Saturday, 26 October 2013

In the Forest by Edna O'Brien

Another 1001 list book for me. I'd not heard of Edna O'Brien before so it was great to discover a new author who has a big backlist.

In the Forest is a novel based on a real life crime in Ireland in the 1990s. Michen is a young man who has been in and out of Irish correction centres - largely run by the church since the age of 10 when he first started committing crimes. Michen spends his teenage years breaking out and making his way back to his home town, where the locals leave bread and milk outside for him, too scared to invite him into their family home.

The novel is written in fragments each chapter skips from focusing on one character to the next. Whilst I quite enjoy this style at the beginning I felt lost sometimes knowin g which character we were now with, especially as many people from the village are suddenly introduced as the focus of a chapter and then not seen again. Once I got 50 pages into the novel it flitted around less and less, and I became steadier reading this novel.

The novel is a good read and tells a great story but I never became emotionally involved with any of the characters - probably due to the flitting around from character to character.

2014 Reading Challenges

One thing I loved about book blogging was the reading challenges. And I'm already keeping an eye out for reading challenges in 2014. I will keep a list of the challenges, my progress and links on this post here.

  A New Author Challenge I'm going to aim to read 25 new-to-me authors next year and they will all be discovered on my large TBR stck which really needs tackling. I'm not going to create a list for this one as I have stacks and stacks of choices on my shelves.

This one is a no brainer for me, I generally try to read from my TBR pile but as it is in the 400s I clearly am not to good at sticking to it.I'm going for the maximum level 50+ Married with Children as mount TBR needs some serious slimming.

Long-Awaited Reads Month - January
Over at Things Mean A Lot I spotted a month long challenge (perfect for me as my commitment is useless)for January. You just need to read books which you have been meaning to read for ages. Mine will all be off of my TBR pile. Here are a few potentials which I can think of without having to even get out of my seat.

Kristin Lavransdatter - Sigrid Undset I've had this on my shelf for two years when I brought it to read as part of a read-a-long and never kept up.

The Peacock Throne - Sujit Sarif This is one of the books which has been on mount TBR the longest

Tsotsi - Athol Fugard A 1001 book I've been meaning to read for years

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy I've owned various copies of this since I was 16 and first read and loved Tess of the d'Urbervilles

TBR Triple Dog Dare is on again, this has became a tradition for me (although I don't think I have ever made it to the end). Spend Jan 1st to April 1st reading only from your book shelf. As I have a TBR pile of over 400 and the last few years have been slow reading years for me (promotion + tackling my masters) I'm hoping to tackle more reads in 2014, especially as I am taking a year study break.

No list, just attacking the shelves and using TBR books for reading challenges.

Southern Literature in January
I know that Brooke is running this in January but I don't think there has been as official post. I'm just using this space to jot down some potentials:
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
The Sound and the Fury - Willam Faulkner
Meridian - Alice Walker
Everything That Rises Must Converge - Flannery O'Connor

Seasoned Traveller 2014Seasoned Traveller 2014
The Seasoned Traveller doesn’t do anything by half-measures: they go the whole hog and the more obscure the better!
- Read 12 books over the course of the year, each set in a DIFFERENT country
- Books selected should include ones set in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia+New Zealand, North America and South America. The Middle East is a bonus
- You do not need to plan ahead but it might help you keep on track
- No re-reads
- Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

I have loads of books for this challenge on my TBR pile, here are some I would like to tackle:
Kristin Lavransdattar - Norway, Europe
The Polish House - Poland, Europe
The Master and Margarita - Russia, Eurasia
The True History of the Kelly Gang, Australia
The Lotus Eaters, Vietnam
Tsotoi, South Africa
The Edible Woman, Canada
Something by Isabel Allende - I have lots to choose from, Peru

2014 Women Challenge This challenge is nice and simple, read books by female authors. I'm going for Wonder Women level which is 20+ books. No lists, I'll read as I please from my stacks.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Shining - Stephen King

A few years ago I popped The Shining by Stephen King on my kindle because it was on the 1001 books to read before you die, and like every other book I buy it stayed there every now it'd give me a nod as I passed it by but it never called out my name so it was missed in the crowd. Then my housemate started reading it and we decided to have a little paired reading (plus I love a competition, she was on 20% so I needed to catch up!)

