Friday 26 August 2011

Review: - Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

In the interest of full disclosure, let me just say that I read Hanna’s review of Black Swan Rising before I had actually started the novel. Although I try not to let other people’s opinions influence my reading of books, I did agree with many of the point she made about this one. I did enjoy the novel, but parts of it weren’t quite enough for me. Personally, I’m massively interested in jewellery design – it was the thing I wanted to do at college but couldn’t face asking my parents to pay the stupidly huge studio and use of equipment fees – and I would have loved it if the book were a little more centred around that. As it was, Garet’s jewellery design business seemed nothing more than a premise to kick the action off, and after that it just became a sort of ‘by the way’. I wouldn’t have minded this so much if the blurb hadn’t made such a big deal of her being a jewellery designer –it made it seem like jewellery design would be integral to the story, and it just wasn’t.
The novel opens with Garet James on her way home to her father after hearing from their lawyer that they are in such bad debt that they are in danger of losing their home, which also doubles as an art gallery, Garet’s workshop, and their major source of income. Sheltering from rain, she finds herself in an antique jewellers shop, where a mysterious old man presents her with a sealed silver box with a seal which matches the pattern on her signet ring. Intrigued, she takes the box, promising to open and return it. Later that evening, she returns home and manages to open the box, somehow causing the contents to burn up, leaving only the name Will Hughes recognisable. Later that night, the house is broken into by terrifying men, who steal some paintings from the gallery, and escape through her skylight, taking the silver box and leaving her father wounded. With her father in hospital, Garet gets in touch with Will Hughes – a millionaire hedge fund manager whose company, Black Swan Partners, bears a logo of the same image as that on the box and her ring. She hopes that Hughes can help her find out who is behind the robbery, but what he really does is open the door to a whole new world for Garet...
I have to say, I kind of hated the character of Will Hughes. Like Hanna, I really didn’t see the point of him, and it kind of seemed like Carroll was trying to do a bit of a Twilight on me. I just don’t buy that all vampires are that sexy. The Cullen family are enough, no more please. Get a new love interest. Eurgh. It was odd, because I really liked the way that mythology and fairyland were incorporated into the story as a whole. I enjoyed the character of Oberon and lot, and also Ariel and Melusina were quite cool. I also liked the whole idea of Garet’s ancestors having passed on this task of being the Watchtower to her, but I have to say I didn’t really like her all that much. I have this thing, sometimes, where I just don’t believe a character – whatever they say, whatever they do, they just never quite become three dimensional for me, and that’s what happened with both Garet and Will. The only characters who really came alive for me, oddly enough, were Jay and Becky, Garet’s best friends. Maybe because they were the ones to whom traits of humanity were attributed – they are the ones who suffer for Garet, who help her through the death of her mother, who stay with her after the robbery and visit her father in hospital, and who just support her through everything she does, no matter how crazy. I think the major thing about the book was that I really wanted Garet and Jay to get together, and for her to stop being so completely self absorbed that she just didn’t care about her ‘best friend’s pain, and kept running off with some guy who basically had no personality, because let’s face it, nothing seemed to matter to her except that he was goodlooking. Bleh.
Having said all that, I did enjoy reading the book, and I finished it wanting to read the next in the series, despite thinking that I’ll probably feel let down by it, just by virtue of it being about Garet trying to find Will Hughes (what’s up with the continual use of both of his names, too?). I do wish that they’d used more of the swan mythology that was vaguely present throughout the novel, and I hope that the next novel will develop the mythological aspect of the story a bit more, because then I think I could really enjoy it. I really did, except for the niggling things which bothered me about it. Basically put, it had great potential, but didn’t quite live up to it for me.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Review:- East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This is the third Classics Circuit Tour I’ve participated in, and I’m ridiculously glad I discovered it. Every book I’ve read for a tour has not only been one that’s been sat on my shelves for far too long but has also been a book I’ve loved. This is exactly what happened with East of Eden.
Prior to this, the only Steinbeck I’d read was Of Mice and Men, which was unlike anything else I’d ever read in its’ depth of character and setting, not to mention the masterful build up of tension. It lulled me into a false sense of security and then knocked me for six; I had to go back and re-read the ending three times before I could fully take it in. Given that Of Mice and Men is so very short though, I was unsure about Steinbeck’s ability to immerse me in landscape and story over a longer period of time, but I shouldn’t have been.
A basic synopsis of East of Eden would be that it tells the story of the Hamilton’s and the Trask's, and their lives in the Salinas Valley. It is the tale of unlikely friendships and unnatural actions, and is pretty much a study of all the weird and wonderful things human beings do.
Steinbeck is a brilliant and beautiful writer – possibly the most beautiful writer I have ever read, and I know people take issue with him for not writing about happy stuff, and for writing about ‘abnormal’ people, but for me it’s the emotion and the struggle which makes his writing so raw and cleansing to read. After finishing this novel, I am desperate to read more Steinbeck, which is odd because when I was younger, I started The Grapes of Wrath several times but could never get past the first few pages, and I also started East of Eden twice before finally settling down to it. I feel like reading Steinbeck is something you really have to commit to and focus on, because once I did that, it suddenly got really good.

