Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday # 3

Top Ten Tuesday

Welcome to my Top Ten Tuesday list! The Top Ten Tuesday meme originates at The Broke and The Bookish, check out their site for more information. 

This week's list is the Top Ten Words or Topics that instantly make me pick up or buy a book.

I found this was quite a challenging list for me. I don't focus on a particular genre or sub-genre, and I can't think of a single keyword that would generate that *must buy* feeling. I like to vary my reading quite a lot, so I try to read new things, new authors a lot of the time. So, here's my list, make of it what you will.

Any book from a sequence that I'm following.

Given the current trend in publishing this means rather a lot of series. The sequences I'm currently reading are:

The Gentleman Bastards - Scott Lynch, book 3 due sometime soon, plus 2 prequels announced, though no dates available yet.
In Death - J.D. Robb, book number 37 due out later this year.
Thursday Next - Jasper Fforde, I think this may have concluded now with 'The Woman Who Died A Lot'.
Nursery Crime - Jasper Fforde, It's been years since The Fourth Bear, so I don't know if there are any more anytime soon.
A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin. I haven't finished the first book yet, but if number 8 was published tomorrow I'd buy it and line it up with the others.
Sookie Stackhouse mysteries - Charlaine Harris.

Any book by a favourite author whose work I collect.

All the authors above, of course!
Anything written by Nora Roberts. I've been collecting her work for years, can't stop now!
Neil Gaiman
Sir Terry Pratchett

Recommended by someone whose opinion I trust (who I know in real life).

Especially when I've heard good reports from a number of trusted people.

Recommended by someone whose opinion I trust (who I don't know in real life).

This is an important distinction when you're valiantly trying to make up the numbers to get to 10.
This group would include other bloggers reviews, and also recommendation engines used by Goodreads/Amazon, though I tend to give priority when the average rating is 4 stars or over.

Chosen by my book club.

Our club 2nd anniversary was on Thursday last week, and I haven't missed a book yet (though on a handful of occasions I wish I had).

Recommended by my favourite bookshop.

Especially when it's a recommendation given during a Mr B's Book Spa, as then I know it's entirely personalised. They know me, and my tastes.

Specialist books on specialist subjects.

I know I'm stretching the boundaries of the list again, and moving away from Fiction, but when I was looking for an instruction book for my model of DSLR camera I had a very specific set of requirements and keywords.

I think that's all I have for you today. Please leave a comment and a link to your list so I can see what I forgot to include :-)

EDIT:  Having read quite a few other blogs now, I can see I missed loads...

Time Travel, Dystopian etc...  Looking through some of the other blogs on the hosts site I have added quite a few ideas to my wishlist.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man In Havana
Publisher:  Vintage Classics
ISBN 0099286084

I finished Our Man In Havana last week, but have been waiting to post the review until after our Book Club meeting, in case our discussion makes me think of the book in a different way.

Short synopsis:  Jim Wormold is a British national living in Cuba in the 1950's.  He's a struggling vacuum salesman with an expensive daughter and finds himself in over his head working as a spy for the British, falsifying sub-agents and security reports so that he can claim the wages/expenses.

I've heard a lot of good things about Graham Greene as an author in recent months, and was looking forward to getting into the book.  My initial impression was that it was OK, not bad at all, but not great either.  I felt it was a little slow until the end when the pace suddenly picked up. I wasn't keen on the characters, though I did like the friendship between Wormold and Mr H. I've seen reviews where people have liked the book but didn't like the ending, but at first I felt totally the opposite. I was pretty ambivalent to most of the book but enjoyed the culmination of events in Cuba.

Now that I've had time to discuss and reflect I would like to change my opinion. When viewed as a farce, and a dig at the British Intelligence community it is good. As an observer to the events you are able to see the slow build towards catastrophe, and ridiculousness of the entire situation makes it all quite entertaining.

I may not have loved the style of writing, and the characters each really got on my nerves, and now agree that the last few pages are a touch disappointing, but having said all that it's a pretty good read. I don't think it really lived up to my expectations, and the book didn't make it onto my favourites list, but it's not in the abandoned forever pile either.

