Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 in Books: The Survey

best books read in 2012
I joined in with this survey last year and it was a great way to round off the year.  I think I've had a mixed year when it comes to reading.  I've been the busiest I've ever been at work and had a blip in the middle of the year when I wasn't feeling too fantastic and didn't read a great deal.  After that, though?  I'm committed to reading a lot more literary fiction and classics and the like.  So that's what you can expected from  Lit Addicted Brit in 2013.  But what about 2012?  Well, seeing as you've asked, here's my responses to The Perpetual Page-Turner's 2012 End of Year Book Survey:

1.  Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

Usually, this is a tough one.  For 2012, there was only one real option: The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  I have read some really brilliant books this year but this one is exceptional.  I bought it as a Christmas present for my Dad and have generally recommended it all around.  It's captivating, dark and beautifully written and I loved it.  It was my "THIS IS WHY I READ" moment of 2012.  Wonderful.

Other honourable mentions include: The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver and 11.22.63 by Stephen King. Great books all.

2.  Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Ready your rotten fruits for an answer that will probably be quite unpopular.  This dubious honour goes to City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.  You won't have to look too far at all to find glowing reviews of Clare's series but I was massively disappointed.  I was expecting great YA urban fantasy but just couldn't love it.  There are too many books vying for my attention for me to pretend that I'll even try the second book.  Just not good.

3.  Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 

11.22.63 by Stephen King.  As a wimp, I have always assumed that Stephen King was beyond my grasp.  I read the start of the Dark Tower series and was quite disappointed.  I started this at Hanna's subtle (*ahem*) insistence, however, and was surprised by the impeccable plot with such superb attention to detail and characters that I actually missed for a few days after I'd finished it.  My review will be coming soon but it will almost certainly consist of further insistences that you read it.  Because it is AMAZING. Fact.

4.  Book you recommended to people most in 2012? 

Erm...this is either The Secret History again (mostly because I actually bought a copy for someone else) or 0.4 by Mike Lancaster for being the book that had me gasping into the most recommendations.

5.  Best series you discovered in 2012?

Technically,  I started a lot of series this year but a pretty high proportion of those were ones that I can't see me continuing on with.  Those that I am the most excited about carrying on with (and therefore assume are the best that I discovered...:-/) are The Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King (see my review of the first in the series "The Beekeeper's Apprentice here) and The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (my review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief here).

6.  Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Michelle Paver, Michael J. Sullivan, Barry Hughart and Lauren Willig.  They're a pretty diverse bunch but are all authors that I think will feature at least once here in 2013.

7.  Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Purely for being written by an author who is famous for writing books that are everything that makes me nervous about the horror genre, this accolade goes to 11.22.63 by Stephen King (which, for a book that I haven't even reviewed yet, is getting a heck of a lot of mentions!!).  A close second is Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, since that is also a horror novel but is just perfectly pitched that I couldn't help admire but it.

8.  Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

Oh dear.  This is going to get a little repetitive. Either Dark Matter by Michelle Paver or 0.4 by Mike Lancaster.  Again.  I read them both pretty much in one day and barely broke away from them to eat, never mind do anything else.  I had kind of forgotten about Dark Matter towards the end of the year but it's superb and you really should read it!

9.  Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year.

This is a difficult question for me, since the answer is probably none.  I don't tend to re-read, I'm afraid...*dodges insults and flying vegetables*

10.  Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

11.  Most memorable character in 2012? 

It's a tie between Fezzik and Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride.  This was one of my favourite books of the year, despite my not mentioning it until now.  I *will* review it at some point and when I do, it will mostly be effusive praise.  I actually do have the DVD of the film hanging around somewhere for me to see how all of my favourite characters play out on the screen...

12.  Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

I'm sorry, friends - it's The Secret History by Donna Tartt again!  The writing really draws you in and manages to be to the point and elegant at the same time.  I really, really recommend it.

