Monday, 21 October 2013

Awesome Short Stories! Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

This week has been a bit manic. It was Benjamin's first birthday party at the weekend (photos to follow as soon as I get them from my friend), and we had tickets to see NEIL GAIMAN on Tuesday in London but I had to work in Kent on Monday, so we were up to London Thursday night, party on Sunday, back to Kent Sunday night, back to London Monday night, up to London Tuesday afternoon, back to Kent Wednesday morning. It was tiring. However when we got in on Sunday night (without Benji who stayed with his grandparents for the night, very quiet house, very very weird) I found a parcel waiting for me from the lovely lovely people at Headline, who I had contacted a while ago about my undying love for all things Gaiman, and this fell out:

I will admit I squealed a bit and started reading it immediately, which worked out really well because it meant I had the tail end of it to read in the queue for the Fortunately, The Milk event on Tuesday. So yes, this is a collection of new versions of classic tales type book, but unlike the books of this sort I usually read, this isn't just twists on fairy tales.

There are some really great authors in this collection, and some really interesting interpretations, and it made me want to get hold of the things that I hadn't read and read them immediately. Although it was the first thing that caught my eye, and very good, Neil Gaiman's version of Sleeping Beauty, entitled The Sleeper and the Spindle wasn't my favourite tale I don't think. It did have a bit of an Ocean At the End of the Lane feel to it, though, which can never be a bad thing. 

Actually I think my favourite stories in the collection were probably Millcara by Holly Black, whose short stories I still have a half read volume of which I will now be making haste to finish, and which is a vampire kind of story inspired by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu's story Carmilla, which I had never heard of before, and Awakened by Melissa Marr which is a really cool reinterpretation of The Awakening by Kate Chopin with selchies. There were others that I loved as well; Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix whose Keys to the Kingdom series I used to have a few of but have never read, and which was inspired by Kipling's The Man Who Would be King which I struggled through and hated a while back was really great and very interestingly told, New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong, and The Soul Collector by Kami Garcia, a reinterpretation of Rumplestiltskin in a modern setting to name just a few. As well as the gorgeous complexity of the stories, each one is followed by a short note from its' author explaining why they chose their particular tale for inspiration and giving a bit of background to its' creation, so it's really interesting from the point of view of thinking about the creative process as well as for enjoying some great writing (which this isn't, I'm sorry, I'm tired and hungry and just needed to write about this book because it is so good). 

I really loved how every couple of tales or so there was an illustration by Charles Vess, based on a story with a facing page of explanation about why that particular story inspired him. It made the book even more interesting to read and means it will stick in my head for the beautiful images as well as the incredibly high standard of writing, and I'll be recommending it to people for ages. 

Rags & Bones is going straight on my five star list and my keeper shelf (after it's circulated all my family and friends!) and if you have chance to read it, you should. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday Sunday Sunday

This was going to be my Saturday post, but then I posted about Neil Gaiman instead, so it's now a Sunday post instead. This week was eventful.... Most of it was pretty hectic, as we were in London for Benji's birthday party on Sunday, then back to Kent so I could work on Monday and then back to London Monday night so we could go to the Neil Gaiman event on Tuesday and back to Kent Wednesday and I was at work again on Thursday. In between that I had a gigantic row with the library due to them randomly telling me I was 'barred from using the library' after I placed a reservation on a book which took my fines over £10. Because we'd been away and I tend not to pay too much attention to my overdue books, I hadn't realised that my fines were anywhere near that - the last time I'd been to the library previously they were about £5, also on the day that all this happened I'd been up since 5.30am with Benji and so inexplicably read 'barred' (which I still think is a bit harsh and unnecessary) as banned and flipped out. I didn't find out that the reason it was barred was because of the fine being 23p over £10 until I'd conversed with a couple of (to give them their due really lovely and understanding) librarians and at no point did they tell me it was a temporary suspension. It was like somebody telling you you're banned from your local pub that you go to every night and where you meet all your friends. The library's my safe place, and lack of sleep didn't help me to be calm about the idea of that being taken away. 

