Friday, 28 June 2013

Off My Shelves: Fantasy!

I’ve put myself on a partial library ban this month because I tend to go in looking for nothing and come out with ten books I had no intention of reading, and because I’ve been re-sorting my bookshelves and have a horrendous amount (approximately 600) of books still to read, I thought it might be good for me to read purely from my own shelves for a bit. Hopefully it will give me a chance to clear the backlog of review copies as well.

Anyway, this is a great idea in theory, except that I have just so many books that I really have no idea where to start, and this is where the internet comes in! I have a lot (really a lot) of genre fiction, and so I’m going to do a little mini-series of posts where I will put up a short list of a few from one particular section that I’m interested in reading, and I’d like you to tell me what you think about them. If you’ve read any, if you haven’t, what you liked, what you didn’t, what I should read right now, what I should avoid forever... Everything.

The first genre I’m starting with is fantasy. As a teenager I read a load of fantasy, and David Gemmell remains one of my favourite authors to this day. Off the back of that I went round buying up loads of things people told me were a bit similar, and I now have shelves and shelves of beginnings of series and I need some serious help working out where to start!

Some things I have:
  •  Aaronovitch, Ben – Rivers of London
  • Auel, Jean M. – The Clan of the Cave Bear (I think I’m the last person in the world not to have read this series..)
  • Barclay, James – Nightchild & Shadowheart (I started to read one of them a few years back. I don’t remember which, and they’re from different – but related – series I think...)
  • Brooks, Terry – The Sword of Shannara & The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara
  • Feist, Raymond –Rides a Dread Legion (I’ve read Feist before – if anyone’s read this, how does it compare to Magician?)
  • Hobb, Robin – Ship of Destiny & Shaman’s Crossing (I’ve read The Farseer Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy already and enjoyed both. My sister’s been reading The Liveship Traders and says it’s good so it’s just a case of getting hold of books 1 and 2 before I can start...)
  • King, Stephen – The Drawing of the Three (I’ve started the first book in The Dark Tower series a couple of times but always failed to be gripped. Is it worth trying again?)
  • Nicholls, Stan – Orcs
  • Paolini, Christopher – Eragon

This is less than half of the fantasy I have, but they are the ones that jumped out at me. So come on internet, give me your wisdom!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Top Ten Books Read in 2013!

The subject for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is the top ten books read this year, so I thought I'd jump on the band wagon and join in. This year I've only read 31 books so far, but a lot of them have been pretty great, so here is my top ten!

  1. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  3. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  4. Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  6. Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton
  7. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  9. Fables Volumes 8,9, & 10 by Bill Willingham
  10. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Basically, these are all great and you should read them immediately. I'm writing a review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane as we speak, and for those who are interested there's an awesome radio programme called Open Book which featured Neil Gaiman this week here. He talks a lot about his work and it's really interesting.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Birthday, Books, Bloggers and The BFG

I want to warn you before I start that this post may contain a lot of exclamation marks and photos.

With that out the way, I have had an incredibly epic last few days. Thursday was my birthday and I kind of just hung out at home with Benji and Rhys and made cake and had presents and it was lovely. Then on Friday I took Benji and my very warm and exhausted self up to London to finally meet Hanna and Laura! I seriously thought I would be really nervous about it (remember a few weeks ago when I got invited to a book launch and wrote a whole post freaking out about it? I ended up not going because my sister's plans got messed up so I took it as some kind of sign that I wasn't meant to go, because I am a total wuss) but I absolutely wasn't. I was visible in the station first, although Laura actually got there first but had to defect to Starbucks for a while, and I thought I'd be standing there and not notice either of them at all. As it happened, I recognised both of them pretty much straight away and I seriously can't tell you how awesome it was to finally meet them both in person! We ate a lot and we walked a lot and we (especially me!) talked A LOT and they gave me amazing birthday presents and it was just generally great. Sadly there was no book buying involved, as it appears that there is not a single bookshop in Chelsea (but there are two Chanel shops...) but it was epic nonetheless. After we'd walked round in a massive circle, through a bit of a rainstorm in Hyde Park and countless cyclists had dinged their bells at Hanna for walking right on the very edge of the cycle path - seriously, her foot was just about touching the white line at the far edge - we ended up on rush hour trains to our respective homes/beds for the night, having entirely forgotten to take any photos at all, with me overanalysing my behaviour all day, deciding that I'd definitely behaved like a total idiot and not listened to anyone and just talked about myself all day and that they both hated me, but still super excited that we met up. Having established that (hopefully) they probably don't hate me, more meeting up must be done in the near future, with the taking of photos and the buying of books and the meeting of Ellie.

