Saturday, 29 January 2022

The Carved Lions (Book Review)

 


The Carved Lions
by Mrs. (Mary Louisa) Molesworth - 1895
(79 pages)

Recently, Meike (Librarian) blogged about another title - Christmas Tree Land - by Mrs Molesworth (1839-1921) - a classic English author of children's stories, previously unknown to me. Meike's review of that book made me wonder a bit if maybe her works could have inspired C.S. Lewis when writing his Narnia series. So I looked up some more of her titles, among which I found The Carved Lions (in the public domain and free for Kindle). Having read it, I'm still wondering... If C.S. Lewis did read this book in his childhood (and he could have - he was born in 1898), I suspect he may have felt (like I do) that there were elements in it that could have made it a good fantasy book - but weren't (in that respect) quite used to their full potential...

Reading it 125+ years after it was written, and as an adult, to me the the story feels "uneven". The narrator in the book is an old woman looking back on her childhood (so the events meant to have occurred in the early 19th century rather than towards the end of the same century). Geraldine and her brother were quite happy living with their parents in a village. They were not exactly poor, but also not rich. ("It never entered my head that there was anything to be ashamed of in living in a small house and having only two servants.") Her brother (a couple of years older) went to school but Geraldine was home-schooled by her mother. Sometimes she wished she could go to school to.

One of both children's favourite things was to accompany their mother when she had some errands in the village. At the entrance of one shop there were two huge carved lions, looking very life-like. Geraldine and her brother used to imagine (or pretend) that these could come alive, and carry them off on adventures.

"A little way in from the front entrance to the shop --- stood a pair of huge lions carved in very dark, almost black, wood. They were nearly, if not quite, as large as life ---"

Then suddenly there is a big change in their lives. The children's father gets a job abroad (which it seems he has to take for financial reasons). His wife has to go with him; but for reasons to do with climate and whatever, they can't take the children. 

So the children are both sent to boarding schools - Geraldine to one for girls in the same village where they lived. Apart from her parents going away, she is actually kind of looking forward to this - hoping to make some new friends.  But the school turns out a huge disappointment to her. And here the story goes off into lengthy descriptions of the school, the teachers, and her growing unhappiness. Until one day she runs away, in the hope of finding someone who might be able to help her get news of her parents. It turns out she doesn't remember the streets of the village as well as she thought, so she gets lost - but eventually ends up at the shop with the lions, so exhausted that she falls asleep next to one of those. 

And then the lions come alive, and wonderful things start happening... Or... do they?
(Spoiler alert for the next paragraph)

Next thing, Geraldine wakes up, and finds herself in a strange bed, surrounded by faces she does not know. It turns out the owner of the shop found her sleeping next to the lion, and had taken her in. She has contracted a bad cold from being out in bad weather, and has to stay in bed for a while. However, it all turns out for the best. Various misunderstandings get sorted out, and she ends up not having to go back to the school, but gets to stay with nice people (including a girl her own age who also likes the carved lions); until eventually her parents come back from abroad.

The book is quite short (79 pages). It has been called the author's masterpiece by some; but as I already said, to me it feels uneven, with some parts of it full of details, but others only very hastily sketched, and the fantasy parts not allowed to mix too much with "reality".

The idea of the carved lions coming alive and letting the children ride on their backs to a faraway place still reminds me of Narnia, though. ;-) 

(Remains to be seen how well I'll remember the book in a couple of years or so - that's usually the best way to tell the quality of a story in the long run!)


Friday, 28 January 2022

A Bookish Challenge

A friend posted a challenge on Facebook which I found quite amusing, so I thought I'd pass it on here, together with my answers. I don't know who originally came up with the questions. But it actually turned out easier than I thought to find answers to them among the titles of books I read or listened to during 2021 ;-)  

How about you? 


Can you answer the following questions
using the titles of books you read last year?

DESCRIBE YOURSELF
A Proper Person to be Detained (Catherine Czerkawska)

HOW ARE YOU?
Silent Tears (Kay Bratt)

DESCRIBE THE PLACE YOU LIVE IN
The Place of the Lion (Charles Williams)

IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE, WHERE WOULD IT BE?
A Promised Land (Barack Obama)

YOUR FAVOURITE MEANS OF TRANSPORT
The Joy and Light Bus Company (Alexander McCall Smith)

YOUR BEST FRIENDS
Remarkable Creatures (Tracey Chevalier)

WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE?
Bitter Winds (Kay Bratt)

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MOMENT OF THE DAY?
Red Skies (Kay Bratt)

WHAT IS LIFE FOR YOU?
The Art of Inheriting Secrets (Barbara O'Neal)

