Friday, 2 August 2019

Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a lover of books which are mostly dialog, they often feel like the author should have just written the script. This books suffers from that in my opinion, although it makes it ripe for a movie/TV series pick up. Having said that, I listened to the author narrate it and read along, that really helped, and did enjoy that depiction of the struggles against the gender, race based misogyny of men as depicted in this alternative post 1950s, post imagined meteorite strike history as Man is propelled to the stars to find a new home.

I came to it having read the author's 2014 Hugo Award winning short novella/ long short story The Lady Astronaut of Mars ( available at https://www.tor.com/2013/09/11/the-la... ) which is set towards the latter years of progagonist Elma York's life. The character caught my imagination in the short story and I picked up the book, my first readings by Mary Robinette Kowal so I have nothing to compare them to. The space race theme is of course very topical when I was reading these with the 50th anniversary of the landing on the Moon. This is the first book in her series and it takes in many of the themes explored in movies like The Mercury 13 (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8139850 ), Hidden Figures (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4846340 ). 

ashramblings verdict 3* On the whole I found the book's pace a bit slow, but its premis and characters intrigued me and held my attention well enough to consider picking up the subsequent in the series Articulated Restraint and The Fated Sky.

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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Hope springs eternal


At the end of last year the Creative Writing Group I attend undertook a “Secret Sentence”, just like a “Secret Santa” but where your “gift” is a writing prompt. I received the phrase “Doing the Christmas Shift Again This Year”. Now I am an infrequent, if not reluctant, writer of prose but on this occasion that’s exactly what I did. Being pleased with the result sent it off in early February to Short-Story.me for their Flash thread and forgot all about it till this morning when my inbox alerted me to the fact that they published it!

Working Christmas Again.

Please read it on the site and vote. Tx

So, all you budding writers out there,  Have Patience and Never Give Up!



Sunday, 10 March 2019

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Been meaning to read this for ages. Great storyline merging a young man's thwarted love for a young woman doomed by the death of her first love, her childhood sweetheart, with his disillusionment with his work for a valuation company and with American ethics. All complicated by its setting in time, place and culture. Well narrated by the author whose flowing, precise yet minimalist style is supremely suited to the confessional way the story is told.

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Monday, 21 January 2019

Reading at the Swan

I read three pieces of work at Swan Poets Café last Friday evening here in town. 
  • Gone – a poem about the life after loosing a life partner.
  • Snow Country — a poem about unrealised dreams.
  • Outfoxed – a poem inspired by a sketch by American artist Andrew Wyeth.
For me this was the first time I had been, after being nagged by my writing group companions to attend for months  Everyone was most welcoming.
6556a[1]

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Untitled – A BREXIT Poem

10 weeks to BREXIT.
My new passport,
still European red,
gives me 10 more years.
Is that all?
I feel the black hole of fatality shrinking options.

© Sheila Ash, 2019

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Review: Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G Seidensticker

Thousand Cranes Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
Translated by Edward G Seidensticker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kikuji is invited to a tea ceremony in honour of his dead father. The ceremony is conducted by his father's mistress Chikako Kurimoto who has taken it upon herself to as as go-between to organise a meeting for him to "view" a prospective bride Yukiko Inamura. However at the gathering is also Fumiko Ota and her mother who had been his father's long time lover at the time of his death. Kikuji begins a relationship with Mrs Ota which brings much suffering to all. After Mrs Ota's suicide, he transfers his desires to Fumiko.

Just as in the tea ceremony where every move is precisely scripted and choreographed, so every action of the jealous Chikako is laden with meaning. Control and manipulation in abundance, smouldering desires and fierce passions in equal measure are all told with incredible subtlety just like the minute movements within the tea ceremony, the shape of different styled tea cups and bowls, the bamboo whisk stirring up the liquid, mixing up leaf and water.

Kawabata weaves each object involved in the tea ceremony into his story, each with its own significance - a bowl owned by one mistress passes to the hands of another, who uses it to serve the son, becoming a poisoned chalice

But the perfection strived for in the tea ceremony is not found in life - bowls are broken, hearts are broken, life is taken, love is lossed.

ashramblings verdict 3* Kawabata's writings are known for their beautiful language, obsessive sexuality and contempt for the era. But this one suffers from a little too much repetition in the later stages -  it may be the translation although the translator Edward Seidensticker does have a respected reputation for translating number of Japanese authors, or it may be stylistic but its reasoning escaped me and detracted only in places from what is otherwise a lovely lyrical novella.



