Monday, 30 December 2013

December Read-alongs and Read-a-Thon: Wrap up

Ah, Christmas!  I love you and I miss you already.  I should probably feel a teensy bit guilty about the fact that I drifted off round about the 18th, abandoning a couple of events that I was taking part in, but I had such a lovely time that I don't.  I hope you all had a super time and are enjoying the lull before the excitement of 2014 hits us.


The End of the Year Read-a-thon


I don't feel as though the actual reading part of this particular read-a-thon was very successful. I did read three and a half books and a not-too-insignificant 1,107 pages but I'm pretty sure that I would have read that with or without the read-a-thon going on so it isn't exactly glowing with the sparkle of achievement. I will sound a bit like a grump now but one of the things I think I learned while taking part was that the two weeks in the run up to Christmas is not the time to try to squeeze much more extra reading time in amongst the wrapping, merry-making and eating.  Part of me also thinks that a fortnight is too long to add anything more than regular reading to a hectic schedule but that's neither here nor there.

I managed to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (more on that below...), Cracked by Eliza Crewe and The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo.  A solid fortnight's reading, definitely.


 A Tale of Two Cities Read-along

I feel an entirely undue sense of achievement for actually having read a Dickens novel in 2013.  It wasn't exactly an easy read: Book 1 was rambling tedium; Book 2 was obscurity followed by barbarism; Book 3 was fabulous.

Book 3 was what I wanted the whole book to be like and it is appallingly remiss of me that I'm probably only going to write a couple of paragraphs about A Tale of Two Cities before I wander off to watch another slightly bad film while eating Quality Street.  

Sydney Carton was the obvious victory of Book 3 and the final few chapters were amazing.  I unwisely read them on a train to a meeting but managed a few dignified tears that didn't destroy my make-up but did probably make me look a little bonkers.  One day I'll learn not to read the endings of books in public but probably not one day soon.

I'll review this properly one day soon but I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to rate it.  I took a couple of breaks and didn't exactly storm through but the last third was amazing.  The final book was an easy 4/5 stars and the first would score a 2, probably.  I'd read more Dickens in the future almost definitely but only when I'm feeling patient and when I'm not participating in an event that's tracking my page count...not a resounding success I'll grant you (or a particularly eloquent account of the whole experience) but I am glad I read it.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The End of the Year Read-a-thon: The Home Straight

Ok, so I know that you're probably all getting sick of these updates now but it's been the first time in a LONG time that I've written something every day and I'm kind of enjoying doing that, even though it makes me a pain in the arse. Because I'm going to be busier after today with the upcoming festivities and such like, though, this post is going to take me from Day 10 (today...) right through to the grand finale, Day 14 (Sunday).  

Can I also just take a moment before we get to stats and pictures and miscellaneous waffle just how jolly excited I am about Christmas? I absolutely love everything about it and I'm so, so looking forward to having a couple of weeks off work for family, food, finally getting to give people the presents I've bought for them and wine. 

I've been keeping up with some participants on this read-a-thon but feel free to comment and tell me if I've missed you!

Day 10:  WEDNESDAY 18th DECEMBER

Pages read today:  (as at 8.04pm) 76 pages
Books read from today:  The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo
Total pages read so far:  788 pages
Books read so far:  Cracked by Eliza Crewe; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

8.04pm:  Bleugh - what a miserable evening! Boyfriend is away for work this evening so I'm at home listening to the driving wind and rain alone while ogling Michel Roux Jr telling me how to roast a goose.  I'm actually not a massive fan of goose or duck because I find them too fatty and rich but I will watch Michel Roux Jr on anything, whether or not I ever intend to cook anything that he's making.  

When I'm done ogling, I think I'm going to hide from the weather under my duvet and get back into The Gathering Dark.  I won't rant again about how much it bugs me that the UK version I have has that silly name but everybody else knows it as Shadow and Bone.  And the cover of the UK version is unnecessarily boring compared to the US one.  I just don't understand why publishers (?) would think that a girl in a coat would be more appealing to us Brits than a funky cover.  Are we known for enjoying a swirly robe or something?  I don't know.  Anyway, I am enjoying The Gathering Dark but maybe not as much as I thought I would given all of the hype.  It's good and the Darkling sounds pretty hot but it just feels a bit like other things that I've read...it actually reminds me quite a lot of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan because the Grisha all wear different colours depending upon their particular power just like the Aes Sedai do in Jordan's series.  It's very readable though so it's still good, just not a game-changer.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The End of the Year Read-a-thon: Days 6 to 9

This past few days seem to have flown by and I managed to miss the watershed moment of my read-a-thon efforts: I finished a book! I know, quite the achievement. I honestly am in awe of the people that are in double figures. I will never understand how people can read that many books in a week. Let’s have a tiny bit of a catch-up, along with today’s update…

Day 7: SUNDAY 15th DECEMBER

Pages read: 100 pages (I love these happy round numbers that I keep happening upon!)
Books read from: Cracked by Eliza Crewe; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pages read so far: 490 pages
Books read so far: ONE!! HALLELUJAH!!

