Sunday, 12 June 2016

(Late late) May Wrap-Up

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I knew that it had been a while since I'd last written anything on here but I didn't think it had been nearly six weeks!  Oops.

Life Stuff

I started a new job at the beginning of May and I've been super busy ever since.  Moving jobs is always unsettling and the change has taken some adjusting to but I feel much more settled and involved in the team now that I've been there just over a month.  It's nice to feel less adrift again.  Working back in Leeds has made a massive difference to my days; not having to spend two hours a day in my car is a huge bonus and the buzz of working back in a city I love doesn't exactly hurt.

At the beginning of the month, we went to the wedding of some good friends and had the nicest day.  It was beautifully sunny for most of the day, meaning we all got to stand outside and enjoy some canap├ęs and champagne in the sun before the dinner and dancing part of the day.  To add to my list of wedding ideas I want to steal: piles of cheese instead of a wedding cake; sweepstake cards on the table for people to guess at things like the first person to cry during the speeches and the lengths of various speeches and whatnot. 

Plans for our wedding are coming along nicely too.  I've found The Dress (which I adore), we've picked our venue in Florence and have a trip out to Florence planned to meet our planner and start looking at the details.  All incredibly exciting. 
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Then at the very end of May, we headed to Montenegro for a week.  Kotor bay is absolutely stunning and we spent a week reading and relaxing in the sun, cycling to explore the nearby towns, eating tons of seafood and drinking local beer and wine.  I'd absolutely recommend it if you're looking for somewhere a bit different to visit that's not yet got particularly touristy.  It was a bit more chilled than the slightly hectic city breaks we usually go on and the break was just what we both needed.  Countdown to our next trip away in August starts now...

Book Stuff

Needless to say, what with work and various wedding related days, I didn't get a great deal read.  I started If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and that really stalled my reading.  It's an odd story that is written half in the second person, with events described as happening to "you".  It's entertaining at first but to be honest, it lost its appeal later on and I felt like I was reading one of those 'choose your own story' books that I loved when I was a child.  The basic idea is that 'you' pick up a book but then part way through find that pages are missing.  On going to find the book at the local bookshop, you're given a book with the same title but entirely different contents and so on and so on.  The chapters then alternate between the main character's efforts to track down the original story and the first chapters of each of the writings that he's given by various third parties as the book they believe he is looking for.  In the end, I returned it to the library unfinished.  It felt less like a novel and more like a range of creative writing exercises smushed together with a loose narrative and I just wasn't interested in reading it, which is sad because I was really looking forward to it. 

On a brighter note, I then picked up Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.  I'd heard a lot about the book on YouTube so I had high hopes.  It absolutely lived up to every single one of them.  It's a YA science fiction story about the population of a small planet who are attacked and mostly killed. The survivors are on board a couple of spaceships trying to outrun the team sent to finish the murdering job.  I gave it 5 stars on GoodReads and I'll review it soon but until then, if you do like science fiction and want something pacey and unique, get yourself Illuminae.  It can't wait for the next bookk to come out.  

On the comic front, I read three volumes: Rat Queens: Volume 1 - Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe; Wytches: Volume 1 by Scott Snyder; and, Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan.  I really enjoyed Rat Queens.  The characters are great, the writing is witty and the artwork was bright and fun.   A series that I'll definitely keep reading.  Wytches was about a horde of children-eating wytches who have targeted the protagonist family.  It's incredibly dark and actually pretty damn freaky in places.  One I only read in daylight! It was brilliant in places and there were some great twists but it just wasn't quite my thing.  Paper Girls was...weird.  It's about some paper girls who find themselves largely alone after the world is attacked by...something.  I didn't follow a lot of it, really, and the whole thing felt haphazard and as though it was trying to do too much.  I might read the next volume if I come across it at the library but it isn't one that I'm going to be buying.

And that was it!  My reading month.  June has been better already so I'm hopeful that I'm starting to find a balance between the busy day job and finding time to read.  Any books that I need to be squeezing in sooner rather than later?

Monday, 2 May 2016

April Wrap-Up

April's been probably the quietest month I'm going to have for a little while.  I start my new job in a week and I expect it to be tremendously busy.  I'm incredibly excited about it and I'm happy to let other things take a back seat while that settles down. 

