Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bienvenue à Juillet!

I reckon it's now July somewhere in the world so I welcome you to a month of French themed posts (before you run away there will be some regular posting in between). Paris in July 2011 is hosted by Karen and Tamara and it's not too late to join in; all you need to do is read/watch/eat/wear/experience something French and blog about it.

If you need ideas for books, here's what I'll be reading (a big thanks to Gallic Books, Quercus and Bitter Lemon Press for providing me with review copies and I'll be blogging more about publishers of translated fiction during July).

I also have a couple of non-translated books set in France in case I run out! Paris Immortal by S. Roit is a urban fantasy novel and A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a bit of classic travel writing.

Whilst I adore Amelie, I really wanted to watch some new French films this month. As always, my wonderful Twitter followers provided a wealth of suggestions; Apres Vous, Priceless, A Very Long Engagement, Tell No One, La Vie En Rose and With a Friend Like Harry (or "Harry He's Here to Help").

I did consider a day trip to Cherbourg on the ferry but there's not much to do there and hard to get around without a car and not knowing much French. I do have some photographer's lined up (both serious and light-hearted) and will welcome guest posts from anyone wishing to write about France (or its food).

I think I have followed all the English language bloggers taking part, do shout if you think I've missed you. I'm really looking forward to seeing what people blog about!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Titus Groan

So, I have reached then end of book one of the Gormenghast trilogy and it has been overall an enjoyable experience. As I've previously mentioned, the prose is extremely descriptive and may not be to everyone's tastes. Certainly, if you're not used to reading literary fiction, it might be a tough introduction. I was surprised to find myself laughing. Gormenghast has its fair share of humour within the pages if you persevere.

The eating is done spasmodically whenever a gap of time appears between the endless formalities and ornate procedures which Barquentine sets in motion at the correct time-honoured moments. Tiresome in the extreme for all those present, it would be hardly less tedious for the reader to be obliged to suffer the long catalogue of Breakfast ritual.

The world of Gormenghast is gothic and surreal with a heavy emphasis on nature being a shaping force. Peake is excellent at painting a picture in the reader's head. Often a sense of scale is hard to convey through words, but I could really imagine the vastness of the castle and its grounds. When the Earl requests to meet his son for the first time, a full on trek seems to take place just to walk between rooms.

For the Groans, change is unheard of and life in the castle is run strictly by predetermined traditions. Titus is born into this world around the same time as a young kitchen hand, Steerpike, decides he's had enough of his lot and plots to get ahead in life. Titus' sister Fuchsia, is used to being an only child but would never had had the Earldom granted to her, but she must now learn to cope with a brother and lessening attention. It's exactly the right time for Steerpike to enter her life and also bring about change unlike Gormenghast has seen before.

There had been so strange a crop of enigmas of late. If they had not been of a so serious a character Doctor Prunesquallor would have found in them nothing but diversion. The unexpected did so much to relieve the monotony of the Castle's endless rounds of unwavering procedure.

There's a naivety to many of the characters that makes them oddly endearing. The Groan family have been isolated in their rambling home and have been restricted by centuries old traditions which hasn't exactly given them much experience with the real world. After an initial false start, I've grown quite fond of them.

Titus Groan would be disappointing as a standalone novel. It is clearly written as part of a wider story and therefore doesn't have a satisfying ending or a really strong plot. The story of Keda, her lovers and her child seems really out of place and I can only think that she will be instrumental later on in the trilogy.

I'm reading Gormenghast both for the Farm Lane Books readlong and the “Books I Should Have Read By Now” challenge.

Week One | Week Two | Week Three | Week Four

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Show Off Your Shelf!

I found this meme over on I Read That Once and as we all like a good nose I thought I'd take a few snaps of my bookshelves... The first is a cut and paste montage as I can't easily get them in one photo without moving furniture and no one wants that!

They're a bit disorganised and I tend to shove all sorts of stuff on them for safe keeping. In addition to those shelved, I have little piles of books all over the flat. Every now and then I'll gather them up and sort out the shelves. As you might be able to tell, it's been a while since I've done that.