13.  Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

I didn't review it at the time and haven't really mentioned it since but this has to be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  After we were in a car accident in May, I wanted reminding of a time where a cold was worth a week or two's confinement to bed and where emotional trauma was caused only be a temporarily thwarted love interest.  Pride and Prejudice was everything I needed it to be and more.  It was just lovely and perfect and I will remember it fondly forever for distracting me from various injuries and many tears with its charm and wit.  Feeling blue?  Read Pride and Prejudice.

14.  Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

I'm going to go with Pride and Prejudice again, actually.  I remain utterly unconvinced by Emma but am almost converted to Austen in general.  Other than that, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; a modern classic.

15.  Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

"Some things are too terrible to grasp at once.  Other things - naked, spluttering, indelible in their horror - are too terrible to really ever grasp at all.  It is only later, in solitude, in memory, that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself - quite to one's surprise - in an entirely different world"  [The Secret History by Donna Tartt, page 312]

16.  Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Shortest:  The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill at 145 pages.  Closely followed by Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury at 184 pages.  Both have great stories packed into their few pages.

Longest:  11.22.63 by Stephen King at 740 pages.  This took me way less time to read than some others, so I'm kind of surprised at this! Also, I usually pick up at least one epic fantasy during the year that tend to top out 1,000 pages.  So there's another thing that I need to fix in 2013!

17.  Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

In a bad way:  The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

In a bad-because-I-loved-the-book-so-much:  11.22.63 by Stephen King

18.  Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

I think this is the hardest question so far!  I did read about some great romantic relationships this year but I think that there's a lot to be said about true friendships or strong family bonds.  Just to throw in a curve ball, I'm giving the win to Durzo Blint and Kylar Stern from Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy (which I finished this year and reviewed here).  It's sort of both familial and platonic but it's complex and never predictable.  If you haven't read the series and are at all a fantasy fan, you really should.

19.  Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously.

Is it cheating to go with the continuation of a series?  No?  Good.  In that case, Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks.

20.  Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else     

I think it's the SOLELY part that makes this one hard.  There are plenty of books that I've been aware of already but have read this year because of someone's recommendation but solely?  Difficult.  Actually, I think The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig, which I actually wouldn't even have heard of if it hadn't been for Hanna's review of the third in the series at Booking In Heels.  Also, the covers aren't the coolest so if I'd seen it in a shop, I can't imagine that I would have even picked it up, never mind bought it.

Feel like answering a ton of questions about your reading in 2012?  Of course you do.  Head on over here or pop down to the Comments section :)

Monday, 17 December 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #11

Join the fun at Book Journey
Eight days until Christmas, friends.  EIGHT DAYS!  While that does mean lots of festive treats and seasonal frivolity, it does also mean less reading time.  Between buying and wrapping Christmas presents, writing Christmas cards, attending Christmas parties and events and trying to get ahead at work before we have two weeks off, there's not been a huge amount of time to spare.  Still, I can't complain - I'm a huge Christmas fan.  My computer at work is shrouded in tinsel and I love choosing the perfect Christmas presents for friends and family. 

All of the joviality aside, I have of course made my way through some pages...

What have I been reading?

I started 11.22.63 by Stephen King just over a week ago and have been trying to cram pages into every available moment ever since.  It's clever, full of political and historical details that I like to think mean I'm learning while I'm reading (despite the fact that I have no idea which parts are fact and which are fiction...) and also manages to be a gripping read at the same time.  

What am I reading now?

Still 11.22.63 by Stephen King, although that's obviously no bad thing.  It is every bit as good as everybody has been telling me it is (and by everybody, I mostly mean Hanna).  I'm actually rapidly approaching the end, which has me both super eager to keep on reading but also sad that it won't be too long before I have to leave behind characters that I have spent so much time with.  There will be tears, I know it...

What will I be reading next?

I've been mumbling on about it for quite a long time now but I'm pretty sure now that the time for reading John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk is nearly here.  Really, though, I'm seriously looking forward to it.  The opening paragraph of the synopsis on GoodReads says:  "1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, John's mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John's mother dies".  Yes, I'm excited too.  