Anyway, once I'd resolved that by paying my fine on the way home from work Thursday night (with a very amused librarian who knows Benji and I laughing at me for having such a massive fine) and dragged 15 library books back on Friday, there wasn't much time left for anything else! Having said that, though I did manage to somehow post twice this week, once about the Neil Gaiman event and also a sign up for my A Tale of Two Cities Readalong in December. If you've not yet signed up, you should!

I've also read Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, a collection of various awesome authors' interpretations of classic stories, which was sent to me by the lovely people at Headline, who had obviously remembered my love of all things Gaiman after I sent them an extremely fangirlish email regarding review copies of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (there were none left, obviously). It was amazing and I'm in the middle of writing my thoughts about it, which will hopefully appear later this week. I've also almost finished The Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild and started Mothers Raising Sons by Nigel Latta (the book which caused all of the library fiasco), which is brilliant so far. 

In non-book related things, I've been making things for my first craft fair in November. This week I've mostly been making balls, they're great for little babies but it's been difficult keeping Ben away from them! I've made various colours but this is my special favourite at the moment :-) 

And because you haven't had one in a while, here's a picture of Benji enjoying his birthday cake:

Taken by my wonderfully talented friend Maria. The London based among you should use her to photograph all your events, the girl makes everyone look good!

Happy Sunday everybody!

Saturday, 19 October 2013


File:Methodist Central Hall (5133289769).jpg

Last Tuesday Rhys and I went to see Neil Gaiman do a reading of Fortunately The Milk, courtesy of one of my lovely sisters who had bought him tickets for his birthday and instructed me to tell him they were tickets to 'a boring science lecture'. Needless to say I caved before I'd even finished the sentence and told him what we were actually going to see. The picture is of the Methodist Central Hall in London where the reading was held. I'm pretty sure I went there for an A Level Psychology Conference, but anyway! 

So! Rhys and I set off from my parents house, leaving Benji safely ensconsed with his grandma and biscuits and headed up to Westminster. We arrived really early (4pm for a 6.30pm start) but thought we'd check out the place to make sure we knew where we were going. Having duly confirmed that despite the lack of signage, we were actually in the right place for the talk, we went off for a wander down the South Bank and I finally had my first experience of Wagamamas! It was pretty good, except that I remembered I can't use chopsticks and we didn't really have enough time for me to learn, so I had to be the person who asks for a fork.... Never mind. About 5.15 we got back to the hall to find that the previously unoccupied streets had become home to a massive queue, which we eventually ended up joining pretty much opposite the front door, but along the back wall. We were lucky, though, because by the time we got to the front door to be let in, the back of the queue had met the front! Next time we will just stay there at 4! 

Rhys has some pictures of the venue from inside but he isn't here at the moment, so they will be in my next Gaiman related post, coming in a few days. We were sitting up in the balcony, but with a pretty decent view from the sides and it was full of interesting people. I was particularly impressed with myself for recognising Joanne Harris sitting a few seats away. Eventually, after all the people in the world had finished coming in, and after Rhys had abandoned me several times to go and get signed copies of Fortunately The Milk (for us) and The Graveyard Book (as a thankyou for my sister), and to go to the loo and left me defending his seat from potential invaders, the stage was taken by Andrew O'Neill, who was the MC for the night. He was hilarious and had the whole room doing that thing where you put your finger in your mouth and pop your cheek, mexican wave style. A very satisfying sound. After that some people sang some songs which involved many high kicks, and then Neil appeared, along with Chris Riddell, the illustrator of Fortunately The Milk, who drew as Neil was reading. After a bit of chat, the reading began, and it was pretty brilliant. With voice talent from various of Neil's friends, and a surprise appearance by Lenny Henry who then stayed to ask some questions people had tweeted. Finally, Amanda Palmer appeared on stage and sang a song about a ukelele. I feel that it would have been brilliant if I could have heard the words properly but it was great nonetheless. 