We went to visit Boyfriend’s family for lunch on Sunday, which was lovely. It used be an annual “spread” (as they’re apparently known in Yorkshire…) but his grandparents are in their 80s and not up to hosting anymore so going out for lunch has become the replacement event. Despite the fact that I wasn’t driving, I got absolutely no reading done and decorated the rest of the afternoon away…we’re edging closer to the day that we get to put some colour on the living room walls and I am beyond excited about that day at this point. I know, I’m exciting like that.

Anyway, when I finally did get settled down to read Cracked, I flew through the final pages and really, really enjoyed it. There’s a lot of YA with similar sounding ideas out there at the moment, particularly urban fantasy ones, but there was a lot going for this one and my review (if it appears before the end of the year…) will be a positive one. Never mind the fact that the book was good, I FINISHED IT, which is cause for celebration in itself.

Day 8: MONDAY 16th DECEMBER

Pages read: 60 pages
Books read from: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pages read so far: 550 pages
Books read so far: One – Cracked by Eliza Crewe

Oh, what my reading totals would be if it wasn’t for work. I got some reading tucked in around commuting and making dinner and watching festive cooking programmes but not a massive amount. I got stuck into Book 3 of A Tale of Two Cities though and it is everything that was good about Book 2 and then some. I am now genuinely concerned for the welfare of the characters and that is a big step in itself!

I posted my thoughts on the second half of Book 2 here, although I only recommend that you head over to that post if you either aren't bothered about spoilers for Books 1 and 2 or you've already read A Tale of Two Cities.

Day 9: TUESDAY 17th DECEMBER

Pages read: 162 pages
Books read from: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo
Pages read so far: 712 pages
Books read so far: Cracked by Eliza Crewe; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

11.43am: If A Tale of Two Cities goes where I think it’s going, Dickens and I are heading for a fall out. I only have about 60 pages left to go and I don’t even want to see how much of that is actual story and not afterwords and such in case I see something that spoils the ending. So I actually might be nearer to the end than I think I am. Whichever way, I’ve got to catch the train soon to a meeting and I’m not sure whether I want to read what I have left and find out what happens or whether there’s a significant risk that I’ll get weepy and ruin my make-up, in which case I’ll be better reading it when I get home and picking something else for the train. Decisions, decisions!

Update:  BOOK TWO!  I finished A Tale of Two Cities while I was out and about today and really enjoyed the ending.  I had to wipe away a few tears in a discreet fashion both to avoid looking like a plonker on the train and to avoid my make-up being ruined when I was on my way to a meeting but it was worth it.  I'm disgruntled with Dickens for hiding such a good final part behind such a rubbish first part, actually.  More thoughts at the weekend but in the meantime, I have finished a second book and that is an achievement indeed.  Let's not mention the fact that I had already read a third of this when we started out...

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Tale of Two Cities Read-along: Book 2

I think it's fair to say that Book 1 and the first nine chapters of Book 2 were a little slow.  The further into Book 2 I got, the more I enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities.  It slowly became everything that I'd been hoping for when I first started reading Dickens.  I didn't completely stop having to re-read paragraphs every now and then to really understand them but the overall number of moments of bafflement did decrease.  Because I'm a day late in posting this, I have actually read about 60 or so pages of Book 3 and it's more of the same.  To sum up before we get into the nitty spoiler gritty: I'm enjoying the book more and more as the pages go by faster and faster.


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


Right.  If you haven't read A Tale of Two Cities and want to avoid spoilers, look away now.  If you want to go back to the beginning of the read-along, my first post is HERE.  Otherwise, you'll have to hang on until I get round to writing a fulll review.  SPOILERS AHEAD!


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

Getting back into Book 2 was difficult for me.  I'd finally warmed to the story with the murder of the Marquis and then was disappointed when we returned to England to life with Charles Darnay and the Manettes. 

I love Dr Manette and his efforts to triumph over whatever wrong was done to him when he was locked up in the Bastille.  I was dying to know what landed him there in Book 1 and I was still wondering at the end of Book 2.  Truth be told, I'm STILL wondering 60 or so pages into Book 3!  Maybe that's the point.  Maybe what I am refusing to accept is that poor, poor Dr Manette was imprisoned for nothing at all.  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Whatever the reason, when he regressed to shoe-making on the departure of Lucie and Charles on their honeymoon, I felt a little twist in my stomach as Mr Lorry struggled to pull him back to reality.  What the Lucie and Charles love story lacked in charm at that point was balanced out by Dr Manette's struggle.

Oh, and was anybody else rooting for a Mr Lorry and Miss Pross romance while they were united in their efforts to save the noble Doctor?  Just me?

One thing that I fear I will never understand is the dream/imagining sequences.  I didn't quite get them in Book 1 and I definitely didn't get them in Book 2.  Dr Manette saw a Lucie but it wasn't a Lucie? She didn't know you but also she did?  She set you free and kept you captive?   I am almost certain that there was something more going on there that I just wasn't getting but then I figured that I could live without seeing through the abstract sequence and moved on...

The final few chapters of the book almost had me forgetting the meanderings of the early pages.  The descriptions of the start of the French Revolution, with the marauding mob and rampaging men and women, were really something.  I've preferred the sections set in France all along but it was the end of Book 2 where I really felt like I was being rewarded for my earlier patience.  I loved how characters and themes from earlier in the novel started re-appearing too.  Almost like I was on the in side of an in-joke.  And even while I was repulsed by the barbaric treatment of the perceived enemies of the people, I found myself drawn towards sympathy.  I am no expert when it comes to the socio-economic causes of the French Revolution but I can empathise with those struggling under wide-spread poverty and starvation being driven towards delivering what they believe to be justice. 

