Monday, 21 January 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #12

Join the fun at Book Journey
Well, this has been a strange Monday!  When we got up for this morning, it had clearly been snowing pretty heavily all night and our car was hidden under seven inches of snow.  How do I know this? Boyfriend measured it...yes, really.  After managing to get the car moving, it became apparent that it wasn't going to get very far.  Obviously then it decided that it wouldn't go back so I had to clamber out and attempt to push the car (in a suit, which, in case you were wondering, is not ideal car-pushing attire...) until a man on our street took pity on me and helped out! So I've had a snow day, which has been rather pleasant.  I mean, I've been working from home so it's not quite as exciting as when I was little but still.  SNOW DAY!

And yes, I know that you didn't stop by to read about snow.  You want to know about the books...

What have I been reading?

After the Bout of Books read-a-thon was over and I emerged to realise that I'd kicked the year off pretty darn well, I was kind of worried about a book hangover.  You know, where you've read a/some fabulous book(s) and you're just not sure that anything will live up to that so you ALMOST slump?  I was worried about that.  So I started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.  Oh my goodness, there were TEARS!  I loved it but will say no more until my review (which is proving a nightmare to write because of the aforementioned love).

Incidentally, it has recently occurred to me that since the start of 2013 I've read a Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel, a novel that won two awards that I haven't heard of (Governor General's Award for English Language Fiction and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, anyone?) and was nominated for three more, a Commonwealth Book Prize shortlisted novel and a winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women's Prize for Fiction, apparently...).  Unintentionally, 2013 seems to be shaping up to be the year of prize nominees/winners!


What am I reading now?

I finally succumbed to all of the "there is a twist that you will not believe" bait lurking around on the blogosphere and bought Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  As it turns out, the world did not lie and it is seriously compelling stuff.  I have no idea who I like, who I don't like, who is a big liar and who is telling the truth or what the heck is going on.  As thrillers go, it's really good.  One of those books that you pick up to just read a page or so of and then drag yourself away from about an hour later with no idea of where the time went.



What will I be reading next?

This is a tricky one (as always)!  So far this year, I've been sort of reading whatever I feel like whenever I finish a book.  I do *really* want to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel though.  I've been listening to lots of people telling me how great it is for years but since my Dad has been recently become the latest in that line of people, I am feeling swayed.  We shall see...




Your turn!  What have you been reading?  What are you reading right this very moment?  What are you reading next?  SHARE!  :)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Fantasy Book Review: 'Scent of Power' by Maria V. Snyder

**SPOILER ALERT - SCENT OF POWER is the second in the Healer Series.  If you haven't read, Touch of Power, you might want to head over to my review of that HERE instead**


Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Hunted, Killed—Survived?


Snyopsis courtesy of GoodReads
As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of her friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomanical King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confident, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.

Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon’s opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon’s most horrible creations yet; an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.

War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible ... again.

Review


I really enjoyed the first book in the Healer trilogy and was beyond excited to get approved for an advance copy of the second on NetGalley.  Let me get something out there early on:  I enjoyed this one.  Really, I did, but not as much as I expected to.  The great thing about Snyder's Study and Glass series was that they were very well balanced, with each instalment as strong as the others.  Scent of Magic, however, felt very much like the middle part of a trilogy; good character development and some progress in the overall plot but with little of its own to recommend it.

The story kicks off right back where Touch of Power left off.  If it's been more than a few months since you read the last one, I would recommend a quick re-cap.  There is a little bit in the way of catch-up but not much and I did find myself feeling a little lost at first.  That isn't a criticism as such, since it means that you're launched straight into the action - it's more my own fault since it had been about a year since I'd read the first book.

When I'd managed to catch up, the pacing/timing became quite unpredictable and disorientating.  Alternating narrators isn't something that I have a problem with at all.  Quite the opposite.  What I found frustrating was that it was almost impossible to tell how the two narratives fit together in time.  At the very beginning, Avry and Kerrick separate and head off on their own journeys.  After a few chapters, Avry has passed a few weeks while Kerrick has only passed a few minutes and yet we're still flicking between them as though they're running parallel.  It isn't a huge point, I know, but I found it frustrating, particularly later on when both characters were passing months/weeks in their narratives with very little to tie them together.