From page one the novel screams out to you that bad things will happen: the son who 'sees things' and reads emotions, the mother desperately trying to save her marriage, the violent ex-alcoholic husband with his heart set on a writing career moving up to the mountains to stay in a hotel which will be cut off from the world by heavy snow for the whole of winter - hell, even a normal family would have problems in a nice hotel. And, the hotel itself, whilst it sells itself as grand has many hidden tales to tell.

I haven't read horror since I was a teenager when I loved Point Horror but never moved on to adult horror, and I also very rarely watch horror movies, but I do like to be scared. I assumed that this novel would be quick paced but lack any real depth and detail to the description. Also, have picked up and very quickly put down again King's novel Cell I didn't have high hopes. But I was completely wrong King's writing was excellent, the pace was quick but allowed the characters to develop, and the hotel itself became a character.

I plan to read the new Shining book next week - it'll be the holidays, halloween will be fast approaching and I will have a replacement kindle (I stepped on mine this week - but don't tell as it was a present!)
I'm also planning on having a horror movie night for halloween and The Shining is on the top of the pile.

I will never look at topiary in the same way again!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Top Ten Books I was Forced to Read

With a literature degree, postgraduate diploma and masters in the process, plus 8 years of teaching English Language and Literature there are many, many books I have been forced to read. Here is my top ten.

1. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck At 16 I had to read this for my own GCSEs and I fell in love with Georde and Lennie, now 16 years later I teach this book year after year to pupils studying for their GCSEs, and I've yet to find a pupil who hates it. In fact this year I don't have to teach it, but I think I will read it to my top set who will read a 'more difficult' book for their GCSEs.
2. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje I read this back when I was 21 the first time I attempted my literature Masters degree, and then I read it again as part of the additional reading for my current Masters. I love the romance, poetry and setting of this book. Ondaatje is a god!
3. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie One year I applied to do a degree module which only had 10 places, I wasn't one of the first to apply so I got stuck doing my second choice module. In the space of one week I had to read 5 books before the module started. One of these books was Midnight's Children. Boy did I struggle to read this, and I hated every damn page as I read it. Then when it came the week with all the lectures on this book I read back key scenes, read about it, talked about it and fell in love with it.
4. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens The fist book I read for my A Levels. I loved all the characters but most of all Estella, at 16 I admired that fierceness she had with men (I was 'madly in love' with my bf boyfriend at the time so quite bitter about love), I desired that cold hearted attitude. And for a while I was nicknamed Estella at school, then I fell in love properly and Estella became both a figure of admirationa and pity.
5. A Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood Read for the best module I ever studied in school or university, protest literature was an amazing module that the exam board (the fools!) pulled two years later because they didn't A Level student should have to study 6 (amazing) books for just one module. The book which changed my life path from becoming a legal secretary and studying law to going to university to study and then teach English Literature. At 17 this was the most powerful and shocking book I had read, I quickly read a lot of other Atwood novels and that veered me off in search of other great female writers.
6. Antigone (various authors) Last year for my masters I had to read different versions of Antigone for my first assignment, from Sophocles, to Brecht, to Anouilh and all the others in between I loved this play and its various retelling and recreations. Every time I go up to London for a lecture (I study online mainly) some body says that they wish they could return and study Antigone again.
7. Private Peaceful, Michael Morpurgo A book I teach to my year 7s (11-12yr olds) about two brothers in the war. Every time I have to take a deep breath and read the final pages without shedding a tear. But there is always a few tears from the class.
8. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen Another book from my A Levels, read a just the right age 16/17. I quickly devoured all of Jane Austen.
9. Skellig, David Almond Another book I read to year 7s, they are still at that perfect age for the magical creature discovered in the garage. My older pupils who I taught in year 7 often ask if we can reread it - damn not having enough time on the curriculum to feed this whim!
10. A Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness Two years ago I took a course in Children's literature, some of it I hated but much of it I loved. It 'forced' me to reread A Knife of Never Letting Go and the other books in the series. And my assignment was to write 5000 words about why this book was good enough to win a children's literature prize - no surprise that this was my best mark.

