Thursday, 23 August 2012

Harry Potter Read Along: Signing Up

The Harry Potter Read Along is being hosted by Jenna at Lost Generation Reader.  I am signing up because I have never actually read all the books back to back.  I've read all of them multiple times, but an actual readthrough in order, no - and I used to long for the day when I'd be able to do just that (oh, 2007 and the months of waiting, how I miss you).

I'm going to sign up to read all seven books and possibly Harry, A History as well to round things off.  Within the dates specified for the read along there also a couple of events, namely:

22nd September - I go to the studio tour!  For my mum's birthday, because that is what she wanted (because she is great and the one person I could vent to about the books when I finished reading before everyone I knew.  She didn't mind being spoiled so I could yell about who died and who killed them and oh my God, how could JKR do such a thing?).

27th September - The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is published.  I may have pre-ordered mine and be planning to dash in town and collect it on my lunch break.

I may also do a post about my love for Harry Potter, how it started and how I bored the pants off everyone I knew while obsessing over it, but the short version is: I first read Philosopher's Stone in 1999 just before Prisoner of Azkaban came out.  I've been hooked ever since, have had to replace a few of my copies from over-reading and when I was rereading Chamber of Secrets recently I found notes I'd scribbled in the margins as I tried to predict what would happen in Deathly Hallows.  It is probably the purest example of what an obsessive geek I can be under the right circumstances.

And this may be a good reason for my flatmate and me to rewatch the movies in order (we did that a few months ago but it's totally worth redoing).
So, yes: all seven Harry Potter books and potentially Harry, A History.  In three and half months.  Easy.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Books I've Read in the Lifespan of my Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week is the top ten books I've read in the lifespan of this blog, on which I first posted on 14th October 2010 (looking at this date makes me realise me that I really need to post more).  That is nearly two years and 200+ books to choose from, so this has been interesting but here goes:

1. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (18/3/11) - I've spoken about my love of this book before and it remains the best book I've read in the last two years.  It is awesome in every sense of the word: vivid setting, depth of detail, fantastic characters, labyrinthine plot - so many things I adore and on top of all of this the prose is beautiful and dense.  I've now managed to track down the rest of the series, so I need to set aside a block of time to wallow in the world and deal with the fact that future events are no doubt going to hurt me to the depths of my soul.  This is the sort of book in which you want everyone to be happy and safe but the writing is so good that this rarely happens.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (30/6/12) - I reviewed and expressed my love for this book here.  I can't take things much further than I did there except to say that it is a wonderful book and I recommend it completely, even for people who don't already know the story.  I would actually be interested to know how not knowing what happens alters the experience of reading it: I knew how it would end and was still in floods of tears, which is surely the sign of a good book.

3. The Player's Boy and The Players and the Rebels by Antonia Forest (9/3/11 ) - cheating a little and counting this as one book (as it was originally written, only the needs of publishing led to it being split in two).  I love all of Antonia Forest's books and here she turns to historical fiction, setting the story around the death of Christopher Marlowe and the Essex Rebellion.  There are elements of espionage, treachery and lots of fun with Shakespeare.

4. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (23/10/11) - I read two books in 2011 which pretty much confirmed all my thoughts on feminism and this was one of them (the other was How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran).  It is a satire on the modern world which made me consider things I often don't think about, and featured some utterly mad moments which I adored. 

5. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (11/5/12) - I posted a mini-review of this in May in which I spoke of how funny, clever, true and wonderful the book is.  And it is - it's up there with Nick and Norah in terms of how much I love it; I just want to hug the book.  And then reread it.  And then read the books that are referenced within it.  And then go The Strand and attempt to live there.

6. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (6/12/10) - I love Lola as well, and this was a toss up between which I'd put in the list but I went with Anna because it was first and that seems like the simplest way of picking.  Though it also features a mini-battle between two places I really want to go (Paris and San Francisco) but I think Anna wins because I read it in one sitting - it literally arrived, I opened the parcel, sat down and was lost for a few hours - and because of all the Paris and St. Clair you get.  And unlike a lot of people, my main reason for loving him is that he uses proper British slang!  Huzzah! This is a big reason for my love of this book, but I can also say: funny, warm and awesome, read both.

7. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (4/8/11) - my first Rosemary Sutcliff and still my favourite.  It features one of my personal most liked story events: people on the run in difficult terrain, particularly Scotland (this is also my favourite part of Kidnapped).  In some ways it makes me think of Dorothy Dunnett's work: good characters, tricky issues of duty and loyalty, and brilliant prose.

8. The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh (16/8/11) - again I like both books I've read by this author, but in this case I have to give it to the second for being bigger: the plot, the characters, the complications and the horror are all upped in this book.  There are certain moments which have stuck in my mind because they are so creepy.  And there are angels, demons, ancient gods and fey all linked together in a world that works.  And it's set in a medieval abbey. So many elements I love.  Can't wait for the next one.

9. Nation by Terry Pratchett (1/7/11 ) - probably the book that made me think most, and which filled me with the sort of slow burning anger at injustice that Terry Pratchett frequently manages to invoke in me.  The ending is the height of bittersweet and so perfect it made me want to cry.  Not a Discworld and set in a parallel universe to our own, it nonetheless has a lot to say about our world and past.

10. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (12/4/11) - feminism, dystopia, genuine horror and that ending - I need to reread this book and finish the series, even though I know that it will probably destroy me a little.  The first one dragged me through the emotional wringer, so Lord only knows what the second and third will do.  Up there with Nation in terms of how much it made me think, wonderfully written and cruel in a good way, this gave me a new author whose books I need to read.

