Monday, 20 December 2010

Challenge: A to Z Challenge

This took some thinking about before I signed up, because it is signing myself up for 26 books which I'm going to have to read in alphabetical order and that is going to require some thought/discipline.  Just bounding about reading the titles in whatever order I want would be much easier, but it obviously wouldn't be a challenge.

I'm going to take the A to Z Title Challenge, because that seems more flexible to me (I already own 6 books starting with Q, which is one of the tricky letters).  It's being hosted here.

Challenge: 2nds

A natural successor to the 1st in a Series challenge I've signed up for, this is also hosted by A Few More Pages and follows a similar system.  Although you can do it as the second time you've read an author, I'm going to stick to the series idea because, after all, I'm going to be reading the first of at least 20 series (I hope).  There are again four levels:

Just a Spoonful - Read 3 books that are the second in a series or the second time you've read an author
A Few More Bites - Read 6 books that are the second in a series or the second time you've read an author
A Full Plate - Read 12 books that are the second in a series or the second time you've read an author
All You Can Eat - Read 20 books that are the second in a series or the second time you've read an author

I'm only going to go for A Full Plate in the challenge to keep the reading level down (the laziness returns), so that will be 12 books that are the second in a series in 2011.

Challenge: 1st in a Series

Another challenge for 2011: to read books that are the first in the series.  I have a lot of these on my TBR shelf, and there are quite a few instances in which I've bought the whole series and still haven't got round to reading the first book.  There's not wanting to run into a cliffhanger and have to wait for the next book, and there's being lazy.

The challenge is being hosted at A Few More Pages and has four different levels:

Series Novice: Read 3 books that are the first in any series
Series Lover: Read 6 books that are the first in any series
Series Expert: Read 12 books that are the first in any series
Series Fanatic: Read 20 books that are the first in any series

And this is where I'm in a quandary because I could do Fanatic if I tried, I have all year, but...right, Fanatic.  Sign me up for Series Fanatic.  My TBR shelf is mocking me it is now so ridiculous.

I'm not going to draw up a reading list for this, as I've got a pretty big choice of options, but I will review each book as I read it.

Challenge: Victorian Literature

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

If there is one thing I share in common with Emma Woodhouse, it is the drawing up of reading lists - and they are always very good lists, if I do say so myself - so I'm signing up for the Victorian Literature Challenge at words, words, words.  I have quite a few 19th century novels on my Project Fill in the Gaps list, and I have even more lurking on my shelf, so this seems a good way to clear some space and actually get some books read.

There are different levels for the challenge, but I'm going to aim for Great Expectations: 5-9 Victorian Books in 2011.  And, while the challenge itself is flexible, I'm going to be a bit mental and make life harder for myself by limiting it to books published during Queen Victoria's reign, 1837-1901.  The (short) list of potential books is as follows:
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
I have a few more, and am also aware that all of these books are written by British authors - I would say so was Victoria, but that bit from Blackadder keeps running through my head*.  Some of them are also pretty big, which is why I haven't included all of my Dickens because they are technically weapons.  This should be interesting.

* Can't find the clip on Youtube, but basically "so your father's German, you're half-German and you married a German?".

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Review: Night World vol 1 by LJ Smith

New/Old Read: New
Date Read: 17th December 2010
Times Read: 1

Synopsis: Vampires, werewolves, witches, shape shifters - they live among us without our knowledge.  Night World is their secret society, a secret society with very strict rules.  And falling in love breaks all the rules of Night World. (from Goodreads)

Review: This volume comprises the first three Night World books - Secret Vampire, Daughters of Darkness and Enchantress - so I'm reviewing each separately here.

Secret Vampire - I read this when I was a teenager (16?) and although I did start to reread it when I got the compilation volume - my single copy of this title is in a box somewhere - I found that I could remember the story well enough that I didn't want to reread.  This may be telling in itself, as I am not one to hesitate to reread a book I enjoyed first (or fifteenth) time around, but I do remember enjoying the book when I read it.  So, even though I didn't reread it this time, that shouldn't be taken as a bad sign - and I'm now tempted to read it because I vaguely recall people from the later books rocking up in it.