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Alice Munro was an author I had heard of but knew nothing about - other than she was Canadian - until last week when she won the Nobel. Despite knowing nothing about her last year I had grabbed one of her books in the local second hand bookshop because I knew she was on the 1001 BTRBYD list, a list I'm gradually working my way through. The book sat on the highest shelf unread until I saw all over twitter her win. Now I'm really glad that I made that random purchase and that I've started on Munro's backlist.

Lives of Girls and Women was first published in 1971, and whilst the setting has aged the concerns of the central character have not. We start the book with Del as a young girl living on a rural farm with little to do other than hang out with her brother and read sensational stories in a neighbour's newspaper. Each chapter in the novel focuses on a different point in Del's life, the arrival of a new women from out of town who refuses to fit the constrains of a wife and mother, her mother's life as an Encyclopoedia saleswoman, dating, friendship issues and changes in her body etc. Whilst it is the story of a fairly average childhood and maturity towards womanhood Munro's style and narrative lifted the character and setting right off of the page.

There is one more Munro on the 1001 list that I'll be searching out, but I will definitely keep an eye out for more of her books in the future.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Maze Runner

I brought The Maze Runner and the two other books in this series over a year ago when they were on special offer in a discount bookshop but like many of the books in my life I just didn't get around to them.
Then I signed up for the Dystopia Challenge and knew that this was the perfect opporunity to tackle this series. A mix between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner features a dystopian land were a group of boys have been sent underground as part of a test. 
Once a month a teenage boy arrives in the box, an elevator controlled by those in charge, with only the memory of his name to The Glade, a teenage community. Surrounding The Glade lies 8 mazes with walls which change day by day.
The book follows Thomas, a new boy named a 'Greenie' who arrives in the box. After his arrival life in The Glade, which had been stable for 2 years, starts to change. New challenges arise, the rules are changed and suspiscion lies firmly at Thomas' feet. 
This book is fast paced and a typical YA dystopia. I was intrigued by what was happening, read quickly and devoured the setting and the action. However, unlike The Hunger Games and The Chaos Walking Trilogy I was not gripped by any of the characters. These books usually rush me back to teenage emotions and turmoil but this failed to do that. In fact, after the usual traumatic ending, I hadn't even managed a sniffle let alone the uncontrollable weeping which ensured with each of Patrick Ness' books. I am however intrigued to read the rest of the series and see how life plays out for Thomas.

Dewey's Read-a-thon round-up

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I was never overly tired but around hour 7/8 I was finding it really hard to focus for more than a few minutes - too much technology to distract myself with.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? The Maze Runner by Dashner was the best book I chose for this read-a-thon, it had a fast pace and decent sized text. Plus it's a trilogy :)
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? No it was great. Although as a cheerleader I found lots of people signed up and didn't participate, some hadn't posted on their blogs for weeks so maybe a shorter time for sign ups is needed.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? As a cheerleader having the sites you were cheering all on one page was great.
  5. How many books did you read? I read 5 books (well I just finished the last 20 pages of the fifth book a few hours after the challege finished but I'm still going to count it)
  6. What were the names of the books you read? Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, Waltz with Bashir, The Maze Runner, American Born Chinese, A Single Pebble by John Hersey
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? It's a toss up between Lives of Girls and Women, which was well written, had lots of detail and depth OR The Maze Runner which was a great fast paced YA read.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? A Single Pebble by John Hersey, I was trying to rush to finish it before the readathon ended so maybe that spoiled it for me, but I was just not that fussed.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? If you are also a reader set aside time when you are going to cheerlead and for how long, I found it easy to get distracted.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Yes I will definitely participate again as a reader. I loved hosting a mini challenge and cheerleading but I would probably decide to just do one of these next time. I spent around 6 hours doing stuff on the computer (and on Sims freeplay) and quite a bit was just me faffing. I got far more read this morning when I stayed in bed away from my computer and twitter updates. As someone who has little time to read for pleasure at the moment the reading is the most important thing for me. That said I loved seeing new blogs and will be filling up my new reader with some of the great blogs I visited today.
Thanks to the hosts for a great read-a-thon, looking forward to April. And thanks to all the people who stopped by the blog for their comments.

