Thursday, 31 March 2011

Invasion of the Trolley* Jumpers

In supermarkets across Britain, the trolley jumper is becoming well known as an invasive species. If you've ever starting unpacking groceries only to find books nestled amongst the vegetables, you know you've been a victim.

These books have developed a buddy system. It's generally considered just not safe to go it alone, so they pair up and jump in twos. Of course, there's the occasional kamikaze loner, too obscure to find a match, that makes the leap solo.

Once they've made it into your trolley or basket, the books have a built in instinct to hide. They are especially fond of salad leaves and loaves of sliced bread which easily obscure them from view.

The checkout is a risky area even for the seasoned jumper. If the luck's in their favour, the checkout attendant will be chatty and distract you as you unload your shopping onto the conveyor. If jumpers are spotted, the “look cute and appealing response” kicks in. How can you be so cruel to leave them on the side, destined to fall on the floor and be run over by a wonky trolley? No, I thought not.

Occasionally, the checkout attendant will catch your eye and give you a knowing look. They know it's hopeless. Instead, they carefully wrap your books up to keep them safe and dry for the trip home.

Past the threshold, they can survive dormant for months, even years, before they reach their full potential. They don't mind, it's survival that counts.

* For US readers, trolley = shopping cart. The other kind of trolley jumping is too extreme even for these intrepid books!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Top Ten Authors That Deserve More Recognition

I wasn't going to post my top ten as I was struggling to come up with authors that didn't have some sort of recognition (whether literary prizes, cult status or decent sellers). However, after having a little look round other blogs, several people have come up with less than ten and others have listed authors that I would have hands down said they had recognition by the bucket load. Now I'm thinking, this is a good chance as a British blogger to throw out some names that won't be known over the pond as well as some American authors that are pretty unknown over here.


Therefore, here is this week's Top Ten (meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish).

#1 Steven Hall – Author of The Raw Shark Texts (one of my favourite books) and a generally nice bloke. The book has received cult recognition and has numerous websites over the un-chapters, some of which have been lost forever. I just love the book and am looking forward to his future work in print.

#2 Jennifer Armintrout – I found her by accident as I had pre-conceived ideas that MIRA books would be more about romance than gritty urban fantasy but oh my I was wrong. There's some really disturbing scenes in her Blood Ties books and it's been one of my favourite, if short, series in the genre.

#3 Danny Wallace – Everyone thinks of Danny as 'the guy who said yes to everything' or 'the guy that started a cult for fun' but he's actually a pretty good and entertaining writer. He makes me laugh which is sometimes the most important thing.

#4 Thomas Emson – Male written, grown-up urban fantasy. He's published by Snowbooks so isn't out in the mass market but is worth a read if you're fed up of the saturation of girlie vampire stories in the genre.

#5 Mo Hayder – Yes, you can always buy her books in Tesco but she often gets overlooked by people listing crime authors. Her books are quite chilling and at times disturbing.

#6 Daphne du Maurier – OK I know you're thinking, but she's famous, why does she need more recognition?! Well she's famous for one book; Rebecca. Don't get me wrong, I love Rebecca but Daphne du Maurier has written many varied books and short stories. Did you know her work inspired Hitchcock's The Birds?

#7 Marie Phillips – Gods Behaving Badly is a charming book but few know about it. I think a lot of people mistake it for chick-lit but it's not. If you like modern reworkings of mythology that don't take themselves too seriously, check it out.

#8 John Wyndham – Well I think he deserves recognition everytime a movie rips off one of his books. Just think of the amount of times the beginning of Day of the Triffids has been rehashed. His books stand the test of time and if you're a sci-fi fan you should go out and read some!

#9 Sara Gruen – I guess she's got fame coming her way with this year's adaptation of Water For Elephants but I only know about her due to word of mouth at ReadItSwapIt. Fantastic author.

#10 Nick Stafford – Probably best known for his adaptation of War Horse for the stage, last year I got a copy of Armistice to review and I thought it was beautifully written and had echoes of war poetry about it. Anyway, not many people seem to have read it on Goodreads and I think he has promise.

