Saturday, 22 December 2012

2012 End of Year Book Survey

2012 End of Year Book Survey

The 2012 End of Year Book Survey is hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner.  I posted my Top Ten Books of the Year recently, and this is a slightly more in-depth look at all the books I read.  Be warned: I'm pretty much just going to fangirl the Chaos Walking trilogy. This is also likely to be my last post of the year as we head into Christmas and the New Year.  Happy holidays to everyone.

Best in Books 2012

1. Best book you read in 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

Young adult fiction - Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (though this covers the whole trilogy)
Adult fiction - The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Also see my top ten books of the year, as linked above and here.

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn't?

It feels awful to say this, but The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.  I knew it wouldn't be the same as Harry Potter but it was still a new book by JKR and I really wanted to like it more.  I think I'd have been disappointed by it regardless of who wrote it, but it was somehow worse that it was her.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Probably The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  For some reason I thought it would be a slog but it's really fun and as quick a read as a near-1300 page brick can ever be.  It was also as mad as Revenge in terms of people not putting two and two together about what the Count was up to, which I found entertaining.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

Pretty much whichever book I'd just read and loved.  Though I really pushed John Green and Maureen Johnson on people, especially my flatmate who didn't know what she was in for when she asked to borrow a book ("here, have this stack of great young adult.  I'm guessing you're more into contemporaries, so have Beauty Queens and Paper Towns and Girl At Sea.  Oh, and Dash and Lily".)

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

The Wardstone Chronicles by Joseph Delaney.  I really wasn't expecting much but they are fun, scary children's books which make great use of British folklore.  Need to finish reading in 2013.

6. Favourite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Christopher Isherwood (his prose is beautiful, I need to read everything he wrote); Lauren Oliver (why did I wait till 2012 to finish a book by her?); and Madeline Miller (she's only written one book but I love it.  Want more from her).

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I'm not sure.  I didn't really read any genres that were radically different for me this year.  I think maybe Thirteen Reasons Why was out of my comfort zone just because it hit way too close to home (I was not a happy teenager) and it was a painful read.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

Monsters of Men.  I rushed through that one.  It isn't one of the books I read in a day, but I really couldn't put it down.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, because I want to finish the series but can't remember all of the fine points of the plot.  It isn't a chore at all, though, as that book is fab.

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2012?

This is surprisingly difficult!  I'm looking at my books for 2012 in cover view on Goodreads and so many of them are pretty.  But if it has to be one:

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  Partly because it is stunning - as are all the illustrations - but also because it feels nice.  I like it when books feel like they're made of good things.

11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Viola Eade.  Total badass.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

Another tricky one, but going with Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver.  Or My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

Either My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  Both deal with loss and death in deeply moving and powerful ways.

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

I can't believe I waited till 2012 to finish The Chaos Walking trilogy, so this is two: The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.  Seriously, I could have read this last year and I didn't!  Fool of a Took.

15. Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?

I don't keep track of quotes I love - I need to start doing that - so if it was a library book then I'm stuck, but here's the most recent one I could think of from a book I own:

"It's not that you should never love something so much it can control you.
 It's that you need to love something that much so you can never be controlled." (The Ask and the Answer, p492).

16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2012?

Longest book - The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas at a mighty 1264 pages.
Shortest book - Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood at 122 pages

17. Book that had a scene it it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc, etc). Be careful of spoilers!

The ending of The Ask and the Answer (argh, what? No!)

18. Favourite relationship from a book you read in 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Viola and Todd in the Chaos Walking trilogy because the obvious romance doesn't get in the way of the plot (and because a love triangle is averted, thank the Lord) and Sunya and Jamie in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece because they are so sweet.

19. Favourite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan.  I love this almost as much as Nick & Norah, which is saying something.

20. Best book you read that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from someone else.

I didn't read a lot of books because of a recommendation, though I did buy a lot that I need to get to in 2013.  If there is one, it's This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel.  I actually read this because of April at Good Books and Good Wine's review of the second book in the series, Such Wicked Intent.  That's still on order at the library, and I can't wait to get my hands on it, but I really enjoyed This Dark Endeavour though I think Such Wicked Intent is going to be better.

Looking Ahead...

1. One book you didn't get to in 2012 but will be your number 1 priority in 2013?

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I bought this when it came out in January 2012 and haven't even touched it. 

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2013?

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins.  I don't feel that needs any explanation.

3. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging in 2013?

Reading - read more.  Seems simple but I procrastinate too much and I really need to make a dent in my TBR pile because it is getting ridiculous.

Blogging - join in more.  Linked to this is being less shy/scared of joining in, but I really want to do more and blog more and that means sucking it up and participating even when I'm a little scared of doing so.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Review: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #3)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
In the final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy: oh my God, argh no, seriously?  Just when you thought the end of The Ask and the Answer meant things couldn't possibly get any worse, they do.  Spectacularly.  And then you get repeatedly punched in the gut.

Title & Author: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Published: 2010
Series: Chaos Walking #3
Pages: 603 (Walker Books, 2010)
Challenge: Series Catch-Up
Status: Owned book

Note: As with The Ask and the Answer, please don't read this review if you haven't read the previous books in the series (The Knife of Never Letting Go is #1).  While I don't spoil Monsters of Men I do discuss plot details from the earlier books.

Synopsis: As a world-ending war surges around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all thoughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desperate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most, or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption, or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale. (from Goodreads)

First Line: "'War,' says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. 'At last.'"

Review: As the end of The Ask and the Answer and the first words of this book suggest, Monsters of Men is all about war.  There is a lot of fighting.  I didn't find this off putting (I am a huge fan of battle and action scenes, they are often my favourite thing in books and movies) but I know some other readers do - so, just to be warned, lots of fighting and battle and blood and death.  It never feels gratuitous, but it is constant for the first 1/3 or so of the book and this can be grinding.  It's completely realistic, but there isn't much breathing space.

Not that this book is all about the action.  It is, ultimately, a book about peace.  Peace is what most people are striving for, and what characters like Mayor bloody Prentiss (I really think I'm just going to take to calling him that) are constantly trying to prevent.  There is the added issue of thousands of settlers being on their way, potentially to land in either a war zone or to be wiped out by the Spackle, which makes a drive for a decent peace treaty - not like the one reached after the first war, which lead to a Spackle slave population - even more important.

