Wednesday 31 July 2013

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day Two

Day Two: What is your bedtime reading ritual?

I wouldn't say I have a regular ritual when it comes to reading before bed. What I like to do is get ready for bed early, and spend half an hour or an hour winding down and reading - but more often, I will be on the internet right up until bedtime, or beyond, and then wonder why I can't get to sleep. Or watch one more episode of whichever boxset I'm working my way through. If I'm not looking forward to the next day, then I try to delay it as long as possible - you can tell I'm not in a good place if I'm sitting up till 1AM knitting, while my mind is worrying away. All terrible habits, because if I'm not sleeping, then it all just gets worse and worse.

And, as Ned Stark would remind us, Winter Is Coming. It's not August yet, Katie, you say, looking at me with a concerned and perplexed expression. But I work in retail, specifically bookselling, and already the Christmas annuals have started coming in. I swear it gets earlier every year. The autumn and winter are always difficult for me, so I have promised myself that I can reread Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, the ultimate in comfort reading. I intend to get back into the habit of having an early night and reading a chapter or so before I go to sleep, to help me to wind down and relax - and if I allow myself to read these books only at bedtime, that might be more of an incentive to actually get into a routine.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day One/ Bout of Books

Hi everyone. Apologies for the lack of updates recently. There are some reviews due: Dorothy Koomson's latest book, The Rose Petal Beach, and the latest installment in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's "Cornetto" movie trilogy: World's End, but they are still in note form or lost in the labyrinth of my brain. They are coming, though!

It seems I've only just finished the last readathon, but Bout of Books 8.0 kicks off in just under three weeks, on Monday 19th August. The rules are the same as before: read as much as you can, when you can, where you can, and blog about it. I have been very busy buying up ALL THE BOOKS in the last couple of months, so I really, really, need to read as many as possible before unread books take over my house completely.
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team.
Bout of Books

In the meantime, I've signed up for the 15-day Book Blogger Challenge, as hosted by Good Books, Good Wine, my aim to complete the 15 blog posts before the beginning of Bout of Books. 

Day One: 15 book-related confessions

1. I really ought to buy an e-reader, but can't stand the thought of it. Yes, my book piles are taking over my room, I acquire them faster than I cull them, and shelf space is a thing of the past. But as far as I'm concerned, book-buying is an art. It involves the leisurely perusals of the bookshops (if I visit a different city, it is a matter of principle to check out their Waterstone's,) the bond with the bookseller who raves about your favourite author with you, tells you without looking the author of that book you can't quite remember, the coming away from town with a bag of books, a guilty conscience but a sense of immense satisfaction. You can't replicate that with a click of a button. 

2. Maybe I am just a hoarder of books. I love their physical presence, how they look on my shelves (erm, and stacked in every corner so I can never find what I'm looking for!) 

3. There are lots of my books I will probably never read again. I acquire them so fast, that there is little time for rereading - only the absolute favourites get reread, and the occasional one I liked the first time around. But I hang onto them, most of them, because I don't know which that "occasional one" will be until I want to read it again.

4. I'm getting impatient for my friend's 3-year-old twins to learn to read. My other friend tells her it's okay, that just because I was known as "Katie Who Can Read" before I started school, doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with them if they can't read until they're 4 or 5, or that they won't become book lovers. She was a late reader and is as much a devourer of books as I am. I have to be reminded of this when my brain wants to shout at them, Just hurry up and read already! (I suspect I am a terrible person.)

5. I genuinely believe that reading makes you a better person. It engages your imagination and empathy, so that you understand how people might think, feel and react, who have had different experiences, different personalities, different lives. Reading a book helps you to understand what it might be like to be the person you might have nothing to do with if you met them in real life. 

6. I am a compulsive book-buyer. This is probably not an original confession on this challenge. I try very hard to restrain myself. I have given up buying books for Lent, I have given myself a limited book budget, I have tried all sorts of things, but once I start buying ALL THE BOOKS, I find it very difficult to stop. I've been quite restrained for the first 5 months of this year, but in the last 2 months, I have acquired, mostly bought but some borrowed or given to me, over thirty books. 

