Friday, December 31, 2010
Now that the year is coming to an end, I have been reminiscing over the books I have read over the last year. There have been some bad reads, but mostly I have spent the year discovering some great authors and rediscovering old ones.
In total I racked up 27 reads, 2 of these were abandoned. A modest number, considering that there are some book bloggers who have read a total of 70 books and more this year. However I think that 27 is quite an impressive number, considering the amount of upheaval I have had to deal with over the last few months. Besides, it's quality not quantity that counts!
Here are my top reads of 2010 (in no particular order):
1. 'The Time Traveler's Wife'- Audrey Niffenegger
2. 'Around the World in 80 Days'- Jules Verne
3. 'The Vet's Daughter'- Barbara Comyns
4. 'A Swift Pure Cry'- Siobhan Dowd
5. 'Started Early, Took my Dog'- Kate Atkinson
6. 'The Road'- Cormac McCarthy
7 'The Rapture'- Liz Jensen
8. 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'- Muriel Barbery
9. 'Memoirs of A Geisha'- Arthur Golden
10. 'The Boleyn Inheritance'- Philippa Gregory
11. 'Last Chance to See'- Mark Carwardine
It's more traditional to have a top 10 list. However, I felt that I had to sneak in Mark Carwardine's 'Last Chance to See', because it is such a wonderful book.
I haven't made any resolutions as such for next year, except to read more and finish writing my short story, in order to send to a publisher (or 10!).
Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Firstly, my niece had commissioned this hand-made notebook holder. It is beautifully embroidered with shoes,bows and patterns all around it. Also on the front, my name (which I'm not going to reveal!) is embroidered, with 'Merry Christmas, Love (then my niece's name).
When you open it, the panels which hold a chosen notebook in place are embroidered with my name on one side and as you can see, on the other it is lined with lovely flowers.
As well as a notebook holder, I also received this gorgeous notebook:
This notebook is from a collection of exquisite hand made papery items made by Lala, who posts on the 'My Castle in Spain' blog.
On the front in French, it has a wonderful phrase which translates as:
'Hier- yesterday, the sky was the colour of an orange, mixed with pink with a streak of azure...'
This phrase evokes images of a warm sunset or sunrise, in the middle of summer.
Inside, the book is lined with a wonderfully vibrant lining and contains sumptuously thick paper, which I'm looking forward to filling up with ideas. Although I may have to try and improve my handwriting, to justify marking this book!
Then finally, I received a 'Novel Writing Kit', which I love:
Not only is this fun, but I think it's something that I need, in order to boost my writing motivation. The kit was compiled by Chris Baty, the founder of 'NaNoWriMo Writing Month', an initiative which I have previously posted about on the blog.
Inside, it's filled with a book of writing tips, motivational cards, stickers and even a badge that says 'Novelist', in order to help any budding writer to complete 50,000 words in a month.
I have had some skepticism about 'NaNoWriMo Writing Month' in the past. However, I think that I'm going to give this a go. I'm also going to encourage others to join in with this fun project, so that we can compete against each other. Unfortunately, the rules state that I can't simply tack 50,000 words onto any existing work, so I'm going to have to wait until I have finished the first draft of my short story. So some time next year, I'm going to see if this works.
In general, I've had some great presents this year. However, I love my papery presents.
What books/papery gifts did you receive this Christmas?
Sunday, December 26, 2010
This week's 'Sunday Snippet' still comes from Phil Rickman's 'The Bones of Avalon', I really must get on and finish it:
Page 150: 'As if she were awakening from some daydream...as if we both were held in a spell which she must needs break.'
Happy Sunday and enjoy the rest of the holiday!
Friday, December 24, 2010
Every year around this time (in fact they may still), Radio 1 used to play a version of Dr Seuss' classic story 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas', read by rapper Ja Rule. A strange combination I'm sure you will agree, however, his voice suits perfectly to this funny and slightly dark Christmas tale.
To listen to this, click on the video:
I hope that you enjoy the video and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.Unfortunately,I've got a nasty cold at the moment, but I'm not going to let that stop me having a good time. I'll be back on Sunday with this week's 'Sunday Snippet'.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Anyway, I wish that I could say that the following review is a very positive one, but I can't. However before I talk about the book, here are its stats:
Publisher: Headline Review
Length: 528 Pages
'A blackbird's song broke into his uneasy dreams, but the shutters on the cottage windows were still tightly closed.'
It's very unusual for me to leave a book unfinished. Usually I force myself to plow through a novel, so that I can at least give the words an opportunity to be discovered. However, 'The Rose Labyrinth' is a novel that has made its way to my 'Abandoned Books' list.
I did try and continue as far as possible with this novel, in fact I progressed until page 99. However by that point, I felt that I had to give up.
Instead of telling you about the plot myself, I'll let the blurb at the back of the book do the talking:
'Before his death in 1609, the brilliant Elizabethan spy and astrologer John Dee hid his most astonishing secrets, trusting his descendants would one day bring them to light. That time has come.
In 2003, Will Stafford inherits a strange legacy from his mother: a key and an ancient script with an enigmatic note. Deeply intrigued, he travels Europe seeking answers to it's riddles, unaware that someone is following his every move.
Back in London, Lucy King becomes entangled in Will's cryptic labyrinth, As its mysterious twists take her from France to New York, and from literature to myth, in search of its hidden treasure, she has never been closer to the truth, nor in graver danger.'
Sounds interesting right? I thought so too, that was until I started reading this novel.
Firstly, I felt that the character structure was weak. None of the characters stood out and in my opinion, they were a bunch of bland, middle class thirty somethings, who lived in the country pub. If main characters can't attract my attention, then I have the opinion that why should I invest my time finding out what is going to happen next?
