Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Books on my Beside Table #3

This is actually not my bedside table, but these are the books which have been hanging around that area lately. It's been far too long since I've done this, and since I stopped using Goodreads and still can't get on with an alternative system of cataloging what I've read I really need it to remember the stuff I've read which is less than fantastic, or to remember what was fantastic which I haven't got to reviewing yet!

Before we start, The Pickwick Papers I am not actually reading yet, but it's in the pile because it won the poll on what to read for #dickensindecember and it is loooonnnng so I'm trying to figure out how to readalong it in four or five weeks without us all going insane. There will be a sign up post going up in a week or two, join in, it will be really fun!

Quite a lot of diversity in the pile this week! Starting off with some epic fantasy in the form of a long overdue reread of David Gemmell's Waylander. As a teenager I seriously adored Gemmell and have read everything he ever wrote. I was heartbroken when he died and still can't read the final book in his Troy series without bawling my eyes out (it was finished by his wife and the ending just reads like she's saying goodbye to him and I can't handle it). When I asked facebook which of his books I should start my reread with, my friend Robb (hi Robb!) said "Start with the one about that guy who doesn't give a shit, is a bad ass but has a big heart and finds his conscience", which is funny because many (probably most) of his protagonists follow that format, but somehow they remain fantastic and worm their way into your heart. I'm only a few chapters into Waylander but I'm already remembering how much I love it.

Everyday Sexism is absolutely fantastic but it's taking me ages to read because it is so, so depressing. I promise even if you are a woman who has never been sexually assaulted in any way, you will read this and so many of the things she talked about will have happened to you and you will probably just have accepted it as normal behaviour. It literally makes my heart hurt and it makes me so angry but it's such an important book to read. Because of previously mentioned anger, the rest of the pile is specifically designed to calm me down...

The Complete Dorothy Parker was a recent impulse buy during my first child-free Waterstone's trip since Sam was born. Dorothy Parker was on the reading list for the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge I participated in a couple of years ago, and I never see her anywhere so I've been sort of off and on looking for her since then, and I always have the problem when in Waterstone's of 'what do I really want to spend £9 on?', because a lot of what I want to read I know I can get in the library or everyone's currently reading it so in a couple of months the charity shops will be full and so it feels like a waste to buy a full price copy, but as I said Dorothy Parker turns up so infrequently that I felt I had to buy it really. It's all short stories, journalism and poetry and so far it's been really enjoyable.

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg is gorgeous and I've been reading it for ages and ages because it's part memoir, part cookbook and her writing is literally delicious. If you haven't read her blog, Orangette, yet, you really should.

And finally I just started Bryan Lee O'Malley's new graphic novel, Seconds, which I made my lovely sister and her lovely boyfriend get signed for Rhys' birthday when they went to see him. I've literally read a few pages so far but it's time for a graphic novel, so that will be good.

Also I'm reading The Great Gatsby with Ellie, but it keeps going walkabout. It's one of those books I keep putting down somewhere and can then never remember where somewhere is, but I will find it in the next couple of days and I will start reading it again...

So that's what I'm reading, what are you reading? :-)

Sunday, 19 October 2014

55 Quirky Questions for Readers

It's been a long long time since I've answered a bookish questionnaire here, but I feel like changing things around a bit (see my last post) and I found this on The Literary Lollipop and thought it might help me to get back into the swing of things. My reading's felt a bit disjointed lately and I'd like to change that, plus I'm jealous of all the people who've just done the 24 hour readathon and talked nothing but books for a day, so here goes!

