History of the Kings of England (Historia Regum Britanniae)- Geoffrey of Monmouth. A 12th-century imaginative, odd, half-familiar, largely invented, entertaining account of Britain from its settlement by Brutus and other Trojans, through a variety of kings – including Arthur and his relatives – and queens and mighty men (some of whom liked to pick up giants, run to the coast and throw them into the sea), adventures and invasions and attacks on Rome, with a detour into the prophecies of Merlin. Such a very different world and view not just of history but of the writing of it.
My Family and other Animals – Gerald Durrell. In 1935, ten-year-old Gerald Durrell and his eccentric family (their relaxed, harried mother, the sensitive writer Larry, gun-mad Leslie and vague, romantic Margo) moved to Corfu, where for five years Gerald grew up in a very haphazard fashion among the people and animals and olive groves. Often I read a book and don’t want it to end, but also really want to know what happens at the end, so rush to get there. I did not want to find out what happened at the end of this book – I just wanted it to keep on doing what it was doing, indefinitely. Such a laid back, (sometimes hysterically) funny, gentle memoir, full of bizarre and lovely stories and descriptions that are always so accurate I could *see* the sea wrinkling around the coastline, or the haze of bees under the olive trees, or the erratic voyages of the family. The book is available in Popular Penguins so you should be able to pick it up for under $10 (Australian), and the 2005 BBC movie (I haven’t seen the miniseries) – though not on the same scale – is very true to the feeling of the book and stars the wonderful Imelda Staunton (as in Dolores Umbridge), among others.
Rapunzel’s Revenge – Hale, Hale and Hale. A short graphic novel retelling of Rapunzel in a fantasy Wild West. Sweet (at times a little too sweet) and fun, but with an edge of tales wilder than fairy tales: folk tales and tall tales and legends of the West. There was more multi-ethnicity in it than I’m used to in fairytales, which was a pleasant surprise (a bit like watching British shows after American ones: not perfect but better) and although I found the art more cartoony than my tastes usually run to, it definitely grew on me. There is an interview with Shannon Hale (on whom I already looked with favour as she had written a novel of my favourite fairy tale, The Goose Girl) by Karen Healey on Girls Read Comics which is the reason I tracked the book down, and I am glad I did.
The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer. I like Georgette Heyer regencies: so irrepressible and fun and even if they end in a romance, not romances at all but funny novels full of wit and misunderstandings and vengeance and mistaken identities and carriage races and duels and highwaymen. This was an excellent example, with the poor orphaned cousin come to stay with family in London turning out to be the tremendously confident, independent, capable and irrepressible Sophy, who sets about rearranging everyone’s lives to her satisfaction. It has a wonderful ending, too – a proper, Diana Wynne Jones style, everyone-in-the-cast-descending-at-once, maelstrom, chaotic ending. With escaping ducklings. And a whippet.