Wednesday, 27 February 2013

February Goals & Challenge Update!

I really liked writing this in January and I find it really helpful to keep up with myself and where I'm going with everything, so here it is again. It will be long, it will be full of boring stats. You have been warned. :-D

So first up, goals:

  1. I'm still going strong with not buying myself any books. It's not been particularly difficult so far (although I have had a few wobbly moments), and I think a huge amount of that is down to my awesome library. Well done, library!
  2. In February I read none of the challenge books I already own. I have two lined up for March, though, so that should be good.
  3. Still haven't bought anything from Amazon. Still not tempted to.
  4. I signed up for RAK this month and (eventually, after much faffing around) sent a copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett to Maria. Nobody sent me anything this month but it was still great to send somebody else a book, as always :-) 
  5. I read no non-fiction this month, but in my defense I only finished two books which was totally crap anyway, so. 
  6. I haven't done the Classics Club meme this month, because... I don't know why. I just haven't. But I will in March, I promise!
  7. I have yet to go to a literary event, but I have my 10k run (well, walk really) for The National LIteracy Trust on March 24th which I'm both really excited and ridiculously nervous about, and I know it's not technically a literary event, but we're dressing up as Wally from Where's Wally and it's in aid of literacy, so I'm counting it! (p.s if you want to sponsor me you totally can, here, and I'm still selling books in aid of them, here)
  8. I didn't read the Mumsnet Book Club book this month as it was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the wait for it at the library was ridiculous. I will however be reading the March book as it's Jon McGregor's latest. So yay for that!
  9. I have massively failed at commenting on blogs and stuff this month. I've been reading, but I can never bring myself to try to comment when I'm reading on my phone as it has this stupid touch screen keypad and it take forever to write a sentence! So there's my excuse as to why I've not been around so much. I will try to do better in March!
Challenge Updates

I won't go through all of them as I've not read much this month, but I'm currently keeping up with the Graphic Novel Challenge and I've read my first book for the Wishlist Challenge (The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer). I also wrote my first review for the Telling Tales Challenge, so it wasn't a dead loss of a month! 

Hopefully by the end of March I'll be in a better place with my challenges!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Top Ten Authors I'd Put on my Auto-Buy List

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

This week's topic is Top Ten Authors I'd put on my Auto-Buy list. Basically it doesn't matter what they write, I read it. I have a fair few authors that I do this with, and I'm sure that there are more than the ones on this list! These ten are the creators of some of my very favourite things, and although a couple of them have had a couple of slip ups, I let them off because I love them. Seriously. Here's the ten:

  1. Scarlett Thomas - she is my favourite. Ever. Because of everything that she has ever written. (Except Bright Young Things, but we just don't mention that). Read all of her books. Now. 
  2. Neil Gaiman - there are actually a few of his books that I've not yet read. Mostly children's books, but also a couple of graphic novels - even some that I've had on the shelf for a couple of years! But the fact remains that I bought them. I always buy his books and I couldn't be more excited that his latest adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is FINALLY coming out later this year! Also he's written another episode of Doctor Who, for which I am forever thankful!
  3. Joanne Harris - Because Chocolat, and The Lollipop Shoes, and just when I thought she couldn't possibly do it again, Peaches for Monsieur le Cure. I admit I'm still unsure whether or not I want to read blueeyedboy, but I have it on my shelf. So. 
  4. Caitlin Moran - Still haven't got over the genius of the sage and onion stuffing paragraph in How to Be a Woman. I don't think I ever will. And Moranthology was pretty great too. She brightens up my Saturdays. 
  5. Erin Morgenstern - after The Night Circus, which is still pretty much my favourite book that I've ever read, ever, she could pretty much write anything and I would read it. Read The Night Circus. If you haven't read it, let me know and I'll probably buy you a copy. I feel that strongly about it. 
  6. J. Courtney Sullivan - Maine was brilliant, Commencement was brilliant. I love the way that she writes about relationships and I wish her books were more widely available over here. I had to order Commencement from the U.S!
  7. Terry Pratchett - is king of the world, pretty much. He's responsible for getting many of my family and my husband in to reading and he's so funny and just generally great. I will read anything that has his name on it. Always. 
  8. Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened was hilarious. Her blog is hilarious. If she writes it, I will read it. 
  9. Jodi Picoult - I like some of her books more than others, but I've never read one that I actively disliked. They're generally guaranteed to be gripping and thought-provoking and she's one of the only authors I will buy in hardback. 
  10. Sarah Addison Allen - her books are magical and full of food and great and I love them. Ridiculously excited for Lost Lake, coming out this year!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Excitement!

