ness talks books

crocodile on the sandbank: amelia is single until she isn’t

Let’s pretend I haven’t taken a long hiatus from this blog (HI HOW ARE YOU FORGIVE ME), and let me tell you about the first book from a series that I would happily tattoo on my body. (Though, because such real estate is limited, I’ll just write about it here.) It’s the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters AKA Barbara Mertz and it is most excellent.

Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life’s passion. Without the second, the mummy’s curse would have made corpses of them all. 

goodreads blurb

This is … the beginning of everything. And I think, once you’ve read the whole series, it’s very much worth coming back to reread this one. You will gain an entirely new perspective. Different interactions will take on a great more worth and meaning once you’ve seen how everything plays out.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK

I must admit – I view this book through rose-tinted glasses. With fond eyes. That sort of thing – but if you read this and think oh there’s stuff that I like but other things that are a little meh (cough the mummy cough) then continue on with the series because let me promise you: it only gets better. Everything is up from here. All the stuff you love will be present IN SPADES. Yes. I love this series. No, I don’t have any chill.

THE MYSTERY

There’s a curse! There’s a mummy haunting the archaeological camp! What will we do?? When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout! (I’m a poet …)

“Stop,” he ordered, in a low but compelling voice. “Do not take another step, or I fire! Dash it,” he added vexedly, “does the monstrosity understand English? How absurd this is!”

“It understands the gesture, at least,” I called, thrusting head and shoulders through the window. “Lucas, for pity’s sake, seize it! Don’t stand there deriding its linguistic inadequacies!”

It’s fun. Is it A++ Agatha-Christie-wishes-she-could-write-this? No. It’s not. It’s good, but it’s not great. But I’m not here for the mystery in this one. I’m here for the characters. More specifically, I’m here for Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.

THE ROMANCE

Amelia starts off single as the last pringle in a pringle tube. She meets Emerson who is … cares for two things: his brother, Walter, and Egyptology. (And not necessarily in that order.) He is handsome. He is tall. He blusters. He immediately starts a battle of wits with Amelia.

Emerson: You, asking for advice? Let me feel your brow, Peabody, I am sure you must be fevered.

EMERSON, A MAN AMONG MILLIONS

It’s a delight to read. I adore it. I subscribe. This is my cup of tea. This waters all the crops I don’t have.

God help the poor mummy who encounters you, Peabody,” he said bitterly. “We ought to supply it with a pistol, to even the odds.

EMERSON, A MAN IN LOVE AND TERRIFIED BY IT

But for those who view his behaviour as Not Nice and excessively boorish, let it be known that he has Peabody’s number and his bark is worse than his bite. He might protest plenty but methinks he protests too much. Also he saves her life from a VERY DEADLY SNAKE and suffers a great deal of worry that he immediately tries to hide.

(He’s Victorian and they are all emotionally constipated. DON’T WORRY – WE WILL HAVE CHARACTER GROWTH.)

which they will handle with grace and aplomb

If you read ‘Amelia Peabody’s Egypt’ – you’ll find that there’s some excerpts from his own journal regarding these events. It’s perfectly delicious.

But let it not be said that Amelia doesn’t give as good as she gets. Forget the mystery, this book is really a tale of two people who are incurably fascinated with each other – and do their best to a) annoy each other and b) hide it in the midst of a potentially life-threatening situation.

I looked Emerson up and down. The clinical appraisal annoyed him, as I had known it would; he squirmed like a guilty schoolboy …

AMELIA PEABODY, EVERYONE

They are entirely suited to each other and – for the rest of the series – they are On Each Others Side. Married. Deeply In Love. But for this first book? We get to witness all the sparks flying. All of ’em. We get to see them reluctantly falling ever deeper in love.

There’s a secondary romance which is very Victorian-esque and suitably dramatic (but in the best way)

“To Walter! May he make Evelyn as happy as she deserves – or I will deal with him!”

“Spoken with characteristic tact,” said Emerson under his breath.

AMELIA PEABODY, EXCELLENT AT TOASTS

So while this book isn’t the very, very best of the series, it’s still good, it’s Elizabeth Peters finding her writing legs. This has to walk, so the rest can run and prod everyone with a parasol. This is the origin story so that we can have the other adventures. And in true, origin story style, it even starts with a dead parent. (*Batman has joined the chat*)

happy reading!

books, ness talks about life

a golden autumn // a memory

Autumn was bursting with gold and browns. The amber tree leaves, glowing, lit by pure sunlight is a snapshot in my mind.

also my friend took a photo so viola here the scene be!