I still have no idea what is going on with Jerry and his apparently spiky hair/head and whether I love or hate Syndey Carton but I do know that I adore Madame Defarge. She may turn out to be despicable (I just don't know!) and she sounded absolutely terrifying when the peasants were roused out of their starvation to go a-murdering but if you're knitting your way through the opening stages of any revolution, you are one strong lady, codes or not.  I suppose in many ways, her strength is surprising.  Lucie Manette is how I expected Dickens to write female characters; plenty of simpering and sitting around being delicate and pretty but not a lot else.  Madame Defarge is at least Monsieur Defarge's equal and the quiet focus and resolution behind their efforts to liberate the French people:
"Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule"
"It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning" said Defarge.
"How long", demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning?  Tell me."
Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.
"It does not take a long time", said madame, "for an earthquake to swallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?"
"A long time, I suppose" said Defarge" [Page 174, eBook edition]
The thing that I think a lot of the valiant #DickensinDecember participants have struggled with is that whatever we've thought of this famous novel, it isn't one that draws you back to its pages.  I've had a little break between each of the books and I think it's helped me get more out of it.  Usually, I am fastidious about only reading one book at once and I would have pushed myself through A Tale of Two Cities, however much I wanted to take a breath.  Coming back to Book 3, I find that I feel refreshed, ready to get back into the story and genuinely looking forward to seeing where everything ends for these characters.  Because I just know that it won't end well for everybody.  Or anybody, probably.

Next week is the wrap-up and I'm genuinely worried that my heart will have been broken by that point. I'm not known for being particularly sob-resistant and I'm going to read the final few chapters in the privacy of my own home, just in case...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The End of the Year Read-a-thon: Saturday and a Seasonal Challenge

Day 6: SATURDAY 14th DECEMBER

Today hasn't been a great day for reading but it's been a good day in terms of house progress.  We've finished the kitchen/living room/dining room area but we're still only really edging our way towards having the main living room done. It's going be a sort of dusky purple type colour and have a sort of vintage theme but first we have to get rid of the assortment of textured wallpaper that the previous owners left behind, wash the walls, paint them matt white and THEN we get to put the colour on, paint the woodwork white, gloss it and finally buy some lovely furniture.  Yep, slooooow progress - today we've managed to get half-way through removing the textured wallpaper.  Tomorrow is remove the remainder and then wash the walls...*sigh*

I'll be settling down with Cracked soon but I quite liked today's challenge so I'm allowing myself to get distracted by the internet for a little while.  What can I say? I'm British and apparently we like to talk about the weather!  This challenge is hosted by Book Briefs and is a meteorological look back over 2013's books...

Recommend a book for a snow day

For a snowy read, I was torn between Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield and The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen.  The Vanishing Act was set on an isolated island, full of inclement weather and gloomy evenings.  It was an easy read though and not one that took up too much time.  For a snow day, I imagine something more intense and creepy.  Something that takes advantage of that other-worldly feel that it's easy to get when the sky is white and the world is twinkling.  I can't imagine a better book than Bellman & Black. I've seen quite a lot of negative reviews of this one. I think maybe because people were hoping that it would be a repeat of The Thirteenth Tale.  Setterfield's first novel was full of drama and action; her second is quieter, more understated and by far the better written.  I remember The Thirteenth Tale even though I read it a few years ago because it was exciting but I'm sure that I'll remember Bellman & Black for far longer.  Perfect for losing yourself in on a snow day.

Recommend a book for a rainy day

With a rainy day, I'm never quite sure if I want something gloomy or something that will remind me that sun actually does exist.  If I was able to tuck myself up in the warm and read, I think I'd be inclined to go for something absorbing and that it might be harder to pay attention to if it wasn't so rainy.  This year, I finally branched out and read some (sort of) non-fiction and was completely blown away by how engaging it was.  HHhH by Laurent Binet is one of my favourite books of the year in many ways and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in WWII history but looking for a different way of reading about it.  I've remarked again and again on various blog posts that I can't get enough of personal perspectives on overwhelming, global tragedies and this is one of the best.  Expect tears.


Recommend a book for a beach day

I don't read a lot of chick lit so this is harder than you might think.  I'd either say The Song of Achilles by Michelle Miller (because maybe if I mention it often enough SOME PEOPLE will read it) or The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown.  Half of The Perfume Garden is set in modern day Valencia, Spain and the other half is set in various locations in Spain during the Spanish Civil War so it's partly a sweet story about a woman recovering from grief in a cottage in the Spanish countryside and partly historical fiction.  The historical fiction balanced out the modern day storyline and stopped everything from becoming sickly sweet.  I wasn't a massive fan of the final few chapters because I felt that there was a list ditch attempt at creating some unnecessary drama but even with that slight fault, I'd still recommend it.  

