Friday 29 June 2012

Seriously Awesome Shadow of Night Giveaway!!

Attention all you lovers of A Discovery of Witches! Also those of you who haven't read it yet, but are going to having read my review of it (ha), and of its' sequel, Shadow of Night, which is what I'm talking about today. 

I am ridiculously excited to announce that, courtesy of the lovely people at Headline Publishing (who really are very lovely), I have two copies of Shadow of Night (out July 10th) signed by Deborah Harkness herself to give away! If you missed my review of either A Discovery of Witches or Shadow of Night you can read them by clicking on the titles above!

I'm using Rafflecopter for the first time for this giveaway, so fingers crossed that it works! All you have to do is do as the form says! Oh, and you must be in the UK - sorry about that, international people! I'll pick a winner exactly one week from today, good luck and spread the word! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many Mini Reviews:- Fables Volumes 2, 3 & 4 by Bill Willingham

I think that graphic novels have been under-represented on the blog this year, and it really isn't because I'm not reading any - I just haven't managed to discipline myself to write about them yet! This is a vaguely lazy way of catching up with what I've been reading. 

I discovered the world of graphic novels through Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, centering around the Lord of Dreams and his siblings (Death, Destiny, Delirium, Desire etc), with a heavy leaning towards the mythological. After I finished the series I was looking for something to follow it with when I started hearing things about Bill Willingham's Fables series. Taking characters from fairytale and folklore and placing them into a modern setting, how could I resist?! 

I wrote about the prequel, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, and the first volume, Legends in Exile, but after that I got caught up with other things. So here goes. (I just wanted to say this is also a brilliant exercise because some of these I read so long ago that I'm pretty much having to re-read them to remember details, which is brilliant)

Volume 2: Animal Farm
Following on from where Legends in Exile left off, the second volume follows the story of the non-human fables, forced to live in the Farm community. Snow White and Rose Red (going to take up her new position as head of the farm, as punishment for her schemes of the first installment), walk into a suspicious meeting, and quickly learn that everything is far from what it should be... 

I have to say that so far, this is one of my favourite installments. I love the way that Willingham is continually introducing new characters in unexpected ways, and how they tangle with characters they should have nothing to do with. Unlikely pairings in this installment include Bluebeard (the wife killer), and Goldilocks (of three bears fame), Shere Khan and Bagheera, and Rose Red bargaining for the life of her sister... It's full of revolution, anger, and unexpected twists. Also, Bigby Wolf who has to be my favourite character. So brooding, so mysterious. So much love. 

Volume 3: Storybook Love

This is the book in which backstories of different characters start appearing; first Jack (beanstalk, Giant killer), then Briar Rose (otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty), who just happens to be the second wife of the enigmatic Prince Charming, ex-husband of Snow White, who, at the beginning of the book is recouperating from the events of Animal Farm. There's a lot going on here, and a lot more characters involved than in the first two!

First off, Bigby Wolf and the other Fables are threatened with exposure, so there's that to take care of, and then there's interesting developments in the relationship between Bigby and Snow White... Oh and Goldilocks, mustn't forget about her! 

This book is the one where it really all kicks off. From now on there are at least three parallel storylines running at the same time, and twists and turns all over the place. It's really gripping, and I loved that the characters are becoming more three dimensional and complex. Also, I haven't yet mentioned how gorgeous the artwork is, and it really is. 

Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers
This is my other favourite so far. Fabletown receives its' first new inhabitant in a long, long time, fresh from the old lands, now controlled by the Adversary. Red Riding Hood has an interesting back story, but is she all she seems? Following on from the idea that the gateways between the old world and the new might not be quite so closed as everybody thought, Jack is pursued by some creepily resilient black suited men, and Fabletown prepares itself for the possibility of war... Meanwhile, Snow White is miraculously pregnant!

I think I'm showing a bit of a predilection for the volumes containing lots of angst and gore, but I think they give the characters more opportunities for awesomeness, especially Boy Blue, who has lurked in the background up until this point, and whose back story you learn a lot more about. Another unlikely hero of this volume is Pinocchio, whose story is somewhat more complicated than expected... I thought the plot of this volume was particularly strong and well put-together. At points, there was so much going on that I did wonder how Willingham keeps it all together! 

There will be another one of these mini posts at some point soon, for volumes 5 and 6. I was going to do them all together, but I thought that it might be a little much... But anyway, in summary I would really recommend these if you're at all into fairytale type stuff. I know a couple of people besides me have been reading them for the Telling Tales Challenge!

