Friday, 30 December 2011

The 2012 TBR Challenge: Sign-up Post

Last December, I eagerly signed up for the 2011 TBR Challenge, hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.  As I posted a few weeks ago, I wasn't too successful!  I managed a paltry 4 out of the 12 books on my list before I got distracted.

To temper the shame, I figured I would give it another try.  All 4 of the books that I finally read as part of the 2011 challenge were fantastic and I just know that there must be a ton of other hidden gems lurking on my shelves.

SO what's the challenge about?
The Goal:  To finally read 12 books from your "to be read" pile (within 12 months)
Specifics:  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 1/1/2011 or later (any book published in the year 2010 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile - [Adam] 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


For more of the rules and the part where you SIGN UP - click here

My choices for 2012 are:  

1.  The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
2.  The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
3.  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
4.  The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
5.  The Boy I Love by Marion Husband
6.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson
7.  Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
8.   Dark Angel by Sally Beauman
9.  A Changed Man by Francine Prose
10.  December by Elizabeth H. Wainthrop
11.  The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
12.  Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann

A couple of these are reappearances from last year but I suppose that just means that they've been hanging around that little bit longer.  The vast majority have moved house with me at least twice, meaning they have been in my company since at least 2009.  It's more than past time I let them see some action!

Here's to hoping my attempt for 2012 goes better than my woeful try in 2011!

Review: 'Infernal Devices' by K. W. Jeter

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

The Synopsis

When George's father died, he left George his watchmaker's shop - and more.  

But George has little talent for watches and other infernal devices.  When someone tries to steal an old device from the premises, George finds himself embroiled in a mystery of time travel, music and sexual intrigue.  The classic steampunk tale from the master of the genre.  


The Review

Without question, this book is the strangest book that I have ever read.  And not in a good, unpredicatable kind of way.  More of a "What the...?" kind of way.  Everything was so surreal and seemingly unconnected and unexplained that I became weary.  I just wanted something, anything, to be explained so that I could latch back onto the story.  I guess that in that way Jeter does a good job of letting readers experience George's confusion and does keep the promise of answers hovering in the distance but, for me, it was a bit too much.

The characters are, on the whole, extremely unlikeable.  I did feel for George, spending every day of his life on a trade that he has neither chosen nor is any good at and living constantly in his father's shadow.  As a result, he comes across as rather wet and defeated.  No matter what opportunities present themselves, however, and no matter how strange things get, he plods.  Even after apparently having been kicked into action by a theft, George is reluctant and always a victim.  Early on, I wanted to shake him.  Later on, I'd lost the will to even do that.  The unfortunately named 'Brown Leather Man' (and yes, that is because that's George's perception of his appearance...) is sufficiently intriguing but not particularly pleasant.  He also happens to meet a pair of hustlers that use jarringly futuristic.  The male half of the pair is only mildly irritating.  The female half appears to think that the solution to every situation is seducing George...and she's supposed to be liberated...

Whether or not you enjoy this book will most probably come down to one thing: whether or not you are happy with retrospective enjoyment.  Once I'd finished the book and all of its secrets had been revealed, I could appreciate that it really was quite clever and was quirky in a reasonably good way.  While I was reading it, however, I came close to putting it to one side plenty of times because I didn't have a single clue what on earth was going on, never mind why.  Unfortunately, me and retrospective enjoyment aren't great friends; call me crazy but I actually want to enjoy something while I'm reading it, not after.  

The problem with being hailed as the forefather of a popular sub-genre is that people go into it expecting it to be the finest example of that genre, rather than a seed of an idea.  This is to steampunk what Bram Stoker's Dracula is to modern vampire/paranormal fiction; the same elements are there, just not in the way readers have come to expect.  Where Dracula and Infernal Devices certainly differ is that the former is a fantastic example of a genre that has been distilled over time while the latter is a mediocre example of a genre that has been enhanced over time.