If the characters weren't bad enough, I think what disappointed me most was the plot itself. The plot was predictable and purely a mish-mash of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' and Cecelia Ahern's 'Thanks for the Memories'. I could tell what was going to happen even after 100 pages and, on speaking to a friend who had been brave enough to stick this novel out until the end, I found out that my predictions were correct. I understand that most novels draw ideas from other novels. However, to overtly copy their plots and claim the work as your own, in my opinion, is lazy writing.
I don't like to have purely negative books reviews on the blog. I would prefer to find both good and bad elements in the things that I have read. However, with 'The Rose Labyrinth' there's nothing positive that I can find to talk about.
Have you read this novel? What did you think of it? I'd be very interested to read your opinions.
Monday, December 20, 2010
but also reviews of film adaptions of popular novels.
To restore order and destroy Voldemort, Harry (with the help of Ron and Hermoine)has to find all of the Horcruxes (pieces of Voldermort's soul hidden in different objects) and destroy them, before Voldemort can restore his power.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Page 135: 'The heavy-panelled room seemed to tilt.'
'The Bones of Avalon'- Phil Rickman
It's a short and sweet snippet this week.
I hope that you enjoy the rest of the weekend. I'm excited because I'm off to see 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' this afternoon. A review on what it's like, will follow shortly!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Length: 482 Pages
'Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup.'
Having read Audrey Niffenegger's novel 'The Time Traveler's Wife' and being blown away by it, I hoped that her follow-up novel 'Her Fearful Symmetry' would be just as good.
Then when I read the blurb, the intrigue that it created convinced me to give this novel a go:
'When Elspeth Noblin dies she leaves her beautiful flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina Poole, on the condition that their mother is never allowed to cross the threshold. But until the solicitor's letter falls through the door of their suburban American home, neither Julia nor Valentina knew their aunt existed. The twins hope that in London their own, separate, lives can finally begin but they have no idea that they have been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover, who loves below them and works in the cemetery itself.'
Overall, I was very disappointed with this novel. The plot began with promise and I particularly liked the parts about Elspeth's transition into 'living' as a ghost. However, as the book progressed, I felt the plot unravel and it just became absurd.In fact in parts, the plot had a tinge of bad taste about it.I particularly disliked the resolution to the story, I just felt that it was put there for shock factor, rather than to move the story to its conclusion. Elements I did like however, was the sub-plot of Martin in his attempts to overcome his obsessive behaviour, to win back his wife and also the information about the history of Highgate cemetery.
The characterisation within this novel was good, however I felt that the characters were not as well developed as the characters within 'The Time Traveler's Wife'. Even though the 2 main characters within 'Her Fearful Symmetry' are lovers, I felt that their relationship lacked the tenderness that 'The Time Traveler's Wife' did.
The pace of the novel was balanced,it was the content that I had a problem with. I like original novels, particularly those with a darker atmosphere for example, 'The Vet's Daughter' by Barbara Comyns, however, 'Her Fearful Symmetry' lacked the atmophere of the later.
As you can probably tell, I didn't enjoy reading this novel and fear that 'The Time Traveller's Wife' makes Audrey Niffenegger a 'one hit wonder'.
Monday, December 13, 2010
In total, I managed to write approximately 5279 words. Before I came up with a final word count I thought that I hadn't written much, so I'm pleasantly surprised. I would have liked to have written more though.
However what the month taught me, is that maybe less is more. Why? Well, I had dedicated myself to writing every day, doing hour writing sessions at a time. However, as I have a rather dodgy back, I overdid it and ended up catching a nerve which was not only painful but set my writing schedule further back, as I was unable to do any writing at all. So maybe being strict with my writing schedule, is not the right thing for me. Short, casual burst of being productive will hopefully help me to reach my goal of finishing the short story, without sacrificing my health.
Overall though, I'm glad that I participated in 'Melissa's Writing Month'. It gave me the incentive to focus on my writing and therefore I hope that this will help me towards a finished novel in the future.
Have any writers out there participated in 'Melissa's Writing Month' or any other writing initiatives? If so, did you find them helpful?
Sunday, December 12, 2010
This week's snippet is from Phil Rickman's 'The Bones Of Avalon', a book that I'm currently reading and can't quite decide whether I'm enjoying or not :
Page 44- 'Then a leathered hand across my mouth, and I was spun around to behold a man with a dark velvet hat pulled over his eyes.'
'The Bones of Avalon'- Phil Rickman
Enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Friday, December 10, 2010
It started over a month ago. We applied to update to faster Internet and (legal) UK TV. The company we went with said that they would have to turn off our Internet for a week, whilst they take over the phone line from the previous company. In the meantime, they would send our new router and a TV set top box. The prospect of being without Internet wasn't great, but I thought 'It's only for a week, I'm sure that I can manage'.....little did I know, that we would be without Internet for a lot longer.
After a week of waiting , there was no sign of the new router. So we decided to telephone the company to find out where it was. Now, I've heard A LOT of excuses in my time and thought that nothing could surprise me. However, when the company told me that the lorry that was transporting a new delivery of equipment to their offices had been hijacked, I realised that life still has it's surprises!
The company apologised (well it was clearly not their fault, who could have predicted something like that!?) and said that they had received a new delivery of equipment and would send our router shortly. Time went by and again, no delivery.
Before attempting to connect an Internet router I hadn't realised, that it's all very well that I know how to use a computer; I'm an expert at blogging, using Facebook and EBay, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I know how to set one up. However, I was assured that it was easy and so I embarked on the task at hand.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Anyway I digress. Here is this week's 'Sunday Snippet':
Page 20: 'Marijke stood in Martin's office next to his computer, trying to steady her hands enough to thread the needle in the pool of yellow light from his desk lamp. Their flat was very dark; Martin had papered over the windows and she could only tell that it was morning by the white light that showed the Sellotape at the edges of the newspaper.'
'Her Fearful Symmetry'- Audrey Niffenegger
Have a great weekend and normality will resume on the blog shortly!