Thursday 28 June 2012

I'm a Guest Contributor!

Just a quick post to say, if you missed my rant about the library situation the other day, you can catch it as a guest post at Voices for the Library, which is a great website with loads of library related information and also lots of people's views and stories about their libraries. 


Review:- Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

You may have read my half -formed, slightly incoherent mini-review of A Discovery of Witches recently. After lots of procrastinating, I finally got around to reading it and loved it so much that immediately I finished, I went on a search to find out who was the UK publisher of the sequel, Shadow of Night, which comes out on July 10th. One very cheeky email to the lovely publishers, Headline, later, and a copy was in my possession, for which I am still a more than a little squealy and incredibly grateful!

Following my total failure to write a coherent synopsis for A Discovery of Witches, I'm going the lazy route and borrowing the synopsis from Goodreads for Shadow of Night:
Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. 
The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. 
Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending,Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.
Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season
Like A Discovery of Witches, this book dragged me in from the very first page and didn't let go until the last. I know that it was easy reading partly because I had only just finished the first installment and so didn't have to do the 'remembering what happened in the first book' dance, but I think that even without this the transition from one book to the next would have been seamless. Harkness creates her world so well that she doesn't need to do a bulk recap of what happened in the first book - she just incorporates things into the story as she goes and it's brilliant. 

I like to be balanced in my reviews, but there really wasn't much I disliked about Shadow of Night. One of my favourite things about it was the way in which historic characters such as Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh were incorporated into the story and were so well developed that they were completely believable. Marlowe, otherwise known as Kit, a daemon, was actually one of my favourite characters. Again, like in the first book, there were few characters in this novel who were inherently bad - Kit, among others, made some incredibly bad choices, but all the time the reader is given full knowledge of how he came to make them, and so you can feel sympathy towards him, which I much prefer to the effort of having to hate characters entirely all the way through.

One of the few flaws in A Discovery of Witches was that it assumes you will believe in a lot of things - magic among them - which are logically unbelievable in twenty first century society. While it didn't take me long to get over that and move on - I am a die -hard Harry Potter fan, after all - taking all of that back to an Elizabethan setting, where such things as magic and alchemy were believed in by the masses and surrounded by an air of mystery, gives it an even stronger feeling of possibility. This feels like a world which could exist, and that's one of the major beauties of fiction for me - there is so much possibility. Just because something (as far as we know) doesn't physically exist, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist at all. As long as somebody can imagine something, it exists, and when that imagination is shared with other people then to some extent it becomes a part of society - how many people secretly believe Hogwarts exists somewhere? 

I have to say though that I do wish people would stop comparing this series to Twilight. It is just so much better. For one thing, there is nothing about either of the two main characters which annoys me in anything like as profound a way as I hated Bella Swan by the end of the Twilight series. Also, the plot of the All Souls Trilogy is just so much stronger so far, and has so many more layers. There are hidden aspects, and Harkness is continually tripping the reader up with unexpected twists, quite aside from the fact that she effectively has two seperate casts of characters; one from the first book, and another for this book, and she manages to keep the first lot active throughout Shadow of Night, while not allowing them to take over the story from the second set of characters, who are far and away strong enough to carry the story on their own. So far there is nothing gratuitous about the plot of these books. Everything that is in there is there for a reason and it's brilliant to watch it all tie up. 

The ending of this book, like the ending of the first, manages to both complete the story, so every book so far has been a story in itself, but is also a total cliffhanger which makes me so annoyed that I'm going to have to wait who knows how long for the next installment. My advice to you if the Twilight comparisons are putting you off like they were me, is to just ignore them and go and read both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night as soon as you possibly can. 

Wednesday 27 June 2012

My Little Rant About Libraries...

A lot has been going on with the libraries lately, especially in my former home town of London. I think, though I'm not sure, that this is also the case in the U.S as well as here in the U.K, but certainly there has been a lot of hype over our wonderful (heavy, heavy sarcasm) government and their ideas about what is culturally important and what isn't. Apparently, it isn't important that children be encouraged to read independently, or that they are provided with a safe haven outside of the home where they can go to do homework or just sit on the internet without their sister hanging over their shoulder going 'it's my turn now, you've had an hour, get off the computer!'. 

