Sunday, 25 January 2015

Giveaway Winner: 'The Eye of the World' by Robert Jordan

Image from here
Congratulations, Shamara!

The random wijamy over at Rafflecopter picked you and you're the soon-to-be-owner of a shiny new copy of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan!

In case it wasn't obvious from my original post, I really love this series so I'm very much hoping that it will have a new fan soon!  I'll be emailing shortly and will pick another winner if I don't hear back within 48 hours.

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again



Sunday, 18 January 2015

Audiobook Review: 'Heartburn' by Nora Ephron

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs" is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron's irrepressible heroine offers some of her favourite recipes.

Review

I'll be honest - I expected a lot more from this book.  Ephron's essay collections seem to be popular all across the blogosphere and I'm a fan of Sleepless in Seattle so I had high hopes.  Misplaced high hopes.  Heartburn is ok.  The writing is witty and sharp but there were some pretty fundamental flaws that stopped me from being able to really enjoy it.  Thankfully the blurb mentions one of them so we can get this highly-likely-to-be-slightly-ranty review without me having to bore everybody with spoiler warnings.

If I'd paid more attention before downloading this audiobook, I think I would have noticed that it wouldn't be for me.  I was about to get stuck into glossing a window, however, and in dire need of entertainment so I really just went for whatever the library had handy that wouldn't be too heavy.  But the warning was right there.  Rachel Samstat's husband is cheating on her while she is pregnant (seven months pregnant) and she spends at least part of her time trying to win him back.  That's right - the man declares himself in love with another woman while she is heavily pregnant with their second child and her response isn't to beat his cheating arse into next week, it's to see how she can make him love her again.  I couldn't understand Rachel's motivation and couldn't really get behind her so it all got a bit frustrating.

As a person borderline obsessed with food and cooking, though, I did like the healthy endorsement of comfort eating and the smattering of recipes.  There weren't actually any recipes that I wanted to make (which is handy because I generally only heard the recipes while driving when noting ingredients is tricky) but I still liked listening to 'Rachel' talking about the food that was important to her and the recipes that marked certain key events or times of her life.

I'm not really sure what else to say.  It was sort of funny in places but the bunch of wives gossiping about other people and their lives were the worst kind of women.  Maybe the whole thing is just dated.  Maybe twenty years was enough to stop this book being the sort of romantic comedy that has you weeping into your ice cream on a Sunday afternoon and turn it into one of those ones that you watch when you're hungover and hate yourself for spending the time on.

The whole experience was saved by the fact that I listened to it rather than reading it.  I listened to the Books on Tape audiobook, which is read by Meryl Streep who is perfect.  True, she played Rachel in the 1986 film adaptation and so had a bit of an edge at knowing the character but it still made the slightly irritating story actually enjoyable in places.  The performance saved the book from being a two star washout.  

Overall:  Underwhelming.  There are some fun moments if you're a foodie and there were a few titters but otherwise it's pretty average.

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Date finished: 06 January 2015
Format:  Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from my library's audiobook site
Genre: Fiction
First Published:  1st January 1983

Friday, 16 January 2015

Review: 'The Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars


"To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists. 

Just goes to show"

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every evening. Every day she passes the same Victorian terraces, stops at the same signal, and sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof terrace. Jason and Jess seem so happy together. 

Then one day Rachel sees something she shouldn't have seen, and soon after, Jess disappears. Suddenly Rachel is chasing the truth and unable to trust anyone. Not even herself.

Review

When I first read about this book's premise, I knew I had to read it.  Not to sound like too much of a creeper but who doesn't love a bit of people watching?  When you catch the same train, run the same route or visit the same coffee shop every day, it's hard not to imagine that you know the people that you see on a daily basis or to *maybe* make up your own ideas about what they're like.  The Girl on the Train takes that idea and twists it into something sinister. 

This is one of those books that's almost impossible to review.  There's a lot things that makes this novel something that's really rather good but unfortunately a lot of them are things that I really think you should find out for yourself.  They're maybe things that you could find out from other bloggers' reviews, sure, but I don't want to be the one (or one of the ones) that you're disappointed in when (like me) you read something and realise that the whole novel would have been more interesting if it had been a surprise.  Suffice to say, this is one of those thrillers where you almost never feel as though you have a handle on what's going on.  I have a huge weakness for those thrillers.

