Nothing to see here... Move along please... YES THAT MEANS YOU MADAM... Keep things moving... :)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A very belated book, DVD, library, belated birthday AND Harry Potter Studio Tour haul!

This post has already been through two incarnations - as a June haul that didn't get posted in time, then as a June/July bumper extravaganza that got too long...  In the end I decided to just make this a very belated June post, and my July version will be up in a few days!  So, June... not only did I get three belated birthday gifts, but I also hit the library for a new armful of books, bought some shizzle myself, and went on the Warner Brothers Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour, which obviously included a browse round the giant gift shop!  Let's dive straight into the goodies, shall we?

First up was the arrival of a mystery Amazon box from Charlotte, who was on holiday over my birthday and sent this amazing parcel when she got home!  Quite frankly, more celebrations should be spread out over a lengthier period of time - it just makes the fun last longer.  She sent me A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, which sounds HILARIOUS, The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker, which has had rave reviews across the interwebs, and topped it off with season one of New Girl on DVD, which I'm all set to start as soon as I've finished my current on-the-go box sets.  I've seen occasional episodes on TV and enjoyed them, but E4 mixes sitcoms up so much that I usually end up buying a box set just so I can see the story arc in order!  Plus I feel like a fraud every time I use a New Girl GIF here on the blog without having seen it properly, so... y'know, no more guilt there.  Thank you Charlotte!  :)

Sometime early in the month I hit the library in Chesterfield again - more choice there - and picked up a bunch more books.  I've already read and loved Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton (read my mini review here), and am looking forward to the upcoming sequel.  I snapped up And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, both as a complementary read to set against watching Kill Your Darlings, and also because Tristan at Tattered Reader serendipitously good-reviewed it around the same time.  I really enjoyed Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas (review here), so I picked up his latest, Barracuda - but that's since gone back to the library and been replaced by my own copy, as you'll see in my July post!  I'm fairly sure I've had We the Animals by Justin Torres out of the library before, but for some reason didn't read it.  And finally, I picked up Sane New World by Ruby Wax, about mental health and mindfulness, which has had rave reviews everywhere but which I was a tad sceptical about buying until I'd checked it out and read some of it for myself.

June was also the month of my mini road trip down to London with my sister to go on the Making of Harry Potter tour at the Warner Brothers Studio, Leavesden.  We were meant to go in February but had to rearrange because I just wasn't up to it - depression and all - so we were both so happy to finally be there!  Aside from all the props and costumes and general wow-factor, this obviously also entailed a good scout round the huge gift shop, yaaaaay!  As well as our pre-bought souvenir guides (which are really lovely by the way, gorgeous pictures) and the cool character tickets (mine had the basilisk on it), I also bought a pretty and seriously heavy-duty Time Turner keyring, a Ravenclaw postcard, chocolate frogs for me, Hannah and my mum (they're huge!), and a hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  I've been meaning to buy hardbacks of the earlier books anyway, and this one has a Studio Tour seal on it which makes it a nice souvenir.  The bookshelves were so awesome too, piled high with everything Potter in multiple different editions!  I was going to buy a house cushion as well but there were no Ravenclaw ones left - fortunately WB has just revamped its online shop so now there's loads more to choose from, including the cushions, so I might get my hands on one yet!

Next up, the second of three belated birthday parcels to arrive - this one all the way from Kayleigh in Australia, yaaay!  She sent me a tea birthday card (because ENGLAND), a lovely letter, a Luna Lovegood sticker (she looks like a really cool fairy, actually) and a beautiful Indian leather notebook.  Not only that, but she went out of her way to find an interesting Australian book that I wouldn't be able to get hold of easily here, and sent me Trouble: Evolution of a Radical / Selected Writings 1970-2010 by Kate Jennings, even though she mentioned that she'd have loved to have read it herself.  KAYLEIGH YOU ARE SO LOVELY.  I'd never even HEARD of Kate Jennings, but I do love me some smart lady-writing and this collection looks fantastic.  Thank you so much!

