Monday, 30 January 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #5


How is it already the last Monday of January? The first month of 2012 has been a mixed one here in the LitAddictedBrit household. The team I work in is down a couple of staff members at the moment so this January has seen 3 of us doing the work of 5. Brilliant for my career, shocking for my social, reading and blogging lives. 

Work dreariness aside, this is time to share what we have, are and are about to read with Sheila @ BookJourney!

Reading wise, it's also been mixed and, seeing as I've not been able to do an 'It's Monday' post yet this year, I'm going the blur the lines a little bit and catch you all up on what I've been reading so far this year.  

What have I read during the past (few) week(s)?

The first month has been a bit of a slow one reading wise, for which I've already made my excuses!  I've only managed three books so far...


Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

I flew into the new year with Percy Jackson and absolutely loved it.  When I was really young, I had a beautifully illustrated book of Greek myths that I adored.  Percy Jackson reminded me why I was so in love with mythology and I'll definitely be reading more of the series soon.  

Pure was certainly gritty and Baggott clearly had some fantastic ideas.  The actual reading of it though was hard week and it took me a couple of weeks to get through.  I found myself relieved when I'd finished it so I guess that's not a great sign.  

Darkfever is the first in the five part Fever series.  I saw a lot of reviews of the final instalment when it came out last year and was curious.  It turned out to be a quick, snappy read but had some aspects I wasn't wholly convinced by.  I probably will hunt down the later books through my local library but probably won't be storming my nearest bookshop for them.

What am I reading now?

About a week ago, I decided that enough was enough and it was long past time I started The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  This year I'm determined to read more classics and I was in danger of passing a month without reading even one.  I'm just shy of 200 pages in to this one now and LOVE it.  I know that a lot of people have said it but it's very easy to read for a story originally published in 1844 and I can't wait to read more, even if it is making me pine for Italy!

What am I planning on reading this week?

At 1,276 pages, I'm fairly sure that The Count of Monte Cristo will be keeping me occupied for at least the next week.  Plenty more adventure to come :)


I hope you've all had great reading starts to the year and a good week!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Review: 'Silent in the Grave' by Deanna Raybourn

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Synopsis

"To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor..."

For Lady Julia Grey, her husband's sudden death at a dinner party is extremely inconvenient. However, things take a turn for the worse when inscrutable private investigator Nicholas Brisbane reveals that the death was not due to natural causes. Drawn away from her comfortable, conventional life, Julia is exposed to threatening notes, secret societies and gypsy curses, not to mention Nicholas' charismatic unpredictability.

Review

I've been meaning to start this series for a long time. When the fifth in the series, The Dark Enquiry, came out in June last year, praise for Lady Julia Grey was flying around everywhere.  I did a poor job of resisting temptation and bought the first in the series not long after.  Then my mum came to visit and absconded with it so it was a few months before I actually got down to reading it.

When I finally did, I was really looking forward to it. Happily, I did enjoy it, even though it wasn't quite as much as I thought I would. I was in the mood for some good historical fiction and, for the most part, that's what I got. I would have preferred it if that's all I had got. There were one or two supernatural twists that I guess are to set up the rest of the series but that I'm by no means sure fit with this instalment. I'm perfectly happy to hold up my hands and admit that I might be being picky but this book would have worked as well (if not better) without the mysticism.

I suppose it is a testament to how much paranormal/steampunk books I've been reading of late that I kept expecting vampire/automaton to jump out from behind a chaise longue every time the tension ratcheted up. That obviously isn't a criticism of the book but it is a reminder that I could do with indulging in some "pure" historical fiction for a little while!

Sorry, back to the review: Lady Julia Grey was a character I expected to love. For reasons I can't quite place, my feelings were more lukewarm. Along with many other readers, I admired her for her lack of reticence and for delivering more than would usually be expected of women of her era. That said, there were times when she was so gung-ho that she was just thoughtless and I found myself a bit annoyed on occasion. There's having your own opinions and then there's a complete and utter refusal to listen to others' advice or expressions of concern for the welfare of those they care about; treading the fine line between independence and obstinacy is Lady Julia Grey.

