Sunday, 29 April 2012

Why Be a Book Blogger?

In June 2010, I was browsing the internet looking for my next read.  I was surprised to stumble upon a whole swathe of people that were writing about what they were reading, setting challenges for each other and getting as giddy over new acquisitions as I did.  Since I was working in a job that, while was in the sector I ultimately wanted to work in, wasn't particularly taxing mentally, I became intrigued by the idea of trying it out for myself.  Much as though regularly filling in job applications was a riot, I wanted something that I could be creative and have fun with.  In July 2010, Lit Addicted Brit was born.


Nearly two years later, I have the job that I've been working for pretty much as long as I remember.  And yet I still maintain a book blog.  Maybe not as regularly as I did when I was funnelling all of my creative energy into it but I still do it and I still love it.

So why am I getting all warm and fuzzy and telling you this?  Don't worry, it isn't because I'm going soft.  It's because I think that sometimes it's nice to have a reminder of why you started doing something in the first place, why it's worth doing or why you love it.
  


Community

I've lost count of the amount of times I have seen someone write in a post something to the effect of "my 'real life' [friends/acquaintances] don't get how I can be so into books and reading but my blogging friends accept me and my opinions without a second thought".  That's part of the reason why I started blogging myself.  I can engage with other readers who surround themselves with books like I do and who are equally convinced that there isn't enough time in the world to read all the great books that are out there.  

I have "met" other book bloggers whose reading habits are remarkably similar to my own and whose opinions I not only listen to but actively seek out.  I can't see how else I would have come across such people and I refuse to see anything bad in a forum that encourages that.  

Finding new genres


Before I started blogging, I would have told you that I didn't really like crime or mystery novels, that I wasn't wholly convinced by science fiction and that I was reasonably "well-read".  I would tell you none of those things now and that is because of the energy that other bloggers put into persuading me and other readers that they're missing out.  I am sometimes amazed by how much blogging has changed my reading habits 

You can do your own thing

When I was 17 and about to sit my final English A-Level exams, my tutor told me that I wasn't as good as another girl in my class and that, if I wanted to beat her, I would have to work harder.  She misunderstood me entirely: I have never cared what anyone else is doing.  I rarely look sideways and compare myself to my peers because I can't see how anything good can come from it.  I love that when it comes to my blog, it looks how I want it to look and stands for what I want it to stand for.  Every single blog I come across says something about the person that runs it.
For me, it doesn't matter how many followers I do or don't have, how many followers someone else has or about blogger/author/publisher relationships.  It's about sharing books I love with other people who are doing the same or about getting post-bad-read-blues out of my system with a mini rant :)



Sharing some love

There are some wonderful bloggers out there and I'm going to round off an uncharacteristically gushy post by pointing you in the direction of some bloggers whose opinions I respect, whose posts I pretty much always read (even if I don't always comment on them :-s) and whose recommendations I genuinely listen to:




CurlyGeek04 at The Book Stop


Feel free to share some love for book blogging, book bloggers or anything else on this wet and windy Sunday!  

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Review: 'Before I Go To Sleep' by S.J.Watson

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sy
nopsis (taken from Goodreads.com)



Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?

Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love--all forgotten overnight.

And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story.

Welcome to Christine's life.



Review

I was intrigued by the idea of this book as soon as I read the synopsis. I loved the idea of the psychological/sociological questions that the story had the potential to raise.  
Do our memories define us?  Even if I didn't remember that I hate milk, I would still hate milk.  That wouldn't change.  Some things about us just are but maybe not the things that really matter.  Like my boyfriend of 5 years or everything I've learnt that means I can practice as a lawyer.  Would I still be the 'same person' if I forgot all of the experiences that have lead to me having the personality that I do?  Is personality innate or is it learnt and drawn from our memories of the choices we've made and our interactions?

Watson does do a pretty good job of taking these points on and looking at what's left of and for Christine when her memories are lost.  The extension of the idea that I hadn't really thought through before starting was how Christine could, if she chose, write a life for herself.  If every day she has to pick up and read about her life, why not write in good memories or eliminate the bad?  If you do something embarrassing but could choose not to remember it tomorrow, would you? Or would you feel as though you owed it to yourself to make sure you remembered the good and the bad?  So yes, quite thought-provoking.

