Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Top Ten Books of 2014

How has Christmas been and gone?! I adore Christmas and all of its sparkly, gift-giving fabulousness and the last few days have been a run of family, friends, too much food, plenty of prosecco and, perhaps most importantly, no work.  I hope you all had the most wonderful of wonderful Christmas times and received enough books to sink a ship.

There'll be a Christmas goodies post over the next few days but for now I'm feeling ponderous so I'm rolling out my Top Ten Books of 2014!  Although I actually have read more new releases this year than I normally read, this will still just be a list of the books that I've read this year.  And they won't be in any particular order because if I try to rank them, I'll be here all night.

1)  NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

There's no bad time to read this book - it might actually be the perfect antidote to all of the turkey dozes and hangovers that seem prevalent at this time of year.  I expected to like this but I don't think I expected to love it.  Shows how wrong I can be!

2)  Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

I ran a really well-supported half marathon in September and it was such an uplifting and exhilarating event.  This book keyed me up and kept me at my training programme even when it was cold/wet/I ached.  It even made me want to run a marathon just once, just for the experience.  (Hopefully by the time I'm 30 because that seems like an appropriately arbitrary milestone.  I'm not sure if it'll be 2015 because I know that the first quarter will be insanely busy at work but maybe by August 2016).  If you want to achieve anything, this is the book for you.

3)  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This book is the epitome of heart-warming.  It manages to be warm and comforting while being painfully sad by weaving in anecdotes from the society members' experience of the Second World War. I listened to the Books on Tape audio version and it was perfection.  Every single one of the actors sounded completely right and I felt genuinely sad when I'd finished it.

4)   Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I, along with the rest of the world, adore Rainbow Rowell.  She does bitter-sweet like no author I can think of and her books just make me want to stop the world and read.  This one captures everything that is first love and had me sobbing all over the pages.  It scored extra points for not having a completely predictable ending.  I have Fangirl to read and Landline still to acquire and read and I'm sure that both of them will live up to my lofty expectations.


5)  The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I may be cheating by lumping three books into one but I can't distinguish from them so cheat I shall.  I love everything about this series.  I love that it has romance threads that I care about it.  That it has a main character who doesn't always do what you expect.  That it has a tangent of a storyline that had me rooting for a runt of a wyvern and a blood-thirsty witch.  It has everything that you could possibly want from a YA fantasy series and if you haven't already read it, you're crazy.  I am unbelievably glad that it isn't just a trilogy.



6)  Wake by Anna Hope

This was my first five star rating of the year.  It's quieter than a lot of World War I novels but is just as impactive.  More so, actually.  I read it way back in January and it remains one of the best books of the year so I guess that says enough.

7)  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I started reading this as part of the RIP read-along but by that time I was so far behind on posts and so busy at work that I never got round to praising it properly.  It's a short book but it's clever and the writing is stellar.  It's probably the best haunted house novel that I've read.  The fact that the horrendous adaptation featuring Catherine Zeta Jones exists is a travesty.

8)  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I had an excellent run in January, it would seem!  I loved the idea of getting to try again and again but it's the execution that makes this a great book.  It also manages to look at both World War I and World War II without being clumsy or heavy-handed.  

9)  The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I'm going to try to squeeze a review of this in over the next week or so but in the meantime - this book was the most surprising of the year for me.  I kind of expected a coming of age type historical fiction story but The Miniaturist was a lot darker.  It might not be for everybody and it isn't perfect but it's distinctive and great if you want something different (and gloomy) to kick off 2015.

10)  Villette by Charlotte Bronte

I've read more classics this year than in previous years but this one was my favourite, edging out The Count of Monte Cristo.  Lucy Snowe is among the most unreliable of unreliable narrators.  I enjoyed it at the time but I don't think I thought it would make my top books for 2014 but the more I've reflected on it, the more I've realised how brilliant it is.  It's not quite Jane Eyre but it's bloody good.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Pickwick Papers: It's not me, it's you

Before I get into this post, there are a few things that I think are relevant facts that we should all put to the front of our minds before we gear up to the rotten fruit throwing:

1.  At this precise moment in time, I own 256 books that I haven't read.  256.  That might not be as many some of you but it's a lot.

2.  I usually read about a book a week, which I know isn't many but is about all I can fit in around the long hours that I work, the house that needs keeping clean and generally pleasant to be in and the boyfriend that I like to spend time with.  Not including audiobooks, I haven't finished reading a book since 18 November.

3.  A couple of years ago, I saw fit to remind myself that reading is supposed to be about love and that life is too short for it to be about anything less and, heaven forbid, for it to become a chore.

4.  In the time since I started this blog in July 2010, I've only given up and put aside one book.  I wrote a whole post about just how hard I find putting aside books that I've started in June 2011.  I hate it.  I don't feel like a failure or anything overly stressful like that but I do worry that I'm going to miss something great later on that would have made the earlier tedium worthwhile.

And so it is with no small amount of disappointment but with a feeling overall of...lightness that I make this confession:  I'm no longer reading The Pickwick Papers.

The most important factor in me making this bold move is that reading The Pickwick Papers was making me not want to read at all.  I didn't want to read about the Pickwickians' antics but couldn't settle with anything else because I felt as though I should be reading about them.  So I just avoided reading altogether.  I've been incredibly busy at work too which obviously hasn't helped but I've spent much more time in the past few weeks playing games on my phone and watching TV than I ordinarily would do.  Normally I read a couple of chapters before I go to sleep.  For the past few weeks, I've been just reading a page or two before falling asleep.

It's hard to say quite why I find the damn book so bloody awful.  Before this, I'd have said that I don't need a strong plot to enjoy a book.  That I like a character-focussed novel just as much as I like action-packed ones.  Maybe I love a good plot more than I thought. Or maybe the Pickwickians aren't enough to entertain me without an overarching story to get into.  Whatever it is, I find The Pickwick Papers completely and utterly painful.  When I was messing with my Kindle while pretending to read it a little while ago, its estimate of the amount of time that would drag by before I'd finished the whole terrible experience was 20 hours.  20 hours.  The thought made me want to cry.  It was looking devastatingly likely that I would get nothing else at all read before Christmas.  And that was when I really broke.  Not reading any of the other potentially fabulous books that I own and am excited about before the end of the year?  Inconceivable. Even before Christmas, I have upward of 250 books that I'm excited about.  That's far too many for me to spend any longer on one that I paid 38p for and can't bear.

So I'm sorry to my fellow read-alongers (although, really, all I've managed to contribute is one rather negative post and the occasional negative tweet), particularly Hanna, with whom I have exchanged many a distress-filled text, and Bex, who organised this read-along and is a super person that does not deserve to have readers dropping out of her lovely events.  I'm grateful to her for making me realise that this is one Dickens that is just not for me.  

