Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Graphic Novels Challenge - 2010 Wrap

At the start of 2010 I signed up for The Graphic Novels Challenge, which I will be participating in again in 2011. I am really pleased that I read 19 books that (more or less) fit into my own loose definition of a graphic novel. I tried to make my choices varied but I am sure that I am only scraping the surface of the genre and I know from the bits of paper sticking out of my copy of 500 Essential Graphic Novels that there are plenty more out there to track down!

What really struck me when I was copying the list over was that, with the exception of The Guild, they were all written by men! What's that all about? I'll have to do some investigating and try to find some more female authors for 2011 as I think that the only one I have ever read is Marjane Satrapi's excellent Persepolis.

I'm kicking myself that I stopped reviewing in April but my 2010 graphic novel highlights, from a very strong selection, were Girl Genius (I sooooo wish I could afford to buy all the colour editions!), Absolute Sanman, The Guild and Blankets. None of which I would have read without the blogging community egging me on so thank you and I look forward to seeing what next year brings!

2010 Graphic Novels:
Murder Mysteries - Neil Gaiman & P. Russell Craig
The Magic Flute - P. Russell Craig
Absolute Sandman - Vol 1 - Neil Gaiman
Pyongyang: Journey in North Korea - Guy Delisle
Girl Genius: Omnibus 1 - Phil and Kaja Foglio
Death Note volumes 1 & 2 - Tsugumi Ohba
1: Out from Boneville & 2: The Great Cow Race - Jeff Smith
The Adventures of the Princess and Mr Whiffle - Patrick Rothfuss
When The Wind Blows - Raymond Briggs
The Unwritten: Vol 1 - Mike Carey & Peter Gross
Harlequin Valentine - Neil Gaiman & John Bolton
Comics: The Invisible Art - Scott McCloud
The Invention of Hugo Cabet - Brian Selznick
That's Not My Cow - Terry Pratchett
The Guild - Felicia Day & Jim Rugg
We3 - Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Blankets - Craig Thompson

Friday, 24 September 2010

2011: The "Women of Fantasy" & "Women of Science Fiction" Book Clubs!

I've (already!) signed up for participation in two book clubs next year that I would like to mention here in case anyone else want to join in the fun too.

Firstly, Erika from Jawas Read, Too! is running the "Women of Fantasy" book club where each month we'll be reading a book published by a female author in the Fantasy genre. The perfect accompaniment to this is that TJ, from Dreams & Speculations, is hosting "The Women of Science Fiction" book club. I think that both the reading lists look fantastic and I am really struggling to resist the temptation to dive in to the selection right now.

These book club announcements have come at the perfect time for me. One of the (many) wonderful things about moving to this house is that I now have a room (rather grandly referred to as my "Library"!) in which all my books live. All of my books. In one room. In genre-themed sections. Bliss. As I unpacked box after box after box of books a couple of months ago, and settled them into their new homes, I realised that I have very little Sci-Fi and Fantasy by female authors and started to actively seek to redress that balance.

Although I have read four of the books Erika and TJ have selected that does leave 20 new books (and between them fourteen female authors whose work I have never read!) to get me going and that is a great start in the right direction - although I might need a bigger "library"...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

"I Aten't Dead"

Just a little note to say, in the words of the indomitable Granny Weatherwax, "I Aten't Dead".

In May this year we moved house to a very English thatched cottage in the country. Three and a bit months on and it still feels as if we are staying in a holiday rental and I can't quite believe that this is actually our home now! It took soooo long to get our internet connection sorted (vile, vile BT) that I just got out of the habit of blogging.

Once I'd caught up on my reader feeds, we'd unpacked, painted, started a veggie patch (look! I grew peas!) and settled in, it just didn't seem as though I had time to to write about the books I read as well as read them! Or maybe it's just not a priority.

So anyway. I'm still here. I'm still reading, I'm still following blogs, and at some point I might start writing on this one again. Or start a blog called "101 ways to eat a home grown courgette..." Seriously.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Livingstone Tanzania Trust

Without the discipline of participating in The Year of Readers I've rather neglected posting about what I am doing with the donations I make to charity for books I read.

Along with the usual payroll credit into my Charities Trust account I have been diligently adding in an additional £1 per book I read (after costs) and today I made my first (of many, I suspect) bookish-related donation to the Livingstone Tanzania Trust. They are a self-help development charity, focused on Tanzania, working to alleviate poverty through education.

I was born in Tanzania and my Grandmother was a teacher in Arusha for many years so I must admit that a large part of the reason that I chose this specific charity was that their efforts are, at the moment, centred on Babati which is in the northern Manyara region which is "near" where my family lived. I've been looking for a Tanzanian educational charity for a while and so am pleased to have found this one.

A browse through the projects on their website includes building classrooms, teachers’ houses and kitchen/toilet facilities; raising health awareness; farming development and training as well as community support including football pitch building. When my husband and I went to Kenya last year we had the pleasure of a walk through a nearby village to watch the (recently crowned regional champions!) girls team play football on the village pitch. It was such a delight to see their enthusiasm and to see just how much use that pitch got as a focus for the younger people in the community. We also talked about the distance travelled by students to attend school with our guide who was one of the lucky ones - he got a scholarship to enroll in an educational wildlife programme which in turn led to his job working for the company who owned the property we stayed at for a couple of nights.

Not sure how I got from reading to education in Tanzania to football pitches in Kenya but I am pleased to have found this charity to add to my list of ones I support and that I have (eventually) made my first reading donation.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Girl Genius - Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio

This is both a Once Upon a Time IV & Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 read.

On Friday I read a glowing joint review from The Book Smugglers (who are currently celebrating a second Steampunk Week) about this omnibus edition of the first three volumes in the Girl Genius series. So, despite current attempt to resist adding to Book Mountain, on Saturday my copy arrived and I spent a rather lovely afternoon in the garden reading it whilst enjoying the sunshine. Which, it should be noted, had a rather detrimental impact on the book's spine. :(

Girl Genius is an online webcomic and can be read for free - starting here with new pages released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Described as a "gaslamp fantasy" featuring Adventure, Romance and Mad Science and, honestly, what more could you ask for?

The Girl Genius in question is the curvaceous Agatha Clay - a student at the Transylvania Polygnostic University who unable to build anything that actually works and seems destined for a lackluster career as a minor lab assistant. Chuck in a tyrant Baron Wulfenbach with an airship city, his son Gilgamesh (perhaps a hint of lurrveee for later episodes?) , a host of supporting characters (mostly made of awesome!) and an action-packed plot and you have a story that is both light hearted and funny. Oh - and I absolutely loved the artwork too.

After the first book, the series is released in colour however the omnibus was black and white. I don't think that was hugely detrimental to my enjoyment but having had a look at the panels online I would have definitely preferred to read in colour. I would absolutely love to be able to justify the purchase of the whole series in individual editions but am not sure even I can convince myself of the $23 a pop (plus post from the USA) investment when it's available free online. Unless it was an investment, of course....