1. Favourite childhood book: Difficult to choose. Part of me wants to say Little Women because I literally read it until it fell to bits, but then that's also kind of my favourite adulthood book soooo I guess I'd have to go with something by Noel Streatfeild - either Ballet Shoes or The Painted Garden probably. 
2. What are you reading right now? The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Collected Dorothy Parker, and Everyday Sexism by Laura Barker.
3. What books do you have on request at the library? Us by David Nicholls
4. Bad book habit: Not taking my library books back on time ever. Taking out waaaay too many library books thus making it impossible to keep track and contributing to previously mentioned lateness. Reading too many books at once, losing track of what I'm reading and accidentally giving up on books I was really enjoying which I then find six months later and try to keep reading, only to find I've forgotten what's happened so far and have to start again!
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Everything... *consults library account* We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (overdue & won't be able to finish as I'm halfway through and someone else wants it. Scowl), Creative Play for Your Baby: Steiner Waldorf expertise and toy projects for 3 months - 2 years (overdue), Everyday Sexism by Laura Barker, Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom, The Complete Potty Training Bible, and J by Howard Jacobson. Plus How to be Both by Ali Smith waiting for me to pick it up tomorrow. Eclectic, I know.
6. Do you have an e-reader? Nope. 
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I prefer to read one that really absorbs me at a time, but I usually end up starting a few and then carrying on with the one which absorbs me most and once that's done I'll pick up one of the others I've already started again. That, or (like at the moment with Everyday Sexism) something I'm reading is fantastic but so absolutely enraging that I have to have something else on the go to calm me down or Rhys never talks to be me because I won't stop ranting :-p 
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? They changed a lot way back when I first started blogging because I suddenly felt all of this (imaginary) pressure to perform reading and review-wise so I was reading a lot faster and a lot less thoroughly and generally immersing myself a lot less. Now I think I'm drifting back towards how I used to read - namely for myself, mostly from my shelves but interspersed with library books and the very occasional review copy with no pressure whatsoever and absolutely wallowing in books :-) 
9.Least favourite book you read this year: I've been terrible at keeping track of my reading this year so I can actually only remember the great ones. 
10. Favourite book I’ve read this year: Eleanor and Park, Attachments or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. 
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Not hugely. I'm making a big effort to read more non-fiction and more translated literature but still not pushing myself as much as I'd like to be. I was also thinking the other day that I read a lot of women. Particularly because of #readwomen2014, which is a great thing, I've been reading primarily female writers this year and I feel sort of like I actually maybe need to try to read more men? 
12. What is your reading comfort zone? Fiction (as previously mentioned, mostly Western Women but also others), Graphic Novels, non-fiction of the stunt memoir type.
13. Can you read on the bus? Yep unless I'm pregnant (not that that's a regular thing, but the two times I have been I've occasionally got nauseous reading on the bus)
14. Favourite place to read: the beach :-) 
15. What’s your policy on book lending? I mostly only lend books I've already read and have had change to put my name in, otherwise I find I never see them again and can't remember who I've lent them to to chase them up! On occasion I will lend unread books but usually only to my siblings. 
16. Do you dogear your books? Yes.
17. Do you write notes in the margins of your books? Not since University.
18. Do you break/crack the spine of your books? I try not to. 
19. What is your favourite language to read? English. I'd love to be able to read other languages but alas my linguistic ability stops with (fairly bad) GCSE German, a few words of Italian and Polish and the tiniest smattering of French.
20. What makes you love a book? Characters who feel real and do things which make sense for their character. 
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? If I hugged it and did a happy dance when I finished it, or if it made me think about how I feel about a subject or reassess my opinions. 
22. Favourite genre: Vaguely Classic type fiction with Strong Female Protagonists (aka Little Women & Anne of Green Gables)
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did): Poetry. I used to read a lot but haven't for years. 
24. Favourite Biography: Teach with your Heart by Erin Gruwell, Cash by Johnny Cash, Wild by Cheryl Strayed
25. Have you ever read a self-help book? (And, was it actually helpful?)I did and it was but I don't remember what it was called or who it was by. I also read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway when I was a teenager, which was good, and Overcoming Social Anxiety when I was having CBT for depression and anxiety issues, and that helped hugely.  
26. Favourite Cookbook: The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Fizz Carr.
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction): Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
28. Favourite reading snack: Ice cream
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
30. How often do you agree with the critics about about a book? Aside from The Night Circus, I quite often don't agree with most people about books. I also tend not to really read critics opinions of stuff because I'm not that fussed about what they think. 
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I don't really do it. If I don't have anything positive or constructive to say I just don't review a book. 
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? I think Polish.
33. Most intimidating book I’ve read: Ulysses by James Joyce. Still not finished it, but I've tried several times. 
34. Most intimidating book I’m too nervous to begin: War and Peace by Tolstoy
35. Favourite Poet: T.S Eliot or W.H Auden
36. How many books do you usually have checked out from the library at any given time? Between 5 and 20...
37. How often do you return books to the library unread? Pretty often
38. Favourite fictional character: I cannot answer this question. I've just spent ten minutes talking to my sister about how impossible this question is. Jaim Grymauch, Jo March, Scout Finch, Atticus Finch, Lincoln, Eleanor, Park, Albus Dumbledore. I could go on.
39. Favourite fictional villain: I actually can't think of any...
40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation: Something light... YA or romance
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading: Not long. Maybe a month while I was a teenager.
42. Name a book you could/would not finish: American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. Hated it. It still makes me feel angry and sick thinking about it.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? Everything
44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel: Lord of the Rings or The Perks of Being a Wallflower
45. Most disappointing film adaptation: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. Don't even get me started on how awful that was. 
46. Most money I’ve ever spent in a bookstore at one time: About £60 I think
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Sometimes. Mostly I prefer to be surprised though.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through? If I'm bored or it's horrifically offensive or just makes me so angry or feel physically nauseous (see American Psycho)
49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Yes. Currently they're in alphabetical order sorted by those I've read and am keeping and the hundreds of unread books!
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once they’ve been read? If I think I'll reread them or they were so good I'll want to tell everyone to read them and thus have a copy to lend out, I keep them. Otherwise they go.
51. Are there any books that you’ve been avoiding? 50 Shades of Grey. I don't t think I'll ever actually want to read it.
52. Name a book that made you angry: As previously mentioned American Psycho for all the wrong reasons, and Everyday Sexism for all the right ones.
53. A book I didn’t expect to like but did: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
54. A book I expected to like but didn’t: I didn't actually dislike it, just liked it a lot less than I thought I would - How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran.
55. Favourite guilt-free guilty pleasure reading: I hate the term, but chick lit. Anything about somebody's relationship ending and them doing something fabulous with their life. Love it. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Change of Scene

