Alan Bennett: The Uncommon Reader (review)

pidab4370cda966432@large‘Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself.’ (location 38-44)

As most people probably can guess, I like to read. And because of this, I also like to read about other people reading. So when I heard about a book where the English Queen finds a mobile library while searching for her corgis and then feels obliged to borrow a book, I was hooked. She borrows the book and when she returns it, she takes another book out – and ends up promoting a boy from the kitchens she met at the library to help her with her reading lists and with acquiring new books.
And then she starts to read. And read. And read. And suddenly she starts getting bored by her official duties, she starts bringing books with her when driving anywhere, she starts cutting meetings and audiences short – she just wants to read.
And then everyone starts working against her. Her employees hide her books and they get rid of the boy who was helping her. And some even suspects her of suffering of a beginning senility: ‘/…/ the dawn of sensibility was mistaken for the onset of senility.’ (location 647-53). But a love of reading is not so easy to stop and so she keeps on reading until she has read a lot and starts feeling a need to not only be passive but be active. Do something herself. Like writing…
I loved how Bennett shows how she grows as a reader – and as a human being. How at the beginning she finds some books difficult and for instance has trouble understanding the differences in and importance of social status in Jane Austen’s novels because she is so high above everyone else that the subtle differences between the characters in Austen’s novels are lost on her. At first. But she learns. ‘Books did not care who was reading then or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.’ (location 233-45)
Oh, and it was funny. When someone recommends Harry Potter to her, her answer is a very brisk ‘One is saving that for a rainy day.’ (location 336-42) And when her staff sends her off on a long trip to Canada and makes sure her books are not packed, she meets Alice Munro who kindly enough gives her some of her works. Which she loves, of course, which is quite fitting in this, Alice Munro’s year of winning the Nobel Prize.
Even though this is not a biography and the characters are not truly the persons they are based on, this book still made me think favorably of the English Queen. And I guess that’s what’s the issue with books like this, loosely based on real people. Even though it’s fiction, it reflects on the people the characters are based on. In this case, it’s favorably – in other cases it isn’t always.
I absolutely loved the ending. And it really makes me want to read Proust!

‘One reads for pleasure,’ said the Queen. ‘It is not a public duty.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Sir Kevin, ‘it should be.’ 
(location 349-55)

First line: At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet, and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.

  • Title: The Uncommon Reader
  • Author: Alan Bennett
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Year: 2007
  • Pages: 120 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

I read this for Rick’s Novellas in November challenge.

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Thomas Steinbeck: Cabbages and Kings (review)

CABBAGES AND KINGS, Steinbeck - Cover‘The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.’ (p. 55)

So when I was contacted by Post Hill Press and asked if I wanted to read some new novellas by John Steinbeck’s son Thomas Steinbeck, I was interested just because of the name. And then I read the synopsis and thought it sounded kind of like fantasy and thought that could be really interesting.
Of course, Thomas Steinbeck is his father’s son and of course, he didn’t write fantasy. He writes realistic fiction, set in the early 20th century and dealing with people in trouble.
Titus Gatelock is a man whom no one really knows. He never cares what anyone says about him and even when people start saying that he was a bandit and that he was part of a famous train robbery, he just smiles and shakes his head and says, ‘There’s real history and real truth out there everywhere, but when it bumps heads with a whopping good yarn that everybody enjoys, then the truth is sure to cross the line in last place every time.’ (p. 1-2)
But Titus is a good man. He does good things for the people around him and he’s almost a second father to the two boys living close by, Lobosito and our narrator. These two boys strike up a strong friendship despite the differences in their circumstances. The narrator’s father own a ranch, Titus is a tenant on it and he hires the mexican man and woman who are Lobosito’s parents to help him out. But the friendship between the boys never wavers, despite them making different choices with their lives they always stay close and work together towards a common goal. Especially as time gets rough, banks falter and people start starving. And it’s clear from the way Titus and the boys’ parents behave that they don’t have this from strangers.
There are several great things in this novella. I loved how Titus gets the two boys to dig a lot of holes for apple trees while making them believe they were digging for treasure – and then making them believe that they themselves come up with the idea of planting apple trees. And the pig, oh my, the pig. Titus has a pig, a heavy cast iron thing which he paints – and others paints – in various garish colors – thereby naming it The Speckled Pig of Destiny. That pig was amazing!
So this was a really good read. I went into it not really knowing what to expect but when I had finished and had read the last page, I was really impressed. I can’t compare Thomas to John, in part because what I love most of John’s work, are the long novels (East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath) and this was only 59 pages – but mostly because it’s not really fair to do so. Even though this book takes place close to Salinas Valley where John was born and which he used as a setting for some of his books. And the type of person the author seems to be based on his work, seem to be impressive for both father and son. Suffice to say, that I think it’s definitely worth reading both Steinbecks.

