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Mr. Kevin P. Futers "Who's afraid of the Billy Goats Gruff? Not this troll!" (Northumbria, Great Britain)
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British Place-Names in Their Historical Setting
British Place-Names in Their Historical Setting
by Edmund McClure
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read with care - contains out-dated views and definitions, 21 Sep 2010
I must put my hands up and say that I have not read this book. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't read it. However, a word of caution:

THIS BOOK WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1910 AND THE STUDY OF PLACE-NAMES HAS MOVED ON FROM WHAT WILL BE WRITTEN IN THIS BOOK.

I appreciate that this is a reprint and they have even been good enough to use an antique font and facsimile layout to give some warning of its antiquity, but I feel that a preface to this edition from a modern place-name authority and explaining some of the major changes that have occured in the century since this was published would be a requirement.

I have given this a neutral three stars because I think it would be unfair to the publishers to under-rate a book that I have not yet read.


Making Money: A Discworld Novel
Making Money: A Discworld Novel
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Solid nearly-gold!, 12 Sep 2010
This is the second Moist von Lipwig book, following on from Going Postal: A Discworld Novel. Here we find Moist growing bored as the Post Office becomes more settled.

Sensing trouble ahead, Vetinari (the dictator of Ankh Morpork) offers the ex-con a job making money. Events conspire to force him down this route and in doing so he picks up a new set of powerful enemies, so boredom is out of the question and he can put aside his growing interest in Extreme Sneezing.
His fiance Spike (as he calls Adora-Belle Dearheart) is meanwhile off digging and looking for golems in land owned by the Deep King of the Dwarves, on the understanding that they are not to remove any precious metals or other mineral wealth. What she does find will have an incredible impact on Moist's schemes.

Terry Pratchett has struck gold with Moist von Lipwig, one of the best characters in the Discworld since Sam Vimes. I find it a little bit of a shame that his fiancee is such a non character and that it is Vetinari who provides the foil for Moist's activities. I'm not sure whether he should do another one though, although I'm sure he could make something out of "Death and Taxes" as a title!


Maskerade: A Discworld Novel: 18
Maskerade: A Discworld Novel: 18
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.41

4.0 out of 5 stars The Witches are abroad once more, 8 Sep 2010
Maskerade is one of the many "Three Witches" series of books, although the original third witch (Magrat) doesn't feature, just Nanny Og and Granny Weatherwax.

The book is only partly set in Lancre, the home of the witches and is mostly set in Ankh-Morpork, the indomitable city state of the Circle Sea. In particular it references the city's rambling Opera House, its peculiar denizens, its new owner and its ghost. Never Phantom, always Ghost. But you get the reference.

Looking around for a new third member of the coven, the two older witches agree that Agnes Nitt has the makings of a witch, only to discover that she has noticed their interest and flitted off to the big cities. Nanny reads dire portents in some tea leaves and the witches set off to protect "one of their own" and also to collect the outstanding royalties on Nanny Og's book, "The Joye of Snacks" (Heavily edited excerpts of which appear in Nanny Ogg's Cookbook: A Useful and Improving Almanack of Information including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld)

They find that Agnes has a position in the chorus with the special job of projecting her incredible voice over that of the beautiful but talentless Christine, whose father bank-rolled the buying of the Opera. Between them the three ladies of Lancre get to the bottom of the mystery, and expose the villain of the piece, but thanks to opera's most worn out cliches, the show must go on and you can bet it won't be over until the fat lady sings. Or something like that.

If it wasn't for the witches, this book would have been pretty dull. Even Sam Vimes couldn't have raised a smile working on this one, and Nobby Nobs (my least favourite member of the Watch) and Sgt Detritus certainly don't shine when they appear. The Librarian makes a rather subdued (for him) appearance but there is no sign of CMOT Dibbler (opera crowd obviously not partial to sausage-inna-bun) nor of the Patrician. Death is actually rather busy in this one, although I note that the Death of Rats is a little less free in his interpretation of the afterlife than his anthropogenic counterpart.

However the Granny Weatherwax magic shines through and Nanny Og adds her own charm, although the Joye of Snacks becomes a bit of a burden on the book after a while. This is made up for by the character of Henry Slug / Enrico Basilica, who isn't in the book anywhere nearly enough, and Grebo gets another chance to stretch his legs.

Overall, it's Pratchett and you will most likely enjoy it!


Yeavering: People, Power & Place: People, Power and Place
Yeavering: People, Power & Place: People, Power and Place
by Paul Frodsham
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into the archaeology of Yeavering, 8 Sep 2010
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I think I read the title for this book some time ago and thought it was akin to Stan Beckenstall's book with a similar title (Northumberland: The Power of Place) so I didn't bother with it (although I did enjoy that book). I finally got around to reading it after completing my own book that is set (in part) at Ad Gefrin (The Adventures of the Billy Goats Gruff). In many respects I would have been happier if I'd read it sooner, but that is water under the bridge!

