Sunday, 14 September 2014

Star Trek: First Contact (VIII)

The first Next Generation film that wasn't Generations, Star Trek: First Contact takes place as a far-distant sequel to the two-parter episode "The Best of Both Worlds," which took place over two seasons and was cut in half by a whopper of a cliffhanger, when Captain Jean-Luc Picard introduced himself as "Locutus of Borg." Six years later, he still experiences traumatic flashbacks to his time spent as part of a hive-minded killing machine. When the Borg show up to threaten the earth, Starfleet expressly forbid the Enterprise to come to help in the battle, but, defying orders, the crew are forced to travel back in time to prevent the entire world's population from being assimilated, and to ensure that two pivotal events in Earth's space-travel history take place: the first warp-speed space flight, and first contact with extra-terrestrial life forms.

First Contact makes an interesting use of time travel: as discussed in John Scalzi's Redshirts, normally shows like Star Trek will travel either to a significant historical date, or to sometime around the show's own air date. Here, the Enterprise goes back but to a date in our future: 2063, a dark period around the time of the Third World War. Of course, out of this darkness, a bright future dawns.

I left reviewing this film far too long, and had to re-watch it before writing up this post. As such, I'd forgotten how much happened in a relatively short time (and how little happened in its predecessor, Generations. Nothing happened in Generations, because that would imply that it existed, which I'm unwilling to acknowledge.) There are two main stories in this film. Picard's fight against the terrifying Borg, who have assimilated half of the Enterprise's crew (the most casualties so far?) and captured Data. The usually calm, moral and, well, Patrick Stewartish Captain Picard is driven half-mad with his desire for revenge. "The line must be drawn here! This far - no further! AND I WILL MAKE THEM PAY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE!" We know he has gone too far when he accuses the Klingon warrior Worf of being a coward! Picard is kept from going completely overboard by Lily, the 21st-century Earth woman caught up in the battle, who compares him with Captain Ahab of Moby-Dick. First Contact is not the first Star Trek film to draw on this novel: Khan, too, imitated Ahab in his all-consuming pursuit of Captain Kirk and the first Enterprise. 

Meanwhile, on 21st century Earth, Geordi LaForge, Will Riker and Deanna Troi meet up with the man who would become the legend Zefram Cochrane, inventor of warp-speed space travel. He is perhaps not the man they had expected: most uncomfortable with the thought of being believed a hero, being in reality motivated by cold hard money. But Riker tells him, "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgements." Riker then reveals, this is a quote from the future Cochrane himself. This whole plot is as heartwarming as the Borg story is disturbing: the not-too-distant-future setting bridging the gap between the world as we know it, and the Star Trek universe. Certainly it reawakened the long-forgotten longing of a little girl in the early- to mid-'90s, lying on her bedroom floor poring over her space encyclopedia and dreaming of visiting distant planets. The score is a quiet, haunting theme that not only reminds me of the BBC's Chronicles of Narnia music, but evokes the exact same wistful feelings. And the first contact itself! The aliens push back their hoods, and are, of course, Vulcans, making their traditional greeting. When Cochrane can't replicate the salute, he takes the Vulcan's hand, and it is beautiful: the very, very beginning of the alliance between these two races, an alliance that would expand to include so many more.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Mini Reviews: Terra, The Miniaturist, That's Not A Feeling

Terra: Mitch Benn

On a routine expedition to Rrth, Llbp discovers what seems to be an abandoned, unloved child, so he does what any decent being would do: takes her home to his own planet and raises her as his own daughter. Terra grows up knowing that she is an alien, but is accepted by her peers. But when she starts school, she has to confront the differences between herself and the people of Fnrr, as well as their similarities.

I found Terra to be a really lovely science fiction novel, easy to read (once you get used to all the names that look like keysmashes) and refreshingly optimistic for the genre. If the story's conflicts were a little too easily resolved, that is a small criticism. The world of Fnrr is a society evolved quite apart from ours, even perhaps a utopia, but one which reflects so much that is to be celebrated about people (whether human or not.) I came away from Terra smiling.

Shelve next to: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Key Quotes:
"I guess I'm just wondering if everybody hates the G'grk because they're so angry and violent, or whether they're so angry and violent because everybody hates them."
"There's no point knowing something if you don't know WHY you know it."
"A bad scientist tries to prove himself right. A good scientist tries to prove himself wrong, and only when he fails does he conclude he's right."
"The cleverest of the scientists and astronomers admitted - privately at least - that any really intelligent life would be smart enough never to allow its presence to be detected by the human race. It wouldn't have cheered these scientists and astronomers up one bit to now that they were right."