I picked up a few things for myself as well, of course.  I bought The World According to Clarkson vol. 5: Is It Really Too Much to Ask? by Jeremy Clarkson, because despite him being deliberately controversial and letting his mouth run away with him on television, he DOES write very funny columns and his WAtC collections are great for dipping into when no other book will do.  I gave up trying to find a copy of Filth by Irvine Welsh - I bought the movie in May and wanted to read it first - and ended up ordering it from Amazon, and while I was at it I also ordered Mean Girls and Dracula season 1 on DVD.  I'm sure I've seen Mean Girls before, years ago, but didn't really appreciate it at the time, and Dracula just looks so... decadent.  I couldn't resist!

Aaaaand lastly but definitely not least(ly), I got another birthday parcel!  A really heavy box arrived and Mum was like, "Oh heeeeeeeell no what have you bought now?" and I was slightly worried that I HAD bought stuff - but then I opened it and it was actually a big shoebox (naturally) crammed with stuff from Hanna!  Obviously she won me over immediately with THREE DIFFERENT BAGS of Jelly Belly jellybeans, two of which I can't get for love nor money down here away from a big city.  Ice Cream Parlour flavours and CHOCOLATE DIPPED BEANS?  Oh yes.  Not only that, but there was a cheery little solar-powered daisy (he's so happy!), Teapigs chocolate flake tea, AND two books.  HANNA YOU HAVE OUTDONE YOURSELF. 

The first book-shaped parcel contained Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, a rave-reviewed YA novel about two loftily-named boys who meet by chance, instantly bond, become best friends and - I'm assuming - have some sort of adventure.  The second was Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron, which documents her journey towards accepting and embracing her young son's rejection of male gender stereotypes, and her subsequent personal and political battles to encourage others to follow suit.  I've read excerpts of the book before, and also stumbled across Lori's blog, and being hugely interested in gender issues and the futility of shoving people into perfect little boxes, I can't WAIT to get stuck into this one.

Thank you so much to the three wonderful friends who managed to extend my birthDAY into more of a birthMONTH - don't you just love those?! - and as I mentioned, my July book shopping will be laid bare for you sometime in the next few days...  In the meantime, if you've read and enjoyed any of these already, do let me know in the comments!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Bout of Books 11 is nearly here!

Bout of Books
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, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th 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 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.
- From the Bout of Books team


Yep, it's almost time for another dose of Bout of Books madness, and I cannot WAIT.  My reading's really slowed off since I came back from holidaying in Croatia, and between now and the readathon I'm going to be spending most of my time decorating my bedroom.  My aim is to be done with that by the time BoB week comes around, which means painting the ceiling (one coat to go), painting the walls a couple of times, glossing all the woodwork (the sanding is done), getting the carpet deep-cleaned, then going shopping for all the new furniture I need (Ikea in summer, yay!), installing it all (Ikea instructions, yay!) AND bringing the entirety of my belongings back in here.  Including about twelve large boxes of books.  Just under a month should be enough, right?  RIGHT?  Hey, at least it gives me a deadline to aim for...

I'll do all the goals, TBR pile, page target shizzle nearer the time, as usual, but for the purposes of signing up... HERE I AM, BOUT OF BOOKS!  BRING IT ON!
Come on, come on... who's with me?  A week of summer reading?  Maybe some reclining outside on a sunlounger with a book and a jug of something cold?  An afternoon or five chilling in an air conditioned room when it's just too hot to sunbathe?  Reading through the night during a summer storm?  DOESN'T IT SOUND GOOD?

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 19th-24th

It's time for my fourth Book a Day post, based on a current Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together; click on the links to read my answers for Days 1-6, Days 7-12 and Days 13-18.

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 19th: Most memorable plot twist (no spoilers please)
The huge twist in We Need to Talk About Kevin would probably have been my most memorable if my sister hadn't spoilered it for me several years before I read it (not that it really ruined the book, it was still amazing) - so instead I'm going for The Bertha Revelation in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  Hopefully that's vague enough not to spoiler anything for people who haven't stumbled across it before - but seriously, the book was published in 1847 and most people pretty much know the deal by now, right?
July 20th: Your Desert Island novel
It's got to be something long and rereadable, hasn't it?  I've already mentioned The Count of Monte Cristo in a previous prompt, so instead I'm going to take a gamble on a classic I HAVEN'T read yet, and go with Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  That way I'd be able to enjoy it for the first time AND get rereading value out of it!