I'm ridiculously not sorry, however, to Dickens.  This is one stinker of a book.  Its characters are sanctimonious.  Its plot is non-existent.  Its witticisms are funny for a little while but rapidly become less and less so.  I have absolutely no interest in where the book is going because I'm fairly confident that the answer is nowhere.  

Onward and upward.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review: 'NOS4R2' by Joe Hill

Rating: A big, fat 5 stars out of 5

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Review

"...there was something awful about Christmas music when it was nearly summer.  It was like a clown in the rain, with his makeup running"

As the next few weeks are likely to be taken up with posts about my (slow) journey through The Pickwick Papers, I’m going to go ahead and do something that I barely ever do.  I’m going to review a book that I finished not only within the last month but within the last week.  Not just because I’m worried that I’ll not get round to it when I’m trying to keep up with a read-along and the related posts but because the book was just so bloody good and I really want to impress upon you just how good.

I'll admit that it feels strange that one of my favourite reads of the year is likely to end up being a ‘horror’ novel featuring psychopaths that rape, kidnap children and murder and some pretty devastating deaths.  Pre-blog me would have been shocked and appalled.  Pre-blog me wouldn’t have wanted to share a house with a book about an old man that is truly monstrous and his horrifying quest to “save” children from the evils of the world, never mind read it.  I suppose what my love of it goes to show is that books can be surprising.  You might think you’re in for the fright of your life and that you’ll end up clinging to your boyfriend and weeping uncontrollably but you just might end up finding a creepy story that isn’t horrid for the sake of being horrid but manages to strike just the right balance between clutching-the-sides-of-the-book-so-hard-it-hurts action and touching moments of redemption.

What I think is so clever about Joe Hill’s writing is how emotionally manipulative it is.  Not in an obvious ‘I’m writing about cancer and I know I’m trying to destroy you’ way but in a way that sneaks up on you.  There’s one character, for example, who doesn’t take a whole load of convincing to turn to a particularly vile life of crime, sacrificing whoever and whatever they’re told to on the back of a rather vague promise of a restful and rewarding “retirement”.  Honestly, we’re talking crimes that made me feel sick.  So imagine my surprise when, later on in the novel, I find myself feeling desperately sorry for said low life.  And not just a passing pang of sadness either, a gut-wrenching type of pity.  I had to check myself a few times and remind myself that this was still the very same person that had made me feel so disgusted and that I really needed to pull myself together.  There were other examples but that’s the one that I know will really stick with me.  The writing just seems to draw out whatever confusing emotion Hill wants you to feel at any given moment and it’s exhausting and deeply worrying but so, so worth it.

So the writing is brilliant and...different, somehow.  The chapters sometimes run together, for example, so that the last sentence of one chapter ends with the title of the next.  I felt like it should have been annoying but all it did was make the damn book even harder to put down.  The story is pretty surreal in a lot of ways but also manages to feel completely real.  I very much doubt that there are bikes that transport their owners across not-real-but-sort-of-real bridges and I am eternally grateful that magic Rolls Royce's aren't rolling around enabling all sorts of despicable crimes but I didn't feel like I was reading something that was completely fantastical.  Because there are people like Charlie Manx (albeit without the supernatural transportation) and there are people whose lives are destroyed by them.  There are people that see the world differently and struggle every day.  Hill's characters are full of contradictions and flaws and are completely believable and are what really tipped this book over from great to all out amazing for me.

It felt like everybody was reading this in the run up to Christmas last year and in some ways I can see why.  It's the perfect antithesis to all of the good cheer, if that's what you're looking for.  It takes the Christmas songs, the decorations and the chocolate treats and distorts them.  But mostly, I think that Hanna was absolutely right - I can imagine that there's something...wrong about reading about the torment Christmas songs cause Vic while singing along to Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.  Sure, it'll make the experience of reading NOS4R2 that bit more disturbing but it might also take the shine off the tinsel for you.  What I'm saying is, there's no wrong time to read this book.  If you've been hanging on to a copy so that you can read in horror while children lose their souls to a sick version of your favourite holiday season, go nuts.  If you don't manage or want to squeeze it in before the end of the year, read it whenever you can.  Just make sure that you do read it.

Overall:  If you’re not sure about NOS4R2 because you’re concerned about all the horror buzz around it, don’t worry.  I may have read a few chapters from another book on occasion just to make sure that I wouldn’t end up with nightmares and the story is far from pleasant but it wasn’t terrifying and I have survived without any emotional scars making themselves apparent so far.  NOS4R2 is one of the most creative, well plotted and well executed stories that I’ve read in a while.  Get a copy, find a bright, sunny spot (easy in November, I know), forget about the page count and the fact that you’re waiting to have your socks scared off and just read it.

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Date finished: 18 November 2014
Format: Paperback
Source:  Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - thanks, Gollancz!
Genre: Horror; Thriller
Pictured Edition Published:  This more handily sized paperback was released on 09 October 2014 by Gollancz!  Three cheers for handbag friendly chills!

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Embarrassing side note:  It took me a ludicrous amount of time even after the British renaming of NOS4R2 to get the title.  I shudder to think how many times I must have said out loud N-O-S-4-R-2.  When this book arrived, I tucked it away so that Boyfriend wouldn’t see it and chastise me for bringing another book into the house, only for it to emerge when we were catching the train to London for a long weekend away for his birthday.  His first comment was “Please don’t read a book about vampires when you’re sat on the train next to me”.  So apparently it’s obvious to some.  Shame on me.  (And don’t worry – I absolutely did read the book on the train while sat next to him and I haven’t just spoiled the novel for you!)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Pickwick Papers Read-along: Week 1 - Chapters 1 to 11

Let's start my first post as part of Bex's read-along of The Pickwick Papers with truth time: I am languishing behind on the reading already.  And not just a little bit behind. I've read three chapters out of the allotted 11.  Great job, Charlotte.  Great job indeed.

I do have some relatively ill-informed feelings about what I have read of The Pickwick Papers, though, that I'm going to share so that at least I'm on track with the posting part of the read-along. 

So far, I'm kind of lukewarm.  I know, I know - this book is long and three chapters is nothing BUT I know what I like and from what I've read?  This is only sort of it.  Reading it is perfectly fine - the writing is witty and the characters are endearing enough but it's just lacking drive.  I can see why it worked perfectly when published in instalments because the little snippets of the Pickwickians' escapades are entertaining and I can imagine them being a pleasant diversion from Victorian industry.   I'm less convinced about them bound together and branded as a novel.  It's funny (to the laugh out out extent in later chapters, I'm reliably informed) in that wry kind of mocking way that Dickens excels at:
"The barmaid had positively refused to draw any more liquor; in return for which he had (merely in playfulness) drawn his bayonet, and wounded the girl in the shoulder.  And yet this fine fellow was the very first to go down to the house next morning and express his readiness to overlook the matter, and forget what had occurred"
It might not be particularly compelling reading but I don't mind reading it when I've actually picked it up.  Sadly, I pretty much have no inclination to actually do the picking up part.  I am sorely missing a discernible plot.  Maybe one develops over the many, many pages that I have left but it's not looking that way.