Overall:  If you're already a well-inducted steampunk fan, this book is interesting and the edition I read has a brilliant introduction by the author written some 20 years after this was published and after 'steampunk' had really taken off.  If you're thinking of reading steampunk and are looking around for where to start, don't start here.  You'll come away feeling perturbed and I can't imagine you would be eager to try anything else.  

Alternative reads:  Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series; Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Date finished:  22 November 2011
Format:  eBook
Source:  NetGalley
Genre:  Steampunk/Science fiction (Adult)
Re-Published: by Angry Robot Books in April 2011

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 in Books: A Survey



So that was Christmas!  I hope you all had a wonderful time and there was plenty of whatever it is that makes the holidays special for you :) Coming out of the food induced stupor and back into the world of blogging, I've seen this gem of a survey popping up all over, designed and kicked off by Jaime at The Perpetual Page Turner.  I am nothing if not a lover of stats and surveys so I really had no choice but to eventually join in...


1.  Best book you read in 2011?
Even though my end of the year book count will probably only just surpass 50, this is still a tough one.  The three that I just couldn't decide between were David Nicholls' One Day for just being so utterly charming and for breaking my heart a bit, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for being so darn smart and a perfect blend of everything I love and Veronica Roth's Divergent for being totally addictive and reminding me of how great dystopian novels could be.


I've also read the first four of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series (link is to my review of the first in the series, Soulless) and they are definitely worth a mention.


2.  Most disappointing book/book you wished you loved more than you did?
This is a much easier question!  Hands down, Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter takes this one.  I've been through a bit of a steampunk phase this year and found this on NetGalley.  It's a re-release of the book hailed as the forefather of the genre.  It is without a doubt the strangest book that I have ever read, and not in a good way...I wanted to love this as much as I love its descendants but just couldn't.


3.  Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
Bram Stoker's Dracula.  When I was a teenager, I was hopeless with horror and anything creepy.  I assumed that this extended from the teen slasher films that were all the rage at sleepovers back then to this seminal novel.  Plus, I'd already had a brush with it as a child and the memories weren't great.  Well, it turns out that I'm braver than I thought and loved this book the second time around.  A classic for a reason!


4.  Book you recommended to most people in 2011?
Also probably a tie between One Day and the Parasol Protectorate series.  To those of my friends that aren't big on the fantasy scene, it was the former.  My own copies of the latter have sat on shelves in a good few houses since I felt bad about recommending a series of five books to people without providing them.  Don't worry, they've all survived unscathed! :)


5.  Best series you discovered in 2011?
Have I mentioned the Parasol Protectorate series recently?  I have?  Ok, so that or Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles.  I've only read the first (The Name of the Wind) so far but loved it and can't wait to read the next one.  Ooh, or Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy (link is to my review of the first in the series, The Way of Shadows) since I have a crush on the delectable Durzo Blint.  That will be one series I finish in 2012 for sure.


6.  Favourite new authors you discovered in 2011?
Gail Carriger, Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, David Nicholls, Susanna Clarke and Veronica Roth, all for different reasons.  Those mentioned above, basically.  That's not particularly creative of me, is it?  Sorry...


7.  Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
I'm usually pretty open-minded when it comes to what I read so there isn't a huge amount that is out of my comfort zone, as such.  That said, I'd count Dracula as out of my comfort zone and I loved that, so that's one.  And I've never really read a good dystopian novel before (as far as I can recall my only experience of the genre so far has been The Host by Stephenie Meyer and that was all kinds of awful) but I loved Divergent so I guess that's a new genre that I have learned can be pretty great.


8.  Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2011?
Since I've already mentioned Divergent plenty, I'll go for And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  A great thriller that I read pretty much in two sittings straight and the best ending I can remember reading.


9.  Book you most anticipated in 2011?
I tend to read a few years behind the times so I'm not usually waiting on new releases.  However, I was definitely looking forward to the fourth instalment of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, Heartless.  It was as great as the rest of the series and the last book, Timeless, will be my most anticipated book for 2012.