July 21st: The novel you expected to hate, but turned out you loved
This was actually quite a hard prompt to answer, because as a rule I don't pick up books I expect to hate.  Why would I read something if I think I won't enjoy it?!  The closest I've ever come is with my first Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary.  King's reputation for horror (which I'd never really read before) meant that when things started getting scary I panicked and decided I wasn't reading any more.  In the bright sunshine of the next day I realised I was being a bit ridiculous and carried on, and guess what?  It was excellent, and underneath the horror there was so much more to the novel that I would have missed if I hadn't kept reading.  I'm now a big Stephen King fan!

July 22nd: The novel you most like to give to friends
This is a tricky one because every friend is different, and something I would happily throw at one person might go down like a lead balloon with another.  My go-to recommendation for most of them (and therefore also the one I'm most likely to give them myself) would be The Secret History by Donna Tartt, just because it's got a bit of everything - it's bookish, beautifully written and teeming with murder and secrets, romance and academia, friendship and manipulation.  It's one of my favourites!
July 23rd: Favourite novel with exotic background
Hmmmm.  I can't really think of many, but one of the stand-outs is probably Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, a historical novel about Nefertiti's marriage to Akhenaten and the rise and fall of the city of Amarna.  Moran's such a wonderful writer that not only do these powerful historical figures come alive on the page, but the Ancient Egyptian setting, under the blazing sun on the banks of the Nile, almost becomes a character in its own right.
July 24th: A book that most reminds you of your English teacher
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in particular the Prologue, which we studied for our A-levels.  Our teacher, Ms Stanley, read it aloud to us in the most wonderful rolling Middle English, which made it somehow MORE comprehensible.  She also devised a class game to match up each of the pilgrims with their descriptions, which was a good way to help us get our characters straight.  The group was small, lively and full of clever, witty, enthusiastic students who got along with each other - and her - very easily, so every lesson was fun, no matter how hard we were working!
That's it for this installment!  My last #BookadayUK post will be up at the end of the month; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 13th-18th

It's time for my third Book a Day post, based on a current Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together; click on the links to read my answers for Days 1-6 and Days 7-12!  This post is also the first to contain a 'lucky dip' day, in which Doubleday invites prompt ideas and then Tweets the chosen question on the day itself.  :)

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 13th: Best title for a novel
In trying to come up with an answer for this prompt, I decided to consult this Goodreads list of 'most eyecatching or distinctive book titles'.  OH, IT'S WONDERFUL.  Some of my favourites include I Still Miss My Man But My Aim Is Getting Better by Sarah Shankman and Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Cara North - but the king of amazing novel titles has to be Robert Rankin.  His offerings include The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Armageddon: The Musical, The Sprouts of Wrath and Raiders of the Lost Car Park.  Ingenious.  I don't know why I haven't read any of them yet, except that when they came into the shop they sold again reaaaaally fast.  As for books on my own shelves, I'd have to say either The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (my review) or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  They both have a nice cadence to them, and both perfectly sum up their contents without giving anything away: they're a tiny bit intriguing without being obtuse.  I LIKE THEM IS WHAT I'M TRYING TO SAY.  They're also both amazing books, obviously!
July 14th: For Bastille Day, your favourite novel about or set in France
Hands down, no contest, it has to be The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Not only was it the first book I ever reviewed on this blog, back in 2010, it's also one of my favourite novels of all time.  I read the crystal-clear Penguin Classics translation by Robin Buss, which I highly recommend, and found that once the story and characters were thoroughly built up - about halfway through - I was turning the pages faster and faster through the rest of the book, desperate to find out how everything would play out in the Count's painstakingly meticulous plot for vengeance.  Brilliant.  (My review)
July 15th: LUCKY DIP - The last book(s) you bought
Last time we went grocery shopping at our local Tesco I ended up buying three books.  I always tell myself I'll "just have a look to see what's out this week" - but I usually end up buying something because... well, that's how addiction works!  On this occasion I came home with How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (new out in hardback - I've nearly finished it already), The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (recommended by Katie) and Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (a summer foodie novel).

