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Serious question, of deep import, coming up.  Children's books set in Roman Britain - with the exception of those written by Rosemary Sutcliff* - seem to be universally Bad.  Sometimes entertainingly so, sometimes just unreadably so.  But why?  (Any good titles disproving this theory would be more than gratefully received, btw!) * [ETA - [ profile] hafren  mentioned Kipling's stories as another exception, which I'd forgotten.]

Currently reading Roman Invasion (My Story) for the history project, and it's added evidence to my theory admirably.  The hero, Bran, an 11 year old "prince" of a British tribe, is given to declaiming ( a lot) about how he's a British warrior, and will NEVER submit to the Romans, but will die first.  Unfortunately, the first time his tribe finds a group of Roman soldiers small enough to take on, he, his mother (warrior Queen), his two male cousins and his 8 year old sister (brought into this battle because, as his mother says, the British LOVE their families and don't leave them behind like the Romans) are all taken uninjured.  And his mother proceeds to have a long conversation with the Roman govenor -- uh, she speaks Latin, why?  I guess there must be a translation spell floating around in the ether somewhere.

The best bit so far though, is when he's talking with the Greek surveyor working on the road the Roman army is building.  This man has his mute nephew with him and tells our Bran that the boy will have a good career as a surveyor, as he can communicate by drawing.

I said nothing to this, just ate my food, but Talos and Pentheus must have known what I was thinking.  The Romans weren't known for being caring to people with disabilities. 

FAIL.  In so many ways!

Another unintentionallly comic moment came when Bran accidentally killed a Brigantes warrior who attacked the Roman camp, while trying to protect the nephew (who had previously saved Bran's life).  Of course he'd feel bad about it, but having said a few pages before that the Brigantes were always fighting among themselves anyway, we get this drivel line:

My heart was heavy. I had committed a sin, one for which I should have died.  And yet I was still alive.  Was this to be part of my punishment: the torture of waiting? 

[next morning, in answer to being asked how he is...]

"I am cursed," I said. "I am waiting for the Goddess to send her messengers to kill me and carry my soul to hell for what I have done."

The Goddess, who's going to send him to hell (hunh?) for committing a sin (ditto), is Brigit.  Yup, a Goddess well known for killing her followers and sending their souls to -- oh, you know...  


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Cover of *Dawn Wind*

Such a great cover - it tickles me every time I look at it. The manly, manly jaw and sharp pointy object so undercut by the stance and wrist limpness... (But is the pose This dagger will be used to pick my nose if necessary - it's my compensation or the more obvious Mention my flaming campness and I'll give you a free lobotomy?

Very interesting read, too - I was babbling to [ profile] steepholm last night about a few of its oddities, including the fact that Regina, who has 'never had a mother or father' but was owned by a nasty old woman who sent her out begging in the streets of Vinconium, speaks with the perfect, rather formal language Rosemary Sutcliff uses for People from the Past.

Mrs Darcy the second

This is the more obvious type of happiness - my second completed (all except getting Younger Daughter to choose buttons and then sewing them on) Mrs Darcy cardigan. I'm thrilled to have it off the needles, sewn up and blocked, in large part because I kept making idiotic mistakes which made me sure I need a keeper. There were attempts to get pictures of her wearing it, but she claimed they were all horrible and they were on her camera so I couldn't just ignore her.

Silly, horribly immature pleasure provided by a thread on Ravlery about a new yarn (wrote 'yearn' first time!) called Fannie's Fingering. It *is* a US company, rather than a British or Australian one, and fingering *is* a weight of yarn, but still... Yes - this remains book-related - Fanny Burney - Fanny Price - Fanny Hi... never mind.
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After grousing so much about the last two audiobooks I listened to (Austenland and The Sharing Knife: Beguilement), and being a little worried about sharing Gatty's Tale with [personal profile] steepholm, though I quite liked it, it was a bit of a relief to listen to the sample of The Foreshadowing [ETA - not sure about that link, I've tried it again.] and have no hesitation about choosing it.  I could barely make myself stop listening, and had a strong feeling that this was an almost perfect marriage of reader/narrator and book, to the extent that I suspected I might have found it less gripping had I read it instead of listening. Today I had a look to see if the reader had done any other books they had available, and realised Anna Maxwell Martin is a well-known (BAFTA-winning, indeed) actress, though I've only seen her as Bessy in the wonderful production of North and South.  Her voice -- oh, it's just so good.  And reading this spare, atmospheric, stark prose...  Listen to the sample!  It's well worth it. 