The final few hours

Well I read till 12.30 last night (hour 12) and then set my alarm to wake up at 5.30, being tired I missed the stupid iphone button to turn on the alarm I had just created. So, I got 6 hours of blissfull sleep. Not what I planned, but I am very awake today and fresh which is good because after this I have oursework to mark!
I have just finished my third book, I'm off for a very quick spot of cheering and then will be taking a graphic novel with me into the bath to finish the challenge up.
Good luck to everyone still reading, I could happily read like this every weekend :)

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Through the Tea Leaves - mini challenge

found on google, I was too eager to draw the character to remember to photograph the stain
Hello read-a-thoners I'm really excited to be hosting the Hour 6 mini-challenge Through the Tea Leaves. This activity is something I do at school to bring out the creativity in the kids, to make them think and imagine their characters, build their resilience and also their confidence.

My character, Del Jordan from Lives of Girls and Women
It is a drawing activity where you will draw the face of a character from your current read, now I'm know some of you immediately will want to shrink away, but plaease stay for just a few moments longer and hear me out. The secret of this activity is that you do not need to be able to draw, a picture will form in front of you and you are simply lining that image for everyone to see.

Believe me I cannot draw a thing-in fact I drew a tree on the board at school the other day and the kids thought it was a peacock!
What do you need:
One wet (not too wet) teabag (coffee and ink also work here), a piece of paper, a black pen (a biro will do).

1. Make yourself a cup of tea
2. When the tea is sufficiently stewed for your taste, strain the tea bag and place it upon the piece of paper.
3. Leave it for a moment or two (this will depend on the thickness of your paper) and dispose of the teabag.
4. We are now interested in the stain, move it around, view it from different angles, you are looking for a face, a face of a character from the book you are currently reading. (Whilst my stain was damp, I move the paper around which changed the shape of the stain a little and ended up providing the character's plaits)
5. Enjoy your cup of tea whilst the stain dries (if you are impatient like I was, use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process).
6. Now with a black pen sketch in the face of your character - use as much or as little detail as you like.
7. Take a picture, create a post on your blog or twitter acount and leave the link in the comments or on my twitter page @katrinasreads

I will select, at random, one participant to recieve a band new copy of TEA Obreht's novel The Tiger's Wife plus a few other tea goodies.

Hour 4

I've only managed to read for 1hr and 44 mins so far, but I have been cheerleading and entered two mini challenges so far, plus got two loads of washing done.
Here is my entry for Capricious Reader's spine poetry challenge (I'm no poet, but like a challenge):
Where I belong:
A single pebble,
Rivers of London.
The Maze Runner

I will be back in hour 6 with my own challenge :)

