Thursday, 29 December 2011

What I Got for Christmas!

I don't know if I've mentioned that I have an awesome family. Christmas will stand me in good stead for the beginning of my book buying ban, I think. Altogether this christmas I received a grand total of twelve books!

Excuse the random Christmas paraphernalia in the photo! The books are:
Eternals by Neil Gaiman from my wonderful husband. Both of us love graphic novels, and our collection is steadily growing, which makes me really excited. I love them because they're so beautiful and so glossy and just generally exciting!
The Invention of Hugo Cabret  by Brian Selznick also from my husband. It has the most gorgeous artwork.  We saw the film just before Christmas and it was excellent. I'm halfway through the book at the moment, and I'm enjoying it. It will be very interesting to see how it measures up when I'm done though!
The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake by Mary Berry also from my husband (he knows me well!). 
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson from my mum. I'm a giant Bryson fan and I've yet to read this! It will tie in nicely with the year of reading Shakespeare.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz from my lovely sisters. I recently read this, but it was bought for me before I had, and I'm excited to own it as it was a library book and is one of those books which will probably benefit greatly from re-reading. 

From my father-in-law:
The Promised One by David Alric - a children's book that looks really interesting. 
Sourcery, Pyramids, Guards!Guards!, Eric, Moving Pictures and Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett - I plan to re-read the Discworld series in order, and these fill in most of the gap I had in the books I owned!!
I'm thinking that I will have to sign up for Hannah's Terry Pratchett reading challenge now. I've been umming and aahing about it, but now I have no excuse!

What did other people get?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Telling Tales Challenge Sign Up Post

I just realised I never got around to doing my own sign up post for the Telling Tales Challenge. Obviously there is some serious list making to be done! I'm attempting to find all the fairytale/mythology related stuff I have in the house as I'm not buying books next year, so it should be interesting! If you want to sign up for the challenge, you can do so here.

I'm signing up for Level 1 Classics, and level 3 Mix n' Match. For the classics I have to read five, which are going to be:

The Iliad by Homer
The Odyssey by Homer
The Aeneid by Virgil
The Collected Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen

These will also be included in the Mix n Match level, so I need another ten. I don't have all of my titles yet, but here are the ones I do have and I will add to the list as the year goes on:

1. The Magician's Nephew by C.S Lewis
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 
3. Ragnarok by A.S Byatt
4. Fables Volume 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
5. Fables Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham 
6. Fables Volume 5: Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham
7. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness 
8. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
9. Fables Volume 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham
10. Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
11. Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
12. Fables Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) by Bill Willingham
13. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
14. 1602 by Neil Gaiman

I'm probably also going to watch some adaptations, but I'm not sure quite what or how many yet. The ones I currently have in mind are the recent version of Red Riding Hood, a rewatch of The Brothers Grimm, and several Disney marathons!

I'm super-excited about this challenge, and I hope I'll actually manage to complete it!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Books of 2011!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

There are so many brilliant books I've read during 2011 - many more than ten, but for the interests of winding it all up in my mind and also for the purposes of my Blogoversary Giveaway, (which will be taking place around about January 8th/9th so keep an eye out), here are the top ten!

1. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I don't have a review for this, as I never got around to writing one, but I adored this book, and it's made me a die hard fan of Sarah Addison Allen. Also, the cover is very pretty:

2.  How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - this is probably the most hilarious book I've read since I first read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, aged eleven. Moran is brilliant and talks about all the parts of being a woman that nobody else ever does. 

3. Howards End is On the Landing by Susan Hill - I love books about books, and this was the most absorbing one I read this year. It's a brilliant concept - for one entire year Hill only read the books that she already had in her house. I thought that I had a lot of books, but compared to her I'm an amatuer. I came away from this book with an absolutely gigantic reading list, and it also has a gorgeous cover.
4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - I discovered this accidentally in the library, and it was my first foray into non-fantasy based graphic novels. I cannot stress enough how hilarious this book is. It's Satrapi's autobiography of growing up in Iran, told in graphic form. I got the film, too, and it's brilliant. 
5. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - 2011 seems to have been my year of reading books about Iran, but Reading Lolita in Tehran was another book about books - about Nafisi's love of books, and her experience of living in a country where they weren't readily available. Her story inspired me, and her bravery in teaching women about literature when they were hardly allowed to do anything amazed me. 

6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I don't read YA, but so many people were talking about this and it sounded like the kind of thing I might like, and my local library had it, so I caved. I'm so glad that I did. The Hunger Games was brilliant - it made me cry which is a big achievement for a book! I'm not sure about the movie, but I reckon I'll probably give in and see it. I just hope it doesn't kill it for me. 
7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - this really should have been at number one. It is without a doubt my absolute favourite book of 2011, if not of all time. I have never read anything quite like it before in my life. Not only was it brilliantly written and engaging, it was an absolute work of art, and as soon as I closed it I wanted to read it again. It's been out of our house doing the tour of duty at my mums' for a couple of months, and we are seriously contemplating buying another copy, so we have one to lend and still always have one in the house. If you haven't already read it, read it now and thank me later!

