Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

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To all of you who celebrate Christmas… Merry Christmas!

I hope that everyone receives plenty of books and book tokens and has a wonderful day wherever you are in the world.

Blog hugs! Love you all xxx

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Literary Blog Hop 2-5 December

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What is one of your literary pet peeves?  Is there something that writers do that really sets your teeth on edge?  Be specific, and give examples if you can.

 

I’ve seen the Literary Blog Hop in passing before, but seeing as I’m getting back onto the blogging bandwagon, I thought I’d join in and participate in something new.

I hope my blog is covered by the ‘literary’ blog hop as I have never done this one before… I read a wide range and so mine fits into both literary and non-literary, and rather depends on the mood I’m in at the time.

It’s a hard question actually as I tend to try and concentrate on the positives and if the book is good enough, little peeves sink into the background. If the book is full of peeves, I will throw the thing over my shoulder and move onto something new.

There are a few things that do press my buttons.

1. Pseudo Literary

Pseudo literary books are those whose author’s think they’re really good, beautifully written, significant works of art – when they are in fact a load of complete and utter tripe from the paint by numbers category. Example: The Lovely Bones. Sebold’s overuse of horrific similes and metaphors – such as buttering bread with tears and eyes popping out like olives. I like fiction to be honest – an author should do what they do best.

Which takes me onto…

2. Similes and Metaphors

In my opinion these should be left subtle, slipped in and natural. They should not stand out like a sore thumb. Not everything is like something else. Sometimes when you bleed, you just bleed. It does not exit your veins like a firework or a blossoming flower, or however Kate Mosse described it in Labyrinth. It doesn’t add anything to the imagery or my imagination.

It’s kind of a personal peeve – some authors seem to be able to do it a lot and do it well, some people just cannot. Once again, I think authors should stick to what they do best and stop trying too hard.

3. No Chapters

I like chapters. I like knowing when to take a break and if I’ll have time to read on. It’s more organised. Some books do just start on a new page but have no chapter heading – that is okay, but it is when they have nothing but perhaps your usual space between text. I also really don’t like fiction books that have long chapters split up into mini-chapters. I don’t get the point in that.

The above three are my main peeves about the writing or construction of the story itself, I have others like rambling passages and pointless character development that doesn’t develop anywhere… but I don’t want to go on for a year and a day boring you with every min-peeve of mine. (I am a grumpy old beak.)

The following peeves aren’t so much about the writing, but the construction of the book – because I need to get these off my chest.

4. The Printed Text Itself

a) I do not like when there are double spaces between each line, usually with fairly short books. Am I being tricked into thinking a short story is longer? I find it very hard to physically read anyway. It is like both my eyes go in opposite directions and the sentences just disappear off the page.

b) Blurry, bold print that makes me squint. I think that as a reader, I shouldn’t be spending half my concentration just trying to process the word visually.

c) Shoddily put together books that fall apart at the flick of a page. If I’m going to pay £7.99 for a new book, (and heaven knows how much more after the VAT goes up to 20%), I at least expect the book not to disintegrate onto my face in bed as I read it. Penguin Classics are the most expensive, with the flimsiest paper quality and they usually fall apart before anyone else.

d) Books that lack descriptions of what it is about, even a hint but consist of over-zealous praise of the author’s past work. I am not going to buy it, or read it or ever pick it up unless I know what it is about.

e) When so called ‘introductions’ do not warn of spoilers to people who are unaware that introductions shouldn’t be read until the end – and when the first sentence contains a clanger of a spoiler. This happened to me with Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Vintage classic with Monica Ali writing the intro.

f) Books that are claimed by publishers to be ‘just like [insert name of really well known classic here]’ because most of the time they aren’t and even if they are – if someone told me that so-and-so book is good as Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

So, those are my pet peeves. Authors and publishers, beware – I am not the forgiving type! What peeves you off when you read a book?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Has She Flown the Coop?

No, here I am.

I took a long and entirely unexpected break from blogging – well not just blogging specifically but basically the online social scene on a whole. I’m not going to go into it for personal reasons, but I think I just needed a break and to draw together the fragments of my brain. I haven’t been reading much in the last few months and I haven’t even been updating my spreadsheet either. Horror. I would call it a complete reading funk and in a way, a loss of confidence in my self. I didn’t feel like communicating in the written form for a long while.

However – I’ve decided that enough is enough – no more faffing around moaning all the time. Time to get back into books, back into blogging and just back to normality really. I have also been trying (and failing) to correct my ridiculous sleep pattern. For the past five years I’ve been trying to live in multiple time zones, which I can tell you – does not lead to a healthy lifestyle.

Anyway, enough of that… let’s just look back and see what I’ve read since I last updated this poor dusty blog in September…

Well, there was -

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian which I actually read for Unputdownables Book Swap and should have posted a review back in September which I feel to no end, quite guilty about.

The New Jackals by Simon Reeve – a Non-Fiction book about Ramzi Yousef and Osma Bin Laden, written before the 9/11 attacks and so kind of spooky.