As well as being a look at memory and psychology, however, it also happens to be a gripping thriller.  I would guess that not having a clue who anybody is or why they're in your life would breed an element of suspicion and it's the uncertainty that makes the book so atmospheric.  There's always a question lurking about other characters' motives and comments and I never quite felt...settled while I was reading it.  Take Ben (Christine's husband), for example.  There's a question mark hanging over him for the whole book and Christine vacillates between sympathy and anger regularly, making it hard to work out who is "good" and who isn't and driving the mystery that keeps the plot going.

I've read reviews that criticise the book for being repetitive.
Although there is a modicum of truth in the comment, I actually found that it helped the story, rather than hindered it.  Christine's life is repetitive.  She has to wake up every day, look at a face she doesn't know in the mirror and try to put her life back together by reading her diary and speaking to her husband and her doctor.  I never felt bored by the elements that pop up necessarily regularly and they helped me empathise with Christine that little bit more.  

That isn't to say I didn't have any criticisms of my own.  I've been torn about whether to mention my main gripe or not.  There were some points in the book where I felt the strength of the "message" was partially undermined by actions that jarred a little, even while I can appreciate that without them, the story wouldn't work.  The glaring one is Christine's propensity to forget everything about her past and her life but somehow manage to remember where her diary was and that she should read it.  Like I said, I am aware that the book wouldn't work without this because Christine would then just keep bumbling on in her endless cycle of forgetting but sometimes it stretched the air of authenticity a touch too far.  Not, of course, that I would presume to suggest a way to do it better.  Just that sometimes you will have to suspend your cynical side (if you have one!) and go with the story.  

And phewf - I was so relieved about the ending.  As it approached, I got a little bit worried that it was going to be too twee and light.  I actually think that it's the kind of ending that some people will really appreciate (like me) and that some people will hate.  If you like your books to box things up tidily and make sure that there aren't any threads for your brain to tug on after you've finished it, take this as a light warning that you might be a bit peeved by this one.  

Overall: A book that will worm its way into your psyche and unsettle you. It won't always keep you hanging on the edge of your seat BUT you will always feel as though the next time you'll be hanging on the edge of your seat might be right around corner.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  4 March 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Thriller; Crime
Published: by Black Swan in January 2012

Monday, 23 April 2012

World Book Night Glee

I loved this idea a LOT when I first read about it.  Unfortunately, when I first read about it, it was already too late to be one of the lucky people giving out amazing books to encourage the world to get reading.

Imagine my delight when I walked out of Leeds train station, battling with a slightly broken umbrella and about to step into the pouring rain, when a lovely lady proffered a copy of Pride and Prejudice "for free because it's World Book Night".  I'm fairly sure I squeaked a little bit and said something inane like "How exciting! Thank you very much!".  Because I am nothing if not over-excitable.  

The copy itself is adorable and I love it, for so many reasons...

1.  It has the wonderful little handwritten number in the front that makes it entirely unique and part of something global about how fabulous literature is.  

2.  It has a paragraph on the back that says: 
"This book is a gift.  It is one of a million which is being given as part of World Book Night 2012 to spread the joy and love of reading.  You can enjoy it and pass it on and still keep it with you.  All you have to do is read it.  Once you have, the story is yours forever... 
Please try this book.  We think you're going to love it" 

3.  As World Book Night also happens to be the date that Shakespeare was born and died, Sonnet 116 is printed on the inside of the back cover.  

4.  The lovely World Book Night people asked the equally lovely Vintage publisher people what they would recommend to those who had finished Pride and Prejudice and felt bereft.  So there's a handy little chapter of Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn.  

5.  I've never read Pride and Prejudice :-s 




Bottom line?  I am SO HAPPY that I got to leave the train station at the right time and walk into a little bit of World Book Night.  It cheered up a pretty grim day no end :)


Want to read more about this superb event?  Head here to the World Book Night website!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

In My Mailbox #5

My actual plan for today was to make up for having been pretty quiet over the past few weeks and write some reviews and generally catch up and be productive.  But then I went to a 'Daffodils and Diamonds' Ball with some people from work last night and might have over-indulged a little, rendering my productivity levels for today somewhat less than high.  

So instead of a review of Before I Go To Sleep by S.J.Watson, you get to nosy at what I've acquired this week, courtesy of In My Mailbox as hosted by The Story Siren!  You lucky things.  