In non-bookish life, we went to London for the weekend a couple of weeks ago and went to the Churchill War Rooms and H.M.S. Belfast to get a history fix, to Borough Market for pork and crackling sandwiches (every bit as delicious as they sound), wandered for miles and miles and had a few drinks along the way and spent some time with Boyfriend's family celebrating our engagement.  It was exhausting in the best kind of way and we had a superb weekend.

I also made a start on wedding dress shopping with my mum, which was surreal but a lot of fun!  Everybody has told me that you never quite end up with what you imagine and so far, that's kind of true.  I obviously can't write too much about the dress but I haven't found The One yet so there'll be more dress sessions in May :)

Given that we've been quite busy with family and friends over April, I'm actually quite surprised by the amount I've read.  I finished 5 novels and 2 comic volumes during the course of the month.  Maybe because the weather's been a bit nicer and curling up in a sunny spot in the conservatory has been proving tricky to resist!

I picked up the third volume of Fables when we were in New York so I felt like I could read the second volume when we got back.  I still really love the series and it's one that I'm definitely going to keep collecting.  The stories are pretty dark and can be quite gruesome but I love the style of artwork and how much effort is going in to developing the characters and overarching storyline.  When the jetlag cleared, I finally sat down to finish A God in Ruins and the ending absolutely floored me.  The writing was something really special, too, so it was a big hit.  Dolly was less so.  I find that Susan Hill's ghost stories can be a bit hit and miss and this one was definitely a miss for me.  The idea behind it didn't really make a great deal of sense and the execution was just lacklustre.  It was short, though, so not too offensive a waste of time. 

Weirdly enough, The Ship was then the opposite kind of experience.  I loved the writing style and found that reading it felt quite indulgent.  What I found disappointing was that the concept and the plot seemed better suited to a short story and I felt as though it was starting to go round in circles towards the end.  I'm not sure I was sold on the ending, either.  I'll be reviewing it because I have quite a lot I want to mull over with it.  The Wicked + The Divine was....ok.  It's about various Gods who are reborn periodically but only get to live for 2 years once they become aware of who they are.  It was fine but it was all a bit confused and I don't feel like enough work went into setting the story up.  Style over substance, maybe.

The Joyce Girl was a real treat.  It's the story of James Joyce's daughter and is set in Paris in the 1920s. It's out next month and I'll be doing a full review soon but suffice to say, I definitely recommend you keep an eye out for this one. 

Last up was The Madman's Daughter. I've been eyeing this one up for years and I finally got my arse into gear and ordered it from the library. It was pretty darn great. It was so tense and the horror of the original Dr Moreau story was honoured perfectly.  There was a romantic subplot that I could have lived without but overall I really liked the twist on HG Wells' story and will definitely be picking up the next book in the series.  Not for the faint hearted but gripping if you can brave the more gory descriptions of Dr Moreau's experiments on animals. 

And that was April! A success on all counts, I'd say! Did you have a good month? Read anything we all need to get our hands on right away?

Monday, 25 April 2016

Library Haul: The April Edition

When I started getting more into graphic novels and comics, I figured that it was time to start getting back into using the library.  Unfortunately, my local library's opening hours have been reduced significantly over the last couple of years, leaving only a two hour window available to those of us that work full time. Really, though, that's no excuse for me not to use it.  I live about a five minute walk from the library.  Using it makes me feel as though I'm proving in some small way that it's still a valuable part of the community.  Rather than spending a not insignificant sum starting a comic series that I'm not sure about yet, I can spend 90p to get my local library to source a copy from across the city and bring it to my village for me.  

Once I'd started ordering a few comics, I got a bit click-happy and reserved a couple of other books that were high up on my wishlist but that I now can't buy because I've promised Boyfriend that I won't buy books while we're saving for a wedding (I know - I'm a fool).  It turns out that the Leeds library system has a lot more rattling around in it than I gave it credit for!

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd has been on my wishlist for a long time.  I was first interested in it when it was first published just because it sounded deliciously creepy.  Then I listened to The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells and, while looking into that story, finally noticed that The Madman's Daughter tells the story of Dr Moreau's daughter and that the later books in the series play similarly with Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  They sound excellent so I'm desperately hoping that I won't be disappointed.

