Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Bring on the New Year!

First up, a belated..

MERRY CHRISTMAS..

...to all you bloggers out there!!

So I'm a few days too late...it's the thought that counts, so I'm told.

I've seen a ton of posts around over the last few days with lots of 2011 excitement, be it blog challenges, resolutions or read-alongs. So, I'm going to do a little bit of all three! Because I'm both sceptical of my chances of getting any posting done until 2011 has already dawned what with entertaining both my own and boyfriend's parents at our house over the next couple of days (*deep calming breaths*) and overly-excited about all the bloggy goodness I'm hoping for in this coming year.

CHALLENGES
I've already signed up for the 2011 TBR Pile Challenge but would like to get all signed up to just a couple more:



Hosted over at The Ladybug Reads - this one is as simple as it sounds: read eBooks! Since I got my eReader I've fallen in love! If you too love a bit 'e' action, just head on over to the blog, choose your level and sign up! I'm going for obsessed - 20 eBooks.




Hosted over at The Book Vixen - one of the things I have learnt since I started this blog is that I let a lot of things get in the way of reading. I'll probably finish this year (unless I get poorly and end up bed-ridden with nothing but my books for company) on just under 50 books. That really isn't as many as I thought but I guess averaging a book a week isn't so bad considering the length of some of the books I have read. ANYway, this challenge sets you the task of outdoing yourself! So next year, I aim, quite simply, to read more books in 2011 than I will have read in 2010. I'm going for breaking a sweat - 11-15 more books.

"RESOLUTIONS"

Usually, I hate New Year's Resolutions - they seem fun at the time and are motivating for all of two weeks and then you end up finishing January disappointed. No way to start a year if you ask me! But, that said, I'd like to set myself some little goals for the year and see how I go:

1. Post more consistently: I now work further away from home than I did previously which means that I spend longer commuting and less time at home. So what I need to do is make better use of the time I am at home or able to blog remotely to make sure I can stay in touch with my blog and post reviews for the increasing number of books I'll be ridding *determined nod*

2. Get more involved in the blog community: So far this year, I've loved what I've seen - I want to get out there and find all there is to love amongst book blogging!

3. Be more of a nerd: I don't need too much help with this one but, more specifically, I want to keep track of what I'm reading a bit more - that means spreadsheets and lists! Ah, spreadsheets and lists.....ahem! I'm hoping that this will help me keep track of books I want to read, books I have read and generally do a better job of plotting my course through all of the hundreds of books I want to get to!

AND FINALLY, as of 1st January 2011, I will be starting my first read-along of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier so that's very exciting :)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Review(!): 'Life and Laughing: My Story' by Michael McIntyre


Rating: 3.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Library's eBook site

Published: by Penguin Books Limited in October 2010


The Synopsis

I thought that, rather than writing what you already know (this is an autobiography of a comedian named Michael McIntyre), I would put in a funny clip that actually gives you a better idea about the kind of tone of the book and the person who wrote it...I'm not sure how well known Michael McIntyre is around the world (perhaps nowhere outside of the UK!) but anyway, enjoy!



***Sincere apologies if that doesn't work - I'm on my PC in my office and it doesn't have the right media player so I can't check...if it doesn't work, it will be rectified from my trusty laptop this evening!***

The Review

I'm a huge fan of Michael McIntyre as a comedian; I adore his stand-up and it always seems to make me laugh no matter how many times I've seen it! But, going into reading this, I was trying to balance that against my innate dislike of autobiographies. That's unfair, actually. Make that my innate dislike of modern autobiographies by celebrities. I've never read one and would still maintain that it isn't a habit. I wanted something funny to read; I know I find Michael McIntyre funny SO I spotted this available on the library's site and decided to go for it.

It is, as I hoped, really very entertaining! Laugh-out-loud type funny, which is, as you can imagine, not ideal for public transport. The tone was exactly like that of his stand-up and that was perfect.