I'm determined to catch up and I know that reading it won't be a torturous experience but it won't be something that I look forward to getting back to.  I don't really have that much more to say because of the whole only having read three chapters thing and the bottom line is pretty simple: I don't hate it and I don't love it.  The Pickwick Papers is (I keep wanting to write 'are'!) ok.

How are my fellow read-along-ers getting on?  Anyone else read The Pickwick Papers and can tell me it gets super exciting later on?  Check back in next week for chapters 12 to 23 (probably)!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

R. I. P. IX: Wrap-up

Gorgeous artwork courtesy of
the super talented Abigail Larson
You might wonder why I'm wrapping up at all given that it's already 9th November and I'm over a week late at checking in my spooky adventures but we spent the weekend in London being tourists (Houses of Parliament tour and all) so I'm shattered, in a post-roast chicken dinner stupor and surprisingly excited about getting back to reading NOS4R2 but want to post something before it's Monday and I'm back in the grips of work. I know, great reasons for a post.

SO I signed up for PERIL THE FIRST, aiming to read four books that fit the creepy bill over the two months.  I read...*checks review notebook* ...FIVE!  Wow.  I was actually all prepared to write a grovelling apology and now I don't have to.  What a pleasant surprise! Although it says a lot about how worryingly little I can remember about what I read in September...

This year, these were the books giving me the chills:


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:  My favourite of my R.I.P. reads! This book is amazing.  It's subtle and is one of those clever books that uses your own imagination against you.  Its a pretty simple 'group travels to supposedly haunted house to investigate, panic ensues' tale but it's just wonderfully written and I thought the ending was perfect.  Read it.  (Confession: I read this as part of the read-along but finished it so early that by the time it came to posting, I didn't have time to join in the discussion...)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks:  I feel like I've grumbled about this book enough.  I didn't really gel with it and I enjoyed parts of it but was decidedly luke warm about the whole experience.  For much more positivity, head in Blonde Ellie's direction.  You'll only find World War Z dissatisfaction here.  

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie:  My love of Agatha Christie knows no bounds.  This wasn't my favourite Christie (which remains And Then There Were None) but I really enjoyed it.  Somehow I'd made it 28 years without having the ending spoiled so I could read it without a clue who did it.  My timing was good because about a fortnight after I'd read it, I stumbled across a MASSIVE SPOILER in this Guardian article about locked-room mysteries (most of which are now on my wishlist).

Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey: Another one that I feel like I've grumbled about enough.  It was super dark and had some scenes that were so gory that I had to skip them.  It's interesting and I like some of the ideas about civilisation and what it can become when modern privileges and values start to crumble and about power but it was a bit abstract and sinister for me if I'm being completely honest.

Cruel Summer by James Dawson:  I inhaled this book and it was marvellous! It was a complete trip down Point Horror Memory Lane for me and was the most fun.  Blonde Ellie bought it for me for my birthday, proving once again that she has impeccable gift giving instincts.  

Nailed it!  Makes up for the fact that I also signed up for PERIL OF THE SHORT STORY and read exactly none, I suppose.  I moved my Edgar Allen Poe collection to the top of my classics box and then forgot all about it.  I don't know why I can never summon the will to get into that collection but I just can't.  Maybe next year!

As always, I loved starting autumn with some appropriately gloomy reading!  I may not have loved all of the books that I read but I loved most of them and that'll do me.  Did you all have a super RIP?!  Tell me about the terrors you faced down!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Review: 'Thief's Magic' by Trudi Canavan

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


In a world where an industrial revolution is powered by magic, Tyen, a student of archaeology, discovers a sentient book in an ancient tomb. Vella was once a young sorcerer-maker, until she was transformed into a useful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been gathering information, including a vital clue to the disaster Tyen’s world faces.

Elsewhere, in a land ruled by the priests since a terrible war depleted all but a little magic, Rielle the dyer’s daughter has been taught that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. Yet she knows from her ability to sense the stain it leaves behind that she has a talent for it, and that there are people willing to teach her how to use it, should she ever need to risk the Angels’ wrath.


Further away, a people called the Travelers live their entire lives on the move, trading goods from one world to another. They know that each world has its own store of magic, reducing or increasing a sorcerer’s abilities, so that if one entered a weak world they may be unable to leave it again. Each family maintains a safe trading route passed down through countless generations and modified whenever local strife makes visiting dangerous. But this is not the only knowledge the Travelers store within their stories and songs, collected over millennia spent roaming the universe. They know a great change is due, and that change brings both loss and opportunity.

Review

My word is that a long blurb!  So long that I imagine that anybody still reading by this point probably skipped a lot of it.  And I could have gone off to find a shorter one or written my own (even though I couldn't have done that because I read this on holiday in May...) but then I decided that it actually nicely illustrates my main gripe with Thief's Magic so it gets to stay.  There's too much blurb and too much everything.  Too many characters, too many ideas, too much overview.  Mostly at the expense of depth and detail.  

First up is Tyen.  While out on an archaelogical dig, he uncovers a book that has to answer the questions that its readers address to it and that can absorb information while in contact with someone.  Chased away by locals, he flees with his party back to their city, where magic-fuelled technology is the order of the day.  New modes of transport, new types of printing press, mechanised robot-like creations and the like.  It all felt quite like steampunk to me but with a magical twist that was kind of quirky and fun to read.  Tyen is a decent character too but I don't have a whole lot to say about his friends because they were a bit lost in the already mentioned 'too much everything'.  Rather than solid secondary characters in this thread, we have world-building.  Despite some questionable decision-making by Tyen (it always annoys me when people who go on about how lucky they are to be doing something abandon it all so readily) and the fact that it was quite YA in tone and in the way that relationships developed, it had action on its side so it was pretty readable and I was always glad to get back to it.