It's Sunday and I've decided to post a little bit of a weekly roundup type post. The most exciting thing that happened to me this week is that I found out yesterday that I get to be a giver for World Book Night

This awesome event is now in its' third year and the past two years I've been a spectator as other bloggers had their own giver adventures, but this year (as per my list of bookish resolutions!) I decided it was time to get involved. I'm giving away The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and I'm really excited and a little anxious, as a lot of people have said it's quite difficult to actually get people to accept the books! However, I'm hoping that my local ice cream parlour are going to let me 'set up shop' as such there for the day so that should be good :-) Also exciting is that Hanna and Laura are both going to be givers and I haven't read either of their books, so that's going to be my goal for between now and April 23rd!

Rhys has a couple of weeks holiday which started on Friday and it's been really nice to have him around and to be able to spend time together with Benji. Looking forward to lots more to come! This week I actually managed to get a review finished - of The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, which I really enjoyed. I've also been reading Maus by Art Spiegelman which has been a long time coming and which is really really great, but fairly depressing in places. I really do think that the graphic form is a great way to deal with difficult and heavy subjects, though as by definition it doesn't linger too much which means that you don't have time to get really bogged down and depressed. I'm hoping to finish it today and get a review up sometime in the next week. I'm also reading My Life in France by Julia Child which is lovely and actually has a really similar feel to Julie & Julia

I'm also knitting a couple of bits, which I'll got into more detail about over on my craft blog at some point this week too, but just quickly, I'm knitting myself my first ever jumper (the first I've knitted, not the first I've ever owned...) which is purple and gorgeous, and I'm knitting Benji a family of ducks for his first Easter. They're quite seriously cute if I do say so myself! We've also started baking lots again - I made Cherry Bakewell cupcakes from The Great British Bakeoff book (which I am seriously in love with) last week and they were great. I meant to take a photo but they were pretty much gone before I remembered! We're also planning to make lemon cupcakes tonight after the boy is in bed, which will be fun :-) 

So that's what I've been doing. How's everyone else? :-) 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review:- The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

I don't remember where it was that I first read about The Uncoupling, but I know it was somewhere in blog land. As with so many things on my wishlist, it was one I added on a whim after reading a great review of it somewhere, and I this is one of my favourite things about the effect of blogging on my reading. Although I'm thinking that next year I'm going to go challenge free just so as not to feel so guilty about my uncontrollable library splurges!

Anway, The Uncoupling was pretty great. I read it for The Wishlist Challenge, and now I want to read Lysistrata! It's set in a High School in a town called Stellar Plains and the basic plot is that when the new drama teacher decides to do Lysistrata as the end of year play (in which women withhold sex from the men as a way to stop a war), the women of Stellar Plains are struck down by a spell which makes them no longer want to have sex either. The results and rammifications of this are interesting and often amusing. 

The novel centres around Dory and Robby Lang,both of whom are teachers at the school, Fran Heller, the new drama teacher causing all the problems, and their children, Willa and Eli. I really enjoyed the novel as a whole and I liked the fact that Meg Wolitzer was actually addressing some really complex issues without making you feel like you were reading something deep. The tone of the novel was quite light and fairly humorous at times, and she got the voice of each of the many characters exactly right - they all felt really authentic to me. I know that sometime when I read books which have a lot of characters (and this does - besides the Langs and the Hellers, there are two other married couples, two other faculty members, and another teenagers, plus peripherals) and the author has got carried away with how many characters they have and not really bothered to fully develop them all or give them their own voices, but The Uncoupling definitely didn't have this problem! Instead of being mini love stories, because of the plot of the novel they are kind of anti love stories. Everybody in the novel starts off in a relationship of varying sorts, and then 'uncouples', and each uncoupling had its own unique feeling. All of the stories were really well developed and I got really engrossed in all of them.