This is the library I grew up in. It's a converted fire station and over the door, although you can't see it in this photo, the words 'Free Library' are carved into the stone. The whole of the right hand side was the children's section, and we used to go there for story time once a week pretty much since I was born, and with all of my siblings. We also used to have a weekly excursion to the library - of course precluded by me running around the house shouting at people to help me find whatever book I'd lost that week, which quite often turned up in the end of my bed...- and I still remember how excited I was when I turned 11 and could take out ten books on my card instead of five (don't even get me started on how excited I was when we moved to Kent, aged 23, and found out I could take out THIRTY books). As a child, buying books was a total luxury - we used to go to the local children's bookshop (The Lion and the Unicorn, which has to be my favourite children's bookshop ever, and I know I share all these links with you and you will probably never go to the places, but I wouldn't like to not share them, and then you're somehow in the area and miss out because you don't know about them!) once a year, at the beginning of the summer holidays and we got to buy two new books each for the summer and it was about the most exciting thing ever. So without the library, my discovery of new worlds (especially those of The Babysitter's Club, The Saddle Club, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven) would have been hugely limited. 

Two major mainstays of my childhood existence were the craft days that the library used to run during school holidays, where we would do an entire day of craft activities based around a particular book (I don't remember any of the books in particular, but when my brother was little they did a really good one on The Gruffalo). We used to make murals and stuff and it was awesome and you got to meet loads of people who lived in the area who you would often then see during your weekly trips to the library. Also, they cost about £2 to attend, which was really good for our family of 7! The other one was library book sales! One year my sister gave me about 20 Babysitters Club books for Christmas, which she had been buying from library sales for 10p each for most of the year. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ever presents. 

I know I'm one of those geeky people who is slightly too obsessed with books and reading, but I did actually have a very balanced childhood - lots of swimming, athletics, long walks in the park with my family where my mum would teach us how to make signs out of sticks and trail each other, after school drama club, piano lessons... etc etc etc. Despite all of that, I literally cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like without my library, and although both of the areas I call home have been really lucky during this whole library closures situation, I know there are many others who haven't been so fortunate, and I am so sad for them. 

Zadie Smith has written a beautiful article about the closures in North West London, which I would really recommend reading if you've any interest in the issue. Somehow the local council think it's OK to storm an historic building in the middle of the night, removing articles of importance (including the plaque from its' opening by Mark Twain!!). I don't understand quite how we can get through to the government that it's really not OK to treat literature this way; that just because it isn't 'valuable' to them (or because other services are deemed more important), doesn't mean it isn't to anybody, and I know that a lot of people have little interest in what happens in London, but having lived there I would say that by closing down libraries they're just asking to make a whole load of problems very much worse. I know that there are problems in other parts of the country, but it's difficult to find a lot about it on the interwebs. If anybody's got any other resources, please pass them on!

I know that it isn't just me who feels strongly that the closure of libraries is wrong; I'm writing in a community of people who adore books and libraries, and whose childhoods were probably as shaped by them if not more than mine was. I don't know what to do about it, so I'm writing about it, which isn't much but if anybody has any proactive ideas, I'd love to hear them! 

Here are some specific links for library saving campaigns that I have found (UK specific at the moment):
Public Libraries News - general announcements of proposed cuts and closures throughout the UK
Save Kensal Rise Library - has a facebook page and a twitter account so it's very easy to follow what's going on!
Keep Willesden Green 
Preston Library Campaign
Friends of Barham Library - the library was closed by the council and is now being successfully run by a team of volunteers in a new location. Interesting website. 
Brent Save Our Seven Libraries Campaign - encompasses all of the above and provides information and links to individual library campaigns in the area. 

If you're a Londoner (or even if you aren't), you can download that great protest tool of the British people, the window poster, from most of these websites to show your support. They also provide information for local MPs etc to write to about the closures. 

Also, this article from the Guardian website has a lot of stats about the popularity of libraries - apparently they are the most popular facility provided by councils, despite various councillors continually telling us they are not used. 

Apologies for this being long winded, very linky and slightly ranty but it's been brewing for a while, and I thought it was time I said something, really. Feel free to share your reactions, stories, links, and what's going on with libraries where you are :-) 

Also, little quote from the awesome that is Roald Dahl:
"Over the next few afternoons Mrs Phelps could hardly take her eyes from the small girl sitting for hour after hour in the big armchair at the far end of the room with the book on her lap. It was necessary to rest it on the lap because it was too heavy for her to hold up, which meant she had to sit leaning forward in order to read. And a strange sight it was, this tiny dark-haired person sitting there with her feet nowhere near touching the floor, totally absorbed in the wonderful adventures of Pip and old Miss Havisham and her cobwebbed house and by the spell of magic that Dickens the great story-teller had woven with his words."
Parental neglect and the fact that we aren't all prodigy's like Matilda aside, surely this is the kind of experience that libraries have the potential to provide?

