Wednesday 27 March 2013

Review: - Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Last night I stayed up till the very wee small hours reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Why? Because it’s great, yes, because it’s interesting, definitely, but mostly because I finished reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry just (and I mean moments) before going to bed. Last time I read the book I think I was about fifteen, and although I remembered vaguely what the subject matter was, I had completely forgotten that the ending was as emotional as it is. It is not, by any means, a happy one, and I’m one of those people who never grew out of the inability to read anything unsettling before bed because it gave me nightmares. This is my book for the Classics Spin over at The Classics Club and I'm really excited that I can finally tick off another book from my list. I'm moving faaaaaar too slowly with it!

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is based on stories Mildred D. Taylor heard from her family growing up. I always thought it was the first in the series of books about the Logan family, but I just discovered that there’s a prequel to it, Song of the Trees. I might have to go out and find that now.

Narrated by 9 year old Cassie Logan, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of the Logan family’s (mother and father, Big Ma (father's mother), Stacy, Cassie, Christopher-John and Little Man) life in Mississippi. The basic plot is pretty day to day - the kids go to school, they go to church, their Uncle comes to visit, Cassie goes to market with her grandmother - but through these everyday occurrences a picture of injustice is painted. The Logans own their own land and so have quite a high standing in the black community. They also have a strong sense of social justice, especially Cassie. Her sense of injustice at the way that some of the white people treat her family and friends pervades the novel. It isn’t easy reading, as the consequences of small defiances are often pretty severe and graphic, but I felt as a teenager, and still feel on rereading, that it’s up there with To Kill a Mockingbird for important reading about social justice and inequality.

Despite its’ subject matter, the novel is pretty easy to read. I finished it in a couple of days and I’m really happy to get another book ticked off my Classics Club list! Also I really want to carry on reading the other two books about the Logan family that I have, Let The Circle Be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis. Clearly, this is helpful to my trying to keep my reading on track and not letting it spiral completely out of control. When I read books like this, though, it does make me think again about the importance of reading as a developmental aid for children. Obviously there’s massive amount of history I’ve (thankfully) not had the experience of living through (to be honest, most of the really horrible stuff has been before my time or generally outside my sphere of existence), so literature will be a huge help with raising Benji to understand a little of the experiences of others  I hope.

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately where bad stuff happens to kids and they make me so angry. No child should have to spend every night in fear that people will come and try to kill her father or burn her house down. Although the majority of white characters in the book are fairly racist to greater and less degrees, the ones that really stood out for me were the ones who weren’t, especially Jeremy Simms. The children never encourage him, and he is continually ridiculed by his family and the people he goes to school with, but he still walks to school with the Logans every day. I liked that as a child he is so uninfluenced or unbothered by the attitudes of others that he's willing to just like who he likes regardless of ridicule. 

I know I've been pretty vague with this review, but there's a lot in the book that I had forgotten about and that I wouldn't want to spoil for someone reading it for the first time. If you haven't read it, and you have any interest at all in social justice or civil rights, you really should read it. 

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

I really love Top Ten Tuesday - I feel like it's a really easy way to think about books in different categories and to remind myself of the books that I may have slightly forgotten about. Also, my list obsession means that it's an easy way to feel like I'm keeping up with the blog! We were away at my Mum's last weekend, and will be this weekend and the weekend after, so between travelling, taking care of Benji and attempting to do all the work for my Ancient Greeks course there's not too much time left over for blogging! I really hope to be more active soon though! But anyway, for now, here's my list:

  • Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling - Weirdly enough, I still seem to meet a lot of people who haven't read these books, or at least haven't read all of them. I tend to bug them about it until they give in and agree to either start them or carry on from where they left off! 
  • Little Women and sequels by Louisa May Alcott - I have so much love for these books. They are my antidepressant and motivator at all times and everybody should read them. I don't care that they're 'girly books'. 
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - seriously one of the best, if not the best book I've read in the past few years. Everybody should read this - I've yet to meet a person who didn't love it. 
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - this is such a hilarious memoir. I think I've posted enough about it now that people know that her reference to sage and onion stuffing literally made me cry with laughter. She is brilliant. 
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - I've mentioned the humour in this before, and how it was the first time I'd encountered the graphic format outside of fantasy and that's what I tell people when I recommend it. 
  • The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas - I actually cannot put my love for Scarlett Thomas into words. The fact that she works in the same (small) city as me is a little ridiculous. She also is apparently often on the train I get to and from work. I may even have walked past her. My brain is about to explode. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This book is important. Read it. 
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - First book that ever made me laugh aloud on public transport. On the first page. It still totally does. 
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan - I actually love these books (major thanks to Hanna for sending me the first one and getting me hooked!) and now I'm reading bits of The Iliad and The Odyssey for my course I'm totally finding the bits I recognise. It's pretty great. 
  • The Fables series by Bill Willingham - this is my favourite graphic novel series at the moment.They're based around classic fables and fairytale characters who have escaped their homelands, where an enemy known as The Adversary is taking over, and set up a new life in New York. I don't understand how anything that sounds a little lame in synopsis could be so great, but it seriously is. 

Friday 22 March 2013

Books Based on Mythology...

As some of you may know I started a course on the Ancient Greeks this week and it's really great so far. I'm the eternal geek and I really love having structure and assigned reading and having to think about things. Also I love that it's finally given me the kick I needed to start reading The Odyssey again.  I started it a few years ago but got sidetracked, as so often happens, and never got past the first few pages. Now I'm reading it again and really enjoying it, and what's better is that through this and the excerpts of The Iliad I've been reading I'm reminded of so many great books based on the Trojan war, or on Greek mythology in general. I wanted to keep a record of them here so that when I finish the course and am at a dead end, I can come back and do some rediscovering. :-) I'm also hoping that you guys will have some favourites, new or old, to add to my list!

Troy by Adele Geras was the first Trojan war book I really loved, so much that it's survived every purge I've had over the last ten years and my original copy still sits on the shelf today, complete with my name and a holographic butterfly sticker, which is how I differentiated my books from those of my siblings in my early adolescence. Because I'm cool, obviously. 

The Troy Series (Lord of the Silver Bow, Shield of Thunder & Fall of Kings) by David Gemmell. I have an all enduring love for David Gemmell which I have very rarely blogged about, partly because I read all of his books before I started blogging, and partly because he's kind of my irrational author. You might have noticed that fantasy isn't massively my thing, but as a teenager I fell in love with Gemmell's books. They're epic fantasy and he writes character ridiculously well and basically I just love him and think he was pretty much the greatest and will punch people if they dare to argue. His take on Troy is awesome, and is made extra poignant by the fact that he died mid-way through the writing of Fall of Kings so it was completed by his wife (you can't tell at all). There's a bit at the end which has a lot of double meaning because of that and is super sweet and makes me cry every time. So. 

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan - these book just kick ass. I am midway through the first book in the second series, The Lost Hero, and for some reason I've been distracted from it and it's still sitting in a corner at home. I will get back to it soon. They make very good in the bath/bedtime reading (don't have to focus too much, and they're really enjoyable). 

The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller is one I haven't actually read yet. I got it from the library a while back but had to return it before I got around to reading it because somebody else wanted it. Sigh. I will get to it one day though as it sounds great and I've heard really good things about it. 

Those are mine, what are yours? :-) 

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Dear Blogland, I Miss You

Since Benjamin was born I feel like I've been kind of absent from the blogging world. I know that I've managed to keep up ok with the blog, to be honest, I've kept up a lot better than I expected to, but I just feel that, especially in recent weeks, I've not really been all there while writing my posts and I feel like the blog is suffering a little for it. Like it's not been as 'me' as usual. I don't feel guilty about it - this blog has never and will never be a source of guilt or of pressure for me, but it is a place to vent, to talk, to submerge myself in the things that I love and I feel sad that I've not been doing that as much recently.

