Tuesday, 30 March 2010

My Thoughts: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Angela Carter has always been this scary author for me who sat on the shelf waiting to be read. I'm not sure what it was about her that kept putting me off. I was expecting a difficult read, full of feminist angst and gothic settings. Not that these things put me off in other authors. After all I have an English degree and MA and will quite happily tackle Salman Rushdie, moderninsm, post modernism and magical realism over lunch.
I picked up Nights at the Circus with trepidation, although excited by the synopsis. Fevvers is a 6 foot plus, 14 stone woman as large as life. Big blonde hair, big breasted and hardly delicate. Yet this woman is an aerialiste, flying through the air in graceful archs above the circus audience. What this woman has that other aerilistes don't is huge wings.
Abandoned as a baby, she is adopted by an ex-prostitute turned cleaner of a brothel. She grows up in a house of prostitutes, with a small humped back. Yet as a teenager out of her back spurts a magnificent pair of wings. As she grows up she spends time at the 'freaks circus' then moves on to a regular travelling circus ending up travelling through Russia.
The story changes narrative at various points. It starts with Fevvers being interviewed by an American journalist, determined to discover whether she is the real thing or a Hoax. He is in awe of her and follows her into the circus as a clown in the hope of securing a story, the truth and the girl herself.
There's far too much in the story to even try to describe, it bursts at the seems with adventures, magical characters and moments. A great start to the Once Upon a Time IV challenge for me.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Once Upon a Time IV: Short Story Weekends

For this weeks Short Story I went back and visited a site which I love but haven't looked at in ages, The Endocott Studio. The site features lots of mythical and fantastical short stories, poems, images and articles and is well worth checking out.

I only have time to read one story today, so chose 'The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire' by Christopher Barzak.
The young boy is born not only surrounded by barbed wire but with the wire actually growing out from his skin. As a result of his birth his mother dies and he is left alone with just his solitary beekeeping father. The father is a distant man, never able to touch his son for fear of getting hurt. The boy becomes an outcast until their is a revival at the local church and the local woman all decide that his sould needs saving.

The Sunday Salon: Dewey's Read-a-Thon sign-up post

I'm hoping to get some reading in today, I really want to finish Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, I'm half way through and absolutely love it! Although I have a copy with a teeny font. Stopping me completing it will be stacks of housework, marking and bits and bobs to do in town. I'm also supposed to be off to the cinema later, which will no doubt include food.

I'm also officially signing up for Dewey's Read-a-Thon. I took part in both of last years and really enjoyed it both times. I've never managed the full 24 hours, maybe I'll manage this year as it is half-term so I will have plenty of time to recover.
Worryingly, I've been eying up the books on my stacks for the last few weeks making mental booklists of what I should be reading. At the moment I'm veering towards some novellas, The Hunger Games and some of my Once Upon a Time choices. I'll also make sure I have some graphic novels and an audiobook on hand for those tired moments.
I'm still debating whether to be a cheerleader or not. Last year I had problems with pages not loading properly, and a few sites made my computer open them hundreds of times and then crash my computer. I'm considering searching through the signups before hand and adding 10 participants to my google reader and just cheerleading those few. That way I can pick readers with similar book tastes to me and I will have checked out their pages before hand.

See what everyone else is doing on a Sunday at The Sunday Salon

Saturday, 27 March 2010

All in a (creative) afternoon's work...

I was supposed to be marking, and had good intentions but feeling grotty and having had enough of coursework all week I persuaded myself (it didn't take much) that an afternoon being creative was in order.
I had a set of spring fat pages (4x4 embellished pages) to get started. I rummaged through my supplies for ages but nothing seemed to fit and I almost gave up in a grump, but then I remembered this cute little dress garland I'd seen on another blog. So I stole the idea and created away. The little dresses gave me a chance to use up some scraps, by girly, and avoid the flower path which the other members of the swap all seem to be going down.

Pictured is the front cover of the book I will use to collect each members contribution. I like the fresh feel of this, and added the clouds as we seem to have had a lot of those these past couple of days - England in spring is a real clothing conundrum!

The inside pages all have a large tag with a quote from Ellis Peters. 'Every spring is the only spring a perpetual astonishment.'
Sorry for the quality of the photos, not only is it dark today, but I had to use the camera phone as my camera has run out of batteries. They look brighter and more cheery in the flesh.

