Monday, 20 October 2014

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts

Rachel’s life is unravelling fast and she’s just inherited her aunt’s estate; including kennels and a pack of dogs in need of rehoming. Single mum Zoe is always the one to say no to her sons, and she is fuming when her ex-husband gives them a puppy. Toffee the Labrador puppy is adorable but won’t stop weeing and chewing. Meanwhile Natalie and Johnny are trying to start a family and don’t have room for a dog. What will be the fate of Bertie the Basset hound, Lulu the poodle and Gem the intelligent Collie?

I sort of have the feeling I was tricked into reading a book about having babies. Dogs are presented on several occasions as baby substitutes. There’s also some kind of weird message about not being able to have dogs AND kids. Then there’s two main pregnancy storylines, one who can’t and one who accidentally does.

Natalie is one of my most disliked types of characters ever; the woman whose life can only be given meaning through having children. I get that plenty of people can relate or enjoy these kind of stories but, by god, they irritate me to the core. I was hoping the dog would knock some of it out of her but instead she starts to take it out on other people and her relationship suffers. Perhaps the problem with having three main characters here is that there’s not enough room to do character development outside of their core roles. So she just comes across as obsessed with getting pregnant and doesn’t have a chance to expand.

On the subject of multiple main characters, it seems to be a bit of a trend with chick-lit lately. I don’t mind it now and again but it always feel like you’re being dragged away from the stories you like to the stories you’re not that interested in (just like Game of Thrones, but less death). Bring back sole protagonists!

There are plenty of dogs within the pages too and I enjoyed Rachel’s storyline of inheriting the kennels, learning her aunt’s secrets and learning to love dogs. Though some of Dot’s backstory felt very rushed at the end. Like she’d been concentrating on the love stories and suddenly remembered Rachel was meant to be uncovering secrets in the house.

Overall it was an easy and engaging read but I'm not sure I'll be adding Lucy Dillon to my comfort reading list any time soon.

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Also reviewed @ Chloe's Chick Lit Reviews

Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 19 October 2014

#Readathon Complete!

Local time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 19.5
Pages read: 1188
Books finished: 4
Feeling: Successful

It's over for another 6 months, hope everyone enjoyed themselves and gets a chance to have nice, relaxed rest of the weekend!

Read: My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher, The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon, Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton + Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Pages read since last update: 452

End of Event Meme:

Which hour was most daunting for you?
I started to struggle in hour 13 (1am my time) and thought I was going to fall asleep on my book. Did go to bed at hour 15 and then didn't feel all that tired. But sleep was sensible!

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Boy's Don't Knit was fun and really easy to read.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope :)

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I kept a bit to myself and Twitter this time round.

How many books did you read?

What were the names of the books you read?
My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher, The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon, Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton + Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Which book did you enjoy most?
It was great to get back into Scion with The Mime Order. Was nice to finish off with Alice which I managed to get to the end just in time (plus my copy is illustrated - good for tired eyes).

Which did you enjoy least?
Actually I enjoyed them all.

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
This was my 7th readathon so definitely will carry on doing them. I think I'd like to host a challenge again next time and maybe do more stuff other than reading.

#Readathon Hour 19

Local time: 07:30
Hours spent reading: 15
Pages read: 736
Books finished: 2
Feeling: Groggy

Good morning! I actually just typed "readathong" in the title for this post. I think I need coffee. I finished The Mime Order around 3am and went to bed for 4 hours of sleep. I'm letting the butler have a lie in ;)

Well done everyone who's been reading 18 hours straight. Don't be too jealous of my sleep.

Currently reading: Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton
Read: My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher + The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Pages read since last update: 112

#Readathon Hour 13

Local time: 01:00
Hours spent reading: 12
Pages read: 624
Books finished: 1
Feeling: Tired

Half way! I've topped up on the caffeine and eaten a scone. It's past my bedtime now so starting to flag a little and it's getting harder to concentrate. I'd really like to finish my current book before getting some sleep but we'll see how it goes.

Josh is back and reading The Tale of Two Cities (and apparently it's getting exciting).

Currently reading: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Read: My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher
Pages read since last update: 242

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?
The Mime Order

2. How many books have you read so far?
One and three-quarters ;)

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Boys Don't Knit

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not really, just snacking-related interruptions which don't count!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I've done enough readathons now that I know what to expect from myself.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

#Readathon Hour 8

Local time: 20:00
Hours spent reading: 7
Pages read: 382
Books finished: 1
Feeling: Better

It's dark here now. I've run round and shut the curtains and had spicy Thai soup for dindins. Am really getting into The Mime Order but don't feel I'm reading very fast now. We're not even half way! At least my cold is easing off a bit. Huzzah! I've been left alone for a few hours, which probably means I'll get distracted with some menial task. Onwards...

