Sunday, 26 June 2011

War Horse

I was drawn to this book after seeing the life-sized horse puppets in the theatrical version of War Horse. Former UK Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo usually has an entire shelf dedicated to him in most British book shops and this one, written nearly 30 years ago is one I can recommend to both children and adults alike. It tells the story of Joey, a half-thoroughbred red bay bought by a drunken farmer to spite another and beloved of the farmer's son. The events of 1913 shatters the pair's brief happiness as Joey is sold into a war of wire, mud and carnage. His first new owner is Captain Nicholls who takes Joey as his cavalry mount. He also meets his loyalest equine friend, a shining black stallion called Topthorn. It's all told from Joey's point of view as he tries to survive the unfathomable conflict and regain the company of his farmboy. Along the way he'll find kindness where he can find it, endure crippling work and health sapping conditions. Although Joey is often in the thick of the chaos the book never dwells closely on the bloody results beyond detailing the casualties and the effects of their loss. It's a quick read, engaging ,moving and a great excuse to get some history into young reader's minds.

Friday, 24 June 2011


Writing a review for the 11th book of a beloved series, nearly two decades in the reading is probably not the most useful thing I could be doing with my time. If you've got to book 10 I doubt you are going to need much prodding from me to pick this one up. But I love this series too much not to want to just tuck the book away and move on without getting a few words about it out of my system. The politics is thick in this one. There's always quite a bit but this one seemed to have more than usual. I'm not much of a political animal so I'm glad Bren, our trusty paidhi, is on hand to keep track of the situation. Like the previous book, instead of the single Bren point of view we also get to see the world from the perspective of the precocious Atevi lordling Cajeiri. He's having a spot of bother with his new bodyguards who are showing no signs of forming manchi with him, that unquantifiable (at least on human terms) Atevi instinct that causes members of their race to form attachments. To their cost humans have confused manchi with the Human understanding of love or friendship, neither of which have any Atevi equivalent. Inter-species linguistic confusions caused the Atevi-Human war not long after the Humans first arrived. Peaceful co-existence was deemed too unstable and prone to further misunderstanding and the human survivors were ceded an island kingdom and a permanent separation from Atevi interaction. With one exception. Bren Cameron. He is the paidhi. A diplomat charged with interpreting all Human-Atevi contact. Things have moved on quite a lot since those early days and Bren is now paidhi-aiji. He's basically gone native, and become so valued by the Atevi high-muck-a-muck's he's been granted his own lordship, land and the loyalty of his own Atevi aishid (currently four Atevi bodyguards). Great characters, thorough world building, Cherryh's brilliant style of prose and restricted point of views make for fascinating and beguiling sci-fi. If you haven't tried a Foreigner book yet, do yourself a favour and go hunt out book one.


Every time we come to the Tranquil Otter lodges we encounter a fair sized badelynge of Mallards. One of them, a female, has become a bit notorious. She's not shy. Mallards can easily live into a third decade if they can avoid getting nabbed by the local predators so we are pretty sure it is the same duck. She doesn't mix with the other ducks very well, is very loud, is prone to rushing about and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. We've taken to calling her Henrietta. I often read on the decking with nothing on my feet and Henrietta has been known to try to make off with my big toe. Debbie and Henrietta seem to get on quite well.
Here's my dad encountering her about six or seven years ago. He only went out for a smoke.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Circle ducks

These little balls of fluff can't be long out of the egg. They are sticking together like they are magnetic. I hope they keep safe. Fingers crossed. They'll need it too. This was the view when I pointed my camera to the ground. Tilt the camera back and look up into the sky and it won't be long before the silhouetted deadly shapes of a pair of buzzards can be seen circling patiently.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Observations

The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, running away from a mother who has ruthlessly exploited her from an early age. She arrives at a ramshackle mansion, somewhere near Edinburgh, where she is taken on as a housemaid by the mistress of the house, Arabella Reid. The 'missus' as she calls her soon has young Bessy confused and bewildered by a succession of seemingly random and mostly pointless requests. And every night she must write an account of the day's events along with her inner thoughts. Despite all this Bessy develops a fierce loyalty for her mistress and then she finds out, by the chance discovery of Arabella's in-progress book 'The Observations', what the object of her devotions is really up to and tellingly what her opinions of Bessy are.
What happens next is best left for the story to tell, but it is a fascinating read that weaves Bessy's dark past, the mysterious fate of her predecessor, Arabella's paragon of all house maids, Nora, and Arabella's own secrets into a startlingly engaging narrative mystery. Bessy is a wonderful character, who colours her tale with the most vivid and sometimes lurid slang and colloquialisms. I'm often put off by such inclusions, though in this case they are pretty much essential to the style and don't distract at all. Though being a native of northern England, where many of the expressions are still in common use or fondly remembered from use by my Grandparents, I could be more immune from irritation than the average reader. Bessy is also not averse to casting ridicule on the people she recounts by exaggerating or over annotating their speech patterns and accents. The more she despises them the more extreme the exaggeration. I think it's no accident that Hector, the sex obsessed Highlander, gets the brunt of it.
The Observations is an excellent début novel. I've read the latest book by Jane Harris, 'Gillespie and I', which appeared some 5 years after 'The Observations' - so if you enjoyed this book I'd recommend you look it up with all due dispatch.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Favoured places and favourite faces

I got back to one of my favourite holiday places this Summer - The Tranquil Otter lodges in Cumbria. This year was different though. It was a great favourite of Harry the Labrador. He adored chasing around the lawn, taking in the sounds, the sights and of course the smells. He was a true aqua-dog but this was one lake that was too wild and too inhabited by a myriad of birds and creatures for dipping his body into the water. Swimming would have been dangerous for both Harry and the wildlife. That didn't stop him setting sail in the little boat a few times though in years past. For me this place has many bright memories and Harry was one of the shinier ones. He's no longer with us anymore but he still walks happily through our minds.