I think that Rachel is someone you can either really feel for or someone you hate.  Personally, I couldn't help but sympathise with her.  She's tragic in so many ways and utterly infuriating but my heart broke for her.  I can see why she might irritate some readers and I had my moments of frustration but overall, I just felt an immeasurable amount of pity for her.  What really sold her to me, though, was how damn unreliable she was.  If there's one thing that I love, it's a narrator you can't ever quite believe.  As far as mysteries and thrillers go, there is nothing that builds tension quite like reading half a story.  Rachel's existence is shrouded in lies, black-outs and doubt.  Her confusion is believable and isn't half as difficult to rationalise as narrators that have memory problems, for example, so Hawkins doesn't have to rely on a loosely described brain disorder or frustrate readers with slightly inconsistent explanations about the narrator's flaky powers of recall.  It just fits.

The other characters I was less sure about.  There were some that were compelling and some that made me want to punch something.  I loved the revelations about 'Jason and Jess', the couple that Rachel sees from the train, but I was much less convinced about others.  Obviously pinning your life's happiness on strangers that you've never met is a questionable life choice but the process by which Rachel learns so much more about her 'happy couple' ideal is somehow still quite sobering.  There are a few things that make this a novel for the 21st century but I think Rachel's need to connect at any cost is one of them.

So far so great.  I'm convinced that if The Girl on the Train had been about 100 pages shorter, I would have been throwing on my Caps Lock and hollering at you to get yourself to a bookshop as soon as possible just so that you could experience it for yourself.  As it is, though, I found that there were some chapters that were quite repetitive.  The various layers of deception were what kept me reading but there were a few occasions where I needed something new.  Nothing is ever quite right but eventually the same kind of confusion and the same frustrations become a bit wearing.

The Girl on the Train is a book made for devouring in chunks.  Not because there are gaping plot holes that should be skimmed over but because in many ways you won't be able to help it.  I won't pretend that it's perfect but it's really, really good.  I didn't see the ending coming (although to be fair I never do).  I thought it was spot on and I don't think there's really much more you can say for a book in this genre. 

Overall:  The Girl on the Train is a decent thriller. It's entertaining and it's a good book but it's not a game changing one.  That's really all there is to it.

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Date finished: 21 December 2014
Format: Paperback
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review - thanks, Transworld!
Genre: Thriller
Pictured Edition Published:  The Girl on the Train was released on the 15th January by Transworld

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Whittling down the Box of Shame: The First Ten

When we moved house just over a year ago, I dutifully (if a little resentfully) tucked all of my books up into boxes and loaded them up into the van.  We're slowly working our way around the rooms of the new house and decorating them one by one but it's taking us some time to get to the smallest of the bedrooms, which will ultimately be the study/reading room.  It's up soon (next but one) but we're not quite there yet.  

Anyway, we've started on the next spare room this weekend, which has meant that we had to move the furniture out and into the Future Study/Reading Room.  Which meant making room.  Much though it killed me a little bit, the read books moved up into the attic (TEMPORARILY).  The unread books were the subject of much debate.  I was adamant that they would stay accessible, Boyfriend was adamant that they had to go out of the way while we finish up the decorating.  The unfortunate thing about this whole exercise was that the Box of Shame was the subject of the discussion.  The entire very large box shown on the right is unread books.  Not all of the unread books that I own (shamefully) but enough unread books that if I read nothing but the books in this box, I'm pretty sure I'd still have reading material spare in a couple of years,

There are books in that box that I'd forgotten I owned.  Books that I've owned for years.  Although it's exciting in many ways, it really does make me feel as though I need to stop buying new books for just a little while and start looking to the Box of Shame, so called because I *may* have been using it as a means of bringing in books and mixing them up so that people don't notice.  Maybe.  Ahem...

