, Grimm Tales: For Young and Old
My second selection is obviously very connected to my first choice, as it Philip Pullman's retelling of the Grimm brothers classics. I haven't read this yet but I really really want to. I think Pullman is a fantastically talented author, his Dark Materials trilogy is amazingly inventive.

3. Moss Roberts, Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies 
Chinese fairy tales, lucky cat, paperback, book, gold, purple
ISBAN: 9780394739946
 A collection of Chinese fables, myths and fairy-tales. There are many similarities with European fairy tales, but are also uniquely influenced by Taoist and Confucian philosophy.

More pictures and recommendations are the cut:-


I'm a massive fan of fairy-tales. I've liked them since I was little, but my appreciation has grown since I've gotten older. It's the history of them that appeals to me, the tradition of oral storytelling and the common themes that appear across cultures and countries are really fascinating. For example, human to animal transformation is common in folk-stories throughout the world.

Fairy-tales can revel a lot about a society, they are rich with symbolism and often give warnings or have a moral message. Written primarily for children, fairy-tales instructed children how to behave, to respect their elders and stay out of the woods.

As well as representing idealised moral behaviour, traditional  fairy-tales can also subvert social norms and challenge expectations, the prince doesn't always get the girl. The tales aren't always the happy-ever-after Disney version. Women are not just damsels in distress, but are also ruthless, cunning and more that capable of rescuing themselves.

Another aspect I love about fairy-tales is how the supernatural and uncanny effortlessly intertwine with the mundane and human. There is magic all around, a walk in the woods can lead to adventure, or a chance encounter with an elderly lady could result in all your wishes been fulfilled. I like how in fairy-tales the world is brimming with potential.
fairy-tale charm bracelet, from Accessorize (old)  

Saturday, 17 August 2013

broken hearted

Allen Ginsberg, Lisbon, graffiti, street art, quote, black and white, broken heart

'It isn't enough for your heart to break because everybody's heart is broken now"
- Allen Ginsberg, Indian Journals, September 6th 1962. 

Picture credit: taken by me, graffiti by unknown artist, Lisbon  

Friday, 16 August 2013

angelheaded hipsters

"angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly 
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, 
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat 
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of 
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities 
contemplating jazz"
- Allen Ginsberg, Howl 

Allen Ginsberg

I'm re-reading Dirty Havana Trilogy at the moment, and in the first chapter it referenced Allen Ginsberg, I've never heard of him before, but been curious I did a quick google. It turns out Allen Ginsberg was a major Beat Generation poet, and wrote a surprisingly decent poem about his Sphincter, "I hope my good old asshole holds out/ 60 years it's been mostly ok".

Ginsberg is a poet I should probably have been aware of, being an Eng Lit grad, but my course focused on British literature rather than American. So I'm pretty ignorant about the Beat Generation, I've attempted to read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but I found it pretty dull- maybe I should give it another go? 

From the brief research I've done Ginsberg seems like a interesting character, the kind of guy it would have been cool to go to the pub with. He was a man of strong convictions, he was a nonconformist and an advocate for sexual freedom and homosexual rights. His poem Howl, published in 1955, became the subject of a obscenity trial. The poem was controversial as it depicted heterosexual and homosexual sex at a time when sodomy and homosexual acts were illegal in the United States.

A recording of  Allen Ginsberg reading Howl is available of youtube:-

I thinking I'm going to investigate Allen Ginsberg a bit further, as what I've read/seen so far is pretty intriguing. Has anyone got any suggestions for other poets/authors from the Beat Generation?

Best minds of my generation

"who were expelled from the academies for crazy & 
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, 
burning their money in wastebaskets and listening 
to the Terror through the wall" 
- Allen Ginsberg, Howl 

distinguished women

"If we revert to history, we shall find that women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex"
- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication for the Rights of Women 

Library haul 2

 I wasn't getting on well with either Mr Chartwell or A Woman on the Edge of Time, they just weren't grabbing me,  so I took a quick jaunt up to my local library to replenish my stock.