Irresistible by Mary Balogh which was a historical romance of the entirely cheesey sort and I admit… I really enjoyed it!

Otherland: City of the Golden Shadow (Book 1) by Tad Williams – a sci-fi which took me a month to read but it was really very good. It had been on my TBR for over ten years so I’m glad to finally be able to say I’ve read it.

The Hidden Roads: A Memoir of Childhood by Kevin Crossley Holland who is one of my favourite YA authors.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks which I didn’t think was as good as Year of Wonders by the same author.

and finally…

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor the book I have been wanting to read for ages and ages and finally managed to get through the library.

I have also acquired a horrific amount of books during this period, I have no idea what my TBR looks like now as I have not updated it. In fact, I can’t even remember what I have bought apart from the fact that I have no room for any of them whatsoever and they have been growing up in precarious piles all over the place. I don’t know what to do with them.

I shall try my best to review some of those books which I think are really worth reading. Also I would like to say – that I really want to change the way I review books, in relation to the rating. The more I think of it, the more inadequate giving a book a star rating seems to be. It just doesn’t cover it. Yet I still want to be able to give some indication as to how much I liked a book and how much I’d recommend it.

Aaaaaaaanyway… I decided I should do a… vlog. Yes. Unfortunately my webcam doesn’t have a mic so hah, I can’t talk. So instead I filmed myself reading my current book Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw. Yes, yes, I know – very festive.

So, here is almost twenty minutes of looking at the top of my head, watching me read a book. It is very boring I admit, probably the most boring vlog out there, in fact I can hardly call it a vlog really because I only did it because I was curious what I looked like when I’m just doing normal things like reading. I keep looking up to see how long it’s been filming for, and to reply to messages on Facebook. Other then that it is the top of my head bobbing up and down.

I suspect none of you are going to sit around for twenty minutes looking at my crooked parting – but I guess this is the question – what do you do when you read? I am usually in front of my laptop because if I sit anywhere more comfortable I fall asleep.

I hope all of you are well, and for those celebrating Christmas that you’re having a good festive season and got all your presents together!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Review: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

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  • star1 star1 star1 star1 star1
  • Genre: Modern Classic
  • Published: 1951
  • Pages: 160

 

 

The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles ended two years ago, but a chance encounter with her husband and then herself ignites the bed of jealousy again. 

This is my third Greene and has I think, cemented my admiration for this author forever. It is his writing that I love first. It feels as if Greene rolls every word around in his mouth before carefully placing them down on the paper before him. He writes with all the delicate craft of a sculptor, chipping and polishing away so that there are no superfluous words or phrases. Each scene is carefully layered and there are so many parts I wish now I hate noted down. This book begs to be re-read just so I can appreciate it all again.

It is narrated by Maurice Bendrix who is an author and through the book he reflects  on the process of his writing and the difficulties with it that he has especially during and after the affair. The is a strange kind of consciousness in it – as if Greene himself is discussing writing the book whilst writing it himself.

The End of the Affair is one of the novels where Catholicism plays a main part. In the two other books I have read – Brighton Rock and The Quiet American religion has played an important or elemental part in the story. Rather then portraying characters of staunch faith however, they may be atheists, almost contemptuous of God’s existence. The struggle with doubt and the temptation of sin play important roles within his novels.

Another theme that runs through these three books is obsessive, almost destructive love. In Brighton Rock Pinkie marries Rose because he thinks she has seen something that might incriminate him. Rose shows him devotional love despite how unkind he is to her. Thomas Fowler from The Quiet American is rather pathetically in love with Phuong, perhaps as a means to cling onto youth and usefulness. In The End of the Affair it is Maurice Bendrix’s jealousy that infects his love.

An interesting parallel in The End of the Affair, is that Bendrix as an author is described to be like a God in his ability to create a world and characters, pushing them around the storyboard and being able to change them at his will. Sarah also refers to Bendrix throughout their affair as ‘You’ with the capitalisation. At the heart of this book is the struggle between faith and doubt – mortal and immortal love.

I am not a religious person and you don’t have to be to enjoy this book. Greene is simply a very good writer who is not pretentious and it doesn’t feel as if he tries to be literary. He has a strong voice and an independent style of writing – a confident writer who knows his craft well. That’s what I admire about Graham Greene. Some authors just have it, some authors have to try to have it. Greene has got it.

Also, as a classic I think that it will still resonate with people today – Greene is able to tap into the human heart and in the end – society may have changed a lot but as people, we are all the same and so the range of emotions, the kinds of characters that you meet in this book will still be entirely relevant today and tomorrow and hopefully in the next hundred years.

A word of warning to those who read the Vintage edition of this book with the introduction by Monica Ali. I know you are not supposed to read Introductions first so I consciously avoided reading it but I couldn’t help but glance past the giant clanger of a spoiler that is the very first sentence. I wouldn’t say it ruined the book for me at all because it is not a book with a massive plot and so there is not much really to spoil. You read it for the writing and the deeply human characters. it however took away from me the experience of discovery, mystery and hope that I would have liked for myself. 