Recommend a book for a spooky night

Spooky isn't usually my deal but for some reason, I decided to try out a James Herbert novel while I was on holiday earlier in the year.  The Secret of Crickley Hall was full of atmosphere and chills, what with being set in a house that is haunted by the ghosts of children that seemingly died there decades ago.  It was very creepy indeed but the writing wasn't exactly stellar so it doesn't quite make the cut here.  Instead, I'm going with the outstanding The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  I haven't reviewed it yet (and might not before the end of the year, if I'm being honest) but it's an amazing, disturbing thriller about a serial killer responsible for the deaths of shining girls across decades.  Impossible to read in small chunks and oh so sinister, I can't think of many a better book to spend a night with if you fancy making yourself jump at every creak and bump for the evening.

Page count for Saturday:  62 pages of Cracked by Eliza Crewe

Friday, 13 December 2013

The End of the Year Read-a-Thon: Friday 13th!

I'm actually in no way superstitious but have coincidentally chosen Friday 13th as my hibernation evening.  I'm no longer attending my work's Christmas party (because I'm leaving in February and I don't need that much awkwardness in my life just before Christmas) so, while Boyfriend is out enjoying his, I'll be at home, in my onesy (yes, Ellie, my onesy!), under my dressing gown, eating Kettle Chips and reading.  I have high hopes for this evening's page count so I've given today it's own post and everything!  Although that probably means that I'll get drawn into watching something on TV and won't get any reading done...

Friday's Stats and Things

Pages read today:  116 pages (as at 9.35pm)
Books read from today:  Cracked by Eliza Crewe
Total pages read so far:  328 pages
Total books read so far:  Two halves!  Shame they aren't of the same book...

12.29pm: This won't necessarily be much of an update but I'm eating soup and browsing the internet so I figured that I might aswell check in and update after this morning's commuting reading.  I think I was really in need of some action-packed YA because I'm enjoying Cracked a lot more than I expected to. There's a twist in the Templar tale and a demon that eats souls and all kinds of other kooky goings on and plenty of things that I don't know yet and it's fun!  Meda is the soul-eating main characters and she's sarcastic and evil and it makes a refreshing change.  I'm hoping that I might finish this one in a big crisp-fuelled binge this evening, actually.

6.57pm:  I got spotted AGAIN on the train this evening by a colleague.  I promise that I'm not completely anti-social all the time but is it so much to ask that I get to read my book in peace after spending all day at work with the people?  Apparently so.  Moan over!  Now I'm tucked up nice and warm at home and about to get stuck back into Meda's human-hating, soul-eating ways.  My evening will basically look like this:


Colin, Kettle Chips and a big squishy cushion...
a winning combination
9.35pm:  Ah, this evening has been just what I needed to round off this week.  The beginning was naff but the end has been the best!  Yesterday night, I met up with Hanna and we had lots of food and plenty of wine and nattered for what felt like 5 minutes but was the whole evening and it was the best.  This evening, I got home, ate some dinner, hastily bashed out the above update and then settled in with a book and some snacks and it has been another WINNER of an evening.  I've actually read about 78 pages or so of Cracked by Eliza Crewe and there have been some nifty twists and some fighting and the rubbish romantic sub-plot that I thought was developing actually wasn't and I have so much more satisfaction from the respect I have for this book for making me wrong than I would get from the smug "Well, I knew that was coming" feeling.  So this is the one instance ever in which I am glad that I am wrong.  Let's not get used to that.

Image found here
In amongst reading and eating salty snacks, I've also watched a nonsensical episode of Grand Designs. I love house developy programmes at the moment because I like to imagine that I have far more natural skill in interior design than I actually do and that allows me to watch other people bravely following their dream and sneer at them while they over-spend in a naive and perfectly understandable manner. Although this was one of those ones where they said that their budget was £250,000 and then managed to cough up a £400,000 to build a huge great gothic, towery thing.  So I moaned at the programme for nearly the full hour until they went back and it looked amazing and I decided that I want a wall in my house painted red. I have no idea which one but one somewhere.  So all in all a productive evening you might say?  Soon to be rendered much less so when I go and collect Boyfriend from his festive drinking extravaganza...I might get some reading done in the meantime with a mug of peppermint tea but possibly not...QI is on, after all.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The End of Year Reading Cram: Go, go, GO!

The End of the Year Read-a-thon is here! It was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally decided to tag along on this particular read-a-thon but I kind of feel like I've been waiting for it for ages.  I *really* like the sound of a couple of weeks of read-a-thoning before Christmas and the fact that it spans over a fortnight is handy. Sure, it also happens to fall before I've finished my Christmas shopping and on the fortnight that it is my current workplace's Christmas party (which rules out the Friday and probably the Saturday...:|) but I still feel as though I'll have plenty of time to get some quiet time before it's time for turkey, red wine and inebriated game playing at the Lit Addicted Brit household!

I'm not sure how many posts I'm going to break this down into but I'll try to keep from bombarding your readers too viciously.  I suppose we'll see how much I get written and go from there!

DAY 1: MONDAY 9th DECEMBER

Pages read today:  49 pages
Books read from today:  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pages read so far:  49 pages
Books read so far:  I'm reading Dickens...this number could be '0' for quite some time yet, friends!