Nicholas Brisbane is our Lady's enigmatic private investigator of choice. He's charming in that brusque and mysterious kind of way that is apparently attractive these days. Brisbane and Lady Julia's interaction is sparky and witty. I was a big fan of how their relationship developed and am so glad that Ms Raybourn dodged the obvious and kept it natural. Worried about InstaLove? Don't be. This is one book in which the characters make and sustain proper relationships, without the need to swoon all over the place at the very sight of an appropriate male.

There's also an assortment of eccentric family members and curious household staff to fill up the character quota and I'm hoping to see more of them as the series goes on.

In terms of plot, earlier moan about supernatural aside, there's a lot going for this one. There's the right balance between rousting about the streets of London and mulling over clues and facts so that I was never bored (a curse that blighted me earlier this year with one particular book) and always eager to read more. On more than one occasion, I thought I knew where everything was heading and settled down to watch it unfurl. I was wrong every time. That is to say, whatever else it may or may not be, this book certainly isn't predictable. There's plenty going on, which means plenty of red herrings. There's a rapid unveiling of a whole host of secrets (some more risqué than others) in the final third of the book which lifts the pace and delivers a pretty satisfying conclusion.

So not all of
 it was perfect but I enjoyed it and I guess that's the main thing.

Overall:  A solid start to a series that I know I'll read more of.  I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction but would hesitate before handing it over to more die-hard mystery fans. Worth your time if you happen across a copy, certainly!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  14 December 2011
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Mystery; Historical fiction
Published: by Mira Books in December 2007

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Review: 'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Synopsis

Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

Review

A
h, young solicitors sent to great huge mansions by your apparently benevolent bosses, when will you learn?  Thankfully for the literary world, never. 

Arthur Kipps is an ambitious but worryingly naive solicitor, plodding his way through dull cases and hoping to catch the eye of his superior and be offered something more fulfilling so that he and his fiancé can buy a little house and live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, Kipps' blind hope leads him to gallivant off to the moors to wrap up Mrs Drablow's estate despite an abundance of warnings that he's running into more than he knows.  As starts to novels go, it's a classic.  But hey, it works.  There's something disarming about being 'introduced' to a fresh-faced, eager man when you just know that it's all about to change.

As a proper gothic ghost story should be, though, this is less about the characters and
more about the setting and what they experience.  Kipps, however, is as good a narrator as you could ask for. The unravelling of his objective, legally-trained mind is well-paced and realistic. I think one of my favourite things about the book was how well Hill blended those touches of realism with the paranormal.  Who hasn't had the occasional moment in the night where something sets you on edge and, even though you know it will more likely than not be something perfectly normal in the morning, at the time, everything seems sinister? Just me?  Ok...Regardless, the way Kipp tried to hold on to his version of reality in the daylight hours was a nice touch and he was just how I like my narrators.  No running around flapping and panicking but equally no getting all gung-ho and toting exorcism equipment about the place. Just good old-fashioned rational thought and a scared man's attempts to take charge over the situation.    

The beauty of The Woman in Black lies in its simplicity.  There are no superfluous details or incidental conversations detracting from the incisively unnerving descriptions.  Believe me, they're enough.  This is a book that is as much about what you don't see as what you do; the inexplicable noises behind the locked door, a glimpse of a face at the window in an empty house, distant screams in the fog.  The atmosphere is really well balanced and I often felt as though I could see the mist descending over Eel Marsh House as much as I could feel the corresponding increase in tension. 

While
I really liked Kipps, I couldn't say the same for many of the other characters.  I suppose that's unfair seeing as they aren't really characters as much as plot devices but I find all the foreshadowing a touch too much - we already have a tormented future version of the main character and a fidgety boss who's clearly hiding something.  I'm not sure that everybody Kipps then met needed to warn him about the bad things that were coming his way if he carried on.  It's a small gripe, I know.  I'm clutching at straws to try and be balanced! Forgive me...

