Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson seems to be able to take any relatively uninteresting subject and turn it into an anecdote. It is especially apparent in Notes from a Small Island, which simply gushes with facts, figures and obscure details about things which you would never have even thought of (or cared about). This is what makes his writing so enjoyable, even if it is a bit tedious at times.

Notes from a Small Island is all about Bryson’s last trip around Britain before going to live back in The States with his family. Starting off in Dover, where he set foot in Britain for the very first time, back in 1973, Bryson revisits old favourites, explores new places and takes a few accidental detours to unexpected areas. Travelling mostly by public transport and staying in modest hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, Bryson learns about Britain at its best and worst. Continue reading

Grimms’ Fairy Tales – Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm are famous for taking age old stories, handed down through generations by word of mouth, and putting them down on paper. Everybody at some point in their lives has seen an interpretation of at least one of the classic fairy-tales, whether in a story book, a production or a popular Disney adaptation. After coming across the book at a very reasonable price in a Algoritam, lovely bookshop in Dubrovnik, I felt it was about time to take a look at the collection to see just what has made them such an inspiration for literature and popular culture.

For a collection that is constantly being retold and modernised, the plots are old fashioned and very repetitive. Most of the fairy-tales comprise of a King who sets a number of seemingly impossible challenges for prospective husbands of his daughter, who just so happens to be the most beautiful woman in the entire kingdom – if not the world. The man who manages to stay alive and complete these challenges – usually with help from magical toads, wrinkly old people or talking animals – gets to marry the princess. I am not ruining anything when I say that normally there is a big wedding at the end, as well as an ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Continue reading

Top 5 – Daphne Du Maurier’s “Great Cornish Novels” Awards

So I have turned the last page in the big book of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Great Cornish Novels”. And what a lovely adventure it has been! Du Maurier has invented some fantastic characters, described some beautiful settings in scenic Cornwall, and created complex and thrilling story-lines. What more could you want from such a great big book?

I had wanted to do a Du Maurier themed Top 5 characters post, but it would be impossible to choose 5  favourite characters when some of the best are rather unlike-able. So instead, I have decided to hand some awards out. That’ll be 4 awards for 4 brilliant characters and 1 award for my favourite setting, all taken from the big book of Du Maurier’s “Four Great Cornish Novels” collection. These include Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek and My Cousin Rachel.

And to get into a Cornish mood, I have added some beautiful photographs taken by Louise Smedley-Hampson. You can find more of her work here:

… Drum roll please …

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My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier

My Cousin Rachel, the last story in Du Maurier’s ‘Four Great Cornish Novels’ collection and a brilliant one to finish on. After reading Frenchman’s Creek, I was slightly apprehensive about the final book in the collection. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turns out there was no need to worry. My Cousin Rachel brought back that shiver-down-my-spine feeling that kept me on edge all through Rebecca.

I did not find the novel as enjoyable as Rebecca, because I could not fully relax while reading it. My opinions of the characters were constantly changing and even now that I have finished, I’m not too sure how I feel about either the awkward narrator or the woman who he obsesses over for the majority of the book. Continue reading

Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne Du Maurier

This is a very different novel to Jamaica Inn and Rebecca. It does not have the same mounting tension and terrifying characters. What it does have, however, is a superb opening. Daphne Du Maurier certainly knows how to start a book and the beginning of Frenchman’s Creek is particularly atmospheric.

Navron House in Cornwall, where tourists can take tea, is so unlike what it used to be, when a women lived there one summer, many years ago. However, the surrounding landscape is as enchanting as ever with the thick trees, the glittering river and a secretive creek, hidden from view. If you listen carefully, you can hear echoes of that hot summer long ago and whispers of a woman and her lover. If you should find yourself drifting on the waters of Frenchman’s Creek, you may see the ghost of a ship and hear the flutter of sails. And if you close your eyes, you might be taken back to a different time to relive the love story of a pirate and the Lady Dona. Continue reading

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

You could not find a more perfect beginning to a novel. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ Such a simple sentence, but it fills the minds of curious readers with so many questions. What is Manderley? Where is Manderley? Manderely – such a romantic sounding place, followed by a beautiful description of the dream. A walk up a long driveway, surrounded by exotic, overgrown plants and trees. It is a magical opening to a truly magnificent book.

After reading Jamaica Inn, I could not bring myself to put my big book of Du Maurier’s “Four Great Cornish Novels” to one side. I had to keep reading, and the next novel in the collection was Rebecca. I read this brilliant book a few years ago, and it is still as creepy, suspenseful and beautifully written as I remember. Continue reading

Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier

As the world outside has gradually become red, brown and yellow with beautiful autumn leaves, and the mornings have grown foggy and damp, I have been feeling as though it is the perfect weather for curling up under my blanket and getting stuck in a good, thrilling book. What could be more perfect than a Daphne Du Maurier with her chilling stories, usually set in a lonely location, with stormy weather and bleak countryside?

I have a large book with a collection of four of Du Maurier’s “Great Cornish Novels” starting with Jamaica Inn. I first read this when I was quite young, and had forgotten the details of the plot. All I remembered was a feeling of tension, excitement and mystery surrounding the book. Eager to read the book again, I raced through it in only a few days. Indeed, it was hard to put the book down! Continue reading