10.  Favourite cover of a book you read in 2011?



11.  Most memorable character in 2011?
Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series.  She's smart, funny and seriously feisty.  She is one of the main reasons I just can't get enough of this series.


12.  Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
The Name of the Wind is simply stunning.  It had a mythical quality that was perfect and made the book feel completely unique.


13.  Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
I think probably The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada.  It reminded me of everything I learnt when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau a few years ago, that behind each great atrosity are individuals with their own lives, loves and idiosyncracies.


14.  Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to read?
Either Dracula (again...) or Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  The latter was one I've had lying around for years but that I'd never been inclined to pick up.  If you have a copy in on a shelf, don't leave it there like I did. It's worth your attention, I promise.


15.  Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2011?
From Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett:  


"And to this day, when we find ourselves in the right place at the right time to assist a poor wayfarer on the path of life, a moment's pause may recall the story of good old Scrooge and good old Marley, and our hearts may be softened, we may stop to listen, and we may even offer a hand of kindness to the one who just happens, by some circumstances, to cross our path"


16.  Book that you read in 2011 that you will be most likely to re-read in 2012?
Erm...none of them.  I have read some fantastic books this year and am pretty happy that I've at least made it to a total of 50 for the year.  I very, very rarely re-read books.  I can only remember reading two books more than once in my entire life.  If I were to re-read a book this year, it would most definitely not be one of my reads from 2011.


17.  Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?
Ooh, ooh!  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I desperately wanted to share this ending with everyone I spoke to just that they too could appreciate how brilliant it was.  I forced Boyfriend to watch the film (he doesn't read...) so that I could talk to him about it and the b***dy film had a completely different ending.  That's a rant for another time...


I hope 2011 has been a great reading year for you all.  Any recommendations to share from 2011?  Any duds we should all be avoiding in 2012?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Early Christmas wishes!

This past few weeks have been some of the busiest of the year so it's nice to finally be spending some time at home, catching up on some reading and getting myself in a Christmas-y mood!  

This afternoon Boyfriend and I will start our tour of various family residences and there'll be little (if any) time to write anything meaningful - sorry in advance for the silence that will ensue.  Not that I'm exactly complaining.  I love Christmas in a giddy and childish manner and can't get enough of the family giggles, festive food and beverages and giving all the people I care about lovingly (but hopelessly awfully) wrapped presents.

So this a quick post just to wish those that celebrate it a happy Christmas and those that don't a happy end of year! :)


Until the 28th...



Sunday, 18 December 2011

In My Mailbox #2: Charity Shop Haul

Sensibly, I recently decided not to buy any more books until the new year, what with the promise of shiny Christmas gifts around the corner and all. 

But then I had a boring post office errand to run and braved the snow and the wind by telling myself that the charity shop next door always looked as though it had a good book selection at the back. Understatement. The few books of shelves were fantastic and filled with books that didn't even look as though they'd been opened once, never mind read. At £1.50 each, they were a steal!

I managed to restrain myself to four both because I had to walk back to my office carrying them and because there's only so many books I can smuggle into the house unseen at any one time... Q_Q  These are the lucky four:  

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

After reading (and loving) The Eyre Affair earlier in the year (reviewed here), I didn't even think twice before snapping up this one.  I didn't even glance at the book and was actually under the misguided impression at the time that it was a later book in the Thursday Next series but that turned out not to be the case.  This is instead the start of the Nursery Crimes series and appears to be to nursery rhymes what Thursday Next is to literature, starting with the investigation of the murder of Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III.  I'm very excited about it!

Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

This is another purchase based on a good reading experience from earlier in the year.  I adored One Day (but have yet to see the film) and reviewed it here.  I eyed up the film-related David Nicholls stand in the Waterstones near where I worked greedily but was always worried that another book wouldn't quite be the same.  Now that it's been a good 6 months or so, I think I can risk trying another Nicholls.  Despite its being endorsed by the Daily Mail on the front, I have high hopes and am looking forward to this too!


