Monday, 23 March 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Seven, Book Ten (Chapters 1 to 30)

Well.  I think the less said about this week's reading, the better.  If it hadn't been for circumstances leaving me with substantial periods of time at tiny airports with nothing but my Kindle to entertain me, I'm really not sure if I'd have made it through the 30 chapters.  So, so dry.

Let's move past the whole terrible experience with some prompts.

1) We seem to have a lot more War and a lot less Peace this week. How are you finding it?

Painful.  This week's reading was what I'd worried the whole book would be like.  Confusing, dry and hard to follow.  I've been enjoying it so far but I'm struggling at the moment, it has to be said.

2) Do you feel you've learned anything about Russia, the Napoleonic Wars or the French Revolution from reading this novel?

I do actually feel as though I've learned a bit about the Napoleonic Wars.  I mean, I couldn't exactly write an essay about it but I feel as though I know more about Napoleon's shenanigans outside of Europe than I did before.  I'm not sure I've learned anything about Russia as such, unless it's to learn that the social dynamics aren't that dissimilar to England's.

3) How reasonable do you think Princess Marya was over the death of her father?

I used to like Marya and I still feel sorry for her but Rostov?  Really?  I had a lot of respect for Marya when she was wondering about how much better her life would be without her horrible father but her response to his death was as confusing as their relationship.  It was actually some quite clever writing and a high point for the week (although that wasn't tricky).  I'm hoping that she realises that her attachment to Rostov is just her falling for the first man to be nice to her.  Really hoping.  Either that or he'll realise that he loves her too and they'll live happily ever after.  Because that would be nice for Marya.

4) What exactly was the point in Pierre hurrying off to war? Has anybody actually figured this out!?

I don't think even Pierre knows what the point in him going off to war was.  Unless of course it was to wear a hat and parade around looking at serfs digging trenches.  Or irritating Prince Andrew by appearing at his tent uninvited and talking about things that he doesn't have experience of.  To be fair to him, at the end of my chapter 30, Pierre did seem to be about to wander off into the fray so maybe things will pick up soon.

Now let's move on to another week and hope that things pick up!  I don't think I can take many more chapters of dreary conversations and musings about whether or not Napoleon might have had a cold.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Review-Ramble Hybrid: 'The Colour of Magic' by Terry Pratchett

Bex over at An Armchair by the Sea ran a lovely series of posts in memory of Terry Pratchett (starting HERE) and roused lots of readers to read anything written by the prolific author in the sad week after his death.  You can find all of the tweets and miscellaneous Pratchett chatter that incorporated the hashtag #pratchettreadathon here.  

I didn't sign up for the read-a-thon because I genuinely didn't expect that I'd get time to start a book during the week, never mind finish one.  But in a rather annoying turn of events, including a broken boiler (prompting a couple of nights hiding under a duvet with a hot water bottle and my Kindle that fortunately has a glow feature) and a meeting that finished early and a flight that was delayed (leaving me with SIX HOURS at a very small airport indeed), I managed to both start and finish The Colour of Magic, the first in the ginormous Discworld series.

As Bex's post illustrated, there are many ways to approach the Discworld series.  There are so many differing views on the "right" way to read it that I've never really tried any of them.  Instead, since my teenage years, I've adopted an approach of just randomly picking up any Practchett book I could get my hands on when I was in the mood for something light, entertaining and easy to settle into.  There's something about the Discworld books that is so comforting.  Something about Practhett's writing oozes warmth, even when it's dripping in sarcasm.  A friendly brand of satire.

When it became apparent that I would in fact be able to visit Ankh-Morpork this week, I didn't quite know what to choose.  I've read pretty haphazardly from the Discworld series and, I'll admit, there are a couple of books that I'm not sure if I've read or not.  I know that I love the Watch books (and obviously adore Night Watch) and I know that I love the Witches books.  I've read a lot of the later books (Going Postal is one of my favourites) but my knowledge of the series overall is extremely patchy.  I could have gone back and picked up something that I already know that I love but I've been meaning to really get into the series "properly" for ages and it seemed a shame not to do that now.  So I obeyed my order-driven instincts and went right back to the beginning.  Book 1 of 40.

