Description

A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Every once in a while it's nice to read a good children's book and forget there are more important problems than whether or not you have friends or family or are being bullied in school... wait what? Ok, so maybe these are not problems kids should have, but do have nonetheless, and reading how they deal with them may help one to reflect on how one would (or has) react(ed) to these sorts of situations themselves.

Usually I read my children's books in Swedish, but this time I went for English as I bought my first very own Neil Gaiman novel, The Graveyard Book, on my visit to London. I've read other works by Gaiman before; mainly Neverwhere, a little bit of the beginning from American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series. And I've of course seen Stardust the film sometime, although I've never gotten around to reading it as book. Anyway, The Graveyard Book is not related to any of the afore-mentioned, but is a novel in its own right. It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a child who takes refuge in an old graveyard after his family is brutally murdered. Cared after by the ghosts inhabiting the graveyard along with its mysterious protector, Silas, Bod has such problems as learning how to Fade, not getting enough books and not being allowed to leave the graveyard until in his early teens. The murder of his family is not overly touched upon in his childhood, although Silas is doing his best to sort things out for Bod's future - and towards the end of the book it is revealed that the reason Bod's family was killed was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, as Bod and his protectors do battle against an evil organisation of Jacks-of-all-trade.

The main problems I had with American Gods were that it was an audio book, and I need to have a really, very good reader, with a fantastic voice to read for me, if I'm to stay focused so long as to listen through a whole book - and that it took Place in America. The Graveyard Book takes places in the UK, which is definitely a plus; even though it doesn't really make too much of a difference storywise where the events take place. The version I bought was illustrated, so some of the characters or landscapes came alive through the visual as well, but for the most time stuff like that was left for my own imagination, which I like the best.

The characters of the novel are all very interesting. There's our main character, Bod, who grows up amidts ghosts. The ghosts themselves, with varying dates of living visible in their mode of speech or in the opinions they voice. The guardian, Silas, of whom very little is gleaned except by subtle hints. Miss Lupecky, Bod's summer teacher, Bod's childhood friend who returns in time for the end of the book, the very believable school bullies and the bullied from the elementary school Bod attends for a while, the mysterious organisation men, the ghouls, the city folk... Very colourful, very imaginative and very brain-stimulating in all aspects.

The story progresses onwards steadily. Problems arise, get worse, are overcome and learnt from. Bod is a very intellectual character, along with almost all the other characters, too, so there's no fear of the story starting to repeat itself or going in circles. The mundane goes hand in hand with the supernatural, which is treated as a matter of course, rather than as something exotic, fantastic or weird.

The last big problem of Bod's life is, naturally, growing up. But Gaiman manages to put so much hopefulness and expectation into this, too, that it doesn't really feel so bad after the final page is turned and the last sentence read. The Graveyeard Book is o ne of the few children's books that I've read that really manages to convey the sort of joy that is also a part of growing up and not only the anxiety, boredom and shouldering of responsibilities that is the bread and salt of adult life.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Fireflies!

You can't take the sky from me.... Or the scifi show I like best.



It's now been ten years since the film Serenity came out. Before that, there was a tv series that lasted only 14 episodes. I got acquinted with Joss Whedon's Firefly sometime around 2008 when I was in the beginning of my university studies and in a relationship with a scifi geek. The series has remained in my life even after I left the university (I only wrote one paper on the series, too) and the geek to work as a full time teacher on the other side of the country. What appeals to me the most are the witty dialogue, the we're so bad we're good -attitude, the lovable characters and the whole 'Verse of culture created and portrayed by the short 14-episodes-and-a-film -series. I did love other scifi shows, mainly Stargate, before Firefly - and have loved others since then (especially Star Trek: The Next Generation), but this gritty, gruesome and realistic show has remained my favourite throughout the years.



Firefly follows the story of a firefly class starship called Serenity, captained by Malcom Reynolds and his crew of misfits: an ex-soldier Zoe, her husband and the miracle-kid pilot Wash, gun-ho Jayne, alluring Inara, cheerful Kaylee and the new crew members preacher Book and siblings Simon and River, who are on the run from the authorities. Their aim is to keep flying, keep living, and keep staying ahead of Alliance patrols, which has become the governor of the planets populated by people escaped from the Earth-that-Was. As traffickers of goods legal or otherwise the crew shows the audience a wide variety of life in the 'Verse, as they call it; from priviledged noblemen issuing challenges to sword fights to back-water villagers burning witches at stake.

