Wednesday, 29 April 2009


I was thrilled to bits when I managed to bags a pair of free tickets to an early screening of Coraline in 3-D last night and so skived off work early and dragged Mr B along with me to see it.

Firstly, I should mention that this is the first film I've seen in 3-D and... WOW! It takes a little getting used to but luckily we had several 3-D trailers first so I could get my eyes trained up a little before the credits started. Not all of the film seemed to be 3-D, and there were only a couple of out of screen moments, but the difference it made to the depth of field was gorgeous.

The film itself was excellent. It's both adapted from the book by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick, who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, so if you've seen that then you should have a good idea of the tone. Like Nightmare, this is also a stop-motion animation film and it is really stunning. I would definitely recommend seeing it in 3-D at the cinema if you get a chance as it's well worth it.

What I really like about this film is that Coraline is such a strong female lead who is backed up with an engaging (if occasionally slightly creepy) cast of characters. The Other Mother was absolutely terrifying and I would definitely urge caution if taking teeny-tinies but she was so brilliantly hideous that I can't imagine her any other way.

I've already mentioned that it's a stunning film and much of this is down to the beautiful set design. The Laika Studio, based in Portland, did an absolutely incredible job with both the sets and animation. I'd seen some of the mini-trailers so I knew that there was a huge amount of work behind the scenes but to get the film looking this good... Incredible. Hats off to these guys for the skill and craftsmanship that make this film such a work of beauty. Over on YouTube there is a nice set of official videos that include several from "behind the scenes". It certainly gives you an idea of the talent involved in bringing this film to the screen - as well as getting me to add the DVD to my wish list so I can see all the extras!

I know that it's a bit on the early side to talk about the 2010 Oscars, but I can not imagine that this film doesn't clean up, at least in the technical categories, and it should absolutely win best animated film. Five stars.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Julia Quinn-fest

Now this is the kind of reading material I should have had for my read-a-thon stash last weekend!! I developed a tentative theory during last week that I just wasn't allowing enough F-U-N into my reading material so took a trip over to The Book Smugglers and had a look at their highest scoring reviews. I'd read about Julia Quinn on their blog and could not resist borrowing a couple from the library when I came upon a stash.

As "reforming rake" is my very favourite type of historical hero, first from the library pile was When He Was Wicked. This turned out to be book six in the Bridgerton family series - which is something I could have easily established if I'd glanced at the family tree helpfully provided at the front! I don't think that it mattered in the slightest that I read the book out of order as I suspect when reading in this genre it's pretty obvious what the ending will be and the fun part is getting there.

At the start of the book our heroine, Francesca Bridgerton, is already in love (and married to) the man of her dreams - John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin. She is also very good friends with John's cousin, Michael Stirling, who is a delightfully wicked and infamous rake who spends his life chasing women but never losing his heart to any of them. The first time he met Francesca he fell deeply in love with her but has never been able to do anything but watch her marriage to his cousin bloom.

Without wanting to ruin the story, I found this book a very amusing romance yet also a surprisingly emotional tale of dealing with loss, grief and guilt. There is a current of gentle humour running through the book that was great fun and also some very saucy seduction scenes that I was not expecting - this is not Georgette Heyer! All in all it was very enjoyable and absolutely the escapist fiction I'd hoped it would be.

The second book I read by Julia Quinn this weekend was Mr Cavendish, I Presume. This book is a companion on to The Lost Duke of Wyndham and together they tell the same story but from different points of view.

"Engaged to the future Duke of Wyndham since she was just six months old, Amelia Willoughby is beginning to get tired of waiting for Thomas Cavendish, the oh-so-lofty duke, to decide it's finally time to get married. But as she watches him from afar, sharing the occasional dance and making polite conversation, she has a sneaking suspicion that he never thinks about her at all...

Thomas rather likes having a fiancée - all the better to keep the husband-hunters at bay - and he does intend to marry her eventually. But just when he begins to realise that his bride might be something more than convenient, Thomas's world is rocked by the arrival of his long-lost cousin, who may or may not be the true Duke of Wyndham..."

Amelia is a likeable, strong heroine and you certainly can't help but feel empathy for her situation as a woman in an age where you can be legally contracted to marry someone at the age of six months. I was not entirely sold on the premise that Thomas and Amelia had known each other for 20-odd years, knowing that they were going to end up married, and yet never bothered to learn anything about each other or to discuss anything more in depth than the weather. That said, their steps towards gaining a better understanding of one another was quite sweet if a little studious at times.