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Pink Lemonade

A Bookling tried and tested recipe as enjoyed today.

Take half to one cup of sugar (depending on taste!) and one cup of hot water then, using a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water. Add one cup of lemon juice and stir together. Add small handful of raspberries/blackberries and blend.

Dilute your pink lemonade mix with three to four cups of water (again depends on taste), add ice and enjoy sipping it in the sunshine whilst reading a book. Keep keen eye out for stealthily approaching small dogs though...


Friday, 16 April 2010

Pyongyang: Journey in North Korea - Guy Delisle

This was read for the Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 and was my non-fiction read participating in Heather at Tales of a Capricious Reader's April mini-challenge.
Last year I wrote about reading Guy Delisle's The Burma Chronicles and so when I saw the theme for this year's mini-challenge was non-fiction it seemed like a good time to read one of his earlier books.

Guy Delisle is a Canadian animator, illustrator and author who spent two months in early 2001 living in a drab hotel in Pyongyang whilst working on a project for Scientific Educational Korea. He can only leave the hotel when accompanied by his translator and official guide, who are unquestioningly loyal to the regime. As he is dragged around the compulsory, and propaganda filled, tourist sights his observations are both thoughtful and illuminating offering a rare insight into life as a foreigner in this very restrictive country.

Clearly Delisle found his experience living here incredibly frustrating as well as sometimes surreal. Pyongyang itself strikes me as a very weird and sterile city - kept immaculate by teams of creepy citizen "volunteers". In telling the story of his experience living there, his gentle humour, when paired with such deceptively simple and expressive artwork, works so well for me so although this was not a light-hearted book to read it was a thought-provoking and interesting one.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

24 Hour Read-a-Thon

Bother. Just checked my reader feeds and realised that the fabulous Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thon was this weekend. I could have sworn that it was next weekend but nope - based on the most recent post (and all the feeds I've seen from bloggers I follow!) it is now hour 20.

I participated this time last year and I had a great time although I remember that I did spend far too long reading about other people's experiences, and being distracted by twitter, than enjoying my own books! Re-reading those posts I am absolutely gutted that I didn't remember that it was this weekend. I have actually read half of The Little Stranger in the qualifying period but not sure it would be quite the same experience to join in now so I shall go and cheerlead some of the other participants who are better at planning than I am instead!

...and make a note of the October date on my calendar when it's announced!!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

This is a Once Upon a Time IV read.

I have one very strict rule when it comes to reading books that belong to a series. The series must have been already written. All of it. The only exception is if I am absolutely sure that the novel can be read as a stand-alone too. There is a reason...

Many years ago, in 1995, I had a summer job at the Bertram Books Warehouse. These are the guys who supply bookshops, and libraries, with stock. At this point it was still a family owned business and they had a massive warehouse near the centre of Norwich which was about a mile from where my parents lived. The point of this story is that they also had a staff bookshop where the damaged books were sold for 10% of cover value. As you may imagine this meant that they received a substantial proportion of my wages straight back!

To cut a long story short, with diligent application, I was able to build up a Wheel of Time collection for a fraction of its actual cost. All six books. The eagle-eyed reader will have spotted a flaw in this purchase but the younger Peta was very pleased with herself. I read all six books back to back. And then realised that although Lord of Chaos has an epilogue (you see, I'd flicked to the end of the last book to be sure that there was a "proper ending") this was not the Last Book in the series. The next year A Crown of Swords came out and, having waited for a while for it to be released in paperback, I started the whole series from the beginning and when I got to the end of the seventh book I realised that this was not the Last Book in the series... Much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments ensued and it was at this is point that The Rule was implemented and it has not been broken since.

Now I have known for a while that Patrick Rothfuss is one pretty cool guy. I read his blog. I've bought (too many!) tickets for his fundraisers. I've seen evidence that he loves Ana from The Book Smuggelers. I've read other people's universally raving posts about his debut novel and watched the central character, Kvothe, progress to the semi-finals in the cage matches where he was beaten to the final by Jaime Lannister. Who stars in another rather famous series that I have not read. Because it is not finished.

So why give in now and come to the party so late? Well. I'd just finished Absolute Sandman One and wanted to read a really good fantasy novel. One that I knew would be excellent.

I also had a nasty feeling that I was missing out on something that I shouldn't be.

So having given in and broken The Rule was it worth it? Well. All I can say about this book is "Oh to the Em to the Gee". Please note that phrase was not used seriously! This guy can write and I absolutely LOVED this book. Kvothe has to be one of my favourite ever heroes, he has a great story to tell and I have (almost literally) not been without my nose in this book since picking up first thing yesterday. Hurrah for bank holiday weekends!

In fact I loved it so much that I have already placed a reservation for it with the library - even though there is no confirmed release date and amazon currently has it scheduled for August 2011. It seems that two other people from Norwich can't wait either though as I am already third in the queue!

Clearly I am gushing too much to be able to explain clearly why I loved it so I suggest reading what the following bloggers thought:
A Dribble of Ink (plus an interview in parts one and two)
Strange Horizons
Neth Space
The Book Smugglers
Fantasy Debut

Additionally, Orion Books have posted a really nice series of interview with Pat from Summer 2008 in three parts one, two and three. He really is such a cutie!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Absolute Sandman Vol 1

This is both a Once Upon a Time IV & Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 read.

I think it might be time to tell all about a little book buying "accident" that happened earlier this month. I bought (on impulse) volumes one to four of Neil Gaiman's Absolute Sandmans... I've never even read them (which I feel perhaps I should have done to splash out just over £50 per book!) but in my defence I've known that I neeeeeeeeed to own them for at least two years and a couple of weeks ago I had what we shall call a "whoops".

Yes, dear Reader. I bought all four leather bound, hardbacked, slip-cased, digitally re-coloured and generally utterly gorgeous volumes. Whoops indeed! And even had the courage to 'fess up to Mr B before the arrival of the first package. Who kindly didn't point out that we will be moving house in the next few weeks and have to pay for boring things like stamp duty and solicitors fees and removal men and woodworm and damp and render and oh ye Gods what have I done...? Oh well - too late for regrets. :)

Volume One collects the first twenty issues of The Sandman series of comics, written by Neil Gaiman, with the story focusing on the character of Dream – one of the seven Endless - and so covers the trade paperback editions of Preludes & Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country. With guest characters from the DC universe, this books weaves mythology, folk-lore and history together to create something really rather special. What stood, not entirely unexpectedly, out for me about this series is the quality of writing. To be fair, I’ve not read a huge number of comics but some of these stories were so beautiful and I can’t imagine that many series have the guts to include whole episodes that are so self-contained (although do fit into the wider story)

Extras include an introduction, Gaiman’s original series pitch (with outline plot and concept art) and, my favourite inclusion of all, the complete script and Charles Vess’s draft sketches for the 'Midsummer's Night Dream'. As I was reading, I was thinking about the creation process between the story writer, the penciller, the colourist, the inker and the letterer so it was absolutely wonderful to get this insight and I spent ages pouring over this section.