In a recent documentary about the history of scifi, Firefly was brought up as a space exploration series that is really down to earth with its theme - depicting basically a bunch of cargo rafters trying to make their living in a hard world, with no flashy sciencey effects usually found in the science fiction genre. I think this is also for me one of the reasons why I like the show. It shows to the viewer how the common people of the space age might live their lives, struggling to live and to manage in a universe of extremes. The crew is poor, and the poverty is what makes them so relatable, as basically everyone has at sometime been in the same state. The quest for survival, for fuel, air and cargo, to be free, to be flying - that's what the show's made of. Not to mention the funny, the exciting, the crazy and all the stuff one can expect from a Joss Whedon show.

Later in my life I also watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and there're definitely things to like in both of the shows for those, who like the other - I'm reminded of the vampires and other monsters of Sunnydale in the form of reavers, men gone mad at the edge of space - and the more unsavoury human characters of Sunnydale are also to be found in Firefly in the forms of - for instance - Mark Sheppard's Badger (love Mark Sheppard!).


So, if you haven't watched this series yet, please do so. And if you have, join me in celebrating the tenth-anniversary of Serenity. Let's keep on flying, everyone.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley is a fitting book for me to read, as it is part detective story, part supernatural and as a cherry on top it all takes Place in Britain. Daniel O'Malley is an Australian author, whose debut novel The Rook is. It follows the story of a young lady, who in the very beginning of the book stands alone in a rainy park, surrounded by corpses and who has no idea of who she is. She discovers eventually that she used to be called Myfawny Thomas and used to be an agent in a secret organization overseeing the supernatural events occuring all over Britain. Her first tasks include finding out who exactly is responsible for her memory loss, as letters from her predecessor reveal that there is a traitor in their organization. Getting to know Myfawny Thomas' life and works through her body who is trying to conceal the fact that she has every lost her memory while tackling the many duties of a Rook is an enjoyable read, with some fast-paced action, glimpses into the life of the former Thomas and detailed detective work as the new Myfanwy tries to uncover the plotters without being discovered herself. Add some supernatural talents for each of our main cast, and the table is set for a really addictive narration all the way through.




Soon enough Myfawny gets swept up into the life of her predecessor and to her surprise, finds herself to be rather enjoying it, too. Suspecting everyone you meet of betrayal while at the same time trying to do your job (not to mention trying to find out exactly what your job is) is conveyed well in the course of the main character's inner monologue. The details of the Chequy's organisation, enrollment and education are sprinkled throughout the novel, so the reader is not forced to go through a sudden dump of information and expected to swallow it all up immediately. More likely, the information becomes available just when you need it.

Without spoiling too much of the plot, I heartily recommend this book for everyone who likes the bizarre, the mystery and Belgium.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Clocks, watches and timepieces

Clocks and watches are one of my favourite things in the world. It's got something to do with my love of steampunk, but also with my love of being on time, knowing what time it is all the time and looking cool with a nice wrist watch or pocket watch. So, here are my collected clocks and watches and their stories.


The first one is a ring watch, which I got as a Christmas present from my mom several years back when ring watches were a big thing. I wore it regularly then, but stopped using it after a while since the  metal band that goes around your finger is quite bulky, the watch doesn't have numbers and has quite short hands so it's difficult to tell the time with it and as the band is elastic, the skin from my fingers would often get stuck between it, which was pretty painful. It's very beautiful, though, and I still wear it from time to time. The clock face is also shaped like a heart, which is cute. As far as I know it's made of some metal covered with gold.


One of my newest clocks is this beautiful necklace that I got from my late grandmother's things when we were going through some of her jewellery with my mom and my uncle's wife. The chain is quite long and the clock is mechanical and needs to be winded once a day. While the clock face is a bit 'bling' the numbers are Roman, which is always a plus. 


My first pocket watch displays on its casing the Tower Bridge from London. It darker in colour than my other watches, but is sadly battery-operated, so even though astonishingly beautiful, it would earn more points in my books were it mechanical. I love wearing this watch with a vest, so that I can have the chain hanging out and I usually link the other end to one of the vest buttons. It opens by pressing the button on top where you can also change the time. Big numbers mean fast time checking, as it can be understood with a glance.