I was wary of my choice.  I've heard mixed things about the first in the series and "guides" to the series don't recommend publication order as a way to approach the back catalogue.  I figured that I've read enough of the books though that I'd know enough about the characters, Pratchett's style and where he took his unruly civilisation of miscreants and wizards that it was time for me to give it a try.  And I was pleasantly surprised!

The Colour of Magic might be a bit random, with Rincewind the sort of wizard and Twoflowers the tourist bouncing from one surreal situation to another, but it still contains everything that makes the series so overwhelmingly popular.  Sure, the jokes aren't the most sophisticated but do they have to be?  Don't we all love a good pun and a bit of silliness from time to time?  Does everything have to be shrouded in layers of complexity that we have to really work through just to get the joke?  I'm in the 'no' camp, personally.  Part of why I love Pratchett is that his the humour of his writing is so accessible.  There's dry humour for people with a more wry sense of humour.  There's slapstick for people that prefer their jokes falling over things.  There's everything.  The Colour of Magic might not have the strongest plot but it's just damn good fun.  Dragons, magic, demons, gods, Death, gold-hungry heroes, candied jellyfish, Luggage, assassins, thieves, the Edge, water trolls.  All in 285 pages.

I might not know the series as well as I'd like and I may not be able to give you well-informed advice about where to start the Discworld series it you're a newbie but I do know that if you're looking for adventure and something to completely take you away from what can (let's face it) be quite a gloomy world, The Colour of Magic is a great book with some lovely writing.
"It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself.  But Rincewind always thought it looked a sort of greenish-purple"
Sir Terry Pratchett was a truly wonderful author and I was very sad to hear of his death.  I can't say anything more profound or more heartfelt than his many fans have already said.  I only hope that people will continue to enjoy his books for years to come and celebrate his life that way.  It won't be long before I pick up The Light Fantastic and carry on doing just that.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Six, Book Nine

Thank goodness last week's reading was another short one because CRIKEY, was it hard going at first!  I keep thinking that eventually I'll get into the war chapters too and they'll become easier to read but it just doesn't seem to be happening.  Things picked up later on but it wasn't easy sticking with it when I was being taunted by Fangirl sitting on my bedside table unfinished!

I don't really feel as though I have much else to add this week so let's get prompting.


1) Honestly, by this point in the book (55% or so), do you think War & Peace could have been shorter or did it need to be this long?

If anybody says that this book genuinely needed to be this long, they are crazy.  I think all of the character development will prove completely worth it and I haven't resented any of it but the hunting, the creepy dancing, the slightly lecturing passages about Freemasons and the dream sequences I could live without.

2) Do you feel there's been another change in tone? Why do you think Tolstoy keeps doing this? Do you like it?

I wonder if whether maybe this is sort of Tolstoy's style?  Either that or he has a complete lack of focus and kept wandering off while he was writing.  The sections that I like the most are the ones where Tolstoy picks back up the thread of the characters' stories and re-telling Russia's history (when he's being brief about it).  I know that I'm probably alone in this but although I'm not always a fan of his ramblings, I actually enjoyed Tolstoy's musings on war...sorry about that...
"To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England's policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged.  We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk and Moscow and were killed by them" [Loc 14706]

3) Natasha. AAAAAAAAAND GO.  

She actually hasn't really bothered me this week, although I'm not exactly a fan of her self-pity.  I've always quite liked the Rostovs but their pandering to her didn't fill me with love.  Some of the commentary on doctors and medical treatment at the time was pretty amusing, though, so it stopped me getting too cranky.  

The thing I can't work out is where Natasha's story is going.  To a convent maybe.  Or back to Andrew?  I don't know.  Every time I think she's grown up, she lets me down.  I hope that she'll be a woman and go and apologise to Andrew and try to make things right rather than moaning at Pierre but somehow I expect that's not what I'll get...

4) Pierre has convinced himself (via numerology, obviously) that Napoleon is the Antichrist from The Book of Revelation. Is this in character for Pierre? How do you think he'll act on this?

Ha - I thought that bit was completely random but also kind of brilliant.  The more I read about Pierre, the less I dislike him and the more entertaining I find him.  I still think he's a complete burk but I somehow like reading about how he gets himself led into ridiculous situations or convinces himself of strange ideas, like numerical prophecies.  He seems to be getting more and more into slightly...quirky ideas and it wasn't out of sync with his earlier sudden devotion to the Freemasons so I wasn't surprised.  I would be surprised, however, if it resulted in concrete action.  I'm more expecting a lot of vague plan making, some ranting about his wife, some more weird obsessing over Natasha and some sending away of serfs to war before Pierre loses interest in the idea and goes back to just spending his money on drink and cards.