When searching for images to use to illustrate this post I came across the following picture collected on on this blog showing just what a difference the re-colouring has made.
I know some have complained about the "cartoonish" quality of the above but me? Love it. Plus it justifies my purchase. *cough cough*

Genuinely, I am so very pleased that I splashed out as this book is really, really lovely and fantastic quality. It's massive with leather(ish) embossed cover with silver lettering and a black silk bookmark. I felt almost guilty just opening it (eek – cracking the spine! What if I rip a page?) and the dogs were most put out that I was reading a book that was so large there was no room for them and it on my lap. I have even kept the box it was packaged in so that it can be adequately protected during the house move (!) I think I might just be coming across as weird now but in my defence, a great deal of care and attention has obviously been lavished on its production. I can’t wait to read on to the next set of stories although naturally, other than this one, the only volume that’s actually arrived so far is the fourth one so some self-discipline is required of me… Never my strong point!

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Thief & The Queen of Attolia & The King of Attolia - Megan Whalen Turner

Gulp! Gulp! Gulp!The above is pretty much how I read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, , The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia* (up-to-page-260-of-which-more-in-the-footnotes) this weekend. I have now managed to finish the third book so whilst I wait for my library to get hold of a copy of the final book in the series, A Conspiracy of Kings, I figure now is about a good a time as any to post about the experience.

This was going to be my first Once Upon a Time read but I don’t fell that these books are fantasy enough to count as they are set in a sort-of Greek alternative past but there’s no magic or elves or dragons, etc. Plus I am pretty sure I don’t need to scrabble for enough qualifying reads before the deadline!

Eugenides (Gen) is the titular thief and, after some wine shop bragging where he boasts that he can steal anything, he purloins the King of Sounis’ seal. In an unexpected opener, The Thief starts with him suffering in a dungeon cell having been caught and imprisoned for that crime. In return for his freedom, the King’s Magus offers him a deal – he has to steal the fabled “Hamiathes's Gift” without which the Queen of Eddis, another country will not marry the King of Sounis. Only one problem. Nobody is quite sure that it actually exists.

Humorously narrated in the first person, this is the story of an expedition into the neighbouring Kingdom of Attolia to locate the jewel and the attempt to pull off the ultimate theft that will cement Gen’s reputation as the greatest thief and win him his freedom.

What makes this book (and indeed series) for me is the character of Gen. At the start, he is cocky, lying, feckless, lazy, irresponsible and untrustworthy with questionable personal hygiene. However, as the story unfolds, we gradually realise (along with the rest of the party) that we might just have seriously underestimated his intelligence and that there is much more to him than meets the eye. I have to admit that I am not entirely unbiased as whilst reading these books, part of me fell a little bit in love with him…

Taken by itself, The Thief is a quick, easy and enjoyable adventure story but when read back to back with the next two books it becomes part of a larger and rather delightful experience. As the stakes start to rise, we are introduced to other central characters and in particular the Queens of Eddis and Attolia are all you could wish for as strong, intelligent and capable females.

There is understated but wonderful romance (swoon! swoon!), adventure, daring thefts, unexpected plot twists, some tough decisions and plenty of political intrigue. Nothing is ever quite as it seems and (you may have already guessed) I really, really enjoyed myself on this journey. For pure fun and a spot of escapism these books are be hard to beat.

It is worth mentioning, however, that these books are aimed at young adult audience. Harper Collins have samples available online but to avoid spoilers I would suggest starting with the first few chapters of The Thief and not even reading the blurbs for the later books!

* So - what happened to my race through The King of Attolia? Picture the scene. I'm snuggled in bed and I'm reading page 260. All very exciting and Stuff is Kicking Off. I move my eyes to the top of the next page. What? That can't be right. I've already read this. Oh. Instead of pages 261-292, I have pages 117-148. Again. Bah. Amazon tell me they are very sorry and send out a replacement on the same day. But it meant I had to WAIT! Arghhhhhh...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ark - Stephen Baxter

After a productive day off, I have just finished reading Ark, which is the sequel to Flood which I read in Febuary, and all I can say is what a journey!

At this point, please imagine me with beard, pipe and possibly a parrot on my shoulder saying (in a very authentic nautical manner) whilst pointing "Argggghh. Thar be spoilers ahead" and consider that to be due warning if you have not read Flood. Not too many give-aways but enough to perhaps spoil some of the suspense of the previous book...

From the blurb: "As the waters rose, high in the Colorado mountains the US government was building an ark. Not an ark to ride the waves but an ark that would take a select few hundred people out into space to start a new future for mankind. Sent out into deep space on an epic journey centuries, generations of crew members carry the hope of a new beginning on a new, incredibly distant, planet. But as the decades pass knowledge and purpose is lost and division and madness grows. And back on earth life, and man, find a new way."

So. To quickly recap. In the previous book the water level steadily rises and, as the earth is gradually covered, humanity struggles to adapt and survive. At the start of Ark, the water level is rising and the earth is gradually covered...and do you know what? It really didn't feel like I was covering old ground. Which is pretty impressive as there was a lot of ground covered in Flood (Those last words were not supposed to be a joke but now I read it I think I'll pretend it was intentional) and the impact of the rising water level was covered extensively in that book on both an individual and epic level.

The first third of this book largely follow a similar formula in that we see events on Earth through the eyes of several individuals (only a few of whom also appear in Flood) as the flood waters rise. Hinted at in the first book, these are the people who are directly involved in one of the handful of desperate plans that are in motion to try to save the wealthiest, or most influential, people left on the planet.

What makes it different is that we’re following the Candidates for a place in the Ark which, as can probably be gathered from the blurb, is the attempt to build a spaceship that can take a (genetically diverse) chosen few to another habitable planet in an attempt to ensure the survival of humanity. I rather liked the different perspective as here we are viewing the Flood through the eyes of characters who are insulated from the fight for survival that much of the human race is facing which means that all we see here is their reaction to witnessing events that actually happen largely to other people.

What I found most interesting about this book was the, very pessimistic, exploration of how society might develop under extreme pressure. I do have to say that Baxter paints a rather bleak view of life in claustrophobic living conditions with a small circle of other people – most of whom have been or are competing against each other for survival. At heart, it seemed to me that this is a book about the inability of people to get along and “play nicely” no matter what the stakes. Repeatedly self-government turned into despotic dictatorship and people (mainly men) seem to do some very awful things to other people that

I do have a couple of plot gripes – for example with so much emphasis being placed on the importance of selecting a genetically diverse crew why train up a crew of equal male and females? Surely it would be easier to fill a freezer with sperm and give a female crew some turkey basters? In crew training, there also seemed to be a focus on specialisation over diversification which didn’t feel very risk-averse to me but probably only there to assure some of the more interesting characters places on the programme! I am so picky.