 8.  The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfeild - A childhood favourite, I re-read this book this year and loved it just as much as I did as a child. Sort of a sequel to Streatfeild's most well - known book, Ballet Shoes, this is the story of the Winter family and their exploits when they take a trip to L.A. 

9. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Circuses are awesome things. This is less magical than The Night Circus, but I loved the storyline. I have still to see the film, but I'm excited about it. 
10. Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley - a graphic novel about a girl whose soul has been stolen by a cat. If I'd read the Scott Pilgrim series this year, they would definitely be on this list, but as I didn't this one must suffice! 

All of these books will be part of my first blogoversary giveaway in early January so make sure you come back and see me then!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Boycotting Amazon...

People are always talking about how Amazon is 'killing' the independent bookshop, and nowhere is this more obvious than in my adopted county of Kent. Currently in Kent there is a grand total of ONE independent bookshop selling new books, and then there is Waterstones. And that is it. There are a fair number of second hand bookshops and charity shops selling books, which is great, but I can't help but feel that the fault lies (mainly) with online shopping in general, and with Amazon in particular. From the point of view of books, Amazon and The Book Depository are definitely the cheapest and easiest ways to get hold of things, and I know I'm very guilty of using them both when I just must have a title right then and there. Also I use Amazon for the purpose of gift buying and sending RAK's, but this is about to change, I hope.

In 2011 in the UK the British Bookshops chain has closed, leaving the high street for the most part without a 'cheap' alternative to Waterstones for new books. In the US, the Borders chain which vanished in the UK in 2009, has given up altogether. All in all, it's not been a great year for bookshops. Although I am not saying that all of this is entirely Amazon's fault, they are definitely benefiting from it, and recently they did something very stupid, that I don't really want to get into because it makes me angry, and if you don't know what I'm referring to you can check it out here - Richard Russo and co put it much better than I ever could!

This actually enraged me. I quite frequently get upset about the state of the world and how horrible people are to each other. Personally, it bothers me that online shopping is destroying communities. I don't want to live in a world where the only option is to shop online or in big, anonymous superstores. I like the personal service. I love that there are still bookshops you can go in and talk to staff who genuinely adore books, and who will talk recommendations with you for ages and get excited about passing on the books that they love. Yes, there is 'Amazon Recommends', but it really isn't the same...

Because of this, I have decided to combine my 2012 book buying ban (which will, let's face it, probably fail drastically at some point during the year) with a boycott of Amazon. For this, I am going to attempt not to use Amazon at all for anything  during 2012. I am also going to try to do most of my shopping in the real world, rather than on the internet. I am hoping that for this I can actually last out the entire year. I have no illusions that by doing this I will be making any great impact, but personally I think that I will feel better to be less hypocritical. To put my money where my mouth is and to say no to Amazon and online retailers putting people out of jobs, and preventing me from being able to talk books with equally geeky people. If ever I do have children, I wouldn't want to bring them into a world without bookshops. That would just be depressing. If anybody wants to join me they are more than welcome! Wish me luck!

What are your thoughts about the online shopping phenomenon? Does Amazon make you angry or do you love it with a passion?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review: - Jane Austen Made Me Do It ed. by Laurel Ann Natress

Look how well I'm doing at my reading of Jane Austen related books! I'm very proud of myself. Admittedly I have totally failed at watching any of the films for Advent with Austen, but this is the third Jane - related book I've read in December! I won a copy of it from the 24 hour readathon, but it has been very slow going.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen. Some are about Austen herself, some continuations of her novels, and some completely new stories merely using characters Austen created. I'd read some mixed reviews of this before I started, so I was a little apprehensive going in. Also, while I love Austen, I'm not generally a fan of the Romance genre. The first story, Jane Austen's Nightmare by Syrie James was really good, and so calmed some of my fears, but after that there were a few I enjoyed less and I started to struggle a bit, hence why a collection of short stories has taken me over a week to finish.

Generally the stories I enjoyed the most were either about Jane herself, or modern tales incorporating an Austen character. There were some ghost stories (A Night at Northanger by Lauren Willig, The Ghostwriter by Elizabeth Aston, and Me and Mr. Darcy, Again.. by Alexandra Potter) which I really enjoyed despite them tending towards the slightly ridiculous - although I suppose as a person who doesn't believe in ghosts and such, ghost stories are always going to seem a little bit silly in the best possible way.

Reading Jane Austen Made Me Do It was a positive experience despite the unevenness of the collection. I would say it was probably a 60/40 split and if I'm honest after a while I started giving up on stories if they weren't interesting me after a couple of pages. I'm glad I own this book as it means I can return to the ones I didn't finish at a later date.

I think this will probably be my last Advent with Austen book. I do have Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence sitting on my nightstand, but although I definitely want to get to it in the future, I kind of feel that for the moment I'm all Austened out. I have really enjoyed this event, though, and the fact that (in my eyes at least!) I've been really successful, has set me up in a positive frame of mind for all the challenges and such that I've signed up for in 2012!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday Salon - A few Review type Bits and Bobs...

