Let’s Catch Up

Today Book Chat is back after a short hiatus (wooo!) – for those of you just tuning in, Book Chat is (you’ve guessed it) a chance to chat books, hosted by The Tangerine.

Today’s theme is ‘Let’s Catch Up’, so I’m going to talk about some of the books I’ve been reading recently. As you know, this summer I’m attempting all the books from the Richard and Judy Book Club list. I’ve already reviewed Tigers in Red Weather, This is How it Ends and The Sea Sisters, but now I have a few more to update you on…

Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie

This novel tells the gripping novel tells the story of a woman who is told one day that the daughter she thought was still-born is actually alive, and her husband was complicit in whatever happened all those years ago. The magic is that it’s never clear if Geniver is crazy, or if she’s been lied to by her husband, or sabotaged by one of the enemies they’ve accumulated; we’re left in the dark until the final chapters, and even after that, the final page is simply chilling. Well worth a read.

Natural Causes – James Oswald

As a crime novel aficionado, I’m always on the look out for a new team of detectives to follow. Natural Causes is Oswald’s debut, and I can only describe it as FAB. After reading the blurb, I was a tad worried that it would be written in a dialect (my biggest pet hate), what with being set in Edinburgh, but fortunately everything was impeccably written and easy to understand. The mystery was baffling, and (unusually for me) I didn’t unravel it by the end; there was a great (potentially supernatural) twist at the end which has really left me eager for Novel #2 of the Inspector McClean series.

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

I knew I wouldn’t enjoy this book… I can’t explain how, I just knew it. I had to renew it twice before I even started it. After reading about a third of it I just gave up for good. I couldn’t empathise with any of the characters; I didn’t find the plot very substantial… it just seemed quite wishy-washy and two-dimensional. Oh well, you can’t love them all… and as reading is my hobby, not my job, I’m determined to only follow through with the novels that I enjoy.

I have four R+J books left (to read before the end of August) : The Light Between Oceans, The Sea Change, The Universe Versus Alex Woods and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky; but as I’m dependent on my local library right now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all!

So what have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re hoping to get to soon?

D x

P.S. For a more comprehensive overview of my reading habits, check out Readarama Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Readarama Update

Firstly I’d like to say WOW. I’m so humbled and grateful for the kind responses to my slight identity crisis yesterday. I hope you’ll all go and check out Lynn, Janet, Beth and Buffy and leave them some love (and send some good thoughts out for Mog – I don’t have a link to her blog, but she’s one of the fab five who gave me the lift I needed yesterday). They reminded me of the things I love about blogging, and made me realise that people actually enjoy reading the things I write.

I have a few scheduled posts ready to go, but other than those, I’m going to have a little bit of down time and get working on some new things (top-secret at present!), also I’m buying a house this week so I’m kind of busy.

And now back to today’s posts…

A week or so ago I shared an update of my Readarama progress (the Penguin hosted challenge involving reading at least one book per week for the whole of 2013), but I only went up to the end of May… so today I thought I’d bring you up to date.

w/c 3rd June

Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussman

w/c 10th June

Week off with the legitimate excuse of final exams!

w/c 17th June

This is How it Ends – Kathleen MacMahon

The Sea Sisters – Lucy Clarke

The Biscuit Witch – Deborah Smith

w/c 24th June

Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie

w/c 1st July

Natural Causes – James Oswald

Becoming Indigo – Tara Thompson

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

w/c 8th July

The Sweetest Hallelujah – Elaine Hussey

w/c 15th July

Lady MacBeth: On the Couch – Alma Bond

Little Joe – Michael E Glassock III

w/c 22nd July

Bones in Her Pocket – Kathy Reichs

w/c 29th July

Cosmo – Spencer Gordon

As I said before, I have many a review pending, just be patient with me!