The Miniaturist: Jessie Burton

Amsterdam, 1686. Nella Oortman arrives at her new husband's house to find a frosty welcome. Her sister-in-law and servants seem to have made up their mind to dislike her, while her husband Johannes wants nothing to do with her. On one of his rare attentive occasions, Johannes buys Nella a lavish wedding gift of a doll's house cabinet, and when Nella decides to furnish it, the miniaturist sends unsolicited and disturbing additions: items and characters which show too much knowledge of Nella's family, home - and future.

The Miniaturist explores the role of a woman in the seventeenth century, the expectations of a merchant's wife, and Nella's quest to make a place for herself in this unfamiliar new world. Set against the backdrop of the sugar trade, The Miniaturist takes the part of those who do not conform to the expectations of an oppressive society, that even the privileged classes find their own prisons. The cabinet plot is eerie and full of foreboding; there is a sense of a fate neither escapable nor quite understandable until it is too late. I grew emotionally invested in the family and ached for a happy ending, but tragedy is a foregone conclusion from the very first chapter. An extraordinary debut (and a beautiful cover.)

Shelve next to: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Key Quotes:
"It is not a man she has married, but a world."
"Growing older, Nella realises, does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt."
"Everything about this cabinet was indeed distracting. So much happened while I was looking the other way. I was sure I'd been standing still, yet look how far I've come."

That's Not A Feeling: Dan Josefson

That's Not A Feeling shows a year in the life of Roaring Orchards School for Troubled Teens, seen through the eyes of newcomer Benjamin, who was abandoned there by his parents after attempting suicide. The novel has an air of surreality from the start, which could perhaps be attributable to Benjamin's fragile mental state. I have read other books that gave me the same distorted view of the world, but at no point could I actually believe in Roaring Orchards. The creation of a man with unique ideas about the treatment of "troubled" children, there was a troubling lack of distinction about whether it should be viewed as a psychiatric institution or a reform school. There was a regular administering of medication, but no medical staff unless you count the school nurse and counsellor, mentioned only in passing. The school's regime is full of ridiculous jargon, useless and sometimes abusive therapies, staff with no idea of boundaries, and, as the title suggests, the students/patients/inmates are never listened to, only told what the staff want to hear. That's Not A Feeling reads as a parody of alternative therapies, or teaching, or reform schools, but the lack of depth or understanding of the mental health issues touched upon meant that I could not fully engage with the text. Disappointing.

Key Quotes:
"Seeing us as objects of fun let the faculty imagine we were somehow protected, I thin, as comic figures are able to survive all kinds of harm."
"I didn't like the feeling of separating myself in two: the Benjamin who was doing the thinking and the Benjamin that was being thought about."

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm - "Robert Galbraith"

Earlier this week, a girl came up to me in the shop holding a copy of The Silkworm and asked "whether we had any more books by this author." I resisted the urge to take her to the children's section to show her the shiny new editions of the Harry Potter series, and explained to her the author's real identity, marvelling at how she had managed to miss this news.

The Silkworm is the sequel to J. K. Rowling's first crime novel under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo's Calling introduced down-on-his-luck Cormoran Strike, an ex-army detective now working as a private investigator, a large man with a prosthetic leg, a brilliant memory and an address book full of useful friends-and-relations, all of whom seem to have a different nickname for him. He is joined by Robin, a young temp worker who finds herself unexpectedly assigned a job as a secretary and general admin assistant. Robin has a keen mind, a great initiative and has always had a private dream of working as a private detective herself, and it is not long before she is well-established as Strike's crime-solving partner.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a tale of murder and intrigue, when the apparent suicide of a troubled young model reveals that all is not as it seems. We know from Harry Potter that J. K. Rowling is a master storyteller, strewing valuable clues throughout her books, but which come together only at the very end as she weaves in every detail of every subplot together to make a perfect plot. As such crime fiction is the logical genre for her to move to. The Cuckoo's Calling was an accomplished first crime novel, and The Silkworm surpasses it. The sequel shows Strike and Robin investigating the disappearance of a controversial novelist who has angered most of his acquaintances by loosely-disguised portraits of them in his latest manuscript. And when his body turns up things turn very interesting indeed - for he has been murdered in a manner taken straight from the pages of his unpublished novel.

The Silkworm is an intelligent literary novel as well as a page-turning thriller, full of references to Jacobean revenge tragedies, quotes of which form the epigraphs for each chapter. The investigation into the novelist's murder involves the unravelling of the cryptic caricatures in his would-be masterpiece, and I love a mystery which involves the cracking of a code. The Silkworm was an incredibly satisfying read: "Galbraith" does not cheat the reader, revealing enough information to make us feel smart, but holding back enough to keep us guessing, finishing up with an epic revelation at the end. I can't wait to see what else J. K. Rowling and "Robert Galbraith" have in store for Strike and Robin, and I hope to read many more novels in this series.

