Friday, January 30, 2015

Spot the Magpie

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… “Spot the magpie” …
Just a little game I play with myself on a snowy day!

The pictures in the collage above are from today; the photo below from just over a week ago. Snow has been “on and off” any number of times in between, as the weather has kept shifting back and forth between snow and rain.

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Mid January seems a bit early in the season to me (for the magpies to be nesting, I mean – cf my magpie post from last year), but perhaps it’s got something to do with winter so far having been rather mild. I also can’t help wondering if these two are the same couple that I watched two years ago trying, but then failing, to build a nest in the same tree. Back then, they gave me some good laughs as they seemed quite unable to figure out the art of nest-building and just kept dropping the sticks back on the ground, and finally gave up and (presumably) went in search of some other tree.

Well, whether the same couple or not, these ones now seem really determined, in spite of the snow  causing some confusion (like “oops! where’s my door?”)

Same builders or not, there are now magpie nests in both the trees in the yard outside my windows:

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review – Orlando: A Biography

Orlando: A Biography
by Virginia Woolf (1928)

I decided to read this classic because of the personal name Orlando, as well as references to Woolf's novel, being used by Robert Galbraith alias J.K. Rowling in The Silkworm. In The Silkworm, Orlando is a female character – but although a grown woman, in some ways more like a child. In my own head however the name is (or was) a male one (think Orlando Bloom). So that for a start called for some research (especially since I know from before that Rowling tends to put a lot of meaning into the choice of names for her characters).

The first brief introduction to Woolf's novel that I found only informed me that …

Orlando tells the story of an individual named Orlando, born as a biological male in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. Orlando lives for more than 300 years and, at around 30 years of age, mysteriously changes biological sex to female.”

At the same time though, it’s also described as being

“a semi-biographical novel based in part on the life of Woolf's presumed lover Vita Sackville-West”

Together, this sounded rather strange to me… but tickled my curiosity to have a closer look at. And to satisfy such urges is easy enough these days, when a Kindle edition of Woolf's Complete Works  can be downloaded in an instant at less than $4!

I turned to the first chapter of Orlando and started reading; and soon found myself hooked. Actually Orlando's journey through the time and shifting cultures of three centuries, and even the transition from one sex to another, turned out to make a lot more sense than the summary quoted above.

While the plot does have some strange time twists, I found those to be written with a twinkle in the eye; and I did not have any trouble picking up the subtext as the experience of a Reader and a Writer; as well as growing from Child to Woman (with some confusion perhaps in the middle) - and at the same time conveying quite a clever analysis of the shifting position of women (and not least women writers) in the context of society during those three centuries (from the Elizabethan age until 1928); and also the general explosion of literature during the same period:

While she had been sitting in Hyde Park the bookseller had delivered her order, and the house was crammed – there were parcels slipping down the staircase – with the whole of Victorian literature done up in grey paper and neatly tied with string. She carried as many of these packets as she could to her room, ordered footmen to bring the others, and, rapidly cutting innumerable strings, was soon surrounded by innumerable volumes. Accustomed to the little litteratures of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, Orlando was appalled by the consequences of her order. --- Orlando’s reverence for print had a tough job set before it …

I have to confess that this quote reminds me a lot of my own experience with the Kindle… (LOL)

Anyway – I really enjoyed this book, and feel that I also learned quite a lot from it.  (For one thing – just to relate to my latest read – it did make me understand better how Rowling weaved the theme of gender issues into The Silkworm in various ways, both in the case plot and in the relationships of the background characters.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teaser Tuesday (Jan 27)

TeaserTuesdays2014e

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

“She found it absolutely necessary to speak to him instantly. She did not care in the least what nonsense it might make, or what dislocation it might inflict on the narrative.”

Virginia Woolf – Orlando: A Biography

I’m enjoying this classic a lot more than I thought I would. Not very far to go to finish it now (35 minutes or so, my Kindle suggests).

(Because I’m reading on Kindle, I pick the teaser from just about where I am in the book, rather than open it to a ‘random’ page.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Art of Keeping the Balance

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The weather situation around here has been pretty much “stuck” lately: Temperatures shifting a few deegres up or down around freezing point – with snow one day, rain and thaw the next; then freezing again and dangerously slippery; more snow on top, and then back to rain and thaw and ice again etc…  

The collage was made from photos taken a couple of days ago near where I live.

The balancing position of the boy on the turtle is not unlike the art of walking on icy streets…

… which means I haven’t been going very far!

Linking to Mosaic Monday @ Lavender Cottage

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teaser Tuesday

TeaserTuesdays2014e

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

. . .

   ‘It was dark and she was two door doors down, so what she actually saw was…?’
  