The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

I recently discovered Fantasy Book Critic and have added a ton of fantasy and science fiction books to my various wishlists as a result.  The glowing review of this one (here) stuck in my head so I was really excited to see it on the charity shop shelf.  As the cover suggests, this is a steampunk/alternate history story featuring a part-mechanised Queen Victoria, a plague that turns people into mindless zombies and a dose of magic - as with the other two, I can't wait.  Having re-considered it, this will probably be my next read.


The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

This was a random choice made predominantly because it sounded dark and mysterious and I liked the cover.  I'm shallow.  Sue me.  On reflection, though, I'm still glad I chose it.  Amazon describes it as a "sinister and compelling tale of corruption and murder in Victorian England".  One for a gloomy evening then!  Clearly winter is bringing out my broody side (that I didn't know I had...).  


So that's what has come my way this week - what's in your mailbox?  

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas Review: 'Jacob T. Marley' by R. William Bennett

"There are three realisations mankind can experience that might give them cause for change.  First, remorse for what is gone but might have been in the past.  Second, a shocking awareness of where they are in the present.  Finally, fear for what will be in the future, should their paths not change.  These three missions make up our cause"

It's hard for a lot of us to imagine Christmas without some iteration of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, be it re-reading the novella itself or singing along to the jaunty Muppet adaptation. Any author readying themselves to stand alongside Dickens has to be brave. Fortunately, Bennett also happens to be up to the job and proves it in this re-telling of the old favourite.

The whole book is infused with the same sense of magic and mystery that haunts its predecessor.  Bennett adopts a style that is similar to Dickens' tale but without feeling like a sham.  The writing was so fluid that it often felt like reading poetry.  At first, I was highlighting the passages that I loved and wanted to remember.  Then I realised that I was doing it so often that it was becoming ridiculous.  It didn't take long for me to grasp that the everything was going to be noteworthy.

This is a story that feels familiar and follows the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Futrue but still manages to offer something new, filling in the blanks for those that always wondered what Jacob T. Marley was up to in the years between his death and the night he loomed before Scrooge with his face in the door knocker, why it was that he was the one to try to redeem Ebenezer's soul and how close he came to losing the battle.  

Obviously we can't know what Dickens was imagining but, because this is so well done, I'd like to think that this is it. As you can imagine, the book is filled with scenes and quotes that at any other time of the year would seem trite. Read at Christmas, however, against a backdrop of tinsel and well-wishing and they are just bewitching. I 'closed' the eBook wanting to call everybody I loved and make sure that they knew it, make a concerted effort to sprinkle Christmas spirit everywhere and be better. And isn't that really what Christmas is about?

5 out of 5 stars, for finally making me feel festive!


"And to this day, when we find ourselves in the right place at the right time to assist a poor wayfarer on the path of life, a moment's pause may recall the story of good old Scrooge and good old Marley, and our hearts may be softened, we may stop to listen, and we may even offer a hand of kindness to the one who just happens, by some circumstances, to cross our path"

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review: 'Eragon' by Christopher Paolini

Date finished: 15 November 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Borrowed from my local library's eBook site

Genre: YA Fantasy

(Originally) Published: by Paolini's parents in 2002

The Synopsis (taken from GoodReads.com)

When young Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his adopted family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of inescapable destiny, magical forces, and powerful people. With only an ancient sword and the instruction of an old,mysterious, hermit storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a Emperor whose evil and power knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands….

The Review

Looking back, I find myself thinking of this book in two distinct halves: one that had me rueing the day I ever met the friend that recommended the series to me and one that had me wanting to have her come and live with me.  

In the year that we worked together, we shared books constantly and prattled on and on about them.  One series that had her practically kicking the poor Waterstones staff was this one, mainly because of how long it seemed to be taking for the release of the fourth (and final) instalment.  Back then, I wouldn't start the series because I was still honouring my ban on not starting fantasy series until they were completed and so I ignored her pleas and didn't pick this up.  