Thank you Monica Ali, from the bottom of my heart. Just watch me throw Brick Lane to the very bottom of my TBR pile. That is a rather lame revenge but there you go. I’m sure I’ll forgive her.

I’d like to thank a Mr Forder, who gave me Brighton Rock at my old school’s summer fair not long before I left for university. He said I should read it, that it was very good and I did'n’t do so until a good few years later. The book had a mummified fly in one of the pages but it was my first introduction to Graham Greene and I don’t think I’d have read him without the recommendation.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Andrew Taylor: Author Review (Crime/Mystery)

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The Anatomy of Ghosts is Andrew Taylor’s newest book, out in the UK on the 2nd September and I won’t be getting it because of this flaming ban I’m on. I will however, I promise you, be getting it in October without fail. It is a historical mystery/ghost story, set in 1786, in Jerusalem College, Cambridge. You can read more about it at the author’s website here.

Now, I haven’t reviewed a book by him yet for this blog, but let me assure you he is one of my favourite authors on the planet. I love him. Yes, yes – I do. There are some authors who I just click with. I know that when I open one of their books, I' can pretty much be guaranteed to have a fantastic time reading it. Andrew Taylor is the author for me.

He writes mostly historical mysteries and psychological thrillers set in England. Andrew Taylor has won many awards, several of which are from the Crime Writer’s Association including the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. Despite this, he still has yet to achieve the kind of popularity that other crime writers such as Ian Rankin or P. D James have acquired. He might be underrated, but at least he is recognised.

One of the things I love about Andrew Taylor is that he is able to meld an almost literary style of writing with a sharp, page turning mystery which in my short experience of crime fiction, doesn’t always occur together. His speciality is creating an atmosphere that just sets you on edge. Taylor is able to create a balance that looks so easy when you read it, but must be incredibly hard to maintain whilst writing it.

He is able to eek out the story at just the right pace. They are neither slow or heart-racingly fast paced. He keeps you turning the pages again and again and again, because you want to, not because you need to. His characters are always well developed and they have a real sense of Being.  He does this through small things so their development is imperceptible. He is able to get so much about a character across, in just a few words – a movement, or an expression, a way of doing something – that you feel them instantly.

Andrew Taylor has the perfect balance between good writing, good plotting and good characterisation down to an absolute tee. I feel like I can trust him completely to give me a book that I’ll love. At least, he hasn’t failed me yet and I just know he won’t ever.

Here are some of my favourite books – these aren’t just my favourite books by Andrew Taylor – but are all part of my ‘favourite books’ list. Click on the covers to be taken to the Goodreads page for a description of each of hem.

The Roth trilogy, which tells the story of a serial killer.

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judgement

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The Four Last Things begins in the present day when the young daughter of a vicar is kidnapped. This one feels more like your conventional police mystery however it is not. The following two books go back in time, exploring and digging through a family’s history to find the answers behind what could make such a person do what they grew up to do.

The American Boy, or The Unpardonable Crime as it is known in the US is a standalone historical mystery.

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The American Boy features Edgar Allen Poe as a minor character. Nothing much is known about the famous poet’s childhood and the conditions in which he died are mysterious. All that is known is that as a boy he spent a little time in an English boarding school. Andrew Taylor imagined what happened to Poe in school and what lead to his inspirations as a famous writer later in life. It is narrated by a new master in the boarding school – Thomas Shield. He becomes teacher to the young Poe and his friend, the shy Charles Frant. Shield finds him self embroiled in the Frant family after a mysterious murder ties them all together.

The Lydmouth series is Andrew Taylor’s long running series set in a fictional town during the 1950’s.

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The series title ‘Lydmouth’ is surprisingly not after the name of a character but after the town it is set in. Lydmouth is set somewhere on the border between Wales and England. In this way, it is not the conventional police crime series as it might first appear to be. I have only read the first two (of eight) and they are clearly not whodunits. The books are written from multiple perspectives in short chapters that keep the story moving very steadily. Two of the main re-occurring characters are Inspector Thornton and Jill Francis, a journalist. They are both introduced as newcomers to the town in the first book and I get the feeling that this is a series that slowly grows in strength from book to book – slowly building character relationships across the series.

These are good introductions to Andrew Taylor – they will show you what he is capable of. All three are quite different – which is another thing I really love about him is that they are all quite different from each other and he seems to be quite a strong, independent and imaginative author.

Let me know if you’ve read Andrew Taylor as I’d love to read your reviews – good or bad. I hope that I’ve been able to introduce at least one person to this fantastic author. I think if you enjoy mysteries, especially those set in a different time to ours – ones that can sometimes be a little dark – though not very violent, ones that will keep you good company that you will enjoy from beginning to end – then you’ll like Andrew Taylor.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Ban Begins

image The September book ban, hosted by Bella starts today. Right this moment. Now.