This weekend has been great. My family have been here since Friday night and have been helping decorate the house and suchlike. We've basically been watching movies, playing board games, and having a giggle, but now they are gone and the house is quiet and I am watching Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium, which is awesome. The Christmas tree lights are on, we've been eating individually wrapped chocolates out of a tin, and I'm starting to feel a bit festive (and bloated).

In the spirit of Advent with Austen, I've been reading many Jane Austen related things in the last couple of weeks. I'm not sure why, but I've not finished a lot. I started Lady Susan/The Watsons/ Sanditon last week, and I've finished the first two but not the last, and halfway through Sanditon I got distracted by Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of short stories inspired by Austen, which I've been reading for the past week and also have yet to finish.  

I'm still unsure of what I felt about Lady Susan. It was written early on but Austen never submitted it for publication, and it was only after her death that her nephew decided it was an important enough part of her legacy that the general public should have access to it. It is written in letter format, and although it is of course well -written, for me it lacked the empathy and depth of character usually present in Austen's novels.

The ambitious Lady Susan Vernon, notorious flirt, scandalous lady, recently widowed, escapes from an unfortunate liaison with a married man to stay with her brother and disapproving sister in law. Reginald De Courcy, Mrs Vernon's brother also comes to stay, fully prepared to be horrified by Lady Susan, but soon succumbs to her manipulative ways.When Lady Susan's young daughter, Frederica is also brought to the house, relationships become strained and tensions run high.

Because of the letter format, I didn't get any of the sense of immediate action that's usually present in Austen - it was much more removed than that. Everything that happened was only learned about after it had taken place, and so didn't feel as gripping. I also didn't personally connect with any of the characters. In every other one of Austen's novels there have been characters I really loved - Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and even despite Austen herself thinking nobody would like her, Emma Woodhouse - but in Lady Susan there was nobody. The title character was a completely scheming and manipulative, and her lack of feeling for her own daughter at times completely disgusted me. There wasn't really a character that I particularly cared about and I can see why Austen didn't think it was good enough for publication. I still enjoyed reading it, but not as much as I did The Watsons, which I was really disappointed about finishing, because it's really only the first fragment of a story.

Anyway, mini- review I know, but pretty much all I have to say about these. Since finishing Persuasion, I've now read all six of Austen's completed novels, and I do want to finish Sanditon, because I think that her unfinished works are really interesting in terms of what more she could have achieved had she lived longer.

Anyway, this post has taken me so long to write that Mr Magorium has finished, and I'm now watching Star Trek with the hubby. Hope your Christmas preparations are all going well and that the week ahead isn't too stressful. Relax, read, and enjoy. Happy Sunday, everybody!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Persephone Secret Santa

I don't know if I've mentioned previously just how great my love for Christmas is. In my house, it's a HUGE deal, from the stresses of Christmas shopping for a family of eight - and that's just the siblings and parents! -  decorating the house and tree, to the meal we have on Christmas Eve (to which my mother invites everybody we know who might possibly be alone and a lot of people who aren't..) to our traditional Christmas Eve viewing of Miracle on 34th Street (the 1990s remake, not the original), to presents on Christmas morning, fervently hoping that at least one person will have remembered about how I like books and have got me at least one. Last year, due to my now-husband-then-fiance giving me all of my presents about a month early because he couldn't wait to see my reaction (awww), I received a grand total of no books on Christmas Day, which slightly disappointed me. Although I'm the kind of person who loves presents of any kind - give me anything prefaced by the words 'here's a present', and I'll get ridiculously excited - I do love them best when they are books, mostly because I know that I can get stuck in right away and it makes Christmas Day that extra bit more exciting to know that I can jump from my book to whatever afternoon movie my younger brother is watching, to the new board game somebody got for my parents, to having a gossip in the kitchen with my mum and grandma while sorting out the dinner. Love love love!

So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out about the Persephone Secret Santa. My love for Persephone books is a recently acquired thing, started completely by accident when I asked the lovely man in the most awesome second hand bookshop I have near me if he had any Noel Streatfeild books, expecting him to come up with yet another copy of Ballet Shoes, and he rummaged around in his store room for a while and came back with a gorgeous Persephone edition of Saplings. Then I found a copy of The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding in a charity shop, prompting my husbnad to say 'Oh, you got another one of those grey books', and now I feel like I should be collecting them. Not just because they're pretty, I might add, but because of the sheer underrepresentation of women in the canon of Western literature. Anyway, on to the Secret Santa! It's the same as normal secret santa, except you give Persephone books. I was assigned a Santee, and a list of books that person wanted. I picked one, I sent it, and I waited to receive mine, which I did a couple of days ago, and it's beautiful!

Sorry about the slightly blurry photo, but this is Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers, which I was sent by the lovely Iris of Iris on Books. I am so excited to read it, and I love the bookmark, which is the same pattern as the endpaper, which is another thing I adore about Persephone books. I've sent a couple of books as surprise gifts to blogger friends (which they should be keeping their eyes peeled for!), and I actually can't describe the buzz giving people books gives me. I've bought them for most of my family too. I love that my family read!