6.03pm:  I'm actually still at work at the moment but I was in dire need of a break from trying to get my head round a gnarly contract clause and remembered that I'd half-drafted this post over the weekend and that I could spend a few minutes waffling at you all before I had to go back to said gnarly contract clause.  It hasn't been a great day for reading yet but I've been at work since 8.00am so that's not necessarily unexpected...I did get back into Charles Dickens though after a weekend that I *may* have spent giggling at Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.  I haven't really seen that much of her blog so most of the material was fresh to me.  Fresh and chuckle-inducing.  Getting back into A Tale of Two Cities wasn't as hard as I'd maybe thought it was going to be so I'm almost convinced that I'm "into it" now and it'll be plain sailing for hereon out.  See how brave I am, Dickens?  You can't scare me...

Day 2: TUESDAY 10th DECEMBER

Pages read today:  27 pages
Books read from today:  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pages read so far:  76 pages
Books read so far: Dickens, remember?  0...

Yesterday was pretty much a write off.  A colleague spotted me on the train in the morning and wanted to make small talk so I got no reading done then and then I had a bit of travelling to and from a meeting but had some work emails to catch up on so I coudn't get much done.  And THEN (yes, the catalogue of excuses continues!), when I got home from work at 9.30pm, I fell asleep in front of an episode of Family Guy...

Day 3:  WEDNESDAY 11th DECEMBER

Pages read today: 71 pages
Books read from today: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pages read so far: 147 pages
Books read so far: Ahem...0...
 
2.07pm:  I seemed to get into A Tale of Two Cities a lot more this morning and got through a bit more than normal while I was commuting.  I really am enjoying it now but it's getting frustrating only reading it in 20 page stints while I'm travelling.  I have a night in on Friday though while Boyfriend is doing festive drinks with his friends so I'm looking forward to getting something yummy to eat and sitting under a great big dressing gown and finally getting to enjoy more of it in a continuous period of time. I only have a few chapters until the end of this week's section so I might dig into something a little more festive this evening :)  I think maybe Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan.  Because who doesn't love Christmas and cupcakes?!  OR I might go fantasy and read Cracked by Eliza Crewe because I've been dying to get to it for a while and I fancy something a little bit...erm...faster paced.

Day 4: THURSDAY 12th DECEMBER

Pages read today: 75 pages
Books read from today: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Cracked by Eliza Crewe
Pages read so far: 222 pages
Books read so far: To be honest, I don't know why I keep including this category!

8.57am: A quick update before I go and get some work done but I finished this week's read-along reading of A Tale of Two Cities on my way into work this morning and thought that deserved a modest noting! Things are MUCH better now and there was a slight temptation to read on into Book 3 (next week's reading) but in the end I thought I'd spur my read-a-thon effort a little bit by starting Cracked by Eliza Crewe. I was expecting it to be good but it's much more...grown up than I thought it would be. It's quite dark and I don't think it could be any further away from the sophisticated fury of A Tale of Two Cities and I have high hopes!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Tale of Two Cities Read-along: Books 1 and 2

So, Dickens.  When I signed up, in the interests of full disclosure, I confessed that my experience of Dickens is very limited and that he intimidates me.  In Book 1, my fears were realised.  I'm sorry to everybody who lists this book among their favourites but Book 1 was really hard going.  After the famous opening ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity..."), we were treated to lots (and lots) of discussion about the Mail.  I know that other things happened and I enjoyed the description at the opening of the chapter at the wine shop but the real memory that I have from Book 1 was the Mail.  Bex, our host for the read-along, seems to be the only person that really enjoyed these particular ramblings.

I'm a lawyer.  Reading oddly phrased, sometimes archaic documents is part of my job. Even that didn't prepare me for Dickens' musings on mist, mail carriages and horses.  It wasn't that there was a lot of description, it's that what there was was nearly unintelligible.  If that had been all we'd been reading for this part of the read-along, I'd be ranting and moaning this morning.  Hard to follow, obscure metaphors and too much detail about things that I couldn't be captivated by.  Mail carriages do not do it for me.

It was with some relief that I finished Book 1 and with no small amount of trepidation that I started Book 2.  It was like a completely different novel.  Witty, acerbic, full of slights against the rich and the corrupt and featuring actual development of characters.  I'm intrigued by Sydney Carton, largely because I can't decide if he makes me feel terribly sad or if he fills me with rage and irritation.  I want to know more about the slightly tragic figure of Doctor Manette and about the Jacques.  There's something suspicious about Charles Darnay and I want to know what that is.  I want Lucie Manette to do more than simper and I'm curious about what her part in all this is.  All in all, I'm not totally convinced yet but I do want to go back to reading the story, which is a significant step up from where I was at the end of Book 1.

