Monday, 30 June 2014

Sofa Shelf Update - A Day of Reading

I've had a whole day to read and this is what happened:

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

The adventures I've been reading about have been funny. He is now in a tropical location fighting off snakes and trying to earn a living.

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas

War between the British and Maori tribes has just brought her visit to New Zealand to an end. Not sure where she will end up next.

The Prince of Thieves - Alexandre Dumas

Shocking revelations, turns out Robin Hood is really the Earl of Huntingdon. Will he be able to take back his title and lands? More excitement than a soap opera.

The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales - Nathaniel Hawthorne

It is much better the second time round, I am enjoying his description more than in his other books. Although it has not been said I think that we all know who the father of Pearl is!

Deception Point - Dan Brown

I am very surprised but I like this book a lot. I know it has been out for ages and I'm slow in getting to read it, but I am very glad that I did. It is different to the Langdon stories and I think I like that there isn't much cultural information to absorb - I'm all about getting to the story.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

What's on the shelf?

A Book of Narrative Verse - compiled by V. H. Collins

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

Racing Through the Dark - The Fall and Rise of David Millar

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas

The Prince of Thieves - Alexandre Dumas

Le Tour - Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Sweet Poison - David Gillespie

On Looking - Alexandra Horowitz

Time Warped - Claudia Hammond

The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Deception Point - Dan Brown

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cycle to work madness...

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it would be fun to cycle to work. Work is twenty miles away by bike and so I thought it would be easy enough to get there.

I was right in that it was fun. I was wrong when I thought it would be easy. The first half was alright, but then the path along the canal disappeared and I was left to cycle on grass at best and rocky bumps at worst. It wasn't long before I decided to get off the canal towpath and take to the roads.

A smart move until I got lost. Well sort of lost, I had a rough idea where I was. Even so I had to ask for directions. I did get to work, and was feeling satisfied as I went to lock my bike up. The satisfaction didn't last long when my bike lock broke in my hands. (How do these things break?) I was so baffled by such an unexpected event that I just stood and looked at it for a while, before I went in search of a solution.

Exercise before work is great, I enjoyed the experience. However, for my body cycling equates to holiday time, which equates to afternoon naps. By mid afternoon I was fighting to stay awake, and at the end of the day getting the train home seemed a better option.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Three Reasons to Read Dan Brown

Dan Brown might not be your cup of tea but here are three reasons why I think he might be worth a read:

1. He knows how to keep you reading.

If you like reading stuff that keeps you on the edge of your seat, then Dan Brown is the author for you. He has got the art of suspense mastered. His chapters are short so you end up thinking that there is always time for one more, and he makes good use of cliffhangers.

2. Reading his books means you have to know what the Bible says.

Some of the topics that Dan Brown covers in his novels are controversial, but if you know your Bible then you can work out what the truth is. And these novels are fiction, not fact. Whatever you do in life or whatever you read, regardless of whether it is Dan Brown or not, you will find ideas that go against what the Bible teaches. Probably not a bad idea to know what the Bible has to say.

3. You might learn something

The last Dan Brown book I read was Inferno. Before reading it I knew nothing about Dante or what he wrote, other than that he wrote something. Since reading that novel, stuff like finding out about Dante and reading some of his works have found their way onto my to do list.

My favourite Dan Brown novels are below.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

As challenges go...

It is not looking good for the challenge. Well for me anyway. Check out the star situation below. Even with three stars this week it doesn't look like I will be getting to Hay-on-Wye this year!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sofa Shelf - Brown and Scougal

Some newbies:

Deception Point - Dan Brown

Might as well carry on with the books by Dan Brown that I haven't read. Nice to meet characters other than Robert Langdon, although I still sort of expect him to appear.

The Life of God in the Soul of Man - Henry Scougal

This is a book that I think was written in the 17th Century, and had a big impact on George Whitefield. From what I can gather it is about what it means to be follow Christ, rather than following religion. Anyway I shall find out when I read it.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Sofa Shelf Update - Weekend Reading

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas 

Finished this one, this is what I thought

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

The hero has quit acting and returned to his father's house, promised never to act again, and then run away to restart his acting career.

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas

Not read much, but it's interesting to see what Australia was like in the 19th Century.

Time Warped - Claudia Hammond

I am really liking this book. I've finished the first chapter which was all about how we perceive time and what makes it speed up and slow down. Learning a lot.

The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales - Nathaniel Hawthorne

I think I like this novel better than the others by Hawthorne. Three chapters in and the tension is rising.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Sofa Spotlight - One Thousand and One Ghosts, Alexandre Dumas

What's it about?