Rant over :-) 

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Mount TBR Challenge Checkpoint!

Apparently this is the second checkpoint for the Mount TBR challenge, but I think I must have missed the first one. Oh well. I signed up for this challenge originally as a way to try to encourage my book buying ban, which promptly went out the window within about two weeks... :-/ Still, I'm doing ok with the reading aspect, if not so much with the reviewing, and it is making me feel good to read the book that have been on my shelves for so long. It isn't quite achieving the desired effect of helping me thin down the amount of books in the house, partly because a lot of what I'm reading is so good I want to keep it, and partly because I am unable to stop myself from buying more books. I have to say, this is not entirely my fault. This past weekend I left the house on Friday morning and came back Sunday evening, having bought NO BOOKS, with a grand total of 11 books. So it was my birthday weekend, but you know, it seems a little like it's out of my control...

Anyway! The ACTUAL point of this post is for me to tell you what I've read so far from my challenge list. I signed up for Mt Vancouver, 25 books, and have read 9.95 of them (I'm nearly done with One Day), so I'm a bit behind where I need to be, but I'm hoping to get to a few more (1602, Hideous Kinky, Shirley, North and South) in the next month or so, which will be good.

So far my favourite from the list is probably The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, who is swiftly becoming my favourite Bronte. For rambling about it in varying degress of enthusiasm, go here and here. The weirdest thing I've read has got to be Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I still can't decide whether to go out and buy all of his books, or to run away screaming... Most disappointing is The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, hands down. I was expecting it to be really great and thought provoking and it just wasn't. And the most surprising book I've read for this challenge was Alison Bechdel's brilliant Fun Home, from which I expected absolutely nothing, and which delivered beyond all hopes for a graphic novel which isn't Persepolis.

So there you have it. I'm doing better with this challenge than I'd expected, but not as well as I should be. I haven't reviewed nearly enough of the books I've read (4/9), but I have at least been reading them, and even getting rid of some, which clears shelf space, which has got to be good! :-)

Monday 25 June 2012

Some thoughts about A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This is going to be a very short opinion piece, rather than a review, because I am beyond all kinds of knackered right now. I know that isn’t an excuse (although to be fair, I’ve suddenly developed a huge baby bump from who knows where and have a small person attacking me pretty much 16 hours a day, plus working full time at a job that requires me to stand for 8 hours), but I just finished the sequel to A Discovery of Witches today, and I really want to talk about that, so really the writing of this review was to pave the way for that one, which will be epic, because there is even more science and history and geeky academic stuff I love in the second book...  

Disclosure: I didn’t want to read A Discovery of Witches for ages because it sounded like it was going to be like Twilight. It isn’t. And that is all I am going to say about that series of teen vampire books from now on.

Basic synopsis of A Discovery of Witches, in case there’s anybody left out there who hasn’t read it yet, is thus:
Diana Bishop, a young scholar of alchemy, and also a witch, accidentally calls up an enchanted manuscript in Oxford’s Bodeleian Library. She’s been trying to avoid using her magic and so she sends the book back to the stacks and thinks no more of it, until a host of strange creatures begin to appear in Oxford, headed by the vampire Matthew Clairmont...

Initially (by which I mean within the first two pages) I was a bit jarred by A Discovery of Witches’ casual assumption that the reader will believe in the existence of witches, daemons, and vampires. There is no ‘you’re a wizard, Harry’ moment here. Diana Bishop is a witch from day one, she just doesn’t want to be. One of the most important things about novels of this kind is how successfully they manage to suspend your disbelief, and speaking as a person who tends to roll my eyes at the merest hint of anything even a little cliché, reading a book which initially seems like it’s subscribing to the above mentioned vampire mania, this book did that incredibly well. I got absorbed despite myself, and by a couple of chapters in I wasn’t finding anything at all to roll my eyes at.