Daughters of Darkness - I got a little stalled on this one, again distracted by something shiny, but also because I found it a little weak.  Though I think possibly if I'd read it in one go like I did Enchantress I would have enjoyed it more.  There is the problem that I find in a lot of paranormals that the main characters fall in love so fast I'm surprised they don't have whiplash, but here it's at least explained away as them being soul mates, rather than someone just having an amazing fragrant freesia scent.  And the characters here fight against it, they don't want to be that much in love and it scares them, which is completely believable.  There always wasn't a completely neat happily ever after, which filled me with glee.  Definitely good for people who want a bit more realism in their paranormal romance.

My main issue was the plot, which was a little weak.  It wasn't, fortunately, just there to make the protagonists have to fight for/rescue each other, but it was a bit too simple.  A whodunnit that was a little obvious, as the culprit was found, questioned, cast as innocent and then oh noes it was him all along!  Saying that, the final confrontation was awesome.  Writing this review I'm realising that I preferred the latter half of the book much more than the beginning.

Enchantress - witches!  Yay!  I have a soft spot for witches, possibly because of Jill Murphy*, and this book was also heavy on the feminism and the strength of women which is a definite plus.  Blaize was a bit too much of an omgsogorgeous, but a lot of that was explained away by magic.  Again, the main romance was a bit rushed, but again it was because of the soul mate thing and again the protagonists tried to fight it.  And the consequences of it were massive and dealt with in a serious way.

The plot in Enchantress was also a bit simple, as we knew which sprit had been released and was wreaking havoc, but the tension then came in how they could stop it.  The ending was, again, fantastic, with everything crashing together at once.  It was also realistic, though a bit neater than the end of Daughters of Darkness.  It also makes me want to buy the next volume, as I suspect a deeper plot arc emerging and I want to read it.  If the characters from these books show up again in later volumes and there's a wider issue at stake, I will be very happy.

Rating: 6/10

* There's a fifth Worst Witch book?  How did I not know that?  I am going to have to get that.

Review: Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Published: 2005
Pages: 336
Series: Little Blue Envelope #1
Read: December 16th 2010
Challenge: N/A
Reason I Read It: I've read several of MJ's other books.

Synopsis: When Ginny receives thirteen little blue envelopes and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she knows something exciting is going to happen.  What Ginny doesn't know is that she will have the adventure of her life and it will change her in more ways than one.  Life and love are waiting for her across the Atlantic, and the thirteen little blue envelopes are the key to finding them in this funny, romantic, heartbreaking novel. (from Goodreads)

First Line: "Dear Ginger, I have never been a great follower of rules."

Review: Have to confess that this was on the rapidly growing pile of books I'd started, got about fifty pages into, and then put down when I was distracted by something shiny and new.  And then I got to the fifty page mark again on this readthrough and the same thing nearly happened, but this time I managed to pinpoint the issue and it's entirely mine: it's set in London.  Daft, eh?  But I know London, I now live there, and so I was kind of going "oh, it was all new to me when it was set in New York and there's European travel on the horizon, but London?  Nothing exciting there" (even though I know that last statement is completely untrue).

Once I got past this the book picked up for me, even before Ginny set off for Europe.  And once she got to Europe I turned into a page turning loon, rushing through the remainder of the book like it was reading crack.  The book made me want to rush off to Europe (because it's right there, there's this tunnel they dug to connect us and everything), and I felt as if I was in every city that was described.  There were a few episodes of the book that I wasn't sure where they fit, even in the thematic sense, but every bit kept me reading.  Then the ending made me cry - and that's the second time an MJ book has done that to me; the other was The Key to the Golden Firebird - but wasn't so perfectly tied up in a neat little bow that it made me want to throw it across the room.  Though I am curious as to what the sequel will be about - which is what makes me want to get my grubby mitts on a copy now.

However, much as I liked it, I didn't love it the same way I love Devilish and Girl at Sea (read both of those now if you haven't).  It was an enjoyable read, but compared to those two it didn't grab me.  The romance didn't have the same effect on me as in the other two.  Basically, this book fell down for me because I read my two favourite MJs before this, which is, again, totally on me.  Definitely recommend it, but I would recommend the other two more.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 11 December 2010

2010: End of Year Survey

Yanked from The Perpetual Page Turner, a reading survey for 2010 (because the title for this post is so vague).

1. Best Book of 2010?
Young adult - Paper Towns by John Green.  I read all of his books in a burst this year, but Paper Towns was my favourite.  The ending left me with a weird feeling of sadness because it was so damn perfect.
Adult lit - Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut.  Read for Banned Books Week and, seriously, why had I never read this before?  Why?