As a postgraduate student I read Brian Hope-Taylor's monograph Yeavering: An Anglo-British Centre of Early Northumbria. It is a powerful account of archaeological excavation and I was quite uncritical in my reception of it, largely because it was not read for study, but for pleasure. The ideas evoked by Hope-Taylor found their way via the filter of fiction into my book, which up until that point did not include Yeavering at all.

I found the current book to be an informative and well written account by a series of authors who together trace the story of Yeavering (both the hill and the Anglo-Saxon palace site) from its beginnings in the Mesolithic through to the its abandonment during the Anglo-Saxon period in favour of sunny Milfield.

The text is arranged in near chronological order, although the introductory Part II fills in the gaps between the periods which are discussed in the papers which occur later, paying particular attention to the Bronze Age in the Milfield Basin.

The chapters in rest of the book are based on papers read at the conference called 'Yeavering: context, continuity, kingship' which was held in 2003 at Bede's World in Jarrow and at Yeavering itself.

Rounding off the book is a series of obituary articles about Brian Hope-Taylor, the discoverer and excavator of Ad Gefrin, the Anglo-Saxon palace site. I thought this would be the dullest part of the book but was pleasantly surprised by the insights it offered into one of the 20th century's more colourful archaeologists.

The tone of the articles is scholarly but not opaque to the general reader, offering a valuable account to both the student and the enthusiast.

Sales of this book support the Gefrin Trust, the archaeologist-led management company that owns the palace site at Yeavering.


Roverandom
Roverandom
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tolkein for kids, 5 Sep 2010
This review is from: Roverandom (Paperback)
Roverandum is a strange book written more for the Tolkein children than the world at large. It includes elements of the fun world of his Father Christmas letters with other family favourites such as E Nesbitt's Psammead (from Five Children and It (Wordsworth Children's Classics)), the Man in the Moon (something of a Tolkein favourite theme) and most importantly a lost toy dog.

The result is charming, entertaining and readable but not as much fun as Farmer Giles of Ham or even the more serious Smith of Wooten Major


Odds And Gods
Odds And Gods
by Tom Holt
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the Twilight of the Gods, 5 Sep 2010
This review is from: Odds And Gods (Paperback)
I really wanted to give this book more than three. Think of it more like seven out of ten.

Odds & Gods is the story of how the old gods of the world have (mostly) come together in Sunnyvoyde Residential Home and how they react when one of their god-children starts getting ideas above their station.

It is funny, well paced and seems to predate Dan Brown on discussing the minutiae of the workings of hand guns (how did he know this could be a rich vein of humour?)

I think at times he gets too clever for his own good and can hopelessly botch his own premise. For some reason when he has the three witches who share an eye, he throws in that they share an ear too and yet they all somehow manage to have conversations with each other. Perhaps the one with the eye lips reads?

Also, some of the gods are only sketchily studied. Bragi, the Norse god of poetry for example is compared to the head of the Swiss Navy, in spite of there being more Norse poetry available than perhaps any other ancient language other than Greek and Latin. To add insult to injury he has poor Bragi stumbling for rhymes for Glock and other such words. Rhyme? What about alliteration? What about kennings? Rhyme really is an unimportant issue in Norse poetry!

Still, it's humour, not high fantasy. Not even Pratchett, the lord high almighty of funny fantasy, manages convincing levels of thematic continuity. As I say, more of a 7/10 than a 3/5.


Unfinished Tales
Unfinished Tales
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure trove of information and beautiful stories from Middle Earth., 26 July 2010
This review is from: Unfinished Tales (Paperback)
I have just re-read this (apart from the The Children of Húrin bit because I've got the full edited version).

I had forgotten how much better this is than all of the "Lost Tales" type of books largely because these are (nearly) complete stories and they reflect the primary published works more closely - especially the Third Age bits which add to the Lord of the Rings.

The story of Tuor is here told in full up to the point which he reaches Gondolin but no further. I remember this as one of the better parts of the Book of Lost Tales but not so gripping in the Silmarillion, which is a shame.

The Description of Numenor is only marginally interesting and is eclipsed by Aldarion and Erendis, which is an unusual story set in the same location, completely at odds with the usual material on Numenor which always seems a bit Chronicle styled - turgid lists of facts and events. The tale only lacks a likable protagonist - neither Aldarion or Erendis do anything particularly to make you understand them, although you get a hint of what Aldarion is hoping to achieve in the letter from Gilgalad and Erendis does have a point about her husband being married to the sea. Only when you read the lives of the various kings and queens that follow do you learn the upheaval caused by these two flawed individuals. I'm sure Hollywood would engineer a happy ending to this tragedy, but Tolkein was never a big fan of Romance.

I remember reading the Hunt for the Ring quite some time after the BBC produced their 26 part radio series of the LOTR and discovered that the bits they had "made up" were in fact taken from Unfinished Tales, which made me like them even more.

Learning that Saruman had collected various items which must have been on the body of Isildur (Disaster of the Gladden Fields) makes you realise just how fortunate for the fate of Middle Earth it was that a hobbit-like creature called Deagol spotted something shiny in the river mud, even if it did prove rather tragic for him!


