Saturday, 27 August 2011

Review: 'The Eyre Affair' by Jasper Fforde

Date finished: 03 August 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: BookMooch (my first mooch!)

Genre: Science fiction; Fantasy; Detective fiction...(No idea, really!)

Published: by New English Library Limited in July 2001

The Synopsis

There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of 'Jane Eyre'. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary - and a woman called Thursday Next.

The Review

This is a book lovers' book, if ever there was one, and one that is held dear my too many bloggers to count. Having read it, I can see why!

Thursday Next is a member of the Special Operations Network (or 'SpecOps', if you will); more specifically, she's a LiteraTec. One of a team charged with stopping the preservation of the written word and all-round maintenance of literary harmony. Who doesn't love a world where literature is a pillar of society and where there are societies where you can change your name to match your favourite poet and walk around dressed like them...yeh, ok, so perhaps that's a step too far but you see what I'm saying...

The main story is about Thursday's pursuit of the demonic (and aptly named) Hades as he rampages through the nation's favourite books, kills wantonly and generally reaks a bit of havoc. Everything is perfectly paced and there was a brilliant balance between the plot and the incidentals that make Thursday's world so fantastic: England and Wales are separated by stringent border controls; England and Russia are embroiled in a bitter, century-old war; dodos are pets and Jane Eyre finishes with Jane leaving Mr Rochester behind for the joys of India, much to the dissatisfaction of many.

The alternative England created by Fforde is one I will happily revel in for many books to come (Lost in a Good Book is already lingering on my bedside table...). Thursday's the kind of girl I will enjoy seeing more of too - her tone as narrator is wry and witty in a self-deprecating, very British way! Not, of course, that we run around the countryside debating whether or not Shakespeare wrote King Lear and jumping through time (If only!) but Fforde uses the kind of humour that compliments the eccentric characters perfectly.

This is, without a doubt, worth reading! Can't really say any more than that! Thank you to all of you lovely bloggers who reviewed this or generally discussed it's wonderfulness - you were right, it's ace!

Overall: I would recommend this to anyone who loves Jane Eyre, anyone who loves Terry Pratchett, anyone who loves books that just don't go where you think they will and...well, anyone who loves books and ever wanted to live in a world where they were revered enough to warrant their own police force!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The impromptu silence

I had been told about a month ago by my boyfriend that I should take the week of my birthday off work. So I did. As it turned out, that was because I was being taken away on a surprise holiday to the Lake District. I live in Yorkshire so that's only two and a half hours away by car but, when you're there, it feels as though you're a million miles away! My mobile persisted in announcing that there was "No signal" and there was no WiFi to speak of. Hence my unintended absence this week!

And so, in part, I'm sorry for abandoning you all! But really, I've spent the last five nights in a lovely hotel, eating great food, drinking plenty of local beverages and reading in secluded, sunny spots so my apologies are a tad insincere :-)

I have plenty to review and normal service shall resume shortly (when I've recovered)! Until then, these are are a teeny snapshot of the pictures that I took while we were hiking miles (literally) from civilisation (i.e. those that were on my phone and that I've so far managed to put onto the laptop) - see why I'm struggling with being too sorry...? I hope so! It made turning 25 that little bit nicer...:)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: 'A Modern Witch' by Debora Geary

Date finished: 24 July 2011

Rating: 3.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: From the author via LibraryThing Member Giveaways

Genre: Urban fantasy

Published: by Fireweed Publishing in March 2011

The Synopsis

Can you live 28 years without discovering you're a witch?

Lauren is downtown Chicago's youngest elite realtor. She's also a witch. She must be - the fetching spell for Witches' Chat isn't supposed to make mistakes. So says the woman who coded the spell, at least.

The tall, dark, and handsome guy sent to assess her is a witch too (and no, that doesn't end the way you might think). What he finds in Lauren will change lives, mess with a perfectly good career, and require lots of ice cream therapy.

The Review

I spent many a pre-Harry Potter hour when I was a child wishing that my magical powers would reveal themselves. Sadly, they never did and I couldn't zap my little sister as was my wish at the time...Thanks to A Modern Witch, my hopes could be rejuvenated! Fortunately for her, my wish would no longer be to zap my younger sibling!

Lauren is minding her own business in Chicago selling properties to the downtown elite, buying ice cream and cuddling up on her prized sofa before being informed that she is, in fact, a witch! On to the scene whirl Jamie and a wonderful trio of witchy women: Nell, Sophie and Moira.

I loved the blend of elements and talents in the magic of A Modern Witch - each witch has their own strengths and their own way of accessing and using power. It makes the book weave a fresh feeling into old magic and it's utterly charming. I found myself completely pulled in to the twists and turns of the elements and skills and, before I knew it, I was 8 again and harbouring that love of all things magical!