2. Worst Book of 2010?
Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie.  Sadly, one of her later books which made it painfully slow reading, not to mention all the times when plot elements got skated over or forgotten.  Didn't help that I read it after watching Mark Gatiss's phenomenal ITV adaptation, which fixed every problem the book had.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010?
Ack, um...feel like a traitor but...Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.  Just because, as much as I liked it, it wasn't one of his best.  Possibly couldn't live up to my expectations, which were high, especially as the cover pretty much sets it up as "the wizards play football - the WIZARDS play FOOTBALL".

4. Most Surprising (in a good way!) Book of 2010?
The first four Vampire Diaries books.  I tried reading them when I was a teenager and remember not being impressed, but I found them cheap and bought them on a whim.  Ripped through them over the course of a couple of days.  Surprisingly fun (and Damon!  Oh dear, one of my few Bad Boy literary crushes).

5. Book You Recommended to People Most in 2010?
Looking for Alaska by John Green and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - albeit the latter had a caveat of You Are Not Prepared.

6. Best Series You Discovered in 2010?
The Hunger Games trilogy - have only read the first one, and am viewing the last two with some trepidation because they are definitely not going to be happy clappy cheerful books I can lose myself in for fun and frolics.

7. Favourite New Authors You Discovered in 2010?
John Green, Julie Halpern and Kurt Vonnegut.

8. Most Hilarious Read of 2010?
Movies in Fifteen Minutes by Cleolinda Jones, and anything by Lucy Mangan or Charlie Brooker.  I likes the rants.  Also may have laughed a little too hard at some of the things Caravaggio was getting up to in Rome.

9. Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2010?
The Hunger Games and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, both of which had me sitting up late into the night and wandering the house like the book was permanently attached to my hand.

10. Book You Most Anticipated in 2010?
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - I had it on pre-order forever, and then the snow delayed the actual delivery (thanks, nature).

11. Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2010?
Either Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane because it features one of his self-portraits and he's my favourite artist; the British Hunger Games because of the origami effect; or Wake by Lisa McMann, because it is a collage of awesome.

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and ProfaneThe Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)Wake (Dream Catcher, #1)

12. Most Memorable Character in 2010?
Katniss Everdeen because she is a badass, and Damon Salvatore because he cracks me up.

13. Most Beautifully Written Book in 2010?
Paper Towns, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

14. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010?
Slaughterhouse-5 and Mother Night, both by Kurt Vonnegut and both ridiculously amazing.

15. Book You Can't Believe You Waited Until 2010 to Read?
Slaughterhouse-5.  In terms of a book I've owned for ages and finally got round to reading: A Passage to India.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Eighteenth Century: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Part 1

Northanger Abbey

This post will cover chapters 1-5.  Link to previous part: introduction.

Chapter One
In which: we are introduced to our heroine, Catherine Morland, and told of her childhood and adolescence.  We then learn that she is going to Bath to keep Mrs Allen, wife of the wealthiest man in the village, company.

Thoughts: even in the first chapter Austen is setting up what's she about to do, stating all the ways in which Catherine is nothing like a traditional heroine.  Catherine is a normal girl, who somehow manages to have "neither a bad heart nor a bad temper" despite shirking her lessons and being a bit lazy.  That she is not thoroughly beautiful, unable to "learn or understand anything before she was taught", and has no special talents for drawing or music show that she is hardly fitted to be a heroine.  Still, we should be prepared for that from the very first line: "[n]o one who had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine".

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (he hasn't shown up yet, yay)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (he hasn't shown up yet, boo)

Name checks of other literature - 'The Beggar's Petition' by Thomas Moss; 'The Hare and Many Friends' by John Gay; and excerpts from Pope, Gray, James Thomson, and Shakespeare.

Gothic convention is turned on its head - the whole thing is one big overturning of conventional heroines.  Everything Catherine fails to do, heroines of gothic and sentimental fiction manage easily.  Catherine is much more fun.

Favourite line(s): pretty much the whole thing, it's impossible to pick just one bit out of Austen's ridicule.

Chapter Two
In which: Catherine is sent off to Bath by her sensible parents in the care of an amiable woman who isn't going to lock her in a tower.  She attends her first ball, can hardly move in the crowd, and is considered pretty by two strange young men who have no bearing on the story but do at least make her feel better.

Thoughts: the chapter continues where the other left off, lampooning Gothic and sentimental fiction as the Morlands have no intimation that Catherine is going to be abducted by a "mischievous" baron or believe that giving her unlimited access to a bank account is a good idea.  Once she gets to Bath it falls more firmly into a 'typical' Austen novel, with all the sights of the season and a painful character portrait of Mrs Allen, who is no more help than to repeat "I wish you could dance, my dear - I wish you could get a partner".