Currently reading: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Read: My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher
Pages read since last update: 118

#Readathon Hour 5

Local time: 17:00
Hours spent reading: 4
Pages read: 264
Books finished: 1
Feeling: Warm

I've finished a book, broken Blogger, had an amazing sausage and pancetta bap, eaten a boyfriend-made white chocolate cornflake cake and started book two. Not too shoddy a start. Josh keeps telling me off when I put my book down for a second, so I better get back to it pronto!

Currently reading: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
Read: My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher

And the #Readathon begins

Local starting time: 13:00
Hours spent reading: 0
Pages read: 0
Books finished: 0
Feeling: Congested

It's Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon time again!!! It's my 7th readathon but the first time I'll have company. I have roped my boyfriend in to be my butler (and he's going to be doing some reading too). You can send him encouraging "make Ellie a coffee" messages on Twitter.

I seem to have a Perma-Cold since I started my new job, so hopefully that won't hamper my reading too much. There will definitely be some sleep involved. I did so well last time, read one more book than normal so I've chosen another one with pictures in this time round. Plus one book I'm dying to read and 3 fairly short YA novels. Though really, if I finish two I will be more than happy in my current state.

Josh is planning on finishing A Tale of Two Cities.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Bournemouth, England (not so fine, rather dark and damp at the mo).

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon - SQUEE!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Josh baked me scones! And they smell really good so I'll be looking forward to tucking into them fairly early on.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I always feel I should put something different here each time.
I'm possibly addicted to fennel seeds (I ran out last week and all the shops were out of stock, it was stressful). I put them in everything.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?

Possibly hacking my lungs up... on a brighter note, having someone to talk to now and then.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Quickie Reviews

Just a quick tidy up before the readathon of books I’ve read lately but don’t think I’ll get round to writing full reviews for. First up, the good:

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

The 8th book in the October Daye series and as always I devoured it. A slow start but once the pace picked up, I enjoyed the additional back stories for some of the supporting characters. Simon Torvill had always been painted in black and white terms as a villain, the evil man who turned October into a fish and ruined her life. We learn a bit more about that story though and also how October realises that her life is no longer ruined. She has Tybalt. I am so happy that they have this wonderful functioning relationship now; no more throwing obstacles in their way. I love Tybalt so much even without the sexual tension lining some of the earlier books.

Goodreads | Amazon

Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan + Fiona Staples

The third collection of Saga comics and just as good as the first two. I bought a paper copy this time round and I’m so tempted to go get the others in physical form too. Lying Cat is still amazing; there’s a scene where Sophie is sat with him and is saying she’s dirty because of the past and he says it’s a lie (if you’re not familiar with the comics, the cat pretty much only speaks when a lie is being told). And then they snuggle up and it is so perfect. Alano and Marko are hanging out with their literary hero and it’s gripping and beautifully illustrated and I can’t wait for volume 4 in December.

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So there were a couple of books I didn't quite read all of lately, but this does not mean that they won’t be right for you.

Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie

The story of the invention of the printing press and the work behind the Gutenberg Bible told from the perspective of his apprentice. I found the subject matter genuinely fascinating and there’s some wonderful passages. Perhaps I was reading it at the wrong time (new job, trying to read on lunch breaks) and just didn’t get fully immersed. However the politics of the church and the situation in Mainz at the time is fairly relevant to the motivations and resulting history. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to be that interested in it. Coupled with the fact the characters are pretty unsympathetic (you can’t make real people nice or witty just to suit modern whims, I know) and a slow pace (this was the church’s fault for holding up progress!) I just kept putting the book down. Still I liked A LOT of what I read and there was plenty of little snippets that I took note of.

The world is flooded now with crude words crudely wrought, an overwhelming glut of pages pouring from the scores of presses springing up like mushrooms after rain. Churning out their smut and prophecy, the rantings of the anarchists and antichrists – the scholars of the classics are in uproar at how printing has defiled the book.

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Struck by Genius by Jason Padgett + Maureen Seaberg

This is a non-fiction account of a man who became a genius after a head injury. The main problem with this was the writing style; one of the things Jason says he lost after the injury was the ability to concentrate on reading and writing. So this book is a joint venture between him and Maureen Seaberg but is told from first person all the way through. The inner workings of the brain are a complete mystery and the science bits trying to explain what happened are interesting. However the chapters around the rest of his life, though somewhat saddening, left me struggling through the pages. Then about half way through it started to hit the hard mathematics and I was lost. I wanted to know about the miracle that happened in his brain, not the work he did afterwards. I skipped ahead and did read some of the later chapters, including where he finally gets a diagnosis. So possibly more interesting to those with an interest in maths AND brains.

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Disclosure: I received Gutenberg's Apprentice and Struck by Genius free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Midwich Cuckoos

Richard and Janet Gayford are in London on the 26th September so are perturbed when they return the next day to find their return to the sleepy village of Midwich blocked. They set off over the fields only to discover that the whole village has stopped; from the cows to the ladies in the Post Office. And when life returns to Midwich, it soon becomes apparent that something else happened that day. All the women of child-bearing age are mysteriously pregnant.