This is all making it sound like a very simplistic plot.  And, to an extent, it is.  It is a relentless plot, just as the first two books are, and there are just as many twists and turns with as many surprises as you'd expect.  A lot of the focus is on the Spackle - there is now a third voice added to Todd and Viola's and it is absolutely awesome and adds a new layer to the debate about peace and war, justice and revenge.  The genius of this book, as with The Ask and the Answer, is that there are no simple solutions and pretty much every side is justified in their actions in some way (except Mayor bloody Prentiss).  Like the best science fiction it makes you think about the real world, about issues we have to deal with, and does so with an amazing story that left me crying and shuddering and wanting to recommend it to as many people as possible.

Does it work as the last book in a trilogy?  Hell, yes.  It is a fantastic finale, which brings together all the themes and works perfectly.  I did not feel remotely let down by any part of it.  I really don't think I can recommend this trilogy to people enough - it is painful and intense and there are times when you care so much that it hurts, but it is so worth the read.  I just wish I'd read all three last year when I first read The Knife of Never Letting Go.
Rating: 10/10

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Review: The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #2)

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
In the second book of The Chaos Walking trilogy, just when you think things can't get worse they do.  Every time.  And it hurts (though not as much as it will in the finale).

Title & Author: The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Published: 2009
Series: Chaos Walking #2
Pages: 517 (Walker Books, 2009)
Challenge: Series Catch-Up
Status: Owned book

Note: If you haven't read The Knife of Never Letting Go I strongly recommend you do so before reading this review.  While I don't spoil The Ask and the Answer I do, by necessity, discuss the ending of the first book which is not something you want spoiled.  Trust me.

Synopsis: Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order.

But what secrets are hiding just outside of town?
And where is Viola? Is she even still alive?
And who are the mysterious Answer?

And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode... (from Goodreads)

First line: "'Your Noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.'"

Review: So, the ending of The Knife of Never Letting Go was pretty bad, right?  Viola's been gut shot, Todd can't find anyone to help, and Mayor Prentiss has taken over Haven, renamed it Prentisstown and declared himself President.  Things can't get much worse, right?  Wrong, they get spectacularly worse in epic ways.

The book is told from Todd and Viola's perspectives, which is great and Viola Eade is a total bamf and Todd is just as cool as ever.  What's less great is that neither of them know what's happening to the other, so first there's the tension of Todd wondering if Viola survived, then there's all sorts of misunderstandings as they both try to muddle through and figure out just what the other one is up to.  And given that they end up on opposite sides of a fight between Mayor "I'm a nice guy really" Prentiss and Mistress "I know best let's blow stuff up" Coyle there are a lot of things to misunderstand.  This could become annoying, but Patrick Ness handles it well and there's only one moment when I wanted to smack myself in the forehead then slap them both because, guys, really, think things through for a bit and see that you're being played. 

Just as The Knife of Never Letting Go dealt with 'big' issues through a fantastic plot, so The Ask and the Answer addresses the little matters of dictatorship and terrorism while driving relentlessly to an ending with no easy choices.  I do like that Patrick Ness didn't make all those in opposition to the Mayor perfect or even likeable; it's more real that way, and opens up two matters for consideration.  Because as despicable as the Mayor is, the reaction some of the residents of Haven have to him both make things worse and give him the opportunity to improve his public image. 

And I really feel like I can't say more because, again, spoilers.  The one thing I will say is: make sure you have Monsters of Men to hand before you finish The Ask and the Answer.  Because if you though the cliffhanger to The Knife of Never Letting Go was evil you are wildly unprepared for the end of The Ask and the Answer.  Every plotline speeds up, rushes towards a conclusion - and then something wholly unexpected happens, which leads to Todd having to make a terrifying decision.  And then the book ends.
Ultimately I don't love this book as much as I love The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it is an exceptionally good read and an excellent middle book of a trilogy.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2012

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week: top ten books we read in 2012.  This list is compiled based on my reading up to 16/12 - a total of 73 books (my target for the year was 100 but I've now dropped that to a somewhat more manageable 75).  This was quite a tricky ten to decide, because once I got past number 5 there were a lot of books vying for position.  But this is the definitive list of my favourite books for 2012 (unless I read something amazing in the next couple of weeks, which could happen) - with British dates, in case some look weird.

1. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (3/12 - 9/12) - This is really for the entire trilogy (this is book 3, The Knife of Never Letting Go is #1 and The Ask and the Answer #2) because oh my God it is so good.  Seriously, destructively good.  I could be quite obnoxious about recommending people read this, especially if they like science fiction and/or dystopias because it is just so good. (Goodreads for the trilogy)

2. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd) (9/12) - So, I was in a bit of a Patrick Ness fangirl mood and so I read this as soon as I finished Monster of Men.  Which was a bit silly because I spent a day being messed up and teary.  The book deals with grief and love and loss in a stunning way that left me feeling like I'd punched in the gut.  Brilliant. (Goodreads)

3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (27/6 - 29/6) - Until I picked up the above books, this was easily going to be my book of the year.  The story of The Iliad retold from Patroclus's perspective?  With him and Achilles in a relationship (which they blatantly are, it doesn't take that much reading between the lines, people)?  How could I not love that - well, if it had been handled badly, but it wasn't!  Absolutely beautiful and the ending made me cry even though I knew what would happen. (Goodreads)

4. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (7/11) - Another book about grief and loss that had me sobbing (there is a pattern forming).  Told from the perspective of wonderful ten-year-old Jamie who really needs a hug, this book is wonderful.  A quick read that nonetheless makes you feel all the things.  I can't wait to get my hands on her new book. (Goodreads)

5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (5/1) - I only read this once, at the very beginning of the year (first book of the year, actually) but it stuck with me.  It was a little too close to the bone in some cases - I had a fun adolescence - but it dealt with an important issue very well.  The sort of book I'd want as many people as possible to read. (Goodreads)

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (27/2 - 1/3) - I still haven't seen the film because I am ridiculous but I really liked the book.  Simple, beautiful language, wonderful characters, all fabulous.  I really need to get my own copy (this was a library book), reread it and watch the film. (Goodreads)

7. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (10/5 - 11/5) - I love this almost as much as Nick & Norah.  A really fun, slightly daft read in a good way.  I leant it to my flatmate during one of my moments of indoctrinating her with YA and she liked it too, also making the point that all of the characters are great and Lily could be so annoyingly perfect but she isn't.  If you liked Nick & Norah read this (it's also Christmas-y!). (Goodreads)

8. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (13/6) - Until I read The Song of Achilles this was my favourite book in June.  It's my first Lauren Oliver (I know, what have I been doing?) and it's one of the most beautiful children's books I've ever read - my edition is a gorgeous hardback as well as being a gorgeous story.  The prose, the characters, the plot, everything is wonderful.  And it made me cry. (Goodreads)

9. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (6/1 - 9/1) - One of my first tasks in the new year will be rereading this and then finishing the trilogy.  This is fun, awesome urban fantasy and it's not only set in Britain (woot!) but also in places I know.  Oh, Exeter, I miss thee and was probably there when all this was going down. (Goodreads)

10. Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel (30/1 - 31/1) - this was the tricky decision but I'm choosing Mantel because her writing is just so good.  There's a lot in her memoir about feminism and writing and all sorts of other things that had me marvelling and determining to read the rest of her books. (Goodreads)

Also thoroughly enjoyed: anything by Christopher Isherwood, An Education by Lynn Barber, and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #1)

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
In The Knife of Never Letting Go, subjects such as war, love, feminism, misogyny and death are dealt with in a way that is a) beautiful and b) so intense oh my God I couldn't stop reading even though it hurt.  And that's just the start of a series that will wreck you.

Title & Author: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Published: 2008
Series: Chaos Walking #1
Pages: 479 (Walker Books, 2008)
Challenge: Series Catch-Up
Status: Owned book

Synopsis: Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too.  (edited from Goodreads because hello spoilers much?)

First Line: "The first thing you find out when yer dog starts to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.  About anything."

Review: This is a difficult review to write because a) I love this book so damn much, I've read it twice now and know I'll reread it repeatedly; and b) I want to say a lot but don't want to spoil.  A lot of what makes this book so good is the constant surprise and mystery and wondering just what Patrick Ness is going to drop his characters into next.  And then you find out and it hurts and you want it to stop but you also can't stop reading and then you get to the end and let out all the swears because I warn you now, cliffhanger o'clock.  Have the rest of the trilogy ready to go because it really needs to be read together or you'll go mad with anticipation.

So, without wanting to spoil anything: Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, which is the last settlement on New World.  When Todd was a baby the Noise germ (released by the Spackle, the native aliens, during a war that eventually wiped them out) killed all the women of the town and made it so the thoughts of everyone and everything else can be heard.  All the time.  Forever.  This is shown in the book as a mass of words and fonts that are hard to differentiate and give you a sense of just how nightmarish this world is.  Todd has learned to hide his Noise a little, but he's still only twelve and stuff leaks out - and when he finds something strange in the swamp, he knows he has to keep it a secret.  Only he fails and has to run and then it's a manic chase across New World in which he learns that everything he thought was true isn't.

And there's death and violence and war and grief and seriously, this book is so good.  There's one bit (and people who've read it before know what it is) that I still can't believe Patrick Ness did because you do not do that sort of thing.  That is crossing a line.  I had forgotten it happened on my reread and I actually tried to convince myself it wasn't going to occur.  That it did and it hurt as much this time as before is testament to how this book sucks you in and makes you care about the characters.

I'm really not sure this review conveys how much I love and admire this book (although maybe the sheer incoherence gets that across).  I just think everyone should read it, and then continue with the rest of the trilogy.  It made me cry and think and swear, all of which are good things when I'm reading.  Read it.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Series Catch-Up: Midpoint Check In Post

The Series Catch-Up Challenge is hosted by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  As we're halfway through it's time for a quick check in on my progress.  I signed up to the challenge here and set myself some goals, which are in bold below.

- Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (2 to go) - Haven't started these yet.  I need to, as I'm not allowing myself to read Bloodlines or The Golden Lily until I've finished Vampire Academy and I really want to read those.

- Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness (I'm going to have to reread the 1st one) - I have finished this series!  It was brilliant and heartbreaking and made me sob and yell and decide that I want Viola Eade to be real so she can fix all the problems ever because she is that much of a badass.  Reviews to follow.

- Gemma Doyle by Libba Bray (again, some rereading is needed, this time of the first two - not that that's a hardship) - haven't started this either.  No Diviners for me till I've finished Gemma Doyle.

Those were my main ones.  I did also say that I hoped to read "EITHER The Hunger Games OR The Demon's Lexicon OR Dream Catcher" although that may not happen.  I'm a bit dystopia-ed out after Chaos Walking and am wondering if even The Hunger Games will come close to how bloody awesome those books are. 

Actually, if you take anything away from this little post, I hope it's this: read Chaos Walking.  Seriously, read it.  It will eat your life and mess you up and make you think, and it is so worth it.

Harry Potter Readalong: Final Post

Harry Potter Read Along
So, today is the last day of the Harry Potter Readalong, which was hosted by the wonderful Jenna at Lost Generation Reader.  This means I should really do a final post listing everything I've achieved and what I've learnt etc.

Except I haven't finished rereading the series.

I stopped at Prisoner of Azkaban.

I would love to say I have good reasons for failing to do something I was incredibly excited about, but mostly I got behind and then couldn't catch up and, what can I say, it's pretty much my time at university all over again.  At least this time I had read the books before so I don't have to sit there nodding along as the lecturer talks about themes and meanings and the like.

But, I did really enjoy the start of the reread and I am going to finish it in my own time, most likely in January - plus, I really like the idea of rereading a series I love and having a fixed day to post reviews (I did it on Saturdays), so I think I'll make that a feature of my blog in 2013.

All of this is a long winded way of saying: I haven't finished the series, but I intend to, and will do so (with reviews) in January.  And then I will move on to other series I enjoy and have actually completed.

Posts for the Readalong
Sign Up Post - fascinating info on my decision to start the readalong.
The Beginning - in which I wax lyrical about my love of Harry Potter.
Top Ten Harry Potter Moments - it was a freebie at Top Ten Tuesday so I went with this.

