Sunday, 31 March 2013

March Reflections

Phew - I've managed to remember to put my clocks forward, I'm on the third of a four day break from work, I've just been for a nice five mile walk in what could just about be described as sunshine AND the internet is temporarily restored at my house.  If I didn't know better, I might actually declare the arrival of spring!  Sure, there's still snow all over the place that just won't melt and it's apparently the coldest Easter in the UK on record BUT there is watery sunshine peaking through and that'll do for the time being :)

I had thought that March had actually been a little light reading wise but, on reflection, it wasn't too shabby at all...

Total books read in March   4

Total pages read in March   2,022

I started A Game of Thrones towards the end of February and finished it early March.  I'm not sure that I'm 100% convinced by everybody that says that it's instantly captivating since it took me a little while to get all of the characters straight and work out who I was rooting for and get a feel for the series but the second half or so was brilliant.  I will most definitely be carrying on with the series at some point sooner rather than later but the instalments are so long that I can't imagine going straight from one to another.

HHhH was wonderful - I barely ever read non-fiction because I read to relax most of the time and I've always associated reading non-fiction as an extension of working.  This book reminded me that some non-fiction can as engaging and entertaining as some fiction, so that's a good discovery!  Oh, and Warm Bodies is really very good indeed and I enjoyed it immensely.  Want a taster?  Ellie over at Musings of a Bookshop Girl posted some snippets here and here.

Favourite of the month?  Controversially, not A Game of Thrones, I don't think. That was very good but I'm going to go for HHhH by Laurent Binet instead for making me think and cry.

March on the Blog

Our broadband sadly died about a fortnight ago and we only managed to get an engineer to come out yesterday so while I've managed to handwrite quite a lot of notes and bits of reviews for April, March has been another quiet one :-/  Among a paltry two reviews, I looked back over February's reads, put up my Spring TBR list (which I had kind of forgotten about but have just realised have read two of this month!) and posted Part Two of my Reading Room Wishlist, Duck Egg Chic.

Reviews this month (click on the titles for reviews):


Happy reading for April, folks!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Literary Fiction Review: 'The Vanishing Act' by Mette Jakobsen

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a story about a snow-covered island you won't find on any map.

It's the story of a girl, Minou. A year ago, her mother walked out into the rain and never came back.

It's a story about a magician and a priest and a dog called No Name. 

It's about a father's endless hunt for the truth.

It's about a dead boy who listens, and Minou's search for her mother's voice. 

It's a story you will never forget.


I hadn't even heard of The Vanishing Act when I walked into Waterstones one lunchtime but there is something about that synopsis that I find strangely beautiful.  It doesn't hurt that the cover of the paperback edition that I own is adorable - some of the little stars that you can see in the picture are all shiny and silver or blue.  I know that we shouldn't do such terrible things as judge books by their covers but, in this case, it worked out superbly well.

On the face of it, this is a very simple story about Minou's life on the tiny island she shares with her father, a priest, a magician and his dog (No Name) and a peacock.  More than that, though, it's about a 12 year old girl trying to come to terms with the fact that her mother isn't around, trying to bond with her father as he also struggles with his past and trying to make sense of the confusion of adults around her.  We only ever get to see the other characters through Minou's eyes, which means that most of what we learn about them is from how they treat her.  Her father, for example, seems intent on raising a philosopher and detaches himself from emotional situations by teaching Minou to look to logic and history. Despite coming across as distant at times, there's something in the way Minou talks about him that somehow makes it clear that his daughter feels his love all the same.  Thinking about it that way, The Vanishing Act is actually a rather clever bit of writing.

There wasn't a single character in The Vanishing Act that my heart didn't hurt for at some point.  No Name included.  It's partly because of the eerie, windswept setting but mostly because of the whimsical way in which Minou ponders her surroundings and neighbours.  Her refusal to accept that her colourful, creative mother could do anything so mundane as die kind of broke my heart. 

