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!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Monday to Friday

Bout of Books

Here is where I'll keeping my daily updates until the weekend comes and I stand an outside chance of getting to post my musings a little bit more frequently.  My goals are hanging out here, if you fancy a nosey.

Monday 18 August

Time spent listening to audiobooks today:  2 hours and 7 minutes
Pages read today:  70 pages
Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  2 hours and 7 minutes
Total pages read so far:  70 pages
Books read from/listened to today:  The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker; The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Books finished:  None yet...

Thoughts from Monday (at 20.18):  At about 10.00am, I was convinced that this would be the read-a-thon where I really nailed it.  I'd listened to my audiobooks while getting ready instead of the radio, I'd had a bit of quality book time in my car after I'd parked up and before I went into work, I'd brought my lunch and was all ready to get stuck in to posting an update while I ate it and I was almost certain that I'd get away from work at a decent time and would gt time to read this evening.  It didn't quite work out like that - I remembered that I had to go and pick up some dry cleaning and some other bits and pieces over lunch and then had some work that had to get done and then it was somehow 6.00pm and I was still at work :|  To be fair, I did manage to scarper not long after so that was a bonus and I've cooked and eaten a vegetable Thai curry with noodles with Boyfriend and now I'm ready to get settled in to The Girl from the Well before bedtime.  Actually, I'm a bit wary of reading it before bed because of all the serial-killer-murdering-ghost stuff but we'll brave it out and see how it goes...maybe I'll be so freaked out that I won't be able to sleep and will get it finished!  On the plus side, I'm travelling by train to a meeting for work tomorrow so that'll give me much more reading time than usual!  Onward and upward, friends!

Tuesday 19 August

Time spent listening to audiobooks today:  0 minutes
Pages read today:  (as at 9.22pm) 215 pages
Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  2 hours and 7 minutes
Total pages read so far:  285 pages
Books read from/listened to today:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco; Parasite by Mira Grant
Books finished:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (3.5 stars)

Thoughts from Tuesday
10.11am: What a start to Day 2! Travelling this morning has given me an extra hour or so to whip through the end of The Girl from the Well. It was pretty unique as far as "YA" these days goes (I mean, seriously - a murderous ghost that brutalises serial killers and paedophiles is YA? Jeez...) and I was a huge fan of the Japanese culture that was the focus of the second half so it was good. Not my favourite book of the year but good. I have meetings all day but have Parasite by Mira Grant stowed away in my handbag for the return journey so I'm definitely looking forward to that! Hope your week has started out brilliantly :)

9.22pm: I got started on Parasite on my way home from a meeting this evening and I love it! It pretty much felt like I started it and then somehow I was 106 pages in and back in Leeds. The writing just works perfectly and the excerpts from scientific documents and articles at the beginnings of the chapters are...well, disturbing, actually, but otherwise just brilliant. So now I'm heading off to read some more! What are you all reading? Something awesome, I hope!

Wednesday 20 August

Time spent listening to audiobooks today:  2 hours and 3 minutes
Pages read today:  27 pages
Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  4 hours and 10 minutes
Total pages read so far:  312 pages
Books read from/listened to today:  Parasite by Mira Grant; The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Books finished:  The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (3.5 stars)

Thoughts from Wednesday:  The fact that I'm writing this on Thursday basically sums up Wednesday:  got up, drove to work (albeit with a book to keep me company), squeezed in a few pages before scuttling to the office, had a hectic day, drove home (again, book keeping me company, thank goodness), cooked, ate, revelled in the glory of chorizo, slumped down in a sofa with Parasite on my lap, got distracted watching an old episode of The Office (the UK version - we're reliving it) with Boyfriend, fell asleep.  Thursday can only be better!

Thursday 21 August

Time spent listening to audiobooks today:  57 minutes
Pages read today:  14 pages (whoops...)
Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  5 hours and 7 minutes
Total pages read so far:  326 pages
Books read from/listened to today:  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)

Thoughts from Thursday: 
1.14pm:  Second book down!  Admittedly I was already some way into the 19 hour and 43 minute delight that is the audiobook of The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker but still - I've finished it :)  And it was truly brilliant.  I wasn't sure for the first quarter or so because it's quite slow and intricate but after that (and particularly in the last quarter where I was shouting at my phone in the car as I was listening), it was wonderful.  I'll review it more fully but you can safely assume that you can read it and that you will love it until I get to it.  This evening will belong to Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman (in the car) and Parasite by Mira Grant (in my bed, hiding from the autumnal weather)!

Friday:  Ok, so I *may* have climbed into bed at 9.00pm to escape the chilliness and read but *may* have gotten too comfy and fallen asleep...

