Wednesday, 17 December 2014

'Bout This Blogger

I've seen this mini-questionnaire doing the rounds recently, and so now it's my turn.

The 'Bout This Blogger tag comes from Cait at her newly-reinvented blog Paper Fury. I've just discovered Cait thanks to this meme, and she is brilliant. You guys must check out her blog if you haven't done already.

1. Why did you start blogging? Because of Anne of Green Gables. I tried to find online forums to discuss my favourite book series, but the comments just didn't go into enough depth for my liking, and were mostly about the adaptations anyway. So I set up my own space to witter at great length and depth and hope that it might prompt a discussion or two somewhere along the way.

2. What’s the story behind your blog’s name? When I was a kid, before I'd even started primary school, I had already got myself a reputation - somehow - among the teachers as "Katie Who Can Read." I could read, I can read, I've never really stopped reading since I was three years old.

3. How many designs have you been through since you started blogging? (Pictures! We demand pictures!) I'm on my second blog design, one of the Blogger templates customised a bit, because my web design skills are non-existent. Windows Live Writer (which I only really use if my internet connection is playing up, because it messes up the formatting when I come to publish) has kept my old background. I started off with this rather ugly, old-timey brown wallpaper look which made me think of a Victorian study (or maybe 221B Baker Street) but later decided to brighten it up with some cheerful peachy-orange stripes. Pretty and girly without being too pink



4. Have you ever switched blog platforms? What made you move? If you haven’t ever changed…why?
Many moons ago I had a personal blog on Xanga (does anyone remember that?) but for the book blog I'm happy with Blogger. I used to have a separate blog for TV and movie reviews, but I didn't give that enough attention so I brought those posts over to join the book reviews.

5. How long does it take you to write a post? What’s your postly process like?
As I read or watch things, I make notes in a notebook. I plan my posts rather like I used to plan academic essays: I make a list of bullet points, then expand them into paragraphs. Usually I'll open my post, stare at the screen, check Twitter, check Tumblr, try to come up with a first sentence, check Twitter... check Tumblr... Often I start in the middle, when the bullet point notes get longer and ramblier and turn into full sentences. Beginnings and endings are always hardest. How long it takes depends on how much I have to say and how much I procrastinate. It doesn't take that long once I settle down to actually do the writing.

6. Have you ever been super nervous about a post? Why?! What was it?
Most recently, my review of Kindred was a bit nervewracking. This is an amazing, thought-provoking book that will linger for a long time. I had many thoughts and feelings about Kindred, but as a white girl living in a probably 95+% white part of England, I worry that I don't have much authority to write about issues of race, and I don't want to say anything ignorant or insensitive. Similarly, any book about other Very Serious Issues that I have no personal experience with, but which can be painful to other people who might land on my blog. I'd hate to inadvertantly belittle or trample over anyone's personal experiences.

7. Do you have a blogging schedule?
Hahahaha no. Lately my blogging has been far too infrequent. I write my Sunday Summaries quite regularly, and occasionally take part in Top Ten Tuesday, and I try to balance out book reviews, TV or film reviews, personal updates and meme or list posts,

8. Do you tell people In-Real-Life about your blog? Their reactions? Occasionally, but not often. They might read it!

9. Top ten blogs you read/comment on the most! Go! Go! I don't always comment - one of my blogging resolutions for next year will be to comment more - but I read every post from the following:

Ellie @ Book Addicted Blonde
Hanna @ Booking in Heels
Laura @ Devouring Texts
Bex @ An Armchair By The Sea
Charlotte @ Lit Addicted Brit
Melbourne On My Mind
Ellie @ Lit Nerd
Alley @ What Red Read
Sarah Says Read
Ellie (yes, another Ellie) @ Curiosity Killed The Bookworm

10. If you could change/improve things about your blog, what would they be?
I'd like to write more often, at least twice a week and aim for three: at least one review and one personal or meme post.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sunday Summary: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Morning all! For the last few years, since I've been working in retail, I haven't exactly been feeling Christmassy until it's too late. I might find myself humming Christmas carols in October (September, August...) as I unpack the festive books, but I get so caught up in the stress of retail-Christmas that I haven't really been able to enjoy the season. This year I seem to have disassociated retail-Christmas with the real thing, being able to keep the two things separate in my mind, and now I am feeling very festive indeed - and there's still a week and a half to go! I hope this lasts.

My day off was Friday this week, and I spent the afternoon decorating our tree and living and dining rooms, while watching Anne of Green Gables. I also picked up a massive parcel from the post office. Some of the UK book bloggers decided to do a Secret Santa this year, and my sender was particularly generous. I'll keep their identity a secret until everyone else has revealed their presents (and I hope it was OK to open my parcel before Christmas day.) But it was someone who knows me well! As well as three books: The Thirteenth Tale, The Rook, and We Should All Be Feminists, I received some chocolate hobnobs - my absolute favourite! - some knitting wool for making cosy winter socks, and a book bag with the instructions to use it for taking my books for a walk.


