Do you miss having a Summer Reading List? Never had one but want one? Just love making lists? Come and join us! Sign up post is here

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Books on my Bedside Table #2

Somebody else does their reading pile posts like this, so I apologise (I think to Sarah?) for nicking your idea, but I like the visual way of marking my achievements! This is the picture from the first installment of Books on my Bedside Table, and the ones crossed through are the ones I've managed to finish since then. You will notice that a couple reappear in my picture for this time, generally because I suck, but also because everything was pretty much swamped by the awesomeness of Alarm Girl. Shock of shocks I've actually managed to review two of the three I've read as well! I know, I'm pretty much speechless too.

Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent, review here.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, review here.
Both sent to me for review consideration by their lovely publicists!

This was originally conceived as a weekly meme but I think it's safer to say I'll aim for weekly and it will probably be more like ten day/two weekly. This would've gone up about four days ago except that my bedside table is in the room in which the baby currently sleeps and I usually only remember about taking a picture of the books on it after he's in bed for the evening. As he's currently just started sleeping through from about 7/8pm - 2/3am I really don't want to jinx it by waking him up! This morning though I remembered to take said photo, and here it is, in all its' blurry glory:

You will notice the reappearance of Peter Duck and I Was Told There'd Be Cake. I have read a few more chapters of Peter Duck and I am still loving it. I'm quite happy to string it out a little long though - that way maybe my Ransome reread will last me until the end of the year. I haven't read any more of I Was Told There'd Be Cake, but pretty much just because Delancey has taken up all of my non-fiction reading capacity, and it's amazing so far. I really really love (and I'm sure I've mentioned this before) Molly Wizenberg's blog and her books are kind of just an extension of that. They're delicious. Through the Ninja Book Swap, I 'met' the lovely Leanne, who is hosting the Manbooker Longlist Readalong (#TBCChat on twitter). Due to library queues (I am now 71 of 85 people waiting to read Us by David Nicholls) the first one I could get hold of was The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. Although it's not scheduled until August 28th, they are reading it in like three days. With my current reading speed, I may have finished it by 31st... It's odd so far, but strangely engrossing. 

Instructions for a Heatwave and The Professor I started just before Sam was born, and then they disappeared into the ether of 'books I'm reading that I've got distracted from' and made a reappearance when I sorted out the (one of three the same size) big bookcase last weekend. I'm fairly far through Instructions for a Heatwave and liking it, and I felt in need of a Bronte fix, but haven't got very far with The Professor yet. I will hope to be changing this this week!

I am still reading The Secrets of Happy Families and also an interesting book called Playful Parenting but I figured I'd limit the parenting books as I imagine that's not what most of you are particularly interested in, so I thought I'd just stick to the one that was relevant to the subject matter. The Reading Bug is written by Paul Jennings, who wrote a load of books with exclamation marks in the title, which were everywhere when I was a teenager but which I never read any of. The basic argument presented in this book is that in order to have kids who love reading, you need to make it not be a chore for them. Jennings says that in the same way that we don't teach kids to speak, their first memories of reading shouldn't be when they are taught to read in school. If we make positive associations for our kids with books from as early as they can remember, they will actively want to read rather than feeling forced to, and although certain aspects of reading in school aren't always fun, hopefully they will always come back to their love of stories at home. Makes sense to me!  

I aim to have read more than three of these by my next post!

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

A while back I reviewed the second book in this trilogy, Shadow of Night and was alerted by somebody on twitter (I forget who, sorry) that I'd been quoted in the 'praise for this novel' section of the paperback, which was ridiculously exciting. So a while passes and I'm sort of aware at the back of my mind that the third and final installment of the trilogy is due out, and then I have to go pick up a mysterious parcel from the post office. I haven't ordered anything, what could it be? It turned out to be a wax-sealed invitation to the pre-launch event for The Book of Life and a little bottle of wine (!!). Almost definitely the coolest book related post I've ever got!