July 16th: Favourite book to take to the beach
The last couple of years I've taken beach-or-ocean-related books on holiday, which has felt quite appropriate as packing has commenced each summer.  The most perfect one for sunlounger reading turned out to be On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves, which isn't the most well-written of novels, but which is PERFECT thematically.  It's about a young tutor and her teenage student who are stranded on an island in the Maldives for several years, learning to survive and eventually falling in love.  It's a real page-turner, and what better place to read it than during a sweltering day by the ocean?  I'll definitely be reading it again sometime!  (My review)
July 17th: Novel which surprised you most
One of the most memorable surprises for me was reading King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, for Hanna's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge in 2012.  It was one of the books I wasn't looking forward to that much - I expected it to be dry and dull and generally outdated - but as it turned out, it was a brilliant adventure novel that got gradually more and more gripping until it hit some amazing setpieces at the end that wouldn't have been out of place in an epic blockbuster movie.  Possibly directed by Peter Jackson.  It wound up being one of my absolute favourite reads of the year! (My review)
July 18th: Favourite crime novel of all time - it's the Harrogate Crime Festival!
Ummmm.  My favourite crime book is without doubt In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - but that's not really a novel.  One of my surprise favourites has actually turned out to be Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.  I haven't read on with the series yet, but obviously the premise is intriguing (as anyone who has ever watched Dexter will know) and I found his inner monologue, with its playful menace, dark humour and flights of alliteration, to be quite addictive.  I still have six more books to read, and six more series to watch, so I've got plenty more Dexter Morgan ahead of me yet! (My review)
That's it for this installment!  I'll be back soon with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 7th-12th

It's time for my second Book a Day post!  As you may recall from the first instalment, this is based on a Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  After it proved a success in June, it was taken up by Doubleday UK, who have continued it into July.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together.  Onwards!

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 7th: Most chocolatey novel - it's National Chocolate Day!
Well, this one's a no-brainer.  The clue's in the title - it's got to be Chocolat by Joanne Harris!  I'd already fallen in love with the film (and still prefer the movie, I think) but the book has more of a magical feel, and the descriptions of food (especially chocolate!) are just mouthwatering.  Definitely not one to read without a stockpile of sweet treats on hand to indulge your cravings...
July 8th: Favourite Great War novel
I don't think I've ever read one, though I've definitely got a couple on my shelves, including All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which I've heard is amazing.  I have read novels set in World War II though, my favourite of which is probably Atonement by Ian McEwan.  That book ripped my heart out, stomped on it and gave it back, and had a bit of everything in there - romance, family, war at home and abroad...  Robbie's narrative, in particular, was so evocative of the endless days of fear and exhaustion as the army retreated to Dunkirk - it was amazing. (My review)
July 9th: Most irritating character in a novel
Absolutely no contest here - it's got to be the vile Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series.  I just... ugh.  I hate her so much that I literally can't watch Imelda Staunton in anything else now without feeling a wave of revulsion.  But it's a different kind of hate to, say, Voldemort.  With him it's like, "Whoah, this guy's terrifying... I'm just gonna be over here hiding in a corner."  With Umbridge I felt more like when I was at school and a really nasty teacher would humiliate someone in class for no reason.  Definitely more a "THAT BITCH NEEDS TO GO DOOOOOOWN" kind of thing.  All that pink!  All those little coughs!  All that sickly sweet malevolence!  NOOOOOPE.