What I wasn't prepared for though was that it wouldn't just be funny. The parts of the story where life isn't all rosy feel very genuine and are fascinating. I never knew how much comedians go through before they are 'recognised' and I do now, so that's a bonus.

There isn't really a great deal I can offer more than that, I don't think: the writing is superb, the tone alternates between amused/self-depracating and touchingly honest and it's a great insight into the work required to be in any comedic profession.

Overall: As far as my experience goes, this is a great autobiography - it doesn't take itself too seriously and is humble but, most of all, it's a witty and light read that will keep you giggling until Christmas. I'd recommend it to fans of McIntyre's stand-up. To those who haven't heard of him - head on over to YouTube - the guy's awesome!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Rebecca Readalong Sign Up Time :)

Golly, I seem to be doing a lot of "next year, I'll be doing ..." posts and not a lot of reviewing or talking about actual books! I do apologise for that but I guess it's that time of year - tons of us bloggers are being swept away by tempting challenges and irresistible goodies for 2011! Anyway, I can't promise this is the last but I shall promise that I'll get a review up before I post another join-up! I've finished Michael McIntyre's autobiography (perhaps the first autobiography I've read since school...) and have pretty much finished an amazing historical fiction novel, Dandelions in the Garden by Charlie Courtland. Reviews hopefully up soon so hang in there blog-fellows!


Anyway, on to the READALONG!!



I've wanted to read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for years and bought a copy ages ago with that very intention. Did I read it? No. It has languished on my shelves ever since. But no more!!


Allie over at A Literary Odyssey is hosting a fabulous Readalong throughout January 2011


All you have to do is head over here and post a comment saying that you want to take part. Then, obviously, you read the book along with lots of other bloggy companions and gossip about it to your heart's content! These are the scheduled posts:
  • 14-17 January - This post will focus on the first half of the book (approx. 190 pages or chapters 1-15)

  • 28-31 January - This post will focus on the second half of the book (approx. 190 pages or chapters 16-27)

So if you fancy enjoying this classic with some like-minded folk, head over and sign up!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

(Some waffle and..) The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge!!!


Hosted by: Roof Beam Reader

This ties in nicely with my most recent post on the 'TBR Dare' - seeing as I'm going to be attempting to stick to those books I already own, I might as well be laying down some ground rules or, more specifically, sticking to those laid down by others...SO, here's the deal:

The Goal:
To finally read 12 books from your "to be read" pile, within 12 months.

Specifics:


1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or "To Be Read" list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2010 or later (any book published in the year 2009 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile - I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the "can't get through" pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below - link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book's review. Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed in order to count as completed.

3. Your list must be posted by Friday, December 31st, 2010.

There's more information over at the sign-up post here - to be honest, if you haven't checked out Roof Beam Reader already while blogging around, shame on you! The reviews are particularly interesting and penned by...wait for it...a MAN! So yeh, it's awesome, go there now! Why not sign up for the challenge while you're there?! :)

On to the list!!! The 12 books I plan on reading are:

  1. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  2. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Girl at Lion D'Or by Sebastian Faulks
  5. Possession by A.S.Byatt
  6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostotevsky
  7. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  8. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  10. A Changed Man by Francine Prose
  11. Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann
  12. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

And my two reserves (because some of those might beat me..we'll see..) are:

  1. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  2. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

On a festive aside, my boyfriend and I went to lovely York today to use our pre-Christmas leave to finish off our present buying - I snapped this little picture hastily on my phone (because it was snowing and my boyfriend said I was being embarassing!) and thought I'd share even if it isn't the best picture...aah, York is such a beautiful city in places - particularly while hugging a mug of mulled wine and buying presents!!! :)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The TBR Dare!


The Dare: This is not a reading challenge. It's a dare. [James @ Ready When You Are, C.B dares] you to pledge you will only read books in your TBR stack for as long as you dare starting 1 January 2011.

