Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Things I am thankful for

Being British we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but sometimes the bad can be overwhelming and it is easy to forget the good stuff.  So here are ten Bookish things I am grateful for...

  1. To live in the UK where good bookshops are still around.
  2. UK has no sales tax on physical books, which helps keep the prices down.  It also means if I buy from a US website I don't get customs charges when the item lands in the UK!
  3. To live within 2 hours driving distance of Mr B's bookshop in Bath.  Too much closer and I'd be in horrific amounts of debt, too far away and I would never have bothered making that first visit last year.
  4. My late Uncle Stephen, for encouraging my reading by sending me adventure books for Christmas (Famous Five, book 9 was the first non-school proper book I remember reading).
  5. My parents for recognising my love of books and telling Uncle Stephen.  Also for buying me book tokens for Christmas and New Year, and letting me spend all my pocket money on books, and finally for spending hours at the bookshop with me.
  6. Brilliant authors writing brilliant books!
  7. Blogging communities, Goodreads etc... so I can see recommendations for books I would never otherwise come across.
  8. eReaders, a brilliant way to have quick access to books, lots of free and cheap books available for fast download and less to carry when travelling.
  9. My local library for giving me easy access to free books.
  10. My book club, not just a reason to read, or a source of books I wouldn't have otherwise read, but a great group of people and an enjoyable sociable activity.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I would share with...

... my sister and niece.

My sister and her daughter are not what I would call 'Readers'.  My sister loves those true story weepies about children with terrible lives who grow up and cash in on the cash cow that is 'my childhood was terrible and now I'm an author' genre.  OK I'm harsh I know, they really did have terrible childhoods, and sharing their story of triumph over adversity can be really uplifting.  Sadly I can't read them as I find them far too distressing, and now they're everywhere and it's become rather cliched.

I have been trying to tempt my sister into the glorious and limitless world of fiction, but so far to no avail (she's a newlywed now, so you know she's pretty occupied in the evenings).  I could have done 10 books each in the end, but I decided to limit myself to two groups of 5, though some of these could work for both of them.  By the way, my sister is 36, and my niece is 13.

My sister:

I got her reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, she has a copy of all the books in the series and if she could put her new husband down for a while I think she'd really be enjoying them!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. she liked this at school and when I said I'd reread it and it was better the second time around reading it as an adult, she said she'd like to reread it.  I bought her a copy as a gift, but that was 2 years ago and she still hasn't started it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I recommend this to everyone, it's astonishingly brilliant, and I think it speaks to everyone young and old.  My sister doesn't read my blog so I think I'm safe to say I will be buying her a copy for Christmas this year.  It's also a recommendation for my niece too.

The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch.  In Locke's own words; "it's so much fucking fun!".  EVERYONE should read this!!  It's not for kids though, so my niece will not get a copy til she's 16 at least!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I think this would be right up my sisters street.  It has something of that 'real life - hard life' about it, it's well written and is a fairly easy read for someone not into reading.

My Niece:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente.  Wonderful, heartwarming and beautifully written.  I think it works on so many levels, this is one that I would recommend for my sister as well as my niece.  I feel another Christmas purchase coming on.

Sleuth on Skates by Clementine Beauvais  Recommended by the lovely Helen at Fennell Books it sounds like great fun, a way to get my niece into mystery books.  Despite recommending The Master and Margarita a while back I still value her recommendations highly.  This one sounds great!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman.  I saw the film first, and then realised it was a book (shock horror I'd never heard of Gaiman before the Stardust film).  The film was great, and the book better.  Lots of fun and high jinks to keep a young teen entertained.

Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  These are great fun, easy to read, a little educational too.  I know she enjoyed the film, and it's nice to see some strong female characters.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.  A classic, fun for all, lots of action and drama and dragons.  What's not to love!?

Honorary mention to the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper.  I'd love to recommend these as well, though it would cost me too much to get her into these, unless I can treat my niece to the wonders of the library.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Literary Mini Adventure - need some help please...

Not really book related as such, but I am changing my car and need a name for her (could be a he).  My last few cars have been called Sheila (the car I had before I moved to Australia funnily enough), Whizzy (number plate had some of the letters) and my current car is Clover, as C, L, O, V and R are in the number plate.  My old MG had T, B and O in the numberplate, so that had three names: The Beast Outside; The Blue Orgasmatron, and rather more sedately; Tobermory.

I'd like to give the car a name from literature that suits him/her, and some suggestions would be helpful if you can think of anything.  I'm open to suggestion.