I haven’t actually bought a book in possibly over a week. Did I buy any books last week? I can’t remember, anyway the important thing is that my ban holds now and I need to keep to this ban until I have read a sizeable hole in my bookshelf. As I am a slow, slow, slow reader this might take me much more then a month, but any decrease I can only see as a good thing.

So for the short term I am banned completely for the month of September. This will not result in another splurge of 15 books (I found that for 75 years an independent bookseller is still very much alive about half an hour’s walk from me that I have never known about until a couple of months ago.) I looked pretty much like the poor fellow in the picture here, walking around with books piled up under my chin.

Anyway, my TBR is officially 435 books long now and you can see a list of them all here.

I did receive a book from Wallace for the Crazy Book Swap she is hosting on her blog, but I have not included that on my TBR because I’m going to read it next and it isn’t the average book that gets stuck in the pile waiting to be read.

Wallace sent me Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian.

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Midwives, Chris Bohjalian's fifth novel, is the story of two women: Sibyl Danforth, a lay midwife in rural Vermont, and her daughter, Connie. The nexus of this cautionary tale is an emergency Caesarean section Sibyl performs during a home birth that goes disastrously wrong. Believing the mother is already dead from a stroke, Sibyl operates and later finds herself on trial for killing the woman. The compelling story of her trial and its aftermath comes to us from Connie, who believes "this is my story, too." In fact, Connie's reaction to her mother's ordeal is to go to medical school and become an obstetrician. The book raises provocative issues about medical ethics and the limits of risk. - Description from Goodreads.

 

Other then this, I have no real plans what books I’ll be reading in September. I do have a couple of piles sprouting up downstairs that I can’t move upstairs still. I don’t know whether I should work on the piles or the bookcase. Maybe I’ll read a Sebastian Barry – or a Yoko Ogawa. I’ve been in the mood for Japanese literature lately. Maybe I’ll read a crime, or maybe a romance by Eva Ibbotson. I’ve been feeling like a YA romance for a while now. Who knows what I’ll read. Your guess is as good as mine.

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After September there are some books I do desperately want. I want to replace my Jane Austen omnibus edition with the Modern Library editions because I love the feel of those books. So they won’t really alter my TBR, although all together will be slightly bigger then my bricky omnibus edition. It will be easier to read them as separate volumes and I do want to be able to say that “I have read Jane Austen”. As it is, I have only read Pride and Prejudice, somewhat inspired by Colin Firth.

 

 

imageSecondly, I want Andrew Taylor’s (a favourite author of mine) new book The Anatomy of Ghosts which is published on the 2nd September and Carin has already hit me over the head with her truncheon for trying to pre-order it. Now I’ll be waiting very impatiently until October when I can get my greedy hands on this book. Taylor writes mysteries – most of them historical and he excels at creating a killer atmosphere that you could use to sharpen a knife. I have been looking forward to this book since last year! See what I sacrifice for this ban? To think that others will be reading this whilst I won’t be able to even crack open a page.

However after these, there will be no little, white beautiful packages gracing my doorstep. Alas, the Book Depository and I will have to part ways. It has been a long, committed relationship but it has turned slightly abusive and so we must move on.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Review: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

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star1star1star1star1half star

  • Genre: Magical Realism
  • Published: 1985 (Japan) 1991 (English language)
  • Pages: 400

 

It’s going to be very hard to review this, because I don’t want to tell you what this book is about. There are two parts – “Hard-boiled Wonderland” and the “End of the World”. I do not want to tell you too much, because as with every Murakami I think it is as much your own experience as a reader that is important. So to give you too many clues would lessen that experience. It is a footpath you must explore yourself, unaware of what you’ll meet down the line.

It is described as sci-fi and futuristic but I think it is much more about the modern world, just simplified down. The book was written in 1985, in which time Japan was experiencing a growth in information based economy. I think it is important to be aware of the context in which it is set. 1985 is my birth year so I don’t remember much of this decade – let alone what it would have been like in Japan.

During the 1980s, the Japanese economy shifted its emphasis away from primary and secondary activities (notably agriculture, manufacturing, and mining) to processing, with telecommunications and computers becoming increasingly vital. Information became an important resource and product, central to wealth and power. The rise of an information-based economy was led by major research in highly sophisticated technology, such as advanced computers. The selling and use of information became very beneficial to the economy. Tokyo became a major financial center, home of some of the world's major banks, financial firms, insurance companies, and the world's largest stock exchange, the Tokyo Securities and Stock Exchange. - Wikipedia

For the sake of convenience, I will say that this book is about the juxtaposition of opposites, but that isn’t what it is really about at all. It is simply and purely, Murakami and if you’re a fan of his I think you’ll love this book.

It’s not quite as twisted as Kafka on the Shore, it feels a bit more fantasy then the other books of his I have read (Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood and After Dark) but in other ways, it feels less surreal and the weird feels normal. Murakami has the ability to write something which is completely bizarre and otherworldly, but it doesn’t always feel as weird as it should.

