Heroes by Stephen Fry: I’ve listened to 24%

Heroes by Stephen Fry:  I’ve listened to 24%Heroes
by Stephen Fry
ISBN: 9781405940573
Published by Penguin Books on 2019
Format: Audiobook

Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta - who was raised by bears - outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of - at our worst and our very best.

I’m loving this so far. Stephen Fry states right up front that there are many names and lineages and begats and that the listener shouldn’t pay any attention to trying to keep track of it all – just enjoy the stories. He also adds that there are many ways to pronounce the Greek names, and he’s choosing the pronunciations that are most comfortable for his speech patters, most of which would probably make any self-respecting Greek cringe.

What he doesn’t make as clear, but is my favourite part, is that he’s telling these stories of the Greek heroes in very much his own way, his own style, with funny or witty asides. He’s chosen his source materials and sticks to the ‘facts’ of them, but the tales are liberally sprinkled with his own ad-libs, and when he does character voices, he makes no attempt to mimic anything resembling a Greek accent – there are shades of Monty Python in his character voices. I know he was never in Monty Python, but I stand by this assertion. Perhaps it’s his work with Hugh Laurie that’s showing through. I only know there’s one character I kept expecting to break out in “he’s a very naughty boy!” And I’m almost entirely certain none of the Greek heroes had Scottish accents.

This is Fry telling stories and oh, he’s so brilliant at it, I’m thoroughly loving listening to him regale me with these tales.

Bookish update

Well, this is a good sign: I woke up today wanting to write up a post on my blog.  Unfortunately, I don’t really have anything exciting to share, but it’s still a happy sign.

So, let’s see, what’s new?  Melbourne is in its 5th hard lockdown.  I’m calling it Melbourne 5: Lockdown Drift.  It should end tomorrow, while Sydney-siders, who, by-the-by are the reason Melbourne is in this lockdown (they let sick people travel into Victoria) haven’t been so lucky.  They’re into week 5 now I think, and their numbers keep going up instead of down.  Their idea of “stay at home” is open to personal interpretation, it seems.

None of that is really new though and god knows it’s boring.  In happier, more bookish news, I’m still re-read binging, and it’s made updating my archives here much more productive.  So has the barcode scanner I brought home from work to process new laptops with – how is it that scanning a barcode never gets old?

It was tax time here last month and for once we got a refund; that meant I finally got off my butt and upgraded to a new internet connection and home network. Even better, I used the remainder to go on my first book buying binge since November last year, purchasing 11 new titles.  None of them have arrived yet, but soon, I hope.

Our menagerie continues to entertain us.  Pickachu, (or Stinkbug, for reasons the moniker implies) is growing fast, although she seems destined to be a short-legged cat.  She is heart-meltingly affectionate and hilarious, as she tries to do all sorts of silly things.  She’s been loving the laptop boxes I’ve had at home as I work remotely.  I’ll wrap up this post with her doing her best settle into one.

Lady Julia Grey Novellas 6-9





These have been sitting in my TBR on my iPad for … years?  And after my recent re-read binge of all the novels, I thought I’d knock these out too.

They’re all about what you’d expect from a novella; too short to get into any character development or conflict, just short, happy little mysteries with tidy endings, but they’re fun to read and one or two loose ends from the main body of the series are wrapped up.

Death Comes to the Rectory (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #8)

Death Comes to the RectoryDeath Comes to the Rectory
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9781496723253
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #8
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Pages: 262
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

Lucy and Robert's joy in christening their new daughter, surrounded by extended family and loved ones who have gathered in the village of Kurland St. Mary, is only enhanced when Robert's aunt Rose--now the second wife of Lucy's father Ambrose--announces that she is with child. However, not everyone is happy about the news, in particular Rose's adult daughter Henrietta and her husband, who fear for their inheritance.

Following the christening, Rose's disagreeable son-in-law Basil Northam threatens to turn afternoon tea in the rectory into an unsightly brawl. The next morning, he is found in the rector's study, stabbed through the heart with an antique letter opener, clutching a note that appears to implicate the rector himself.

Tedious.  While I’ve enjoyed this series up until now – enough to re-read a few of the books – I found this one tedious.