Having read it, I'm both surprised and not that she ever made it through this story (not being known for her patience...).  The start of the story is promising, with Eragon finding the dragon egg and realising how much danger that puts him and his family in, characters not quite being what they seem and some mortal peril and dragon-related shenanigans. I whipped through the first 100 or so pages grateful, as ever, for the recommendation.  

And then began the walking.  

When I was younger, I struggled with Lord of the Rings because of the amount of time spent walking between places.  My experience was much the same with Eragon.  I loved the parts where Eragon and Brom were in towns, encountering ambushes or learning more about Saphira.  I found the parts where Eragon and Brom were wandering around and where Brom was dumping information on Eragon and, consequently, me quite tedious.  For me, the writing wasn't quite strong enough to sustain the lack of action and the descriptions and dialogue were a little bit lacking.  

The legends and history surrounding dragons and their Riders is great background for a series but it was introduced rather heavily by Brom at various points while he is in lecture mode.  Despite not relishing the delivery, the substance did suggest that there are great things to come in the remainder of the series.  I hope, in a way, that I've got the learning part of the series out of the way and that the remainder of the books are snappier and develop more naturally.  

It took me six hours worth of travelling by train to break through the more sedate half of the story into one that had me hooked.  It was almost as though Paolini thought I was now adequately briefed in the finer points of history and magic and that it was time to move on and shake things up with some fighting.  There was a noticeable shift in pace and I finally started to really enjoy the book.  There are elves, magic, cryptic advice from a werecat, a mysterious fortune-telling witch, a city underground and huge roving bands of freaky orc-type baddies.  Plus a huge great battle for a finale, which again reminded me of Lord of the Rings, this time favourably, though.    

Eragon himself is a tolerable lead but can be a touch self-pitying from time to time. Although maybe being on a quest to avenge your dead family will do that to a person...His relationship with Saphira is endearing but on the sickly-sweet side at times.  For a person who is extremely (maybe even overly sensitive), I am very much not an animal person.  Something about the human-dragon bond was lost on me, I think, but I did enjoy Saphira's stubbornness and loyalty.  She is a kick-a*s female, dragon or not!

Overall:  I'd recommend this to more patient readers at the older end of the YA spectrum.  There's a lot of waiting around (or, more accurately, walking around) and the story takes quite a while to get going.  I will probably read the next in the series (Eldest) but I'm not in any great rush and will only stretch to borrowing it from my local library.  That is, unless someone can promise me that the next one is more action, less trekking...? 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I usually try and avoid 'googling' books that I'm reading in case I ruin them for myself.  After having read this, I found out that Paolini was a teenager when he wrote this and I found myself teetering on the edge of leniency when it came to my assessment of the writing, which strikes me as unfair.  Should an author's age or similar affect our standards?  

Monday, 5 December 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #4

Monday the 5th of December?!  Are you kidding?  I just don't know where the end of this year is going and it is actually nearly Christmas!  I'm sure you've noticed.

This weekend saw the first snow of this winter too, which means that I'm also finally feeling festive!

Anyway, festive or not, we're back for another Monday to share what we have, are and are about to read with Sheila @ BookJourney



What have I read during the past week?  

I feel as though I've been reading at a good pace recently.  Perhaps that's because I've been reading slightly shorter books.  Who knows?  With the dark sweeping in earlier and earlier and the weather getting worse, I've been more than happy to curl up under a blanket and read my evenings away.  Lovely stuff!

This week I read Maria V. Synder's Touch of Power and loved it (review here).  I wasn't surprised to like it but I was kind of relieved that it didn't turn out to be the book that ruined a great run for the author.  I can't wait for the next one!

I also read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet which was strange.  I really liked the introduction of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as characters but wasn't overly fond of the Wild West interlude.  Review up soon, hopefully.  


What am I reading now?


I'm about 60 pages into Susan Hill's The Woman in Black.  I've heard a lot of great things about this and so far, I like it.  There's a lot of ominous fog and a lot of mysterious locals making cryptic comments.  Perfect for a snowy/windy couple of days.