While Tyen's running around with the book that can talk (sort of), being chased by the many glory hunters that want to steal it for the knowledge it contains, Rielle's story is bumbling along, set in a completely different, Middle Eastern feeling, patriarchal society where using magic is theft.  The thing is, it's never clear whether she's living in a the same world as Tyen but in a different time, the same world but just a different country that is less advanced and feels like it's in a different time, a different world at the same time...you get my point.  After 553 pages, I still have no real idea about how these two storylines relate to each other.  I don't mind two plots running alongside each other at all but these kind of feel like two different books just smushed together with little more binding them together than...well, the page binding.  I know that there is almost certainly a plan and an overarching plot that Tyen and Rielle's stories will be part of but I just can't see what that might be yet and, if I'm being brutally honest, I don't care.  I don't feel like I've connected with either of the characters and I'm non-plussed about the plights of their respective countries/worlds/times/whatever.  That wasn't helped by the fact that Rielle is a bit annoying anyway.  She's kind of selfish and immature and her decision-making skills are even worse than Tyen's.  

The main problem is that, because each character's story gets roughly half of the novel's attention, there's only have about 200 pages or so to set up each one, weave in some secondary characters and relationships, set up the political, theological and sociological position of the country/world/time/I don't know what that they're living in and get their story moving a bit.  Even with the best and tightest writing in the world, there's no way that's going to work in a well-rounded way.  If there are so many ideas to be squeezed into the series, it either needs to be longer or you have to be ruthless.  It feels a bit like a smudging together of all of the ideas that Canavan had for stories.  It isn't as bad as I'm making it sound - I still think it's a 3 star book but it's quite hasty and obvious in its delivery to pack everything in.

I really didn't hate it.  It was fine.  What I think makes me so disgruntled is that Canavan's Black Magician trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy series so I was really excited to get to read Thief's Magic ahead of the release date.  I started it as soon as I could and, although the start was promising, I ended up feeling like I was trying to enjoy it rather than just enjoying it. Thief's Magic just wasn't the book that I was so convinced it would be. 

Overall:  A bit of a let down.  There are some good points and I enjoyed at least half of it but I'm not sure whether I want to carry on.  If the later books are as long as this one, I'll probably wait a little while to see what the reviews are like and whether it looks as though things will start to come together.  I never thought I'd say about a Canavan series and I hate writing that but it's true.  Sorry.

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Date finished: 25 May 2014
Format: eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley - thanks, Orbit!
Genre: Fantasy
Pictured Edition Published:  by Orbit on 13 May 2014

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Let's Read-along Dickens and Tolstoy!

If there's one thing that I've learnt while blogging is that read-alongs are the BEST for making unbelievably long and intimidating titles seem a lot more approachable.  As stupid, stupid Tess of the D'Urbevilles (STUPID!) taught me, that doesn't always mean that the books themselves will be good and worth the many, many hours that you've put into them (Bitter? Me?) but at least the process of wading through is much more fun when there are others involved!  Obviously, they can also make great books even more brilliant (as Ellie Lit Nerd's read-along of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone demonstrated) but somehow I think that moral support will be the order of the day with these two, at least in part...

Bex's 'Dickens in December' Read-along

Last December, a number of us faced down A Tale of Two Cities.  It was a bit of a divisive book and I think that might be a common theme when it comes to Dickens.  Personally, I hated the first part but then came around once I stopped having to trudge through descriptions of post carriages and fog.

This year, we're going for The Pickwick Papers.  I think I *might* have voted for this one in the poll that Bex had up on her blog for a while but I can't remember.  So if it's rubbish, I'm 80% certain that I pretty much only have myself to blame.  

Introductions will be up on 17 November and we'll be reading about 12 chapters a week, finishing up on 22 December.  That's five weeks of Samuel Pickwick, the Pickwick Club his and fellow "Pickwickians".  Good times (hopefully).

JOIN UP HERE!

Hanna's War and Peace Read-along

Next up will be Hanna's read-along of War and Peace.  Yup, the Russian epic, 1,000 page + tome War and Peace.  Honestly, I am both horrified and excited by this one.  I really want to have read War and Peace but I'm reluctant about actually having to read it.  The chances of me actually reading this by myself are slim to none.  

In a sad quirk of fate, I was so scared of this that I didn't even put it on my Classics Club list so I won't even be reading this for that bonus moment of getting to cross it off a list.  So this had better be good!

We'll be kicking off on 1 February and spreading the terror over ten weeks, finishing up on 13 April.  There'll be unpronounceable names, questions and rambling - what's not to love?

JOIN UP HERE!


Friday, 31 October 2014

Review: 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' by Ray Bradbury

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

It's the week before Hallowe'en, and Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois. The siren song of the calliope entices all with promises of youth regained and dreams fulfilled... as two boys trembling on the brink of manhood set out to explore the mysteries of the dark carnival's smoke, mazes and mirrors, they will also discover the true price of innermost wishes...

Review

"Everything that happens before Death is what counts"

What a jolly coincidence that a book I finished listening to months ago has arrived to the top of my (very lengthy) “to review” list at the perfect time for you all to rush off and buy a copy and read it over the Hallowe’en weekend!

Something Wicked This Way Comes is perfect for anyone who (like me) spent much of their early reading life reading all of the Goosebumps and Point Horror titles that they could find.  Putting aside the fact that it was published some time before either R.L.Stine or the seemingly abundant Point Horror authors came on the scene, it was a complete throw-back for me and I really liked it, even if for no reason other than it reminded me of a time where throwing caution to the wind and staying up past my bedtime to finish a good story wouldn’t have a knock-on effect on the next three days of my life.

It isn't just that it embraces it's mild horror meets fantasy aspects without irony and without taking itself too seriously, the flow of the story felt so familiar.  Jim Nightshade and William Halloway are drifting their way through summer when some mysterious flyers blow across their path advertising a carnival that is coming to town.  “Circus freaks”, disturbing merry-go-round, sinister hall of mirrors and all.  When Mr Dark and his travelling companions arrive, the summer takes a turn for the creepy as William and Jim explore and uncover more of its secrets and terrors.  So far, so straight-forward.

And then Bradbury adds what I am coming to see as his hallmark twist.  Because this isn’t just a story about two boys and their experiences at a faintly demonic carnival.  It’s also about age and what it means to both the old and the young and plays really cleverly on the quirk of psychology that sees teenagers aching to grow older and adults yearning for youth.  It’s tricky to tell you more without spoiling the story but there are some lovely moments between William and his father, or just with his father mulling over whether he's too old to be a good father and whether his best years are behind him. 

“Dad," said Will, his voice very faint. "Are you a good person?"

"To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man's a hero to himself. I've lived with me a lifetime, Will. I know everything worth knowing about myself-"

"And, adding it all up...?"

"The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I'm all right.”

