Sunday, 27 May 2012

How Many Years Would You Follow A Series ?

How long does one follow a book series?  Do you keep going through every book until the author dies?  Lately that doesn't even matter, they still keep churning out the books. 

Is it because you still enjoy the author's work?  Do you like the characters in the series?  Years ago I was a big fan of crime books. I was in my 30's. They were escapist, easy to pick up and put down after long days of working full time and a way to have something to do to not think of work or money or family issues.

I remember when the female forensic pathologists books came out. Terrence Brennan and Kaye Scarpetta were favourites. It seemed women detectives and forensic scientists were coming out of the woodwork.  Women weren't just decorations on pulp detective novels any more but they were out there, solving the crimes with their skill and their brains. They had their own apartments, exciting jobs, handsome friends.  It was great fun.

I started following the  favourites of Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Robert Crais and Michael Connelly. Then Patricia started throwing out boring books and I gave up on that series.  The same started to happen with Kathy. And Alex Cross's series by James Patterson. I love his ancient grandmother and need to see if she is still living.

How long can one person wonder if Temp Brennan and Ryan would ever get together and would there be a time when he did not dig her up at the end of the book from the tomb she'd been encased in or find the remote building that was set to burn down with her in it on the last page. I made that one up.

This weekend Robert Crais's most recent book (for me anyway) The First Rule came in from the library and I finished it this afternoon.

I used to love this author. But this book was ridiculous.  First off it is a Joe Pike book. I always prefer the Elvis Cole series with just a bit of Joe Pike on the sidelines. Joe Pike makes the loyalty of a dog appear fickle.  Joe Pike doesn't walk or run, he glides across land probably 6 " above it. No one hears him enter a room. You could pull his fingernails out one at a time and he doesn't grimace or twitch. He meditates and goes to a place where he can't feel it. He speaks many languages enough to ' get by' and know what the enemy is saying. Enemies always speak foreign languages. Russian, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, Mexican- they were all here in this book today.
The stereotypes are painful, the characters go through the pages shooting everyone yet when they rescue a tiny infant they argue over who will care for it and stay up with him all night.

I was bored. I knew what was going to happen. Seems now I always know what will happen. But these characters in many of these books have been with me since the 1980's.  That's nearly 30 years. Every year I read them and see what they are doing. How are they doing. Temp and Ryan did not get together, not yet.  Why did he need to impregnate the woman he wasn't even that crazy about?  Because it was really his first wife? Elvis has had several lovely girlfriends but they never worked out. Joe Pike? Don't know if he'll ever have a girlfriend. Not one he'd tell anyone about.  

I feel like I am on a ride at Disney World for the hundredth time and know every part of it. Who will jump out, who will double cross whom?  Do I just quit these books cold turkey?  Do you stop characters you loved in your thirties but are bored with in your sixties? Or do you just get the book, spend the few short hours it takes to read them just to keep up? Can I live if I never know what happens to them in the future?  Will I think about them? 

The Millennium Series was different. Once the author wrote his runaway three best selling books about Liz Salander he died. A reader could be thoroughly entertained, if somewhat graphically but from a safe distance and then mourn the loss of the characters because the author was not going to write any more. I know I would have read anything Steig Larssen wrote for years had he not died. 

Just curious if people who do read a continuing series continue it through all the changes of their life or if like Patricia Cornwell did in my life, just fade away never to be looked at again.  How bored can one be before saying, "All right, enough is enough!"

As I said, these books are fluff.  Does a reader always need to be completely stimulated and interested in what they read?  Well I think it is nice but sometimes I'm too tired to think so maybe these series are a good respite. 

But I must say, when I  put this book down I knew immediately I would not remember it more than next week and the next Penguin I pick up will probably stay with me a lifetime.  Think I'll get back to the Penguins.

" Yeah!! Get back to the Penguins, we
hate these clothes....and these sunglasses.....

