Friday, 27 August 2010

Back on the Book Blogger Hop: 27-30 August 2010

I've missed out on the Book Blogger hop this past few weeks because I always manage to turn up too late to the party! But this week I've manouvered myself into a Friday night flying solo (pyjamas, a glass of red wine, a cheesy DVD and a good book? Yes please!) so I'm pleased to finally join in again!

If you're new to my blog, thank you so much for stopping by - I'm looking forward to returning the hop to all of your great blogs! If you're a return hopper, thank you to you too - you know I love you, right?

So this week's question on the Twitter-Friday-Follow-inspired book blog hop is:

Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

So far I haven't used a rating system on my blog, which is strange because when I first started blogging I definitely wanted to. I was going to then go for a traditional 5 star rating system as a way of letting people know before they read my review what to expect, and I'm sure that is what I will still prefer when I get around to fixing this oversight. It think it also gives bloggers a way of organising reviews (and golly do I like things to be organised) and keeping track of trends and favourites. I've seen more complicated rating systems and I think they give readers a really detailed idea of what to expect from a book but I think that, when I implement a reviewing system, mine will be simple, simple, simple. For two reasons: I already over-analyse things without having to do so numerically; and, I'd like to demonstrate how much I liked the book while still leaving the detail to the review.

When I got to reviewing, I then just sort of bumbled along and the only rating I was doing was on LibraryThing. Actually, now my attention has been drawn to it, I should remedy this!


So what kind of systems do you prefer? The more complicated the better or simple all the way?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Review: 'Poison Study' by Maria V. Snyder

I first saw the title of this in a voted-for-by-bloggers 'Top 101' fantasy fiction reads here.

Even better, this one counts towards both of the challenges I signed up for - hurrah!

What the blurb said:
CHOOSE: A quick death or slow poison...
On the eve of her execution for murder, Yelena is reprieved, but her relief is to be short-lived. She is to be the Commander of Ixia's food taster. Can Yelena learn all she needs to know about poisons before an assassin succeeds?

Her troubles have only just begun, however...Valek, her captor, has a uniquely cruel method to stop her escaping; General Brazell, father of the man she killed, still wants her dead; and someone is plotting against the Commander.

Resourceful and wily, Yelena gains friends, survival skills - and more than a few enemies. In a desperate race against time, the Commander's life, the future of Ixia and the secrets of her own past will be in her hands...

What I would say:
As will become evident, no doubt, books like this are a major weakness of mine. I try to intersperse what I read with more "worthy" novels (more accurately, those I feel like I should be reading) but I can't help but drift back towards a good old fantasy trilogy!

Yelena is awaiting her execution in a dungeon after having murdered her former benefactor's son. The legal system in Ixia provides that the penalty for taking a life is to lose your own, accident or self-defence not relevant. Call me a law dork, but that was a really interesting start for me. Instead, however, of being executed, Yelena chooses to become the Commander's food taster. To avoid her plotting an escape, the (delicious) Valek delivers a dose of Butterfly's Dust, a deadly poison, which means Yelena must take an antidote every day just to stay alive.

Yelena is a fantastic female lead and I loved her contemplation of her soul and whether or not she has chased it away by killing a man. Rather than recovering from her past almost instantaneously, I liked that Yelena seemed to struggle with relationships and trust as a result of her damaging past and I enjoyed the fact that the reasons were gradually revealed, rather than spilled at the end of the book in a more unrealistic fashion because I kept reading in the hope of finding out more.

This was a light read which flowed brilliantly, alternating between the present and Yelena's tortured past. There were fight scenes, sexual tension, assassination attempts and an underlying threat of dormant magic and I loved it. By light, I often mean that it was suitable for younger readers too. This one had a uniquely dark feeling and I liked that the "bad guys" were Bad. Properly bad.

Overall: Plenty of magic, plenty of double-crossing and plenty of twists, this is a great, light fantasy tale with a darker edge than the more common YA affair. I will definitely be following up with #2: 'The Magic Study'.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Review: 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson

What the blurb said: (Although I'm sure this isn't a mystery to most...)
How thin is the line between good and evil? Dr Jekyll has been experimenting with his identity. He has developed a drug which separates the two sides of his nature and allows him to occasionally abandon himself to his most corrupt inclinations as the monstrous Mr Hyde. But gradually he beings to find that the journey back to goodness becomes more and more difficult, and the risk that Mr Hyde will break free entirely from Dr Jekyll's control puts all of London in grave peril.