YOUR FEAR?
The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry)

WHAT IS A PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN?
How to Raise an Elephant (Alexander McCall Smith)

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY?
The Truth in Our Lies (Eliza Graham)

HOW YOU WOULD WISH TO DIE?
Death Beside the Seaside (T.E. Kinsey)

THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR SOUL?
True to Me (Kay Bratt)

YOUR DREAM?
Equal Rites (Terry Pratchett)



Thursday, 27 January 2022

'Something to Hide' (Book Review)

 

Something to Hide – Inspector Lynley Book 21
by Elizabeth George  (published 11 January 2022) 

(Read on Kindle)

****

A black female police detective, Teo Bontempi, is found unconscious in her home. She is taken to hospital but her life cannot be saved. The autopsy reveals that she had been given a blow to the head, and a murder investigation is started. She had been working on a special task force to do with FGM – female genital mutilation (female circumcision). Acting Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley is assigned to the case, together with Detective Sergeants Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata.

Parallel to the murder case, we're introduced to a Nigerian family, husband and wife (Monifa) with two children, a teenage boy (Tani) and a younger daughter (Simisola). The father wants to keep the old traditions from his native country, and against his son's wishes, he is making arrangements for him to marry a young girl in Nigeria. He also starts making similar arrangements for his own daughter, even though Simi is still just a child. Those arrangements include FGM – female genital mutilation (female circumcision). Husband and wife have some different opinions about this ritual though. Monifa can't really see a way to stop her husband's plans – but she has her own ideas about how deal with it. At the same time, Tani is prepared to do everything he can to protect his little sister - from both their parents...

Lynley's old friends Simon and Deborah St James (from several previous books in the series) manage to get involved in this case (or these cases) as well. Deborah is a photographer, and as such working on a film/photo project with an organization working against FGM and domestic violence. Through this project she gets to know both victims and helpers – some of whom might be involved (one way or another) in the murder case as well.

As usual, the detectives' personal lives play a role in the story too. We get to know a bit more about Nkata's background and family (I can't recall having heard all that much about his family before, but I may have forgotten). Lynley is (still) struggling in his relationship with Dairdre, and also still processing the loss of his wife Helen (who was murdered I forget how many books ago). Although his own life is vastly different from the case he is working on now, there are still certain parallels that can be drawn when it comes to relationships and what men/women expect from each other. As for Barbara Havers, she too is still struggling with what other people seem to expect from her.

There are a lot of loose ends to either untangle or tie together in this book; which takes the author some 700 pages to sort out. I did feel from time to time that there were a few too many repetitions, and that it could all have been wrapped up quicker. On the other hand, I suppose the length of the novel does reflect the complications involved: cultural differences, unclear identities, missing paperwork and evidence, wrong conclusions, need for secrecy vs bureaucracy, mistrust of authorities, etc.

All in all, the book deals with an important topic, and the plot is quite interesting. But I can't help getting the feeling that after 20+ books, the author has a bit of a struggle sometimes with how to proceed with the personal lives of the detectives...


Saturday, 22 January 2022

After The Storm - or Here We Go Again


This week we had a rain/snowstorm, resulting in very icy and slippery streets, causing problems for traffic on the big roads as well as pedestrians in town. Today at least the wind had calmed down a bit. One still has to watch one's steps though, as it's still icy here and there, and also lots of branches on the ground from the storm. 

I went for a walk in the old cemetery nearby; keeping my eyes on the ground and watching my own feet carefully, but stopping here and there to look up and let the camera have a bit of exercise as well. I was reminded of Meike's post from a couple of days ago. Her hike was a much longer one and in more dramatic terrain - but I think she'll probably be able to guess the connection made in my head.

Starting with some photos taken from one and the same spot, turning in different directions.

Looking south

Looking east

Looking west

Looking north

And some more:


 

You've probably got it by now: What mystified me was that while there was quite a lot of snow and ice on the ground in some places, there were also large patches of almost bare ground in between. I guess the reason must be a combination of strong winds, temperature hovering around freezing point, and perhaps also sun vs shadow (after the rain/snow had ceased). But it does look rather odd!


Twigs blown off from the trees, some loose and having blown around, some frozen into the snow/ice and forming various intricate patterns. 