In some ways, it’s a bit easier to perhaps understand then Kafka or Wind-up, but maybe that is because I have started to become more familiar with Murakami’s work. It will still leave you with questions and perhaps with the feeling you haven’t understood it all completely, but that doesn’t entirely matter. There is, I think, no one answer or  interpretation to any Murakami’s writing.

As with all of his books so far, he makes reference to a lot of novels, a lot of music and a lot of old Hollywood films. I always feel that to get an even better understanding of Murakami, I need to read every book mentioned, listen to every song by every artist and watch every film that gets featured. With this book in particular, I think reading Rudin by Ivan Turgenev would be quite useful for when I eventually re-read this book as I hope to do one day. It is not necessary to read any of the other novels he mentions, it is just that he inspires within me the desire to read further afield.

Murakami has introduced me to a lot of music. Since reading After Dark I decided to pay attention to the artists and tracks referenced – this time around I discovered Bob Dylan. I know he’s been around for years and years but I never actually really bothered to listen to his music. So I got a couple of his albums and I can’t believe what rock I have been living under. Some of them are of course familiar, I’d just never bothered to really pay attention. Anyway, I shall leave you all with Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, so here you go…

 

This is part of Dolce Belleza’s Japanese Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Crazy Book Swap and the Book Ban, again.

imageWallace over at Unputadownables is hosting this cool book swap where we send one of our favourites to someone else and receive one in return. Now I can’t discuss what book I’ll be sending because it’s a secret (so shhh!) but it is just so hard to narrow a favourite book down to just one. I keep chopping and changing between what to send.

I don’t know what I’ll be receiving either – not even the genre which is quite exciting. I’m quite a reserved reader and prefer to stick to books and genres I think I’ll enjoy. It is a change once in a while to just hang it all and read a book even if it’s out of my comfort zone. I would like to be a more open reader.

(Sign ups unfortunately closed I’m a little late with announcing this!)

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And in September I will once again be going on another ban. I know, you’re probably thinking you’ve heard about this before but this time I’m back on it and I’m going to get these books DOWN because I have a slight situation where I have run out of shelf room so I need to read and release books back into the wild so I can fit some of my more recent acquisitions in.

My rules are:

NO MORE BOOKS! Full Stop.

Don’t even bother offering to send me one, even if it is for free I do not have room. My doors are closed. The windows are barred. No books shall enter this building from henceforthwith! (I mean it!!!)

The ban is kindly being hosted by Bella from A Girl Reads a Book, who after much nudging (berating) from Carin decided she needed to do something about her 2800 odd TBR.

Carin has more or less volunteered become our Ban Officer. She’ll be beating us into shape, chasing after anyone who dares so much as look at a book with her whip. No books shall get past her powerful detectors and any criminal book activity will be squashed out! We’ll be up every morning and marched around the block in the opposite direction of all those bookshops and temptations.

Any discretions and Carin will have us strapped into a straight jacket and sent to the little padded room.

Who else will be joining me in Book Ban Boot Camp this September? Are you up for it, or maybe you’re too chicken?

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*Carin is actually a very nice person and I am sure would not dream about chasing anyone around with a whip.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

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star1 star1 star1 star1 star1

  • Genre: Japanese Literature
  • Published: 2003 (in original Japanese)
  • Pages: 180

 

He is a mathematical genius who only has an eighty minute memory. She is a kind, caring and young woman who comes to be his Housekeeper. He forgets who she is after eighty minutes, but they communicate and build a beautiful friendship through the eloquence of numbers and equations.

How can I possibly put this book into my own words? I can’t begin to imagine I could capture or convey to any of you, how this book made me feel. It took me two days to read and I wish I could have taken more time to read it – but I simply couldn’t put it down. The pages seemed to turn themselves and I didn’t really feel like I was reading at all.

This book moved me. It is a small ripple that travels a long way across calm waters. It is nothing ground shaking, nothing that makes you tumble and dive – but something that makes a certain small, but important part of you shift inside.

It is on the surface a simple story about a friendship that grows in an unlikely place. I love these kinds of stories – in books or films, because though they are simple, they can mean a lot to you and touch you very deeply.

It is told in first person and none of the characters are referred to by their names. Even the Housekeeper’s son is given a name other then his own. The Professor is obsessed with maths – it is all he has left to him. The Housekeeper has to re-introduce herself to him every eighty minutes. They make a friendship through the connections between themselves and numbers.

You do not have to know anything about maths to enjoy this book – although it did bring back some vague memories from maths lessons at school. I used to think maths as boring, and rather frustrating perhaps because I could never appreciate maths for itself. The Housekeeper herself is ignorant about maths, but when she met the Professor she expressed an interest and start to learn through the Professor.

I loved this book – it touched me deeply and I’m going to be hunting down more of Yoko Ogawa’s books from now on. Hotel Iris is next on my list but unfortunately there is this thing called a book ban and I’m on it until I can fit more books into my bookshelf.

I am taking part in Dolce Bellazza’s Japanese Reading Challenge and this is my first book, yipee! I know I’m a late starter but finally I have my foot in!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Writing the Blog

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Image thanks to Wordle

How do you write your blog?