If you want to read a much more coherent account of the event, you can read Neil Gaiman's here

Basically, we both had a great time and can't believe we haven't been to more author events! This will be rectified in the future!

I can also tell you that Fortunately The Milk is hilarious and brilliant and full of aliens and pirates and wumpires (see if you can spot the veiled Twilight reference that had the audience in stitches) and although it's a children's book you should all definitely read it. The best bit was when Neil shouted 'aha' for some reason and a small child in the front row also shouted 'aha' about five octaves higher and incredibly enthusiastically. I will have to wait a while to read it and honestly part of me doesn't actually want to now for fear it will erase the amazing songs, dances and voices of Neil and his host of friends. From this experience my advice would be, if you get the chance to see Neil Gaiman, no matter where he is or what he's doing, take it. An amazing evening and so worth it even though all the books were pre-signed due to a wrist injury and there was no time for photos afterwards so we didn't actually get to meet him but we plan to change that in the future!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A Tale of Two Cities Readalong!

As always, I totally suck at making buttons and the like, however a little while ago I asked you which of a choice of Dickens books from my Classics Club list people would be interested in reading with me, and this was the clear favourite. Thus I am announcing the A Tale of Two Cities readalong, and since December is a brilliantly atmospheric month for reading Dickens, that is when we shall be doing it! If you are interested in reading about the best of times and the worst of times with me, all you have to do is mention your intention to do so in a post on your blog, twitter, tumblr or whatever else you use to communicate your bookishness to the world and then link up to it below! Feel free to create your own buttons or to nick my slightly crap round the edges picture and I will put up a schedule closer to the time :-) In the meantime, feel free to spread the word, because the more people involved in a discussion about a book, the more fun it is!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Quick Chat About This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I've given up calling them reviews cos they're kind of not. I mean, I know to some extent all reviewing is just some person's opinion, but I feel like mine are extensively that recently, and more to the point, if I don't call it a review I don't feel pressured to talk about a book in any coherent sort of way. So this is what I thought about This is How You Lose Her

Actually it was really great. I remember liking The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (when something has a title that awesome it's very difficult not to want to like it, at least), but then I didn't get around to reviewing it, so my sister did that instead. Apparently the major character from that novel is also the protagonist of Diaz's first book, Drown, which I've yet to read, and most of the stories in this collection are also about him, which is kind of really cool because you start off the book feeling like you already kind of know him, and then the rest of it just adds to that. It's sort of like it's just about Yunior's life, except that it's interspersed with other stories about other people. Typically I've taken it back to the library and so don't have it on hand for actual reference purposes, but the biggest thing I loved about it was that it was a book that was actually about something and I literally devoured it. Since having Benji the books that I read really quickly are mostly romancy/chick lit type things which have never taken me very long and I struggle and struggle through things which would once have taken me a couple of days, but This is How You Lose Her was in and out of the house before anyone even noticed it. 

Although I have quite a lot of books that don't feature English or American narrators, I can't remember the last time I actually read one, and this was similar to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in that I really reveled in it being so much about the experience of being an immigrant and having so much about Dominican culture in it, as it's not a culture that I'm very familiar with. That is probably one of the best things about reading; it can literally take you anywhere and this really did - not just to other countries, but Junot Diaz is absolutely brilliant at putting you inside other people's heads as well, even people who aren't necessarily very nice. Actually, there aren't a lot of people in this collection (I don't want to call it a collection because it really feels like a novel, just in short story form) who are very nice, but a lot of them are trying to be nice, Yunior included, which kind of makes you forgive them. 

As you can probably guess from the title, This is How You Lose Her is primarily about affairs of the heart, and mostly about Yunior's various relationships and the many different (but often very similar) ways in which they fail. It's also all about him wanting to write a book, but being unable to because he is constantly distracted by the women, or lack of women, in his life. It's not just about women, though, it's also very much about men and male role models in particular. There's a lot in it about relationships with fathers and with older brothers and how their behaviour can influence a younger child's behaviour. It's very interesting and incredibly well written and I really want to re-read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and go out and buy Drown now. Well done Mr. Diaz. 