The biggest thing about A Discovery of Witches is that it is really well written. The plot is well thought-out and it’s very pacy. Also it helps that they mention food a lot. I like books which mention food, and I love the fact that it’s about vampirism and witchcraft but talks about them in a totally scientific way. Deborah Harkness grounds her magic in reality, which is what made it so great for me. The world of vampires, daemons and witches is one which is pretty much as believable as the world of Harry Potter is to me (and I do secretly still think Hogwarts exists...), and I don’t think I’ve said that about a novel like this since then...

Please forgive the total crapness of this post. I felt the need to say something about this amazing book, but I'm not the most coherent at the moment. The next one will be better, I promise!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Review (ish): - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

So I wrote a post about how much I loved the first half of this book earlier in the week, and as part of my birthday splurge I went and bought a copy of Agnes Grey, which should give you some kind of hint as to how the rest of the book went.

I won’t say it until I’ve read Agnes Grey, but after finishing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne is definitely in the lead as my favourite Bronte. As I’ve said, there are elements of the Austenian in Tenant, but what I liked most about it was that while the ending was pretty much what I expected it to be, along the way a lot of things which I didn’t expect happened. Also, I’m not sure how she does it, but the main character, Helen Huntingdon, could so easily be a total pain, but somehow she just isn’t. I really liked her; she has a bit of a difficult time because she seems to feel that she constantly has to atone for the mistake she has made in marrying her husband and then running away from him by pretty much continually making herself depressed, but she's got a huge amount of guts.

I can see how The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was more than a bit scandalous when it was published. I don’t want to spoil it for people who have yet to read it (because you should all read it, right now), but basically Helen’s husband is not very nice, quite aggressive and has very questionable morals, and she scandalizes society by leaving him and taking her child with her.  Reading it from the 21st century, my thinking was that if her husband was going to do all the appalling things he does then of course she would leave and take her child, as she was obviously the more competent parents. But then I started thinking from a Victorian point of view, and realised how much of a major event her leaving him actually is.

Jillian wrote a brilliant post about this book this week, a lot of which I totally agree with and I don’t just want to repeat what she’s said in a less effective manner, so you should probably go check out her post. Basically though, life for a Victorian woman married to a less than nice man, could be a bit crap as they didn’t actually have any rights and everything that they had (including their children and themselves) legally belonged to their husbands. So really Helen is being incredibly brave by running away with her child, so that he won’t be influenced by his father’s negative attitudes and learn bad habits.I think it was the Little Women lover in me who really liked this passage from quite early on in the book, where Helen is talking about teaching her son, Arthur to dislike wine:

"I will clear as many stones from his path as I can, and teach him to avoid the rest- or walk firmly over them, as you say- for when I have done my utmost, in the way of clearance, there will still be plenty left to exercise all the agility, steadiness, and circumspection he will ever have."

Immediately before this, she is being ridiculed by the Markhams, as they say that her child will never make a proper man if she doesn't allow him to overcome temptation for himself. I like the recognition of all the trials that life can present, and that she isn't sticking her head in the sand over the possiblities that could be open to her child. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own actions, but there is no reason not to help each other, as she tries to do with her child, and even with her impossible husband, throughout the book. I really like the idea, present throughout the book, that we can influence our lives through our actions. A lot of people nowadays seem to be content not to take any responsibility for themselves and to blame all their problems on other people, and I think it's partly the attitude of self -improvement and self-sufficiency of attitude which draws me to the Victorians, and especially the Brontes, as writers. 

In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Huntingdon is in a terrible situation, and so she removes herself and her son from it, in a time when doing so was actually illegal, and more than that, she actually supports them both as an artist by selling her work. She is kind of awesome.

I feel I've got a bit off-topic, but this is a book that inspires a strong emotional response. While there were things about it which annoyed me - mostly Eliza Markham and a few other characters who just seemed so overly excited by gossiping about other people's misfotune - I really enjoyed the plot, and I loved to hate Arthur Huntingdon the elder. Stylistically, the writing is great. Really fluid and engrossing, and I really never wanted to put the book down. Also, it has a happy ending, and I liked that Anne Bronte allows the reader to see what happens beyond the wedding, at least a little bit. 

I did a course in Women Writers of Victorian Literature at University, but the only books I remember reading for it (and I know for sure there were more than this!) are Wuthering Heights and Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I feel like I've really not read enough of the Victorians, and reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall made me want to read more. I have North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell on my shelf and it's also on a lot of my challenge lists for this year, so maybe I'll read that next. I'd love to get to Dickens, but we have such a difficult relationship that I don't want to kid myself by saying that I will.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Tomorrow, I will be a quarter of a century old..

