Monday, 2 May 2011

If love was a disease, would you take the cure?

This was the question glaring up at me when Delirium by Lauren Oliver arrived from UK Book Tours. Would I? At first I thought...maybe.... yes, after all think of the problems - mental, physical, psychological, political and social caused by love. But then I read the book.

17 year old Lena is just a few months away from receiving the cure delivered to all 18 year olds on their birthday, she desparetly wants that cure - an escape from the fear of the disease, a disease that run wild in her mother, a disease which killed her mother and haunts her days. Then of course she meets and boy.

I won't go any further as we all know where this scenario will take us, and although I could make a vague guess at the ending before I even picked up this book it was a good read. The dystopian world is well created, the idea of love being a disease if presented in a negative light was plausible, and the argument for arranged marriages always has a strong point to make. The not being able to love your own children I hadn't forseen, then my views changed drastically.

I would give this book 4 stars as I loved the idea for the story, really liked Lena, Alex, Hana and little Gracie, the setting was vivid and certainly created a picture in my mind, and the ending wasn't actually as I imagined. My only fault was that I just didn't feel the intensity of their love, it was their at times but when I read Twilight, The Chaos Walking Trilogy (amongst others) I've been drawn back to that rememberance of that hungry, all consumming first love, here I think she just missed it.
A good read if you love dystopian YA, but there are better out there.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Now its very rare that I write negative thoughts on a book, but this is one of those posts, if you don't like reading that type of post then please take warning.

Fatherland is our school bookgroups next read - we're not a successful bookgroup at the moment being on our third book and never having had a meeting to discuss a book as yet. As soon as this book was decided on I was wary, the novel is an imagining of what the world would be like if Hitler had won the war. I read a book on exactly the same topic a few years ago and loved it (The Children's War by J.N Stroyar, you should check it out if this type of story line interests you in anyway), so I was already wary knowing this had a high level to live up to; secondly this is a detective novel and I don't do to well at those (I recently read The Maltease Falcon and was full of scorn for the type of story and inherent sexism). Yet I have heard great things of Robert Harris, knowing several people who love his stuff and it was a bookgroup choice so I duly brought my copy (thankfully secondhand for less than £3).

In Fatherland Detective March, a divorced, work obssessed rebel (who just happens to be against that Party line) is called one night - when he shouldn't be working - to the discovery of the body of a prominent figure in the Party's death. Rather than just accept the story that the man had drowned whilst swimming March digs away at a story that clearly isn't meant to be told. Through a series of chance encounters (a young, sexy American journalist who is also a rebel and sees Berlin through America's less clouded eyes) and secret meetings, favours cashed in and sly operations March is soon in the thick of it, despite several warnings to leave well alone. He is on a mission to find out what happened to the Jewish and who knows about what.

My problem with this book was the shambles of the place and the stereotypes: the absurd amount of clues just left laying around; the fact he was told to leave the case well alone yet managed to run around Berlin, board a plane to Switzerland, get in and out of government agency buildings all without being caught; the fact that Nazi Europe is never really described and created beyond a few uniformed SS Guards; him, March, he never seemed to overly care enough about much to give all this effort and finally the poor construction of Charlie, the sexy American (to be fair nearly all characters were like cardboard cutouts of your traditional stereotypes but she wound me up more because she was meant to be intellectual). Charlie, a wealthy American survives in Berlin working for a low budget, low selling newspaper after screwing up her university placement and a job at The Times by screwing the boss - clever girl! She seemingly survives on whisky, has gorgeous men in love with her, falls in love with the potato-faced 40 odd year old March (she has a thing for older men!) and is contacted with underground news through a public payphone outside of her apartment.
I think I could have handled all the coincidences, afterall it is fiction, if Germany and the characters had been better drawn. Afterall I'm happy to suspend my disbelief, in fact I love living in other worlds through books, but I need the author to create the bones and flesh of the world a bare outline just isn't enough.

I will say in its defence, of the four of us who have read this book for this group read and finished it so far its an even mix, two of us couldn't stand it whilst the other two loved it. I'm now off to read Proust, what a juxtaposition!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Blood River by Tim Butcher

I'm not a huge non-fiction fan, but I've been trying to read 50 pages of non fiction a day for the last two weeks, and managed to read 2 great books, I'm hoping that I can make this a habit and get lots more non-fiction read.

Blood River is Tim Butcher, a British journalist who specialises in reporting from war torn countries, account of his attempt to follow H.M Stanley's journey through the Congo.
Butcher researched and spent years trying to find the right time to enter the Congo, to pass through all the red tape and the problems involved in taking such a journey. Once there he faces yet more red tape and problems. He starts off his journey trying to bike up through a region and ends up having to rely on people from various charities and organisations as there simply is no form of public transport or transport for sale. Transport he finds is the biggest problem, with petrol being scarce and his luggage tied to the bikes with old inner tubes. As Butcher moves on we watch him continously tackle this traffic problem which only seems to get worse when he wants to travel down the river.
Butcher also introduces us to a range of characters, some the shifty locals we hear horror stories of when we go on holiday - trying all the tricks of the trade to rip off the closest foreigner. But others are more honest and hard working, from locals to old expats who moved to the Congo when Belgium ruled the land, charity workers to priests come to deliver their message; all of whom played a vital role in keeping his journey going.
Butcher intersperses his journey with the history of the area, focussing on Stanley and Livingstone and the Belgium rule, as well as local moments of civil war and politics. At the start I found that the history far out-weighed his journey but as the book went on a reversal happened.
I enjoyed this read and it certainly gave me something to think about, as the Congo is somewhere which isn't really reported on that widely, or the centre of charity and awareness campaigns like some of its near neighbours.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan

I'm in the middle of a non-fiction and Les Miserables, so thought my daytime read should be something a bit lighter, so I picked up this one which has been sat on my shelves since 2007!
Buddha Da, is set in Scotland and told through the voices of the three central characters in a broad Scottish brogue - which I know some people struggle with but I've read Scottish books before and found this just as easy as reading in Standard English.
The story starts out with the traditional Scottish father-type discovering meditation and then gradually Buddhism. The family all have to try and deal with this change in the man whom they have always known to be a bit of a joker. Anne Marie the daughter seems not to have any real issues with it, but feels that she cannot ask him any questions. Whereas his wife, Liz feels lost and angry; the man she has loved since she was 14 has disappeared and someone knew has taken his place.
We watch as the family change and also have to deal with other issues such as death, growing up and pregnancy.
I enjoyed reading this, it was a gentle book with lots of nice characters who each are exploring and changing their lives. This is a typical holiday read, where you can almost see the end from the start, something I probably will have forgotten in under a week, but enjoyed at the time.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

This book is another one, like A Tree Grows in Broklyn, which I always wanted to read because of its name, and like A Tree Grows in Broklyn I had an old copy with an ugly cover, but I loved them both!

A Town Like Alice tells the tale of Jean, a young girl who grew up being able to speak Malayan as her father had worked there. Before the war starts she wanted an adventure so went to work as a typist in Malay. But the war changed everything. When the British families in the area were gathered up to be put into prisoner of war camps by the Japanese the men where separated from the women and led of to Singapore. The group of women and children were left behind in search of a camp to put them in. As no one wanted them they were led walking from place-to-place with just a few Japanese guards to protect them. Jean becomes a central figure in the group as she is able to communicate with the local people, and even translate for their Japanese guards. During this journey she learns to live in a different way, has to accept deaths and illness and find ways to keep the rest of this group alive. The group meet an Australian who helps them for just a few days with food and medicine.
When she returns to England after the war she simply wants to put the past behind her, yet when she comes into an inheritance life has a few drastic changes in store.

When I first started reading this book I thought of abandoning it as the opening pages were really slow, but then when Jean's story abouy Malay started I was hooked. The details, her fight for survival and the way that the women were treated are described in a cool distanced way as the tale is being retold by someone who has listened to the tale. When the love story kicks in and her trip to Australia the tale certainly has the feel of a romance novel, but one with class and more to it that soppiness. The setting of Malay and the Australian outback are created before your eyes and I had a lovely picture of each in my head as I was reading this.
Certainly a book which I would recommend others to read.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

Francie is born into a life of poverty, with a drunken but loving father who fails to hold a steady job and a hard mother who works several jobs for every penny she can get life is no joy ride. She and her brother, Neely, collect scraps of rubbish, are sent to buy the last ends of stale bread and made to live in cold rooms all in order to survive. Francie is a reader and a dreamer, determined to get an education she reads a book a day and walks 48 blocks to school.
We watch her grow up, battle through poverty, always feeling second best and never having friends. We see her through deaths and births, highs and lows.
Smith's writing creates a perfect picture of this determined little girl battling to escape the circle of life of those who live on these poverty stricken streets.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A Human Being Died that Night: Forgiving Apartheid's Chief Killer by Pumla Gobodo Madikizela

This book was an amazing read and I'm probably about to butcher it with this review, so I would suggest Eva's review here which made me go out and but it in the first place.
Black clinical pyschologist Madikizela is taken through the Truth and Reconciliation Commitee to interview Eugene de Kock, a man commonly refered to as 'Prime Evil' who has come to symbolise the violence and aggression of the apartheid government.
Madikizela seeks to find answers with this man, including why some of his victims families have forgiven him and feel a sense of empathy for this notorious man. She finds de Kock to be a thoughtful and sensitive man; fighting with the things he has done, with his own reasons and explanations for having committed such crimes and with the abandonment of the apartheid government who had sanctioned his crimes.
This book becomes about more than de Kock's answers, but Madikizela's fight with her empathy for him and about the question of evil: can one be both evil and caring? Can we forgive? Should we forgive?
For me the book was five stars from page one, but the final meeting between de Kock and Madikizela had my heart in my mouth:
"Have I ever killed any of your friends or family?"
The words bounced around the large room like an echo in a cave. I actually turned and looked around, expecting perhaps to see someone else in the room other than the guards at the door. Yes, I had heard de Kock's voice. I was sure that was what I'd heard...but had I just imagined it? Standing there stunned, in conversation with a broken man who had been an angel of death, I felt as if I were in a mist of a collision of scattered meanings within these prison walls that had enclosed our conversations. De Kock's words hovered in the room; I was struggling to understand them before I could take them in.

The tension created by this moment and then her subsequent answer made my heart pound, what if he had killed someone she loved, how would she cope with being so close to him and how would he cope, this man who started to seem so fragile.