Off for an evening of reading Nights at the Circus, watching Lost, and errr sitting in the dark for an hour for Earthhour.

Monday, 22 March 2010

My Thoughts: Love and Summer by William Trevor

After complaining yesterday that I wouldn't have much time to read I managed to get a whole book read. Love and Summer has sat on my bottom step (where library books and bookrings live, for fear of mixing them in with my personal tbr pile) for a good 6 weeks. Its a bookring so should have been read and sent of asap, ideally within 4 weeks of receiving it. I just kept putting it off and reading anything but it, as its cover and the title just made me think romance yuck! (Can you tell I'm oh so very single at the moment!). However I picked it up last night thinking I'd manage half an hour and whizzed through it.
Set in rural Ireland, a a tiny village where nothing happens 2 people meet and fall in love. Ellie, was first a maid then a wife to a local widower, lives a secluded life on the farm. She travels into town to sell eggs, pick supplies and pick lavender once a week. One week, during the funeral of a well to-do lady in town she notices a photographer, which sparks off feelings of love.
The pair meet regularly, but nothing really seems to happen between them accept the knowledge the her love for him exists.
Its a book of moments, there is little action, but it is an easy and comforting read - kind of a literary beach read. I'm not sure if I'll remember it next week, let alone in a year but I'm thinking that I may buy a copy for my Mum's next birthday/holiday.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Once Upon a Time IV: 'Snow, Glass, Apples' by Neil Gaiman

Mirror available here - isn't it gorgeous!

Neil Gaiman is a god!
I sat down to read 'Snow, Glass, Apples' a (free to read) short story by Neil Gaiman, expecting it to be good and it was far better than just good.
Gaiman twists and turns the Snow White story in his own wicked way. The story is a monologue by the 'wicked' Step-Mother with her take on her daughter. Snow White, no longer a figure of innocence is feeds off her father and the people of the forest, heart removed she survives.
Whether you like short stories or not you should definately go and read this. Thanks to Mee who blogged about this story yesterday.

Do you know of any online stories which would work for the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge?

Short Story Sunday: Squeezing in some reading time

Its coursework deadline time at the moment at school: all final drafts to be in this Tuesday (then the countless phonecalls to parents of the kids who don't do this). So I've been marking first, second and third drafts to get them back to kids so they can keep working at them. I have a new class as there is a lot of staff sickness in our department and they are going to be my biggest nightmare coursework wise, they are lazy, talkative and many of them find English hard. I had one girl hand in an essay that was half a page long! My class of special need kids in the same year group would never have dared to do that, and would have been ashamed if they had so little to say! From this little mini rant you can see that this is a stressful time of the year.
As I've been so busy - I have a day of marking ahead - I've barely managed to squeeze in any reading time, or had time to get out in the glorious sunshine we suddenly have. One and a half more weeks of school and then its the holidays, I'll still be marking for hours everyday, but will be ensuring I'm out in the garden and whizzing through books too.

This morning I finished The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin. This 101 page story is set in Benin, about a family from Brazil who travel to Africa and make their fortune from slavery. The novella focuses on various members of the family and their fall, across several generations. I liked bits of this but found that I often had read a page or so and didn't know which family member they were now talking about.
Once the marking is done and I've been to the library I'll be starting Love and Summer by William Trevor, and I have a Neil Gaiman short story: 'Snow, Glass, Apples' to read, a retelling of the Snow White story, hopefully a great way to start off the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge :D

Saturday, 20 March 2010

My Thoughts: Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep by Siba Shakib

It has been a couple of years since I have read anything about Afghanistan, for a while it seemed you couldn't move for books about Afghanistan and Iraq, this one I read as it will help my tick off another country for my Olympic Challenge, (which I'm failing miserably at).

This is a non-fiction account written, by a journalist, of the life of Shirin-Gol. From just three years old the life of other people are put into Shirin-Gol's hands for her to look after. She starts off as a todler looking after, feeding and caring for her twin brothers. When Russia invade the country she is sent to school where she gains a passion for learning which stays with her her whole life.
Married off at a young age to a soldier husband she falls pregnant within days, he leaves to go back to the war, whilst she stays and raises their children whilst still gaining her education just days after their birth.
When trouble starts in Kabal, Shirin-Gol and her family are forced to flee. First she goes to the Pakistaini border, where she is forced into prostitution to feed her kids and tend to her sick husband. From then on she travels with the family from village, to towns, to other countries and back. She faces sickness, poverty and her husbands drug addiction face on. She is an independent woman who is determined that her children and other women should not live the life that she has been forced to, she educates and looks after others on her journey.
This book worringly wasn't all that shocking, firstly because I've read many other books about women lives in other coutries, but also because it felt like a novel, I had to keep reminding myself that this was non-fiction. The book shows a great example of women, in coutries in which we assume they have no power, taking power and leadership into their own hands to fight for a better future.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Once Upon a Time IV (March 21st - June 21st)

