Monday, September 30, 2013

Mini book haul

A few weeks ago I was wandering along Weymouth promenade and came across a charity stall selling bric a brac and a few second hand books.  Well, what book lover can resist a big old pile of books? Not me!

I spied one by Malorie Blackman with a striking black and white cover, and then another.  I've seen a few good reviews for the noughts and crosses series, and at 50p each they were a bargain, but two out of three does not a trilogy make.  I was missing the first one.  I bought them because Why the heck not?

I was coming around to the idea that I'd never find the first and would have to pay full price, but lo and behold I was out on sunday and we passed a car boot sale*. My cousin is having a baby and she can't pass a boot sale as she's in search of cheap baby gear. On the way around I found the missing book from my trilogy. I could hardly believe my luck. 30p and my collection was complete.  And lying right next to it were the first two Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness.  The knife of never letting go keeps coming up in my book spas at Mr B's, couldn't pass them up at 30p each now could I?

I've been good and restrained otherwise, and only bought October's club book by Jeanette Winterson - The Daylight Gate. Which I'm looking forward to when it eventually gets here.  EDIT: I had a call from home, there's a parcel waiting for me... Gleeeeeee!

* A car boot sale is when you load up your car with your yard/garage sale items and drive to a prearranged location, usually a field or car park.  You park up and sell your items by laying them out next to you car. People walk around all the cars and hopefully buy your junk.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Just trying something with Bloglovin, a tool to track blogs you read regularly and receive email updates whenever there is a new post, saving the need to check back with each blog individually.

For a software consultant I'm a bit of a technophobe.  I'm not sure what this is meant to do, but I think I'm following the instructions properly...

EDIT - It worked!!!  Just added the Follow icon on the right...

Friday, September 20, 2013

A little something to make you smile...

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that it is International Book Week.  I don't know if it is or not, but I thought 'why not?'

To join in grab the nearest book to you, go to page 52, and copy out the sixth sentence.  Don't mention the book title.

So I grabbed the nearest book and thumbed through the pages looking for page 52.  In my book page 52 features a picture of a dog with a human boys head. There is no text, so I went to the next available page containing text and found the sixth sentence....

Wait for it....

It's pretty special....

"So that's it?"

Made me smile at least...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Where in the literary world are you?

Today I am on a small island off the coast of Wales.  I have made some unusually talented new friends while investigating my late Grandfathers life and murder.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - 2013 Autumnal Reading List

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about my Autumn reading list... and to be honest it's mostly made up of the books I bought at my recent trip to Mr B's in Bath..  My TBR list is huge, and I know that no matter what I say here, some of these will not get read this Autumn.  Not because they aren't great books, but simply because life (and book club) get in the way sometimes, and other times you just don't feel like reading anything you already own...  I have therefore cut the list down to seven, and because these lists can leave you feeling a little guilty if you don't do exactly as you intended when writing the list I feel like adding the following disclaimer....

Though every effort will be made to read the books listed below this Top Ten List does not indicate a committment to read the books listed below, despite all intentions of the person who has compiled this list.  Reasons for failure to read any of the books listed below include, but are not limited to: Alternative reading requirements of the compilers book club; Life events; and inspiration to start and/or complete reading of any book.

Quesadilla's by Juan Pablo Villalobos - I loved Down The Rabbit Hole, and I'm really looking forward to this tale of family life and politics in Mexico.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon - The book everyone is talking about?  Not only does it sound right up my alley the movie deal is done, all 7 books are written and it/she is the Next Big Thing.  Who can resist really?  I managed to get my hands on a first edition hardcover, now I just have to stalk find Ms Shannon to ask her to sign it... I was told signed first editions are selling for around £500!  I'd never sell though!

The City & The City by China Mieville - This plot reminded me a lot of one of my favourite TV shows of recent years - Fringe.  A tale of two universes, a murder is committed between the two and police from each side have to work together to solve.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Bit of a cheat really as I'm reading this right now, so far so good...

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor - I've seen this series appear so many times on other Bloggers' Top Tens.  Mythical creatures, everyday setting (I think?), sounds intriguing...

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling - I tried so hard not to succumb to the lure of a new JK Rowling, but the reviews from before the time the authors identity was revealed convinced me to give it a chance.

The Grey King by Susan Cooper - Need to keep reading this series (4th in The Dark Is Rising sequence). My Greenwitch review will be coming soon. I'm told Grey King and the final book are really really good.  Well worth the effort.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... by Catherynne M. Valente

Publisher: Constable and Robinson
ISBN: 978-1780339818

Apologies for shortening the title, it's a bit long for the post title...  Here it is in full:

the GIRL who CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND in a ship of her own making

This is in serious contention for my favourite book of 2013!  You might be able to tell given that this is the longest review I’ve ever written.

