Thursday 31 July 2014

July: What I Read, What I'm Reading

Good grief, another month's gone by already!  It's terrifying how fast the weeks are flying by at the moment.  This month's been a fairly slow one for reading, partly due to a duff book choice making me not want to read that much (oops) and partly due to a few long days spent prepping and painting my bedroom, usually finishing at around 7:30pm, by which point all I've wanted to do is flop down somewhere comfortable with a DVD.  Still, the next Bout of Books readathon is coming up next month, and I'm back in the swing of things a bit now, so hopefully August will see more books being toppled from my ever-growing to-read list...
~ What I Read ~
The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave 1)
by Rick Yancey
This one took a really long time to read, for some reason.  I started it on holiday at the end of June and didn't finish it until about a week into July, even though it's really good and quite the page-turner.  Seriously, I don't know what happened this month!  Anyway, I've had the book for ages, the sequel's coming out soon and it's also being made into a film, so it seemed a good time to read it - and I wasn't disappointed.  It's a fascinating alien apocalypse story mostly focussing on an isolated survivor called Cassie.  Her parents are dead, her little brother has been taken to an army camp somewhere, and Cassie has no idea who are the good guys or the bad guys any more.  Instead she is focussing only on her goal of being reunited with little Sam, however dangerous that journey might be.  I really enjoyed this; I thought the characters were interesting, the extra-terrestrial invasion was well thought-out and compelling to read, the inevitable love storyline was pleasantly secondary to the wider plot, and the seeds have been sown for a complex and exciting sequel.  I've already preordered my copy!  4 stars.

How to Build a Girl
by Caitlin Moran
If you've been around this corner of the internet at all over the past few weeks you can't NOT have noticed the readalong going on right now.  I'm not officially taking part, but I bought the book and read it anyway (because CAITLIN MORAN), which means I can at least read everyone's posts and join in the discussion a bit every week!  This is a semi-autobiographical novel about Johanna, an awkward, bookish but wonderfully spirited teenager living on a Wolverhampton council estate, who reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, a wild-child pop culture fiend, in order to get a job in music journalism and earn money to help keep her family out of abject poverty.  It's absolutely hilarious, brutally honest and deliciously earthy, and I've underlined half the book; there are so many brilliant one-liners, beautiful little philosophies and moments of painfully real political and social commentary.  Love, love, love. 4.5 stars!

A Match to the Heart: One Woman's Story of Being Struck by Lightning
by Gretel Ehrlich
This would be the duff book I mentioned.  I've been reading it since May, and jeeez, it's been hard going for such a tiny book.  It sounded so fascinating, but sadly what I EXPECTED from it turned out to only be a small part of the book as a whole.  When Ehrlich is talking about the science of lightning, about the mechanics of a lightning strike, about its effects on the human body, about the medicine behind recovery from such a devastating electrical surge - all this is SO interesting.  Unfortunately a large proportion of the book is instead devoted to restless, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, faux-spiritual wallowing, and in these moments the author often plunges into prose so purple it actually made me laugh a few times.  It was like reading bad teenage poetry.  I've included an excerpt below to illustrate the kind of moment that literally had me laughing aloud - suffice it to say, I wouldn't recommend this one.  2.5 stars, purely for the on-topic interesting bits.

"Our large sleeping tent, staked farther up the slope, was shaken by the glacier's detonations and echoing thunder all night.  I wrote in my journal by flashlight: "I feel as if I were a fish feeding at the crumbling edge of the universe."  I wanted to wear clothes made from that place - perhaps an auklet feather skirt - and sleep on the white fin of an orca."

LOL, whatever.

~ What I'm Reading ~

Now that I've finally finished slogging through the Gretel Ehrlich, I've switched my attention back to Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.  I've got about 120 pages left and it's SO GOOD.  Philosophical and hilarious and tongue-in-cheek and naughty and just utterly fantastic.  After that I have a couple of library books on their last possible renewals (oops), and after THAT I'm probably going to read Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell.  I've seen the Richard E. Grant adaptation a few times - it's one of my favourite rainy-day movies - so it's really about time I read the original!
Aaaand that was July!  Hope you're all having a lovely summer...  :)

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!  And don't forget to 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! (my review)

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.

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...

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...

Tuesday 8 July 2014

June: What I Read, What I'm Reading

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 Alice's readalong.  It was just as melodramatic as I remembered from my first reading at university, and a lot of fun even if it's definitely not the best novel I've ever read!  Plenty of melodrama and romantic intrigue, with all the suspenseful subtlety of a sledgehammer.  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 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 I started reading last month but which 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.

Aaaaaand that was June!

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 Goldman.  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!