I loved the characters in the first book.  Worry not! They're still great and there are moments where their banter is a nice diversion from impending death by zombie.  As Tohon's evil plans progress though, the tone becomes darker and stems the flow of the effusive "Guys!" type talk.  Which isn't to say that the unusual blending of medieval-esque warfare and modern day language is gone, because it isn't.  There is less though...planning for an epic battle does make a gang less jaunty, I suppose.

The best part of this trilogy is still its evil-doers.  Damn it if Tohon isn't one alluring villain.  Ok, so he uses magic to compel women to throw themselves at him and, sure, that's creepy BUT there is something unsettlingly charming about him...He is rather diabolical and it strengthens this particular book no end.  The scenes with Avry and Tohon were the best.  They highlight everything that's good about her character and they balance each other really well.

Actually, it occurs to me now that I also really liked the development of the different types of magic, especially Kerrick's.  His forest magic is particularly well thought out and the descriptions are some of the best written in the book.  There's a lot revealed about the other types of magic too, including some hints at where they come from and how they all work.  I expected a lot more about "magic sniffers" too (because of the title...) and I was a bit disappointed.  Fingers crossed there's more of all of this in the next book!

Overall:  I finished this book a little underwhelmed - I liked the story well enough (even though it might not sound like it) but I just didn't love it.  It will pass a few hours and will more than likely still have you coming back for more when the third and final instalment in the Healer trilogy is released but I'm reluctant to say much more than that...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  08 December 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Genre:  Fantasy fiction
Published (in the UK): by Mira Books in December 2012

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Review: '11.22.63' by Stephen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history?

WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 

11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot - unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, on a fascinating journey back to the world of 1958 - from a world in 2011 of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life - a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Review

I bought this eBook quite some time ago when I got a Waterstones gift card for my birthday - I do love a bit of time-travel so I was convinced that I would eventually get to it.  But then one day when I was at work, I got a text from Hanna telling me that I HAD to read this book!  Inevitably, I started reading not long after.

I'm not sure what I expected.  I don't have a lot of experience of King's work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of books that would leave me shaking in a corner and gibbering to myself.  Whatever I was expecting, I wasn't prepared for 11.22.63 to be so...sensitive.  Sure, there was action and a fair dose of the sinister but there were also devastatingly believable romance and genuinely heart-warming friendships.  Clearly there is a lot more to Stephen King as a writer than I had been giving him credit for.  

As with much historical fiction, I was wary about straying into a period - you either find yourself learning about a whole new period or you end up bemused.  Thankfully, King has assumed no prior knowledge.  His research has obviously been painstakingly carried out and the detail is astounding.  Woven skilfully into Jake's story are a plethora of historical and political points and anecdotes that enhance the story, rather than diverting from it.  I genuinely feel as though I know a lot more about the period leading up to President Kennedy's assassination.  It would have been easy to have Jake feign ignorance on the basis that he isn't from the 50s or 60s but King doesn't once take the easy road and I have a great deal more respect for him as an author than I did before.

With all the detail floating around, you might think that you're in for a bit of a stodgy ride.  Not so.  Jake's story and the stories of those he meets are very personal, moving and gripping and I came to care very much what happened to each and every one of them.  Even the prologue-type section made my heart hurt and brought tears to my eyes. Jake meets a heck of a lot of people on his sojourn into the past and every single one has a place in the overall story.  The kind of characters that you miss when you've finished the book.

I think what I was aware of most when I started reading 11.22.63 was how time-travel stories are difficult ones to get right - there are countless things that can go horribly wrong and/or seem ridiculous.  As much time as went into researching the history must have gone into thinking through the implications of Jake's time travelling.  It's hard to gush openly about why I thought it was so clever and how much I loved reading about it without getting spoilery so I'll just say that it's smart and well done and I didn't do any eye rolling or thinking of "Pfft - how silly".