‘My only responsibilities are to treat my fellow creatures with appropriate respect, do the best work I can do for those requiring my services, and treat all people as honestly as I would lie to be treated myself. And lastly, if possible, harm no one on my journey through life. Nothing else is anyone’s business.’ (p. 22)

First line: Titus Gatelock was well known to just about everybody around King City who possessed a horse, a mule, or any close approximation with “four legs and a whiny”; though this commonly used phrase would be highly misleading in the case of Mr. Gatelock.

  • Title: Cabbages and Kings
  • Author: Thomas Steinbeck
  • Publisher: Post Hill Press
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages:  59 pages
  • Source: Review copy – kindle
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

I read this for Rick’s Novellas in November challenge.

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #5

doctor_who___50th_anniversary_poster_by_disneydoctorwhosly23-d5gxelrThis year we celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. One of the ways we do this, is by getting eleven short stories written about eleven authors. Each story is based on one of the eleven doctors, of course. A range of different authors of children’s fiction get to play with a doctor each and each month, on the 23rd, a new short story will be released.

Here’s the schedule – with links to my reviews (and yeah, I’m behind…):

PatrickNess-TipoftheTongueIn a small town in Maine in 1945, things are happening. People starts telling each other the truth, no matter what it is – and that’s just not the way to make friends. Leading this charge of truth is the Acklin family who owns the local store and who are always first with the new things. Their daughter is organizing Truth Parties which just add a bit more nastiness to the whole teenage experience. And of course to participate in a Truth Party, you first have to buy a Truth Teller at the Acklin store. It’s always nice when families work together, right?
Not quite popular enough to be allowed in to these parties, are the two friends, Nettie and Jonny. The only mixed-race child and the only Jewish child in town, the two were destined to be friends when they met as five-years-old. Now, nine year later, Jonny has fallen in love with one of the popular girls in town and to have a chance with her, he buys a Truth Teller from Nettie. A Truth Teller, which immediately let her know, that he likes her only as a friend.
But of course a Truth Teller is not something that’s supposed to be in Maine in the 40s. So of course the Doctor shows up. A very elegant doctor in a white suit – with a celery in the lapel! And when a female companion wearing pants, the two are sure to attract attention.
What I really liked about this story was, that it wasn’t told from the point of view of the Doctor and his companion. I liked that it was told from Nettie and Jonny’s viewpoint. Normally we are with the Doctor and sees things from his side but I like to see it from the side of those who experience the Doctor waltzing in and doing something strange and – for them – unexplainable.
I also really liked how Patrick Ness used these small alien Truth Tellers to identify the Doctor. And that got me thinking, that I don’t think any of the novels have had a ‘Doctor Who’ moment, you know ‘I’m the Doctor.’ ‘Doctor Who?’ – and I kind of miss that. Of course they can’t put every trope in these short stories but I would like one of these moments in one of them.
Basically, I liked the whole idea of this story and it-s dealing with friendship, racism, bullying and how the rich and powerful can do whatever they want. I thought Patrick Ness manages to do a lot in a short amount of pages but I didn’t feel like I got a very good impression of this, the Fifth Doctor. So one of the strengths of the story becomes also one of it’s weaknesses. So a great short story, but maybe not a good Doctor Who story. But I still liked it …

First line: ‘Is it broken?’ Jonny asked, frowning.