Another thing that has made me feel Christmassy has been when my feet lead me out of work and straight into Costa Coffee, to find a tasty festive hot beverage to keep me company in the cold and dark as I trudge up the hill towards my home. But I've also been experimenting with making my very own deluxe spicey hot chocolate, and as it's Christmas, I'm going to share the recipe with you:

Ingredients:

1 x small bar/ 5-6  squares of dark chocolate. (I use Bournville. I think 6 squares may make it a leetle bit too rich, so feel free to eat the last bit.)
1 x mug of whole milk. 
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1-2 cardamom pods.

Grate or finely chop the chocolate (so that it melts better). Heat the milk in a saucepan over the hob. When hot but not boiling, add the chocolate and spices, and stir until all melted. Remove cardamom, pour into mug and top with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Et voila! Hot chocolate fit for a king.


I haven't got a lot of reading done this week, but - against my better judgement - I decided to face up to my childhood fear of clowns and read Stephen King's It. I think King was responsible for the longest book I've read this year, 11.22.63, and It is nearly twice as long. So far I've been intrigued rather than scared, but have only had the merest glimpse of the clown, and I will never ever ever be able to watch any screen adaptation. 

On the other end of the scale, a comment on a very old blog post prompted me to think of looking on the Kobo site for a book for which I've been searching for about seventeen years: the final installment of Anne Digby's Trebizon series of girls' school stories. The genre was pretty much extinct by the time the last book came to be published, with a tiny print run, and second hand copies are available for upwards of £40 in paperback. But to my joy, I found Kobo selling it for the same price a children's book would have sold for in the mid 1990s - a mere £2.99. I still can't convince my brain that reading on my phone or any other electronic device is the same activity as reading a book, but it's better than nothing, and I can gladly say I've finished the story, at last.

This week I started playing around with Grandma's old sewing machine, which is now mine. It had been at least fifteen years since I touched a sewing machine, but as I figured out how to thread it up, a lot came back to me from school, and once I'd worked out what to do with the bobbin, it was a lot simpler than it looked. I raided my mum's scrap bag to practice seams, and ended up with a patchwork cushion cover, which is not at all bad for a first try. The seams are mostly pretty straight, and I seem to have learned a bit more control over the machine than I had as a girl. The lovely thing about this cushion is that every bit of fabric has its own memories: the flowery fabric is left over from my mum's favourite dress, the polka dots were from pyjamas, and the navy blue material was a dress when I was very little.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Kindred - Octavia E. Butler


Time travel takes many forms in fiction. There are time machines which allow you some control over your destination, whether they take the format of police telephone boxes or DeLoreans; Stephen King's time portal was the pantry of a diner which always sends you back to the same place and time, always setting the timeline back to how it was supposed to be (or does it...?) Then there is time travel that leaves you at its mercy, sending you here and there in space and time as it sees fit, as in The Time Traveller's Wife. Octavia Butler's time travel affects her protagonist, Dana, in this way. Except that she is a young black woman living in the nineteen seventies, and her time-travelling is tied into the life of Rufus Weylin, who is the son of a plantation owner in Maryland of the early nineteenth century. Dana's trips to the past are unpredictable and dangerous, and she finds herself having to make unthinkable compromises in order to survive that hostile time.
"You might be able to go through this whole experience as an observer," I said, "I can understand that because most of the time, I'm still an observer. It's protection. It's nineteen seventy-six shielding and cushioning eighteen nineteen for me. But now and then, like with the kids' game, I can't maintain the distance. I'm drawn all the way into eighteen nineteen, and I don't know what to do."
It was curious; although I am very familiar with time travel stories, it was while reading Kindred that I realised how different the past can be. Then was then, now is now, but through Dana's eyes I had a sense of the two eras existing simultaneously, like two pictures drawn on tracing paper and placed one over the other. And it is a very jarring experience. Most historical or time-travel fiction persuades me that people don't change, that they may hold different views but that people are basically the same wherever and whenever you go. This is probably because I approach these narratives from a white point of view. Seeing slavery first-hand from Dana's point of view, I found myself questioning this. What kind of human being could ever think slavery was okay?! Dana tries so hard to influence Rufus when she meets him as a boy, to question the values he learns from his father and the society around him, and for a while she seems to have a certain amount of success. But she meets him as a man, and he has accepted his world as it is. It broke my heart to think maybe it was a losing battle. There is only a limited amount of influence Dana can hold over him while living the life of a slave on his plantation. She can't shake sense into him - any overt attempts to persuade him that he's wrong would result in dire consequences for her.
"He wasn't a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper."
I wonder. From twenty-first century England I'd shout YOU KNOW BETTER, RUFUS! IN YOUR HEART, YOU KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG. At the same time, I found myself questioning myself. Are we born with a conscience, or do we learn it from our social context? Even at my most conservative and suggestible, I could never talk myself into accepting everything I was taught. I like to think that I would be a decent person even if I lived as a white middle-class person in the American South in the 1800s, but I wonder, and part of me is afraid to find out. I hope at a bare minimum I would hang onto the truth Terry Pratchett's witch Granny Weatherwax summarises as "Sin... is when you treat people as things."