July 10th: Novel with the most memorable picnic for Teddy Bear's Picnic Day!
The Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton - and most other Enid Blyton series, to be honest!  I particularly remember that whenever parents came to visit the school, there would always be amazing picnics.  Sometimes the girls would go out with their families and friends for a picnic on the clifftop somewhere, or there'd be a Strawberry Tea held at the school for everyone to enjoy.  Let's face it, all Enid Blyton books are MADE by the picnics - bottles of ginger beer, hard boiled eggs with twists of salt, apples, slabs of cake and gingerbread, thick slices of bread...  Okay now I've made myself hungry.
July 11th: The book that made you cry
Ohhhh, I'm a real book crier.  One of the worst offenders for me has to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...  I mean, I knew going into it that it was probably going to be bad, but I ended up having my heart ripped out over and over again as the pages went by.  I sobbed and sobbed, and then sobbed some more, and I gave myself a crying headache, and had to take naps because I'd exhausted myself.  **SPOILERS** The losses with the strongest emotional ties got me hardest - Fred, obviously, because of leaving a twin brother and a close-knit family behind, and Lupin and Tonks, lying side by side in the Great Hall.  I think that one was bad because they'd finally found happiness, they'd got baby Teddy, AND you didn't see them die, it was just one more wretched twist of the knife at the end as the battle's full body count was revealed.  OH JO HOW COULD YOU?!  Anyway, this is the reason I haven't reread all the books yet, and also why I haven't seen the Deathly Hallows movies.  I need to be feeling strong before I go there.  :'(
July 12th: Novel that best conjured a place for you
This was quite hard to choose, but I think the most recent example would probably be The Shining by Stephen King.  Because the Overlook Hotel is pretty much a character in its own right, King brings it alive so that you can almost smell the dankness of Room 237, the liquor in the bar and the wintry leaves of the topiary in the grounds; you can hear the dull echo of sounds in the corridors and the cold howling of the wind outside...  That hotel's definitely going to take some beating as far as vivid settings go. (My double review)
That's everything so far!  I'll be back soon with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

June mini reviews and what I'm reading now

Yeah, yeah, this is a week late, but SSSSSH BUSY.  Last month was quite an interesting one - the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour, a week basking in the Croatian sun, etc etc - so despite not reading as much as I expected on holiday I actually finished quite a few books, yay!
~ What I Read ~
Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
I started out the month by finishing up this potboiler of a Victorian novel for the readalong - even though I never actually finished the readalong POSTS.  I'm definitely slipping this summer...  Anyway, it was just as melodramatic as I remembered, and a lot of fun even if it's definitely not the best novel I've ever read!  3.5 stars, plus bonus points for the beautiful PEL cover.  :) 

Doomed (Damned 2)
by Chuck Palahniuk
Next up was the second book in Palahniuk's Damned trilogy, which I started last month.  I actually liked it more than Damned; that one was crazier and more shamelessly grotesque, with Madison traversing Hell with her new friends, whereas in this one she's stuck in Purgatory (drifting around on Earth as a ghost) watching the consequences of her accidental phone call to her grieving parents in the first novel.  It was still mad, and occasionally disjointed, but it felt a bit more grounded than the last book, which helped.  3.5 stars.

Boys Don't Knit (Boys Don't Knit 1)
by T.S. Easton
Hands down one of the funniest, most charming books I've read in ages.  If you threw Shameless, Skins, Adrian Mole and a bag of yarn into a magical bookish blender, this is what you'd get.  It's about a boy called Ben who joins a knitting class as part of his parole after accidentally taking out a lollipop lady with his bike... only to find that he's good at it.  Really, really good.  It's very British, very funny, very earthy, and anyone who's been to school here in the last fifteen years or so will feel right at home with these characters.  LOVED IT.  4.5 stars!

Lisey's Story
by Stephen King
You know how sometimes someone on the internet recommends a book that you'd not normally give a second glance, but then you see it somewhere serendipitiously and it rings a bell and you decide to give it a go because WHY NOT?  That's what happened with this book, and it was SO GOOD.  It's Chris from The Reading Rhodes's favourite book, and I spotted it in the library one day, and that was that.  It's a big novel - 700 pages or so - and quite slow-building, but so worth it.  It starts out as a gentle story of grief and recovery after the loss of a spouse, and becomes a fascinating and exciting novel taking in everything from sisterly love to other worlds to mental illness to stalker violence.  Not one I'd have picked up on my own - but I'm glad I did!  4.5 stars.

Geek Girl (Geek Girl 1)
by Holly Smale
Awww, this was so much fun.  Bex bought it me for the Ninja Book Swap last autumn, and I took it to Croatia with me at the end of the month and devoured it over a couple of long hot sunlounger days.  It's perfect poolside reading, like a cross between The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada.  It's about a fashion-clueless geek called Harriet who is accidentally 'spotted' during a trip to The Clothes Show live with her best friend Nat, who has always dreamed of being a model.  The novel's about how she takes this opportunity to do something new, finds a way to reconcile it with her own values, and deals with the fallout with her friends and family.  It's smart, easy to read and very cute - bring on book 2!  4 stars.