It's impossible to write a review of this without mentioning how downright brilliant the ending is but, at the same time, I don't want to say anything that would spoil that ending for you. Suffice to say that I would have recommended this book as an exquisitely chilling ghost story without it. With it?  Devastatingly good and a story that will follow you around long after you've put it down and shaken off the last of the shivers.

Overall:  Last year I read The Small Hand and was was neither charmed, intrigued nor unsettled. The Woman in Black is everything The Small Hand wasn't and then some; a perfect example of everything that makes ghost stories great. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  26 November 2011
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Ghost story; Horror
Published: My edition - by Vintage in November 2007; Originally - 1983

Sunday, 15 January 2012

In My Mailbox #3: The 'e' Version

I got back from the Lake District this afternoon after a weekend away and made a deal with myself that I would be 'allowed' to catch up on book blogs and actually write a post (I know, crazy!) once I'd finished Pure.  So I dutifully curled up on the sofa by the fire in the living room and settled in for...well, a nap, apparently.  Even though the end is right there staring me in the face, I can't summon the inclination to actually read it.  This is one book that has been a heck of a slog!

ANYway, we'll get on to the point of the post, shall we?  Sharing the contents of my less-than-bursting mailbox as part of The Story Siren's In My Mailbox!

It's been a quite few weeks at the LitAddictedBrit household as far as book buying goes. While I was signing up for the TBR Pile Challenge, I realised (as I occasionally do) just how many great books I have already waiting for me on my shelves and feel guilty about adding to them.  

I couldn't, however, resist the brilliant eBook sale over at Kobo at the start of the New Year and these few little beauties snuck their way into my Inbox...



I've wanted A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness for what seems like ages - I love the idea of daemons, witches and vampires running around Oxford's Bodleian Library and can't wait to read this! I've seen mixed reviews but I'm ignoring them for the time being in blind excitement.  

Another idea that I'm curious about? Time travel.  It fascinates me and I quite fancied Alex Scarrow's sci-fi take on it about an agency that nobody knows exists but whose aim is to fix broken history.  TimeRiders is the first in a series so I'm hoping it'll be a good one.  

I don't really know why I picked Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan.  It was in a sale, sure, but I've been a bit out of love with paranormal romance of late.  Perhaps this will be my way back into love with it?!  It's described as "a haunting story of friendship, love and secrets, tragedy and loss" and has an immortal lady in it.  Plus, it's pretty.  That makes no difference to me because it's an eBook but still...it is.

One other happy moment was when Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning arrived in the library.  After all the rave reviews of the last in the series released last year, I've been keeping an eye out for a while.  My patience eventually ran out and I requested it from the local library. Then, due to its ridiculous opening hours, I waited a further week to be able to leave work early enough to make it home in time to collect it. It's here now and I'm looking forward to hanging out with the Fae soon!

So what's in your mailbox this week? 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Thoughts on 'A Study in Scarlet' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes is one of those iconic characters that even people who have never read in their life have heard of.   After a couple of positive brushes with detective fiction last year, I decided that it was about time that I read some Sherlock Holmes stories and acquaint myself properly with the character as he was originally written.  While I know that it is entirely unnecessary to read them in the order they were written/published, I did want to at least start with the first so that I could read how Conan Doyle originally revealed him and how he met Dr Watson. 


A Study in Scarlet was Holmes' introduction to the world and published in 1897 in Beeton's Christmas AnnualWhat I encountered in Part I of the story was broadly what I had expected:  Holmes is an eccentric and socially awkward man who has an uncanny ability to make accurate deductions from a seemingly minor array of facts.  Reading about Holmes' thought processes was just as charming as I hoped it would be.  Even without the glitzy effects of more modern adaptations, he is astounding.  One thing I learned that I hadn't fully appreciated from adaptations is just how cantankerous and condescending he was intended be.  A side effect of having such a unique type of intelligence, perhaps?


Part II, however, wasn't even remotely close to what I was expecting.  The story is rocketing along with Holmes patronising all of the local constabulary and revealing his insights in what is now a familiar manner.  The mystery is all but solved, there's plenty of action, I was excited about how Holmes' Big Reveal would go down and then...the narrative stopped.  