On Friday night, Boyfriend went out and I had the house to myself.  It was a long week at work so I was really in the mood for cuddling up with a book for a while.  I've been struggling with the book I've been reading so on a whim decided that I'd hit the Waterstones eBook store for something to read.  Because obviously walking all the way upstairs to get something off my shelves would have been too much...

I ended up with these:


Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

I had a quick nosy at the first few pages of Attachments and then somehow ended up 100 pages in and with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my tummy.  It's a wonderful, lovely, funny book so far.  The Book of Blood and Shadow has been lauded as a YA Da Vinci Code and *cough*I-liked-The-Da-Vinci-Code*cough*.  Whether it is or it isn't, I've read some great reviews so I'm excited about it. 

I also got an email yesterday morning to tell me that My Soul To Take by Rachel Vincent had been returned to my library's eBook site and I've just downloaded it and am EXCITED by it's very presence.  No doubt it'll be my next read.

So that's this week...

(It actually has just occurred to me that I also got Catching Fire and Mockingjay since my last IMM post too but since that was a couple of weeks ago now, I feel a bit like it would be cheating to include them too! Obviously it won't be long until I succumb to their lure...)



What's in your mailbox this week?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Review: 'Bitten' by Kelley Armstrong

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Synopsis (taken from Goodreads.com)


Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman, She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She's also a werewolf.

Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must recon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel.



Review

This is one of those reviews that I know before I even write it will be largely redundant. If you're already an urban fantasy fan, I don't doubt that you'll be aware of, if not an outright fan of, Kelley Armstrong. She seems to have an extremely dedicated fanbase; the fact that the Women of the Otherworld series alone is soon to be up to 13 instalments is testament to that. Every time she releases a book, my Google Reader lights up with glowing reviews.

If you aren't a fan of urban fantasy but are intrigued enough to actually read this review, you could do much worse than start out with Bitten.

T
he mistake that I am increasingly encountering in this particular genre (among others) is that, even when their stories are told from a female perspective, they are controlled by male characters.  The women ostensibly make their own decisions but they make them based almost entirely on what they think will be better for the men in their lives or under some misguided notion that love means sacrificing yourself (and your dignity) utterly without any hints of reciprocation (yes, I do mean you, Luce of Fallen fame).

Thankfully, Elena is different. The reader's insight into her thoughts shows
 how close the battle is between her desire to establish a life for herself that she's comfortable with and her natural inclination towards staying with and supporting her pack.  As the name of the series suggests, the series has a stronger focus on its female protagonist for her own sake and is a great one to go for if you like your women a little more independent.

That isn't to say that it's all plain sailing. I did have some problems with how Elena shows her professed love for the man that she lives with.  I do appreciate that it's an extension of her not wholly successful resistance to her werewolf urges and her later actions  demonstrate how powerful those urges are but that doesn't mean I have to like it.  And I didn't.  It goes slightly against the strong image that she projects early on but is made up for later so don't get too militant about it if you can help it.

Ok
, so I haven't told you much about the book.  Beyond Elena, the rest of the characters are equally likeable.  Particularly Jeremy, the pack leader, who has a lovely quiet authority.  Clayton is what I think of as a more "traditional" werewolf - almost wholly given over to the wolf side of himself and utterly unashamed of his instincts.  The rest of the pack has a warm, familial and bantery atmosphere that's fun to read about.  The plot is well-paced and strikes a good balance between raw action and character development.

Th
ere are a plethora of werewolf books out there that are more contemporary than this one but  this one has the kind of werewolves I want to read about: feral, fierce and animalistic.


Overall:  One of the better brushes that I've had with urban fantasy in a while and a good start to a series.  I have no idea how much of the series focuses on these characters (because I only read the synopsis of the next one to avoid spoiling anything for myself!) but I will be reading on to find out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  28 February 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Urban fantasy
Published: by Orbit in May 2010

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Random Reads #1: The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

Random Reads

Hosted by I'm Loving Books but I spotted it when Hanna at Booking In Heels joined in.  