Do I understand yet why it's a favourite of readers the world over?  To be honest, no. My Dad is one of those readers, though, so to give those of us that are still to be persuaded a little pick-me-up, I asked the man that made me the reader that I am to write a couple of paragraphs about why he loves A Tale of Two Cities...(incidentally, I've read this as someone that has only read this week's portion and a blurb and I don't regard it as having SPOILERS but if you're particularly sensitive about these things, you might want to come back next weekend...):
It is generally accepted that the difference between writing reportage and writing a novel, or a story, is the use of characters and emotion. In A Tale of Two Cities we don’t just learn the facts about the disparity of wealth between rich and poor in 18th century Paris that led to the French Revolution; we see and feel it through people with names who laugh, cry and love. These people who in turn life, cry and love, with other people, and for other people.
The genius of Dickens is that he can create a work with such a momentous back-cloth as The French Revolution and can reflect it with the gravitas, but also the everyday, feelings and emotions of the characters he creates living through these events. He takes the general and momentous, but potentially abstract events of history, and breathes into them life. We can laugh, cry and love with characters through one of the most significant events in world history.
For the novel to succeed we must have a story and a balance that reflects these momentous events. Through the story of Madame Defarge we have an understanding of the cruelties and insensitivity that caused the revolution. Through the story of Dr. Alexandre Manette we feel the awful pain and injustice of the fledgling and emotionally driven First Republic. Through Charles Darney and Lucie Manette we have a story of love that finds itself at the mercy of this seemingly arbitrary system of law with the wonderfully described knitting ladies sitting beside the guillotine and enjoying the spectacle.
For Dickens to do this well is reason enough for ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ to be forever regarded as a masterpiece, but this isn’t the reason why I love this novel. As if the story of his characters living through the French Revolution was not enough, Dickens, as the master story teller he is, creates an ending that demonstrates how, in the most barbaric of times there is something in the human spirit that shines through. Sydney Carton could be seen as representing all that is a paradoxical in Christianity’s fallen man yet his final act is one of pure altruistic giving. It leaves you thinking that even The French Revolution was part of a bigger story. That Dickens pulls this off is his genius. Because of Sydney Carton I love A Tale of Two Cities.
 Stop by next week for our thoughts on the remainder of Book 2...come on, Dickens.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Moonstone Read-Along: Farewell Thoughts

So that was The Moonstone.  The impression on Twitter and in the posts of those people that managed to actually wrap up their reading on time was that it was pretty flipping brilliant.  In fact, I don't remember seeing a single negative comment about it, which is pretty impressive for a detective story from the 19th century!

If you haven't read The Moonstone yet, there will be SPOILERS AHEAD! I will be talking about the final half of the book and if you don't know the ending, this will RUIN IT for you!  The ending is the best so don't ruin it for yourself, look away now and go and get your hands on a copy of your very own!  SPOILERS are coming up...
 
What's been going on since we posted about the first half?

After much drama and excitement during the first half about pretty much everything but the Moonstone, the second half really got stuck back into the mystery.  After Mr Bruff's seemingly random (that was obviously later proven to be not random at all) narrative, Franklin Blake popped up to solve the mystery of Roseanna Spearman, the mystery of the nightgown and, in some ways, the mystery of the Moonstone.  We also got some handy tip offs on why Rachel had spent so much time being so annoying, which stopped her feeling like as much of a pest.

Ezra Jennings, the unlucky man whose piebald hair is apparently worthy of much comment, shines a light on some of the strange happenings (more on that later...) to make up in some way for Dr Candy having abused his position by spiking Franklin's drink.  Actions ratchets up and I got the answers to all of my questions in a perfect package.  Oh, and there was more from the book blogger's favourite, Gabriel Betteredge.  He's arguably a big racist as well as being quite the sexist but he manages to do it without upsetting everybody so it's amusing instead of grossly offensive.  Betteredge seems to dislike Jennings just because he looks different and shifty but I was so amused at his ridiculous protests at having to work with him that I never seemed to find occasion to bristle with indignation. 

Science and medicine in the 19th century

There were a few chapters where I thought that The Moonstone had lost its way and that my love would be tempered.  I loved Ezra Jennings as a narrator because he was about the only discreet and geuinely well-meaning character in the whole book but I wasn't convinced by his experiment.  In many ways, The Moonstone hasn't dated much.  Putting aside the fact that people don't really wear gigantic diamonds as necklaces or tend to have rafts of servants to cater to their every whim, the writing is accessible and the dialogue is witty and entertaining.  I sometimes think it's amazing that so much time can pass and a book can still be very readable and relevant.  People haven't changed that much.  Science, however, has come a long way.  Never mind that Mr Candy would have been sued and/or incarcerated for medical malpractice for intentionally doping the locals at dinner, Mr Jennings' opium experiment failed to really grab me.  Did people really believe that sort of replicating the circumstances of a year earlier would provoke an almost identical reaction?  I don't know. I do know, though, that the whole "Franklin did it but he didn't really because of drugs and SCIENCE" bit didn't really do it for me.  Sorry, Wilkie.  To be fair, that's my only criticism and didn't stop me giving the book 5 great big, shiny stars.

Whodunnit?

Blonde Ellie managed to figure it out ahead of time but I am an inferior detective and didn't have a clue.  What can I say?  I am blinded by ostensibly charming 19th century gentlemen!  Either way, I was thrown off by the Franklin Blake revelations and the ending was a surprise to me.  I kind of prefer it that way, to be honest.

Thank goodness that Sergeant Cuff is made of sterner stuff than me.  I'm sad that he didn't feature more but he gets kudos for doing the whole "writing down who did it so he can be proven right later" play.  I feel a craving for some Sherlock Holmes...

THE ENDING

This is where I took back my slight moanings about odd experiments and went from just really liking The Moonstone to loving it.  Hanna and I were talking about the book when we were both about halfway through and she actually said something like "Why is everybody ignoring the fact that the Moonstone was stolen from India in the first place?".  Except probably in a way that wouldn't fit quite so neatly into the point that I'm making.  Sorry, Hanna, you have been paraphrased for my ease.  Basically, though, I couldn't agree more and I can't think of an ending that I would have preferred, anything that I wasn't completely bowled over by or anything that would have been a more shining example of how clever a writer Wilkie really was.