Using a child as a narrator can often seem gimicky but in The Vanishing Act, it does actually add something.  There's as much in what Minou doesn't pick up on as there is in what she does.  Both of her parents seem to have experienced their own tragedies during the Second World War but, in an effort to protect Minou from the horror, only allude to them.  There are plenty of moments where the subtext is clear to an adult reader but  which remain a mystery to young Minou.  It means that we really only skim the surface of the stories that make up the inhabitants' lives but that's far more realistic than having a young girl suddenly latch on to the truths behind the adults' behaviour so I will stand by the conclusion that it works.  I didn't feel as though the story was supposed to be about the residents so much as about one girl's experiences, hopes and fears.

I suppose you could criticise the story for being a little vague or for there not being much of a plot, as such.  If it were longer, I might be inclined to agree but at only a little over 200 pages, I was happy to sacrifice action for a little while and meander around a remote island getting to know its residents.  Kind of like going for a stroll in some beautiful countryside after spending too long in a city.

Overall:  A wonderful little book that would be perfect with a mug of cocoa over a snowy evening or two.  And I know that there are plenty of those around these parts at the moment so you have no excuse!

buy the book from The Book Depository, free deliveryDate finished:  13 January 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage in August 2012

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Reading Room Wishlist: Part Two - Duck Egg Chic

The building of our pretty new house is going well (even if the boring paperwork parts aren't exactly super speedy) so I thought it was about time for checking off another item on the reading room wishlist. 

This time around, we're talking colours.  Specifically, duck egg blue.  It is worth mentioning that I am also including similar shades, since I'm by no means an interior designer.  Please don't tell me that I've used a picture showing spearmint or something...I know already so I may not be 100% grateful...:)

While I love the idea of a lofty wood-filled library with lots of great, looming shelves full of books and arty knick-knacks...

...I am also realistic about the amount of space that I have to play with. Grandiose chandeliers, leather and oak would crowd the room that I have in mind and probably make something oppressive. Not quite the look that I'm going for.

To keep everything light and airy, and stop me feeling like I'm stuck inside a tree, cream will be the name of the game.  I am, however, horrendously clumsy and there is no way on Earth that I would subject a cream room to my company.  Which leads me to the conclusion that cream and something was a much more sensible option. Which in *turn* lead me here...
If I could curl up there with the sun streaming in, a cup of coffee and a brilliant book, I'm pretty sure that I'd be the happiest little reader in the whole world.  That colour scheme is definitely something that I want to replicate.  Doesn't it just look so soothing and calming? 

The space behind the half-wall may be about what I have to work with (although that is a COMPLETE guess...) so I'm hopeful that I can create something that oozes this kind of tranquillity.

I'm not sold on the mermaid on the wall but I *love* the huge white bookshelves, vintage-style armchairs and the fact that there are little lamps and candles in all of the corners for when the sunlight fades.  

Among the other things I adore about this colour: it looks awesome with flashes of a bolder colour (like coral, say); it also looks beautiful by itself, which makes it an easy colour to decorate with and around; it is the base for some impossibly elegant, classic fabrics...

Source: via Charlotte on Pinterest
Source: via Charlotte on Pinterest

Reading Room Wishlist (so far...)
2) Duck Egg Blue

Next time: Somewhere to sit!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR 2013

What's that?  It's Wednesday, you say?  Shhh...

I've actually been meaning to take part in Top Ten Tuesday for ages but I'm always so late at noticing what the week's topic is that I never get round to actually posting a list on Tuesday.  Kind of like this week, I suppose!  

Regardless, this week's topic (hosted, as always, at The Broke and the Bookish) is one that means I get to nosey through my To Be Read list.  The likelihood of me sticking to this list is roughly slim to none but I do so love making the lists...

