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…

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is a science fiction / horror film which may have got your attention thanks to its USP of a monster which zeroes in on sound. In the poster pic right, star Emily Blunt is trying to keep silent while there's a monster in the house - and she's about to give birth.

I don't want this blog to end up a movie review site, and hence don't intend to post about every film I see; I wouldn't have commented on this film, except that the premise has led to attendance at a cinema showing being an interesting experience. The film is very quiet for long stretches. Music and sound are used to heighten tension; but the main characters use sign language a lot of the time for obvious reasons, and for the most part we're listening to ambient sounds, suffering the tension of knowing that since this is a horror film, a sound is going to disrupt the silence at any moment and death is going to come running.

So, by all reports I've heard, audiences have tended to observ…

Hard Eight

Janet Evanovich
The eighth volume in a highly successful series, which has now reached number 24, I believe. So successful that the publishers have long since given up on covers with sexy girls and guns. See the cover of this one - they're slumming it, aren't they?

It all began with One For The Money, which described how sassy young Stephanie Plum, native of Trenton, New Jersey, fell into the role of bounty hunter, to chaotic and generally entertaining effect. Evanovich quickly set up a regular supporting cast including ex-hooker Lula, pervy boss Cousin Vinnie, her entire mad family, notably eccentric Granny Mazur, and, most importantly, the two men in her life with whom she maintains off-again on-again relationships, one-time bad boy cop Joe Morelli, and dangerously shady ex-military Ranger. They're all there in Hard Eight, which like all the previous volumes has one ongoing big mystery, alongside a couple of Failure To Attend bond cases for her to tackle.

The central st…

Trying to Watch Women's Ice Hockey

Or, the frustrations of trying to follow the sport on the BBC
It's the Winter Olympics, and now is that brief window of time, once every four years, in which my favourite sport, women's ice hockey, makes an appearance on British television. You would think that, as technology advances, the provision of sport on BBC media, paid for by a hefty licence fee, would get better and better. Unfortunately, that isn't the case, and this morning has been a perfect case in point.

Right - From the IIHF web site, one of the very few pictures of the game which feature any Finnish players at all. They love the Canadians. Well, so do I, to be fair, but you can see that it's not only the BBC which treats everyone apart from the US and Canada as bit-part players.

No niin (as the Finns say). I love women's ice hockey, and going to see some has been a central preoccupation of visits to Finland for some years. I go to Finnish Saturday School and study the language, and naturally I would …