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...


"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.


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.


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.

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

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Home Sweet Home

Boston Common was right near our hotel - my pictures are
languishing on my camera so this image is from here
Oh home time, you are so bitter-sweet.  Both Boston and Washington DC were fabulous and we had an amazing time walking everywhere and looking at everything but my goodness me was I tired by the end of it.  Happy tired, obviously, but tired nonetheless and in dire need of some home comforts (our own bed topping the list) and a decent daily quota of fruit/vegetables on the assumption that pumpkin in croissant/muffin/latte/beer form doesn’t count. 

I adored Boston.  If I was moving to America, Boston would be the top of my list of places to pick out of those that we’ve visited.  It’s the perfect mix of modern and historical and has some really lovely architecture and the people seemed wonderfully friendly and chilled out.  I also have a big love of seafood so that helped (the lobster rolls and crab that I tucked into were particularly delicious!).  We did a lot of the properly touristy things and I made my peace with toting my camera fastidiously along the Freedom Trail like a bit of a plonker.  We went on plenty of tours and pleasantly endured some thankfully light-hearted jests about the horrid British Empire and its admittedly rather shaky tax-imposing/uprising-repressing ways, which was fascinating because it’s a huge part of America’s history as an independent country that is told in a hundred different ways over there but that was barely touched upon in my British history education.  ALSO, we went to watch Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, which was so quaint and a super fun night.

As much as I loved Boston, Boyfriend loved Washington.  I definitely really enjoyed Boston, don’t get me wrong, but just not as much as Andy.  Where I went for the more…charming feel of Boston, Andy went for the modern hustle and bustle of Washington.  It helps that he loves all things political, I think.  It was super warm in Washington while we were there too, which made returning to permanent rain all the more tragic.  We basically went as many places as would give us security clearance (the Pentagon included) and it was exhausting in the best way.  Incidentally, we stayed not far from the Georgetown area which was adorable and had some fabulous restaurants so if you’re over there, visiting that area is my tip. 

Basically, Boyfriend abhors “just sitting around” (which is what other people know as “relaxing”) so our holidays tend to involve a lot of exploring, going on tours of historical/political/other culturally significant things, eating and drinking.  We’ve been on three beach holidays in the seven plus years we’ve been together and two of those were forced upon Boyfriend by family members with significant birthdays.  I’m in no way complaining but it does mean that our holidays can be a little hit and miss in the reading stakes.  This time, I read three whole books and two halves of separate books and was pretty darn pleased overall. 

I finished World War Z by Max Brooks on the flight on the way out and found it to be a bit of a mixed bag, really.  There were some parts that I was gripped by and some that I found…dry.  I am in awe of how clever the book is and I couldn't fault Brooks for attention to detail.  The version of the world that he's created is impeccable and I do respect it, I just didn't enjoy reading it.  Early on, I really struggled to engage with it.  I can see that one of the book's strengths is the multiple views and how the global picture develops but it stopped me really connecting with it.  When the 'invasion' was in full force,  I was interested enough but when it moved on to military tactics, I couldn't bear it.  I'll admit that I skimmed quite a bit...I can see why people do love it but it wasn't for me.

After that and while I was jet-lagged, I wanted something light-hearted.  Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan won the day and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first two in the series.  If I have children, this series is going to be right up on the list of those that I'll be buying them and hoping that they love as much as I do.  Obviously, I'm looking forward to the next one.

Next up was We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  I'd heard great things about it before I set off and it definitely lived up to my expectations.  The writing is quirky and beautiful in its way and I flew through the story in a couple of days.  It's short, admittedly, but I was also completely obsessed with reading it and I read it at every single possible moment.  I don't want to say anything else because it's better if you just read it.  I definitely recommend that you do read it but I don't want to tell you why.  You're welcome.

My last full read was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  I've been craving a Christie for a while and I figured that I might as well go back to one of the most well known.  It wasn't really what I expected and was a different style in a lot of ways to other books of Christie's that I've read.  I keep being surprised by how different and how intelligent her books are.  I obviously didn't solve the mystery ahead of Poirot but the journey was every bit as fun as I'd hoped.

I started Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey on the journey home and it's definitely...interesting.  It's apparently a "modern fantasy set in two epochs: the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, and generations into the future in its aftermath, the Bright Day".  It's rather dark and it's lauded by Stephen King as something rather brilliant so I still have high hopes, even if the first third has been a little slow.  I've had it for years and may already have the second in the trilogy so it'd be great if it could be a series worth going on with.

What have I missed?!  Hope you've all had a wonderful few weeks full of books and other treats!  Tell me that I'm not the only one mourning the loss of sunshine, even while I adore winter reads and pumpkin-based deliciousness!