The lovely Helen at Fennell Books will probably be writing her own review shortly, so pop over there to see if/how her opinion differs.  I'll be watching for it too, as she wasn't able to attend the club.

Friday, April 26, 2013

I've started so I'll finish

I used to be the kind of reader that wouldn't dream of not finishing a book.  Really, leaving one unread was unthinkable.  I'm older now and my time is precious, and if a book just isn't working out for me I'm quite happy to put it down, well, back on the shelf, but you know what I mean, and walk away for a while.  It might be a week, or it might be years, but I will eventually return to the book.  Sooner or later the right time for that book will come along again.

That's all OK to a point, but when your shelf space is limited, like mine is, and it's filling up with partially read books, the time comes when you have to take the plunge and dive back in.

So in the tradition of TTT, and my own personal love of lists, here are the books I've started and vow to finish sooner rather than later.

In no particular order... 

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Coral Thief - Rebecca Stott
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Before I go to Sleep - S.J. Watson
Rules of Civility - Amor Towles
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iain Pears
Epitaph for a Spy - Eric Ambler

I'm pretty good at remembering where I left off, so it shouldn't be too hard to pick them up and continue.  If you are or become a regular visitor here you can judge my progress by seeing the reviews pop up from time to time.  There, that's my promise, my vow, made public so I daren't renege.

I just asked my colleague to pick a number from 1-10.  He chose 6, so The Night Circus will be the next book I read after The Woman Who Died A Lot.  If there's time I may even get to it tonight.

Friday First Paragraphs # 2

Though I originally found this little meme on Bibliophile by the sea's blog, I've decided to make it a Friday feature, purely because I like the alliteration.  There won't necessarily be one every week, it all depends what's happening in real life and what I'm reading at the time.

But here's today's Friday First Paragraph's...

This one has been on my shelf since it's hardback publication date, I bought it on pre-order and then it languished on my bookshelf until the Top Ten Tuesday feature last week, when I decided it was about time I picked it up and made room for more books.

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde


Monday: Swindon

" 'The Special Operations Network was formed in 1928 to handle policing duties considered too specialised to be tackled by the regular force.  Despite considerable success in the many varied areas of expertise in which SpecOps operated, all but three of the thirty-six divisions were disbanded in the winter of 1991/92, allegedly because of budegetary cutbacks.  By 2004 it was realised that this was a bad move, and plans were drawn up to reinstigate the service.'

Millon de Floss - A Short History of SpecOps

     Everything comes to an end.  A good bottle of wine, a summer's day, a long-running sitcom, one's life, and eventually our species.  The question for many of us is not that everything will come to an end, but when, and can we do anything vaguely useful until it does?
     In the case of a good bottle of wine, probably not much - although the very act of consumption might make one believe otherwise.  A well-lazed summer's day should not expect too much of itself either, and sitcoms never die.  They simply move to a zombie-like existence in repeat heaven.  Of the remaining two - the end of one's life and that of our species - regular subscribers to my exploits will recall that I had seen myself die a few years back, and given my past record, it would be probable that much useful work would be done between then and now.  As to the end of our species, the possibility of annihilation was quite real, well documented, and went by the unimaginative title of Asteroid HR-6984.  Wether the human race managed to figure out a worthwhile function for itself in the thirty-seven years until possible collision was dependent upon your level of optimism."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday # 2

This Top Ten Tuesday list comes to you from me, the idea is courtesy of The Broke and The Bookish, if you'd like to find out more, click here.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is:  Top ten books I liked more or less than I thought I would.

I could possibly come up with 10 of each, but decided to keep strictly to the limit of 10 books, and so here are six books I liked more and four I liked less than I was anticipating. Sorry for the uneven split, it's just the way it worked out.

The 'More' list first....

1. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. You're going to see this a lot on my Favourites list, as it's FAB! This was a recommendation from my Book Spa at Mr B's, and it sounded good, but I don't really consider myself a fantasy fan, so I wasn't sure if I would really take to it. I LOVED IT!!! It far surpassed all expectations, and to slightly misquote Locke himself "It's so much f***ing fun!". My review can be found here.
2. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. I had tried to read Rebecca and had failed miserably, so when this came up as a book club choice I was not holding out much hope. But I devoured it almost whole. This was the first time I remember reading about a character I detested but still loved their story. There was a lot of debate in the club about Rachel, and even more than a year later I still am not decided if she was an evil conniving calculating bitch or not. I want to see the best in her, but she doesn't make it easy.
3. The Collector by John Fowles. Another book club book, one I wasn't sure I would like, but it was really good. Very unsettling, well written, and one of these days I will read some more of his work.
4. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. This is a hard one to place. I thought I wouldn't enjoy it as I find the film (and Holly) vain, irritating, frustrating, meaningless, and the book is just like it. Some of the time I do think I didn't enjoy it, but actually when I analyse how I think about it, it's a really good book. I might want to strangle Holly Golightly, slap some sense into her, but I also can't help but think she's a wonderful character. My review can be found here.
5. A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine. Yet another book club read I was not expecting to like, but it gets you and teases you, and by the end you're hooked. Another one of those books that leaves you wondering about the characters and their motivations. It's incredibly well written, and we discussed it at length and still no closer to a conclusion. My review can be found here.
6. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Possibly the best book I've ever read!!  Who could have anticipated that? I'd heard it was good, I'd seen it recommended, lots of positive reviews but I had no idea it would affect me the way that it did. It's pure magic.  I recommended it to the book club, and it was the only book we've read that everyone finished and everyone loved.  The first book I suggested was not well received, so when everyone liked this I felt like I'd earned my place again.

The 'Less' list:

1. Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka. The book club seems to be a recurring thing (and we're not done yet). It came up because nearly everyone had enjoyed the Tractors in Ukrainian book and thought they'd give this one a try. I tried, I really did. I didn't get far though. I don't think I read more than 2 or 3 pages at a time, and I wasn't keen on the style, and then the dog appeared in the story, and apparently it was a good idea to list the dogs thoughts, in CAPS, and I totally lost interest. We read this one the month after The Book Thief, and the result could not have been more different. Not many finished it, and everyone hated it. Bad, just. Bad!

2. Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene. Not a bad book at all, but a victim of hype I'm afraid. I've heard so many good things about Graham Greene that I was expecting wonderful things, and it's good, but it's not as good as I'd hoped. My review will be posted after our book club later this week.  Who knows, maybe by then I'll have been converted by my fellow club members.
3. Advent by James Treadwell. Recommended from a favourite bookshop, again it was good, but not as good as I'd hoped, or as good as the raving comments on the back cover. Though there may be mitigating circumstances in that I had to stop reading half way through and then recommence a while later. It seriously broke the flow. My review can be found here.
4. The Jewel In The Crown by Paul Scott. Another book club choice. I was looking forward to it, and what I read of it was good, but way way too much detail to get through for a book club time-sensitive read. Maybe one day.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

World Book Night 2013

23rd April is (apart from being St George's Day), World Book Night 2013, the third such event in the UK.  The World Book Night event also ocurrs in Germany and the USA, though being English, and living in England I am of course concerned primarily with the UK.

You can find out more about the WBN UK by following this link.  At the bottom of the WBN site there are links to the US and German events if those are appropriate for you.

The chances of you reading a blog about books and not knowing about World Book Night are fairly slim, but in the event that you've not heard about it, the concept is that after a lengthy selection process 20 books are chosen and distributed to 'givers' who are to give them out on 23rd April.

The goal is to promote reading, literacy and so on.  The books are given out for free to anyone, and can be given out anywhere.  I just missed the application to be a giver this year, so I've put it in my diary to apply for 2014.  Last year two of my fellow book club members were givers, and I still have the books unread on my shelf (shame on me).

I was given Misery by Stephen King, and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro last year.  A number of my favourite books and a few I'd love to read were on last years list.  This year I've only read two of the books, and a few are on my wishlist.

