Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Year That Was 2011

I have been justified in holding off my best of list until the end of the year as one of these books was read only last week. I wonder if people stop reading in December just so that they don't ruin their carefully selected lists...

In 2011 I read a whopping 176 books. My target was 130 so I've over-achieved but I don't think I'll be raising the bar too high in 2012. I have read a fair few easy going urban fantasy books this year which has helped the numbers. I would rather try and read a few more weighty books than just increase the numbers. I think I'll aim for 180 and see how it goes.

My top ten reads from 2011 are not all new releases. It's only since I started blogging that I have read a lot of new books, usually they are a few years old. So my list is a genuine "great books I've read this year" list:

#10 Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro




#9 Star Gazing
Linda Gillard
My Review




#8 The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater
My Review




#7 When God Was a Rabbit
Sarah Winman
My Review




#6 Blow on a Dead Man's Embers
Mari Strachan
My Review




#5 A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness
My Review




#4 Warm Bodies
Isaac Marion
My Review





#3 The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
My Review




#2 Shades of Grey
Jasper Fforde
My Review




#1 Water For Elephants
Sara Gruen
My Review




You can see all my stats at a glance over on Goodreads and read more five star reviews on my blog. The majority of my reads have earned three or fours stars which is good going. A three star book isn't a bad one in my world. Here's to another book-filled year in 2012.


Happy New Year!

Cinder

A futuristic retelling of Cinderella's story, Cinder is a cyborg, forced to use her mechanic skills to make money for her adoptive family. Everyone that knows she is no longer completely human looks down on her, she has no freedom and few friends. A chance encounter with Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth, pulls her into a world of politics and subterfuge but a plague is running rife throughout the world and her kind stepsister falls ill, leaving Cinder with no one on her side.

At first I felt the writing style was a bit basic and aimed at the younger end of the young adult spectrum however it did seem to improve as the story unwound. I wanted more scientific explanation of the plague or at least more history of it although Meyer does a good job trying to explain the powers of the Lunar, a race that settled upon Earth's moon. I guess the information will come in later books.

There wasn't any satisfactory resolution for me. There is a growing trend in young adult literature to make everything a trilogy or part of a series. Which is great, except that each book should really stand alone as a novel not an episode of a series that you have to wait over a year for the next one. According to my edition, there are four books planned with the final instalment being released in 2015! I read a lot of series aimed at adult readers and whilst there is always a little something that makes you want to know what happens next, I never end one feeling short changed. Cinder ends in the middle of the story, just because Tolkien did it doesn't mean it's right. I do believe Lord of the Rings was meant to be one book and he got a bit carried away.

Great idea and an interesting world but let down by too many loose wires at the non-end.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Warm Bodies

I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an 'R', but that's all I have now.

Warm Bodies is one of those books that I fell in love with from the start and just want to tell people to read it. They are the kind of books that are hard to write a review for, I don't want to spoil a thing for potential readers. One of the most moving and beautiful books I've read this year and believe it or not, it's about zombies.

Our narrator, R is a zombie. He lurches and groans. He kills people and eats brains. With the brains come flashes of memories from the lives of his prey. R has always seemed a little bit different than the others, maybe a little less gone but when he saves the life of a living girl, Julie, things really start to change. He may have eaten her boyfriend but he will do everything to keep her safe. Is it possible that a zombie can love? Is there any chance for either of them in the doomed world they live in?

Zombies are the creature du jour this year but this isn't your average zombie story. Whilst most are a message of how bad things can get, this is a tale of hope. It is also full of well crafted prose and there are so many passages that are quotable. If you want to challenge your preconceptions of a genre in 2012, you could do a lot worse than reading Isaac Marion's utterly wonderful novel.

Are my words ever actually audible, or do they just echo in my head whilst people stare at me, waiting? I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I'm drowning in ellipses.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

I'm not usually a fan of these short story compilations but quite liked the idea of a werewolf themed festive read. Wolfsbane and Mistletoe contains 15 stories by fantasy authors that you may or may not know. The Werewolf Before Christmas by Kat Richardson was probably the best festive story, where a werewolf finds out that he's eaten Rudolph. Also good reads are the ones with alternate Santa myths however many of the stories just happened to be set around the holidays and could be read any time of year. It's always nice to read stories in the worlds created by Karen Chance, Carrie Vaughn and Patricia Briggs but these were the least Christmassy of the lot.

There are always some misses amongst the hits but at the very least lets you know to avoid the full length novels by the same authors. In The Night Things Changed by Dana Cameron, supernatural beasts are sickening do-gooders and vampires recharge in the sunlight. For me this is too far from the original mythology for my liking so I wouldn't hunt out the series.

For those of you attracted by Charlaine Harris' name on the cover, her contribution is Gift Wrap which is included in the Sookie short story collection, A Touch of Dead. Overall the collection is a cut above the rest providing you don't want a festive feel to every story.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Not Just For Stormtroopers: Sci-Fi Group Read #1

Thanks to everyone who has signed up for my 2012 Sci-Fi challenge. As promised there will be a group read each month for those that want to join in. The first book is one I've been wanting to read for some time, the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.


The book is a bit cross-genre, some say it's fantasy but as it's won a major science fiction prize I think it counts for my challenge! If you'd like the gorgeous Joey HiFi cover, you'll need to get the UK Angry Robot edition but it should be widely available in both paperback and ebook formats.

If anyone has any good ideas for where/how to discuss the book at the end of January, let me know. I'll be reading the book early so if you have a burning desire to discuss it with anyone, you can count on me!

Buy from Angry Robot Store (DRM free)
Buy UK Kindle edition
Buy US Kindle edition
Buy paperback from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery)

This is entirely voluntary so feel free to read your own choice of sci-fi book if you'd rather. A link-up will be posted on 1st January for you to add your reviews/thoughts and earn entries into the giveaway.

Sign-up here!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Sweetness of Life

It's Christmas in the Austrian town of Furth am See and psychiatrist Raffael Horn is over-run with patients. A young girl is brought to him as she refuses to speak. She has just seen the mutilated body of her grandfather, his head unrecognisable.

Don't let the title fool you, there is no sugar coating to The Sweetness of Life and its January publication date is probably wise even though it is set of the Christmas week. It's a bit of a depressing read, especially for this time of year. A large proportion of the book is given to descriptions of Horn's patients which makes you feel like the whole town is mentally ill.

The cover states that this is a Kovacs and Horn Investigation however Kovacs really doesn't get much page space and there's not a lot of investigation going on. It's more of a study of psychology than a traditional crime novel. In the world of Furth am See, psychopaths seem to get away with anything providing they have a doctor's note to say it wasn't their fault and animal cruelty is dismissed. It doesn't give you much faith in justice for the characters.

The prose switches from second person for Horn and Kovacs and to first person for the thoughts of a troubled boy, who we know about his family. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and many aren't relevant at all to the plot. I found myself not really understanding the ending. Sometimes it's great to have questions left unanswered but I was left feeling like I'd missed something.

The Sweetness of Life was originally written in German by Paulus Hochgatterer and has been translated into English by Jamie Bulloch. This paperback edition will be released by MacLehose Press on 5th January 2012. Thanks go to Quercus for sending me a copy to review.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Winner Announced!

With all the excitement of Christmas, I forgot to post the winner of Miranda July's It Chooses You. So without futher ado the winner is...

Jane Hanbury from Booketta's Book Blog!

Read my review and watch videos here (password = pennysaver).

A big thank you goes to Canongate for providing the prize.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Well of Lost Plots

Poor Thursday still hasn't reactualised her non-husband Landen. Even worse she's beginning to forget him. Could it be the work of that pesky Aornis Hades, lurking in her memories?

At the end of Lost in a Good Book, Thursday Next is persuaded to spend the rest of her pregnancy in a safe place, hidden away in an unpublished book in the Well of Lost Plots. All she has to do is act out her character's part and stay out of trouble. Everyone in BookWorld is talking about the upcoming upgrade to the new operating system but is it too good to be true? Characters are starting to die and Thursday can't just sit back and watch.