7. I think someone should set up a home for shabby books. Some of my books have suffered by either being dropped in the bath, being carried around in my bag all day every day, having ink spilled on them, and in one instance, grass-stained from being chucked across the garden. I don't always treat my books very well, but if they are single-read books, they are in no condition to be resold, even in a charity shop. But I can't just throw them in the bin. I cannot do it.

8. I have three copies of Anne of Green Gables. One is the large hardback two-in-one given to me for my 8th birthday by my parents. Then, there is a nice 100th-anniversary paperback, which fits in a handbag. Then there is a Puffin Classics, tattered, second-hand edition, for reading in the bath. If I get any more, then I will have to start collecting in earnest, and because of a competitive streak in my nature, will feel obliged to match Hanna's Pride and Prejudice collection.

9. Sometimes I am almost scared to start a book I've been waiting a long time for, or a reread of an old favourite. It's like, if I don't savour the reading experience, if I don't enjoy it enough, if I don't read it in the right place, at the right time, it will be RUINED FOREVER. You only read a book for the first time once, so you have to make the experience perfect. (But the rereading? Silly Katie.)

10. I still have all my old Enid Blytons in a box under my bed. When I was in my early teens, I retired them up to the loft, but a couple of years later I had to retrieve them to reread Five on a Treasure Island, and I know I will never be able to part with them. On a related note...

11. I really hate the modern editions of Enid Blyton's books. Not only have they been updated to change shillings to pounds, but the covers are ghastly. I much prefer the style from when I first started reading them.


12. I don't like the phrase "TBR (To be read) Pile." I prefer to say "To-read." Because for me, the journey is as important as the destination - the reading experience, not just reaching the end.

13. For me, romance is a thing to be endured for the sake of the story. Possibly I am bitter and jaded, but I don't very often get mushy over characters falling in love. "Shipping" and "OTPs" leave me cold - mostly. There are exceptions, however.

14. If I see someone reading on a bus, train or other public place, I will not rest until I know what they're reading. That is the other reason I don't like e-readers.

15. I wrote my first "novel" at the age of ten. It was called "First Time At Abbey School," and was a blatant rip-off of Malory Towers. I wrote it in pencil in a green Lion King exercise book, and probably ought to type it up for posterity, before the pencil fades to be illegible. 

Monday 15 July 2013

Divergent - Veronica Roth

In the last year or so, I've read a lot of rave reviews of Veronica Roth's teen dystopian novel Divergent, so when I found a copy in Ellie's book shop, I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about. In the wake of The Hunger Games, the YA market is full of dystopian futures: zombie apocalypses, corrupt governments and teenagers versus the world. Despite, or perhaps because of the hype, I was not convinced that Divergent would stand apart from the rest, but I wanted to be proved wrong.

The society of Divergent is split into five factions, each of which value and strive for a single character trait: Dauntless (courage), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Erudite (knowledge) and Candor (truth). I was very much reminded of Hogwarts houses, but turned up to eleven, and for life. Members of each faction have their own roles and contributions in this society, according to these values - but this view of humanity seemed too simplistic to convince me. People are complicated, and I could not believe in a world which dictated that a person can be either brave, or kind, or intellectual, that one quality must drive a person's every action, every thought, every decision, from the age of sixteen to the end of their days, or be outcast forever.

It took me a long time to get into Divergent, but my favourite segment of the novel was the middle, in which heroine Tris (Beatrice) trains for the initiation into the Dauntless faction. I was reminded of a school story, with new friendships and enemies made, learning and living together in dormitories, and facing up to bullies among other initiates and teachers alike. The famous knife scene was where my interest really started, which Tris shows real-world courage, as opposed to the daring stunts and tough fighting that passed for bravery in the Dauntless faction.

Fans of Divergent grow very tired of the inevitable comparisons with The Hunger Games, and between tough-girl Tris and Katniss Everdeen, and indeed they are very different stories within the genre. However, Divergent did not stand out from the other dystopian teen books. I enjoyed the Dauntless scenes fairly well, as a small group of characters getting to know each other and the workings of their new faction away from the hinted-at disturbances in their world's government. (How much of the world is factioned, and what happened to the rest of it?) However, I thought that the wider world, though full of potential, was quite weakly realised and unconvincing, and the final act was nothing exceptional. Sixteen-year-old heroine and a few friends-and-relations trying to bring down a corrupt regime? It's been done before, and better.