I'm surprising myself with how much of a ghost story kick I'm on since I'm usually a horrendous wimp.  Enjoying it while it lasts :)



What am I planning on reading next?  

I actually have no idea!  Recently, I've just been finishing books at grabbing at whatever's nearby or whatever I'm in the mood for. 

That said, I think maybe Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn because I just keep coming across reviews that tell me how brilliant the whole series is and it feels like a while since I've read any kind of historical fiction.  

Sunday, 4 December 2011

2012: A Classics Challenge

Every year, I tell myself that I will be a "better" reader and that I'll read more classics.  Every year, I do manage to read a couple and, on the whole, really enjoy them.  So why don't I read more?  Who knows?  This year will be different! 

There are a few classics challenges around but this one over at November's Autumn is part challenge and part blog hop, which is a combination I love the sound of!  In Katherine's own words, the challenge will go something like this:  
Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012
Only three of the seven may be re-reads
How Does it Work?
I've organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.
Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November's Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 - December 2012.
You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you're reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.
Although I might change my mind as I go, my initial seven choices are these:  

1.  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I've read many a review of this one and all of them have been glowing.  An adventure novel set across France, Italy and the Mediterranean sounds perfect for reading in the summer.

2.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

While studying for my degree, I did a lot of legal theory modules and loved them.  Call me crazy but I find the philosophy and theory behind law and how/if systems reflect social norms and morality.  I guess this means that I should read this sooner or later...

3.  Tess of the D'Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy

I got a really lovely book about Thomas Hardy from a UK publisher that I'm looking forward to getting into.  Before I do, though, I think I should read something written by him...this is my random choice because it's the one I've heard of the most!

4.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Does this count?  I hope so!  I know that generally it's lauded as a great book and it's about 50 years old so that'll do for me.  Plus, it's sci-fi and I like sci-fi.

5.  1984 by George Orwell

My dad has been bugging me to read this for years.  It would be nice if I could actually read it and make him happy.  Plus, it's another of those books that I know I should read.  

6.  Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I had planned on getting to this when I did a readathon in October.  I'm still kind of in the mood for ghost stories because it's gloomy and blustery and they seem appropriate for that kind of weather.  I have this on my eReader and quite fancy it (despite some less than glowing reviews that I've seen recently...).  

7.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I went to see a film at the cinema a few years ago (that I think was called 'Easy A') that referenced this book throughout.  It was an amusing enough film and made me want to read this.  Then I never got round to it.  Described as a "romantic work of fiction in a historical setting" - sounds nice!  Apparently it also explores legalism, sin and guilt.  I think I'm looking forward to reading this the most!  

So those are my choices (for the time being)!  If you fancy joining in this challenge too, the sign-up post is here 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: 'Touch of Power' by Maria V. Snyder

Date finished: 1 December 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: From the Publisher via NetGalley

Genre: YA/Adult Fantasy

Published: by Mira Books on 20 December 2011

The Synopsis (taken from GoodReads.com)


Laying hands upon the injured and dying, Avry of Kazan assumes their wounds and diseases into herself. But rather than being honored for her skills, she is hunted. Healers like Avry are accused of spreading the plague that has decimated the Territories, leaving the survivors in a state of chaos. 

Stressed and tired from hiding, Avry is abducted by a band of rogues who, shockingly, value her gift above the golden bounty offered for her capture. Their leader, an enigmatic captor-protector with powers of his own, is unequivocal in his demands: Avry must heal a plague-stricken prince—leader of a campaign against her people. As they traverse the daunting Nine Mountains, beset by mercenaries and magical dangers, Avry must decide who is worth healing and what is worth dying for. Because the price of peace may well be her life...

The Review

If you have read and enjoyed either Ms Snyder's Study series or Glass series, you'll love this. It is that simple. Go buy it now; you are dismissed (although I'd rather you stayed, of course...). 

If you haven't read either, let me convince you. 