I’m just sitting here wondering, how do other people write their blogs and what do you get from it? We all have different methods of going about things. Lately I have been going through some Writer’s Block, or Blogger’s Block and whatever I say just comes out as a mangle – well I suppose to me anyway. Maybe it’s a kind of Writer’s dysmorphia where everything I put down looks like it’s been written by a semi-literate five year old. Fortunately I am getting back on track but unfortunately I have a small pile of uncompleted and need-to-start blog posts that I need to write including the last two Harry Potter review blogs so apologies for the higgle-de-piggledy-ness of it all!

So, dear readers, I have some questions for you all:

  1. Do you plan each blog post before you even start writing it? If so how – on a piece of paper or on your computer?
  2. Do you take notes whilst you are reading purposely to help with writing your review?
  3. Do you have a special format for writing reviews so they all have a similar structure to them all?
  4. Do you write a lot of blog posts in advance or do you just write them and then publish them the same day?
  5. What do you do when you just can’t think of anything to write – have you found some books harder to review then others?
  6. What inspires you when writing a blog post?
  7. Do you try to aim for a certain style, or voice or do you just let whatever is inside you flow naturally? Casual as opposed to a more formal essay-mode style?
  8. How long does it typically take you to write a blog post? Do you post it immediately or later?
  9. Are you using Blogger or Wordpress – or anything else? What made you choose that service over the other? Have you used any other blogging websites other then the one you’re using now?
  10. Where do you write it? Do you use a blog editor like Scribefire or Windows Live Writer? Do you save the initial body to a Word document or do you just write and edit it online?
  11. How has your blog changed since you first started it?

To answer my own questions:

1. I don’t sit down and plan everything I post but I often write and re-write it as I go. I’m a pretty rotten planner – never really been able to because I need to see something in its shape before I can really decide what I want to do. So often the first thing I do is just write something fairly rough out and then go back through it and fill in the gaps.

2. No but I often think I should. Sometimes if I leave a review too long and I lose the immediacy of my reaction to the book. Notes would help me jog my memory about how I felt.

3. No, I also think I should try and structure my reviews more. I’ve never been very good at structure because I’m not very good at planning. I usually try to add structure in after I’ve written it – by re-editing it, moving paragraphs around when I float from one thought to the other.

4. No I don’t really – well, yes and no. I have several drafts I’m still writing but I don’t have any completed ones ready and waiting to be posted.

5. Some books are easier to review because I have more to say about them but some books I find hard – because I don’t like talking too much about them due to spoilers. Some books I just plain enjoyed but didn’t resound too deeply with me. If I’m going through writer’s block then I try to write something else, something fresh. If I just sit there trying to force myself to write something it never comes out how I want it. I tend to go off on tangents and ramble a lot and that causes me to lose my way.

6. Inspiration comes from the books I’m reading, other blogs and lately chatting on twitter to all the other bloggers. I really love twitter and it’s a great way to connect with people, plus very interesting to just watch conversations between people.

7. I don’t write formally, but I do try to have a more open, conversational style I suppose. When I’m communicating on message boards etc I even add in a lot of the ums and ers because I tend to just let my fingers type whatever is in my head. On a blog I suppose I might edit those out and I round them off a bit because in the end, a blog is more self indulgent and I am writing with the aim that it’s going to be read.

8. It can take anywhere between half an hour to a couple of hours – but then I might write it in spots and spurts throughout the day or I might sit for a solid amount of time to write it all out.

9. I chose Blogger because it was the one I knew about and it seems the easiest. I did sign up to Wordpress who at the time had a better choice of themes and customisations but it felt complicated and I was used to Blogger.

10. I use Windows Live Writer myself but there are others like Scribefire which you install to your browser and you can just hit F8 and it will pop up however you want it – full screen in another tab or split screen so you can blog and browse websites without switching between tabs. I liked Scribefire but had problems with the titles coming out mangled when I published. I admit I haven’t really used it much since because Windows Live Writer I just find so much easier. It’s a programme that you install to your computer and I find it so much easier to use. I like how you get a full screen to write in rather then that annoying little box.

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11. My blog’s only been around for about three months now. Before I used to take part in more memes like the blogger hop and that but I’ve cut down on those now a bit mainly because otherwise it’d all be just too samey. I have a little bit more confidence now and not bothered about making a post every day. I’ve met some fantastic bloggers out there and it’s great feeling more part of the community. I kinda have more of a ‘feeling’ for my blog now and less floaty. How it’ll be in a year’s time though is anyone’s guess!

marble chop

So how do you write your blog and one last question… what does your blog mean to you?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Character Connection – Hazel

character connection

Character Connection is hosted by IntrovertedJen over at The Introverted Reader every Thursday.

We all have characters we love. Let's spotlight these fantastic creations! Whether you want to be friends with them or you have a full-blown crush on them, you know you love them and want everyone else to love them too!