Here's some information about the car to try and help.
  • The car is a Mini Cooper D Countryman.
  • Number plate letters are A, G, N, S and J, numbers are 11, so possibly could use two I's.  I may change the number plate in time, so my first thought of Agnes may not work later on.
  • Royal Grey colour with black accents (bonnet/hood stripes, roof and wing mirror caps).
  • Small, but bigger and a little more butch than a regular Mini.
 I've attached a picture, I don't think it's an overtly feminine car, though men may disagree ;-)

I thought of Agnes as in Agnes Grey of course, but would like some other less obvious options.

I love the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, Locke is small and clever which I think suits this car. You could say I'd been 'Locke'd' and call the car Locke.  Also there's the whole 'Locke taking you for a ride' in-joke, and terrible puns about locking it... etc etc...

Please leave your suggestions below.  Excuse me, I'm off to investigate Mini accessories and car vacuums...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hodder
ISBN: 1444722654

Since I’ve been blogging (almost a year now) I have seen this book appear on Top Ten Tuesday lists nearly every week.  It seems to score highly for plot, genre, author, characters and even ‘Best books ever’ type lists.  So when it was suggested during my September book spa at Mr B’s bookshop in Bath I knew I had to read it.

It turned out better than expected, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!!!!

Short Synopsis:  Karou is a 17 year old art student in Prague.  She is far from ordinary, she has blue hair and wears a string of wishes around her neck.  She lives a double life, one foot in Prague and one in a shop ran by the only father figure she has ever known. She doesn’t know who her parents are, and the only family she knows are magical creatures unable to walk in our world.  She spends her days dodging her ex-boyfriend, attending art classes and collecting teeth.  Until on one of her errands she is attacked by an angel.  That’s when then things start to get interesting.

I could wax lyrical about this book using all the superlatives in my repertoire, but I will try to keep it brief.

The plot – fascinating, original, complicated and will keep you guessing
The characters – multifaceted, intriguing, lovable, frustrating, hateful, you name it.
The settings – this and the other world are well described and I had no problem imagining myself in Prague or the other realm.
The writing – inspired.  I practically inhaled the book!  I could not put it down.

What I liked most: Everything!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the next in the series.  I just have to read what is on my shelves first, which is painful, as Days of Blood and Starlight is all I want to read right now.

What I liked least: That I have to wait before I can get a copy of the sequel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Format: Kindle

This series just keeps getting better and better!

Short Synopsis:  An American student, the son of a politically powerful family is found murdered near Baker Street station.  It soon becomes clear that the death has some special characteristics suitable for the Folly’s involvement.  PC Peter Grant is called in to investigate the magical goings on, and forced to work with an FBI agent, crawling through the London sewers on the trail of mysterious creatures.

Each book does get better and better, as Peter Grant’s world is built upon each time.  The plots are consistently engaging and it feels not so much a genre of magical realism or urban fantasy as police procedural.  Magic is presented as just a part of PC Grant’s job.  Secondary characters are not forgotten and are allowed to grow and develop too.  I love every little titbit we find out about Molly.  I sincerely hope we learn her secrets and background one day!

What I liked most: Pretty much everything!  Characters developing well, we learn more about magic along with Peter and the stories are totally original and new every time.

What I liked least: It’s been a while since I read this, so it’s hard to look back and recall the things I didn’t like.  The only possible negative is that it took a while to put all the pieces together before we could get to the denouement. But then again that could be me being impatient.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Covers I wish I could redesign

Today's TTT from The Broke and The Bookish is all about Book Covers, and those I wish I could redesign.

Despite hardly having an artistic bone in my body I sometimes look at a cover and wish they'd let me design it, thinking I could have done better.  I'm fully aware that I'm wrong of course, but still.

There's not many on my list this week, but here goes:

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka.  I hated this book and couldn't finish it, which probably doesn't help.  I like scrapbooking, I really do, but it looks like something I could have done as a scrapbook layout.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  I liked the book, it illustrated the concept well, but hated the cover of the version I had.  I just wanted to colour it in.

Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  Loved the book, and I loved the cover to the earlier book Lies of Locke Lamora, and I had hoped for a similar design.  I would have liked to see a boat deck with a shadowy figure of Jean Tannen brandishing the Wicked Sisters.

Nightfall by Asimov and Silverberg.  There's something very dated about this cover, I think it's the font, as the image is OK.

More recent editions of JD Robb In Death books.  I collect the series and I bought the first 20 or so books in the same format with a similar design concept and the later books have different designs.  It doesn't help that I bought later editions of the first books, and then first editions hardbacks of the more recent books, or that some I bought from the US, and some from the UK.  It makes them look very odd on the shelf next to each other.