In one of Dana's later visits (perhaps "summons" is a better word) to the past, her husband, who is white, comes along with her, and with much her disgust, she goes along with the pretence of being his slave. What shocked me was not so much her agreement to keep up this act, but the way that the life gets into her head. How even a strong, courageous, modern woman like Dana must submit and make compromises in order to survive, all the ways that one group of people will oppress and frighten another group in order to keep them where they want them. Maybe man's inhumanity to man is old news, but it does not stop being shocking. Octavia Butler takes the familiar narrative from history and brings it back to life, reminding the reader of the reality behind the fiction. And looking at the news the internet brings me every day, I fear that history is not as far in the past as people would like to believe. As such, Kindred is a Very Important Book. Go out and buy it.

Many thanks to Alley for encouraging me to think about diversity in my reading, and for your recommendations of Octavia Butler. I will certainly be looking out for more books by this author.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fringe: Season Five

This review is very long overdue, so here are the links to the story so far:

Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Season Four

Warning: here be spoilers.


Season 4 of Fringe almost ended on the perfect note for a series finale, with the world saved, Olivia brought back to life, and the Bishop family tighter than ever, with a baby on the way. Happily ever after… but for the glimpse we had in a late episode of a very bad future indeed. It is this future we are plunged into from the start of season five, following straight on from that oddball future-episode, and the backstory unfolds gradually. We learn that Peter and Olivia married and had a baby daughter, called Henrietta, or Etta. But when Etta was only a few years old, the Observers came from the future, and at some point in the chaos, Etta went missing. Not long after this, the main team of the Fringe series: Walter and Peter Bishop, Olivia Dunham and Astrid Farnsworth, have been frozen in Amber for twenty years, allowing their story to carry on as if no time has passed, but in a terrifyingly changed world around them.

Once again, I had to applaud Anna Torv’s portrayal of Olivia. Although only a few years have passed in-universe, and she does not appear to have been aged-up, she plays a much older, sadder, wiser version of the character, one who has loved and lost and had her heart broken. The scene in which she is reunited with Etta and shows simultaneous joy to see her daughter again, and horror that she has missed twenty years of her growing up, are utterly heartbreaking. Similarly, Peter is no longer the carefree man-boy of the early seasons, but a responsible adult. Their relationship is strained to breaking-point by the loss of their daughter, the guilt and the relentless search.

The format of Fringe has evolved far away from its original weirdness-of-the-week episodes, and now that our heroes are fugitives, wanted by the Observers, there are no more official investigations into “fringe” events. Now this is war, a dirty war, and Walter and the team are driven to desperate measures in order to survive. This is not their world any more, but Etta’s, and they must play by Etta’s rules.

The first few episodes did not feel like the old Fringe again – although it’s difficult to say which version was the definitive Fringe, as it has changed so many times over the five seasons. And then, a shocking event happens, and just a few episodes after her introduction, Etta was killed. This seemed very unsatisfying, rushed, perhaps because of season 5’s shorter length, and Peter and Olivia deserved better. It felt as though Etta existed only to establish a personal link between the 2010s Fringe team and the dark 2030s world, and afterwards she had no place, so the writers gave her a heroic sacrifice, taking a few Observers with her.

That being said, I’m sorry to say it, but I think after Etta’s death, Fringe returned to its former quality, with the original team dynamics, although those regular characters who took the slow path to the future – Colonel Broyles and Nina Sharp – were relegated to playing multiple characters. The female characters take more of a back seat in the later episodes of this final season. The attention shifts more onto Peter for a significant fascinating (but rather too quickly solved) plotline, instead of former protagonist Olivia, and poor beloved Astrid is almost forgotten. Season four saw the closure of the bridge between worlds, and this shorter season just focuses on the original universe, original cast, but of course we get one more hop across the divide for the finale, getting to see how the second world has fared in the missing twenty one years.