What I would say:
I feel kind of weird even starting to review a story that is so well known so, instead of doing that, I'm going to keep it brief and leave this more as a 'recommendation'. First off, I realised how ignorant I was because I had no idea that this was written by Robert Louis Stevenson! Cue shame face...

Also, I might never have gotten round to reading this (thinking I already knew it!) if it hadn't been included in a '100 Free Classics' thing that came with my eReader. But it did, so I decided to give it a go. Lesson #2: This is actually a novella and a brief jaunt at only 80 pages (ePages that is...)

So, this story is more or less embedded in literary culture and is cited in loads of modern media (for some reason The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the one that sticks in my head!) - so no major surprises there. The narrator is a lawyer by the name of Utterson and, because the story is so short, the action kicks off right away with a tale of Mr Hyde's general despicability.

The chronology is really interesting and we hear all about Mr Hyde marauding about London before we understand why and Dr Jekyll's perspective doesn't come until the very end, making it a fantastic finale.

Overall: Try it - it's a great (short) example of 19th century literature and the dark and brooding London it portrays is fantastically atmospheric! This would probably serve best for someone looking to branch out into 'classic' literature but who is concerned about the time some such novels can take.

If nothing else, it's worth it for the 19th century 'wit':
"If he shall be Mr Hyde...then I shall be Mr Seek"

Classic, no?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Review: 'Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder' by Joanne Fluke

I first read about this book on the blog Musings of a Bookshop Girl and was tempted in by the fact that the story was laced with recipes for cookies - yes, I'm that easy to suck in! So, here are my thoughts:

What the blurb said:

Hannah already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother's attempts to marry her off, while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden's most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah's famous Chocolate Chip Crunches scattered around him, her life just can't get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer. But if she doesn't watch her back, Hannah's sweet life may get burned to a crisp.

What I would say:

Apparently, this type of book is known in the literary world as a "cozy". I hadn't heard of this but the description does fit...

"...a mystery which includes a bloodless crime and contains very little violence, sex or coarse language...The character solving the crime is often an amateur sleuth who becomes involved for personal reasons"

What I loved the most about this book (awesome recipes aside - Regency Ginger Cookie anyone?) was that it was set in a cutesy little village and had quaint little clues thrown all over a la Murder She Wrote, for example, lipstick on a cup and a cryptic appointment in a diary.

Hannah Swensen, who discovers the crime, is pursuing the murderer to help her brother-in-law secure a promotion. She pulls off endearingly nosy perfectly and the village residents are great back up. Don't expect political intrigue or mega criminal twists - just good clean fun with a teensy bit of murder.

Overall: This is completely inoffensive and very entertaining for a sunny afternoon or two. Kind of like munching your way through a plate of cookies but without the post-gorge guilt!

If you fancy checking out this and the rest of the series (do it...), try Joanne Fluke's website here

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Apologies and an Award

I've been a bad little blogger this past couple of weeks so I'm feeling very repentant and double-posting to make myself feel better!

So, first up - I got an award which I'm so very grateful for and excited about :)

I've seen this little gem around quite a lot over the couple of months I've been blogging and, reading the rules, it's not hard to see why! So here they are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason!

4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

My extra special thanks go to these lovely ladies, whose blogs I adore:

And as for me in seven easy steps - here goes!

1. Aside from reading, I love to cook! I hoarde recipe books and download recipes and steal recipes from people and blab on about recipes and...well, I could go on.

2. To stop myself suffering the obvious side effects of being in love with cooking (and eating) I also love to run. I did a Half Marathon this year and was very proud but no (because everyone asks) I do not currently plan to do a 'proper' marathon - 26 miles is very far.

3. Coffee is my water. Without it I would die. Add milk to my coffee and you will die (although obviously not actually...I just won't drink it and you'll have wasted your time.

4. I am terrified of cows, pigeons and big dogs, in that order.

5. I'm overly sensitive/affectionate/sappy - I name lots of random possessions (including, but not limited to, Dan the House Plant, Colin the eReader and Pob the iPod). I am incapable of killing anything, which isn't sensitive of itself obviously but it extends to really annoying things like flies and mosquitoes because I can't help worrying that they'll feel bad and/or their families (!) will be upset when they don't fly home. (Please remember I never listed rationality as one of my traits...)

6. I am exceptionally and disproportionately annoyed by people who note 'I always tell people what I think of them/people know when I don't like them' as a positive attribute. This is actually known as being rude...and that is bad. A downside being I can't tell them that because then I'm a hypocrite...tough one...

7. I seem to lean towards excessive use of this type of punctuation: ... But I don't know what it's called.

And, in the spirit of this, here are my loved blogs in no order whatsoever:

So there we go - THANKS ALL!

