Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Service Announcement

"Attention those at platform 9 and 3/4, please move away because IT DOESN'T EXIST!"

Although it didn't stop a friend of mine going to check when he was in London at the weekend.

This post is to say that I might not be blogging as much. A week on Saturday I have my exam. I also need to put some serious work into my dissertation. I'll still be reading but may not be posting as many reviews as I have been lately.

It's typical of me to get into something then need to take a break from it. So if it all goes quiet, I haven't abandoned my blog. I'm just frantically cramming for my exam!

Library Loot 27th April - 4th May

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Technically I went to the library yesterday but didn't have time to make my post. Next weekend it's a bank holiday weekend which means the library will be closed this Monday. Also, I have my exam the following Saturday so will need to avoid extra distractions such as books. So I have binged on the following books:

The above are all two week loan books. The librarian was a bit grumpy when he pointed this out to me! Although he was the chap that dealt with me when I had to pay off a rather large overdue fine *ahem* so that may explain the grumpiness. I started After the Fire last night and am hooked already. It's set in my neck of the woods (the south of Glasgow) which I'm always a sucker for. It's a novel about the police but not really a detective story as such. It's such a good read that I even turned down on catching up with myself and Him Indoors's box set watch.

And I am the first person to take out The Long Song which always makes me a bit excited!

Diary of a Chav: Too Cool for School is my YA pick this week. It's part of a series and I read them a little out of sequence. I've read books 2 and 4 and this is book 3. Nevermind, the story is not terribly complicated but still a funny read.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sunday Salon: Mini Reviews

The Sunday Salon.com

Time for another Sunday Salon. This week has simply flown by!

After last week's Sunday Salon post I have joined Bookmooch. I have joined quite a few book swapping sites in my Internet life by this seems to be the best one by far. Most sites I've used mean you have to choose a book from the requester's collection. Instead Bookmooch lets you gather points that you can request from other Moochers. Fab idea. Also, Royal Mail allows you to pay and print surface mail at home which makes sending books internationally a lot easier. As I type two books are parcelled up and waiting to be posted (when the rain stops....) and I have a third I need to do later.

This week I have read three books but none "wowed" me enough to assign each one an individual review. So here we go:

I have been a fan of Alexander McCall Smith for such a long time. His books are great for dipping in and out of. That might be why he was commissioned by newspapers to write a mini story column. The fantastic Scotland Street series was born from such a serial in The Scotsman. Corduroy Mansions came from The Daily Telegraph and has some similarities to Scotland Street. The main characters either live or are connected to someone who lives in this building in London.

My favourite character was Oedipus Snark, a nasty Liberal Democrat. For non-UK readers, the Lib Dems (as they are called) are the "third" party in UK politics and are regarded as being a bit nicey nice. Snark is a loathesome toad who declines events six months in advance "because he is attending a funeral." The UK has a General Election on 6th May and it's looking exciting because the Lib Dems have an excellent chance to gain quite a number of seats. Corduroy Mansions was published in 2009, a good bit before the announcement of the election.

This was a good bedtime read because I could dip and out of it. There are 100 chapters in total; each one no more than 4 pages. There are plenty of characters to keep you amused. William whose feckless son Eddie refuses to take the hint and move out. Caroline, art student who has a dilemma about men (which art student doesn't?) and one time graced the cover of Rural Living. Bertha Snark, Oedipus's mother, who loathes him too and is writing a 'warts an' all' biography about him.  Plenty of characters to keep the reader amused and memorable enough to have numerous storylines running through the book.

My other reads this week have been:

Both books dealing with various teen issues. The Divorce Express deals with the aftermath of a divorce. Phoebe spends the week with her father in Woodstock and travels to New York to spend weekends with her mother. She also manages to find the time to acquire a new best friend, lead a protest about school meals and a new potential boyfriend. Can You Sue Your Parents? has similar themes. Lauren's parents are not happy (although they didn't divorce in this book I would not be surprised to see a sequel about that!) but Lauren has other problems. She likes a new boy at school  but he's the year below her. It's funny but I remember that being such a big issue when I was at school. Yet it was OK for a boy to date a girl younger than him. *sighs*

Again both books are a little dated. Can You Sue... was published in 1979 and one storyline revolves around Lauren's father refusing to let her mother go out and work. Another storyline is about her sister moving in with her boyfriend before getting married. Society has relaxed a little since then but other issues, such as 'how far to go with a boy?', are still there.