So thankyou Iris, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the rest! I hope you're all enjoying the season as much as I am!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Festive Review:- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I don't know if I've mentioned that Dickens and I do not usually get along. I've only read two of his novels so far, Great Expectations and Hard Times both of which were horrendously hard work and if not for them being required reading for uni, I doubt I would have ever finished either of them. It would have been a shame as I ended up really liking both of them but still, Dickens is not what I usually turn to when I'm in such a lazy reading mood as I have been lately. In light of this fact, you can imagine my surprise when amongst all the re-reads and Jane Austen related reading I've been doing this month I suddenly got an insatiable urge to read A Christmas Carol. It was like there was an actual voice in my head telling me I needed to read it, right that second, and I'm thinking, (whiny voice) 'but it'll be hard work and full of description which means I'll have to concentrate and nothing will happen for the first half of the book...'. I was wrong about all of these things.

Just to clarify, I am aware that this is a picture of the Muppet's Christmas Carol, but my book doesn't have a pretty cover image, and the Muppets are awesome and part of my tradition Christmas viewing schedule, so there we go.

Despite never having read A Christmas Carol before, I don't remember ever not knowing the story. Ebenezer Scrooge has been a character in my head all of my life, and his visitations from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are such a part of my feelings about the point of Christmas that it was kind of as if I was re-reading the story. The classic tale of the tight-fisted, miserable Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts who help him to see the error of his ways and become a much better person was exactly right for my mood. I've been very down about the state of the world recently, and in the space of 184 pages, Dickens managed to restore my faith in people's capacity for humanity and change. I know that Scrooge is just a character in a book, but let's face it, he's got to be up there with the most iconic and well-known characters from books ever, and reading A Christmas Carol  has not only made me feel happy and hopeful, but also changed my attitude towards Dickens. I'm actually excited to read more of his books now! I've been trying so hard for so long to get excited about reading Dickens - how weird is it that it just happened like that, by random?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

2011 End of Year Book Survey!

I know I've been going on about it lots, but I am so intensely little kid excited about coming to the end of my first year of blogging! I've read such awesome stuff this year and added to my already disgustingly giant TBR pile, and a huge amount is due to blogger recommendations. Mostly to try to get all the awesome I've read straight in my head, I'm completing Jamie's End of 2011 book survey. Feel free to read on or not, as the mood takes you!

1. Best Book You Read In 2011? 
I think this is the first time I have ever been able to answer this question straight away, without even thinking about the answer. I did add another couple of titles to my answer about two seconds later, but still, result!
Immediate answer - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Totally lived up to the hype and made me want to read it again, immediately after finishing it.
The two I added two seconds later - Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (my first foray into non - fantasy graphic novels - totally opened my eyes)

2. Most Disappointing Book/Book You Wish You Loved More Than You Did?

Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger. I've been a giant fan of The Catcher in the Rye since I was about fourteen, and this book has been on my TBR literally forever, but when I did get around to reading it, I just couldn't love it like I wanted to...

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?

An Abundance of Katherines by John Greene
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. This is still the most hilarious book I've read all year and just so entertaining. I get the giggles just thinking about sage and onion stuffing now.

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?

Probably the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, or Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I love Percy Jackson despite it being slightly childish in tone, the books are just brilliantly quick entertaining reads. Thank you
Hanna for sending me the first one!

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?

Sarah Addison Allen, Erin Morgenstern, Carolyn Turgeon, Marjane Satrapi (all women... :-/)

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Before this year I hardly ever read any YA. If I'm honest the snobby 'I have an English LIterature Degree' part of me still dislikes admitting that I do, but my stats for the year beg to differ so... Having said that, The Hunger Games trilogy earlier this year was a total revelation for me. I absolutely adored the series and I go between extreme excitement and apprehension about the upcoming film!
8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern again! If you haven't read this book, you really really must, it is so incredibly beautiful and captivating. Also Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants which I keep forgetting about but completely adored for being so suspense building and darkly gorgeous.

9. Book you most anticipated in 2011?

The Night Circus or The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Browne (which was good, but not as great as I was expecting...)

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?

In Your Face by one of my most favourite authors ever, Scarlett Thomas

11. Most memorable character in 2011? 

I know she was only in it for like a really little while, but Rue from The Hunger Games. I loved her, she was so brave she broke my heart.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011? 

Reading Lolita in Tehran made me rant at people about women's rights and feminism a LOT. I felt strongly enough about it to do a giveaway (rare occurrence!) just to be able to pass the awesomeness on!

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read? 

East of Eden and Tender is the Night. Both amazing, brilliantly written and much more engrossing reads than I expected.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011? 
From How to Be a Woman - sorry if it's not to people's taste, but I find it HILARIOUS:(in reference to periods)

"As part of being a hippy, my mother doesn't 'belive' in painkillers and urges us to research herbal remedies. We read that sage is supposed to help and sit in bed eating handfuls of sage and onion stuffing, crying. Neither of us can believe that we're going to have to put up with this for the next 30 years.
"I don't want children anyway,' Caz says, 'So I am getting nothing out of this whatsoever. I want my entire reproductive system taken out, and replaced with spare lungs, for when I start smoking'"
16. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012? How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (because I want to re-read it just from going through trying to find the above quote)
The Night Circus because, as previously mentioned, it is entire bucketloads of awesome.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

It's probably kinda bad that I can't really think of one...There were some scenes in The NIght Circus (surprise surprise), and a few in The Last Werewolf I think but nothing specific springs to mind..