This instalment is certainly a book for authors as well as readers. The idea is that the books write themselves in BookWorld, that text can be destroyed by pests that steal grammar or the myspeling vyrus and characters are not always happy with their lot in life. There's a black market in plot devices and generics being trained to take the place of characters across different genres. And of course, the horrors of living in a badly written book.

With all the talks of innovation in publishing recently and the rise of the ebook, The Well of Lost Plots is a rather topical read. There's an element of pushing the stories and characters aside in favour of "progress" and more profit. It's all done in a humourous way but it does make you wonder what the characters of BookWorld would make of Kindles and Kobos.

I love the fact that one of Jasper Fforde's other books is actually a book within Thursday's world. If you're a grammar geek I say read it!

Monday, 19 December 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.

One book! I did do a film review and a vlog to make up for it though.

Books I've read:
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde 4/5

Currently reading:
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Upcoming reads:
I can't really remember what I've packed in my suitcase but it's either that or Kindle reading this week.

I also blogged about:
Stocking Fillers | Winner Announced! | Incoming! | Popcorn Moment: War Horse

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Popcorn Moment: War Horse

Fans of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse may feel some trepidation when faced with an adaptation to the big screen. How can a story narrated by a horse be made into a believable film? For those not familiar with the book, the central character is Joey, a young thoroughbred who gets sent to battle in World War I. He is above all a neutral viewpoint and highlights the needless tragedy on all sides of the war.

Richard Curtis and Lee Hall have done a wonderful job writing a screenplay which focuses on the horses, with the human players a supporting cast. For me, the start was a little slow, lingering on Joey's formative years more than the book does. Albert's father may be a drunk but is not cruel and that takes away an aspect that might have given a bit more pace. The tone of the film certainly changes when the horses reach the battlefields of France. I was surprised that the journey across the channel was cut from the plot in favour of more time on the farm.

It is a beautifully shot film throughout. They even managed to see some sun on Dartmoor! It's definitely worth seeing at the cinema for the sweeping landscapes and the atmospheric scenes of war. The corn field was beautiful and no-man's land sinister. My only gripe is that they seem to have borrowed CSI Miami's orange filters for the ending.



Whilst the human acting may come across as a little twee at times, the equine acting was impressive. It's not just about tricks and I dare you not to read into Joey's expression when he's hitched to the heavy artillery. The trainers deserve to win some awards for this. I can't work out if some bits were CGI or not, it's certainly harrowing when Joey gets caught up in barbed wire.

There are moments of humour amongst the doom and gloom too. At moments the whole cinema laughed which is rare even when the film is supposedly a comedy. I think it does a great job of breaking the tension in a film with a serious theme.

There were some children in the audience and no one had to be carried out crying. However I think an understanding of death and war would be required before sitting down to watch. War Horse is a children's book and Spielberg has kept this in mind when filming I think. Yes, people die, but he is careful to keep the death off camera, we see the before and after. I wouldn't go along expecting it to be a happy family film about horses.

The adaptation has stayed true to the heart and soul of War Horse and a reader can't ask for more than that.

War Horse will be out in UK cinemas on 13th January 2012.

Incoming!

AKA In My Mailbox

As a special Christmas treat here's my first vlog! I really need to learn how to use my iPhone. I had a really good video but with no sound, then one with sound that was back-to-front. I so wasn't recording it for a third time so tried to edit it on my PC. Unfortunately I've messed up the quality and it's the wrong aspect ratio. *sigh*

But you get the idea. Here it is in all its non-glory...



The Sweetness of Life
The Mattress House
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Black Light
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Night's Edge
The Secrets of the Notebook

Thanks to:
Quercus
newbooks magazine
Dewey's Readathon
Bournemouth Book Club
Work Secret Santa


In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Lost in a Good Book

Both Thursday Next and Pickwick the dodo are expectant mothers (yes Pickwick isn't a he after all) but they don't have long to enjoy the good news. Thursday returns home to find her husband, Landon, no longer exists. Someone from the ChronoGuard has gone back in time and made sure the two-year old Landon didn't survive the car crash in which he lost his father. He's being held hostage and Thursday must find a way to return to the pages of books in order to get him back.

