Thursday, 30 June 2011

Weekly Geeks: 'Tech & Reading'

This week's Weekly Geeks topic is one that I've covered a good few times on this blog: reading format. More specifically in the case of this blog, the switch from 'real' books to eBooks.

So, here are this week's questions:

Did you have a hard and fast mindset in regards to your reading a year ago?

Last July I was in the final throes of my 'to buy or not to buy' debate on the run-up to my birthday. In the 'For' camp was storage space (or lack thereof), the ability to carry a whole library in my handbag, price and my slight nerdish love of gadgets. In the 'Against' camp was my dad who was utterly disturbed by the concept of any book that he couldn't cover in sticky back plastic (yes, really...), my worry that I'd miss dawdling around a second-hand bookshop and concern that it just wouldn't be the same reading a screen as compared to a page.

So, to cut to the chase, no hard and fast mindset - just a flurry of nonsense! At that stage, however, 100% of my reading was 'real' books.

Are you still true to that format?

I jumped off the fence very shortly before my birthday and took the plunge. My Sony eReader was welcomed to the family in August last year.

This time last year, I had read 22 books, 0% of which were eBooks.

So far this year, I have read 22 books (how bizarre!), 55% of which have been eBooks.

What a difference a year makes!

If you have tried another format (ebook, audio) – Share your experience?

I couldn't love my eReader more - when I first got it, I still snuck in a good few real books. Lately, I've taken to not-so-stealthy downloading.

It's great to carry around, easier to hold and, in the end, it's exactly the same story I'm enjoying! Plus, once you've learnt where to look, eBooks are no more expensive than their paper counterparts despite the frequent articles that state the contrary.

What was it that made you tried something out of your comfort zone?

I wish it was something more grand but, really, we moved house in February 2010 and while I unpacked my many books, my boyfriend despaired. Somehow I'd accumulated more in our previous flat than either of us had realised and when they were displayed all shiny in our new study, it looked a teensy bit overwhelming! So I started thinking about whether I really could convert to eBooks...the rest is recorded on this blog!

If you have not tried another format – Why?

I've never tried listening to an audio book. Mostly because I doubt I'd take in anywhere near the same amount of detail as when I'm reading and I like the peace and quiet of getting lost in a book. It strikes me as too different to reading to be the same experience...

Give a brief overview of where you are at with your reading now, eg, load of paperback lying round, or the out of sight out of mind e-reader putting your mind at ease

Erm...both! I still have a ton of paperbacks just waiting to be read up in the study (and a good few spread around the rest of the house for good measure) AND an eReader full of books awaiting my attention. That dynamic is starting to shift to the out-of-sight kind as I buy more eBooks and less paperbacks.

How do you feel about different output method now?

Everyone should own an eReader. Simple as that :)

Even my dad, a staunch traditionalist who I persuaded just to try an eBook on his iPad one rainy afternoon, is all but converted and THAT is as good a success story as any!

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If you fancy sharing your thoughts on different ways to read, head on over here and share in all the geekdom! Or just share a comment or two - you'll feel better!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Review: 'One Day' by David Nicholls (Yes, finally...)

Date finished: 31 May 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought from WHSmith

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Hodder Paperback in February 2010


The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

'I can imagine you at forty,' she said, a hint of malice in her voice. 'I can picture it right now.' He smiled without opening his eyes. 'Go on then.' 15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.

So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY.

The Review

Simply put, I loved this book.

When I first read about the premise, I was intrigued to see how it would work as a way of telling a story. It could have resulted in a novel that just didn't flow properly. Chapters could have spent too much time simply recounting the events of the past year and not enough time with the characters in their various presents. In lesser hands, it could have been a gimicky disaster.

I needn't have worried.

Each chapter contains just the right balance between catching up and settling back into easy dialogue and feels just like meeting up with a friend you haven't seen in a year: filling in all the details you've missed and getting to know them again and seeing if and how they've changed. If you're unlucky, you'll realise how far apart you're experiences have moved you; if you're lucky, you'll find that whatever made you friends in the first place is still there.

As you'll no doubt have gathered, the characters are fundamental to the charm of this book. Emma and Dexter meet at university and finally spend one night together on the 15th of July 1988, the night before wending their way off into the great wide world.

Emma reminded me a lot of the people I knew at university (one of whom, incidentally, is now my co-habitee boyfriend...): she's politically idealistic and believes that, if you can't change the world, you should at least change the little bit around you; she's bookish and intelligent; she has dreams but knows how vulnerable they are and worries about the future; and, most importantly, she believes that the same could be true of Dexter.