“A visitation,” the Vicar of St Mary’s told him. “Specifically, the infliction of a plague of – er – babies.”

I expected The Midwich Cuckoos to be creepier than it was. I can probably blame The Village of the Damned for that (more on the film later). Instead, I felt a bit sorry for the children of Midwich. The circumstances which make them violent are pretty horrific when you take in all the information about them. They are only trying to survive. And like many of Wyndham’s books, it imagines a scenario where humans are not the top of the evolutionary ladder any more.

Is it because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that is was necessary to invent civilization.

I adored the little village and their community spirit, at least in the earlier parts. Like the fact that everyone’s concerned that the bus hasn’t turned up and they keep sending more in. Once they realise the women are pregnant, they close rank, looking after each other and keeping the media out. Who can imagine that happening these days? And when the military are trying to work out what’s going on they stick a bird in a cage on a stick and poke it across the “barrier”. It’s all so wonderfully low tech.

Considering the supernatural pregnancy trope has got a bit of a bad rep of late, I think it’s pretty well handled here, especially for the time it was written (1957). Was it the first story of this kind? Did it start it all? It’s not something that leaves the women unaffected, even as the children grow, they are torn over it. Some move away, not wanting to be reminded of the violation. It’s all too much for some of the younger, unmarried girls as we see with tragic consequences. But overall the village is encouraged to support them all, for it is not their fault.

He can never know what it’s like, even in a normal way – so what sort of an idea can he have of this? – Of how it feels to lie awake at night with the humiliating knowledge that one is simply being used? – As if one were not a person at all, but just kind of a mechanism, a sort of incubator…

So after reading the book, we watched the film from 1960 (I dread to think what the remake’s like). It’s pretty slow and low key, just like the book. I’ve got to say I was very impressed with the special effects considering the time and the fact they weren't using computers. The glowy eyes were very convincing!

The main character and his wife are completely removed from the film. In the novel, it’s his job to tell the story as an independent observer almost, so it makes sense that he’s not needed when the camera does that job.

Warning, the trailer contains massive spoilers. Plus it makes it look a lot more dramatic than it actually is.

Finally, it was amazing the amount of people that came up to me when I was reading Midwich to tell me that it was their favourite book or they love Wyndham. Including an old lady on a park bench who said she had read it so many times. Hurrah for Windy lovers!

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Book Source: Purchased

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

From a pretty average creature, one species grew to dominate the world. This is their story. Following the history of Homo sapiens through three major revolutions: cognitive, agricultural and scientific.

The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.

It’s hard to grasp how humans went from being just another mammal to what we are today, with a global community so different from any other creature alive. It would seem it’s not so much our opposable thumbs that got us where we are but our ability to make stuff up and believe in made up stuff. I found the concept of imagined realities fascinating; we all believe in money so it doesn’t matter that it’s not an actual real thing. In fact if everyone tried to withdraw their money from banks, we’d be stuffed. We trust in the banks (and regulating bodies) that they will honour our money, so it works.

These imagined realities can be applied to so many things that have made Homo sapiens great, and this makes up quite a large portion of the book. The evolution of economics, empires and religions all keep coming back to the same thing. It also presents the idea that ideologies, such as communism and capitalism are religions without gods. They define an order for humans to live their lives by and require belief in something that is imagined. This all makes much more sense when you read the book!

Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes, irrespective of the costs and benefits to their human hosts.

One of the main turning points for Homo sapiens was an ability to cooperate with people outside of their immediate family. Our imaginations are crucial for this to work, but as communities grew, these imagined realities were not always beneficial. It seems like the Babylonians have a lot to answer when it comes to giving us sexism. But crucially, Sapiens does go on to dismiss any evolutionary basis for sexism, despites some anthropologists’ attempts. Our long term history also makes you realise how ridiculous modern racism truly is.

Archaic humans paid for their large brains in two ways. Firstly, they spent more time in search of food. Secondly, their muscles atrophied.

For me, the most interesting section was on the Cognitive Revolution and our forager ancestors. Following the small changes in their lives, it becomes easier to see how they moved onto farming. There wasn’t as much on human biological evolution as I was expecting but I did learn the reason human babies are so useless compared with fellow mammals (the kind that are running round minutes after birth).

Some of our footprint on the world is rather saddening. We were creating a trail of extinction from our earliest days of global exploration. I would have very much liked for giant wombats, just one of the mega-fauna that vanished shortly after Homo sapiens arrival in a region, to be alive today. There are also tales of genocide and exploitation, and of species progress being detrimental to the individual. As a species we were thriving, spreading DNA far and wide, but we couldn’t put the cat back in the box to return to simpler lives.

We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.

I found that some points became a little repetitive and some of the more modern history was less interesting to me personally due to its familiarity. The small section on what the future holds felt a bit rushed, as current scientific research is such a huge and interesting area and I’m not sure it was needed. Maybe there’s another book in speculating how we could evolve, but the past was what I picked it up for.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is published by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.