Monday 8 July 2013

Once Upon A Readathon

Monday, 11AM

Well, hello there! Here on the Isle of Wight the sky is blue, the sun is shining and it is promising to be a hot day. The long-awaited summer has definitely arrived. As such, I am left with no choice but to take my book to the beach to take part in the Once Upon a Readathon there.

Once Upon a Readathon is an annual readathon organised by Lori at Pure Imagination, Angela and Loretta at Reading Angels and Candace at Candace's Book Blog. It takes place from today until Wednesday at midnight, and as well as the reading (lots of it and preferably with ice cream!) there will be some blogging challenges and prizes.

Today (Monday) will be my most active readathon day (if you can call lying on a beach reading "active") as tomorrow and Wednesday I will be back at work. As such, I will probably keep my updates in this one post, instead of having separate posts for each day.

My main goal for this readathon is to finish a couple of books which I've been reading for ages: Iain M. Banks' first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas and the second volume of Sandman, The Doll's House. I'd like to get those finished by the end of today, especially the Banks. My to-read pile has now emigrated from by bookshelf to a big ricketty pile beside the bookcase, so I have plenty to choose from for what to read next, but I think it will either be Veronica Roth's Divergent (because I want to see what all the fuss is about) or Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements, which promises to be a cute and fluffy and very seasonal read.


I complain a lot about living on the Isle of Wight - as a reasonably intelligent young person, there are few career prospects, and just as few potential romantic partners (I'd rather be single right now but it sucks that this seems to be my only option whether I like it or not.) Still, there is no denying that it's a great place to be in the summertime. Wherever you are, you're never more than about a half hour drive from the sea. As I don't drive, it can take up to an hour on buses, but I actually quite enjoy travelling on public transport. It was a close one today, though, with late and full-up connector buses, traffic lights, jaywalkers and fake-queuers (you know, when someone's standing at the bus stop, so you wait behind them, but it turns out that they don't want that bus after all, and the driver leaves without you - grrr!) all doing their best to make me miss the bus and have to wait an hour for the next one. Or, I could have got a different bus and walked along the seafront for ten minutes, an idea that did not appeal in today's heat. My beach of choice was Yaverland, a slightly less touristy beach than its next neighbour, Sandown. (It had toilets and a little cafe/shop, what more do you need?)

I was relieved to get to the end of Consider Phlebas. I'm just discovering science fiction now, but as much as I wanted to enjoy the late Iain M. Banks' first Culture novel, I just couldn't connect with it, and it has been slow work. Perhaps I'd get on better with his books authored without an "M" in his name - I remember finding The Wasp Factory fascinating, in a horrifying sort of way, and have had The Crow Road recommended by a customer. I rewarded myself with a swim - Yaverland is a great swimming beach, without much seaweed or rocks, and big, splashy but not menacing waves, and the water was glorious.

Edited to add: I understand that, although Consider Phlebas is the first of the Culture books, newcomers are better off starting with The Player of Games. Would anyone who's read the books confirm that? I didn't enjoy Phlebas that much, but am reluctant to give up on the series entirely.

After Consider Phlebas, Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop is a very easy read, a sweet and likeable story about two sisters who inherit their grandmother's ice cream business and decide to give it a new lease of life, with a vintage make-over, ice cream van and a trip to Italy for a gelato-making course. Of course, they have their fair share of disasters, heartbreaks and family crises to deal with along the way. Vivien's is lighter than my usual reading, but contains all the ingredients for a perfect beach read - complete with an ice cream of my own, naturally! I sometimes daydream about opening my very own seaside ice cream shop with homemade gelato, so Vivien's indulges that fantasy as well as warning the reader what mistakes to avoid.

This evening, I'm planning to take a bit of a break from reading, and watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek. After watching the JJ Abrams reboot films, I've borrowed the first Original Series box set from my friend, and reluctantly, bewilderedly, I'm finding myself enjoying it a lot more than I had expected. Despite the series containing enough cheese and ham for a round of sandwiches, there are some good stories and characters in there, and I can see why people get so invested in it.