**One hour, one day, one book, one week, or until the dare ends on April 1**

I know I've mentioned this about a thousand times since I started blogging but early this year my boyfriend and I decided to be "grown-ups" and buy a house - I know, scary! So I merrily packed up my books in boxes, supervised them into the van that contained everything we owned (more than we thought, as it turns out...) and bobbled along the road to suburban happiness.

My parents, as a moving gift, helped us buy some furniture and I invested in two huge bookcases for my collection. Floor to ceiling jobs that made the study look just lovely! And then I started unpacking...carried on unpacking...still unpacking...and they were full and I hadn't finished. Yes, a problem.

Another thing people don't mention: houses are expensive! Decorating, furnishing and a new front door does not need a lot to spare for books - and yet I always manage to squeeze some in each month...

ANYway, enough blabbery back story? I think so! In short: I have too many books and could do with saving some money if I ever want to go on holiday ever again; I need to actually read the books I have rather than spending the money I don't have on new ones...

SO: I will be reading exclusively from my stash of books (e and regular!) from 1 January to at least 1 February and as long as I can manage after that!

Care to join me?! Just click the blog title link back up at the top of this post! You know you want to...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

HELP needed: Twitter Mega-Novice

I've always been intrigued by the idea of Twitter and couldn't get the appeal - I used to actively be irritated by some Facebook 'status updating' habits (Do I need to know when you're arguing with your boyfriend? No...whatever happened to not "airing dirty laundry in public"?!). I thought that Twitter was essentially this element of Facebook boiled down. Apparently, I was wrong - whoever would have guessed?


But my curiosity has gradually been piqued, particularly by bloggers who mention book clubs, read-alongs and other such bookish activities. So I finally signed up and thought I would give it a go!

Turns out, it's confusing! I have no idea how I'm supposed to find all these lovely activities, never mind get involved...so this is a humble plea to those more experienced than I in "tweeting"...any advice would be lovely :) And any recommendations of stuff I can join or get involved in on a book-type theme would be even lovelier!!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Review: 'Burnt Shadows' by Kamila Shamsie

Far less often than I should, I'll read something I know is going to be hard-going, be it controversial political points or just gut-wrenching sobs galore, just to keep the brain cells ticking. Even less often, I'll read something that is both of those things rolled into one but for some reason I feel compelled to buy copies for everyone I know - THIS is one of those books...

*****Rating: 5 stars*****
Format: Paperback

Source: Local charity shop

Genre: Literary fiction

Published: by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in October 2009

The Synopsis (Taken from waterstones.com)

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this? he wonders. August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost...

Sweeping in its scope and mesmerising in its evocation of time and place, "Burnt Shadows" is an epic narrative of disasters evaded and confronted, loyalties offered and repaid, and loves rewarded and betrayed.

The Review

Not too many years ago, there was a child who cried at social injustice without understanding what she was crying at; then, there was an idealistic law student determined to become a human rights lawyer, unswervingly filling her head with international cases and conventions/statute/regulations and muddling through them all to find a way towards that ever-mocked 'world peace'. And yes, she is me...
At some point I realised two things: one, it was unlikely I would ever make it in the ironically cut-throat world that is becoming an established human rights lawyer and; two, short of a windfall, I couldn't support myself through the hundreds of pro bono cases that would preceed the actually-getting-paid part (those who have their human rights violated obviously not usually being particularly wealthy...). So I still became a lawyer but I swerved off towards commercial (and I love it, so that isn't a sad ending!). One thing I will always remember from university, though, was a presentation but a British-American lawyer who represented British/American nationals who were being held in Guantanamo Bay and was one of the only legal personnel allowed in. His talk was fascinating in detail but the thing that struck me the most was the same way as that which struck me with Burnt Shadows.