  • Title: Tip of the Tongue
  • Author: Patrick Ness
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 38 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

I read this as part of the year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.

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Meike Ziervogel: Magda (review)

9781907773402frcvr.inddLately my cultural life has somehow gotten a common theme. And not a nice theme. Recently the latest – and maybe last – movie by the Danish director Niels Malmros has gotten a lot of attention in Danish medias since it’s a very personal movie about his personal life and how his wife killed their infant daughter 29 years ago. His wife suffered from manic depression which had turned into a psychosis. It seems to be a strong and powerful story about love and how you don’t need to forgive someone if you never blamed them in the first place. This has caused other similar stories to appear. On top of that, I just read a book where a mother kills her baby – and now I’m reading Magda; a book about Magda Goebbels and how she killed all six of her children. I wouldn’t mind a happier theme soon!

I never knew about Magda Goebbels and what she did before watching Der Untergang. In this movie, there’s a very powerful scene where we watches Magda kill five of her children in their sleep by giving them poison and then forcing her eldest who wakes up and realizes what’s going on, to also ingest the poison. And when I then heard that Meike Ziervogel had written about Magda, I definitely knew I had to read that book.
Magda is just a short book, a 115 pages novella. In this short span of pages, Ziervogel both deals with Magda’s childhood and difficult relationship with her mother and the father who left, as well as Magda’s love life and her first meeting with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. The story is told both from Magda herself, from her mother and in diary pages from Magda’s oldest daughter, Helga. We get to experience what life was in the Führer Bunker in the final days in Berlin in World War II and what it’s like to be a teenage girl experiencing first love in rather unfortunate circumstances as well as a mother’s dread for what will happen with her children after the war if they are named Goebbels.

While this for me definitely was a powerful read that left my lying awake after finishing it and being slightly disturbed by Magda’s action and wondering what – if anything – she could have done otherwise and reflecting on what I would have done in the same situation – and what a mother must feel, killing her six children, the book was not as good as I had hoped. I think it would have benefitted from more pages – there was simply too much story, too many details, too many viewpoints and too much sadness for 115 pages.
I also couldn’t help comparing it to Beloved and the far stronger story of a former slave who kills her daughter to save her from becoming a slave. The action is the same. Magda  even does it in a much kinder way – but still I feel more for the mother in Beloved, maybe because you were forced to become a slave, you were not forced to become a Nazi. And I know that’s not completely fair or even true but I think that’s why. Or maybe it’s just because that Magda, while being a very good read, just isn’t as good a read as Beloved. Still, I recommend reading both as they are both interesting and thought provoking.

First line: Magda enters Joseph’s study without knocking.

  • Title: Magda
  • Author: Meike Ziervogel
  • Publisher: Salt
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 115 pages
  • Source: Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

I read this for Rick’s Novellas in November challenge.

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #4

doctor_who___50th_anniversary_poster_by_disneydoctorwhosly23-d5gxelrThis year we celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. One of the ways we do this, is by getting eleven short stories written about eleven authors. Each story is based on one of the eleven doctors, of course. A range of different authors of children’s fiction get to play with a doctor each and each month, on the 23rd, a new short story will be released.

Here’s the schedule – with links to my reviews (and yeah, I’m behind…):