East of Eden is basically about life in small town America, and Steinbeck portrays the history of the country through his characters. War is present in East of Eden, but it is removed from the story by virtue of letters. Adam serves in the army and hates it. He doesn’t understand the point of killing, and so it’s ironic that he is then suckered in by Cathy Ames; murderess, adulteress, and at the very least, sociopath. At the heart of the story lie Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask, but the reason for the story to be told at all, and the primary motivation for much of what many of the characters suffer and do, is Cathy – both her presence, and the fallout it creates.
Following the death of her parents in a thinly veiled arsonous house fire, Cathy becomes the mistress of a brothel owner, thinking she can make him do what she wants, but when he sees through her she finds herself badly beaten and in need of help. Injured, she drags herself to the doorstep of Charles and Adam Trask. Charles remains suspicious, but Adam takes pity on her and nurses her back to health, eventually marrying her. Adam and Cathy relocate to the Salinas Valley, where Cathy gives birth to twins, eventually named Caleb and Aron, before leaving them and their father for good. She goes on to commit many other heinous acts, without a single moment of redemption. She does provide the counterpoint for judgement of all the other characters in the novel, all of whom are flawed, but none to such a chronically soulless extreme as Cathy. The way that Adam and his sons never stop wanting her, while she barely thinks of them and has no qualms about how much she hurts them, was painful. Towards the end of the novel Adam is finally freed from her hold over him, and I nearly cheered.
For me, possibly the most important relationship in the novel, though, was the relationship between first Samuel Hamilton, and later Adam Trask and Lee. Lee is an educated Chinese man with a capacity for logic and the dream of some day owning a bookstore, in a period where most Americans apparently expected the opposite to be the case. He is the glue holding the Trask family together. When Adam fall apart after Cathy leaves, it is Lee who raises the boys, and Samuel Hamilton who knocks sense back into Adam and makes him behave like a father.
Interestingly, Samuel Hamilton was a real person; John Steinbeck’s maternal grandfather, and Steinbeck himself makes a (very) brief appearance in the novel. The inspiration for the novel apparently came from the book of Genesis, from the story of Cain and Abel. This is mentioned in the novel, and Adam is quite rightly dubious about the overtones suggested if he calls his children Cain and Abel, although this cleverly does rear its head throughout Caleb and Aron’s relationship, and have a brilliant bearing on the ending. It is noteworthy, though that their initials are still C and A. The religious template ties in with first Adam, and then Cal’s striving for forgiveness and acceptance, and also with the struggles in the relationship of the twins.
It’s not a book that makes you want to read it for its happiness, but one that absorbs you in the lives and troubles of its characters and leaves you hoping against hope that the good in the characters will win out. It shows the struggles of real, flawed people, and I think that’s what made the book so thoroughly enjoyable for me.
Thanks again to Rebecca at the Classics Circuit for hosting such brilliant events, and keeping classics on our TBR's! My companions today are Laura's Reviews and The Blue Bookcase, so if you haven't been following the tour so far, start now! :-)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I Loved but Didn't Review

It's been ages since I've done a Top Ten Tuesday, and since I'm not in work till later today, I thought I'd put my time to good use! Here are my top ten books I read and didn't review - most are pre-blogging but not all!