The next one on that pile is a multi-renewer: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.  I actually first picked this one up in February and I still really want to read it but I've just not quite got round to it yet.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is a recent release and one that was still being acquired by the library when I ordered it.  It's been a few years since I read Jane Eyre but I remember how much I loved it.  It's one I'd love to re-read one day and I don't say that lightly.  This gothic re-telling just sounds brilliant, though.  The opening to the blurb goes: "Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors".  It sounds dark and ever so slightly twisted and as soon as I'd heard of it, it was straight onto my wishlist.  Alas, the 'no book buying' thing interrupted and I had to hunt Jane Steele down elsewhere.

The last two in the picture are comic volumes:  the first volume of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiele and the first volume of Wytches by Scott Snyder.  Both are volumes that I really nearly bought when we were in the US but instead I plumped for volume 3 of Fables and these two were left to languish on my wishlist.  Rat Queens sounds like a lot of fun (come on - the first volume is called Sass and Sorcery!) and promises me the adventures of "a pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire".  Wytches looks like it'll frighten my socks off but I've heard really great things about the series so I want to give it a try.  At least this way, if it's too scary, I can return it and pretend it never happened!

I'd also borrowed the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen but I'd read that and returned it before I remembered to include it in a picture!  It was quite readable and I did enjoy it but I'm just not sure that it's that coherent as a start to a series.  I think I'll carry on with the series and I'll include more in a mini review at some point but I just...I'm not sure about it really.

And that's my current library stack!  It's funny how after all this time, I still get a kick from wandering into the library and getting to leave with an armful of books and without a large dent in my bank balance.  What's not to love?  And what's hanging out on your 'to read soon' pile?  Any of these I need to really get into without any more shilly-shallying?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Book Club Chatter #4: 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge

My relationship with my book club has been rocky recently.  A few of us made a last ditch effort to get something that sounded more likely to be a hit voted in and make a move away from the stodgy books that we were all trudging through and away from the books that people seemed to be nominating just because they'd found a musty copy on their shelves.  We all went armed with a list of books that were books that we would have picked to read on our own.  I know that reading for a book club is partly about expanding your horizons but sometimes it's nice just to read a fun book and have a bit of a gossip about it.

The shortlist for this last meeting (I never know if that's the right word - it sounds so formal!) was easily the best that we've had in ages.  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.  I would have happily read any of them, although I'll admit that I wasn't necessarily in the mood for the Hosseini.

The Lie Tree swept to victory.

April's pick:  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

What was comforting was that it clearly wasn't just me that was dying for something a bit pacier to read and talk about.  We went from a core of four attendees to a livelier seven and I think our average age dropped by a good 10 years!  It was nice to have more people sat around the table in the pub and everybody had plenty to say about the book.  The session (nope - still not the right word) was a world away from the dreary grumble over The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop; The Lie Tree was a complete success and it gave our chats a really enthusiastic buzz. 

We're a pretty diverse group in age and are a pretty even split when it comes to gender.  I think that left to our own devices, we'd all have pretty different reading tastes too.  All of us really liked The Lie Tree.  It's the only book that we've ever read that everybody enjoyed and that people only really had minor quibbles with.

It doesn't necessarily sound like something that will have universal appeal.  It's told from the perspective of Faith Sunderly, a teenage girl who is the daughter of a famous natural scientist.  As the novel starts, Faith, her parents, younger brother and uncle are travelling to a remote British island so that her father can participate in an archaeological dig.  When a tragedy befalls the family, Faith needs to uncover the mysteries of the Lie Tree, a plant that seems to feed on lies and respond with fruits that reveal the truth.

The only gripe that some readers had (me included) is that there's an event that's disclosed in the blurb and openly discussed in a lot of reviews that actually doesn't happen until about half way through the story.  If you haven't really read the blurb yet, I'd recommend just picking up the book and giving it a go.  I'm almost certain that you'll enjoy it more than if you know what's coming.  Knowing what's coming gives the beginning a bit of a feeling of filler or of just being elaborate set-up, which is a shame because the writing and character development is otherwise excellent and deserves better than that.

