Sunday, 21 September 2014

Gone reading, USA style

Image from
Holiday times are the best of times. As always, this one feels long overdue and I couldn't be more excited. Tomorrow morning, we're heading off to Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire) for a little while before heading to Washington for another little while before flying home. So there's going to be at least some sun (weather reports are looking iffy right now so if we manage to dodge rain entirely, we'll be lucky, I think), plenty of beer and plenty of food (lobster in particular, I'm a-hoping!). There will be more than my usual volume of reading just because I'm off work and have a few long haul journeys but we'll be doing more walking and seeing than sitting and reading so a mixture is expected.

First up is the trip out, which will probably see me finish World War Z by Max Brooks.  I loved the introduction but then struggled through the next 50 or so pages.  The faux-reporter tone did make everything worryingly realistic but I felt quite detached from the whole thing.  I'm a little over a third of the way in now and I'm enjoying it much more (helped along by the fact that I'm accidentally buddy reading it with Ellie!). 

When I've finished that, I feel like something lighter might well be in order and have Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan lined up on Garfield the Kindle for just that moment.  I also have a whole host of other things, though, so time will tell!  I have just snagged The Dinner by Herman Koch for a bargainous 99p for my Kindle,which I'm dying to read after Hanna reviewed it so that'll probably be on the sooner rather than later list.  Along with We Were Liars by E. Lockhart because it also sounds like the perfect kind of gripping holiday book.  Oh, and I recently bought Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie because I've been craving some Christie and this seems as good a book as any to be my next one!

So basically, I have a lot I want to read amidst the sight-seeing and exploring and I can't wait!  Hope you all have the best fortnight and have lots of bookish gossip for me when I get back!  See you all soon!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review: 'The Lost World' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Yet another Penguin edition
for me to covet
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars 

On a zoology expedition up the Amazon River, Professor Challenger makes an inexplicable discovery. Back in London, his claims are ridiculed throughout the professional community. Reluctantly, he recounts to journalist Edward Malone, "Curupuri is the spirit of the woods, something terrible, something malevolent, something to be avoided. None can describe its shape or nature, but it is a word of terror along the Amazon. Something terrible lay that way. It was my business to find out what it was."

Professor Challenger vows to prove his tale at a zoological meeting, and a party is formed to find the truth. Malone joins adventurer Lord John Roxton and staid professor Summerlee on the mission. They journey to the depths of the Amazon, well provisioned and armed to the teeth. But how little they are prepared for what they find there.


The thing I'm really enjoying listening to audiobooks while driving is that I feel like it's kind of bonus "reading".  I have to drive to and from work so if I'm listening to something that is a little bit less than interesting, I can listen impassively on a journey I'd be making anyway and I find it far less like hard work than I do forcing myself to read something that I'm finding dull.  The upshot is that I'm taking gambles with my choices far more than I do with the books I choose to read, a practice that is encouraged by my local library's slightly random collection of audiobooks.  I'd heard about the Professor Challenger series before but I always figured I'd read the Sherlock Holmes books and might eventually get to The Lost World one day.  My local library had other ideas.

What I find interesting about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing is that his characters are rather complex and, in many ways, not wholly likeable.  Sherlock Holmes is regarded as a British national treasure and yet his genius comes at the expense of social platitudes.  Professor Challenger has major anger management issues and is volatile but he's also vulnerable and is out to prove himself and I couldn't hate him.  Edward Malone is kind of a feeble companion for a budding reporter but he's inoffensive enough - he sets out to find adventure to prove to the woman that he loves that he isn't pedestrian, for heaven's sake, but is at least reasonably bold about it most of the time.  The other two key players (the trigger-happy John Roxton and academic rival Professor Summerlee) are walking stereotypes but not in a way that makes them seem ridiculous, just a little predictable.

So it's a completely random story where a group of grown men go traipsing off into the jungle to see what they can find and maybe prove that Professor Challenger isn't delusional but it's one that doesn't take itself too seriously so it never seems like it's trying too hard or falling over itself for validation.  Maybe because Sir ACD wrote it later in his career when Sherlock Holmes was already a tour de force.  This is the kind of story of exploration and braving new frontiers that you just don't see any more.  There's an innocence about the sort-of-intrepid explorers and the novel itself that's really kind of charming.  Sir ACD (sorry - blame Hanna) doesn't try to come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation as to how there might ever be dinosaurs just hanging out in the jungle because he probably didn't have to.  We know now that the premise was daft but did his original readers in the early 20th century?  Maybe there was still enough of an element of uncertainty that it stopped readers thinking it was bonkers and the cast of academics gave the tale enough gravitas to sweep them away.  Or maybe pre-World War England was prepared to have little fun with what it didn't know about the world.  I'm happy to pretend that either is true.