D x

Readarama Update

I have some news… I’ve passed my GoodReads reading target of 50 books! I have to admit I’m pretty pleased with myself… that’s more than double what I read last year. Seems like I’m almost getting back to normal…

Unless you’ve been following for a while, you won’t know about the other reading challenge I’m taking part in, Penguin’s Readarama (which involves pledging to read at least one book per week for the whole of 2013). The last update I gave you was back in March, so I thought I’d do a quick run through of some of the other lovely stuff I’ve been sticking my nose into…

w/c 8th April

Council of Dads – Bruce Feiler

The Mango Season – Amullya Malladi

w/c 15th April

700 Sundays – Billy Crystal

w/c 22nd April

The Wildwater Walking Club – Claire Cook

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress – Beryl Bainbridge

w/c 29th April

Unexplained Fevers – Jeannine Hall Gailey

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

All My Friends are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

w/c 6th May

Someday, Someday, Maybe – Lauren Graham

w/c 13th May

Driving Over Lemons – Chris Stewart

Mother’s Curse – Thaddeus Nowak

w/c 20th May

Daughter’s Justice – Thaddeus Nowak

w/c 27th May

The Circus of Ghosts – Barbara Ewing

Before I Met You – Lisa Jewell

Two month seems like a big enough chunk to bombard you with in one go, so I’ll be back with more later. As you can probably see I have a fair few reviews pending, so stay tuned!

D x

Dracula

drac

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is officially the last set book I’ll be reviewing for you this year, possibly ever (depending which courses I pick for next year). I didn’t manage to read them all this year… I skipped Heart of Darkness, but I couldn’t get into it, I didn’t have to do an assignment on it and I didn’t have to be examined on it… so to be honest there was very little incentive!

Anyway, back to Drac.

In all honesty I would probably never have picked this book for myself. It’s not that I don’t adore the vampire side of things – because I really am a bit of a junkie for vamp-infused TV… Dracula has just never really appealed. Maybe because I already knew the story so well, it seemed pointless to bother reading it.

However, there were actually things that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the often poetic language. I enjoyed crazy Renfield (who doesn’t love a good fruit-loop?). And I enjoyed that it inspired an episode of Buffy (among many other things, obviously). But there were definitely things that grated on me. A lot.

The two main female characters (Mina and Lucy) were insipid. They were so morally sound and perfect and so unbelievable lovable that every man in the book couldn’t help but throw themselves at their feet. My other issue was with said men… how fickle were they?! They all adored Lucy, were willing to give her their blood and pretty much die for her. As soon as she was out of the picture, however, they had no issues desecrating her corpse and moving on to Mina. Not really the enduring love one would normally associate with vampire fiction, is it?

I find it quite hard reviewing books that I’ve studied… if you develop quite sturdy critical knowledge of a novel, it’s not so easy to talk about it in terms of entertainment… after my original reading, I quite enjoyed it (despite all the simpering, heartfelt postulations), but after going a bit more in-depth… I’m not so sure. One of my pet hates when reading stuff by the critics, is when they assume that every author is just writing about sex. But in this case, I have to admit that maybe it’s true. Each character seems to be living out some sort of Victorian taboo… however, I don’t think these references to lesbianism, sexual domination and incest are grotesque enough  o be obvious to all modern-day readers. You probably won’t be able to escape the total misogyny and shameless racism though.

I can say wholeheartedly that I will not be reading Dracula again. I’m glad I’ve read it once, but once was enough. Now that I’m aware that it’s about a bunch of sexual deviants, I don’t think it’s really quite so charming…

D x

The Hunger Games

This trilogy satisfies three categories of the whimsical reading challenge… Toy or Game (The Hunger Games), Things You Don’t Like (Catching Fire) and Birds (Mockingjay).

hg

To to say that I enjoyed these books would be an understatement. It took me about three days to polish off the lot, and considering I’m out of the house about eleven hours a day that’s pretty speedy reading!

Experiencing the unexpected is key to your enjoyment of this trilogy, so I’m going to vague my review up because I really, really don’t want to ruin anything!