Anyway, the story is an interesting one in itself, and I think the reasons the audiobook narration works so well are also.  Sasha (Alexandra) Fox is the 17 year old daughter of an eminent doctor living in Brighton at the start of World War I. She had her first premonition - of death, always of death - at the age of five, though nobody in her family can accept her entirely unwanted ability to predict the future.  She isn't totally sure about the premonitions herself at first, but when she's finally allowed to go the the hospital her father runs as a volunteer nursing assistant, they start to get clearer and more specific and beyond any doubt.  Like hearing the voice of the person say 'I must go now.  I had a bayonet put into my back as I was doing the same to another man. I must go now. I am dead and I must go.'  (Yeah - imagine that read by someone with beautifully clear diction, and controlled emotional depth.  Chills!) Before she knows he's dead.  She can't do anything about the prophecies, but feels totally alone as nobody believes her - like Cassandra, surely one of the more heart-rending characters of literature. 

When she has a dream showing her brother Tom (just a year older than Sasha and always closer to her than the eldest, Edgar, who went off eagerly as soon as the war began, to 'do his bit') being killed, however, she knows she has time to try to do something to prevent its happening.  She manages to get herself to France, pretending to be a trained nurse and starts working in a rest station in Boulogne.  If you might get a hint just reading this that finding Tom will be a hugely difficult problem in itself, let alone preventing his getting in the way of a bullet, you're not wrong.  I've no intention of saying more about what happens, as there's such tension between the seeming inevitability of the future Sasha has seen and her absolute determination to risk and do anything to stop it happening.  And then the climax - everything goes into slow motion and the tension is even greater when you suddenly realise what's about to happen and what could result...

Now mixing reading the paperback (with flags!  and notes!) with E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which arrived the other day.  Now that is a mind-bending combo.  But the impatient wait for Frankie is being so well-rewarded.  And I've got two of Sherwood Smith's just arrived to read and Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Princess Ben is on its way, and my first Carrie Jones is here, and In the Serpent's Coils, which sartorias recommended recently is ordered, and there's a new Skulduggery Pleasant out....  Yep, I am one very happy reader.
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Short (I hope) bit of preamble, in two initially separate directions. Yesterday, March 10th, was the day on which my father died in 1966 and on which my grandfather also died, five years later. I liked them both, a lot, and more relevantly here, both were big readers, and both helped foster my early book-wormery. According to my mother, my father introduced my grandfather to Anthony Trollope, and my grandfather got my dad fascinated with the American Civil War. Trollope's not so much to the point, as I haven't done much about reading him since a bit of dipping after the BBC serializations back in the -- ? 70s? -ish, but the Civil War is. Rosemary Wells intersects with children's reading and me through some of the favourite picture books I read many, many times to my own two, including Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth, Shy Charles, Hazel's Amazing Mother, and the Bunny Planet books.  So when I heard Wells had written a book about the Civil War, I was well surprised, but knew it was a must-read. 

Red Moon at Sharpsburg is quite a short book, though it takes India Moody from just before the start of the war to just before its end.  Some of that brevity comes from jumps in action that I found a bit disconcerting at first, until I put them in place with a picture book's page-turning, scene-changing nature.  And I thought I was going to be thrown out of the book early on by reading that a neighbour boy, Emory, had 'asthma', which I was convinced was a later word (OED-online proved me very, very wrong on that one) - [personal profile] steepholm took a quick skim while he was here and thought  'white trash' was similarly a term in use only later - he was also wrong, if less dramatically so.  (The author writes in an afterword that she spent 12 years researching the era, and I can well believe it.)  I soon felt I'd fallen into the rhythm of the book, which is rather different  - generally quite spare, but with lovely passages, and a conversational feel I quickly warmed to.  In terms of the author's stated intent of writing a book about the Civil War which told stories of  people's lives and also revealed the 'profound immorality of war', in a way appropriate for younger readers, I'd say she was fully successful.  I might have criticisms - mostly minor ones- but they're out-weighed by the positives.