So, that bit there are no pictures of, but then I went to my mums for a couple of days, had a lovely day on Saturday hanging out with my London friends, and today Rhys came to pick us up and we came home via The Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre in Buckinghamshire.

It's seriously awesome. It's just a little museum with two galleries which are full of information about him and the letters he wrote his mum from boarding school and interactive things for kids to do, and then there's the story centre, which I am going to take Benji back to when he is bigger, because it's full of different activities and story sacks, where you could read the story while pulling all the different items from the story out of the sacks and learn things about them as you went, and a massive dressing up box full of crazy things. They also have regular storytellings and craft workshops and all kinds of other awesomeness. If you haven't been and you like Roald Dahl or have any children in your life, you should go. Seriously.
This is a picture of Benji wearing a hat from the dressing up box. There's also a picture of him wearing a replica of Roald Dahl's pilot hat but it came out a bit blurry. After we finished at the museum we had lunch in Café Twit which was also great. They have 'Bogtrotter Cake' (massive, incredibly chocolatey) and 'Miss Honey's Scones' among other such stuff.
Once we finished there we went for a walk (there's a little 'town trail' walk you can do around some Dahl-related places) and visited his grave. The memorial to him there is lovely. A memorial bench has been put in with the name of one of his children on each bench and a quote from The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me around the bottom and then there are three giant footprints leading down to his actual grave itself. By the gravestone there's a collection of pencils and pens and pieces of paper where people have left their own little messages and tributes to him. It was really beautiful and awesome. Here are some pictures:

Memorial Bench, BFG footprints, Roald Dahl's headstone (with notes from admirers at the top).

Next time we go we're going to make sure to wear sensible shoes for walking in because there's also a walk you can do around the countryside, which is beautiful.

So that's been my amazing birthday weekend, and finally here's a picture/list of the seriously awesome things I got this year:
On the far left is an awesome bookmark pad, got for me by the lovely Hanna, which you can write stuff about the book on and which is super helpful to me because I have as yet failed to keep any kind of review notebook.
On the far right is three volumes of Tank Girl from my friend Alex and her family. I've started reading it and there are deranged kangaroos in it. What more could I ask for?
The book pile is thus:
  • Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck and
  • Crazy Salad & Scribble Scribble - Nora Ephron from Laura :-)
  • Wallflower at the Orgy - Nora Ephron from Ellie (without any kind of conspiring with Laura, apparently and along with some Thorntons' Chocolate Buttons I'd eaten long before I got around to this photo!)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman from Hanna, which I have already finished and will be reviewing this week.
  • House of Secrets - Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini which Rhys got me to help with my/his reading of YA...
 I promise I have now finished with both the photos and the exclamation marks :-) But you can see how it needed to be blogged about because it was epic!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review & Giveaway: The Second-Last Woman to Die in England by Maggie Joel

It's my birthday today. It's also completely coincidental that today is the publication date for The Second-Last Woman to Die in England by Maggie Joel and that the publishers have allowed me to host an awesome giveaway, details of which will appear after this short review! 

The synopsis of the book is thus:
The War is over, even the rationing is nearly over, and a new queen, young Elizabeth, is due to be crowned next June. Mrs. Harriett Wallis should be happy. Her husband has an important job, the children are settling in with the new nanny, the new fashions are terrifically flattering, and the War is done. Unfortunately, in just a few months, Mrs. Harriett Wallis will become the second-to-last woman in England to be sentenced to death.
(from Goodreads)

I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the climax of the book is that Harriet Wallis shoots her husband, Cecil on the day of Queen Elizabeth's coronation. It says so on the back of my copy, and it's pretty much the first thing to happen. The rest of the book is sort of written in flashback form, from the point of view of Harriet Wallis, Cecil Wallis, and the new nanny, Jean Corbett. It's part historical fiction, part murder mystery and it's really quite an intriguing read. 

Although it is set in the 1950s, it sort of feels earlier than that purely because of the massive involvement of the nanny in the children's lives - their parents barely look after them at all - and to me, nannies always feel much more Victorian than mid-century. The amount that the War seems to overshadow everything the characters do, despite it having ended eight years previously made it feel like it was the mid 1940s, but then I guess this is probably just me not having an experience of something which affected lives and society that much that it would still be affecting it as much in various ways eight years later. 

I won't say much else about this book except that it was very well thought-out, very well written and the characters were all really quite likeable, despite their various awfulness. 