Basically, a dystopian world is divided into 12 districts and each year, these twelve districts donate two teenagers to a televised gaming event that combines Castaway and Gladiator (both the film and the ’90s TV show). The game ends when there’s only one survivor. That’s all I can tell you about the content, because I just need you to read it for yourself, and I’m trying not to give anything crucial away!

I’m not going to lie, when these first erupted onto all the bestseller lists I didn’t want to read them. I usually avoid reading the things that ‘everyone’ reads, because these books tend to be underwhelming. Also, YA is not really my genre of choice.

However, I would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who ever considers listening to me, you will not regret it!

Because I read the three books continuously, as though they were all one novel, it would be hard for me to pick out a favourite. I love the story, and the landscape that gets set up in The Hunger Games, but as I’d already seen the film I knew what was going to happen every step of the way. Catching Fire had more of the ‘shock factor’, and I really enjoyed that aspect. Mockingjay was good, but probably my least favourite because

a) it didn’t have the gradual build-up of the first two, it was more of a high-speed snowball rolling down a hill forgetting to explain itself properly and

b) it marked the beginning of the end… I was running out of Hunger Games books 😦

Possibly the best thing about reading these books was that I really didn’t expect to like them. They were given to me as a gift, so I gave them a try, and I’m so glad I did. Next time I won’t be so quick to judge a book just because of its genre.

Have you read anything recently that you didn’t expect to love so much?

D x

On Relaxation

The theme for today’s ‘Blog Every Day in May‘ post is Pampering. What is your ideal way to pamper yourself and relax? I don’t really do the whole ‘pamper’ thing. I don’t own a bath. All my candles belong on a cake. Most of my cosmetics have sealed themselves shut. But that’s not to say I don’t indulge myself, because I do. In just under four weeks (following my final exam), my season of self-indulgence will commence.

My self-indulgence takes a number of forms:

TV – I like to spend the summer catching up on entire seasons of the TV shows I love. I tend to avoid watching things on a week-by-week basis, I’m not patient enough for cliffhangers. This summer I have the latest seasons of Revenge, Game of Thrones, Vampire Diaries and Bones  to entertain me.

Arty Stuff – See this post for more information on the classes I’m taking this year.

Leisurely Reading – As an English student, a lot of my term-time reading can be pretty heavy. It’s not that I don’t love Classic literature, because I do, but you can’t really kick back and relax to Les Mis can you? I came across a ‘reading for fun’ challenge yesterday on Books, Biscuits and Tea that I’m going to have to take part in…. the idea is to work your way through all of the books on the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club list:

Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Close My Eyes – Sophie McKenzie

This is How It Ends – Kathleen MacMahon

Natural Causes – James Oswald

The Light Between Oceans – M. L. Stedman

The Sea Change – Joanna Rossiter

The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – Simon Mawer

The Sea Sisters – Lucy Clarke

[Click on the links to read the Amazon blurb/reviews]

The good thing about this challenge is that I would never have picked any of these books myself, so hopefully I should be introduced to something new that I’ll really love (as they all sound pretty good). To sign up for the challenge, visit this page.

So tell me some of the ways you like to relax.

D x

Island of the Sequined Love Nun

The theme of this week’s ‘book chat‘ is ‘strange books’. Picking a book to talk about here depends entirely on your definition of strange. If we’re going for strange-disturbing or strange-baffling then I’d go for Diary by Chuck Palaniuk. I’ve decided to look at a book that is more… strange-original and strange-amusing: Island of the sequined Love Nun. The title alone says it all…

cover

This book tells the story of Tucker Case, a pilot who breaks his penis after crashing a pink jet. (first strange thing) He then makes his way to a tropical island with a cross-dressing gigolo and a talking bat (second and third strange thing), only to be strung up by a cannibal (fourth strange thing) before being delivered to a high-tech research facility in the middle of the island. Add in some weapon toting Japanese thugs, a homicidal doctor, a giant conspiracy, a stripping Stepford wife, a cult that prays to a god named Vincent and a bunch of sharks… well, you have one strange book on your hands.