My last character connection was with the four most important men in Harry Potter and this time it is about Hazel from Watership Down. If you haven’t read or heard very much about Watership Down then it is an anthropomorphic novel about a group of rabbits who escape human destruction of their home. It isn’t a cute little story about cute little bunnies – it is aimed more at older young adults to adult readers.

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Hazel is a kind rabbit who is clever and quick witted. He may not be the strongest in physical strength, but he becomes a good leader because of his kindness and his intelligence.

I have always liked him because of his deep inward strength, he is a rabbit you could rely on. It’s a funny thing thinking of rabbits – they, at first glance, look like cute insipid little things. They are not. When I was younger we had a pet rabbit – mean little thing she was but very clever and mischievous. Rabbits have often been shown as clever tricksters in literature – think about Br’er Rabbit and even Bugs Bunny – neither of them are what you’d call cute and fluffy.

Hazel is such a strong character and he held the little group of rabbits – consisting mostly of runts – together. He is brave, honourable and he always has the group in his mind, rather then himself. He is a brilliant leader – not arrogant or power-hungry like the mean old General Woundwort. He is a fine example of what a good leader should always be – whether human or rabbit.

A Spoiler…

I’d seen the 1978 film before I’d read the book and so my image of Hazel has always been from this most magnificent of films. I’ll never forget the song Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel when Hazel is shot that time. When I read the book I had that song going through my head.

Here is the song Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel, it still makes me tear up just listening to it!

If you haven’t seen the film, I strongly recommend it – it follows the book as well as it can. I love the watercolour backgrounds and the detail of the rabbits and that for the most part, they act like rabbits and not cute cartoon versions of the things.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Review: Trespass by Rose Tremain

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  • star1 star1 star1 half star
  • Genre: General Fiction/Literary (Man Booker Long listed)
  • Published: 2010
  • Pages: 253

 

I decided to read this partly because it’s on the Man Booker Longlist and I’m never usually “with it” enough to have read any of them. I hope very much that Trespass wins.

Trespass is a difficult story to describe. In short, it is about a struggling antiques dealer who decides to move to France, near his sister, to get away from everything in London he has come to hate. Whilst trying to find the perfect, ideal house, he bumbles into a lifelong argument between a brother and a sister. Trespass does not refer simply to the physical, territorial of the word – but also the personal and private spaces that we can’t always see. It is a very subtle book – by no means slow moving because the writing is beautiful, but it does not move great distances and is more about the small, delicate interwoven relationships between mother and child, brother and sister.

Rose Tremain is one of my favourite authors and I would not say I have many authors that I would follow to the ends of the earth, but Tremain is one of them.

I have read three of her previous books and loved them all more then this one – which is why I have given it a three point five stars rather then a round four. It’s still a book I would recommend – but not before reading at least one of her others. I would recommend either The Road Home or Restoration to start with, because these are two of my all time favourite books.

Tremain is one of those authors who can bring the three parts of a good book together – good writing, good story and good characters making them some of the most perfectly balanced books I have ever read. She has a unique, quirky voice that is very strong and clear. She approaches her writing not from a face on angle – but just a little to the side, making her books a little unexpected, a little different and not like any other. It’s a style of writing that is very different to others out there, but it isn’t distracting or interfering.

The sibling relationships are dark and dysfunctional. They aren’t particularly likeable because there is something deeply unsettling about their relationships with each other. What I have always loved about Tremain is that she is capable of creating very real, three dimensional characters who aren’t nice all the time. I didn’t think that the characters were quite so well drawn in Trespass as her others, but I’m putting this down to the fact that it is more about the dynamic between brother and sister then the individual characters.

This feeling of trespass pervades through almost every page of the book – like strangling ivy. It’s not a very nice feeling but an effective one and still an enjoyable book because of it. It’s probably more enjoyable for those who already love Tremain rather then newcomers to her books.

I can’t recommend Tremain enough, I think she’s a fantastic author, but this book just doesn’t seem to be up there with the others. That isn’t to say it’s a bad book – I really enjoyed it. Her writing is so good I can practically taste the words in my mouth.

If you haven’t read Tremain before please do check out The Road Home and Restoration. The Road Home is set in modern London about an immigrant from the eastern bloc and Restoration is set during the restoration of King Charles II. Although I enjoyed Trespass, it is a comparatively weaker book to her others.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Unputdownables’ 48 Hour Readathon

imageI had good fun taking part in this, more fun really for following the book blog chat on twitter and feeling like I was reading with people in some joint effort. I didn’t really get much read over the weekend as I was hoping. I think the moment I try to set out to read a lot I go slower then planned, but I did read about 282 pages over the weekend, and for such a slow coach as myself, I’m going to pat myself on the back.

I mentioned in my previous blog post what I have been reading – I am still reading Trespass by Rose Tremain which I’m actually really enjoying and if I hadn’t been trying to read like a cheetah, I might have read less like a snail and finished. But there you go! That serves me right for impatience.