I shall be doing more talking about 2011 before the end of the year, including some stats that I find interesting but probably nobody else will....

Norwegian Wood readalong!

I have so far only read ONE Haruki Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore, which totally blew my mind. There are so many of his novels that I want to read Everywhere I go lately I'm hearing about 1Q84, and I have had Norwegian Wood on my shelf for the whole of 2011 pretty much, besides being desperate to see the film, and when I stumbled on the January readalong hosted by Reading Rambo I had to sign up!

So that's basically it. In January, I will be kicking my 2012 reading year off to what I hope will be an awesome start by finally reading this book,  come join me! :-)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Get Steampunked! Challenge

After seeing Hugo the other day (which is incredible, if you haven't already go see it now!), I decided on something I've been wondering about for a while. I definiately need to read more steampunk, and so of course I signed up for a challenge!

Hosted by Bookish Ardour, the challenge runs from 1st January to 31st December, and can crossover with other challenges. The definition of steampunk from Steampunk Lab is:
it [steampunk] refers to a genre of fiction where steam power, spring gadgets and modern marvels of the 20th century are thrown back to Victorian aesthetics. Technology in a Neo-Victorian setting. The term has spread on to include not just books, but any real mashing up of technology with more classical style, where Verne-esque and Wellsian science is a reality. Some post-apocalyptic elements rise up on occation, depending on the portrayal.
I am going to go for the Geared level, which is five books. I've made my list already but I'm hoping that I'll end up reading lots more than this!

These are the books I plan to read:
  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.P Dahlquist
  • The Time Machine by H.G Wells
I may incorporate a re-read of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, as the challenge allows crossover books from the gaslight fantasy genre.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Review: - The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Who hasn't heard of The Hobbit? Published in 1937, the book has been continuously popular ever since and is currently being made into a film starring Martin Freeman. The tale of Bilbo Baggins (the Hobbit of the title), and his unexpected involvement in a quest to reclaim the lost treasure of the dwarves from the evil dragon Smaug is generally pretty timeless and awesome. Following the hobbit and his thirteen companion dwarves from Bag End, Underhill, across the Wild, through the perils of Mirkwood and to the Lonely Mountain itself, The Hobbit is both terrifying and comforting, inspiring and relaxing. For those who haven't read it, there are characters you may well recognise from the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy such as Gandalf the wizard, Gollum, and even Bilbo himself.

My first memory of The Hobbit is of my dad reading it to me when I was around four. I didn't really understand what a hobbit was and became convinced the story I was hearing was actually about a worm. I still maintain that as the hobbit lives in a hole and so does a worm, it was a fairly logical conclusion for a four year old brain to reach. Since then I've read it a grand total of five times as far as I can recall. The last before this was around six years ago, though so reading it this time felt a lot like reading a book that you've been recommended by so many people that you already know vaguely what happens before you start. Parts of it, such as the part where the questers run into goblins and Bilbo's encounter with Gollum, I remembered incredibly well, although I was surprised at how close to the beginning of the story they took place, but there were lots of other things I had little to no memory of, and that made it a brilliant, refreshing and nostalgic read. 

I'm not sure exactly what it is about Tolkien that makes The Hobbit  and The Lord of the Rings so incredibly readable. Yes, the characters are good and generally either very likeable or very hateable (and can I just pre-empt a 2012 re-read of Lord of the Rings by saying, Frodo in the books = awesome, Frodo in the films = completely, inexcusably pathetic), which is brilliant, and the plot is action packed and gripping with just the right amount of respite time including roaring fires, song and dance and copious amounts of food, but I think the thing really is that in Middle - Earth Tolkien has created an entirely real and absorbing world, which is recognisable enough for the reader to be able to relate to the experiences that characters are undergoing, but alien enough to be entirely enchanting and fascinating.

Although The Hobbit was originally thought of as a children's book, the publication of The Lord of the Rings changed perception of it, and it became what it remains today: the prelude to arguably the most epic, sprawling quest - based fantasy saga of all time. If I hadn't signed up to read this in December of this year, it would have been perfect for the Telling Tales Challenge next year, but I'm thinking The Lord of the Rings  will do for that! I adore reading books like The Hobbit. My thinking it was about a worm didn't hinder my love of it as a child; I loved it then, I love it now, and I will love it in the future, because it is truly amazing.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Top Ten Favourite Books from Childhood

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature at The Broke and the Bookish.