It isn't particularly subtle, admittedly, but the writing is really fantastic and the story is so charming that I was perfectly happy to overlook the fact that I was almost bludgeoned with a Message on occasion.  Probably because the moments where the characters were musing in a slightly obvious manner did fit in a lot of ways.  The twilight hours see Jim and William facing up to the horrors of the fair but see adults alone in the dark questioning themselves and their motives.  It works.  I only wish that there'd been more book blogs around when I was a teenager to point me in the direction of classics like this that aren't only accessible in that it's easy to read (or listen to), it's just easy to enjoy.  It has dated a little but not in a way that stops it from being enjoyable.  A lot of the tension comes from the fact that the teenagers don't have mobile phones and can only rely on the odd pay-phone call to keep in touch with their family. The story doesn't have to try too hard to keep characters isolated with grand reasons for blips in cellular coverage - they already are.

I don't feel as though I've really described well enough why you should get Something Wicked This Way Comes.  It was a throw-back, sure, but it also turned out to be more than enjoyable in its own right.  Mr Dark and his minions are awfully creepy, there's suspense, there's chills, the slightly mysterious and the outright fantastical.  In short, it's the best way to get some light goosebumps this Hallowe'en without giving yourself nightmares until Christmas.

Overall:  Another hit from the Bradbury back catalogue for me.  If you’re looking for a relatively light Halloween/RIP IX type read, Something Wicked This Way Comes should be pretty much spot on.  It isn’t as memorable as Fahrenheit 451 and doesn’t pack as much of a moral punch but it’s well written and does have a strong coming of age thread that’s delivered in a completely charming (if utterly transparent) way. 

A note on the audio:  I listened to the Tantor Media audiobook of this and it was excellent.  The narrator has a really engaging and slightly whimsical tone that fitted the story perfectly.  The story lends itself particularly well to audio, with it's eerie monologues and introspective characters, so if you're not overly keen on long, rambly audios or you don't have much experience with audios and are looking for an easy in, this is a great place to start.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: April 2014
Format: Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from local library
Genre: Fantasy; Horror
Pictured Edition Published:  by Gollancz in August 2008
Originally Published:  January 1962

Monday, 27 October 2014

Checking in with The Lucky No. 14 Challenge

It occurred to me the other day that I actually signed up for the Lucky No. 14 challenge in January and then promptly forgot all about it. As in, I read a couple of books that didn't fit and then sort of forgot about checking back at the categories after that. Before we barrel straight into Christmas and other end of the year shenanigans, I figured a recap was in order in the vain hope that I have inadvertently read my way to success. While we’re at it, I’m going to wave two fabulous read-alongs in your face so that you can get all signed up too. Challenges and read-alongs seem to fit well together in my head for some reason so let’s go with it. 

[UPDATE: I just finished writing about the Lucky No. 14 challenge and this post was looking kind of long. The read-alongs in question deserve more than me just scrappily copying and pasting text into an already lengthy ramble so we’ll pick those up tomorrow. Or at some other point this week]
1. Visit The Country: Read a book that has setting in a country that you really want to visit in real life. Make sure the setting has a big role in the book and it can make you know a little bit more about your dream destination.

I’ve done an appalling job of reading outside of the UK/the USA this year. Shame on me. I do want to fix this but the difficulty is in choosing somewhere that I actually really want to visit in real life and that features heavily in a book, since it’s impossible to know that until you’ve read it (I’m a lawyer – I can’t help but follow the letter of the law). I really want to visit Japan though and am hoping to fix that when I turn 30, which is in a not very long amount of time so I think I’ll fix this with Nagasaki by Eric Faye. I bought it after Ellie Bookworm reviewed it but I’ve still not read it. I have no idea whether the setting has a big role in the book so I suppose we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed!

2. Cover Lust: Pick a book from your shelf that you bought because you fell in love with the cover. Is the content as good as the cover?

This was always going to be tricky. I don’t really tend to buy books just because of their cover, especially seeing as I read a lot of ebooks and therefore don’t even really see the cover. There might be some that I picked up because of the cover but I would never pick something up because it was pretty and then buy it without reading the blurb or having a nosey through to see if I’m interested in the content. And can I remember which books are in my house because I thought “Ooh, pretty”? Not even a little bit. So I’m just going to pick something that I own in hard copy that has a nice cover and that I haven’t seen online on the basis that it will be a reasonably safe bet for this one.

3. Blame it on Bloggers: Read a book because you’ve read the sparkling reviews from other bloggers. Don’t forget to mention the blogger’s names too!

This happens with SO MANY books. I am one of the easiest people to influence when it comes to things to read. Most recently, I picked up World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. This definitely qualifies because if Laura hadn’t reviewed it so glowingly, I would almost certainly never have read it (because zombies are horrifying). Let’s put aside the fact that I didn’t like it and instead revel in it being a tick for this challenge.

4. Bargain All The Way: Ever buying a book because it’s so cheap you don’t really care about the content? Now it’s time to open the book and find out whether it’s really worth your cents.

I bought Life After Life by Kate Atkinson in a mad Kindle rampage after I acquired my new Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas because it was 99p. I adored it and it was more than worth the lowly 99 pence that I paid for it.

5. (Not So) Fresh From the Oven: Do you remember you bought/got a new released book last year but never had a chance to read it? Dig it from your pile and bring back the 2013.

I was all ready to write out an excuse for this one and then I remembered that I bought Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas last year not long after the latter was released, intending to get to them right away. Then I ignored them until the third one was due out and only managed to get to Crown of Midnight in July this year, which was foolish because the series is OUTSTANDING but has the hidden benefit of being able to do another tick.

6. First Letter’s Rule: Read a book which title begins with the same letter as your name (for me, Astrid means A, and I can read anything that started with the letter A). Remember: Articles like “a”, “an” or “the” doesn’t count.

Ah ha! Another one done! I was aiming for a C (for Charlotte) and finished Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein in early September. Winning (both because of this and because it’s brilliant).
7. Once Upon a Time: Choose a book that’s been published for the first time before you were born (not necessarily has to be a classic book, just something a little bit older than you is okay. You can read the most recent edition if you want to)

DONE! We could allocate any number of books to this one because I’ve focussed a lot more on reading classics this year. I think my favourite one has been Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and, since I was born after 1873, it conveniently knocks off this part of the challenge. Actually, maybe Villette by Charlotte Bronte is my favourite classic for the year. And it was published in 1853 so all is safe and well on that front.

8. Chunky Brick: Take a deep breath, and read a book that has more than 500 pages. Yep, the one that you’ve always been afraid of!

Boom – we’re on a roll! This one isn’t actually too much of an achievement since I tend to read a lot of epic fantasy so a book topping 500 pages doesn’t tend to put me off. I finished Allegiant by Veronica Roth on January 26 so this was an early (and unintended) score, coming in as it does at a weighty 526 pages. Shame it wasn’t that great…

9. Favourite Author: You like their books, but there are too many titles. This is your chance, choose a book that’s been written by your fave author but you haven’t got time to read it before.