Incidentally, little experience though I have, I'm fairly sure that there are some "rewards" for King's more loyal fan base.  Some way through the story, Jake finds himself in Derry, a town that has been plagued by a spate of murders seemingly perpetrated by someone or something lurking in the sewers.  I am not (nor will I ever be) an expert on King's horror novels but I'm fairly sure that there are quite a few references to events from It.  So if you like King and like books where you get to feel like part of the in-crowd, you'll like this.  But actually, if you like King that much, you'll probably already have read this...so really this is just to prove that I was awake enough to spot the neat blending than anything else...*shrugs*

Overall:  There is nothing in this book that is out of place.  Nothing at all.  I can only imagine how much work must have gone into writing it but the effect is something really quite extraordinary.  740 pages without one moment where I wanted to hurry things along or one detail that I wasn't convinced fit?  Masterful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  20 December 2012
Format:  eBook (740 pages are HEAVY!)
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Science fiction/fantasy; historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in November 2011

Monday, 14 January 2013

Bout of Books 6.0: The Wrap-Up Post

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

I can't believe it's over already!  I said before I started that I loved the social aspect of this read-a-thon but I think this time around that warm and fuzzies have been in even greater abundance!  When I was getting off the train and walking to my office this morning, it was actually kind of sad to log onto Twitter and NOT have everybody telling me about all of the great things that they're reading.  I mean, the people I follow on Twitter are mostly bookish types so that happens to a certain extent most days but never quite so much as during Bout of Books week.  What I'm saying, I guess, is that you're all just super!

This was also a great read-a-thon for books, although I know that I didn't set out to reach particularly heady heights with my page count.  When I set my goals, I wanted to focus on reading better, instead of just reading more, catch up on a couple of reviews and find some new blogs to follow/participate in a Twitter chat.

How did I do?  Here's how...

Books read from:


Pages read:  542 fabulous pages

Books read:  I read the two books above in their entirety - happy days indeed and a big win in my book because I loved The Handmaid's Tale and have a jolly nice time reading The Vanishing Act.

Reviews written:  I have reviews of 11.22.63 by Stephen King and Scent of Power by Maria V. Snyder ready to go and have some faintly coherent scribblings on the two books I read this week and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy - once I'm done rabbiting on about Bout of Books, those will start rolling out and I'll get to feel all organised again.  (I know - who am I kidding with the 'again'?!)

The social side:  I've followed a good few new people on Twitter and added a few new blogs to my GoogleReader - I didn't do as much commenting as I'd hoped but I did do more than normal, so that's something.  I didn't manage to participate in a Twitter chat but that was, as I expected, because I kept forgetting when they were...next time, I'll set reminders on my phone!

So I know that I didn't read the most (or even NEARLY the most) but I loved what I read and had a great time so that, friends, is a Bout of Books WIN.  I hope you all had an equally good time and managed to squeeze in some quality reading time :)

Super-sized thanks to the hosts of Bout of Books, Kelly and Amanda. The amount of work that goes into hosting the read-a-thons must be huge and they seem to do it all while reading too.  Hats off to them both!  SEE YOU NEXT TIME for more page-counting, multiple-posting fun!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bout of Books 6.0: The Home Straight (otherwise known as Sunday)

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

Well, this updating over the weekend thing has gone a little awry!  Yesterday evening, I got distracted from my read-a-thon efforts by pick and mix and TV.  Hey, these things happen, right?

Since it's already 7.30 and I'm planning on spending the last few hours of read-a-thon time catching up on other participants' posts (which I have been lax about this weekend...sorry, folks), I'm thinking that these totals are PROBABLY my final ones but you never know.  I may get a last minute urge to bolster the numbers and plough into my next read.  We'll see...

Today's Stats

Books read from:  The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
Pages read:  52 pages
Books finished today:  The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
Total read so far:  542 pages; 2 books

This morning was another lovely wake up and lounge in bed reading type morning.  I read the end of The Vanishing Act just before I got up and it was lovely.  I didn't love it overall as much as I loved it in the beginning but it had a lovely...feel to it and was a really sweet read.  

After that, I realised that I'd finished FOUR books over the past fortnight and hadn't even sketched out thoughts on any of them.  Swimming Home and The Handmaid's Tale were both fabulous books that really made me think and they deserve more consideration than I had given them.  So instead of ploughing right into The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (which I've already decided will be my next read - love me some Greek mythology!), I spent the afternoon pondering some of the themes and ideas that those books through up and doodling out some notes.  I actually think that doing that made me appreciate both even more retrospectively so it was happy time well spent.