Fringe is a demanding show for its actors, each playing many different versions of the same character. John Noble takes this to an extreme when Walter starts being recognisable as two different versions in the same man, as he struggles not to return to the same cold, ruthless scientist who got them into the mess in the first place, while trying to decipher his own, forgotten, coded messages (recorded on Betamax tapes and frozen in the amber).  By the time the plan is revealed, it did not come as a surprise that, despite the amount of time set in this bad future, there is once more a reset button, and that the future can be rewritten. Again, this is one possible future of many. For once, this trope did not feel like too much of a cop-out.

This season was all about parental love and sacrifice, and much as I longed for an easier happy ending, it was always going to be Walter’s sacrifice that saved the world, as he was ultimately responsible for nearly everything in the series (although, unless I missed something, he had nothing to do with the Observers’ invasion.)


Fringe has morphed and evolved significantly since I started watching it as a weird X-Files type show with science even I could see was nonsense. I’ve come a long way with its characters. It is a show that will stick with me a long time, one that I am very glad to have invested in the box sets, although it would be impossible to go straight back to the start after finishing the series, as it’s become almost unrecognisable. I did not expect to love it as much as I did.

Friday, 28 November 2014

11.22.63 - Stephen King

Wellll... my October blogging hiatus seems to have stretched through November as well as I got attacked by the plot bunnies on the eve of NaNoWriMo and have been putting all my writing energies into getting this new story into some sort of shape. Meanwhile, the list of things I really want to write about gets longer and longer... Some of it will probably have to go, but Stephen King's time-travelling epic 11.22.63 is not one of these, as it has shot right to the top of my Books Read In 2014 list, even overtaking The Martian which held the top spot for so long. It was a birthday present from Hanna, who wrote the review persuading me that I absolutely had to read it right now about two years ago. Whoops.



What if Kennedy was never assassinated? This is the question posed by Stephen King in this novel. Jake Epping, a teacher in his thirties, is shown a portal to the past by his dying friend Al. This gateway through time, in the back of the pantry of Al's diner, leads directly to 1958. Always the same time, always the same place. Al gives Jake the mission: to alter the course of history by preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President John F. Kennedy. But what neither of them count on is for Jake making himself a new life in the 1960s and falling in love.

11.22.63 was very different from what I'd expected - my preconceptions were that the story would mostly focus on how the Kennedy assassination changed the world, and how different everything would be if it had never taken place: the impact of drastic changes to the timeline. In reality, the time portal sends Jake back to 1958, giving him five years to prepare, and to immerse himself (and us) into the world of the past. King paints a full picture of different places in America over fifty years ago, from creepy, unfriendly Derry (setting of his even bigger brick of a book IT - can't sleep, clown'll eat me!) to the seedy part of Dallas that was home to the Oswalds, to the place Jake comes to call home: Jodie, Texas, with its wholesome yet entirely human teenagers, good friends and of course, the lovely library Sadie Dunhill. You really live within these pages, grow to care about the characters, and I would have been quite happy reading 750 pages just about Jake's day-to-day life in Jodie, with Sadie. Everything seems wonderful - or at least, mostly a success; despite the past's resistance to Jake's every move, he seems to be mostly victorious. But through it all is an undercurrent of foreboding, thanks to the prologue in which a horrified Jake laments, "What have I done?" We can't quite forget, much as we'd like to, that some terrible consequences must come as a result of Jake's meddling. I've said it before: this is how Stephen King gets his readers. He makes us love his characters so that we feel so much worse when everything goes wrong.

You don't need to know too much about 20th Century American history. King educates us by sending us back in time with someone who never paid a lot of attention to history class, and immersing us into the middle of things we may know about but might not have thought about too deeply, illustrated with details that remind us that ordinary and extraordinary people lived through this time; it was more than just dry information on the page. I was well aware of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, that everyone thought that nuclear war was inevitable, but I hadn't thought before about how it would have affected people in their day-to-day life. But King recreates that atmosphere of fear, that certainty that armageddon was only a matter of time, and I could not help but remember the days after 9/11 when the western world had to come to terms with the idea that we were not invincible after all.

The rest of this review could be considered spoilery.

"The past is obdurate. The past harmonises." 
Stephen King brings a fascinating new version of the time-travel narrative which has coloured my thinking every time I encounter the trope, every time I watch Doctor Who or Star Trek or Heroes. Because in this universe, the timeline is fixed in a certain way. Every time Al or Jake travel in time, they hit a reset button. Any changes they might have made on their last visit to 1958 will have reverted back to their original course, causing the list of things to be "corrected" to grow longer and longer on every visit. But the more you alter the past, the harder the universe fights to resist your efforts. With that in mind, the ending was the inevitable catastrophic success, which did not prevent me from feeling genuine terror when Jake is told, "You need to go back and see exactly what you've done." 

"I thought of an old ad for Memorex audiotape. It showed a crystal glass being shattered by sound vibrations. By pure harmonics."