Or as certain people prefer to call it, celebrating my silver life anniversary :-/ Rhys (who is horrendous at keeping secrets) has already given me some presents. These include: 
Fables Volume 5:Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham
An awesome Phantom of the Opera silver bookmark
The soundtrack to The Muppets movie, which is beyond all kinds of amazing. 

He also made me this:
 I did the lettering (badly, its been a while since I've used writing icing...) but in case you can't tell, it's a big rectangular chocolate cake, iced with white icing (for the middle of the book) and black icing (for the cover), and he has made a replica of the circus tent from the cover of my version of The Night Circus, which, in case you missed all the raving I've been doing about it, is like my favourite book of the last long time...

This is the best birthday cake I've had since I was around ten or so I think. I literally jumped up and down when he showed it to me. 

I do have the day off tomorrow (because Wednesday, by happy coincidence, is my regular day off anyway), but I won't be seeing family until the weekend when I'm having an epically awesome cake party. Cross your fingers for good weather - we're planning a kind of Mad Hatters Tea Party type event. My sisters collect tea pots and we generally fill them with various concoctions of both alcoholic and non alcoholic varieties, and people are bringing different kinds of cake. If I get my act together I'm taking carrot cake and Mars Bar brownies. 

But yes, tomorrow we have bookshop related plans.... Armed with a £20 note from my grandma (who never forgets!), we are hitting the charity shops along the coast and eventually plan to arrive in Whitstable for yet more outings to two of my favourite bookshops in the world, and also discovering lunch along the way. In the evening we're going to see Dark Shadows at our local cinema, which only charges us £5 and has £1 popcorn, so just general win :-) 

Day off with my lovely hubby, cheap bookshops, guilt free money to spend on said books, amazing cake, and Johnny Depp. Now all I have to do is hope the sun shines...

Friday 15 June 2012

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (Part 1...)

The baby is making me dizzy again and I have been sent home from work under orders to lie down and rest. Obviously this means I have to read, and what I'm currently reading is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I haven't finished it yet, but I am absolutely dying to talk about it. Although I hardly ever post about books before finishing them, I just can't restrain myself any longer! I ADORE this book, and what's more, it evens out my tally of Bronte books I've read; Charlotte Bronte - 1 (Jane Eyre - love it), Emily Bronte - 1 (Wuthering Heights - a little weird and not at all what Kate Bush and popular culture led me to believe, but still great), and now Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. (On looking back at the stats I'm surprised - I thought I'd read more Bronte, but maybe it's just that Jane Eyre was the first classic I ever loved, and Wuthering Heights took up so much space in my brain trying to figure out what on earth was going on and why would he dig her up after she was dead and stuff??!)

When I was on my honeymoon last September, we visited the Parsonage at Haworth and I fell in love. 

Okay, I know it's a bad photo, but I'm not the greatest of photographers at the best of times and I seem to have spectacularly failed during this particular trip. I also failed to take a picture of Anne Bronte's headstone in Scarborough... :-/ But anyway, if you're ever in the region (and I know that some of you are because 'the region' is where you live!) then I strongly urge you to go. It's just amazingly inspirational. They have loads of original Bronte artefacts and tonnes of information about the family which is really interesting, as well as some original manuscripts. You can also do a walk from there to the moors, which we didn't do because it was ridiculously windy, but which I really want to do next time we go - I keep pointing at pictures of moorland lately and saying stupid things to Rhys, like 'look, moors!'. He just looks at me till I stop. 

So back to the point of this (although to be honest 'the moors' kind of are the point...) - Wildfell Hall. I'm currently about half way through the book and the thing I'm adoring most is that Anne Bronte just doesn't seem to be interested in writing characters for people to love. It's also not as clear cut as Jane Austen - the characters are not necessarily either good or bad,but feel like real people. Yes, some are fairly clearly not good people, but most are just human with good and bad traits who often do thoughtless and silly things, like Gilbert Markham, who occassionally reacts to things in an entirely inappropriate manner. For instance, you're angry with another man, of course the appropriate response is to smack him over the head with your whip and knock him off his horse. Then, when you see that he's bleeding, you should absolutely just ride off and leave him, before coming back, offering assistance, and then taking offence and leaving again when the man you've just nearly killed quite reasonably doesn't want your help. WHAT?! I'll be honest - up until this point (and even after it), I quite liked the guy, but really wouldn't it have been easier to just explain why you're angry and talk it out like civilized people rather than acting like a child - a child with a big whip, admittedly but still a child. 