Phew, I made it to ten...that was a tough introduction to Top Ten Tuesday! Thanks for stopping by and remember to head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join in.

Monday, 28 March 2011

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

So blog memes are a bit like the day of the week groups on Flickr, which I rely on fondly to get me through daily posting. So today's meme is brought to you by Sheila @ Book Journey.

Unfortunately, last week was a bit of a slow book week and only squeezed in two books:
Nemesis by Jo Nesbo
Night World Volume One by L.J. Smith

I'm currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett which has been raved about left, right and centre. I've still not been grabbed and am struggling with the purposefully bad grammar that Aibileen uses. I skimmed ahead a bit and noticed there are different narrators so I will plod on.

I might try and read Solar by Ian McEwan this week but if I'm struggling I'll pick up something lighter. Maybe some chick-lit or young adult (suggestions from what to pick off my TBR welcomed).

The PWB Codex

I always think it's far fetched in crime shows and books where they find some hidden code that the victim has written and it leads them to the murderer. However today I had a look through the notes section on my iPhone. I wasn't aware I used it so much and there are lots of seemingly random codes in there. If I'm mysteriously murdered, police don't waste your time! Unless I've been offed by a disgruntled bookmoocher whose postage I underpaid. If so, good luck matching up my abbreviations and weights!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

30 Minute Meals

I am slowly working my way through Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals and I felt it might be appropriate to share my experiences as the recipes are coming out of a book. They are possible in half an hour but don't expect to get the washing up done in that time too. I've found I make quite a mess making them!

088:365 Emergency SporkI've been skipping the desserts mostly because they are a little boring (eg. some fruit sliced up with some herbs) but also because the main meal and sides are more than enough. I'm cooking for one so I like to have things that will do for leftovers too. Now Jamie seems very strict at the start of the book about mixing things up but I think if you have any previous cooking knowledge, you'll know where you can go off course and not ruin the dishes. If you're using the book as a cookery course, maybe you'd better listen to Jamie.

The first meal I attempted was Cripsy Salmon, Jazzed-Up Rice, Baby Courgette Salad and Gorgeous Guacamole (the skipped dessert was a Berry Spritzer) which can be found on page 190. It was a good first choice as everything was tasty and it made a good cold lunch the day after. I make the courgette salad a lot now; you make the ribbons with a veg peeler which is super quick to do and then add lemon juice, mint and chilli. Sometimes I skip the chilli and sometimes I use lime depending on what's in my fridge. I pretty much followed Jamie's instructions on this one except I grilled peppers first instead of using jarred ones and I didn't have any balsamic vinegar to go in the rice. Took me about 40 minutes though.

Next I made Killer Jerk Chicken, page 106, but went way off track. I decided to marinate the chicken for a few hours first and used drumsticks and thighs instead of breasts. Oh and I didn't make the rice or corn either but both seem pretty straight forward and I don't think they'd take longer than the designated 30 minutes. I wouldn't be fussy about what leaves go into the salad either and I didn't have any cress for it. However the jerk sauce was delicious!

Finally, I made the Summer Veg Lasagne with Tuscan Tomato Salad found on page 48, again skipping the dessert (Mango Frozen Yoghurt). First off, the salad is yummy but does not go with the lasagne; I don't know what Jamie was thinking. I also skipped the anchovies which I generally don't like unless they're blitzed to oblivion in a sauce. The filling for the lasagne didn't fit in my large pan either so I had to scoop some out near the end to add the cottage cheese. If I made it again I'd skip the stock as the sauce ended up a bit watery. I think the moisture in the veg along with the cream (I substitued half fat creme fraiche) and cheese is more than enough. To be honest, I'd probably just make a small portion of the veg in sauce and not bother making the lasagne in future. It all sort of falls apart when dished up anyway!