Other (spoiler-free) reviews of this book from Hanna and Charlotte

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sunday Summary: NaNoWriMo and fancy gadgets ancient and modern

Hi all. My laptop and I have migrated downstairs today from my bedroom to the dining room, where there is warmth and coffee. NaNoWriMo has delayed my return to proper blogging. Considering that I'd had no thoughts of doing it this year, I'm rather pleased that I've just passed 23 000 words and am getting really stuck into my story. This does mean, however, that there hasn't been much reading this week. I will get reviewing soon, I promise. At the very least, I want to rave at great length about Stephen King's 11.22.63. 

This month I've fallen back into my long-lost late-night writing habits formed during my student days, finding myself getting very productive between about 11PM and 1AM. I'm really rather excited to have got that part of me back, although it's not so good when I have an 8.30AM start at work the next day. But this month I've been working more shorter working days, which fits in my writing pattern quite well. It's such a relief to get so invested in a story of my own making again, to have the creative part of my brain ticking over even in the background - although I'm sure it's making me ditsier and more scatterbrained than ever.

One of the NaNoWriMo pep talks, from Divergent author Veronica Roth, gave some advice I took on board: to break out of one's own well-established writing habits and see if any other ways work. I've long been a strictly linear writer: start at the beginning and carry on until I get to the end (or, more often, lose interest and give up.)  This time around, I've done a little bit of skipping around in the story, writing later scenes and leaving some of the joining scenes until later. I use Scrivener writing software (after an unfortunate incident where I was accidentally saving it as an OpenOffice document to a shared dropbox, completely unsuited to the purpose, and someone else deleted it, surely having read enough to know that it was not meant to be there. NIGHTMARE!)

I fear I'm rather a hardened cynic when it comes to romance, so it's been a real challenge to switch off my inbuilt censor which screams "NO, NO, THIS IS TOO CHEESY AND PREDICTABLE!" whenever my character even, say, notices that another person is attractive and likable. I don't want to be a bitter old spinster! I am not writing a romance novel, but there are love relationships in my novel. At uni I took a course in genre-writing, and we were due to study a Mills and Boon book, but the tutor took pity on us and dropped it from the course. So now I started introducing my character's love interest and realised I didn't know how to describe them, or show growing friendship and attraction. So I've downloaded a couple of free ebooks that I probably wouldn't even get out of the library using the self-serve machines, and am reading critically, thinking about what I like and what I don't like. I can't be having with too much of the characters talking about their feelings, for example, and there needs to be more of a plot than just the mushy stuff.

Yes, you read it right. I, Katherine Edwards, ink-and-paper loyalist, have downloaded some ebooks. No, I have not been won over to the dark side and bought an e-reader, but I did invest in a shiny new smartphone and downloaded the Kobo App, for emergency bookless situations. Anne of Green Gables was, of course, my first freebie. (That's four, when added to my hardback and two paperback copies.) I'm undecided whether e-books count as additions to the to-read pile or not. I've also started an Instagram account, although so far it just has a couple of trial-selfies (with ridiculous faces) and shelfies.

I've also inherited a sewing machine. It's a vintage (read "old") Singer that my Grandma bought in the '70s, but still seems to be in good condition. Since she moved into a nursing home earlier this year, it has been passed on to me. I'll admit I'm a bit scared of sewing machines - they have a tendency to get out of hand when I try to use them. But Mum has promised to help me figure out how to use it, and I already have grand dressmaking plans, and a Great British Sewing Bee book to help me get started.

This week I have been:

Reading: The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis. Never my favourite of the Narnia books, it's got some great stuff in it but I've always found it troubling and uncomfortable.

Also the aforementioned cheesy romance novel on e-book, which I will not name and shame. It is not terrible, but it is not my cup of tea.

Watching: Not much, but a bit of Star Trek and Heroes. I'll be honest, the main reasons I'm still watching Heroes is because of Sylar being enjoyably psychotic, Hiro and Ando being adorable, and Claire's story is still a bit interesting. I'm a bit lost among the other characters and subplots, but I don't like giving up on a story partway through.

Stuck in my head: Taylor Swift: "Shake it off," Kansas: "Carry On Wayward Son," "I'll make a man out of you" from Mulan, and "Little Talks" by Of Monsters And Men. Also some of the songs from Mary Poppins.

Looking Forward To: This time next week I'll be on holiday. I wasn't planning to go away during my time off, but I found out that Cary Elwes, who was Westley in The Princess Bride - one of my favourite films of all
time - is signing a book he wrote about making that film, in Forbidden Planet in London. At first I muddled the dates and thought it was the Saturday, my last day at work, because things are always on Saturdays and it seemed inconceivable (ho ho) that it would be any other day. Then I checked again, and it's actually the following Tuesday. The book was on my Christmas list, so I decided I would break my book-buying ban and go up for the signing, and do some Christmas shopping, and see my sister all at the same time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Readers Imbibing Peril IX wrap-up post.