It has been fun reading these books with an adult eye. I'm 25 and probably read these books when I was 13/14. Scary, back then 25 seemed like a million miles away. But I can still remember what I was worried about. My hair, what my friends thought, how my marks were doing and so on. Somehow I don't think much has changed.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Who did I meet?

Thank you to all who visited my blog during the hop. I'm looking forward to reading most posts from fellow book bloggers :) 

Apologies for the belated post. Yesterday turned into one of those days when Real Life and Socialising With Other People came into play.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Book Blogger Hop: 23rd April - 29th April

For the past couple of weeks I have been watching this hop from afar. This is my first Friday without a pending deadline so I thought I would give it a go.

Book Blogger Hop is host by Jen at Crazy for Books and is a weekly opportunity to get to know fellow book bloggers. Follow the link below to add your blog to the list. Make sure you put the following information in the link:
*Name of your blog
*How long you've been blogging
*A brief description of the genres you enjoy reading
Clicky here for more detailed rules.

Happy hopping!
And if you've stopped here as part of the hop, please say hello :)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Amazon.co.uk does not appear to have a full review for this book. So, in a nutshell, this book is the second in a trilogy called The Hunger Games. Society has crumbled and, what I assume are the remains of America, has been divided up into twelve districts. The Capital is the tyrant over this civilisation. As punishment for previous rebellions, and a form of social control, each year two children from each district have to compete in what is called 'The Hunger Games'. If you have seen Battle Royale that is a mild interpretation of what happens.

I discovered this book in a Ms magazine article that recommended books with positive feminist role models. Katniss, the lead character and from whose perspective the story is told, is a kick ass girl. However, the kick ass-ness is partly due to survival. In the first book, she manages to win 'The Hunger Games' along with Peeta. To appeal to the Capital's thirst for reality styles, she and Peeta create a believable love affair.

Unfortunately the Capital are not terribly happy with this. This sinister note is how the second book opens. Katniss is now back in her home district with her mother and younger sister. This happiness does not last for long. To celebrate the 75th Hunger Games, it is announced all previous contestants are to compete instead of choosing new participants. This includes Katniss and Peeta. Then all the fun starts.

This book was a terrible distraction from coursework I had due in last week. Collins keeps the reader hooked. The story is seen from Katniss's perspective so the reader is left guessing. What are people's true intentions in the Hunger Games? Why has there been a crackdown on activity in the districts? Who can Katniss really trust? Which is probably why I read this book in an entire sitting.

Collins paints a torturous and futuristic world. In an interview (at the back of printed copy of the first book) she admits the idea came from channel hopping on the television on evening. She was going from Survivor, other reality TV shows to news coverage of war, famine, people fighting for daily survival. This may explain the emphasis she gives to 'manufacturing' of Katniss. As a participant in the Hunger Games she is given a team to spruce up her hair, nails, everything. In the Capital, presentation is everything. A stance I think our current society is not a million miles away from.

Katniss is a true icon for feminist teens. If I had a teen daughter I would prefer she was reading about strong women than love sick girls; mooning over vampires. Collins' book is full of more admirable role models. Katniss's mother who has powerful healing skills but struggles to cope with the loss of her husband (Katniss's father died in a mining accident prior to the events in the first book). Johannes, a contestant in the Hunger Games who has lost everyone she cares about but is still fighting. Even Prim, Katniss's sister, is a character worthy of admiration.

A fantastic, gripping book that appeals to both teens and adults alike. Can't say fairer than that.

(Belated) Library Loot: 20th April - 27th April

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Belated post this week due to looming deadline. Then I had a revision session on Tuesday and a dissertation meeting yesterday that sent my head spinning a little.

Onto Library Loot! As I have mentioned in previous posts I have access to two libraries. One is located in the Current District I live in. The other is Next Door To Current District; where I grew up. Both libraries have their pros and cons. One district charges for Inter Library Loans; the other doesn't. One charges more for late fines (oops!) than the other. The list goes on.

This week's loot comes from Next Door Library. It has recently been refurbished and I was feeling nostalgia when I went there. Hence the large number of YA fiction present:

I am trying very hard to avoid this book until after my exam. There have been some mixed reviews and I have a feeling I might be sucked in by the story. So this book will be hanging out on my TBR table for some time.