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - This series has obviously been back all over the blogosphere recently with the release of the second instalment in the series.  I recently went through a phase where I wasn't getting on too well with YA.  I'm reading Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll at the moment, though, and have been surprised by how much I've enjoyed it so I'm tentatively putting Daughter of Smoke and Bone back on the menu.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - Other than the obvious? Because my Dad recently read it and raved about it.  I have a paperback copy, though, which I carried to and from work for one day before declaring it too heavy. I'm fifth in the waiting list for an eBook copy from the local library at the moment...

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin - Mid-way through A Game of Thrones, I was sort of on the fence. By the end, I was (as all readers seem to be) completely hooked and will no doubt be getting to the second before too long.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - I bought this really soon after the paperback came out because I was *dying* to read it.  However long after, I still haven't read it.  In my head, it's the perfect book for when spring finally starts to peek through.

HHhH by Laurent Binet - I *love* the sound of this one!  The blurb describes it as "a seemingly effortless blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Binet’s remarkable imagination".  Can't wait.

The Yard by Alex Grecian - "1889, London. Jack the Ripper's reign of terror is finally over. But a new one is just beginning..."  One that I'm probably going to read sooner rather than later, while the snow is still swirling and the evenings are still a touch gloomy.

 The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - Reading A Game of Thrones reminded me how much I loved epic fantasy.  Great, huge, tomes of fantasy.  The Mistborn trilogy is next up, I think.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - Just because everybody seems to love it and I haven't a clue why I am still yet to read it.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion - Ellie has made Warm Bodies sound irresistible.  I got approved for a copy on NetGalley, which was extremely exciting.  So maybe I should read this next. This list is actually confusing me no end...

And last but by no means least...

Regeneration by Pat Barker - I've borrowed this from my Dad as part of my decision to read some great books this year that I've been meaning to read for years.  I think I'm saving this for when I have the time to really mull my way through it because it sounds very...moving: "[Bookone in Pat Barker's series of novels confronting the psychological effects of World War I, focuses on treatment methods during the war and the story of a decorated English officer sent to a military hospital after publicly declaring he will no longer combines real-life characters and events with fictional ones in a work that examines the insanity of war like no other"

And that's it!  This season's reading :)  Anything I absolutely should grab right away? Anything I should be dodging?  What are YOU reading this season?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Literary Fiction Review: 'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate 'Handmaids' under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred's persistent memories of life in the 'time before' and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. 

Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid's Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.


"I wish this story were different.  I wish it were more civilized.  I wish it showed me in a better light , if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia.  I wish it had more shape.  I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one's life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow" [Page 279 of the Vintage Books edition]

Offred, I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree; there is nothing that I would change about this story.  I haven't a clue where to start with reviewing The Handmaid's Tale because I loved it so much.  Even if you don't make it all the way through my ramblings, know this: every time I am asked in the future to name my favourite book, this will be high up on the list I garble as a response.

The Handmaid's Tale isn't "just" a compelling story of one woman struggling to reconcile herself with a new life and survive but manages to make some clever socio-political points without beating readers over the head with A Message.  The writing style is disjointed but wholly consistent with the Offred's experiences.  Her memories, for example, use more colourful language while her day-to-day experiences are gut-wrenchingly bleak as Offred uses a whole host of techniques to avoid dwelling on her new position.  I loved her completely and read her story with a mixture of pity and horror, through moments that left  me feeling queasy, through happier moments and through moments that made me well up with tears.

Having studied at a single sex high school, I'm surprised that we didn't study this, or at the very least parts of it.  The Republic of Gilead has restricted the roles of women to Wives (of the higher classes) and their Daughters, Handmaids (whose duty is to procreate) and Marthas (women who are no longer able to have children but are useful for fulfilling domestic duties, such as cooking and cleaning).  Worst of all, though, are the Aunts.  The novel is set at a time when the Republic of Gilead is in its infancy and the government (such as it is) is straining to impose its ideals on those that remain within its control.  The Aunts are older women responsible for 'training' young women for their new role as baby-makers and enforcing corporal punishment against women that dare to break any of the new rules.  Reading, for example, is a great sin - no good can come from an educated woman, after all.  There's something horrific about women grooming other women for slavery and their motivations and the relish with which they undertake their new role are...well, horrific.