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 1 (she at least has more sense than Mrs Allen)
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (next chapter for Tilney, huzzah)

Name checks of other literature - nothing specific

Gothic convention is turned on its head - again, most of the chapter deals with this, as Catherine's parents are perfectly sensible and Mrs Allen perfectly amiable.  The ball itself is the time for Catherine the be noticed by all and sundry and declared startlingly beautiful, but all she gets is two men pronouncing her to be "a pretty girl".  Not particularly heroic but at least she hasn't been kidnapped and dragged across country by a ruffian baron.

Favourite line(s): "her mind [was] about as ignorant and unformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is".

Chapter Three
In which: Catherine goes to the Lower Rooms and this time gets a partner - Henry Tilney!  His general awesomeness shows through as he talks utter nonsense at her, talks muslins with Mrs Allen, and is set up as the potential hero of the book.

Thoughts: as is probably pretty obvious, Henry Tilney is my favourite Austen hero (yes, even over Darcy).  I can't help it, he cracks me up, he's clever, and I always imagine him bouncing about like a drugged up Energizer bunny.  What's not to like?  In more serious analysis, the chapter doesn't carry on as might be expected in the first meeting between hero and heroine: there's neither instant love or hatred, they're just pratting about.  And Catherine finds him strange.  Still, there's hope for something more.

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (think he's about to rock up)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - about 50

Name checks of other literature - reference to Samuel Richardson's comment that "no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared".  

Gothic convention is turned on its head - Henry Tilney isn't a typical hero, as he isn't described as being a marble cupcake adonis, nor does he stick to 'heroic' topics of conversation.  If Catherine was kidnapped he'd probably chatter the kidnappers into submission.  And the notion of the heroine dreaming of the hero is debunked in the last paragraph.

Favourite line(s): too many to choose, pretty much everything Tilney says, though a definite fondness for his description of women's letter writing: "a general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar".

Chapter Four
In which: Catherine, and the reader, are introduced to the Thorpe family, who are going to cause no end of trouble.  The eldest daughter, Isabella, quickly becomes fast friends with Catherine, and knows her older brother.

Thoughts: the Thorpes are here, which means we're about to get Catherine's head being turned by *whispers it* novels and all sorts of shenanigans involving vulgar behaviour, broken engagements, lying, and a fat oaf who needs a kick in the teeth.  For now, though, there is no intimation of what is to follow and Catherine is merely happy to have a friend - and the reader is happy to be spared the full details of Mrs Thorpe's history, which involves lawyers.

Times Catherine is wrong - 1/2 (she completely forgot her brother had been to stay with the Thorpes over Christmas)
Times Catherine is right - 1/2 (she did at least remember without too much prodding)
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (he gets nearer)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (mentioned but no appearance)

Name checks of other literature - nothing specific (we're getting to the reading list).  

Gothic convention is turned on its head - none.  The problems the Thorpes will introduce aren't even hinted at, and are more mundane even when they do occur.

Favourite line(s): "friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love". 

Chapter Five
In which: Catherine and Isabella's friendship deepens rapidly, Isabella drops hints about her own romance while encouraging Catherine's fancy for Henry Tilney, and Austen defends the novel in a paragraph of awesome.

Thoughts: this chapter is, like the previous one, rather short, but it contains one of my favourite bits of the entire book: Austen's defence of the novel, in which she holds the medium up as being "performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them".  The whole thing is fantastic, and can be read as female novels vs. male quotations/magazines.  That Austen herself sends up a lot of the novels she defends throughout the course of Northanger Abbey doesn't mean she is being insincere here, as she also states that novels "have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world".

Times Catherine is wrong - 1 (ask Isabella why she's sighing, Cathy, go on)
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (still no 'onscreen' appearance, blast it)

Name checks of other literature - Camilla and Cecilia by France Burney; Belinda by Maria Edgeworth; The Spectator; and references to Milton, Pope, Prior and Sterne being included in collections of quotations.   

Gothic convention is turned on its head - nothing in this chapter.

Favourite line(s): "I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding".