And what I think really made it for me (yep, another thing) was that, somehow, it's obvious that Sir ACD isn't just trying not to write about modern technology but that it just wasn't there.  There are compasses and maps and ill-timed letters and no cameras with which to prove your experiences in far flung lands and it works perfectly and I fell for it completely.  It doesn't feel like there's a gap where he's dodging some modern creation that would have given his plucky heroes the answer and it just...well, it just works.  I know that the story is faintly ridiculous, even for it's time probably, but this is yet another classic where I can honestly say that I just didn't care.  That's becoming a kind of theme for me - I'll forgive these classic authors their jaunty silliness because the writing is almost always spot on and the themes hark back to a time when plausibility wasn't the key to a good adventure and there were enough unknowns to make filling the gaps with dinosaurs a worthy pastime.

Overall:  If you've run out of Sherlock Holmes mysteries to ponder or even just aren't interested in the nation's favourite detective,  The Lost World is a fun and less murderous way of enjoying some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing and characters.  Vintage adventure fiction at its best, when the Amazon was even more of a mystery than it is now and the simple ideas weren't over-complicated.  Plus, dinosaurs.

Date finished: 25 March 2014
Format: Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from my local library's audiobook site
Genre: Classic; Adventure
Pictured Edition Published:  by Penguin Books in January 2009
Originally published: 1912

Monday, 1 September 2014

R.I.P. IX: Bring on the Goosebumps!

Gorgeous artwork courtesy of
the super talented Abigail Larson
For someone that doesn’t really like scary things, I have been looking forward to the annual R. I. P. revelry rather more than you might think.  Last year, I approached with some trepidation and a degree of scepticism about how easily led I can be when it comes to bookish things online.  This year I at least know that I can survive the Readers Imbibing Peril festivities without major emotional scars and feel positively excited about getting my gothic on.

As we have long since established, I do not read truly scary things.  As the man trying to browse the horror section of Leeds’ Waterstones peacefully last weekend could now tell you after being subjected to my should I/shouldn’t I considerations over The Shining by Stephen King with Ellie and Hanna, poor chap.  I’ll save that “treat” for the R. I. P. X milestone and instead set myself some sensible targets that won’t have me cowering in a corner in desperate need of a hug by 31st October.

As with last year, I'm pitching in with an attempt at PERIL THE FIRST.  I’m away on holiday for a couple of weeks in late September/early October so that means some long haul travel time plus some holiday reading time (although not a massive amount because it’s not really a ‘sit and relax’ type of break…).  It also means that much of my reading will be done in the company of (many) others in well-lit conditions, which may increase my bravery a smidgen.  That plus the fact that I do so love a gothic novel during October makes striving for four books perfectly achievable.  Last year I managed five and I was on holiday during a similar time so the odds are good, friends.

I don't really know quite what I want to read other than that I definitely want to take part in the group read-along of The Haunting of Hill House.  I’ve wanted to read it for ages, it’s on my Classics Club list and I have been saving it for this time of year despite originally digging it out of the box it was living in back in APRIL.  So that’s a certainty.  I also really want to read The Passage by Justin Cronin because I’ve had it for years and I don’t think I’ve ever heard/read a bad word about it.  I always avoid it because of how long it is but I think that maybe this year, I’ll use my holiday to tackle something bulky that I normally wouldn’t have the time to get in to.

Otherwise, I have a wicked craving for some Agatha Christie that I’m going to count because murder is dark, even if it isn't packaged in a particularly sinister way.  I haven’t a clue what Agatha Christie book specifically but something.  And then to round it up to four, I may go for Wuthering Heights if I feel like I have the time or possibly the delightfully sinister looking The Yard by Alex Grecian that I bought probably about a year ago and is some kind of twist on the Jack the Ripper mystery that sounds kind of wonderful.  Actually, the more I think about it, the more I want to dig it out after I’ve finished upsetting myself with Code Name Verity.  So there's a clue for what might crop up first, I suppose.