I think my new years resolution is going to be to participate more in Top Ten Tuesday. This week's list was one I could do straight off the top of my head. The majority of books on my list of childhood favourites are books my siblings and I were read for bedtime stories. There are some exceptions, though.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - I know I go on about this book all the time, but if I had to choose one book to be the only book I could read for the rest of my life, I really think this might be it. The first book I remember reading in one sitting!
2. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild - I remember my mum reading this to me when I was really young, and it's the book that began my love of Streatfeild.
3. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
4. The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
5. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren - No member of my family has ever quite got over the awesomeness of this book. Another bed time story (they were a really big deal in my house), we still make random references to 'the sarkus' and 'pluttification' all the time, and I still dream about making gingersnaps on the kitchen floor :-)
6. Harry and the Wrinklies by Alan Temperley
7. The BFG by Roald Dahl
8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis - Still a huge favourite, I'm currently loving the films and planning a re-read in 2012.
9. The Silver Sword by Ian Serailler - I found this on my mums bookshelf aged about eight and fell in love with it. Probably one of the first books about a really difficult issue that I read.
10. Rabble Starkey by Lois Lowry - I got this from a library sale with my pocket money (it cost about 10p) because I was a huge fan of Lowry's Anastasia series, and I read it over and over again. I think I still have it somewhere...

Any of mine on your lists? :-)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent with Austen - A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith

For anyone who doesn't know, there is an event taking place currently to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. In advent, we are reading Austen, and so far it's making me very happy. I fell in love with Austen aged around fourteen after reading Pride and Prejudice and her books have quickly fallen into the category of 'comfort reading' - the highest honour I can give a book. Having said that, the only books I owned prior to last week were Emma and Persuasion, both of which I have already read this year, as I originally started reading Jane in the form of one of those giganto - books with really thin paper and tiny font, containing all six of her novels, so I've been on a quest. While I haven't yet manged to find a either Pride & Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility in any of my local charity shops (a total shocker in a city full of students that contains not one, not two, but three universities!), I have just today managed to get hold of Lady Susan, The Watsons & Sanditon which is what I plan to read next, and a copy of Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, the book on which the film (that I've still yet to see) was based. Anyway, the only Austen -related reading I managed to get hold of ready for the beginning of advent was Lori Smith's memoir, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love and Faith.
From Goodreads:
At thirty-three, dealing with a difficult job and a creeping depression, Lori Smith embarked on a life-changing journey following the life and lore of Jane Austen through England.
With humor and spirit, Lori leads readers through landscapes Jane knew and loved–from Bath and Lyme, to London and the Hampshire countryside–and through emotional landscapes in which grace and hope take the place of stagnation and despair. Along the way, Lori explores the small things, both meanness and goodness in relationships, to discover what Austen herself knew: the worth of an ordinary life.

This book reminded me quite a lot of Eat, Pray, Love, which I read and enjoyed earlier this year. Lori Smith, like Elizabeth Gilbert, is coming from a major life event - in her case a bout of depression and four months of recovering from a mysterious 'virus'. Wanting to be a writer, she saves up and takes a year off to see if she can do it. A dedicated Janeite, she goes to England for a month with the aim of visiting the places which were important in Jane's life and writing, and the sense of adventure she brings to the exploit makes the book a really engaging read.

Starting off in Oxford (where I have never been), A Walk with Jane Austen had a lot of personal interest for me as it travelled through London (where I lived for 23 years), and Canterbury (where I have worked for the past six months). Although I hugely objected to Ms Smith's description of Canterbury Cathedral as "oppressive and lifeless", that is purely down to difference of opinion, for which I suppose I will have to forgive her. The bit about Canterbury was the only bit of the book which made me angry, though - the rest of the book I loved and couldn't wait to get back to reading it.

The journey with Jane is tied in closely with Lori Smith's personal journey, and she uses the trip to explore her faith in great depth, which was another thing that put me in mind of Eat, Pray, Love. Again for me with my own religious beliefs and queries, I actually found that this made the book more enjoyable for me rather than less, as it raised questions for me not just about literature (which is always awesome), but also about the kind of person I want to be and the way that I live my life, which I think I often forget that I need to think about. Despite there probably being more Lori than Jane in the book, she did manage to slip the autobiographical information in with the landscape brilliantly. Austen is so much part of the landscape of the English countryside anyway, but it was nice to read about the real life places which influenced the novels.

With the exception of the Canterbury chapter, and the bit about Lyme, where Ms Smith stayed in an incredibly vivdly described filthy hotel room, all of the places she visited are places that I would love to visit. Box Hill is a place I used to visit a lot as a child, both with my family and on school trips, so I was as excited reading about her visit there as I was reading about the picnic in Emma, and Bath is a beautiful city which I have only fleetingly visited once and would love to return to. A Walk with Jane Austen inspired me to read and re-read all of Jane's novels, and everything I can get my hands on about her life and works, but it also filled me with wanderlust. I want to go roaming aroud the countryside in my hiking boots!
Bring it on!!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Sunday Salon - I refuse to believe it's almost Christmas!

I feel like I've failed quite epicly on the review front lately. For a while now I've been reading a lot and not reviewing much, and after beating myself up over it for a week or so I decided to cut myself some slack. I've already decided to make December an 'easy reading' month, where I will be mostly re-reading plus a few library books (currently Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, which is shaping up to be a lot of fun), so hoepfully I'll be able to catch up on a few reviews in the next couple of weeks.