That's it. please comment and share your list!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Publisher: Hammer

ISBN: 0099561832

I don’t think I’ve ever been so productive on the blog as I have with this Challenge…

I recently read this as a book club selected read for October.  Helen from Fennell Books liked it as did I think everyone else to some degree.  I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan either.

Short Synopsis:  Based on the first set of well documented court records of the Pendle/Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612 it follows Alice Nutter through the recorded events up to, and a little beyond, the end of the court hearings.  There is some artistic licence is used to add detail and backstory etc…

As I mentioned earlier I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it either.  You know how sometimes there’s nothing really wrong with a book, but it just doesn’t gel well for you?  No particular reason, it just doesn’t suit?  I’m afraid this was the case for me with The Daylight Gate.

Maybe it was because it was based on true events.  I did spend most of the book thinking about what was real and what was not.  Some of it was clear, other parts were not, so I was rather distracted by that throughout.  Maybe it depends on whether you think witchcraft is real. I don’t, so much of the book dealing with the supernatural aspects I found totally unbelievable.  I personally didn't care for any of the characters.  I thought that the treatment of women in general, and Jennet Device in particular while utterly believable, was also utterly sickening.  This is probably the best part of the story, in terms of getting me invested in what was happening.  The ending was brilliant!

There were some excellent moments, and if you like historical fiction you might well enjoy this.

According to members of the book club this will be made into a film by Hammer as well.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

November challenge rocks!

I’d heard so many good things about this novel, and I really love a book that makes me feel something, so when this was on a multi-buy offer at Smiths I couldn’t resist.  Nor could I leave it sitting on the shelf for ages waiting for me to pick it up.

It’s one of those rare books too that had me thinking about it when I couldn’t read it.  Great for my reading experience, very bad for working life!

Short Synopsis:  Tom is a soldier returned from WW1 to live off the coast of Western Australia where he is a lighthouse keeper.  He marries Isabel and they’re madly in love and desperately sad that they haven’t been able to have children, so when a rowing boat containing a baby and a man’s body wash up on the shores of the lighthouse they make a decision that will change many lives forever.

The story is wonderfully written and draws you into Tom and Isabel’s world until you feel what they feel.  When they struggle with the decisions they’ve made I felt for each of them, and when faced with harder and harder choices my heart just ached.  The ending was beautifully handled and you will need a book of tissues close to hand.

What I liked most: The setting, the emotional drama, the characterisation.

What I liked least: There were a couple of moments that I felt the story could have moved a little faster, but that might be my impatience to resolve the pain everyone is going through.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where in the literary world?

I am in the Indian Ocean on a private floating island investigating a dastardly plot to change ocean temperatures by use of murderous microscopic robots.

The Storm by Clive Cussler.

Number 10 in the NUMA files series.  So far so good!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Nightfall by Isaac Asmiov and Robert Silverberg

November challenge continues apace... 

Publisher: Doubleday
Format: Hardback
Source: Library

This was a treasured read from many years ago, so when I managed to get agreement to put a Sci-Fi book onto the reading list at Book Club this was the one I had to suggest.  It’s easily accessible to readers new to SF, and is based on Asimov’s 1941 original short story, one of the best examples of SF ever written.

Short Synopsis:  Kalgash is a planet with 6 suns.  It’s stellar orbit lasts a little over 2000 years and it is never completely in the dark.  The story starts with three apparently separate threads which converge together about half way through the novel.  There is a psychologist studying the effects of a new theme park ride through a dark tunnel; an archaeologist survives a sandstorm which reveals  evidence of multiple layers of past civilisations and their regular destruction; and a scientist realises that the standard calculation of the stellar orbit of Kalgash isn’t quite right.  You can probably surmise what happens when all three threads finally meet.

Though the 1941 short story is highly praised, unfortunately the version expanded on by Robert Silverberg was not so well received.  Asimov’s short story has its major impact in its brevity, having to be faster paced and punchier.  However I think the novel expands in areas I felt lacking in the shorter version.  It’s not perfect by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The themes of science vs religion, the exploration of fear of the unknown and our relative smallness in the universe were well portrayed and despite its alien world setting, it is highly transferable to our own society.

The response from the book club was mixed, which can be hard to take when you love the book that some people just didn’t get.  It was well received by some but those that turned up tended towards mockery of the plot and the science.  I suppose we have the benefit of 21st century knowledge over the original 70+ year old story, and the parts that were pulled apart were the parts expanded upon by Silverberg.  Asimov’s concepts were acknowledged as very good though, which I suppose is something :-)

I read this for the first time not long after publication of the extended novel, about 20 years ago, and it endured with me for one particular scene.  The scene describes the astronomer Beenay handing out cameras to his team instructing them to photograph the stars.  He instructs them not to waste time trying to get more than a few stars in each photo.  Of course when the darkness finally comes the sheer number of stars is overwhelming, and the ridiculous notion of there only being a handful of stars is realised.