Honourable mentions for complete series - because I wasn't sure I could get away with putting series in my Top Ten, I also really enjoyed reading: the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr (complicated relationships between the various courts, the awesomeness of Irial and Niall, and a fully realised world) and the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockart (painfully accurate observations of what it's like to lose all your friends and generally just be a teenager).

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Fanny Price is brought up by her wealthy relations, the Bertrams, at Mansfield Park.  She accepts her status as a dependant and becomes an observer of the drama that ensues when the Crawford siblings arrive in the neighbourhood.

Published: 1814
Pages: 372 (Oxford World's Classics, 2008)
Times Read: 2
First Read: March 2005
Read This Time: 6/8/12 - 11/8/12
Part of: Austen in August

First line: "About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income."

Review: As I said in my sign up post for Austen in August, I've only read Mansfield Park once and that was a long time ago (seven years, oh dear).  I'd labelled it boring and less fun than Jane Austen's other works, and if I had dipped in it was to reread the last three chapters of the book when everything goes all eighteenth-century melodrama.  This, as I discovered in this reread, was silly of me as Mansfield Park is brilliant.  I don't think it's going to replace Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion in my affections, but I'm definitely going to stop thinking of it as Jane Austen's 'failure' (because, frankly, such a thing doesn't exist).

Not that I didn't find fault with elements of the book - for me, the biggest problem was Fanny as the heroine.  It's not because she's an intensely moral character or a quiet one, because I'd say both Elinor Dashwood and Anne Eliot are these things as well, but because for a large part of the novel she's a passive observer.  I know that this is the point - and that she's been brought up to believe she has less part in family life than her cousins - but it's hard to enjoy that as a reader.  Even though I could understand what Austen was doing, especially with the 'staging' of the play sections and Fanny's role as 'audience' to the romantic drama, I still found myself urging Fanny to do something.  Fortunately, when she does it is awesome and steel-cored.

What struck me most while rereading, though, was how the Crawfords were failed versions of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy*.  Mary Crawford has all of Elizabeth's playfulness, charm and wit, but none of her sense of duty or proprierty.  And Henry Crawford nearly manages a Darcy-style transformation into a proper landowning gentleman, only to fail because he doesn't have the right foundation of character to sustain this.  It's almost as if Austen is playing around with her own work to make her point about the need for "principle, active principle" (364) and an understanding of the correct way to behave.  The world of Mansfield Park is a lot harsher and colder than that of Pride and Prejudice, which may be why I struggled with it first time.  It's certainly Jane Austen at her most disconcerting.

Nothing in Mansfield Park feels safe or secure for very long.  The house may stand as a symbol of home for Fanny, and be the picture of well-bred society in the early nineteenth-century, but everything about it feels off somehow, as the presence of Mrs Norris demonstrates from the start.  The arrival of the Crawfords merely exaggerates everything that was already bad, and when Fanny returns to Portsmouth her recollections of the house are coloured by the poverty in which her parents live.  Everyone's perceptions and ideals are shown to be incorrect in some way throughout the novel, even Edmund's.  Only Fanny has a clear sighted view of people's characters, and the sense to recognise where her own feelings may colour her perception.  This may be yet another of my problems with the novel: Fanny has nothing to learn, there is no major change in her character or views as there is with Elizabeth or Emma - again, this is true of Elinor and Anne, but they're older and more believable as such paragons.

I think it's going to take a while for me to sift through all my thoughts on Mansfield Park.  I certainly enjoyed rereading it, and there were moments when Austen's snark and irony really shone through - especially when dealing with Mrs Norris, particularly in the interaction with the butler - but there's something not quite right about Mansfield Park that throws me off.  It could be that this was Austen's intention, to demonstrate how even the wealthiest and therefore 'ideal' families can fail, but this makes the novel uncomfortable to read.  I'm certainly glad I reread it, and will do so again in the future, but I think it's a jarring shift from Pride and Prejudice and is making me appreciate the relative sunniness of Emma that much more.

* In their characters rather than their relationship to each other, obviously.  Thank you, film adaptation, for throwing that 'surmise' out there at the end.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Month in Review: July 2012

I've slipped again in reading this month, mostly because I was working on my own writing and set aside a lot of time for that.  Most of my reading was done in the first week of the month, which is reflected below.

Books Read in July 2012
46. An Education by Lynn Barber
47. The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers
48. Abandon by Meg Cabot

Total Books Read = 3
Total Pages Read = 735
Average Book Length = 245

Owned Books = 1
Library Books = 2

Book of the Month
A bit hard to pick, as there's only a choice of three, but I'll go with An Education because it was a one-sitting book and a touching memoir.  It also inspired a film I love which is always a plus.  The actual basis for the film forms one chapter of the memoir, and like the rest of the book is blunt in its truthfulness.  I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the film.

Month Ahead
Something I'm going to add because I need to get my reading back on track. 

1) I've signed up for Austen in August and am determined to at least read Mansfield Park again, because it is my least read Austen. That is my first step once I have achieved 2).
2) I need actually to read the (12) books I've borrowed from the library, especially those which I've had for ages.  Once those are cleared I can move on to making a dent in my owned book TBR pile, which is getting ridiculous.
3) Finish the Vampire Academy series. I have two left, they are there in one of my many book stacks, I should read them. Especially as I have Bloodlines from the library and should probably finish Vampire Academy before starting the follow up series.
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