Boyfriend and I have struck a deal to solve the "problem" (and he is unmoveable on such things so will be helping me keep on top of it): I can have ten books out of the box at any one time.  When I've read those ten books, they will be returned to the attic and I can pick ten more.  Kind of like a more inconveniently enforced seasonal TBR pile.  Obviously, picking ten was ridiculously difficult, especially with someone that doesn't appreciate books looming over me and telling me to "just pick".  But "just pick" I did and these are my first ten:


The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time series: Book 2) by Robert Jordan
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey
Steelheart (The Reckoners series: Book 1) by Brandon Sanderson
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder
The Quick by Lauren Owen
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

I've gone for a mixture of recent arrivals and older books, a bunch of different genres and a blend of YA and adult so that hopefully there will always be something that I fancy.  The Great Hunt obviously isn't new or indeed unread (and its being included in the ten was a bone of contention that I have moved past) but I'm saving it so that I have something to balance out War and Peace if a miracle happens and I get ahead of the read-along schedule (ha) or if I need a brief respite from all of the Russian names!  

I'll see you for the next ten soon, hopefully!  I know that I'm not the only one trying to get on top of the number of unread books that I own - if we stick together, I'm pretty sure we can do this!!  Come on, us!  :)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Book Club Chatter #1: 'Bossypants' by Tina Fey

For all that I love reading, I've never actually been in a real live book club so when a colleague asked if I wanted to join the work book club, I was keen.  I also felt like I should make more of an effort to be sociable with the people that I work with and if I'm going to socialise with anybody, it might as well be the people that like books enough to want to meet once a month to talk about them.  Rather than reviewing my book club books, I decided that I'd just do a sort of book club discussion recap.  Since yesterday was the first meeting I made it too, this is my first Book Club Chatter post.   

Last month's pick: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

What I didn't really think through when I agreed to join the book club was the practical side of having a specific book to read once a month.  The first month I ended up disgruntled - the book club had chosen We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler before I was invited to join, hot on the heels of Hanna's less than glowing review.  I wasn't actually planning on picking up WaaCBO at all.  Regardless, I bought it, read it, thought it was sort of ok but had a few points that really bugged me and then MISSED THE MEETING because of a client call (Hanna, you shush).  Not amused. 

So I don't really know what anybody else thought and I can't relay the discussion but I felt as though Fowler had had a good idea that was stretched too far and that it tried too hard to be an Important Book with a Message.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that the rumours of the next book being Boris Johnson's biography of Winston Churchill (which I would have had to refuse to buy because I will never pay my actual money over to that man) weren't true.  They weren't.

This month's pick:  Bossypants by Tina Fey

This being chosen delighted me mostly because I'd already read it (and reviewed it).  I know.  That isn't the point.  But I'd just tried to read The Pickwick Papers and endured We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves for what transpired to be no reason and I think I would have cried if I'd had to read something else that I wasn't keen on that I hadn't chosen.  So I was glad it was Bossypants for the wrong reason.  Sue me.

It also happens that I really like this book and I'm happy for any chance to bang on about just how much.  Getting to do that in a pub with some people that seem as though they will be jolly good reading companions was just an added bonus.  One person did muse over whether I was "cheating" by listening but the audiobook fans outnumbered the "traditionals" so all was well.

Out of the six people that turned up, three (including me) were Fey fans and three weren't convinced.  Given that I'd never been before, I had no idea who was going to like it and who wouldn't.  Had I guessed, I'd have got it wrong, which I suppose is the good thing about a book club!  Although generally the three of us that liked it had watched 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live or were Mean Girls fans, one person who hadn't really seen any of the things that Fey is most famous for still liked parts of it so apparently it is as generally great as I'd thought, although admittedly less interesting in the latter half if you aren't familiar with the names or programmes that Fey is talking about.

Strangely, one member of the group didn't like it because she found the language off-putting.  I don't know what it says about me but I didn't even notice the language as particularly bad so I haven't a clue whether that's even a valid criticism.  Clearly if you're particularly sensitive about swearing, this book might not be for you.  A health warning that it would never have occurred to me to give on my own, which I suppose is the point of a book club.

Much though I love it though, writing out this post kind of makes me realise that it possibly wasn't the best book club choice. Beyond the "I liked it" and "I didn't like it", there wasn't much to say.  I rabbited about how I loved Fey's account of a photo shoot.  One of the other girls preferred her stories of growing up and her early work with improvisation.  Mainly, though, we just talked about Tina Fey, which I suppose is the difficulty with choosing an autobiography of someone fairly uncontroversial.  It was really nice to sit around chatting about books, though, so overall I'm glad I did stick it out after the Fowler experience!

Next month's pick:  TBC, although 'thriller/horror' is the chosen genre