24 Hour read-a-thon starts :) 

I'm reading, hosting a mini challenge and cheering for Team Owl today, this is my starting spot.
 1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I'm in the grey and gloomy UK.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Iron Man by Ted Hughes, I read the first chapter months ago and then misplaced it.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? My Curly Wurly, it is in the fridge so that the chocolate and caramel are cold and crisp.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! This is probably my sixth readathon, I took a book blog break which lasted about two years, I'm returning to the fold this week. I'm also studying for an MA in literature so this is a great opportunity to read some lighter books.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?  Previously I gave myself eye strain so I have an audiobook available if needed. I've also got lots of fruit and healthy snacks so I don't feel bloated or have a sugar crash.
I've added a few
Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women - I'm starting with this as it is short but has small print.
John Green and David Levith, Will Grayson, Will Grayson - two authors I've been meaning to read for a while.
Kendare Blake, Anna Dressed in Blood - I saw this on a suggested reads post so thought I'd addd it to my options.
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row - a book I've been meaning to read forever.
John Hersey, A Single Pebble - highly recommended by someone on my course.
Edna O'Brein, In the Forest - a 1001 book and a bookcrossing book which I've had for way too long.
Ted Hughes, Iron Man - its tiny and has large print for when I am getting tired.
Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London - a school friend has been raving about this series.
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese - a graphic novel for the tired hours, another books which has sat on mount tbr too long.
Ari Folman and David Polonsky, Waltz with Bashir - a graphic novel borrowed from a friend for the tired hours.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Dystopia Challenge 2013

As I have just restarted blogging after a few years out of the mix I thought a good way to meet some new bloggers and find some of the old ones I loved was to join a reading challenge, just one mind as I tend to get carried away.
I noticed I had a button for the 2011 Dystopia challenge so I followed that and discovered to my delight that it is still up and running over at Book Ardour. So I'm plunging in. I have read a few dystopian novels this year, Brave New World and Farenheit 451 but no where near my usual quantity. I'm signing up for ASocial, 5 dystopian novels.

A few potential reads:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy READ
The Trial, Kafka
The Maze Runner, James Dashner (I have the other 2 books in the series if I enjoy this) READ
The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
Wool, Hugh Howey

Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi

The perils of amazon shopping (you can buy a book in under 20 seconds, which is never good for a booklover's purse and TBR stacks) meant that I bought this book completely by mistake. I was meant to buy another title, The Impressionist, but my brain got muddled and this arrived on the doorstop.

Than a strange occurance arrived, I read a book I had bought within 2 weeks of it arriving rather than the usual 2 years!

Having a father who left, left again and then left again I was dubious about reading a book about a man leaving his wife and kids. Written for the apparently 'lost generation of men' who refrain from growing up and taking their responsibilities seriously. I read this wanting to stick my two fingers up to it, expecting to be angry, looking forward to criticising it.

Instead, I was presented with beuatifully written prose, a smart quick pace, tender moments of day-to-day family life which appear differently under the lens if you know they will never be experienced again. At 155 pages this snapshot of one evening held many years in its grip. Yes, he was an idiot man-child, but he expressed it beautifully.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Dewey's Read-a-thon

My mini challenge can be found here

It's been years since I posted on this blog but I really wanted to participate in the read-a-thon next weekend so I decided to restart it. I miss blogging my thoughts on books, although I read far less nowdays as I am studying for my MA (strange that I am getting an MA in literature which leads me to read less!) and I have much more responsibility at work. I also miss all of the book blogs that I was still reading until google reader disappeared, I really need to find another reader facility and work out how to use my twitter account!

I haven't figured out which books I will read yet but I like to grab a selection of short books so that I feel I have achieved a lot in the time given - it will be a luxury for me to be able to read for one hour a book of my own choosing, let alone for a whole day.

EDITED: My stack of reads
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row - a book I've been meaning to read forever.
John Hersey, A Single Pebble - highly recommended by someone on my course.
Edna O'Brein, In the Forest - a 1001 book and a bookcrossing book which I've had for way too long.
Ted Hughes, Iron Man - its tiny and has large print for when I am getting tired.
Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London - a school friend has been raving about this series.
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese - a graphic novel for the tired hours, another books which has sat on mount tbr too long.
Ari Folman and David Polonsky, Waltz with Bashir - a graphic novel borrowed from a friend for the tired hours.

Also, I'm now on twitter (I just posted my first tweet!) follow me @katrinasreads