This years books are listed below, follow the link above to find out more, apply to be a giver, etc...

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
A Little History of the World by E.H Gombrich
Little Face by Sophie Hannah
Damage by Josephine Hart
The Island by Victoria Hislop
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Last Night Another Soldier... by Andy McNab
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Reader by Bernard Schlink
No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges by John Wagner

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Publisher: Hesperus Press
ISBN: 1843913720

In a word - Hilarious!

If you read my review of Advent you'll know that it suffered from a reading break half way through.  The same thing happened with this story, but unlike Advent picking up the story again was seamless.

The story centres around Alan Karlsson who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday, but he'd rather avoid the whole thing and so decides to escape the nursing home by means of the window and shuffle away in his slippers.  He encounters some criminals and makes new friends along the way, all the time pursued by the Police.  Interspersed with this present day storyline is the history of Alan's long and remarkable life.

Somehow, though a series of highly improbable events Alan unwittingly involves himself in many of the major events of the 20th century.  It's a brilliantly inventive way to examine our recent past, though Alan is fictional of course, the dates, times and characters are I believe otherwise accurate.

It is pretty much a farce from start to finish, and I have not laughed at a book so much in ages.  You do have to read this in that light, if you tried to take it seriously I think you'd really struggle with this one.

What I liked most:  Anticipating the next thing Alan was about to do, the surprise when things turn out differently (but better-funnier).  Vladivostock just got funnier and funnier.  Herbert Einstein.

What I liked least: drawing a lot of attention to myself in the restaurant at work laughing about Vladivostock.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday First Paragraphs - 1

Though I originally found this little meme on Bibliophile by the sea's blog, I've decided to make it a Friday feature, purely because I like the alliteration.  There won't necessarily be one every week, it all depends what's happening in real life and what I'm reading at the time.

But here's the first of my Friday First Paragraph's...

This book was picked up at the weekend from a high street bookstore just hours after I vowed not to buy any more books until I'd cleared some room on my TBR shelves.

I know very little about it, and it's purchase was an experiment in buying something I'd not heard about, seen blogged or recommended and from an author I'd not read before, so something a little out of my comfort zone.  I was relieved to see afterwards it has very positive reviews on Amazon, so I'm feeling OK about it.

The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence.  

They finally stopped me at Dover as I was trying to get back into the country. I was half expecting it, but it still came as kind of a shock when the barrier stayed down. It's funny how some things can be so mixed up like that. Having come this far I'd started to think that I might make it the whole way home after all. It would have been nice to have been able to explain things to my mother. You know: before anyone else had to get involved.

It was 1 a.m., and and it was raining. I'd rolled Mr Peterson's car up to the booth in the 'Nothing to Declare' lane, where a single customs officer was on duty. His weight rested on his elbows, his chin was cupped in his hands, and, but for this crude arrangement of scaffolding, his whole body looked ready to fall like a sack of potatoes to the floor. The graveyard shift - dreary dull from dusk till dawn - and for a few heartbeats it seemed that the customs officer lacked the willpower necessary to rotate his eyeballs and check my credentials. But then the moment collapsed. His gaze shifted; his eyes widened. He signalled for me to wait and spoke into his walkie-talkie, rapidly and with obvious agitation. That was the instance I knew for sure. I found out later that my picture had been circulated in every major port from Aberdeen to Plymouth. With that and the TV appeals, I never stood a chance.

What I remember next is kind of muddled and strange, but I'll try to describe it for you as best I can.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday # 1

It's Top Ten Tuesday time...

I'm having an official go at the meme featured on The Broke and the Bookish, and this week the TTT list is a 'Rewind' week, which gives me the chance to catch up on some old great TTT lists...

They've been doing it for a while, so there's plenty of choice. So... I'm going to try and do two this time, and I'll eventually catch up.

List one: The Top Ten Books I HAD to buy, but are still sitting on the shelf unread.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - bought for an OU course I didn't do in the end.