Despite those grumbles I liked this book more than Flood - the story did absolutely need this second book and it was a great end to the duology.

I've found it really hard to write anything about this reading experience that doesn't give away too much plot so for a proper review I am going to direct you towards Thea from The Book Smugglers. I think it's safe to say that she's a fan - this book was her top read of 2009. I also really enjoyed this dual review from Strange Horizons which is well worth a read.

Once Upon A Time IV - The Shortlist

Hip Hooray! Spring has officially Sprung! At last...

As I look out of the window I can see blue skies and bright sunshine, snowdrops are giving way to hellebores and primroses, my daffodils are nearly in bud, the crocuses are fading and there are tiny shoots starting to form on the roses and clematis. It won't be long now before I can enjoy walking through the woods carpeted in bluebells. I think this might be my favourite time of year in the garden - so much promise of what's to come.

My desk at work has no line of sight to the outside so I've only enjoyed the much needed sunshine we've been having this week on the walk there and back but as I've taken today off as holiday, I intend to spend it enjoying guilt-free blogging, reading and taking the dogs out to enjoy the gorgeous weather with me. If he's very good I might take Mr B out too but he's working on an epic cine-film transfer in a dark room with the curtains drawn and the black-out blind down so perhaps I had better not tell him how lovely it is outside...

I meant to put this list up last weekend but somehow time got away from me - actually I was feeling a little "under the weather" after a great birthday party for a friend - so now seems as good a time as any. This list is in absolutely no order whatsoever, is only made up of unread books I have to hand and is subject to whim.

Absolute Sandman - Neil Gaiman
Goblin Market - Christina Rossetti
Biting the Sun - Tanith Lee
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin
The Night of Kerberos - Mike Wild
The Rain Wild Chronicles - Robin Hobb
The Crown Conspiracy - Michael J. Sullivan
The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner

As ever, half the fun is seeing what other people choose and I absolutely can't wait to start this challenge properly.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Howard's End is on the Landing - Susan Hill

Credit (or perhaps blame...) for the impulsive purchase of this book has to go to Simon from stuck-in-a-book who thought so highly of it when he blogged about it last year that he even gave it a coveted place in his "50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About" list!

I thought the book sounded very much "up my street" when I read Simon's post but what clinched it for me was that stunning cover by Peter Dyer. Isn't it just to die for? When I saw it I knew that I *had* to buy it at once - and in hardback as I could not bear to risk that it'd be issued in a differently designed cover when released in paperback... I know. It's a condition, OK?

Having bought it on impulse it then sat forgotten and unloved on the downstairs non-fiction shelves until I chanced upon it whilst dusting.

On her inspiration, Susan Hill writes, "Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on my shelves, I encountered dozens of others that I had never read, or forgotten I owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired me to embark on a year-long voyage through my books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know my own collection again."

On her meandering journey through her shelves, Hill writes chapters dedicated to genres such as classics, 20th century fiction, travel, diaries/memoirs, children's books and even manages to cover pop-up books too. She also writes (among other things) about whether editions of books matter, the importance of a good title, how books end up huddled together, fonts and the memories a book can evoke.

As you can probably gather, this is quite wide-ranging and personal account of her years spent with books - reading, writing, reviewing, publishing and also reminiscing about some of the authors she's met. As a journey through her home and shelves I could not have asked for anything more from this very personal book which is written in an informal, chatty style by someone who has lived in and around books for most of her life.

Hill does have a manner of asserting her opinion allowing no rational alternative which I found irritating at times - for example I don't agree with her views on book blogging, e-readers or the entire Sci-Fi genre - but largely what she says about the pleasure of owning, and reading, a huge range of books hit so many right notes that I can't quibble about the occasional (for me) wrong one.

I fear Hill would look down on the semblance of order that my books reside in - far too organised for her taste! Upstairs in the "study" is Sci Fi & Fantasy, on the landing is contemporary fiction and children's, in the bedroom is imminent TBR (although honesty forces me to admit that there is a TBR overflow on the landing too...) whilst downstairs in the dining room is classics, plays, poetry, reference, travel, history, science, auto-biography and biography. Only the classics are arranged in alphabetical order by author but I can't promise things will remain this organised once we move house.

The book leads up to a "Final Forty" selection that Hill decides are her essential can-no-do-without books. I won't reveal it here as that would spoil the journey but Ido find it endlessly fascinating how people's reading tastes can differ (Hill hearts Hardy & Dickens, I heart Austen but at we both agree on Trollope) and I can't imagine how long it would take me to whittle down my books to a final selection of ones I love. Just thinking about doing it makes me a bit anxious to be honest and I commend her for putting it out there as well as I gather she's received some criticism for not having a wider choice. I rather liked her list myself, although should say that it would largely differ from my own final selection, and reading her memoir has certainly encouraged me to seek out some of the books she loves. Although I am still not sure about Hardy...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim

I bought The Enchanted April several years ago in an Oxfam because I liked the title (so shallow!) and it's sat on my bookshelf ever since. Last week I read a fab review by Nymeth that started with the following quote:

"To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times."

It's this advert that inspires Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Artbuthnot to throw caution to the wind and, along with Lady Caroline Dexter and Mrs Fisher, they spend April in Italy. I'm not going to do a proper review so direct interested parties towards Nymeth's recent, very thoughtful one, instead. Like her I enjoyed the developing characterisations, the gorgeous nature descriptions and the gentle plot. Go read!

I will mention that, having read this delightful book, there is nothing I would like to do more than spend April in Italy right now! Mind you - not sure my budget could extend far enough to hire the castle in Portofino (see above nestled on headland) which was where Elizabeth con Arnim spent her own April and was inspired to write this book. Slightly offputting it's also where Rod Stuart/Penny Lancaster and Wayne/Colleen got hitched. Still trying to get over that and recover the magic of the story!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Once Upon A Time IV

Yay! It's time for Carl from Stainless Steel Dropping's Once Upon A Time again.

Now in its fourth year, this reading challenge is all about the story. In this case the kind that fits roughly under our own personal definition of four categories: fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and mythology. The challenge officially begins on Sunday, March 21st and ends June 20th.

There are several levels of participation and I have chosen "Quest the First" which is to read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time IV criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

"Quest the Second" is to read at least one book from each genre and I'll try to do that but suspect I might get a bit tangled up with my definitions!

Glancing over my shelves there are so many books I have to choose from that I'm itching to start right away but after seeing this post by Nymeth , I'll be reading The Enchanted April first which should take me nicely through to the official start date.