I read The Silkworm as part of
the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fringe: Season 4

Spoilers, of course. It would be impossible to discuss this show without them.

Season three of Fringe ended with a nice note of happily-ever-after. The two universes were brought together to create a new world and prevent all-out apocalypse. But then - Peter Bishop, who brought about the unification, popped out of existence. Oops.

The credits sequences of Fringe in season three were colour-coded in order to quickly establish which universe each episode would take place in: blue-green for the original world, and red for the alternative universe. Season four's credits were coloured in yellow. Or amber, if you prefer... ominous in itself when you consider that amber is used in the second universe as a preservative to prevent any holes in the world from growing and spreading. And this new season's setting and characters are different. Despite the lack of Peter, there has still been a "bridge" built between the universes, and the two Fringe teams are working together to repair the damage rather than to destroy each other. But the characters are subtly altered. Our Olivia is harder, having killed her abusive stepfather without Peter there to save her as a child. She was brought up by Massive Dynamic's Nina Sharp, and wears pale pink lipstick. Her redheaded counterpart from the other universe is no longer a mother (has never been a mother - Peter never existed and so neither did their son Henry.) Walter is more broken, and never leaves his lab in the Harvard basement. Other characters are still alive who should have been dead, and vice-versa. It would be interesting to watch the entire first three seasons through and pay attention to every event influenced by Peter in one way or another.

Despite what the observers (the creepy pale bald men who keep showing up whenever anything big is about to happen, and who know too much) have said, it is not that Peter never existed, but that both versions of him really did die as a child. Except, whoops, he doesn't seem to have got the memo, and materialises in the river to find himself in a terrifying It's A Wonderful Life world where no one knows him. His memories are intact, but the world around him is not quite the same - everything and everyone that had been impacted by coming into contact with Peter now is as if he had never been there. The big question is: is this yet another alternative universe, or an altered version of his own world? Can he go home, or is he there already, finding it changed out of recognition?

In this version of reality, poor Olivia is suffering from dreadful migraines - which turn out to have been induced by mysterious figures breaking into her house and secretly dosing her with Cortexifan, the mind-enhancing drug developed by William Bell and Walter Bishop to give her psychic powers. And then we discover that Massive Dynamic's Nina Sharp - in this version, her own foster-mother - is behind it all. As a migraine-sufferer, I hated her for this. Clearly Nina is up to something nefarious - but never mind that; inflicting migraines on a person is pure evil.

But as it happens, it is the other Nina Sharp behind the migraines - the one from the other universe and it turns out she is working for someone else: David Robert Jones, the Big Bad of season one. We last saw him gruesomely killed by being trapped in a door between universes - but in the Peterless universe, Jones survived and is as magnificently evil as ever. His purposes are not made clear, but they are full of havoc and destruction, the end of the world.

Episode nineteen takes a break from the main season's plotline and flashes forward to a very bad future. It begins with scrolling text: "They came from the future." The title credit sequence, traditionally covered in words of science just outside possibility, is changed to include words such as "Joy" "Individuality" "Community." I wibbled and screamed a bit watching this new sequence. If the future Peter had witnessed from the doomsday machine at the end of season three was grim, it is nothing compared with this future. The observers are revealed to have come from a future Earth - perhaps a later stage of human evolution - and we already knew that they can see all points in time, all the different things that might happen. But now it seems they are not just disinterested observers, dispassionately committed to ensuring that events take their rightful course. Now we see another side to them - time travellers from an uninhabitable future earth, who come to 2036 and enslave humanity.

We are introduced to a new team of resistance fighters, and find Walter, Peter and Astrid (who I have unjustly neglected in my reviews. She is a brilliant scientist, a valuable member of the Fringe team, and just lovely) frozen a la Han Solo in amber. Olivia is nowhere to be seen, which is ominous. Earlier in the season (in her own time) she was warned by an Observer that there is no version of the future in which she will not die. Well... surely that goes without saying of anyone? But Olivia has taken his message to heart, and expects this death to be imminent. One young woman from the future resistence (Etta) at one point claims Walter as her grandfather, which set my mind going. If she's, say, 24, she could have been born not long after the current season takes place. Her name - Etta - short for Henrietta - and what was the other Olivia's short-lived son's name, again? Yes, she really is Peter and Olivia's daughter, Walter's granddaughter. Which means that Olivia has a little longer to live, anyway.