A lot of readers (not me included this time!) didn't have much experience in reading books aimed at younger readers and expressed surprise at how well written The Lie Tree was.  I wasn't surprised by the writing but I was impressed by how solid the historical elements felt.  The concerns within the religious community about the apparent discovery of fossils proving evolution and Darwin's recently published 'outlandish' theories and the plight of women at the time and what they had to resort to to have their voices heard in the world of natural science were both very well handled within the story and everybody enjoyed the mixing of historical detail with a real page-turner of a mystery.  

So to sum up:  The Lie Tree is a great read.  If you've managed not to hear much about the story yet, I can absolutely recommend it as something that has appeal for a really diverse range of readers.  It's magical realism but it doesn't feel unrealistic; it just seems to work.  Big thumbs up from my whole book club.

May's pick: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Obviously I'm excited this.  I'm both a big fantasy fan and a big Brandon Sanderson fan.  I didn't even have to suggest this; it was volunteered by someone who'd been bought another of Sanderson's books for Christmas and really enjoyed it and thought that the group could do with trying something a little different.  May will actually be my last hurrah because I'm then changing jobs and will be working 22 miles away in a different location so I'm really looking forward to hopefully getting some people into fantasy before I go!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Comic Review: Lumberjanes - Volumes 1 and 2

Ratings:  3 stars to Volume 1; 4 stars to Volume 2

At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! 

The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here!

I loved Nimona when I read it earlier this year and I looked around pretty much straight away for anything else that Noelle Stevenson had been involved in.  This comic series is a collaboration between her, Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis and it has all of the humour and warmth that made me such a big fan of Nimona.  The dialogue is sharp and there are nifty puns abound.  The art is bright and vivid and fits with the feisty and fun characters.  It isn't quite the style of Nimona because Stevenson isn't the lead artist but it does have a similar quirky feel that I really like.

The first volume is a bit...odd and feels very much like a few opening issues that just happen to have been bound up together.  I read it on my phone on the Comixology app and when I finished, I honestly wasn't sure if I'd maybe missed something and spent a while flicking backwards and forwards to see if I really had finished.  It sets up a few of the more unusual aspects of the overarching story but it's a bit haphazard.  The second volume is much better.  The story weaves in some Greek mythology and develops some of the secondary characters, which helps the main characters feel less conspicuously one-dimensional.  More importantly, it feels much less like scene setting and more like a mini story arc.  I finished the second volume feeling much more fond of the whole series.

Reading the comics is entertaining and easy.  The pages fly by and they're funny enough to elicit some genuine smiling and the occasional brief chuckle.  Not laugh out loud stuff perhaps but clever.  Personally, though, I find that they're aimed at too young an audience for me to really get into them and want to collect them.  I would recommend them without a second thought to children of maybe 8ish to young teens.  I'd recommend them to older readers too but with a caveat that they can feel a little twee.  The peril is pretty mild and wraps up neatly and quickly in most cases.  There's an overarching story that remains a bit of a mystery but generally each volume is pretty compact and a little predictable.

Minor grumbles aside, the focus of the comics is particularly fantastic for younger female readers; the main characters are a bunch of young women away at a summer camp who have formed tight friendships and who launch into adventures without a second thought.  Each of the girls has a unique skill set that means they can take it in turns to save each other without relying on a handily placed group of boys.  Traditional "manliness" is openly made fun of at some points but without crossing over into man-hating.  I love that the girls are almost never saved from danger but instead save themselves.  I'd rather they were a little less pigeon-holed (there's a Smart One, a Brave One, an Athletic One etc.) but it works without being too annoying for the most part.  If you want to encourage independence and reliance on friends rather than a significant other, Lumberjanes really does seem like the way to go.

Overall:  I'll definitely keep reading it but I'll be keeping an eye out for it at the library or for the next volume to appear at a decent price on Comixology.  The stories are fun to read but not quite enough to live up to the £10+ per volume price tag of the later instalments.

Date finished: Volume 1: March 02 2016; Volume 2: 16 March 2016
Format: Volume 1:  Digital copy on Comixology; Volume 2: Paperback
Source: Volume 1: Bought; Volume 2: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Comic
Pictured Edition of Volume 1 Published: by BOOM! Box in April 2015