Another pick from the library selection table (am awfully fond of them!). It's a novel about the Victorian period (tick!) and is about Spiritualism (double tick!) and torrid affairs (ding, we have a winner!). The Crimson Petal and the White appears to have me addicted to this genre of fiction. I don't think Cover the Mirrors will be as awesome as The Crimson.... was but I can keep my fingers crossed.

I loved Paula Danziger when I was a teen. She used to have a book slot on a Saturday morning kid's show called Live and Kicking. Her outfits were always cool with big earrings and chunky jewellery. She may have been responsible for my own fascination with similar accessories. Alas I could not carry them off as well. These books have been a nice distraction although seem a little dated now. Not many teen girls these days would go out on a date wearing a nice sweater and jeans. But the humour is still there with the silly pranks (such as Super Glue-ing everything in the school building). Need to find out if I still have these at my parents' house:

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sunday Salon: What to Read?

The Sunday Salon.com

As some may notice I have been floating around other book blogs the past week. Partly due to course work avoidance. Partly due to looming 'no job post-qualification' which means I need a project to keep me going through unemployment.

Unfortunately nearly every blog I read has books on it I want to read. Two problems arise. One: a majority of the blogs I have found are American-centric. No disrespect to fellow readers on the other side of the pond but their book supplies seem a lot richer. My lack of funds means I am relying on the local library. Well *ahem* technically I still have access to the library near where I used to live which is part of another local authority. So I have access to two sources of books. Yet most books supplied by these bodies are UK-centric. It makes sense, of course. Library users in the UK are more likely to borrow books from writers known in the UK.

E-books are an option. That brings me to Two: Money. Again, with low lack of funds, buying books is something I'd like to avoid. With a looming Mount TBR I really should be tackling that instead of moping about books I can't borrow from either of my local libraries. But it is so tempting when I go into the library and see lots of books smiling back at me (not literally of course, that would be a bit weird!). Or read some fantastic reviews on a book blog.

For those who read many book blogs: how do you decide what to read? How much are you influenced by your fellow bloggers' reviews? Do you access your existing resources, such as a local library? Is there a magic book fairy that leaves you books under your pillow at night? Or kind relatives who supply you with book tokens on birthdays and other celebratory occasions?

Finally, I have not been reading as much as I'd like this week. My sleep patterns are a bit out of kilter. When that happens, I stop reading in bed to help kick start my routine again. There are other things I give up, such as no TV or Internet an hour before bed, but I really dislike giving up reading in my lovely, cosy bed.

Yesterday I gorged myself on the fantastic The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. It's a fabulous YA series and has been touted by Ms as a great feminist book for teen girls. I was going to write a review under this post but I don't think I can do it justice at the moment. Because tomorrow, a deadline is a-looming and I still need to finish off two reports. That's what I get for reading instead of studying.

Despite the attempts by a mad, bad, volcano it is a lovely day here. Blue sky, lots of cheerful looking white clouds. Before I knuckle down to work, I shall be taking a short walk to pick up Sunday rolls and some newspapers for tonight's entertainment.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Book Review: The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom

This is a book I should have mentioned in my library loot post. It has a bright red cover and chickens; a combination that made me look twice. It's a terrible thing to judge a book by its cover but a crime I can be guilty of.

At the moment I'm tweaking some of my review structure. Previously I didn't have a synopsis or outline of the plot. This is due to my personal preference of finding out for myself what a book is about. I can read the blurb on the back; sometimes quite a misleading piece of text. However some people have commented that they prefer a synopsis and that seems in line with some of the other book blogs I've been reading.

So, a synopsis:
Introducing Israel Armstrong, one of literature's most unlikely detectives in the first of a series of novels from the author of the critically acclaimed Ring Road. Israel is an intelligent, shy, passionate, sensitive sort of soul: he's Jewish; he's a vegetarian; he could maybe do with losing a little weight. And he's just arrived in Ireland to take up his first post as a librarian. But the library's been shut down and Israel ends up stranded on the North Antrim coast driving an old mobile library. There's nice scenery, but 15,000 fewer books than there should be. Who on earth steals that many books? How? When would they have time to read them all? And is there anywhere in this godforsaken place where he can get a proper cappuccino and a decent newspaper? Israel wants answers!
(From Amazon.co.uk)

First of all, this book really isn't a detective story. It is very much so a book about "books". The plot device of finding the books is a way for Sansom to introduce the story's reluctant hero, Israel Armstrong. Bless him, Israel reminded me a bit of myself. Poor lost soul who reads a bit too much and grows up wanting to be a librarian. Unfortunately he graduated with a 2:2 and has not been able to find a single library job. Instead he's been working in a discount bookshop. As someone who faces a similar future post-qualification, I read this book with a grim smile on my face.