Books reread and reviewed
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Books to reread and review
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Quidditch Through the Ages
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Harry: A History by Melissa Anelli

I'll update this post with links to reviews as and when I post them.

And at some point I will have to do a big write up of my visit to the Harry Potter Studio, especially as I'm hoping to drag my friends there for my 30th next year.

Finally, thanks to Jenna for hosting the readalong in the first place. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Quick Update

I've been really lax in blogging lately, so to anyone who reads/follows - sorry.  I've suddenly picked up my reading after a massive slump and have torn through about 7 books in a weekend.  So now I need to write about them in review form.

I also have some challenges to participate in and sign up for, and end of year things to do.  Other than that - and the reviews required for said challenges - I'm not going to be posting much again until the new year when I intend to be a lot more organised and scheduled and productive.  Yes.  Because it is a new year and that is the sort of thing you say as you approach one.

So, things to come in December, but more stuff in January.

Monday, 19 November 2012

2013 Debut Author Challenge: Goal Post

The Debut Author Challenge 2013 is being hosted by Tara at Hobbitsies.  The sign up post is here and the main link for other goal posts here.

I've set up a shelf on Goodreads for all the 2013 Debuts that interest me, and as of writing this post that totals 88 books, which I need to cut down.  I settled on 20 books I really want to read, ones that I added as soon as I read the synopsis.  It's a pretty varied list, mostly YA with some middle grade thrown in.

All links lead to Goodreads.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Dualed by Elsie Chapman
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
How My Summer Went Up In Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Ink by Amanda Sun
Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Linked by Imogen Howson
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Powerless by Patrick Matthews
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robin Schneider
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
Taken by Erin Bowman
Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I'd Want On A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week: books I'd want on a deserted island.  Limited to ten!  Pah!  Though, to be honest, this was one where the first few were very easy and then I spent ages agonising over the last handful.  And I decided against taking books I hadn't read, because even though a deserted island would be the perfect opportunity to plough through Middlemarch, for example, what if I didn't like it and lamented the books I'd left behind? 

I may be overthinking this.

My books for the deserted island

1. The Cricket Term by Antonia Forest - my favourite book by one of my favourite writers.  This was the first book of Antonia Forest's that I really loved and the reason I understand cricket and can yell appropriate things while watching the Ashes.  I think it's one of her best books - although as soon as I say that I remember the others and they're all damn good.

2. The Complete Works of Jane Austen  by Jane Austen (shockingly) - I own the individual volumes but if I'm on a deserted island I want one of those big compendium editions with all six novels and the tiny print and it might be difficult to hold/read but I will have all of Austen with me!

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling - my favourite of the Harry Potter books.  I am having some Harry Potter with me.

4. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett - this is where it got tricky, because I reread Terry Pratchett a lot and there are about ten of his books which I have on a near permanent loop of tired/tipsy late night reading.  But I went with Night Watch because it has a fantastic plot, it's Vimes being Vimes, and there are all sorts of fun moments as younger versions of familiar characters pop up.  Teenage Vetinari badassing it up at the Assassin's Guild is one of my highlights.

5. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett - this is a bit of a cheat, as I need to read the rest of Lymond, but if I'm sticking to books I've read then it's this one because it is awesome.  And because nothing too bad has happened yet, I get the feeling the rest of the series is going to get mean (in a good way).

6. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers - I could take all of the Harriet Vane books - and it was a toss up between this one and Gaudy Night - but this is fun because Wimsey's around for a lot of it.  Much as I like Harriet as singleton sleuth in Oxford, the two of them pairing up to fight crime with Bunter sidekicking is more fun.

7. Paper Towns by John Green - I reread this book every so often and wonder why I don't add it to my permanent cycle of rereads.  It's my favourite John Green (though I haven't read The Fault in Our Stars) and the road trip, oh the road trip.  I want that on my deserted island.

8. Maurice by E.M. Forster - this was the first Forster I read and it's still my favourite.  It's a gay love story written in 1913 and Forster himself said that he didn't think there would ever be a time in which it could be published.  It's a beautiful, simple book and one I'd recommend to people wanting to try some Edwardian literature.

9. Nick and Norah's Inifinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan - need I explain this?  Everyone I've leant this book to has devoured it in one sitting and then raved to me about how much they love it, which is the best thing that can happen when I lend my books.  A fun read that also says a lot about life and made me want to go to New York (some day I will achieve this, some day).

10. Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer - this last spot had some contenders - The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford and The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss amongst them - but this won because, well, because I like it so much.  I do admit to skipping the first few chapters on most rereads and going straight to the awesome banter sections, but it is such a fun book and my favourite Heyer.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Review: Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford

In Nancy Mitford's first novel, all of the elements are there but she hasn't quite found her style yet.

Published: 1932
Pages: 185 (Hamish Hamilton Ltd, 1975)
Read: 8/11/12 - 9/11/12
Status: Borrowed from the library

Synopsis: Albert Gates goes to stay at Craigdalloch Castle in Scotland for a shooting party.  There he meets a host of mad characters, plays some pranks, and falls in love.

First line: "Albert Gates came down from Oxford feeling that his life was behind him."

Review: This is the second time this year when I've read the first book by an author I like and wondered if I'd be a fan of them if I'd started with their debut (the other was Christopher Isherwood's All The Conspirators).  I'm a huge fan of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate to the extent that I've lost count of how many times I've read them, especially the former, but Highland Fling is definitely an early effort.  It's not bad, but it doesn't sparkle like those books do.

Still, if you expect upper-class eccentricity and moments when you're not sure if you should be judging the actions of the aristocracy positively or negatively, then this has those elements in spades.  And those are things I like about Nancy Mitford's work, it's just that here they've yet to reach the pitch of absurdity she manages in her later books.  There are definite hints at what she'll achieve - General Murgatroyd is a forerunner of Uncle Matthew - but she hasn't got there yet.  If anything, this felt a bit like reading an Evelyn Waugh novel, and you can see his influence clearly.  Not a bad thing (though I've only read Brideshead Revisited) but not what I'm looking for in a Nancy Mitford.