Nothing in this book is incidental and nothing is wasted, which for a book of 620 pages is really saying something.  I'm a complete Wilkie convert and The Woman in White is high on my list for 2014.

Thank you so very, very much to Ellie Lit Nerd for hosting - 2013 has been much improved by the presence of some Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone is a winner!  THANK YOU! :) 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The End of the Year Read-A-Thon: Sign-up


Fine, I'll admit it - when it comes to blog events that my blog friends are taking part in, I have no resistance and am weak and suggestible.  If Hanna, Ellie, Katie and Bex have signed up to this read-a-thon, it must be a Good Thing and I have no real choice but to tag along.

The End of the Year Read-a-thon is the genius idea of Jenny and Dana and is a relaxed affair kicking off on 9th December and wrapping up on 22nd December.  Two weeks of reading, blogging and tweeting while the nights get chillier and darker and generally perfect for reading in?  No brainer.

Aside from making sure I keep up with the A Tale of Two Cities read-along that Bex is hosting and that I signed up for earlier this week, my goals for the read-a-thon will be to get through some eBooks.  I currently have a Sony eReader (Colin) but he's three years or so old and is getting a little slow and has crashed once or twice recently, which is not the best.  I have asked for a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas (because I'm sorry but Kindle books are the cheapest eBooks and I am not made of money, sadly) and I want to get some of the books that I own ePub format read before the Kindle arrives (hopefully) and I get distracted by having a new gadget to play with.  (Sorry, Colin!).

Top of the list at the moment (which will almost certainly change before and/or during the read-a-thon):



There's no way I'll get through all of these but I'd like to read at least two in addition to A Tale of Two Cities.

I'd like to take part in a few of the challenges too and generally get caught up on some blogging.  I'll be posting about my efforts and tweeting as @LitAddictedBrit using the hashtag #ReadingCram.

Want to get some reading done before the mince pies, turkey, mulled wine and general Christmas merriment absorb your every waking minute?  SIGN UP HERE!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Review: 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his 
distress...

Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.

Review

I love the idea behind Brave New World and the moral issues it throws up, which I think are increasingly more relevant despite the book originally having been published in the 1930s.  Love it.  You might be forgiven for thinking in a few paragraphs time that I hated reading the book but I didn't.  Some of the writing is witty and there's a tongue-in-cheek feel about a couple of the characters' attitudes but, for all of its cleverness, there was just something about the book that didn't have me dying to pick it back up whenever I put it aside.

I may be opening myself up to accusations of stupidity but I can only assume that there was something about Brave New World that I just wasn't getting.  To me, it felt like a short story pushed way beyond its strength.  I'll keep saying it just so that I don't sound like I'm moaning constantly but there are some solid theories behind this but very little character development or much in the way of a discernible plot.  I don't need my novels to be all action and snappy dialogue but I do expect something that will keep me wanting to turn the pages.  If I wanted to read an essay on sociology, the perils of dictatorships and/or the pitfalls of excessive genetic engineering, I would.

There appears to be a focus on Bernard Marx as the resident malcontent.  Dissatisfied with perfection, Bernard is marginalised for complaining in a world where there is ostensibly nothing to complain about.  Other than serving to highlight the fact that perfection might not be all it's cracked up to be, there is nothing to Bernard's character that I could identify with or was developed.  I understand why I would be unhappy in the civilisation of Brave New World but Huxley never managed to mention why Bernard was unhappy. Why Bernard was much of anything, to be honest.

There was a little more to Lenina, Bernard's (at times unwilling) companion.  Lenina is much more a product of her society and subscribes to many more of its ideals than Bernard does, even while she resists the simplicity a little bit by scandalously engaging in monogamy.  The connection between the two, though, is shaky at best.  I know that I sound like I'm going round in circles but it isn't that the concept is off or that the writing is weak, it's that I didn't enjoy reading about the characters or the society; it was more like looking at a photograph of strangers in some exotic location.  Interesting but not very engaging without context.

After the first half and the bulk of the exposition on the modern society was done, I wasn't sure that I was interested in where the story was going.  The contrast between Bernard's world and the Savage Reservation was a bit too obvious but the addition of Linda and John was welcome.  The Directors talk readily about the repulsion they feel about the past and how promiscuity and drugs are the ways forward but there's no back story as to why those attitudes in particular are the way to salvation.  Why were the Directors so compelled to remove freedom of thought and replace it with obedience?  Perhaps it's supposed to be obvious and the evils of modern society are reason enough but I think part of my disgruntlement was because there just weren't enough reasons to believe in the alternative reality.

The best bits about Brave New World are the bits that have nothing to do with Bernard, Lenina, drugs or the Savage Reservation.  They're the bits where you're left wondering if you would give up freedom and independence for almost guaranteed happiness.  Or whether happiness is really everything and whether it would even be worth anything if it was subliminal messaging from birth that gave it to you...
"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensation for misery.  And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability.  And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt.  Happiness is never grand."
Overall:  I can't fault Huxley's ideas but I think the execution leaves a little to be desired. Brave New World is a relatively small 229 pages but seems longer; I'd hesitantly recommend it for its social commentary and fascinating political points but not for its qualities as a rip-roaring read.  Take from that what you will.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  15 June 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Classic; Dystopian fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage Classics in December 2007

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: A Read-Along

Confession time: Despite having been educated in England for my entire school career, I have only ever read one book by that famous national treasure of ours, Charles Dickens.  Yes, you've guessed it; the one that I've read is A Christmas Carol.  Everything else that Dickens has written intimidates me for reasons that I couldn't tell you.  Probably concerns about verbosity and/or dullness?  Something like that.

