Thursday, 20 February 2014

Valentine's Ninja Book Swap AWESOMES

So the Valentine's Ninja Book Swap happened. It was the biggest one so far thanks to the awesomeness of Twitter, and obviously that's meant it's thrown up a few new problems we'd not anticipated, but really, in light of the fact that participation levels have tripled since the Halloween Swap, not as many as expected. The very vast majority of people seem to have had a brilliant swap, which I love. It's so nice to see people 'meet' new bloggers and making new friends as well as getting some lovely stuff. 

Speaking of which, I signed up to send and receive two parcels this time, and as the second on arrived today I decided now was the time to show you all my goodies! 
**WARNING** My parcels were particularly great and you will be jealous. I'm kind of sorry, but not that sorry, because... they're great :-p 

Parcel 1, from Sheli of Sheli Reads turned up in the middle of a storm and brightened up my day immeasurably! 

Contents: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (which I'm already half way through and it's amazing!), The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, an awesome Alice in Wonderland card which I am actually in love with, 2 creme caramel tea bags, which we've tried one of and which are lovely, a bar of gorgeous chocolate, a Wuthering Heights lined notebook which I'm planning to use as a review notebooks, and mini lovehearts, refreshers and fizzers :-D I may have slightly eaten to lovehearts and refreshers and half the chocolate within about ten minutes of the parcel arriving. I regret nothing. 

And parcel 2 from lovely Nahree of Etudesque was waiting for me when I got home from work today. 

Apologies for the not great photography but I was really excited to get this post up and show you all my things :-) The note in this was sealed with gold wax (how cool!) and the books were wrapped prettily and the tea was in lovely coloured tissue paper, but I was in a rush, like I said, so you don't get a photo of the before pretties I'm afraid! Nahree wrote a really lovely note with a little contents list of what was inside, and drew hints on the front of each mystery book, which made it really fun to open! 

Here's what I got, in case you can't see:
- Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
- The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
- 'Blue eyes' black tea mix from a local to her tea shop, which I'm drinking as I write this and it is gorgeous. I may be employing her as my new tea supplier :-p 
- Ferrero Rocher chocolate, which is one of the best chocolates ever!
- Some beautiful stationery that I didn't photograph at all well, but it's cream and gold and so so pretty :-) 
- Sweethearts & Skittles, which I'm excited about. Skittles I love, but sweethearts I've never had until now and they're awesome!
- A lemon bar snack, just in case all the sweets weren't enough :-) 

Thank you so much to both of my lovely swappers, you have both made my swap amazing and actually made me feel better about the state of the world in general knowing that there are such lovely people out there!

If you took part in the swap and have blogged about it don't forget you can link up your post here and if you'd like to take part in the next swap in June and want a reminder email closer to the time, send us an email at ninjabookswap(at)outlook(dot)com! 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Love Being a Reader/Book Blogger

I love the topic for this week, and although I don't always take part in Top Ten Tuesday I couldn't resist making a list for this topic! 

In case you're not aware, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we make a top ten list based around a different bookish theme and it's a great way to find new blogs and be inspired!

There are a LOT of reasons I love being a reader, and a lot of reasons I love being a book blogger, so getting them down to ten could be tough... Here goes!

1. I love being a reader because it doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing, reading transports me. I can be alone, miles from home, having the worst day ever and I know that if I have the right book with me, it will help me and comfort me almost as much as having a friend or family member there could. And if that sounds lame, I don't care because...

2. I love being a reader because it's my thing. Everybody who's known me a while know that I read a lot and own a ridiculous amount of unread books. They've started coming to me for recommendations and I love it :-) 

3. I love being a reader because it makes me smarter. I've lost count of the amount of times I've been able to answer pub quiz questions or spout obscure facts that I've read somewhere. Obviously, it's the important things in life :-p 

4. I love being a reader because I love the possibilities. I collect books like some people collect art or whatever. I love the feeling of finding a new book to read and looking through my shelves and seeing all the things I could possibly read if I wanted to, and 

5. I love being a reader because I love that I'm creating possibilities for other people. There is nothing I love more than people coming to my house and looking through my shelves and finding things they want to read that they had no idea even existed. 