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Publisher: Virago Modern Classics
Length: 190 Pages
Opening Line: 'A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.'
'The Vet's Daughter' by Barbara Comyns is another reading recommendation. A friend saw a review of this novel on another book blog and decided to read it herself. Then, because she enjoyed it, she passed this novel on to me.
'The Vet's Daughter' is set mainly in Edwardian London. The main protagonist is Alice, a girl in her teens who lives with her ailing mother and tyrant of a father, in a house which doubles as her father's veterinary surgery.
When her mother dies, Alice is trapped in an oppressive life. She unloved by her father, ridiculed by his new partner and acts as a slave to both of them.
Then a man arrives at the surgery, whom Alice nicknames Blinkers. He works as a partner in the veterinary surgeon and becomes besotted with Alice. Seeing that she is unhappy, he suggests that she travel to Hampshire, to work as a companion for his mother. Although Alice does not share the same affection for him, as he has for her, Alice decides to use Blinkers as a way of escaping and so, she agrees.
Life in Hampshire is rather dull. However one day, Alice meets Nicholas, a handsome boat builder. Alice then has the dilemma of whether to stick with her loyalties and marry Blinkers or follow her heart and pursue Nicholas.
The story then takes on a supernatural twist. One night, Alice discovers that she is not as ordinary as she first thought.
Most of the time when I finish a novel, I can instantly decide whether I enjoyed it or not. However with 'The Vet's Daughter', my opinion wasn't as clear straight away. In fact even now, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this novel.
It is so unusual, that at times I wasn't sure what this novel was supposed to be. It is both a novel focusing on the oppression of the Edwardian period, but also, it has elements of the supernatural. Therefore whilse reading this novel, I found it difficult to work out.
In my opinion, I think this is a good thing. The reason is because even after reading the novel, I'm still thinking about it and I have also been discussing it with my friend. Most novels I read, think 'I did/didn't enjoy that' and then more on to the next novel. So it is because 'The Vet's Daughter' is so unusual, Comyns has effectively held her audience, even after they have read the last page of her novel. I have only ever come across one other author who is able to do that and that is Guy Burt.
The main element I absolutely loved, was the atmosphere this novel portrayed. It demonstrated both the oppression of the age and also of Alice's life. There was an almost macabre atmosphere running throughout this novel, even when reading happier parts of the story. Even now, I can't quite put my finger on how Barbara Comyns was able to achieve this, but I think it's because the vocabulary is simple, therefore it has more impact than if she had used more complex language. Also the wonderful, dark visual imagery, adds to the atmosphere.
I loved Comyns characterisation. All of the characters are well rounded and I loved the underlying darkness through each character. It is evident that people such as Alice father should be portrayed as menacing, but even Alice, who is supposed to be innocent, is portrayed as imperfect, as she plays with the affections of people like Blinkers. This added interest and realism to the story.
The pace of the novel was good, but the unconventional story and ending, may leave some readers disappointed. However, I found this novel compelling, thought provoking and unlike any other book I've ever read.
I know that I have given 'The Vet's Daughter' a very mixed review, but over all, I really enjoyed reading this novel. In fact, I think that this novel deserves to be read more than once, in order to really appreciate it.
So if you like reading something that dares to be different, particularly if you enjoy watching Tim Burton films, then I would definitely recommend this novel.
Monday, November 8, 2010
In general, it's going well. I wrote 1833 words last week, which has taken me to the end of the 4th chapter of my short story. I have slightly clearer plans about how the plot is going to progress. However, I still have a few things to clarify for example, a few location problems and names for fictional towns. As I'm not great on geography, I seem to find it difficult too look at the landscape my characters are placed in, as a whole. I mostly concentrate on where the characters are at each specific moment and I really need to develop the landscape as a whole, so that my readers are more immersed in the story.
I have also set myself the target of finishing the first draft of this story, in 8 weeks. I could probably finish this story in less time, however, I like the idea of writing at a slower pace. This is because I like to have a little freedom to change things and this approach allows for leniency in plot, in case some element unexpectantly organically (I should really plan my stories in a more rigid way, but I just find it difficult to work like that). Also, I think that giving myself an 8 week writing plan, helps me to fit my writing around things going on the real world, like house work and other obligations that I have.
So ,week 1 has been successful I think. I just hope that I can maintain the momentum and get my story finished!
What about you? Are you participating in 'Melissa's Writing Month? Or have you set yourself any of your own writing challenges? I would love to know how you're getting on.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Page 153:'The day after my experience in the wood began badly. No hot water was brought to my room, and only weak, cold tea and toast appeared on the break-fast-table.'
'The Vet's Daughter'- Barbara Comyns
Monday, November 1, 2010
One big problem I have, is that at the moment I have 2 projects on the go (a children's novel and a short story) and sometimes, well actually most of the time, I lack the motivation needed to finish anything. I am lucky though, because I have a fellow author friend and we meet up regularly, to encourage and help each other with our writing. This support keeps me going, but I feel that I lack a writing structure/timetable, to stick to.
This morning, whilst browsing through the newest blog posts, Melissa at 'This too...' blog highlighted something called 'MeNoWriMo' . This an initiative in which writers have to force themselves to write 50,000 words, without censoring what they write. Coincidentally a short time after reading this post, a friend sent me an article about 'MeNoWriMo' (maybe they were trying to tell to get off my butt and do some work!) and you can read it here.
To be honest, I don't think that I will take part in this. It could be a great motivator but in my opinion, by simply writing without thinking can bring an awful lot of rubbish, in which you have to sift through at the end. Slow, considered writing would be better in my opinion, although not completely free of total jibberish.
So, I have decided to join in with 'Melissa's Writing Month'. This entails setting realistic writing goals and then sticking to them. On 1st December I will report back, to tell you how the month went.
My goals for this month are :
1.) Set out clear, fully planned out plot and character structure for my short story. It's mostly there, but I still have a bit of ironing out to do.