For someone who rarely reads non-fiction I sped through this, and I'm sending it on a small journey through bookcrossing to a few other readers before it returns to me when I'm sure to read it again. I recommend you to beg, borrow or steal a copy. And I've already picked my next non-fiction read 'Blood River' about the Congo.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Les Miserables - Part Two: Cosette (SPOILERS)

As with my discussion of Part One this post will undoubtebly contain SPOILERS as I can't discuss it without revealing the fate of the characters in part one. As I discussed in the earlier post, I'm reviewing this book in sections as I don't know how I'd be able to review this monster as a whole.

Summary: This section starts off with a long description of the Battle of Waterloo, thanks to CJ James for the heads up, I skimmed over it and read a synopsis of it on the internet - cheating, but these classic authors do need a good editor! After that things picked up, Valjean a prisoner on board ship rescues a falling sailor and uses this moment as a way to escape. Months later a mysterious man (to dense readers) shows up and befriends Cosette, whose pitiful life we witness at the hands of the Thenardiers. He quickly makes off with her, when Hugo finally reveals his identity as Valjean, for the not so sharp readers.
From then the pair live in seclusion, before Javert comes hunting for them. A night on the run and a few timely coincidences leave them happily living in a Convent safe, for now, from the hands of Javert.

I loved this section and have spent this evening reading it, gulping down page after page. This section reminded me of The Count of Monte Cristo; the escapes, the moments of safety and the knowledge that danger still lays ahead. Valjean is quickly becoming one of my favourite characters in literature, he's rich but lives a poor mans life, he dotes on Cosette and his spiderman-like ways as he climbed that wall! Yes, its full of coincidences, and much like The Count of Monte Cristo we get the sense that our hero will survive and out witt anyone, yet that's all part of its charm.
My only gripe is Hugo's unnecessary detail in places - him and Tolstoy clearly had the same problem - the Waterloo scene and the vast description of the Convent (chapters and chapters of it) add nothing to the book, nor does his need to lecture and explain.

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

Sorry for the double post today!
Tomorrow, When the War Began has sat on my shelf for a good year now and I never quite got around to it. This week I saw Darren from Bart's Bookshelf and Vivienne from Serendipity both mention the book along with a post about it on bookcrossing so I thought I'd grab it and see what it was like.
The novel starts off very 'teeny' to the point where I almost gave up - a bunch of teenagers go off on a camping trip, all fairly young, mixed gender, driving illegally and off to somewhere dangerous, as you do! A few days in they spot a large number of planes flying over head, make a few jokes about war and then forget it.
When they return home to dicover what has happened my interest rose, the book started to feel dystopian and more exciting. They return to find the streets of their homes abandoned, animals (they are farmers) left to die and all the powercut. The only one source of light in the town is the park ground which is heavily guarded by armed soldiers. From then on its a battle to survive.
I really enjoyed the pace of this (after the first 20 pages), the construction of the town,the dystopian feel and also the knowledge that there is more to come and they are all in print so I don't have to wait. My criticism would be the love triangle - can someone write a YA book without a love triangle and the ending, which certainly relies on you reading the next book as there is so much left to happen.
I'll definitely get the next one, although randomly my library only has books 1,3 and 4! so I'll be waiting for my next amazon order.

Library Loot

I haven't written a library loot post for ages, but then I haven't had many books from the library in ages - I seem to have gone a little mad this week, forgetting my resolution to read my own books! Luckily I'm off work for two weeks and we have several bank holidays coming up so I should be able to read a lot more than normal.

Wicked Lovely,Melissa Marr I've seen this one talked about a lot and thought I may give it a try for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.
Swann's Way, Marcel Proust for a group read-a-long which starts on May 1st over on, I'm going to have to start early as this is already reserved for another reader.
Weight, Jeanette Winterson this is the myth of Atlas and Hercules retold, another read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I've read and loved a few of her books so I'm looking forward to this.
Death at Intervals, Jose Saramago this novel is for a library thing group where they read a particular author for a few months, I read Baltasar and Blimunda for this author earlier this year and loved it so I thought I'd try another before they move on to the next author.
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, Duvrakva Ugresic is another mythological read for the OUaT challenge, I read a few stories about Baba Yaga when I read a bunch of Russian Fairy Tales so thought a longer retelling would be good.
The Provencal Tales, Michael de Larrabeiti is a collection of Shepherd's tales from rural france for the folk tales section of the OUaT challenge.
The Open Road, Pico Iyer you know how when one person mentions something then so does someone else well this happened with this book. One of the teachers at school was talking about reading a book by the Dalai Lama and how much it influenced her, then Eva from A Striped Armchair mentioned Pico Iyer having written a great book about the Dalai Lama, then there was a mention of him on the radio so I thought I'd get the book and discover a little about him.
Whatever You Love, Louise Doughty I'm noy really sure how this ended up on my reservations list, I must ahve seen it somewhere, it doesn't look like my normal type of read, but we'll see if I get to it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Les Miserables: Part One - Fantine (with spoilers)

When I read War and Peace I really didn't know how to review it at the end and ended up saying no more than a paragraph, I don't want that to happen with Les Miserables so I thought I'd write up something for each part of the novel. This will contain SPOILERS as I would not be able to write about later parts of the novel without giving away bits of the plot.