It’s great fun, very entertaining and completely unpredictable. I’d definitely recommend to anyone who want something enjoyable to read… and I’ve downloaded the rest of his books onto my Kindle… it looks like he’s written a few vampirey things that look quite good.

So what’s the strangest book you’ve ever read?

D x

March

This is the book I chose for the ‘month’ category of the whimsical reading challenge

cover

Even though in this case March actually refers to the surname of Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy. Yes, this book is based on the beloved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but instead of girly escapades Geraldine Brooks tells us the story of their absent father.

One of the things I truly loved about this book was the amount of historical detail. The American Civil War fascinates me, but growing up in the UK and Spain, my exposure was limited to books and films. Contextually she seems to have done an excellent job, you can really tell that a lot of research has gone into the weaving of this tapestry…

Except when it comes to the protagonist. Mr March is portrayed as a hippy in Unionist uniform, and I just didn’t find it convincing. I’m very surprised that this vegan, caffeine-free, non-smoking old man managed to survive any amount of direct combat. I think perhaps that 21st century ideals may have allowed to creep in a little too much here.

Although I’m not his biggest fan, I did enjoy his mismatched marriage. The narration is divided between both of their perspectives so we get insight into what both are thinking. It’s quite amusing to see how out of sync they are! March pretty much does everything he does just to impress his wife, and Marmee only endures everything he does out of womanly duty. I can’t help but wonder if there’d have been any novel at all if they had a functional relationship…

Because Brooks incorporates a series of flashbacks into the narrative, we see a lot of character development. She really does explain how and why each character came to be the way they are. This backstory to the March family provides additional context to Little Women, and depth to the character of the little women themselves, which made me think that these two novels could be read in conjunction with each other…

Until the UNTHINKABLE happened. Brooks gives a slightly revisionist account of certain key plot events which I just cannot condone. I, as much as anyone, understand the appeal of a happy ending, but any author who bases their work on a classic should not alter the integrity of the original. In other words, they can add to the story, but taking anything away is unforgivable.

In general I enjoyed the book, and I probably wouldn’t be so critical if I wasn’t such a diehard Alcott fan. But I think that’s the danger when you write anything based on something so well-loved!

D x

Top 10 Reads for Spring – 2013

After reading this post on Readarama.co.uk I was inspired to share with you my top 10 books to read in spring, so this week I’m going to take a break from whimsical reading suggestions and do that instead. You may think it sounds crazy, but I do think the different seasons inspire different kinds of reading… Spring to me is about bright sun and cold breezes, light mornings and evenings, misguided attempts to sit in beer gardens and just being generally perky. In spring I want to read books that are fun, light-hearted and a little bit random, so here are my top 10 for spring 2013 (I’m picking five I’ve read in past springtimes, and five I would like to read this spring):

Kiss Me, Annabel by Eloisa James

At the core of this one there is the philosophy of  ‘a husband must be rich, English and amiable’. Basically, this is an ode to Jane Austen, with a quicker pace, more lovable characters and more sex. It’s just fun.

The Farmer Wants a Wife by Maeve Haran

Ok, so on occasion I read chick lit, throw me in jail. A one line summary? A model flees London because of some embarrassing photos and ends up in the land of fit farmers. And they all live happily ever after.

Hardacre by C.L. Skelton

A rag-to-riches ‘saga’ following a family that started out as ‘gutters’ (as in, responsible for removing the guts from fish) and end up in a manor house. I’ve read it multiple times, and it makes me laugh and cry each time that I do. The best euro I’ve ever spent. (Context- I bought my copy at an English car boot while in Spain).

