Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper.

Publisher:  The Folio Society
ISBN:  not available for this edition
Format:  Quarter-bound in buckram with Modigliani paper sides, 9" × 6¼"
Illustrated by Laura Carlin (7 illustrations)

Like my earlier review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief I first came across the Dark Is Rising sequence as the result of seeing a film.  Fellow book club members recommended the books, and the sequence was added to our suggestions list.  There are five books in the sequence, of which this is the first.  I would definitely read them in order, now that I am half way through book three I can see how important it is to have read them in sequence.

As I have mentioned on the blog before I joined the Folio Society recently, and I chose the first four books in the sequence as my obligatory four book purchase this year.  I just have to get the fifth book now, before they run out of stock!!  When I saw them on the FS list I thought if the FS thinks they're good enough to publish then I should definitely give them a try.  I could wax lyrical about the wonderful special editions the FS have produced, but any edition will do.

Short Synopsis:  A young family are travelling for a family holiday to Cornwall, land of Arthurian legend.  They're on their way to meet their strange Uncle Gumery, and little do they know it but their also about to take part in the eternal battle between the forces of light (good) and dark (evil).

The style of language used is very of it's time (written in the 60's), something Susan Cooper mentions herself in the preface to the special edition.  A few too many 'Gosh's' for a modern audience, but though I have found this a distraction in other books, here it just feels utterly charming.  The thing that makes this truly an outstanding story for me is the way that Cooper is able to make the story seem so real.  The characters of Simon, Jane and Barney are so well drawn that the whole book feels incredibly believable.  In the very best tradition of the very best books you really do lose the words on the page as your imagination takes over and paints the story in images for you.  You lose yourself and become Simon or Jane or Barney.  That's me, a nearly 40 year old woman feeling like a young boy running for my life across the hills of Cornwall.  I swear my heart was racing.  When the children are in danger you really feel it yourself.

What I liked most: Everything!  But mostly that I haven't been this engrossed in a book in possibly ever!

What I liked least:  Nothing.  Really.  I loved the whole thing.  This is probably in my top three books.  The only reason it might not make the top spot is because it didn't make me cry.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Hyperion Books
ISBN13: 9781423134947
Format: Paperback

I first came across Percy Jackson when the film of this book was released, but at that time I didn't realise there was a book series behind the film.  I haven't been into children's literature for nearly 30 years, so when the film came out it was completely new.  Then once I'd started this blog and the Top Ten lists I kept seeing Percy Jackson here, there and everywhere.  I thought I enjoyed the film well enough, and it's well received by many fellow bloggers, so I might as well give it a chance.

So glad I did!

Short synopsis:  Percy Jackson is a troubled pre-teen, sufferer of ADHD, Dyslexia and so on.  He kills his maths teacher on a school trip when she turns into a monster.  His mother takes him away on a trip during which they're attacked by a Minotaur and his mother disappears in a flash of light, presumed dead.  As it happens this is just outside a camp for special kids, the half human children of the Greek Gods.  PJ is one such child and soon finds himself on a quest to save his mother and find Zeus's stolen Lightning Bolt.  Along for the ride are his half goat friend Grover and fellow half-blood Annabeth.  On his journey he meets many mythical creatures, only most of whom try to kill him.

What I liked most: The Greek myths are fascinating, I definitely want to learn more!  Also I loved the chapter titles, they really made me want to read on.

What I liked least:  Not much to dislike as far as I'm concerned.  I would like to read a more adult equivalent I think.  If anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear them.

A little bit of controversy:  I've read some brilliant reviews and also some complaints about the similarities with Harry Potter.  Personally I don't see anything to suggest that Percy Jackson is a complete rip off of Harry Potter, there are some commonalities, true enough, but those also predate Harry Potter by a long way!  I've read the second Percy Jackson book as well, and can honestly say I like both HP and Percy J.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 0340963115
Format: Hardcover

I bought this as a pre-order, and then it sat on the shelf for ages, as I'd been a little disappointed with it's predecessor in the series.  When I finally got around to reading I wasn't disappointed at all, Mr Fforde's back on track again!

I had previously read that the Thursday Next books were to be a 7 book series, and this being the 7th book I was expecting to see all the loose ends tied up, and for a while it seemed like that was happening, as there is so much packed into this story!  It's hard to do a short Synopsis as so much goes on, but here's my attempt...