It's been a while since I've done a monthly summary post, so here's what's happened in November...

I have read the following sixteen books:
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Fables: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris (re-read)
  • Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
  • Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott (re-read)
  • Good Wives by Louisa M. Alcott (re-read)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Little Men by Louisa M. Alcott (re-read)
  • Jo's Boys by Louisa M. Alcott (re-read)
  • Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
  • A Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory
  • What Lies Beneath by Sarah Rayne
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Mort by Terry Pratchett (re-read)
  • Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild
I also signed up for a lot of reading challenges for next year. I really feel like I'm getting better at reading the books I own and controlling the impulse to buy more. Having said that, I did buy three this week - Amazon just makes it too easy, and there were a couple I wanted to get hold of for Advent with Austen. This past week I was reading A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith, which I absolutely adored, and which got me all inspired to write and to re-read all the Austen I read so long ago. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility were the first of her novels I read, and that was about six years ago I think if not more. It really must be time for a re-read! I love that this event is giving me an opportunity to completely indulge myself and get immersed in all things Jane - Austen makes me happy to read and that's what I need right now :-)

Most excitingly (for me at least), I am hosting my first ever reading challenge for 2012. The Telling Tales Reading Challenge is the amalgamation of my passion for fairytale and mythology, several conversations on the subject with my sister, and the fun I had participating in the Once Upon a Time challenge this year. If you want to know more about it, and to sign up, go here, and forgive me for the convoluted nature of the levels - I got a little carried away with the list making!!

In other news, I just got back from seeing Hugo which was entirely amazing. It's been a very long time since I watched a film through my hands, but I had to because not knowing what was going to happen made me so tense! The film was incredibly acted and very moving and now I really really must get my hands on a copy of the book! Anybody read it? What did you think?

Hope you're all having a lovely winter Sunday

Another Challenge - Those Books I Should Have Read 2012 Reading Challenge

I keep signing up for challenges, but it's totally ok because this is another one that will help me with my book buying ban, and with the demolishing of my TBR pile! Hosted by Kelly at Reading with Martinis, the aim of this challenge is pretty self explanatory.

The books I should have read stare at me from my shelves every time I go in search of my next read. They're all the ones (Ulysses is the one that immediately springs to mind) that I have somehow managed to not quite get to despite being part of college/university courses or having been on the list of books I absolutely must read for years and years! Soooo this is going to be the definitive list of books I absolutely must read this year! Because I don't want to just end up saying I'll read them again and not (again), I'm going to sign up for level 1, which is just 6 books.

The six books I intend to read for this challenge are:
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkein
  • The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

If you want to sign up for the challenge, you can do so here.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Telling Tales Challenge 2012!!

Picture credit: the Cheeseninja

Welcome to An Armchair by the Sea’s first reading challenge! Some of you may know about my love of/obsession with/totally crazed mania for all things fairytale and mythology based. While chatting with my sister Esther about our shared love of reading challenges and desire to set up a challenge of our own, we came up with an idea (inspired by the Once Upon a Time Challenge) for a challenge based around reading things to do with mythology, fairytales, legends and folklore, and so here it is!
The Telling Tales Reading Challenge 2012
·         Challenge runs from January 1st 2012 to December 31st 2012. You may sign up to participate at any point between these dates.
·         Any genre counts as long as it is related to fairytale, folklore, or mythology in some way. If you’re not sure if it counts – as long as you can make a case for why it should, then it does!
·         You can re-read books for this challenge as long as the reviews you link are written during 2012, and the challenge can also overlap other challenges.
·         Whatever you read must either be a version of a fairytale or myth, or contain fairytale or mythological characters, settings, or sequence of events.
·         Every month there will be update posts either here or on my sister’s blog. Please link up your reviews for that month on this post.
That’s it!
Now, the important bit.
The Categories
These are the levels:
Level 1: Read 5 books
Level 2: Read 10 books
Level 3: Read 15 books
Level 4: Read 20 books
Level 5: Read 25 books
You can sign up for any level, and choose to read either purely the categories listed below, or to participate in the Mix n Match category, or the Adaptation Amalgamation category, or all of them if you're that brave!
Twisted Fairytales – retellings or modern interpretations of fairytales or myths. For inspiration, look here.
Classics – Myth and fairytale from the classics genre (e.g. Homer, Grimm, Virgil, Hans Christian Andersen)
Graphics – Graphic novels and comics based around or containing elements of mythology and fairytale. Examples include Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and Bill Willingham’s Fables series among others. For a list that barely scrapes the surface, go here.
Poetry & Drama – We’ve put this in because we’re sure there must be some. I've managed to find some, but if you know of any others please let us know!

Non- Fiction – Anything about myth, fairytale, folklore or fantasy in general that doesn’t belong to the fictional genre.