Lullaby (Watersong 2)
by Amanda Hocking
I read Wake last year by the pool in Fuerteventura, so it felt right to read the second book in the series this year by the pool in Rovinj!  In fact, this series has become so entwined with beautiful holidays, hot sun and sea breezes in my mind that I think I'm going to re-buy the first book and keep them all.  Anyway, in this second book Harper is trying to find Gemma, her younger sister, who has been spirited away by the beautiful Penn, Lexi and Thea, and is struggling to resist the darker side of her new life as a siren.  It's an easy read, and I enjoyed this one more than the first novel.  Hopefully I might even finish the series this summer!  4 stars.
~ What I'm Reading ~
While I was on holiday I also read the first 200 pages or so of June's TBR Challenge pick, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, and the first chunk of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  I've nearly finished the latter and have already preordered the sequel, which is exciting!  After that I hope to go back and finish Lamb because I was really enjoying it, it just wasn't quite light enough for sweltering days on a sunlounger when my brain was melting.  I'm also still reading A Match to the Heart: One Woman's Story of Being Struck by Lightning by Gretel Ehrlich, which was my May TBR Challenge book but proved so frickin' purple of prose that it was driving me nuts; I put it aside for a while and haven't picked it back up since.  Oooops.

How was your reading month?  What was your favourite book of June?  And what are you reading to kick off July?  I hope you're all having a wonderful summer!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 1st-6th

So, over on Twitter last month, there was this thing called #bookadayUK, where bookish types Tweeted their responses to a series of daily prompts.  After its June success, it was taken up by Doubleday UK, who have continued it into July.  Since I'm not feeling much like writing reviews and stuff at the moment - partially due to the summery weather, probably - I thought I'd use the same prompts in blog posts to share some recommendations over here too!

Here we go!  And don't forget to leave your responses in the comments, or head over to Twitter to take part in the original project...
July 1st: A book that made you laugh out loud
I think I'd have to go with a book I read just last month: Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton.  It was everything I love about British humour: honest, dry, a bit mad...  It's basically about a boy, Ben, who ends up joining a knitting class as part of his parole after an unfortunate accident involving a lollipop lady, a bike and a bottle of Martini Rosso.  Part Skins, part Shameless, part Adrian Mole, only with more wool!
July 2nd: Favourite SF/Fantasy novel for World UFO Day!
Ohhhhh hell.  I've got four to pick from and I can't choose!  If you held a weapon of your choice up to somewhere vital upon my person and threatened to do me grave harm if I didn't settle on one, I'd probably have to go with... ummmm *pained expression* *much wringing of hands*... The Princess Bride by William Golding.  Just because it's more unique than Good Omens, less icky than Warm Bodies (which is amazing, but has a couple of non-dinnertime-friendly moments) and more concise than Lord of the Rings.  And it gave me that happy 'awesome book' feeling all the way through.  BUT I LOVE THEM ALL.  (My review)
July 3rd: Favourite novel in translation
Hmmmm.  My number one choice will actually fit perfectly as a recommendation for a later prompt, so I'm going to have to go for Perfume by Patrick Süskind, originally written and published in German.  At the time I wasn't 100% sure how I felt about it, but as the years have gone by (I read it in 2011) it's turned out to have stayed with me more profoundly than many novels I loved in the moment but have barely thought about since.  It's dark and twisted and deeply enmeshed in the olfactory world, and Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is one of the most memorable characters I've ever come across; I'm very much looking forward to reading it again sometime!  (My review)
July 4th: All-time favourite American novel for 4 July/ Independence Day
Having finally read it this year and been absolutely blown away, it's got to be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It's moving and amusing and thought-provoking and deeply rooted in its southern heritage, and I don't know whether to be annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner, or glad I read it when I did because the timing was obviously just right for me and this book to bond!  (My double review)
July 5th: Most delicious novel about food
I think my favourite novel ABOUT food (so far - I have more on Mount TBR!) is probably Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements.  It was a surprise hit last year - I thought it'd just be a fun frothy summer read, and I ended up absolutely loving it!  Two sisters inherit an ice cream shop on the Brighton coast, and one of them also flies to Florence to attend a course for the business, so between the two locations it has so many delicious descriptions of ice cream, gelato and sorbets, in all kinds of wonderful flavours... It made my mouth water!  (My review)
July 6th: Which book will you put down today to watch the Wimbledon final?
I was pretty sure I'd barely end up reading a thing today, because not only was it the Federer-Djokovic Wimbledon final (I really thought Federer was going to triumph for a while there!) but I also discovered that Waddington Air Show was being streamed live on Planes TV.  My entire family set off there at about 6am this morning and had a wonderful day - but I got to enjoy the planes with multi-angle cameras, official commentary (which they couldn't hear, the nearest speaker was too far away), funny internet commentary, full WiFi access for dull moments, my own toilet, plenty of drinks and a Domino's pizza.  All that was missing was the smell of aeroplane fuel and the full roar of the displays (which was particularly noticeable when the Lancaster flew in, I LOVE THOSE MERLIN ENGINES)...  Anyway, the book I set aside to enjoy all of this was The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.  I've been reading it for waaaaay too long now, I really should settle down and finish it soon.  Maybe tomorrow!
That's everything so far!  I'll be back in the week with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