Overall, this is a charming simple love story without much depth but then that's not what I was looking for - I was after a charming historical romance and that's certainly what I got. At some point, I would like to read the companion book as I'm pretty sure that I'll like Jack who is the titular Lost Duke of Wyndham...

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

The Gargoyle is a strong debut novel from Andrew Davidson - which I picked up quite simply because it was on offer and I liked the contrasting fonts used inside... So deep! It turns out that it's a Richard and Judy book club read which could explain the discounting and its popularity.

This is the whole, very helpful, synopsis: "A young man is fighting for his life. Into his room walks a bewitching woman who believes she can save him. Their journey will have you believing in the impossible."

No wonder I didn't know what to expect from this one! The books opens with our nameless narrator driving, under the influence, along a road in the present time when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward having been severely injured. For me, his recovery process was one of the strongest parts of the book although the details of the treatment he receives is really quite horrific.

One day he is visited by sculptress Marianne Engel who tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. Although he has his reservations about her mental stability, he is drawn to her and the stories she tells of their past life together alongside other tales of love. Her presence in his life pulls him out of a deep depression and helps him to start to view himself as anything other than a monster. Eventually he is able to leave the hospital although Marianne's fragile mental state, and commitment to her art, means that life together is never simple.

I enjoyed the stories within stories in this book and Andrew Davidson did a great job of capturing such a variety of voices. In contrast though I felt that there was more to tell about some of the book's "real" characters and that none of the hospital staff ever became fully realised despite some of them being quite prominent in the story. Although I found it hard to warm to either the Narrator or to Marianne (even sometimes wishing they'd "get a grip") that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

If you want to read more about this book then it's got its very own website where you can also download an extract.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Halting State - Charles Stross

After all the excitement of the read-a-thon this weekend, I didn't quite get around to posting about Halting State by Charles Stross which I read as part of the challenge.

I read his Glasshouse earlier this year as part of the Sci-Fi experience and really enjoyed it. Halting State is quite different in tone, in that it's more overtly humorous, but at heart it is also an enjoyable, fast paced thriller.

From the blurb: "It was called in as a robbery at Hayek Associates, an online game company. So you can imagine Sergeant Sue Smith's mood as she watches the video footage of the heist being carried out by a band of orcs and a dragon, and realises that the robbery from an online game company is actually a robbery from an online game.

Just wonderful. Like she has nothing better to do. But online entertainment is big business, and when the bodies of real people start to show up, it's clear that this is anything but a game."

Each chapter switches between the point of view of Sue Smith, computer coding expert Jack Reed and forensic accountant Elaine Barnaby who have been brought in to understand exactly how the theft can have taken place. From there, the body count starts to rise and the divide between virtual and real worlds starts to blur.

The book is set in Scotland in the near-future and there have been political changes - notably that Scotland is now a country in its own right however still a part of the all-powerful EU. There are also plausible predicted technological advances sush as people can be permanently connected to information via rather funky glasses which overlay information onto your view. (I want!)
The tone of the writing reminded me of Christopher Brookmyre in places - and not just because it's set in Scotland and features strong characters! By this I mean that murder, peril and a fast-paced plot are dealt with in an enjoyably humorous way and that the story does not take itself too seriously.

I found some of our reliance on insecure technology, and the exploitation that this could leave us as individuals open to, really chilling - even though it was by no means explicitly pointed out in a "look what power an unethical government could have over you!" way. Unchecked state surveillance seems to me to be very topical at the moment and, as a UK citizen, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the way that policies are going over here since reading Little Brother opened my eyes last year. I saw that Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross are giving a joint talk for the Open Rights Group called Resisting the All Seeing Eye and that could explain why they have books that highlight shared concern! I wish I could go but I guess I will have to wait for an online version.

I see that I have gone into campaign mode again - go visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation and see what I'm going on about. In summary, a fun read that (as you may be able to tell from this post!) is surprisingly thought provoking too.

Read-a-thon Post 7

My last read-a-thon post. In the last hour, I finished Halting State (and the author interview) and managed to start, and finish, The Iron Man in the last 20 mins! I'd hoped to also fit in its sequel, The Iron Woman but didn't quite manage it too.

I've just added £4 to my Year of Readers fundraising page for Book Aid as the additional contribution for those two books - I'd really hoped to do much better than 450 pages and I suspect that going to sleep for 10 hours of the 24 didn't really help my cause! Whilst it's great fun taking part in mini-challenges and visiting other participants to see how they are getting on, it did have a really big impact on my actual reading time so perhaps I should have been a cheerleader this time around.