1.       To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I first read this when I was around 11 and fell in love with it. I re-read it about eight times before I had to study it for GCSE when I was 15, and then didn’t read it for years because my copy was impossibly annotated and highlighted. Last year I finally got myself a new copy and fell in love all over again.
2.       Harry Potter by J.K Rowling – I have talked about these books on the blog, as they’re such a part of my life now. When the first one came out, I was still young enough (just) for bedtime stories, and my mum used to read them to us. Now they’re my lifeline and the books I turn to whenever times are stressful. I’ve been waiting for my Hogwarts letter since I was 11...
3.       Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger – I first read this age 14, and literally ran around telling everyone who would listen that Holden and I were exactly the same. Aaah to be a teenager... I then passed it on to my younger sisters, who all loved it!
4.       The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I read this book in college, and didn’t even have to check it out.
5.       Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – a recent discovery, I just never quite got around to reviewing it, but I am now firmly in loved with Addison Allen’s books. The mixture of food, magic, and romance is just irresistible to me.
6.       Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas – and anything by Scarlett Thomas at all, really. I picked up The End of Mr Y at Borders (when it was still around in the UK!), on a whim, and haven’t looked back. Our tragic universe is probably my favourite purely by virtue of being the least scienc-ey of her recent novels. Also, it has knitting in it, and at the time I read it I was just getting into knitting.
7.       Ravenheart by David Gemmell – this is the book that gave my siblings and I something to talk about, back in the distant past, where we really really hated each other... I have Gemmell to thank for the fact that at least two of my very dyslexic siblings read at all, and his characters are just so immense. This is the book that breaks my heart a little bit every time I read it, but I can’t help coming back for more!
8.       The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – the first book recommended to me by my dad when I was about 10. This is a big deal, as my dad doesn’t really read fiction, and this book made me laugh out loud from the first page to the last. Still a favourite today and one I recommend to everyone. I found out the other day my fiancé hasn’t read it, so he’s reading it now, in time for the wedding....
9.       The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien – Another dad recommendation. He tried to read us Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story after The Hobbit was fairly successful (I say fairly – I enjoyed it, but thought it was about a worm.. In my defence, I was four). The bedtime project never quite took off but when I was around 11 I read them for myself and now they are a firm favourite.
10.   Wild Swans by Jung Chang – after saying my dad doesn’t read, this was another one he recommended. I’m really interested in Chinese history, and he’d just finished this and passed it onto me when I was about 14. I love the way that it spans three generations and brings them together. Just beautiful.

Sunday 21 August 2011

The Sunday Salon - Wedding Countdown!

Happy Sunday all. We're now into the last three weeks before the wedding and my previous 'relax, it'll all turn out fiiiiine' attitude is morphing into something comparitively like stress. I'm suddenly realising that I may actually want my wedding to be perfect - a fact that I've been vigorously denying up until now. All my life I've rebelled against being particularly girly, and that includes getting all screamy and pink and fluffy about the wedding. Obviously I'm excited. Obviously it will be one of the most important days of my life so far, but I'm really not into all the mushy yucky stuff. Up until now I've been really quite laid back about the whole thing. Basically, the vast majority of the important people in my life are going to be there, even to the extent of flying in from Australia for it, and if they're all there and my fiance is there, then I figured there wasn't too much else to worry about, but now suddenly I find myself worrying about my shoes not being quite right, and whether the chairs will be ok. So to bring myself back down to earth I'm going to do a sum up of my book related activity for July and August. After the wedding, I do feel like I'll be entering a new phase of my life, and so I'm trying to get myself all up to date with everything before then, including reviews and stuff. Currently I'm incredibly behind in my reviews, so wish me luck!

This week I have read:
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett - a few months ago the blogosphere was absolutely raving about this, so I was intrigued. The issues it addresses interested me and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I was up until 2am last night finishing it, because I just couldn't put it down!
  • Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan - the second in the series, the Percy Jackson books are a little immature but I'm loving them anyway!
  • Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia by Chris Stewart
I have currently reviewed none of these titles!! So far in August I've reviewed:
  • The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark for the Transworld Book Group and the Historical Fiction Challenge
  • How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - one of my absolute favourite books of the year so far!
  • Bake Sale by Sara Varon, a gorgeous children's graphic novel with recipes!
So I know, I've been terrible at reviewing this month. I blame wedding stress and work and hopefully I'll be better after September 10th!