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde. I'm a big fan of Mr Fforde, and have read all the previous books. I was a little put off as the last in the series wasn't up to his usual standard.

The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw - a recommendation by Mr B's, I bought it in the hardcover version and it's almost too pretty to read, I'm scared I might damage it.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson - A TV book club book, everyone was raving about it.

1984 by George Orwell - One of those books you're supposed to read but I just haven't been inspired to read it yet.

The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger - I challenged my facebook friends to tell me about the books they loved and I would try them. I started it but got tired of the 'goddamns'.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Another Mr B's recommendation, it appealed at the time, but not now for some reason.

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox - Another TV Book Club book. Bought a year or two ago I think, around the same time as Before I Go To Sleep, and the upcoming Girl Reading. I was looking for titles to read, and bought a few. A friend said she hated it, and so it's sat there waiting.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward, see number 9. I was a little put off with it being a series of short stories.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Another one of those books everyone says you should read, but I can't bring myself to.

List two:  The Top Ten most vivid books/world settings

The Seven Kingdoms, from the Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones).

Cities of Camorr, Val Terrar etc... from the Gentlemen Bastards Series by Scott Lynch. Particularly Camorr from the first book The Lies of Locke Lamora (review). Camor is a Venice like city in a Renaissance like era with strange ancient alien glass skyscrapers. So vivid I could almost feel the hangmans wind!

The Universe in Hitchhikers Guide, by Douglas Adams.  Need I say more?

Panem from the Hunger Games trilogy.  Every detail was incredibly vivid.  You felt right in the middle of things, almost like you could touch the trees of district 12, and see the weirdness of the Capitol and it's residents.

New York City in 2058-60 - from the In Death series by JD Robb.  After 36 books in the series it should be fairly vivid, or there's something going wrong somewhere.

BookWorld from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. A world beyond the written page complete with committee meetings, body doubles enabling the Imaginotransference device, footnoterphone communications between Jurisfiction agents.

City of Reading in the Nursery Crime Series, also by Jasper Fforde. A world where nursery rhyme characters live as PDR's (Persons of Dubious Reality), and Detective Jack Spratt has to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty, the disappearance of Goldilocks, catch the Gingerbread man (who is really fast).

Room by Emma Donoghue - The entire world exists of a single room.  The narrator thinks this is normal, but the sense of isolation and that feeling of being trapped comes across well.

Nightfall by Isaac Asmiov & Robert Silverberg. I read this twenty years ago, and it's still so fresh. I see this world and feel their awe every time I look up at a sky full of stars.

Narnia by CS Lewis. All the books really, but especially the books featuring the Pevensie children.  As I child I desperately bemoaned the fact that we had built in wardrobes.  I so wanted to meet Aslan.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Publisher:  Atlantic Books,
Not yet available in paperback in the UK. ASIN (Amazon Standard ID Number): B00A25NLOU

Released in the UK this year for the Kindle, it popped up on Amazon as one of those 'Other customers also bought' books when I was looking for references for my review of Advent by James Treadwell. It's generally well thought of on Amazon and Goodreads, and the plot appealed to my love of books and bookshops, so I thought why not?

I found it really enjoyable, highly entertaining, engaging and hard to put down.

Out of work web designer Clay finds a job in a dusty old bookstore with a mysterious set of books and customers. Curious about the goings on, which clearly aren't normal, he embarks on a quest to find out more about the bookstore, his employer and what these people are up to. Using modern technology Clay and his friends and associates attempt to solve a 500 year old mystery at the heart of the bookstore.

It was laugh out loud funny, the characters were interesting, the puzzle of the books was engaging. The bookstore was so well described it was pretty much a character in the book.

What I liked most - the puzzle, the mystery, the bookstore itself, the humour. The epilogue-y bit at the end, I love a good epilogue.

What I liked least - how short it is, or at least how short it felt. It took me only a day or so to read, and I could have happily spent some more time there.

Favourite Quotes: there were a few good ones, but this is the one that induced the outburst of mirth that made me grateful I was on my own: "Don't forget your ruler on your first day of cult "   I could also quote the entire last paragraph or two, but that would give away too much.

