The End of the Year Show 2018

Books, films, music; but 2018 for me was mainly about books.
The thing is, I've kept up a record of books I've read since childhood, in a succession of notebooks, and I noticed this year that - since even if I read little or no books, I still move on to a new page - I would run out of pages in a very few years. So, I bought a new fancy notebook and in thoroughly OCD fashion, copied it all out again. I made a few adjustments to correct various mistakes etc., but things are looking good once more.

Especially since it led to a resurrection of my set of Rotring ArtPens, ie. my fountain pens. I ditched my use of disposable cartridges, and fitted them with refillable ones, and then a set of nice inks. Mostly blues and blacks but also red, green and so on. Some have been used to colour code types of book in the notebook - eg. blue for prose, purple for poetry. But more satisfyingly I began to write letters. I knew full well that only one or two friends and acquaintances were likely t…

Lord Hornblower

by C.S. Forester. Who was just about my most read author as a boy. He's famous for his Hornblower books, but wrote much more, with several being made into films. The best known is probably The African Queen, which was the last Forester book I read until now.

Hornblower is a great character, brave, a leader of men, but also cerebral, sensitive, and with a strong moral core. As part of that he has an enormous streak of self doubt and introspection, which causes him difficulties at times, especially romantic ones, and which can also be off putting for the reader in the later books, of which Lord Hornblower is one. But even in these later volumes, Forester's writing strengths are to the fore: his deep knowledge of history and seafaring, and his knack for writing classic adventure yarns. I lapped up Hornblower as a boy, and any of Forester's other books I could lay my hands on. I'm sure Hornblower fed into my spell as a Royal Navy cadet; indeed, as a Midshipman and then '…

Into the Fire

by Elizabeth Moon

As the cover tells you, Into the Fire is the second book in a series titled Vatta's Peace, which follows a five book series, Vatta's War. 'Vatta' is a family and an interplanetary corporation, but it is also the protagonist, Ky Vatta. Its genre is 'military science fiction'.

The author is new to me, which may be a sign that I really have been out of it as far as science fiction is concerned, because she's been successful, with several series of novels published. I haven't read the earlier Vatta books, but I've picked up most of what I needed to know from the many flashbacks and references to past events. I bought this book having enjoyed the previous volume in the Vatta's Peace series, Cold Welcome, and I picked up that book on the spur of the moment wandering around a bookshop, and being intrigued by the premise. Cold Welcome is a story of a desperate struggle to survive in an icy and very hostile environment after a space sh…

The Magician's Nephew

by C.S. Lewis.  Here's a children's book, dating back to 1955, the sixth to be published in C.S.Lewis's Narnia fantasy saga. I've been doing a lot of nostalgic reading lately, and glancing back through my booklist I noticed I'd given this particular volume a 'star'; and I wondered why. A friend lent me a copy, in this edition (right). It's certainly not the first book I've read more than once, but this goes back to childhood, and I'm now looking at it through very different and much more aged eyes.

The Magician's Nephew is a prequel to the other Narnia stories, and therefore first in a chronological sense. Modern publishers tend to list it as 'Number One' in the series, but this is unfortunate. You don't have to be a serious critic to agree with almost all of them, that it's best to read the series in order of publication. There's a clear assumption in the text that you're already familiar with details of the characte…

An Actual Otter

I can't resist reporting my sighting of an actual real otter on Wednesday, my first ever sighting of an otter in the wild. Even though I can't show you a picture of it. I did have a camera on me, but I didn't want any fumbling with the camera to distract me from the fleeting glimpses of the animal.

This picture is a poor substitute, but at least I did take it myself. It was a couple of years ago, at a country wildlife park in South Devon, near Exeter, called Escot if I remember correctly. I don't think these were British otters, but they were probably the first I'd seen close up. This was during their feeding time display, which I'd recommend - they are very entertaining animals, lively and clearly intelligent. Escot is great, by the way; amongst other things they have a maze which I'd have loved to try, except that just as we got there it was taken over by a paintball game.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. I was visiting friends in North Yorkshire, and we went fo…

The Amber Spyglass

by Philip Pullman - third part of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
A few random impressions. I can't in all conscience do a full and proper 'review' because I began it several years ago, only to put it down halfway through. Circumstantial reasons, I don't remember. Also, it's very much part of the whole, the whole trilogy, which I began even further in the past. But I've just finished it, today, and it's made more of an impact on me than I anticipated.

- Back when I stopped, it was frustrating; and I did skim ahead to get the general picture of what happened. Hm. I've yet to find an exception to the rule, that this is never a good idea, especially with a book of any complexity. Pullman's prose is very fine, and needs to be relished and nurtured, and you do lose out on some understanding if you skim, thinking you only have to pick up on main events. As I now know.

- This (right) was the edition I bought. I was on holiday in the US, and found it in a …

Brenda Monk is Funny

by Katy Brand. I know the writer as a stand up comic, although I've only seen her on the news satire show, Have I Got News For You. She comes across as being very sharp. And funny. All very promising, because this book is set in the world of stand up comedy. The front and back are covered with quotes from well known writers and comedians, about how funny it is.

I picked this up from my local library, part of my unconscious search for variety in my reading this year. I must have thought this would be a good light comic read, but it's actually quite a different kind of book. Brenda Monk is Funny is the story of a comedian's girlfriend who gets fed up with being the material for his humour and decides to become a stand up comic herself. It's often funny, but not so much from the content of any stand up routines. We're sort of expected to take them for granted; which is okay, because we quickly come to understand that the delivery of comedy is all about crafting the p…