Those are the main bookcases but I also have two more, one a random shelving unit that holds Terry Pratchetts and Kelley Armstrongs (along with bills and random crap) and another in the hallway which usually has some of my review books there where I can grab them on the way out. The cookbooks are also here as it's nearer the kitchen. As the newest bookcase it still has space on it and most my new books should really go there instead of in nomadic piles...

Last two photos are a bit rubbish, sorry, but you get the idea!

Top Ten Bookish Sites

This week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is for bookish websites and organisations (not including blogs). My list has a distinctly British feel to it, but that doesn't mean you can't visit them too!

#1 ReadItSwapIt: I doubt I would have ever have started blogging if it wasn't for this great site. The swapping side is UK only and is a book for a book system so no storing up points you'll never use. The forum side is a great community where I can always stop by and chat about books or have a bit of a rant about something!

#2 Goodreads: I don't know how I'd ever keep track of my books without it. I like having the app on my iPhone when I'm in charity shops and can't remember if I already have a book I'm pondering.

#3 NetGalley: A great site for getting electronic review copies, they have a wide range of publishers covering all genres and even if you're small fish, you'll be surprised how many are happy to give you a chance. Mostly US publishers but many books are also released worldwide (and Angry Robot is a Brit publisher that uses the site).

#4 Amazon: I know some people think Amazon is the root of all book evil but for the average person, they're amazing. Great prices for the consumer, great customer service (speaking for the UK site only here) and their recommendation algorithm is pretty good. Shame the same can't be said for some of the petty users of the site ruining the reviewing aspect.

#5 Bookmooch: Not everyone loves the system and John is trying his best to keep the site thriving. I have had a huge amount of books this way though. I send abroad a lot and use surface mail to keep costs down so I get a lot of points. Because I read such a wide variety I never have a problem spending said points either. I like making another reader happy by sending them a book they can't get in their country easily.

#6 Elf: Your personal library reminder service! You need to check that your local library is supported but if they are you can get email reminders to return or renew books. Handy if you get a lot out on different days!

#7 Guardian Books: The only newspaper site I visit on a regular basis. There's always something interesting to read and they manage to not insult readers like some other sites that will remain unnamed!

#8 Cryprus Well: A resource for literature in the South West (England) where I live. It's nice to keep in touch with the local aspect of the industry.

#9 The Bookseller: The site to follow if you're at all interested in what's going on in the publishing industry in the UK.

#10 Lovereading: A UK based recommendation site, you type in a book or author you've enjoyed and it gives suggestions back. I don't use the site all that much but it does also have extracts and competitions on a regular basis.

Monday, 27 June 2011

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read.

Books I've read:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 5/5
Bad Wolf by Tim McGregor 3/5
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks 3/5

Currently reading:
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (readalong)

Upcoming reads:
Paris in July starts on Friday so I'll be delving into some English translations of French novels.

Me and Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter

I also blogged about:
Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Book Blogging! | Machinarium

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Year of Wonders

Based on historical events, Year of Wonders is the story of a small village in Derbyshire that quarantined itself when plague struck in 1665 to prevent the disease spreading to neighbouring villages.

For the time, the decision to quarantine the village was unique and courageous. It's well documented that Londoners fled the capital during the Great Plague and the king removed his court for the duration. Whilst I don't doubt they helped stop spread of infection, there's a point in the book stating that the rest of Derbyshire was plague free whilst in reality it did strike Derby in 1665 (they still have their vinegar stone similar to that in this book).

Anna's narrative is a bit restrictive as a rural housemaid and at times I thought she knew more that she should have under the circumstances. Even so, there wasn't enough information for me on the plague itself or the herbal remedies that were thought of as witchcraft. There were references which I thought without a good knowledge of 17th century English history you wouldn't get.

It would be hard to have written this novel without including some religious aspects but it started to take over the story somewhat. It focused a lot on whether this was punishment from god, a test or brought on by the devil. I started to feel that you can't have it both ways, that god is good and loving yet puts you through something as horrific as bubonic plague! The religious debate is more than would be believable for someone of Anna's age and background to be involved in too.

The ending seemed to veer off completely and felt like it belonged to a completely different novel. For me, the historical aspect would have been good enough an ending for me and the last minute drama was a bit off-putting.

