Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Ninja Book Swap Is Back & It's Trick or Treat Time!

Guys! It's that time again! It seems to roll around super quickly but The Ninja Book Swap is back for our second Halloween, and what's more we now have our own dedicated sparkly new blog! You can find out way more information than you ever needed to know over there, but just in case you've not heard of us before I'll do a quick recap here. 

- Sign up is open until September 30th. To sign up please fill in the form here. This is different from past swaps so please note that you no longer have to email us to sign up! We will then match you up with your person & email you their details in the first few days of October. You then have until October 25th to shop and send your parcel.

- As it is Halloween we are running two swaps: the straight swap for which you create a package of a book or two from your person's wishlist, a little gift and a card revealing who you are, and the Trick or Treat swap, for which you will need to tell us your three favourite books and a genre you'd like to read more of. We will then partner you with somebody who has a favourite book in the genre you'd like to read more of and vice versa. Your parcel should consist of a trick (the book that you love in the genre they want to read more of), a treat (either a book from their wishlist, a small gift based on their likes, or both) and a card revealing who you are!  

- If you'd like to send two parcels please fill in the relevant form twice (i.e 2x straight swap, 2x trick or treat or fill in both forms to send one of each)

- You can choose whether you'd like to send internationally or not. We like to keep the swap accessible to as many people as possible so if you can't afford to send internationally that's totally find, just click that option on the sign up form!

- IMPORTANT - When buying books for the straight swap or 'treat' books for the trick or treat swap you MUST shop from your person's wishlist. If you don't you have no way of knowing that they haven't already read/don't already own the book you're buying them and it can be really disappointing for people to receive something they already have. 

So far the swap has been getting bigger and better each time and we hope to continue that trend. Please help us out by tweeting about the swap using #ninjabookswap, or liking us on Facebook, or blogging about it! The more participants we have the better it is! 

Blog - www.theninjabookswap.blogspot.com
Twitter - @NinjaBookSwap
Email - ninjabookswap@gmail.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ninja-Book-Swap/276370692568514?ref=hl

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

I know a book's really good when I finish it and immediately put my name in the front of it (if I don't name them my sisters borrow them and assimilate them into their house claiming they 'thought it was theirs'). I haven't done it with any books except ones by Rainbow Rowell for a while, but that's what happened with The Outsiders. Ellie claims she didn't tell me to read it but just 'sneakily planted it in your mind thanks to repeated mentions on the blog' (direct quote from twitter), but either way I'm forever indebted to her and to Banned Books Week coming up for giving me the final push to read this beautiful, brilliant novel. 

The Soc's idea of having a good time is beating up greasers like Ponyboy. 
Ponyboy knows what to expect and knows he can count on his brother and friends - until the night someone takes things too far. 

That's all the synopsis I got on the blurb of my edition, and to be honest it's kind of all you need. The premise of The Outsiders is a little bit West Side Story - the Soc's are the rich kids, driving around in Mustangs, and the Greasers are the poor kids like Ponyboy and his brothers Darry and Soda, who hardly have anything. 

As usual I'm not going to talk too much about the actual story except to say that it's pretty great and not at all what I was expecting. In all honesty it's not the stand-out part about the book. For me the reason that I know I'll go back and reread it was the characters. I actually honestly loved them all. The Outsiders more than anything else is a story of relationships - the relationship between Ponyboy and his brothers and the members of their gang, between the Soc's and the Greasers, between reputation and actuality, between people... 

As usual, I read the introduction to my edition after I'd finished the book. Generally they're full of spoilers and more than one novel has been ruined for me by reading the introduction first, so I didn't find out till after I'd read it that S.E Hinton was only seventeen when she wrote this. To me that's just incredible. When I was seventeen I was still writing book after book of angsty, wallowing poetry. It was horrendous (I still have the books so if you don't believe me, I can prove it!), and here she is writing this incredible, insightful and really moving story about teenagers in which there's no stereotyping at all, as there so often is in books about teenagers. Ponyboy's observations about life and his ability to see through the 'us and them' reality he's grown up with to the people behind the labels is brilliant and in a lot of ways I wish I'd read this as a teenager - I think it would have resonated in a totally different way. 