If you've stuck with me this far, thank you! This may be when you want to leave us though, as I'm about to list my acquisitions for July and August. I think I may need to start joining in with In My Mailbox, as this always ends up being a huge and horrendous list, which I mostly compile to attempt to scare myself into buying less books. It never works *sigh*.

In July:

Second Hand
  • The Giant Book of Lost Worlds
  • Join Me by Danny Wallace (because he is laugh out loud on the train hilarious)
  • Body Surfing by Anita Shreve (because I've still not read any of her books!)
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  • Farmhouse Cookery - one of those gigantic big old school cookery books with recipes for the most miscellaneous stuff involving copious amounts of dripping. Love.
  • The Truth by Terry Pratchett - my favourite Discworld novel, which I didn't own, so had to buy.
  • Guardian of the Horizon by Elizabeth Peters - if anybody hasn't read the Amelia Peabody series and is a fan of detective type fiction, you definitely should. They have the advantage of being both hiliarious and interesting as well as dramatic, and you never see them second hand. Like, ever.
  • Curse of the Pharoahs by Elizabeth Peters - see above!
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne - part of my stockpiling for future generations of the family. Also, my fiance never had the benefit of A.A. Milne's brilliant poetry as a child, so I'm educating him now.
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne - because it's been years since I read it.
  • The Looney by Spike Milligan
  • Wizards: A History by P.G Maxwell- Stuart
  • The Complete Short Stories by Franz Kafka
  • About a Boy by Nick Hornby - despite him being one of my favourite authors, I didn't actually own any of his books aside from The Complete Polysyllabic Spree. Time to rectify that.
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - because Rhys hadn't read it, and everybody should.
  • Quest for Lost Heroes by David Gemmell - because it's rare for me to find a Gemmell I don't own in a charity shop, so when I do, I grab them!
  • Bloodstone by David Gemmell - see above
  • Waylander by David Gemmell
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
From ReaditSwapit:
  • Snow White, Blood Red by Terri Windling & Ellen Datlow
  • Gaglow by Esther Freud
  • The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • Biblioholism by Tom Raabe
  • Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
  • The Wonderful Weekend Book by Elspeth Thompson
  •  Bake Sale by Sara Varon
  • How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (birthday present from Hana at Booking in Heels)
  • These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
  • Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman
And my most overly exciting book of July was a gift from my future father-in-law of an 1860's edition of Jo's Boys by Louisa Alcott. It's obviously a bit faded and has serious old book smell, which I love, and it's illustrated!!
That was possibly the longest list EVER, even for me and my list obsessiveness. I won't detail what I've got in August, except to say that so far it's a grand total of twelve books... nowhere near the THIRTY FIVE which came into the house in July!!

So I'm definately going to start doing this on a weekly basis....

Anybody else got any interesting books in the past couple of months/weeks?

Monday 15 August 2011

Review: - The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

The Sandalwood Tree is the first of my four books that I’m reading for the Transworld Book Group Challenge. Probably because of this, at least in part, I've been seeing a lot of reviews of it lately, so I hope this one will add to an already large barrage of people extolling the virtues of this book, and convince you to read it!