This story takes places fully in Thursdays' 'real world' life.  Thursday and her family are older, Spec Ops were disbanded but are being reformed in a limited capacity, and Thursday aims to re-enlist.  God has confirmed his existence and is none too happy about things, and is determined to smite the world one town at a time, and it's Swindon's turn!  Aornis is up to her mindworm tricks again, and all our favourite characters are back - Jack Schitt, Braxton Hicks, Spike et al.  This is definitely one of Thursdays biggest adventures, and brings in many old and new characters, so it's not just Thursday against the world, which makes a nice change from earlier stories.

One thing I am very happy to report is that there will be another book!  This time in the book world!  Can't wait :-)

What I liked most:  Tying up of old threads, the stupidity surplus, it's not the last book in the series after all, Aornis's mindworm, Lobster obsessed nuns, Armed militant librarians, and the Chronoguard mystery.

What I liked least:  There's is soooo much going on that it can be hard to keep track of all the different threads, until they begin to coalesce toward the end.  We don't get to visit the book world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday # 9, and a TTT Retrospective

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, but not before you've read the post below.

This week's theme is my Top Ten reads of 2013.

I found it hard to narrow down my top reads of this year to just 10, so I've cheated a little, and had to be ruthless too.  For reviews of each book, check out the sidebar on the left.  Some reviews are due for publication over the next couple of weeks. In no particular order, here's my list:

  1. Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  3. A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine
  4. Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb
  5. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  6. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and also Sea of Monsters, both by Rick Riordan.
  7. Over Sea, Under Stone, and The Dark Is Rising both by Susan Cooper
  8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  9. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  10. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

Where I missed the last couple of Top Ten Tuesdays, here's my retrospective on those weeks:

On 11th June 2013 the TTT was our Top Ten Beach Reads.  I have to admit that I kind of felt we'd done this recently with the Top Ten lists for Fun.  For a beach read I'm of the opinion that such a book should be an entertaining but not gripping read, it shouldn't require too much thought, or emotional investment in the story.  If you think about it you don't want to be so lost in the story that you forget to turnover, and instead resemble a lobster on one side and a milkbottle on the other!  Also, if you keep stopping to make trips to the bar or dips in the sea/pool to cool off you don't want to be having to get back into the book every time.  For these reasons I refer you to my TTT list Books for fun

On the 18th June 2013 the top ten list was The Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR list.

The question is, with new releases and book club always adding to the list of books to read, will I manage to get through these?  As always, these are in no particular order.

  1. Game Of Thrones, plus as many of the sequels as I can squeeze in.
  2. The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, already started this and loving it!
  3. Down The Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos.  I am attending an Author Event in Bath in September, and I can't wait.  A novella featuring the child of a Mexican druglord who has a rather unique world-view.
  4. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beaumann
  5. The Coral Thief, part of my Started, so I'll finish attempt to clear my bookshelves.
  6. Dissolution by CJ Sansom, this is our book club book for July.  Not a personal choice, but a must read nonetheless.
  7. Moonstone another one from my Started, so I'll finish attempt to clear my bookshelves.
  8. Nightfall by Asimov and Silverberg.  This was my first taster of proper Sci-Fi 20+ years ago.  It's the book club read for August.  I'm sure some will hate it, but I don't mind, I loved it the first time around.
  9. Epitaph for a Spy, yet another from the Started, so I'll finish camp.
  10. The Girl with Glass Feet, on the shelf for a year, it's about time I read this purportedly magical tale.

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Agatha Christie moment

I had another Agatha Christie moment, a mysterious temporary disappearance.  The only differences being that my friends and family knew exactly where I was, and I don't expect anyone in the online community really noticed.

Anyway, I'm ba-aack!  I won't bore you about why I was away, suffice to say I'm ready to get blogging again.  In the time away I did manage to catch up on some reading, so I have plenty to write about.

I have made a few decisions though about what I want to do with this blog.

I'm not good at living to a schedule.  My mother loves a schedule, she finds it gives her a sense of order and control and she knows what's going to happen and when.  I feel totally the opposite.  Knowing that there's something I have to do on certain days makes me feel like I have no control, that my strings are being pulled for me.  So, I am dropping the schedule of posting certain things on certain days.  I might still put out a 'First Paragraph's' now and then when I find a great one, but it won't be a regular thing.  The only meme I plan to keep up is the Top Ten Tuesday, as it's fun, and I know what's coming up, so I can write them ahead of time when I feel up to it.

