Friday, December 31, 2010

As the year comes to a close....

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

Papery Presents

In my last post, I mentioned that I had received some book/papery related Christmas presents. Now that I'm feeling slightly better; although I'm still not 100%, I thought that I would share them with you.

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

'Sunday Snippet'

Firstly, I hope that you all had a great day yesterday. I had a lovely day and received loads of lovely things. Some of my presents are book/papery related, so I'll talk about them in the blog some time next week.

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 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

T'was the night before Christmas....

Over the next 24 hours, a lot of blog posts will probably include the traditional poem 'The Night before Christmas'. However, I'm doing something different.

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'.

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

100 Posts and review (sort of!) of 'The Rose Labyrinth'

Before I started to type this post, I realised that the blog has reached 100 posts!! I can't believe how quickly the posts have stacked up! Thanks to those of you who follow the blog. I hope that as time has gone on, it has improved. I also hope that you and new readers, will stick with my little blog for another 100 posts!

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

ISBN: 978-0-7553-4457-4

Length: 528 Pages

Opening Line:

'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

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part1'

From time to time not only do I like to feature book reviews on the blog,
but also reviews of film adaptions of popular novels.
Yesterday, I went to the cinema with some friends to see 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part1', the newest installment in the series. I have been looking forward to watching this film on the big screen, as I'm a really big fan of Harry Potter (to the point that I'm a little bit of a geek!). However living in Spain, I had no option but to see this film in Spanish. Luckily though, I have a reasonable level of Spanish,so I thought that I would see how much of the film I could understand. Also it was an excuse to call watching Harry Potter, 'educational.' In the end, I understood quite a lot.
For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last few years, the Harry Potter series of books and films focuses on the main character Harry Potter who as a baby,is left orphaned after the evil wizard Voldemort kills Harry's parents. He is taken to live with his unpleasant aunt Pertunia,uncle Vernon and bully of a cousin Dudley.On his 11th birthday, Harry discovers his magical heritage and is invited to study at 'Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and wizardry'.

There he meets Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger and together, they embark on many adventures throughout the series of books and films, mainly though, Harry battles to rid the world of the evil Voldemort.

Coming back to 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1', this film is an adaptation of J.K Rowling's 7th novel in the series. However the director David Yates, decided that it would be more appropriate to split the novel into two parts (either for storytelling or probably financial purposes, I'm not sure.)
In this first part,the wizarding world is in turmoil. Voldemort's army of followers are causing havoc and the Ministry of Magic has been taken over by Dolores Umbridge a particularly deranged ex-teacher of Hogwarts, who wants to rid the wizarding world of 'Mudbloods' (wizards from non/half wizarding parentage).

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.
This film is dark, full of tension and had lots of moments which had me jumping out of my seat.It also has emotional moments and in general, is more mature than any of the other films in the series. There is a point in the middle on the film in which the excitement wained a little however,with fantastic special effects and a wonderful cast full of famous British actors and actresses, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' is a very enjoyable film. I can't wait for the final installment!!
Have you seen this film or any of the other 'Harry Potter' films? What did you think?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Snippet

I had planned to post a review of 'The Rose Labyrinth' by Titania Hardie on the blog yesterday. However on Friday night, I went out with my Intercambio language group for Christmas dinner and didn't get back until 1.30am! I didn't have a hangover on Saturday as I didn't consume much alcohol, but the late night made me too tired to write coherent sentences. I'm getting too old for staying out until all hours! So the review will appear next week. For now, here is this week's 'Sunday Snippet' :

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

'Her Fearful Symmetry'- Review

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 978-0-099-52418-2

Length: 482 Pages

Opening Line:

'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

'Melissa's Writing Month'

By now, 'Melissa's Writing Month' on the 'This Too..' blog will be over. However, I still wanted to tell you about the progress I have made with my short story whilst participating.

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

Sunday Snippet

Along with the return of my Internet connection, sees the return of the regular feature 'Sunday Snippet'.

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

Long time no blog...

Firstly apologises for having not blogged for a month. It's not as if I haven't had anything to blog about. In fact, I have quite a lot. However, instead of writing about books the recent events in my real life, have been something out of a novel.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin....

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.

By this time, my mum travelled to England for a pre-Christmas visit and so it was up to me to chase the company. After many attempts to get in contact with them, it turned out that they hadn't even sent out our router as they had said they had! So I was on the phone again and this time they said that they would send it as soon as possible. Sure enough a few days later, our package arrived. So I set about installing the new router.

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.

After wading through a sea of cables, I wasn't getting anywhere. So I phoned for the advice of people who might know what they were doing. When that didn't work, I phoned the company's helpline and it seemed as if I had connected everything up correctly. So the mystery was, why wasn't the Internet working?

Yesterday, the mystery was solved. A technician came to the house and it turned out that no matter what I would have done, I wouldn't not be able to connect our Internet, because one of the cables the company had been sent us, was faulty! It took 5 minutes to correct the problem and now I'm back in the blogosphere.
That doesn't mean that this story has a happy ending just yet though. We still have issues with a faulty cable which connects the TV box to the TV, so we have to wait for a replacement.

However, I am finally able to sit at my computer and post reviews for Audrey Niffenegger's 'Her Fearful Symmetry' and Titania Hardie's novel 'The Rose Labyrinth', an update on 'Melissa's Writing Month' and a long over due 'Sunday Snippet'. All of these will follow shortly.
In the meantime, I'm off to catch up on all of the blog posts I've missed reading!