I never know what to say when someone asks me who my favourite author is. I’d almost definitely (maybe) include Agatha Christie though seeing as I always turn to her books when I’m in need of a banker of a book. Something that I can pick up and settle into knowing that I’ll love it. I turned to Murder on the Orient Express when we were on holiday recently because I’ve never read this even though I knew it was an utter classic AND I had managed to make it 28 years without having the ending spoiled. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

10. It’s Been There Forever: Pick up a book that has been there on your shelf for more than a year, clean up the dust and start to read it now

This applies to an appalling amount of the books in my house. More shame on me. Even worse, it doesn’t seem as though I’ve read anything that I had owned for longer than a year at the time that I read it. How awful! In fact, it looks like I’ve been well and truly distracted by shiny new things this year and hadn’t even noticed. Something to focus on before the end of this year, I think! From a quick scan of my Goodreads ‘To Read’ list, it seems as though I’ve had Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor since July 2012. Hanna recently made me want to dig it out so I guess that might end up being my pick for this one.

11. Movies vs Books: You’ve seen the movie adaptation (or planned to see it soon) but never had time to read the book. It’s time to read it now, so you can compare the book vs the movie

And we were doing so well! Another one not tackled. I do both want to read and want to watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky though so that combo could see me win out the day here. And the book comes highly recommended by Blonde Ellie so there is no cause for this dawdling.

12. Freebies Time: What’s the LAST free book you’ve got? Whether it’s from giveaway, a birthday gift or a surprise from someone special, don’t hold back any longer. Open the book and start reading it now

This is kind of a weird one to interpret because obviously the LAST free book that I got will change at various points in the year (and given the proximity of Christmas to the end of the year means that I will almost definitely not have read the last free book that I got as at 23:59 on 31 December). So I’m going to read it as meaning that it was the last free book that I had acquired at the time that I read it. Confused? Me too. I could be over-thinking this. Regardless, Hanna bought me Parasite by Mira Grant for my birthday on 16 August and I finished reading it on 27 August so at the time I finished it, it qualified. Hurrah.

13. Not My Cup of Tea: Reach out to a genre that you’ve never tried (or probably just disliked) before. Whether it’s a romance, horror or non fiction, maybe you will find a hidden gem!

I…did not want to do this one. I’ve read at least a few books from every genre that I have even a vague interest in and am pretty clear on what I don’t like. BUT I’ve read two sports memoirs this year, which I have never even been vaguely interested in reading before so lets say that’s a genre. I loved one (Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley) and was utterly infuriated by the other one (Running Away: A Memoir by Robert Andrew Powell). You can’t win ‘em all.

14. Walking Down The Memory Lane: Ever had a book that you loved so much as a kid? Or a book that you wish you could read when you were just a child? Grab it now and prepare for a wonderful journey to the past. Comic books or graphic novels are allowed!

I never thought I’d do this one since I never re-read. Like, never. Too many books, too little time, blah blah. Then I bought the final instalment in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and realised that I couldn’t even quite remember where I’d read up to and could remember even less of the intricate epic plot. On a day when I was in dire need of comfort, I picked up my very battered, very well loved and loaned out copy of The Eye of the World, which is the first book in the series. I’m reading it now and I adore it. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and I just love getting back to the characters that I left drifted away from so many years ago. So very shortly I’ll have knocked this one off to.

So that’s 9 complete, 1 under way and a mere 4 to go! Not at all the train wreck that I’d been anticipating when I started typing! Does it count if it’s been largely accidental? Of course it counts! Did anybody else sign up for this and completely forget to keep track? Just me?!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Page to Screen: 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn

**WARNING: This post isn’t intended as a review and so does contain spoilers for the book and film – if you haven’t read/seen it yet, you might want to check out my review of the book instead HERE**


First mention goes to Rosamund Pike, who I thought was the perfect Amy.  She’s obviously gorgeous and looks exactly how I imagined Amy but, more importantly, I was genuinely impressed by how completely believable she was as a psychopath.  During the second half, she does an amazing job of coming completely unravelled.  Not only does her appearance change entirely, her mannerisms and expressions are different to Diary Amy and she becomes genuinely disturbing.  Pike basically made this film for me and I could write a whole post about how wonderful I now think she is but you're lucky - I won't.

I wasn't sure how Amy’s diary entries would work but the flashbacks do.  There weren't quite as many as I'd have liked so it doesn't quite push home just how destructive Nick and Amy are as a couple in their later years but they were worked in well.

I think my main gripe was that Ben Affleck is just a bit too likeable.  I don’t know if it’s because I had such a gut-wrenching, anger-filled reaction to the Nick of the book or because I just think of Ben Affleck as a Good Guy but whatever the reason, he came across as too charming.  The nonchalance and the adultery are still there but there’s not as much about the "fall" from working writer to frustrated, cheating failing bar owner and how much he resents Amy and is just as responsible for their situation as she is.  He was a good Nick and that inappropriate reaction thing that Nick has in the book was nailed but he wasn't the perfect Nick.  Although he's obviously wonderfully handsome so I'm really not complaining overly much.

All told, I really was a fan, thankfully.  What was more interesting for me, though, was Andy’s (writing ‘Boyfriend’ over and over will become tiresome and look daft and most of you know his name anyway so there you have it…) views on the film (as someone who hasn’t read the book) and whether seeing the film “blind” had the same effect as reading the book for the first time.  Andy had no idea that there even was a twist because I was super careful not to mention it at all so that he could be a proper test subject.  Even so, he did whisper about 10 minutes before the turning point, “Either t’s the sister or she’s faked her own death”, apparently for no reason other than it all seemed a bit weird and they were the only explanations he could think of.  So there wasn't that great moment where I could watch smugly while he was gawping but never mind...interestingly, he apparently didn’t believe that Nick Dunne was the murderer at any point so maybe if the film does have a failing for those watching it for a reason other than to see how it stacks up against the book it’s that it doesn’t seem to create the question mark over Nick that the book does.

Andy was also not a fan of the ending and I think it ties up with my perception of Nick as not quite coming across as a bad enough guy.  When I read the book, I kind of felt as though they both got the ending that they deserved.  In the film, I really felt as though Nick was hard done by.  He also had an anal point about her not turning up with a head wound despite her story including being hit on the head with a great big chunk of wood but whatever.

There were a couple of things that I think the film actually did better - the media, in particular.  The film really made the media and it's ever-changing portrayal of the saga look ridiculous and it was a canny commentary on how ludicrous some modern 'journalism' can be.  

Verdict:  A truly decent adaptation of a book that I really liked.  As someone who has read the book, I still enjoyed it.  As someone who hasn't read the book, Andy enjoyed it.  Clearly it works for everyone!  It's graphic and dark and very much for grown ups and it's every bit as worryingly fabulous as the book.  You might want to get around to watching it.

