Adventures in Stories

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

Do you know what it’s like to be completely absorbed in a book? The world around you seems dim and distant, you are totally focused on the story you’re reading, to the extent that the imagined world that you’ve entered seems almost real?

In The Eyre Affair, Fforde has created a world where it is possible to step into the stories you’re reading and interact with the characters, living in the story alongside them. The reverse is also possible; literary characters can step out of their stories and interact with their readers in the real world, or rather, the ‘real’ world created by Jasper Fforde.

This is set in an alternate version of England, sometime in the mid-1980s. This is a world of literary detectives, vampires, pet dodos and time travel. Our heroine is Thursday Next – one such literary detective, on the trail of the villain Acheron Hades who is planning to kidnap Jane Eyre from the pages of the novel and hold her to ransom. This sounds very silly, but it is also a very clever story, and that’s an irresistable combination. It really works as a thriller or crime drama, and is just as absorbing as any non-fantasy inspired thriller. It’s also on occasion laugh-out-loud funny, filled with puns, wordplay and literary references. Shakespeare and Dickens feature fairly heavily, as of course does Jane Eyre. If you’ve never read Jane Eyre before, I would recommend it before starting this book – you’ll get so much more out of it.

The Eyre Affair is one of my all-time favourite novels. I first read it over a decade ago and my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. Needless to say, I recommend you try this one.

Sausage Swirls

beef pinwheels

Sausage rolls are everywhere. They can be everyday and humdrum, available in supermarkets and petrol stations, good as a snack or for lunch, or perhaps for tea with a tin of baked beans and some oven chips (yum). They’re picnic food, something easy you can grab from the supermarket if you’re heading to a potluck-style picnic in the park with friends after work. There can also be something celebratory about them, given the frequency with which they turn up on buffets at parties.

Last week, I tried a Hairy Bikers’ recipe for ‘Minced Beef Pinwheels‘ which is from Mums still know best: The Hairy Bikers’  Best-Loved Recipes – a treasure trove of good, simple home cooking. They are like sausage rolls, but rather than containing sausagemeat the filling is minced beef mixed with dried herbs, tomato puree, onion and garlic. Rather than cooking onions and garlic and allowing them to cool before mixing them into the raw meat, as the recipe suggests, I used an onion seasoning blend, which both saved time and reduced the number of dishes I had to wash. You then dollop the meat mixture onto sheets of ready-made and (if you want minimal effort) ready-rolled puff pastry and roll it up like a Swiss roll.

The result was tasty and made a nice change for lunch. They’re quick and simple to make and therefore a fun little summertime project. Their swirly, celebratory appearance also makes them perfect for a party.

Rainforests

Have you heard of the Horrible Geography series of books? The Horrible Histories TV series is well-known nowadays, but I was unaware of Horrible Geography until fairly recently. Bloomin’ Rainforests (by Anita Ganeri,  llustrated by Mike Phillips) is part of this series and provides an engaging introduction to rainforests, which, whilst being accessible to children, is also interesting for adults.

I am no geographer, but I found this book fascinating. It clearly explains what a rainforest is and contains chapters on the animals and plants that thrive there, as well as some of the people who build their lives there. The last couple of chapters are important, focusing on the future of the rainforest and the dangers facing it. Overall, the book is written in a really engaging way, including cartoon-like illustrations, quizzes and a colloquial writing style which make the content really come alive and encourage the reader to interact with it, learning more in the process.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It reminded me of things I used to know as a kid and had forgotten, and taught me a few new things as well. I learnt about lianas and rafflesia, the world’s biggest flower, and that there are plants that can walk. This is a great book for kids, but I’d recommend it for adults as well – it’s a quick read and a fun, engaging way of learning more about our world.