Because of having a baby, I wasn't able to attend the event and I emailed the publishers to let them know, and to cheekily ask if they would be willing to post me a copy of The Book of Life to review instead. I heard nothing more until a few weeks ago, a signed hardback copy of the book turned up on my doorstep. Seriously awesome. 

So now I'll talk about the book, I just wanted to share the story of how it came into my possession, because it's a great story. 

I've enjoyed the entire trilogy, but I think The Book of Life was probably my favourite. Having finished it I really want to go back and reread the other two because I know there's a lot that I don't remember, and I'm not sure how much I can talk about this without spoilering, which I really don't want to do... 

For those who have yet to read these books, the trilogy (which starts with  A Discovery of Witches) centres around Diana Bishop, a professor at Yale University who, when the story begins, doesn't know she's a witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire. Just before we start, no, he doesn't sparkle. Glad that's done with. By the time we get to The Book of Life, Diana and Matthew are married and Diana is pregnant with twins. They pretty much spend the trilogy trying to get their hands on a document called Ashmole 782, otherwise known as The Book of Life, which they think will explain the origins of witches, vampires and the third 'creature', daemons. In The Book of Life there is also a seriously creepy bad guy who they are trying to outrun. 

I think I liked Shadow of Night a lot more than a lot of people did, but I enjoyed The Book of Life even more. There are a silly amount of characters in it, but I love that because you've got to know a lot of them so well by this point that it just feels like you're seeing old friends again, and the new (or newer, or returning characters in new forms) characters fit in pretty seamlessly to the plot. I've got to admit I also really like Diana and Matthew's love story - they are seriously obsessed with each other but it manages to not be creepy somehow and instead just seem like two people who are genuinely in love and intend to spend the rest of their lives together. They also constantly defend and rescue each other. It's not all Matthew saving Diana by any means, and The Book of Life pretty much centres around Diana realising her full power and how she has the strength to save her entire family if necessary. The parallels to Twilight will always be there, and it's difficult even for me to get away from them (Bella Swan has a baby, the baby drinks blood, Diana Bishop has babies, one of the babies prefers blood) but when Deborah Harkness writes these things I'm just like 'yep, fair enough', whereas in Twilight I'm like... *makes sceptical face*. Pretty much the big difference (aside from being better written, having better characters and a better storyline) is that Diana Bishop kicks ass, whereas Bella. Well. 

So enough Twilight comparison. My favourite character in the whole series is Gallowglass. He kind of reminds me of the vampire version of Beast from Beauty and the Beast - all massive and scary looking but then actually just an absolute sweetheart. Love love love. 

Once again I've written most of a review without actually telling you much about the plot line, but let's just say that everything that's been going on throughout the trilogy is nicely tied up here and that pretty much everything you're hoping will happen, does. Also although it's supposedly the final book, it kind of doesn't feel like it? 

If you liked A Discovery of Witches but weren't such a fan of Shadow of Night I'd recommend giving The Book of Life a go, I'm pretty sure it'll be worth it. 

The Book of Life was sent to me by the lovely publishers, Headline, for review. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Book Benches

We've had a couple of weeks off and because we're never ones to pass the opportunity for a scavenger hunt, we decided to spend a couple of days in London with my family, and go up to London to look for the National Literacy Trust's book benches. These are absolutely awesome - they each feature a different book and have been painted by various artists and illustrators and will be 'about town' until mid October, when they will be auctioned to raise money for the National Literacy Trust. There are four different trails and if you visit the website you can download maps and quizzes for them all and tick the benches off as you find them, which obviously appealed to my super geeky side!

That's Not My...Bench!
All the boys on the Paddington Bear bench
Because we were heading up to London with our massive pushchair and two small kids, we opted to start with the City Trail, which begins around Bank tube station, and then joins onto the Riverside Trail, which we didn't manage to complete, but we are hoping to go back towards the end of the month and look for some of the benches on the Bloomsbury trail (Sherlock Holmes, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and the Greenwich Trail (We're Going on a Bear Hunt). Each bench has a little blurb about the book/author and Benji adored looking at the back of each bench particularly, and hiding from me, Rhys and his Aunty Ruth (my sister, who came with us). There's not a lot more to write about this trip, so it will mostly be pictures now :-)

Benji (and headless aunty Ruth) on the Wind in the Willows bench,outside the Royal Exchange.