A Brief Summary of Events: Les Miserables starts with the introduction to Myriel, a saint of a man. He is a Bishop who believes deeply in God and lives every part of his life in a way he can help others - whether this is visiting the sick, economising to the point of poverty so he can give his money to those in need, or opening his door to anyone. One day along comes ValJean a convict who has finally been released from prison after many escape attempts. Turned away at every door he is welcomed into the Bishop's house. But, true to character cannot help but steal the Bishop's last valuable item. The Bishop, saint that he is, lies to the police and ValJean is shown the value of trust and respect and appears to have become a good man.
Alongside this, we see Fantine, a naive girl who falls for the wrong man who then abandons her in her pregnancy. Both Fantine and ValJean head to a new place, for a new life, with a new identity - Fantine leaving her child with a family she comes across and ValJean renaming himself and becoming the local owner of a Jet Factory and eventually the Mayor. Their lives follow different destinies, while ValJean is becoming richer, more powerful and yet a better person Fantine's life is in tatters. She is unemployed, being tricked into paying more and more for her daughter Cosette, and finally ends up a prostitute.
ValJean and Fantine are thrown together when Javert - the towns local policeman, arrests Fantine. ValJean, under his guise as town mayor comes to rescue her and they quickly become friends, he intending to discover her child for her while she lays on her sickbed. Finally, whilst this is happening ValJean hears of another man being tried for his crime, he goes and gives himself up. In the final scene his identity is revealed and Fantine dies.
(Not brief at all then!)
My thoughts on the characters:
I loved the priest, although I can never believe that anyone is so good. However, his trust in ValJean certainly had positive effects and completely changed this mans destiny.
ValJean in his final scene, where he escapes from the police cell, looks like he may be back to his old tricks - I'm hoping he is still good and with go and rescue Cosette.
As for Fantine, she was naive and stupid, I can't understand why she couldn't have passed herself off as a widow and kept her child. Her actions are all intended for the best of the child but only seem to harm her more.
What I liked and disliked:
I loved nearly all of this so far. Hugo's way of drawing the characters, and creating the situations has been well done. I did find some of the coincidences a little contrite, but then this is fiction after all.
What I'm excited to discover next:
I'm looking forward to seeing if ValJean fulfills his promise and rescues Cosette, or if Javert will get there first just to persecute him a little more.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Finishing the Read-a-thon

Hour: Finished
Time Reading: 13 hours 50 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Toast
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio), The Court of the Air,
Currently Feeling: Time to get dressed, and perhaps read some more.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hour 10, when I gave in to my headache and went to bed - should really go to the opticians and get some new glasses!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
This year I didn't end up reading my usual mix of YA which I don't think helped. I didn't read any books I would rate above 3 stars.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really. I didn't get as many comments as normal, I'm not sure if this was because of the way the cheerleading was organised or because the people I normally follow weren't participating this time.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The up-dates were good as usual. All in all I think it worked really well.

5. How many books did you read?
4 (listed above) plus part of an audio book and half of a book.

6. What were the names of the books you read?
See above

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Toast by Nigel Slater (a British Chef)

8. Which did you enjoy least?
Rituals by Cees Nooteboom

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
I didn't try to get to everybody in my section just went every 5th person. I think personal messages work best so I liked being able to read people's posts rather than trying to greet everyone with the same message.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I've been a cheerleader the last few times and think maybe next time I will just be a reader. I still go and visit people's posts throughout the whole thing and that way I could spend more time reading. Also I noticed some people onle have one post for the whole 24 hours which I think I may try next time.

Thanks to the hosts and those that came and visited. Until next time!

Read-a-thon Update 4

Hour: 22?
Time Reading: 11 hours 40 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Toast
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio), The Court of the Air,
Currently Feeling: Wide awake and can't stop eating!

I finished another bookcrossing book, so that is 4 now that I can release to other readers and free from my stacks. And a non-fiction to boot! I'm now going to spend some time looking at some other read-a-thoners and then get back to reading The Court of the Air so I can get a big chunl of it finished, although it won't be completed during the read-a-thon.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Read-a-thon update 3

Hour: 18
Time Reading: 8 hours 30 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio), The Court of the Air, Toast
Currently Feeling: Much more awake. Breakfast has been eaten.

Picking a short book and turning off the computer certainly helped me to focus. I read and completed the novella Miss Jean Brodie since my last post knocking off my third bookcrossing book this read-a-thon - notice that they are all teeny books.
I'm going to check my googlereader and then start Nigel Slater's Toast.

I'm Back

Hour: 16
Time Reading: 6 hours 40 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom.
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio), The Court of the Air
Currently Feeling: Not as refreshed as I'd like.

I ended up going to bed at quarter to ten (end of hour 9) as my eyes were so tired I could barely keep them open. I had woken up Friday night from a horrid dream and I couldn't get back to sleep so was tired anyway. Then tonight the same thing happened, so I'm no where near as awake as I'd like and have images of a giant fish flapping around dieing in my bath to contend with!
After my last update I read 100 pages of The Court in The Air a 500+ page fantasy, and listened to some more of the audio. I'm going to get back to reading and drinking tea but I'm going to grab The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a quick read.

Hope you're all still doing well, I'll come say hi later on.