My second pocket watch is a bit more bling, but it is mechanical and has a pretty golden filigree. The chain has a loopy thing on the end, which goes to the lip of your pocket, while the chain stays outside and the watch is in the pocket. The clock is a see-through, so you can see the gears turning even without opening the lid. This sometimes makes it a bit difficult to tell the time quickly though, as it takes a bit to find in which position the hands are.




My living room is inhabited by this cheerful clock, which cuckoos the time every hour and half hour. I originally bought this as a present for my parents from my trip to Switzerland during my second year in upper secondary school, but it became my clock and has travelled with me since moving away from home. It is winded using the two long chains, each of which has a heavy, metallic pine cone at their ends. Moving the leaf on the ticker makes the clock go faster and slower. Below the clock I usually hang the poster with a Chinese proverb: An inch of time. An inch of gold. An inch of gold cannot buy and inch of time.



This last one is a scam, for it is not a clock at all, but a calendar. I bought it on my trip to London last New Year's, from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It shows you the dates for the next fifty years. You need to slide the cover so that the current year is above the current month and you receive the dates to the bottom. A handy little device, that is actually pretty useless, but still pretty cool.

Apart from these pictures I also have two wrist watches, an alarm clock, a clock/radio in the kitchen and a small grandfather clock which is actually not mine, but my SO's. As they are all pretty normal (except maybe the small grandfather clock) I didn't include pictures of them.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Resolutionary!

Around these times last year I made some resolutions for the coming year and I suppose no one was more surprised than me when most of those resolutions were kept. So I thought I might as well go through those resolutions again and ponder upon some new ones as well. So, here goes.

Resolution #1 was to finish a book every two months or six books in the whole year. According to my last year's post, I was at the time reading A Dance with Dragons and had Blood and Bone waiting on my shelf... I read both of those books, along with the Hobbit, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, a couple Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple books from the library, Bröderna Lejonhjärta, Stormdancer, What If?, (most probably among some others I can't remember now) and I am currently reading two  books; The Rook and Introvert - Den Tysta Revolutionen. I don't count manga I've read this year into this list, although there have been a few of those too. In the beginning of the year I didn't read all that much, but I started reading more when I visited my local library for the first time after moving and then I bought some 10 or so new books on my holiday in Malta this autumn. And now, having just come back from London, my book count rose with another 10 or so books, so probably I'll get some books read this year too.

Resolution #2 was to finish a video game every two months or six games in the whole year. At the time of writing I had 10 games or more unfinished and I'm sad to say that out of those ten I've only managed to finish four - but then I played some other games as well. Counting from the unfinished games of last year's post I've finished Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lego Marvel Superheroes, Draw Slasher and Gravity Rush, along with Ni No Kuni, Tales of Graces f, Tales of Xillia and Lego Lord of the Rings, as well as Final Fantasy X, which I played again as a marathon game at a friend's birthday party in November. I think for this year I'm going to make the resolution of finishing more of my PS2 games, since I haven't really given that console much attention in the past year.

Resolution #3 was to finish a cross stitch chart page every two months or six pages in the whole year. As mentioned in an earlier Asiria post, I managed to get to the end of page seven in December and am currently working through page eight. I also began another cross stitch pattern, Tsuru Kame, which is about the same size as Asiria. I might post some updates on that one as well, but at the moment, I'm busy with the dragon's wings in Asiria.

Resolution #4 was to start learning Japanese, which I've done. I haven't progressed as far as I would have liked, but at least there's a start. My hiragana studies were quite fast and now I just need to continue on to katakana and kanji, as well as start learning some vocabulary and sentence structure. And as I just received a postcard from an old Japanese penpal of mine, I think I might get motivated to continue my studies this year too.

I made a note as well about my geocaching goals for last year, and it's a good thing I didn't make it into a resolution, as I'm still 22 finds shy of my goal of 200 finds... Oh well.

So for the coming year, I've come up with the following resolutions:

1. Finish at least two games on PS2. The selection includes Persona 3, Valkyria Profiles 2: Silmeria and Rogue Galaxy.

2. Finish the second row of Asiria.

And that's it. I'm probably going to be reading and geocaching and stuff anyway, so I won't be bothered to make resolutions about them. Last year I felt I hadn't done as much as I would have wanted to, so I made all these resolutions to force myself to be concentrate on things more and stop jumping from one form of entertainment to another. Hopefully I've now learnt to balance the things around somewhat. Here's hoping for a fantastic new year!