Even the names of the Handmaids are sinister.  It took me a good two thirds of the book before I twigged but each woman is named after the man to whom she belongs: Of Fred.  I think that in some editions it's actually written somewhat less subtly as OfFred.  When I did understand it, it's a perfect example of the type of detail that made me stop for a moment and think, one small way in which the Republic of Gilead removes women's identities and freedoms and transforms them into property.  And yes, it is terribly, terribly sad.

I think that deep down what made this novel have such an impact on me was that, even reading in the 21st century, stories of women struggling under oppression and against legal systems in which they remain second-class citizens remain regular features in international news.  I'm lucky enough to live a reasonably progressive society where I haven't been restricted in my career and life opportunities because of my gender but Offred's story serves as an at times very emotional reminder that many women aren't as fortunate.  In an interview included in an earlier edition of the book, Ms Atwood said, "This is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions".  In some ways, that's all you really need to know.

Overall:  Without question, a new favourite.  There are few books that I would genuinely say that I intend to re-read at some point; this is one.  I was so invested in Offred's story that I no doubt missed countless political references or ideas that are there to be mulled over.  I would love to spend the time one day re-discovering The Handmaid's Tale - most highly recommended.

Date finished: 10 January 2013
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Literary fiction
Published (pictured edition): by Vintage Books USA in October 2010

Friday, 1 March 2013

March! 2013, you are FLYING!

I'll give February a pass on flying by so quickly since it is a short month.  Those two/three days clearly make all the difference.  I'm getting pretty sick of having to bundle up in my hat-scarf-gloves ensemble every time I step out of the house and snow is getting a bit less charming than it was back at the beginning of Winter but today when I left the office it was sort of light and that, my friends, is progress!  Spring is on it's way *sighs happily* 

Book wise, there's been less travelling for work and more hours spent at my desk, which has knocked the pace a little.  I've read another few terrific books though so I'm not exactly complaining...

Total books read in February   4

Pages read in February   1,144

A nice mix of genres this month: one thriller, one YA fantasy, one literary fiction and a little steampunk.  Two were part of series, two were standalones.  Unintentional variety is the best.

The Uninvited was something that I wasn't 100% sold on early on but turned out to be really rather good.  White Cat was a Christmas present from Hanna - needless to say, I really enjoyed it.  I actually hauled myself to Waterstones as I was getting to the end of this one to get the next in the series but was thwarted by them stocking the series but with different covers.  No go, I'm afraid. The Penelopiad was fantastic and I'm newly dedicated to getting hold of both everything that Margaret Atwood has ever written and the whole Canongate Myths series.  The Osiris Ritual was better than the first in the Newbury and Hobbs series and good fun.  

Favourite of the month?  The Penelopiad, easily.

The past week or so has been dedicated to A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Yes, I've finally joined the mass of people at the train station reading one of the chunky instalments of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. While I am seriously enjoying this, I'm actually surprised about the wide spread appeal of the series.  As far as epic fantasy series go, it's not the most accessible I've ever read.  True, it doesn't have a very strong fantasy feel to it but it is most definitely epic.  Maybe I'm underestimating people in general but I wonder whether there being a TV series means that people get to love the characters and follow them off the screen and into the pages of the books?  Whatever the reason, anything gets people into epic fantasy series has to be good :)

February on the Blog

February was quite obviously quieter than January.  I posted a quick re-cap of January's reading early on, which seems like such a long time ago now!  I also started a new sporadic feature, Reading Room Wishlist, to post inspiration/objects of lust/colour schemes for the reading room that I will shortly get to install in the house that we'll be moving into in June - this month's was The Fairytale Library.  Next time's is shaping up to be a colour theme (duck egg blue, if you're curious!).

I also finally caught up on watching the film of The Princess Bride by William Goldman  and did a Book v. Film post.  Great film but even better book!

Reviews this month (click on the titles for reviews):