Friday, 25 May 2012

Travellin'Penguin and the Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Penguin books no. 746)

Travellin'Penguin loves this car.
(This is a spoiler free review)
People have talked about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby for as long as I have been alive. Strangely enough it was never assigned reading in school and it is one of those very well known American classic books that has eluded me.
As common as the phrase quixotic which made me finally read Don Quixote, I thought it was time to read this book.
I am so happy I did because I really enjoyed it.  Besides the time period of the prosperous 1920’s it is easy to imagine the location of New York, the clothes of this time period which I have always adored and the cars. How I love those cars. Somehow my little Honda Jazz just does not measure up to these elongated beauties of the past.

The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway who is not always above board with his accounting of what happened during this time period to these people.  He is Gatsby’s next door neighbour as well as the second cousin of Daisy Buchanan. He tends to pull all the characters together as they implode around him.

Daisy met Jay Gatsby when he was an officer in World War I and had absolutely nothing to his name. She believes he dies in the war and after a period of fitful mourning she goes on to marry Tom Buchanan, a multi millionaire. However she never forgets or stops loving Gatsby and a time comes when they encounter one another again.
By then Tom is involved with the wife of a local service station owner and mechanic, Myrtle Wilson. Tom is quite open about his liaison with Myrtle whom he sees as beneath him but life is one big party and they all know how to do that well. Tom is quite the white supremist and not a likeable fellow at all. 
One of many covers Penguin published
They all aspire to live the great American dream of quick riches, power and the American way. Their lives are shallow, without much meaning and happiness goes from day to day with no long term future outside of their fanciful illusions. 
Gatsby with all of his shady dealings and no true identity that anyone is aware of is now completely obsessed with Daisy and that obsession leads him into a very long downward spiral until the final catastrophe at the end.
It is hard to really discuss this book without throwing up great big spoilers but I found the interweaving of the characters, their false lives and hopes interesting to follow and I saw no other way this novel could possibly end other than the way it did.
It is the secondary characters that have much more depth that keep the story moving along. During my layman’s research into this book I learned from several online sites that Fitzgerald mirrored many of the characters in his own life and as he lived quite a tumultuous life it only stands to reason that would be transferred to this story. One of the characters, Jordan Baker a light romantic interest of Nick’s was actually named for two separate car models of the time.
This book received positive reviews when it first came out however it was not the commercial success of his previous two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned.

When Fitzgerald died in 1940, only aged 44 years this book was largely forgotten.
According to Wikpedia, Arthur Mizener published The Far Side of Paradise in 1951, a biography of Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald’s reputation was again firmly established as one of the great American authors with the Great Gatsby one of the Great American novels. Its popularity has tended to vary from decade to decade since it was published but it now has been firmly established positively in the world book culture.
This was originally published
as Penguin 746 in 1950

I think Fitzgerald’s style of writing is beautiful. He is descriptive without bogging the reader down and the script flows from one situation to the next. 
the following is an example of Gatsby waiting for a telephone message as he swims in his pool for the first night that summer contemplating the terrible events that happened that day:
"No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o''clock -  until long after there was anyone to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air drifted fortuitously about... like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees."

 If you would like the second hand copy of this paperback book now I have finished with it email me your details and first in best dressed. Include your mailing address and I am happy to pop it into the mail to you anywhere in the world. Warning: this book has had previous owners and there are many notes written throughout the book that I found quite fun to read as I went along. It is not an original Vintage Penguin but does have a nice cover from Penguin as an ISBN later published book. I am keeping my original Penguin copy of this book.

Some of the myriad of covers from various publishers of this book.
Click on it to enlarge.
Photo taken from The Library Thing

Monday, 21 May 2012

Chocolate Between the Pages !

As most of us know Allen Lane published more than just orange and white Penguin books.  During the 1960's he published a couple of boxed sets of Classics, one in orange and one in black spines to mark Penguin's 30th anniversary.
These small books over the years have often been lost from their original sets and can be found lying on shelves singly in Op shops or second hand book shops.  He also published smaller Classic box sets of 10 books to a set. They may have been Travel or Biography or in this case, Cooking.