HELP! I'm having a holiday reading crisis!

So, Charlotte suggested that I do this, even though it'll probably cause chaos, but WHATEVER.  Basically, this is the shortlist (more like epiclist) of books I could take on holiday with me.  I leave in less than 48 hours.  In terms of bookish preparation I got as far as finishing Lisey's Story so I didn't have to take a 700-page library book with me, and I started Lamb by Christopher Moore this morning, but that's about it.  I've got a bit of everything in this heap, from girlie novels to thrillers to autobiographies to travel writing.  I'm not a huge fan of heavy-going books when I'm splashed out on a sunlounger getting slowly baked, so no hardcore classics or dense non-fiction, but... yeah.  Pretty much everything else is on here.  And I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CHOOSE.

  • The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  • Penelope - Rebecca Harrington
  • Player One - Douglas Coupland
  • Strata - Terry Pratchett
  • Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
  • The Informers - Brett Easton Ellis
  • How I Became a Famous Novelist - Steve Hely
  • Submarine - Joe Dunthorne
  • Redshirts - John Scalzi
  • The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson
  • Cream Teas, Traffic Jams and Sunburn: The Great British Holiday - Brian Viner
  • Narrowboat Dreams: A Journey North by England's Waterways - Steve Haywood
  • Dawn of the Dumb - Charlie Brooker
  • Hotel Babylon (reread) - Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous
  • Dearly Devoted Dexter (Dexter #2) - Jeff Lindsay
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (reread) - Rick Riordan
  • Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith
  • The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta
  • Popular - Maya van Waganen
  • An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
  • Trouble - Non Pratt
  • Amy and Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson
  • Boy Meets Boy - David Levithan
  • Going Vintage - Lindsey Leavitt
  • Beauty Queens - Libba Bray
  • Geek Girl - Holly Smale
  • The Wish List - Jane Costello
  • Losing It - Cora Carmack
  • The Runaway Princess - Hester Browne
  • Alex As Well - Alyssa Brugman
  • A Play on Words - Deric Longden
  • The Hit - Melvin Burgess
  • Project X - Jim Shephard
  • Berserk - Ally Kennen
  • Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer
  • The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown
  • Gravity - Tess Gerritsen
  • Pushing the Limits - Katie McGarry
  • Easy - Tammara Webber
  • Hate List - Jennifer Brown
  • An Education - Lynn Barber
  • My Mad Fat Diary - Rae Earl
  • In Stitches - Dr. Nick Edwards
  • The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey
  • Lullaby (Watersong 2) - Amanda Hocking
  • Angelfall - Susan Ee
  • Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi

Somehow this looks even worse in a list than it does stacked in these two piles.  Oh dear.  On the other hand, one of the piles fell over and serendipitiously squashed this spider: -

- which I would never have even known was there otherwise, so... swings and roundabouts.  :)

OVER TO YOU, INTERNET.  If a book's going to make me sob, please tell me (spoiler free, obviously!) because I hate getting crying-headaches when I'm already a bit hot and bothered, so that might narrow it down a bit.  Do you have any rules or ideas on holiday reading to help me whittle the choices down further?  Any thoughts on which should make the cut?  I'm probably going to take about six, so... HELP!