So, I would definitely recommend this to people wanting read more Nancy Mitford, but I would say read The Pursuit of Love or Love in a Cold Climate first so you can see what all the fuss is about.  I would also say that the book ends so abruptly that I had to do a quick double check that the library book hadn't been defaced.  A fun read, and interesting for people who are already fans of Mitford's work, but not something I'd recommend as a starting point.

Rating: 6/10

Other Reviews:
Desperate Reader
I Prefer Reading

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
In this beautiful book, subjects such as grief and intolerance are dealt with in a wonderful, non-preachy way and it is marvellous.

Published: 2011
Pages: 221 (Indigo, 2011)
Read: 7/11/12
Status: Borrowed from the library

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Jamie hasn't cried since his big sister, Rose, was killed five years earlier.  His family has fallen apart as a result of her death: his mum left, his dad drinks, and Jasmine, Rose's twin, isn't eating.  When his parents divorce, Jamie moves with his dad and Jasmine to the Lake District in an attempt to rebuild their lives.

First Line: "My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece."

Review: This review is tricky to write because I loved this book so much.  I read it at the start of what was meant to be a Day of Reading and then found that I couldn't pick up another book afterwards, I was that caught up in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and my reaction to it.  I cried, I cringed, I laughed, and I was taken back to my own time as a ten-year-old.  All in one slim volume of elegant prose and fully realised characters. 

I'm tempted just to stop here and say: read it!  Read it now!

But I won't, though I may just list reasons for reading it:

1) Jamie himself.  He is a wonderful narrator, and it really feels like a ten-year-old view of the world.  Not just in the language, which is beautiful yet still, somehow, childlike, but in how he treats the universe: if he wears a Spider-Man t-shirt then it will be ready for when his mum visits, and wearing it will make her visit. There are constant imaginings of how life should be and will be and I really wanted to be able to Thursday Next my way into the book and give him a hug.

2) Sunya, Jamie's friend at school.  Sunya forever, she is badass and incredible and I kind of wish she'd been my friend when I was that age although I would have been terrified that one of her fantastic vengeance plots would get us in trouble.  Not that it would have done, she is too badass for that. 

3) Tough issues are dealt with in a fantastic way.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece deals with grief, intolerance, abandonment, alcoholism, anorexia, bullying and exclusion in a way that never feels heavy-handed or as if Annabel Pitcher is forcing a moral on the reader.  Jamie puzzles things out for himself and has constant moments of trying to put together a right way to act from the hypocrisies of the adults around him.

4) It perfectly captured what being at primary school is like.  The school in this book is a local village one, very heavily C of E and though this is clearly set in the 21st century, but it reminded me a lot of being at primary school in the late 80s/early 90s, although none of my teachers were as hideous as Mrs Farmer.  The way in which teachers often make favourites of the most hideous children was very accurate though.

5) There is a total Britain's Got Talent parody/piss-take which I loved.  I don't even watch the damn show and I appreciated it.

6) It made me cry. 

Oh, just read it!  I don't want to spoil anything - I haven't even said how Rose died, because I went in not knowing and I quite liked it having a bit of mystery as to what happened to her, although I know some book blurbs do include it - I just want to recommend it to people and buy a copy so I can lend it to my friends with instructions that they read it.  And you should, too.

Rating: 10/10

Other Reviews:
Wondrous Reads
Forever Young Adult
Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel
In This Dark Endeavour, Kennth Oppel writes a prequel to Frankenstein that reminds me why I want to punch Victor.  And that is a good thing.

Published: 2011
Pages: 366 (David Fickling Books, 2011)
Series: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
Read: 30/9/12 - 16/10/12
Status: Borrowed from the library

Synopsis: When his twin brother falls dangerously ill, Victor Frankenstein sets out to find the Elixir or Life.  The quest is fraught with danger, not least because of Victor's arrogance and a bitter love triangle that threatens to derail the entire endeavour.

First Line: "We found the monster on a rocky ledge high above the lake."

Review: This Dark Endeavour is a prequel to the Frankenstein story, but you don't need to have read Frankenstein for it to make sense.  It works just as well as a standalone novel (though it is the start of a series) and prior knowledge of Mary Shelley's work isn't essential.  I have read Frankenstein, but it was ages ago so my memory of it is sketchy; though there were bits I remembered that helped me with this book, there were some times when I thought "hang on, is that canon?" but this was my issue rather than the book's.  There was foreshadowing of the original novel, and a few references that cheered my eighteenth-century literature student heart - Polidori lives on Wollstonekraft Avenue, yay! - but none of this is noticeable as part of something the reader might not understand.

As a book in it's own right, This Dark Endeavour stands up.  It would work even without the Frankenstein connection, although that adds an extra dimension to Victor's actions.  This Dark Endeavour is well plotted and the prose is good, without too many attempts at eighteenth-century language and without any modern slips.  There are elements of genuine Gothic horror, and the Swiss setting gives even more opportunity for things like, I don't know, being stuck up a tall tree in a thunderstorm while being attacked by giant birds or almost being eaten by a giant cave-dwelling fish.  It wouldn't be a quest if there wasn't some peril.

Victor himself is well-drawn and fits in with how I think of Victor Frankenstein, a.k.a. I want to punch him really hard in the face.  I've felt that since reading Frankenstein and This Dark Endeavour just proves I'm right (which is nice).  I really like that Kenneth Oppel doesn't shy away from making Victor an arrogant, presumptuous little git whose actions might break the laws of nature and cause all sorts of problems but who doesn't care about this as long as he's Right.  That you don't stop reading even though the narrator is driving you mad is a sign of a good book.

Not that Victor is all bad (which is part of the reason why it works).  He does genuinely care about his brother, and he has moments of complete honesty in which he recognises that his own motives aren't completely pure.  That he also admits to seeing a cold-blooded way of dealing with the book's love triangle is something else in his favour (awful though it is), as I like that Kenneth Oppel took the story there and allowed his character to have those thoughts.  It would have been unnatural (hoho) if he hadn't.

This Dark Endeavour works well as a book by itself, and I will definitely be reading the sequel - Such Wicked Intent - when it comes into the library.  A prior knowledge of Frankenstein isn't necessary (and I think most people, even if they haven't read the book, know the gist of the story) but it does add a little extra depth/knowledge to the reading.  Definitely recommended for fans of Gothic horror and flawed narrators.