Eighteenth Century: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Introduction

Northanger Abbey
I'm starting with Northanger Abbey because it always seems like the earliest/youngest of Jane Austen's novels, even though it wasn't.  Although published posthumously in 1818, it was started in 1798 - which was two years after the first version of Pride and Prejudice, and three after the original Sense and Sensibility.  Despite this, it feels as if it pre-dates those, possibly as a result of being kept by a bastard publisher for thirteen years (1803-1816) and only revised in the last months of her life.  Those are the serious, thought out, almost academic reasons for starting here, but there is also 1) it's a short book; 2) I really like it; 3) Henry Tilney; and 4) I did an essay and a chapter in my MA diss on this book so it has a special place in my heart.  I just like it (so there).

Not that this is going to be a particularly well thought out or even academic series of blog entires.  I might stray into that territory, but this is really not meant to be viewed as anything beyond an Austen fangirl pratting about (and procrastinating over her own writing; Jane would so approve).  And in lieu of that, I'm going to be keeping track of certain things in each chapter - it could be a drinking game except I think the first one could lead to alcohol poisoning.

- Catherine gets something wrong
- Every time I want to hit John Thorpe
- Every time I want to pounce Henry Tilney
- All name checks of other novels
- Gothic convention is turned on its head
- Catherine gets something right

As can possibly be told from the above, I've read this book a few times, so there will be spoilers in the posts.  I'm going to be working from Project Gutenburg's copy of the novel, because, while I own a hard copy, I hate going from book to screen and back again; it's just a kerfuffle.  Am pretty sure that's how I destroyed my original copy of the book while doing my dissertation.

A full list of these posts can be found either on the 18th Century page above or using the C18: Northanger Abbey tag.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Published: 2010
Pages: 332
Series: The Mockingbirds #1
Read: 7th December 2010
Challenge: N/A
Status: Owned Book
Reason I Read It: I saw it recommended/reviewed a lot online

Synopsis: Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers. (from Goodreads)

First Line: "Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I'm naked, and I'm waking up next to a boy I don't know."

Review: Started this yesterday evening on a whim and then sat up till 1am to finish it.  As I said on Twitter, it's an 'issue' book without being heavy-handed.  When I think of 'issue' books I think of the God-awful things we were forced to read at school, which taught us such wonderful things as "murder is wrong"*.  This book deals with a real issue and does it in a way that is thoughtful, sensitive and lightly done enough that someone doesn't react against the lesson.

That isn't to say that there weren't moments that were clearly - I don't want to say 'preaching' because that is wrong, but laying down a manifesto for how things should be.  For what consent is.  As Whitney puts it
If a person does not say "no" that does not mean he or she said "yes".  Silence does not equal consent.
A very important message for people to learn, along with the fact that when someone is drunk you don't take advantage.  As Whitney says in her Author's Note, she was date raped at university and this pervades the novel.  You know the way Alex is reacting is true to life, is the way you would react, including the last minute doubts about what really happened and the initial denial that anything did.  The rape scenes themselves are, naturally, horrible, and the way in which the memories slowly return during the book is powerful.  It all made me want to throw copies at teenagers and make them read it.

This possibly makes it sound like all the book is good for is a message, which is what 'issue' books are usually about.  But the characters are great, the prose fluent and engaging, and the relationship that grows up throughout the book is wonderful.  Best of all is the idea of the Mockingbirds themselves, using the message in Harper Lee to fight for good, including a trial that plays along similar lines to Tom Robinson's.  And all of this set in a boarding school with its own weird rules and regulations.  School story + To Kill A Mockingbird = I am in my own little readerly heaven.  

Rating: 8/10

* Really, teacher, and here I'd reached the age of twelve thinking it was OK to run down an old woman with a stolen scooter and then lie about it until eventually the guilt drives me mad like someone in an Edgar Allen Poe story.  For more info, see the book to which I refer - what irks me is that this guy also wrote the Beaver Towers books, which were amongst my favourites when I was younger.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Finished 50: Some Category Award Things

With the awesome Anna and the French Kiss I have now read 50 new books this year, so the next couple of posts will be about those.  Starting with a little category award type thing, though I don't think the categories have any relation to anything real.

Book That Made Me Swear The Most While Reading
I have a fairly dirty, I-could-be-an-extra-on-The-Wire mouth at the best (worst?) of times, but The Hunger Games made me exercise it to the full.  I was swearing, calling the whole thing fucked up, texting my friends to warn them that it was fucked up, and generally doing Clay Davis impressions every so often.  That possibly sounds like a condemnation, but the ranting came from the world being so real and the peril being so present and the Capitol and Game Planners being so evil I was wanting to call down curses upon their heads, not to mention the escalating wtfery that was going down.  A definite example of It Got Worse, the book kicks into high gear once The Games start, but even before that there are moments of "what?  Wait, what?  That really happened?  Are you kidding me?".  Highly recommended (and I still managed to read it on a train).  See also Mark Reads for someone equally new to the series discovering it.

