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.

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