Over July I finished off Magic Kingdom, then stormed through the whole Harry Potter series and chomped through Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones and The Housekeeper and the Professor making up a total of 9 and a bit books which is pretty damn good for me. All together that is 3920 pages. I wish I could do that more often but as I said, I am a snail. I am more molluscan then avian, I should have chosen a different theme for by blog then being ‘The Book Coop’.

I still have to complete my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor (five stars, loved it, magnificent, read it!) never mind the two remaining Harry Potter books. I’m feeling very overwhelmed all of a sudden! So apologies for not being able to link to them at the moment.

I find the problem with being a British/European blogger is that the vast majority of people I know through blogs, Twitter, Goodreads come from the USA which means that I miss out on some of the activity unless I try to exist in all three time zones within the US as well as my own time zone… it is all rather exhausting to say the least. I am a bit of a night owl I admit, but when I wake up the next day I am rather too groggy and the old brain takes a little while to get back into gear – usually waking up in the late evening when I should be getting to bed early.

However, this is what I love about the internet – how international we all are and we can get to know each other even though we’re sitting on opposite sides of the world. How else could I sit down and read here – knowing that someone else, was doing the exact same thing with a different book, but for the same purpose – somewhere around the other side of the world? Not just between England and the USA, but across different parts of Europe and Asia too.

People criticise twitter for various reasons – dumbing down of society, trivialising communication, etc. That might happen on other people’s twitter feeds, but I certainly haven’t noticed it. I feel so much more connected via twitter – with the whole world. It’s like a massive group chat across the globe where everyone is invited. It connects people, it doesn’t trivialise or divide. It is not full of inane text language, in fact it probably helps people to become more articulate because each word has to be considered.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this, especially the #bookblogchat which I wish I could have taken more part in. Only trouble is, the more time I spend staring at twitter, less reading I get done! I think Wallace from Unputdownables is scheduling another blogger chat like this in August though so I shall be keeping a watch out for that. 

I did sit down and read my heart out, I didn’t bother trying to multi-read because I’m no good at that and never have been and it never works so I don’t. I just sat down in the knowledge that others were doing the same and read my 282 pages feeling very happy. I have read so much over the past month and it’s made me more then eager to read more and more and more and try to get this dread TBR pile down to something respectable again.

I do wish I’d picked up the non-fiction I tried multi-reading with though, I really need to get back into that. Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figues is very good and very interesting and it’s really making me want to pick up another Russian. So that is my one regret that I didn’t find time to read a few pages of that in the least.

I hope everyone else that took part in this had a lot of fun and got a lot of books read, or just sat down and read, read, read and enjoyed their wonderful book. I love reading, I love giving myself to a book and I love it when a book receives me whole heartedly and completely. It’s the best ever of feelings.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: Eight Days of Luke – Diana Wynne Jones

image star1star1star1

    • Genre: Children’s Fantasy
    • Published: 1975
    • Pages: 203

I read this to take part in Jenny’s Books Diana Wynne Jones week from the first to the seventh of August. If you don’t know already, as I’m sure this author has cropped up a few times in earlier posts – she is one of my favourite authors. I won’t go on too much about how amazing I think she is and that I think everyone should just drop what you’re reading now and go and read Howl’s Moving Castle. I won’t do that. I’ll just let you know how I found this book.

It is the summer holidays and David Allard has to spend his summer with his awful relatives. He lives with Aunt Dot and Uncle Bernard and his Cousin Ronald and his wife Astrid. They’re all perfectly horrible, so he’s quite glum at the prospect of all those weeks being told to be grateful. Then Luke turns up and David’s summer holidays become a lot more fun – and extremely weird.

Typical of DWJ her books contain shoddy parenting and grumpy, sometimes evil gardeners. What more could you want? This was a fun, imaginative read that I had a great time reading. In typical Diana Wynne Jones fashion the fantasy and the magic just oozes out from around corners. She rarely spends much time explaining things because when you read one of her books you simply, just magically know and I can’t explain how.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book – it’s quite short and so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. It probably isn’t my favourite of hers. One of her flaws is that she does tend to dash things out a little too quickly and this one didn’t seem to have the strength of characterisation that is so strong in the other books I have read. Luke felt a little generic and not as fleshed out as I’d have liked. It is however a good, fun, enjoyable read.

It loosely inspired Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in that he found out his fantastic idea had already been thought up by Diana Wynne Jones. I wonder if the Wallsey in this book is any relation to the town of Wall in Gaiman’s Stardust?

What I do love about her books is that I always feel that they never end and that they just carry on after the pages stop She always leaves you satisfied with the end, but she doesn’t let the characters or the world die, just because that part of the story is over. In that way, her stories are never ending. Diana Wynne Jones created a multi-dimensioned, multi-universed world in Chrestomanci – and in a way that is where all her books are based. In different worlds, different times, split by different histories but all inter-linked. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t need to spend a lot of time explaining the world, because if you read enough of her books, you’re already there.

If you are interested, you can also check out my Time of the Ghost review.

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If you’d like to read more Diana Wynne Jones then I whole heartedly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle, Dogsbody and the Dalemark Quartet (starting with Cart and Cwidder), all of which are my favourite.

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