Dumas is visiting a town somewhere in France when he witnesses the behaviour of a man who has just murdered his wife. The man claims that he has cut off his wife's head but that the head had spoken to him after it had been separated from her body. Dumas stays to watch the arrest of the man and later stays for dinner at the mayor's house. The guests at the dinner tell ghost stories and the town's doctor tries to disprove them.

What was good?

The stories are intriguing and keep you reading. I am a wimp and so I was spooked early on, but I suspect that was the desired effect. Dumas is a good storyteller and the stories related in this book are worth hearing. The last story is told from a victim of a vampire attack, which although you could see what was coming, was still mesmerising.

What was bad?

Sometimes details weren't explained and the most annoying part of the book is that Dumas doesn't record the conclusion or their reaction to the final story. Also I don't like the cover.

Who is it for?

Anyone who enjoys horror stories, or the unexplained.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Whimsy & Frip are finally here...

Check out the blog from my good friends Wimsy & Frip:

Sofa Shelf - Time for Reading

Adding two books to the shelf this week:

Time Warped - Claudia Hammond

This is a book about time - which you could have guessed from the title. But it is about how time works and how we perceive it. So far it is very interesting and it is the first non fiction book that I haven't been able to put down. (Actually it may be the second, I had a similar experience with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale).

The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales

I first read this novel when I was studying for my A-levels. Because I have studied it I feel like it is an old friend. However, I am a bad friend because I haven't read it since. So I am revisiting it to see if my thoughts about it have changed.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sofa Shelf Update

It's been a while but here is an update:

Celebrated Crimes - Alexandre Dumas

Finished this one, this is what I thought.

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas 

Quite a bit about speaking decapitated heads. Spooked. 

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

At roughly the halfway point and the main character seems to have given up on his ambition to be an actor. Nice to read something that doesn't have murder in it.

Inferno - Dan Brown

Finished this one, this is what I thought.

Iron Sharpens Iron - Orlando Saer

Finished it. Read about it here.

Mosses from an Old Manse - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Finished this one, this is what I thought.

On Looking - Alexandra Horowitz

Read the first chapter so far, and she has done the walk by herself and then a second time with her nineteen month old son. Cute. I like that he treats inanimate objects as though they are real.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Sofa Spotlight - Inferno, Dan Brown

What's it about?

It's the latest novel about Robert Langdon, and it is another race against time. In this adventure, Langdon is following the trail set down by a scientist who claims to be about to change the world. The scientist character has been concerned about population growth and how the planet will cope with the increase, or rather how the planet will not cope. It sounds like he is planning to wipe out a massive chunk of the world's population. This is not ok with Langdon. The plot has a lot to do with Dante's Inferno, something I now intend to read at some point, and plagues.

What was good?

I enjoyed this book more than other Dan Brown novels because Langdon didn't have much opportunity to give lengthy explanations about symbology. It wasn't as creepy as The Lost Symbol, so although I was terrified about plague, I wasn't so scared I couldn't enjoy it. Remember I am a wimp.

What was bad?

The ending wasn't really resolved. Which in some ways was good, it was different, but I think there was something missing. And I couldn't have guessed the ending which made me sad, because I like seeing things coming, but I suppose it probably qualifies as a good thing.

Who is it for?

Someone who enjoys a thriller that isn't too taxing to read. Maybe not so good if you are squeamish. I felt sick a couple of times, but I worked through it.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Sofa Spotlight - Celebrated Crimes, Alexandre Dumas

What's it about?

There are five crimes/stories (for want of a better word) in this book. Wouldn't recommend one a day as they are quite lengthy, although if you have nothing else to do for a week then you could always try. Anyway here are the crimes that Dumas has chosen:

The Borgias 

This required a bit of concentration and knowledge of European geography and history. I lacked that knowledge but I could still follow what was going on. Sort of. In essence this is about family politics and there is no problem murdering or bribing so long as you get what you want. That seems to be the philosophy of the Borgia family. That is until your enemies become more powerful than you and want revenge, then Borgia policy seems to be run and hide.

Joan of Naples

Self preservation at its best I think. Again it would have helped to have had a bit of geographical and historical knowledge, but I got on ok. From what I can gather Joan of Naples came into power a bit too young and didn't know how to handle it. A few murders happen, and there is a quest for justice and everyone seems to die on the same spot. I think that is what happens.


Family protects each other from ruling prince who thinks he can take whatever he wants. Ruling prince ends up dead - probably best to ask permission before taking what you want.