Back to reading

Me and my reading companion spent the last 45minutes cheerleading and are now off to read some more, must go and pick a book now!

Read-a-thon Update 2

Hour: 7
Time Reading: 5 hours 5 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom.
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio) Currently Feeling: Headachey. Not sure if it was the bad book or just my eyes getting tired.

I just finished my second book, Rituals by Cees Nooteboom one which I really didn't enjoy but persevered with as it was short, I could tick it off my 1001 list and it could be used for a read from Holand.
I'm now going to spend some time cheerleading and drinking Licorice tea. Hopefully in that time I will have decided which book I want to read next and the headache will have disappeared.
How are you all doing?

Read-a-thon Update 1

(Taken on my phone in glaring sunlight, so noy great quality - this is where I sat reading for a few hours, being passed by canal and motor boats, cannoists, dog walkers, runners and families - bliss)

Hour: 4
Time Reading: 3 hours 15 minutes
Books Read: House of the Sleeping Beauties
Books currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio) and Rituals by Cees Nooteboom.
Currently Feeling: Relaxed and the time is rushing past, bring on the next book!!!

It's now the fourth hour of the read-a-thon and time is flying past. I went for a long stroll with the lovely Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in my ears. Then stopped and read all of House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories by Yasunari Kawabata. In typical Japanese fiction style this was a very strange collection of 3 stories, which I will talk about when the read-a-thon is finished.

I hope everyone is coping well with the first couple of hours, I've had about a half an hour break so I'll be checking my google reader and then getting on to the next book which is Rituals by Cees Nooteboom.

Read-a-thon Begins

I'm not out as expected, although I'm off to sample some of the sunshine in a moment as my frontroom is cold and outside is lovely and warm.
A quick answer to this Meme first

1)Where are you reading from today?
To start the read-a-thon I'm actually wandering down to the river for a wander through the meadow, under the trees, past the horses and to the canal boats, audio book in ear. I will stop for a while a read if I can find somewhere comfy which isn't occupied.
2)Three random facts about me…
a. I have a house bunny called Alba
b. I'm currently trying to learn sign language, cookery, all about fairytales and photography.
c. The kids at school nickname me smiler (and probably a few horrid things I'm best off not knowing.

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
I've not made a pile this year, so will have the choice of 400 odd books to pick from.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
I'm aiming for 18 hours reading, a few hours cheerleading and some sleep. I'm hoping to tackle 6 books, 4 of them bookcrossing books so that I can get a few books moving again.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
I have done this 4 times, I do allow about 4 hours sleep so that I'm not horrid all of next week and that tends to be fine. Audiobooks are great for when you want to move around. I'll go for a couple of walks, especially one before it gets dark so I don't get restless. Keep the books short/light and have some short stories or graphic novels on hand.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Read-a-thon Preparation

I'm Excited that today the read-a-thon starts. I thought I would pop a quick post up now as I may not be around at the beginning. The weather here is stunning so I'm planning on spending the first hours of the read-a-thon down by the river and meadows near my house, with a few sandwiches an audio book and a book. It means I'll be able to have a good walk and get some sunshine which will hopefully mean I'm less restless later.
Now normally this is where I would post a picture with a pile of books. However this week I haven't been at all in the mood for reading (very worrying given I'm now hoping to read for 18 hours!)so I'm avoiding making a pile, as it will just be whatever interests me there and then. I've also been reading 30 pages and deciding the book just isn't for me, hopefully I'll be more consistent today.
So rather than specific reads my goal is to finish 6 books and four of those should be bookcrossing books registared by other members that I need to send off on their book travels again.
I'll be cheerleading for 3 hours, which will be dispersed between hours 6-12, I always like going visiting other blogs and seeing what other people are doing to celebrate.
As for food I'm on a diet, and after a curry and McDonald's yesterday (last day of school celebrations) I will be having to behave. I'm off to grab and cut up fresh pineapple and mango, yogurts, rice cakes and ingredients for dinner soon.
I wish you all luck, its always nice to have comments but more important during the read-a-thon so please say hello.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Short Story Quest: Revisiting, Revising and Revamping Sleeping Beauty

The Once Upon a Time Challenge has certainly broken my no book buying rule, I have a selection of retold fairy-tales and a few non-fiction books about fairy-tales winging their way to me via amazon at the moment.
I have spent today reading versions of Sleeping Beauty. From what is believed to be the inspiration for the Grimms version Basile's 'Sun, Moon and Talia' and Perrault's 'Sleeping Beauty in the Woods' to versions of the tale set in our modern world with a Sci-Fi twist to them.

Giambattista Basile's 'Sun, Moon and Talia' tells of a young girl who falls into a deep sleep after having a piece of flax from a spindle wedged under her fingernail. Locked in a castle in a deep sleep she is visited by a king, and eventually two children who suck at her fingers dislodging the flax and thus waking her. From this their entreats a tale of jealousy and violence. Perrault's version 'Sleeping Beauty in the Woods' is far closer to the well known version with the fairies warning that a spindle will cause her harm and the whole castle being laid to sleep with her and awoken when her prince arrives.
For the Grimm's version of the tale I went to Maria Tatar's 'The Anotated Classic Fairy Tales' this version is the disney version we all grew up with, finishing with Sleeping Beauty (or Brair Rose as she is called in this version) awakening. Unlike the two previously mentioned stories their is no jealousy and violence, and no canibalism and rescue at the hands of older women. Tatar's version is accompanied by notes about various versions, as well as selections of art which has been used to depict the tale over the years.