In closing, I should also mention that I absolutely love the image that's been chosen for this year - the artist is Melissa Nucera and she also has a horribly tempting etsy site.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is another “quick read” borrowed on impulse from my Library which I picked up when I went in to collect the first Mistborn book. I faintly remembered reading a positive review of this book somewhere and rather liked the first line of the blurb

(Cue the blurb): “
For very-nearly-eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, the discovery of a dead snipe on the doorstep of Buckshaw, the crumbling de Luce country seat, was a marvellous mystery - especially since this particular snipe had a rather rare stamp neatly impaled on its beak. Even more astonishing was the effect of the dead bird on her stamp-collector father, who appeared to be genuinely frightened. Soon Flavia discovers something even more shocking in the cucumber patch and it's clear that the snipe was a bird of very ill omen indeed.

As the police descend on Buckshaw, Flavia decides it is up to her to piece together the clues and solve the puzzle. Who was the man she heard her father arguing with? What was the snipe doing in England at all? Who or what is the Ulster Avenger? And, most peculiar of all, who took a slice of Mrs Mullet's unspeakable custard pie that had been cooling by the window...?

I would say that the blurb gives a pretty good feeling for what this book is like. Our heroine, Flavia de Luce, has a deep passion for Chemistry and her motherless, unusual upbringing in the home she shares with two older sisters, a mostly absent father, the housekeeper and the groundsman, allows her to indulge her interests. I am quite sure that in real life Flavia would be utterly foul however when confined to the written page she makes an absolutely delightful heroine and this murder mystery was great fun to read.

I should say that the one gripe that I had with this book was that it is very clear that Alan Bradley is Canadian and although he is a self-confessed anglophile he’s not lived in the UK – and this meant that there were several glaring errors that escaped the editing process. Hopefully the next in the series will receive more attention as it was such a shame to see such obvious (to me anyway) errors sitting so jarringly out of context with the otherwise lovingly described rural 1950s English setting.

When I searched my blog roll to work out where I'd heard of the book from I realised that Carl had listed it as one of his books of the 2000s and you can read his (rather more thorough) review here.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Flood - Stephen Baxter

This is a Sci-Fi experience book.

Embracing the spirit of the experience, I chose Stephen Baxter because I’ve not read any of his work before. I saw Flood when I was browsing the SFF shelves for inspiration of my library and thought it rang a bell – turned out it was because it was included in Book Smuggler Thea’s top reads of 2009. You can read their review of Flood over at their blog. After finishing it, I realised that it's part one in a duology (d'oh!) and the second book, Ark, has been recently released and is now reserved for me at the library!

The Blurb: “Four hostages are rescued from a group of religious extremists in Barcelona. After five years of being held captive together, they make a vow to always watch out for one another. But they never expected this…

The world they have returned to has been transformed by water—and the water is rising. As it continues to flow from the earth’s mantle, entire countries disappear. High ground becomes a precious commodity. And finally, the dreadful truth is revealed: before fifty years have passed, there will be nowhere left to run.”

Living in Norfolk, under the new policy of non-maintenance of coastal defences, and with the Broads providing a watery gateway into the heart of the county makes me already rather conscious of the potential impact of a relatively small rise in sea level.

The story of the flooding starts out in the UK so as the sea rises places I know start to go underwater and that makes the scenario Baxter describes really rather real. The book is divided into sections tracking significant rises in sea levels with accompanying (unnerving) maps as the catastrophe progresses.

Although following the experiences of a handful of individuals linked to the original hostages, this book is very much about the impact on humanity as a whole. There are massive human migrations that follow flooding events and the governments soon are stretched to breaking points as money is spent on sea defences that are overwhelmed before the projects can even be completed. With land reducing, agriculture is hugely impacted and it's not long before salvage platforms are built over submerged cities to extract tinned goods and other materials to try to enable those still alive to survive. There's plenty of food for thought in this book about the tough choices that would need to be made as land mass, and infrastructure, vanishes and people need to take to the extreme highlands, or rafts, to survive.

The impact of the rise in water levels is so huge that I found it hard to get to grips with most of the characters let alone to understand them as fully realised individuals. For most of them, there was little to empathise with and several of them seemed to be in the book just so that they could witness another flooding milestone. Or to die! I started the book being absolutely thrilled by it but if I am honest by the last few chapters I just wanted to know who "made it" through. I would say though, in fairness, that the story itself is so massive that it would be hard to keep the excitement of the first two thirds goin. Also, it can't have been that bad because I will absolutely be reading Ark because I am genuinely interested in following this story's journey.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Remnant Population - Elizabeth Moon

This is a Sci-Fi Experience 2010 read.

I realised when choosing my next book to read that my Sci-Fi experience so far has been dominated by books from male authors. Last year, in an effort to redress this balance, I read a book by Ursula le Gruin so this time I thought I’d better try out a different female Sci-Fi author Elizabeth Moon and the book of hers that I chose to read is one of her (rare) stand alone novels, Remnant Population, a 1997 Hugo Award finalist.

The book’s central character, Ofelia, lives with her son and daughter-in-law on a colony planet that she came to with her husband when it was first settled. Along with the rest of the community the family is due to be re-homed onto a new world when the franchise is lost. Deciding that she does not wish to be forcibly evicted and start again on a new planet, Ofelia hides in the woods and evades the evacuation.

For the first time in her life, she finds herself free to do exactly as she pleases without having to consider the restrictions on her behaviour imposed by society. As the only person left on the planet, she has the freedom of the still functional abandoned settlement and for the first part of the book we follow Ofelia’s first steps to independence.

Her carefree way of life changes when, by chance, she is listening to the radio as new settler ships arrive on the other side of the planet. She hears them being slaughtered by a previously unknown, and presumably sentient, native population and this changes her attitude towards her solitary lifestyle.

After a slow build up, the book now turns into a "first contact" story and Ofelia becomes the link between the indigenous peoples and the skeptical scientists who soon arrive to investigate the loss of the colony.

I enjoyed Moon’s writing style and enjoyed watching Ofelia grow as a character and seeing her grow in confidence and capability. Although not explicitly stated, she has clearly had a hard, restrictive life and, judging by the attitude towards her from the human scientists, age is no longer respected. Again, Moon doesn’t explicitly describe how human society has developed and it was interesting piecing together snippets of information that implied what the human political and social development.

Overall, as a sci-fi experience this was another opportunity to try out a new-to-me-author and again it was a success! On the basis of this I’ll happily seek out Moon’s work again - starting with Sheepfarmer's Daughter from the Legend of Paksenarrion series which is available for free download from Baen Books!

Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Magic Flute - P. Craig Russell

Phew- managed to squeeze this read in only just in time to hit the deadline for this Graphic Novels mini-challenge! The brief was to read at least one classic novels in graphic form within the month of January 2010.