If some of it might be a smidge improbably forward-thinking for the time (India is determined to go to Oberlin College, to study science, and Emory teaches her science, until he goes to be a military doctor, hoping to do something to change the woefully unhygienic medical practices which killed so many), there were of course people that forward-thinking, if well-diluted among the majority.  And this is one of the big questions about historical fiction, to which I keep returning: is it a bad thing to endow your major character(s) with more enlightened views than are shared by the vast majority of the people of the time, or is it a valid technique for engaging with attitudes which the majority of present-day readers will find abhorrent?   It's probably more common to have a female protagonist who's refusing to accept the 'proper', 'natural' role of women in society, as is found here, than any other possibly anachronistic views, but that doesn't mean it has to be done clumsily.  And if it's carefully done, as here, where an ahead-of-its-time institution like Oberlin becomes a goal for a girl who can't stand the idea of becoming merely a 'proper' woman and giving up learning, then it can help readers to understand how things were for a given group of people at a given time, and especially how they might have been for the minority that couldn't live happily with the generally-accepted. (Clumsily done - well, not good.)  At least, that's my take today and after this book...
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Well, I kind of knew it was going to be an unusual funeral last Saturday, when we finally managed to squeeze into the beautiful, small All Saints Church in Raheny to hear "As so many of you will have missed it while trying to get in, Jacinta will now sing the 'Ave Maria' again for us all."  Not unusual in most churches in Ireland, perhaps, but in a Church of Ireland one?  Decidedly.  Much more importantly, it was one of the most moving funerals I've ever attended.  Along this lines:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
(Raymond Carver, "Late Fragment")

Still feeling all over the place, and have left gaps in LJ and blog reading which may have to remain gaps now, as I can't imagine I'd manage to wade through the read posts in order to get back to older unread ones (Bloglines - down to 450-some unread!).  So if I've not replied to something I should have, please forgive the unintentional ignoring, which really is unintentional.

First two books of 2008 couldn't have been more dissimilar - well, given that they're both fiction, in English, and for children/teens - and yet could both be called historical fiction.  The two are Philip Reeve's Starcross (2007) and Hilda Lewis' Harold Was My King (1968). Before putting the usual babbling about the two behind a cut, I want to quote from the letter to the dedicatee of Harold Was My King - presumably her grandson (after I'd looked up her dates, [personal profile] steepholm lifted my fog by pointing out that Daniel Lewis could hardly have been her son).
In this tale the character of the Conqueror and his deeds are drawn largely from old manuscripts.  Some of them were written by Normans, some by Englishmen; so you can understand that William will appear in a different light according to whether the writer is Norman or English.

One day you will, very likely, read the old chronicles for yourself and make up your own mind.

Will try to get in at least one more book talk before (HOPEFULLY) heading off to Bristol on Thursday.  Last year's attempt to get there for [personal profile] steepholm's birthday ended in sorrow (mine), A&E and vomiting (Older Daughter's), so I'm more nervous than normal even, which is saying a lot...
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1 slightly demented Lady-Schrapnell with serious headache

+ 1 Firefox/Bloglines crash

+ a Saturday afternoon

- food



+ 1 industrial strength headache


The first picture is of a rather spur-of-the-moment project cast-on, when I couldn't stand looking at the computer any more and the second represents having finished reading Linda Buckley-Archer's The Tar Man. I could just barely manage to read at first (the headache, not the book!) but it got better. It's very difficult to know how to write about this, as anyone who's read Gideon the Cutpurse will no doubt be eager to read The Tar Man, and conversely, you'd really want to read Gideon before The Tar Man. So behind the cut, a bit of discussion that's spoiler-free for The Tar Man (though it makes it even harder to say anything significant) but not for Gideon. Read more (safely)... )


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