Monday 29 April 2013

Bout of Booooooooooks!

Ok, disclaimer heading in - I have either some kind of awful cold or the mother of all hayfever and I think the meds are going to my head so there will be a lot of elongated vowels, repetition of words, half finished sentences, and me generally not being able to make my brain work to link things and such.

So now that's done, yay Bout of Books is back! :-) I participated a while back because of Ellie doing all the readathons last year and me being jealous, mostly, and it was goooooood and I'm super excited that it's happening again in a couple of weeks (actually it's the week after something I'm not looking forward to at all is happening, but then at the end of the week I'm going to see EDDIE IZZARD so that will make everything ok, and then I'll come back from London and reeeeeead all week. Excited)

Here's the info about the readathon from the Bout of Books website:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 7.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

And if you want to sign up for it (and why wouldn't you?) you can do that here.

Now that's done and I officially can't forget about it and then be annoyed all week because I forgot about it, I'm off to curl up in a corner/ try to absorb more information about the Ancient Greeks...

Saturday 27 April 2013

Some Graphic Novel Mini Reviews

Today is the 24 hour readathon and I'm not participating pretty much just because I somehow didn't realise it was happening until yesterday. I really have no idea how I managed to miss it and I'm really feeling the non-participation. It's extra annoying as Rhys actually has the weekend off this weekend, so I totally could have done it, but by now I feel like it's kind of too late to get myself motivated, but oh well. There's always October, right? And reading about everyone's motivation has motivated me to finally getting around to writing a few mini reviews of the graphic novels I've been reading lately! 

I'm so behind with my reviews lately, but I'm having one of those phases where I've started loads and just cannot settle down to finish any of them. So anyway, here goes!

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

Some of you might remember how much I loved and adored Satrapi's Persepolis a couple of years back - it was my first introduction to the graphic memoir genre and I found it hilarious and insightful and awesome. I then saw the film and had pretty much the same experience again, and so despite hearing that Embroideries wasn't as good from several people, I still hoped. 

I have to say though, that although parts of Embroideries were amusing, it was nowhere near as brilliant as Persepolis and had much less impact on me as a reader. Embroideries is about the sex lives of Iranian women, and so the novel is basically family, friends and neighbours sitting in somebody's living room talking about their marriages, divorces, and love affairs in general. There's some interesting stuff in it but generally it just didn't grab me like Persepolis did, which is why I don't have a whole lot to say about it, really. 

And so, onwards to

Fables Volume 9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham

I love the Fables series. After I finished Neil Gaiman's Sandman I was worried I wouldn't find anything else fairytaley enough for me, and Fables fits the bill perfectly. As the series progresses I'm finding it difficult to write spoiler -free full length reviews and so I'm tending more towards the mini reviews, more as a quick mention of my reaction to them than an analysis of the books themselves. I don't want to ruin them for anybody, because I really want you all to go and read this series. Even if you don't read graphic novels, I really think you should. 

Sons of Empire is one of the 'setting things up' kind of novels which appear between major events in the Fables series. It's setting up for the next (and major) battle between Fabletown and the Homelands and has some nice little twists and turns and some more of Bigby Wolf's backstory and a lot about Snow and Bigby's adorable kids, so that was fun. Basically, I liked it, as I have liked all of the books in this series so far, but it wasn't one of my favourites. However...

Fables Volume 10: The Good Prince  by Bill Willingham


The thing that I enjoy the most about the series is how it showcases all the different characters - pretty much each book is about a different character or several different characters and so you get a nice rounded view of what's happening, and every now and again Willingham chucks in a character as a major player who you had hardly noticed skulking in the corners... The Good Prince is pretty much about Prince Ambrose, previously known as Flycatcher, and his story. This is the one that I really can't write about without spoilers and I really don't want to spoil it because it's pretty epic. And that's all I'm going to say. If you have any interest in fairytales, read this series, and read it in order. Thank me later :-) 

Tuesday 23 April 2013

World Book Night 2013 or How My Mother Made Me Talk to People...

