Friday, December 28, 2012

Merry Christmas and all the trimmings.

Merry Christmas! It's a little late I know, but in our house we all got struck down with a cold over Christmas and are just beginning to emerge from the flu-fog.

I hope Father Christmas was generous with you, I got several books, and all but one was from my wish list. The one that wasn't must have been a mistake as its about 'daughters' and as far as I know Father Christmas is not my parent. I tried reading it but it made me cry, so it will have to wait til I'm feeling better and a little more stable ;-)

I haven't even felt able to pick up a book, and that was my main plan for this Christmas - to make a serious dent in my to be read pile. I tried yesterday with a copy of Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler, but read a page and a half and couldn't remember a thing I'd read. I'd been reading and re-reading the same page for half an hour before I had to admit defeat.

I'm going to try again today with The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna. Wish me luck.

As for the new year, I wish you and yours a very happy healthy 2013!

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Christmas Present Wishlist

I've been slowly building my Christmas wish list on Amazon's wish list service, and as you might expect from a devoted reader such as myself it consists largely of books.

Of course I know I will never receive any of these unless I buy them myself, since most of my family are too technophobic to bother following the link I've sent them.  Every now and again I give in and buy something I've listed so it is constantly changing, but here's what's on there right now (in no particular order)...

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Advent by James Treadwell
John Saturnall's Feast by Jonathan Norfolk
The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
The Small Hours by Susie Boyt
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
A Song of Ice and Fire (7 volume box set) by George R.R. Martin
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Recently purchased...

Delusion in Death by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts)
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna

Most of these are either recommendations I've seen on Mr B's website, or books in a sequence I started to read from a Mr B's spa recommendation.  I feel I should state that I have no direct affiliation with Mr B's other than being an avowed devotee of their sterling bookselling services, and their uncanny ability to find perfect little gems for me to read that I might never see otherwise.

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Publisher: Orion
Price/Format: £7.99, paperback.
Bought from: Mr B's Emporium
ISBN 1409121186

This was one of the first books I read from Mr B's Reading Spa recommendations.  I am well known in my circle of friends and family to be a downright scaredy cat, and have nightmares for weeks after watching or reading something particularly scary, so I was a little aprehensive about reading this.

I had decided that having read it back in July/August it was too late to post a review about it now, but what do you know?  Apparently sometime after reading it I posted about it on our facebook book club page and it's now assigned as one of our upcoming books.  I may give it another go, knowing what happens may add a certain something to re-reading it.  Kind of like re-watching a film and seeing all the clues you missed the first time.

Set in the 1930's Jack is a poor man with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, who gets given a great opportunity to do something incredible and take part in a scientific expedition to overwinter in the arctic circle.  His team members bit by bit leave him for various reasons and he finds himself left to carry the expedition on his own, accompanied only by the sled dogs and the feeling of not being really alone in the permanent darkness.

For much of the novel you aren't sure if Jack is actually being haunted or just mentally crumbling under the strain of being alone in the constant darkness of such a stark environment.  It is essentially up to you to decide which you want to believe, and neither are comfortable options.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, up to about half way through I was quite happy to read at night, but as the story progresses the tension mounts and I had to finish the book while only reading during the day.  It was well written I thought, easy to read, well paced with events escalating throughout the story.  The descriptions of the place, Jack, etc are all wonderful and really bring the story to life.

If you're braver than me (lets face it - who isn't?) then I highly recommend reading it at night.  If we have another cold snowy winter it would really be an excellent atmospheric read.  I am particularly looking forward to re-reading it while I'm cosy and warm on a wintry night in deepest darkest December.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Publisher: Gollancz
Price/Format: £7.99, paperback.
Bought from: Mr B's Emporium
ISBN 0575079754
I've read a fair bit of SF, but never dipped far into the Fantasy genre. I may be converted. I've read plenty of reviews before reading this story, and nearly all the good reviews have said it so much better than I can, so I'm going to try to sum-up this astonishingly good story.
Imagine (if you can) the love-child of Oceans Eleven and The Godfather, set in a Renaissance period Venice-like world full of mysterious glass architecture left behind by a long departed race. 

There are sword fights, murder, conmen, killer sharks, magic, trickery, sneak thievery, drownings in barrels of horse urine, double-crosses from all angles, honour and betrayal.
Locke Lamora is a master thief not because he needs the money, but because it's "so much f***ing fun!".  That's what reading it felt like. I Loved it, capital L and everything!  It had a slowish start (the first 150 pages or so took about 2 weeks to read, the last 400 pages took 3 days).  Once it gets going it's a rip-roaring rollicking tale. A fantastically flawed hero you can't help but care for, plot twists and turns so numerous they resemble a plate of spaghetti, moments of sadness and laugh out loud funny, and plenty of "How the [censored] is he going to get out of this?".  There are some minor annoyances, but they don't really detract from the overall enjoyment.
The highlight of this book is definitely the relationships between the members of the Gentlemen Bastards.  It's the heart and soul of the book, and well worth the investment of time and money.
At first I wasn't considering the possibility of reading the next two in the series, but the further I got the more I want to read about the Gentlemen Bastards' escapades.  I just learned as well that next year there will be two prequel stories to provide backstory and fill in the missing years between Locke joining the Gentlemen Bastards and leading them.  So I expect I will be busy for a while.

Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Edited by Darryl Jones
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price/Format: £10.49, hardback.
Bought from: Amazon
ISBN 0199568847

In a previous review I discussed my feelings of the short story format, and my feelings have not changed, though for this collection it is a good thing.  I was quite happy for the stories to be short and to be able to take a break between them.

For our October book club book we decided to read something spooky for Halloween, and after much deliberation I suggested MR James, as one of the earliest writers of the genre, and because as a teenager he'd scared me silly.

I'm *ahem* older now, and a little desensitised to the genre, but there is still something spine tingling about this collection.  The writing is naturally dated, and overly concerned with class and British stiff-upper-lip and it's also rather formulaic.  It's obviously a case of MR James writing what he knew (libraries, old books and documents, abbeys etc etc) and much is laughable in this day and age.  But there's a creepiness that plays on the mind... things that move in the corner of your eye, strange voices, shadows... all those edge-of-consciousness things that unsettle you, and it actually works very well.

This edition is particularly packed full, not only of (I think) every short story he published, but also various writings from James on the nature of ghost stories.  Reading these he explains he only wanted to write the type of stories I have described above, the ones that linger in the subconscious and make the reader feel unsettled.  For him these were never meant to be gorefests or to frighten you half to death, they were only meant to generate that shivers-down-your-spine feeling.  And in my opinion he succeeds brilliantly.

I read a couple at night, and then resigned myself to only reading during the day.  I won't say which I have read as yet, and which I have not, or try to tell you what is good or not so good.  That's not for me to decide for you.  My advice for this collection is to smile and accept the settings and plot decisions for what they are, and just enjoy each story as it comes. 

If you like to be a little more creeped out try reading at night, or even by candlelight for the uber-spooky effect, as one of our book club members did.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Store of the Worlds by Robert Sheckley

Edited by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Price/Format: £9.99, paperback.
Bought from: Mr B's Emporium
ISBN 1590174941

Though I've read plenty in the SF genre, I've never really read short stories in any genre, so I really wasn't certain how I would get on with this Book Spa recommendation from Mr B's.

The long and short of it is that the writing was highly entertaining, but I am not sure if I am a fan of the short story format.

At first it seemed nice to be able to pick up the book every now and again, and read one story at a time.  I tried several in one long sitting, but I'm afraid that didn't work for me at all.  But, if you only have 15 minutes or so to spare here and there a short story is a great way to fill the time.  I had planned to read on average one story a night, but I would put the book down and then not pick it up for a week or more.  It is purely a personal feeling that it is odd to hold a book and only have a few pages per story and then you're done.  There's something not quite right about it.

Having said all that, I must admit that I enjoyed the stories far more than I expected, given my feelings about the format.  They were in places funny, poignant, prescient and totally off the wall.  I have lots of favourites that weeks later (yes, I'm terrible at keeping the blog up to date), I am still thinking about.  Sheckley has a fabulous story telling ability.  I didn't think it was possible to tell a decent story without lots of characterisation and development etc etc... he proved me wrong.  In just a few pages, and often only one or two characters he built entire worlds for me.  I particularly liked the first story where aliens receive human visitors and are shocked by their lack of morality.  Another about the crew of a symbiotic spaceship that needed a new crewman.  I also enjoyed the story about the man who spent a year thinking about Virtual Reality, and the one that really stuck with me was the man who escaped an overpopulated earth to colonise a peaceful planet for himself and was then invaded by annoying humans.  All have twists in the tale, some you can predict and others I had no idea what would happen.

If you choose to read this collection, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Bookshelf Porn

Not that sort of Porn.  This sort of Porn...


I found this site through a long chain of blogs that I'm afraid I have lost track of now, but maybe the name, or just the lovely lovely pictures stuck in my mind.

This is for those of us who dream of designer bookshelves, walls of books you need a ladder on wheels to navigate.

At the moment I am living in temporary accommodation and my room is 6 foot by 8 foot, I have to box up a book once I've read it, and store them in the loft (or attic if you prefer).  I ache for proper shelves, so these pictures make me shiver with delicious anticipation.  Oh to be able to display my books, and even take a loved one off the shelf to re-read.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
Price/Format: £8.99, paperback.
Bought from: Mr B's Emporium
ISBN 0141182792

Without doubt this deserves it's status as a modern classic, and I encourage everyone to read it at least once. It is beautifully crafted, and an absolute pleasure to read.  Capote's descriptions of people and places are divine, and the picture becomes so clear in your mind.