If I'm in the mood for a quick fix before getting stuck into another historical fiction, I may well sneak in 1.4 by Mike Lancaster.  I wolfed down the first in the series not long ago (and reviewed it here) and really want to see where the story goes next.

As always, it's your turn!  What have you been reading?  What are you reading right this very moment?  What are you reading next?  SHARE!  :)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Weekend Cooking #2: 'Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat' by Naomi Moriyama and W. Doyle

Weekend Cooking is a bookish/foodie meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads

I have absolutely no idea where I first saw/heard about this book and can't remember where I bought it from.  What I do know, however, is that it's flipping brilliant.

There is a land where women live longer than everyone else on Earth.  It is a place where obesity is the lowest in the developed world.  Where forty-year-old women look like they are twenty.  

It is a land where women enjoy some of the world's most delicious food, yet they have obesity rates of only 3 per cent - less than one-third that of French women...and less then one-tenth that of American women...

The country is Japan.

[Pages 1-2 in my edition]

Having spent my first year at university in catered halls indulging a little too much, I spent my next couple of years living with friends in one rather grim student house and one rather nice student house, learning more about cooking and food and trying to repair the damage.  Ever since, I've been interested in attitudes to food and how losing weight is often about little more than changing the way we think about eating.  Despite being described as containing "delicious slimming and anti-ageing secrets", Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat is about more about just that: it's about cultivating a certain way of thinking about food and eating and changing your habits.

I have read a lot of books about food but this remains one of my favourites.  Recounting Moriyama's own experiences of growing up in Japan on wholesome home-cooked meals to living in New York and relying on fast food to re-discovering Japanese food in her own homes, this is the kind of book that you'll pick up to dig out a recipe from and you'll wind up reading a story about the author's mother's despair at finding out that her daugher owned a microwave, a snippet on the scientific reason why you should start the day with a healthy breakfast and drooling over a recipe for Teriyaki Fish [Page 154].  The recipes aren't grouped together in a discrete section but are spread out in amongst anecdotes and foodie facts - there's an index at the back so that you can always find your favourites but it means this isn't as much a recipe book as it is a book about food.  

There's also a section on the "secrets" of Tokyo women's kitchens, ranging from the more obvious, like eating smaller portions (albeit on smaller plates, so that your brain doesn't get sad from looking at a vast expanse of empty crockery), to the slightly more scientific, like making changes to the types of carbohydrates that you eat and shuffling the balance of when you eat certain food groups.  You can go right back to basics and completely overhaul your life or you can just mix the simple recipes into your repertoire.  Once you have the ingredients, the recipes really aren't complicated and you won't need a Michelin star to enjoy them.

Fortunately, for all that this book is about healthy eating and changing your lifestyle, it isn't in the least bit preachy or sanctimonious.  There are some really practical sections on how to set up your own Tokyo kitchen without completely refurbishing your house or spending a fortune and where to buy Japanese ingredients in the US/UK or online (bonus points to the UK publishers for updating the book to include sources in the UK and for providing statistics in UK £!)  I'd recommend Japan Centre, personally, particularly if you live in the UK.

There are only a couple of downsides to this.  One is a 'problem' that will be familiar to  any foodie with a stash of more "exotic" books about food - the ingredients for the recipes tend not to be things that you will already have in your cupboards unless you've previously done some oriental cooking.  The other is a matter of personal preference:  there are no pictures of delicious food at all in the book.  The parts where Moriyama is writing about food are incredibly well-written and so sensual that I almost felt as though I could smell the miso paste; if you aren't familiar with Japanese food, however, and want ideas about presentation and the like, this might not be the book for you.

Overall:  A perfect blend of family stories, foodie anecdotes, delicious and healthy recipes and practical tips that makes this the ideal companion for any Japanese food lover.  I have read this over and over and my copy is stuffed full of bits of paper that I've scribbled notes on while cooking my favourite recipes or when I've been looking for ingredients: a sure fire sign of enjoyment.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Fantasy Review: 'The Gunslinger' by Stephen King

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.