My post today talks about one small little book that has a big impact. Your Little Book of Chocolate.
This particular book was actually reprinted as a Gift to give subscribers from House & Garden magazine and was published after Allen Lane left Penguin. However a Penguin is a Penguin is a Penguin? No, not at all except where CHOCOLATE is involved..... And it only cost me 20 cents.

This small book is an excerpt from Helge Rubinstein's fascination with cooking and she wrote the original book, The Chocolate Book from which these recipes are taken.

"When you have breakfasted well and fully, if you will drink a big cup of chocolate at the end you will have digested the whole perfectly three hours later, and you will still be able to dine." 
(J.A. Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du gout, 1825)" 

I am not able to read or drive this week as my eyes are going through a surgical tune up this week and last so I thought what Penguinese could I get up to so I don't get behind in my postings. Cooking!!  This little book has been looking at me for sometime and time to make a choice.

I decided I would make two of the recipes, share them here and basically see the results.

The Table of Contents is quite varied for such a small book. Simple Chocolate Mouse both white and dark. Kentucky Chocolate Pie, Cream Cheese and Cocoa, even an Economical Chocolate Ice Cream.

I decided upon Brownies. As an American Australian I can never go past Brownies. It was one of the main food groups of childhood in midwest America.  My other choice was Chocolate Yoghurt Ambrosia.  I thought if it had yoghurt in it then it would be healthy.

I hope you enjoy these recipes. Both of them came out as promised by the author. Both were extremely simple and both of them are delicious.

Click to enlarge photo

Chocolate Yoghurt Ambrosia
Refreshing and very quick and simple to make.
300 ml (1/2 pint) plain yoghurt
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream (I used single cream as the shop did not have double)
25 grams (1 oz.) plain or bitter chocolate (I used eating dark chocolate but would be good w/ baking                            
6-8 teaspoons soft brown sugar (or more to suit)   I didn't want it too sweet.

Whip the yoghurt and cream together until the mixture becomes light and quite thick.
Grate the chocolate finely and blend in.
Pour into six or eight individual ramekin dishes and sprinkle each dish with a teaspoon of soft brown sugar.
Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  The mixture will have set like a junket, and the sugar will have dissolved into a rich brown syrup. 
Sprinkle on a little more sugar before serving, if you wish. (I sprinkled more grated chocolate instead)


Click to enlarge photo


110 (4 oz) unsweetened cooking chocolate
50 grams (2 oz) unsalted butter
75 grams (3 oz) plain flour
good pinch of baking powder
good pinch salt
2 eggs
175 (6 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
50 grams (2 oz) pecans or walnuts

Set the oven at gas mark 4 (180 C) 350 F
     Melt the chocolate  (in a bowl over a pan of boiling water) and, when cooled a little, add the butter cut into small pieces. Stiar until the butter has melted and blended with the chocolate.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
Beat the eggs together with the sugar and vanilla until fluffy and blend in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Fold in the flour and then the roughly chopped nuts.
Pour into a greased 20 cm (8 inch) square baking tin and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted just comes out clean.
Allow to cool, then cut into squares - they will turn fudgy as they cool.

(As I didn't use dark baker's chocolate the brownies came out a bit lighter in colour but they still taste very good and they have the thin cake crust across the top and are chewy in the middle, just as a brownie should be!)


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell-- Vintage Penguin 1699

Originally published 1938
(My Copy published by Penguin Books1962)
I have a very large collection of vintage Penguin books that I love but when it comes to choosing one to read I really struggle.  I get taken in by the wonderful covers of the 1950's and 60's. I love some of the titles of the very old ones such as The Owl's House or Dusty Answer or Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.  All of them have their individual appeal.  So I have decided now to use on line and simply read whatever book it chooses for me.  Also it's quite a bit of fun to see what number comes up and then search it out on my shelves. 