Apologies for the lateness of this post!

This year I took part in RIP IX (Readers Imbibing Peril, organised by Carl Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings.) My chosen challenge was Peril the First: to read four dark, spooky and intriguing novels in the space of two months, and you can see my sign-up post with its goals and suggested reading list here. I'm pleased to announce that for perhaps the first time since I started this blog, I've managed to reach my goal!

The books:




The Silkworm by "Robert Galbraith." The second of J. K. Rowling's crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike lives up to and goes beyond the standard set by The Cuckoo's Calling, and shows that her magical storytelling is not limited by genre. I could not put this down.

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black. A vampire novel for the reality TV and social media generation, combining the danger of the monsters of old with the glamour of the more recent species - but no, they do not sparkle.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. A collection of novellas that pose the question: what might drive a person to commit a crime? As I found with his own son's book, Horns, there is no horror quite as unsettling as the perfectly mundane awfulness that can be found in seemingly ordinary people.

My last book did not come from the original to-read pile but was a birthday present from Hanna. I'm not entirely sure that 11.22.63 counts, as it's not exactly horror, but it is written by Stephen King. An immersive, fascinating, world-changing novel. I did not want to finish this book. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. (I intend to write a full review very soon.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sunday Summary: fly-by post 4

Well, my manic October is over and now I go back to having weekends of a sort again, even if, as is the case this week, actually in the middle of the week. Hurrah! But although I'm doing fewer hours at work, with Halloween over, the world is ready to catch up with the retail calendar and launch into Christmas, and of course things will only get busier. This Thursday I actually ran out of tasks to do. (There is never actually nothing to do, even if it's just cleaning and replenishing the shelves, but I stopped chasing my tail for a moment, making the most of the fact that this was probably going to be my last afternoon like that.

This week I have been:

Reading: 



The last part of 11.22.63. Beautiful, devastating, a wonderful book (that has already altered the way I think time travel in other fiction, such as last night's Doctor Who.) Stephen King does it again! I plan to write a proper review of this one later this week.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a novella about a thirty-something Japanese couple who get adopted by their neighbours' cat, and form a bond with this darling creature. A pensive, poetic read that is worth taking time over, despite its short length.

Rereading Redshirts, one of my top books of last year, and one which I recommend to anyone who has affectionately noticed the absurdity inherent in certain kinds of science fiction TV shows. A must-read if you like the film Galaxy Quest.

Watching: 



A bit more of Heroes - season two is a short one, due to the writers' strike of a few years ago.

Captain America, to remind my dad of Steve Rogers' story so far, before we watch the sequel. (The Avengers is, naturally, also on the cards.)

A bit more Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are some great, thought-provoking episodes of this series, but the fact remains that it doesn't capture my affections as much as the original series, the original cast. I do like Worf and Data, though.

 


The Addams Family, on Netflix. It seemed appropriate Halloween viewing, with hot chocolate and marshmallows, while tucked up with a rotten head cold.

Doctor Who. The first part of the season finale was powerful stuff. I've been a bit ambivalent about this season, enjoying each episode well enough, but not really hanging on to the story during the week. A recurring small character through the series really gave me the creeps in a way I term "the Umbridge Effect" - making the watching experience less enjoyable when the character is on screen. But a few weeks back, I stumbled upon someone's apparently random idea about this person which, if it were true, might make me rethink my approach to them.

Last night's episode was really powerful. An unforeseen* major event within the first minutes, some fine acting, especially from Jenna Coleman, some fantastic lines (including a reference to Peter Capaldi's most famous previous role), a journey somewhere that seemed impossible even for the TARDIS, and some huge plot twists that were unusual in being none the worse for being anticipated.

Scaring myself with: just the thought of getting scared by certain Stephen King books. Perhaps it is not a good idea to read his "Nightmare fuel" page on TV Tropes just before bed. I was the child who had to be taken out of birthday parties and school assemblies because I'd freak out when I saw a clown. Guess which book is not on my immediate to-read pile!

Can't sleep. Clown'll eat me.

But who needs Stephen King when you've got some of the stuff in that last Doctor Who episode? There was a time watching that episode that made me really wonder if the show had crossed a line, gone too far - and I like it when it goes dark. There were some ideas that will linger uncomfortably for a long time, I think.

Sneezing: A lot, especially (naturally) on my day off.

Writing: Well, I've made a start on NaNoWriMo, although I didn't even manage the wordcount for the first day. That's fine. For me it's not about reaching the 50 thousand words, so much as getting back into writing stories, and sticking with it. I don't know who I am when I can't write, and it's been such a long time.