A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian

We all know her as the woman responsible for Goodnight, Mister Tom, but what you may not know is that this one is even better. Set in WWII, two young girls rent a cottage in a sleepy seaside village to avoid the Blitz. In this cottage is a locked room, filled with the belongings of the previous inhabitant (whose WWI story is told in parallel). It’s gripping, it’s inviting and it really tugs on your heart-strings. Perfect easy reading.

Juliet by Anne Fortier

Fortier weaves together a modern-day mystery with the story that (supposedly) inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Not too girly, just a nice balance of historical content, cliff-hanger and mush.

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

(TBR) Following the massacre of his family a young Jewish boy is rescued by a Greek geologist; Fugitive Pieces tells the story if his journey from feral Holocaust survivor to compelling artist.

A Golden Web by Barbara Quick

(TBR) This historical drama describes the (imagined) life of Alessandra Giliani, the world’s first female anatomist. The setting of fourteenth-century Italy is what makes it appeal to me… most of the historical fiction I come across is either Tudor or World War – both are great, but it’s nice to experience something new!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

(TBR) Mostly, because everyone says I should. Even though Northanger Abbey was seriously underwhelming.

Bright Young Things by Anna Godberson

(TBR) The blurb makes it sound like Gossip Girl, but int he 1920’s. If that’s not the recipe for a great springtime read, I don’t know what is!

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

(TBR) Wicked is a combination of two things that I love: reinterpretations of old stories and The Wizard of Oz. There is no way I can not love this book.

This list was a lot harder for me to narrow down than I thought it would be, as looking back, I think Spring tends to be my most prolific reading season…

What books make you think ‘SPRING’? Are you completely horrified by my horrific, un-literary taste? Leave me a comment below!

D x

 

The Woman in White

This is the book I chose for the ‘colour‘ category of my whimsical reading challenge. It is also one of my set books for the Open University module I’m currently studying (AA316 – The nineteenth century novel), so I would have had to read it anyway.

5890

Let me start by saying this is a looong book; you have to be seriously dedicated to actually stick with it. Wilkie Collins was not a concise man, despite his apparent fascination with three word sentences.

The novel is formatted as a collection of ‘evidence’ (such as diaries, letters and witness testimonies) to lend some shadow of  ‘fact’ to a totally unreasonable plot. I’m sure the ‘sensation’ of this novel would have prompted a faint or two in Victorian Britain, but I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Throughout the entire narrative I was promised a huge, outrageous climax (and that’s what made me keep reading!) but when it finally arrived it was a massive disappointment. Scandal obviously has a very different face nowadays.

I would describe The Woman in White as a novel of plot; Collins is far more concerned with showing a panoramic scene than investing in any character development, which meant it was a little bit challenging to bond with the characters. The diabolical villain, Count Fosco, was probably my favourite and that was probably because he just seemed the most interesting (as a non-British middle class delicacy). If a little sinister. I was expecting greater things from Marian Halcombe, our strong-willed heroine, but to be honest I found her a little bit insipid. She was one of those irritating women who were obviously created by a male, because all they do is talk about feminine inferiority. Not exactly what I’d call empowering. She was allowed to live though, which is quite uncommon for ‘rebellious’ women in Victorian literature.

Although reading the novel was pretty hard going, if you look at individual extracts there is some really beautiful writing involved. Not when he cracks out his dialects (which as you know is one of my pet hates), but whenever he’s working on generating suspense. The example that sticks out in my mind falls at the end of epoch 2, when Walter is faced with the veiled lady in the cemetery. This extract also illustrates the development of Gothic literature; Collins incorporates references and literary techniques to evoke a sense of the Gothic in a very domestic environment, establishing himself as a pioneer of his day.

I know I’ve been a little bit negative here, but I invested so much time in this one, that I wish I could have got a little more back… However, I’m still glad I stuck with it, even if I probably won’t read it again.

I hate reading books I’m ambivalent about, they spawn my worst reviews.

D x

P.S. Have you read a book for ‘colour’ yet? Leave a link below!