I must admit when old Random chose Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell I groaned inside but promising to stick to this type of reading challenge had me choosing an hour of uninterrupted time to begin it.

Well get into it I certainly did.  I have really enjoyed this orange Penguin. George Orwell is an excellent writer and I enjoyed his style of writing very much. I think  I just had too much of Animal Farm stuffed into me during high school and I never recovered. 

The first thing I thought when Random showed me his name was, "Oh boy, this will be political."  Well of course it is. 
The story is a biographical account of his experience fighting in Spain's civil war during the late 1930's against Franco. 
I was also a bit intimidated because I didn't think I would understand this book. I know little of Spanish history. Then I read:  

"When I came to Spain, and for some time afterwards, I was not only uninterested in the political situation but unaware of it. I knew there was a war on, but I had no notion what kind of a war. If you had asked me why I had joined the militia I should have answered: 'To fight against Fascism and if you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: ' Common decency." I had accepted the News Chronical-New Statesman version of the war as the defence of civilization against a maniacal outbreak by an army of Colonel Blimps in the pay of Hitler.  The revolutionary atmosphere of Barcelona had attracted me deeply, but I had made no attempt to understand it." 
Orwell did not understand what was going on and yet he enlisted and went to the front at Aragon for 6 months in the freezing winter having little to eat, old weapons of limited use and little leadership.  I thought I could at least read the book. No danger in that. 

The politics are highly confusing. He discusses the many sides one person could be on and they are listed as a " kaleioscope of political parties and trade unions with their tiresome names - P.S.U.G., P.O.U.M., F.A.I., C.N.T., U.G.T., J.C.I, J.S.U., and A.I.T. "

Soldiers are French, Spanish, Russian, German or British. Some are religious, some are communists, some want democracy, many are socialist. 

Men at the front give orders in various languages and often don't understand each other. Warfare is conducted with the oldest, most decrepit weapons ever procured and often don't work or would fire on their own accord.  Some grenade bombs operated with bits of string.

The book tends to be set out in alternating chapters between explaining the politics happening in Spain alongside chapters of Orwell describing his experiences living in Spain with his wife and fighting at the front at Aragon in the country's north east.  

He fought with the P.O.U.M. and just when he thinks he has survived the worst he is shot through the neck. How he survived the warfare he actively participated in is due only to good luck rather than any type of planning or good leadership on anyone's part. 

He entered the war extremely idealistic and after being on the front line for 6 months he returned to Barcelona only to find out citizens there had little knowledge of what was happening nor did they seem to care. 

As he incredibly ponders this realization,  the entire city suddenly erupts into many factions of warfare and he ends up spending his R & R on top of a rooftop with a rifle defending what, he is not sure. No one knows the truth of this warfare because so many factions are producing their own campaigns in the press, distributing flyers and shouting slogans. Orwell describes this chaos well.

One of the things I found very interesting was the enormous amount of media, publications and anecdotal information that was pure 100% propaganda.  In this day and age of modern technology, where at the touch of a button we can see what is happening in any corner of the world, all of the information the Spanish citizens had to go on was what they heard in the street or read in the media. They seldom knew if anything was true or not and in most cases it was greatly exaggerated or blatantly false. 

It made me realise how much more information is available from all corners of the world and how much we take that for granted.  Although we complain about media overload this probably is not such a bad thing if one is living in a war zone. Orwell's experience would have been vastly different in perspective if he'd had a wireless netbook or telephone.

Although this book is approximately 220 pages I feel I learned an enormous amount of history from 
Orwell's experiences and the style in which he portrayed them. He writes very cynically of course but with so many factions in conflict I don't think that would be unusual.  One of the most irritating things about the book is all of the acronyms used were never explained. I had no idea who any of these groups were, just that they were fighting each other. I am sure I could still learn a great deal more about this topic.