Extra Categories
Adaptation Amalgamation – Watch a film and read the book it is based on. This category can incorporate as many other categories as you like (i.e all your films do not have to be based on graphic novels, but some can be, and some twisted fairytale, some non-fiction etc)
Mix n Match – Exactly what it says. Sign up for a level and pick that number of books from any or all of the other categories.
As you can probably tell, Esther and I like to make lists. If this seems incredibly convoluted and off-putting, we apologise and take solace in the fact that we have each other, so neither of us will be doing the challenge alone! We do hope that other people will join us though, as it’s always fun to find out about new books, and the more people that do it, the more likely we are to finish it!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Les Miserables Readalong, Narnia Project and a slight pre-emptive 2011 round - up...

I remember when I was six and the year that I was six seemed to drag out forever. So much of the stuff that happened in my childhood took place in that year. I have absolutely no idea how it is that we're almost at the end of another year - I've been living in Kent for an entire year now, and I've survived! We've just moved house for the second time, to a much bigger, nicer place, and we are (hopefully) finally starting to feel really settled! The weeks seem to fly by now, and sometimes it seems like the only way to measure a month is by how many posts I've managed to write! 

All in all, I'm really pleased with how 2011 has gone... At the beginning of the year I was still fairly relaxed about the wedding planning, only working a few hours a week and living in a one bedroom flat navigating my life around my books. Now I'm living in a two bedroom flat with a reading room, working full time, and most excitingly of all, I'm married! I'm starting to feel like a proper grown up, and while that is scary it's also necessary I think. Although it's not quite the beginning of December and there is still another month of 2011 to go, as I plan to spend most of it re-reading old favourites and finishing off the few Noel Streatfeild books I have on my shelf before the year is up (all of which will be re-reads), I thought now would be as good a time as any to talk about some of my favourite books of the year, and some of the books that I wouldn't have read or bought if it weren't for blogging!

From January 9th 2012 until 14th I'm going to be hosting an awesome giveaway for my first blogoversary! For this giveaway, there will be a question you will need to answer in order to win one of the books from my list of favourites from 2011, my first year of blogging! There are a fair amount to choose from, and I'm thinking that I will pick a couple of winners - probably one from the UK and one international, just so everybody can share the excitement! I cannot stress enough how glad I am that I started keeping this blog back in January. It has had such an effect on my reading life, and has got me through some really lonely, homesick times. It has really helped to know that whatever happens there are always blogs to read, and always awesome people I can talk books (and randomness) with, and I so appreciate that :-)

These are a few of my favourites from this year that I've not had time, internet connectivity, or words to talk about before and I thought if I did it here then there would be a point of reference for people entering the giveaway. These will just be very condensed reviews, and the first up is my favourite of all,

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - About a circus which mysteriously appears without warning, I was so blown away by this book that I still have no proper words to describe it. It's magical, awe-inspiringly written and much more complex and entangled than it appears. A tale of love, magic, adventure, brutality, and so, so much more. You must read this book.

Garden Spells & The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen - Apart from Morgenstern, Sarah Addison Allen is my favourite discovery of 2011. Her books are gorgeous - fairly lightweight, full of magic, food, and feisty women, they always have happy endings without every being completely predictable. Just beautiful.

Howards End is On the Landing by Susan Hill - A non - fiction book subtitled 'my year of reading from home', Susan Hill sets out to read only the books she already owns for a year, and it's basically my favourite kind of book. Full of literary discussion, exploration and lists upon lists, I came away from this book with a headful of questions and pages and pages of lists of books I now want to read. Very well written and enjoyable.

Going Out by Scarlett Thomas - As some of you may know, this lady is one of my all - time favourite authors. The author of eight novels, for some reason her first five are extremely difficult to get hold of, however my awesome husband managed to do just that for me this year, and I've now read all of them! Going Out is about Luke, a boy who is allergic to the sun, and his best friend Julie, and what happens to them when they decide to go out. Summed up like that, it seems kind of lame, but I promise it isn't. It's daring, funny, and as always with Scarlett Thomas, very human, intelligent, and candid.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - I read this after I watched the BBC adaptation with Jason Isaacs (which I completely loved), and I liked the book a lot. Basically a story about Jackson Brodie, an ex - police officer turned private detective who mostly investigates missing cats, and his foray into the world of real cases, I liked it because Atkinson really humanises her characters, and because the plot was very well thought out. I've recently got my hands on the second in the series, and I'm looking forward to it!

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters- the latest in the Amelia Peabody series of historical crime fiction, based around Egyptology, this confused me intially because it is published out of sequence with the rest of the story. If you like this genre and want an easy read that is hilarious and engaging, Peters is your woman! Amelia Peabody is one of my favourite heroines, because she's such an unlikely one, and such an independent woman :-)

So, that's pretty much that. Now onto yet another thing I've signed up for in 2012....

Kate is hosting a year long readalong of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in 2012. The idea is to read small chunks of the books to a schedule with the other participants and then talk about it. I've not had much luck with French literature this year - I've DNF'd both Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, and Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I'm hoping that my enduring love for Les Miserables the musical will help sustain me through this one, wish me luck!  

Rikki's Teleidoscope is hosting the Narnia Reading Project in 2012. I love this series and am way past due for a re-read so I'm going to join in! There is no schedule, so I will just post about the books as and when I read them! To sign up, use the link above :-)