‘Silhouette of a tall figure in a cloak, carrying a holdall.’

Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – The Silkworm

. . .

One day he was adding a line or two with enormous labour to ‘The Oak Tree, A Poem’, when a shadow crossed the tail of his eye. It was no shadow, he soon saw, but the figure of a very tall lady in riding hood and mantle crossing the quadrangle on which his room looked out.”

Virginia Woolf – Orlando: A Biography

. . .

… As I mentioned yesterday, I’m reading Orlando because it was referred to in The Silkworm (recently finished) …

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: The Silkworm

The Silkworm (published in 2014) is the second crime fiction novel written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, and ‘starring’ private investigator Cormoran Strike and his (female) assistant Robin Ellacott. (The first was The Cuckoo’s Calling, 2013 –  link goes to my review from back then).

The Silkworm is set in the publishing world. A middle-aged woman, Leonora, comes to Strike’s office to ask for help to track down her husband, Owen Quine; a semi-famous writer, who seems to have disappeared. He’s been known to go off on his own before, but this time he’s been away for ten days without getting in touch. The family situation is getting difficult (they also have a daughter with some problems) and his wife wants him found. Leonora does not seem overly worried that something might have happened to him – she assumes he has probably just gone off on some kind of writer’s retreat, but she does not know where, and she has not been able to find out herself, as her phone calls to people in the publishing world who might know have not been returned. She also mentions, more or less in passing, that there have been some recent unpleasant incidents adding to her distress – someone putting dog excrements through their letter box at night, a strange woman turning up on their doorstep leaving a mysterious message, and another woman following her in the street… Strike decides to take on the case.

One problem with this novel, from reader’s point of view, is that during the first 1/3 or so of the novel, nothing much seems to “happen”; except for Strike arduously limping around a dreary wintry London (he lost half a leg in the Afghan war), meeting various people in the publishing world, and slowly finding out bits and pieces about Quine - all mixed with bits and pieces from Strike’s and Robin’s personal lives, where various developments are also going on. As for the gossip that Strike is gathering from Quine’s acquaintances, it is hard to make out how much is true or false, and what might be important or not.

Then Strike manages to get hold of one of Owen’s previously published novels, and also a secret copy of his last, yet unpublished work. The book proves to have a tedious and gruesome plot full of allegorical names and gory details of a kind I always find it rather tempting to speed-read rather than pay much attention to… In retrospect, though, I must advise readers of this particular book not to skip too hastily through all that, if you want a chance of understanding the rest.

Another piece of advise is not to skip the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. If you take the trouble to look up some of those authors and titles (if you don’t know them already), there are clues there too. (The connecting theme will also be spelled out later within the context of the story, though.)

As I was aware from before, Rowling is also in the habit of hiding clues and hints in the names of characters. In this novel, we’re dealing with double and sometimes even triple layers of that kind, as she lets her fictional writers within the book use similar tactics; although in the more obviously allegorical way, like it was often done back in the 1600s.

At the end, I have to confess I still had difficulties piecing everything together. Even though I did guess at some things, I also realised I had “missed” a lot. But when I went back and reread the first 1/3 of the book again – and especially the parts that I was tempted to just skim the first time – of course the details were there, hidden in all the chitter-chatter that at the time did not seem all that important…

Because of the complexity of this story, with its double or triple plots, and references to old plays using the same techniques – I think this is one novel that could benefit (just like a play) from having a list of characters at the beginning (or at the end). I did not check out the Wikipedia article until after I’d finished the book – to avoid spoilers – but it seems this idea occurred to the authors of that page as well (because they did compile such a list of characters).

I still find myself hesitating when it comes to rating the total reading experience on a 1-5 scale – my problem being that I can’t really say I ‘love’ the whole story as such; but at the same time I do recognise that it is cleverly constructed and did give me a lot to think about. I guess as a compromise I’ll give it four stars.

* * * *

MusingMondays5

As an extra teaser I might add that one result of reading The Silkworm was that I ended up buying the complete works of Virginia Woolf for Kindle (as the complete works did not cost much more than buying one single novel separately!) and am currently reading Woolf’s Orlando: A biography – finding it not only enlightning in relation to The Silkworm, but also (so far = two chapters) a lot more enjoyable than I expected from first looking up the Wikipedia summary…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION:
How many books, approximately, do you think you have in your personal collection?

I’d say about 700 printed + about 500 e-books + perhaps 100 audio…? (having to admit myself surprised at the number of e-books, even if most of them are free classics!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Colour Blue (FMTSO)

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Peacock at our Zoo, from my visit back in August 2014.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Read in 2014

I was far from consistent in writing book reviews last year, but I did actually read quite a lot – if you include listening to audio/talking books, which is what I do most these days. I do find it hard to write reviews of books I’ve only listened to, though; as then I can’t go back to check details and find quotes etc.