17734251One of the things I’ve learned in this 50th Anniversary Year is that I love getting to know more about the history of Doctor Who. Growing up, I had never heard of Doctor Who but discovered it by chance when on maternity leave with my first daughter. My first doctor was David Tennant and one of the first episodes I remember watching, is School Reunion. But because of this 50th Anniversary coming up so very soon, I’ve been inspired to dive into the history of Doctor Who, not just by reading these short stories by various authors but also by watching some of the old episodes. I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped so I’ve only finished watching the existing episodes with the First Doctor and a lot of the Second Doctor episodes – and I just love watching how some themes and villains have survived all through the series.
The Fourth Doctor with his jelly babies and colorful scarf is one Doctor, I’m really looking forward to watching but for now, I’m happy to settle for reading this short story.
First of, I absolutely loved the setting – a giant tree floating in space. This is the home of a people who seem to not only have met the Doctor before but to have rather strong feelings about him. And it quickly becomes clear that these feelings are not positive in any way. Rather, this people have been carrying a grudge for 900 years and to remember this, they all have names like Vengeance-Will-Be-Ours-When-The-Docor-Dies-A-Thousand-Agonizing-Deaths. So it’s not exactly a friendly welcome, the Doctor and Leela receives when they go there to satisfy Leela’s need to see some trees.
But of course things quickly spiral somewhat out of control and the Doctor and Leela both have to figure out why the Doctor is so hated and what to do now when both the population of the tree and they themselves are under heavy attack.
My favorite thing about this novel was the setting and the humor. I haven’t watched the Fourth Doctor but he seems to be a humorous Doctor and that definitely showed through in this short story. He had a great reaction to finding out that all the inhabitants had anti-Doctor names and I love both the references to the 11th Doctor and how one person’s past is another person’s future.
So an enjoyable read – just too darn short!

‘I can just about accept that I might, one day, in a moment of weakness, wear a bow tie, but there is no way I will ever take up arms against anyone unless they thoroughly deserve it.’

First line: Above the dead surface of a nameless world, far out among the Autumn Stars, the Heligan Structure hangs alone in the hard, cold light of space.

  • Title: The Roots of Evil
  • Author: Philip Reeve
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 40 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

I read this as part of the year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.

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Jim Butcher: Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)

91477‘Don’t mess with a wizard when he’s wizarding.’ (location 3055)

So immediately after finishing Storm Front, I picked up Fool Moon. In part because I was intrigued and wanted to keep on reading about Harry Dresden and in part because I just wasn’t ready to dive into anything more serious.
I had a good time reading Storm Front but didn’t love the book. But there’s no question about it – Fool Moon is the better book.
As usual – or can’t you say that when it’s only book two? – Harry is in serious need of work and money. But luckily he is called in to help the police and finds himself at the scene of a rather grizzly murder. A scene with large paw prints, a victim which seems to have been halfway eaten – and it’s a full moon. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that werewolves play a part in the plot.
But if it were just werewolves, it would be too easy. So as it turns out, there are different kinds of werewolves – and they don’t necessarily look with friendly eyes on each other. Or on the private eye wizard trying to figure out what’s going on…
There’s not much new under the sun. The plot follows roughly the same pattern as in the first book. There are several recurring characters who do pretty much the same as in the first book and Harry seems to react in the same ways. But there’s is something about these books and as the writing has improved from the first book, I’m still game.
Something I really like about this series is, that Harry doesn’t always seem to always know exactly what he’s doing and even though he’s a trained wizard, he sometimes overestimates his own abilities. And that works well for creating some great action. Another clever move is that Dresden can’t use modern technology so he can’t just look things up online because anything electric basically self-destructs whenever he gets near. This is such a smart move on Butcher’s part.
I also really like that Butcher doesn’t fully explain a lot of things. We are still left guessing about what a lot of things are and how the magic really works. Like the Nevernever. I’m pretty sure that Harry will go there at some point and I like that we are kept waiting.
But I think my favorite part of this book was the potion making. He makes a fade-into-the-background potion as well as a pick-me-up potion and the ingredients just makes sense – in a funny way. The fade-into-the dark potion is filled with boring stuff – like lettuce for taste and elevator music to camouflage the spirit whereas the pick-me-up potion contains morning doughnut, fresh soap, dawn sunshine, a to-do list, some bright cheerful music – and coffee! I’m really not sure it makes sense if you think too hard about it but it doesn’t have to. It works in the book.
So all in all, this book has more humor and feels better written than the first book in the series. Oh, and he mentions Benji too, a childhood favorite of mine. So again, an enjoyable read and I’ll definite read further on in the series at some point. Probably soon because I’m starting to fall asleep again when reading in bed at night…

  • Title: Fool’s Moon (The Dresden Files #2)
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Publisher: Roc 
  • Year: 2001
  • Pages:  421 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #3

doctor_who___50th_anniversary_poster_by_disneydoctorwhosly23-d5gxelrThis year we celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. One of the ways we do this, is by getting eleven short stories written about eleven authors. Each story is based on one of the eleven doctors, of course. A range of different authors of children’s fiction get to play with a doctor each and each month, on the 23rd, a new short story will be released.