The story starts with Avry on the run. As one of the last healers, she is forced to hide from those who believe her responsible for the spreading of the plague that has decimated the population of each Territory. When I say "the story starts", I really do mean it. Within the first few pages, Avry has risked her life to heal a dying child and faces execution as a result. There's a sense of urgency that starts on the first page and is sustained for the entire book and that made it nearly impossible to put down. So absorbed in this book was I that I grabbed at it whenever I could, often with embarrassing consequences (nearly bursting into tears on the bus being one...). 

It seems that Ms Snyder has a great way with creating strong female characters. The main reason I loved her earlier work so much was that both series focus upon a girl/woman who are intelligent and powerful in their own right. Avry of Kazan is no exception. I adored her for caring enough to still fight to heal people in spite of their fear and hatred, for continuously standing up for herself against people that wanted to control and manipulate her and for her honesty. YA fiction could do with a lot more female characters like her. 

The characters that surround her are no less well created. Kerrick, Belen, Quain, Vinn and Flea are the band of men that feature the most and are great additions.  Belen, in particular, was a favourite of mine in his role as 'friendly giant'.  Kerrick is as charming as someone who smacks you in the face can be, which is of course not very much.  I did really enjoy watching his character develop, though.  Quain, Vinn and Flea are very much like little brother figures (I imagine - seeing as I have a younger sister, I can't say for definite).  Their capering and banter provides some much-needed light relief along the way and really helped the dynamic of the group and the pitch of the book as a whole.  Kudos also to Avry for being able to banter with the boys! 

I loved the intrigue that surrounded the plague, based in part on the Black Death. Where did it come from? Why can't it be healed? How does it spread? Obviously in many ways it differs from the Black Death as that would be decidedly light on the intrigue, being fact and history and all...

Oh, the BAD guys! There are plenty of nasties to create some danger and plights for the plucky healer, ranging from man-eating plants to other magicians to...other things that I won't spoil for you. Suffice to say, this book is not light on action and some of it is unexpected and creepy.   

You probably won't be surprised to know that there is a touch of romance. However, you might be surprised to know that it is sufficiently subtle that it doesn't detract from the main plot and that Avry manages to keep a level head, act with dignity and stay true to herself. I know, an independent woman that can be in love and act like rational human being all at the same time; who'd have thought it?

The only (very minor) downside in this book for me was the occasional use of an usual narrative technique more usually used in plays. I am referring to the us of an 'aside' comment where the audience are addressed by a character in the play, while other characters remain oblivious. I regrettably didn't highlight the "worst" example on my eReader and now can't find it but something scary and unpleasant was going on and Avry interrupted the narration by saying something like "I know, scary right?" as though she was talking to the reader, rather than for their benefit. It was so strange and out of the blue that it did kill the moment a little for me. Since part of what makes this book great is how engaging Avry is, I can't complain too much but I did found that it jarred occasionally and the more pedantic among you should be warned. Also, if you don't like the word "guys", be warned - it's used in abundance. It grew on me after a while because it fits the characters and the story but it did annoy me slightly at first. (I must have been feeling ultra picky this week, sorry!)


Overall: I couldn't get enough of this book - there is enough detail for it to be a fantastic and well-rounded story but enough secrets for me to end the book desperate to get the next one and find out what happens next. Despite much frantic searching of the internet, I have only managed to come across the title of the second (Scent of Magic) and a hint that it might be released in 2012. (Hence my previous rule not to start series that aren't finished...I am impatient...). It can't come soon enough.


To read an excerpt from Touch of Power, head over to Maria V. Snyder's website here

Sunday, 27 November 2011

In My Mailbox (and Inbox) #1

Until recently, my book-buying habits have been fairly sporadic; I'd go weeks, sometimes months, without buying anything and would then binge terribly.  It was fairly simply achieved by ignoring Kobo/Waterstones/Amazon emails in my inbox and denying their shiny offers and by not going into bookshops.  It might seem like a fate worse than death to some of you but it was the only way I could keep myself on the straight and narrow!  