I then went onto read two retellings from the collection 'Black Swan, White Raven' and one from 'My Mother she Killed Me, My Father he Ate Me'. The first 'The Black Fairy's Curse' by Karen Joy Fowler I think I will need to read again. It was very short and started with a woman escaping into the woods on horse back, the fast pace has her escaping up a tree and then she is suddenly with a man by a river. These seem a dream-like imagining, which later has her waking up with a man above her who she fears. I really enjoyed the pace and the way each iamge was created, but need more time to think over what was happening.
'Snow in Dirt'by Micheal Blumlein had a very different feel to it, and certainly had my favourite opening:
It can happen. Once a lifetime it should. I found the girl of my dreams in the garden. She was covered by dirt. I was digging a hole [....] She was hidden in soil, tucked between roots, still as a statue, beautiful.

Discovering this secret beauty, loner Martin takes her into his home. Gradually after days of wondering he takes her to the hospital to run tests - she is a conundrum they can't understand. When one day she suddenly wakes up he marries her, and then begins their life. Unlike a fairy tale, all is not happiness, but then it isn't all bad either.
The final version I read 'A Kiss to Wake the Sleeper' by Rabih Alameddine, features a first person narrator who is a watcher of all the happens. The girl is sent to the forest, to be treated by the sleeping beauty in an attempt to free the girl from a world trapped inside a protective bubble. The story led to a sexual encounter - fairly vividly described, which I wasn't expecting in the slightest. A clear tale of sexual awakening with violent overtones.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Mini Reviews

Last week my computer wasn't working, so surprise-surprise I got tons read! It's shocking how much of a time-suck the Internet is. I'm just posting mini-reviews about these books otherwise I'll never get around to them, and to be perfectly honest I'm not sure how I could write full length posts about some of them *War and Peace*.

Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago read for my around the world journey (the countries have to touch and I aim if possible to read at least 2 books from each country).
This book has a Gabriel Garcia Marquez feel to it, which was great for me as I love him. In the foreground of the story was the love between Baltasar and the seer Blimunda - she has the ability to see 'inside' people if she hasn't eaten in the morning. Their love exists through the Inquisition and the creation of a flying bird capable of transporting humans.
No matter what happens it is their love for each other which wins over the whole story, and it isn't a mushy type of love, although one which is all consuming.
I loved this and would happily recommend it to other readers of magical realism.

War and Peace by Tolstoy I've been reading this as part of a read-a-long on goodreads since new years day, and although I got lost in the middle when I went on holiday I finally managed to catch up and get it finished.
I was shocked at how much the 'Peace' sections read like a soap opera. I was expecting a huge cast of characters but these sections focused primarily on three families and their interwoven love lives, tangles and disputes. You saw families grow, change and develop with the war creeping up in the background.
The 'War' sections I found a little harder at the start, as their seemed to be tons of characters in these bits and I couldn't figure out who was who. These sections became more manageable and enjoyable as I got to know characters and as the war seemed to be more localised so I had a firmer idea of how things were progressing. The pace also picked up.
I gave this read 4 stars as I really enjoyed it, but thought that Tolstoy should lecture and make less direct social comments, and I was disappointed in the second epilogue. We read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation which I really liked, I had started with a different translation before and gave up after 5 pages! Next up for the group read-a-long is Les Mis, which I started yesterday.

Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Oe this book was sent to me as part of my reading through the 1001 list/s (in fact all 4 of these reads were 1001 list books) and I'm sad to say I really didn't enjoy it.
A group of delinquent children are evacuated out to Japanese villages to escape the impeding war. Once their rumour of a plague spreads and the villagers abandon them so they are left to fend for themselves - similar to Lord of the Flies.
This book got great reviews from other people but for me it didn't hold together, it seemed that the author tried to hard to write as a teenage boy - they were obsessed with genitalia, which I know teenage boys are, I teach enough of them, but not to this extent. And some of the language just seemed to modern and the pace plodding.

Last but by no means least The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid my favourite read of the week. Most people have already read and raved about it so a very quick summary: the book is spoken as if it is part of a conversation, but you only hear from one speaker. He tells is from Pakistan but tells of his time in America and all that it offered to him. And all that changed after 9/11.
His voice and syntax perfectly create the voice in your head; his relationships, successes and views create him as a 3 dimensional character in a way that I haven't read in ages. And your uncertainity about a few areas of the text and style create a book you'll be thinking about long after.
This is one of those books I'll probably end up recommending to everyone and buying people as gifts.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Sunday Salon: Short Story Quest

As part of the Once Upon a Time V challenge I'll be posting reviews of short stories at the weekend set in a fairytale, mythical, fantastical or folkloric world. Recommendations are always much appreciated, as are comments.