Between Languages: Uncooperative Text in Early Welsh and Old English Nature Poetry
Between Languages: Uncooperative Text in Early Welsh and Old English Nature Poetry
by Sarah Lynn Higley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £53.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't expect anything but an academic work!, 25 Jun 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It has been a while since I have read anything this academic. The author is one of a small number of scholars who studies both Old English and Early Welsh poetry and I have only ever studied Old English, although I have read Old Welsh poems in translation.

Therein lies a good chunk of her thesis, which is that we study both types of source material in modern English and want it to meet our expectations, our particular theories, whereas in fact many of these poems are "uncooperative", they are designed for their own readership and the tastes of their time and therefore when we attempt to pigeon hole poems as "penitential" or "gnomic", we are using our criteria, not the criteria of the reader, or more especially the audience of the poetry.

On the down side it was a little intense for my normal reading environment (the number 40 bus) but nonetheless I got through it eventually and I enjoyed playing "how much Old English can I remember covering up the modern English translation on the right hand side of the page". How did I do? Not as well as I thought I would! Ah well, I remembered some!

At some point I might give it another read with my largest dictionary by my side so that I can understand a few of the more esoteric words used. That's what you get for not having studied English Lit before delving into Old English!


Rhinegold
Rhinegold
by Stephan Grundy
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all about the Gold!, 15 May 2010
This review is from: Rhinegold (Paperback)
This is a full and very long version of the ancient stories of the Volsungs, The Taking of the Hoard of Fafnir, the Court of the Burgundians at Worms and its defeat by Attila and the vengeance of Gudrún.

Each part of the whole is given full weight, the characters are drawn from the legends, but given life and humanity by the author. Starting with Wals, it follows in full the story of the discord at the marriage of Sigilind and its grim aftermath, of the escape of Sigimund and his life as a warg, of the conception of Sinfjotli, their vengeance, their return to Germany and their fortunes leading up to the conception of Sigifried.

He then follows Sigifried as the tool of vengeance wrought by Regin the dwarf and the slaying of Fafnir the dragon. This part ends with his meeting with Sigrdrifa the Valkyrie, who here is also Sigilind reborn. They declare their undying love and she tells him that he will find her again as Brunichild.

The final part tells of the betrayal of Sigifrith's love by magic and how he instead falls in love with Gudrun, sister of Gundahari. This in itself would be a minor tragedy except that Gundahari seeks to marry Brunichild, but needs Sigifrith's help to overcome the magic preventing lesser mortals from reaching her. Sigifrith keeps faith with Gundahari by lying with Gram between himself and Brunichild for the three nights they are together. However, this is not enough and things go from bad to worse as the two wives meet, leading to the embitterment of Brunichild and the death of Sigifrith. Gudrun is then married to Attila and the brothers are left to face their fate.

I think that Grundy's conclusion is neater than the legend's, which has poor Gudrún facing another doom-laden marriage in what is probably (yet another) tacked on legend, but one that does not share the unifying element of the Gold.

Grundy's genius here is his blending of historical fact into the story, which in Norse became more and more removed from the source so that in one telling Gunnar (Gundahari) and Atli (Attila) are rival farmers or vikings in different fjords. As with all stories that blend history with mythology the historical carries the story, provides the backdrop, but does not limit the story when we need magic and gods, runes and potions to muddy the waters and turn a lazy eddy of the river into a fatal vortex, drawing its victims in to their inevitable doom.


The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún
by J R R Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Midgard than Middle Earth!, 15 May 2010
Do read: if you are interested in old Norse and Germanic legends or want to know the roots of Tolkein's own stories.
Don't read: if you cannot get past the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings in Tolkein's writings.

First of all, be aware that this is not in any way a book about Middle Earth except where it helps to illuminate a story there which it has drawn elements from.

The meat of this (i.e. the bits written by JRR rather than Christopher) is of two long poems in English using the fornyrthislag verse form and alliteration rather than rhyme. The first is the Lay of the Volsungs, the second is the Lay of Gudrun.

The verses take some following and it certainly helps to know the underlying story, which is related to the German Nibelunglied and of course Wagner's Ring Cycle. I would recommend reading Rhinegold by Stephan Grundy for telling the whole story following much the same principles that Tolkein follows here, that Norse sources are to be preferred to German ones but that the German traditions are to be respected to illuminate the obscure parts in the Norse, and that the scraps in Old English poetry should also be given due respect.

Christopher Tolkein's editorial is generally helpful here and he adds useful excerpts from his father's lecture notes and other scholarly articles and gives a full background as to why he wrote the two lays. He does venture into the much lampooned business of "this was written hurriedly in pencil and much corrected in biro" but when that is a light touch here and actually makes the scholarly input lighter to read. I enjoyed reading the Appendices immensely - indeed I read them before I launched into the lays and they were of great help. I enjoyed Tolkein's composition in Old English of a poem about the Burgundians and Attila which is also covered in the Lay of Gudrun.

My main criticism is that a work of this nature lacks an index which would make it a more useful scholarly work.


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