I also love the style of her writing. During the first part of the novel, during which Mrs Graham and her son Arthur have come to live at Wildfell Hall and have come under scrutiny from the local community, I have turned over so many pages which contain memorable passages I want to use in my review that I was seriously tempted to grab a pencil and go back to uni habits of annotating the book - something I haven't done in years. I don't know much about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, because every time I try to read up on its' background I get some kind of epic spoiler on what will happen in the rest of the book,  except that when it was published (in 1848), it became an instant success, but that many people disagreed with the subject matter, which was quite a bit ahead of its' time. I am only just getting into the heart of that subject matter at the moment I think, and I can't wait to find out what actually will happen. Helen Huntingdon (Mrs Graham's actual name) is just beginning to discover the kind of person her husband Arthur is, and their relationship is already difficult. I love it so far because I can totally buy it - she loves him because of his energy, because he is wild and unpredictable and exciting, and she still believes that she can change him. I think that there are a lot of people in relationships, even today, who know what it is to have the 'oh but he could be so much better and I'm sure he'll change because he loves me' thing going on. I know I have in the past (although thankfully long before I met the hubby!). 

Basically I have nothing but good things to say about this novel, and I really hope it stays that way! It's reminded me how much I love Victorian literature, and all the reasons why I was so desperate to participate in Allie's Victorian Celebration!

The book is also on my lists for the 2012 Mount TBR Challenge, A Classics Challenge and The Classics Club, so many birds are being killed with one stone, to use a horrible metaphor! 

Sunday 10 June 2012

Sunday Stuff

I apparently am in the mood for writing, and I thought I should probably take the opportunity to post some at least vaguely book related things here :-) So I thought I'd do a 'books I've recently acquired' post, because I haven't done one of those for ages. 

This week I was super proud of myself because I realised that I have actually gone a whole six months without buying anything from Amazon, thus making my boycott entirely successful so far, and it's not even been that painful. It's also been a hell of a lot better for my wallet, although I may reassess this opinion in a minute when I go through what I've acquired so far in June, which just to put it in perspective for myself (as I seem to have a problem whereby I always believe we're much further through a month than is actually the case),  we are only ten days into... So. Here goes:

The top two are Tintin titles: The Seven Crystal Balls and The Calculus Affair, which we got for Rhys as he was feeling nostalgic and loved the movie. Also because we went into Harbour Books, which I'm sure I've raved about before, and all of their Tintin books were £2.99 brand new, so that was exciting! Also from Harbour Books I got Yoga for Pregnancy in the vain hope that it will make me be at least vaguely active and not just lie on the sofa every night after work moaning about how tired I am! 

The Beautiful and Damned and Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald both came from the lovely Ellie, as an RAK and because she saw that I've been a bit down lately and wanted to cheer me up :-) She is seriously lovely, thanks again!

Paper Towns by John Green was also an RAK from Claire, and I'm really excited to read it! Thanks Claire!

The next three books are all from the other amazing bookshop in Whitstable, Oxford Street Books, which is a second hand bookshop that has recently expanded even more onto a second floor! I love the place, its like a cave of wonders, and the owners are so on top of their stock. Ask them for anything and they know if they have it and where it is in the shop. It's pretty impressive!

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot - I've been eyeing this up for a while and it was 95p so I couldn't resist any longer!

Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers is part of the Canongate Myth Series. It's a reworking of the Oedipus Myth and sounds great. 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - I kept seeing this in Waterstone's and finally succumbed. Again, 95p so not bad!

Also at car boot sales this morning I got a beautiful hardback copy of Charlotte's Web for 50p, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, which I need to read for The Classics Club, and (ridiculously excited about this one!), a copy of Scarlett Thomas' Going Out. I already own it, but it's gone straight into my present drawer for when we get to Christmas! 

Books aside, we've got a little windowsill garden going which we're really pleased with! We have four tomato plants, a strawberry plant, a sweet pepper plant and coriander and basil which we grew from seeds. The basil makes the room smell gorgeous and we have the first strawberry from our plant which we're going to eat later, just because we're so proud of ourselves. It doesn't even matter that it's one strawberry between two of us - we're both notoriously bad at gardening so we're really excited that we've managed to not kill things! Also, I have basil drying in my airing cupboard, which is lovely :-)

Happy Sunday, everybody! 