In the same conversation with Ellie on twitter I was trying to pick out my favourite character and I couldn't. Even the ones who weren't nice at all had facets which made you root for them and I will give fair warning, this book is seriously sad, which is another thing which makes Hinton's age incredible to me. The events of the novel are dealt with in a way which feels so real - sometimes when a book has heavy events in it I feel like the author has contrived it and is trying to make me feel a certain way but I never felt that with The Outsiders. I felt like all she was doing the whole way through was saying 'here this is, how do you feel about it?' and I think I'll go back again and again to find out how I do feel about it. 

I wanted to rent the movie tonight but couldn't get hold of it, so it looks like it'll be going on the list to hunt out at car boot sales/charity shops etc. Basically I'm keeping this book because I want to read it again and again and also because I want my kids to read it when they're older. I will be mentioning it again in my Banned Books Week post coming up next week so keep your eyes out!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Dickens in December - What to Read?

Some of you may remember that I hosted a #dickensindecember readalong of A Tale of Two Cities last year, and that I'd mentioned my desire to read a Dickens novel each December as I can pretty much only handle one Dickens novel a year. Well, I was thinking about it the other day and wondering if people would be interested in reading along with me again this year? I know that for a lot of people A Tale of Two Cities was haaaaard work, and I don't think Dickens ever isn't (A Christmas Carol aside) but actually I've liked every one I've read so far and the hard slog is usually worth it in the end! 

I asked Twitter what we should read, and there were a lot of different responses, so I've decided to set up a poll on here. I've given you four choices and whichever gets the most votes is the one we'll read in December, so what are you waiting for? Go and cast your vote!

The poll is in the right hand sidebar at the top and will remain there until early November. That should give you enough time to spread the word so that there can be a large number of us whinging at each other about the amount of description and what the hell is going on!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Reading Man Booker Nominees or Why There Have Been No Reviews of Late...

Those of you who have been with me a while will know about my love for lists. Every year when longlists are announced I think I should read the longlist but I never do because I'm always ultimately overwhelmed by the knowledge that I'll fail. Usually it puts me off before I start, but not this year. This year I went on a bit of a mad 'let's reserve everything at the library' and as apparently most of Kent are doing the same it's been nicely staggered so far. However, it turns out that those books nominated for the Booker tend not to be the quickest, lightest of reads. Did you know that? So I've been reading The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (whose name I will never, ever be able to spell without looking) for pretty much three weeks. I'm about two thirds through and I like it I think. The subject matter is incredibly interesting and the characters are gripping and I'm interested enough to want to find out how it turns out but it's not the kind of book that I just must read every spare moment I get, not that there are a lot of those anyway at the moment but you know. I'm sort of at the point with it now where I just want it to be over so I can move onto the next thing (inevitably another of the longlisted titles, but you know), but not enough that I might actually, you know, stop writing this post and actually read instead.

Anyway, The Blazing World going on (and on and on) is why there haven't been many reviews around these parts lately. I've basically not finished a book in what feels like forever, so instead of feeling bad about that I thought I'd make a list (yes another one!) of all the past Booker winners and remind myself of the joyous times spent reading the one or two that I have actually read previously! 

The more I read, the more I wonder whether the Orange/Bailey's/whatever it is now Women's Prize might not be more my thing.... Never mind!

2013 Winner - The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - I keep looking at this in Waterstone's and not picking it up because it's huge. I have her earlier novel, The Rehearsal on my wishlist though.

2012 Winner - Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - I actually loved and adored Wolf Hall and I bought this on my epic shopping trip in Leeds last year with Laura, Hanna, Ellie and Charlotte. I've been eyeing it up every time I go past the shelf it's on (by the kitchen, so like... twelve times a day?) and I'm thinking soon it will be time!

2011 Winner - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - I think I read this, but I don't remember it at all...

2010 Winner - The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - I read this and it was good, but definitely took me a while to get through.

2009 Winner - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - actually really easy reading and I have Bring Up the Bodies waiting to be read, kind of not proving my point but you know!

2008 Winner - The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - I've owned this for years and not read it yet. I'll get to it one day!

2007 Winner - The Gathering by Anne Enright -

2006 Winner - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - Started it a few years back and got distracted by something else. As far as I remember it required perseverance, which I obviously didn't have at the time!