Dexter reminded me a lot of the people I tried to avoid at university: he's rich and somewhat blase about making a meaningful contribution to wider society; he's intelligent but lazy and happy to rely largely on his good looks and charm; he would have dreams but can't figure out what to hope for in case he is judged for choosing the wrong thing or fails in some way; but, most importantly, he believes in Emma.

The characters develop very consistently and 'age' realistically. The dialogue is pitch perfect all the way through and really, truly funny. Like any friendship spanning twenty years (I would imagine...I'm only 24 so I'm guessing a little...), there are ups and downs and there were some chapters I was utterly in love with Dexter and others I would have quite happily slapped him round the face. Most of the time, I respected Emma but there were occasions when I just wanted to kick her up the...well, you know!

What more can I say? I really did love this book.

Overall: I've recommended this book to a lot of different people since I finished it and, had I bought a paperback copy, would be lining people up to borrow it! Occasionally, it made me stop and think "Hmm..where was I a year ago?" and "Where will I be next year?" (but not in the scary interview way!). It made me laugh a lot and it made me cry a lot. Read it.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Drifting back to my bookish 'home'

Whew - what a week! Work has been insanely busy for the past week or so as we've been preparing for a couple of big trials that are coming up at the end of this month. It's meant a lot of late nights and a lot of reading - and no, not the good kind. While it's been an amazing learning experience and a fascinating process, it's left me little in the mood for more reading (this time of the good kind) when I've got home. This weekend I did a lot of girly indulgent stuff (think long bubble baths, glasses of wine and face masks) and a little too much of the wine stuff with some of my favourite people :)

I'm now revitalised and got to picking up a book by Sunday evening. I immediately browsed my collection, subconsciously moving through my range of epic fantasy novels...

Since I started blogging, I have gradually changed what I read. In an effort not to just review the same types of books over and over, I've moved through a lot more genres than I ordinarily would. I know I'm not alone in this but it intrigues me.

When I was about 14 (I think), a good friend of mine leant me 'The Eye of the World', the first in Robert Jordan's beyond-epic Wheel of Time series. 10,000+ pages later and I was still in love with the world that Jordan had created and the characters I effectively grew up with. When Jordan sadly died before he was able to finish the series, I vowed never again to start an epic fantasy series that wasn't finished. Until recently, I hadn't knowingly broken that vow (I say 'knowingly' because my best friend informed me that the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris was finished at Book 10...it clearly isn't...ah well..)

I'm currently reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss which is both epic and brilliant. And part of an as yet incomplete trilogy. Oddly, though, I find myself feeling as though I've come 'home'. I love reading new genres and I love reading new authors but there's something I find extremely comforting about the first few chapters of exploring a new magical world and getting to know a host of complex characters with their political machinations and adventurous exploits. I admit it; I'm a complete fantasy geek!

So, seeing as I'm feeling the love for epic fantasy series and I'm hoping the good outdoor-reading-weather is just around the corner (yeah, right...) - any recommendations for some series I should be searching out?

Are there any genres you just feel all warm and fuzzy when you read?

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Coming up on LitAddictedBrit:

I've read quite a few books and am actually a little behind in reviewing them so coming up are some of those reviews:

One Day by David Nicholls
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

I've also been on quite the book purchasing binge recently...hopefully I'll get around to showing off the newbies soon too :) Bear with me!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Review: 'The Betrayal of Maggie Blair' by Elizabeth Laird

Date finished: 25 May 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: eBook

Source: NetGalley

Genre: YA fiction; Historical fiction

Published: by Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt in April 2011

The Synopsis (taken from Amazon.co.uk)

In seventeenth-century Scotland, saying the wrong thing can lead to banishment—or worse. Accused of being a witch, sixteen-year-old Maggie Blair is sentenced to be hanged. She escapes, but instead of finding shelter with her principled, patriotic uncle, she brings disaster to his door.

Betrayed by one of her own accusers, Maggie must try to save her uncle and his family from the king’s men, even if she has to risk her own life in the process.

The Review

There was something about Maggie Blair, the character, that I couldn't help but love. She was one of those people who is full of tenacity, loyalty and just the right amount of innocence. Maggie has grown up with her grandmother after both of her parents die. Her grandmother is bitter and full of anger at the world in general, some of which she takes out on the poor young Maggie. In a fit of fury, Maggie's grandmother yells a curse at the parents of a new-born baby. When the baby unfortunately dies, the already 'on edge' community on the Isle of Bute are encouraged into cries of withcraft.