Readathon Challenge: Book BFF

The Book BFFs want to know: who is your "Book BFF*" and how did you meet? Well, I will have to go with my best friend, Judi, who I have known for as long as I can remember. Our mothers have been friends since they were kids, and we grew up together, going to the same mum-and-toddler groups, etc. We don't have identical reading tastes - she likes more non-fiction and science fiction, whereas I tend more towards the literary, historical or general fiction - but there is enough of an overlap (especially in fantasy genres) that we are always lending each other books. From time to time we decide to tackle a book or series together as a "book club" of two - which translates to reading the book and then going to the pub to talk about it over a glass or three of wine. Last year we read A Song of Ice And Fire together, which was a lot of fun. We are quite content to meet up and spend time just reading and ignoring each other. Now that's what friends are for!

Pages read today: 403
Books read today: Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks, 
Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop - Abby Clements
No. of books read (total): 2
No. of books finished (total): 1
Reading snacks: Mint Magnum, Graze "Herb Garden" nibbles, raspberries, strawberry Cornetto (Yes, that is two ice creams. Deal with it.)
Today #insixwords: Sun, sea and plentiful ice cream

Tuesday, 7:40PM

Back at work today, where it was pretty quiet - no doubt most people were in the park or on the beach, and who can blame them? At lunch time I finished Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop, which had a satisfying, if perhaps predictable ending. Certainly I found myself wanting to invest in an ice cream maker and try out some of the delicious recipes that the author was kind enough to include in the back of the book.

Coming in from work I lost myself in the Sandman graphic novel, The Doll's House. This is my second reading of the series, and this time around it was interesting to see characters and plot strands which seem at this early stage to be stand-alone stories, but which make a lot more sense when you know how Gaiman is going to weave the threads into the overall story. The story "Men of Good Fortune," which follows a man who has refused to die, meeting with Dream once every hundred years, is outstanding, showing the details of a changing world, and highlighting that, when you look at the bigger picture, nothing really changes at all. Next up is a complete contrast in story and tone, in "The Collectors," one of the more lingeringly creepy chapters of the series.

I didn't get to watch any Star Trek last night after all, thanks to my computer playing up, but I did listen to Radio 4's "Book at Bedtime," which is The Ocean At the End of the Lane, read by Michael Sheen. This evening I plan to finish The Doll's House, watch those episodes of Star Trek, and then listen to part two of Ocean in bed.

Pages read today: 101
Books read today: Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop - Abby Clements
The Sandman: The Doll's House - Neil Gaiman
No. of books read (total): 3
No. of books finished (total): 2
Reading snacks: Cadbury's Dairy Milk "Strawberries and Creme" edition
Today #insixwords: Forgotten how good that story was.

Wednesday (updated Thursday)

Not a lot of reading got done on the final day of Once Upon a Readathon, although I managed to finish off The Doll's House. The weather was beautiful, so I took my lunch and book to the nearby park. After work, I met up with friends for a last-minute cinema trip on Orange Wednesdays. We were torn between Now You See Me and Despicable Me 2, but the yellow minions won. The film is very silly, as befits a family movie, but genuinely funny (see aforementioned minions and cute orphan Agnes) and I was crying with laughter by the end.

Pages read today: Approx. 75 (didn't count)
Books read today: The Sandman: The Doll's House - Neil Gaiman
Books bought today - On Writing - Stephen King
No. of books read (total): 3
No. of books finished (total): 3
Reading snacks: lunch, iced latte and chocolate biscuit
Today #insixwords: I want an army of minions!

*BFF = Best Friend Forever

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Top ten books of 2013 so far/Once Upon a Readathon

I'm really cheating here, because this was The Broke and the Bookish's top ten for last week, but I was away from my computer for a couple of days and missed it.

My blogging resolution for 2013 was to read quality, rather than quantity: to take my time reading books I could fall in love with, instead of skimming through things I didn't care in order to reach a target. So far it seems to be working. I haven't even kept track of how many books I've read, and deleted my Goodreads account, but there seem to be a higher proportion of great reads on my list.