I keep a list of all the titles I read though (using Works spreadsheet on my computer). And summing up my statistics for 2014, I find that I listed 64 titles, of which

42 were audio + 19 Kindle + 3 printed on paper;
21 in English + 21 written in Swedish + 22 translated

Those numbers do not include certain old favourites that I return to too often to bother about the statistics (like Harry Potter or Narnia). But they do include a few rereads of books I hadn’t read in a long time – like Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Camille (La Dame aux Camilias) by Alexandre Dumas (fils) (the reason being that on some occasion I found myself confusing the two); and more recently Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (after watching the film musical from 1964 on DVD, and thinking that surely Mary in the books was a lot more “contrary” than the Julie Andrews version? – an opinion I still stick to after rereading!)

I also read quite a few detective novels. Among those may be worth mentioning one writer who was new to me: Ann Cleeves (and I think it may have been Adrian of the blog Adrian’s Images who first suggested her books to me). Back in the spring I listened (in Swedish translation) to her series set on the Shetland Islands – and what-do-you-know, now Swedish television is showing a Scottish BBC drama series based on those (saw the first episode a few days ago).

On Kindle I read (among others) two novels written by Frances Garrood: Dead Earnest and Basic Theology for Fallen Women (I also read The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets in 2013). Frances is also a blogger, and I’d been following her blog for some time before I got round to reading her books; something which I found made it a bit tricky to “objectively” review the novels. (Or at least to know whether I could or not. I mean, I do think I’d have found her books worth reading anyway, but how exactly can I know that?)

I also read – or finished reading – in 2014  The Mystery of Lewis Carroll written by Jenny Woolf, whose blog *An English Travel Writer* is also on my bloglist (and was before I read her book). This is not a novel but a biography. I never got round to writing a proper review of this book, partly because of the fact that I read the first half of it in 2012, but then it got put aside for over a year; not because of the book as such, but because of my eye problems making it difficult to read printed books at all.

It is not exactly a chronological biography, but more of a thorough examination of various aspects and myths and rumours about the “elusive” author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. I enjoyed it, and it seems to me that Jenny has done a good job of putting facts and speculations into context, by also taking a good look at the differences between our own time and the English Victorian age when the book was written.

Other English titles that stand out for me from my 2014 list are

Entry Island by Peter May

The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

(of these I did write reviews and that’s where the links go)

Currently I’m reading the second Cormoran Strike detective novel by Robert Galbraith (= pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) – The Silkworm; and up next (or at least soon) probably Peter May’s new novel Runaway, which will be published on January 15.

Linking this post to

MusingMondays5

Musing Mondays

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More Stormy Weather

2015 XZ35

Another winter storm came blowing in over Sweden from the west this weekend. We called it Egon. It caused a bit more trouble around here than the last one (Svea). Where I live it started with snow Saturday morning but turned to rain later as the wind increased.

To keep it personal, while Svea only ripped the tarpaulin off the bench on my balcony, Egon tried to take the whole bench. He did not manage it, as I noticed the attempt and took the bench inside for the night… I’ve put it back out now (after the storm passed on) with an extra safety strap attached to the rail… I might have to try and come up with something better, though. Should perhaps give up and just put it in winter storage in the basement. But the thing is, I’m used to hibernating last year’s strawberry plants under there… (And often succeed, if not too cold!)

I also did my best (or so I thought) already back in autumn to "secure" the trellis with my clematis plants against the winter storms (middle picture). It seems I did a fairly good job with the trellis as such… But, failing to rip that off the wall, Egon managed instead to mischeiveiously turn over one of the three pots (the one closest to the door). It's back in place now, but whether the plant survived or got broken I’ll have to wait until spring to find out!

I also realised this morning that clothes pins are not much use in a storm, so have now also added extra staples to keep the fabric together. And a couple of extra extra extra wires on top of the whole construction. (It will be really interesting to see if anything survives to bloom in the spring…)

I should perhaps add that Egon caused more havoc around the neighbourhood (and indeed the whole south of Sweden) than just playing around on my balcony though. Trees falling over roads and railroads, power outages, flooded quays and cellars on the coast (it reached hurricane force in some places), even roofs blown off a few buildings etc. However, precautions were also taken by cancelling trains and ferries, and closing a couple of big bridges etc, and I don’t think there have been a lot of bodily injuries to people. What’s been reported on the news has been mostly about damage to nature and property.