Equally charming are the characters. My favourite was Nat, Lauren's best friend and, for all intents and purposes, family. She's quirky but grounded and the kind of friend everybody should have. The witches are all a little off-the-wall (as good witches should be) but in different ways, which keeps everything interesting! Who doesn't love a teeny child witch that manages to be both extraordinarily powerful but love Catwoman pranks?!

Overall: This novel is completely unpretentious and great fun. It isn't a riot of fights, danger and action but will pull you in and keep you reading all the same. Check it out if you were ever that little girl who wanted to swirl around in a world full of stars, sparkle and spells!

Friday, 12 August 2011

So you think you're a Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek...?

Back before I admitted I was a nerd, I used to lurk around bookshops and do this no doubt tremendously obvious skulk near the Fantasy section, pretending not to look but trying to check out my favourites. I know, quite the sorry picture isn't it?!

A few years later, I grew up and realised I was wasting my energy. Plus, Amazon made it so much easier to indulge in the pre-purchase research while I was still stretching my fantasy-geek-wings! Now, of course, I'll hang out in that section of the bookshops/libraries all day if allowed SO what have I managed to read in that time?

I saw this list over at I Read That Once - it's a Top 100 of Science Fiction and Fantasy as voted for by 60,000 like-minded bookish folks at the National Public Radio. Yes, another Top 100 list. BUT in my defence:

1. I'm curious as to whether I've spent all these years reading the same Sci-Fi/Fantasy as everybody else; and,

2. I have so far largely resisted Top 100 lists but could only hold out for so long!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So here we are: those in bold green are ones I've read; those in bold blue are those I have but are yet to read...(Also, I know that they should be listed the other way around but I really can't face flipping them over...sorry, guys...)

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin (or, at least, I have half...)

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss (well, I've read the first one...)

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

So I've read 11 - that is pretty paltry against what I would have thought before seeing the list. Admittedly, some of those are hefty series but still...there are some "classics" of the genre that I have managed to so far neglect - shame on me!

Guess I'd better get cracking on those that I own but haven't read and using the perfect excuse for buying the rest! That's a lot of instant new additions to the wish list! Not too shabby for a Friday evening...:)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Review: 'The Replacement' by Brenna Yovanoff

Date finished: 07 July 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Leant to me by my mother (yes, really...)

Genre: YA fiction

Published: by Simon & Schuster Childrens Books in January 2011

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Mackie Doyle is a replacement - a fairy child left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago, to replace the baby when it was stolen away by the fey. So though he lives in the small town of Gentry, Mackie's real home is the fey world of tunnels and black, murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. Now, because his fey blood gives him fatal allergies to iron, blood and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world. Mackie would give anything just to be normal, to live quietly amongst humans, practice his bass guitar and spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably back home to the fey underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem, where he must face down the dark creatures, rescue the child, and find his rightful place - in our world, or theirs.

The Review

I've dawdled terribly over this review but I couldn't tell you the reason why. Actually, I did enjoy this book. It didn't set my world on fire and I will be returning the copy to my mum but it was a nice read.

The story is a modern take on the mythical changelings, the offspring of magical creatures who secretly replace human children with their own. It's a reasonable attempt at modernisation that doesn't sacrifice all of the traditional elements, for example, the characters hang iron scissors over their childrens cradles to deter those that would steal their children. Add in some allergies to iron and hallowed ground, a rock club and some kooky friends and you've got yourself some passable YA!

Mackie, however, didn't always endear himself to me - he's dying in the human world and I'm sure that's very unpleasant for him but does he really have to go on about it so much? He also has a tendency to mention how alone he is and how there's nobody he can talk about his situation with all the time. At the beginning of the book, this kind of introspective narration that helped set up the characters and a tone for the mysterious town of Gentry.

I really enjoyed the first third of the book and the last third of the book but in the middle my attention waned slightly as it became a little too teen-angsty for my tastes. I know that's a risk with any YA but there was less story progression and more and more teens with issues. Once the true underworld of Gentry revealed itself, however, the plot really picked up and I ploughed on at a much faster pace.

Some of the more "sinister" members of the cast reminded me a little of The Morrigan from Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job (that I reviewed here) - all flaily limbs and decomposition! After all, how frightened can you be of a half-decayed maniacal child in a frilly dress?! It was, I hope, tongue-in-cheek because the answer? Not very...

Overall: A creepy story with a hefty dose of people cavorting around graveyards that is worth spending a gloomy night reading. I wouldn't necessarily urge you all to rush off right this very second and find a copy but, if you see one in a library one rainy morning, it'll suit you just fine!

If you fancy a more 'serious' and haunting book about changelings, I would absolutely recommend The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - I read it years ago but still remember it as a fantastic story!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

An Oddly-timed Year-So-Far Review

I admit that June may have been more sensible for a review of the year so far BUT bear with me.