The Cenci

I had mixed feelings about this one. The crime committed was a murder that was sort of self defence, but justice and punishment for said crime all got a bit messy.


This had the quote about all bearded men being drunk, in it. Vaninka is in love, and lover is in her room at night. Vaninka's father decides to visit and so Vaninka and maid hide lover in chest and cover with wool. Father leaves, but Vaninka and maid discover that lover has suffocated. Now they have a body to get rid of. Which is where it all goes wrong and Vaninka turns nasty. More murder happens.

What was good?

It was an interesting read. My knowledge was stretched and Dumas writes it in a readable way, although concentration is required.

What was bad?

As I didn't know that much about European history I got lost at times.

Who is it for?

People who enjoy non-fiction and history. Or you enjoy writing that is readable about a subject that you know little about. The stories are exciting, particularly Nisida, so this could be one for you if you enjoy a good tale.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Three Reasons to Read Nathaniel Hawthorne

If you've been near me when I've been reading any of Hawthorne's books you might wonder why I would want to recommend that you read one. Well here are three reasons:

1. They shed light on an emerging culture

From what I have read so far, Hawthorne writes of an America that is just beginning to emerge as the America we know today. When I have been reading his works I have kept forgetting that he is writing about America and not the UK. I have enjoyed seeing what those early days would have been like, it has broadened my horizons a bit.

2. They make you appreciate concise writing

This may be a bit harsh, so shoot me down if I deserve it, but Hawthorne likes to express his opinion a bit too much. In my opinion he wanders along tangents for too long and they often get in the way of the story. But, you don't miss the water til the well runs dry, and you don't miss concise prose until you read waffle. Sorry Hawthorne, I do like your work, though at times that might be difficult to believe.

3. Because sometimes you find a gem that makes it all worth it.

In a collection of short stories called Mosses from an old Manse I found a short story called the Celestial Railroad. It was brilliant and I loved every minute of it. Hawthorne had borrowed a bit from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to create a sequel that I found to be very accurate. In my mind it was worth reading the rest of the book just for that one story. There were other good stories in there too, so that was a bonus.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Sofa Spotlight - Mosses from an Old Manse, Nathaniel Hawthorne

What's it About?

Nathaniel Hawthorne invites you into the study of his house, which is an old manse, to listen to some stories that he wants to tell. The book is made up of these short stories, some of which are better than others. The first chapter of the book is Hawthorne's invitation. He describes the house that he is living in, and he does so with a large amount of detail. If I'm honest, the thought did cross my mind that if I wanted to read descriptions of houses I could just look at Anyway he ends this description by taking you to the study and asking you to listen to the stories that he is going to tell.

What was Good?

Some of the stories were very good. My favourite was one called The Celestial Railroad. It is a sort of sequel to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Set in the time that Hawthorne was living, the way to the Celestial City has been replaced by a train that provides a much pleasanter journey. However, it is operated by some very dubious characters. It isn't a perfect analogy but I think it is a good reflection on the attitude that we can have towards the hard aspects of the Christian life. You should get this book just for that story.

Also the book cover of my edition is one of those old leatherish type covers that look and feel amazing.

And another good thing was that he said nice things about Charles Dickens, albeit in a very weird story that I didn't understand.

What was Bad?

Hawthorne gives his opinion too much. Reading the opening chapter I hated it, but then Hawthorne said some very nice things about his readers and I forgave him for waffling. I read this part of the book aloud and my Dad summed Hawthorne up with, "if he were here I would tell him to get on and say something". Maybe I was just feeling benevolent. Be warned though, some of these stories are just plain odd/weird - or they are genius and I have just missed the point.

Who is it for?

People who like short stories, American literature, and can cope with waffle. And those looking to try something a little bit different.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A Starless Night

The gang 
Yep, for me there have been no stars for a while. EG has done better and is in the twenties. I am not.

Part of the problem is that I spend time doing other stuff. Like having adventures, or preparing for Bible study. This year I have been co-leading a Bible study group of students (well most of them are students, there is a rogue accountant thrown in there too). We've been doing a Bible overview and I think we have all enjoyed the big picture of the Bible.

This summaries Hebrews 8-10
Points for guessing how!
Apart from studying the Bible, which is very important, my fav bit has been the last part of the study, where we put together a picture to summarise the passage we have studied. I don't think I have ever laughed as much as I have with the crazy ideas that they come up with. (I say "they" sometimes it is me - but not very often! ahem)

But all good things must come to an end, and at the time of writing, there are only two more studies left. Anyway to those people who have been a part of that group - it's been a riot and I hope that you have had fun and learnt stuff too.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Weekend Adventures

Last weekend saw EG and I travel down south for a bit of an adventure. We stayed in an amazing place with some amazing people (thank you to both of them, you know who you are :) ) and we had some adventures too.