I have a lot of travelling coming up over the next few days so I'm hoping to make decent progress on Book Ten so that I can squeeze in something else.  Maybe The Colour of Magic so that I can contribute in a tiny way to the lovely series of posts that Bex has running (find her Pratchett Reading Week original post HERE).

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review: 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed 

A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 

Are you ready?

Review

I don't even know where to start with this.  Maybe with the reason I even picked up Ready Player One?  I'd heard of it maybe a couple of years ago when everybody started reading it, mentally noted it as something to pick up one day if I happened across it and then forgot all about it.  I was reminded every now and then when I saw it on the occasional list of favourites but it was never something I felt like I had to go out and buy.  Until Hanna texted me in January at nearly midnight on a Sunday with much upper case enthusiasm and said that I HAD TO READ READY PLAYER ONE.  So I did.  Because I am nothing if not easily led by Hanna into reading pretty much anything.

I was promised that it would be amazing.  And it is.  Absolutely, unrelentingly, unputdownably amazing.  Reading it was the most fun I've had reading a book in years and I didn't ever want it to stop.  It manages to be both completely niche in its unashamed geekiness but also completely accessible.  I was born in the late 80s (ok, fine, 1986 is probably "mid-80s" but whatever) so I'm really more au fait with 90s popular culture and missed a few of the computer game references but I knew enough about the music and films of the time that I could still feel connected.  Even if I hadn't got those references, I honestly believe that I would still have loved it because Cline just writes with such an obvious love for all things "nerdy" that it's infectious.

The text is quite small and there's a lot on a page so when I opened it on the 10th of January, I thought it would maybe take a couple of weeks.  I finished it on the 12th.  I was travelling quite a lot in that couple of days, sure, but I was obsessed with it.  And not in a general "oh, this is a good book" way.  The kind of all-encompassing obsession with a book that means that you eat reading it, read it when you're stood waiting for anything that will take any longer than 2 minutes and just generally ignore everybody else in your life until you've finished and can look to them for consolation over the gaping hole the book has left.

Ready Player One may well be an homage to 80s pop culture but it's also a gripping science fiction adventure story that's grounded just well enough in reality that it doesn't take long to lose yourself in.  I don't read a lot of science fiction because I don't like reading long descriptions of technological advance or political background or, heaven forbid, actual science.  Cline has managed to write something that is both undeniably science fiction but without the tedium.  Somehow, you completely understand both the real and virtual world that Wade lives in without having to suffer through any dry explanations.  It's impeccable and not really all that much of a stretch of imagination.  I remember when Second Life was launched about 10 years ago and the media was filled with tales of women leaving their husbands for men they'd met while building their perfect life.  You don't have to read the news for too long to see endless stories about bankruptcy, environmental disaster and how badly we're damaging the world.  Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine a world where everybody is crowded into small spaces without any money or natural resources, seeking refuge online?  Add in an adventure story and you've got something golden.

The online contest and the bedlam that ensues when Wade happens across the first clue is so, so much fun.  Like everything else about this book.  The pace is pretty hectic but not so much that it seem rushed or overwhelming.  When I could feel that the story was starting to wrap up, I was genuinely sad.  I could still be reading about Wade and about his friends two months later and I'm pretty sure I'd still be happy.

The story is amazing.  The characters are amazing.  The writing is amazing.  The whole damn thing from start to finish is AMAZING.  Consider this your midnight text.

Overall:  My biggest problem with Ready Player One is that finishing it and knowing that I'd read one of the best books I was going to read all year.  Nothing since has even been close to being as good.  Just read it, already.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 12 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in June 2012 by Broadway Books

Ernest Cline's next book, Armada is out on the 16th of July this year and I'll be reading it as soon as I physically can (you can pre-order too HERE).  I never pre-order books but there's no way I can do anything but pre-order this.  If it's as good as Ready Plater One, I've got myself a new favourite author.

Monday, 9 March 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Five, Book Eight

HALF WAY THROUGH!  Half way through is insane.  I really wasn't convinced when we started out that I'd be able to keep up and here I am half way through!  It feels pretty bloody good.  And there was no weird dancing in this week's reading and it was short (well played, Hanna) and packed full of scandal!  Things are going swimmingly. 