Courtesy of the lovely publishers, Canvas, you can win one of three copies and the giveaway is open worldwide! Just do what the form says!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends on 26th and I will notify the winners by email after that. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Ramble

I really want to write a review of Eleanor & Park because it was amazing, but I sat down to write it and couldn't focus, so I am writing this instead. Tomorrow I am planning to attend my very first blog related event, and I'm kind of hoping that posting about it will motivate me to actually attend and not freak out at the last moment, as I have previously been known to do. 

Despite my best efforts, 7pm tomorrow may still find me hiding in the corner seat of the Ramsgate train, eating my way through my second packet of Quavers while listening to very loud music and staring out the window in an angy, brooding kind of way, but I hope not. I know I've mentioned my social anxiety before, and while I've conquered it pretty well on a day to day basis, any kind of big event, especially those in totally unknown places full of people I've never met, is bound to get me panicking. 

Tomorrow the lovely people from Myriad have invited me to the launch party for the awesome Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton (I'm currently running a giveaway for 2 copies of it here for UK people), and I am equal parts excited and terrified. Excited because it is obviously a great book and I'm super happy that they invited me. Also because there is apparently going to be a dramatised reading and a chance to buy signed copies. Terrified because of all the things. Firstly because I've never been to the place before so I'm freaked I won't be able to find it and then if I do I'll just end up wandering round the building not knowing which door to go in, or that once I go in I'll just stand there and everybody will stare at me, or that nobody will talk to me, or that people will talk to me and I'll completely freeze and be unable to string a sentence together and everybody will think I'm a moron and then I'll do that thing I did when I'd just started working at my current job and went to my first work social and got so freaked out I just left (a very small room with only a few people in it) without saying goodbye or anything and everyone thought I was weird a rude for a few weeks. 

And.... breathe. OK I feel better now I've got that off my chest! I could just not go, obviously that would be easier, but the thing is that I really loved this book and I really want to go, so I've taken preparatory measures. Firstly I'm taking my sister with me, for backup and because she knows about my freakouts, and then I'm just going to try to take it one step at a time...

Wish me luck :-/

Friday, 7 June 2013

Summer Ninja Book Swap!

A little while ago I wrote a post about how I wished there was a Summer secret santa type blogger swap. It turns out that I must be at least mildly psychic, because Hanna had been thinking the same thing, so we decided we should put our heads together and get organising!

Basically we thought it might be nice for people to get surprise parcels of books in the middle of the summer as well as just at Christmas, as a lot of people (ourselves excepted) don’t have summer birthdays and so have a long time to wait between bookish present getting!

We both really enjoyed the way that The Broke and theBookish organised their Christmas Secret Santa swap, so we thought that we would organise ours along similar lines.  Basically if you would like to take part and send a fellow book blogger an awesome midsummer gift, all you have to do is email us a few details by June 17th and we will match you up with somebody! You will need to be able to send your parcel by July 7th

Your parcel should consist of a book or two (they don’t have to be brand new, just in nice condition – something you wouldn’t mind receiving yourself), and a little extra present or two plus a card or note if you feel so inclined.

To participate please email the following details to ninjabookswap(at)outlook(dot)com:
  • Your name and address details
  • Blog address
  • A link to your wishlist
  • A short list of some of your likes so that your sender can pick out an extra gift
  • Dislikes
  • Whether you are willing to send outside of your own country

If you would like to sign up more than once (to send & receive two parcels instead of one) please let us know in your email! If you want to receive two parcels, you will have to also send two parcels as well!  If you could also spread the word via twitter, and by posting on your blog about the swap, it would be greatly appreciated! 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Review: Naming Monsters by Hannah Eaton

From the press release:
The year is 1993, as we join Fran on a wild ride around London while she navigates the grief of losing her mother. Tales of strange creatures that might have been introduce each stage of her journey. Her adventure, often with best friend Alex in tow, is a psychogeography of the city and its suburbs, punctuated by encounters with Fran's semi-estranged dad, her out-of-touch East End nana, a selfish boyfriend and the odd black dog or two. 

As Fran says herself: monster are all around us. 

It occurs to me that all the coolest books have references to folklore. Seriously, Harry Potter, The End of Mr Y, everything Neil Gaiman ever writes? And now Naming Monsters. This was one of those books that I knew was going to be good right from the start, and it didn't disappoint.

Naming Monsters is a graphic novel in black and white, which seems to be the sign of a 'serious' graphic novel, as opposed to those belonging to the vaguely fantasy/superhero genres. Also, it is endorsed by Alison Bechdel who wrote Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, both of which I liked, although I'm not going to do that thing I normally do where I compare things the whole way through a review, because in some ways this is similar to Bechdel, but it's also very much its own thing.