Want to play?  Yes, you do.  Here's how:  

  1. If you’re on Goodreads enable sorting to your to-read shelf (you should see numbers next to each book now).
  2. Go to Random.org and type in the Min as 1 and the Max as how many ever books are on your to-read shelf.
  3. Scroll down to the book matching the number Random.org picks.
  4. Link up to your Random Reads post (below).
  5. Read and be merry.
If you’re not on Goodreads just pick a random book from your list in whatever way you want to do it. You can use the method I used above or even just close your eyes and point randomly at a book on your bookshelf if you want (spin the bottle style).

Th
e idea is beautifully simple but perfect for me because I am horrendously easily distracted by new shiny books and led astray by positive reviews of books that I then must read as soon as possible.  I have shelves upstairs with books I've owned for years but never read.  I have eBooks that I uploaded when I first got it and haven't got round to reading it.  I could do with suppressing my inclination toward those books dancing in front of my face and abandoning myself to the whims of Random.org.

I actually think that I might do this every month and try to whittle down my list of books that are being sorely neglected.  But then I often think that about new, exciting things and then get distracted or forget.

April's winner is...



The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

I bought this in a charity shop last December and it actually looks pretty good but I know that it still would have been unread by this December if it wasn't for this.  It looks kind of gothic and sinister so I'm thinking (hoping) that it will be great for a rainy April evening.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Review: 'Snowdrops' by A.D.Miller

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Synopsis

Snow
drops. That's what the Russians call them - the bodies that float up into the light in the thaw. Drunks, most of them, and homeless people who just give up and lie down into the whiteness, and murder victims hidden in the drifts by their killers. 

Nick has a confession. When he worked as a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow, he was seduced by Masha, an enigmatic woman who led him through her city: the electric nightclubs and intimate dachas, the human kindnesses and state-wide corruption. Yet as Nick fell for Masha, he found that he fell away from himself; he knew that she was dangerous, but life in Russia was addictive, and it was too easy to bury secrets - and corpses - in the winter snows...

Review

The reason I actually picked this up is a bit of a strange one: my Dad bought me my copy for Christmas and called me one night to ask if I was using it.  It later transpired that my Dad's iPad had started randomly deleting chapters of books and had hidden away Chapter 14 of this one "at a crucial time".  After spending 15 minutes coming to the conclusion that I couldn't fix a rogue iPad that I couldn't see, Dad went off to email Apple.  I then decided that if it was so good that my Dad would face down Apple Customer Services to get the next chapter, it was something I wanted to read.  I started it, raced through it and had my paperback copy winging its way to him within two days.

The first thing that struck me is how the writing is so simple and direct, as a first person narrative often is. Nick is hard to like, but that's largely the point I think, so more on that later. Masha and Katya are colourful against the white backdrop of Russia in the winter. It's strange being introduced to them by Nick, with his introspective tone contrasting so sharply with the bright lights that he's describing. The characters are hazily drawn and it seemed to me as though Nick is trying to paint his memories with a lack of clarity intentionally.

A downside for me was a literary device that seems to be haunting me lately. The fore
shadow.  In pretty much every chapter, Nick looks back on his experiences and makes a comment to the effect of "I should have known then..." etc.  You know the type.  I'm not against it as a technique, as such, but it was most certainly over-used here. It's apparent enough from Nick's descriptions of the characters and their behaviour that there is something more going on than it seems.  Explicit and frequent mentions aren't necessary and detract from the otherwise powerful message.  It happened often enough that I became irritated by it and it's a significant part of why I haven't rated the book any higher.  That said, even though I saw what was coming, the ending breaks my heart a little bit more each time I think about it.  It's quiet and discreet but that only adds to the impact.  It's worse because I don't doubt at all that while it might not be true, it probably isn't far off.

Behind the glitz and the glamour that the newly wealthy revel in, there's the thinly-veiled underworld. That's fascinating, of course, and I imagine worryingly accurate. For me, though it was Nick's place in that underworld that intrigued me the most. Behind the oil, the post-Soviet oligarchs expanding their millions and rapid construction and development were the lawyers. Lawyers that looked back on what they had facilitated and pleaded innocence - the old "it isn't wrong if you're just following your client's instructions" argument. Nick isn't evil but he is wilfully blind, which is almost as bad in many ways.