2005 Winner - The Sea by John Banville

2004 Winner - The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

2003 Winner - Vernon God Little by D.B.C Pierre - I've read half of this book about four times and every time something else comes along while I'm in the middle and I give up. I feel like I would really like it, if only it could make me want to read it enough to stick with it for long periods, you know?

2002 Winner - Life of Pi by Yann Martel - I actually read this waaaay back when it won and everyone else was reading it and really enjoyed it. Even then I thought it was over hyped and I haven't seen the film yet, but yeah, good. 

2001 Winner - True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey - this is pretty much the book that sets the scene for the long drag of reading award winners. This book took me SO LONG to finish, and I really didn't enjoy it that much. I was kind of just glad I'd finished. 

2000 Winner - The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - I have this on my shelf to re-read as I probably read it around 2000 and haven't read it since, but it's Margaret Atwood and I remember loving it at the time, so that should be good. 

I started writing this post about a week ago, since when I gave up on The Blazing World because we tidied our house and I've yet to find where it got tidied to, and I've started To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris which is much faster moving and also on the shortlist which has just been announced! Plus I've started reading The Outsiders by S.E Hinton for Banned Books Week (I know Ellie will be excited about this!), which has the added advantage of being on my Classics Club list, so two birds etc :-)

Anybody read any of the previous winners from the last 14 years? Or any of this years shortlist? What's worth reading and what can I give a miss? 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Classics Club: A Revamp

I originally joined the Classics Club when it was first started by Jillian (of the now defunct blog A Room of One's Own) back in 2012, which means I'm almost half way through the original time allotted for my list. Clearly, this isn't working out.

Admittedly I've taken a slight step back from the club since having babies, but it's still something I'm very much interested in, so in the pursuit of staying interested, I'm having a revamp of my list! I'm whittling it down to only 50 books,half of which must be books I already own.

You will notice that the list runs to 58, but that's because I'd already read eight of the listed books before I started revamping, so I now actually have 50 books on my list. I'm also resetting my time schedule for it so that today is the start point. Therefore I have until 27th August 2019 to complete my list :-) Much more doable.

The List

20th Century 

1. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
3. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
5. Charlotte's Web * by E.B White
6.Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
7.Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
8.Forever by Judy Blume 
9.For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
10.Gone with the Wind * by Margaret Mitchell
11.Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
12.Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
13.Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H Lawrence
14.Let the Circle Be Unbroken * by Mildred D. Taylor
15.Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson
16.Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm * by Kate Wiggins Douglas
17.Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert
18.Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry * by Mildred D. Taylor
19.Save Me The Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
20.Tell me the Truth About Love by W.H Auden 
21The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
22.The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
23.The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

24.The Bell Jar * by Sylvia Plath
25.The Cocktail Party by T.S Eliot
26.The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
27.The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
28.The Great Gatsby * by F. Scott Fitzgerald
29. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
30-37.The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House in the Big Woods *, Little House on the Prairie *, On the Banks of Plum CreekBy the Shores of the Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, & The First Four Years)
38.The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
39.The Marvellous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum  

40.The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
41.The Road to Memphis * by Mildred D. Taylor
42.The Stranger by Albert Camus
43.Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

19th Century

44.A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
45.Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
46.Grimms' Fairytales by Jacob & Willhelm Grimm

48.Nights with Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris
49.Quo Vadis? * by Henryk Sienkiewicz

50.Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
51.The Awakening by Kate Chopin 
52.The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
53.The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
55.Walden by Henry David Thoreau

17th Century

56.Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault

1st Century B.C (approx)

57.The Aeneid by Virgil

8th Century B.C (approx)

58.The Odyssey by Homer 

The Classics Club

I think I might actually make a dedicated Classics Club shelf for the books that I own now, which will hopefully help to motivate me a bit more as well. I've been reading a lot of parenting books and such recently and after a particularly hectic day the other day I retreated to The Professor and realised how much I miss reading the classics, and reading for myself rather than always with the goal to learn how to do something. I think it's important for my kids to know that I love reading for its' own sake as well as for the skills that I can learn from books and aside from reading to them (which I really do love). I want them to grow up seeing that reading is a viable and fulfilling hobby to have, and I hope this shift will help with that. 

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.