Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas themed books for the kids

I was having a peruse through the kids' book shelves for some Christmas themed books for the bedtime story and discovered we have quite an eclectic collection, so I thought I'd share some of the titles with you.

First on the list has to be a story of baby Jesus, because, lets face it, that's the whole point. We have a lovely nativity book called The Very First Christmas by Elena Templeton.

Marta and the Manger Straw is a heartwarming story of a Polish tradition by Virginia Kroll and illustrated by Dunedin local Robyn Belton.
Another poignant and war-time Christmas story is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

A lovely gift for the boys from a friend a few years ago was The Upstairs Downstairs Bears at Christmas, by Carol Lawson.

Of course most kids, young and old, have come across How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Some have even subjected themselves to the movie.

No New Zealand Christmas would be complete without a Lynley Dodd story, and we have Slinky Malinki's Christmas Crackers. you can just imagine what trouble that cat gets up to with a Christmas tree to maraud.

Geronimo Stilton, mystery mouse journalist extroadinaire has a couple of Christmas time adventures, and we are in possession of A Christmas Tale, and A Very Merry Christmas.

And lastly, this one should come with a warning, as it comes with a CD, and I'm telling you now, there is only so much of it a girl can take when it's being played over, and over. Great fun in small doses is A Kiwi Jingle Bells, by Yvonne Morrison and Deborah Hinde. It's the kind of song that you can't get out of your head!

So there you go, a few Christmas books for kids, big and small.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tied up in Tinsel

by Ngaio Marsh

What would Christmas time be without reading an appropriately themed Whodunnit? I was also spurred on by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise who challenged readers to report on their favourite Yuletide titles. This title was first published in 1972. My second-hand book shop find version is a 1980 Fontana edition.

Tied up in Tinsel starts with Roderick Alleyn's wife, Troy, as a guest at Halberd's Manor commissioned to paint a portrait of the Lord of the manor, Hilary Bill-Tasman. The manor's domestic arrangements are a tad unusual in that Hilary has staffed the house with former prison inmates, all of whom had been incarcerated for murder. Throw into the mix a pile of snobbish Christmas guests, an elaborate and beautifully pagan Christmas ritual and the disappearance of one of the guest's equally snobbish manservant, and you have a veritable feast of possible guilty parties. Alleyn is called in to help sort out the mess, and we all know he is not to be trifled with.

I greatly enjoyed this novel, and not just because of the fun and gripping story. I also enjoyed immensely Ngaio Marsh's writing. Her eye for description is delightful.

Take for example this passage in which she describes the first introduction of Cressida Tottenham.

"Cressida Tottenham was blonde and extremely elegant. She was so elegant that her beauty seemed to be a second consideration: a kind of bonus, a gloss. She wore a sable hat. Sable framed her face, hung from her sleeves and topped her boots. When her outer garments were removed she appeared to be gloved rather than clad in the very ultimate of expensive simplicity."

And this passage describing the storm swept, night-time manor:

"The voice of the storm was transmitted only through vague soughing noises, distant rattling of shutters and an ambiguous mumbling that broke out intermittently in the chimneys. There were characteristic creaks and percussion-like cracks from the old woodwork and, a long way off, a sudden banging that Alleyn took to be a bout of indigestion in Hilary's central heating system."

So I will highly recommend Ngaio Marsh's Tied up in Tinsel as a spot of festive murder mystery reading. It's a great story, beautifully written.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A favourite hits the top ten...

I was delighted to read the front page of my Otago Daily Times this morning and see that little old Octagon Books in Dunedin was judged one of the top ten second-hand book stores in the world by the Irish Independent News.

I love wandering in for a peruse among its well stocked shelves and have come home with many a treasure that just couldn't be passed by. From books on rocks and fossils, to Otago Maritime History, to Ngaio Marsh novels, to children's books, so many delights have come from that store.

To read the article and see what charmed the judge follow the link here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frilly tea and festive things

If I've been a little quiet on the blog front, you can blame the silly season. Being someone who tends to be rather into the whole Christmas thing, I've been having a wonderful time doing all things festive, including baking up a storm.

Today was the last day of school for the little folk, and to celebrate the occassion I invited a number of the school mums here for a frilly afternoon tea, with the bone china teacups and pretty plates and serviettes. I made mini almond and pecan nut pies, Christmas mince pies and a chocolate Florentine slice, and the mums brought some delectable treats with them and we had a wonderful afternoon playing ladies before we all trooped down to the school and picked up the kids for the holidays.

Today was also my last book review time on Dunedin Channel 9 television's Dunedin Diary show. I got to choose my Christmas picks for the year.

As I said on the show, 2009 and has been a great year for Otago writers, with plenty of fabulous books being produced by the locals. I chose four local books which had come out recently that I thought anyone would be delighted to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

Children's book:

The Word Witch, by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by local boy David Elliot.

Non-fiction Book:

Glory Days by Dr Glam aka Ian Chapman - A great look at the glorious 1970's

Pictorial book:

Big Weather South by Dave Cull and photography by the Otago Daily Times. A graphic description of some of the, er, interesting weather we get down here in the south.


Banquo's Son by Tania Roxborogh. A gripping sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth

Thursday, December 10, 2009


By Bill Bryson

I've been a long time fan of Bill Bryson's entertaining and informative style of writing. I've read a number of his travel adventures, and happily waded my way through The Short History of Nearly Everything. I was delighted to see he tackled the subject of Shakespeare.

My Shakespeare experiences include some uninspiring encounters with it at high school via King Lear, and Julius Caesar, and some far more satisfying encounters as a young adult with The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It. I also read a few Charles Lamb books.