Even having finished this a little over six weeks ago, I still can't decide how I feel about The Gunslinger.  Despite really not being sure if I even liked reading it, I still think that I'll read the next in the series.  Granted, I probably won't read it right away and I'm not likely to pay any actual money for it but I might borrow a copy of the library if I happen across one.

More often than not, articles about Stephen King or reviews of King's books lavish praise upon his storytelling abilities.  Oddly, I think that's part of what lets this book down.  Every now and then (and I do mean only every now and then!), there's a glimpse of where the story is going so it's clear that there's a plan for the overarching story.  This book is just a small part of a huge, winding tale and, while I'm sure that story is brilliant, I just didn't feel that I saw enough of it.

What I saw more than enough of was Roland.  Roland walking, Roland thinking about walking, Roland eating, Roland thinking about eating, Roland talking to Jake, Roland thinking get the idea.  The book is a mere 238 pages long - in the land of fantasy series, that is small fry.  I've read many an epic fantasy series where the author  thinks nothing of introducing a character, leaving them to go their own way for many hundreds of pages before re-introducing them with barely a reminder about where you saw them last.  Readers of The Gunslinger aren't trusted in the memory stakes, however. In the first few chapters, Roland, is moseying through a town called Tull.  There he meets a complex lady called Allie and spends maybe fifty pages getting to know her.  Just a little less than a quarter of the book is spent with Allie but for some reason every time she is mentioned later, she is referred to as "Allie, the woman in Tull".  Which I know, Roland, because since you left her, you haven't done anything but WALK!  

Since the premise of this opening novel is Roland being a "haunting solitary figure" starting out on a quest through a "desolate world", I wasn't expecting a cast of thousands or gun-toting on every corner but there's very little...charm.  If I'm starting out on a journey that's going to last for seven books, I want to *care*.  I want to find at least one character that I can cheer for, sympathise with or cry over.  Here, I found one character who I wanted to kick or SHAKE to get some life into (I'm looking at YOU, Roland), one I wanted just to stand still for five minutes so that we could all stop chasing him (Man in Black, come on down) and only one who I felt intrigued by (hugs for you, Jake, hugs for you)...

On the plus side, I'm quite intrigued by the way King is playing with time.  Early on, I was frustrated because the setting and tone of the book both screamed old-style western but for some reason Hey Jude by The Beatles was a well-known ditty.  It was almost impossible to work out whether the story is a distorted version of the past or a desolate version of the future or something else entirely.  It's the peeks into the potential of future instalments that will bring me back to this series, rather than a sense of having enjoyed this one.

Overall:  As an isolated reading experience, The Gunslinger wasn't the best.  In spite of that, the final few pages did make me feel as though there was hope for the series yet.  Expect a plethora of unanswered questions, a hefty dose of surrealism and a little bit of gore (this is Stephen King, after all) and you shouldn't find yourself too disappointed.

Date finished:  03 November 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Fantasy fiction
Published (edition I read): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in 2012

Saturday, 8 December 2012

YA Science Fiction Review: '0.4' by Mike Lancaster

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

It's a brave new world. 

'My name is Kyle Straker. And I don't exist anymore.' 

So begins the story of Kyle Straker, recorded on to old audio tapes. You might think these tapes are a hoax. But perhaps they contain the history of a past world...If what the tapes say are true, it means that everything we think we know is a lie. And if everything we know is a lie does that mean that we are, too?

After reading Ellie at Musing of a Bookshop Girl's review, this book went straight onto my wishlist.  And stayed there.  I kind of forgot about it, to be honest, until I was clearing out my wishlist one day and spotted it loitering towards the end.  A few clickety-clicks on my Waterstones app later (that is one dangerous app, readers!) and it was on its way.