I was wearing too many layers and had to peel off my waterproof jacket and under jacket. There was no sign of rain, the sun was out and shining so warmly you could almost believe it wasn’t autumn at all.

celebrity sighting

The English countryside is a gentle thing – rolling hills, rising and falling dotted with stone walls, clusters of trees, farms houses tucked away in corners, winding roads, old churches, all of it spread out like a quilted blanket pinned to a tumbling earth … I adore it.

This walk reminds me of Sutcliff’s writings – the way she summons a Britain that is both familiar and unfamiliar, an echo of a long ago time and also a glimpse of a hidden one you can still discover.

I spent some time requesting my best friend listen to the audiobook of The Lantern Bearers. ‘It’s just like this!’ I told her … in rather more words than that.

In November, you see, I finished The Lantern Bearers again and it was just as good – I ended it with a lump in my throat and a burning in my eyes. It’s my book; I’ve read it as a girl and I’ll continue reading it until I’m an old woman and sometimes – when I wander out into the countryside, on my own or with friends, I’ll catch sight of the Britain she describes.

books, ness talks about life

there were no dukes but there was ramses: london, a trip

So I went to London and I saw (1) dead squirrel and (3) mice.

But I didn’t just see the glorious, native wildlife. It was time to see The Phantom of the Opera again, and then – The Lion King. It is difficult to describe with mere words just how much I adored watching the Phantom. When the organ first thunders its notes, if I was a dramatic soul, I would surely have fainted away.

I am a very, very serious being, so I silently battered my niece’s arm to express my joy instead.

The Lion King was very creative but I think it was unfortunate that I’d so recently seen the Phantom. It suffered in comparison.

And then, of course, it was time to hang out with my dear friends in the British Museum. Someone had to check my bag; to make certain I wasn’t smuggling priceless artefacts into the Museum, obviously. They didn’t find any artefacts, but they did find my change of clothes. One day, I swear, those will be artefacts too. My gosh, I’m ahead of my time.

My main squeeze, Marcus Aurelius, was looking fine but couldn’t spend lots of time with me due to scheduling conflicts. Meditation, and all that.

I went to see my dude, Ramses, and but many, many people rudely interrupted us by staring at him. Guys, he’s shy. Have some respect. (He tried to do his whole stony gaze thing. It didn’t help.)

I hung out with some mummies too and we had a nice little chat about life, death, and how their internal organs were out, and mine were in.

The Elgin Marbles weren’t able to be seen, so perhaps we’ve finally given them back to Greece.

fig 1.1 the absence of dukes

Afterwards, of course we had to visit St James’ Park and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. You know, my extensive research in Regency novels had led me to believe that there would be eligible dukes and earls everywhere – left, right, and centre. I had concluded that you could barely take a single step without tripping over them.

Well guess what?

There were none.

Disgusted. I was disgusted.

Believe it or not, there was also time to browse two or three bookstores. I bought The Witness for the Dead, which is the sequel to my favourite book – The Goblin Emperor. I have finished it now and it was good, but, like The Lion King – it suffered by the comparison with its predecessor.

In Convent Gardens, it rained and rained and rained. I crammed myself into a little shop and queued to buy an umbrella. It was, I suppose, a very British visit to London.

ness talks about life, ness talks books

endurance, and the tragic woe of the library computers being down

let’s time travel a little …

I’m in a busy coffee shop because the computers in the library are down and I can’t write the perfectly thrilling sci-fi novella series that is currently filling my brain.

(An integral part of my work day – nipping into the library and writing during my lunchtime – has been horribly disturbed. No one asked my permission. I am bitter.)

But, in a smooth segue, another part of my work day has recently ended – listening to Astronaut Scott Kelly talk in a dry monotone about space for 11 or more hours as I drove to and from work.

At first, I was dubious. Wasn’t sure I could last. Wasn’t sure I even liked the audiobook. Reader, I was very, very wrong. Not only did I enjoy it, I may have loved it? I like the dry monotone now? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?

Also I know so much about being an astronaut now. I feel fully prepared to strap myself to a rocket and shoot to the ISS.

(NASA? CALL ME. I’M READY)

Endurance flip-flops between Kelly’s one year stay on the ISS and the life journey it took to get there. And you know what? It is, to borrow a phrase from Spock, fascinating.