When I filled in my application to be a giver for World Book Night this year all I was thinking was that it's a pretty epic idea and as a person who loves to read and hopes to bring their child up to love books, encouraging people to read is something I should definitely be supporting. Only later (like, two days ago) did I actually think about the practicalities of giving out the books. 

I don't think I've mentioned before that I suffer with social anxiety. As a teenager, I suffered really quite badly with it (I used to drink a lot in order to be able to be in social situations at all - inevitably that led to the situations becoming a lot worse than they would otherwise have been, but there we go. We learn from our mistakes.) Since then I've improved a massive amount, mostly due to working in retail which has made me get reeeeallly good at small talk, and although I quite enjoy it now, walking up to strangers and talking to them is still not something I can do without freaking out majorly first. I really don't know how this didn't occur to me until I was writing my name and pick-up point in the front of 20 copies of The White Queen by Philippa Gregory on Saturday night. Maybe I have greater faith in my recovery than I realise? Anyway, I've basically been having a minor panic attack the past day and a half, which was only calmed by repeatedly telling myself that I could just leave the books on benches and not actually have to talk to anybody at all. I think I must've told myself that at least 50 times. So that was my plan. 

At about 11am my mum and sister arrived from London - the plan was that in the case of rain/awful weather they would look after Benji while I ran around town leaving books on benches, ninja style. However, the weather was gorgeous, so they decided they should come too. I had only left one book on one bench before my mum spotted an old lady at the bus stop and said 'Oh, that lady looks like she wants a book. Go give her one! You have loads of experience with old ladies! You're not scared of her!' (I should add that a previous job entailed a lot of working with old ladies, so yes, I am used to them). After much coercing by her I went over to said old lady pretty much just to shut my mum up, and she was lovely. At first she didn't want to take a book, because she doesn't read anymore. I told her that that was pretty much the point of the operation - to find people who don't read and give them books, and that if she decided she really didn't want to read the book she could always pass it along to somebody else. Then she asked about World Book Night and I was totally full of facts and things, and then we had a chat about the book ('Oooh the one thing I do like is a bit of historical writing!'), and I went on my way feeling surprisingly pleased with myself. 

I gave all my books out in under an hour and I only left two on benches in the end. I will say that the vast majority did end up going to women, but in my defence the only two people who turned down the offer of a completely free book were men. I was slightly offended by the people who refused. I stressed that it was completely free, no strings attached, and when they still refused part of me wanted to chase them down the road waving the book going 'it's a FREE BOOK! Who turns down a FREE BOOK?!' but I didn't, because I'm a mature adult and stuff. And also, it was too hot to run. So there we go. I know it's not technically World Book Night yet, but my husband works silly shifts and I have no babysitting capacity, so it had to be today, and all in all it was a huge amount less stressful than I expected. Yay for free books and all the lovely ladies who happily accepted copies of The White Queen :-) I'm happy this evening because I feel like I've helped brighten up some people's days, and won a little personal victory as well. 

I want to know about your experiences of World Book Night now, as this was my first year really being involved and I'm so happy I did it! How have other people found it?

Friday 12 April 2013

In Appreciation of the Bedtime Story...

There is so much I need to be doing with my evening... putting 30 odd tomato plants into bigger tubs, making dinner, doing reading/lecture watching for my Ancient Greeks course, knitting another snake, writing several hundred reviews... and yet the thing I really want to do is to write this post about bedtime stories. 

