Geographically Challenged

Back in the day I used to go a local pub that had  ‘award winning’ bangers and mash on the menu,  even the staff didn’t know anything about this award, and the meal wasn’t up to much anyway.

The day was sunny, but I was sulky.  This had to do with my usual reading table being occupied, as well as my back up reading table.  Making do with a different view and some less than satisfactory light and shooing away a work colleague who wanted to chat on a day off, I settled down to my book, accompanied by a pint of mediocre bitter.

The book in question was Hugh Thomas‘, The Conquest of Mexico. This is a weighty tome detailing how the Spanish came to the Americas and into great depth on the titular conquest itself.

I slowly became aware of a chap in my peripheral vision who seemed to be bobbing up and down whilst facing my direction.  In the end I made the mistake of looking. He was stood up but was contorting his body in an uncomfortable manner in an attempt to read the title on the spine of my book.

Making eye contact – a big mistake – he decided this was an invitation to join me.  Amiable as I was back in the day, I was happy to chat with someone who showed an interest in books.  The conversation started well as he commented not many people read in pubs, especially in our town. Continue reading “Geographically Challenged”

Morning Light Readings

Having various body parts hanging over the edge of the bed and being poked mercilessly for hours by a restless baby, not yet ready to settle in her own sleeping space, I finally gave up and shuffled wearily downstairs at 4am to read Émile Zola’s, La Bête Humaine.

Claude Monet, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877,

Admittedly, that time of the morning is always pleasing once the mood improves enough to observe surroundings and to be in a position to appreciate the quiet, the chill that settles on bare arms, and, this morning, the fog, illuminated in the glow of the streetlamp, swirling in beguiling patterns.

There are white roses edging along our garden gate, some petals are strewn over the ground at the foot of the fence. This felt symbolic as the book I start is a tale of jealousy, passion, and murder. As the reading light illuminated the pages, I ventured to the soot covered French railways of the late 1800’s…

The unexpected joys of having a baby can prove to be a real bonus, although sleep would be satisfying one of these days.

Get Yourself A Free Book

Everyone loves free stuff, and what can be better than a good book bargain to take your mind off whatever is on currently on it?

I have been informed by my good friend Estelle – who runs a blog for the books of Indrajit Garai – that The Bridge of Little Jeremy, is currently on a free giveway on Amazon, which you can find at the link here.

I have also read and reviewed Indrajit’s two short story volumes, The Sacrifice,  and The Eye Opener, which I enjoyed immensely. Both of which I can happily recommend to you.

Here’s the blurb for The Bridge of Little Jeremy, check it out and indulge yourself in a story about family, the changing face of Paris, and the meaning of beauty, for absolutely no pennies.

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast.

Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris.

This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work.

Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

The Flight of the Falcon – Daphne Du Maurier

Armino Fabbio leads a pleasant, if humdrum life — until he becomes circumstantially involved in the murder of an old peasant woman in Rome. The woman, he gradually comes to realise, was his family’s beloved servant many years ago, in his native town of Ruffano.

Over five hundred years before, the sinister Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, lived his twisted, brutal life, preying on the people of Ruffano. Now it is the twentieth century, and the town seems to have forgotten its violent history. But have things really changed?

This is the first novel I’ve read by Daphne Du Maurier, which, considering they have been sat on my mum’s bookshelf for ages is some feat.  The Flight of the Falcon was a good choice for a starting point, whilst not an amazing literary work, and with a few too many coincidences for my liking (although not half as many as a Charles Dickens novel), it kept me interested to the end.

Part crime novel – although this is somewhat played down as the plot progresses – and part suspenseful thriller, Armino’s adventures are very arts focused.  As revelations are uncovered, rivalries seem to echo through history and reverberate around the town of Ruffano. It becomes clear the town is a stage for an encounter more intricate amd terrifying than Armino could have imagined.

The reader is treated to a story that oozes atmosphere, there is murder, secrets, obsession, a dark history, religious and mythical imagery and fervour, all of which is played out to a background tension that constantly ratchets up. Pleasingly and predictably all these plot points are woven around plenty of alcohol and food consumption. Continue reading “The Flight of the Falcon – Daphne Du Maurier”

Renaissance Books

Wandering around the websites of various publishers, I was delighted and a little surprised to find one of my reviews was featured on the website of Renaissance Books, hereRenaissance Books are academic publishers offering a new, robust and independent platform for peer-reviewed scholarship on Asia Pacific, in particular East Asian Studies – principally in the Humanities and Social Sciences

From the website:

Renaissance Books was established in 1996 to promote gifted, aspiring authors and books of general interest. Later, its focus moved to East-West themes relating to people, culture and way of life.

In 2015, the imprint was re-launched in order to concentrate on scholarly reference in the Humanities and Social Sciences, publishing especially in the field of East Asian Studies, notably Japan and Korea, as well as Central Asian Studies. To this end, we have launched a new peer-reviewed Renaissance Books Asia Pacific Series drawing on recognized authorities from within the region and beyond, offering a platform for comparative and interdisciplinary works on historical and cultural themes as well as those relating to contemporary issues, especially in Politics & Economics, Conflict Resolution, Globalization, NGOs, Security, Human Rights and Media Studies.

As someone interested in learning, especially in light of the proximity to the subject area in my adopted home of the Philippines (where I look forward to being later in the year again), it is a publisher that deserves a lot more attention for the body of work that they are putting out.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?