We also went out for a long walk while it was sunny (freezing, obviously, but sunny!) because it's forecast to be all sleety and horrid from tomorrow.  It was really nice to get out and about and get some fresh air and everything looked so pretty all frosty in the sunshine :)

All in all?  A good day indeed, if not the day with the biggest page count!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Bout of Books 6.0: A bit of a catch-up and SATURDAY

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

Well hello again, read-a-thoners!  How are we all on this lovely Saturday morning?  Hopefully your read-a-thon is still going wonderfully well and you're all reading something great.  The past couple of days have been superb reading days for me! On Thursday I had over 7 hours on trains to go to a meeting for work.  I did get some work done but the complicated document that I thought would take hours to look through actually turned out to be a lot more straight-forward than I thought so I had way longer to read than I expected.  I actually FINISHED The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, even though I very nearly blubbed on the train a couple of times.  It was just...I don't even know how to describe it.  I loved it, even though reading made my heart hurt most of the time.  Adequately reviewing it will be tough!

Total pages read for Thursday:  225 excellent pages!

Friday was slower but I had a meeting at 9.30, which meant that I got to stop by Starbucks on the way in and have a hazelnut latte and a skinny ginger muffin and get started on my next book.  A sterling start to the day!  The rest of the day was work and then in the evening I kind of flattened out when I ran out of energy so I ate a lot of food with Boyfriend and watched lots of 30 Rock.  Not very good for the read-a-thon effort but a very pleasant evening all the same :)

Total pages read for Friday:  47 pages

And now it's..

SATURDAY

I have been relentlessly stalking Ellie's daily updates this week and so have decided to be a copy cat for today and tomorrow.  There wasn't a great deal of point in me doing them during the week, since it would mostly have been me saying "And then I was at work", which is no fun to write or read.  TODAY though, I have had a good start to the day and, apart from a trip to the cinema with Boyfriend later to watch Ryan Gosling shoot at people (it's Boyfriend's turn to choose the film...:-/), have no plans!  So I shall be reading plenty and updating here throughout the day :)

Today's Stats

Books read from:  The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
Pages read:  119 pages
Books finished today:  None
Total read so far:  490 pages; 1 book and three quarters (thereabouts...)

10.30am

I woke up at 8.00am, as is pretty usual for me at the weekend if I haven't been drinking the night before.  On a usual day, I get up at 5.45am so 8 is quite a luxury! How sad...I lounged in bed for a delicious hour and read another chunk of The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen.  When I was choosing a book to read after The Handmaid's Tale, I tried not to over-think it.  That was such an outstanding book that I knew following it would be difficult and I might find myself not reading anything if I thought about it too much.  I saw this little sparkly book (seriously, the cover is ADORABLE!) nestled on my shelf and grabbed it and left for work.  Good choice, me!  It's narrated by Minou, a girl that lives on a teeny tiny island with her Papa, Priest and Boxman and a dog called No Name.  It's told in a fairly whimsical way but there's something really beautiful and fairytale-like about it.  I sense some heart-ache around the corner but so far it's not at all disrupting what is shaping up to be an AWESOME reading month.


7.30pm

After my promising start, I've not been doing so well...I did go to curl up on my bed for a little while to have some quiet reading time but only read 30-something pages before I had to make myself fit for going out in public.  Boyfriend and I took an afternoon trip to the cinema and went to watch Ryan Gosling shooting up some bad guys in Gangster Squad.  Despite not being my first choice, it was actually really good and I did get to chow down on a ton of salted popcorn and sweets.  So I'm full of junk food and ready to continue on with The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen with a big mug of peppermint tea.  Honestly, sometimes my life is so rock and roll it's astounding!  :)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Bout of Books 6.0: Update the First

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

So how's it going, Bout of Bookers?  All getting plenty of reading and snacking and chatting done?!  The start to my read-a-thon has been a bit mixed but I always knew the start was going to be slow - the beginnings of my weeks are almost always the busiest at work.  

Fancy a little progress update?  Of course you do...


Pages read so far:  99
Books read so far:  About a third of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The writing style is pretty unique and it took me a while to get into the story but now that I am used to it, I love it.  It just makes my heart hurt to read about Offred and all of the other Handmaids and I'm 95% convinced that I'll cry at least once before I'm done reading.  Quality over quantity, remember?  So far, I am winning at that :)

I'm travelling down to the south of England and back up tomorrow so I'll have about 6/7 hours on trains.  Obviously for some of that, I'll be working but later on, I'm hoping to get a good chunk of reading done.  After that it's obviously the weekend and since Boyfriend and I are still on a healthy no-drinking-alcohol kick, I'll have plenty of time to get stuck into reading.