We were also forced to over-analyse some of Great Expectations at some point while I was in high school (for those in the US, when I was somewhere between 11 and 15), although I couldn't tell you exactly when.  I think a combination of it being read aloud by a host of disinterested teens and the inevitable "But what do you think Dickens meant by placing that comma there?" discussions killed the experience for me and I've never strayed in Dickens' direction since. 

It's time to fix that.

Bex at An Armchair by the Sea is hosting a read-along during the month of December that I'm being brave and joining.  Off the back of my recent read-along success with The Moonstone, I'm kind of into the whole read-along idea as a way of encouraging myself to read more classics.  My Dad did recently read A Tale of Two Cities and sung its praises all the while.  Being a wimp, I added it to my mental "must read" list and then moved on.  I have it on good authority that the story is gripping and that the writing isn't all rambly and about some kind of workhouse.  We'll see, I suppose...

The schedule looks like this:

December 1st - 8th: Beginning of Book 1 - end of Book 2 Chapter 9 (first 15 chapters of the book)

December 8th - 15th: Book 2 Chapter 10 - end of Book 2 (chapters 16- 30)

December 15th - 22nd: Book 3 - end (chapters 31 -45)

See?  Perfectly manageable!  I'll be posting at the end of each section and will keep up with everybody else as I'm going on Twitter as @LitAddictedBrit using the hashtag #DickensinDecember

Go on, SIGN UP HERE!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: 'Dark Places' by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

Review

What is it with Gillian Flynn writing books I love about people I hate?!  When I read Gone Girl earlier in the year (review here), I was taken aback by how obsessed with a book I could be when it required me to spend time amongst characters that I would want nowhere near me in real life.  Dark Places gave me exactly the same feeling; a feeling in my gut that everything was wrong but that putting the book down would be even worse.

Libby Day is the survivor of an attack that saw her mother and two sisters murdered, apparently by her brother Ben.  Rightly so, probably, Libby isn't exactly a well-rounded and balanced lady.  Living off the tail-end of donations made by the public in the wake of the family tragedy that have meant that she's never had to work a day in her life, Libby is self-centred, morbid, socially awkward and struggling with depression. Descriptions of characters don't get much more accurate than Libby's description of herself on the first page:
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.  Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.  It's the Day blood.  Something's wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders...I was not a lovable child and I'd grown into a deeply unlovable adult.  Draw a picture of my soul and it would be a scribble with fangs"
The strange thing is, though, even while I was repulsed by some of her actions and found her maddening at times, it seemed to fit. I would rather spend time with a character that really does feel like the product of her circumstances than someone who is pleasant and delicate in spite of having a quite obviously traumatic past.  Libby does develop as a character but in a way that is so painfully realistic that I ached for her to find any kind of resolution.  Because this book isn't only about who killed the Day family.  It is about that but it's also about trauma, depression, guilt, trust and recovery.  It's unbelievably compelling reading as a mystery but it's also utterly devastating as a story about a family's final few hours.

Aside from Libby, I also really liked the portrayal of Ben.  Believed by a group of crime groupies to be wrongly convicted, there's a whiff of martyr about Ben occasionally, which I would usually find a bit irritating.  What's clever (and kept me guessing for most of the book) though is the marked difference between the incarcerated Ben of the present day and the unruly teen of twenty-five years earlier.  I'd read all day about miscarriages of justice without batting an eye but what really kept me glued to this book was that I had no clue whether Ben was guilty or not.

Dark Places shifts perspectives for each chapter, with the narrative alternating between Libby in the present day and various members of her family twenty-five years earlier.  I'm not always sold on mixing up timelines and narrators but Flynn manages it perfectly.  The narrative set in the past moves along at just the right rate to stop the slightly dawdling narrative in the present day from getting stale or from ploughing on through too many hints at the past without delivering the goods.  Discovering the truth "as it happens" in the past also removes the need for any awkward turn around from Libby and her inclination towards repression and avoidance.

I read about two thirds of this while waiting for and travelling on various modes of transport on our way back to the UK from the US and the last third or so curled up on my sofa a little while after we'd got back.  The revelations come at just the right pace and whenever I thought I had a handle on what was happening, I was shown just how wrong I was not long after.  I don't know what it is but there's something about the way Flynn spins out a mystery that I just find incredibly difficult to disentangle myself from.

Overall:  If you're one of those readers that might say anything of the "I didn't like x because I just hated the characters" ilk, this probably isn't a book for you - the people are vile.  If you can get past that and you've either heard about Gone Girl and want to try something by Gillian Flynn that isn't labouring under months of hype or have read Gone Girl and are wondering if Flynn's other novels will compare, Dark Places is definitely, definitely worth a few hours of feverish page turning one gloomy evening.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  11 October 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Thriller; Mystery
Pictured Edition Published: by Phoenix in June 2010