The turning of the community to superstition and anger was well handled and the emotions were genuinely portrayed. The harmless workers of Bute are roused by venomous accusations and descend into an angry mob. Driven by her own selfishness, the servant of the bereaved spins a tall tale of devil worship and the occult. I'd love to say that was the end of Annie's malevolence but where would the story be then...?

Shortly after the "trial", Maggie is forced to flee in search of the only family she has left. Her strength in the face of heartbreak was the point that I realised I was really caught up in the novel. When Maggie finds the family she has been searching for, she has to learn more about herself and about how to find somewhere to fit in.

Combined with this 'coming of age' tale is the story of the Covenantors - a 17th century group of Presbytarians that fought the efforts of the English king, Charles I, to govern how they lived and worshipped. The history of such a noble group of people who went through a great deal for the right of their families to express their religion freely is obviously one of sacrifice and it was portrayed through the Blair family wonderfully sensitively. It was a period of history I only knew a little about and this book manages to weave enough detail into the narrative without intruding on the characters or the story.

If I have a tiny criticism, it's that Maggie seemed to me to be a lot younger than 16 but, hey, that could well be because I'm older than I care to admit and have forgotten what the world felt like at 16!

Overall: A nice story of friendship, solidarity and what one young girl will do to feel as though she has a home and some peace. I would recommend this book as a quick read that tugs at the old heart strings and educates in equal measure. A snapshot of a turbulent and atmospheric Scotland that is perfect for a rainy afternoon!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

When is enough, enough?

Confession time: I am perilously close to announcing my first 'DNF' since I started this blog.

To a lot of people, that doesn't mean a great deal. I've read plenty of blog posts on the topic and clearly many readers don't have any qualms about admitting that the book they have chosen just isn't for them. Some even have the courage to go for an arbitrary page limit so that if they aren't enjoying a book by, say, page 75, its time is up.

I, however, balk at the thought of starting a book and not finishing it. Usually, I'm the rational sort and tend to approach decisions in a logical way rather than an emotional one. Boring, I know! :) That all goes out of the window when it comes to the very specific issue of not finishing a book. It isn't for the more commonplace reasons: not wanting to give up on something once you've started it; not wanting to have spent your hard-earned cash on something that you haven't finished; difficulty with the subject matter etc.

No, my problem is this: what if the book is going to become great just after I stop reading?

So that is where I stop being a rational person. It hasn't been great for the first 'x' pages - what on earth do I think is going to change in the last 100?!

My thoughts on the book in question have run something like this:

Pages 1-50: 'Am I enjoying this...? I'm not sure...well, I've only read 'x' pages so I guess it's too early to tell!

Pages 51-100: 'I just can't seem to foc - ooh! Look at the little ducklings -*Ahem* Right, focu...hey! Is my phone ringing?! Nope...' [Repeat with other cute animals or phantom phone alerts/email checks etc.]

Pages 101-150: 'I'm not sure this is improving...how many pages are there left? *Spends a good few minutes doing weird percentage calculations on mobile phone* Ok, so nearly half way, might as well make it to that!'

And now I'm at pages 200+ and I'm actually finding the book has improved a little. I suppose in some way, I'm hoping that the end will be so great that all the time I've put in so far won't turn out to be wasted!

But has it been worth all of the effort it has taken to get to this point? And am I the only person in the world who over-analyses such an objectively small thing as putting aside an unfinished book?! I can hear you all screaming 'If it's bothering you so much, just put it down and call it a day!'

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NB: It is only fair to let you all know that this will more likely than not be a pontification that stays with me right up until the last page because, in the end, I'm just not sure I have the conviction for a 'DNF' in me...and that's just sad!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Review: 'The Best A Man Can Get' by John O'Farrell

Date finished: 16 May 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Source: Bought as a gift for my boyfriend by his mother!

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Black Swan in June 2001

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Michael Adams shares a flat with three other men in their late twenties. Days are spent lying in bed, playing computer games and occasionally doing a bit of work. And then, when he feels like it, he crosses the river and goes back to his unsuspecting wife and children.

For Michael is living a double life - he escapes from the exhausting misery of babies by telling his wife he has to work through the night or travel up north. And while she is valiantly coping on her own, he is just a few miles away in a secret flat, doing all the things that most men with small children can only dream about.