Hope all of you read-a-thoners are reaching your goals and getting everything you wanted out of Bout of Books! And if you aren't taking part, I hope you're having a fab week anyway, because this is that kind of place!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bout of Books 6.0: The Goals

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon


The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 7th and runs through Sunday, January 13th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 6.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. -From the Bout of Books 6.0 team

This was inevitable, really.  I *love* the Bout of Books read-a-thons.  There's none of the scary having-to-stay-up-all-night pressure of a 24 hour read-a-thon, they're super social and the aim is basically to read a lot and talk about reading a lot.  I can do both of those things.

It's not exactly the BEST week for me, it being my first full week back at work and all but starting the year off with a week focussed on good books and finding new bloggy friends can be no bad thing.


The Goals

Reading:  For my reading goal, I'm going with that old adage, "Quality, not quantity".  Obviously ideally I would be striving for both but I sadly only have a certain number of hours in the day and I am a regular human.  So quality it is!  This week is going to be less about how much I read and more about what and how I read.  I've started the year out well with a superb Man Booker Prize shortlisted read and I'm continuing with The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  As well as picking great books, I need to start giving them the attention they deserve.  I'm a bugger for having a book in one hand and a laptop on my lap/iPhone in the other hand/TV on.  I need to stop trying to fit reading in amongst other things and focus more on enjoying what I'm reading, instead of just sort of going over the words, if that makes sense.  Well it makes sense to me so I'm going with it!


Blogging:  I pretty much always aim for this but it'd be great if I could catch up on a couple of reviews.  I started out well today: when I got stuck on hold at work earlier when I was away from my desk, I scribbled out some ideas while I was waiting.  I should do that kind of multi-tasking more, not the multi-tasking I bemoaned a moment ago.

Social:  Comment and tweet more.  I'd like to participate in at least one Twitter chat (which mostly just means that I have to remember when they're happening...:-/) and refresh my GoogleReader with some new blogs.

AND THAT'S IT!  I'm keeping this one relaxed and see if I can pick up some new good habits!  Are you taking part?  What are you planning on reading if you are?  Any special tips and tricks or are you more a grab-and-go type read-a-thoner?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2013: The Year of No Challenges

Image found here
I had originally planned to write and post a review today but really?  New Year's Day?  Who was I kidding?  I have instead read part of my book, felt queasy, gone for a walk, drunk a lot of coffee and mulled over the fact that I'm back at work tomorrow.  No reviewing going on here, then. 

Still, it's a new year and a new year deserves a new post.  

2012 saw me sign up for 3 challenges that committed me to read a total of 28 books.  My official "books read" total for the year was 58.  If I'd completed all of my challenges, nearly half of my reading would have been pre-determined.  Put another way, I would have had to read at least 2 challenge books per month.  If I'd thought it through a little bit more, I think I would have realised that that was a little silly.

2013 will be started with a clean slate and will be a year of no challenges.  Not even a target number on GoodReads!  I've actually seen a few posts over the past few weeks with challenge-fatigued bloggers bowing out of the fray for this year. I have very nearly succumbed over the past few weeks but I realised that it was actually the browsing through my shelves and making lists of the fabulous books that I own and can't wait to get to that I enjoyed the most.  Once those lists are ready?  I'm not too fussed about reading from them...:-/

I do have some general thoughts about what I want to get out of my reading in 2013, though.  For one, I want to read more classics and literary fiction.  Reaching for the YA is fun and easy but it isn't overly fulfilling all the time and I want to read more of the books that give my brain something to chew on.  Also, I want to read more epic fantasy. I used to think nothing of picking up 1,000 page tomes but in the quest for a higher number of books read in a year.  This year, I haven't set a target for the number of books that I want to "get through" and, although I will of course keep track, it won't be any kind of driver in what I choose to read.

I will still be taking part in a few read-a-thons and will be keeping an eye out for a read-a-long or two.  Just those that are a little more...relaxed :)

So that's it: 2013 - more classics, more tomes and less fuss.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FELLOW READERS!  I hope you all have superb years!