When I was an A-level student, I wrote an essay on Albert Camus'
L'Etranger (translated into English as The Stranger or The Outsider) and whether it's worse to be amoral or immoral.  This book brought a lot of that up, although perhaps less starkly than by Camus.  Are the entrepreneurs that ruthlessly pursue rubles at the expense of lives and truth really worse than the lawyers that close their eyes, draft contracts and arrange the finance for a couple of years before returning to the UK and pretending that they weren't instrumental in the whole process? Because at least the "real" criminals are honest, in their way.

If
you're looking for a character study or minutiae, this probably isn't the book for you.  But if you want a book that less about clever syntax and verbosity and more about looking at a country in turmoil, how that turmoil affected the "little guy" and how the 'snowdrops' ended up buried by the snow, you should be reading this.

Overall:  A compelling story that addresses a lot of moral and political issues without ever being heavy-handed.  There are flaws, admittedly, but ignore those because, really, this  is more than worth your time and I certainly recommend it if you're looking for something that's easy to read but hard to ponder.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  23 February 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Gift
Genre:  Literary fiction
Published: by Atlantic Books in January 2010

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Spring is here! A Quarterly Review Post

2012 is turning out to be a strange one so far.  Work continued to be insanely busy for the first few months but then I moved offices at the beginning of March and my "new" office is much quieter.  You'd think that would give me more time to read but, being a mere 10 minute drive (at rush hour) away from our house, I no longer have a commute.  Hurrah for not having to pay for a train pass; boo for not having a quiet half an hour read at either end of my working day.  BUT Spring is here and this year that means plenty of bank holidays coming up (if you're in England, that is) which in my head means lots of time for going to the park and reading and having picnics (but will more than likely actually mean me reading inside and looking out at rain...).  


ANYway, I'm sure that you didn't stop by to see my general thoughts on the year so far but a bookish bunch of statistics.  Here they are...

Complete books read:  12

Total pages read:  4, 558

It quite clearly averages out as a book a week but that's not strictly accurate.  Broken down by month, 2012 looks a little bit more like this:  

JANUARY

After a promising start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Pure took me a whopping two weeks to get through.  Total books read in January?  A meagre three.    The end of January also saw me start reading The Count of Monte Cristo, I got to about page 350 but my interest in it dwindled away a bit and I ended up putting aside "for a little while".  I haven't picked it back up yet...:-s 

Favourite of the month was most certainly the start to Rick Riordan's Olympians series.

FEBRUARY


Plenty of snow in the UK during February meant plenty of hours tucked up by a fire reading.  My reading picked up and I got through four books, which is actually a book a week, as I'm sure you could have worked out for yourself!  Kicked off with Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, it couldn't have started better, really.  I'm sure that the increase in pace is entirely attributable to the fact that I just happened to choose fantastic books:  Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks, Snowdrops by A.D.Miller and Bitten by Kelley Armstrong.  Strong month indeed.  

Favourite of the month is a tough one and in the end I can't really choose between Dark Matter and Shadow's Edge.  So it's a tie.  


MARCH

For the past month, I've been taking part in RoofBeamReader's Magical March and (after finishing off Before I Go To Sleep by S.J.Watson...) read four and a half books with a fantasy twist.  A combination of fantasy adventure (The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan), dystopian (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), ghostly happenings (The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill) and high fantasy (Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks) but all equally fun and brilliant.  It was nice to have a bit of a guiding light when in the "what shall I read next" quandary and, even though I only posted two reviews that will qualify for the 'challenge' aspect, I'm regarding it as a success :)

Favourite of the month is another hard one but I'm going with Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks because, even though it wasn't my favourite in the series, it was the end to a wonderful series and it deserves a top spot somewhere!  My review of the first in the series, The Way of Shadows, is here.  And if you don't mind some spoilers, my reviews of the second two are here.

CHALLENGE UPDATES AND GOODREADS

I've been hanging around a lot more on GoodReads recently, in no small part owing to the fact that it panders nicely to my love of statistics but also because I find the 'Recommendations' page oddly addictive.  BUT it does remind me every time I log on that I'm x books behind my goal of reading 75 books in 2012.  At this very minute, I'm 6 books behind.  Thanks, GoodReads.

I've done pretty badly with challenges so far this year too so, rather than wallowing, that's all I'll say.  If you ever want a reminder of what I signed up for (because I'm sure you're dying to know...), there's always my 'Challenges for 2012' page at the top to keep you up to date!

I hope the start to 2012 has been fabulous to you all!