I don’t tend to read short stories so signing up for THE PERIL OF THE SHORT STORY is where things get optimistic.  It’s not that I don’t like them as such, just that I prefer a full length novel.  I do, however, have a red-spined beauty of a Vintage anthology of Edgar Allen Poe short stories/poems that I feel like I want to tuck into.  If I could at least read one short story that would be progress so I’m just going to do it and stop messing about.  I was also sort-of inspired by Ellie’s sign-up post to read The Birds by Daphne du Maurier because I had no idea that she had written the book that the Hitchcock film was based on.  Then I remembered that I already dislike birds quite enough without reading a scary story about them so that came off the menu.  Edgar Allen Poe it is!

I can not wait to get started!  What better way to distract myself from the fact that the nights are indeed drawing in?!  Want to sign up too?  Head over to Stainless Steel Droppings and sign up HERE and then keep up with the shenanigans on Twitter using the hashtag #ripix!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Thoughts on 'Around the World in 80 Days' by Jules Verne

The Penguin edition I'm
pining for
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Classics Confession:  Before reading this, my entire knowledge of the story of Around the World in 80 Days was based upon the Around the World with Willy Fog cartoon that was on TV in the UK in the 80s/90s.  The title too, obviously, but mostly the cartoon.

The idea is pretty simple.  Phileas Fogg is spending an evening hanging out in his local Reform Club with some friends and musing about an article reporting the latest innovations in rail travel in India and boasting that it was now possible to travel around the world in, you guessed it, 80 days.  With an indomitable commitment to punctuality and the unerring belief that one can achieve anything if one only has a suitable plan and timetable, Phileas Fogg declares (amidst much scoffing from his friends) that he will undertake a round the world trip in 80 days and makes a slightly outlandish bet with his Reform Club buddies that if he wins will see him a man of not insignificant fame and fortune but that if he loses will see him ruined.  Fogg sets off on 2 October 1872 with his new French man-servant, Jean Passepartout, in tow to tackle the challenge and the adventure begins!

I actually really loved Around the World in 80 Days.  It’s kind of silly, it’s full of ludicrous coincidences and last-minute aversions of crises and it’s completely dated in so many ways but it’s just so much fun that I don’t care about any of those things.  You obviously have to suspend the knowledge that the feat that was once so bold and brave would now be within any sufficiently well funded gap year student’s reach and go with it.  I picked up a copy in Waterstones the other day to wave at Hanna and Ellie in an enthusiastic manner and am hoping that this review will have a similar enthusiastic waving quality.  I’ve read quite a few books off my Classics Club list this year (more than I thought I would have by now, as it happens) and this has just edged out Villette to be my favourite so far.  Fogg sets out on his epic journey pretty early into the novel, with Fix (a misguided but super keen English policeman) setting off on his own slightly madcap journey not long after.  Because all of the characters are against the clock in their own ways, the pace of Around the World in 80 Days is swift and relentless.  In a good way.  In a turn of events that is only even faintly amusing to me with the benefit of hindsight, I spent two and a half hours in a traffic jam listening to this one day and although it would be a lie to say that the time flew by, it was at least easy to get caught up in Fogg’s story and escape my own lack of movement intermittently.

Fogg is a strange kind of unflappable character who bears all drama with a practised stoicism and he contrasts pretty nicely with the blustering Fix.  It was Passepartout that I really had a soft spot for, though.  Delighted at the prospect of working for a meticulously organised and notoriously predictable new master, Passepartout is a pretty reluctant travelling companion and he’s just kind of adorable.  He sort of flaps along after Fogg, getting into scrapes and generally scrabbling around.  In another book or with a slightly less befuddled character, I think I might have found him annoying but I couldn't help but root for him. 

I think that the key is that the book doesn't take itself too seriously – there’s a case of mistaken identity, plenty of peril (which is at least mild and occasionally moderate) and some very English and rather polite 19th Century banter that are all just generally quite ridiculous but also utterly charming.  Basically, as it turns out, the cartoon that I watched as a child is quite faithful to the book on which it is based, near-misses and diversions to attempt daring rescues of damsels in distress and all.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Willy Fog version is actually the most faithful reproduction of the story that there is and what I had dismissed as the hamming up of the original to entertain British toddler masses of a Saturday morning was instead a jaunty introduction to Jules Verne’s slightly haphazard approach to adventure stories.  Thankfully, I had long since forgotten the ending of the series (if I ever even made it to watch the end as a fickle child...) and I got to be surprised by it.  I had no idea that the book ended in the way it does and obviously won’t blather on about it and ruin it – I know that it’s a classic and everybody knows the gist but I figure that if I've managed to have an insufficient clue about goings on to screech and squawk my way through the ending, other readers might too and far be it from me to ruin it for you!