Some of you will know that I've been attempting to keep a craft blog for all my craft and home related endeavours for a while, and dismally failing. Equally you'll probably have noticed that my review format has become a lot less structured and more about my emotional response to books than a critical assessment of them. A year or two ago a lot of my favourite bloggers at the time posted about the need to incorporate more aspects of their lives into their blogs, and then proceeded to either not blog about books anymore at all, or disappeared off the face of the earth. At the time, I swore this would never be me, and it won't. I love books too much; I love blogging too much.

What I do want to do, though, is to change the blog a little bit. Realistically I don't have the time to keep two blogs, and so because I love this blog I'm just moving everything over here. I also don't necessarily want the pressure of sticking to talking about one book per post - I'd rather be able to talk about my experience of books around a theme or in relation to what was going on with my life while I read them. I will still post more formal reviews but only when I feel like writing them. Sometimes I really feel like a book I've read is so great and elicites such a strong response that it just has to have a review and that's fine. I dropped the pressure to review every book I read a long time ago but now I'm turning it down even lower and saying that the formal, structured reviews will become the exception rather than the norm.

Books will still and always be the vast majority of the content here because I love them. I am surrounded by them constantly and the other day I actually, at the age of 27, had a miniature tantrum because my husband kept talking about all the plans he has for our new house once we move in and didn't once mention my books and I just want a reading nook,dammit! *stamps foot and cries* Or a library.... But anyway! The point is that I've always posted the occassional personal post here and now I want to relate what I'm reading more to that. Therefore I want to read what I want and not put any pressure on myself or my (let's face it, now I've had two kids, very limited) reading time. We'll see how it works out.

