The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

I’ll be honest. I picked up Natasha Pulley’s Watchmaker of Filigree Street because of the gold etchings on the cover and the green edges to the pages. I suspect it counts as Steam Punk, which isn’t really a genre I’ve really read before.

In 1883, with Whitehall on high alert because of a bomb threat from Irish republicans, Nathaniel Steepleton, the Home Office telegraphist who picked up the threat, is mysteriously left an expensive gold watch. It doesn’t appear to work, but he carries it around anyway. And then it saves his life from the blast which destroys Scotland Yard, and he goes in search of its maker.

I really enjoyed The Watchmaker. There is a lovely cast of characters – my favourite probably being the clockwork octopus Katsu – and the plot is detailed and beautifully woven together.

It ran like clockwork…

Going Postal

I like snail mail. I like opening envelopes to find out what’s inside. Even the post at work. I’m nosy like that.

I watched Going Postal several years ago – I think it was a TV movie, possibly by ITV, like the adaptation of The Hogfather. I’ve been trying to work my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series ever since. Slowly, though. As I find them in charity shops or the library. And find the moment to read them.

This week, finally, I found the time to read Going Postal, which concerns a con-man’s attempts to resurrect the state mail service in Ankh-Morpork alongside the much faster, almost mafia-controlled clacks (think telegrams).

Come hell or high water, the mail must get through. And there’s a lot of hell for Moist von Lipwig, the new Postmaster. It wasn’t his first choice of career, but Lord Vetinari made it clear: Postmaster (with a golem for a probation officer), or be hanged for his various con-man crimes.

I remember greatly enjoying the film back then, and now I greatly enjoyed the book. It is, I feel, one of the better Discworld novels of the half dozen or so which I’ve read.

TBR Book-Tag

For various reasons, but largely because of time and trying to do too much, and because I’m lazy, my Library is making its way into the Cocoary.

I used to talk books here, occasionally, and then, just over a year ago, I decided to create a book-space and focus more on Life and Crafts here. Now, though, as a result of much soul-searching and discussions about the future, my books are returning here. For those who did find the Library, you may recognise some of the content, as I transfer the books. I shall endeavour to break the old up with new as I go.

DSCN0131

A portion of our book-collection…

However, I thought, to begin, I should start with my To-Be-Read pile:

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Physically, I have a small pile of books by my bed, and I have a good memory for my books, bookshelves, and those I have already read. Otherwise, I have a very long list of titles spanning several dozen pages of those I’d like to read.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

Print. My Kindle has been neglected for…oh, pretty much since I got it. It has its moments, but I prefer print books.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

Does it need to go back to the library soon? If there are no library books in the pile, how am I feeling? Which looks the most interesting or entertaining?

4. Book that has been on your TBR the longest?

I can’t remember the title – something like Under the Sky, can’t remember the author (Harris, maybe? Barry? Radcliffe?) – but I was given it for my birthday as a teenager, and I still haven’t read it…I can picture both the cover and where it is on my shelf, and I know it has something to do with WWII.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR?

To the pile: Mark’s Warhammer novels. Does that count? There’s quite a few of them, and the collection is growing…

To the list: Black City Saint, by Richard A. Kraal.

6. A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

 The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, in the Waterstones edition. So pretty! I read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street because of its cover too, and enjoyed it. Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover…

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

The rest of Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles. I read the first, doubt I’ll read the rest. And I doubt I’ll ever read the aforementioned war book…

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

Probably the next Cormoran Strike novel, although that isn’t specifically on my list. I don’t know which on my list are unpublished. That’s the thing with working in the book-industry. I come across all sorts of books but don’t very often pay attention to the publication date.

9. A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Although I am slowly working my way through them. I’ve had a lack of recommendations recently, though, and I don’t keep up with current bestsellers – see below.

10. A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

Probably most of the current bestsellers. I haven’t yet read the Peculiar Orphanage series – Ransom Riggs, is it?

11. A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

Can’t think of one – such an emotion about a book only really occurs with series, and I’m not currently in the middle of one. Unless you count the Strike novels? But I can wait for that one.

12. How many books are in your Goodreads TBR shelf?

No idea. My Goodreads bookshelf, like my Kindle, has been neglected since shortly after opening the account… I know, I’m terrible with technology.

 

If you feel inclined to answer the above questions yourself, consider yourself tagged.

 

 

 

Mists of Time: 23rd April

There’s lots at the moment about Shakespeare, today being the 400th anniversary of his death.

But his was not the only important death on the 23rd April. (I’m not sure about ‘important’. Significant, maybe, or interesting. Are death-days important? Or just morbid? Anyway…)

From my medieval mindset, I tend to start with it being the death-day of two Aethelreds, the first being the elder brother and predecessor Alfred the Great in 871, and the second being Aethelraed the Unready in 1016. Of the two, this year is the greater anniversary for the second, since it’s the 1000th anniversary.

Aethelraed the Unready’s death led to the accession of his son Edmund Ironside. Not that Edmund lasted very long, splitting England with Knut of Denmark following the Battle of Assandun on 18th October 1016, and then dying himself at the end of November that year. Knut took Wessex and crowned himself King of England.

On 23rd April 1014, it was the day of the Battle of Clantarf in Ireland, when Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig (Brian Boru to most of us), High King of Ireland, led a force against an Irish-Norse alliance, and had a good’n’bloody fight (tens of thousands dead kind of thing), ostensibly victorious, although since he also died, along with his son and grandson, that’s a matter of opinion.