Benji and Mary Poppins, outside St Paul's Cathedral

Shakespeare bench, outside Shakespeare's Globe

While Ruth and I sat on the Paddington Bear bench and fed Sam, Rhys and Benji went off in search of a final two benches:

benji on the Julia Donaldson bench (his favourite) painted by Axel Scheffler

the Discworld bench, Rhys' favourite. 
Have you been to look for these? They appeal so much to my super geeky side, now we've started we feel like we have to go back and find the rest.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent & a GIVEAWAY

I don't know what I was expecting from Alarm Girl, but what I got was definitely more than that! The novel was sent to me for review consideration by its publicist and although I'm not really accepting review copies at the moment I made an exception for this one. I thought it would be good because it's published by Myriad, the people who sent me Naming Monsters which I adored, and I'm glad I read it!

From the blurb:

When 11-year old Indigo and her older brother Robin arrived in South Africa to stay with their father, they find a luxury lifestyle that is a world away from their modest experience back in England. But Indigo is uneasy in the foreign landscape and confused by the family's silence surrounding her mother's recent death. Unable to find solace in either new or old faces, she begins to harbour violent suspicions in place of the truth. 
To start with, I often don't like novels where the protagonist is a child, as it's very easy to get the tone wrong and I often find child characters annoying, but I really liked Indigo. It helped that although the story is about her feelings and experience, it also has bits told from her mother's point of view, as well as the occassional bit from her mother's mother. It's all internal monologue as well, which works really well for the story and means you don't get too much outside influence. Because of this I really felt like I was thinking what Indigo was thinking, rather than being several steps ahead of her. Although I knew what had happened to her mother a long time before she did, I felt like I didn't because Hannah Vincent did such a good job of keeping me in her head.

I also really enjoyed the depiction of South African culture. I have quite a few South African friends and have always found their descriptions of the security surrounding their houses amazing and a world away from my own experience, and Alarm Girl really expanded on that. In terms of both setting and character it felt very believable, which is great because sometimes when I read novels set in a country but written by someone who isn't from that country the setting is a little bit jarring and detracts from the story, but that really wasn't the case here at all.

Over all, Alarm Girl is about the importance of telling kids the truth, and I loved the extreme suspicions Indigo formulates in response to not knowing the truth of what really happened to her mother - I really felt her desperation for her mother to still be alive and it was heart -wrenching.

Because this was such a great book, I'm giving away a copy! The giveaway is open WORLDWIDE and all you have to do is fill in the Rafflecopter form below. I'll pick a winner on Sunday night. You'll notice that the Facebook page is for The Ninja Book Swap which is because it's awesome, and as I haven't yet set up a Facebook page for this blog, the book swap is the closest one I have. Plus, did I mention that it's awesome? :-) Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Books on my Bedside Table #1

Since I stopped using Goodreads to keep track of what I'm reading, as part of the whole not using Amazon thing, I've been finding it hard to find a replacement system and subsequently have forgotten a lot of what I've read this year. The entire point of starting this blog 3.5 years ago was to help me remember what I was reading, and so I've decided to start a weekly feature of what's on my bedside table, which generally tends to be the stack of books I'm currently reading or imminently planning on starting! Hopefully this will help me to keep better track of what I've read and also help me to keep up with reviews a bit better!

Apologies for the terrible photography, that's what the light is like in my bedroom in the (early) morning! Five of the six I'm part way through, and in fact I will probably finish The Uncommon Reader tonight having started it yesterday. I'm really liking it at the moment - it's part comedic novel about what it would be like if the Queen suddenly became obsessed with reading and part deep and thoughtful essay about the importance of reading in society. 

Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent I haven't yet started but the publisher contacted me about reviewing it and it sounds really great so I'd really like to get to it next! Peter Duck I've been halfway through for absolutely ages and I will finish it soon because I'm really enjoying my big Swallows and Amazons reread and I want to keep the momentum going! 

The Book of Life was sent to me by lovely Headline after I couldn't go to a pre-launch event they hosted because I was giving birth, and it's signed and it's (unsurprisingly) really good. I'm slightly over half way through it and would be further if not that it's difficult to read one handed while half asleep. The smaller books have been keeping me company for middle of the night feeding sessions!

The last two are non-fiction I'm kind of dipping in and out of. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley I read about on Andi's blog recently and thought it sounded great so ordered it from the library. So far I like it, it's light, easy reading and good for when I'm not entirely awake. The Secrets of Happy Families is meant to be my parenting book for this month but I'm kind of alternating it with Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen because I feel like our house could do with a little more playing and a lot less shouting at the moment!

I'm in the middle of writing a review of Landline by Rainbow Rowell and also this arrived in the post today and I'm so beyond excited. 

I read Molly Wizenberg's first book A Homemade Life and adored it - part memoir, part cookery book - and her blog Orangette is pretty much my favourite thing at the moment, I could stay there reading all the posts she's ever written for hours and hours if I had them to spare. If you like food and food blogging and don't already read it you should be. I broke my no hardbacks rule for this book because I wanted it that much. 

Also exciting this week, Rhys and I have finally decided we like each other enough to start blogging together. Our blog is called Our Big Ice Cream Trip and is basically an excuse for us to visit ice cream parlours wherever we go and take loads of photos. We were already doing it, so we thought why not blog about it and that way we'd stop forgetting where we'd been and what we'd thought of it! Please come and visit us over there and spread the word about our little blog, I'm so excited for us to have a joint project to work on together outside of the kids :-) 

I like this, it helps me keep track of what's what. How have you all been? 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Parenting 101: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

I think that the biggest shock for me after having Benji was how much of being a parent doesn't come naturally. Obviously the instinct to look after him, keep him washed/fed/in bed at a decent hour, play with him etc was there from day one, but personally I feel like it's taken me a while to adjust to the fact that parenting is a thing that I have to learn to do well, much as with any other skill. Yes, it's enough to just get through days and some days all you can do at the end of them is be grateful that you're all in one piece, but for the vast majority of days I prefer to have some ideas about creative activities we're going to do, places we're going to visit and groups to go to. Also I'm trying to develop an awareness of what I'm trying to achieve as a parent, rather than just scrabbling about on a day to day basis. Overall I'd like my kids to be happy, sociable, polite and confident little boys. A lot of the time I feel ill-equipped to deal with some of the more challenging behaviours exhibited by Benji, and so in pursuit of the knowledge that I hope will help me to shout less and actually resolve issues successfully more I've decided to read one parenting book a month. Because when I feel like I don't know how to do something I read about it, obviously. 

July's book was Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier Kids

I will admit that before starting this book I was incredibly sceptical. I thought it was going to be a 'sell all your stuff and live in a barn' kind of book, but actually it was brilliant. The basic idea behind it is that kids in our society today suffer from too much of pretty much everything - too many toys, too much information, too many activities, too much scheduling and definitely not enough free time. The book is broken into four parts: environment, rhythm, schedules and filtering out the adult world, and in each the author addresses aspects associated with the topic. 

In principal I totally agree with pretty much all the points he makes. My children have a silly amount of toys. When you can't see the bottom of the toy box or close the lid, it's time to get rid of some! Payne argues that when children have too much choice it causes them to become overwhelmed and actually makes them less able to focus and make decisions, which seems to make sense to me. While reading this book I did actually clear out at least half of the toys from our main toy box and put them in a box in the cupboard which immediately made me feel better because there was less clutter in the front room, and meant that Benji actually plays with quite a lot of what's there now. I may reduce it by half again this week because he still can't easily get to the bottom of the box! My thinking is that in six months time or whatever, I'll bring the toys I've stored out and swap them with the ones which are there at the moment. It will be like having new toys but without having to buy anything! 