Have you seen it, have you seen it?!  Tell me what you thought!  If you haven't seen it yet, watch the trailer and get on it!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon: Sunday



UPDATE 4: 10.35am, Sunday

Pages read since last update:  57 pages
Total pages read:  259 pages
Snacks consumed since last update:  I had a couple of spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream and half a (large) bag of Kettle Chips while watching TV before bed; this morning I've obviously only eaten breakfast
Books read from since last update:  Cruel Summer by James Dawson; Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey
Books finished:  1 - Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Yesterday evening got taken over when we finally made the decision to abandon Amazon's efforts at a streaming service and signed up for a free trial of Netflix.  I won't start my rant but Amazon Prime became a mixture of stuff that was included within the monthly fee and seemingly much, much more stuff that you could watch if you paid ludicrous additional fees.  No, thank you.  I think I've had a LoveFilm account for about 8 years so it's a shame that it got taken over and ruined but never mind. 

Anyway, reading!  I really enjoyed the 45 pages that I read of Cruel Summer before I got distracted for the night and then headed to bed.  This morning, I've read about 10 pages or so of Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey - I've been reading it for a couple of weeks and it's a big of a slog if I'm honest.  I like the idea and the writing but the pace is slow and thoughtful most of the time so it's not an easy read.  BUT my Kindle tells me that finishing it will take 1 hour 24 minutes so I'm going to try and finish it this morning.  We'll see how that goes...Cruel Summer is staring at me...

UPDATE 5:  12.58pm, Sunday

Pages read since last update:  148 pages
Total pages read:  407 pages
Snacks consumed since last update:  A couple of cups of pretty fierce black coffee and a chocolate covered Hob Nob
Books read from since last update:  Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

Books finished:  2 - Poison by Sarah Pinborough; Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

And so another read-a-thon comes to a close.  I'm actually delighted with the amount that I read, even though I realise how little it will seem to those that managed to stay awake for 24 hours!  Mostly, I'm glad that I've finished Black Feathers.  When I logged it as 'read' on Goodreads, it turned out that I'd actually been reading it for three weeks.  It was ok but quite abstract.  Clever in a lot of ways but not what I'd call a relaxing read!  There were a few bits that I had to skim as too gory and dark too, which isn't always a great thing.  It reminded me a lot of The Gunslinger by Stephen King, actually, and I wasn't overwhelmed with love for that - maybe it's one for fans of Stephen King's more horror-focussed writings.

Anyway, all in all, this was a successful read-a-thon even if only because it reminded me that some of the best afternoons are those where you just hide away from the world with a good book and some delicious treats.  We're off out in a few hours to see Gone Girl and I have some bits around the house to do before then so this'll be a slightly hasty wrap-up before I get to the congratulatory blog hopping this evening.  In the meantime:  I hope you all had the BEST read-a-thon :)

End of Event Meme

1.  Which hour was most daunting for you?

None - I wasn't ever planning on powering through the full 24 hours and was instead just focussing on reading more and enjoying a bit of time dedicated to books.

2.  Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Poison by Sarah Pinborough was a super easy read and surprisingly entertaining so I recommend that (or others in the same series, probably).  There were some rather awkward sex scenes that were less than stellar but there were some neat twists on the 'traditional' Snow White fairytale that saved it.  The ending, in particular.

3.  Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

None at all - it all seemed as excellent as ever to me!

4.  What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I always think the Twitter support is fabulous and this year was no exception.  It makes me feel as though I'm still taking part in something global, even when I feel as though I don't have the time to roam around blogs or take part in the challenges if I want to get any reading done.

5.  How many books did you read?

I read one whole book and bits of two others.  I finished two though so that's a win.

6.  What were the names of the books you read?

I finished Poison by Sarah Pinborough and Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey.  I read about 45 pages of Cruel Summer by James Dawson too.

7.  Which book did you enjoy most?

Even though I didn't read much of it, Cruel Summer by James Dawson.  It's been mostly set up so far but it's surprisingly nice reading something written by an author that's from West Yorkshire, England (where I live) - it's comforting (or as comforting as something can be in a thriller...) reading phrases and terms that I'm used to and having British pop culture references scattered about.  I guess I'd under-estimated how many books I read written by American writers.

8.  Which did you enjoy least?

Definitely Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey, for the reasons I've already grumbled about.

9.  If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn't but they do a great job so I have no tips :)


20.  How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Pretty damn likely!  As a reader, definitely.  Every time, I delude myself into thinking that next year might be the year that I try the 24 hour thing.  Then every time I remember why I just don't think it would be wise.  But I'll definitely take part in my usual slightly half-arsed way just because it's nice to be part of a bookish event that's so big!  Let's end on that warm fuzzy note!

If you took part, I hope you had an amazing time.  Drop me a link to your wrap-up and I'll do my best to get visiting this evening once I've caught up with the rest of my life!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon: Saturday


READ-A-THON TIME!  Given that I only decided that I was going to take part yesterday, I'm pretty excited.  Very excited, actually.

I've never done one of the 24 hour read-a-thons "properly" and this time will be no exception. I have to work on Monday and Sunday afternoon just isn't long enough for my old brain to recover from a night spent awake and reading. I realise that the same is true for most people but an 8 hours a night kind of girl and missing out on precious hours renders me appallingly grumpy and terrible company.  We're going to see Gone Girl tomorrow afternoon so to avoid falling asleep in the cinema, I'll probably head to bed at an only slightly later than normal time and get us bright and breezy tomorrow.  I know.  I'm so rock and roll.

Onto the book pile!  My current read is pretty slow and is taking me forever to read so I'm giving it a weekend off in favour of these beauties.  I've just flicked open Poison by Sarah Pinborough so odds are that'll be my first book.  Who doesn't love a Snow White re-telling?  Plus, big print = read-a-thon win.

I'll pop in and update this page every now and then but I'll probably be more active on Twitter (@litaddictedbrit) stalking the #readathon feed on my phone so that I can read more and type less.

UPDATE 1: 2.11pm, Saturday

Ok, so I started late but I had some errands and things to take care of this morning (including acquiring Boyfriend a new PS4 game to distract him from the fact that I'll be reading all day) and then I had to eat lunch and change into PJ bottoms, grab some books and get settled onto the sofa with my favourite throw.  As soon as I've taken care of the introductions, it's onto some reading!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

In a sunny spot on the sofa at home in West Yorkshire, ,England.  