Since I discovered Google Reader on my iPhone, that's all changed.  I've been browsing all the fantastic blogs that I follow regularly and it's become almost impossible to ignore those books that get raved about all over other blogs, the glowing reviews of books I know that I would love and the all-round book-buying craving.  

The result?  A much more consistent pattern of book acquisition.  Consistent enough, even, that I can probably give IMM a fair attempt!  "Every cloud..." and all that.  

SO this week (or possibly a little bit of last week, because I get confused by time easily...), these little beauties lit up my doormat/inbox:

Amazon


As part of the 'Black Friday' fun and games, I bought my sister boxed sets of Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series.  I have managed to convince nobody that there isn't a smidgen of self-interest in that present, since I haven't read any of them. 


Since that concluded my Christmas shopping for the year, I treated myself to The Woman in Black by Susan Hill and Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver.  Obviously I'm going through a ghost kick!


From Hanna @ Booking in Heels

Since I read Hanna's reviews, I've seen Divergent by Veronica Roth popping all over surrounded by heaps of praise.  I went on a quest to bag myself a copy after a tip off that they were being sold in The Works for £1.99.  That trip was woefully unsuccessful.  Off I toddled to Waterstones, only to find that it was £9.99 in there.  I knew that the book was lauded as one of the best releases of the year (according to GoodReads...) but £9.99 was a few pounds too far for me.  

Since then, I received a lovely shiny copy in the post from Hanna @ Booking in Heels!  I know, Christmas come early, right?!  She is a book angel and I am in her debt.  

(Also, I've already read it.  It was AMAZING! Enough said, for now)

NetGalley


Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett because it's nearly Christmas and a re-telling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is just the ticket and Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder because I read and really enjoyed her Study series and Glass series last year.  

General eBook purchases (i.e. I can't remember where from, exactly :-s)

These have all (pretty much) come about as a result of GoodReads' recommendations page.  It is my nemesis.  




 So that's a pretty heft In My Mailbox from me - what's been dropping onto your doormat this week?!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Short Story Review: 'The Canterville Ghost' by Oscar Wilde

When I first got my eReader, I also got a promotional set of 100 eBook Classics.  This was one that I hastily uploaded on my first afternoon of eBook fever.  It's languished in the 'Unread' collection ever since.  For some reason, I expected something of the same ilk as the darkly funny but intellectual The Picture of Dorian Gray.  While I did love that book when I read it earlier in the year, I've not quite felt the need to jump into what I thought might be something similar.  

The story focuses on the plight of Sir Simon de Canterville, a blood-curdlingly terrifying ghost that persists in haunting his family's manor, after a brash American family move in and disrupt his fierce solitude.  Try as he might, he finds himself unable to disturb them appropriately and finds himself shaken to his core and re-evaluating his malevolent existence.  

I should say, before anything else, that this story is genuinely funny.  The narration is generally quite dry and sarcastic (which suits me down to the ground) while managing to be light and charming at the same time.  

You won't have to look too far behind the humour to find something more, either. The story might seem farcical now in a modern world full of technology to facilitate global communication and cultural diversity but, when the story was first published in 1887, the international backdrop was obviously quite different.  It's a study in extremes, with the resident ghost clinging fastidiously to history and tradition and the Otises loudly exclaiming their successes, but it's a brief and interesting snapshot of the dominant stereotypes of the late 19th century.  There's also a lesson in forgiveness, if you really want to push it.  

At a mere 65 large print ePages, this story will probably take you less than an hour to enjoy in one sitting and is well worth it!  Even if you aren't in the mood for satire, there's plenty of slapstick humour to get you chuckling, from Mr Otis recommending tonics to a vicious ghost for his clanking chains to his infant twins spitting peas at the brow-beaten nobleman while he struggles to menacingly dance the halls in an old suit of armour.  

Plus, if you've never felt bad for a blood-thirsty murderer, you will do by the end of The Canterville Ghost!  That's got to be worth something...