Here’s the schedule:

  • January – First Doctor, William Hartnell (1963-1966)
  • February – Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
  • March – Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
  • April – Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (1974-1981)
  • May – Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison (1981-1984)
  • June – Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker (1984-1986)
  • July – Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
  • August – Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann (1996)
  • September – Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (2005)
  • October – Tenth Doctor, David Tennant (2005-2010)
  • November – Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith (2010-present)

doctor-who-spear-of-destiny-sedgwickSo the Third Doctor spent a lot of his time in exile on earth, working closely with UNIT. And so it is in this story where he is on the hunt for a very special spear, a spear supposed to have been wielded by Odin himself, the Spear of Destiny.
After having rather seriously underestimated the security at a museum in London where the spear resides at this point in time, 1973, the Doctor together with his companion Jo travels back in time to the time of the Vikings. Here, they find themselves in the middle of a battle between two groups of Vikings on the brink of war. One of these is led by Odin who is wielding a spear which can’t miss.
But quickly it is clear that not everything is quite right, that there is something suspicious about Frey and that the Doctor and Jo suddenly find themselves in rather a lot of trouble, being captured by the Vikings.
I quite enjoyed this story. The Doctor again seemed different from the first two doctors in the first two anniversary short stories but whether it is because of Marcus Sedgwick nailing him or just because of the different writing styles, I can’t tell. He did have the obvious details right, of course, like his favorite means of transportation (Bessie) and his strong personal fashion style as well as a certain arrogance. Also, Jo seems like a girl with a knack for getting into trouble. There weren’t many references to other time periods or more modern culture which of course makes perfect sense since this incarnation spent a lot of his time on Earth, unable to travel in space and time.
I liked the story and the Doctor portrayed in this one and this is the first story which made me not only want to explore it’s Doctor further, but actually made me really eager to do so. I’m really starting to get a sense of the rich heritage Doctor Who has and what exactly it is we’re celebrating. As always, I eagerly await the next installment in the series, the Fourth Doctor’s story, The Roots of Evil by Philip Reeve.

  • Title: Spear of Destiny
  • Author: Marcus Sedgwick
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 55 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #2

doctor_who___50th_anniversary_poster_by_disneydoctorwhosly23-d5gxelrThis year we celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. One of the ways we do this, is by getting eleven short stories written about eleven authors. Each story is based on one of the eleven doctors, of course. A range of different authors of children’s fiction get to play with a doctor each and each month, on the 23rd, a new short story will be released.

Here’s the schedule:

  • January – First Doctor, William Hartnell (1963-1966)
  • February – Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
  • March – Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
  • April – Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (1974-1981)
  • May – Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison (1981-1984)
  • June – Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker (1984-1986)
  • July – Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
  • August – Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann (1996)
  • September – Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (2005)
  • October – Tenth Doctor, David Tennant (2005-2010)
  • November – Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith (2010-present)

namelesscitySo this Saturday saw the publication of the second of the 11 short stories celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. This time around, we get to spend time with the Second Doctor as seen by Michael Scott, the author of the The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. As was the case last month, I have not seen any episodes with the Second Doctor so I can only comment on the story itself and not whether it portrays this doctor correctly.
Right off the bat, I think this short story is very much a traditional Doctor Who story and very much in line with this project. Whereas the first story clearly was written now with references to modern culture, this one is set in 1968 and there’s no references to the Doctor knowing about our modern culture. The focus is on the story itself in a nice traditional way.
Told from the point of view of Jamie, the Doctor’s companion, we get the Doctor as he appears to his young Scottish companion – shabbily and unfashionably dressed, with a tendency to get in a lot of trouble and sometimes needing help to get out of it again.
This time, a badly damaged Tardis is stuck in London in the 60s. Jamie has been sent on an impossible errand by the Doctor and on his way, he helps an elderly gentleman who has been attacked by a big thug. As a thank you, he receives a small book. However, the gentleman is not exactly an innocent and neither is the book.
When Jamie gives the book to the Doctor, things quickly goes downhill – which isn’t all that strange, given that the book in question is the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead.
So this dangerous and fabled book is inside the Tardis and causes the Tardis to go off on a mad hunt across the universe to The Nameless City, home of the Archons, a race beieved long dead.
Now of course the question is whether this is actually true – and how to get the still broken Tardis away from this planet.
While I enjoyed this story, it felt a bit light to me. I think it had enormous potential with the Doctor facing off against an old enemy claiming to be the originators of the Tardis technology, however, the scenes with the Archons were too brief and things were just a bit too easy. I did enjoy a Scottish piper wearing his kilt and using his bagpipe as a sort of weapon.
In conclusion, this was a bit too light fare for my taste but I love the idea so much of these different writers writing stories for their favorite doctor so I’m still very much looking forward to next month’s encounter with the Third Doctor.

