The Amazing Maurice and his educated rodents – Book Review

This is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels though don’t expect any of the usual characters to appear – there are no wizards – apart from Death and the Death of Rats, who make only a fleeting appearance. Yes, some animals do perish in this book, but don’t worry remember how many lives cats have.

This is a lovely story with a squad of rats to enjoy, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Do Maurice, the rats, and the piper succeed in their aims and fleece the residents of Bad Blintz as they have with so many other towns on Discworld? No. Do they reach a compromise with the citizens to achieve a mutually beneficial living environment for both sets of animals? Well, you will have to find out. There’s even a human love story running through the narrative as well as some life lessons for us all. What more could you want from a book?

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.

Robinson Crusoe – Book Review

Robinson Crusoe is a classic story inspired by the experience of Alexander Selkirk marooned for 4 years and 4 months on the largest of the Juan Fernandez Islands 400 miles off Valparaiso, Chile.

This is a story that builds up slowly and becomes more and more readable as the time passes. It is a testimony to how adaptable a man can become in order to survive and I marvel at Defoe’s research that makes this story so believable.

After 28 years, 2 months, and 19 days Crusoe leaves his island home, but will he return? Read the book and find out.

And there’s one line which surely must count as one of the greatest understatements in a novel:

It is true I had been very unfortunate by sea

Pilgrim’s Progress – Book Review

Another classic book that everyone ought to read at some point in their lives even if religion and / or Christianity holds no interest for you.

To give it its full title, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. Strictly speaking there are two parts to this book, but most people such as myself only read the first part. The book is a dream sequence that concentrates on the journey of the character Christian from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City” atop Mount Zion. Along the way we visit many places such as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle as well as encountering Mr Worldly-Wiseman, Apollyon, and Giant Despair.

Bunyan began his work while in Bedford prison for violations of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.

The Sign of Four – Book Review

One of the classic Sherlock Holmes’ books written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the one about India, missing treasure, a boat chase on The Thames, and Dr Watson meeting his wife.

The only thing I don’t appreciate about these tales is how weak the female characters are written, as though they’re just useful for creating plot lines. It’s very noticeable in this story. It makes me appreciate Agatha Christie even more.

But you should read this book, just to discover the powers of deduction of Sherlock – it seems obvious after he’s give his opinion. There’s no Mycroft and no Moriarty to distract from the story.

Treasure Island – Book Review

It’s a classic and rightly so. A tale of pirates, the high seas, and of course a treasure map created by the buccaneer Captain Flint. The many memorable characters include Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Ben Gunn, Billy Bones, and Blind Pew.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original title for this book was ‘The Sea Cook’ as that was Long John Silver’s occupation. The book was written in Braemar and Davos in 1881 and first serialised in the magazine Young Folks between October 1881 and January 1882 before being published in book form in 1883.

Essentially what happens is that Billy Bones – a member of the crew of The Walrus, the ship of Captain Flint – stays at The Admiral Benbow inn run by Jim Hawkins’s parents. When some of Billy Bones’s ex-crewmates come visiting to find the treasure map he has in his sea chest, Jim finds the treasure map first and informs Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney of this. They all proceed to Bristol, obtain a vessel called The Hispaniola, and set sail for Treasure Island. Of the crew who set out, only 5 return.

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.

Coming soon – The Diary of a Buddhist Cat

Hello, my name is Freddie. I am a cat.

I live in a house with another cat called Gemma and two humans, John, and Mary.

I am about 3 years old though I can’t remember how old I am exactly because they took me away from my mum when I was very young, and my dad had already left home. My mum used to whisper to me gently how many days old I was when I woke up each morning. This was just after she told me she loved me and that I must be brave at all times and always try my best. I love my mum and I miss her every day.

I can’t really remember which day is which as I live in the present moment. This book isn’t really a diary, because diaries have days and dates – I read this in a book – and I will enter all my entries as ‘Today’. Buddhists believe we should all live in the moment – I read that in a book too, I read a lot – and so I must be a Buddhist cat, but I am not sure how I prove that to anyone. Perhaps if I leave all my chapter headings as ‘Today’ then when they discover this book after I pass on someone else will determine that a Buddhist cat wrote this book? Otherwise, I am not sure what to do. Do I have to obtain a certificate or pass an exam? I’m not sure. I can’t find any books which tell me this information and I’ve looked hard.