Despite being pretty short, there was much gawping by me, lots of frustrating grumbling about a certain young idiot and plenty of bits that I'm excited to see others' views on.

1) Could the disastrous meeting between Marya and Natasha have gone any other way? Who was to blame?

Absolutely!  I don't like either of the women particularly but I at least feel sorry for Mary so I'd like to blame Natasha.  I kind help but think that maybe it was mostly Mary, though.  Or at least, to be juvenile about it, that Mary started it.  Natasha was a guest in Mary's home and she was there to get to know her prospective new family (albeit not quite of her own volition) so I feel as though the onus was really on Mary to put aside her jealousy and welcome Natasha.  Obviously Natasha getting snooty didn't help matters.  

OH and all of this reminds me that I'm excessively glad that Marya Dmitrievna wasn't just a guest at a party that we'd never get to see again.  She's about the only character where I haven't thought "I think I like her but...".  I just like her and the Rostovs need someone around that'll kick their arses when they're being ridiculous.

2) Everyone seems to be secretly considering Marya for marriage at the moment. Do you think it will ever happen for her? Was Boris right to pick Julie?

I will give Tolstoy kudos for one thing - it's quite nice reading about men prowling around after rich heiresses rather than the other way round!  I don't know if that says something about Russian society at the time but I don't think I've read many books set in England in the same time period where the men are openly heiress hunting.  I'm obviously happy to be proven wrong but I'm interesting myself for the time being. ANYway, do I think Mary will get married?  No.  I think she'll keep not noticing when people are flirting with her, offending potential suitors, making excuses for not meeting people or taking up opportunities and just generally ruining her own chances.  She makes me sad.  Her father's awful, her brother's a bit of a tool, she didn't like her penfriend in real life and lost that small ray of hope.  The girl makes my heart hurt.

I'm disappointed in Boris for not giving Mary more of a chance to notice his advances and I think that he thought that he could maybe love her but obviously it's more important to snag yourself a wealthy wife than it is to wait for pesky love to turn up so for that he deserves stupid Julie and her stupid weird book of gloomy poetry.

Incidentally, one thing I'm glad to know is that I'm not the only person who was confused by the Kuragin/Karagin thing!

3) There's too much drama with Natasha for me to formulate an all-encompassing question so...I don't know. Discuss.

What a MORON!  I felt sort of sorry for her when Anatole first deciding she was his next conquest because he is obviously quite the sexual predator but she went too far with the undying love and the eloping nonsense.  I get that he's handsome and she's young and she misses the fiancĂ© that's been away ever since they got engaged but really, Natasha?  You REALLY want to elope with a man who you've met a couple of times?  And then you're going to try and poison yourself when the only two characters that aren't vile save you from becoming the second wife of a dickhead that targeted you because you were young and would "lose your head"?!  ARGH!  I enjoyed reading it but that does not mean I liked it.  She's an idiot.  The only advantage to her idiocy is that it's given Pierre the opportunity to stop mumbling to himself about the Freemasons and do something useful.  I liked him in this book and I liked the way that he was with Andrew when he got back.

Also, my weird edition called the chapter that they were smooching at the party "Anatole makes love to Natasha" and I've got to be honest - WHAT?  If she's pregnant in a few chapters, though, we'll know it was true.

4) Lots of characters are being fairly dickish this week. Who wins the prize for the person you'd most like to slap?

What a truly great question!  There were a lot of characters being dickish this week!  I found Helene quite vile this week, what with her excessive bosoming around the place and luring Natasha to a party so that Anatole could have his way with her (apparently).  Anatole was obviously a complete creep.  Dolokhov didn't redeem himself from his previous misdeeds and is still clearly out to be a pain in the arse of society.  If I could slap one face, however, it would be Natasha's.  Without a second thought. And I'd enjoy it.  I'm not a massive Andrew fan but I thought he was improving with Natasha so if she can't keep it together for a single year without constructing a tragic plan to elope, it's a poor effort.  Plus, she was awful to Sonya, who's basically one of the only people who's actually decent.  Shove off, Natasha.

I've read one chapter of this week's reading and it looks like we're back to war...but we're half way through so nothing can defeat us now!  Come on us!!  See you next week :)