The time has come again for my favourite challenge, Carl's Once Upon a Time IV Challenge has been announced for another year running, and I'll be going into it full tilt.
As with previous years the challenge has multiple quests, and I'll be taking part in multiple quests :D
I'll be taking part in:

For this quest I have to read 5 books which are either linked to fairytales, folklore, mythology or fantasy. These books are what I could see at a glance and that I'd like to read, obviously I'm not going to get through all of these but I'll have a choice of:
Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien* (part way through already)
The Princess Bride, William Goldman*
The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Magician, Raymond Feist
Lirael, Garth Nix
Perdido Street Station, China Mielville
The Brair King, Greg Keyes
Tales of Innocence and Experience, Eva Figes
The Court in the Air, Stephen Hunt*
The City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers
The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley*
Justin Thyme, Panama Oxridge
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter*
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
I've starred the ones which I should read as they have either been on the pile a very long time or are bookcrossing books.

I'm interested in reading a couple of non-fiction works, I have seen lots of books about fairytales and feminism which I'd love to read and I'd like to learn about Greek mythology. I'm on a book buying ban so I'll be seeing what the local library has to offer when their online service in working again.

I love short stories, especially when they are set in a fantastical world, I have Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales and a Grimm Brother's collection to search through, I think after that I'll be seeking out some stories on the net.

Luckily the Easter holidays start in a few weeks and there is the 24 hour read-a-thon coming up so I shall have plenty of time to get stuck into this pile.

My reads
1. 'Glass, Snow, Apples' by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

My Thoughts: The Virago Book of Wicked Verse edited by Jill Dawson

I picked up this poetry collection a few months ago from a charity shop meaning to get started on it straight away, but, typically of my relationship with poetry, this got popped onto the shelf doomed for dust and years of unlove. The Colver, Bee and Reverie poetry challenge prompted me to make a grab for this collection and I've managed to read a handful each evening. I've found that by making it part of my routine, I read it each night in the bath, I managed to sustain my interest and get through the whole collection.
The poems in this collection are written by women from all corners of the world and centuries gone by. The poems themes simply had to be considered 'wicked' in some way. There is plenty of feminism, jibes at men, tales of parenthood, friendship, religion and sex. I found that many of the poems had a comic edge to them, and I certainly was made to smile in many places. I'll admit, of course, there were some I skipped after a few lines and some which I was baffled by - generally the ancient chinese proverbs.
I've finished the collection and now have a handful of female poets to check out in more depth, these poets may be being read and reviewed soon:Sylvia Kantaris, Ann French, Ann Ziety and Mary Elizabeth Coleridge.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Sunday Salon

Today I'm supposed to be marking, coursework deadlines are very close so I have teenagers (some nervous some indifferent) shoving pieces of coursework at me from every angle, expecting it to be marked in no time at all so they can edit it. Its sunny and gorgeous outside, and every inch of me wants to wander, but I'm forcing myself to stay in. And after this post is written I'll be forcing myself to mark :C

So just a quick note on my readings.
Earlier in the week I finished Magpie by Jill Dawson and somehow forgot to talk about it. After finishing the momouth A Suitable Boy I decided something quick and easy was needed and a friend wanted to borrow this so I rushed through it, and it was better than I expected.
The novel centres around a young single mother and her son, they are trying to start new life after a fire at their old house and the 'loss' of the father. Moving to a rough estate in London, miles from the quaint Yorkshire of their past, they have a lot to get used to. Money struggles, hearing their neighbors getting up to all sorts, being one of the few white families around and the sons sudden bad behaviour.
The novel was a quick and easy read, although I guessed the revelation at the end of the book very early on. If you're tempted to try this author, this book is worth a read, but I would recommend her novel Wild Boy first.

