Another very different post this time. With several months of hot dry weather recently over late spring and summer and various other factors kicking in, including a persistent dodgy ankle, instead of being inspired to get outdoors and charge up hills or explore new cities I went in the opposite direction instead as it was no longer any challenge to wrestle one good blue sky day from a week of rain or indifferent weather. Somehow, somewhere along the process, I lost my mojo. Sardine like... people jammed.. several unpleasant and hot busy bus journeys might have had something to do with it, or hills covered in biting clegs, midges, ticks, and swarming with additional visitors... car parks mostly crowded by mid morning with a growing number of beauty spots charging to park there and just a general growing scunner about the whole enterprise of having to go out...just because the weather was fine- yet again!!!...no weather forecasting skills necessary... meant I switched off to it all fairly early and turned inwards instead. And surprisingly... I found I liked it that way. Along with the strange notion I didn't always have to punish my body severely to have fun.
'I used to be one of them,' I thought to myself. ' A busy bee.' And a little smile would appear. Static.
Here's my magnificent seven. Each one of these is a gem I enjoyed finding.
Book One. FLIGHTSEND: A Journey of Discovery by Linda Newbery. I picked this book up mainly for its cover art showing a teenage girl lying in a flower meadow filled with butterflies, watching a small plane flying overhead and was not disappointed by the contents inside. The majority of books in the library seem to be detective or crime novels these days- nothing wrong with that if they are exciting and well written but I also like unusual subjects. Nobody gets killed and no traumatic events happen in Flightsend just one girl's coming of age journey over a summer, as she moves house, explores her new surroundings, and tries to make sense of her new environment. No teen angst either just delightfully written and the overall feeling when finishing it was one of 'That was a really nice book'- and a privilege to dip inside someone else's life, situations and thoughts. It reminded me of my own teenage years, moving house to a new strange area, suburban/ country living in the UK and being young again in another time. A good book.
Book Two. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. In this one the world has collapsed into a post apocalyptic setting but although it's a familiar theme these days this book comes at it from a very different angle. Less violence more an examination of what would happen day to day. Petrol and vehicle fuel has a short shelf life apparently- once it disappears the world is suddenly vast again- and dangerous- journeys undertaken on horseback once more or pulling carts with supplies and even simple things like matches, paper, and everyday objects impossible to replicate without the complexity of tools, skills and knowledge we take for granted today. A journey of hundreds of miles around the USA's Great Lakes unfolds as people revert to a simpler life of smaller self sustaining communities away from the derelict and disease prone crime ridden cities. Trust is only maintained in small family groups- any strangers a threat. Unusual and vivid- deliberately fragmented at first into several different strands but like a jigsaw puzzle it all comes together into one unit by the end. A New York Times bestseller.
Book Three. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Set in 1920s Alaska an elderly couple long for a child in a barren wilderness then get one from an unexpected source. A modern fairy tale that in less skilled hands could easily fall apart but doesn't. A Sunday Times bestseller and very different. Excellent, well crafted, and clever. A book that will stay with you for life in memory terms.
Book Five. Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett. A future book from a time when humanity has split apart into different small tribes. Part si- fi/ part fantasy but also strongly rooted in past primitive behaviour and cultures; crossing oceans in small boats to other island groups and continents... this is an epic adventure tale along the lines of Dune or the Lord of the Rings. A grand epic of a richly imagined world, vividly described with its own laws, landscapes and values. And a page turner from start to finish. Exotically different yet also with numerous echoes from half remembered ancient creation stories around the planet. A companion novel to Dark Eden apparently but a complete story in its own right. Some books you might feel slightly cheated when you discover, halfway in, its part of a set- but this is not one of them as it stands alone as a story.
Book Six. Amazonia by James Rollins. A one armed government agent disappears into this vast jungle interior then miraculously stumbles out again, both arms attached. What follows is a gripping boy's own adventure/ mystery thriller in dark steamy places I really enjoyed. A very different environment to a Scottish summer garden but one brilliantly described at a galloping pace.
When I picked this one up I didn't realise I had read one of their previous books- a novel called Reliquary which had certain (real life factual) scenes in it so extraordinary and well described I still remember them vividly 20 years later. This book is similar. A well written adventure/ murder mystery novel I couldn't put down from beginning to end, especially given my lifelong love of tunnels, cave systems and assorted dark places. Great characters, great landscapes, great book.... should be turned into a film.
Speaking of which I've seen some fine new ones recently.
Sicario- FBI agent Emily Blunt playing catch up with the Mexican drug cartels, aided/ hampered/ outfoxed by a wily Josh Brolin and shadowy friends. Unusual and compelling.
Their Finest. Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton. An enjoyable film set during World War Two about British studios turning out propaganda movies. Much better than it sounds. A fun film, good story line, well acted.
Fury. Brad Pitt war film. Tanks. Germans. Like Zombies a subject that's been done to death so I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this tale of one lone American tank and its inhabitants as they battle for survival against the odds. Brutal and memorable throughout.
Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal. A relentless depiction of the American dream gone sour as J.G's. unforgettable character prowls L.A's dark underbelly at night getting ahead in cut throat breaking news journalism/society at large, that apparently rewards hard graft and amoral methods as long as it produces results while consigning anyone perceived as 'slackers' to scavenging in dustbins... where they belong. Brings to life the uncomfortable fact that psychopaths can do very well in the world of business. Like hand in glove. A thought provoking film.
Sing Street. 1980s Dublin and a teenager starts a band, mainly to impress a pretty local girl then finds he has a talent for it. Good acting, good songs and an unforced joy of a film that came with zero hype but exceeded my expectations in every way. Worth watching if its on again. An underrated UK classic like Dear Frankie.
Rather than looking back at past musical acts I've liked I still find enjoyment discovering new ones. Apart from random finds on You Tube new films often provide new music I've not heard before. First heard this on the updated Walter Mitty soundtrack and liked it immediately. Icelandic band mixing folk, traditional sagas, fairy tales, and pop.
New music can still sound fresh and exciting. You just have to find it away from the bland rubbish that dominates television schedules these days. Can't think of the last time I heard an outstanding new song on TV other than in adverts or films. Never in a music or talk show format where new songs get a plug. Funny that...