As well as that there will be the occasional post about what I'm doing with my craft business, activities or stuff that's happened with my kids, parenting things, cookery things and anything else I feel like writing about. I'm hoping that most of you won't mind this change, and I think that it will help me to feel a lot less restricted by the blog. I've always felt like this is my place where I can be totally myself, which is why I'm so much more relaxed meeting people I've already 'met' online (*waves at Laura and the Northern lot* :-p) but honestly in a lot of ways I'm very different to who I was when I first started An Armchair by the Sea nearly four years ago. Then I was a newly engaged 23 year old who had just moved 100 miles away from all of her family and friends and was working very very part time in a town she didn't know with people who were a lot older than her. For a while this blog and you lot out there were my most instant source of connection, comfort and security aside from Rhys. Now I've been married three years, living in the same lovely area for nearly four. All the library staff know me by sight and Ben and Sam by name, I know the back routes to everywhere and although I still suck at making friends, I have a few lovely ones. I have two kids and am on the verge of buying a house and I'm sort of starting to feel like a grown up and I need the blog to reflect that. I want it to stay the place where I try out new thoughts and ideas and work out how I feel and what I think about things, and to do that I need to diversify. Books are my major love but they're not (and never really were) my only one, and I don't have the time to compartmentalize anymore!

I wonder if any of this makes any sense? As part of my redesign maybe I'll start proofreading and editing my posts again, who knows?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Why I've Been AWOL

I've returned! Well, kind of. I've returned to tell you all about how I probably won't be really returning for a while... So yes. Basically I'm writing this post because solicitors letters make my face look like this:

In the interests of not looking like that and actually enjoying my evening I have taken a break from reading about I'm not really sure what and come to update my hundreds of internet readers (basically Laura, Ellie, Charlotte, Hanna, Yvonne, my husband and his father) on why I've not been around all that much. Basically, we're attempting to buy a house! Hence the super fun solicitor paperwork of this evening which, coupled with the even more fun mortgage paperwork of yesterday evening, has sent me running for the blog! 

We're trying not to get too excited about it as the mortgage application is still in progress and the solicitors haven't even started yet, but to be honest even if it all ends up nowhere it's still just so nice to be on the right track to somewhere of our own. Renting over the past four years in Kent has gradually worn us down a bit, first with landlord issues, then with neighbour issues and it's just time that the boys had a garden and space of their own without having to worry so much about making noise. So yes, I will undoubtedly keep you posted on the developments of this endeavour!

Aside from that we've also been taking part in the 31 Days to a Clutter Free Life Challenge at Living Well Spending Less which is brilliant (and also helpful for if and when we do move house). Each day there's a different area to focus on - for example I am currently procrastinating from finishing the kitchen cupboards while writing this post - and you go through and chuck out all the stuff you're keeping 'because it might be useful for something one day'. I've been selling lots of stuff on eBay. It's really fun and also ridiculously therapeutic and happy making to walk around a house that's not full of crap! 

The final reason I've not been posting much is that I'm doing a load of craft swap with other crafters for Christmas presents and am running stupidly behind, so I'm spending a lot of my normal reading time knitting gloves like a maniac! I am still reading though. I finished How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and remain convinced that it's pretty much just How to be a Woman posing as fiction, but it was obviously hilarious so I'm letting it pass. There will be a full review at some point soon. I'm also in the midst of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler which I'm really loving, and about to start my buddy read of The Great Gatsby with Ellie! There is reading, just not much time to write about it which to be honest seems to be the general state of things with the blogosphere at the moment! Rest assured that I am still reading lots of blogs when I find a spare second, even if I'm not commenting (because stupid phone) I am still appreciating :-) 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon

Apologies for the horrendous photo - my decent camera is out of action so I'm stuck with my phone and rubbish lighting!