I wanted to read an adaptation of a story that I didn't know and that discounted all the options in my library's very small selection except one! This made choosing rather simple although it was a complete coincidence that the book I selected for this challenge was also illustrated by P Craig Russell who provided the artwork for Murder Mysteries which I read earlier this month.

The internet tells me that he is actually best known for his “Library of Opera Adaptions” series from around twenty years ago which have now been re-released. The Magic Flute is the first in this series and is, unsurprisingly, a 138 page graphic novel adaptation of Mozart’s opera of the same name.

Although a fan of musicals, I’ve never actually seen an opera and I wonder if I should start with the recent Magic Flute film adaptation, directed by Kenneth Brannagh…

For those, like me, who are unfamiliar with the story, it’s a farcical fairytale (is that even a sub-genre?) following the noble Prince Tamino’s quest to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of Night, from the clutches of the evil Saratro. Accompanying him on his journey is the comic-relief providing bird-catcher Papageno who is on his own search for true love.

The plot/characters are not as complicated to follow as it might appear from the above synopsis and, from the point of view of someone who does not know the story from any other source, I thought it felt complete although I am sure that some elements were very simplified!

The panel layouts were absolutely excellent but the one issue I had with the book was that sometimes the illustrations themselves felt very dated. Pamina, in particular, looked as though she should be gracing the cover of a very old Mills & Boon which I found quite off-putting.
If you want to get a flavour for the artwork, there's an extract here. Then you can make your own mind up!

January Reading Round Up

Outside there are gorgeous blue skies, the current temperature is -3 and and my garden is covered in snow. Whilst I wait for Mr B's football game to be called off, I'm going to enjoy being warm and curl up in my reading chair with a graphic novel. And probably both dogs heaped on my lap as well! Snug.

I've eventually decided what to do after last year's Year of Readers. I am still going to "fine" myself £1 per book I read but rather than pay it all to one charity I am going to add it to my Charities Trust "freedom account" as an additional monthly top up. This money will be ring fenced for literacy-related donations and that (hopefully) means some decent money once my normal payroll deduction is taken into account as well.

This month reflects some post-Christmas impulse purchasing and I have read a few for the Sci Fi Experience so my list is a bit on the eclectic side!

Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Space Captain Smith - Toby Frost
The Stepsister Scheme - Jim C Hines
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
Fire - Kristin Cashore
The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
The Real Story (Gap Sequence) - Stephen Donaldson
Forbidden Knowledge (Gap Sequence) - Stephen Donaldson
Murder Mysteries - Neil Gaiman & P. Russell Craig
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
A Dark and Hungry God Arises (Gap Sequence) - Stephen Donaldson
The Magic Flute - P. Russell Craig

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

I was two (and a bit) books into Stephen Donaldson's Gap Into space opera series when I suddenly realised that I had Space Sickness and needed some antidote.

Deep in the throws of an attack of Bibliocolicism earlier this month, and for reasons I no longer remember, I purchased Sarah Water's novel Fingersmith (which was shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes) and it has been the absolutely perfect read to break up a Sci-Fi overdose.

Told from the point of view of two orphans of a similar age, this is a great spin on one of my very favourite sub-genres – the Victorian crime novel.

Susan Trinder is the orphaned daughter of a hanged murderess who has been raised in London by her adoptive mother, Mrs Sucksby in a household with dubious moral values. The home’s lose family unit has an enterprising approach to making money including baby farming and the expert laundering of stolen goods.

At the age of seventeen, Sue is drawn into a plot to help Richard “Gentleman” Rivers woo an heiress. To help him to achieve this, she needs to play the part of a lady’s maid, befriend her new mistress and convince her to marry Gentleman. At which point, he will have the girl confined to a madhouse, claim her fortune for himself and pay Sue (and Mrs Sucksby) a healthy fee.

To this end, she travels from London to the very different environment of a lonely and crumbling country house, where she enters the service of Miss Maud Lilly – who was also orphaned as a baby. Maud’s mother died in a mental institution, where she was placed by her brother, and Maud was brought up by the nurses there for a number of years before her Uncle sent for her to take up secretarial duties and help him to compiling a dictionary of sorts.

As Sue gains Maud’s confidence, and grows fond of the lonely girl, she begins to doubt her ability to go through with the con and she wrestles with the conflicting need to bring home money to her adoptive family.

The book is split into three parts with Sue opening and closing the story and Maud’s point of view over the same initial time period taking the middle section. I found Sue to be a more sympathetic character but Maud’s narrative really helped to
add another layer of perspective to events as they unfolded.

This is a book with a cracking plot and nobody’s motives are quite as straight forward as they seem.
I really enjoyed reading it and feel an urge to delve into Victoriana for a while. Or buy Sarah Water's other books as, other than this one, I've only read Night Watch.

I've just discovered that Fingersmith was made int
o a BBC drama in 2005 so I am clearly well out of the loop on this one! I would rather like to watch it but might have to leave it for a while to give me a chance to forget some of the plot twists.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Murder Mysteries - Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

This is my first Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 Read.

Murder Mysteries is the graphic novel adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman's short stories that appears in his collection Smoke and Mirrors. I've not read the source material so I can’t comment on how well it transferred to this format but taken by itself I thought it worked nicely.

Murder Mysteries has been on my wishlist for a while and yesterday I was looking at the Graphic Novel section of my library for Classic Graphic Novels mini-challenge (more on that in a few days) and I was very pleased to see it lurking on the shelf! "What's it about?" I hear you ask. Well...

The angels are hard at work constructing the world when one of their own is discovered dead, which prompts Lucifer to dispatch Ragual, Angel of Vengeance, to find the culprit. Hearing about the story of the first ever murder, from a stranger who borrows a cigarette from him, is a young man in contemporary Los Angeles for reasons that are initially unclear but become (slightly!) more so as the story progresses. Interestingly, Ragual’s investigation, and what he uncovers during it, provides the possible rationale for Lucifer’s eventual revolt against God.

In spite of the size of the book, this is a deceptively deep story - which I suppose I should expect from Mr Gaiman. In it's handful of pages it covers some meaty questions* and packages it up in a page turning whodunnit with a great ending. For a great review of this book pop over and visit The Book Smugglers - should have known it was their fault it ended up on my wishlist in the first place!

The adaptation to comic book was carried out by P. Craig Russell (who by coincidence also provided the artwork for the book I will be reading for the classic graphic novel challenge) and I really like his style. Very elegant, simple and with a lovely colour palette – I especially liked the very stylised images of the
City where the angels live and work.

If I am honest, I’m not sure I’d have been as pleased with this book if I’d bought it unseen in hardback (which is quite hard to do as it seems to be out of print) as it is a very slim volume indeed. Given I borrowed it, I can’t but be delighted with the value for money and I very much enjoyed the unexpected story of an Angel of Vengeance. I really should get around to reading the Sandman books this year...