Meanwhile, at least I have some cheerful budding going on indoors:

2015 XZ36

*Amaryllis with three stems (bought before New Year).
*White rose I was given by my New Year Eve guests.
*Purple orchid that has been resting for a while but then decided New Year was a good time to spring some new flowers.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

And the Lucky Winners Are…

2015-01-10 lottery

My New Year Giveaway lottery draw has now been duly performed (by putting folded pieces of paper with the names in the tin above and giving it a good shake, and then closing my eyes while drawing the tickets).

It turned out I actually had four calendars left (three was what I promised); and as the year is ticking on, and as (in spite of postcrossing) I still haven’t run out of inherited stamps, I decided to draw four winners.

And they are:

Scriptor Senex of Rambles from my Chair
Wanda of Got a Minute or Two?
Rae of Sun-Dried Tomato(e)
GB of Eagleton Notes

Well-deserved winners, all four. (But so would any of the others be who commented on that post! That’s why I had to draw lots…) Rae was among the very first followers of the forerunner of this blog back in 2009 (then called The Island of the Voices). Scriptor and GB were not far behind; and have become so much like “extended family” to me that it actually seems odd now to think that there was ever a time when I did not know them (in spite of the fact that I still haven’t actually met them). Wanda officially signed up as follower more recently, but we’ve been visiting each other’s blogs for a good while too.

Congratulations to the winners (and Rae and Wanda, don’t forget to send me your mailing addresses).

And to those who did not win this time – better luck next time! (when and whatever that might be)

And to All of Us, a Happy New Blogging Year!

Smile

 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Golden Monday

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Sunny, frosty, still and dry this morning; so I went for a walk into town and along the river (following the new path that was inaugurated back in December). The low sun this time of year gives a very golden light - and is totally blinding when looking straight towards it! But with the digital camera one can be bold….

(The artsy pictures in the middle were created by using the “heatmap” filter in Picasa. I had in mind to link to ‘Mandarin Monday’… But it turned out they’re on a holiday break. Never mind!)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

After the Storm

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We had a storm passing by yesterday (by name of Svea, which is the ‘name of the day’ for 2nd January in our calendar) . I stayed indoors yesterday, but when going out today I could see that the wind had managed to cause a bit of a “mess” even if no major damage just around here. (It also ripped a tarpaulin from the bench on my balcony… But it got stuck against the rail and I heard and saw it and managed to salvage it.)

Trains between here and the coast were cancelled; and one of my guests on New Year’s Eve (who lives on the coast) was one of many who got delayed and had to take a replacement bus instead of the train when going home yesterday (I learned from her sister).

A video on YouTube shows the waves on the coast.
Not as bad as was expected, but still quite impressive:
http://youtu.be/5GnU5vv2gW0

PS. For those of you who missed my 1st January post: if you go back to it before 10th January, there’s still a chance to win one of my photo calendars for 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, Leftovers and a Giveaway

I woke up this morning around 9:30 (shortly – it seemed! - after having gone to bed around 1:30), and could not help but start the day with some philosophical bemusements (is that a word?!) – possibly helped along by listening to a philosophical discussion about Time on the radio while doing the washing up from my New Year Eve’s party the night before…

2015 dishes

Now here’s my question to you: How come every New Year seems to start with leftovers rather than the clean slates we always seem to be longing for?

2015-01-01 New Year

A walk around the neighbourhood and seeing all the left-overs of pyrotechnics just proved my point – and reminded me further of politics. (Fiery political discussions here in Sweden during the autumn also included a lot of questions about who laid vs cleared the table for whom.)

I got cheered up when I opened a leftover Kinder Egg with my afternoon tea, though, and found this:

2015 dragon

The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks in it. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was coming from it. --- All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped out on to the table…’'
---
‘I’ve decided to call him Norbert,’ said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes.
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ch. 14)

At least this is something that’s never been on my blog before: A newborn dragon, fresh from the egg!

Naughty little fellow – he coloured my thumb green while we were getting acquainted (turned out he has a tiny green felt pen inside).

Then I taught him to ride the blue-and-orange bicycle I built yesterday (found in another Kinder Egg). And I who thought I would find no use for that. Silly me!

(Yes, we had a fun New Year’s Eve.)
Winking smile

A Giveaway

It so happens I find myself with three spare wall calendars for 2015 (made from my own photos), and have decided to put these up for a giveaway.

(I did the same thing once before, in 2012, to celebrate my 3rd Blogoversary. Can hardly believe three more years have gone by since then!)

All you have to do to have a chance to win one of them is to be a follower of this blog and to leave a comment on this post before next Saturday - 10th January (CET). I’ll then write down the names on separate pieces of paper and have a lottery and announce the winners here on my blog. (If I have an email address I’ll also let them know by email.)

Good Luck!

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