Episode twenty takes us right back to the present day, as if we had not seen the future, and we meet the real - real - Big Bad. Now, I'd accidentally been spoiled on this by reading the box blurb. I had thought before that we had not finished the William Bell story. His attempt at immortality in season three had gone nowhere. But after all the shenanigans involved in getting the character into season three without showing Leonard Nimoy - Anna Torv's uncanny impersonation, the animated episode - I had not expected to actually see him in the role again. But it seems that he just cannot stay in retirement. I'd never been quite sure where to place Dr Bell on the scale of good and evil. Certainly his methods were morally dubious, but he was pretty likeable in person. But in this altered universe in which Peter died young, Dr Bell had heard his science partner's rage against the universe and decided to do something about it: to destroy the world and create a new one for just him and Walter, a universe with no place for the human race.

Of course, the season finale ends with the Fringe team saving the day again, but not without great cost. Bell needed Olivia's psychic powers to bring about his new universe, so Walter shoots not his old friend, but Olivia herself. (It's all right - she gets better.) Apocalypse is averted once more, Olivia is expecting a baby, so Peter, Olivia and Walter can look forward to a bright new future...

Future, you say? Remember episode nineteen...

Best episodes: 

2. One Night In October: The Fringe team recruit the other-world counterpart of a serial killer to help solve their case.
6. And Those We've Left Behind: Time loops can be traced back to a husband's desperation to keep hold of his wife.
10. Forced Perspective: A teenage girl has the power to predict death.
11. Making Angels: A beautiful episode bringing together the Astrids of both worlds.
14. The End of All Things: Olivia is held captive. David Robert Jones wants her powers.
18. The Consultant: Events in one universe have effects on the other.
19. Letters of Transit: The terrifying future, in which the Observers have enslaved mankind.
20. Worlds Apart: After spending a season working together, the two Fringe teams must say goodbye and close the door between their worlds.
21 and 22: Brave New World: In which we discover a bigger, badder Big Bad planning a bigger, badder apocalypse than ever before.

Just one more season to go now, and it's a short one - only 13 episodes compared with the other seasons' 22. I'm expecting this final season to take place mostly or entirely in the bad future of episode 19, which is a chilling thought. I wonder if it might not have been better to finish the series here - but then that would leave season 19 as an unfinished plotline. Besides, I thought that last season and look how season 4 turned out!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sunday Summaries: Whoops, some books fell on my pile!

Well, here we are at the end of the month and the end (or is it the beginning?) of another week. And what a week it's been: all the jobs squeezed into one day, planned out and then disrupted when The Powers That Be launched a whole load of extra promotions on the very same day. On the last week of the school holidays. Great.

Perhaps because I'm so tired, but I've been not feeling so great about the world this week. Perhaps reading Joe Hill's Horns didn't help my mood. It was an interesting read, and perhaps one that could be used for in-depth philosophical and theological debate if you read it really closely, but I can't in all honesty say that I enjoyed it. When every character we met confesses to terrible, terrible secrets it left a very grim view of the human race, compounded by all the ugliness in the news and on the internet of late.

But enough of the grumbles: I have books! Many books. This week started with a traditionally rainy bank holiday (which seems like such a long time ago now) during which Judith and I made an excursion to the Ryde Bookshop. I'm sure I've talked about that shop before: a small section at the front full of new books, and then a door that leads to a three-story treasure trove of second-hand stock. I came away with three books: Cross Stitch (otherwise known as Outlander, a time-travel romance that has apparently just been turned into a TV series) Foundation,by Isaac Asimov, as I ought to read some more classic science fiction, and Poison Study, which I've been not-buying ever since possibly my first visit to Forbidden Planet in London a decade ago. (Ugh - was it really ten years since I started university? Apparently so.)

Bought new: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the new novel by Haruki Murakami, whose short story collection The Elephant Vanishes I have just finished reading. And the long-awaited Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests. I cannot wait to get stuck into that one, but may leave it until next week, when I should have three days off together.

And from the library: the eighth volume of Sandman: Worlds' End, which was my favourite volume on my first read-through, This Is What Happy Looks Like (because a title like that's bound to cheer me up, no?) The Coldest Girl In Coldtown which Ellie reviewed quite recently and which I sent as a ninja book swap gift but haven't read myself yet, and a book I'd never heard of but which caught my eye: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots. 9 books acquired in a week! Oh, well. In part thanks to last week's readathon, I've read a massive 14 books this month, even if three of them were comic books/graphic novels. I have a lot of reviews to write...

Readers Imbibing Peril IX

For the last few years I've been aware of Carl V. Anderson's RIP challenge, and have watched my fellow bloggers spook themselves with books through autumn, and this year I've decided to join in the fun. I'll be going straight in there with Peril the First: the challenge to read four books in the genres of mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror or other such spine-chilling stories in September and October. I've got several suitable books on my to-read pile, and have selected a shortlist of potential RIP reads (although these are subject to change.)

  • Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
  • The Ghost Hunters - Neil Spring
  • Weirdo - Cathy Unsworth
  • Dream London - Tony Ballantyne
  • The Passage - Justin Cronin
  • The Coldest Girl In Coldtown - Holly Black
  • The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (a reread)
  • The Silkworm - "Robert Galbraith" 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Friday to Sunday and Wrap-Up

Apologies for the lack of an online presence during the last two days. Life got in the way, as it has an inconvenient habit of doing.


I worked a four-hour shift across the lunchtime period on Friday, meaning I got a bit of a lie-in and some quality reading time over breakfast. I'd begun Terra on Thursday, and could have read the whole book in a day, but by the evening my attention had started to wander - not through any fault of the book, which is excellent, but due to internet distractions and a bit of DVD-watching.

I spent most of my shift giving the department a very thorough clean, and spent the rest of the day sneezing. After work I met a friend for coffee and cake, and then went around to the other bookshops to browse, and in my case, to see if I could find any other titles to go onto my birthday list. In the evening my parents and I had dinner at a very nice riverside pub, The Bargeman's Rest. When I got home, very full and sleepy, I finished off Terra, which is a really lovely, feel-good science fiction story which leaves you with good feelings about people, read a bit of the Deadpool comic and had an early night.

Friday Stats

Books read today: Terra - Mitch Benn
Deadpool Max: Second Cut - David Lapham
Pages read today: 188
Books finished so far: 4
Quote of the day: "The cleverest of the scientists and astronomers admitted - privately at least - that any really intelligent life would be smart enough never to allow its presence to be detected by the human race. It wouldn't have cheered these scientists and astronomers up one bit to know that they were right."


Well, Saturday was a tiring day. Nothing really awful happened, but it was dull, the jobs I had to do, though necessary, seemed to render the previous week's work pointless, and I had a steady stream of mildly irksome customers. At lunchtime, after spending half the hour on errands, I made a start on Joe Hill's Horns - possibly not the best book to follow on from Terra. Terra left me feeling really good about people - whether human or not - whereas Horns shows the worst in everyone. 

After work I fell asleep, but was awake in time to watch Peter Capaldi's first episode as Doctor Who. I like him in the role - grumpy and a bit rude, but with an unexpected vulnerability too. And I adore the brand-new credits sequence, it's really beautiful.

I still felt a bit too tired and fidgetty to settle down with a full novel or even a short story in the evening, but I finished off Saturday with Deadpool. I've now, for the first time ever, reached and exceeded my readathon target, if you count comic books. 

Saturday Stats:

Books read today: Horns - Joe Hill
Deadpool Max: Second Cut - David Lapham
Pages read today: 117
Books finished so far: 5


Thankfully I've got today and tomorrow off work - I've been almost enjoying my job recently, but yesterday and the day before I've been quite restless and not wanting to be there at all. Some of that mood's followed me into today. I've read over a hundred pages of Horns before lunch, but right now I'm just mooching around not wanting to settle down to anything. I wonder if it's the book, which is a challenging one. The main character wakes up one morning to find that not only has he got a pair of horns growing out of his head, but people are telling him all their darkest secrets. We've gone into flashback mode now, but it's difficult to like any of the characters when we know some pretty awful things about them. It's interesting and thought-provoking, but not an easy read.


This evening I took a break from not-reading to show my parents Frozen, which they'd never seen before. We all enjoyed it, but I was horrified to find myself shedding a few tears through "Do you wanna build a snowman?" Since then I've done a bit of knitting, dithered around on the internet for a while and fell down the TV Tropes black hole, which has got me desperately wanting to reread my favourite Terry Pratchett novel, Night Watch. Although I'm concentrating on the unread Discworld books as my light reading, I expect I'll pick up some of my favourites when I get to that part in the series, but Night Watch is quite a way off yet.

I think there's no chance of me getting much more reading done as long as this computer stays on, so I shall shut it down now and get some more chapters of Horns read before I go to bed. I'd have liked to have ended the readathon on another finished novel for tidiness' sake, but am quite happy with my overall progress. I'll write up some mini-reviews of the books I've read during the week, and will add up my total page count at the same time.


Sunday Stats:

Books read today: Horns - Joe Hill
Pages read today: 262
Books finished so far: 5

Wrap-Up (Monday)

Well, Bout of Books is already over. How did the week go so quickly? Here in the UK it's a bank holiday, and it has kept reliably to the tradition of marking the end of summer by pouring down with rain.

But how did Bout of Books go overall?