Holly Golightly is wonderfully written, multi layered and appealing.  All at the same time I felt sorry for her, angry with her, frustrated, motherly even.  She is at once a child, and a grown woman, tough yet vulnerable, and a calculating gold digger who genuinely cares.

I decided not to try to analyse Holly too deeply. I think you could talk yourself in circles and never reach a firm conclusion, so I will leave that topic alone. What I can tell you is that I finished the book a few days ago, and I'm still pondering it all. Another sign of a brilliant character/story.

Capote's skill in writing such a complex character, and situating her so firmly in her world is made even more astounding when you realise that Breakfast at Tiffany's is barely more than a short story, at a mere 91 pages in this edition.

To bulk out the book this edition has three of Capote's short stories at the end. They get progressively better. The first seems to have no point, it really goes nowhere. The second is better, with an interesting ending, but the third I felt was by far my favourite.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Project

One of the things I love about my Kindle is the huge number of free or cheap books you can download.  I've downloaded lots of free classics, most of which I will probably not get around to reading, but when I saw the Complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on sale on Amazon I thought 'why not?'

For the princely sum of £1.92 I obtained the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so started The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Project.

The simple aim of this project is to work my way through the complete works, in sequence, one story at a time.  And that's another thing I like about the kindle, skipping bits, jumping backwards and forwards is not as easy as with a physical book.

There is no timeframe, just one story at a time.  Keep track of my progress on the sidebar...

Wishlist: A Starting Point

I have an extensive Wishlist of books, most of which I can never remember when I'm in a bookshop or browsing Amazon, so I thought this would be a good place to record them...  I'd love to hear suggestions or comments.  What's good or what I should avoid...

Here's the list of books from my Mr B's book spa that made it into the 'buy later' pile:

A prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The hand that first held mine by Maggie Farrell
Your presence is requested at suvanto by Maile Chapman
compass error by Sybille Bedford 
Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler 
What was lost by Catherine O'Flynn 
The thirteenth tale by Diane Setterfield
The enchanted April by Elizabeth von Amim
Death and the penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights (aka Heaven)

What better way to start a new book blog than with probably the best book-related experience I've had in recent years.

I had some time off from the day job last week, and took my sister on a day out to Bath.  It's very pretty, nice and compact so it's easy to get around, has plenty of history, nice shops and all that other stuff I told my sister.  All good and fine reasons to visit Bath, but there was more to it... I had a badly disguised ulterior motive.  Since our newest book club member (from Fennell Books) joined and told us about book spas (who knew such a heavenly concept existed) I've been dying to get to a cosy little bookstore in Bath called Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights.  Yes, it is as delicious as it sounds.  Every time I check their website I've been salivating at the thought of treating myself to a Book Spa, or a Reading Year.

I finally took the plunge and decided to take a trip and get myself a Bibliotherapy session, but sadly they were fully booked.  As we were passing nearby (and where isn't nearby in Bath?) I thought I would pop in and take a look around anyway.  I love their VIB lists for quick inspiration, and thought I might find some new books to keep me occupied.

Trawling through the shelves my sister and I got talking to Ed about Jasper Fforde, and I cheekily asked if there had been any cancellations.  Ed explained they were short staffed and weren't doing any that day, but he would check.  A few minutes later they very kindly agreed to let me indulge myself in a Book Spa, and I settled down in a comfy chair to chat with Libby about my favourite topic; books.  Any committed book club member will tell you that other than actually losing yourself in good book there's little better than talking about books with like-minded people.  And that's even more pronounced during a Mr B's book spa. There's something really special about that time, when it's all about you, and someone wants to hear what you have to say, and your opinions count.  As if this wasn't good enough, Libby came back with a huge stack of about 20 or so books she thought I'd enjoy, and we went through them one by one.

Of all the books suggested, I only put two in the 'No' pile, and every other book went into the 'Definitely Maybe' pile.  I did love that pile of books.  Of course I don't have an inexhaustible supply of ready money, so I had to go through them and decide which to buy now, and which to buy later.  Some are included in the price of the Spa, so you know you're going to be able to leave with some books.  I had to limit myself to the value of books included in the price this time (next time I will plan farther in advance)...

I couldn't tell you why I chose some and not others, but here's what I left the shop with, reviews to follow as I read them...

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Store of the Worlds: The stories of Robert Sheckley
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Parasites by Daphne Du Maurier
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (my choice, not a personalised recommendation from Mr B's, hope I won't regret it).