Also, this week I hope to get back into some proper reviews for the blog, now I've (potentially) got a little more time on my hands.


SPOILER in white text >>> 

Actually, I did think for a moment, "Danny's too close to the road" before the phone went silent his end.  <<<
<<<

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 3

This one really will be a fly-by post I'm afraid. It's been a mad, pretty horrible week for me. The next  paragraph will be all about me feeling sorry for myself, so feel free to skip ahead to the kitten picture instead.

On my day off, I met up with friends and felt that I utterly humiliated myself by being in a foul mood, although thinking about it afterwards I realised most of the humiliation was in my mind, things I hadn't said or done at all. I just wanted to disappear. But there's nothing like working in retail, in full view of the general public, for feeling invisible. Thursday was manic, so many jobs to do thanks to it being a big release date for new books Christmas, and I worked so hard trying to get about a week's worth of work done in a single day. Of course, the next day, the manager only noticed the things that got missed! Add to that all the customers who studiously pay great attention to the air a little to one side of me just to avoid eye contact or saying hello or, you know, acknowledging the existence of the shop person (although woe betide you if you're not exactly where they want you when they want something from you.) And just to round off the week, I had a customer nattering on his phone while purchasing something. I came so close to refusing to serve him. I wish I had. It doesn't happen to me too much, but it's a behaviour so universally despised it always shocks me when someone is that rude. How can they live with themselves?

Oh well. Next week is the last of what has felt like one continual week with the occasional day off. I'll be down to working four days in November, and my days off won't be so far apart. Hurrah!


This week I have been:

Reading: 



Not a lot, due to busy work schedule and tiredness, but I'm still enjoying 11.22.63 a lot. It's so different from what I had been expecting, but only in the best ways. I had been expecting a look at "what would the world be like if Kennedy had never been assassinated?" but well over halfway through and the critical date is still far off. Instead it looks at the little changes a person might make due to time travel, as well as immersing the reader in a fascinating setting, with characters one comes to really care about. We've reached the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which to me, as to protagonist Jake/George was something far-off and vague. Yes, I knew that people used to be afraid of the possibility of nuclear war, but knowing that it was a threat that came to nothing, I never really imagined what it must be like to live with that terror. King compares it with the days after 9/11.

Overall, Jake's plan seems to be going too well, too successful. The prologue showed him with a "what have I done?!" attitude, at the end of the tale, and I just know it's going to end in catastrophe. I just don't know what form that catastrophe is going to take.

I also read the latest Neil Gaiman book; a short story really, a fairytale that seems very familiar but challenges what you think you know in a way that, as is Gaiman's way, made me conclude: "Of course! Why did I never realise this before?" It is a gorgeous telling, and a gorgeous book, illustrated by Chris Riddell in black and gold ink.



Watching: Star Trek: Nemesis which will get a full review to complete the set. The end of an era, although I would agree with those fans who slot parody film Galaxy Quest after Star Trek Insurrection to keep the "Even-numbered films good, odd-numbered films not-so-good" pattern correct. It was not terrible, but it was a bittersweet end to the series.

I also watched Tangled on Netflix, which, now I'm nearing the end of my free trial, is working fine or mostly-fine for me now. I will keep testing it, and if it doesn't fail me again, will renew my membership. Netflix is not all I had hoped for - it does not have half of the films or shows I had wanted it for - but it is worthwhile for the things I'd like to see if not to own.

And I started season 2 of Heroes. I was glad to see that supervillain Sylar miraculously survived being skewered with a samurai sword, as he is a very entertaining (and, have I mentioned, disturbingly attractive?) antagonist. Not so pleased that Slimy Nathan Petrelli also survived, though his brother Peter is Missing Presumed Dead (in fact, he has forgotten his identity and fallen in with a bunch of thugs in County Cork.) Claire has started her new school with her own secret identity, but the cheerleaders are from the exact mould as those in her last school. And I realise how bored I am with the Evil Cheerleader character. Just one character, cut and pasted and reused in every single high school story ever. 

Knitting: a long blue cardigan for myself (with sparkles in the yarn) which is finished except for the buttons, and a secret project as part of a Christmas present. (ssshhh.)

Sleeping: whenever I can.

Eating: Too much chocolate. I have discovered the Thornton's Special Toffee bars which are so good - crunchy tiny bits of toffee, rather than the chewy sort.

Saving up for: a new phone. I don't really want one - I want my phone to be a phone, not a super-deluxe camera, or computer, or toaster - but after a hair-raising experience when trying to get to Oxford from London by a certain time while the main train line was closed, I've decided I need at least to be able to get onto travel websites on the go.

Also, though only potentially, an exciting holiday maybe next year. (That reminds me: need to renew my passport.)

Looking forward to: Having two days off, one after the other, on November 5th and 6th.

Walking: Last Sunday afternoon after blogging, while it was sunny, I went for a short walk past a nearby farm and back along the cycle track by the river. It's one of my favourite places to walk and think and daydream, and looked really lovely with the autumn leaves (before it rained, and they all turned mushy. Oh well.)



 This really wasn't a fly-by post at all, was it? Again.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 2.

Good afternoon! There is sunshine today, which I have missed. Even though summer has not been over for long, I was starting to feel as though the sun had gone into hibernation until spring. I'm tempted to go out for a walk this afternoon, to make the most of the good weather and take in the bright autumn colours.

This week I have been...


Reading: 


I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb). More than just a memoir, this book helps you to understand not just what it is like to live under threat from the Taliban, but also the social, historical and political context that allows extremism to take hold. Malala is intelligent and passionate about the importance of universal education, demonstrating the harm done by ignorance, her frustration with those who would warp her religion to make it a tool for oppression. A powerful read from an extraordinary young woman.

I have also begun 11.22.63 by Stephen King, in which a teacher is sent back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. This book has a new, perhaps unique, take on time-travel. In this universe, it seems that there is a proper timeline, an established chain of events, and time really doesn't want to be altered. Every time you go back to the past (down an invisible flight of stairs in the pantry of a diner) the timeline resets itself. Or does it...?

Watching:

I finished season 1 of Heroes, which I had been buddy-watching "with" my sister. I won't write a full review of this, but will put some of my thoughts onto the page in bullet-point form.

  • Fun, entertaining, incredibly cheesy at times, but not the greatest mastery of storytelling in the world. It felt a bit first-drafty, with plot holes and continuity errors, and seemed a bit disorientated. All I knew going into this show was "save the cheerleader, save the world," but I'm still a bit unsure of how saving Claire actually helped with saving "the world" (read: New York City) and how much of trying to prevent the coming apocalypse actually helped to make it (almost) a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • There were several characters with their own subplots, but the ones that interested me the most were Claire the indestructable cheerleader, the adorably geeky Hiro and his friend Ando, Peter Petrelli (although I loathed his family) and the psychotic super-villain Sylar (played by Zachary Quinto, the young Spock in the Star Trek reboot films), who could perhaps be argued to be a darker version of Peter. Peter absorbs other people's powers by standing near them. Sylar absorbs other people's powers by killing them horribly.
  • Sylar reminded me in some ways of Spike from Buffy, starting from the time when he paid a visit to the Bennet home and charmed the mother while waiting for the daughter to come home. Both have mommy issues, and both have a sinister dangerous charisma which is disturbingly attractive. 
  • A couple of characters had what I called "the Umbridge effect," which is to be so creepy and unpleasant they make the watching experience less fun. Claire's father, who Jenny and I christened Creepy Bennet, was one of these, morally ambiguous, doing terrible things for noble motives, but making my flesh crawl, and not in a good way. He does get some backstory and character development along the way, but I will keep up the nickname. Also, Peter Petrelli's politically ambitious brother Nathan, and their mother, were just plain slimy, contemptible. And there were a bunch of sinister corporations and mobsters whose stories just didn't interest me. Ultimately, sexy psychopathic supervillains are much more entertaining than slimy older guys in suits.

The verdict: Probably not something I'd re-watch over and over, but it sustained my interest enough to order the second season second-hand. (I intended to renew my Netflix subscription to watch the rest of the season, but the internet is a bit slow and unreliable on my computer and doesn't always like streaming videos.)


Planning:



Judith asked me the other day if I was going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, to which I answered unequivocally "no." I haven't written any fiction for a while, or at least not stuck to anything. And a couple of days ago, I was feeling sad about this lack of productivity, and my brain said, "surely you can write something, just a drabble or a short story?" But it seems I can't do short stories. With short stories you really need to keep it simple, about one thing, one event, just a couple of characters. And the plot bunnies got breeding, and the basic idea expanded and spread, until I came up with something that might at least go some way towards the 50 000 word count required to complete NaNoWriMo. My only fear is that I have two weeks before November starts: what if I lose interest? I'm not too concerned about hitting the 50K mark, but I'd like to write something in November. (I also have an idea for a drabble slash "fanfiction*" about two of the supporting characters in a novel I wrote several years ago. Hardly enough for a novel, but something.)

Enjoying: Pumpkin spiced lattes. As well as Starbucks, which I don't tend to visit, one of our local coffee shops has this as a limited edition autumn flavour, and it is delicious, one of the things that had me actually looking forward to autumn, which I tend to dread a little.


*Can one write fanfiction about one's own unpublished writing? I'm not sure this drabble is "canon" but I want to explore the relationship between these two characters nonetheless.
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