Rating: 8/10

Other Reviews: 
Good Books and Good Wine
A Storm of Words
Diary of a Book Addict
The Book Smugglers

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Harry Potter Moments

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week is a freebie, so I'm going with my favourite Harry Potter moments.  I chose this because a) I am a sad, sad fangirl; and b) I am behind on my Harry Potter Readalong reading and so this is my way of doing something HP-related to keep things ticking over.  This is spoiler-y for the whole series.  All references are to the UK paperbacks.

1. "Lily' his face hungrily as though she would never be able to look at him enough." (Deathly Hallows, 560). This makes me cry every time, even if I read it out of context.  That entire chapter is one massive gut punch, but when Harry sees his parents, Sirius and Lupin and they talk about death and they stay with him to protect him...gah, my tears.  It's also one of the culminating moments of the theme of maternal love that runs right through the books.

2. "After all this time?" "Always" (Deathly Hallows, 552). We finally get the Snape back story we've been waiting for, as well as the answers of which side he was truly on and just what the hell Severus has been up to all these years.  I have to admit that, though I did cry when he died, I didn't give him one of my full blubbery stopped reading send offs because I saw the next chapter would be all about his past and oh how I wanted that info.  Also glad to be right that he was good.

3. "Is this the moment?" (Deathly Hallows, 502).  I may, while reading Deathly Hallows, have yelled a specific page number at my friends and it may have been the one in which Ron and Hermione finally kiss.  I had been waiting for this since Goblet of Fire and was starting to think it was never actually going to happen.  Then they go for it in the middle of a battle and Harry has to remind them that there's a war on.  Perfect.

4. "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" (Deathly Hallows, 589).  Another moment of maternal love, this time proof that you do not mess with Molly Weasley's children.  If you are Bellatrix Lestrange, you do not even get within fifty feet of them because Molly will end you.  And what makes this even better is J.K. Rowling's commentary on it on The Women of Harry Potter featurette (Deathly Hallows Part Two disc 2).

5. "Give her hell from us, Peeves" (Order of the Phoenix, 595).  The twins leave in spectacular fashion, having caused utter havoc at Hogwarts.  There's a lot about Order of the Phoenix that I'm not much of a fan of, but the entire section of people getting vengeance on Umbridge is one of my favourite parts of the whole series.

6. "[Luna] appeared singularly uninterested in such mundane things as the score" (Half-Blood Prince, 388).  Luna.  Commentates.  Quidditch.  Need I say more?

7. "More likely there's a very shellshocked cat wandering around somewhere, covered in potato peelings" (Goblet of Fire, 142).  This is one of the things that makes me consider Goblet of Fire the funniest book.  It's really Amos Diggory's full description of Moody's reaction to someone approaching his house, but the image of this cat amuses me the most - though when you know what really happened it's less funny...

8. "This is the weirdest thing we've ever done" (Prisoner of Azkaban, 291). The Time Turner sequence, or Harry Potter goes all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey and it is wonderful.  It locks not just the plots but the themes together perfectly and is one of the reasons Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite book.

9. "Harry - yer a wizard" (Philosopher's Stone, 42).  And we're off.  The first few chapters of Philosopher's Stone are interesting and compelling and I like reading them, but it isn't until Hagrid shows up that we get a lot of explanations and back story that kick the plot into overdrive and which will be useful for the rest of the series - though, of course, we don't get everything...

10. "Snape was looking as though the first person to ask him for a Love Potion would be force-fed poison" (Chamber of Secrets, 176-7).  Another moment that I just find funny, and which feeds into my fanon view of this book which has McGonagall and Snape plotting to get rid of Lockhart over tumblers of whiskey.  I also think there's an (un)intentional reference to Dorothy L. Sayers in there - the number of valentines Lockhart gets is the same as the number of proposals Harriet Vane receives. 

Those are (some) of my favourite Harry Potter moments - what are yours?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Month in Review: October 2012

Having said last month that I was picking up with my blogging and reading, this month I failed to make any real improvement.  I read two books!  Two!  That is just poor, especially given that I had a bit of a mad birthday book haul:

That pretty much sums up this month: more books acquired than read, though that also describes my usual approach to books and reading.

Books Read in October 2012
60. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Total Books Read = 2
Total Pages Read = 597
Average Book Length= 298

Owned Books = 2
Library Books = 0

Books Reviewed

Most Popular Blog Post

Month Ahead
1. Continue with the Harry Potter Readlong, hopefully get all 4 remaining books read.
2. Start the Series Catch Up Challenge - my sign up post is here.  Get at least one of those series finished!

The Year Is Almost Over
My Goodreads challenge was to read 100 books this year (and I only count books that are new to me; including rereads I've probably done it, blast).  I have read 62, which means I need to read 38 books in two months/8 weeks/56 days.  That is so not doable but I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Kick-Ass Heroines

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week: top ten kick-ass heroines.  This is something I've been thinking about a lot since I saw the topic as I love strong female characters but I don't just define a kick-ass woman as someone who can kick arse.  It goes beyond that, which is why some of the characters here don't specialise in beating people up but in getting on with things and winning in their own way.  That's not to say that some of them don't do well in fights, but not all of them do.  For a somewhat better put version of these thoughts, see Jamie's post at The Perpetual Page-Turner on the subject.  I'm also looking forwards to seeing other lists because a strong female lead is one of my favourite things in books.

1. Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling) - I could include almost every single female character from this series as they all rock in their own way (not you, Umbridge, you go away) but Hermione is my heroine.  She's bookish and clever and she gets teased for being smart, but she never changes to make her life easier and without her the boys would be utterly lost.  I wish I'd been younger when I read the books just so I could have had Hermione as role model.

2. Susan Sto Helit (The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett) - again, just about every main female character from the series could be in this list, but Susan is my favourite (Granny and Angua run her close seconds).  Partly because she's in two of my favourite Discworlds (Hogfather and Thief of Time) but also because she is just awesome and awkward and chilly and fantastic.  And she's Death's granddaughter, you don't get much more kick-ass than that.