I was lucky enough once to be in the Australian outback at night, and though I had seen photos of a full-on starry sky, it still didn’t prepare me for the spectacle that is the Milky Way.  It brought back the memory of that moment in the book where they begin to realise the magnitude of the universe.  Now every time I look at a starry sky that moment pops into my head.  I imagine that will be with me for the rest of my days.

So, Nightfall has it’s pitfalls, but it’s still an entertaining read overall.  I would certainly read the short story version at least!  It is available on the internet and I think you can download it free of charge from a number of sources.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Sequels I'm waiting for

Welcome to my Top Ten Tuesday list for this week.  The topic from The Broke and The Bookish is top ten sequels I can't wait to get my hands on.

There's a couple of prequels in here, but you get the drift....  I'm not sure that all 10 of these are desperately wanted, but I do want to read them all eventually.  In no particular order:

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser, sequel to Flashman

Unnamed sequel to River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

Actually a prequel, due for UK release in 2015 (according to Amazon UK): The Bastards and the Knives: The Mad Baron's Mechanical Attic and The Choir of Knives: An Omnibus: The Gentleman Bastards - The Prequel by Scott Lynch

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, also The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two also by Catherynne M. Valente  (not yet officially released in the UK).

Another prequel, currently on my Kindle awaiting my Kindle challenge; The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While by Catherynne M Valente

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Concealed In Death by JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts) number 38 in the In Death series, due for release in February 2014

Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts, sequel to Dark Witch, the first book in the Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy

Percy Jackson and The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan, book 3 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

My November challenge is hotting up …

Format: Kindle

Thanks to Mr and Mrs F from Fennell Books for this recommendation!
Have you ever considered the days between Christmas and New Year?  Those days when the excitement and hustle and bustle of Christmas has passed and New Year has not yet arrived?  According to Marcus Sedgwick’s book these are dead days, the days between two major events where not much happens normally.

For us these days are ones where the movies are reruns we’ve seen many times before, our presents are put away, possibly broken, batteries confiscated by irate parents.  They are the days of the end of year sales, where you’ve taken back that too big jumper, or packed up that fugly ornament for the charity shop.

Not so for our young hero Boy and his new BFF Willow.  They are attempting to save the life of Boy’s master, Valerian, who is due to die at midnight on New Years Eve.  You see he made a Faustian deal, and the deal is almost at its end.  Their quest is to find a mysterious book that contains the secret to saving Valerian’s life, during which they find themselves wanted as suspects in two murders, running across country and through the underground catacombs and rivers of the city.

To tell you any more would be to ruin the story.  The writing is suspenseful, and the plot and characters engaging, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Book of Dead Days is followed by The Dark Flight Down, and if I am understanding it right there will be no further books, which makes a refreshing change to all those long long series!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: The Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

My November challenge to catch up with posting my reviews has now started, and here is the first of many (well, quite a few) to come this month…

Publisher: The Folio Society

The Greenwitch is the third book in the Dark is Rising sequence, and sees the welcome return of Simon, Jane and Barney who originally featured in the first book Over Sea Under Stone.  In this story the children are joined by their Uncle Merry again, along with Will Stanton from the second book ‘The Dark is Rising’.  Will appears to have grown into his role as an Old One, and it’s good to see all our heroes allied in the continuing battle between Light and Dark.

The Greenwitch of the title is a large humanoid sculpture woven in wood, built by the women of the village, to take part in an ancient local tradition.  It was built to be thrown into the sea as an offering to ensure the safety of the fisherman of the village.  It represents the oldest of magic, a neutral magic not concerned with either light or dark.  The story is at last a chance for the women of the town, and particularly Jane, to shine.

It feels like a continuation of the first story, with Will Stanton as an added extra, and it picks up where the last left off.  In the first book during the search for the grail an important piece was lost to the sea, and this story concerns itself with the recovery of the lost piece of the puzzle.  The piece is being guarded by the Greenwitch who does not want to lose her prize.

For me this was the weakest of the books so far.  It was still well written, there was some sense of threat at times, but I felt that it didn’t have the thrill of the first book, or the depth of the second.  Well worth reading nonetheless!  I have heard really good things about the rest of the series, and they are on the shelf ready to go.