Highly recommended, and if you choose to read it I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Strategy for bookshop shopping?

What's your strategy for shopping in a bookshop?

It's rare these days that I get to roam in a bookshop browsing for new things, when I do get to one I find that I spend most of my time looking for authors I am familiar with. Which means I don't get to expand my reading much.

One of the benefits of the book club has been to open my eyes to new genres and authors.

Occasionally I will go to amazon if a favoured author has a new release, and might be tempted into looking at the 'other customers also bought' books.

Mr B's book spas are another brilliant way of finding new books I would never have looked at otherwise, knowing that it's safe to do so because the books I am presented with have been selected with my personal tastes in mind.

But I struggle to walk into a high street bookshop and randomly look through books until I find some I think I'll like. I never know where to start.

Do you go in with an idea of what you're looking for?

Do you go in looking for authors you're familiar with? Or for books you've seen on a review somewhere?

Do you look mainly at the table with the 3for2 stickers?

Do you look at titles/covers first then decide to read the blurb? or do you just go to the new releases section and read through until you've selected the one(s) you want?

I don't have anymore bookshelf space left, but I never feel like I have enough books anyway. I love my kindle, but there's something about a real book that just feels better.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Favourites (aka Top Ten Tuesday)

Sorry for the confusing title.  I'm a bit behind the rest of the world... I just found another little meme that has me quite entertained at The Broke and the Bookish. Next week it'll be a different top ten, and I liked this one so here it is... my Top Ten Tuesday (on Friday).

Top Ten books I read before starting this blog.

They're not necessarily my favourite ten books ever, or even necessarily fabulously written, and they're not in any particular order of preference. For reasons that are entirely personal they are the top ten books that mean something to me...

1. Five Fall Into Adventure - #9 in The Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. A Christmas gift from my late Uncle S, when I was nearly 6. The first proper book I remember reading that wasn't a ladybird book assigned by my school.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - The book that made me realise the classics don't have to be the dull difficult books that they seemed to be in school.

3. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - The book that made me want to read Jane Eyre, and incidentally introduced me to the wonderful world of Thursday Next.

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - Beautiful, wonderful, I loved it. I don't remember much about it though, maybe time for a re-read.

5. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov. I'm not sure if I read the short story by Asimov, or the adapted novel with Robert Silverberg. Probably the latter. Either way - I think about it every time I see a sky full of stars.

6. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively - My first ghost story, I don't remember much except that I loved it. I gave it to my niece for Christmas last year and she liked it too, though she's more a part-time reader if you know what I mean.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - I studied this at school and though I knew it was a good book then, I hated school, and by association I hated this book for years. I wanted to re-read it, and the copy sat on the shelf for another year before I picked it up again, wondering if those old school feelings would return. They didn't, and I LOVED it. If I'm honest then I should say that I'm a little bit in love with Atticus Finch.

8. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier - I struggled with Rebecca before abandoning it, and feared the worst when this was chosen for book club. But it was great! I really enjoyed it. It's proof to me that you don't need to like a character to enjoy their story.

9. My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult - I'd read a lot of Jodi Picoult around the time I read this one, and thought I had her all figured out. I got most of it right, but not all. If you've seen the film with Cameron Diaz - don't compare the two as the book is SO MUCH BETTER. The book ending is much more dramatic than the film, the film kind of wimped out on the ending.

10. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak - Just magic! It was my suggestion that month, and one of those rare books that was universally loved by everyone. Death as the narrator was an inspired decision. The teddy bear for an allied soldier, Max's story for Liesel, 50,000 souls in one day, the smell of the sound of footsteps. Pure Gold.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My life in books (2012)

I found this meme going the rounds on a blog post from Pop Culture Nerd and thought it looked like fun.
It goes like this:
Finish a series of sentences about yourself using book titles you’ve read in a year.  I didn’t want to wait 8 months to do this for 2013, so I thought I’d look back at the books I read in 2012 and see what I could come up with.  I must confess a couple were from earlier than 2012, but couldn’t find anything that would fit otherwise.  I’ll do it properly next year.
Here are the results:
Describe Yourself: The Woman In Black

How do you feel: The Howling Miller

Describe where you currently live: Two Caravans

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Your favorite form of transport: Stardust

Your best friend is: My Cousin Rachel

You and your friends are: Spying in High Heels

What’s the weather like: An Ice Cold Grave

Favourite time of day: Dark Matter

If your life was: Very Good Jeeves

What is life to you: Happy Ever After

Your fear: Catching Fire

What is the best advice you have to give: Finding the Dream

Thought for the Day: The Perfect Hope

How I would like to die: Immortal in Death

My soul’s present condition: Neverwhere

Monday, April 8, 2013

Advent by James Treadwell

Publisher: Hodder
ISBN: 978-1444728491

Advent gets off to a great start (see First Paragraphs post here) and I really enjoyed the beginning.

It is quite a long book at 624 pages, but I was racing through it at first, then it got to that moment that every member of a book club knows about - when you know you have to stop reading one book so you can have enough time to read the assigned club book. So I had to put Advent down for a while, and I think that's where it went wrong. I'd lost enthusiasm for the story, and it took a major effort to pick it up again and finish.

The story is basically that of Faustus returning from the dead in the 21st century, to achieve his goal of being the most powerful immortal in the world. Disaffected teenager Gavin is the only one who has a chance of defeating him and saving the world from darkness.

I have to admit after I picked up the story again I found jumping back and forth between characters a little confusing. The purpose of some of the characters (the journalist) seemed to be missing or too obscure for me. The Professor goes off to do something important and I don't think she ever comes back, at least I don't remember it clearly. Marina's father appears at the beginning, and at the very end, but nowhere in the middle. A few characters who seem important at the start of the story just come to nothing later on. As a result it felt like the second half of the book didn't belong to the first half. I have seen references to this being the first chapter of a trilogy, so maybe these things would be resolved later on.

Elements of the story don't work for me, but I can't deny that the writing style is wonderful. Treadwell has a gift in describing time and place, and writes in quite a compelling way, and if I'd not had to put the book down for a week or two just as things were hotting up I might well have had a different feel for the book. I think it must be me, as the comments on the rear cover of the book are incredibly positive.

What I liked most - the promising start, the haunting prose and wonderful descriptions of Cornwall. Descriptions of the cold and snow that are so convincing they made me shiver while sitting in front of a fire (recent weather may have helped this a little).

What I liked least - the disconnect between the start of the book and the end, the apparent disappearance or insignificance of characters who appear important at the beginning. The fact that I had to stop reading half way through and subsequently lost interest (my fault).

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099572473

Sweet, melancholy, charming, beautifully told, and pretty much plotless.

The Vanishing Act is a simple story about a young girl called Minou who lives on a remote island years after a major war, though you don't know where (other than it is extremely cold in winter therefore is likely to be far north or far south), or when/which war.  It is ultimately about the search for truth which so often eludes us.

Minou lives on this island with her Papa, Priest, Boxman, and No-name the dog. Other than Minou the only other character who has a name is the founder of the island who died many years before. This seems to have the effect of isolating the island even more than it is geographically, it also speaks to the truth of us.  We are not our names, we are the things we do and the way we live our lives (oops, in danger of getting a bit deep here). The only people to visit the island are an Uncle, and the boat men who deliver supplies once a week, and the dead boy who washes up on the beach of course.

A year before the book is set Minou's mother leaves the island, though it is not known if she walked off the island and drowned, or was saved. Minou clings to the idea that she was saved, and proving this takes up much of her focus. Minou is of course very innocent, and it's through her recollections that we learn about the other islanders, her parents relationship and probably the reason her mother vanished.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book though the lack of plot was a little frustrating to me. By the end of the book nothing is resolved, though we understand more about life for Minou and her little family. 