The novel has an incredibly believable protagonist in Fran. I find that teenagers as protagonists can often be overwritten (kind of Dawson's Creek style, where they say things I've never heard a teenager say so that the writers can make them sound like adults..) or really two dimensional and undeveloped, but Fran was a lot like I remember being as a teenager. I think that was probably the thing I enjoyed most about the book - that the atmosphere of it felt so much like my teenager years, I could totally relate!

I also really loved the way that tit is divided by mythological creatures which relate to what is being dealt with in that section of the book. The death of Fran's mother is always present throughout the book, but it manages not to be depressing to read at all. Although she's always dealing with it and that is represented, she doesn't actually talk about it that much, which I found made the novel feel more truthful. When bad things happen you don't necessarily talk about them all the time, but try to take your mind off of them...

Basically Naming Monsters is beautiful and honest and if you were a teenager in the '90s you will probably love it. If you're interested in well written memoirs, anything to do with folklore, or just beautifully drawn graphic novels, you should read this.

And so to enable that, the lovely publishers, Myriad are providing me with two copies of Naming Monsters to give away here on the blog! To enter to win a copy you  must be from the UK and all you have to do is what it says on the form :-) The giveaway runs until Sunday 16th June, so everyone should have maximum time to enter!! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Telling Tales Challenge June Link Up!

We have officially reached the half way point, and I am officially failing!! I do have a couple of reviews to go up this month though and well done to all of you who are still reading voraciously. I'm loving reading all your reviews and adding to my wishlist!

As always, if you want to sign up for the challenge, you can do so here and the master list of reviews for 2013 is here.

Happy reading :-)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Armchair BEA: THE END!

Today is the last day of Armchair BEA and I'm kind of annoyed. I have loved this week, but I didn't get to post two days of it for which I have no excuse except general rubbishness. I wish that I'd been able to spend more time visiting blogs but I've got a huge amount on at the moment and all in all I'm pretty pleased with my levels of participation.

Here is a quick recap of my posts this week:
Day 1: Introductions
Day 2: Blogger Development
Day 4: Ethics & Non-Fiction

I will be checking out a lot of the posts I've missed over the next few days and I have no doubt at all that my wishlist is going to get a lot longer! (Just in time for my birthday, conveniently).

For the last day of Armchair BEA we get to talk about a genre there hasn't already been a chance to talk about. There are a few genres I could talk about here, primarily the one I missed out on yesterday, but I'm going to talk about graphic novels.

I was a late arrival to reading graphic novels. I had no interest whatsoever in them until I was about 15 and discovered Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. After that, I was hooked. Here are a few of my favourites. Even if you think you won't like graphic novels, for whatever reason, you should give one a go. They're awesome.

The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman

A series of 11 graphic novels centring around Dream (or The Sandman) and his family, including Death, Destiny, Desire, and Delirium among others. They're beautiful and the plots are as brilliant as you'd expect if you're familiar with Gaiman's work, and they work in various mythic plotlines effortlessly. They can be a little bit violent and slightly explicit at times though.

Fables by Bill Willingham

It won't surprise most of you to hear that my two favourite graphic novel series are both based around fairytale and mythology. The Fables series (there are also a couple of spin-off series) are based around various fairytale and fable characters setting up a new life in Fabletown, New York after being forced to flee their homelands due to persecution from 'The Adversary'. They're brilliant and complex and also have beautiful artwork. I could read them forever - I'm currently awaiting some means of getting hold of Book 11 and never want the series to end.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 

My first experience with biography in the graphic form. Brilliant, hilarious and really insightful, it's about Satrapi's experience growing up in Iran. Nothing about repression and cruelty that I've ever read has been this funny.

Scott Pilgrim Series by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Lots of you will probably know this from the (awesome) movie. And if not, you should go watch it now, because it's brilliant. The books are also great - very similar to the film in lots of ways but spanning a longer time period and with subtle differences which makes reading them a different experience from watching the film.

Naming Monster by Hannah Eaton

This isn't out until the end of the month, but watch out on the blog this week because I'm reviewing it and there will be a giveaway enabled by the lovely publishers, Myriad! It's a memoir based on the author's experience of losing her mother at an early age and it's divided up by mythical creatures representing what the character is going through in her journey towards dealing with what's happening to her. The artwork is gorgeous and it's absorbing and moving and a very, very true representation of the way I remember being a teenager.

Those are my recommendations. If you're a graphic novel reader, tell me what your favourites are! I'm always looking for recommendations. If you're not, I hope you'll give one of these a try :-)