2.) Write a time plan when I want to get to the editing stage of the book.
3.) Then start! Sticking to my time plan.
For those of you who write, are you planning to join in with 'MeNoWriMo'? Do you think that forcing yourself to write 50,000 words in a month is a good idea? Or do you prefer to write at a slower pace?
Also, are you able to motivate yourself to write and how do you do it? I realise that I have ended this post with many questions, but I would be interested to get an insight into how other writers motivate themselves. I would also be glad of any tips on self motivation.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
'The Vet's Daughter'- Barbara Comyns
Have a great Sunday!
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Length: 149 Pages
Opening Line: 'My father, Ashley Pond, grew up in Detroit, a delicate boy who suffered through his school days and even through college with bronchitis.'
I admit, that I'm not much of a non-fiction reader. I'm more or less willing to read anything. However, I have avoided this genre because I was under the assumption, that non-fiction involved reading about the lives of famous people and I don't particularly want to read juicy details of the exploits of the rich and famous.
However, when I was given the recommendation of reading 'The House at Otowi Bridge- The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos', I decided to break my fiction habit.
The true story of Edith Warner is told by Peggy Pond Church who, with the help of her memories of her friend and extracts from Edith's diaries and 'Christmas Letters', pieces together the life of this fascinating woman.
Edith Warner was a woman who needed to be away from the hustle and bustle of life. She felt a stranger in the modern world and knew that she was destined for something different. So, after falling into ill health in around the 1920's, a friend John Boyd takes her to the isolated, but magnificent landscape of San Lldefonso in New Mexico. It is there, that Edith finds the place she is destined to be.
Edith discovers a small house by Otowi bridge by the Rio Grande, in a place the Indians call 'Po-sah-con-gay', (the place where the river makes a noise). There she runs a small shop, selling goods to trains and visitors, crossing the bridge.
Times are often hard for Edith, finance is often tight and sometimes the isolation of the house is almost impossible to bare. However, what she gains during her stay at the little house, is a sense of being at one with nature and a peace that she has longed for. The story highlights the deep friendships she makes with members of the neighbouring Indians at San Lldefonso pueblos and how, even though both Edith and the people are from completely different cultures, they come to have a deep understanding of each other.
Years pass peacefully for Edith and the San Lldefonso residents, until war breaks out and with it, brings the world outside of the plateau, closer to Edith. Scientists researching into atomic energy, take over parts of surrounding area and Edith provides them food and peace, away from the stresses of their potentially destructive work. Through Edith and the beautiful surroundings, the scientists are forced to rethink the motives behind their work, resulting in them using both their knowledge and the ancient teachings of the people of San LIdefonso, for less destructive uses.
Left to my own devises, I probably wouldn't have chosen to read this book to be honest. However, I'm so glad that I did, because 'The House at Otowi Bridge- The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos' is a wonderful book. It is beautifully descriptive and is as good as any fiction novel. The descriptions made me want to go and live in the peace and tranquility of the plateau. The story is compelling and I thought that the information about the traditions of the Indians was very interesting. I love how, even though scientists tried to influence the tranquil life at the plateau, it was the plateau that influenced the lives of the scientists and indeed, everyone who visited it.
I really enjoyed 'The House of Otowi Bridge- The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos' and would definitely recommend this. I'd also like to read some more non-fiction, so I'd love to hear some more of your recommendations.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
So, inspired by this idea, I've decided to begin a regular feature called 'Sunday Snippet'. This is where every week, on a Sunday, I will post 2 random sentences, for a random page in a book that I'm currently reading. I'd be interesting in having a glimpse at what you are reading, so don't hesitate to post 2 random sentences from you current read on you blog, then send me the link to your post. Also don't forget to give a spoiler warning, in case the sentences give away any information about
Anyway, here's the first 'Sunday Snippet' :
P106- ' By the well she watched a bud unfold upon a slender stalk, wondering if she had dreamed the exquisite cream-colored Mariposa lily, three-petalled, with its center of bright gold. She had seen them bloom before only on the high mesa west of the river.'
'The House at Otowi Bridge- The story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos' - Peggy Pond Church
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I recieved my prizes last week, but have not been able to share any photos of them up until now, because I lost the cable to my camera! Luckily though, I found it hidden in a completely random box and so now, I can show you:
As you can see, the items are beautifully presented and the parcel itself, was equally well wrapped, with lovely purple paper inside the box.
I LOVE the cutlery pens, as they are so quirky and even though I can't understand French (learning Spanish is enough at the moment!), the book will look exotic on my bookshelf.
I have been thinking about doing a giveaway and I'm planning one for around Christmas time, so watch this space! Do you enter many blog giveaways?
Another thing that I wanted to talk to you about, seeing as this blog is about all things papery, is the difficulty that I have had finding decent writing paper.
Last week, around the same time that my prizes arrived, I received a letter. This letter was from a very good friend of mine who lives in Canada. As I hadn't heard from her in ages, I was really pleased to receive it.
When I first moved to Spain over 5 years ago, I encouraged all of my friends to send me letters, as I really enjoy receiving them. In my opinion, they are more personal than an E-mail, as someone has to sit down and think about what they are writing, rather than typing a quick message and then pressing 'Send' (however, don't get me wrong, I still like receiving E-mails).
My friends wrote letters for a while, but gradually, these were less frequent and now, most of my friends only sent me E-mails. Now, I only receive letters, from my friend in Canada. Anyway I digress..
As I don't have letter writing paper left, I decided to buy some more. Since then, I have had so much trouble finding any that I am starting to think that letter writing paper exists any more!
Due to the lack of writing paper in the shops, it made me think whether or not people actually write letters anymore? Or has society become so busy, that they don't have time to sit down and write? Do you write letters or do you prefer to E-mail?