Top Ten Books of 2013 So Far (in no particular order)

1. Paper Towns by John Green. Although Looking For Alaska, which has similar themes, has more publicity, I preferred this story of a boy piecing together the mystery of his friend and crush's
disappearance. I love a good treasure-hunt story, a mystery with clues to solve, and the interesting and little-known facts and details that make Green's books come alive and appeal to us nerdy types.

2. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. I am very much not into zombies. They Warm Bodies was the exception: Somehow Marion was able to convey just what it would be like to live as a zombie, trapped inside a mind that is almost but not quite eroded, snarkily humorous but surprisingly thoughtful and compassionate. (The book is better than the film.)
do nothing for me.

3. Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I found this book just after the death of an old friend, and it was just what I needed to read at that time: a tale of grief and young love, family and growing up, and the confusion that comes when someone dies. I haven't seen much publicity around this book, which is a real shame. Highly recommended.

4. The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. A story of a friendship between a bright but unusual teenager and a grumpy old man. An odd mixture of humour and sadness, this book challenged me to think. Alex Woods is a wonderful character, and I defy you not to fall in love with him.

5. After the Fall by Charity Norman. This is an odd one, because I wasn't sure I was going to like this book at all. I felt sure I knew where the story was going - and I couldn't have been more wrong. I love books that surprise me; that manage to sneak past the emotional barriers I put up, making me care for the characters more than I intended to. Challenging, heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful.

6. Watchmen by Alan Moore. A dark and dismal story that takes a sideways look at the concept of superheroes, and wonders what kind of world it would be if they really did exist. An uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant read, posing difficult questions about morality, heroics
and the human race as a whole, but one that stays with you for a long time.

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Did I mention that I love a good treasure hunt story? This one is set in a dystopian future, but its true setting is within the internet itself, in a virtual reality that is a geek's paradise, stuffed with references to gaming, science fiction, cult films and TV, in
particular of the 1980s. A thriller with all the adrenaline-rush of the best video game in the world.

8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman This was my most
anticipated read of the year, and it did not disappoint. A children's tale for grown-ups and a short story grown long, this is all about childhood, magic and memory, filled with deep-down truths that I can't quite grasp, but that Gaiman has made sense of through story. As soon as I finished this book, I started at the beginning once more, a thing I haven't done since I read the final Malory Towers book at the age of 11 or 12.

9. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke I only half-watched the film, which probably demands one's full attention, but is extremely slow-paced. The beginning is bizarre, the middle a respectable science fiction movie slowed right down, starring the world's most sinister computer, and the ending both terrifying and a complete mind-screw. I didn't love it, but it lingered, and when I saw the book in the library, I took it home to read straight away. The novel and film are really two halves of a whole: the film shows, while the book explains what we're seeing. And as I read, a long-forgotten part of my childhood returned to me. When I was seven or eight, I was fascinated by the solar system; the vastness of space, the strangeness of all the planets, and the dream of space exploration. I had a space encyclopedia I could pore over for hours - but as I grew older, I'd forgotten all of this. 2013 has been the year of me discovering I actually like science fiction, but the realistic journey of the Discovery to Jupiter and Saturn gives a far greater idea of the size of space than all the fictional galaxies of Star Trek and Firefly. 

10. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo This is not a book I intend to reread from start to finish regularly, the 1000+ page tome breaking from the story every few chapters for Hugo to pass judgement at great length on history, politics, life in a convent and the sewers of Paris. Of course, you can enjoy the musical without reading the book - from the comfort of your own home now it has been filmed - but the book is so much deeper and richer.

Once Upon A Readathon: Mon 8th- Weds 10th July 2013

After last month's Bout of Books readathon, I've found myself bitten by the bug. Of course, I can devote any of my free time I choose to reading, and do, but it's easy in these days of wi-fi to spend more time tweeting about books, reading blogs about books and setting off a TvTropes tabsplosion about books, than actually reading. A readathon is a great incentive to actually sit down, ignore all the distractions, and actually get lost in a good book or three. So I've decided to sign up for Once Upon A Readathon, which takes place next week. I don't expect to read more than two books during that time, as I'll be at work on two of the three days. Monday will be my day off, and so I intend to get as much reading done as possible that day. Can't wait!

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