I think that my favourite character in the novel, though, was Marissa Claybourne, Willa Lang's best friend. She's the smart, pretty, popular girl who knows about boys and is picked for the part of Lysistrata in the play. I think the reason that I liked her so much was because she's so unsure about things at the beginning and then so passionate and by the end she's really achieved a sense of self that she didn't have at the beginning. The way that she voiced her thoughts was sooo teenaged and reminded me a lot of my friends and I at a similar age.

I also love when I read a book and it seems like it's going to be quite lighthearted, and reads like quite a lighthearted read, but it's actually secretly thought-provoking and kind of intellectual. I don't know if it was just the setting of the novel or the fact that it was based around a play, but it felt 'smart' to me. I like to read books where books and readers are valued, and I felt that from this. 

Read for The Wishlist Challenge.
Borrowed from the library.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Classics Spin

Theoretically, I'm a pretty good member of The Classics Club. Like, I participate in the monthly meme and comment on other people's lists and reviews and stuff, I just suck at reading stuff that's actually on my list! The Club is doing a spin, whereby you list 20 books that you have yet to read from your list (if you want to see mine, it's in the tabs up top!) and then on Monday they post a random number and you have to read the book on your list which matches up to the number. Easy, right? And I'm a sucker for lists, so I was always going to do this! 

They say you have to list 5 books  you're dreading, 5 you can't wait to read, 5 you feel neutral about and then 5 free reads - in my case 4 rereads and one which is just calling to me. The idea is to challenge yourself, so in the interests of that, my list is thus:

5 Dreaded

  • Dr Zhivago - Boris Pasternak
  • Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  • The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall
  • A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  • Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
5 I Can't Wait to Read

  • The Beautiful and Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
  • The Hours - Michael Cunningham
  • The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
5 I am Neutral About

  • Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  • Robin Hood - Henry Gilbert
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
  • The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Professor - Charlotte Bronte
5 Freebies

  • Walden - Henry David Thoreau
  • The Children of the New Forest - Captain Marryat
  • Swallows & Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  • Charlotte's Web - E.B White
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor
And here's a random list all mixed up and stuff:
  1. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  2. The Scarlet Letter
  3. Walden
  4. Swallows & Amazons
  5. Doctor Zhivago 
  6. The Professor
  7. A Tale of Two Cities
  8. The Children of the New Forest
  9. Alice Through the Looking Glass
  10. The Master and Margarita
  11. Cold Comfort Farm
  12. The Well of Loneliness
  13. The Hours
  14. Roll of thunder, Hear my Cry
  15. Charlotte's Web
  16. Les Miserables
  17. Mrs Dalloway
  18. Robin Hood
  19. The Phantom Tolbooth
  20. The Beautiful and Damned
There are loads on here that I really wouldn't mind being voluntarily forced (yes, that's a thing!) to read. But please please not Les Mis! I have some kind of mental block when it comes to this book, and I should love it because I seriously have an obsession with the stage show. I have seen it in the West End a grand total of six times, and I'm not done yet, but I just. cannot. take. the book. :-/ So not 16, please!!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Rant

I love this blog primarily because it gives me the chance to express myself that I haven't really had since I stopped keeping a diary aged about fourteen. After the cleaner found it and quite probably read it, I didn't really feel safe committing my deepest feelings to paper and so I stopped until a couple of years ago, and although the blog really isn't a diary (maybe a reading one?) I do like the fact that I can occassionally have a bit of a rant about how life is going. 

At the moment, it's pretty crap to be honest. Way back last summer I had a short blogging break because of some family stuff that was going on. The situation is still ongoing, but we were learning to cope with it. This week something else happened that's thrown the cat in with the pigeons and left me feeling totally awful. Sorry to be so vague but in all honesty details don't particularly help :-( Suffice to say that something happened to a family member which I would never in a million years have imagined happening and there have been ramifications which have left me personally feeling really judged and scared and depressed. I just want to add that this is totally stupid because as far as I'm aware, I haven't done anything personally to make me feel that way, it's just that the whole situation is total bollocks and it's one of those which is really difficult to judge from the outside, but because of its nature, it is being judged by people who know only the bare minimum of facts and it makes me angry. 

Our life since May of last year seems to have been made up of waiting for other people's decisions about things that majorly affect us, and I thought we were over it all, but apparently not. I just wanted to ask you lovely lot to pray or keep your fingers crossed or whatever it is that you personally do, because if things don't get better soon I really don't know what I'm going to do. 