  • Title: The Nameless City
  • Author: Michael Scott
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

Related posts:

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #1

doctor_who___50th_anniversary_poster_by_disneydoctorwhosly23-d5gxelrThis year we celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. One of the ways we do this, is by getting eleven short stories written about eleven authors. Each story is based on one of the eleven doctors, of course. A range of different authors of children’s fiction get to play with a doctor each and each month, on the 23rd, a new short story will be released.

Here’s the schedule:

  • January – First Doctor, William Hartnell (1963-1966)
  • February – Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
  • March – Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
  • April – Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (1974-1981)
  • May – Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison (1981-1984)
  • June – Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker (1984-1986)
  • July – Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996)
  • August – Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann (1996)
  • September – Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (2005)
  • October – Tenth Doctor, David Tennant (2005-2010)
  • November – Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith (2010-present)

Eoin-Colfer-book-a-big-hand-for-the-doctor-300x460

The first story is written by Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame. It’s a short, fun romp and even though I have to admit that I have never watched the first Doctor, I got a clear impression of how different a doctor he was, than the 9th, 10th and 11th doctors who are my doctors.

Eoin Colfer lets the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan go up against the Soul Pirates, some nasty fellows who kidnap children and then chop them up for parts. The Doctor has already been up against them before – and that caused him a hand. Thus, we meet him in this novel shopping for a new hand. And of course, while he does so, Susan gets into trouble and so, it’s the Doctor to the rescue. But a rescue made somewhat trickier by the fact that the Soul Pirates beam their victims up in a way so the victims loose any idea of where they are and what’s going on but instead think they are in a kind of paradise.

I can’t judge whether Colfer nails the Doctor – I have no clue about that – but I liked that he felt different and distinctive compared to the Doctors I know. And I liked Colfer’s many nods to the Doctor’s time traveling ability and to culture, Hogwarts, Mr. Scrooge and others.

And I thoroughly loved the epilogue’s nod to Peter Pan! It’s kind of obvious and the story had incorporated Peter Pan elements earlier too and it was very nicely done, I thought.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. It was half an hour or so well spend. Nothing that blew my mind or anything but a nice way to spend some time while we wait for the new Doctor Who episodes in March.

  • Title: A Big Hand for the Doctor
  • Author: Eoin Colfer
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 41 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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Clarissa in May

So Clarissa and I are still getting along. Somewhat. Or at least I’m still eaves-dropping on all her letters as well as those from her friends and others. I decided to try a different approach this month. Instead of trying to read the letters on the appropriate days, utterly failing and then playing catch-up for the last few days of the month or maybe in the first days of the next month, I  instead spent some days towards the middle of the month, reading nothing but Clarissa.

I’m still not quite sure about Clarissa. I mean, I like it when I read it (for the most part, that is) but when I put it down, I don’t particularly want to pick it up again. So that’s why I just wanted to read it in a few days and get into it instead of reading some pages every day but not really wanting to. And I must say it worked. I really enjoyed the few days I spent reading nothing but Clarissa.

Even though it’s not like Clarissa been up to a whole lot this month – she’s still living in the same house, still trying to figure out what to do.