You can find some of the recipes from the book on the Channel4 Food site as well as some how to videos. The cheapest place to buy the book at the moment is from The Book People if you can get a free delivery code or they turn up at your work place frequently.

Night World

As someone about to leave their twenties behind, I'm not the target audience for young adult books. Even though I enjoyed the Twilight Saga, I didn't rate it particularly highly and am not searching for a substitute. I do however think there are some quality books out there in the young adult arena and they're also a nice way to switch the brain off between more taxing reads.

Having said all that, L.J. Smith's Night World series seems a little young for my tastes. 1996 was quite a long time ago now and it might be partly that expectations have changed. The average ratings on Goodreads seem pretty high, so don't let this old fogey put you off the series if you are indeed a young adult.

In the UK at least, the series is published in three bind-up editions each containing three books. I spent much of yesterday reading volume one. The first book, Secret Vampire, was a bit too sappy though did cover the practicalities of becoming a vampire. Most of the time in urban fantasy, no one considers autopsies or embalming when turning a vampire so I thought that was a unique touch. Other than the fact that it introduces Ash, who is a more interesting character, I would say you could easily skip this story.

Whilst each book is set in the same universe and there is some overlap with characters, the stories are pretty much independent of each other. On one hand this is a good thing as I would have quit if I had to continue reading about Poppy and James, however when you start to like characters, you don't get a chance to continue with their lives. In Daughters of Darkness, once again there's a vomit inducing romance but it's not the central one and the other characters more than make up for it. Ash returns in the second instalment and once again it is focussed on the vampire element of Night World. There's more of a murder mystery plot too and I really quite enjoyed it.

Which takes me onto the third book, Enchantress (aka Spellbinder), which is more of a high school drama and introduces the witches of Night World. Better than Secret Vampire but again I think it's aimed at the younger young adult. The ending hints of big changes and I'd be interested in books that follow on with that premise. I do have a copy of volume two already and despite the book being hefty, they're quick to read so I'll probably return to Night World at some point. I don't feel the need to rush like I do when a series pull me in.

Daughters of Darkness is definitely a three star book for me but the other two drag the overall rating down to two stars.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Incoming!

Gah, I though I'd had a fairly restrained week on the old book front but it appears a few have snuck in whilst my back was turned...



I have set myself a vague rule that I'll only accept swaps for wishlisted books. Now I have two lists; the ReadItSwapIt/Amazon list which is fairly concise and the sprawling BookMooch list which is well over 400 books long. If I'm being strict I should go with the former, but both Inked and Practical Demonkeeping were on the latter. Inked is a collection of urban fantasy stories based around tattoos. I had it wishlisted for the Karen Chance story which is set in Cassie's universe (I'm pretty sure it is anyway) and but the other stories look interesting enough that I might read the whole book. It makes up for the fact Amazon cancelled my pre-order on Hunt The Moon and have since put the listed price up! I have a few Christopher Moore books already and, whilst they seem like they can be read out of order, this is his debut novel and in my mind, a good place to start.

Having added some books to BookMooch this week, I've been a bit more active in checking availability of wishlisted books over there which resulted in Dance Dance Dance and Big Stone Gap, both by authors whose work I've previously enjoyed.

There's a discount bookshop in Boscombe that I barely go into as it's mostly kids books and large hardbacks. They do have a couple of shelves of eclectic fiction which often includes those airport editions after the airports no longer want them. These bookshelves are near the windows so I can easily spy if they've got something I want. Today this resulted in The Last Watch, a book which is rarely seen in swapping circles. I think I only need The Twilight Watch to complete the set. Woo!

Then there's the two charity shop accidents; Lionboy and Tales of the Slayer. Whilst normally I wouldn't read Buffy books, this is a collection of short stories about slayers throughout history which also combines some mythology. For 50p it sounded interesting and will fill the current void of Whedonlessness on telly. Though knowing me, by the time I get round to reading it, he'll have written a new show.