As a child, I also had a lot of pen pals. You could find adverts requesting pen pals in most teen magazines, but in today's society, do you think that this is now too dangerous? Have you ever had/have pen pals?
Letter writing is a little old fashioned, but I love the idea of receiving a handwritten note in the post. I hope that this method of communication hasn't completely been replaced by technology.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Length: 350 Pages
'1975: 9 April: ' Leeds: ' Motorway City of the Seventies'.
Since Kate Atkinson's latest novel 'Started Early, Took My Dog' came out a few months ago, I have read many reviews about this novel on different book blogs and have been disappointed at not being able to read it myself and give my own opinions. However, now I can.
'Started Early, Took My Dog' is a multi-stranded story which involves Tracy Waterhouse, an ex-policewoman who buys a 4 year old girl from a prostitute, a actress called Tilly who is in the twilight years of her acting career and is showing the first signs of dementia and the murder of a woman in the 1970's. Revolving around all of these elements is Jackson Brodie, a private investigator who is embarking on his own case, trying to find the biological parents of Hope McMaster and, on a personal level, his money swindling ex-wife. If he hadn't got enough on his plate, he also comes into possession of a dog named 'The Ambassador'.
Kate Atkinson is my favourite contemporary author and someone who I greatly admire, in fact, I would love to be able to write like her. Why? Well, Kate Atkinson has the ability to weave many threads of story together, without confusing her readers. Not only that, she doesn't simply add different elements and then tie up some of the ends, but is able to tie up every strand without the reader being left searching for answers. Also what I found with 'Started Early, Took My Dog' was despite having created a complex plot, Atkinson still managed to throw in a few surprise twists which I had not seen coming.
Something else that I think stands Kate Atkinson apart from other writers, is her impeccable characterization. In many of her novels, 'Started Early, Took my Dog' included, there are many characters involved. However all of them, including minor characters, are fully formed and I didn't feel like any of the characters were just 'bit parts' who were only there to carry the story forward. Each character had equal attention to detail.
Kate Atkinson's novels, can be read as stand-alone novels. However what I love about the 'Jackson Brodie' series(this book being the latest installment), is that throughout each novel, the reader learns more about Jackson, his private life and his tragic family history, including the murder of his sister and the suicide of his brother. Atkinson creates a life for Brodie away from each case, so that it doesn't just feel like Jackson is a puppet that she takes out of his box with every investigation and then puts him back when the case is resolved. This is really effective, because if you read the series, then it's like you're on a journey with Jackson and it creates realism and empathy for him as a character.
If Kate Atkinson wasn't just brilliant at crafting convincing characters, her way with words is equally as good. Atkinson conveys humour and subtlety, whilst making the plot easy to understand and all this, encapsulated in a few carefully selected words. What I also love about Kate Atkinson's writing, is her attention to detail. For example, her observations in the character's surroundings, both in the past and present, draw the reader into the world that she creates within her novels.
Kate Atkison's style of writing is clever and accessible to both sexes, I have felt that sometimes, the crime/mystery genre is mostly aimed at men; you may think that this is sexist comment, but that is just my opinion.
'Started Early, Took My Dog' is one of Kate Atkinson's more 'conventional' novels, but her quirky, humourous style shines through. This is a brilliant novel and I would recommend this to everyone, not just readers of crime and mystery.
Similar titles you may enjoy:
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Length: 320 Pages
Opening Line: "Marx has completely changed the way I view the world," declared the Pallières boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me.'
Firstly, I want to wish all of my Spain based readers happy fiestas over the next few days. If you need any food, then I'm afraid that the supermarkets are closed so you will have to eat out!
Also, apologies for the lateness of this review, my mum's laptop suddenly died. Luckily we have a PC too, but the Internet has also been playing up.......technology, you can't live with it, but you can't live without it!
Anyway, back to the review. 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' is written by French novelist Muriel Barbery, and translated into English, by Alison Anderson.
The novel centres around Renèe, a concierge of a posh apartment building in Paris. To the residents, Renèe is a bit of a nobody. To them she has no importance and they believe that she should be regarded as 'lower' class, because they think that their lives are more important, because they have high powered jobs and they are more culturally educated than a simple concierge. However, Renèe is living a secret life.
Whilst Renèe puts on this facade of a poor, unintelligent concierge by buying bland, cheap food and having her television blaring in the background, when she enters her sanctuary in a room at the back of her flat, Renèe cooks herself richer, more decadent food whilst the 'peasant' food she buys, is given to her fat cat Leo. Also, Renèe lavishes in art, literature and having tea with her only friend Manuela, a Portuguese cleaning lady who sees the 'real' life of her rich employees and knows that they are the same as everyone else.
Another character which is central to the story is Paloma, a 12 year girl who lives in the same apartment building. Paloma is naturally clever, but like Renèe believes that she should dumb herself down because she is destined for a 'unreal' bourgeois life, which in her opinion, is pretentious and unfulfilled. So, she decides, that on her 13 birthday, she is going to commit suicide by burning her apartment down when no one but her is around, in order to escape her fate. In the meantime, she decides to use the remainder of her life by documenting all her observations of why the world is worth living in, through simple actions such as movement and beauty in everyday life.
These two characters seem to be an unlikely pair,but after the death of one of the residents brings a Japanese man named Monsieur Ozu into their lives, they realise that they don't have to conform to what is expected of them and that they are not alone in the world.
I was recommended this novel by a friend, who adores this novel. When I started reading this, I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy it, because it seemed as if the characters were perceiving themselves as 'better' than everyone else. However, I decided to read it from the beginning again (at that point I was only on the second chapter, so I had the luxury of starting again) and I realised how completely wrong I was.
Renèe and Paloma are not the ones who think that they are better than everyone else, in fact it's the neighbours who look down on everyone else. The two characters are funny, warm and intelligent however any of their intelligence is relative to something, rather than being there because they want everyone else to believe that they are intelligent. I really cared for the characters and I thought that they were original and convincing.