I had just finished a detailed historical fiction novel and was feeling in the mood for a quicker fix.  I could not have chosen better!  Despite starting it in the middle of my working week, I read it in less than 24 hours.  When I wasn't working/performing necessary human functions, I was reading 0.4.  Trying to just read one chapter of this book is like trying to eat one Pringle.  It can not be done!  Every time I picked it up, I was completely stuck to it until I was forced to do something else and poor Boyfriend got more than one stern look for interrupting me while I was reading it.

The story starts with a suitably cryptic introduction but really gets going when Kyle and three other residents of a small village in Cambridgeshire volunteer to take part in a display of hypnotism during a village talent contest and wake up to find all of their fellow residents frozen in place.  Left with nobody to turn to, the four "lucky" ones clamber to work out what has happened to their friends and families and where their future lies...

Although on the face of it, this is very much a YA novel, there are some sneaky little twists in there to keep the older ones among us interested too.  A little bit like some of the modern animated films that include plenty of jokes for the adult audience in amongst the colourful frippery.  Events are recounted by Kyle using a discarded cassette tape recorder.  It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into setting up this story, right down to there being some gaps in Kyle's story where he fails to allow for the few seconds at the beginning and end of a cassette tape where no sound is recorded, a quirk that will probably only be familiar to those of us who are better acquainted with the peculiar charms of cassettes.

What made this novel stand out for me were the comments of those listening to Kyle's story in the future.  The prologue, the editor's notes and the afterword all transformed an exciting YA story into something really...unsettling.  The speculations over idioms that have become defunct were my particular favourites:

"NOTE - 'eel of jealousy'
This is quite a bizarre phrase, because an eel was a snakelike fish of the type we now refer to as an Anguilleform. How this related to jealousy is unknown, although Kenton argues for being a kind of metaphor for the feeling the primitive emotion caused within the individual.  LeGar, however, points to a fragment of text called Stargate SG-1 which suggests that a parisitic creature of this type may have been present within certain individuals"
[Page 90]

The only real casualty of the break-neck pace is characterisation.  With the exception of Kyle, the characters aren't particularly well developed and their relationships are fairly superficial.  This is one of those retrospective criticisms, though, since the plot and pacing were so strong that I didn't even really have time to notice that the characters were a bit one-dimensional.  

Overall:  Don't be deceived by the YA tone - 0.4 has plenty for everyone to enjoy and will leave you just a little bit less secure in your surroundings than you were before you read it.  If you haven't read any science fiction before, this is a great place to start - it has plenty of the mind-bending that you would expect from the genre without being completely technologically baffling.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

December TBR Pile

November!  Where did you go?!  I was super excited about my November TBR Pile and I read...*drumroll*...ONE of my chosen four books!  To be honest, I'm pleased that I actually read one.  Most of the time when I've set a reading list, I've then wandered off in another direction in a distracted fashion, as my recent challenge failings attest to...So yes, one isn't so bad, really.  Plus, the one that I did read was  0.4 by Mike Lancaster and it was brilliant (as I feel sure I've mentioned everywhere recently!).

I'm keeping my target pretty low this month.  I do only have  a couple of weeks of work left before I'm off for a good long break but I'll also be out and about visiting family, eating and drinking so there may well not be much reading done.  For December, the books that I didn't get to in November are still stacked up in the study and may well feature BUT my "official" TBR pile is actually an ePile this month...

The Passage by Justin Cronin - I've picked this up in the library loads of times and put it back because I didn't want to carry it around and ruin my posture forever.  Plus the girl on the cover is creepy.  So I bought an eBook copy and I keep seeing posters everywhere that remind me that I have neglected it for far too long.  Not very festive but hey ho!

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk - Food and witchcraft.  Enough said.

11.22.63 by Stephen King - I was already keen to read this but Hanna's review really tipped me from keen to DESPERATE.  Well, maybe not desperate but so excited about reading it that it was almost certainly be the next book that I read.

Fancy sharing your own December TBR pile?  Head over to Booksessed and join in!   