Book That Made Me Laugh The Most While Reading
Movies in Fifteen Minutes - if you know the website it's pretty much that but with films not featured online.  As ever, the parodies are great, but best of all it made me remember about some films I love (and others from which I am staying far away) and sent me into a mammoth Lord of the Rings rewatch that get me going during the first days of NaNo.  Nothing like sitting around drunkenly with your friends remembering jokes you'd made *cough*seven*cough* years ago at university.  The book is quite hard to find - had to Amazon Marketplace it - but it is out there and definitely worth hunting down.  And if that's too tricky, there's the site and the Twilight film reviews: Twilight, New Moon ("Bella, you should be wearing a life jacket") and, possibly my favourite, Eclipse (extra added sparkle-saga).

Book That Saved Me During A God-Awful Train Journey
That might not sound like particularly high praise, but if I hadn't had The Changeover at the time I probably would have ended up on the news for going mad on an over crowded train (Salisbury to Exeter, let's have fewer carriages than we need, no one goes to the West Country).  Sitting on your bag in the corridor with no natural light being stepped on is not fun, so I was glad to have this book to distract me.  I ordered it in the first place because of this (slightly spoiler-y) post but didn't really get round to reading it till that journey.  By the point I started I was at the changeover itself and was rushed along by the language, which is about 4 pages of amazing prose and imagery.  After that I rushed through to the end, and then spent the last twenty minutes or so of the journey digesting what I'd read (by then I had a seat near the door so this was accompanied by great Devon countryside).  I was very glad to have put this in my bag on a whim.

Book That Made Me Glad Not To Be Fifteen Anymore
Don't get me wrong, I loved this book - read it in one sitting and carried it round the house while fetching coffee - but it did make me glad I'm not a teenager.  Part of that is that it is so true to life (the cliques, the way your friends suddenly morph into evil bitch trolls from hell, the panic over how to fit in) but another part was seeing things that the narrator didn't.  The original love interest is a twat, it's completely clear he's not worth anything...unless you're a fifteen-year-old girl, in which case he is hot.  Reading that back that sounds horribly disparaging, but I know that if I've read this when I was fifteen I would have been wondering the same things about him as Jessie; it completely captures the way crushes can blind you to the truth about a person.  Ditto long term friendship.  To sound like a pompous reviewer in a Christmas culture mag: one of my favourite books of the year (and it made me want to play Dungeons and Dragons).

Some quick final 'categories':

Why Had I Never Read This Before? - Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Who Needs to Sleep When You Can Read? - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (also gets the Most Obvious Product Placement Award)

I Finally Read a Booker Winner and It Was Good - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I'm Sorry, What?  Part 1: Now That's a Twist - Wake by Lisa McMann (also gets the I Need the Next Book NOW Or, Y'Know, When I Can Afford It Award)

I'm Sorry, What?  Part 2: Where Did That Come From? - A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: highlight to read a potential spoiler the bit where Mrs Moore died on the boat out of India!  What the hell, Forster? It surprised me so much I physically jumped on a train journey.

More to follow soon, maybe including a top ten and things I've learnt from my readings.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Laziness abounded

North of Beautiful

Well, not quite - reading laziness for the month of November, because I was doing NaNo and this means that I spent my days doing the following:

- writing
- pratting about on the internet
- glaring at my document which had somehow not filled up miraculously with words while I was pratting about
- looking for fanfic to read when general pratting about got boring, o hai thar new fandoms
- writing
- calling down curses on the head of Ubisoft for releasing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood on the 19th, because clearly this was on purpose to make me not want to complete NaNo
- writing

So, not much reading done.  I actually have to check my Goodreads to see if I read anything new at all this month...oh, yes, North of Beautiful, how could I forget that?  It is a fantastic book.  Otherwise, have started reading a few more and not got very far.