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Monday, 14 January 2019

Review: The Blue Fox by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb

The Blue Fox The Blue Fox by Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Baldur Skuggason is the pastor turned hunter intent on tracking and killing the mysterious blue fox roaming around the snow covered lands of Iceland in the 1883. The middle section tells us of Fridik Fridjonsson some sort of herbalist, who cares for a Downs Syndrome girl Abba whom he "adopted" after she was found shackled to the timbers of a beached ship. The author binds these characters together in a very credible magical tale. ****SPOILER ALERT*** Yes the pastor gets his comeuppance for becoming a hunter and for banning Abba from his church to halt her offkey passionate singing of hymns. It is not until the very end that Fridik tells the reader the truth he found out about Abba's origins and circumstances which led to her enslavement on the ship.

ashramblings verdict 4* Part mystery part folktale, it's beautiful! I especially liked the writing in the opening section about the hunting of the blue fox. This novella received the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize. This is second book by Sjón I've read, the other was Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was - most impressed by both.

Both books are translated by Victoria Cribb who seems to translate a number of Icelandic authors. I need to investigate more of these.

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Saturday, 5 January 2019

Review: Six Stories and An Essay by Andrea Levy

Six Stories and An Essay Six Stories and An Essay by Andrea Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought the audio book of this some time ago just after reading her book Small Island and never got round to reading it. Now after watching the TV adaptation of her book The Long Song and watching an accompanying Imagine interview of her by Alan Yentob I resurrrected it.

Six stories and an essaay was first published in 2014. The essay covers much of what she covers in many of her interviews abouit her upbringing, her family, her awakening a a Black British Writer.
Each story is prefaced with an introduction by Levy. The first story "The Diary" is one she wrote whilst studying Creative Writing at City Lit in London - the classic creative Writing Prompt "You find a Diary....".

"Deborah" is a totally different voice, of a child, written in response to newspapers of the time being full of the story of child murderers .

The third story is entitled "That Polite Way That English People Have" which is readers' first introduction to the character of Hortense who is central to her novel The Small Island.

The fourth story "Loose Change" reflects on the unease felt in the relationships between immigrants of different times specifically here between a Caribbean one and an Central Asian one from different generations of migrations.

The next, is perhaps my favourite story, a short about people's fear of the Other, the inability to communicate even when speaking a common language because of the fear of the unknown, seeing only differences not commonalities in this case a common wellbeing for children as told by "The Empty Pram".

The sixth story is "February" one of Levy's stories inspired by her mother and written to order for a Waterstones diary.

Weirdly there is a seventh story, entitled "Uriah's War" on an important topic of the Caribeean men who volunteered and served in the British West Indies Regiments during the first World War, expounding their courage and discrimination.

ashramblings verdict 4* Levy is a great narrator! She makes her page words into somethingelse. The narration is a 5* one and if you are inclined to read this book I thoroughly recommend the narrated version, available via Audible.

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Friday, 4 January 2019

The Dalesman

His whistles call instructions -
to outrun, to cast, to gather, to drive,
to go, to come, to stop, to turn
the flock along the wall,
through the gate,
into the pen.


This bond betwixt man and dog,
built on activity and respect
as aged as these Wensleydale hills
speaks to a life fast disappearing,
overtaken by time’s rampage,
retained in trials and competitions.
Old-timers clinging to heritage
awaiting death of man or dog.

© Sheila Ash

Sheep-Dog-Show

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Review: Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón, trans. from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón

(Translator)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a back page smothered in compliments by A.S. Byatt, Junot Diaz, and David Mitchell, and the black, white and grey picture on its cover and a flash of red tells me its Nordic, then one just has to pick up the book!


The story begins in Reykjavík in the Autumn of 1918. Máni is an orphan who lives with his only relative, his great-grandmother's sister. He is an outsider, earning money through sex with men and spending it going to the cinema. His is infatuated by a mysterious motorcycle-riding local girl who resembles the star of the 1915 film “Les Vampires,” one of his favorites movies, who gives him a red scarf. The island, on the brink of its independence, is not escaping the Spanish Flu pandemic which soon grips the town and decimates its population resulting in the closure of the cinemas. Máni catches the flu but survives and is roped into help the local doctor and undertaker carrying the sick in one direction and bodies in the other. ***SPOILER ALERT*** But Máni gets embroilled in a sodomy scandal with a Danish sailor and is exiled. I for one did not see the ultimate end coming when we learn the circumstances of his birth and the first five years of his life before going to life with the old woman who brought him up.

The writing in this novella is refreshingly simple and straightforward in its language, vocabulary and style. There is none of the common overabundant use of adjectives here. Each word counts. It is the writing of a poet and makes for a great read.
I loved the way the Great War raging to the south of the country hangs over the story and every so often the author uses it like a painter uses light to beautifully convey the story to us readers, for example "There is no cease-fire in the influenza's war on the inhibatants of the town" and after fumigating the cinemas he writes "The greenish-yellow gas that had lately felled the young men on the battlefields of Europe no drifts and rools through the picture houses of Reykjavik"

ashramblings verdict 4* A novel in praise of cinema, the story of a young gay man in a time and place other than the social climate of today, the story of an outsider's survival. Excellent read, highly recommended. I've already ordered more of Sjón's books from my local library.

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