3. Nicola Marlow (The Marlows series by Antonia Forest) - Nicola is such a capable character she had to be sent on holiday in The Thuggery-Affair so that she wouldn't get in the way of the plot.  She captains the cricket team, has dire enemies, puts up with some sisters who are frankly infuriating (just hit Lawrie, honestly!), copes fairly well with Patrick preferring Ginty (gah!) and fights German agents.  There's a reason she's the main focus of most of the books.

4. Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien) - she goes to war disguised as a man when she's told to stay home - though admittedly she was going to be left in charge of Rohan if Theoden and Eomer died - she takes Merry along with her even though he's been told he's too small for battle and she proves that the Witch King really didn't think things through. 

5. Alanna (The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce) - some of my staple reading as a teenager.  A girl who fights as well if not better than the boys, saves the kingdom, pulls some pretty awesome men (I never liked who she ended up with when I was 15 though that may change now I'm older) and is generally an icon of badass women in fantasy.  Can more really be said about how great Alanna is?

6. Sabriel (The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix) - I could also put in Lirael who is also pretty damn awesome, but I love the story in Sabriel.  This was my first introduction to Garth Nix and how fantastic his writing and imagination is, and Sabriel - going off completely alone to find her father, fighting the dead and rescuing people as she goes - is fabulous.

7. Frankie Landau-Banks (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart) - one of the most feminist books I've ever read, it lists and attacks all sorts of misogynist bullshit (damn you, the patriarchy! Thanks for teaching me that, Caitlin Moran) and does so with a great story.  In a fancy pants boarding school, which is one of my favourite settings for any type of story.  Need to reread this.

8. Magpie (The Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor) - not including Kaoru because (shame shame shame) I still haven't read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but I can't leave out a Laini heroine and Magpie rocks.  A fairy who fights devils, stands up to the creator and hangs out with a bunch of cigar smoking theatrical crows?  So cool.  If you haven't read the Dreamdark books but like Lips Touch and Daughter of Smoke and Bone I urge you to read them - they're beautiful and well-written and why aren't there more of them?  I want a full series!

9. Kate Lowry (The Liar Society series by Laura and Lisa Roecker) - I reread The Liar Society on Sunday ready for The Lies That Bind and decided that, yes, Kate definitely needs to be in this list.  Not just because she uses the word "misogynist" to describe the stuff going on at her school, but because she is a pink haired, bicycle riding, mystery solving badass who takes on the main 'villain' at the end with a sword. 

10. All the girls in Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - whether they're setting traps, punching guys, accepting their true selves or taking on a dictator whose real life counterpart I did not recognise at all (oh no) all of the girls in Beauty Queens are amazing.  This book is yet another feminist touchstone for me, and I need to stop telling my flatmate to read it and throw it at her instead (she can do work for her PhD later).

A few are missing who will probably be on a lot of lists but some - Katniss, Rose Hathaway - aren't there because I haven't finished their respective series, and some - Tris, Celaena - because I haven't even started their books yet.  Need to get on that.

And, finally, honourable mention to Buffy Summers, just because no list of kick-ass heroines from any genre, medium or sense would be complete without her.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
In the third Harry Potter book, all the awesome is brought.  Or, to be clearer, everything I love about the series crystalises in one book, including an "oh, J.K. Rowling you did not just do that" moment.  And, on top of all that, one of my favourite characters makes their first appearance.  As nearly perfect as the series gets.

Published: 1999
Pages: 317 (Bloomsbury, 1999)
Series: Harry Potter #3
First Read: Summer 1999
Times Read: At least 10
Part of: The Harry Potter Readalong

Synopsis: The notorious murderer Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison, Azkaban.  As a supporter of Voldemort, he is out for revenge on Harry Potter for defeating the Dark Lord.  Harry, however, is more worried about the Azkaban guards swarming around the school - until he learns that there is a greater connection between himself and Sirius Black than he knew...

Review: As with Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, I'm splitting this into two sections for those who haven't read the books and those who have.

For those who haven't read the book(s) before
This is my favourite Harry Potter book, and I think it will remain so even after I've finished this readalong.  To me, it encapsulates everything that makes the books fantastic: the magic, the mystery, the characters, the plot, the sense of a fully formed world, the humour and the depth of feeling.  Everything locks together and the clicks into place perfectly.  More than any other book in the series, it makes you aware of just how well J.K. Rowling plotted the individual novels.

I am tempted to say that if you read only one Harry Potter book it should be this one.  Not only because it is the perfect example of the series, but because there isn't a lot of back story and all of it is mentioned (it's missing from later books) so the basic catch up is easy.

And I really have to stop now because anything I say, however oblique, has the potential to ruin the plot.  Go forth and read!

For those who have read the book(s) before
Before I get truly, ridiculously fangirly, I'm just going to bring up the one thing that has always bugged me about this book.  I hate doing it, because I do love Azkaban, but I notice it every time I read the bok so here goes: there is an error with Lupin's lycanthropy (at least, I've always thought so).  He says that without the Wolfsbane Potion he would become "a fully fledged monster once a month" (258) but he only transforms when his by direct moonlight  it happens as they all return to Hogwarts (278) and he doesn't change on the way to the Whomping Willow because "[c]louds were obscuring the moon completely" (296).  So, why not just stay in a windowless room every full moon?  It may cut back on your social engagements but at least you wouldn't change. 

Sorry, that has just bugged me for ages.  On with my thoughts on the book...

SIRIUS!  Oh my God, Sirius!  And Lupin!  But I like Sirius more (sorry, Lupin)!  And timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly stuff!  And That Plot Twist!  Fangirl flail!

And an invocation of depression through the Dementors, who are terrifying.  I don't think the concept of anything else in Harry Potter is as scary (not even the Inferi).  They make you remember your worst moments and there's no relief from it; that to me is horrible to contemplate.  And Harry has to hear his parents dying over and over - this book, more so then Chamber, builds on what it means for Harry to have grown up without a family, and the thread runs right from his wanting his dad to have cast the Patronus to The Forest Again. 

I was going to say that, much as I love Azkaban, it seems more standalone than some of the others - despite Pettirgrew escaping - but there are themes that are constants of the series.  It's also the first time we see Snape's side of things, and get the first real hints that James Potter was a pillock.  I am on Snape's side in how he viewed the Marauders (though less so on how he chose to deal with his teen angst - maybe don't join a group of evil doers, Severus, at least not till you've given it a good long think).  And as much as I love Sirius there are hints in his entire portrayal that he wasn't as badass a teenager as he is an adult.