photo credit
Ardour by Jonathon Keats
I read this interpretation of the Russian snow maiden Snegurochka whilst I was reading a bunch of Russian fairy tales this week, see this post I wrote yesterday, this had to be my favourite so I thought it deserved its own post.
Each winter the peasants tell the same story of the sightings of the beautiful girl in the woods, a girl covered in just a light dusting of snow who quickly disappears from sight. Each man craves to seduce her, for not only does she offer perfection and mystery she also is the release from the harsh winter into spring. Any man able to find and seduce her, and thus allow the fields to be harvested and the snows to melt, is rewarded by the king with a year off of work.
Yet one year Ardour goes from the desired to the hunted. For, suddenly one year she turns on the men and allows no one to seduce her. The winter draws on season after season, bringing with it hunger, death and disease, she has become a vengeful monster out to wreak havoc.
The king offers rewards of a life time escape from work, but no man is able to tame her until an unlikely Prince comes along.
This story’s telling was beautifully woven, and reminded me of the early African folk tales when stories were told to explain the things that man did not understand such as the passing of the seasons. This is certainly a story I’ll be coming back to read time and again, as with all good fairy tales.
The story can be found in the collection My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me’, ed. Kate Bernheimer.

In my search for the Snegurochka I found this cool website where they write and publish free retellings of fairytales. Go check it out.

Once Upon a Time Challenge: Russian Fairy Tales

I've been missing for the past week or so as my laptop needed fixing, but I'm back now! Having a laptop meant I read a lot more (I finished 4 books in a week!), so I'll post in a few days my thoughts on what I read. But more importantly, being laptop free didn't stop me signing up for a challenge.
The Once Upon a Time challenge has to by my favourite in the blog-o-sphere. I have participated in 3 (I think), and it certainly has influenced my reading habits and tastes.
Now, I've gone a little mad a signed up for Challenge the Third, to read one book from each category: Fantasy, Myth, Folklore and Fairytale. As well as Short Story Quest(see below) and to Quest the Fourth to read two non-fiction books.
I now have two stacks beside my bed, spanning way more than the amount of books I need to read, and I'm eager to get started.

photo credit (great illustrations here to check out)
Russian Fairy Tales:
As an eager ex-university student I find myself embroiled in little mini studious tasks from time to time, the Once Upon a Time Challenge seems to have provoked a few of these this year. One is the desire to learn about some of the traditional myths, as well as myths from around the world. The second, which is what I am focused on at the moment, is to look at fairy tales from specific countries.
So this week I found myself focusing on Russian fairy tales and retellings. As with all good fairy tales I found a good mix of wicked step-mothers, violence (‘Good Girl’s and Where it Gets Them’ (1) was an incredible mix of horrific violence and jealousy) and wit as well as a few recurring figures. Baba-Yaga appeared in several of the fairy tales that I read; this witch-like character is feared by all. In ‘The Baba-Yaga’ (1), our heroine is sent by her step-mother to her aunt’s house, knowing that her aunt is a baba-yaga she seeks advice and manages to escape being turned into a tasty meal. Likewise, in ‘Vasilissa the Fair’ (1) she is also sent by her step-mother and sisters to the baba-yaga, this time in search of light. She to seeks advice, this time from a doll, and is helped by the spirits to beat the baba-yaga’s trick and escape home into the arms of the tsar.
This beautiful Vasilissa character also turned up in another story, so I’m wondering if she is a common Russian fairy tale character. In ‘Vasilisa, the Priest’s Daughter’ she is beautiful, but not your average young maiden. She hunts, rides horses like a man and drinks Vodka and so is given the male nickname Vasily. Meeting the King one day on his travels he is perplexed over whether she could really be a female and so invites her to his house for various trials to test her femininity. As in all good stories, wit and female cunning prevails over male desperation.
This story is a modern interpretations of Russian fairy-tales, in the first ‘Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child’ (2), the pelican child lives deep in the woods with Baba Iaga, a cat and a dog. Kept hidden away they are told never to open the door while Baba Iaga goes to work. Yet it is she who unknowingly lets evil through the door in the guise of a painter of birds. This story had such a sad ending, but thankfully in true fairy tale style, bad endings are replaced with happiness and knowledge.
I have one more Russian fairy tale to share but I’m saving that for tomorrow’s Short Story Sunday. In the next few weeks I’m on the look out for German, Nordic, South American and African fairy tales, if you know of any good ones which are online, please let me know below.
Have you got any favourite fairy tales?
(1) Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter.
(2) My Mother she Killed Me, My Father he Ate Me, ed, Kate Bernheimer

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

I pledge....

to try and read for 24 hours on April 9th 2011. That's right, I'm signing up for the Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon again this year. The last one I missed as my laptop had died on me, but in previous attempts I've read for about 17 hours, as well as blogging and joining in with the bits and pieces happening on line.
Why do I participate? I love the knowledge that we are all doing the same thing across the world no matter where we are, as well as the contact with other bloggers and discovering new blogs.
What do I read? I normally take the opportunity to read some of my shorter books, plus some YA and graphic novels. I have managed to tackle 6 books before, and that will be my aim again this time. Worringly, I have already been looking at books on the tbr pile and thinking that'd be good for the read-a-thon.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Two Quick Reviews

After my reading drought I seem to be suddenly racing through books, having finished two since Sunday evening - and its not even the holidays!