I started the book thinking about how peaceful a life on an isolated island might be, and wouldn't that be nice. I have always liked the idea of getting away from people and the world, but by the end I had completely changed my mind.  I suppose I have found some truths of my own.  Maybe this is the kind of thing that Erin Morgenstern meant with her quote on the cover - that this is the kind of book that changes you.

What I liked most - beautiful writing, the mystery of Minou's mother.
What I liked least - I got tired of the references to Philosophical method and Descartes.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I've just added a couple of links in the Literary Stuff gadget on the right of the screen.  Since switching the blog template to the new dynamic templates the old boxes have disappeared and instead you now have to hover the little sidebar on the right to select the gadget.

Also since switching I've been getting a lot more page views.  I previously had about 50 in six months (mostly mine), until this week and now it's nearly 500.  Hopefully not all by accident.  Welcome to any new readers!

Back on topic... I've added a link to a couple of blogs that I read regularly.

1. Bibliophile by the sea - I don't know how she reads so many but I am very impressed!  This blog is also the source and inspiration for my 'First Paragraphs' blog posts.  A singularly brilliant idea!

2. Fennell Books - A fabulous blog run by a friend from the same book club that I belong to.  Again, I'm very impressed by the sheer volume of books Ms F manages to read.  And I love her literary links posts.  Note to self - check the literary links posts early as I usually miss the radio shows.  Must make more use of iPlayer.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Calculated In Death by J.D. Robb

Publisher - Piatkus
Format - Hardcover
ISBN - 9780749959340

This particular volume is number 36 in what has to be one of the most successful sequences ever.  JD Robb is the pseudonym of worldwide publishing phenomenon Nora Roberts, who is surely one of the most prolific authors there ever was or will be.  The 'In Death' sequence has been going since 1995, and has averaged about 2 books a year since then, with numerous short stories in between, an astonishing feat when you consider that there are also one or two books she brings out as Nora Roberts each year as well.

Each story is a Police Procedural/Romance novel centred around Eve Dallas, a New York Homicide cop and her gazillionaire husband Roarke.  I started reading them around 10 years ago, and you'd think that the format, characters etc... would get stale, but they aren't.  Alongside the murder investigation plot Eve and Roarke have faced numerous demons from their past.  The murders in each story are gruesome, imaginative and often keep you guessing for a long time, and it's also nice to break with the norm of a romance novel, by following the same characters and seeing the relationships grow and deepen.
In this story an Auditor is murdered during an apparent (badly disguised) mugging.  In my day job I'm a software consultant, so I was all over this plot...  There is a subplot too about the premiere of a movie that was based on one of Eve's earlier cases which plays alongside, and gives us the personal relationships between Eve, Roarke and their friends and colleagues.  It looks like Eve is finally dealing with her past, and I'm looking forward to book 37, due later this year.

What I liked most:  The running around trying to figure out whodunnit, piecing together of the evidence (what there is of it).

What I liked least:  A few things if I'm honest...
  1. In the earlier books a lot of investigative work would be done to gather evidence and leave no stone unturned. Every effort would be made to be certain that there was no way the murderer could wriggle out of their punishment.  In this story we know too much too early on, and Eve seems to be working on instinct, not purely on the evidence.  Under those circumstances a conviction could be at risk, which would nicely set the cat amongst the pigeons.
  2. In general the ending is always the same.  Apparently all baddies in the mid 21st century allow themselves to be tricked into confessing.  It's entertaining, but really?
  3. There's a big build up for the movie premiere and after party, and then Robb cuts the ending short so you don't get to celebrate with them.
  4. The personal stuff didn't ring quite true, and some seemed a little out of character. 
  5. If Eve is finally overcoming her past, I'm left wondering where's the next challenge coming from for her and Roarke?  The risk is they become the old marrieds of the books, far too solid and happy.  Everyone knows the best drama comes when things get shaken up, and I really think that something needs to happen to change the dynamic of their relationship before things get stale.
Oops, I think I made it sound like I didn't enjoy it, and I did.  For escapist fun with characters you've known for years there's not much to beat it.