Some bigger branches broken from tall trees as well:

Down by the river, no snow at all to be seen:

 


Linking to Weekend Street/Reflections 52

Weekend Reflections

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Anonymous or Multifaced

 

 
Yesterday I went into town for a haircut; and after that, a couple of minor errands took me to the main square. When I got there, I realized that I obviously hadn't been as far into the city centre as the square since before New Year - and before the arrival of this (temporary) sculpture, called 'Faces', which was put up for the city's New Year Eve celebrations. I read about in the local paper back then, but since then had forgotten all about it. Once I did get to the square, it was kind of hard to ignore - even though it was currently in "anonymous" mode. The sign next to it informed me that it only shows its face(s) between 16-23 (i.e. after dark). I'm very rarely in town at that time of day myself, though - at least in winter. And yesterday, I definitely did not feel like hanging around the square for three more hours just to  see the sculpture "in action"...
 
However, scanning the QR code at home from my photo, I discovered that you can have a look at all the faces and information about the artists at https://artscape.se/faces/
 
 

Here's the face for today (18 January), copied from that website:

 

Felicia Gabaladons gathers inspiration from nature, her native American heritage and it’s symbols and brings it to life with bold palettes and symmetric patterns. She’s based in Oakland, California.

“The fox is often seen as a symbol of intelligence as well as playfulness. Combined with an artistic expression inspired by textile art and modern indigenous art from the U.S. tribes, it connects BorĂ¥s with other cultures.”

 
Our World Tuesday Graphic
 

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Bad Luck and Good

This week started kind of abruptly for me. On Sunday at lunch I broke a tooth. It was the same tooth that also broke twice last summer, and both times I was told it was tricky to fix, as the damage went deep. For the same reason, it may also be tricky to put a crown on it, though. So when I felt part of the filling had given way now, I feared "the worst"... 

In Swedish we have a saying "ha tur i oturen" which is difficult to translate to English in an equally short catchy phrase. It basically means "to have a bit of good luck in the midst of bad luck". The first time I broke that tooth (not the very first time, but the first time last year) was on Midsummer Eve (a Friday). I had to get through the rest of that weekend on foods like mashed bananas and yogurt etc, and call the dentist first thing on Monday - when I also had a scheduled appointment for my 2nd covid jab later the same day. Luckily, the dentist managed to fit me in early though, and also to fix the tooth; and I was able keep my afternoon appointment for the covid jab as well. This was also the last week before the dentist closed for summer holidays in July, so in that respect I was also "lucky" that it happened when it did, rather than in July.

The next time that tooth broke (another corner of it) was in August. Then it happened on a Thursday and I had to call first thing on Friday morning, knowing they would be closing early that day. It also turned out my own dentist wasn't there. But luckily, her colleague managed to squeeze me in at the very end of her closing-early day. And again, managed to fix the tooth.

And now, the third time, it happened on the last Sunday of the Christmas holiday season. I decided to wait to call until an hour after they opened on Monday morning. With covid numbers sky-rocketing after Christmas, I guessed the dentist would be likely to get a few cancellations first thing at the start of the first week after the holiday season... I may have been right about that, because when I called at 9 am, the nurse was able to offer me three choices the same day. The first one was at 10:20. That suited me fine... I might not even have to reschedule my booking of the laundry room (starting at 12). The streets were icy, but the weather was okay, even offering a glimpse of sun again after a weekend of dull snow/slush/grey. I was able to walk into town without hurry; the dentist once again managed to do miracles (even if still not able to make any promises how long it may last) and I did get back home in time to get my laundry done as planned. (After  all that, I was feeling pretty exhausted in the late afternoon, though.)

Two photos snapped with my phone yesterday, on my way to and from the dentist's. The river calm as a mirror, not really reflecting all my "drama" at all!



Today, we're back to grey. I've been for a short walk to the recycling bins with some stuff + popped into the small neighbourhood shop for some bananas and tomatoes on the way back. And I packed a bunch of Santas/elves/gnomes back into their box for hibernation until next Christmas. What I did with the rest of the day I can't really say! 

Tomorrow and the next few days it's supposed to get warmer once again, and rainy. I'm hoping for all the knobbly ice on the streets to be washed away before the next round of snow (which is likely to happen at some point as we're still only in the beginning of January). Tomorrow I'll probably be staying in, packing some more Christmas things to go down to the basement. 

"Luck is the phenomenon and belief that defines the experience of notably positive, negative, or improbable events. The naturalistic interpretation is that positive and negative events may happen at any time, both due to random and non-random natural and artificial processes, and that even improbable events can happen by random chance. In this view, the epithet "lucky" or "unlucky" is a descriptive label that refers to an event's positivity, negativity, or improbability." [Wikipedia]
(Feeling any the wiser? Not sure I do...)

Friday, 7 January 2022

Weekend Reflections

 

I saved some photos from yesterday for "Weekend Reflections".