But, now that I am free of the NaNo craziness, there will be activity on the blog.  Oh yes (best if said in voice of Tenth Doctor).  Plans are afoot:

- some actual reviews, proper ones with grading systems and everything
- start reading Evelina (again)
- Jane Austen reread, possibly involving some form of drinking game(s)
- other things which have yet to be decided

That's it for now, but more soon (she says).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Reading Round Up: Project Fill in the Gaps

Looking for Alaska

As I mention here, I actually started Project Fill in the Gaps in June.  At first it was manual, this crazed list in the back of my reading notebook, but now I've actually taken it to the proper site I thought I'd do quick reviews of the books I read before September - these will be quick because I read them some months ago and only have my copy of Looking for Alaska with me (and that's been forced on lent to a friend).

Pyramids - Terry Pratchett
I'd started reading this as a teenager when I first discovered Pratchett but didn't get very far.  Rereading, I thought I'd find it the same struggle now as I did then - was I wrong.  While I didn't enjoy it as much as some of his other early Discworld (like Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards!) it's still a great read.  I can't really talk about it without spoiling, but once again there are all sorts of arguments about human nature going on in a novel that, on the face of it, is merely a piss take of Ancient Egypt complete with walking mummies.

Eric - Terry Pratchett
Have to confess: I'm not the biggest fan of Rincewind, so I really wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy Eric.  It is a slight read (because of it's start as, I believe, a graphic novel) and is basically a reworking of Faust.  Eric himself isn't meant to be likeable and he really, really isn't.  The concept of be careful what you wish for is taken to its logical conclusion.  There were some great bits that were basically The Iliad: If Everyone Had Been Sensible and Listened to Odysseus's Sneaky Ideas From Day One, and the ending is dark and bleak (especially for the villain) but it's definitely a very slight tale for all that.

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett
Another that I'd tried and failed to finish when younger.  Introduces Lu-Tze, who is so instrumental in two of my favourite later Discworlds, and takes a look at fanatical religion.  Again, the villain's fate is very bleak, which is fitting as the villain is one of the scariest/creepiest in the Discworld series - there's something about madmen acting for the best reasons which is very Pratchett and very scary.  Again, not going to knock any of my favourites off my list but I enjoyed it (that sounds like damning with faint praise but isn't).

Skellig - David Almond
On the list because it's one of those books which is always highly praised and which I thought I ought to read.  I enjoyed it more because I thought I should than because it gripped me - does that make sense?  The ideas, style, writing, everything is there and while I do give it 4 stars I'm still not sure how much I actually liked/enjoyed it from a purely Reading Is Fun sense.  This is very muddled, and possibly makes me sound like I hated it; I think the best way to describe it is that I probably would have loved it if I'd read it 10-15 years ago, but now I was reading it from a different perspective of "oh, this is a good bit of writing" which may have detracted.

Looking for Alaska - John Green
Having said that about Skellig above, I was also viewing Looking for Alaska as "oh, this is a good bit of writing" but I was also loving it the whole way through.  The book made me cry, that should be enough to show how much I became invested in the characters.  And I read this and his other two novels (An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns) over three consecutive days, wandering round the house with my nose stuck in them, making coffee one handed*.  Possibly my favourite of the Project so far, I again can't really talk about it without spoiling so will just close with: read it, for it is awesome.

*Less of a disaster than might be supposed.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Month in Review: September 2010

Making Money (Discworld, #36)
New reads
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane - Andrew Graham-Dixon
I love Caravaggio's paintings, and this book not only has plates of most of them (which I ran around showing my housemates) but also goes into detailed exploration of them.  There was a lot of flicking back and forth between text and image and saying of 'oh, I hadn't noticed that'.  It's also one of those biographies - like Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life - where even though you know how it ends you're still willing it not to happen, especially as his death (there, spoiled it) is both a mystery and lonely.  Definitely recommend the book, even to those who know nothing about him.  

Scott Pilgrim 6 - Bryan Lee O'Malley
Read because I was planning to see the film until illness and hectic schedules got in the way.  I read the first three at uni, in about 2007, and had a quick power through the last three in August/September this year.  It deserves more than a quick power through, though, as the series is brilliant.  The end is awesome.  And Wallace is the best.  

Making Money - Terry Pratchett
Didn't enjoy this as much as Going Postal (see below) but it was still good because, well, it's Pratchett.  I can't detail the parts I really did enjoy without hideously spoiling, though if they ever try to film it as a sequel to Going Postal I can see some problems - especially with what Mr Fusspot was running round with in his mouth.  Not my favourite Discworld, and not one I'd give to someone starting on the series, but still a damn good read.   