Then this morning I finished the short story Amok by Stefsn Zweig. Zweig is the year long author over at a librarything group which I belong to, I hadn't really heard of him before and was reluctant to start so I grabbed Amok and Other Stories as my first foray into the author.
Amok is one of those stories where the narrator recalls a conversation with another person as a means of telling the story. In this case the narrator meets a man at midnight on the voyage home from India to Germany. The man, a doctor, is a mystery as he is never to be seen during the day and he has asked the narrator not to reveal that he is on the ship. His story centres around his guilt and obssession over a female patient. I can't reveal more than that without giving away to much.
The confession is fast paced and the man's distress and need to confess spill out across the page at a pace which matches his sense of urgency. I'd recommend lovers of short stories to give this a read. I can't wait to read the other stories in the collection now.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

My Thoughts: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Over the summer Hush, Hush seemed to feature on a stack of book blogs but then everything seemed to go quiet. When this arrived through the post I wasn't sure if I was in the mood for YA fiction and it has taken me weeks to pick this up. But the gorgeous cover kept staring at me and I had to give it a go.
Nora Gray is a typical American high school student (for a book that is), she has just one parent who is rarely home and seems to have the run of a car, enough money to go for dinner and shopping all the time and a best friend to who she shares everything with (including clothes, despite one apparently being very curvy and the other very thin - yes this novel has a lot of holes in it!).
When she is suddenly assigned to her new lab partner Patch, the new boy in school who seems to know rather too much about her life, she is nervous and yet attracted to his mysterious side. Suddenly things in her life quickly change, she runs someone down, crashes from the top of a rollercoaster and has her house trashed, yet when she comes around each time every evidence of what has happened is completely wiped away. When another new guy, Elliot, arrives in school he soon develops a possessive crush on her and her best friend starts dating his sulky mate; Nora suddenly has two guys who may be the person causing her frights, or who may be the one to save her.
The story develops in a Twilight style, many unbelievable things happen, but school and family life carry on as normal. Like Twilight the pace is good and the slow revelation of what Patch really is mirrors Bella's reaction to Edward. But the attraction, the fear and the recognition of a teenage girls desire for the dangerous just doesn't quite feel right here.
The book was a good read if you're looking for a few hours of escapism, but don't look to hard into it as it needs a really good edit, and is lusting to recreate Meyer's following but clearly falling several feet short.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Little Things in Life: A story, and some poetry and fables.

This week I've read a few bits and pieces which aren't big enough to have a post each but I thought I'd like to share them with you.

The Star Above the Forest by Stefan Zweig this has to be the most wonderfully written short story that I have ever read. Zweig depicts the moment that a waiter falls passionatly in love with a lady who he can never tell of his love let alone have. Knowing that she will soon leave and he won't get sight of her again he sets out to commit suicide.
Zweig's language is stunning, the suicide is wonderfully and subtly portrayed showing the mans deep desire to die for love of another rather than the love of himself. I have copied part of a paragraph
so you can see how beautiful the language is:
"... it was one of those seconds in which thousands of hours and days of rejoicing and torment are held spellbound, just as all the wild force of a forest of tall, dark, rustling oak trees, with their rocking branches and swaying crowns, is contained in a single tiny acorn dropping through the air."

This story is to be found in Amok and Other Stories, published by Pushkin Press.

Whilst browsing poetry in the Oxfam bookshop I came across this miniscule book of poems, and had to have it for its size and the little sketches and poems contained within. The 'Parson and Poet' is a tiny, both in size and page numbers, collection by Robert Herrick, a seventeenth century British poet. This tiny 18 page book is filled with verse, epitaphs and odd lines of poetry. The main themes seem to center around the idea that life is short so enjoy it while you can.
An example of the poetry contained:
To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

Polish Fables: Bilingual Edition by Ignacy Krasicki (trans. Greard T. Kapolka). I grabbed this from the library the other day when I was searching out poery. The fables are similar to Aesop's Fables in many ways, although apparently many can be read as a response to the first partition of Poland (about which I know nothing). Despite this it is clear to say that the messages often focus on the strong taking advantages of the weak.
Ignacy Krasicki published these poems in their original form in 1779, yet it is interesting to see how many of them still relate to the modern world.
Here's a taster:
The Flattering Mirror
When she looked in the mirror at her reflection
The girl was pleased that it lightened her complexion
When her friend came by, much plainer than she,
She saw that it made her less ugly.
That the neighbor was pleased just gave the girl fits,
So she shattered the flattering mirror to bits.