Friday, 6 June 2014

On that YA-hating Slate article

This morning over breakfast I found myself reading Alice's tactfully balanced post about this click-bait Slate article condemning YA literature.  ALL YA literature.  Which you should be embarrassed to admit to reading, ever, apparently.  And I got to writing a comment, which turned into a longer comment, which eventually I just gave up editing and turned into this post instead.  Hello!  Just a quick heads up: you should probably go read the article first, then come back.  Ready?  Okay...

So, let's get straight into this.  The thing that REALLY bugs me about this article is the way that everything is set in absolutes.  No mention is made, for example, of the many people out there who read occasional YA and also a lot of other adult books.  In a similar vein, according to Graham, all YA is trashy and all adult books are not.  Rainbow Rowell is lumped in with Stephenie Meyer, just as in adult fiction, Sophie Kinsella is universally recognised to be on a par with Charlotte Bronte.  Orrrrrr not.  You can't make sweeping accusations about how all young adult literature is mindless froth any more than you can posit that reading a John Grisham novel is on a par to reading something by Ray Bradbury.  And OH NO YOU DIDN'T just include The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an example of an inconceivable crappy modern page-to-screen success story. 

Now, don't get me wrong, if this article had been written in a more balanced, less deliberately offensive manner, I might have agreed with parts of it.  For example, I absolutely agree that it's sad to see a lot of grown women, in particular, writing off anything from the general fiction section of a bookstore as being 'too hard', and seeming quite proud of their determination not to so much as LOOK there for something they might enjoy.  I heard this in my bookshop several times, I've heard it while browsing in Waterstones, I've heard it in my local library...  In taking this particular stance, YA readers are guilty of the exact same thing as Graham and other YA-detractors: dismissing an entire section of the literary world as not being worthy of their attention. 

My problem is that Graham (and many of the commenters) leave no room for ANYONE over the age of about 17 who ever reads and enjoys a YA novel to chime in without feeling ashamed about it.  People who occasionally read the popular novels making the transition to the big screen got shamed in the comments for deigning to give them any attention.  Even someone who had only read Harry Potter got slammed because she didn't have kids, therefore THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR SUCH SLOPPY BEHAVIOUR.

Whatever happened to 'everything in moderation'?  I mean, I love risotto and strawberries and broccolli and grapes, but DAMMIT give me a donut or a hamburger every once in a while and I'll be a happy camper.  Especially if it's red hot outside or I'm super-tired or I've just finished something heavier and more virtuous.  And sometimes I will sob all over that donut and proclaim that it's one of the best things I've eaten all year, right alongside the aforementioned strawberries, because YUM.

This metaphor just got weird.

The point is that for me, YA literature usually does make for easier reading (though that doesn't mean there aren't profound messages and hard-hitting subjects being tackled, or that the writing is any less skilled or even beautiful), because YA is designed for a younger audience - but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it as part of my reading diet.  I certainly don't feel ashamed or embarrassed by it.  Sometimes I go two months without picking up a single YA novel; sometimes I have a run of several together - but I'm most definitely not going to cut out a swathe of potential reading material just because I'm over 18.

Yes, I do sometimes wish that solely-YA readers would broaden their horizons and stop being so blanket-dismissive of adult books; likewise I wish people who are outright hostile to YA would find a handful of really good ones to enjoy and realise that a YA label isn't synonymous with a mark of poor quality.  Personally I'm glad I've found a middle ground where I can walk into a bookshop or library and explore EVERYTHING; as a result I know that there's something on my bookshelves for every reading whim, covering both adult AND young adult or children's literature: when I want to learn about a particular subject, when I want a classic to curl up with, when I want a compelling modern read, when I want drama and complexity, and when I just want a page-turner to splash out on a sunlounger with for a few hours or race through during a readathon.  I win, as far as I'm concerned.  :)

Over to you!  What do you think of the Slate article?  Are you a devout YA-er, a firm reader of adult books, or do you believe in a happy medium of just sampling a bit of everything the literary universe has to offer?  Do you find yourself having to defend your reading choices, and how does that makes you feel?  Which books would you recommend to YA readers who want to branch into adult fiction, or for adult readers who are sceptical of what YA has to offer?