Dawn of a new eRa

FINALLY! It was my birthday yesterday which meant that I was at last allowed to get my little hands on my shiny new eReader. I kind of hedged around the debate when I first mentioned that I knew I was getting one as a gift but obviously I'd chosen a side by that point. Now I can actually hold the little fella, I love him even more than I thought I would.

As is evident from my chosen blog theme - I love books. More specifically though, I love reading. Having just moved house and revealed the extent of this love to my co-habitee (I'd previously hidden books at my parents'...bad, I know), it appeared that we didn't have the space for me to continue to demonstrate said love in the same way. eBooks looked more appealing the more full my shelves got. Because, the other thing is, I'm a neat freak. Piles of books not shelved and organised just will not do...

So I did some investigating (otherwise known as hours of web browsing and reading articles and reviews everywhere) and learnt that my city's libraries have an eLibrary site - you can borrow eBooks like regular books so double cost benefit because I could use the library without being hampered by silly billy opening hours. I also figure that the story doesn't change no matter what format you're in and I can, after all, still enjoy the same stories and characters and perspectives and so on.

Although it did make me do something very out of character! I never abandon books for any kind of reason because I feel like once I've put in some hours, I need to see it through. It's a failing. I know that. Or perhaps I'm so optomistic I convince myself things will get better - either way! ANYway, I put aside 'Sunshine' by Robin McKinley, eagerly grabbed my eReader and got straight into 'Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder' by Joanne Fluke. And I still loved it!!!

Ok, so I'll admit it was a bit weird at first but after the novelty wore off, I got into the story and now me and my jolly lovely eReader are very happy together. Yes, he doesn't smell like a book but I don't choose the people I love by their scent so I can't apply that to my inanimate objects either.

All told: I'm one happy eCustomer :)

Monday, 9 August 2010

Review: 'Her Fearful Symmetry' by Audrey Niffenegger

What the blurb said:

Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ...but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat...

What I would say:

When I was paying for this one, the guy at the till was chatting away about how great he thought this was and how Niffenegger did so much research into Highgate Cemetry while writing it that she now acts as a tour guide there. I love books which include history of a location, culture or featured historical figure so this was a big selling point to me.

The first thing I noticed about this book was how heavily the story was invested in the characters. For the most part, the novel takes place in the house that contains the flat that was once (and in a way still is) inhabited by Elspeth Noblin and that is inherited by the Poole twins, the flat of Elspeth’s former lover Robert and the flat of utterly lovable OCD sufferer Martin and his wife Marijke.

So are the characters worth the time? At first, I wasn’t so sure. I loved Martin from the start and his vulnerability is very reminscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and really sympathised with his long suffering wife. Valentina and Julia were the weak links for me. Oddly for me, my first impressions changed with the characters and the characters that I disliked at first became my favourites. This leant the fantastical story an air of realism which I loved.

Obviously, the unique point of this story is that it is a “ghost story”. Most modern novels skirt around the issue of a ghost and hint at something supernatural (I’m thinking Sarah Waters’ ‘The Little Stranger’). This book includes the Elspeth’s perspective as a ghost which is unique and fascinating, not least because of the effect this has on all of the other characters. Yes, at times it’s a teensy bit too much but overall I liked the effect.

The pace of the novel really picks up from about half way in and there are a good few twists to keep things rolling. When I say twist, they aren’t the kind of twists that jump out of nowhere and smack you round the face while you’re looking in the other direction - they’re hinted at so that just before they happened I found myself thinking “No way is…going to happen” - and it did! I like that as it feels more real and helps me think that I’ve really gotten to know the characters so this was a plus for me.

Overall: This wasn't as memorable as 'The Time Traveller's Wife' but it was an interesting atypical ghost story looking at lost love and how it can continue to affect all those involved after death - I'd recommend it to all readers looking for a wee bit of a tear-jerker...although it's not all as gloomy as it sounds!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Book Blogger Hop: 6-9 August - Do you listen to music when you read?

Hello hoppers all!

So it's Saturday afternoon and I finally got around to
hopping! The question this week was:

Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favourite reading tunes?

I tend to multi-task at all times - I'll browse the internet while I'm watching TV, make phone calls while I'm cooking and have been known to tidy up while I'm brushing my teeth. But for some reason, I never mix reading with anything! I love listening to music and I love to read but I just can't mix the two - I just get jumbled and concentrate on neither. If I'm reading, I like to focus and get right into a story and if I'm listening to music, I like to warble along. I hate feeling like I've read the same paragraph over and over, which is what tends to happen if I'm trying to read while listening to music or watching TV.