Here's what I picked up :-

  • Aravid Adiga- Between the Assassinations: I was a fan of The White Tiger so thought I'd give another of Adiga's books a try. According to the blurb its about the 'myriad and distinctive voices' of the inhabitants of a town on India's south coast. 
  • Patrick Gale- Notes from an Exhibition: Again, I've read this author before. Apparently it is sensitive and funny, all about the legacy of a deceased artist. 
  • Tea Obreht- The Tiger's Wife: I'll probably read this one first (after I've finished The Night Circus -review coming soon!). The reviews on the back cover interested me, as they mentioned fables and fairy-tales, which I'm a massive fan of.         

What do you think of my choices? Do you have any recommendations?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lee Jackson- The Welfare of the Dead

I've started to make my way through the bumper haul of books I picked up at the library the other week. As I've said previously I  picked up The  Welfare of the Dead as I was inspired by my recent trip to Highgate Cemetery.
graveyard, The Welfare of the Dead, Victorian, Lee Jackson, black and white, book cover, churchyard, literature, grave, spooky

The plot:- Set in Victorian London, Inspector Webb is called upon to solve the murder of two women found dead in house of ill repute. His investigation leads him to believe that is a connection between the deceased prostitutes, the theft of a body form a nearby cemetery and Jasper Woodrow, purveyor of funeral attire and mourning paraphernalia.

I was a bit disappointed with Lee Jackson's novel, some of the ideas are good, but the execution is poor. It doesn't quite satisfy as a crime/detective novel, as the murder and plot twists are pretty obvious. Also the book fails to deliver on character development. I think with any crime novel, regardless of the era the book is set, the detective needs to be a strong character. Inspector Webb, was very bland, he didn't have any personality quirks or amazing powers of deduction.The other cast of characters were formulaic; 'spirited-but-vulnerable-heiress', 'neurotic wife', 'slimy-chubby-man-with-dubious-intentions' etc.    

Monday, 12 August 2013

dyslexic friendly publishers

I was having a small roam around the internet the other day, when I came across this:

An imprint company called Strawberry Classics dedicated to producing novels such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens in dyslexic-friendly font. The font is sort of heavy looking and is supposed to help people who have problems with tracking or experience letters jumbling or words slipping of the page when trying to read.  Books can be bought on Amazon.

Speaking of dyslexic-friendly font, you might want to check out OpenDyslexia, which offers a free downloadable typeface.

Also if you find the above font useful, you can now select it as an option on Wikipedia's universal language selector when reading articles.

Another publishing house you might want to investigate for dyslexic children and adults is Barrington Stokes. They produce books that could be more accessible to dyslexics by using methods such as cream paper (to minimise glare), short chapters, clear spacing etc.    

If anyone has any other suggestions of dyslexic-friendly literature I'd be interested to know- please leave suggestions in the comment box below.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Terrorists with a strong work ethic

'"We are not keeping vigil through our country's darkest hour with a ridiculously pseudonymed hooker."`

-Carol Anshaw, Carry the One

Gillian Flynn- Gone Girl

No doubt Gone Girl will be in in a lot of people's suitcases this summer, so my older sister bought me a copy as she thought it would be a good one to review.

 I've read most of the big summer blockbusters in previous years (The Da Vinci Code, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shade of Grey etc.) out of curiosity, but without any high expectation. On occasions I've been pleasantly surprised, but often I don't understand the hype. I remember when on a tacky post A-level holiday to Zante everyone around the pool was was reading The Da Vinci Code. There was also someone with a rather unfortunate Da Vinci related tattoo (bet he regrets that now).

Anyway, Gone Girl fell into the category of nicely surprised, I'd recommend you reserve some room in your hand luggage.  
quick thanks to my smallest sister- who I had to cajole into letting me nest a book in her hair for this pic

The Plot: When Nick's wife, Amy, goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary he becomes prime suspect for her disappearance. As the media circus intrudes and the police investigate, Nick and Amy's relationship is revealed not be as perfect as it first appears. Gone Girl is a fast paced thriller about relationships and deceit. Just how far can you trust the person you marry?

Please see after the cut for a full review

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

She was meant to be likeable. Meant for someone like you to like her

'She's easy to like. I've never understood why that's considered a compliment- that just anyone could like you'. 
- Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl 

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head

'The first time I saw her it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily'.
-Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Highgate Cemetery- east

Unlike the west side, which is only accessible by a tour, you are free to wander around the east side of the cemetery by your self. The west is more modern, and some of the gravestones are inventive and unusual.

Patrick Caulfield: artist
There are a number of notable literary figures buried at Highgate 
Douglas Adams- writer of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy