Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tomorrow I Embark on an Odyssey

OK, not The Odyssey but The Iliad which comes first. Though either they got very, very lost on the way back, or they must have had some sort of odyssey on the way to Troy which Homer didn't write about. Must have been uneventful and full of war-mongering songs.


Over at A Literary Odyssey, there's an Iliad readalong for May. Whilst we only need to check in twice during the month, no doubt I'll be sharing tidbits of information or just stopping by to go WTF?

I decided to get the Fagles translation on my Kindle as my paper copy contains The Odyssey as well so it's huge. There is a big difference between the Robert Fagles and George Chapman translations, so I do recommend that you spend a few pennies to get the easier text (published by Penguin).

If all goes well, I'll be finished before I get to I in my mythology A-Z and I can share a dummies guide with you.

Sign up is here if you want to join in.

Pre-Loved Giveaway


The week's slightly delayed pre-loved giveaway is for Confessions of a Fallen Angel by Ronan O'Brien. It's had a few owners so the spine is quite heavily creased but I really recommend reading this one. For more information on these giveaways, click here.

Just use my Contact Me form to send in your entry.

Closing date: 5th May

I will send anywhere!

Not your thing? Check back next week for a different genre.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Winner of The Iron Witch Giveaway

I had to resort to random number generators this week as my #royalreading book choice took longer than expected. Maybe 571 pages was a bit of an ambitious choice to get through in one day and still have time for blogging actitivies.

Anyway, without further ado, the winner of The Iron Witch is...

Booketta!!!


If I don't post the next pre-loved giveaway tonight, rest assured it will be done first thing in the morning (UK time). I need to have a rummage through my swapping boxes for something good.

Book Blogger Hop

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!

Book Blogger Hop


"Summer is coming quickly - what 2011 summer release are you are most looking forward to?"


It seems I have a longer wait than most as my most anticipated books are all out in the autumn! However I'm looking forward to getting my next dose of Sookie in Dead Reckoning which should be here any day soon as well as the next in the Kitty series, Kitty's Big Trouble (Carrie Vaughn) and the next Women of the Otherworld book, Spellbound (Kelley Armstrong). Looks like summer is for urban fantasy doesn't it?

Head over to Crazy For Books and wish Jennifer a happy birthday!

Feed

At first, Mira Grant's zombie novel might seem an ironic choice for my Royal Wedding day reading, however it ended up somehow completely relevant. Not that Will and Kate's big day was interrupted by the flesh-eating undead, more that if you'd popped onto Twitter this morning, everyone was talking about The Wedding.

Zombies aside, Feed is a commentary on the changing world of reporting. Yes, most of those tweeters were tuning in second hand via the BBC, but it just goes to show how effective the internet has become in delivering news and opinions.

I'd had the book at least a week before it dawned on me that the cover had the RSS symbol on it and Feed wasn't just about zombie appetites. I'm not big on researching books before I read them, I like to dive in sight unseen and without preconceptions. It was big on Goodreads last year (scooping up the Science Fiction category in the end of year awards) and it had zombies in it. That was enough for it to go on my wishlist.

The story starts with a man poking a zombie with a stick...

The main characters are bloggers in a world where people have lost faith in corporate news. If the big fish told everyone the schools were safe just before your children got infected whilst the blogosphere was alerting people to the true threat, who would you trust?

The plot follows the blogging team as they join a senator on his presidential campaign. Whilst the politics have been amended to fit the international zombie crisis, they can easily be applied to current affairs. Feed raises some very topical questions such as, which is more important, freedom or safety?

The presence of zombies does tend to place this book in the horror genre, but its themes put it firmly in the science fiction camp. What's scary is not really the zombies, but what humankind is capable of and when characters die, it's not about gore but about loss. It's overall much more thought-provoking and moving than horror ever is.

If you were avoiding this book because of the zombies don't. It's for anyone interested in the changing face of journalism and the rise of social media. The zombies just accelerated the process...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Working It Out

Working It Out is a self-published novel by Nicola May. In the past, I've not had good experience with self-published books but I think this is one of the best I've read.

When Ruby is made redundant, she realises that she never really loved her job and after losing her father, life is too short to be doing something that doesn't make you happy. She takes the opportunity to tackle twelve jobs in twelve months and work out what her true vocation is.

She takes on a number of jobs that are exactly the kind of thing the casual employee would be assigned. She doesn't mock those jobs that are important in this world and is at times compassionate. Ruby feels like a real, thirty-ish, single woman to me, despite the fact she seems to meet a lot of good-looking men (nearly one for each job I think). She occasionally drinks too much and makes stupid mistakes, but underneath she's a decent human being.

Whilst I'd classify this as chick-lit, it's not overly romantic or sexy. It's as much about Ruby working out what she wants in life as it is about the men. Some of the characters seem a bit stereotypical, but if you like Wendy Holden's novels, you'll probably enjoy this. The prose is quite simple and at times I thought it might be better off in first person narrative but is overall very readable.

If you're looking for chick lit that you can relate to, I give Working It Out a big thumbs up.

About the author:

Nicola May was born the year that England won the football World Cup. She lives in Ascot in Berkshire with Patrick the Cat, and James the Fiancé. Her hobbies include watching films that involve a lot of swooning, crabbing in South Devon, eating flapjacks and enjoying a flutter on the horses. Inspired by her favourite authors Milly Johnson and Carole Matthews, Nicola is looking forward to sharing her charming, heartfelt and funny books with you.

You can also follow Nicola on Twitter.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Good Omens

I've decided this is one of those books where the cover has put me off picking it up to read. I mean it's got a creepy little boy on it and Chris Packham* starring as Aziraphale.

*Chris Packham presented The Really Wild Show on BBC about the time this book was first published...and he had really bad 80s hair. On further inspection, he only has a passing resemblance to Aziraphale. It's mostly about the hair.



I have to admit here, I was never a big fan of Terry Pratchett's first few Discworld novels. The first one I read was Pyramids and I think if I'd started at the beginning I wouldn't have continued. And I'd have lost out big time. Both Terry and Neil have developed a lot since this book was written, over 20 years ago now! What I love about their writing is their abilities to tell great stories. I feel with Good Omens, it's more about the puns than the story, which was a bit predictable.

Had I read the book during my teenage years, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more however it all felt a bit dated. I do feel this a bit with Douglas Coupland's earlier work too. Whilst I liked Microserfs, it was more a fact that it was my job, but in the past! Plus there's really not that many novels about software testing and it has become a sort of history. Anyway, I digress, first I complain about House of Silence being in the present and now I complain about something feeling too old! Can't please come people, can you?

Now before you start throwing rotten vegetables at me, I did enjoy reading it. Some moments are timeless, like the kids playing at the Spanish Inquisition which I thought was priceless and true laugh out loud funny! Terry's trademark footnotes were targeted at American translations which also made me smile. How often do us Brits have to explain phrases to American friends?

I guess if you're a fan of either author and haven't read it yet then do so. However as an introduction to either Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, I would definitely suggest picking other works.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Top Ten Mean Girls

This week's Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is all about means girls!


This is a real struggle (do I say that every week?) as I don't tend to read a lot of books featuring mean girls. I would think they're more prevalent in young adult fiction which I don't read a lot of. Whilst a few of these are girls in the true sense of the word, I've expanded it to mean women.

Ruth in Never Let Me Go – I can understand Kathy wanting to be friends with the popular girl but I so wanted her to stay away from Ruth. I'd like to say she got her comeuppance but her fate was not unique to her.

Estella in Great Expectations – Poor Pip! He had no hope against Estella who was raised to be mean to aspiring young men.

Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl – Anne was only a girl but her scheming ways caused so much grief for her sister in this version of events. You can pretty much forgive Henry for chopping off her head!

Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair – She'll trample anyone in her way to the top of the social ladder. I have read quite a bit of Vanity Fair but skimmed bits and filled in the gaps from watching the BBC adaptation. It's a bit of a brick! I do think she's a great character in a time when women were thought of as the lesser sex.

Jane Grey in Shades of Grey – Jane's really quite mean to everyone but especially Eddie. You can tell she cares deep down!

Clarisse in the Percy Jackson series – It's in her nature, being a daughter of Ares, god of war and she comes round in the end. There's usually a bully in these types of series but I never thought she was exceptionally cruel.

Lena Adams in the Grant County series – She's a woman I want to hate yet she's so messed up I ended up siding with her when Sara turns on her.

Faith Mitchell in the Will Trent series – Obviously Karin Slaughter is great at writing mean women. You just know Will deserves better but she has him wrapped round her little finger.

Leah in the Women of the Otherworld series – Whilst Eve might be the one well known as “evil”, it's actually Leah who ends up being selfish and bad to the core.

The Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liasions – OK, I admit to having never read the book, but based from watching a few adaptations, I'm sure she'd be in my top ten had I read it!

Monday, 25 April 2011

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


It's Monday and I'm not in work, woohoo! So yes, I also got round to making a little IMWAYR graphic that's more in keeping with my blog design. Feel free to grab it if you also have a darker looking blog.

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

Books I've read:
Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices 4/5
Unsavory Delicacies by Russell Brooks 2/5
Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong 4/5
House of Silence by Linda Gillard 3/5

Currently reading:
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Call myself a Pratchett fan, this isn't a re-read, it's been lurking on my shelves for years. I also managed to find the Amazing Maurice hidden back there too. I've also half-heartedly started Frost Moon by Anthony Francis for review.

Upcoming reads:
With yet another four day weekend I hope to get lots read this week including The Book of Crows by Sam Meekings and Feed by Mira Grant.

Giveaways:
The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney (international)
A Vintage Affair was won by Ana Lucia

I also blogged about:
Top Ten Favourite Words | Lunch Hour Blogette | Canongate Myths | Book Blogger Hop | #royalreading | Incoming! | A is for... Atlas

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A is for... Atlas

Atlas, who bore the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, was a Titan who pops up in the tales of the hero, Hercules (or Heracles depending on your language preference). The basic background of the Titans is covered pretty well in the Percy Jackson books, although they are quite biased to the Olympians' views. The winners always write history don't they, so the same can be said for mythology. Just in case you aren't familiar with them, the Titans were a race of super strong giants that ruled the earth before the Olympians (not atheletes, but what we more commonly know as the Greek gods).

Atlas
  Photo by Jeff Berman

As the film, Clash of the Titans, suggests, there was a war between the Titans and the Olympians and the victorious gods weren't that kind to their prisoners of war. Many of them were thrown into the pit of Tartarus, however Zeus decided to punish the strong Atlas by forcing him the bear the weight of the celestial sphere (otherwise known as the heavens, the sky or, more recently, the atmosphere) on his shoulders.

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse is fairly faithful to the myth, with various characters having to bear the oppressive weight of the sky after Atlas escapes.

One of the Twelve Labours of Hercules was to take apples from the Garden of Hesperides but for whatever reason (there are a few versions), this was not something he was capable of doing himself. Being one of the few people strong enough to bear Atlas's burden, he offered to take the weight off the Titan's shoulders in exchange for getting the apples. Fearing that he was going to leave him carrying the sky forever, Hercules then tricks Atlas into taking the sky back under the impression he was adjusting his clothing.

The story of Atlas and Hercules is retold in Jeanette Winterson's Weight. Whilst the Percy Jackson books portray all Titans as evil, I felt sympathetic to Winterson's Atlas and thought Hercules a scheming git. There's a moment where Atlas is watching mankind attempt to conquer space and they launch the first dog into orbit. When he sees what they plan for the dog, Atlas scoops Laika up and keeps him as a pet. It's an oddly moving moment and a book I wholly recommend.

Many people assume that an atlas of maps is named after the Titan however this is not the case. According to legend, Mauretanian King Atlas created the first celestial globe and inspired the name. The confusion has caused many a depiction of Atlas to show him holding up a globe rather than the sky. Certainly the myth of Atlas is the source of the saying “to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders”.

Random fact: the first vertebra of the spine (C1) is named atlas as it supports our heads as Atlas supported the sky.

Have you read any other books featuring Atlas? I would love to hear about them.

House of Silence

Linda Gillard has become a bit of an adopted author over at the ReadItSwapIt forums. She does stop by to chat and swap now and then and many members champion her work. Not being a huge bestseller or an easily categorised genre writer, Linda had trouble getting a publisher to pick up her latest book and therefore went down the route of electronic self-publishing.

I may get lynched by the ladies of ReadItSwapIt for saying this but I wasn't blown away by House of Silence. It was easy to read and enjoyable enough but I'm not sure I'd remember much about it in a year's time.

I think I may have liked it a whole lot more if it was set in the past, preferably the twenties. There's a number of reasons for this and I'm sure a lot of readers will disagree with me but here goes. The bulk of the story happens over the Christmas break, just a few days. A lot of stuff comes out into the open and I didn't feel it was long enough for Gwen to connect with the family or adequate time for all those secrets to be revealed. In these modern times, Christmas is one of the few times family gather together to create a situation for this plot to unfold. If we hop in our time machine, it would have been more common for wealthier families to disappear “off to the country” for weeks or months at a time. Just think of Brideshead Revisited (which I couldn't get out of my head whilst reading this, whilst the themes and style is different, it starts with a friend being taken to the family home in the country and the family member wanting to hide his family away).

Secondly, Hattie just seemed too child-like for a woman in her mid-thirties. I can't even suggest that she'd be better off as a teenage character because kids are much more in touch with the world these days. I might have been able to accept her naivety if it were set in a different era. Maybe Linda had meant for her mental development to have been stunted by her childhood but after getting to the end, I just thought she would have been a completely different person having gone though what had happened.

And lastly, do families really manage to get through Christmas without turning on the TV? At the start of the book, Linda makes it clear that the book is set now, in a modern world with the internet and television dramas. As soon as Gwen and Alfie get out into the country it's like stepping back into another world where sewing quilts is the top entertainment. I'm sure a large number of people do enjoy sewing but it was clear that only Hattie and Gwen enjoyed it here. There was a mention of board games too but it all seemed so quaint.

I'm writing this as someone that does go to the family home in the country for Christmas most years. OK it's a detached house not a stately home, but none of this seemed familiar to me. I tend to go for a week minimum and the time just flies by. Once you've tired of walks and looking at the mostly withered garden, you tend to put the telly on and watch cheesy films and the Doctor Who special. I don't think there was even a TV in the whole book, despite two of the characters working in the industry.

You can read other opinions on this thread on ReadItSwapIt, although it has descended a bit into an anti-ebook discussion. There's also a thread on the reasoning behind this being ebook only with comments from Linda herself here.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Incoming!

Only one real book in this week. There may have been a couple of paid for ebooks too but only because of that pesky Kindle sale! I'm pretending I just lost a couple of quid down the back of the sofa and trying to forget those books are there. It's much easier than hiding a giant hardback!


Anyway, the book is a proof copy of The Book of Crows by Sam Meekings from newbooks magazine. I should have ordered it two months ago but I was late renewing and then forgot all about it.

Binu and the Great Wall

Based on the Chinese myth of Meng Jiangnu who brought down the Great Wall with her tears of mourning, this instalment of the Canongate Myths series has ended up a surreal fairytale against a backdrop of a country in despair.

Binu comes from a village where crying from your eyes is forbidden as doing so will mean your death is imminent. The women of the village get round this by shedding their tears via various body parts. When her husband is taken away to work on the Great Wall, Binu is grief-stricken and sets out across China to take him his winter clothes. I'm not familiar with much Chinese myth or superstition but I did enjoy all the unusual beliefs that Binu encounters.

Whilst only a short novel, it does remind me of the sort of journey based tales that began with Gulliver's Travels and has become a favourite within the fantasy genre. It even remind me a little of Neil Gaiman's Stardust in a way. Binu is travelling across a land unknown to her and she meets strange people on the way and gets herself in and out of all sorts of scrapes.