Although, having said that, if I'm on a train I'll occasionally plug in my iPod to block out any irritating conversations I find myself earwigging on unintentionally - and, if I do, it has to be something without words...

Hope everyone enjoys the hop - hopefully will see some new (blog)faces this weekend and some of my favourites :)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Latest library haul and other library bumble

So I recently raided my local library again. This is more difficult than you would think seeing as my local library is currently trying out an unusual system which involves grouping books by previous borrowers' recommendations rather than genres, i.e. where other libraries have 'Science Fiction/Fantasy' and 'Crime', we have 'Recommended Short Reads' and 'Recently Recommended'. So much more interesting than anything old Dewey came up with (I suspect not...).

Anyway, while I was wandering around looking for things that grabbed my fancy, I overheard a woman (accompanied by a very small baby) grumbling about a £30 (!!) fine she had run up by having 5 books overdue by 5 weeks. I, personally, would be demure and apologetic etc. She, however, chose to blame her baby! Not in the "Oh, I've got a brand new baby and I've been awfully busy" kind of way but in the "They're on my baby's card..are you really fining my baby?" way. How the librarian ever replied "Yes, but it really is your responsibility to ensure their return seeing as your baby can't" with a straight face I'll never know...

Regardless of this amusing occurence, I dug out:

Robin McKinley 'Sunshine'

I've seen this book mentioned on a lot of blogs and I'm intrigued. I was actually looking for McKinley's Beauty because Beauty and the Beast was my favourite Disney film when I was younger (there was a brunette 'princess'...) and I fancied reading her re-write. My library didn't have it. It did have Sunshine however so here we are!

John Connolly 'The Book of Lost Things'

I've somehow never heard of this author but, after a quick Waterstone's search, I now know he has written rather a lot - the story of this is about a twelve year old boy whose mother dies. He looks to her books for solace and the real world and his fantasy world start to meld and he is propelled into a world of his imagination.

Plus, the first line is:

"Once upon a time - for that is how all stories should begin - there was a boy who lost his mother"

I just couldn't leave it behind after seeing that!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: 'Fire' by Kristin Cashore

What the blurb said:

Set in a world of stunningly beautiful, exceptionally dangerous monsters, Fire is one of the most dangerous monsters of all - a human one. Marked out by her vivid red hair, she's more than attractive. Fire is mesmerising. But with this extraordinary beauty comes influence and power. People who are susceptible to her appeal will do anything for her attention, and for her affection. They will turn away from their families, their work, and their duties for her. They will forget their responsibilities to please her ...and worse, crush nations, neglect kingdoms and abuse their power. Aware of her power, and afraid of it, Fire lives in a corner of the world away from people, and away from temptation. Until the day comes when she is needed - a day when, for her king, she has to take a stand not only against his enemies, but also against herself ...

What I would say:

I loved Graceling so I was really looking forward to reading this and I wasn’t disappointed!

The book starts by re-introducing the delightfully creepy Leck from Graceling. The reader follows Leck and his unfortunate father from the Seven Kingdoms to the Dells - a land where humans are pitted against monsters and Lords are pitted against each other. The Dells is as vast as the Seven Kingdoms were and both novels are rich in their scope.

I’ve seen this book criticised for making Fire’s “power” being unimaginably beautiful and able to control the thoughts and actions of those around her and surviving on her looks alone - upsetting to strong feminists indeed. But I disagree - Fire is described as a ‘monster’ and that’s exactly how she sees herself; something unnatural and abhorrent. I know that the “Oh, I’m so beautiful it’s a curse” line might not wash with everyone but I found I respected Fire for trying to live without using her unusual gifts and actually did find her endearing. The supporting characters are also great, in particular the lovely Commander Brigan (who I imagined to be a bit like the delicious Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films) and adorable Hanna.

This novel is set in a city and deals a lot more with hierarchy and power struggles which gave it a similar feel to a historical fiction - I personally love a bit of court intrigue so it was a perfect combination for me. There was plenty of action and plenty of romance and I was completely gripped until the very end!

My only (very minor) objection was that the idea of graces, which was so unique in Graceling, was mentioned in Fire but never expanded upon - I would have liked to see the two novels brought together a little more. This didn't feel to me like a prequel at all and a reader could easily enjoy either novel as a stand-alone, which is great for those who don't like being tied to a series (unlike me - I love a good epic series!)

Overall: I would definitely recommend this book as it’s a light read with plenty of gripping action and surprises and I’ll be eagerly awaiting Bitterblue, the third in this ‘series’.