Today (much as I suspected) we're snowed in again. It's been snowing all day, and still towards evening no sign or sound of a snow plow. I can only hope they're doing a better job of it on the main streets than on the side streets I see from my windows... Today is not even a holiday! But I was just reminded on the news that covid-numbers (omicron) are sky-rocketing here every day just now - I suppose that affects the snow-clearing as well.

 

Weekend Reflections 

Weekend Street/Reflections #50

Thursday, 6 January 2022

The 6th, 12th, 13th or Whatever...

 Christmas was sunny, cold and snowy. New Year was grey, bare and rainy. For today, 6th January, the "Thirteenth Day" of Christmas  (as we call it here)*  - the last holiday of the Christmas season - we're back to snowy and sunny again.  

* (I know in some countries it is counted as the Twelfth rather than the Thirteenth day of Christmas. Why we've not been able to agree on the math, I don't know! )

This time, the streets and pavements are covered with knobbly "frozen slush", though; which means one has to "be careful out there"... I grabbed my camera and my walking poles and ventured out for a slow walk around noon, though. I may not have burned a lot of calories (having to walk very slowly), but at least I was out for about 1-1½ hour enjoying some sunny and wintry neighbourhood views again.

 
 


 

(I did not go down there...)

The last photo is a "panorama view" from down by the river (which means the perspective is a bit twisted compared to real life) . It more or less covers the distance between two bridges, with the possibility nowadays to walk along the river on both sides in between. 

When I moved to where I live now, 14 years ago next summer, there were old factories along the other side of the river, and it was not possible then to walk along the water there. Since then, the industry buildings have been gradually replaced by new tall apartment buildings - but also a new public footpath along the water.

 

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Back to White

 

This morning, somewhat to my surprise, I woke up to a white world again. Heavy wet snow this time, leaving the streets in a rather sorry and treacherous state between slush and ice. So not a good day for walks. On the other hand, I could congratulate myself on having chosen a perfect day for staying in and have groceries delivered to my door!! ;-)

And for the Thirteenth Day of Christmas / Epiphany / Three Kings' Day tomorrow (a holiday here), the Amaryllis in the kitchen window is showing off again, with a third flower stalk. 

I'll probably leave my Christmas decorations up over the weekend as well, but start taking them down next week. (I tend to make a gradual process of that, just as I do in setting them up.)


Monday, 3 January 2022

Hello 2022

 

Fireworks photos taken through my living-room windows about 15 minutes or so into the new year. I didn't dare open the door to the balcony as it was really intense out there for a while around midnight... Most of it at some distance, but also some explosions too close for my liking (rattling the windows). 

I have had a long-standing tradition of celebrating New Year's Eve at my place with a handful of friends - but that was back in the pre-pandemic era (which is somehow beginning to feel rather remote). Last year we cancelled (still in the pre-vaccination era). In the early autumn I thought for a while that maybe we'd be able to pick up the tradition again (if everyone had had their jabs and were symptom-free etc). But then infection numbers generally started rising again, in spite of the vaccine. So what with one thing and another (and none of us getting any younger), we decided to "play it safe" this year as well.

So I spent another New Year's Eve on my own. The "on my own" part in itself is not a problem. What makes New Year stand out is all the fireworks and (forbidden) bangers; and that with all that noise, it's no use even trying to go to bed/sleep before 1:30 pm. Ah well. After two years with this virus constantly hovering in the background, I have kind of got used to taking things one day/week/step at a time.

After New Year (even a normal one) it usually takes me another week or so to get back into more regular rhythm. On Sunday morning I slept until 10:30. I woke up earlier of course, but fell back to sleep. Thought of skipping breakfast for some kind of 'brunch', but ended up having breakfast at 11 and lunch in the mid afternoon. 

Today I was up a lot earlier, but for some reason, I've kept thinking it's Tuesday, even though it's only Monday. Another holiday - Epiphany - coming up on Thursday is not likely to help when it comes to getting this week sorted out correctly in my head! (lol)

As for the weather, the magic white Christmas we had seems like a dream now. The last week has been quite the opposite: rainy, grey, foggy, 6-7°C (43-44°F)...

Most days I've managed to get out for a short walk - but they've not been very photo-inspiring... 

Walking around the old cemetery for a bit of exercise before lunch on New Year's Eve, I snapped this shot with my phone, just to remind myself later of why I didn't take any more photos this week! (Since then, all the snow has gone away completely.) 

Indoors, I've basically alternated between binge-re-watching the series The Crown on Netflix (I heard a new season is coming up in 2022), and scanning/reading my way through old postcards from the early 20th century for my family history blog, Greetings from the Past.

Here are two Swedish New Year cards from around 1915:


 


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