Whenever critics praise something en masse, I automatically assume the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised when I flew through the first one hundred pages and felt engaged with the story.  I enjoyed the Nigerian section of the book, it was an insight into a culture and country that I knew little about, barring the football.

Americanah attempts to dissect many social problems, and as you would expect race is a big factor, as is class, a nod to how organised religion can fleece the flock, not to mention hair issues, which was something I didn’t expect to become interested in, although the more it was spoken about the less bothered I became.

After the first half of the book, I became increasingly disillusioned, because whilst there is plenty to think about, it’s ultimately a preachy novel and doesn’t bring much new to the table. The conclusion disappointed too, which annoyed me as it wasn’t a satisfying pay off for the grind that the latter half of the book was.

There were things I liked about the book, exploring the attitudes of Africans to each other when abroad, the struggles of fitting in versus retaining one’s own culture, the changes in attitude when returning to Africa. There were times when I considered if I had had any foot in mouth conversations, as its always good to self-examine. Continue reading “Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

Woken Up

I recently had a moan about all the meaningless (and prolific) ‘inspirational’ posts that clog my Facebook feed, when all I want to do is have a quick and peaceful nosy into what people are doing in their lives.  I’m sure some find such slogans helpful and positive but stop to give even a brief thought to the actual content and it quickly becomes irritating.

After posting a somewhat, ‘grumpy’ status about the situation, (and having no one really react which, perhaps, tells its own story) I came across another nettlesome post on Instagram, that was originally a Tweet.  I’m assuming some of you came across this statement over the last week or so,

You’re not well read if all you read is white authors. 

It didn’t take long to analyse the flaw in that statement.  Whilst it is probably (hopefully) a well-meaning encouragement to people to read widely, the stench of identity politics is overwhelming. Substitute the word white for fantasy, people of colour (or your group of choice), gay, women, or men, and the point could still be taken.

White is the word that will get the most traction in terms of comments though and is most likely the reason behind the wording which will guarantee the fifteen minutes of internet viral fame so craved.  On reflection it strikes me as lazy, picking an easy target. Like Trump or George W. Bush jokes back in the day, for example, it lacks finesse and plays only to the easily pleased crowd. Continue reading “Woken Up”

Northern Light: Norway Past and Present, A Critical Analysis – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

Here is a new and challenging appraisal of Norway, the author’s country of birth, that redefines its history, culture and heritage -‘after Ibsen – and looks, with a degree of ominous foreboding, at its future and the future of Europe.  Ex-diplomat and widely published author Jørgensen explores an array of topics, from Norway’s Viking pat, its pursuit of independence, the German occupation, its politics and cultural heritage, the defence of NATO, the relationship with Europe, and the challenge of Russia, concluding with ‘self-image and reality’.  In Northern Light, the author challenges many existing perceptions and stereotypes, making this an essetial reference for anyone interested in Norway and its people, international affairs, European history and its cultural legacy.

Back with another book by blog favourite Nils-Johan Jørgensen, Northern Light, much like his other nonfiction books, An Image of the Times and Four Days in January, is an insightful look at his chosen topic, which in this case is a well-rounded, authoritative insight into his country of birth. One that is not too well known on the international stage, especially considering the dramatics of other countries, but is nonetheless worthy of thorough investigation.

After the Vikings, and the discovery of America, the history books tend to go quiet when it comes to Norway, and Scandinavia in general, up until the second world war in the case of the UK education system.  This book allows for the discovery, or rediscovery, of Norway’s role in such diverse events as the Napoleonic Wars and its relationship with Russia, a nation whose shadow looms large with aggression over the whole arctic region.

A country of mystery with the Aurora Borealis, the picturesque fjords, as well as its international exploration, and being the so-called best place to live, there is so much more to uncover.  Not least its inhabitants attitudes of both isolationism yet at the same time the wish to embrace the world. Continue reading “Northern Light: Norway Past and Present, A Critical Analysis – Nils-Johan Jørgensen”

Shining a Light on Things.

Recently, I had the good fortune to yet again be sent a book from blog favourite Nils-Johan Jørgensen.  Having commenced reading briefly (due to last week being the busiest week for the university), I’m already enjoying  this a great deal and learning a lot about Norway and its history, which can only be a good thing, I do hate to be uninformed.  Full review – and others – coming soon.

Opening the Door

With five weeks of training completed at the Open University – the main reason for my sparse posting of late – I can finally turn my attention to showcasing all the awesome free stuff that you can get your hands on courtesy of the O.U..  This week it’s something mentioned previously on this blog and frequently engages me through on my breaks and before work starts.

Where I work, one part of the Edifice that is the Open University.

OpenLearn  is a resource I had spent a bit of time with before I started this job and now I recommend it to everyone.  The site offers courses, downloads, videos, and up coming programmes with the BBC.  Each course is an extract from our degree modules, and with almost 1000 samples here you can indulge in many various learning exercises.

There are courses for everyone over such varied fields as Languages, Nature & Environment , Money & Business, and my personal favourite History & the Arts, which has plenty of literary goodness but never fails to entertain with a speculative punt either.

The first course I took was Aberdulais Falls: A Case Study in Welsh Heritage. I had never previously considered the logistics of how the National Trust runs its sites and the impact on the local community, and I finished thoroughly entertained and educated on the subject.  Since then anything goes in terms of course choice now. Continue reading “Opening the Door”