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Challenges from 2012: Conceding Defeat

Over the past few weeks, a whole host of challenges for 2013 have been emerging and waving their little challenge-y arms around to lure in unsuspecting bloggers.  Before I get all carried away and sign up for some, I thought it was about time that I drew a line under those that I gallantly signed up for this time last year.

To complete the challenges that I signed up for (including my GoodReads target of reading 75 books this year), I'd have to read a grand total of 43 books in December.  Even if I were to quit my job and stay at home all day everyday, I still wouldn't be able to read enough books!  Hence my bowing out early...

hosted by Hanna @ Booking in Heels

I was the most excited about this challenge and the books that I've read out of the bunch (albeit maybe not this year...) are fantastic!  It's a list that I really do plan on keeping hold of and will hopefully finish some time during 2013.  They coincide nicely with my aim to read more literary/classic fiction next year.  Anyway, the challenge was to read the stories that inspired the quirky characters in the film 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' during 2012.  The 9 books were:

1.  King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (Allan Quartermain)
2.  Dracula by Bram Stoker (Mina Harker)
3.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Captain Nemo)
4.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer)
5.  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (Dorian Gray)
6.  The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde)
7.  The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (Rodney Skinner)
8.  The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (The Phantom)
9.  The Final Solution by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (James Moriarty)

I read Dracula by Bram Stoker (review here) towards the end of 2011 and Hanna being the kindly soul that she is allowed me to count it.  I read Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux back in July but was too busy chastising myself for how far behind in reviewing to actually write a review.  I will post on before the end of December so that I don't end up with my "official" total being ONE.  

I have read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (review here) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson (review here) during the lifetime of Lit Addicted Brit and had meant to post something to freshen up the reviews but...well, you know how it is :-/

Sorry, Hanna!!

CHALLENGE #2: The 2012 TBR Pile Challenge 
hosted by Adam @ RoofBeamReader

This is probably the challenge that would have been the most "valuable" to complete because I have some almost certainly truly great novels sat patiently on my shelves that for an array of rubbish reasons I never seem to get to.  Looking back over the list that I put together, I have been an idiot not to get to any of them.  Maybe my mistake was not looking back at my list often enough, because now that I have, all I want to do is rush upstairs and grab one of these and get stuck in.  I might be a little bit cheeky and use the exact same list for 2013 but actually READ them this time!  There's an outside chance that we might be moving house and if we do, I'm fairly sure that my money will be going on paint and soft furnishings, rather than books...

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

I might get to one before the end of this year but it's more likely that these will be rolling on to 2013...

CHALLENGE #3: A Classics Challenge
Hosted @ November's Autumn

Again, this is one that I was super excited about.  I meant to read more classics this year but never really got enthusiastic about that aim until later in the year.  After a little break over the summer and a few misguided bookish choices, I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt (review here) and had an "OH MY GOSH - THIS IS WHY I READ" moment that re-kindled my desire to read some wonderful literary/classic fiction.  I'm thinking of signing up for the super aim of reading 50 classics in 5 years but whether I do or I don't, the following will be ones that I WILL GET TO.  Soon.

1.  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
2.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
3.  Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
4.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5.  1984 by George Orwell
6.  Turn of the Screw by Henry James
7.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


So that's the catalogue of my failures this year!  I'm not too sad about it because May/June were strange months that had a more lasting impact on my reading than I'd anticipated even at the time.  I've got back into reading really fantastic books over the past couple of months and am genuinely looking forward to whatever 2013 has in store!  

What about you?  How have you fared in the reading challenges that you took on?  I hope a little more successfully than me!!  :)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

W...W...W...Wednesdays #1

Join the fun at Should Be Reading
So it seems that it's already Wednesday!  Given that the first half of my week has somehow disappeared without my quite getting round to bumbling through an update on my reading, we're doing it mid-week instead.  Plus, I've been thinking about trying some new memes and shaking things up around here so that's two things in one.  Boom.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

I've just about finished Red Gloves by Beth Vaughan, which is the first in the Epic of Palins trilogy.  When I picked it up from the library, I didn't know that there was a trilogy prior to it that was set in the same world (the Chronicles of the Warlands trilogy).  As it turns out, it doesn't matter and I've been pretty well and truly swept up over the past few days.  It's a bit rough around the edges and definitely isn't YA but it's also really quite good.  As soon as I've posted this, I'm planning on scuttling off to finish it!