Lost in a Good Book is the second instalment of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, following on from The Eyre Affair. Thursday's world is an alternate version of 1980s Swindon (the magic roundabout still exists) where literature has a special ops division to keep it safe and extinct animals have been re-engineered. As part of the Literatech, it's part of Thursday's job to make sure no one meddles with the classics, even if she did make the ending of Jane Eyre better.

The Indepedent may say that these are silly books for smart people but I think they are silly books for bookish people. It certainly helps to know the classics and they're the kind of silly that will bring a smile to the face of any booklover. I'm not sure I'm ever going to see Miss Havisham in the same light again.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Winner Announced!

The winner of Remix and Replica by Lexi Revellian is...

Richard N from Enjoy This Image (photo blog)



Congrats to the winner but for the rest of you, Lexi's books are available in paperback and ebook formats from all the usual suspects.

www.lexirevellian.com

Stocking Fillers

Behind on your Christmas shopping? Got some hard to buy for people that have just got you stumped? Here's my suggestions for last minute gifts.

21st Century Dodos:
Anyone over thirty will find this packed with nostalgia. It's the perfect book to dip into so you can give to those who aren't big readers. Read my review here.

Ready Player One:
For the geeks in your life. It's not had much publicity in the UK (except for us bloggers that nabbed a copy from NetGalley) so there's a good chance it will be a pleasant surprise! Read my review here.



Book Tokens:
The answer for those of you who want your gift vouchers to be spent on books and not random stuff off Amazon. They can be bought and used in most bookshops in the UK including chains and independents. For more information visit their website.

Unbound Gift Certificate:
Unbound is a great publishing concept. You help get the book published by pledging your support. There are different levels depending on the project, from ebook to dinner with the author (or even pony trekking) and every level will get your name in the back of the book. If you opt for a hardback copy you'll also get an ebook sent to you on the day of publication so you can get reading straight away. Whilst it's probably a bit late to pledge on someone's behalf you can buy gift credits so they can choose what project(s) to support.



Avoid the Christmas themed books. They are fun in the run up to the holidays but not so enjoyable in January when they are much more likely to be read!

Monday, 12 December 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 had a stinker of a cold so lots of comfort reading this week.

Books I've read:
The Dead Girls' Dance by Rachel Caine 3/5
Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine 4/5
Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine 4/5
Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine 4/5
Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris 3/5
The Magic of Christmas by Trisha Ashley 3/5

Currently reading:
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Upcoming reads:
I'm reading on the fly this month!

I also blogged about:
Lexi Revellian Giveaway! | Win It Chooses You

Win It Chooses You

Fancy winning It Chooses You by Miranda July? I've got a hardback copy to give away to one lucky winner. Please note this giveaway is UK only.

Read my review


Rules:
Entry is open to UK residents only.
By entering you are agreeing that your details can be passed onto Canongate who will be sending the prize.
Curiosity Killed The Bookworm is not responsible for items lost in the post.
Prize is non-negotiable.
Entry is by completing the form below and the winner will be chosen at random.
Closing date: 18th December 2011

The Magic of Christmas

It's August and the villages of Middlemoss are gathering for their first Christmas Pudding Club meeting. Among them is Lizzy who is considering leaving her verbally abusive husband, Tom. When he takes her car and disappears for days, part of her hopes he just won't come back. He's often done this before but this time he turns up dead.

It might not seem the cheeriest premise for a festive read by Lizzy isn't all that bothered by the death of her husband. She is slightly concerned that the police think she finished him off but the secrets of his life slowly come out into the open. As always with Trisha Ashley, there's a busy cast of characters portraying village life. They are busy planning the annual mystery play and I loved the humour the locals added to the bible stories. There's lots of lovely seasonal food ideas too.

This is a reworked version of Sweet Nothings so if you've read that there may not be all that much new material.