When I read children's books for myself (aside from reading to my children, obviously) they are often classics and they are often rereads. However, although my own children are young I do find myself thinking about books to read them and recommend to them as they grow older, and I'm really glad to be able to add Mr Nobody to this list.

From the blurb:
When nine-year-old Katie's gran comes to live with the family, Katie is forced to share a room with her moody big sister, Lou. They soon discover that Gran has an imaginary, mischievous friend, Mr. Nobody. Before long, stockings are found cooking in the oven and Gran is found wandering the streets in her nightie, singing along to Elvis. 
As Gran's actions become even more peculiar, Katie begins to wonder if Mr. Nobody might actually be real. And why do her new friends, Margaret and Hugo, always appear just when she needs help? 

As a young child I have very faint memories of visiting my great grandmother in a care home. I hated it because she was always confused and had no idea who we were or why we were there, and it always smelled weird. She suffered with dementia and although she never lived with us, I related to so much of Katie's experience with her Gran in this novel.

At times, Mr. Nobody was uncomfortable to read, purely because it deals so well with its' subject. The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Katie and her Gran Vera, and as Vera's condition escalates the story gets increasingly intense. Natalie Gordon writes really really well about the way children feel and respond. Throughout so much of the story I found myself remembering feeling very similarly as a child to the way Katie does a lot of the time.

A lot goes on in the story and although ostensibly the novel focuses on Katie and Vera, it also does a fantastic job of showing the strain that a disease like Alzheimer's can put on relationships, and how incredibly difficult it is for the people who love the sufferer to deal with. I actually found myself getting really angry with Vera at points, although obviously a) she's a fictional character and b) she can't help it, but for me the best fiction full stop, but especially children's fiction, is the books which make you care and respond. From the beginning I was so, so sad for Katie, who felt like she was being pushed out of her own home and whose stupid 'friends' started picking on her the minute her Gran showed up, without the slightest attempt at understanding, and although really I have very little experience of the disease I felt that Vera's struggle with it was really heart-wrenching and incredibly well written. Mr. Nobody is the 'person' she blames when she doesn't remember having done something, he encourages her in her paranoia and provokes her increasing hysteria and as a literary device he is incredibly effective.

I've not come across many novels which deal with Alzheimers as a subject, and I think that to do it this well and especially for children is an absolutely fantastic accomplishment. Mr. Nobody would be a great book to read with a child if you wanted a way into discussing the disease, but also aside from that, just read it because it's really worth your time.  

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Because I have ridiculously wonderful friends and family I ended up with lots and lots of giftcards, book tokens and money 'for books' for my birthday this year, which somehow, miraculously led to several small shopping trips which was incredible. I love a big blow out as much as the next person (Hi, Leeds!) but (and especially at the moment) it's sometimes really nice to have a regular hour completely on my own to browse around a bookshop totally undisturbed, picking stuff up and putting it down again. Amassing a pile and then talking myself out of things, eventually leaving with a couple of books I'm excited about, and that's how I acquired Since You've Been Gone.

I just went looking for my review of Amy & Roger's Epic Detour but apparently I never reviewed it, which is totally insane because it was one of the first books to make me think that YA might not be all sparkly vampires etc. Anyway, there was that and I adored it and then people were talking about Since You've Been Gone and it just made me want to read it and so I did.

From the blurb:
Emily's best friend Sloane disappears, almost without a trace - the only thing left behind is a to-do list. 
On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that wallflower Emily wouldn't normally do, and definitely not without her best friend. But what if completing the list could bring Sloane back?
Emily only has the summer to check everything off Sloane's list. The question is, what will she find at the end of it?
From the premise of this it seemed like I was going to enjoy it and I was right. I'm very much a fan of the concept of lists and the plot just sounded fun, and I was right. Since You've Been Gone was really enjoyable. I read it really quickly and am still trying to decide whether I should keep it or not, based on how likely to reread it I am. I'm leaning towards keeping it, which doesn't happen too often anymore!