All my childhood, come hell or highwater, my siblings and I had a bedtime story of some variety every single night. My dad is the ultimate teller of made up stories - he can string something out for weeks and months and years (literally, some of his characters are now well into their second decade) and have it still be epic. Among my childhood favourites were a Scottish Professor who invented a flying machine that he used to get into all kinds of trouble, Captain Peppard and his boat which was also a flying machine (yes, I'm sensing a bit of a theme here too...), and an interesting breed of weird fluffy creatures who lived in an underground metropolis and travelled to various different lands by train, having all kinds of adventures.Also Pericles Pyrites the Ancient Greek bicycle repair man and his friend 'the Soothsayer'. I don't think anybody who isn't in my family really gets how great these stories are, but seriously, they were awesome. And for when my Dad was too knackered/working late, my mum was the queen ('just one more chapter, pleeeeeease?') of Enid Blyton, and Roald Dahl. Coming from this, it literally shocked me to my core to hear Rhys say that he doesn't remember having bedtime stories as a child. I feel sad for him, but that said, he is really enthusiastic about reading to Benji, and we've been doing it since pretty much the first day he came home from the hospital. 

And that's really what this post is about. Benji is 6 months old this weekend (where the hell has the time gone?!), and he's really getting to the stage where you can see that he loves his bedtime story now. He'll snuggle down on my lap and watch me while I read to him, smiling all the time. It's ridiculously cute, and probably my favourite time of the day. He's starting to really look at pictures properly now and pay attention to my tone of voice and all the other stuff, and today we read That's Not My Dragon and he had a great time poking all the tactile bits. He does try to eat most of the books, but I've heard they grow out of that, so here's hoping!

While I was pregnant I had a great time doing the Books for Baby feature, and what I really wanted to do now is just post about a few of the books which have been little milestones in his life so far. I love the thought that someday we can look back on this and remember what his favourites were at different stages. 

I think the biggest thanks in the world should go to A.A Milne (or at least to his memory) for writing The House at Pooh Corner, which was the first book I ever read to Benji during the total nightmare that was the attempt at breastfeeding, and When We Were Very Young which lulled him back to sleep at 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the morning, allowing his exhausted mother to get a few hours of sleep before starting over again!

If Shirley Hughes had an altar, I would be worshipping at it. It's debatable whether Benji or I love her more, but Dogger was the first book that Benji really paid attention to the pictures in. Her illustrations are just beautiful, and I was ridiculously excited because he was only about five weeks old at the time. More recently we've loved the poems in The Nursery Collection, all about stuff like nature, colours, and the pattern of daily life, and I've just started to read him the Alfie stories, which were some of my favourites as a child. I quite often end storytime with a massive grin on my face, remembering my own childhood awesomeness. 

This was my sister Ruth's absolute favourite as a little kid, and there is no doubt that Benjamin has loved Hairy Maclary, Slinky Malinky and the rest pretty much from day one. Currently he owns Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, Slinky Malinky, and Hairy Maclary's Caterwaul Caper here at home, and Slinky Malinky Catflaps at Grandma's house and he is all giggles, all the way through, every time. We are still collecting these everywhere we see them and I just got a copy of Hairy Maclary's Bone in a charity shop last week for his birthday. It's in October. I'm very prepared. 

When Benji was (some might say) far too young for stories and resistant of pretty much everything we tried to read him, he never cried during a Jill Murphy book. He seriously adores the Large Family, and I read him Whatever Next! last week (he says thanks, Aunty Laura!:-p) and he was all trying to grab the pictures manically and giggling his little head off. So. 

Julia Donaldson is an author we're just discovering, due to the whole Gruffalo phenomenon not being a thing when I was a kid. I have to say, so far we are all really enjoying it, although I will admit to having a slight preference for The Highway Rat (thanks to Hanna for alerting us to its existence!) over The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child

Obviously I can't not mention The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which Benji has taken to trying to eat every time we read it. The way I see it, he's obviously trying to emulate the caterpillar and I have a seriously intelligent child on my hand... or something. Anyway thanks Ellie for sending us this one (and I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but you three are pretty much like the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty... fairy godmothers much?!)

Finally (I know you're breathing a sigh of relief), I can't find a picture of it that's not crap, but pretty much the most epic children's book EVER which Benji agrees with me about is Superbabe by Deborah van der Beek. It's ridiculously difficult to get hold of and I eventually got it from the place of evil book destroyingness which shall never be mentioned with the gift card Hanna gave Benji for Christmas (seriously, fairy godmother!) and was (and still am, as are my mum and sisters) really stupidly excited about it. I may have rung my sister up giggling and gone 'superbaaaaaaaaabe' down the phone at her for about five minutes, and she may have responded with 'eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee' or a similar high pitched noise...