The focal topic of the novel is India under British rule, and it covers the stories of three British women living in India almost 100 years apart. Evie Mitchell goes to India with her husband, Martin, who is studying for a PhD in 1947, just as the British are preparing to leave India for good. She hopes that travelling with her husband will somehow fix their marriage which has been demolished by the psychological after effects of the Second World War.  Behind a brick in her kitchen wall, she discovers the letters of two Victorian women, Felicity and Adela, and becomes fascinated by their story.
The novel parallels both British and Indian society in 1857 and in 1947. The essential message I took away from it was that in 100 years, the British in India (and in this I stress I don’t mean either the British or Indian people, but the beaurocracy) hadn’t changed or evolved at all. Both stories just reeked of colonialism and the British obsession with the Empire. Although Evie and Martin are Americans, I often forgot this and was surprised when Evie was so judgemental of the British women at the club, who really reminded me of the women in Kipling’s The Man Who would Be King, which I struggled through earlier this year.  Throughout the novel Evie struggles to come to terms with India; with the prejudice that her son is learning through the violent incidents which take place, including a couple of really quite disturbing incidents, with the attitudes of the British women and the way that racism is inherent to the culture of the British in India, and with her own lack of freedom, both in society and within her marriage. 
There was so much going on in The Sandalwood Tree, and I absolutely loved how fast paced and full of energy it was. Elle Newmark’s writing was good – not as spectacular as Steinbeck’s, which may have counted slightly against it as I finished East of Eden just before starting this novel – but very readable. She tells an engaging story, and I really liked the character of Evie. I know that many people don’t mind if a central character is not well drawn as long as the writer can really write the scenery or the action or whatever, but for me a book is always about 50% less enjoyable if I don’t believe in the central character. It’s not that I have to like them – I’m honestly not bothered if I spend an entire book wishing a character were real so I could punch them in the face – just as long as they make me feel something.
With my rampaging passion for reading about the history of women and their independence, this book was an absolute gift. In the 19th century, Felicity Chadwick is a complete oddity – a woman who doesn’t want to get married, and just wants to be left to live her life alone, the way that she wants to live it, in India, the country she loves. The Chadwick family have worked for the East India Company for generations, and so there are certain accepted norms. Because of this as a young child Felicity is sent from India to Britain to live with a host family, and be educated there. Mr & Mrs Winfield have a daughter the same age as Felicity, and soon the girls become very close friends. As a young woman Felicity returns to India, and a year later, after a social scandal, Adela joins her there.
I really enjoyed the way that Newmark tells their story through a mixture of letters and diary entries found by Evie and chapters told from Adela’s point of view – it’s a brilliant way to entangle the stories. As Evie is going through the motions of her day to day life, wondering if her marriage can survive – wondering if she can survive living with a man who roams around the country dressed as a native, while forbidding her from going farther than the (very) local village as it is ‘too dangerous’, and trying to shelter her young son from some of the atrocities which are taking place, she is learning about the atrocities suffered by women over a century before.
The sense of atmosphere was brilliant by virtue of its not being created by laboured descriptive passages, but by amalgamation of local Indian phrases into the dialogue, and the way that the characters go about their day to day lives using things which are quintessentially Indian rather than British.
Evie’s husband Martin is suffering from post –war trauma, which in totally British fashion he is trying to deal with by not talking about it and trying to ignore it. While doing this, he is dressing in an increasingly Indian fashion, causing his family and friends to worry that he could get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and be mistaken for a local. Evie feels increasingly distanced from him, and living in India only seems to be serving to push them further apart, but as the novel progresses, lots of things happen which serve to bring them back together again.
I loved the feeling of transportation this book gave me. It was one of those that I read and ended up feeling physically warm, because it had such great transportive power. It was also a really quick read, and great for my brain, which has been sleepy lately! I just have to say that I love the whole idea of this Challenge. Obviously I'm not going to object to anything where I get brand new books for free, but equally I won't just read something because it's free - it has to look interesting. This did, and it totally lived up to my expectations!

Friday 12 August 2011

Review: - How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

I'm back! Second post this week, and I'm very excited despite the fact that blogging is now actually costing me money as in order to access the Starbucks interwebs, I have to buy a tea first. Although tea is never a bad thing, it costing me £3 (I always end up having a cake of some sort too...) a go, is. Anyway! Aside from that, I'm really excited about this book.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of How to be a Woman; some loved it, some hated it. From reading these reviews I thought I’d probably love it, and I was so right. How to be a Woman is Caitlin Moran’s autobiography; it is also an acerbically funny look at feminism and the things that make it necessary. I won’t ramble on and on about this book – it doesn’t need me to. Moran discusses candidly all the horrible squeamish bits of being a woman that nobody ever talks about, unless they are very very drunk. She managed to make me squirm in disgust and have a very public giggling fit within the space of five minutes, and I came away from the book feeling like I’d learned a lot. Having grown up with four sisters in the kind of family where you never ever talked about the gross stuff, except by using vague shrugging gestures in the place of the thing you were actually talking about, maybe I just loved this book because it told me all the things nobody else had, and by this I don’t mean that I’ve managed to reach the age of 24 without knowing about periods or where babies come from, but just that it was amazing (and disgusting) for me to read a book that talked about all the horrible bits of childbirth as well as the awesomesauce stuff.
Here is the bit that made me laugh for a full five minutes, and then periodically throughout the day whenever I remembered it. Customers thought I was weeeeeeird that day!
 “Caz gets horrific cramps- she spends her periods in the bedroom with the curtains drawn, covered in hot water bottles, shouting ‘Fuck off’ at anyone who tries to come into the room. As part of being a hippy, my mother doesn’t ‘believe’ in pain-killers, 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.” (p20)
I have so much love, and as I’m totally hating my current rating system for books, I’m going to go with ‘this is a book that I really enjoyed, and will be keeping forever and re-reading, and recommending to absolutely everyone I can find’. Well done, Ms Moran, you are totally hilarious.
Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but it struck a chord with me, and I’ll be recommending this book to everyone I come across in the foreseeable future, whether they be male or female. Most of the men I know would benefit just as much as the women from reading about how difficult it is for a woman to know what to call her breasts and other such things.