Apparently this not calling it a review thing works. 

Other reviews which are actually reviews and will tell you more about the book can be found here:
The Guardian
Radio Boston (really interesting audio discussion with Junot Diaz)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Anybody want to read Dickens with me?

Basically what it says in the title. I've been transferring all my TBR books onto a list on the blog and while doing that I got stuck for an unearthly length of time listing all the Dickens that I own but haven't read. Also I have put a fair few Dickens novels on my list for The Classics Club and it's really time I did some reading for that again. However, last year I tried to read Bleak House on my own and failed miserably and I know from previous Dickensian experiences that it would be really helpful to have some moral support during the first half (at least) of the book, so I wondered if anybody would be interested in reading along with me? 

The books I have on my Classics Club list are thus: 

  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Nicholas Nickleby
  • Oliver Twist
  • The Pickwick Papers
If you'd be at all interested in my hosting a readalong for any of the above, please let me know in the comments along with which you'd prefer to read! :-) And spread the word, because let's face it, the more the merrier for the first bit while he's talking about what the smoke looked like and how miserable everyone was.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Saturday Stuff

Hello! It's Saturday and earlier this week I promised that there would be a Saturday post, and so here it is. However, the Saturday post was nearly foiled by the fact that I have the mother of all disgusting headaches. It hurts. Nonetheless I will try to write something vaguely coherent about my week.. Here goes!

So this week I returned to work after fifteen months off. Ask anybody who was at work with me on Thursday how long I've been off for and they will all be able to tell you the exact number of months, because I didn't stop going on about it. All day. If anyone I work with is somehow mysteriously reading this, then I apologise for my complete lack of appropriate social conversation on Thursday. I talked about how long I'd been off, and breastfeeding, pretty much, but I'm sure the ability to make normal conversation will come back in time! Aside from that it was pretty good actually - nice to have time to myself on the train in, absolutely blissful to be able to read whole chapters at once without wondering why the baby was being so quiet and feeling like a bad mother for putting on the fifth back-to-back episode of Chuggington, and generally great to see all the people that I work with and be back interacting with people in a non-baby-related way again. Also it was lovely for Rhys to have a day with Benji without me telling him he was doing things wrong. All in all, I think it's going to work out well for all involved :-) 

I finished a great book this week, How I Lived for a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly. I didn't think it would be great when I started, because a pound a day is a bit extreme even for me and my love of thrift (and yes by that I do mean 'thrift' not 'being a tightwad'. I like to think I'm very generous with money, time and gifts but I genuinely get a thrill out of turning an old shirt into a bag. I can't explain it), but yes, very good. I wanted to talk more about it here actually but the behind my eyes, 'you haven't had an eye test or worn your glasses in three years during which time you've been pregnant and your eyes have probably changed loads' headache won't let me be coherent enough to do it justice, so I won't. I'll just say, it's on my list of 5 Star Books, and there haven't been all that many of them this year! 

This week I also got my allocated people for the Ninja Book Swap and the Trick or Treat Ninja Book Swap, so I've been thinking about what to get for their parcels, and doing a little bit of shopping/getting lost on Etsy. I'm really looking forward to it!

Currently I am reading The Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild (lent to me by my mums neighbour who has a massive house literally full of books. Floor to ceiling, it's like my childhood dream house, plus she has a big interest in children's literature of the same period I'm into and actually met Noel Streatfeild!), The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams (because I can't believe I haven't already read it!), The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti (which I've had out the library waaaaaayyy too long!), Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Historian by Elisabeth Kostova, and staring longingly at Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver and (for some unknown reason) The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, as well as trying to get some stock made for the three craft fairs that are coming up in the next two months, and making a set of Hungry Caterpillar finger puppets for somebody. 

Now if only this headache would go away I could get on with my reading...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Telling Tales Challenge October (and August & September) Link Up!

You guys I am SO SORRY I've been a totally crap host the past few months! I am back now though, so feel free to link up everything you've been reading since I've been rubbish!