What did I recently finish reading?

I read 0.4 by Mike Lancaster last week and it was SO GOOD.  I read it pretty much in a single mind-bending day and really enjoyed it.  I haven't branched off from fantasy into science fiction very much but after 0.4 it's something I'll be doing more often.  I may have already bought the next in the series, 1.4...

On Sunday, I finished The White Forest by Adam McOmber, which was a random pick from NetGalley that also turned out to be brilliant.  It was quite a slow-moving book but was fabulously written - if "literary fantasy" were a genre, this would be a wonderful example.

What do I think I'll read next?

This one's always tricky, isn't it?!  I have a couple of NetGalley books lingering on my eReader that I'm looking forward to it will probably be either Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder or John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.  I read the first in Snyder's Healer series, Touch of Power, last December (review here) and really enjoyed it.  When I got approved for the next instalment, I was a happy reader indeed.  BUT I've read some glowing reviews of John Saturnall's Feast too and it's about withchy-foody stuff so...I don't know!  Watch this space, I guess!

Now it's your turn - tell me what you have been/are/are about to read!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Festive YA Book Review: 'Dash & Lily's Book of Dares' by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?


I read *tons* of good reviews for this last Christmas but for what I'm sure was a very good reason at the time, didn't get round to reading it.  Actually, I think it's because it was released in the US in October 2011 but not released over in the UK until October 2012.  I could have still grabbed an eBook copy (I think...) but after January rolled around, I put it out of my  mind.  No matter how much I love Love Actually (which is a lot...), I only ever watch it in December if I'm feeling in need of a little festive cheer.  I neglected Dash & Lily all year for the same reason.  The happy news?  I am wise and saving this for when Christmas sparkle was seeping its way back into the world was perfect.

I was an easy sell for the first few chapters because they were set in a bookshop that I dragged (almost literally) Boyfriend into when we were in New York, Strand Book Store.  I could have spent days amongst its 18 miles of books and been perfectly happy.  I was so excited about reading about somewhere that I'd actually been that I would have forgiven a great deal.  Sure, I'd been cracking a few smiles but would they continue when I was no longer giddy on happy memories?  Thankfully, yes.  For the most part.

Having two authors writing the two characters sounded like a great idea but I wasn't expecting it to work as well in practice as it actually does.  I obviously preferred one style over the other (Levithan's, if you're wondering) but the shift between chapters was never particularly disorientating or jarring.  Both characters have a similarly sarcastic sense of humour and both are clearly more intelligent than the vast majority of teenagers.  Dash (written by Levithan), however, hates Christmas and all of the "forced" joviality and is generally a lot more cynical; Lily (written by Cohn) is a huge fan of everything festive and comes across as a lot more open-hearted, if a little naive.  Personally, I fall into the latter camp and LOVE everything about Christmas but even I could appreciate that Dash's cynicism actually stops the whole novel becoming too sickly sweet.  The balance means that Dash and Lily's escapades made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, grin like a moron and feel in desperate need of some tinsel.

There are downsides to the book (Lily's first experience of schnapps being one for me) but on the whole I was more than happy to overlook them and focus on the fun!  The characters also seemed a little older to me than their alleged 15 years (which is something I have seen other reviewers mention too, so I'm not just being old!) - they both have a pretty sophisticated way of speaking for teenagers (remember Dawson's Creek? Like that) and are running around New York at Christmas time largely unchecked.  Like when I watched Dawson's Creek, however, I was happy to go with it and gladly followed Dash and Lily around Manhattan in pursuit of a happy ending.