Verne is a lot less stuffy than I’d thought and isn't afraid of a few random tangents if they even vaguely fit the story and will add any measure of entertainment. I'm less keen on the idea of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea because I don't have a lot of love for the sea generally so I'm not overly bothered about snatching that up just yet but I definitely want to read Journey to the Centre of the Earth sooner rather than later.  

Overall:  If you fancy a classic but don’t want anything too heavy or with sentences that are so long and tangled that they will make your brain ache, Around the World in 80 Days is one of the best books I can think of to recommend.

Date finished: 30 March 2014
Format: Audiobook 
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Classic; Adventure
Originally published: January 30 1873

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Wrap-Up

Bout of Books

Well.  The final couple of days of my read-a-thon, although filled with bookish goodness of a different kind, did not do much to my page count.  Rather than re-capping the weekend in a separate post, I'm going to just sort of recount and wrap-up all at the same time.  

Saturday 23 August

I'm almost certain that my page count for Saturday was 62 pages of Parasite by Mira Grant but really the day wasn't about reading (I know!).  Instead, I met up with Hanna (Booking in Heels) and Ellie (Book Addicted Blonde) and basically bought out Leeds' Waterstones.  It was the best day!  We braved the Leeds Festival and York Races hoards in Leeds train station and cut a straight path to the best Waterstones in Yorkshire to re-fuel with cake and coffee.  Calories and caffeine that would prove essential to the epic shopping trip that was about to ensue.  In a rare twist of fate, I was the "worst" behaved and filled my basket with gay abandon.

Now, I would post a picture of my pile of shame but it's currently spread across a few discreet locations so as to disguise it from my Boyfriend, who does not appreciate a good book buying binge.  Instead, I'll post pictures of the covers so that you can ogle my choices without the need for me to plead for forgiveness for my lack of self control or be complled to surrender 9 (yes, 9) books to "make space"...

After the acquire-a-thon, we headed back to my house so that we could eat and then basically sit around and chat for what turned out to be about five hours but felt like five minutes.  For some reason, I felt a compulsion to apologise profusely for the nigh on unbelievable level of rain that fell and for various other things like an over-cooked pizza and the fact that I am yet to re-decorate the hall and remove the textured wallpaper that lives there :|  There were many, many giggles and Hanna and I informed Ellie that she is in fact our niceness benchmark (which remains true, incidentally), much to Ellie's amusement.  Seriously, though, it was the best day and they are the best and after I'd dropped them back off at the station, I was fit for nothing other than sitting in my pyjamas and reading Parasite.  Which is where the 62 pages came in and the day ended!

Sunday 24 August

Boyfriend had to work on Sunday, which was a bit bleak but meant that I could rack up my final pages read of Parasite to 292 pages.  I would have finished it probably had I not got distracted by the recent(ish) Dracula series.  Then Boyfriend and I went out for to the pub and the local Indian restaurant, which obviously meant that no more reading got done but plenty of delicious food was consumed.  A good day.

Wrap-Up Stats

Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  6 hours and 24 minutes
Total pages read so far:  471 pages
Books read from/listened to:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco; The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker; Parasite by Mira Grant; Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Books finished:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (3.5 stars); The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker (4 stars)

My original goals included getting some listening done, some reading done (obviously), some reviews posted and to keep on track with updates.  I listened to everything I wanted to and I really loved The Golem and the Djinni in the end so that was a success.  I didn't get as much read as I wanted but I really enjoyed what I did read and filled up Saturday with other book-related fun activities so that's a win regardless of the slightly lacklustre page count.  I posted a review (Running Away by Robert Andrew Powell) and made some progress on another so that's a sort-of success.  I managed to stay up to date with my Monday to Friday updates but fell off the wagon at the weekend so a mixed bag.  So a mostly successful week that was the perfect mix of listening, reading and getting back into blogging with a little more regularity AND seeing some of my favourite fellow book bloggers.  Hard to feel bad about that!  

Hope you all had a great read-a-thon too, whether it was all about the pages or all about the snacks or the book buying (ahem...)!  See you in January for Bout of Books 12!