Luckily there’s a library next door that allows cats to use the facilities, though I’m not sure whether the library realises this yet. I can even use their photocopier to produce pictures of my rear end, which confuses them no little amount, and then they call in the repairman because they reckon there’s a fault with the copier, rather than a cat with a sense of mischief lurking outside the window. To gain entry, rather than use the sliding doors at the front which I can only operate with a great deal of effort, there’s always an open window on the top floor and I can squeeze in there during the day when it’s open. I have to leave by 5pm before the slim lady librarian with the severe eyebrows, blue hair, and clothes covered in dog hairs closes it for the night.

Anyway, I will stop moaning – as Gemma calls it, she’s mean but more of that many times later – I can sense you’re wondering how did this Buddhist cat get into this state? How did I get to the pinnacle I operate at today? Well, you’ve come to the right place for an explanation, clever reader, how did you know?

Actually, to be fair, there’s not that much to it…

As I said, they took me from my mum when I was little more than a kitten and gave me to an older lady ‘for company’. This person was poor and fed me a paltry amount each day. She lived in one room, and I was never let outside to gain the social skills required to get along with trees, streets, and those large moving objects that weigh more than I do, and which would squash me flat if I ever went too close to them. I was a sickly young cat and caught cat flu, which I don’t remember hunting but caught anyway. The lady took me to a vet, and I needed some medicine. The lady couldn’t afford to pay and threw me at the vet, who caught me and paid for the medicine himself before handing me over very gently to a cat shelter.

26th August – The Snows of Kilimanjaro

I read this book twice in succession and I still can’t work out why it’s so absorbing – is it because of the flashbacks to the times that Harry has survived because he knows he’s going to die this time? It’s a mystery to me. I don’t like the way Harry treats Helen or indeed talks to her, but if you know you’re going to pass away, perhaps that skews your judgement or you feel resentful that someone will survive you? I can’t know the answer to that. The plane flight at the end of the book over Kilimanjaro is beautifully done.

The Mary Celeste Society

This excerpt is from the book entitled 40 Strange Groups. Little is known about them, hence the shortness of the book and the low price.

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On 5th December 1872, the ship Dei Gratia was about 400 miles east of the Azores, when crew members spotted a ship adrift in the choppy seas. Capt. David Morehouse was surprised the vessel was the Mary Celeste, which had left New York eight days ahead of the Dei Gratia and should have already arrived in Genoa. Morehouse sent a boarding party to the ship.

Below decks, the crew’s belongings were still in their quarters. The ship’s only lifeboat was gone. Three and a half feet of water was sloshing in the ship’s bottom. The cargo of industrial alcohol was largely intact. There was a six-month supply of food and water— but there was no one on board to to consume it.

What happened to the ten people who had sailed aboard the Mary Celeste? This is the main premise of The Mary Celeste Society, who meet every month in Lisbon, to try and find out what happened to this mysterious ship. As Joao Goncalves their chairman says no one knows for sure: “Theories have ranged from mutiny to pirates to sea monsters to killer waterspouts. The story of the Mary Celeste might have drifted into history but for Arthur Conan Doyle’s J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement in 1884; his sensationalistic account, printed in Cornhill Magazine, set off waves of theorizing about the ship’s fate. This is what we continue today. We would like to have found the lifeboat as that would have given us a clue about what happened.”

Speculation concerning sea monsters was easy to dismiss as the Mary Celeste showed no signs of damage, other than from storms. The ship’s fully laden condition seemed to rule out pirates. One theory bandied about in the 19th century was that the crew drank the alcohol onboard and either mutinied or fell overboard after pushing the captain and his family into the sea. Another theory assumed that alcohol vapors expanded in the Azores heat and blew off the main hatch, prompting those aboard to fear an imminent explosion. But the boarding party found the main hatch secured and did not report smelling any fumes. Nine of the 1,701 barrels in the hold were empty, but these were made of red oak, not white oak like the others. Red oak is known to be a more porous wood and therefore more likely to leak.

Another theory has come to prominence in recent years as Joao Goncalves explains: “Seaquakes have been mentioned as a possible reason why the crew would leave the ship, but that in itself wouldn’t be enough, because you would be moved up and down violently in both the main ship and the lifeboat. It would be more dangerous in the smaller ship, so why do that? There has to have been something else, some other reason. Fire has been mentioned, but why when there was no evidence of any fire on the ship? Perhaps the alcohol from some of the barrels caused a flash fire and everyone jumped overboard expecting the ship to burn? There was no smell of alcohol when the other crew arrived. Who knows, it remains a mystery.”