The book is set in Northern Ireland and Sansom is not afraid to make mild jokes about the political situation. In one section Israel mentions the IRA to Ted, his unwilling sidekick, and is sharply reminded of the ceasefire in place (although a bit shaky these days, unfortunately). Due to the gentle and warm nature of the book, these references don't jar too much. Sansom makes other gentle jibs such as Israel trying to resist bacon his hosts have given him for dinner. He also pokes fun at people who say stuff like "My best friend's Jewish" then launch on a tirade of anti-Semite remarks. Alas have encountered some people like that in real life, sadly.

That is what I loved about the book was the people. England Robertson, the black South African minister whose mother loved the United Kingdom so much she named her sons after each country. England adds that Ireland did die as a young boy, a bit of irony there on the author's part methinks. Zelda and Minnie who run the local cybercafe that is not what it seems. The unpleasant Linda Wei, Deputy Head of Entertainment, Leisure and Community Services for Tumdrum and District Council who is addicted to crisps and Diet Coke. Pearce Pyper who seems to be aquintanted with almost any Western culture figure from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Irving Berlin.

The book is written with Sansom's tongue firmly in his cheek. In one sequence Israel is being chased by an Alsatian and shoves a copy of Life of Pi into its mouth to prevent being bitten. To quote "a fine use for a copy of Yann Martel's Life of Pi if Israel said so himself....The dog was whimpering and thrashing about to try and dislodge the Booker Prize-winning fable about the relationship between man and beasts from his mouth, so Israel didn't have much time."

Despite some of the melodrama (after all, many detective novels are melodramatic in nature) there are some true human moments. Israel and Ted attempt to round up the missing books by visiting various patrons in the area. One is Rosie, part-time childminder and part-time barmaid at the First and Last pub, established by an ex-member of the Plymouth Brethren. She lives on a mobile home site in a caravan that has seen better days. Israel comments he's from London and Rosie replies she has an aunt there she'd always love to visit. "Why not?" replies Israel. "Look around," Rosie replies. "Look at where I live."

I am cheered to find out this is indeed first in a series. The book does have that feel to it but that doesn't spoil the reading. To support the message of the book, I have requested an inter-library loan for the next installment.

EDIT: Would like to add that I have been so involved writing this book review that I ignored my glass of wine for an hour! Poor lonely little glass of rose :(

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Library Loot 13th-19th April 2010

I've had some time on my hands lately. This time really should be spent doing coursework but I like to work under pressure. As a distraction, I have been wandering around various book blogs and stumbled upon this rather interesting idea:

Library Loot which is a wonderful idea from Eva at A Striped Armchair.

My low funds mean I have started using my local library for books. Usually I bought them from Amazon Marketplace but I cannot justify that expense any longer. Last week I requested Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and recieved a phone call to say it was in. Yesterday was a surprisingly sunny day so I decided to wander down and collect my book. My local library is only 10 minutes walk from my flat. It's rather small but I was surprised how busy it was.

It's the Easter school holidays and the children's book department was full of toddlers, tweenagers, ratty parents and babes chewing on book corners. The available computers were all in use by the time I left. Turning a corner, I stumbled upon a book group having tea and a good old natter about the book they had been reading. Yes, it might be a small library but it was a used library. And there's nothing nicer than seeing a library in use.

The other advantage to the library is the book displays. I try to read a range of fiction but dislike Amazon's marketing choices sent to my email. One stand appeared to be devoted to How to Use.... books with an emphasis on Web 2.0 such as Twitter and Blogging. They are rather short books but I was amused to see printed books as a resource for Web based tools.

But hey, you want to know what I chose, right? Two books came from the The Herald/Tesco Summer Read campaign. The readers are either all Scottish or based in Scotland (Alexander McCall Smith for one) and small presses are represented as well as big sellers.

Finally (I hear you cry!) here is my library loot for this week:

(These two came from the library stand.)