One line from the book that made me laugh out loud was, (Orwell describing time at the front) 

"Sometimes I was merely bored with the whole affair, paid no attention to the hellish noise, and spent hours reading a succession of Penguin books which, luckily, I had bought a few days earlier; sometimes I was very conscious of the armed men watching me fifty yards away." pg127 

When I handle my Penguin books from that era with the dog eared pages, brown taped spines sometimes dirtied or marked with the old advertisements on the back page I wonder what its own journey has been from the time of publication to my bookshelves in Hobart. Makes them that much more precious.  Was one of my books in the trenches during the Spanish revolution or World War II?  If only they could talk.

Travellin Penguin in the
Spanish Revolution
I came to understand a bit more about activities between the Fascists, the Anarchists, the Communists, the Trade Unions, with other splinter groups moving between various groups.

Orwell's experiences were extremely difficult and yet as a Brit, he was there voluntarily and although I could not completely understand Orwell's eagerness to go to the front, risking death I admired his political idealism. Political activities were in huge turmoil across Europe at this time so perhaps he thought being a part of it all sooner was better than later. 

I have been left with many questions about the history of the Spanish war as well as George Orwell's motives, yet I found it interesting enough to want to learn more and that is the joy of a Penguin. 

The vintage Penguin books truly did provide a social history of the world.  I would like to read more of George Orwell. I enjoyed him very much as a writer and I think maybe I might even be able to bear Animal Farm one more time. We'll see.

(This book counts as 1938 when it was first published by Secker and Warburg in the Century of Books Challenge.)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012



I probably would not have read this book had it not been assigned for my book group.  As a child growing up in mid western America in the 1950's and 60's I was raised on the TV western. I knew all about the cowboys who sat with their backs to the wall, who cheated at cards and ended up thrown through the front saloon window, spluttering into the horse trough out front.

I was always amazed how the horses might jump back yet steadied on to remain in their places as one or more cowboys would vault up over their tail, into the saddle and ride away at top speed with only a bed roll bouncing behind them.

My husband who also grew up at that time in the same midwest as I, said he always wondered how the cowboys could fly out of town on their horse with their six shooters and their bedrolls but come nightfall they would be comfortably seated around a huge black cauldron that held slow cooked great food.

His question was, "Who brought the cauldron and how did they carry it?" 

I approached the Sisters Brothers stirring a bit of nostalgia of a long ago time of forming posses  on 'snow' horses with friends and hiding behind trees as we tracked some old woman as she bought her weekly groceries ready to ambush her.  Our horses were always the fastest and the smartest. We didn't go to bed at night, we faded into the sunset.

The Sisters Brothers opens with the two brothers, Charlie and Eli about to head to San Francisco to kill a man named Herman Kermit Warm (don't you love that name?). They have been hired by the Commodore. The Commodore is wealthier than anyone they know and he likes to have people he doesn't like killed. He offers good reward money.

 Charlie is mean and shoots people at the drop of a hat, literally and Eli is an overweight softie who really doesn't understand why Charlie signs them up for these jobs.

Eli would be happy to run a trading post with the first woman he meets.  He would sell supplies to the prospectors and have a secure, safe life.

Charlie needs adrenaline and can't sit still.  He's rough and tough and mean as a snake stuck under a rock.

Charlie rides a really good functional horse named Nimble and Eli is stuck with Tub, who is lame half the time and has a bung eye. But they have bonded and he is loathe to get rid of him. 

There really is a lot more in this book but I hesitate to write down too much of it because I think the smaller incidents in the story are what makes it.  This book was short listed for the Man Booker prize of 2011.

I can say that most of the people in my book group like it because our book group is held at the local indie book shop and our facilitator sent out an email saying she had been receiving comments from customers how good this book is and she is hoping someone turns up who doesn't like it to generate a bit of controversy.

I have to say I liked this book.  I think I liked it a lot more than I wanted to. The writing style is brilliant and the story is told concisely, without waste of words and I was certainly drawn into it. The descriptions of the land and characters are vivid and living.