This was one of my “Books I should have read by now” challenge choices from books I've had for ages and not picked up. I enjoyed it for the historical aspect but wouldn't rush out to buy more of her books.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Something a little bit different today, I've been playing a computer game! A colleague recommended Machinarium to me after I'd shown him The Art of Alice. It's a simple point and click, Flash based puzzle game which means it will run on the most basic of computers.

Simple does not mean bad or boring. Machinarium is charming, funny and it parts quite tricky to solve. I haven't quite got to the end yet but it's something you could complete in a weekend or play a few scenes a day and still get enjoyment out of it. The robot is on a mission to rescue his girlfriend and save the city. If you leave him doing nothing for too long, you'll start to see his memories appear in thought bubbles above his head and they really are quite sweet. He also quite likes to dance!

There's no dialogue but it has an original soundtrack that comes with the collector's edition on a separate CD (which, in the UK at least, is cheaper than the download). I'm not very good at classifying music but it's quite ambient and I think I would listen to it now and then. It also came with a walkthrough guide in the form of concept drawings; very handy when you get stuck as they're not always obvious answers. You even get a chance to play space invaders in the robot arcade!

The images pictured here are actual screenshots from the game. Machinarium is an indie game from Amanita Design, founded by Jakub Dvorsk after finishing art school. You might be able to tell by now that I have a soft spot for superb illustration and that extends to games too. This is just lovely to look at and you can tell it's been conceived from an artistic background over a techie one.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bad Wolf

When a body is found eaten by a pack of feral dogs, homicide detectives Gallagher and Mendes find themselves on the trail of a man who believes he is a werewolf. Is he just insane? Or could there be some truth to his crazed ramblings?

An interesting concept for a novel that sits mostly within the crime genre. I found it took me a long time to get into the story and felt it could have used some serious editing, especially in the first half. Overall an easy and fairly entertaining read, though maybe not one for dog lovers (the dogs of the story aren't shown in a good light).

The character development was more “tell” than “show” which may be a symptom of the author's screen-writing background. I felt the novel improved when the action started to shape the characters more. Whilst I quite liked the character of Amy, tough cop Gallagher's daughter, she seemed to be a bit of an add-on and not entirely relevant to the story. I thought that maybe her troubles at school were going to feed into the plot but they were mentioned once and then forgotten about.

The ending was a little abrupt, at first I thought there might be a missing final chapter and I had to re-read it to make sure. If you don't like things left open you might feel frustrated.

Thanks to Tim McGregor for providing me with a copy to review. Bad Wolf is available now for the Kindle (US | UK).

Author blog: Ink Splatter

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Monster Calls

Get the hankies ready because A Monster Calls is a powerfully emotional read. It intelligently deals with grief in a way that will appeal to adults and children alike and I would hope it has the power to help children in a similar situation to Conor. His mother is seriously ill, his father is absent, he feels unconnected to his grandmother and he's become distanced from his friends at much he has become the target for bullies. Until one night at 12:07, a monster calls asking for the truth.

I think this book is a fitting tribute to Siobhan Dowd who sadly died of cancer, leaving behind the idea for A Monster Calls.

Lavishly illustrated by Jim Kay, his wonderful multi-media drawings were what made me buy this book. He demonstrates that illustrating children's books does not need to be twee or clichéd. I hope A Monster Calls is used as an example in many illustration courses in future. I know a lot of bloggers have been reviewing an ebook version but the hardback, published by Walker in the UK, is a thing of beauty. It's something I will go back to again and again.

Do go visit Jim Kay's website for more info on his artwork.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Pre-Loved Giveaway

Me and Mr Darcy is a light read from Alexandra Potter. It's received quite mixed reviews but it's enjoyable if you don't expect great things from it. Books with a Pride & Prejudice connection seem to be quite popular right now too! This book has been read but is in excellent condition.

Just fill in the simple form below to enter.

Closing date: 30th June 2011

I will send anywhere!*

*I will now be sending books outside of Europe by surface mail which may take up to 56 days depending on where you are but it's often a lot faster. This is a much cheaper option for me and will allow me to continue sending books worldwide.

Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Book Blogging!

This week The Broke and the Bookish are celebrating their 1 year blogoversary, hoorah!

