Book Strip

This weekend, I made the mistake of taking a break from the computer (give or take the odd hour) and now find myself so far behind with correspondence and blogs that I am hoping to catch up by this weekend so apologies for not visiting you for a while.  I shall be around your respective blogs tomorrow at the latest, as ever thanks for your patience and understanding and now onto today’s post…


When I was younger the sight of a wall full of books without covers was galling to say the very least, all those possible adventures and no idea what they were, apart from the titles and a cursory flick through which usually confused me more.  One good thing was not being able to judge the book by its missing cover but still it would have been nice to have a happy medium of knowing what the book I was purchasing would be about, the fiction books always proved a lot more subtle of title than their non fiction counterparts.

Yet there is something more mystical about having to take the time to actually explore prospective purchases, weighing them up and finding some eccentric titles such as How to Look at Old Buildings, that just demand to be picked up and leafed through.  These days I don’t get annoyed by the sight of naked books any more but see it as a chance to take a punt on an unknown author and hopefully find some hidden gems. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 25/05/2016 in Art, My Writings


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VOTE NOW! Annual Bloggers Bash Awards NOW OPEN

It’s the Bloggers Bash Awards time and this year I have been nominated in the category for best book reviewer. You guys have until 9th June to vote for yout choices in several areas and discover some awesome new blogs along the way.

Thanks to Sherri and Resa who have already kindly voted for me and feel free to marvel at how I am not actually begging you to vote for me but…

Right I’m now off to check out the competition.

Sacha Black

VOTE NOWThis is it. The waiting is finally over.

The Bloggers Bash Awards are now open for voting.

We had a HUGE number of nominations, over 350, so thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate.

Voting Closes June 9th at 12pm. The winners will be announced on June 11th at the Bash. If you can’t make it then a winners post will go live at 5:15pm on June 11th.

Choose carefully, you can only vote ONCE per category. There are 10 awards, (so it’s a long post) make sure you vote in them all.

Good luck to all the nominees.

Disclaimer: The committee has done their best to coordinate the nominations and to ensure, where possible, we gave nominees a choice of which category they wanted to be in. Due to time constraints and limited resources this may not have always been possible.

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Posted by on 22/05/2016 in Blogging


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An Image of the Times: An Irreverent Companion to Ben Jonson’s Four Humours and the Art of Diplomacy – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

TimelyHere is a witty and learned literary excursion into the world of humour and comic literature as revealed inter alia by the works of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Fielding leading in the second half to some glorious insights and observations provided by author s life experience in the world of diplomacy. It is a rich and fascinating mix of literary idiom, the theatre of the absurd and the comic element of the human condition. Importantly, it does speak to the difficulties and dilemmas facing today s diplomatic missions as much as it has ever done the necessary dance between reality and pragmatism, how the art of diplomacy often hinges on the quality of humour brought to bear in any particular context. As such, this thought-provoking text by a retired Norwegian ambassador could be said to offer a clever bridge between history, literature and diplomacy, creating a fascinating link between his prime sources and the world of the diplomat.

Having greedily devoured the author’s children’s books, a change of pace and a leap into the scholarly beckoned this time around.  Using Jonson’s skill and invention as a poet to link into the world of diplomacy is effective and Jørgensen’s own experiences in such places as Harare, Bonn, Dar El Salaam and Tokyo amongst others make for a very diverse and entertaining book.

Part one is a wide-ranging study of history and literature and how various ideas and innovations have contributed to the play and the theory behind them.  It’s also an underlining of Jonson’s enduring genius (although Shakespeare seems to have eclipsed him in popularity for the moment), his influence on 17th and 18th century comedy plays and literature and the wide range of sources from which his works are derived.

Jonson’s characters are formed through a mixture of sources,  from the fields of scientific, psychological, medicinal and philosophical exploration and how they are linked to the humours and the rules (decorum) of the play.  The humours I should explain are a blend of characteristics – personality types, that formed a foundation on which to base ideas and played a significant part in the above fields.

Despite the rigid rules of what was expected in the theatre at that time, Jonson and others managed to constantly reappraise and innovate their characters in order to create richer and more layered persona, allowing the masterful renaissance works of Elizabethan era to be created.  Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/05/2016 in Essays, Plays


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The Fall of the Stone City – Ismail Kadare

Stoney FacedIn September 1943, German soldiers advance on the ancient gates of Gjirokastër, Albania. It is the first step in a carefully planned invasion. But once at the mouth of the city, the troops are taken aback by a surprising act of rebellion that leaves the citizens fearful of a bloody counter-attack.

Soon rumours circulate, in cafes, houses and alleyways, that the Nazi Colonel in command of the German Army was once a school acquaintance of a local dignitary, Doctor Gurameto. In the town square, Colonel von Schwabe greets his former classmate warmly; in return, Doctor Gurameto invites him to dinner. The very next day, the Colonel and his army disappear from the city.

The dinner at Gurameto’s house changes the course of events in twentieth-century Europe. But as the citizens celebrate their hero, a conspiracy surfaces which leads some to place Gurameto – and the stone city – at the heart of a plot to undermine Socialism.

Thanks to Sarah over at Hard Book Habit for bringing this book to my attention and thanks to the well-known chain of bookshops that actually bothered to stock it, rather than just pander to the popular books and terrible novelty things clogging up the entrance that one has to wade through before getting to the good stuff.