In a little over a week, it'll be my birthday (the number of which I'm trying to ignore - quarter of a century is unpleasant...). My birthday being the middle of August always signifies the beginning of the end of summer to me. That sounds a little depressing! I don't mean it as bleakly as that sounds, though, so don't worr - I'm not feeling mournful! It just sets me thinking about the year so far :-)

Anyway, on to the bookish stuff!

This year has been a little slower than the last for volume of reading, I think, with the numbers looking like this:

Complete books read: 28

Pages read: 10,262

Average pages per book: 366.5

I'm reasonably happy with the average amount pages per book - 350-400 seems like a nice, solid length of book to be reading. As I said, though, it's much less in number than I would like! I am all but positive that that is due to the change in jobs. Previously, I worked in the public sector (and enjoying the flexi-time contract that included) while I was hunting for the trainee position that I needed to move forward in my career of choice. Last September, I started that trainee job and, even though I love it and it's the last phase of my training before I qualify, it's a lot busier, involves longer hours and leaves me more tired out in my time off. All in all, that gives me less time and energy to read. Sad though that may be, I'm happy with the trade the vast majority of the time...

So, what have I been reading?

eBooks v. 'Real' books: So far this year, 14 of the 28 books I have read have been eBooks. I don't need a calculator to tell me that's half! That's a trend that I expect to continue until I have read through my back catalogue of paperbacks. In the future, I can see that increasing. Perhaps not to 100% eBooks but certainly at least 75%. What can I say? I'm a complete convert!

Female v. Male authors: Early this year, when I started keeping track of my reading more closely, I realised that the amount of female to male authors I read was vastly off balance and I read way more books written by women than men. So far this year, 18 of the 28 books I have read have been penned by ladies; at about 64%, that's a split I can live with and not something I feel a desperate need to go about rectifying.

Classic v. Contemporary: Broken down by century, my reading looks a little like this:

21st century: 23

20th century: 4

19th century: 1


Oh dear...that's poor...no excuses for that! Any recommendations for pre-21st century books anyone?! I promise that I'll take your advice to sort this one! There's a goal for the end of this year, clearly!

Reviews: I'm a little behind on reviews and have 4 books that I've read but haven't reviewed. Give me a couple of weeks and that should be all sorted!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So that's my year so far! How has your reading been this year? Slower/faster than normal? Any goals for the 'end' of the year? Oh, and don't forget to help me out with pre-21st century recommendations - much appreciated!!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Review: 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

Date finished: 16 July 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Picador in August 2010

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

It's Jack's birthday, and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside ...

Told in Jack's voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

The Review

This is one of the reviews you sit down to write and think, 'What is there left to say about this book?'. It's been a huge success and reviewed widely both on blogs and in newspapers and magazines. I believe it also featured on the UK series 'The TV Book Club'.

So what is it about this book that has captured (and held) the attention of so many? In my opinion, it's Jack; the narrator that will break your heart.

Jack's perception of the 'world' is mesmerising. Having experienced nothing but Room for five years, Jack believes that there is nothing beyond it that is real and, as a result, treats the items in Room almost as the friends he can't have:
"I flat the Chairs and put them beside Door with Clothes Horse. He always grumbles and says there's no room but there's plenty if he stands up really straight..."

"I choose Meltedy Spoon with the white all blobby on his handle when he leaned on the pan of boiling pasta by accident. Ma doesn't like Meltedy Spoon but he's my favourite because he's not the same"
This novel is extremely well-judged and sympathetic. The relationship between Jack and his mother is poignant and painfully realistic. Jack's Ma manages not only to live in a nightmarish situation but to give her son love, security and a life, however restricted and misconceived it might be. Another of the aspects that deserves praise is how, through Jack's eyes, the more mature reader can see the cruelty and malice of their captor even when Jack can't see it himself.

Beyond Room...? That you'll have to see for yourself!

The only minor downside was that constantly reading in a child's voice became hard at times because it was so accurate - if I wasn't completely immersed in the story, I found myself stumbling and correcting it in my head (I know, I know - it's stupid...). Mostly, it adds to the haunting tone but ever so occasionally, I wanted to be outside of a five-year-old's head. Only occasionally, though, so don't let that put you off.

Overall: Despite being a book about something truly abominable, the story of Jack and his Ma is remarkably subtle and about more than just the evil that perpetuates their circumstances. It's about how Jack learns and how he loves and how he and his Ma are some of the best characters you will read in a long time. It's one of the best portrayals of maternal love I have ever read and both beautiful and terrifying. If the ending doesn't make you well up, I don't know what will!

Similar read: If you read and liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, this has a similar charm of self-discovery, parental love and quirky narrative and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Room to you.