The Review

This book has been languishing on my boyfriend's half-shelf in our study for ages. The reason he only takes up half a shelf, and the reason it's sat there for so long, is because he isn't what you would call a reader. In fact, the last time he read a work of fiction was when he was 15 and compelled to do so by school. He is now 25. I long ago gave up on attempting to persuade him to read anything but his mother never has. So, pretty much every Christmas, she buys another book that she thinks he'll like.

I dawdle along with that back story by way of explanation as to how I came to read such a clearly male-driven novel. When, after giggling all the way through it, he finished it on a train to Sienna, he turned to me with his eyes all welled up and said 'I liked that...please will you read it?", I had no choice really!

I was surprised to find myself chuckling away after just the first couple of pages! Michael, although dilluded and selfish, is a very wry and amusing narrator. I often find with books that are intended to be amusing that they fall flat and end up sounding false. (The one exception I can think of at the moment being Terry Pratchett's novels). Michael's tale reads like a series of anecdotes told by a friend in the pub and his voice is so authentic that I couldn't help giggling along!

There really isn't a great deal more to say about this book - the characters aren't particularly complex but they are like the supporting actors in any good comedy and serve to highlight the traits of the leads. Michael's father was a particular favourite of mine and pops up occasionally with some brilliant lines.

The plot is simply and not particularly suprising. In fact, I imagine this is the male equivalent of 'chick lit'. There's a few laughs, a few tears, a few embarassing exploits and a not wholly unexpected but thoroughly satisfying ending.

Overall: Despite what you'd expect from a book whose title is a slogan from an advertising campaign, this is a genuinely funny book and a quick read. Ever fancied a sneaky peek into what your husband/boyfriend might have been like if you weren't around or possibly even what he's like when he's hanging out with his friends? This book is a hilarious glimpse into an immature man's psyche.


John O'Farrell, as it happens, is also a fantastic non-fiction writer on English history and wrote 'An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge' and 'An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain (or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always'.

Between them, they rip through the highlights of the entire history of England while managing to be thoroughly engaging and entertaining. I can't recommend them enough and should probably actually dedicate a whole post to them one of these days...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Review: 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness


Date finished:
11 May 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Source: Bought - WH Smith

Genre: Science fiction; Fantasy fiction; Dystopian fiction

Published: by Walker Books in May 2008



The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Imagine you're the only boy in a town of men.

And you can hear everything they think.

And they can hear everything you think.

Imagine you don't fit in with their plans...Todd Hewitt is just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man. But his town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run...

The Review

I thought I knew what to expect from this novel, having read many a glowing review (and the occasional bad one too!). It turns out I was wrong. I was frequently surprised and had almost no clue where the story was going after each of the revelations and twists that this book has to offer.

I realise that I'm probably re-treading ground here but, in case there are just a couple of you who are as behind as me: the story is told from the perspective of Todd Hewitt who is just a month away from becoming an adult on his thirteenth birthday. Living in Prentisstown with The Noise (the constant sound of other men's thoughts) and where there are no surviving women means that growing up hasn't been easy for Todd.
"The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking"

Todd's experiences are reflected in the fact that Todd isn't a perfect character. He loses his temper (in a realistic way), makes mistakes and struggles in certain social situations. I didn't always like him but I was always rooting for him, which is the mark of a great central character, I think. His relationship with Manchee, his dog, is particularly touching, and I am extremely surprised to write that as not really an 'animal person' myself.

The intrigue surrounding Prentisstown itself is genuine and, although I occasionally thought I was getting close to working it out, I then found myself thrown off again by another event or revelation. The interesting plot was upheld well by a range of superb characters, evil, good and all the blurs in between: Viola features heavily and is heart-warmingly vulnerable while also fiercely loyal and brave; Ben and Cillian are such wonderful father figures and Aaron was one of the more disturbingly unhinged 'bad guys' I've read recently.

I found the combination of Todd's voice, the science-fiction elements and the distinctive characters utterly unique and was enthralled. There were many times I wanted to tear my eyes away but I just couldn't. 'Car crash' literature you might say, if you wanted to use a rather unpleasant but effective phrase...

Overall: A refreshingly offbeat novel that blends the better elements of fantasy with a rather mild brand of science-fiction, I would definitely recommend this book to fantasy fiction fans looking to branch out. It's action-packed, emotional and pensive in turn and I will absolutely be seeking out the remaining two books of the Chaos Walking trilogy.