If I’m being completely fair, I imagine some of this is because I’ve just come off a re-reading binge of Deanna Raybourne’s Lady Julia Grey series, and the tone and writing are altogether different from the Kurland St. Mary series.  It would probably have been better to cleanse the reading palette in between.

Even if I’d had, I’d still have found it tedious to a degree.  The author over plays her characters: her villains are entirely too villainous; her suspects entirely too cryptic, the clues completely chaotic.  The tension between the two MCs was altogether irritating.

Buried beneath all this unfortunate tediousness is a rather clever murder plot though.  I almost DNF’d the book early on because I was certain the murderer was too obvious, and all due credit to Lloyd, she completely fooled me until I got much closer to the end.

I’m not completely turned off the series, but I have to admit my enthusiasm is diminished.  Whether or not I read another book (should one be forthcoming), will come down to my mood and my memory.

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural WorldNature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World
by Andrea Hart, Ann Datta, David Williams, Hans Walter Lack, Judith Magee, Sandra Knapp, Simon Werrett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780565094645
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 240
Publisher: Natural History Museum

Almost a year this book took me to read.  I just checked my start date, and if I’d known I was so close, I’d probably have put off finishing it just for the nice, round number.  Then again, probably not: the passive guilt of this book sitting on my ‘reading’ pile was wearing me down.

None of that is meant to be a condemnation of the book, so much as a result of the nature of the book itself.  Nature’s Explorers is a collection of essays written by a selection of contributors who all either work for the Museum of Natural History, or are closely associated with it.  Each essay covers one of history’s great natural explorers and their contribution to science and the arts.

All of the expected players are included: Darwin, Humboldt, Hook, Gould, Audubon, Banks, etc. but there are quite a few lesser known naturalists and explorers too.  Two women get essays, including Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine, the late-1800’s lepidopterist who inspired Deanna Raybourne’s character, Veronica Speedwell, in her latest historical mystery series.

As always in a collection of essays written by a variety of people, some are better than others.  All are detailed snapshots of the subject’s life and accomplishments, encapsulated in 3-5 pages and surrounded by gorgeous, richly coloured illustrations and reproductions of their work.

A gorgeous book worth owning, but not one to be rushed through.

Mid-year update: better than expected, worse than average

Now that I’m finally caught up with my stacks, I peeked at the analytics.

45 re-reads and 40 new reads.  That’s far more new reads than I’d have guessed, as it feels like all I’ve done is re-read my shelves this year (which is a good thing).  35 different authors over the span of 85 books is a testament to my binge reading series.   If I reach 163, I’ll be pleased, though it will be far from one of my best reading years.

Another surprising stat, as it felt like the first few months of the year were ALL male authors, but obviously I rallied hugely at some point, though apparently I found the male authors’ writing to be .04th of a star better than the womens’.

The only non-surprising stat of the bunch, as I’ve been really focused on UF fiction for some time.  Other is non-fiction, which is a respectable showing for my last 6 months overall.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)

Dead Until DarkDead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 2008-01-02
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #1
Publication Date: January 2, 2008
Pages: 312
Genre: Urban Fantasy

I read this for the first time in 2008, when it came out, but find I don’t have any notes or reviews of it; obviously I was only lurking and shelving on GR back in 2008.  I remember really liking it back then, and I’ve read all but the 13th and final novel since.

However, upon a second read many years later, I find the writing doesn’t hold up.  Sookie is naive and a bit simple (not simple-minded), as she is supposed to be, but the writing too feels naive and simple, which left me impatient.

It’s possible later books are better written, but so far I have not the urge to find out.

Pride and Prejudice: The complete novel, with nineteen letters from the characters’ correspondence, written and folded by hand

Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by HandPride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand
by Jane Austen
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9781452184579
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Literature
Publisher: Chronicle Books

The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand

Fingers crossed, my binging might be at an end; after my last book , I had a sudden desire to re-read Pride and Prejudice and when I went to my shelves to grab a copy (it being amongst the titles I have no willpower to refuse whenever I see one in the shops), I saw this one waiting for me.  Perfect.