World War II is a natural hotbed for history and literature (although perhaps it is reaching saturation point on the latter), yet Albania and its inhabitants aren’t mentioned in anything I have read.  Neighbour Greece has plenty written about it but it is surprising that Albania hasn’t had as much coverage as it makes for an interesting study.  Part of Italy’s empire until their eventual capitulation, taken over by Germany and then under the yoke of communism, there is certainly plenty of scope for exploring the political and human aspects of the conflict.

Mixing fact and fiction Kadare creates a thought-provoking story, filled with satire and darkness where fact and fiction mingle to manufacture confusion and fear at every turn.  From the outset there is a feel of magical realism to the book, slightly reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez but this is layered over with a nightmarish quality that runs through the book, hinted at in the beginning and coming to brutal fruition towards the end. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 15/05/2016 in Fiction


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Sway’s Demise – Jess Harpley

29739383After making peace with the desolate and stranded alien race, the Priyon, civilization limped on. Humanity occupies but a fraction of the globe at a stagnant abridgement of technology from the Priyon warning: Don’t rebuild, or the darkness that destroyed their world will come to Earth.

Now eight young men and women from a small community will be the only barrier between the enemy of old, and the survival of the human race. Can they persevere, or will it be their demise?

This year, I have mainly been reading serious stuff so its high time I went for something a little less so and Sway’s Demise was an enjoyable, light palate cleanser that flies along and kept me reading a lot longer than I had planned for.  I read this in two sittings, it would have been one but for my obstinate stomach demanding food, for which it was rewarded with a black coffee.

The clean design of the cover sums up perfectly what the book is about, the reader is treated to an action packed adventure with a high body count in a world gone backwards – but still with some future tech – thanks to war with aliens and the ever-present threat and paranoia that that brings.

There are many things I enjoyed about this book, Harpley’s take on sentient robots is refreshing, as is the human interaction which has become more pronounced due to the seismic shifts of the recent past that humanity finds themselves in.  This straddling of the low-tech personal and wider worlds is a welcome mix with one outlook influencing the other.

Information is given out in great dollops in the first part of the story, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps but with enough left to the imagination, that one wants to know precisely what it is all about.  It’s the good grounding of back story that gives the reader the details up front that which is key because the second half of the book is more like an action thriller than the dystopian sci-fi I was half expecting.  The combat – and there is a lot of it – was very reminiscent of Starship Troopers but with a much more complex enemy and an equally ambitious body count. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 12/05/2016 in Sci Fi


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Outdoor Pursuits

Yesterday was a glorious day so it was an opportune time to take a test drive of the new reading place which I’ve had my eye on for a while but the cold months had always driven me into the warmth of tavern and bookshop.

WP_20160216_037I always approach from a certain entrance as it has a more dramatic feel to it, like a gateway to a new world or time, like Tom’s midnight garden but without having to wait for night time, especially as I’d have to climb over the fence as this one shuts its gates before 7pm.


WP_20160416_003After a brief pottering around the water feature and fancy bits of garden, it was high time to sit down and mooch my choice of books for the day.  Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 10/05/2016 in Travel


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Austerlitz – W. G. Sebald

Litz GreatIn 1939, five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz is sent to England on a Kindertransport and placed with foster parents. This childless couple promptly erase from the boy all knowledge of his identity and he grows up ignorant of his past. Later in life, after a career as an architectural historian, Austerlitz – having avoided all clues that might point to his origin – finds the past returning to haunt him and he is forced to explore what happened fifty years before

somewhere I came across a list of translated books that ‘should’ be read so seeing this in Oxfam,  it was worth a £2 punt for an author I’ve never read before; literature in exchange for a bit of cash to be towards ending poverty sounds like the noblest form of deal to me.

For such a small sum, what was handed over was a sensitively handled tale of melancholy, an exploration of the fragility of life and the horrors of history.  It’s also a book of secrets – in a personal and wider sense of history – of eliminated past and the memories of another time.  In short this was a bargain at the price and well worth a read for anybody passing by (or going out of their way for) a copy.

The name Austerlitz can be recognised both as a town near the battle of the same name (Napoleon beating combined armies of Russia and Austria) and also a railway station in Paris.  It’s this latter that is more immediately symbolic, it’s an intersection, a point in the lives of many people, where they go meet, move on and a place one suspects holds many memories.  It is surely not a coincidence that we first meet Austerlitz in a railway station.

Austerlitz as character is a methodical and observant architectural historian, one who lives intensely in his own world, lost to wider history but taken with the form of buildings.  The telling of his story is both articulate and detached, shaped by loss of people and deprived of his earliest memories, it’s a poignant position with which the reader connects and is the perfect platform for the piecing together of a personal history of another time.

Told with an experienced world wary voice, the book is a mixture of many different genres, travel book, memoir, guide to architecture, history book and part detective story, it’s a blend that is to be savoured as the story is peeled back one layer at a time.  For those of you who like a story that meanders sometimes, there are digressions aplenty which did – the odd time – make me impatient to progress but I’m glad it was written this way as each digression is fascinating. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 07/05/2016 in Architecture, Fiction


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