It is doubtful I will get all of these read this week. Surviving and Corduroy Mansions are both two week loans whilst the rest are four week loans. Currently these books are proving good distraction techniques from looming deadlines.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Ask a stupid question......

Lately I have been dipping my toe back into the blogging waters. Not just writing posts but reading them as well. I have been rather impressed with people who post images of the books they're talking about. So, people who know more than me, what's the best way to do this? I know Blogger allows you to insert an image but is there a better method?

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Death of an ipod Touch

Earlier this week my second ipod Touch in a year died on me (this was a replacement after my first one had some sound problems). I took it to my local Apple store and was told it would cost £106 to repair or I could trade in the frazzled model and get 10% off a new model.

The thing is that I'm not too sure I want to. Sure, I loved my Touch when I first got it. It was so handy to check email, Facebook and Twitter while I was waiting for the kettle to boil. But recently I have become a little uneasy about how much of my life was being swallowed by this little device. Bit ironic posting about the Internet stealing my life on a blog but bear with me.

Sometimes I can't sleep and I would spend hours on the Touch, jumping from app to app. Check out the news? I had my Guardian app. See who else is up at this time? Twitter and Facebook. Still can't sleep? Then I have ZombieFarm to play (don't ask). Trouble is that this started to seep into my 'awake' time. A day before the Touch died, I was horrified to discover that I had spent an hour faffing around on it. An hour! Surely Facebook wasn't that interesting? Although I'm on study leave I still have lots and lots of work to do. Work that wasn't getting done because I was distracting myself with the sodding Touch.

So I have decided to go retro. Him Indoors has an old ipod that lacks the snazzy new Interwebs access that the Touch posses. By doing this I'm hoping I don't waste so much time on doing nothing.

And, on that note, I am going to log off and go to bed ;)

Sunday Salon: DNF

The Sunday Salon.com

I hate not finishing books. Absolutely hate it, even if I'm not enjoying reading it. Over years I have tried to implement a X page number rule. Always a little voice says in the back of my head "What if page X+1 is much better than the previous X pages? Keep going." Hard to do when I survey my Mount TBR which has been culled over the Easter break. I haven't counted my books but I have two tidy boxes and small piles scattered across my room. My two (small) bookcases are usually reserved for books that I plan to keep and are comprised of a mixture of books I have read and TBR books.

In the summer I am moving house after living in my current place for roughly two years. Despite the small space myself and Him Indoors live in, we have gathered a lot of stuff. Memories of our last move made me shudder, due to a combo of weak boxes and too many books. With this in mind the book scythe has been swift and without mercy.

But what book is this post about? The Book of Dave by Will Self. I like Will Self, I like his sarcastic opinion pieces, I liked his appearances on Shooting Stars. But, try as I might, I don't like this book. For those unfamiliar, the story is split between two time zones. One is set in the future after London has suffered from a major flood. This society follows the teachings from 'The Book of Dave'. The other time zone is set in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century and follows the story of Dave, an irate and clearly mental taxi driver going through a painful divorce and custody battle.

The problems I'm having centre around the sections set in the first time zone. Self has quite skillfully built a new world, complete with vernacular language. It's tricky to follow and my brain has been too lazy to follow it. Instead I've been skipping those sections and reading the 'easier' passages set in a more contemporary era. Though someone told me that those sections won't make much sense unless I read the A.D. (stands for After Dave) sections.

This is my second attempt to read this book. I think I'm going to add it to the pile of DNF (Did Not Finish). It hasn't put me off trying another Will Self book though so perhaps I'll return it again.

In other news, I have been re-reading The Crucible by Arthur Miller for a university project. I have to encode a text so I chose Act III of the play. Alas, due to copyright issues, there is no electronic version. I had to key in the Act whilst checking it against my paper copy. Twenty-eight pages later, it's proof read and I can start tagging it.

The Crucible is impossible to avoid if you study Drama or English at an advanced level. At least it was when I was at school (almost ten years ago now!). Due to this it's a favourite of local drama companies because it guarantees bums on seats. To me, a play is not there to be read, it's there to be performed. Although I'm not reading it for this purpose, I have enjoyed re-reading the dialogue and getting caught up in the action of Act III (the act when Proctor confronts the court, Abigail and his wife, amongst other things).

This week's entry might be getting posting a little early. Tomorrow I have Easter lunch with Him Indoors and his family. Then it's off to my parents for Easter dinner. Busy old Easter Sunday.