For the literary, and more modern, world, William Wordsworth snuffed it on this day in 1850, and Rupert Brooke, a WWI war poet, in 1915, of a sepsis complication following a mosquito bite.

And for the interested, 9 years ago, in 2007, Boris Yeltsin, First President of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Empire, died.

But Shakespeare. Let’s return to Shakespeare and his literary mark on the world. The Guardian have a piece today suggesting that if he were alive today, he’d be a crime novelist. Admittedly this piece was written by a crime novelist (with a book out), but do you agree? Would he still be a poet and playwright, or would he be doing something else? Literary or otherwise…

Mists of Time: Knut the Great

The Viking Age period began with sporadic incursions and ended with full-scale invasions.

Fifty years before Harald Hardrada, the last Viking, died at Stamford Bridge, a Nordic invasion took the throne of England. This year, 2016, is the 1000th anniversary of that conquest.

Knut of Denmark was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard and grandson of Harald Bluetooth, who had managed to oust Aethelraed in 1013. His mistake then was simply that Aethelraed was exiled, not killed, and when Sweyn died the following year, he came back. Knut, whose brother Harald inherited Denmark’s crown, was elected King by the Vikings and Norsemen of Danelaw, but the English nobility chose to bring Aethelraed back from exile.

Knut, returning to Denmark, marshalled his forces and returned for invasion in 1015. Lots of battles were fought for over a year, with Aethelraed’s men led by his son Edmund Ironside.

And then, in April 1016, Aethelraed died. Edmund kept fighting, but Knut defeated him that October. Didn’t kill Edmund, but they came to an agreement, dividing England into Danelaw (Knut’s) and Wessex (Edmund’s). Edmund died a month later. Maybe it was battle-wounds, maybe it was murder. Not quite sure, but Knut became King of all England. He was crowned at Epiphany 1017.

Six months later, he married Aethelraed’s widow Emma, and he used his base in England to build a North Sea Empire, taking Denmark when his brother died in 1018 and Norway in 1028 when Olaf of Norway’s jarls deserted him and he fled the field. Olaf was killed two years later in 1030 when he attempted to reclaim his crown. Knut also laid claim to parts of Sweden – as far east as Sigtuna.

Knut died in 1035, and his Empire broke up. Within ten years, England was ruled again by the House of Wessex, by Edward the Confessor, son of Aethelraed and Emma.

A House Without Books

According to American politician and educational reformer Horace Mann, a house without books is like a room without windows. (The rest of that quotation makes me suspect that he would cry child abuse at any parent without books in the house.)

To the Roman politician Marcus Tullius Cicero, it was even more dire, comparing a book-less room to a body without a soul.

Not everyone is in the fortunate position of having books in every room, but I do agree with Mann: every house should have books. It’s no secret that I’m a bookish sort of a person; if I could, I would have bookshelves on every wall, and when I win the lottery, my house will have a proper library. I am very attached to my books. I have to really dislike a book to banish it from my collection.

Tomorrow is National Library Day. It’s supposed to encourage people to join their local libraries and support them against local council cuts. I agree, I haven’t heard of it before, either. But I think it’s a good idea.

For those who can’t afford new books, for those who haven’t the space to keep vast numbers of books, for those who simply like books, the local library is an excellent resource. It’s usually free to join, and you have access to the entire collection, and they can generally order in any specific book you want but which isn’t on their shelves. You can try out new authors without having to actually buy a book you’re not sure about. And being a member of the library gives you access to their online resources as well, including that wonder of wonders the OED Online.

Now I’ll admit, me trying to keep all the libraries open isn’t entirely altruistic. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone needs such an access to books, but there’s something else. You see, I collect library cards. Wherever I live, I join the local library service. One day, I’d like to be able to create a map of the UK in library cards. But mostly, I just like having library cards.

Library Cards

The Lighthouse – P.D.James

Having begun the year with Poe, I have come to the conclusion that he is best appreciated in small doses, and inbetween other reads.

This is partly because, while I was doing the mini-spring-clean which has provided me with an office, I picked a book off the shelf, as you do when you’re cleaning (or is that just me?), and that was the end of the cleaning. I was supposed to be doing the rest of the flat. I only did the office…

The book, well, that was The Lighthouse by P.D.James. I have no idea how I came by it, but apparently I did, and it was the book which leapt out at me.

Now, I like murder mysteries, but I have a hard time these days finding the sort I want to read: I’m not so keen on the fast-paced, conspiracy-theory-heavy thrillers, or those that provide every possible detail to prove the writer knows his/her police procedure; but I like Commander Adam Dalgliesh, and I like James’ writing. It is evident, but not in-your-face that she knows her stuff (and given her working life before writing, she probably ought to).

The Lighthouse is set on a fictional island off the Cornish coast. The sort of mystery with a limited suspect-pool and the murderer can’t get away, but everyone’s cooped up with him/her, so s/he’s likely to get desperate as the detective gets closer to the answer. This particular island is run as a very exclusive get-away for the over-stressed professionals, and they pay for the island’s privacy. And then one dies.

Dalgliesh is a sensible, robust sort of detective. If he lacks the eccentric flair I normally like in my detectives, there is a comforting solidity about him. Having found a much earlier James, from the ’70s, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dalgliesh must be a sort of Peter Pan character, since The Lighthouse is from 2005, but then, I haven’t read all the others to know what happens in his life between then and now, and nor do I know even his approximate age in either novel.

It is my intention to begin a P.D.James collection, and no higher praise can I give to an author.