Most of my adult excursions into Shakespeare territory have been via movies, and more recently reading Tania Roxborogh's wonderful sequel to Macbeth, called Banquo's Son.

But back to Bill - Bryson, not Shakespeare. This book was a fabulous and by Bill's standards, short read. I was aware of some of the debates around who wrote Shakespeare, by those academics who cannot for the life of them believe a bloke named Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare, so it was interesting to see the genesis of some of them.

The part that fascinated the most though was finding out William Shakespeare's contribution to the English language with neologisms. He made the first recorded use of 2035 words, including these common words we take for granted - critical, frugal, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, assassination, lonely, zany, unlock, untie.

He also introduced many phrases - one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, cold comfort, flesh and blood, tower of strength, to list a few.

So Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson turned out to be a delectable little read, and I feel I have a much better knowledge of that other Bill now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Media Day Wednesday

Tomorrow is going to be one of those hectic ones, with the Write On Radio Show I produce and host at lunchtime, and then an appearance on Channel 9 Television's Dunedin Diary programme tomorrow at 5.00pm as well as the usual mad running around after kids end of year stuff and a Chrissy Do in the evening.

So in the interests of making life easy on myself I'm cheating a bit on the radio show.

The Write On Radio Show is broadcast from noon til 1.00pm on Wednesday the 9th of December (tomorrow for those of you reading this tonight, today for those of you reading this tomorrow!) It's on Toroa Radio 1575kHz AM for those of you who live in beautiful Dunedin, or live streamed from there website here for those of you who are unfortunate enough to live elsewhere.

For my first guest I'll be having...Me! And no, I'm not doing a monologue and droning away until everyone falls asleep. I'm invited a special guest interviewer - Tania Roxborogh. I hope she's nice to me.

My second guest is actually going to be a replay of an earlier interview in the year - I told you I was cheating. Anthony Tedeschi is the Rare Books Librarian at the Dunedin Public Library, and I chatted to him about the wonderful collections they have up there.

I'll just be glad if I survive tomorrow!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

This was my first delving into the world of Raymond Chandler and Hard Boiled Crime Fiction, and what fun!

The Big Sleep is the first of the Private Investigator Philip Marlowe books, and he is working for the Sternwood family, dealing with a blackmailer that old man Sternwood would like to go away. Unfortunately for Mr Sternwood, he has two daughters who redefine the world trouble, and Marlowe is left wondering what he's got himself into.

I knew Chandler was the King of evocative description, but I was still grinning to myself at the unique way he puts things. Little statements like...

"He wore a blue uniform coat that fitted the way a stall fits a horse."

or this wonderful description of Carmen Sternwood:

"The girl and I stood looking at each other. She tried to keep a cute little smile on her face but her face was too tired to be bothered. It kept going blank on her."

I enjoyed my first outing with Philip Marlowe immensely and will most definitely be back for more.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We have had a nocturnal visitor to our house via the cat door. Not only, did I discover had the thieving feline filched our moggies food, BUT it had also had a toilet stop. And where did it decide to relieve itself? Over the piles of fabric I have been crafting into new curtains.

We live in a villa, villa windows tend to be large, so the amount of fabric and blackout lining involved here is rather huge. I was part way through sewing them, but now, courtesy of their nice new aroma, I have had to remove the linings from the fabric, wash all of the fabric, and had to cut off and bin the soiled sections of lining. I have to pretty well start again.

I'm not particularly amused. I would even go as far to say my heart is harbouring thoughts of violence.

And lets just say my language was, er, colourful.

The bl**dy interloper better not set foot over my threshold again!

Friday, December 4, 2009

At last, the last...

I have been busily acquiring second hand (or third, or fourth hand) copies of Ngaio Marsh novels, and am pleased to be able to say I have finally nabbed the last of them. A Surfeit of Lampreys was eluding me, but thanks to the marvel (ahem) that is Trade Me for the last purchase, I now have a copy of each of them, and two of some (the covers were cool, so how could I resist?)

Of course one of the dangers of trolling Trade Me is you can get a little distracted by other objects. I was wanting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which I got, along with eight other Agatha Christie novels which I paid the grand sum of $2.00 for. I think that was good value! Where the value doesn't quite stack up is the couple of hundred bucks I need to spend on shelves to house all of the extra books. Hmmm. Maybe best not to mention that to Hubby.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Arts on Sunday and other stuff

Phew, there have been lots of publicity interviews and bits and pieces with the launch of Containment, which is great because, lets face it, the window of opportunity for getting your name and your book out there is pretty narrow. And as you all well know, I'm certainly one for shameless self-promotion.

I'm always delighted when I get to speak with Lynn Freeman on the Arts on Sunday programme on National Radio. It's always good to get nationwide coverage, but I also like the questions she asks. The interview was played this Sunday gone, and for those of you who missed it the link to the podcast is here.

Today is the first of December, yes, it is the first day of summer (not that you would have noticed here in Dunedin!) and the countdown to Christmas.

I love Christmas, and the festivities and traditions. Tomorrow my Mum arrives on the plane from Napier, and when she gets here we'll have a wonderful time decking the halls and trimming the tree and Christmasing out the house! There will be decorations everywhere, and festive lights, and my collection of Nativities. The boys have been planning for weeks how they are going to decorate their room, they have a mini tree each with mini baubles too, and I have even found some mini Christmas tree lights for them, though that's a surprise they wont know about until tomorrow. They have also been planning the Christmas baking, with my Christmas cook books having been poured over and carefully post-it noted at the appropriate pages.

Christmas time seems to bring out the big kid in me and seeing their joy brings a huge grin to my face. I still have a sense of delight in the season.

There's no bah-humbug in this household!