I think the problem is that since I've been at home with the baby I'm obviously not working and so my life is kind of empty but also really full at the same time. It's really difficult to explain. Obviously it's full of mum stuff and spending time with my little (5 months old last week!) boy who is just awesome and it's so great to spend time with him despite how challenging it sometimes is, but also I tend to jump from thing to thing, so although I'm not working I am doing the following:

  • I am on a kick (yes, a kick!) of self-sufficiency type books - I'm currently reading The River cottage Cook Book, The Self Sufficiency Bible, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver while growing salad on my windowsill and searching for a house with a big garden so we can rescue some battery hens. Also jumping between several other books (The Beautiful and Damned, A Cat, a Hat, and a Piece of String by Joanne Harris and (still!!) The Library Book!).It's like my ability to focus on one thing has gone out the window and I need to jump from thing to thing to feel like I'm accomplishing anything. This leads to me actually achieving less and feeling like I need to do more to achieve and so on. Viscious circle. 
  • I have rediscovered NetGalley and I am loving it, especially for aforementioned self-sufficiency type books and knitting books, because I can read them in short bursts and so my eyes don't do that 'I hate you please die' thing that they used to do when I tried to read graphic novels on my PC...So I'm reading another two books on the laptop...
  • I am stealing the Book Jar idea from Laura (and others) just because it sounds like fun. And because I need more projects. Obviously.
  • I recently decided that baking all our own bread would be cheaper and more fun. It is, but my arms hurt. 
  • I've taken Ellie's advice and started working on several reviews at once, which is suiting my frazzled brain brilliantly! I'm working on one of Wild by Cheryl Strayed and also Cleaving by Julie Powell. Hopefully both of these will get done this week!
  • I started my Coursera course on the Ancient Greeks yesterday and it's already great :-) 
  • I'm knitting like fury trying to get some mobiles finished for my Etsy shop. Obviously as I'm doing so many other things at the moment, not much is actually getting finished and thus there is wool all over the house.
  • Organising Benji's baptism and associated party (he's being baptised at Easter in the middle of the night cos my family's weird, and we're having the party a few weeks later and I'm trying to coordinate dates as another family baby is also being baptised a few weeks later and so I have to check that the people who are going to that aren't the same people we want to invite to our party and urgh. Family politics.)
  • Feeling guilty about not having trained at all (and I mean at all) for the 10k for the National Literacy Trust at the weekend. I will now be walking it as my only training plan has consisted of walking up hills while eating sweets. :-/ Serious fail. 
Anyway, so the major thing is that I miss being able to immerse myself in the blogging community. I really do miss all you guys - I hate the fact that I always have to comment on posts from my stupid phone while trying to steer the pram one handed, and that half the time I get distracted half way through and never actually send the comment. I also hate that I'm so out of the loop with twitter at the moment - I miss chatting with people and I feel like I always come in on the middle of conversations and/or jump into the middle of other people's conversations! So just to clarify, this is basically a post whining about how my posts are a bit crap :-) Also, I so love being a mum, I guess it's just taking some adjustment!! Plus I wanted you guys to know that although I'm kind of an absentee, I miss you all loads!! Tell me what's been going on with you :-) Also,as you've not had a photo in a while, here's one of Benji in his pj's and shoes, trying to eat his blanket in the car. 

Monday 18 March 2013

Review: - Wild by Cheryl Strayed

From Goodreads: -

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—-and built her back up again.
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—-and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her
This, I think, is the first book of 2013 that I have given five stars to on Goodreads. Thus it will be on my list of most awesome books ever for the rest of time (or at least until my blog is lost or deleted). Quite a high honour.

I’d read a little about Cheryl Strayed before I requested Wild from the library. It took four months from when I requested it for it to come in, and I had to read it and return it pretty quickly as there was a waiting list of 25 other people in the county of Kent who wanted to read it. As it turned out, reading it quickly was not a problem – I think it took two days in the end which, post – baby, is some kind of a record for me! The book was beautifully written, almost heartbreakingly honest at times, and dealt with some seriously difficult issues while still managing to be really uplifting and inspirational.