The plot is brilliant, there are not many books that I could say had a plot in which was original and quirky, but this is one of them.
Muriel Barbery writes wonderfully, with subtle humour and I love the way that she gently makes fun of the pretentious people in the novel. I also love the way she weaves philosophy and culture into the story, without alienating the reader.
The main thing that I love about this novel, is Barbery's wonderful observational writing. This is mainly to do with the things that Paloma writes in her journals to do with 'Profound' Thoughts and her 'Journal of the Movement of the World'. Paloma observations are not only funny, but done in such a way to create movement and beauty into your mind and I thought it was beautiful.
There are many novels which I have enjoyed, but there are very few that I could say were special. 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden is one of them and I also think that ' The Elegance of the Hedgehog' is another one. This novel is so unique and beautiful, that I would quite happily read this novel over and over again without getting bored. I would urge everyone to go out and buy this book, because it will give you a unique reading experience every time.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Length: 428 Pages
Opening Line: 'Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that happened a long while ago, and I said to you, "That afternoon when I met so-and-so...was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon."
Regular readers of the blog will know that I have raved about 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden, for a long while. So after a few years of reading this novel , I decided to give it a re-read to see if lived up to the last time.
'Memoirs of a Geisha' tells the story of Chiyo, a girl who lives in a 'tipsy house' with her sister Satsu, her father and ailing mother in a small fishing village called Yoroido, on the sea of Japan. Life is difficult for Chiyo and her poor family, so when her mother is on the brink of death, Chiyo's father decides to sell his daughters to a man named Mr Tanaka and Chiyo's life changes forever.
Chiyo is separated from her sister and taken to a okiya in Gion, with the purpose of eventually becoming a geisha. However, before she can earn the right to take lessons in dance, music and tea ceremony at the local school for Geishas, Chiyo has to endure hard work and brutal treatment by 'Auntie' and 'Granny', the two women who run the Okiya.
As if it wasn't enough, Chiyo has to live with Hatsumomo the chief Geisha, whose bullying and manipulating nature often gets Chiyo into trouble and even more debt, with Granny and Mother.
After finding her sister working as a prostitute in a nearby brothel, Chiyo attempts to run away with Satsu. Unfortunately, Chiyo ends up falling from the roof of a neighbouring Okiya and she breaks her arm, so Chiyo loses her sister forever. With no where to go, Chiyo is forced to return to the Okiya.
However things take a turn for the better, as a chance meeting with a man Chiyo calls 'The Chairman', changes Chiyo's perspective on the life that she has been cruelly thrust upon her. She becomes determined to become the best geisha she can be in the hope that one day, she will meet 'The Chairman' once again.
Through pure determination, Chiyo proves herself as a apprentice geisha and when she becomes a fully fledged geisha, she takes on the name of 'Sayuri'.
This takes the story onto Sayuri's quest to find the chairman and for Mameha, her 'sister' (a sort of geisha mentor) and her to rid Gion of the cruelty of Hatsumomo.
I probably haven't described this book as well as I could have, as there is a lot more to the story than that, but that is briefly what the novel is about.
However what I can say about this book, is that it is exquisite. The writing is poetic and I absolutely love the 'first person' perspective in this book. It's almost as if Sayuri is talking direct to the reader, which is, in my opinion, the best way to draw anyone into a story.
In fact when I was reading this, it was difficult to believe that this novel has been written by a man because, and I know this may sound a little sexist, but this novel had the 'voice' of a woman. I felt that the tone of this novel is so convincing, that it's like Sayuri herself is telling you her story.
Also what adds to the authenticity of the novel, is the detail that Arthur Golden goes into when talking about the traditions of Geisha. This novel almost reads as an 'A-Z of Geisha Tradition' and I found this element fascinating.
The plot is compelling, well balanced and I love the juxtaposition between the facade of beauty that the outside life of a geisha portrays and the brutal, cruel world that Sayuri experiences, inside the confines of her Okiya.
This novel is beautiful, sensual and absorbing. It's not often that I write a book review without pointing out some of the novel's faults but as hard as I tried, I couldn't find any.
So, if you want to be swept up in a story of beauty, culture and fantastic storytelling, I would definitely recommend this novel.
On another note, since reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha', I haven't heard of any other work by Arthur Golden. Does anyone know of any other Arthur Golden novels?
Saturday, September 25, 2010
So yesterday, I was pleased to receive an e-mail from Mike the writer of the blog 'Island Life:The Blue Island Blog', recommending that I read 'The House at Otowi Bridge' by Peggy Pond Church.
After receiving a good reaction from the readers of his blog and after reading a brief description of it myself, I thought it looked interesting. So I have ordered it and it's winging its way to me as we speak.
Then, later on last night when I was at my usual Friday night Intercambio group (where English and Spanish people get together to practise their English/Spanish skills, with the help of a drink or two!), the topic of conversation lead to 'Pillars of the Earth' by Ken Follett.
At the moment, the Spanish television channel Cuatro is airing an adaptation of the novel and everyone was raving about it. So I decided to watch the first episode and from what I could understand (which wasn't everything, being in Spanish, but enough to get the gist), I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to watching more of the episodes.
I am tempted to also purchase the novel, as I was told that it's much better than the programme, but as it's a brick sized novel I'm wondering if it would be too heavy going. So, this is where you come in.
Have you read 'The Pillars of the Earth' or any other of Ken Follett's novels? Do you think it would be worth embarking on such a huge novel? Also, if you have read 'The House of Otowi Bridge', I'd love to hear you thoughts on this.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Yesterday, whilst surfing the net and blatantly not doing any writing as I should have been, I received a message on the blog. It turns out that Jo from 'The Book Jotter', has kindly given me a 'One Lovely Blog' award!