I liked that although there was a boy involved in the story, the story wasn't about him, and it was way more about Emily discovering that she could do stuff she thought she'd never be able to do, and meet people without Sloane and actually stand on her own than it was about the love interest aspect. I also really liked that Emily's parents were playwrights - it made me think about taking up writing again, although it did just take me four attempts to spell 'playwright' so maybe not the best idea I ever had!

My favourite thing about the book was that all of the characters felt real. They all had several sides to their personalities and related differently to different people, and there was a pretty good diversity of relationships throughout the story. Although it's based on Emily and Sloane's friendship, the fact that Sloane isn't actually there allows a lot of time for Morgan Matson to talk about Emily's relationship with her parents and her brother as well as the new friends she makes in her quest to tick everything off of Sloane's list. She also did a really good job of making me believe in Sloane as a character who could just go off and leave her best friend without a word and making me understand a lot about why she would behave that way.

Morgan Matson is pretty much winning the whole YA thing for me at the moment, and you should probably read this book.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Banned Books Week 2014

I've changed my mind so many times on what to write about for Banned Books Week this year. Last year I wrote about some of the books which made the most frequently challenged list for 2012-2013 and how they'd effected me, the year before (my first year blogging about Banned Books Week) I basically ranted about why it's ridiculous to ban books just because you are personally uncomfortable with their subject matter. It's still one of my favourite posts. This year I was originally planning to extend last years' post by writing about some of my childhood favourites which have been challenged and banned, but then I came across this post on the fabulous Book Riot today about how we should stop 'celebrating' Banned Books Week, and I started to think about why BBW and the reading of Banned Books is so important to me.

The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.
Please Stop 'Celebrating' Banned Books Week, Kelly Jensen, Book Riot,22/09/2014
Why do I read banned books? Because I can. Because, thankfully, I live in a country where they don't tend to go in for book banning so much, and so I can go into bookshops and second hand shops and find books and I don't buy them because they're banned books but because they're books that I want to read, and because everybody should have the right to read the things that they've decided they want to read.

As a child, nobody ever told me I couldn't read anything. My parents are fairly strict Catholics and there was restriction in our house on what TV we were allowed to watch, but never once in any of our many and extensive trips to the library was I ever told I couldn't read something. My mum actively encouraged me to read from the adult section once I got bored of the children and teen sections, and she was always more than happy to discuss whatever I was reading with me. My dad's really into non-fiction and is very knowledgeable, so while my mum's the big talker in our family I did also go to him with questions that had been raised by what I was reading and he would always take the time to talk with me. To me people who ask to have books removed from schools or libraries because they don't want their children to have access to it are people who are scared of the conversation. I think that's terribly sad. I've said before that banning things or not talking about them doesn't make them not exist and I feel so strongly that our children should hear about the scary things which can happen in the world from the people they love the most and feel the safest with - hopefully their parents. Although there's no way to make the horrible and scary and sad things that happen less so, if you take the time to talk to your children and educate them on what they can do to help/stay safe/avoid situations then that can only be positive.

Thus this year, as every year so far, I've reached the same conclusion; the importance of Banned Books Week is the conversation. Challenging censorship is about having the freedom to talk with each other and with kids about things that may make us uncomfortable, but which will help them in the long run.

This year, for the first time I actually read the book I meant to read for this event! I bought The Outsiders a few years ago because it's one of those seminal teen books people are always talking about, and always quoting the movie and I had never read it. If you're like me, you should go read it now. It was fantastic. Read my review here.

And so, because of all the things I've just been talking about I'm running a giveaway. Because it's all about the freedom to choose what you read, the prize will be your choice of one book from the top 100 Banned and Challenged books from 2000-2009 (click on the title to get the list). Where it says series, pick one please! :-p To enter all you have to do is fill in the form.

If you tweet about the giveaway you will receive an extra entry - please mention me (@fairybookgirl) in your tweet so I know you've done it!

I will draw one winner on Sunday evening, good luck!