6. I love being a reader because I love sharing my love of books with my son. It's amazing to me to see how his own love of stories is growing daily. He sits and 'reads' his books by himself now, turning the pages and everything, and brings me his favourites to read to him. At the moment he giggles from start to finish of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy and adores We're Going on a Bear Hunt. 

7. I love being a book blogger because I love having a space to talk about books, where nobody judges me for being a huge geek and getting really over-involved in the storyline and talking about characters as if they were real. 

8. I love being a book blogger because I have met some of my favourite people through blogging, and I never expected that to happen. 

9. I love being a book blogger because it's allowed me a space to create some brilliant things, most recently the Ninja Book Swap! Although Hanna and I are still sorting out a few  issues this latest one has thrown up, it's been an amazing success so far and it just makes me so happy that there are such lovely people in the world who want to send complete strangers pretty parcels. 

10. I love being a book blogger because I'm totally socially awkward and through the internet I'm able to talk to people (publishers, authors etc) who I would never normally think of approaching, and engage with other book bloggers with way more confidence than I would face to face. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham

For those who have no idea what Fables is (and if this is you, why??) the basic idea is that all of the fairytale characters you've ever heard of (and the ones you haven't) have fled their homelands during a war with an enemy known as the Adversary, and are now living in a new Fabletown, in New York. That was the premise in the beginning, anyway. A lot has happened since then. 

I was a little bit confused at the beginning of this volume, because I haven't yet started the Jack of Fables series, and so I felt a bit like I was missing some information. I do plan to get to the series at some point, but as Jack pops in and out of the main Fables storylines, I wasn't completely adrift, and I still have seven volumes of Fables to go (and I'm pretty sure there'll be at least one more before it ends next year), and two of Bill Willingham's new series, Fairest, so it might be a while!

This latest volume takes place after all the drama with the Adversary is over, after the battle of Fabletown, and it has a new (ish) villain and a cast of characters in the form of the Literals, who are embodiments of ideas and thoughts rather than fairytale characters of imagination, like most of the fables. The plot is pretty similar to a lot of the preceeding volumes; various fable characters (this time Bigby and Snow White along with a few others) set off on a mission to defeat an enemy who threatens their very existence. Things happen along the way... But somehow, despite its slightly formulaic approach, The Great Fables Crossover manages to have characters you want to read about and be unpredictable enough to keep you hooked right until the end. 

As a whole, I love this series, but I do go up and down with how much I enjoy individual volumes. Some just aren't as gripping as others, but I would say that on the whole this was one of my more favoured ones. The plot is strong and I really enjoy the way that Willingham and his collaborators weave narratives together - one of my favourite things about the Fables series is that unexpected people keep turning up and the story is continually taking unexpected turns. While I don't love it as much as I loved the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, it's definitely a very close second and a brilliant addition to my fairytale reading. Plus it goes really well with Season One of Once Upon a Time, which we're catching up with on Lovefilm at the moment!

I have a hard time writing about Fables as a series, purely because I like it so much and I want everybody to go out and read it so we can talk about it now, please? And I don't want to ruin it at all for you, so I try to talk about it without talking about specifics, which makes it difficult to talk about at all, really. All I can say is, I'd like Rose Red back now, please. Enough moping already! 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Babies, Books and Things

I've been awol for a little bit, which has partly to do with doing a lot of tweeting about the Ninja Book Swap, partly to do with doing a lot of crafting and so not having that much time to read, and partly to do with sheer laziness... This week I finished Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson, which was good and I've started writing a review of it which I will finish this week. Really I will. I also started reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the Classics Spin, and so far it's going better than expected. I remember liking it when I read it last in school, but I actually remember nothing else about it whatsoever, so it's kind of like reading it for the first time, and it's been easy reading so far. As some relief from mental breakdown I'm also reading The Great Fables Crossover (volume 13 in the Fables series) by Bill Willingham, which was my Valentine's/ anniversary present from Rhys, and which is, as usual with the Fables series, also really good. 