In happier news, I finished The Uncoupling yesterday and it was great, and I started reading My Life in France by Julia Child & Alex Prud'homme which is helping a little (as are long hot baths and copious amounts of Creme Eggs and hot chocolate!). I also started knitting my first ever jumper and made mushroom soup, so it's not all bad! 

Sorry to be on such a downer, I just needed to vent. I'll be happier next time I post, I promise!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Book & Film Review : - Beastly

If you're a regular reader (although what counts as regular at the moment? I seem to be posting about twice a month!), you'll know about my battle to read more YA. Regular readers will also be familiar with my slight obsession with fairytale retellings, and I've been trying to get both book and film of Beastly reviewed for about three weeks now, so here it is!

I had very different reactions to the book and the film, so I'll go with the good first. Alex Flinn, the author of Beastly, has also written other fairytale adaptations, and after reading this I'm quite interested to read them. I have to admit to approaching the book with trepidation, purely because it had the film tie-in cover, and I was (quite rightly, it turned out), worried the film would be crap. Anyway, the book, despite its cover, turned out to be brilliant :-) 
Basic synopsis (which is borrowed from Goodreads because my internet time and concentration are both severely limited and I was never good at writing synopsis anyway!):

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright--a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever--ruined--unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
Did I mention that I loved the book? Disney's Beauty and the Beast is pretty much my favourite film ever. It's the first film I ever saw in the cinema (I was four and had to sit on a pile of cushions in order to see the screen. It's a very strong memory), and I just... I don't know how to describe it. I think we should probably just sing about it instead (all together now 'Nooooo onnnnnnne's smart like Gaston'. Anyway, despite knowing the story pretty much backwards (that would be much less exciting), I found reading Beastly that the characters felt very fresh and I liked them for themselves rather than for the archetypes that they represented. I loved how sweet Kyle became by the end (sorry about the spoilers, but if you're not familiar with Beauty and the Beast by now, what the hell have you been doing with your life?!) - it wasn't just that he learned to love other people, but he became a totally different person while doing so and it was brilliant. The story also lends itself really well to having a teenage protagonist. The issues raised in it - beauty, popularity, love and so on - worked really well from a teen perspective and although I don't personally know anyone who has been turned into a beast (that I'm aware of, anyway!), I am far too familiar with people who think they own the world just because they're good looking. 

The love story was also really sweet and natural. 'Beauty' is Linda Adams, or Lindy, who lives with her drug addict father whom she takes care of, often getting herself into fairly dangerous situations. She comes to live with Kyle when he catches her father breaking into the greenhouse where he grows his roses (so sweet!), and he offers her his daughter in return for Kyle letting him go. The thing that I loved is that Kyle accepts the offer because he wants to save her from ending up in a worse place. At least he knows that this way she'll be safe. I never really got the whole 'I'm an asshole' thing from him that I do from the Beast in most other versions I've ever read or watched. Yeah he was a bit of an idiot in the beginning, but you could totally see how it stemmed from the fact that his dad basically doesn't care about him at all and was really more of a defensive strategy than anything else. 

In the film, none of this came across. Alex Pettyfer was kind of an idiot, and don't even get me started on Vanessa Hudgens. She was so far from how I imagined Lindy being it was just untrue. Also, that thing where they change really small things for no reason in an adaptation REALLY bugs me and they did it a lot in Beastly. About two seconds in they called Kyle 'Kyle Kingston', and pretty much from then on I was out. Even the appearance of Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle's blind tutor Will couldn't save it. I missed the magic mirror, which is included in the book in a fairly similar way to the Disney story but totally erased from the film, meaning that they had to change a few plot points around fairly majorly. The characters never really developed as much as they did in the book and they entirely removed the epic end scene that's in the book. Also, and most importantly, in the book Kyle is actually transformed into a beast, the same as in the various other versions, whereas in the film for some reason they'd just given him a bunch of tattoos, which while they weren't very pretty, didn't have the same effect at all. After all there are people in the world who choose to have tattoos and piercings all over their face. As far as I'm aware there's nobody who would volunteer to be a big hairy animal. I didn't hate the film so much as was just mildly irritated by it. It just seemed like every change they made was really unnecessary and I think the book as it was would have made a pretty good film, even with Vanessa Hudgens in it. Can you tell I don't like her?