I thought the language the author used was beautiful. That is saying a lot because the beautiful language described a lot of horrendous things. This book is not for the squeamish yet it is not graphically violent as in a modern crime novel. It didn't give me nightmares because I doubt cowboys will be breaking into my home at night with a six shooter on a bung horse. Things tend to happen behind closed doors so you don't get graphic details, then again...........

The novel is full of contrasts. The scenery, the people, the events and the animals are in total contrast of each other.

One minute Charlie might be pulling his gun to murder someone in cold blood and the next he is sharing the minty flavour of the tooth powder his brother Eli has been given to freshen up his dental hygiene.  I found myself going from laughing out loud to saying out loud “Oh Yuck!” within a single paragraph.

These brothers are very close to each other. They are also very different as well. One has such a gentle soul and it may drive Charlie wild at times but yet he loves that side of his brother Eli. I thought the author gave Eli more depth than Charlie though I'm sure others might disagree with me.

The bounty, who Charlie and Eli are after in order to receive their reward are also caricatures, the schemes to make money are at times so simplistic but yet have dire consequences.  The reader never knows where this book is going to lead.
Travellin Penguin in the Wild West

My only criticism of it might be that at times some of the events that occur are a bit too much over the top.  I think maybe the author thought he would do something quite gory for a bit of sensationalism.  Yet the story works but then there is that ending. 

I won’t comment on the ending because I doubt anyone would figure it out and I hate spoilers in reviews.  I think the ending will make good discussion for the book group.

I am glad I read this book and I almost think that it is one I could read again sometime.  Even if I don't, I know I won't forget Charlie, Eli, Nimble and Tub any time soon.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

End of a Holiday but New Books Awaited !

The Emporium in Sheffield has many second hand books.

The past few days have been both happy and sad.  Sad, because my sister flew back to California this morning and I won't see her for awhile now. Happy because we had such a good time during her visit.

As an old film buff, I love this Penguin cover.

I also managed to collect quite a few Vintage Penguin books over the past few days and am looking forward to putting them all onto The Library Thing site as well as reading them. 

My sister and I travelled from Cradle Mountain to Hobart going through Sheffield where I came across an old Emporium Collectables shop and found 5 vintage Penguin books. The shop was full of them but thankfully I already had most of them.

Sheffield is a town full of murals on its buildings.
It really brings the tourists into the area.
This one is one of my favourite ones.

Yesterday we spent the day at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary which is where I was trained to do first response animal rescue work when calls come in for injured or sick animals.  Their main program revolves around the Tasmanian Devil breeding program as about 80% of the wild devils have died due to the Facial Tumour Disease that is a contagious cancer that spreads through biting each other in the wild.  They have also lost habitat through property development, farmers have shot them because they believe they attack domestic stock which is a total fallacy or they get hit by cars eating other road kill they scavage on the roads.

Other animals at the sanctuary are those being rehabilitated from injury and will be released into the wild as soon as they are ready.

We also had great fun visiting and feeding the Wallabys at the sanctuary.

This Bennett's Wallaby was very interested
in following us through the park. 

I never tire of being amongst the creatures in this gorgeous state.

Rescued Rainbow Lorikeets

Speaking of creatures,  there was another happy moment when I arrived home. While I was playing Tassie Tour Guide I received a large box of Green Crime Penguins from a man in Victoria who is downsizing his collection of books.

Travellin Penguin home from the Post Office

I serendipitously managed to purchase 210 first published green crime Penguins  from the 1960's for next to nothing because he and his wife have evidently hoarded books and are now having a big clean out.
I enjoyed going through them and look forward to reading and sharing the stories on this blog.

As the long Tasmanian winter is on its way I know I will quite contentedly fill many hours cataloguing the Penguins, reading, and blogging.

I will be posting book reviews again very soon so if anyone who follows this site thinks I only take photos of Tasmania, fear not as books  really are the main focus of this blog.

I am currently reading The Sisters Brothers for my book group on Friday so will soon be doing a review on that as well.

But sometimes we just have to let other bits of life distract us and Tassie is a great place for that.