The other decision was around ARC's.  Advanced Reader/Review Copy, books sent to types like me who will review it and post about it ahead of the publication date.  Getting the word out there I guess.  I was given an ARC a little while ago.  But I found I don't like the pressure of having to read a book I'm not necessarily in the mood for, so I can review it and get more ARC's.  So other than reading my current ARC next week while camping in Weymouth, I will not be accepting or requesting ARC's in future.  My day job gives me a fair amount of pressure and I want to be reading for pleasure, not obligation, and sharing on here my thoughts on the books I love, or hate.

So, look out for my upcoming posts... including a review of The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde, and a collaborative effort with Mrs F from Fennell Books.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday # 8 - Travel

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 topic is Top Ten books featuring Travel.

When I saw this topic my heart sank, as I normally avoid travel books, but I spent some time thinking about all the different types of travel and was surprised at how much I could come up with.  I started with the obvious kind of travel books, then moved onto stories where the characters embark on a character journey and/or geographical journey and ended up thinking about Time Travel.

As I've mentioned I don't read travel books, or guide books much, beyond the three different books I bought when I was moving to Sydney a few years ago.  NSW/Sydney/Australia guide books.  I bought a Lonely Planet, a Rough Guide and an AA city guide.  All were good, but in the end the AA guide proved the most useful as most of my tourist activities were based around the city, and some of it's recommendations became my favourite places.  For anyone who think's I might be referring to a list of drinking establishments to avoid, AA means Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous :-)

On the same theme of 'Travel' I ended up needing a street map.  There are a couple of main competitors if I remember right, but I chose the Gregory's street map of Sydney, and I can tell you it saved me from all kinds of lost.  And an honorary mention goes out to the London A-Z whenever I make my way into 'town'.

Onto more story based travel and I thought of a recent read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Percy travels across America, down to the Underworld and up to Mount Olympus on his quest.  More than this, the character takes quite a journey from thinking he's an ordinary messed up kid to realising he's a demi-god.  Quite a trip!!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, to be fair I'm still reading this, but the travels of the circus and it's followers are quite an important part of the story I've read so far (nearly at the end now).  It is a good read, and I love the journeys and the idea that people do nothing but follow the circus around from place to place. I have been on a mission for the perfect red silk scarf for a while now.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.  While travel isn't the theme of the story it does feature a fair amount of travel between England and Italy.  It's the distance between these places that makes the story and some of the mystery work so well.  Though the story never reveals the time in which it is set, it was published in 1951 and presumably set in the hundred or so years before, certainly long before super-economy airlines and so that distance means that so much is unknown about the titular characters history and ultimately her motives.

Long distances now segue us nicely into time travel too with Traci Harding's The Ancient Future trilogy.  It's been a few years since I read these, but this trilogy involves Time Travel from 20th century Australia to 7th century England and Wales, then further back to Atlantis, and then the distant future of Earth.  Great literature?  No not really, but an enjoyable read.

Almost inevitable when discussing top Time Travel books is The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I had to include this one.  The story is of the chronologically disjointed romance between Clare and Henry who is an involuntary time traveller.  This story broke my heart.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway is another time travel romance.  This is a recent release that I wasn't expecting to enjoy so much, but actually I could hardly put it down.  I was reading every minute I had spare.  Nick Davenant, the Marquess of Blackdown is about to die in battle in early 19th century Spain and jumps himself forward in time to 2003, leaving behind his lands, title, family and the dark eyed girl he can't put out of his mind.  He moves around the world and through time trying to find the girl and prevent the end of the world as we know it.

It wouldn't be one of my lists if I didn't mention Thursday Next, the brilliant series by Jasper Fforde. Aside from travel around Swindon and the occasional trip to Wales, there's travel between the real world and The BookWorld, and also travel in the Gravitube.  I love the idea of the Gravitube.  Using Earth's gravity to travel through the centre of the planet to get to the other side in a matter of a few hours.  Time travel also features in these books from time to time, as Thursdays father and son are both in the Chronoguard.

Finally we finish with Eoin Colfer's WARP: The Reluctant Assassin is another time travel story.  The first in a series the book is a crime caper set in modern and Victorian London.  See review here.