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Everyone and their dog has read this series but me.  I started reading The Hunger Games because Mockingjay was out and I wanted to read the trilogy in one go (I'd rather not have to deal with cliffhangers and waiting for next volumes if I possibly can).  However - as the fact that I have yet to pick up Catching Fire even though it is right there on my To Be Read pile shows - I stopped after the first one.  It's so intense.  And, as I texted a friend repeatedly, fucked up.  Every time I thought it couldn't get any worse, it did.  This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it: it's well-written, unputdownable and gave me a deep urge to skip to the end so I could check everyone I wanted to made it out alive but I couldn't jump right into Catching Fire afterwards for fear of my brain dribbling out my ears.  

Read for Project Fill in the Gaps, because, y'know, it won the Booker.  The style took a bit of getting used to, but after the first few pages I was hooked.  It's an easy read, despite being so densely packed with detail (and big enough to brain a person).  The main issue I had was entirely my own: I don't know the Tudor period half as well as I thought I did.  I've studied it, I've watched David Starkey walk round Hampton Court proclaiming about it, but I couldn't remember when Ann Boleyn fell (spoiler) or when Thomas More was executed (and another).  I was tempted to look it up online, but decided against it because I was enjoying Mantel's take on events too much - I actually liked Thomas Cromwell, who I've usually seen presented as a good organiser but dastardly destroyer of monasteries, oh the bastard.  I need to write a fuller review of this, because it deserves it, but I highly recommend it.

Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
Another for Project Fill in the Gaps, and my choice for Banned Books Week.  Read it in one sitting, right after finishing Wolf Hall, so I was up till 2am and didn't care.  I can't think of an adequate way to describe the book, except that I was often laughing and getting angry at the same time.  And now I want to read as much Vonnegut as I can get my hands on, starting with Mother Night.  Possibly my favourite of everything I read in September, and therefore hardest for me to define - it was amazing.  There, inadequate but it sums it up.

Going Postal - Terry Pratchett
Reread this before reading Making Money, as needed to remind myself of Moist's backstory.  I could remember not enjoying the book much the first time I read it, but on reread I couldn't work out what the hell I was thinking.  It's fantastic.  Maybe not as much my favourite as Night Watch or Thief of Time, but still bloody brilliant, especially the resolution - which is, marvellously, the right resolution.  And I snorted on a train at "[h]ere's that damn enormous fiery eye again" (p330 in my edition).

Maurice - E.M. Forster
Read again after my housemate and I spent a day perving on Rupert Graves watching Merchant Ivory adaptations of Forster.  I'd read the last third or so (Scudder!) a lot but hadn't reread the beginning with Cambridge and Clive and things that make me want to beat my head against a wall.  I still skimmed some of the middle sections, because they're so awkward, but the book as a whole is still awesome, and the adaptation is very faithful.  Also Rupert Graves.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Project Fill in the Gaps

100 books in 5 years.  Fill the list with books you either should have read ages ago in your role as totally educated, intelligent, literary person - or, as I also did, to fill in those gaps of favourite authors' bibliographies.

The list was compiled in June 2010, which is why the Discworld series only goes as far as Unseen Academicals.  I gave myself till the end of the fifth calendar year to complete this, with a 25% margin of error, so I have to read at least 75 books from the list by 31/12/2015.  Easy.

Success: 13/100 (at time of writing this post - for further updates see the Fill in the Gaps page).

The list is below the cut:


Quick intro post while I sort out what I'm actually doing with this (note to self: never play around with blog titles first thing in morning when running on one cup of coffee).

I read a lot, and I collect books faster than I can read them.  As this shelf at Goodreads shows, I am unlikely ever to clear my to be read pile, but it's going to be fun to try.

I mostly read children's, young adult, fantasy and mystery.  I have a not-so-secret love of school stories.  Every so often I try to read 'proper' books that I probably should have read before (a lot of these I ought to have read for various exams/courses over the years; blagging is a beautiful thing).  I've studied Classics and English, with a focus on the eighteenth-century thanks to Jane Austen.

Favourite authors:
Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Antonia Forest, EM Forster, Dorothy L Sayers, Neil Gaiman, John Green

Favourite books (not by the above):
The Changeover* - Margaret Mahy
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford
The Hours - Michael Cunningham
Blackbringer and Silksinger - Laini Taylor
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
The Eye in the Door - Pat Barker
Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer
Matilda - Roald Dahl

* Just realised have no idea how I plan to format titles within posts.  Excellent
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