So why do I love book blogging?

#1 The community of book bloggers needs to be at the top of everyone's lists this week. Many bloggers feel isolated in their blogging but I was welcomed with open arms (I've just passed my 3 month mark) and don't ever feel like I'm talking to myself. Well not on my blog at least!

#2 I'm writing more than I have for a long time. Unlike many bloggers, I'm not really a writer and have no intentions to write a novel so it's nice to be able to write more than just test documents at work. Whilst I've been sharing my thoughts on Goodreads for a while now and enjoy the forums at ReadItSwapIt, I've only been writing lengthy reviews since I started blogging.

#3 I feel like I'm included in the publishing industry, just a little bit but that's enough. Book publicists are a lovely bunch of people that are so enthusiastic about bloggers and I've connected with a few authors on Twitter. I know have the confidence to approach people for interviews, review copies, etc and know I won't be laughed at.

#4 Whilst I don't do this for the free review copies, I find that receiving books for review has made me read things that I would never have had the exposure to otherwise.

#5 It's a cheap hobby. Oh I know people harp on about the price of books going up but unless you're after the latest hardbacks or are fussy about what you read, you can pick books up for pennies in charity shops in the UK and chart paperbacks for a few pounds. Compared to photography, this is budget stuff!

#6 In the main, book bloggers understand each other. We don't have to explain why there's 20 new books on our TBRs when we haven't read the last 20 we bought... We can share our excitement over new releases and our disappointment with film adaptations.

#7 Readalongs are a great idea and although I failed epically with The Iliad, I'm really please that I got the push to start reading Gormenghast. It might be daunting but I'm really enjoying it now.

#8 There is always something going on in the book blogosphere, be it weekly memes, 24 hour readathons or monthly themed events. I'm looking forward to the next Dewey readathon and have even booked a day off work to recover (thinking about doing it for charity too). I'm also taking part in Paris in July next month and will be reading and watching some stuff that I might never have thought about otherwise.

#9 I like having a presence online beyond the normal social networks. Previously this has been fulfilled by Flickr but since I stopped my 365 it's been hard to feel motivated to post there and a lot of my contacts are also scarce.

#10 I finally replaced the dodgy memory in my laptop just so I could get on and post my Top Ten. My laptop is no longer running like a one legged tortoise. OK I have had that new memory on my shelves for months and my laptop chose today to die but if I hadn't have needed to post here, I might have left it to the weekend to sort out!

Monday, 20 June 2011

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read. I've been struggling to get through books recently so I opted for some lighter reading this past weekend.

Books I've read:
Hunt the Moon by Karen Chance 4/5
American Weather by Charles McLeod 3/5
Ill Wind by Rachel Caine 4/5
Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine 4/5
Chill Factor by Rachel Caine 3/5

Currently reading:
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (readalong)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Upcoming reads:
I'm tempted to carry on reading the Weather Warden books that I already have but I know I haven't read any challenge books yet this month... Oops!

A new pre-loved giveaway should be posted tomorrow.

I also blogged about:
Small Blogs, Big Giveaways Update | 25 Random Facts | Still Life with Book | Book Blogger Hop

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ill Wind / Heat Stroke

I've treated my self to a weekend of guilty pleasure reads, first with the latest Karen Chance and then by starting a new urban fantasy series, Rachel Caine's Weather Warden books.

Joanne Baldwin (nice normal name for a change) is a weather warden, someone who controls the earth's forces to stop mankind getting squished like bugs by extreme weather. I quite like natural disaster films so this concept intrigued me and I've really enjoyed the first two books, Ill Wind and Heat Stroke and am happily plowing through the third, Chill Factor.

The weather wardens are technically human but are gifted with the ability to manipulate the elements; air, water, earth or fire. The only other supernatural beings are Djinn (or you might know them better as genies) which are used (read enslaved) by higher ranking wardens to help amplify their power.

If you think that your life is missing books that incorporate storm chasing and genies, this series is for you!

Even better, these books are currently available in The Works in the UK under their 3 for £5 offer. I've found different stores have slightly different stock but it's worth asking staff if you can't see them on the shelves as they sometimes hide stuff in corners!