In May, we got to read letters 161-219, so quite a few letters. We start of right after the disastrous dinner party where Lovelace lost a lot of the respect Clarissa had got for him. However, the dinner party has made all of Lovelace’s friends love her and they think it would be a shame and a pity to to ruin a lady liked this, a lady in whose fall none but devils can rejoice. Lovelace, however, still thinks she has to pay for her behavior at the dinner party and since he thinks that a woman of education will not yield before she is attacked: ‘There may possibly be some cruelty necessary. But there may be consent in struggle; there may be yielding in resistance.’ (16401-6) Oh, he’s so not a nice guy.

Clarissa tries again to patch things up with her family – she has Anna Howe try and reach out to them. Anna writes Mrs. Norton to have her talk to Clarissa’s mother but the answer is not positive: ‘we are stripped of our ornament, and are but a common family! Can the willful lapse of such a child be forgiven?’ (17255-60). Both the attempt to establish a better standing with Clarissa’s mother and favorite uncle fail.

Clarissa now knows that there’s nothing to do besides patch things up with Lovelace since marrying him is her only option. Yet she still argues with him. I do understand why he is annoyed with her at times. Especially since his pride can’t stand that she’s not equally in love with him and therefore, he wants revenge. I also think that Clarissa could solve the entire situation if she knew more about the world and of men, she could fix it all and make Lovelace love her for ever if she just showed him a little kindness.

Lovelace’s friends keep urging him to do the right thing and not do her brother’s work for him by ruining her. Lovelace’s uncle, Lord M,  also writes to Lovelace’s friend Belford because he and his family worry about her safety and Belford really tries to get Lovelace to stop all his tricks and just marry her.

After Lovelace has staged a conversation between the women of the house (the brothel) and himself, making sure that Clarissa overhears it, things are better between them than ever. But Lovelace still schemes, he steals her letters – and he gets so angry when he reads what Anna writes about him, so angry that he would love to break Anna’s spirit. Things go a bit downhill from here and the women in the house urge him to try greater familiarities with Clarissa, since things can’t possibly get worse between them. He tries but can’t bring himself to do it – even though she says she hates him. Still, his thoughts are not exactly kind:  ‘/…/ I can marry her when I will. And if I do, after prevailing (whether by surprise or reluctant consent), whom but myself shall I have injured?’ But even against his will, he is impressed with her when she stands her ground and talk about how matters shouldn’t go further between them if she hates him.

However, they patch things up and he does seem in earnest about wanting to make her happy. But it mortifies his pride that he would still rather live single than with him. Especially since he wants a wife who worships him and do his every bidding with a smile – including sending him her maid if she thinks he will like her…!

So he wants to try a few more tricks and see if he can have her before making her legally his. He makes himself sick to draw her to his bed. If she shows compassion, he will too. And it worked – she was concerned and cared. However, what he doesn’t know is that Clarissa feels very uneasy and feels like she exposed herself to him. She’s still unsure about whether she should leave him – especially since Anna Howe may have a contact that can give her a safe place to stay.

But now, something happens. A captain comes to their house and he scares Clarissa a lot. However, it turns out that he comes with a message from Clarissa’s uncle Harlowe. He wants to patch things up between them and later with the rest of her family. Clarissa is extremely happy – she talks about how wonderful it will be to be welcome back at Harlowe place and be able to bring Lovelace with her. But – it turns out that this is another trick: The captain is not real. I was so shocked by this! I thought he was real and that there maybe was a chance of reconciliation. So instead of things looking better than ever for Clarissa, they actually look worse. And that’s where we leave her in May, convinced of her future happiness but instead, things look darker for her than ever before.

There have been a few really good letters this month. I so enjoyed reading Uncle Anthony’s courtship letter to Mrs. Howe – and almost just as much reading the letter from Anna Howe to Clarissa, telling about the conversation she and her mother had had about it. This side story is a nice and humorous detour from the main plot that can be a bit same-same.

Still, I actually really enjoyed spending time with Clarissa this month. Even though I really liked the idea of reading each letter on it’s corresponding date, I don’t think the history really works being read that way. It need to be read more closely together than that so in June, I’ll try to read to it all together as well.

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