I was disappointed by the low average rating on Goodreads, though obviously not enough to put off reading it. Expectations have a big part to play in enjoyment of a book. If you are looking for historical fiction then pass it by but if you enjoy Grimm's Fairy Tales and stories where the character goes on a weird and wonderful journey, definitely give Binu a go.


#royalreading

Whilst the country is in the grip of Royal Wedding Fever (actually I haven't seen this personally, it's just what the papers say), there are those amongst us that would rather read a book. Scott Pack and @louloulou have come up with a plan to read a whole book next Friday instead of watching the wedding.

I'm not a big fan of weddings in general so was only going to watch five minutes or so of I Do, confetti throwing and an ooh at the dress (Scott has kindly allowed us girlies to have a quick look at the dress during our read). Though I am more than happy that we've got a free day off work just in case we wanted to watch. There are benefits to having a Royal family.

Join in on Twitter with the hashtag #royalreading and spread the word!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Pre-Loved Giveaway


This week's pre-loved giveaway is for The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney which is a young adult read. If you are under 16, please get an adult to enter for you. For more information on these giveaways, click here. I bought this book new and have read it carefully so you can't really tell. However please don't expect perfect condition from any of these giveaways.

Just use my Contact Me form to send in your entry.

Closing date: 28th April

I will send anywhere!

Not your thing? Check back next week for a different genre.

Book Blogger Hop

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!

I'm going to attempt to visit everyone on the list this weekend (as the weekend is twice its normal size). However I will be going out in the sun shortly after posting this. Never fear, I'll be back once I'm cooked to hop on by.

Book Blogger Hop

"If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?"

Short answer, yes! This might be a contributing factor to my 400 book high TBR.

I have "hardback authors" which means I'll get the book as soon as it's published in any format, normally hardback even though I don't like reading hardbacks. These include Terry Pratchett, Kelley Armstrong, Karin Slaughter and Charlaine Harris though there have been some that have dropped off the list and others that are jostling the ranks.

Some of my favourite books have been by debut authors...I'm still waiting for some of them to write second novels. I'd be on them in a heartbeat.

I like the comfort of series and knowing characters inside out. Before starting a series I like to have books two and three lined up just in case I get hooked. I suppose now I've got a Kindle I don't have to worry so much as I can get the next one in an instant, but it's become habit.

Sometimes I haven't even read anything by the author before I start hoarding! It will start with a recommendation or I see loads of people reading a certain author on Goodreads. I go look for books, I find several that interest me. I procure these books even though I know perfectly well it could be months, years even, before I get round to them.

Head over to Crazy For Books to join in or just to browse the participating blogs.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Canongate Myths

Before I embark on my A-Z of mythology, I'd like to introduce you to the Canongate Myths. It's a wonderful little series of novellas (though some of them are more like novels in my opinion), written by a range of top notch authors, that retell myths from around the world.


These books are my special treats, though I am running out of them to buy and therefore try to ration them out. It all started with Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad which I read because I've always loved the tales from The Odyssey. It's the story of Penelope from her point of view whilst her husband is off fighting in the war. I'd recommend it to pretty much anyone, even those not usually interested in Atwood or Greek myths.


Not all The Myths are to everyone's tastes but I enjoy them all out of curiosity at least. Orphan's of Eldorado is lacking quotation marks around speech (a trait of Portuguese) and I wasn't familiar with the legend of the city of gold (except for that 80s cartoon and I don't think that counts), so I struggled a bit. I think The Helmet of Horror was a bit over my head in places but it reminded me of the early internet days of MUDs (multi user dimensions, what we used before MSN). A colleague found the title the most amusing thing ever and still brings it up a year on (if you don't get it, consider your mind smut-free).


I believe it is the brainchild of Scottish publisher Canongate however the books are published by 40 publishers around the world in a variety of languages. So I urge you to try a myth, you might just fall in love with the series like I did.


Click on a cover to go to the relevant Goodreads page for each book. The ratings seem all over the place so don't be put off if your favourite myth has a poor average. I still think they are worth reading for the ideas and/or writing.

The next myth will be Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt (due out in September).