The Stats:

Total books finished: 5 (one more than target) : That's Not A Feeling
The Miniaturist
Hawkeye: Little Hits
Deadpool Max: Second Cut
Additional books read from: 2: The Elephant Vanishes 
Total pages read: 1764
Favourite book: A tie between The Miniaturist and
Favourite challenge: As I only took part in one challenge, on the first day, it has to be the Book Monsters' Scavenger Hunt
Favourite new blog discovered: Romancing the Laser Pistol
Best reading day: Wednesday (my first day not working)
Worst reading day: Saturday (Last day working.)

Thank you to Amanda and Kelly for organising this readathon, and to everyone who took part to make it awesome! I've had a great time and it's helped me to get my to-read pile down a bit - although today I broke my self-inflicted book ban and bought three more books from the Ryde Bookshop to replace those I've read last week. Oops.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Wednesday and Thursday

Bout of Books

Today is my first day off work for Bout of Books and it's so nice to have more than half of my working week behind me this early on in the week! I slept in late, although not as late as I'd have liked because the workmen had chosen today to resurface our road. One of our great landmarks is gone! Farewell to the Great Crater of -- Road! I won't miss being splashed by passing cars on rainy days, and the road is shiny and new, quite a notable occasion for an Isle of Wight road, especially a little side road.

I read two Murakami short stories before even getting out of bed: one bizarre and somewhat creeptacular love letter to a stranger, and the other the account of a woman who suddenly stopped being able to sleep and lived a whole other life when the world had gone to sleep. (She mostly filled her hours with reading books and getting drawn into the fictional worlds, so this was a very appropriate story to be reading for Bout of Books.

I spent the rest of the morning cleaning, as a tidy room makes a readathon so much more pleasant, and then settled down with The Miniaturist. It's an atmospheric novel, set in 17th century Amsterdam, about Nella, a young bride who moves to live with her husband and his sister, to find an unfriendly reception. The sister-in-law seems determined to dislike Nella, and while her husband seems a good companion when he notices her, but he rejects her advances and seems barely to notice her. But he gave Nella a wedding gift: a lavish doll's house in a cabinet, made up to resemble their own home. Nella orders a few items to furnish the house from a local miniaturist, but is unprepared for the extra items which indicate too much knowledge on the miniaturist's behalf of Nella's life, home and marriage.

At about 3PM yesterday's migraine put in another appearance, so I put down the book and walked into town to get some fresh air and Ibuprofen. Along the way I picked up two comic books from the library - a Deadpool and a Hawkeye - and a cinnamon bun. My headache's more or less died down for now, and I intend to spend the rest of the day in The Miniaturist, although I could dip into one of the comics as well.

Wednesday's Stats:

Books read today: The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April Morning", "Sleep", "The fall of the Roman Empire, The 1881 Indian uprising, Hitler's invasion of Poland, and the realm of raging winds." 
Pages read today: 483
Books finished (total): 2
Quote of the day: "Growing older, Nella realises, does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt."


Another day off, and again I started the day reading a couple of short stories from The Elephant Vanishes. Although I enjoy Murakami's writing, I'm finding that reading a lot of short stories all at once, I notice recurring patterns and quirks which start to feel just a little bit repetitive. I guess that's the same with many authors, though: they have their own particular style. 

Spent the morning reading the Hawkeye comic I got out of the library, and discovered that in fact there seem to be two Hawkeyes - Clint Barton, who even the comic book novices like myself know from the Avengers movie (although not well as he spent most of the film under mind control) and his apprentice Kate Bishop. Hawkeye (Barton) seems to spend most of his time getting beaten up - perhaps attributable to the self-loathing that his girlfriend accuses him of, so he goes looking for trouble. It was a fun comic to read, and a character I've enjoyed spending time with, "the normal guy" of the Avengers without any superpowers. The final issue of the volume was told from his dog's point of view - very little text and many simple diagrams, an interesting and unusual viewpoint.

Thursday's Stats:

Books read today: Hawkeye: Little Hits - Matt Fraction and David Aja
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "Lederhosen", "Barn Burning" and "The Little Green Monster."
Terra -  Mitch Benn
Pages read today: 311
Books finished (total): 3
Quote of the day: "There's no point knowing something if you don't even know WHY you know it."

Monday, 18 August 2014

Bout of Books 11: Monday and Tuesday

Hello and welcome! As I'm at work today I'm doing that amazing time-travel trick of writing the first part of this post last night - although the reading starts at midnight. I've finished my Fringe boxset and the book I've been reading, so should have no distractions, and have finished a book so I'm ready to start Bout of Books with something new. Like last time, I've made a shortlist of seven books from my to-read pile, and aim to read at least four of them. This week I'm working today, tomorrow, a four-hour shift on Friday, and all day Saturday, leaving me with a nice amount of reading time.