Friday 22 August

Time spent listening to audiobooks today:  42 minutes
Pages read today:  30 pages
Total time spent listening to audiobooks so far:  5 hours and 49 minutes
Total pages read so far:  356 pages
Books read from/listened to today:  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)

Thoughts from Friday:  My listening seems to be going a lot better than my actual reading!  Maybe that's because I don't really have a choice about driving to work so that hour and a half a day is pretty much banked to begin with.  Blackbird House isn't quite what I was expecting but I am enjoying it, I think.  It's seems to be a lot of short stories about people that all live in the same house over a couple of centuries.  They're all read by different narrators, though, which I like, even if it is a bit random so far.  I am in love with Parasite - I may or may not be going out for drinks this evening and if I'm not, I'm grabbing a glass of wine and curling up to read some more.  How are we all doing before the weekend comes and we can be free of pesky work demands?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Review: 'Running Away' by Robert Andrew Powell

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

When journalist Robert Andrew Powell finished his first marathon, he cried, cradled in his father’s arms. Long distance runners understand where those tears come from, even if there are others who will never understand what drives someone to run 26.2 consecutive miles in a grueling mental and physical test. Powell’s emotional reaction to completing the race wasn’t just about the run, though. It was also about the joy and relief of coming back up after hitting rock bottom. Running Away is the story of how one decision can alter the course of a life. Knocked down by a painful divorce and inspired by his father, Powell decided to change his mindset and circumstances. He moved to Boulder and began running in earnest for the first time in his life. Over the 26.2 chapters that follow, Powell grapples with his past relationships, gaining insight and hard-won discipline that give him hope for the future.


There are many books languishing on my “to be reviewed” pile that I should be writing about but I’m letting Running Away muscle in both because if I wait until its proper turn, it’ll be a long time after I’ve run the Great North Run and won’t be nearly as relevant and because I have some grumbles that I’d like to air. 

The general reason I don’t read memoirs is that there are few people whose lives I am genuinely interested in.  I like watching films as much as the next person but I have little to no interest in the lives of the actors in them.  The people whose lives I am interested in are usually significant figures whose autobiographies are so long, I just can’t contemplate reading them until I have a long stretch of time off (like, retirement long).  The Long Walk to Freedom, that includes you.  The point being: I don’t usually read memoirs/autobiographies and Running Away has only served to reinforce the reasons why.

It’s difficult to say why I so disliked Running Away without being insulting to the author, which I suppose is an inherent difficulty in writing review of memoirs (and another reason to steer clear of them in the future!).  I’ll try and stick to the facts.  Robert Powell cheated on his wife with her friend, left and subsequently divorced said wife, lost a not particularly lucrative job in journalism, cashed in on his 401(k) (which seems to be the equivalent of what we’d refer to as a pension in the UK?) and, rather than trying to find a new job or pursue something that he enjoys, moves to Boulder, Colorado (which is apparently popular with runners) to pursue a hobby that he doesn’t like just because his father was good at it.

I could have got over the fact that I have nothing in common with a cheating middle-aged man lacking in both ambition and direction if the book had focussed on running in the way that the title and cover implied that it might.  If you’ve looked at the cover and read the blurb and, like me, have thought, “Hey – I like running and I like to read other runners’ stories, I’ll pick this up”, think again.  Much as it might like to be, Running Away is not really about running.  There are some snippets about running and about famous runners and various races across America but it’s told by a man that doesn’t actually like running.  Which is an odd tone because I imagine that the target audience are people that do like running.  I wanted to be inspired and buoyed up through my final month of training, not reminded of how sometimes running makes your legs/back/everything hurt and that leaving the house super early to squeeze in runs even on a Saturday isn’t always the best.

I’m sorry (really) but I completely lack the capacity to feel any kind of sympathy for someone who cheats, squanders a college (university) education that he was privileged enough to have, seemingly can’t be bothered to even apply for a job but feels entitled to moan about being single, living in slightly unpleasant sounding accommodation and not having any money.  I also can’t get behind someone who (sorry again!) comes across as quite selfish.  Without that sympathy (or even empathy, really), I struggled.  When Powell arrives in Boulder, he doesn’t know anybody but is taken in by a wonderful sounding running club full of people who really are passionate about the sport.  Not only do these people welcome him into their group sessions, one man commits himself to training Powell and spends what sounds like hours trying to encourage Powell, providing support when he was at a low point and generally trying to share his love of running so that another man can reach his goal.  All for little to no thanks because Powell has taken up a hobby he doesn’t like and drags his heels about it when given half a chance.  This is becoming a rant, isn’t it?  Bottom line is: if other people give up even an hour of their free time to support you in achieving something, gratitude is in order. If people do that over a long period of time, serious gratitude is in order.  Don’t throw it in their faces by lounging around and moaning about the thing they’re trying to support you in doing.  And especially don’t then write about how much you hated the time that they spent trying to do you a favour.

The problem with my moaning is that it isn’t so much about Running Away as a book but Powell.  Putting aside the fact that I skim read large sections of the book to avoid becoming even more irate about cheating/lethargy/negativity, the writing was ok.  There were times when I found the tenses to be a bit confused and the writing to be a bit repetitive but otherwise it was ok.  Definitely not strong enough to carry the lacklustre tone, though, so still worthy of reasonable complaint.  I think some strong editing would be improve things no end.

So the writing was just acceptable, the author has made some dubious decisions and I imagine is difficult to get behind for a lot of people and the book isn’t particularly inspirational and it isn't half as hopeful as the blurb would imply, largely because of the general hatred of running that seeps out.  I finished it only because I wanted to see whether the author achieved their goal but did I enjoy it?  In case it isn’t already clear by now: no.  No, I did not.

Overall:  No prizes for guessing that I don’t recommend Running Away.  If you run and hate it but really are committed to still doing it and want someone whose unhappiness you can share, maybe this is the book for you.  If you run and like it?  Skip it.  Trust me when I say that it’ll only make you grumpy.

Date finished: 04 August 2014
Format: eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre: Autobiography/Memoir; Running
Pictured edition published: by New Harvest in April 2014