This is getting a little muddly, mostly because I can't think of how best to convey my love of this book.  You've all (hopefully) read it, you know how awesome it is.  I really think it is the best book in the series as well as my favourite - though Deathly Hallows runs it a very close second.  I think reading Azkaban is what cemented me as a full on Harry Potter fan; there was no going back after this.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, 22 October 2012

Series Catch-Up: 2012 Sign Up Post

The Series Catch-Up Challenge is being hosted by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  The goal is to try and complete as many series as you can between 1st November and 31st December 2012, posting reviews for those books you read as you go. It's probably a good idea for me to do this challenge as I am so far behind on my series reading, and I have a really bad habit of starting series and then never finishing them as I outlined here

I'm not going to attempt to read all of the series on that list, because that is impossible in this time frame - though when I was planning this post earlier I was thinking "hey, I could read all the things!  No, what am I thinking, I could only do that if I didn't work or do other things.  Be reasonable and pick a few books, a few".  So that's what I'm doing, based partly on how many books I have left to read in the series and how high up my list it.

Over the course of the challenge I plan to finish the following series:
- Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (2 to go)
- Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness (I'm going to have to reread the 1st one)
- Gemma Doyle by Libba Bray (again, some rereading is needed, this time of the first two - not that that's a hardship)

I did want to put more down but that is 8 books, some of which are quite long, so I'll just say: I also hope to read EITHER The Hunger Games OR The Demon's Lexicon OR Dream Catcher but if I don't I'm not going to consider that a fail.  Those are for if I manage to get through the 8 above in time.

And I'm not including my beloved Lymond in this because those books are long and complex and I want to savour them/spend a weekend lolling in bed drinking too much coffee and reading as much as I can.

So, there, that's my challenge.  Maybe I'll get something done with the many books in my room.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Readalong Part Two)

This review is part of The Casual Vacancy Readalong, which is being hosted by Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm and Brenna at Literary Musings.  This is the second of two posts, the first of which was the non-spoilery early reaction post of last week.  This post is the full review, so it will be more in-depth than last week.  I'm not going to post the entire plot or ending, but I will speak more about themes and events than last week (though in a generalised way for the latter).  (Also, I feel really bad for not replying to the comments on the first post - part of that is because I didn't want to spoil, but mostly because I still wasn't sure what I thought. Hopefully this answers some of the matters raised in comments last time, and I'll definitely reply to the ones for this post as now I can stop wondering how far people have got in the book).

Published: 2012
Pages: 503 (Little, Brown, 2012)
Read: 27/9/12 - 29/9/12

Synopsis: The idyllic village of Pagford is ripped apart by the local parish council election and the hostilities, hypocrises and prejudices it brings to light.  The election is seen as a means of finally enabling the council to reassign jurisdiction of the Fields, a council estate that borders the village, to the local town, thus removing the pollution of the estate from the village.   

Review: As I said in my first post for the readalong, I'm really not sure how I feel about this book (even now, two weeks later).  Thinking about it in a bare bones, structural way: the beginning is a little confusing, as there are a lot of characters introduced in a short space of time; the middle is really good as she explores everyone's characters, hypocrisies and prejudices, and applies that to society on the whole; and the ending slips into Dickensian melodrama with a death which is obvious pages before it happens.  Yes, sorry, that's a bit of a spoiler but there are deaths in this book (it's JKR, that's how she rolls) and one of them is very obviously an example of how people can get so caught up in their own problems and reliant upon their own prejudices that they fail to perform an act of basic goodness which could, ultimately, save a life.  Even as I was reading it thinking "oh, no, not even Jo would do that" I knew what was going to happen because it felt inevitable.

I think that that is my problem with the novel: that the ending feels tacked on yet inevitable.  That may not make much sense, but that's how it seemed to me.  There are so many amazing moments in the book, and so many pithy descriptions of how people are that made me think "yes, that is so true!  That is so well observed!" that the ending was a let down.  The book really excels when showing people - especially teenagers - as they really are that the ending came as a huge disappointment, because it didn't seem to gel with what the rest of the book was doing.  As Julie Myerson said on The Review Show last week, it's jarring to go from a comedy of manners to tragedy, and I think that was my major issue with the book.

As for the politics - and there has been a request for my political rant, though I'm still not going to give it as it descends into Father Jack-style swearing - I think the novel was spot on about how many people view the poorer people in society, especially those living in places like the Fields.  Those sections seemed genuine, and as if Rowling was writing from her own experience of living on benefits.  Given what George bloody Osborne has been suggesting this week - slashing benefits rather than taxing the rich; basically taking from those with little so that those with plenty are left feeling happy with the government (which is presumable the whole damn point, mustn't upset your mates)* - I think this was a very well-timed novel.  Although it was started under the Labour government, it is particularly applicable to the coalition, and it scares me that Rowling was originally writing in reference to what the Tories were doing in the early 90s rather than what they're doing now.  I'm not sure how many people's minds will be changed - I've seen some reviewers on the right panning the book (though the main one I saw is someone whose opinion I wouldn't trust on whether milk had gone off) - but I still think it's important that it was written, and that J.K. Rowling is saying these things.

(Hmm, that last paragraph may contain a cleaned up version of my political rant).

To sum up - if I ever will, I could go round and round on this book - I would definitely recommend reading this book, not just because it's "what J.K. Rowling did next" but because it says some important things about the state of Britain today.  Of course, I may just think that because I agree with a lot of her opinions, but I do think it's important that this book was written.  Though that may be why I didn't enjoy it as much I could have done: it felt too much like an issues book, with an ending that served to make a point rather than tell a story, for me to enjoy it as a piece of writing.  As a damning critique of modern society it is excellent; as a novel it is flawed. 

Rating: 7/10

* I also like that he isn't going to go through with a "mansion tax" - essentially taxing homes worth over £2 million more - because too many people would be affected.  I don't know how many people George knows whose homes are worth over £2 million, but I don't know any.  It must be nice to live in a world where everyone has plenty of money and nice big houses.
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