Friday 8 June 2012

Why Book Blogging is Amazing...

I'm edging my way back to a place where I'm hoping to be able to put some real content on the blog, rather than just lists, link - ups, and apologies. Ironically since I posted my update a few days ago about why I'm not able to really blog at the moment, I immediately felt better about the whole situation, and the response that I had to that post was just amazing. We have had so much support from family throughout the situation we are currently experiencing, but to have so much support from people who don't know any of the details and that I've never met in real life was really lovely. A couple of people in particular (I hope they know who they are!) have been really brilliant in terms of letting me rant about random unrelated things and even in once case sending me books to cheer me up :-) And I just wanted to say thank you to them, and to everybody who reads this blog, whether or not they comment. I love being part of the book blogging community. I love meeting awesome people and discovering their awesome blogs, and I love having my little corner of the internet where I can wallow in books for hours at a time. 

Sometimes I get all my books off of their shelves, intending to re-organize them, and then get sidetracked by discoveries of things I'd forgotten I had and end up sat in the middle of the floor in our spare room, literally surrounded by books and unable to get out. It is bliss, and blogging and the blogging community is the virtual equivalent of that. Bloggers are some of the most generous people I've ever "met", and sometimes I have so much to say to them and so much in common with them that it's difficult to believe we've never physically met. So yes, I'll stop before I get really sentimental (not difficult these days - what with baby hormones and current life stress, I'll cry at almost anything!). Thank you all for being amazing :-) 

Thursday 7 June 2012

The Telling Tales Challenge Master Review List

Trying to keep track of what everybody's read for this challenge through individual monthly link ups was getting a bit difficult so I decided it was time to stop being lazy and put all of the reviews into a master list here. It also makes it a lot easier for people to find recommendations etc, and to use for reference purposes in case I decide to host this again next year! I'm just going to link them in order of when they were read rather than trying to do anything more complicated! Apologies for some reviews that are missing; this is because early on some people have linked to their blog rather than the specific review and I am having a bit of a difficult time finding the review for the challenge. If I've missed your review off please just contact me or comment to let me know and I'll add it in!

Also I just wanted to announce that during December, the last month of the challenge, there will be some surprise events happening in order to thank all you lovely people for your participation, so watch this space :-) 

1602 by Neil Gaiman (Bex)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Bex)
A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James (Mirjam)
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (Bex)
A Wolf at the Door by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Jenny)
Adrianna's Fairy Tales by Adrianna White (Tobe)
Ash by Malinda Lo (Michele)

Beastly by Alex Flinn (Tobe)
Beastly by Alex Flinn (Michele)

"                                       " (Ricki)

Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (Esther)
Fables #2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham (Bex)
Fables #3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham (Bex)
Fables #4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham (Bex)
Fables #16: Super Team by Bill Willingham (Nicola)
Fables #17: Inherit the Wind by Bill Willingham (Nicola)
Firebird by Mercedes Lackey (Mirjam)
Flower Fables by Louisa May Alcott (Tobe)
Fudoki by Kij Johnson (Michele)

Hades Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor (Nicola) 

King's War by Maurice Broaddus (Michele)

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon (Lisa)
Mortality Bridge by Steven R. Boyett (Michele)
Mythology by Edith Hamilton (Tobe)

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (Michele)

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright (Hanna)
Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey (Hanna)
Rudyard Kipling's How the Camel Got His Hump: The Graphic Novel by Louise Simonson (Nicola)

Tales From the Hood by Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson (Mirjam)
Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green (Nicola)
Tall: Great American Folktales by Donald Lemke
The Dragon's Harp by Rachael Pruitt (Michelle)
The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire (Michele)
The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson (Nicola)
The Frog Prince by Stephen Mitchell (Tobe)
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Bex)
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Tobe)
The Hedgehog Boy: A Latvian Folk Tale by Jane Langton (Nicola)
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy (Michele)
The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen (Nicola)
The Magician's Nephew by C.S Lewis (Bex)
The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey (Jenny)
The Princess and the Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison (Tobe)
The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison (Tobe)
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell (Mirjam)
The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French (Michele)
The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi (Michele)
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines (Mirjam)
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines (Hanna)
The Viscious Deep by Zoraida Cordova (Michele)
The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D Baker (Mirjam)
Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes by Georgia McBride (Nicola)