Now that I have confessed my book hoarding sins, I am going out to enjoy the sunshine.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Nemesis

Jo Nesbo has been heralded as the next Stieg Larsson, except he's not Swedish, is very much alive and also proclaims that his writing style just isn't the same. His crime series is set is Oslo (that's in Norway) and features down and out detective, Harry Hole. Harry's described as a Norwegian Bruce Willis in The Redbreast and that is exactly as I picture him now. The books have been translated into English by Don Bartlett and to me they have a decidedly British tone. At a push, I'd liken the writing to that of Peter James.

Unfortunately, for those of us that can't read Norwegian, the first two books in the Harry Hole series have not been translated yet, so you should start with The Redbreast unless you want to wait it out. The translations of The Batman and The Cockroaches are in the pipeline now that sales have shown demand. From what I have read so far, I think they might work as 'prequels' answering some of the questions us English-speakers have about Harry's past.

Unlike its predecessor, Nemesis is mostly told from Harry's perspective (though not in first person). I don't think it's as strong as The Redbreast but I did like the new character of Beate and her transformation from mouse to policewoman. Due to my own lack of familiarity with Norwegian names, I'm still finding it hard to distinguish some of the less central characters. Though this sometimes happens to me with common names when there's a lot of characters involved anyway. It's a bit like how I never remember the names of things in IKEA (yes, yes, I know IKEA is Swedish). I was looking forward to a bit more development into some of the storylines started in The Redbreast, but those characters seem to be pushed to the sidelines for a lot of the book. I'm wondering if Anna was featured in a previous book which might make a bit more sense.

When I started the book I thought the title would refer to Harry's nemesis as featured in The Redbreast. However, early on in the story, Nemesis, Greek goddess of revenge, is brought into play in the presence of a sculptured lamp. I think retribution is a more accurate description of the goddess' role in mythology, she was the closest thing to justice that the Greek gods had. Mortals were much more likely to be turned into a tree or zapped by lightning if they angered the gods but on occasion they would send Nemesis to dole out justice. I think both the representation of revenge and justice are relevant to this book.

I'm only awarding three shiny stars as I felt the book was a little long and it was only in the final 200 odd pages where I didn't want to put the book down. In addition, it's one of those books where the innocent party decides to hide things from the police and you know it's just the wrong thing to do. I want to shout at them to stop being so stupid! In general a good crime read.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Moochin'

So all the recent discussions over on BookMooch have made me feel a bit guilty about not adding my books there any more. So I looked out 15 sticky books off my ReadItSwapIt list and added them to my BookMooch inventory. I'm probably one of the people to blame for points inflation; I tend to send international but mostly mooch domestic. If you're patient and not uber fussy about your reading habits, I think BookMooch works quite well but I can see where people with loads of points get concerned. Until you manage to use them up, you don't really want to add anything new.

In less than 24 hours, 5 of those books have been mooched and I have an extra 13 points. That can easily be converted into 13 extra books for me! Yeah, you can see where this is headed. Maybe I should give more back to charity shops too, they also tend to make me feel guilty with their 'please bring me back' stickers. Maybe I should introduce a system that for every 3 books I read and don't want to keep, one goes on BookMooch and one goes to charity.

Of course, that means I spend more time in charity shops and on BookMooch which runs the risk of inflating my TBR beyond hope!

Monday, 21 March 2011

What's in a Name?

When I decided I wanted to start a blog, I was determined to find a name that no one else was using, at least in blog circles. This is my excuse for my rather random title as there are a lot of blogs out there using every pun under the sun and more. It was either that or some obscure Latin word that would most likely put readers off!

So, that got me thinking, what do authors go through when trying to name their books? The UNESCO figures easily accessible online are from 2006, but in that year alone, 206,000 new books were published in the UK. Google Books calculated that there were approximately 146 million unique books in existence. It puts our TBR mountains into perspective doesn't it? No author purposefully wants to nick a title from elsewhere but there's got to be some overlap.

I have two books called The Night Watch and one simply Night Watch; Terry Pratchett got there first, Sergei Lukyanenko wrote in Russian so the original title is really Ночной дозор and Sarah Waters happily added a "The" to distinguish her very different novel. It's quite possible that these authors didn't even care that they were sharing titles but I know I would.