Sublime, Charming, Whimsical, Magical, Utterly Brilliant, a work of Genius.  It is light and funny as well as dark and upsetting.  Everything a fairy tale should be!  The cover of the book I have has a quote from Neil Gaiman who calls it ‘Glorious’.  I’m not going to be the one to argue with a giant of storytelling like Gaiman.  Every superlative is well deserved.  I think in years to come this will be a classic and a must read.  I don’t know why this doesn’t have more attention, as I’m writing this there are only 36 reviews on the Amazon UK site!

Short Synopsis: Set during one of the World Wars, September is a Nebraskan 12 year old somewhat heartless girl whose Father is away fighting in Europe and Mother is busy working towards the war effort.  She feels rather abandoned by them and so when a Green Wind comes along and offers to take her to Fairyland she climbs onto his Leopard of Little Breezes and flies away, without even saying Goodbye.  Even getting into Fairyland is an adventure.  Once inside she embarks on a quest that has her crossing and then circumnavigating Fairyland.  She meets incredible characters, all of whom are well drawn and fully developed, even if they are only on a few pages.

It’s blindingly obvious to any reader that Valente has written a brilliant book here.  In the best tradition of fairy tales this has humour, love, friendship, violence, death, good, evil, personal sacrifice, and a little lesson to be learned.  This lesson being that the good and the bad exist in all of us, and nobody is as simple as they seem.  Our heroine is pretty kick-ass and brave, but she is not perfect, other characters have also been given such dual natures, meaning that each is as complex and diverse as any I’ve read anywhere.  Put simply - Valente’s characterisation is phenomenal.

The secondary characters, as I’ve said are complex and form strong bonds with September and the reader.  I loved A-through-L, the Wyverary (half Wyvern, half Library), and Saturday the blue-skinned Marid.  Gleam the lantern and Lye, the woman made of soap. Green and the witches are other favourites.

It’s not just the characters that excel.  Valente’s words are wonderful.  She’s a wordsmith extraordinaire.  The prose is downright lyrical, and a total pleasure to read.  It doesn’t feel like reading at all.  It’s like being wrapped in the softest cashmere, sitting on the squishiest cosiest armchair in front of a fire with a mug of rich hot chocolate.  Even when September’s quest is going badly and all appears hopeless you just can’t put it down.  The pace never lets up from start to finish and not a single word is wasted.  And I haven’t even mentioned that the writing style is incredible.  There are quotable passages to be had on nearly every page.  I have listed a few of my favourites below.

"She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people."

"... September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armour and rode out with colours flying."

"though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief."

"When you are born," the golem said softly, "your courage is new and clean.  You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like.  By the time you're half grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you'll never be brave again."

"And it's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them."

"luck can be spent, like money; and lost, like a memory; and wasted, like a life."

"As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses.  The speed of kisses is ... a cosmic constant.  The speed of children has no limits."

"September could see it. She did not know what it was she saw.  That is the disadvantage of being a heroine, rather than a narrator."

"The trouble was, September didn't know what sort of story she was in.  Was it a merry one or a serious one?  How ought she to act?  If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvellous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end.  But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies.  Of course we would like to tell her which.  But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move."

Valente uses little tricks to engage the reader, though it never feels gimmicky.  One that springs to mind is the narration.  Valente herself is the narrator and from time to time she talks about the nature of Authors and Readers.  These little asides are inspired and really help to pull you further into the story and give it added meaning (just read some of the quotes above).  I also adored the illustrations and the teasers at the start of each chapter.  Valente gives you a sneak preview of what’s to come without giving away too much.

Who would it suit?  It’s multi-layered story-telling at it’s best, and suggests to me that young children, young adults and adults would each see something different.  For young children it’s an exciting adventure with interesting characters, young adults may see additional levels and for adults it has much more to offer.  I loved the idea of having your courage washed clean.

What I loved – Everything, but especially the narration and brilliant characters.

What I hated – Nothing. At all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Flashman (The Flashman Papers #1) by George MacDonald Fraser

First published in 1969 by Herbert Jenkins, later versions available by various publishers.

First off let me say that I shouldn't love it, but I do.  The writing is truly excellent.  It is also, I'm told, historically accurate in terms of events/timelines etc...

The title character of Harry Flashman is a genius creation, the kind of character you just love to hate.  You should hate him, he is quite the worst anti-hero you could possibly imagine, an unutterably awful character with absolutely no redeeming virtue whatsoever.  He is most definitely not a likeable character at all, and does the most terrible things throughout this book (and the others that follow it).  However you can't help but enjoy the ride he takes you on.

George MacDonald Fraser has taken Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays and fleshed him out into the lead character in his own series.  Thomas Hughes' book sees Flashman expelled from school for drunkenness and it's at that point that Fraser picks up Flashy's story, which has been reproduced as just discovered memoirs written by an elderly and brutally honest Flashman.  Flashy goes home, seduces his stepmother then threatens her when she refuses his subsequent advances.  His father ships him off to life in the Army, and rather than ending up in the cushy regiment he envisioned he finds himself on active duty in India and then in the middle of the first Anglo-Afghan war (with seductions and a shotgun wedding, rape, flogging, beating and all forms of cowardice on the way).  Each time he finds himself in the middle of the action he manages by a combination of blind luck and sheer yellow-bellied cowardice to not only survive impossible situations but actually is perceived as quite the hero.  Flashman is an intelligent character who has an instinctive knowledge of military strategy and it's obvious to readers that had he an ounce of bravery about him he'd either be a great leader, or possibly dead in the battlefield.