The shortlist

Weirdo - Cathy Unsworth 
Terra - Mitch Benn
Horns - Joe Hill
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Silkworm - "Robert Galbraith"

So that's two crime novels, one science fiction, one horror, one novel concerned with mental health, one historical novel which looks like it might be a bit eerie, and a book of short stories which are sure to be at least a little odd because Murakami. Have you read any of these books, and if so, what do you think?


I've been quite busy at work (a bookshop) trying to make space in the stockroom for - groan - the Christmas books that I expect to start coming in at any time. It's August! *whines pathetically.* At lunch time I read the first fifty or so pages of That's Not A Feeling, which is very surreal-feeling without actually being surreal, at least yet.

The Book Monsters have kicked off this Bout of Books with a Scavenger-Hunt challenge, which I couldn't resist - even though I really ought to be settling down and actually reading a bit more of my book.

1. A book that begins with "B" (for Bout of Books): Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

2. A book that has been made into a movie/TV show: Watchmen by Alan Moore.

3. A series you love: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

4. An anthology of poems or short stories: The Oxford Library of English Poetry - 3 volumes. My Grandma gave me this when she sold her house and moved into a retirement flat. I always intend to read more poetry, but find it difficult to know where to start.

5. A book on your TBR (to be read) shelf, or your full TBR shelves: Actually I don't have a to-read shelf, just a pile building up under my windowsill. I've already shown you the shortlist for reading during Bout of Books but here are (some of) the rest of my unread books:

Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
The Gunslinger - Stephen King
The Passage - Justin Cronin
Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind
Cat Among the Pigeons - Julia Golding
The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks
Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson
Dream London - Tom Ballantyne
The Ghost Hunters - Neil Spring
Interworld - Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves - how had I forgotten I had an unread Gaiman?! 
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin
The Beginners' Goodbye - Anne Tyler
The Crow Road - Iain Banks
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
The Ode Less Travelled - Stephen Fry
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Monday stats:

Books read today: That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
Pages read: 242
Quote of the Day: "I didn't like the feeling of separating myself in two: the Benjamin who was doing the thinking and the Benjamin that was being thought about."


Another busy day at work, and now we have a nice empty corner of the stock room for all the new books when they start to arrive in the next couple of weeks. At lunch time I read most of the rest of That's Not A Feeling, but it was slowed down when my vision started to go shadowy, heralding a migraine. I suffer migraines a lot, and am on two different kinds of medication which keeps most of them away but not all. Usually they are triggered by stress or exhaustion, but today I'm not sure where it came from. I finished my book when I got home from work but then had a lie down before dinner. I'm feeling much better - I didn't get much of a headache this time, just the groggy numb-brain - but the mini-review of That's Not A Feeling will have to wait until tomorrow now. For the rest of the evening I intend to potter around on the internet a bit and visit other Bout of Books bloggers, and read some of the short stories in The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami.

Tuesday Stats

Books read today: That's Not A Feeling - Dan Josefson
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami: "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women", "The Second Bakery Attack" and "The Kangeroo Communique."
Pages read: 161
No. of books finished: 1
Quote of the Day: "McDonald's is not a bakery."

Monday, 11 August 2014

How to Build a Girl readalong - the conclusion

This readalong is hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and reads)

In the final part of How To Build a Girl comes the moment we've all been dreading: the point in which Johanna, as Dolly Wilde, attempts to let her father's demo tape loose on the world. It goes about as well as one might expect in the magazine whose staff take much more pleasure in tearing bands down than building them up. I hadn't come to like Dolly or her father all that much but still I felt a pain watching her brutal disillusionment.

In this part, entitled Rip it Up and Start Again, the Dolly Wilde image Johanna has worked so hard to construct, comes crashing down. She finally realises that her boyfriend Tony Rich is just using her, and she is worth more than that! Good for her.

But all her vicious reviews come back to bite her on the backside when she comes face to face with those artists she has insulted. Suddenly she realises the hurtful power of her words. "The indie-rock world is a small world, and I soon realise I have insulted around a third of it." At this point, we are reminded that Johanna is only seventeen and quite naive, and never expected her reviews to actually reach those she wrote about. Why should these big rock bands care what this kid from Wolverhampton thinks? (I suppose on a smaller scale it's like writing a book blog and discovering the authors of the books read my reviews. That's always a bit of a shock even though I post my thoughts on the internet for the world to see.)