Monday 8 August 2011

Apologies, The Transworld Book Group & UK and EU Summer Hop Winner!

Thanks to everybody who participated in this great event! I don't know about you, but I was so excited to go through a list of blogs and know that I wouldn't get to the end of the post just to realise I wasn't eligible to enter the giveaway! I had a great time, and found lots of great new blogs to follow. So here it is, the winner of an (almost) new copy of Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens iiiiiissss:


Also I just want to apologise for my absence from the blogosphere lately... My home internet is absolutely dead and we're not sure why at the moment, so I've not been able to post much. I have just discovered that Starbucks next to my work does have access, though, so hopefully I will be able to utilise that more often! I'm really behind on reviews, so I really hope I'm able to get back up to speed soon! 

Finally, and very excitingly, I'm taking part in the Transworld Book Group Challenge this summer. For this, I have to read four books between August and October, which I could choose from a big long list, and the lovely people at Transworld send me the books. All I have to do is review them and pass the link on to the publishers, and once I've done that I get the next book. It's brilliant! My four choices are:
  • The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark (this is already on my bedside table, waiting for me to finish East of Eden, which should be sometime today!)
  • Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll
  • Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkgaard (I really really enjoyed Library of Shadows, so I'm very excited about this)
  • The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil
Look out for my reviews! :-)

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Review: - Bake Sale by Sara Varon

When I was sent this book by First Second Publishers, I was extremely excited. Not only is it a graphic novel, it’s a graphic novel about a cupcake, which has recipes for cupcakes in it! Amazing. Here’s a synopsis:
“Cupcake’s life is pretty good. He’s got his bakery, and his band, and his best friend, Eggplant. His days are full of cooking, socializing, and playing music. But lately, Cupcake has been struggling in the kitchen. He’s sure the solution to all his problems is out there somewhere. But maybe that solution is hiding closer to home.”
Although this book is aimed at an age group younger than myself, I did thoroughly enjoy myself while reading it. It was a very quick read, and the story was very simple and refreshing. Cupcake is the central character; a little pink cake with a cherry on top, he owns his own bakery and aspires to be a great baker like his hero, Turkish Delight, who is, as the name implies, a big piece of Turkish delight with legs. When his best friend Eggplant tells Cupcake of his plans to go to Turkey for his Aunt’s book release party, and divulges furthermore that his Aunt’s best friend and partner is none other than Turkish Delight herself, Cupcake becomes determined to go with him and begins to devise new recipes to make extra money.
Really, Bake Sale is a very sweet story about the value of friendship and the importance of supporting each other, masquerading as a story about cakes. It’s a brilliant ploy, and if I’m honest, it was the fact that it was a graphic novel about cakes which first attracted me to it, and quite rightly so. Varon’s style of drawing is gorgeously simple – big, bold outlines and bright colours – and child –friendly without being at all childish. The book itself is beautifully put together, with gorgeously illustrated step by step recipes, and my personal favourite page, the recipe for sugared flowers framed by creeping flower –covered vines. At the end of the book, Cupcake realises that more important than meeting his hero or getting to travel the world are his friends, and especially his friendship with Eggplant. Any friend who’ll stand by you through an embarrassing incident of wrapper – wrinkling at the Turkish baths is definintely worth having!
Sara Varon’s first novel Robot Dreams is also about the importance of relationships, and I think I’ll have to go and seek it out. When writing for children, a lot of authors fall into the trap of over-simplifying, and therefore patronising the child. Varon doesn’t do this – she treats her subject matter with beautiful sensitivity, and I love how understanding Cupcake and Eggplant are of each other. Bake Sale did a really good job of exploring what a great friendship is, and it’ll go into my stockpile (yes, I am stockpiling awesome children’s books for future kids/nieces and nephews.. I’m the eldest of 7, so hopefully somebody will have some kids!), and for now, I will be handing it on to my younger brother! I would recommend it for anybody who’s interested in graphic novels or children’s books, or both!
Thanks to the publishers, who very kindly allowed me to read and enjoy this novel!
Bake Sale is out September 2011.