The chapter on rhythm was really interesting for me. When I was a kid we always had set things happen on set days because my mum stayed home with us, so she mostly picked us up from school and then on certain days certain things happened, like on Wednesdays we had 'sweetie day' where we each got 50p to spend on penny sweets on the way home, and on Thursdays she had piano pupils so we went to my Grandma's house where we would always eat cheese on toast and apple pies. The argument here is that many kids today don't have this sense of structure and certainty in their weeks as their parents often both work long, unpredictable hours and/or have to travel unexpectedly or just a lot with their jobs so it can be difficult to plan ahead of time for things to be the same on a daily/weekly basis. This made me think about whether or not Benji has had this kind of rhythm and structure in his life so far. We have weekly activities we mostly go to, but generally I think we're only just starting to establish this. For example we finally accepted a few months ago that if we want him to have table manners we should probably eat together, sitting round the table, with the TV off as he's so easily distracted it's impossible to keep him interested in his dinner if anything else is happening. Since finishing Simplicity Parenting I've been trying to get him to eat and sleep at similar times each day (he's had an established bedtime routine since he was five weeks old, but nap times fluctuate) and set up a regular activity to go to at least three days a week. The rest of the time we go for walks or to the playground or either of the local attractions that we have annual memberships to, or swimming or whatever. 

There was a lot in the book about how adult information floods kids' worlds without us even realising it. In our house we don't often listen to or watch the news because it makes me infinitely depressed about the state of the world, and if I find it difficult to deal with how overwhelming must all that bad news be for small children? It really made me think about the topics Rhys and I discuss while Benji and Sam are around (but especially Ben, who understands way more than people think) and realise that we need to start adjusting our conversations and keeping certain topics for when the kids are in bed! 

One thing that nearly made me stop reading was the bit where it says that children should only have - I forget if it was six or twelve - books. For all the same reasons - overwhelm, inability to make choices etc, but still,  part of me was immediately like 'step away from the book!', but then I thought about it and despite the fact that I'm never going to agree that a child should only have six books at a time, probably it actually is quite overwhelming for Ben to have a floor to ceiling bookcase packed absolutely to bursting with books. I'm thinking about swapping his bookcase for a smaller one and doing a similar thing to what I've done with the toys.

Overall this was a really interesting read and I feel like I took a lot away from it which will help me to feel more in control and hopefully make the kids calmer. I might even try to buy a copy,as this copy was from the library. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Today alone I've seen at least four reviews of Rainbow Rowell's newest novel, Landline, so just to prove once again how behind the times I am, I thought I'd get around to writing up some of my thoughts about Fangirl. 

We could keep it really short and sweet; basically I loved it. I read it pretty much straight through. I found myself bringing it with me in the car and completely zoning out in the middle of conversations so I could read another paragraph, and after I'd finished I felt slightly sick and eye-achingly unable to contemplate reading a book which wasn't by Rainbow Rowell. 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
I would say that this is probably my third favourite of the three Rainbow Rowell books I've read so far. Note I don't say that it's my least favourite because they're kiiiiiind of all on the same level, but I really really adored Eleanor and Park and Attachments is just the cutest, but then I feel like when I reread Fangirl I'm going to be annoyed with myself for saying I liked it less than Attachments. Once again, I really adored the characters, especially Cath and Levi but also the whole supporting cast - Wren, Reagan (Cath's roommate), Cath's Dad - all of them were really well built characters and they all felt like people you could know in reality. The thing I love the most about all of Rainbow Rowell's characters is how human they all are. Every single one of them has personality quirks and insecurities and problems which I can relate to; I feel like I've known a lot of people who are similar to her characters and I can see myself a little in all of her protagonists. 

I don't know that there's too much else I can (or want to) say except that really everybody should be reading Rainbow Rowell, especially people who think they don't like love stories. In my opinion you'll have a hard time finding sweeter, quirkier or more real relationships in fiction. Read Fangirl. Read it now.