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun is a book which has sat on the tbr pile for a good year and a half, I was sent it from a Korean bookcrosser along with Korean sweets and socks back at christmas 2009.
The novel is based on the life of a young Korean street girl who has abandoned her abusive father and destructive mother for a life of uncertainty, poverty and danger on the streets of New York.
With a fast paced style, a young voice and a cast of teenage street kids this reads like a YA novel. The friendships with Knowledge, a non-using drus dealer, Benny; the boyfriend who takes everything he can get and Tati the dramatic friend we meet a whole host of characters showing the various ways an abusive/unloved childhood can shape a persons view. A novel I'd recommend to those who like the YA style and are looking for a break from vampires for a while.

Pereira Maintains by Javier Cercas was another quick read but completely different to the one above. Set in 1930's Portugal, Pereira has escaped from political reporting to the cultural page of a small less read newspaper. Despite being a journalist we quickly see that his head is buried in the sand, and the political disruption and upset of Portugal passes him by, whilst his head is stuck in books and art.
Despite his attempts to keep out of the way of the censors, corrupt police and political underground he manages to step on peoples toes through his choice of literature, his friendship with a young radical journalist and his meetings with frinds.
This book was a really easy read which I enjoyed, however I think it would have had much more impact had I known any thing about Portugese history. It was nice to read a 1001 book which I enjoyed after my recent run of poor choices.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Sunday Salon: Reading is beating me

Very quickly, today is the last day to enter my draw for a copy of The Blind Assassin over here.

I'm really struggling with my reading at the moment, I'm either in a grump so just not enjoying great books, its either that or I'm not picking great books off my tbr pile.
I started mid week reading Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I was hoping that I'd enjoy this as everyone raves about him (although I didn't really enjoy The Great Gatsby which everyone else seems to love).
The book is meant to be partly autobiographical and charts his relationship with his wife - which bizarrely started off with her having a breakdown and he was a pyschologist used to flirt with her through letters to bring her out of herself. He moves on to detail the affair he had and his struggle with this affair.
I didn't get on with the narration of this book, or his clear lack of love for the women he had an affair with. The whole thing felt like he was trying to explain his behaviour.

After this I moved onto Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, another 1001 read which has been on the TBR pile for many years. The 4 star rating on amazon, the synopsis and the gorgeous cover all had my hopes up high. But this was another book which floundered for me - it was a 'true tale' which the author spent a large percentage of the book describing how he discovered the story and the events after publishing this story.

Both these books I believed would be novels and both turned out to be based on true stories and had fairly dry narration. I've read a few pages of my next read, thankfully it looks like a real novel this time.

This afternoon I'm off to Colchester, one of the oldest towns in England. I'm taking my camera to get a few snaps of the cobbled streets and then meeting some local bookcrossers to chat and swap books. The pub we are meeting in is an OBCZ (official bookcrossing zone), so hopefully will have a set of shelves with free books that I can browse and leave some of my own books on.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011


Just a few more days to apply for my giveaway.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G Wells

This month I'm trying to focus all my reading time on 1001 books in the attempt to reach my target of 40 for the year. I started with The Island of Dr. Moreau as it is a bookring which I need to get moving to the next reader.

Prendick accounts his time on an island of nightmares. He finds himself turfed out of the boat he is travelling after the captain is scared off by the other passengers on board. These passengers help Moreau to an island which they inhabit.
Trying to be secretive about the happenings on the island they attempt to keep the truth from Prendick, but he begins to notice small anomalies, like the hairy pointed ears of one of the servants and the howling of animals.
Exploring, Prendick discovers animals who can talk, walk like men and obey the orders of the man who brought him to there.

I'm not a sci-fi fan, but having read and enjoyed Wells at university I was expecting to enjoy this - and in places I did. However there were many times when I was tempted to give up, if it had been a longer book I doubt I would have read to the end. I was often confused as to what was happening, and didn't really get along with the dry narrative voice of the tale, which never managed to strike in me the horror of these animals.

World Book Night Giveaway

It's World Book Night tonight, and as a way to encourage reading 1,000,000 books are being given away. 25 titles have been picked and volunteers have been given 48 copies of the title they selected to give away.
I was lucky to be selected and picked up 48 copies of Margaret Atwood's fantastic 'The Blind Assassin' to give away. I'm offering mine to some of the more able readers at school, the teachers and a few bookcrossers. I will also be wildrealeasing some of these novels and handing some out over the next few days.

PLUS I have 2 to give away through my blog. One to a UK blogger and one to an International blogger. For a chance to win just leave a comment below with your email address.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Top Ten Books I just had to buy....which are still sitting on my shelf unread.

1. Love by Toni Morrison, I read one of her books and just has to have a few more..a good 5 years ago.
2. The Peacock Throne, Loved the cover and couldn't resist buying it but have had no compulsion to read it since.
3. The Mad Woman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar because I wanted to feel like a university student again.
4. A Human Being Died that Night, Eva wrote a great review so I ordered it straight away.
5. Affinity, Sarah Waters once I read one of her novels I had to read them all. I've since read 2 of her books which she has published since this purchase.
6. Don Quixote a desire to be more 'well read'.
7. Peter Pan, J.M Barrie because I just 'had to' have this edition.
8. The Bible, because I was told literature students would need one, never used in the 12 years since then.
9. Yellow Dog, Martin Amis because I thought he was an author I should read.
10. The Brothers Karamzov because I thought as a literature student I should read Dostoevsky.

This meme can be found over at The Broke and the Bookish