So, to summarise, if you're going to do one, read the book. I wouldn't bother with the film unless you really have nothing better to do for a couple of hours. :-)

Friday, 1 February 2013

January Challenge & Goals Review

This is totally going to be boring for those who aren't me, you've been warned. I feel like I need to do a monthly tally of how my challenges are going and whether or not I'm sticking to my goals to make me feel all productive and stuff. Apologies for the total lack of reviews around here lately - I'm working on several but my brain is so scrambled with baby taking care of and waking up in the middle of the night and generally feeling crap lately that I just haven't managed to focus enough to finish any of them. Soon, I promise!

Anyway, I set a few goals for this year, and here's how I've done with them in January:
  • Go longer than 3 months and a week without buying any books for myself - well it's been a month and I have only bought a few books for Benji. Nothing at all for myself, so I'm proud :-) To be honest I haven't even been all that tempted to buy, just by the library. Seriously, I have a ridiculous amount of library books out at the moment. It's a little obscene...
  • Go a year without buying anything from Amazon - Done. Easy.
  • Read more non-fiction than last year - I haven't read any this month (I don't think...), but just started a couple of parenting books, so there's that. Oh, and The Library Book which I'm in the middle of at the moment and which is brilliant and you should all buy it because it's full of awesome essays about the greatness that is libraries and profits go to The Reading Agency, so that's good.
  • Complete all challenges signed up for - see below
  • Participate in RAK every month - I signed up in Janaury but time got away from me and I didn't actually manage to send anything. I WILL do better in February!

Challenge progress:
(Just a note, the challenges I've signed up for mostly require me to read 12 books, so I should be reading 1 book per month for most of them. In this I have hugely failed and probably will continue to do so..)
  • TBR Pile Challenge - so far I've not read a single book for this. I will this month though, really... *shifty eyes*
  • Translation Challenge - again, none read yet. I am kind of making my way through The Annotated Brothers Grimm though, so I might finish that this month. And then I'm starting a course on the Ancient Greeks in March which I have to read excerpts of The Odyssey for, so I might just bite the bullet and finally read the whole thing.
  • Young Adult Reading Challenge  - not read anything yet, but I am feeling some John Green so I will definitely be reading something for this in February!
  • Telling Tales Challenge - finally some progress! I've actually read three books for this so far but only reviewed one. I reviewed Volume 8 of the Fables series, which I loved and it seriously sucks that I have to wait till my birthday to get the next one due to silly buying ban, but there we go. I also read Snow White and watched Mirror Mirror (which was awesome, I'm in the middle of my review at the moment!), and read Beastly by Alex Flinn, which I really enjoyed in spite of myself, and then I watched the film last night which I thought pretty much sucked - Neil Patrick Harris excepted, obviously. What is the deal with changing stupid tiny little things for no reason at all in adaptations? Why do they do that? It seriously drives me a little mad..
  • Graphic Novel Challenge  - on target for this one too as obviously Wolves by Bill Willingham counts for that! In February I'll probably read Neil Gaiman's Eternals.
  • Wishlist Challenge - I'm in the middle of The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer and previously mentioned The Library Book, both for this challenge, and both of which are great. I have to say this is possibly my favourite challenge of this year, as it's all books that I've really wanted to read for a while, and prompts me to get off my arse and actually order them in to the library!
  • Essay Reading Challenge -although I've not completed anything for this yet, The Library Book will count as it's pretty much all essays, and I've also started I Remember Nothing by the great Nora Ephron.
All in all I think I've had a pretty good January, considering that my reading rate is so totally crap at the moment!
Here's what I read:

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
The Yorkshire Pudding Club by Milly Johnson
Fables Volume 8: Wolves by Bill Willingham
Beastly by Alex Flinn
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Just about more than a book a week!

The Telling Tales Challenge - February Link Up!

We seem to have got off to a flying start already in 2013 with loads of reviews posted in January! If you want to check out what people have been reading, you can do so here, or the master list for this year is here. You can still sign up to join us in reading any and all fairytale related things here, and if you know of any fairytale challenges or events, please let me know about them! 

If you want to talk about the challenge on twitter, use #ttchallenge, or tag me in (@fairybookgirl). Happy reading!