The answer must be to come up with quirky titles, similar to the technique of googlewhacking but for books. Strange titles really do draw me in too so it's a good marketing ploy. Those that made me pick up and read include The Earth Hums in B Flat, The Tent, the Bucket and Me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and, a personal favourite, The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. Of course, the publishers would be more than happy for you to get their debut author's title muddled up with a similar sounding bestseller.

Love is a Pygmy Mouse Lemur

Whilst I think up a topic for today's post, I'll leave you with one of my favourite passages out of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson:

Love is not a steadfast dog at all; love is more like a pygmy mouse lemur. Yes, that's exactly what love is: a tiny, jittery primate with eyes that are permanently open in fear. For those of you who cannot quite picture a pygmy mouse lemur, imagine a miniature Don Knotts or Steve Buscemi wearing a fur coat. Imagine the cutest animal that you can, after it has been squeezed so hard that all its stuffing has been pushed up into an oversized head and its eyes are now popping out in overflow. The lemur looks so vunerable that one cannot help but worry that a predator might swoop in at any instant to snatch it away.

Photo by Joachim S Mueller

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Racing Against The Film Industry

It seems the film industry has tapped into my TBR in order to find material for scripts. Looking at my bookshelves, there are many books that didn't exist on film when I obtained them but have since been adapted. This year there's Never Let Me Go, Water For Elephants and the relatively unknown Submarine; all books I've had sat on my shelves for at least a year. Whilst book people are generally pretty good at not giving out spoilers, the same can't be said for those that love films. People like to know what a film's going to be about before parting with their hard earned pennies, but as a reader, I like to start a book knowing as little as possible. Once a book has been made into a film, it's hard to ignore it. When I went to see Never Let Me Go (after finally getting round to reading it), I saw the Water For Elephants trailer and felt like sticking my fingers in my ears and going 'lalalala'. I promptly read my copy and am now looking forward to the release of the film. I have to admit it looks pretty spectacular.

I picked up Submarine after Joe Dunthorne wrote and read a version of Hansel and Gretel for a Shoot London event. It's one of those books that I felt I had as long as I like to get round to reading it. Now there's pressure...and I sort of want to see the film now I've heard it's directed by Moss from The IT Crowd. With any luck the film will be as low-key as the book and I can patiently wait for the DVD.

Genesis

One of the less mentioned aspects of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper is the inclusion of a variety of creation myths and theories. I liked the idea that Prometheus made man out of the leftovers and therefore had to give us fire to make up for our failings. I'm not sure if this version ever made it into an epic poem but it's a fitting creation story to start my blog.

Fire and hope are connected, just so you know. The way the Greeks told it, Zeus put Prometheus and Epimetheus in charge of creating life on earth. Epimetheus made the animals, giving out bonuses like swiftness and strength and fur and wings. By the time Prometheus made man, all the best qualities had been given out. He settled for making them walk upright, and he gave them fire. Zeus, pissed off, took it away. But Prometheus saw his pride and joy shivering and unable to cook. He lit a torch from the sun and brought it back to man again. To punish Prometheus, Zeus had him chained to a rock, where an eagle fed on his liver. To punish man, Zeus created the first woman - Pandora - and gave her a gift, a box she was forbidden to open. Pandora's curiosity got the best of her, and one day she opened that box. Out came plagues and misery and mischief. She managed to shut the lid tight before hope escaped. It's the only weapon we have left to fight the others.

As many of you know, I read a lot of books. My mind goes off on a lot of tangents, especially when there's interesting history, legends or something just plain weird, and I have to go off and do some research or read more books on the matter. I also like finding coincidences between the books that I read. So this blog is a place for me to record the strange wanderings of my mind.

The majority of the blog will be book related but there might be the odd non sequitur. I shall leave you with a photo of some very curious bookworms...


350:365 Anobium Punctatum