There are some brilliant reviews on Goodreads, and I encourage a read through of some of them!

There are 12 Flashman Papers novels in all, and while I have loved this I am not sure I am ready to read on just yet, I wonder if Flashman would get tiresome after a while.  Certainly I need a break between stories.

If you are thinking of reading this I urge you to get a physical copy of the book and not the Kindle version as I did.  The book is heavily footnoted, and not being too familiar with this period in military history I found it a pain to keep going to and fro on the kindle.  I may re-purchase this in time in paperback, and if I read more then it will definitely be in physical book form.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mr B's Reading Spa number 2 & book haul

Last week while on holiday I took a day out from my family to visit Bath and one of the best independent bookshops I've ever come across...  I made a day of it and had a book spa in the morning, spent the day walking around Bath and went to an Author event in the evening at the same bookshop.

Let me just say that I am not affiliated with Mr B's in any professional capacity other than as a customer and a fan of their brilliant service!

A book spa basically involves having a chat with one of Mr B's booksellers about books you love.  They love books too, so it's a great feeling to sit back and chat about what you like to read.  I so want to do a spa in the winter when the fire is on!  After about 20 minutes or so of talking about your likes and dislikes, preferences and reading goals the bookseller, in this instance Emma, will leave you in peace with a drink and a slice of cake.  You can browse their eclectic shelves or pick up a book to read while they search out a huge pile of books that they think you'll like. They'll then sit with you and go through their suggestions explaining why they've selected each book and why you'll like it.  You're then given time to choose whichever books you want, no pressure or obligation.  The cost of your book spa does include a set amount to spend on books, so you know you can walk away with some.

The first time I went I wanted a general selection of fiction, but this time around I wanted to explore SF/Fantasy a little more, which is great because this is Emma's favoured genre and she was able to make some interesting suggestions.

I turned a few down that I already had in my TBR list, or had already read, but here's my fabulous haul:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente - I finished this book yesterday, and it is sublime.  I loved every word of it.
Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
The City & The City by China Mieville
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Heap House by Edward Carey
Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
The Explorer by James Smythe
The Panda Theory by Pascal Garnier
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

There were a few more books that I turned down, simply because my budget wouldn't allow it.  It's my ambition to go there one day with no budget to stick to...

I'll discuss the Author Event (Juan Pablo Villalobos) in my reviews of Down The Rabbit Hole & Quesadillas.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Playing around

I'm going to be playing around with the format of the blog a bit in the next few days (weeks?) and so please bear with me while I get myself sorted.  I'm kind of bored with the clean unfussy layout, I want widgets, colour, words and pictures galore!

Top Ten Tuesday # 18

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday is set in that perfect world where the books we love are not butchered by Hollywood or the Silver Screen, and instead are all handled brilliantly as TV shows or Films!  Most of the books I've enjoyed lately are either already movies, or are about to be adapted, so this was a hard list for me, and I didn't quite make it to 10...

So here's my list, as always a little artistic licence has been taken.

Though I haven't read them all, I am very very grateful that the Game Of Thrones series is being made as a TV series, though if I could change one thing, it would be to make it a Soap Opera so I could watch it every week, and not have to wait a year between batches of episodes.  I think there's enough material :-)

My new favourite book of 2013 would be wonderful - The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.  It's just magical.

The London based police procedural stories featuring trainee wizard PC Peter Grant, written by Ben Aaronovitch would make a great alternative Crime Drama series (TV or film, either format would work in my opinion).  Rivers of London, Moon over Soho, Whispers Underground and Broken Homes...

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman - I can see this as a film, with incredible settings and heartbreaking story.

The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper.  Of course they'd have to re-do the previously released Dark Is Rising movie...  No Bad Thing!

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver.  I think this would be wonderfully creepy as a supernatural chiller, though I have a terrible fear that it would be mistreated and turned into a slasher/horror movie.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  This is going to be made into a film, so I'll be  praying to the God of Book to Movie Adaptations that it gets handled well.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, definitely a film rather than TV series, and I have no idea how Death would narrate it, but I think it would be wonderful.  I'd watch it, I'd buy it, and I'd sell it to everyone who'd listen.  EDIT: I just read that this will be a film, OMG OMG OMG OMG!

And finally, reversing the focus of the list so far, I'd like to see the recent Tom Cruise film Oblivion as a book.  It started out as an idea for a Graphic Novel rather than a book, but I think it could make a great book if fleshed out a bit more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where in the literary world?

I have been whisked away from home by a wind and his faithful leopard of little breezes to Fairyland, where I am attempting to catch a velocipede to speed me on a quest aided by various magical creatures.