Instead of having Holmes/the murderer explain their motive, Conan Doyle apparently decided that it would be better for the reader to go back in time and see the motive develop.  Cue a visit to Utah in 1847 (the main parts of the narrative are set in 1881) and a few chapters of adventures in the desert with a group of mormons.

At first, I thought that I'd made a mistake with my eReader while turning the page and  had somehow skipped to the next book.  I did more than one confused flits back and forth between the book's contents and the page before ploughing on, so disconnected does the second part seem.  On one hand, it was much more involving to travel in the murderer's footsteps and come to understand just how they had wound up in their current position and I became more than a little sympathetic to their cause.  On the other, I was really looking forward to a great huge monologue through which I could revel in Holmes' peculiar type of genius and kick myself for missing the clues that were there all along.  

Overall: I really loved being properly introduced to Sherlock Holmes, will definitely be reading more of Conan Doyle's stories. I genuinely would recommend reading them to any murder-mystery fan because it really is remarkably accessible considering the time it was written.  Just remember that it might not be quite what you expect!  

I guess my somewhat luke warm reaction to this one is less the fault of Conan Doyle's unique slant on revealing a murderer and more attributable to the inaccuracies of modern portrayals.  Now that I'm prepared for that, I think my Complete Sherlock Holmes book and I will get along famously :)  


Random and (mildly) interesting fact about A Study in Scarlet:  It was allegedly the first work of fiction to incorporate the magnifying glass as an investigative tool.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Review: 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs.

Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead….


Review

While I was reading this, everything else was put on hold. Washing up got left, clothes weren't being cleaned or ironed and we ate appallingly simple meals. If I'd had children, they would have been ignored too (which is why I don't...). I know that it's rolled out as a cliché all too often but Divergent really is fiercely addictive. After the first couple of chapters, I never wanted to put it down. When I was compelled to, I grabbed at it whenever I had a few minutes free and read hungrily on buses, trains, hidden in a conference room at my office. After I was roughly half way through, I doubt even my job could have pulled me away. Fortunately, by then it was Saturday and I was free to devour the ending in one fell swoop, allowed myself to breathe again and then felt bereft.

So what makes for such compelling reading?  The story is set after war has rent Chicago apart, with those that survive banding together in factions.  Each faction prides one attribute above all others and put its members through a trying initiation to make sure they embody everything their faction stands for.  The history, the politics and the action are perfectly balanced and Roth manages to offer something that is both edge-of-the-seat exciting but also spectacularly well held together by substance.

Beatrice 'Tris' Prior is the feisty heroine and I loved her.  While I was reading, there were times when I was willing things to go right for her so badly that I occasionally realised I was gripping my book ridiculously tightly.  She could quite easily be held up as an alternative definition of 'plucky'.  I suppose it might mark me out as a bit of a feminist but both her independence and the fact that she occasionally gets to do the saving for the men in her life were brilliant.  Hmm, this is starting to sound a bit girl crush-y, isn't it?!  On to Four it is...

In 'real' life, I'm not a massive fan of the strong silent type.  In fiction?  Apparently I like my leading men to be a little mysterious.  Four's no easy man to understand but the fact that Tris takes her time getting to know him (and all of her other fellow faction members, for that matter), means that we can too.  By the time there's even a hint of romance, there's also enough of a relationship for it not to seem forced.

One of my favourite elements was a small one but one that I couldn't write my review without mentionign: the explanation about how the factions came about and how they came to believe that their chosen trait was the most valuable.  It provided much needed political background and history and, most importantly, was bizarrely logical and terrifyingly believable.  Oh, and I defy you to read this book without playing the 'Which Faction Would I Choose' game.

The next in the trilogy, Insurgent, is out in May and I will definitely be among the many clamouring to grab a copy.