(from First Second promotional material)

Monday 1 August 2011

Random Acts of Kindness in July

Can I just say that I absolutely ADORE Random Acts of Kindness. Hosted by Book Soulmates, you sign up for every month you wish to participate, and the idea is that you pick random bloggers and send books to them from their wishlists, and hopefully some of them do the same for you. It is brilliant, and every time I get an excited email back from someone who's manic that I've randomly picked them, or a book lands on my doormat that I wouldn't otherwise have got, it makes my day about 100% better.

This month I sent two books, and I received one book, and oh what a brilliant book it was!

From Hanna at Booking in Heels
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

This was a birthday present/RAK/just because she is an amazing person, and literally one of the most awesome bloggers I've come across so far, and the book was hilarious and brilliant. There will be a review of it coming as soon as I've fully digested it!

Thanks (again) Hanna! 

UK & EU Giveaway Hop!

Hey guys, the UK and EU Giveaway Hop is finally here!! I’ve been excited about this for ages now, and I’m glad to put my constant ranting about everything being U.S only on hold and partake in what promises to be a great event. This event is hosted by the lovely Donna and Jodie, and 30 blogs are participating, so after you’ve entered my giveaway, make sure you go on to the next blog on the list!
To reflect my manic state of hyperactive excitement about there finally being a giveaway hop where I know I’ll be able to enter all the contests, I’m giving away a book which is by two of my favourite ever authors. And when I say favourite, I mean these are the guys whose books I will actually pay full price for, in Waterstones, the day they come out. Individually they are brilliant, and so together, they’re bound to be mind-blowingly fabulous.
To my eternal shame and incomprehension, I’ve actually not finished this book yet. The bit I’ve read so far though is definitely living up to my expectations. So now I’ve got you all hyped up, here’s what I’m giving away:
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Pratchett (of Discworld fame) and Gaiman (of Sandman fame) may seem an unlikely combination, but the topic (Armageddon) of this fast-paced novel is old hat to both. Pratchett's wackiness collaborates with Gaiman's morbid humor; the result is a humanist delight to be savored and reread again and again. You see, there was a bit of a mixup when the Antichrist was born, due in part to the machinations of Crowley, who did not so much fall as saunter downwards, and in part to the mysterious ways as manifested in the form of a part-time rare book dealer, an angel named Aziraphale. Like top agents everywhere, they've long had more in common with each other than the sides they represent, or the conflict they are nominally engaged in. The only person who knows how it will all end is Agnes Nutter, a witch whose prophecies all come true, if one can only manage to decipher them. The minor characters along the way (Famine makes an appearance as diet crazes, no-calorie food and anorexia epidemics) are as much fun as the story as a whole, which adds up to one of those rare books which is enormous fun to read the first time, and the second time, and the third time...
from Goodreads.
Not brand new, but in good condition. All you have to do to win is comment on this post with:
1)    Your favourite book or author (Yes, I do use giveaways to get recommendations and add to my impossibly big TBR pile!)
2)    Your email address so I can contact you if you win
3)    Your blog if you have one and would like me to visit it!
The only criteria is the email address, but telling me about your favourite book or author will gain you an extra entry! Also, as stated in the title, you must be from the UK or Europe in order to win this book.
I will draw the winner via on August 8th, and notify the winner via email.
Now you've entered my giveaway, go here and enter the rest!