* Like the concept of free will v. pre-determination - now that brings back some ancient memories about my history of medieval political thought classes!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Happy Blogiversary to meeee!

Wow. It's two years today since my first The Bookling post. In that time I have read around 275 books, thousands and thousands of reader feeds from fellow bookish bloggers, taken part in some fun challenges, "met" some incredible people and had a great time expanding my reading horizons.

I honestly believe that I would not have read even half of the authors I've discovered in the last couple of years without the recommendations, and support, from other online readers so thank you!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

This is a Sci-Fi Experience read.

The Forever War was first published in 1974 and won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. It’s also the first of SF Masterworks series of books which, if I am honest, was why I picked it to read next!

Private William Mandella is a reluctant soldier conscripted into an interstellar war against the alien Taurans - about whom little is known. He is part of an elite group of troopers who have been chosen for their intellectual capabilities and subjected to a grueling training regime which few make it through alive.

The soldiers who survive training, and then battle against the Taurans, experience time dilation. This means that a couple of years in their lives equals significantly longer on Earth. On finishing their tour of duty, Mandella and his partner Margay return to Earth and struggle to fit into, or understand, a society that has evolved beyond their understanding. I won't go into the details for fear of spoiling the progressing of the story but both William and Margay end up re-enlisting rather than remain there.

As the war continues, centuries pass on Earth and Mandella becomes the "oldest" surviving soldier who is promoted and put in charge of a unit where he finds he no longer even understands the language. In order to communicate with him the soldiers need to learn his version of old English. To give a scale to the changes that take place during William Mandella's own lifetime, the books starts in 2007 and concludes in 3134. That's time for some pretty major changes and looking back to the early medieval period and imagining what anyone alive would feel if they came forward to 2010.

I don't want to go into the details of how humanity changes over that course of time as I had no idea what to expect from the plot and that allowed me to learn along with Mandella. I found the Future tech battle interesting ideas and Haldenman's ideas about developments in the acceptable social norm was intriguing although initially I was a bit shocked by Mandalla's reaction to some of them. Again I don't want to spoil the story but if you do read this book, there's a point to some of the earlier hard to accept view points.

Joe Haldeman was a soldier in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded and won a Purple Heart, and his experience there influenced much of his work. I understand that the alienation felt by Mandella, and the other long term soldiers, mirrored the disorientation that Haldeman himself felt on returning from that War and that certainly puts an interesting perspective on this intriguing novel.

Ridley Scott has bought the rights to the film version and it'll be made in 3D. Should be interesting!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Fire - Kristin Cashore

Because of Kristin Cashore's debut novel, Graceling, I fell rather early on in the 2010 reduced book-buying steeplechase and on New Year's Day I placed an order for her second book, Fire which is a sort-of stand alone prequel. A combination of bank holiday and the snow that's currently covering much of the UK meant it took a week to arrive. What agonies!

When I finished The Princess Bride I meant to select another Sci Fi book for the Sci-Fi Experience I am participating in but somehow, at 10pm, I found myself holding Fire instead. I had only meant to read a couple of chapters (yeah right) but somehow read the whole book in one delicious gulp. Oh how my eyes stung!

Set over the mountains from the Seven Kingdoms, which was the setting for Graceling, is The Dells. With a very different manifestation of magic, this is a world filled with rainbow coloured "monsters" who are mutated versions of regular animals. Fire (named for her mane of red hair) is a rare mix of human and monster who is both stunningly beautiful and incredibly dangerous to those who are susceptible to her appeal. Her looks confuse the minds of those around her and she unwittingly inspires either mindless adoration or intense hatred.

Before his death her monster father, Cansrel, was adviser to the former king and she has inherited his ability to read people's minds and manipulate their actions. Cansrel was power hungry and encouraged moral depravity in the King and between them they drove the Kingdom to the brink of civil war. Now, the young King Nash has inherited his father's Kingdom and together with his brother, army commander Prince Brigan, they are struggling to hold their land together.

Conscious of the part her father played in causing the war, and under the guard of Brigan, Fire leaves the safety of her secluded home and ventures into the wider world. She is very aware of her almost unique power over others and is determined not to abuse it as her father did. This means that her desire to use her powers wisely is in conflict with the practical need to gather information that could help to win the war and she struggles to choose the right course of action.

Given I read both of these books within a week of each other, it's hard not to compare Fire with Graceling and I should say that I love them both but in slightly different ways!

Fire is both similar to, and very different from, Katya - the lead character in Graceling. Both are struggling to come to terms with their uniquely dangerous abilities and have to deal with the fear and distrust that they inspire in others. Both in their late teens and on a journey of self-discovery trying to define their identities and find their morality whilst dealing with almost constant personal danger. Both are beautiful, capable, independently minded and develop relationships in which they are very much equal partners.

More adult in tone, and with a more complex plot, than Graceling the story takes longer to establish itself but once it does it's so, so very enjoyable! At the risk of sounding like a gushing girly, Kristin Cashore is a definite new favourite author of mine and her next book, Bitterblue, is on my insta-buy list when it comes out!

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Princess Bride - William Goldman

When he saw that I had picked up this book as my next read, Mr B commented that I should perhaps take a break from selecting so many “rotting my brain” books back to back. But with a streak of SF&F books as much fun as the ones I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the last couple of weeks there’s not much chance of that! Please note that I’m going to avoid getting into the whole debate with him about why just because a book has magic/dragons/elves or is set in a fantasy land/outer space that does not make it mind-rotting! I'll have to force him to read some...

The back cover of my copy of The Princess Bride (presented as William Goldman's abridgment of an existing book) describes this as “a fairy tale like no other” with “fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion and miracles.”

What’s not to love about that for a story taster?

The edition I read was the 25th anniversary one (love Nathan Burton's cover!) which has an additional forward from William Goldman in which he talks about his struggles editing the first edition of S Morgenstern's classic, but occasionally impenetrable, Florintian tale. This is a story that his father read for him as a child and his version extracts only the "good parts" as selected my his father that move the plot along at a pace.

That meant that it took thirty-five bit-champing pages to get to the start of Chaper 1, The Bride, when the “proper” story eventually kicked off and we are finally introduced to Buttercup, who will grow up to become the most beautifulest lady indeed, and how she attracts the eye of the evil Prince Humperdink, and Wesley the farmhand who loves her very much indeed.

I am enormously fond of Rob Reiner's film version of this story and have watched it a number of times over the years. ('My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!') Allowing for differences between the screenplay and the book, this means that I pretty much knew what was going to happen to the characters from the outset but I don’t think that my reading experience significantly suffered as a result. The “story” of The Princess Bride is really only half of the book with the other half consisting of italicised asides from Goldman commenting on his experiences and decisions taken whilst editing Morgenstern’s original tale.