Pretty much my favourite kind of non-fiction at the moment is what they call ‘stunt memoirs’. I find them really absorbing and interesting to read. Also, I love walking memoirs. Since childhood I’ve always fantasized about going off to some remote place and walking for miles and miles. I still have a far off in the distance dream of walking around the coast of England, Scotland and Wales, but the reality is that today, when I tried to walk up a hill at the White Cliffs of Dover, I nearly had a heart attack. For somebody who’s doing a 10k next week, I’m seriously unfit, so reading about it is obviously the next best thing, and pretty much counts as training. Or so I tell myself.. Anyway! Basically, Cheryl Strayed is hugely messed up by the death of her mother and in the wake of that and a few other questionable life decisions, she breaks up with her husband and decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Because I’m a huge geek (and because of the hiker fantasy), I went and looked up the Pacific Crest Trail and it made me sad because we just don’t have anything like it here in the UK (reading about it made me both sad for the same reason and at the same time want to stick Benji in the baby sling and go off to America. Obviously I am not advocating hiking a trail full of bears and mountain lions with a baby strapped to your chest, just to clarify). So here we go: The Pacific Crest Trail (hereafter and in Wild referred to as the PCT) is 2,663 miles long and runs from California to the Oregon- Washington border. I did some research, and from Southampton (pretty much the bottom of the UK) to Durness in Scotland which is pretty much the top is about 550 miles. I know it’s a straight line and not along the coast, but still, that is all we have, people. ALL WE HAVE. I suddenly feel very restricted.

God I’m tangenty (totally a word) today! The idea of Wild is that Strayed went off from pretty much as low a point as a person can reach, unable to recover from her mother’s death, having pretty much pressed the self-destruct button on her marriage, and decided out of the blue to hike the PCT on her own in hopes of being able to change back to the person she used to be before her mother died. I loved the idea that by totally getting away from her life, to the point that at one point she literally only had two pennies to call her own, she gained freedom and strength. I can’t imagine having the courage to do something so challenging alone, and I have to admit to having a bit of a hero-worship thing going on.

This was my absolute favourite quote from the book:

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” (p 51)

I feel like I learned a lot from this book, even if only about the kind of achievements that can be accomplished purely by making yourself do something inconceivable. Also, this:

“I’d loved books in my regular, pre-PCT life, but on the trail, they’d taken on even greater meaning. They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear.” (p105)

In true tradition, this review has been incredibly tangentional and rambling and not at all coherent, but that is all that I have to say. I loved Wild, and if you’re into memoirs you should read it. Like, now. 

Friday 8 March 2013

Review: - Maus by Art Spiegelman

When I was at university, living in a flat with some friends, somebody gave us a video player (remember video players? I feel so old). Anyway, my flatmate and I promptly went round all the charity shops collecting videos for 20p each. As part of my obsession with following some kind of list of films you must watch before whatever, I got a copy of Schindler's List. I really wanted to watch it. I still do. It sat on the shelf for three years, then the video player broke and we got rid of it. I could never quite muster up the courage to watch something that I just knew would make me cry. The reason I haven't read Maus until now is pretty much the same.

Maus is possibly the book I’ve waited the longest to read. As a teenager I was always very interested (I say interested, but it was more horrified than anything else I guess) in the holocaust. I just cannot fathom how something so horrendous could ever have been allowed to happen and I guess I always hoped that if I read enough about it, it would somehow become clear to me. I’m still reading, and I’m still no closer to answers.

For the unenlightened, Maus is the story of Art Spiegleman's father's experiences during the Second World War, first as a Polish prisoner of war, and later on in Auschwitz.  I’ve got quite a lot of experience of holocaust literature and for the most part I found Maus a lot easier going than a lot of it. I think that the graphic medium helped a lot, and the fact that the Jews are drawn as mice rather than as people definitely distances it a bit, but I did still have moments where it suddenly hit me that they were talking about people – hundreds of thousands of people – that these horrific things were happening to.

In tone it reminded me a lot of Alison Bechdel, especially Fun Home and I think that if it hadn’t flashed between past and present and been interspersed with Spiegelman and his father in the present and their relationship, it would have been too heavy to take. As it was, I think it was (and is) important to read and probably should be somewhere on the National Curriculum.

Maus was originally published in two volumes, but the edition I read was The Complete Maus. The first volume deals with Vladek’s experiences as a prisoner of war and focuses quite strongly on Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father, and his father’s difficult relationship with his second wife, Mala. The second begins with Art after his father’s death and then flashes back to his time in Auschwitz.