As usual buying one book soon turned into buying multiple books, but most of them were 50p - what a bargain! EG tried to buy a picture frame from a charity shop but was told it was part of the shop and therefore not for sale. Not that it matched anything else in the shop and I doubt it would have been missed had it been sold.

Tired of raiding the charity shops for books we returned and sat in the sun to read. I managed three pages before I realised that I had been asleep for the past half hour. Not much reading done but it was nice to see the sun - an old friend we don't see very often. Our weekend also involved a trip to see a film that had partly been filmed in a location that we knew - all top secret of course, and lots of Mexican food provided by our hosts.

So although our adventures were not that daring we had fun. And now I need to work out where I am going to put my new books.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Room for Books

The problems start when you go out for the day and don't intend to buy any books. Then you see one that you would like, so you buy that one - because it is only one book and you're not going to buy any more that day. But somehow that one book turns into three books, and because this isn't a one off event, it happens almost everytime that you go out, you are starting to run out of space.
Still friends despite near desk death

Which is why I spent the weekend shifting furniture around my room so that I can have another bookcase. It wasn't all bad, I've done some sorting and clearing out, but the biggest change was the removal of the desk. Which was a challenge in itself.

EG and I had to get it out my room, down the stairs, through the living room and out the front door. We did succeed but only after we had come close to dropping it on, first my head, and then EG's head. Without too much injury to ourselves we got it out and to its destination.

Now I have space for a bookcase, which I don't think will remain empty for very long!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Odd Reading Locations

What's the weirdest place that you have read a book or seen someone reading one? For me I've read books in some odd places.
Books provided entertainment when I was waiting for something. So I've read in the obvious places; cars, railway stations, waiting rooms etc. When I was younger they were a good way to avoid watching my sister receive her vaccinations (I'm squeamish), so I can add a doctor's room to my list.
In earlier posts I've talked about my love of cycling. I used to sometimes cycle with my parents, but as I got older I got faster, and they didn't. My solution to this was to cycle on ahead for a few miles and then pull out a book and sit on the grass verge and wait for them to catch up. Now that I spend some time on a turbo trainer I've worked out a way to read while I sit on that (and exercise!).
What are your strange reading experiences?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Tour de France Fever

Two of the three Grand Tours this year are starting from somewhere in the British Isles. The Giro d'Italia started in Ireland this May, and the Tour de France starts from Leeds in Yorkshire. I didn't feel like trekking over to Ireland, but Leeds is an option that I may make the most of. 

I've loved cycling for as long as I can remember, although I've only been following pro cycling for a few years.  I wish that I was better at getting out on my bike and doing some longer rides. This summer I'm planning to cycle through Norfolk. Norfolk is my favourite place to cycle (it's flat).

My problem is the cycling to reading ratio. On a sunny day do I sit and read or go cycling? If only I could do both... 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Coming Soon...

A Steady Response to a Challenge

The arms that hurt
It's another week and another two stars added to the chart. EG remains ahead on 16 books read, but I am now catching up with my 12. The Bank Holiday helped, but I feel that progress will continue to be made. Even if it is slow.

I like to think that I can read in any conditions. Last weekend saw me reading whilst wearing only one slipper, because I forgot to take both slippers home with me. Muppet. Although reading with one cold foot was distracting, I pressed on, and another star on the chart made it all worthwhile.

The challenge of this week will be reading with the non-existent muscles in my arms aching, because I helped my housemate carry 17 kilos of bookcase up the hill. It was fun, but my arms hurt.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Book of the Month - May '14

Walking with God by J. C. Ryle is a book that I have read at least twice... I've lost count. It is hard to keep track of a book that you read over and over because you like it so much. I know that reading it twice doesn't count as reading it over and over, but I don't think this will be the last time that I read it.

And that is why Walking with God is the best thing that I have read this month. It may be a short book, but it is not short on challenges. Each time I read it I can work out how well I've responded to the challenges from the last time I read it, and I think that I will see other areas in my life where there needs to be change. Doesn't sound like a book that will make you feel good.

But that is what is good about this book. It makes you look at Jesus and realise that the best way to live is to live following Him. Looking at Jesus gives you the right perspective on life and that is better than a good feeling that will fade. You will have to read it to find out what I'm talking about.