Of course, Pride and Prejudice, is a 5-star read for me, once and always, but this edition gets 5 stars for the format.  Since my discovery of Griffin & Sabine, I’ve been a sucker for books with physical bits that are part of the story, and truly, my thoughts when purchasing this went no further than ‘ooh! letters!’.  But upon opening it, I read the introduction by Barbara Heller and realised this isn’t just a novelty, but a tremendous amount of effort went into creating the letters themselves as accurately as possible.  Not just hand-written, but hand-written in replica’s of period letters, each character being assigned a distinctive hand; Heller then found the Society of Scribes of New York, and members wrote each letter with pen and ink, using the imperfections inherit in handwriting to achieve perfection.

The folding, addressing and postage too were all painstakingly researched and replicated, involving advice and instruction from the treasurer of the Midland (GB) Postal History Society.

All efforts to avoid anachronisms were made, and the only variation from true authenticity are the few (2?) pivotal letters where Austen herself only quotes them partially.  Here, as Heller states in the introduction, and in the Appendix, where she has notes on each letter individually, some compromise had to be made.  As it would do no good to only include the part of the letter quoted in the text, Heller consulted various sources, and from the summaries given in the text, attempted to recreate what the original letter might have been.  Here, I think, she only partially succeeds, as there was just no matching the tones exactly, but she made up for this by keeping these ad libs as brief as possible so as not to interfere with the authenticity any more than strictly necessary.

MT made the comment that the book looked unwieldy to read, and I agree that some might find the way the text block is broken up by the glassine envelopes, making the book feel ‘crunchy’ might annoy or turn off some readers, but I frankly loved it.  It made the feel of the book somehow ‘more’, like a scrapbook of an adventurous life, perhaps.

So, a novelty, definitely, but a novelty done with authenticity and every effort at verisimilitude.  Definitely not something that would enhance every title, but the importance of letter-writing to Austen’s works makes it a perfect fit.  This is definitely an edition I’d give to any Austen fan who enjoys something just a little more from their favorite titles.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made WorldStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World
by Mark Miodownik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780544236042
Publication Date: November 6, 2014
Pages: 252
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I have this in hardcover, but I listened to the audiobook from the library.  So I’m not sure if my feelings about the book are because I listened to it, or if I’d have felt the same reading it.  I do know that Storm in a Teacup is a much better read about slightly similar subjects.

Stuff Matters is a relatively slim tome covering some of the marvelous ‘stuff’ we live with, and the selection is quite varied: concrete, stainless steel, chocolate, plastics (the most irritating of the chapters), glass, graphite.  There was good information about said stuff in here, but I admit it didn’t hold my attention in nearly the same way as Storm in a Teacup.

The narrator’s voice reminded me strongly of an actor, whose character I can clearly see but can’t place.  Very, very British, balding, bow tie, condescending and misanthropic in a humorous way.  This might have had something to do with my impressions of the book, too, though I’d have to read the print version to be sure.  And someday, I likely will.

A Wicked Conceit (Lady Darby, #8)

Now, this one was much more interesting for me.  Kiera and Gage are back in Edinburgh awaiting the birth of their first born.  And Bonnie Brock Kincaid is back too, which always ratchets up my enjoyment factor; I like a dark horse, especially when the author makes a place for him without creating any triangles.

There’s been a tell-all book written about gang-leader Bonnie Brock and his Robin-Hood-esque adventures under the nose of the Scottish authorities, and Keira and Gage are in it too.  This causes a lot of tension between all the characters, as nobody is all that keen to be in the pubic eye, so the race is on to find the man behind the poison pen.

The book also allows a massive tension to ignite between Kiera and her sister, one that started in the previous book but really blows up in this one.  So does the issue of paternity that was also introduced previously.  In the former, I think the author could have created a better dynamic behind Alana’s motivation, but as the story is being told from Kiera’s POV, I suppose I understand the logic.  The latter was handled better, I think.  There was a blow up when the truth was discovered, but it wasn’t drawn out and beaten into the ground, and resolution was quick but reasonable.

In general, a story I enjoyed quite a bit more than I did the previous book, but that’s likely down to personal tastes.  As Kiera has had the blessed child, I’m looking forward to their next adventure, hopefully after they’ve hired a nursemaid.