It was a difficult road and it is told in meticulous detail. The grit and determination it took can’t be understated. The perseverance required was inspiring.

It also sounds exhausting – the one track, driving push to reach your goal. But Kelly did it. He managed it. And he wrote a book and read it to me, personally, in the car. For two weeks.

I’d better vamos, the lunch hour is almost up. There is a couple on a lunch date sitting at the table next to me. My coffee waffle is eaten. Ice cream for lunch? Yep. That happened.

Zero regrets.

Also I tried to take a picture of my lunch and the flash was on and I can never come here again. The end. Have a good day.

it is an embarrassing moment, but using the lessons I’ve so recently learned – I didn’t give up. Look! The carcass of my lunch!

Wait. Forget that. There is a man cradling what can only be a chihuahua in a jumper on his lap. I must come here again. Always. Forever and ever.

ness talks about life

adventures

My life has settled into a routine and let me say: I accept.

However, just because it’s routine doesn’t mean there isn’t time for going on adventures. (Unless, of course, we have another lockdown due to the Plague.)

REREAD DOPE BOOKS

… you … thought I *WOULDN’T* put books in a ‘go on adventures’ list?

I reread the Silver Branch and I adored it. Some things don’t hold up from your childhood and should never be revisited lest they be found to have feet of clay. (Just go with me on this analogy.) However, other things? Absolutely should be revisited on a regular basis.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff is 100% one of these. I loved it.

SUPPORT THE ARTS

*the arts*

I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong and giggled/cackled/chortled/guffawed the whole way through.

(I should probably assure you that this was a comedy.)

After the highs of this dizzying experience, I went back to watch Merlin: A Ballet.

My dear pals, comrades, and chums – I forgot that it wasn’t a comedy and when the two dancers (they were gods, apparently, and the parents of Merlin) glided on stage with a slight squeaking of dance shoes – I was *this* close to giggling.

And then I remembered. And attempted to embrace the drama and the art that was being performed in front of me.

There were some really quite wonderful dances – when Morgan Le Feye enchants Uther, and a Lady Of The Lake sequence – however, I was mildly confused, mistook Arthur for Uther and Uther’s dad for Uther and it was only made clear when I googled it.

I’m not certain ballet is for me and I might not quite be able to follow the story (there was the Tide Kingdom and the Solar Kingdom and the baby could be Arthur. Possibly.) but I’m glad I gave it a go. David Suchet: Poirot And More was my cup of tea. In fact, it was exactly my cup of tea and it was a high I may never, ever come down from.

I’ve been watching him portray Poirot practically my entire life and let me tell you, seeing him in person, talking about how he played Poirot and his career and ‘oh, let’s just do some epic speeches and make you feel things from Shakespeare’ MOVED me.

100% would recommend.

GO TO MUSEUMS AND/OR THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE CENTRE

my future. FOR SURE.

I kept on telling everyone ‘oh yes, I’m going to the International Space Centre’.

DISCLAIMER: I was not going to the International Space Centre.

I was going to the National Space Centre. In England. We don’t have a huge space thingy (a technical term that I definitely learnt there) here, however, we’ve had some astronauts.

(Wait. It’s ‘space program’. I meant ‘we don’t have a huge space program.’ There we go. We got there in the end.)

It was fun. Jim Kirk wasn’t there which was a terribly tragic disappointment that I’ve yet to recover from.

There was a milkshake in the flavour of ‘blue goo’. This was an accurate description of its taste. It also turned my tongue blue. This is the future of humanity.

HAUNT A GRAVEYARD

It makes you think of your mortality. We have only so much time on this earth; they remind you of those who are gone and to treasure those who are here.

Graveyards are quiet, sombre places – and yet, they are tranquil. You can look at the names engraved on headstones and wonder who these people were, what kind of lives they lived, what their stories were.

STAR GAZE (AT NIGHT)

Notice I clarified it with ‘at night’. You’re welcome. I’m very detail orientated. Look – take a flask of tea with you. Go where there’s minimal light pollution – or just go and lie down on a lawn, any lawn. Preferably, yours. Stare at the stars. Think about life. All those other folks who have watched the same stars. That sort of thing. Also – maybe take a blanket too.

You don’t have to think deep thoughts – you can just look up and be lost in the wonder of it all. And when it gets cold, go back inside, wrap up in a blanket, and enjoy a hot drink. You’ve earned it.

photo by ioana motoc on Pexels.com