Because my sister and her boyfriend were down for the weekend, we actually got to go out by ourselves during the evening yesterday and went to the cinema for the first time in like a year. We saw The Monuments Men and it was brilliant. I don't talk about films too much here usually but this film is just amazing. If you have any interest in history or culture or just a really cool story (or George Clooney) you should definitely see it!

So the most important news is that I'm now nearly 22 weeks pregnant and a couple of weeks ago I had my 20 week scan and found out that I'm having another boy! :-) I waited till now to announce it here (and haven't got around to scanning my scan pictures in yet so there's not a picture at the moment) because we had to go back today for a rescan as they couldn't see certain important bits last time and needed to check everything was ok, but this morning the baby was very well behaved and showed them everything they needed to tick off and everything is going really well so far, except that my knee has randomly buggered up this afternoon and I can't crouch, but you know, I'm sure I'll be fine.. 

There's probably not going to be a huge amount going on here over the next week or two. I have a few posts planned and will hopefully get a review or two finished, but if you want to check out what I'm doing instead, head over to my Etsy shop or my Facebook page!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Classics Club Spin: Result!

I posted my list for the Classics Club spin a while back, and on Monday they gave us the number which was 20, which means that I got The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which was one of my free choice books. 

I now have to read it by 2nd April, which should be fine as I've already started. It will definitely be interesting to read, as the last time I read it I was about 15 and in the midst of my 'I hate Sylvia Plath' phase. It took me years to be able to appreciate her poetry as more than just whinging, but I actually liked The Bell Jar despite all of this the first time round, so it will be interesting to see what I think this time! 

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Classics Spin

I signed up for The Classics Club what feels like a really long time ago, and I've done really badly with my list so far. Last time I participated in the spin, I got Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and it was great to actually be able to cross something off of the list! I made the list because I wanted to read all of the books, but I constantly find myself bypassing them in favour of exciting sparkly things which come my way, so this is what I need to give me a kick up the bum! 

The idea of the spin is this: 
You make a list of 20 books from your list (5 that you're dreading, 5 you're dying to read, 5 you're neutral about and 5 and post them on your blog, numbered 1-20. Next Monday 10th February the Classics Club will post a number and you have to read the book which corresponds to that number on your list during February & March. 

My list is as follows:

Five I'm dreading: 
1. The Aeneid - Virgil
2. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
3. The Water Babies - Charles Kingsley
4. The Pickwick Papers  - Charles Dickens
5. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Five I'm Excited About:
6. A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
7. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
8. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. The Hours  - Michael Cunningham
10. Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Five I'm Neutral About:
11. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
12. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
13. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
14. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
15. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

Five Free Choice (ReReads):
16. Charlotte's Web - E.B White
17. Swallows and Amazons  - Arthur Ransome
18. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
19. Let the Circle Be Unbroken - Mildred D. Taylor
20. The Bell Jar  - Sylvia Plath

Whatever number the spin turns up it will be great to be able to cross another book off of the list! :-) 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

#readwomen2014: My favourites

Because I've been ridiculously caught up in organising the Valentine's Ninja Book Swap I somehow missed out on the #readwomen2014 thing that's been going on on Twitter. Not sure how I did that, but anyway I've done a little reading about it and it sounds brilliant! I know I read a fair amount of books by women anyway, but I feel that lately I spend a lot of time talking about sexism and inequality and that this would be something active to do. I came up with a little twitter list off the top of my head of female authors I'd recommend, but it got me wanting to go and look at my keeper shelf and see which women I actually love too much to part with.

The twitter list was as follows: Scarlett Thomas, Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Erin Morgenstern, Angela Carter.