We find out why the family's benefits have been cut, and ironically it's because Johanna left school to start work to try to improve the financial situation. It's a lot of pressure to ask a kid to be the main breadwinner for both parents and four brothers, and I'm still not sure how it can make sense to get more income from not working than from working. Still, at least Johanna is doing okay with her journalism, despite the Dolly Wilde fiasco, getting a chance to start over at a different magazine and do what she went into the business to do. There was a lovely conversation between Johanna and her mum, which reminds us that though the family is a big messed-up unit, they all love each other and that's what's important. And it turns out that John Kite is not a creep at all, but is the charming kindred spirit Johanna believed him to be. I'm glad of that. But the epilogue with Dadda shows that he hasn't changed one bit since the beginning, still thinks he's about to be a big rock star. I guess it's good to end on a note of hope, even if it's a false hope - I was glad to be spared the agony of seeing his dreams destroyed, but it's frustrating to see a character staying exactly the same from the start of a novel to the end. learning nothing.

Overall I've enjoyed reading this book, and in such good company too, but I confess round about part four I began to get a bit impatient when the plot started to tail off and turn into Moran's journalistic musings. Still, it was a highly enjoyable novel, laugh-out-loud funny but with thought-provoking social commentary. Moran doesn't beat us around the head with the messages in the book, but prompts us to think about what we take away from the reading. 

Thanks again to Emily for organising this readalong. It's been good fun.

Key Quotes:

"I just thought, like, their press officers put it in a box and it just kind of stayed there, and they just carried on doing what they're doing, and we carry on doing what we're doing, and we all know it's just some fun, I was just riffing, I mean, why do they care what I think?"
"I'm not... your bit of rough. You're... my bit of posh."

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sunday Summary: My Great British Summer Holiday

Hello all. Today's post is a rather late one as I've just been spending the afternoon and evening celebrating my friend's birthday, an age-appropriate event for someone in her late twenties, with board and card games and pizza. Lots of pizza. Gotta love Domino's!

So last week was the week of the great Lake District camping trip, which Judith and I have been planning probably for the last two years or so. I grew up having the Swallows and Amazons books read to me for bedtime stories, and these are among the stories that formed the framework of my childhood. I play-acted Swallows and Amazons, even tried writing Swallows and Amazons fanfiction (with myself as a character with my very own boat.) I think I got about two pages of A5 paper and a drawing! Judith didn't read these books as a kid, although she enjoyed the first book when she read it recently, and was quite happy to go along with my dream of re-enacting these stories - though without the sailing. I wouldn't trust myself in charge of a yacht.

We had a gorgeous campsite, a pitch in a woodland clearing with just two or three other tents around us, and it was just a very short scramble down to the lake. Of course we went swimming - we couldn't exactly not! Lake swimming is very different from sea swimming - no waves, and some weird squidgey plant life underfoot, so it's better just to stay afloat. It was bliss.

The day after we arrived we attempted to climb "Kanchenjunga," or the Old Man of Coniston as it is called in muggle terminology, one of the highest hills in the UK. In Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale, six children between the ages of eight and about fourteen climb this mountain without even using the path, and then the youngest walk back to their camp across the moors afterwards (getting lost in the fog, but that's another story.) Sadly, we had to conclude that this story must have had its basis in fantasy, and had to turn back long before reaching the summit, having run out of drinking water. Still, it was a jolly good climb, with some beautiful scenery!

After last week's not-grumble about the summer being too much, in traditional British fashion the weather decided to turn on us while we were under canvas, and on Tuesday night we got very little sleep as the rain beat down incessantly onto our tent. I was afraid I would wake up to find myself lying in a puddle, and at its heaviest we did get some spray dripping onto us through the tent. We spent most of the next morning sulking in our soggy tent, but when the sun came out again we discovered things were not as bleak as they had seemed, and were able to bale out the puddles with a paper cup, dry the tent with the cloth and leave our sleeping bags to air in the sun. We walked along the lake shore to Wray Castle, a monstrosity built by a Victorian couple with more money than taste, wanting to give the impression of having inherited a medieval palace instead of being "new money." This was quite newly open to the public, and was an odd experience, not being furnished with original or period furniture but instead giving an impression of the work that goes into conserving other historic buildings. The rooms were almost bare, but I did love the library, with pictures of blank books painted on the walls for visitors to write their favourite titles onto them. Anne of Green Gables and The Lord of the Rings had helpfully been filled in already, so I made Neverwhere my contribution.

We came home on Thursday, and Friday marked the end of Cowes Week, the huge annual Isle of Wight sailing regatta, which finished with a Red Arrows display and fireworks. (Here, if you talk about "fireworks night" chances are you're referring to this first week in August rather than November 5th. Half the Island seems to migrate to Cowes. I'm surprised it doesn't capsize!) Again, the rain pelted down and we got soaked, but made up our minds to enjoy the evening nonetheless.

I've got one more day of holiday tomorrow, during which I intend to do very little (although I think my parents are planning to take me and my sister, who is visiting, out for lunch) and then, alas, back to work on Tuesday. It feels impossible that my holiday is already near its end!
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