When I started the blog at the beginning of this year, I only thought that I would be blogging for a bit of writing practise. So it's nice to see that someone enjoys reading the blog, as much as I enjoy updating it. Actually, by receiving this award I feel slightly guilty, because I haven't been updating it as much as I intended to. However, I'm nearly at the end of 'Memoirs of a Geisha', so there should be a review on here shortly.
Anyway by accepting this award, there are a set of rules that I have to abide by. One of those is to pay it forward and award 15 blogs, that I think are high quality and entertaining, with a 'One Lovely Blog' award too. So here are the list of blogs who I genuinely think, deserve this award:
Clear your Heart
Fashion, Art and Other Fancies
Backwards in High Heels
Hannah Stoneham's Book Blog
Harriet Devine's Blog
Fyrefly's Book Blog
My Castle In Spain
Papier mon Amour
Bibliophile By the Sea
A few of my favourite books
There were others that I could have added to the 15, but it was difficult to choose! However, if you are one of the lucky ones to have been chosen, then let me know if you accept this award by commenting on my blog, or if you have been awarded this before, then just feel free to comment on the blog. Then, it's your turn to pass this award on to any blogs you think deserve this award and you want you readers to know about!
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Whilst I found 'New Moon' mildly entertaining (I personally thought that the first film 'Twilight' was a pile of rubbish), I couldn't help but feel frustrated at times. Why? Well, even though the film stuck quite closely to the novel, there were a few changes that made me want to shout 'But that wasn't in the book'!!! There were 2 additional fight scenes (put in for more excitement no doubt), event sequences changes/locations and even silly little things, like the change of title of the film which Bella, Mike and Jacob go and see at the cinema.
I know that I might sound a bit pedantic, but stuff like this makes watching films adapted from novels not as enjoyable because half the time, they don't translate as well on screen.
I think another reason that makes watching 'book films' annoying is that I find, that they never quite match what is in my imagination. When I read a book for example 'Twilight', my imagination fixes how certain characters look, act and sound. The 'Edward' and 'Bella' that are being represented in the films, aren't right in my opinion, because they aren't the 'Edward' and 'Bella' that has been formed in my head by the author. So when film makers try and bring books to life, they have to match the pictures in the mind and more than often, they never match it in my opinion.
In some ways, the imagination is much more powerful than the filmmakers because the imagination can create and intensify drama or horror, for example, stories such as 'Misery' by Stephen King. Having read the novel and watched the film adaptation, I felt that the book is a lot scarier than the film, because of the tension that my imagination created. At the end for example, the atmosphere and events which appeared in my head, whilst reading the words actually made me gasp in surprise, where as the film had little effect.
Now I'm not saying that film adaptations aren't good, I prefer the film adaptations of 'Lord of the Rings'and 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin' to the novels, but maybe, by film makers changing plots and characters within novels, isn't that in some way defacing a writer's work(even though I know that a writer consents to a film maker using their work) work, what do you think? Or do you think that film adaptations enhance what is contained within a novel? What are your favourite adaptations?
Saturday, September 11, 2010
The next 'Guilty Pleasure Read' I'm reviewing is 'New Moon', the second part of the 'Twilight' trilogy.
When Edward Cullen, a vampire who controls his thirst for blood for hunting animals rather than humans; leaves Isabella Swan to save her from getting into any more trouble due to their relationship, Bella sinks into a deep depression which alienates herself from her friends and loved ones.
However, when she discovers that she can hear the voice of Edward in her mind during dangerous situations, she will stop at nothing to feel closer to him. So she buys a motorbike, an item discouraged by her father Charlie and asks Jacob Black, a boy living in La Push reservation, to help her to fix the bike in secret.
During this time the two become close, so close in fact that Bella has to make a decision about who she really wants.....Edward or Jacob? However, Jacob has a secret. When he is angry, he turns into a werewolf and this throws Bella into turmoil about where her loyalties lie, as the vampires and werewolves have been enemies for centuries.
When the death of one of Charlie's friend's leads Edward to believe that the funeral being held is actually for Bella, he travels to Italy, to annoy the 'Volturi', a sort of the vampire Mafia if you will, in the hope that he will be able to 'die' and be with Bella. However, when he decides against this method, Bella races against time to save Edward from walking into the midday sun and 'dying'. However that's not all. After saving Edward, the 'Volturi' get word about Bella and after an altercation between Bella, Edward and Aro, the boss of the group, they make Edward promise that Bella will be turned into a vampire and if not, then the group will do it themselves.
Of course, this is what Bella wants, however Edward isn't enthusiastic about the idea. So she holds a meeting to see whether or not the Cullen family will consent to her joining their 'family'. The book ends with Edward reluctantly promising to turn Bella into a vampire himself, to secure the safety of Bella and her parents but with the condition, that Bella marries Edward. Will Bella accept Edward's proposal? Can Bella have Edward but still be friends with Jacob, despite the hostility between the vampires and the werewolves?
Well again, I've probably given away too much as it is, so you'll just have to read this for yourselves!
I was a little disappointed with this book to be honest. It's more the first half of the book I had a problem with. It didn't quite match the intensity and subtlety that 'Twilight' did. The relationship between Jacob and Bella wasn't quite as convincing as Edward's and Bella, in fact the relationships between Bella and most of her high school friends, were more convincing in my opinion. I felt like Jacob was just a bit of a plot devise to try and spice things up a bit.
I also found Meyer's writing to be good, but a bit contradictory. I don't understand why Bella finds being in love with a vampire so easy to accept, but when she find out that Jacob has turned into a werewolf, she has such a hard time about it. It didn't quite sit right with me.
The other problem I have with this novel, is that it seemed that Meyer had simply recycled elements from other books and conveniently put them in her own novel. For example, she takes the idea of star crossed lovers killing themselves to be with each other, featured in 'Romeo and Juliet' and also the part in Italy when Bella is racing to save Edward, is reminiscent of a large portion of Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons'. I felt that 'New Moon' should have been a little more original than that.