I'll finish off with the last hour challengebefore I take the dogs out for a walk in the lovely sunshine:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The first hour I took part - I was late starting and was worried I wouldn't catch up and then spent an hour or so visiting other people and doing challenges rather than reading my book so I then felt even worse!
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I've learned that I should have sought out and read more Young Adult fiction as several people looked like they were really enjoying that genre and it'd be relatively easy to read when tired. I think I should have also probably lined up a couple of (short) graphic novels as well as some low-thought/high-value "easy" fiction like something by Georgette Heyer or similar. Next time!
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope. I really enjoyed myself!
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? There was a great feeling of team spirit that made it a real pleasure to take part.
5. How many books did you read? Only two.
6. What were the names of the books you read? Halting State by Charles Stross & The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.
7. Which book did you enjoy most? Halting State! Great fun and I will post separately about it later.
8. Which did you enjoy least? It seems hardly fair to pick on The Iron Man as it was the only other book I read and the prose it gorgeous.
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I was not a Cheerleader but I'd say that I thought they did a great job! I've been visited, and encouraged, by some lovely people and those on twitter were really prolific!
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll definitely participate. I'd like to be a more organised reader who has not just got back from holiday with dodgy sleep patterns and I'd also like to be a cheerleader and sponsor a bookish prize.

Read-a-thon Post 6

Cracking through my book now and Mr B is kindly making me another coffee so that I can read without interruption. Well. Other than the internet!

Here's my Hour 22 challenge limerick:

There was an avid reader called Peta
Who thought that nothing could be sweeter
than to read for twenty-four hours
but she found she lacked the powers
so hung her head and admitted defeat-er


Read-a-thon Post 5

As I write this post I am trying awfully hard not to cry and not really succeeding. That's because I've been reading Dewey's blog as part of the hour 21 challenge. I never "met" Dewey although I did visit her blog a few times, saw her commenting on other people's blogs and (of course) saw that she was instrumental in the organising of community activities like this one.

So. Why am I (still) in tears? All it took was for me to click over onto Dewey's blog and read the post by her husband from the 2nd Feb this year when he received the Coraline treasure chest. Gulp. I then scrolled down and saw the "giving season" last post Dewey made on the 23rd November, planning her activity for the month ahead, and that just about finished me off.

Reading through some her posts (and I really can't choose a favourite for this challenge) it's clear that I missed out on getting to know a really lovely, influential and community spirited woman. Reading through some of the comments made when her death was announced, it's obvious that she touched a lot of people's lives and that friends made online can be just as important as those in the "real world".

I'm really glad that her online presence continues to be felt through activities like this read-a-thon and Weekly Geeks and that people like me can get to know her even though she is no longer here. It strikes me that I've not really thanked Hannah (WordLily), Ana (Nymeth), and Trish (Hey Lady!) for the incredibly hard work that they've put into making this read-a-thon a fitting tribute to her legacy. Thank you - you've done a great job.

Read-a-thon Post 4

Oh dear, dear me. I might just be the worst read-a-thon participant ever. After posting last night I started reading again and then. Erm. Fell asleep and only just woke up. I blame post-holiday body clock but it really is rather pathetic. Five official hours to go and I really need to up my game and finish my first book!

Just popped in to visit Debbie's mini-challenge and what a great idea it was to get lots of people joining BookCrossing. Inspired and I've joined up so will mark up a bunch of books later today and release them this week.

The other mini-challenge at the moment is one about re-reads. Gosh. Off the top of my head, and by looking at my nearby book shelves for the really battered spines, I'd have to say that Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility (all by Jane Austen) are on that pile. I've read books by Tad Williams several times with his War of the Flowers probably coming up top there. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett has been read several times. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is looking pretty creased as is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - both books I love re-visiting every couple of years or so.

Must stop blogging and reading about the read-a-thon and get back to reading for it...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Read-a-thon Post 3

Phew! Dinner cooked by hubby and eaten by me then watched a couple of episodes of Malcom in the Middle with Mr B as a break so am ready to get back to it! I've decided it might be best to avoid twitter in the near future as it's far, far too distracting and I've not even finished Book 1 yet!