Overall:  Not a perfect book but an excellent seasonal interlude.  There's a whole host of kooky family members and friends that pop up (it is Christmas, after all...) and it's just so warm that it's almost impossible not to end up smiling.  Like all good romantic comedies, there are ups and there are downs but there's always enough ups to leave you feeling good about the world.  Enjoy with a blanket, mulled wine and a mince pie :)

Date finished:  28 October 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review
Genre:  YA fiction; CHRISTMAS fiction
Published (in the UK): by Harlequin (UK) Limited in October 2012

Monday, 19 November 2012

Historical Fiction Review: 'The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel' by Timothy L. O'Brien

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars


A nation shattered by its president’s murder. Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy. A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him

From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O’Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?

In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple’s life in jeopardy—and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.

Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents—and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.


I was really looking forward to reading this because I find American history at the time Abraham Lincoln was President of the USA fascinating.  My limited knowledge was mostly accrued on holiday recently and was of political upheaval and unrest following the American Civil War and in the face of huge legal changes and rapid development of the country's infrastructure.  Add a conspiracy theory to the mix and I expected greatness.

A lot of what the novel's synopsis promised was delivered but the experience of reading it wasn't always a smooth process.  Since it's a matter of historical fiction that John Wilkes Booth was the perpetrator of President Lincoln's assassination, any author trying to add mystery has to work pretty hard.  In this case, I thought that the conspiracy angle was a little bit weak; detective Temple McFadden comes across some intriguing diaries almost by accident and becomes gripped by a need to reveal their secrets.  For me, there was an imbalance between the amount that Temple seemed to be prepared to sacrifice to retain the diaries.  I'm hesitant to blame the author entirely because I think that a lot of the tension is likely to be built around twists on history, the more subtle of which I missed entirely because I'm British and have only a basic knowledge of America's history.  That said, relying so heavily on prior knowledge means that the "characters" aren't fully drawn and are hard to get to grips with when you don't already have some expectations or understanding of them.  Readers with a similar level of prior knowledge to mine might feel a little adrift too.

The exceptions to that are Temple McFadden and his wife and friends.  Perhaps that's because they were the fictional element and so had to be drawn more fully.  Fiona was a particular highlight for me.  I loved how plucky and resourceful she was and I respected Temple a lot more for the faith he put in his wife's abilities, letting her help him and herself rather than trying to save her all the time.  Augustus and Nail were great additions too and there were some moments that really made my heart hurt for them all.

The plot's pace varied quite a lot: there were times that I was cramming as many pages as possible into my train journey and evenings; there were others when I would put my eReader aside and then wouldn't feel overly inclined to pick it back up again.  The blend between thriller and historical fiction didn't always feel very natural, with some characters reminiscing to weave in some historical context.  The background was interesting but didn't help the story maintain its momentum or focus.  After such a detailed build-up, the ending was quite abrupt.  There's a fairly significant revelation late on that made me double-take but more could have been made of it and very shortly after it, everything was done and dusted and I was left wondering what the point of the twist actually was if it wasn't going to be used more.

A health warning for more sensitive readers: the author doesn't shy away from the harsher language and terms that are all but unheard in modern society.  It lends a certain authenticity to the novel's tone but reading the word n**ger can be jarring.

Overall:  A very detailed and well-written thriller, The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel will appeal to those interested in American history, the politics behind the abolition of slavery and, of course, the assassination of President Lincoln.  Just remember that if either you aren't American or you need a little refresh of your history, I would recommend spending a few minutes having a quick catch-up on the key political players at the time if you want to get the most out of the story.

Date finished:  14 November 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher as part of a HF Virtual Book Tour in return for an honest review
Genre:  Historical fiction; Thriller
Published: by Ballantine Books on 18 September 2012

Check out the rest of the stops on the HF Virtual Book Tour here or check in on Twitter using the hashtag #LincolnConspiracyTour

About the Author

Timothy L. O’Brien is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize–winning series about wounded war veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.” Previously, he was an editor and reporter at The New York Times. There, he helped to lead a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis. O’Brien, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds three master's degrees -- in US History,Business and Journalism -- all from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.