The edition I read also includes a new end section dealing with Goldman's attempts to secure the rights to abridge Morgenstern's follow up book (against stiff competition from Stephen King) called Buttercup's Baby. This includes a sample treatment of the first chapter of that book (with the usual asides from Goldman) which left too many threads dangling for my liking but does give more depth to Fezzik and Inigo's characters.

I must admit that I'd expected to read a book version of the film and I was very pleased to discover that wasn't entirely the case! At heart, this is an entertaining, swashbuckling romance and although I gather some readers find the asides extraordinarily irritating I was not one of them!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Stepsister Scheme - Jim C Hines

The Stepsister Scheme is the first in Jim C Hines' Princess series of books and features the what-happened-next for Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

For Danielle (Cinderella) the story didn’t end when she marries Armand, her prince charming, and she discovers that life is not always happy ever after. Now a Princess herself, and living at the palace, she finds herself struggling with the lack of self-worth that is the inevitable result of years of systematic bullying at the hands of her (now deceased) stepmother and (still living) stepsisters. Suddenly, Charlotte appears at the palace, tries to kill Danielle with access to surprisingly strong magic that she shouldn't have had and hints that Armand, who she still feels should have married her instead, has been kidnapped. To top it all, Danielle discovers that she is pregnant...

(This is not your usual fairy tale).

Despite best efforts, Charlotte escapes and step forward Armand’s mother, Queen Beatrice, who has, it emerges, employed two Princess bodyguards aka Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. In this unusual spin on the usual fairy story, it’s the damsels who head off to rescue the Prince. Talia (Sleeping Beauty) was especially damaged by her “fairytale” experiences but all three Princesses have serious trust issues and the causes emerge throughout the course of the book as the three women risk their lives to get Cinderella's prince back.

The Stepsister Scheme has an action packed storyline featuring very capable (if emotionally damaged) heroines who are fearless, capable and brave. There is honestly never a dull moment in this ‘girl powered’ what-happened-after tale and I enjoyed it very much. Next in the series is The Mermaid's Madness in which the princesses face the (not so) Little Mermaid. Sounds interesting!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Graphic Novels Challenge

I've just signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 as this is a genre I'd like to explore further this year. In 2009 I dipped my toes in and read some amazing books like Maus, Persopolis and The Burma Chronicles (as well as a few lighter non-fiction ones!) and I would love to read more in 2010. Maybe I'll even get around to reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman!

There are three levels of participation - Beginner (3 Comics or Graphic Novels), Intermediate (3-10) or Expert (10+) and I am going to aim for Intermediate but secretly hope to hit Expert.

I do have a few books lurking on the shelves that qualify and Nymeth and Chris (who are hosting the challenge) posted a link to Flashlight Worthy's Best Graphic Novels of 2009 list which looks interesting. Another reference I will be using heavily is my copy of 500 Essential Graphic Novels which has been heavily marked with books I would like to read. In a bid to lower my 2010 book buying expenditure I will try to borrow as many as I can from my Library as it has quite a good comic/manga/graphic novel section. Famous last words!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Space Captain Smith - Toby Frost

This is my first Sci-Fi experience read!

Gosh. How on earth do I start to describe Space Captain Smith in a way that it'll all even faintly make sense? Perhaps having a good look at the cover will help. See that Victorian looking chap with the immaculate moustache? Yes. That's Captain Isambard Smith posing for a photo with one vanquished alien...

The blurb: "Together with his bold crew- a skull-collecting alien lunatic, an android pilot who is actually a fugitive sex toy and a hamster called Gerald- he must collect new-age herbalist Rhianna Mitchell from the New Francisco orbiter and bring her back to the Empire in safety. Straightforward enough – except the Ghasts want her too and, in addition to a whole fleet of Ghast warships, Smith has to confront void sharks, a universe-weary android assassin and John Gilead, psychopathic naval officer from the fanatically religious Republic of Eden before facing his greatest enemy: a ruthless alien warlord with a very large behind…"

It's the 25nd Century and the British Space Empire is thriving. Space Captain Smith, as you have probably gathered, is a parody of the Space Opera genre. Frost has an affectionate sense of the absurd and this is a book that does not take itself at all seriously. Packed with action, and with an amusing cast of misfits, this book was effortless, chaotic fun.

With two published sequels, I'm sure this is a franchise that'll grow and I shall be keeping my eye out for the next installment! I know it's a bit late for the festive season but Toby Frost has written a couple of Christmassy short stories, When Slay Bells Ring and The Celery and the Ivy. Well worth reading if you fancy a series taster!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

It's New Year's Day. You did not get to bed until 4:30am. It's now 3pm and you've just taken the dogs for a snowy walk accompanied by friends. You feel it's time to snuggle up, and maybe have a little snooze, with the first book of 2010. There is an almost revoltingly (but not quite) large pile of reading options so you narrow it down to a few and pick one at random. When next seen it's 8pm and you've not had that nap. Bliss!

Credit goes to The Book Smugglers for alerting me to this book - those girls are going to ruin me! Young Adult fantasy, and New York Times bestseller, Graceling was Kristin Cashore's debut novel.

Occasionally people of the seven kingdoms are born with a Grace and are marked by odd coloured eyes. Some people develop the ability to excel at swimming, weather or cookery however Katya's Grace is that of Death. Since the age of eight, when she accidentally killed for the first time, her uncle, the King of Middluns, has trained her to hone her skills and he uses her as his personal enforcer. Known by her fearsome reputation throughout the kingdoms, and now in her late teens, Katya is beginning to question her obedience to her Uncle's demands and to develop her own moral framework.

Katya is an absolute delight of a female lead. She is strong, independent, courageous, loyal and unquestionably kicks ass. Since childhood she's been viewed by most people as a monster and the circle of people she can trust is tiny. She hates the work she has to do for her bullying uncle and each successful mission she undertakes on his behalf only cements her fearsome reputation and serves to set her further apart from normal people.

Early on she encounters (and bests) Po, who is Graced with a talent for fighting, and at last she has someone in her life who can challenge her both physically and mentally. Katya has little experience of friendship, or how to relate to people, and Po helps her to take steps towards evaluating her own self-worth and growing as a person.

All of which sounds a little worthy but honestly it's not! Katya is just all over fab, Po is lovely and their blossoming romance is a delight. *swoons*. The engaging plot is filled with twists and turns and it was absolutely the perfect read for a cozy New Year's Day. Although Young Adult, this book never felt that it was compromising on plot or peril so I would comfortably say that anyone who likes a dollop Fantasy would enjoy it.

I should confess that when I was about half way through the book I took just one little break so I could order Cashore's next book, the standalone prequel Fire, as I neeeeeeded it. I am a little disappointed that my stern resolve to cut back on book buying fell apart on the first day of the year but I honestly just could not resist as I've read it's even better. Can't wait! :)