Here's what my shelves say are my favourites:

1. Louisa May Alcott - no surprises here but I think everybody should probably read at least Little Women, if not the three sequels. Personally I love them all but I know that other people (hi Laura!) disagree! Little Women is the most comforting of all the books I own and I will never stop loving it. Her other books - that I've read so far anyway! - are also generally pretty good :-) 
2. Sarah Addison Allen - a discovery I made since I started blogging. Her books are lovely - full of magic and food and recipes (love a book with recipes) and women who are generally fairly awesome. They're kind of just about things that happen to people every day, but with a bit of magic thrown in, and gorgeous covers.
3. Kate Atkinson - just the Jackson Brodie books at the moment, but I'm sure that will change! I read Behind The Scenes at the Museum and although I can't now tell you what it was about I remember it being totally brilliant, because I found it on the 'literary fiction' shelf in my then local bookshop around the time when everybody was talking about how literary Ian McEwan (whose books I mostly hate, sorry) was and she is so much more accessible than him!!
4. Margaret Atwood - I have a lot on my TBR and have read a lot from the library, but The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace I had to go out and buy after I'd read them because they were just so good. I think Margaret Atwood might be the queen of clever, complex female characters and of exploring social issues through her fiction without making you feel like she's pushing her own agenda. 
5. Joanne Harris - again, lots of food and magic and generally awesome characters. I love her writing, and how strong but also flawed her female characters are. Vianne is great. 
6. Zoe Heller - I read Notes on a Scandal after seeing the film and immediately went and got her other books, because she is a writer who tells not so beautiful stories in a beautiful way. Definitely worth reading. 
7. Harper Lee - If you've read To Kill a Mockingbird I probably don't have to explain why she's here. If you haven't, go and do it now.
8.Jodi Picoult - In all honesty the reason I've kept so many of her books is because a lot of them have incredibly gripping storylines. Of late I've felt a bit like she gets carried away with whatever issue it is she's addressing in her books, but in the past the storyline was the thing. Particularly Plain Truth, Salem Falls and Mercy. 
9. J.K Rowling - she has a place on this list at the moment thanks to the awesome genius of Harry Potter. I've not yet read The Casual Vacancy or the other one (whose name currently escapes me) she published under a pen name, but I've heard mixed things about both of them. I will read them at some point, though, because I've always wondered if she's actually a good writer or just a woman who had a bloody brilliant idea. 
10. Scarlet Thomas - Scarlet Thomas is the writer I constantly recommend to people. If I had to pick one woman writer to recommend to people for the rest of all time, it would probably be her. I adore her books (except Bright Young Things which was only ok) because I relate so much to her characters and I love how they all have a science/maths/mystery type twist to them. She writes very clever fiction for the most part, and I look forward to everything she publishes. 
11. The Brontes - I know it's kind of awful and cheaty to put three great writers into one sentence, but actually I've only read one book by each of them (obviously there is only one book by Emily, but you know) at the moment, and of course I love Jane Eyre, but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was so much better than I expected it to be and actually hilarious in places. Probably my favourite classic I've read recently. 
12. Erin Morgenstern - shouldn't probably be on here yet as she's only written one novel, but it was far and away the best novel I've read in the last two years. The Night Circus is brilliant and stunning and full of amazing magic. It makes you want to go and live there, no matter how many times you read it, and her description is so vivid you can almost smell the popcorn. 
13. J. Courtney Sullivan - I wasn't sure about putting her on here, but in the end I loved Maine so much I have to. She writes about relationships really, but generally the ones that get overlooked. Her latest novel, The Engagements was about a woman in advertising who writes the adverts for diamond engagement rings, while never actually getting married herself. Her stories are interesting, and usually not quite what you're expecting. 
14. Jane Austen - Because she has to be on here, really. I've enjoyed, at varying levels, all of her books, and Pride and Prejudice is probably one of my favourites. Unexpectedly I also really liked Emma. She isn't the greatest or my favourite, but she is undoubtedly a great female writer. 
15. Catherynne M. Valente - So far I've only read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There but just wow. Such cool, quirky 'Alice in Wonderland' style stories, and I love September. I can't think of a stronger, cooler girl role model in kids fiction in recent years. 

So that's my list, and because I'm obsessed with lists I'm now going in search of lists of awesome books by women so that I can make yet more lists of things to read! What are your favourites?