I find it really difficult to write about the experience of reading Maus, because it feels like anything that I say would come out sounding kind of petty next to the horror of the experiences depicted in it, but I liked it because running through it was the importance of stories. Vladek telling his son about his experience helped to bring them closer and also helped Art to understand a lot about why his father was the way that he was. I like this as a message – stories promote understanding. Listening creates togetherness. It’s pretty good, as messages go. Also, and obviously, it leaves you with the thought that the holocaust was a horror beyond words and it is so important to remember it in order to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

Maus wasn't an enjoyable reading experience so much but an absorbing one, definitely. One of the things I love most about the Graphic Novel Challenge is that it really pushes me to look outside of my usual comfort zone and motivates me to read things I've been thinking about for a while. So there we go. Not cheerful, as reading matter goes, but definitely important. 

Saturday 2 March 2013

March TBR!

This is my first month taking part in Jenn's Monthly TBR meme and I'm quite excited about it. You know that I'm kind of a fan of photos of piles of books, and since I'm trying to keep myself at least vaguely on track with my challenge reading (for updates, see here and here) it kind of makes sense to do this I think. 

So here's my pile for March. Once again, I'm being ridiculously ambitious, especially considering that I have My Life in France by Julia Child and Wild by Cheryl Strayed to finish before the end of February (I'm writing this on Wednesday but won't publish it till Saturday, because I'm logical like that... :-/

You might recognize some of these from my February post. I had a bit of a library problem the past couple of months and that coupled with my slow reading pace at the moment has led to a bit of a backlog!! 
Anway, here's my pile. There are a few that I absolutely must read this month and some which it would just be nice to get to. 
Books in the pile are:

  • The Library Book - I've been reading this collection of essays about the awesomeness that is libraries for at least a month now and I really have to finish it this month! I've made huge amounts of notes and written down a load of quotes so I'm a little scared of actually writing a review...
  • The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber - from the Canongate Myth series, so it would be nice to read it and tick another one off of the list, but if I don't get to it, I will someday.
  • The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit - Childhood favourite and part of my Year of Reading Edith Nesbit challenge, for which I've yet to read a single book. It's time to get started, so this one is a must read. 
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is another childhood favourite and was the book I got for the Classics Club spin, so again this must be read!
  • The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald I need to read for Allie's Modernist March event, and I have to say it's probably the book I'm most excited about this month.
  • A Cat, a Hat, and a Piece of String by Joanne Harris - a book of short stories I've had out of the library for the past month. I might try to read a story a day or something to get it done as I really do love Joanne Harris' writing and want to read it!
  • Brave Old World by Tom Hodgkinson - I've had a bit of a relapse into my self-sufficiency obsession lately and found this in the library. It basically goes through a year and each month he talks about something different. Subjects range from wood chopping, hen keeping and bee keeping through to my favourite, December, 'feasting'. 
  • The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd - this was a surprise which turned up on my doorstep from Simon & Schuster this month and I need to be better about reading review copies, so I plan to start here. The storyline sounds really interesting and I'm looking forward to it. 
  • Cleaving by Julie Powell - I'd like to get this read too as it would follow on nicely from My Life in France, being the second memoir by the Julie of Julie & Julia, but who knows. 
I also need to read a graphic novel for the challenge this month but I forgot to put it in the photo! I'm thinking one of the Neil Gaiman's that I have but haven't read, so either Eternals, Midnight Days, Black Orchid, or Mr. Punch. 

I always wonder why it is that I can't limit myself to a reasonable number of books per month, but I think that if I could my blog would probably be a lot less interesting!

Friday 1 March 2013

Telling Tales Challenge March Link Up!

It's the third month of the year! So far the master list (which can be found here) is looking pretty great and I'm happy with myself because my reading's going a lot better than last year so far! I am really enjoying discovering new stuff through all of your reviews. If you'd like to sign up for the challenge (or know anybody who might!) you can still do so here. Please feel free to contact me with thoughts, questions, ideas etc on twitter (@fairybookgirl) or by email (thetangledwebweweave(at)gmail(dot)com). If you want to talk about the challenge on twitter you can use #ttchallenge or just tag me in to your posts!

Happy reading!