When an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, a huge number of people were killed. How do those that make the decisions on things like that rationalise it? What are the effects on those individuals that get caught up in political strife and war? The amount of people that were killed by that atomic bomb was huge (approximately 60-80,000) but compare it to the amount that were killed during World War II and, shockingly, it starts to look small. What I loved about Burnt Shadows, and what I loved about that British-American lawyer years ago, was the author's ability to look past the bigger picture and at the individuals whose lives are shaped by global events. Looking past the deaths of tens of thousands and focusing on "just" a couple is hard to do well, I think. It's too easy to miss the finer points of emotion in the grasping of massive tragedy - if my city was devastated in this way, would I stop to think about the effect on tens of thousands? Eventually yes, but right away? I think I'd be more likely to be caught up in my own grief about my own family/friends. It's selfish but it's real. Likewise Guantanamo Bay - looking past 9/11 and at the individual alleged terrorists is exceptionally difficult but Burnt Shadows looks at that issue, as did my revered lawyer. Can we look past the world-changing events and listen to an individual accused's story without skewing it with our own perceptions? I wouldn't dare ruin the book but this is indeed an epic story sweeping up these issues and presenting them through the plight of two families: the Burtons and the Ashraf-Tanakas.

To communicate these harrowing themes, Shamsie uses prose that is so elegant it could be poetry. The story flows beautifully and the imagery for each country evokes a sense of time and atmosphere that I was constantly in awe of - I don't think I've ever read a book that so deftly switches between countries and era. The reader travels through Japan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and New York over the space of about 60-something years and each time the story "jumps", it re-establishes itself so quickly that you feel as though you've been with the characters the whole time. In some books, when we skip a period of say 30 years, it feels as though one story just cuts to another - I think it works so much better here because the characters are strong and their relationships so realistic that you pick up with them as you would a good friend you haven't seen in years but still love dearly.

My personal favourite character is Hiroko - she survives the dropping of the second atomic bomb, partition in India and post-terrorist New York in the way I think most of us would like to imagine we would: yes, she has physical and emotional scars but she's resolute about survival; she experiences real emotions like rage and devastation but gradually picks herself back up and looks after those she loves. She's also a fantastic individualist and her integration into Pakistani culture is very moving in places.

This is by no means an easy read but I respect Shamsie immensely for tackling the subject matter in such a humbling way. I went through everything with those characters and have spent the last couple of days mulling it over and remembering and appreciating something new each time I do. I could honestly go ramble on forever! I'd set up a book club just to force people to read this.

Everyone I've spoken to even once in the last year, expect a copy for Christmas....

Overall: I struggle to find the words to recommend this enough: it's heart-breaking; it's funny; it's political and historical; it's about love but most of all it's about the impact of those huge world-changing events on the "little person" and how you can survive so much more than you think if you just have the right attitude and something/one to hold on to. Read it, dwell on it and cry over it - you'll feel better when you have...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A new (to me) resource for ebooks...

I've been struggling for a little while (a whole 5 minutes!) to remember where I first saw mention of this site and I can't so, to anyone's blog I follow who also happens to read this article and who then thinks, "I wrote about that!", I'm sorry - feel free to comment and correct me!

Regardless, I've 'found' this site called NetGalley - the website is for "professional readers", which I know is an extremely odd concept but fortuitously includes book bloggers whose blogs feature reviews. It's gloriously simple - publishers post lists of books that they have available for review in ebook format; bloggers can browse them and request copies of those they want to read and review; the publisher sends you an email if/when the request is approved and the book is ready for review.


Obviously this is only really useful to those with eReaders or possibly iPhones/iPads that they can read on OR who don't mind reading from a computerscreen...but I think it's a good way of finding new authors or requesting review copies of upcoming releases that you fancy! HarperCollins and Harlequin both put books on there so it's both popular and indie.


Hope you enjoy it and find something you love! Some of the books I've received so far are:

The Gourmet Cookie Book Gourmet Magazine

Cooking for Geeks Jeff Potter

Enchanted No More Robin D. Owens