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Cruel Summer by James Dawson.  It sounds like the Point Horror books that I used to devour as a teenager and I'm so excited about it.  And yet I'm not starting with it.  Go figure!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

We're having a coriander chicken curry for dinner that I am definitely looking forward to eating.  If we're strictly talking snacks, it's got to be salt and vinegar Kettle Chips.  It's always about salt and vinegar Kettle Chips.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I'm a 28 year old British lawyer.  Loves = spicy food (the hotter the better), red wine (pinot noir, preferably), new notebooks and fantasy.  Hates = cows (terrifying), large, slobbery dogs (sorry) and misery memoirs.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I can't remember when the last one I took part in but I do know that I picked completely the wrong book.  It was a slow, descriptive book with writing that I wanted to savour and that slowed my progress significantly.  Not so this time!  I've got plenty of snappy reads lined up and a re-read of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan to dip into in between.  A fool proof plan, I'm sure!

UPDATE 2: 5.05pm, Saturday

Pages read since last update:  200 pages
Total pages read:  200 pages
Snacks consumed:  2 chocolate Hob Nobs, a handful of grapes
Books finished:  1 - Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Well, what a productive first few hours!  I've actually finished a book within the first quarter of the
read-a-thon, which is completely unheard of for me!  I've been quietly tucked up under a delightfully soft purple throw since about 2.15 and have flown through my first book.  It was an easy read with pretty large print to be truthful but STILL.  I was pleasantly surprised by it overall - it was fun and quirky and managed to be both close enough to the "real" Snow White to work as a re-telling but different enough to make it worth reading (THAT ENDING!).  An early win.

Next up will be...Cruel Summer by James Dawson.  Probably.  Or maybe The 100 by Kass Morgan.  Or a bit more of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan.  Basically, I haven't a clue.  Whatever I feel the most like reading once I've finished writing this update and doing a bit of socialising.  There'll probably be a break for dinner before long too because I'm getting peckish.  Actually, now that I think about it, I'm quite hungry so it'll be dinner and then my next book.  Which I still haven't decided on.

Onward!

UPDATE 3: 7.38pm, Saturday

Pages read since last update:  2 pages
Total pages read:  202 pages
Snacks consumed since last update:  No snacks but I have cooked and eaten coriander chicken with spicy chick peas as a side and rice so the need for snacking has been limited
Books read from since last update:  Cruel Summer by James Dawson
Books finished:  1 - Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Ok, so that was a longer break for dinner than I was expecting!  I did get pretty distracted by Strictly Come Dancing to be fair and with catching up with Boyfriend (who I've been sat next to all day but have barely spoken to...) but I'm totally fine with that.  Now I'm going to do a little blog hopping and then get back to reading.  And maybe eating Kettle Chips and ice cream. Separately, obviously.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review: 'The Collector of Dying Breaths' by M. J. Rose

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars

**This is the 6th book in the Reincarnationist series so beware - this synopsis may well have slight spoilers for earlier books in the series**


In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici's perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years Rene le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen's rivals. But it's Rene's other passion, a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That's when Jac L'Etoile suffering from a heartache of her own becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene's secret to immortality. Soon Jac's search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she's loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.


Review

I had originally been intending to post this review as part of a Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour but work became unbelievably busy at around about the same time and I just didn’t manage to finish the book in time, never mind actually get round to reviewing it!  Part of that was owing to the increased workload but part of it was also because the book took me what felt like forever to finish.  Actually, at a little over a month, it really did take me a really long time compared to even what I now am resigned to as my usual reading pace.

It would be unfair to say that the amount of time it took to read was entirely the book’s fault, although the fact that I got a bit disgruntled and broke off from reading it so that I could read Running Like a Girl probably doesn’t speak to its credit.  This is a tricky position because, although I do know that I didn’t actively enjoy the experience of reading The Collector of Dying Breaths, what I can’t tell you is whether I would have enjoyed anything at that particular time.  Reading it just felt like harder work than I wanted it to be. 

I find the concept of reincarnation fascinating and the idea of a former monk pursuing the secret to reanimating the souls of people he has loved and lost by capturing and storing their last breath was one that was also quite morbidly interesting.  Unfortunately, I found the execution lacking and what I had hoped would be an excellent historical fiction was instead just mediocre.  As with so, so many books that are split between a period in history and the modern day, I eventually grew tired of the modern thread and wanted more of the detail and atmosphere of the historical one.  Rene Le Florentin, monk turned perfumer to Catherine de Medici, is a bit of a sorry soul with a rather tragic back story and Rose does a good job of developing his olfactory way of viewing the world so he was a character I was happy to follow through 16th Century France.  If the balance of The Collector of Dying Breaths had tilted towards more Rene and perfumery and plots in the French court, I’d have been much happier.

While Rene searches for the secret to restoring his loves, Jac L’Etoile (member of famed L’Etoile perfumer family dynasty) is grieving and navigating her unexpected return to the world of perfumery. The two stories are rather dubiously tied together by Jac’s ability to experience “flashbacks” of the dim and distant past, which would have been more fun to read about had she not moaned about it for the whole book.  She’s acceptable as a main character but I don’t feel as though I got to know her enough to care about her or what she was going through. 

I think the main issue that I really had was that the book is the 6th book in the Reincartionist series.  Characters and relationships that seemed brittle and lacking in depth to me are really (I think...hope?) just ones that have been developed over the course of a number of books that I haven’t read.  This rings true not just for the romantic tangent but also the familial and platonic relationships, meaning that there were very few interactions in the modern story that I actually cared about.  There are some catch-up details for new readers/readers that are coming back to the series but I couldn’t really get behind a couple whose history was explained to me in a couple of paragraphs or appreciate the nuances of Jac’s feelings about her “gift” to experience former lives in a novel that was trying to carry its own plot rather than welcome newbies.  I wasn’t overly fond of the ending of the modern plot, either, while we’re moaning. 

And has reading The Collector of Dying Breaths has made me want to pick up the first, The Reincarnationist?  Not in the least, unfortunately.  I know where enough of the overarching story is going to know that I don’t really want to go there.  I have enough series on the go without adding another to the pile.  That might be unfair because I’m reading some endings before I’ve read the relevant beginning but (to use a ludicrous ‘management speak’ phrase) we are where we are.  Average, average, average.

Overall:  I knew that there were other books by the same author that were notionally linked as part of a “series” but I didn’t realise how much the later books (or at least, this later book) rely on the ground work in the earlier ones.  You’ll be able to follow the story told in The Collector of Dying Breaths perfectly well if you haven’t read the earlier books by M. J. Rose but you almost certainly won’t enjoy the experience quite as much as if you already “know” the characters and are able to buy into their motives and relationships.  As a standalone, I’d struggle to recommend it unless you’re desperate to read the historical part and don’t mind a fair bit of modern frippery in your historical fiction generally.

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Date finished: 21 April 2014
Format: eBook
Source:  Received via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  by Atria Books in April 2014