It's also time for another mini-challenge, this time from The Curious Reader on the topic of libraries.
  1. What is the name of your local library? What city is it located in? I live in Norwich and pass my library on my walk to work. Our city library burnt down when I was at University and The Forum was built on its former site. A substantial part of the building is now the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library and (amongst other things) the building also contains a heritage centre and the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library which houses a collection of unique materials about American culture and the Second World War. Here's a picture of The Forum building:
  2. How often do you go to the library? If you're a regular, do the staff know you? It's the busiest lending library in the United Kingdom (for the last two years in a row!) so sadly you don't get personal relationships with the staff. It's also self-service loans/returns so not much chance to get to know them either!
  3. Do you browse while you're there or just pick up items you have placed on reserve? I think I've only ever reserved one item and that was the audio version of The Graveyard Book. This could be because I am cheap and don't like paying the reserving fee though! It's got a fairly large collection of books so I can treat it like a bookshop and browse for something new or consult the catalogue to see if any of my wishlist are on the shelves.
  4. What is your favourite thing about your local library? It's filled with (free) books!

Read-a-thon Post 2

A quick read-a-thon update from sunny Norwich!

1) I got horrifically distracted by the twitter #readerthon feed for far too long.
2) I spent aaages trying to solve the fabuolus book cover challenge hosted by Bart. I know I got twelve right and that I will kick myself over several that were horribly familiar and I am pretty sure I own them but could not find them on my bookshelves. Looking forward to the result
3) I took Halting State into the garden with me and accidentally ended up sowing seeds.
4) I took Halting State to bed with me as it was a quiet spot to read in peace and... fell asleep for an hour.

Off for dinner now. Will come back refreshed and revitalised soon!

Read-a-thon Post 1

Here's my read-a-thon Hour 1 meme post! Which is a little late as I have been dropping off a birthday present to a two year old friend of mine.

Where are you reading from today? My house! Mainly in the bedroom curled up in the warmth but I might spice things up and also read in the sitting room for a while. The sun is actually out so I might well also do some reading in the garden which is a pretty exciting optionto have in England!

3 facts about me … 1) My middle name is Siobhan. 2) I have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. 3) I own far, far too many books.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? Ha! I have sorted through the extensive TBR pile and whittled it down to a short list of around ten books which are all relatively short and should be quick to read. I need to finish off my current book (Halting State) before I can get started on those. I should also confess that I was looking at the shortlist and wishing I'd thought to order some of my really want to reads from my wishlist in time for this weekend. As if I have not already got enough choice!

Edited post to add in a photo of my shortlist. When arranging the books for a photo it got a bit longer...

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? I'm just happy to participate and am looking forward to using the excuse that I am doing a read-a-thon to spend most of this weekend.

April 2009 Read-a-thon

After watching the read-a-thon take place from the sidelines last year, I decided to take part this time around as it all looks such good fun! The UK start time is 1pm today - I'm not sure how many update posts here I will manage to complete over the next 24 hours but I will definitely be updating my twitter account at regular intervals. The official hashtag is #readathon if you want to join in.

I have a TBR pile of at least 150 books so this also strikes me as a perfect opportunity to curl up and make some inroads into that stash. Getting my caveats out of the way early, I will be going to bed at some point tonight and I do also have a number of post-holiday household chores to complete (boo!) but I am really looking forward to getting as involved as possible.

I've also decided that any book completed between 1pm today and 1pm on Sunday will incur a "bonus" donation to BookAid of £2. Having said that, I'd better make sure I read plenty of books in the next 24 hours!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

I'm Back!

We arrived back from Kenya this morning - getting into the house at 2am (5 hours later than planned) after the flight was re-scheduled and there was a delay on re-fuelling in Cairo. A delightful end to an otherwise fantastic holiday...

I can not recommend both Sable Valley and The Cove tree houses enough - these are where we stayed for the second week of our trip. As well as being fantastic accommodation in seriously beautiful places, we were utterly spoiled by the Destination Adventure team at both locations. Both great places to relax and I'd definitely consider staying there again.

I only managed to read four books over the two weeks (and one of those was on the return flight) and I will post about them shortly. I am pleased to announce that Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle has now been read and I am so glad that I had two whole weeks in which to indulge myself in reading the three books back to back. What luxury! The pic above is of me reading the first book, Quicksilver.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

March Reading List

I only read a very paltry (by my standards) seven books this month but that's £7 to Book Aid International which is better than nothing. Hopefully plenty of holiday reading in April will boost my read-rate although as I plan to read 2000+ pages of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy perhaps not! I have downloaded several books onto my iPod Touch and am very interested to see how reading on that device will pan out and I'll be back online in a couple of weeks!

Shadow's Edge & Beyond the Shadows - Brent Weeks
Forests of the Heart - Charles de Lint
Beyond All Frontiers - Emma Drummond
Hester's Story - Adele Geras
Waterland - Graham Swift
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict - Laurie Viera Rigler