On the plus side, the pace was well balanced and I still enjoyed the later half of the novel, it was a lot more interesting than the first half, which was just a lot of teen angst in my opinion.
I enjoyed reading this novel, despite its flaws and will definitely continue reading this series even though at times, it is a bit silly.
On the issue of reading novels within a series, I have been wondering whether I should judge these novels as a whole or individually, what do you think? Can you see each novel in a series individually or do you reserve judgment until you have read them all?
Similar titles you may enjoy:
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
We have said goodbye to our visitors and also moved location again. As things at our own apartment are still unresolved, it was decided that we would find something a bit more permanent.
So currently, I'm in our new apartment and it's lovely. The area is quiet, in fact it's so quiet that it feels like we are living in a cul-de-sac in England (with obviously more sun!) and the apartment is spacious and light with a big balcony and outside courtyard, so there is plenty of reading space!
However the best thing about living in the new place, is that I have full access to my electric scooter, which means that I have the freedom to go out where I want, when I want and it's brilliant! I can go to one of the local ice cream parlours, for a tub of their delicious Tiramisu ice cream, or find an umbrella outside one of the nearby cafes and read my book.
Speaking of books, another great thing about the new flat, is that I have full access to my books and a fixed address to order some new ones, so hopefully, things can get back to normal in my life and on the blog......well, at least for the next 11 months until our rental contract runs out!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
However, I have been surfing on Amazon and compiling a wish list of the books I want to read in the future. They are as follows:
The complete box set of the 'Twilight' Saga- Stephenie Meyer,
'Of Mice and Men'- John Steinbeck,
'Started Early, Took My Dog'- Kate Atkinson,
'The Girl With Dragon Tattoo'- Steig Larsson,
'The Virgin's Lover'- Philippa Gregory,
'The Constant Princess'- Philippa Gregory,
'The Red Queen'- Philippa Gregory,
'The White Queen'- Philippa Gregory.
There is also a book, which I read a review of on another book blog and wanted to read. The problem is, I can't remember the name of it! I know that on the front cover, there is a girl with long hair, looking bit intense and the novel is rather thick and about the end of the world. If anyone know the name of this novel, let me know!
I should update the blog again shortly, but in the meantime, have you read any of the books on my wish list? What novels are on your wish list?
Friday, August 27, 2010
Publisher: Atom Books
'I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months- but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.'
I generally have sensible taste in literature. However, from time to time, I read books which I classify as my 'Guilty Pleasure Reads'.
'Guilty Pleasure Reads', are the sorts of books which you know aren't greatly written or very age inappropriate, but can't help but enjoying. Up until recently, I have counted the 'Harry Potter' series as my guilty pleasure (they particularly cheer me up if I'm ill), however, my new guilty read, is 'Twilight.'
Since this phenomenon came out a year or two ago, I had deliberately stayed away from joining the bandwagon of perfectly sensible, twenty some women (and older), turning into silly teenagers, going on about whether they were on 'Team Edward' or 'Team Jacob'. However, out of curiosity, I watched the first film, adapted from the series of books and hated it. The story was slow, boring and in my opinion, the two central characters had the chemistry of two planks of wood (sorry if I have offended anyone, but that's just my opinion!).
Someone suggested I read the books, but still I resisted, that was until last week. As we have visitors staying at the moment, two of which are teenagers, we asked if we could have some questions at our local quiz, which they could answer. As 'Twilight' was one of their favourite things at the moment, we suggested this and so I decided to force myself to read the first book 'Twilight', so that I didn't look completely clueless. Since then, I've become addicted.
The first part of the saga, tells the tale of Bella Swan, a girl who moves to a small town called Forks in Washington State, from the warmer climbs of Phoenix, after her mother remarries.
Life in Forks is dull and boring, until Bella comes across a group of strange, but beautiful group teenagers, named the Cullens. Bella becomes particularly drawn to Edward and gradually she discovers that the Cullen family are not what they seem, they are in fact, vampires. The difference between the Cullens and other vampires is that over time, they have found a way to control their thirst for human blood, by hunting animals.
However, Edward is not only physically attracted to Bella, but he finds her scent irresistible. Despite the danger, Edward fights his urges for Bella and embark in a love affair.
After an encounter with another pack of Vampires, with a preference to human blood,called James, Victoria and Laurent the story turns into a cat and mouse chase for the Cullens to protect Bella from death.
The book ends, with a stern warning by Jacob Black, a boy from an Native American reserve, whose family have shown hostility towards the Cullen Family for centuries, that Bella should stay away from the Cullens and that his family are watching her.
Even though I thought that Stephenie Meyer's writing could have flowed better, I was surprised just how intelligently she writes. Even though this novel is aimed at a younger audience, I didn't feel that she patronised her audience at all. Ok, there were things about boys and going to the prom, I didn't feel that this novel was particularly over sentimental. Also, I felt that they story was well paced and wasn't predictable, which I had expected that it would be.
The thing that really makes this book, is the way in which she develops the characters Bella and Edward. In the films, I hated the choice of actors to play Bella and Edward, because I didn't like them and in turn, didn't really care about whether or not their relationship would endure the difficulties that they have as a vampire/human couple.
However in the book, Meyer portrays the characters as like able and much more complex. Bella is vulnerable, sweet and feminine, as opposed to her rather hard, moody persona on-screen and Edward is funny, seductive, although sometimes neurotic, but utterly irresistible, compared to his one dimensional, miserable persona in the film.
You can't deny that this novel is a little silly and definitely isn't going to win a 'Pulitzer Prize' for Literature any time soon, but it successfully sweeps you away into a world of romance, fantasy and action. I loved this novel and can't wait to add some more of the 'Twilight Saga' novels, to my 'Guilty Pleasure Reads.'
What are some of your 'Guilty Pleasure Reads'?