Anyway, now that's done, let the screaming nostalgia commence :-) What's great, what did you hate, and what's Benji missing out on?

Wednesday 3 April 2013

April TBR

I feel like I'm kind of setting myself up for failure by doing this, but I really love the whole list making, goal setting aspect of it so I will continue. Here's my (total failure) picture from March: 

Basically, I finished two books. The Library Book I was really close to finishing but I had to take it back to the library as I'd renewed it like... four times? and they really wanted it back. I seriously have no idea why it took me so long, but I figured that now I have an excuse to go buy it which is good as it supports The Reading Agency, so it all works out for the best, really. Also, the only reason I didn't read The Treasure Seekers was cos I lost it. I really have no clue how as it must be somewhere in my house but for the life of me I cannot find it, so I gave up on it and started The Railway Children instead, which you will see appears in my picture for April! I've only managed to actually review Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, as ages has gone by since I read Cleaving and although I liked it, I didn't love it enough for details to stay in my head in such a way that enables the writing of a review. I really need to come up with some kind of note taking system...

From April's pile you might be able to tell that I'm on a bit of an environmenty/self-sufficiency/growing stuff kind of kick at the moment. I'm two thirds of the way through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and it's really having an impact on me. I won't say much more as the review of it is going to be really fun to write! 
Because my photography's shocking, here's what's in the pile:
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit - about a quarter through this already and I love it just as much as I did as a child. One of my favourite things as a child was the description of Phyllis 'who was extremely well-meaning'. I have no idea why I liked it so much but it still makes me giggle to this day, and even more so in the film. (The original with Bernard Cribbens and Jenny Agutter as Bobbie. Not the horrible travesty they made a few years back with her as the mother. Urgh)
  • Mystery in the Minster by Susanna Gregory - this is the latest in the Matthew Bartholomew chronicles - a series of murder mysteries set in Cambridge in the 1300s.  This is my mum's and that's pretty much the reason I'm still reading the series. The books are all very similar but the writing's pretty good and they're enjoyable even if only for the historical aspects. Also, the characters are pretty great, and my  mum passes them on to me after she and my Grandma have read them, so that's nice. 
  • Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi - I'm a little bit wary of this as I loved Persepolis so much a couple of years back and have heard mixed things about Embroideries. I guess if I don't try it I'll never know, though.
  • Bluestockings: the Remarkable Story of the First women to Fight for an Education by Jane Robinson
  • No Impact Man: Saving the Planet One Family at a Time by Colin Beavan
  • The Innocents by Francesca Segal is the Mumsnet Book Club choice for April and there were no free copies left, so I ordered it in to the library. Now I just have to read it before the end of the month...
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver - seriously the best thing ever right now. More will follow. 
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer I got from the library because it seemed along similar lines to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm so into that right now. Also I had some vague memories of Laura saying it was good a while back, which is usually a good sign!
Massively optimistic, as usual, but at least I've got a good start on a couple of them! I'm also expecting Fables Vol. 9 into the library, so there'll be that too. 

Telling Tales Challenge April Link Up

I swear every time I turn around another month of 2013 has gone by! I'm starting to reach the panicky, 'I haven't read any of the things I should have read' part of the year, but I am not going to let it take over! I did finish the first book in the second Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan this month, but I haven't got around to reviewing it yet. I'm also reading a lot of Ancient Greek mythology as I'm taking a course, which is probably why I haven't got the other stuff I planned to read done, but there we go! 

As always, if you want to join us in reading all things fairytale and mythology, sign up is here. The master list for 2013 is here, and if you want to talk about the challenge on Twitter you can do so using #ttchallenge, or just tag me into your tweet (@fairybookgirl). Happy reading!