Overall:  What more can I add to the cacophony of praise surrounding this debut?  Some more praise, that's what!  There's a reason why it has been appearing on so many 'Best of 2011'.  It really is just that good.  What are you waiting for?!  Go read it!  Thank me later :)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Date finished:  26 November 2011
Format:  Paperback
Source:  The lovely Hanna @ Booking in Heels
Genre:  YA fiction/Dystopian 
Published: by Harper Collins Children's Books in May 2011

Monday, 2 January 2012

Resolutions: 2011 catch-up and 2012 promises

Gosh, it doesn't seem like any time at all since I was last posting some resolutions! 2011 has just flown by.  It saw me turn 25 (bleugh) and LitAddictedBrit turn 1 (yey).  It also saw me start using Twitter (@LitAddictedBrit) and read the following...

Complete books read:  51

Pages read:  18, 309

I've already covered off my favourites, disappointments and general bookish thoughts for the year in The Perpetual Page Turner's 2011 bookish survey post here but, in case you missed it, among my favourites were:  




In general, I'm pretty pleased with my reading in 2011.  51 isn't a huge total in itself but it does include a couple of pretty hefty tomes (with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell easily the chunkiest at 1,006 pages) that I've been meaning to read for a while so it's not too shabby.  I've read over 1,000 pages a month on average and I can tolerate that in light of how busy this year has been for me at work.

Throughout the year, I've also been looking at some aspects of the books I've chosen, including format, author gender and release date.  

eBooks v. 'Real' books:  Of my 51 books, 28 were eBooks.  So that's 56%.  I'm not surprised by that, really, and this year I'm not going to keep track of format.  Well, it's still included on my horribly nerdy bookish spreadsheet but I won't keep on boring you by commenting on it.  I'm an eBook convert, that much is clear.  Colin (the eReader) and I will certainly be reading more together in 2012.  

Female v. Male authors:  It appeared early on in 2011/at the end of 2010 that I subconsciously favoured authors of a female persuasion.  3 of my 4 favourite books of the year were written by women and, overall,  31 of the 51 books I read were written by women.  Not the imbalance I was expecting.  Again, possibly not one to keep track of for 2012 (publicly...).  

Contemporary v. Classic:  Broken down by century, my reading from 2011 looks like this:  

21st century:  39 books
20th century:  8 books
19th century:  4 books

Oh dear.  Well, on the plus side, I've signed up for two challenges this year that will be calling for the reading of classics.  Lets hope 2012 is the year of more classics, I guess!

So yes, that was 2011!

Resolutions for 2012

I'm not so great at new year's resolutions, it has to be said.  I love the excitement of creating them and looking forward to a new year.  I do not love reaching Spring, remembering that I made them and feeling bad for not following through :-s

Anyway, it's still early on in 2012 so here goes...

1.  Stop using Google Reader so much and VISIT and COMMENT on blogs properly

I love my iPhone unreservedly and rely on it heavily.  I realised how much earlier in the year when I broke it and had to send it away to get it fixed.  Oops indeed.  Anyway, I use it's nifty WiFi/3G business to browse Google Reader while I'm travelling about and/or doing something inactive like queuing, for example.  It means that I read a heck of a lot of posts while I'm out and about and when I don't have the opportunity to comment.  It also means that I read bloggers' posts against a dull stark white background and can't enjoy all of the time and effort that I know goes into getting and keeping your blogs looking lovely (and, if you're me, the hours that are spent faffing about and trying to avoid wonky text formatting).    

I have been reading your posts, I promise.  This year, I will do better at making sure you know that!  

2.  Be more consistent with posting and start up a new feature

I've been toying with an idea of somehow integrating my other love in life (cooking) into LitAddictedBrit.  I have a ton of cookbooks and love reading about, cooking and eating great food.  Somehow, I'd like to share that but I'm ironing out my thoughts on how that will look or even whether it would work. It may well smudge the boundaries of this blog and I'm not sure I want that.  And I don't have time to maintain two blogs so...we'll see!  

Being more consistent is self-explanatory, I hope.  Being more organised in general would help!

3.  Read 75 books in 2012

This would of course mean reading what I read this year and then half again next year.  That's a tall order, I know so I'm not going to be too hard on myself.  I'd just like to see how I get on and have a goal.  

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  I hope 2011 was a wonderful year for you and that 2012 is even better!  x