Monday, 30 March 2009

My Thoughts: Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

This book is the second in the Wicked series and in my opionion far better than the first which I thought needed a serious editing.
The novel focuses on Liir, the son (maybe) of Elphaba the Wicked Witch. The story opens when he is discovered laying half dead on the side of the road. He is taken to a nunnery and where they try and fix all his broken bones and find a musical girl, presumed a mute to play him back to conciousness. The first half of the book moves from the present with her playing to him, her thoughts and his bodily reactions to his memories of his recent past which are cojured up through her music.
We discover where he has been and all that had happened since the death of the witches. When he finally awakens he then goes off try and fulfill some of the promises he had made.

999 (Fantasy)
What's in a name? (relative)
Once Upon a Time III

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Once Upon a Time III : Short Story Weekend II

Silver or Gold by Emma Bull can be found here on the fantastic Endicott pages.

This story is part folktale part fairytale, just as I like them.
Moon Very Thin is at the end of her training as a witch when Alder Owl, her teacher, is drawn to going away in search of the missing prince. Moon is uncomfortable with staying alone, and has the task of banging on the journey drum each night at sunset to call Alder Owl on in her journey. It is this drum call that allows her to know the Alder Owl is safe, but when one night the drum fails to sound Moon has to set out on a journey of her own in search of her teacher.
This is a journey of growth and self knowledge.
You should go and check it out yourself, it is long but definately worth the time and effort. The last paragraph is worth it just for itself, I would have copied it here but it would just spoil the story. Go have a read!

Last weeks:
Short Story Weekend:
GodMother Death

Check out Short Story Sunday, held here

My Thoughts: Y the Last Man: Unmanned (Vol 1) by Brian K. Vaugn and Pia Guerra

This fantastic graphic novel is the first in the series, I'm hoping that the rest are just as good.

This volume introduces us to a fairly recognisable world, in some jobs and careers women and men are equal in other inequality still exists. Then a series pf events occur and the men instataneously drop dead. All except one: Yorrick (and his pet monkey).

As the women try to come to terms with the recent events and keep their lives moving they have a series of problems to contend with: A need to clear away the dead bodies, a lack of food and services, a lack of a stable experienced government and the Amazons. The Amazons are a bunch of hard headed feminists, set out to control through fear and violence, they celebrate the destruction of the male society and seek ways to exploit their position. Their trademark: One burnt off breast.

The next volume is on hold at the library, can't wait to pick it up.

A-Z (Titles)
Graphic Novel Challenge 5/12

Sunday Salon - A Quick Post

We lost an hour here in England tody, with the clocks moving forward - really not what I needed when I have such a massive stack of marking to do! I've got Son of a Witch to tackle at some point today and I shall find a short story to read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, but the majority of my time will be stuck under ten tons of marking.

I also decided today that I will definatly take part in Dewey's Read-a-Thon on April 18th. 24 hours of reading - although at the moment I will be working for 6 hours of that in a pub, that may change nearer the time. Anyone else thinking of participting read the details here

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Herding Cats II: A tiny challenge for me (April 1st - December 31st 2009)

Herding Cats is held here

I remember seeing this challenge last year and being intrigued, this year I have a massive amount of challenges to complete so I'm just going to dip my toe in and read 2-3 of the books.

The premise is that everyone lists their 5 fav books of the last 3 years, then people can chose to read a number of books from the recommendation lists, if they decide to. I'm looking forward to spanning through the lists and may struggle to find just a couple. Other people's recomendations can be found here

My Top 5:
1.The Children's War, J.N Stroyar This is a mamouth book but weel worth the effort. The alternative history of Europe, waning: contains some violent scenes.
2. Milkweed, Spinelli. Yes this is a kids book, but it is also great for adults too. The book tells the tale of a homeless Polish boy in 1939 and should be read by all.
3. Gone With the Wind, Mitchell. This is a recommendation for people like me who seemed to have missed some of the major classics. This is a fantastic gripping read, you'll love and hate the characters all at the same time.
4. Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman's book of short stories is a real treat, a year on and I can still remember many of them vividly.
5.Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See . A fantastic book about chinese women's lives and the secret literate world that they shared.

Books that are on the list (so far) that I may tackle
1. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
2.We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
3.Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
4. The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Miller

Monday, 23 March 2009

Short Story Monday: 'The Great Chain of Being' by Kim Edwards

This is being reviewed for John's Short Story Monday. This is the third short story I have read and reviewed this weekend and another great one.
'The Great Chain of Being' is the first story in Kim Edward's (author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter) collection The Secrets of a Fire King, if this is anything to go by I may be reviewing lots of stories from this collection.

Eshlaini is one of thirteen children in a house largely controlled by a domineering father. The mother is allowed the first 5 years with the child then he renames them after a past relative, claiming 'history repeated itself'. The children, all with the exception of Eshlaini are renamed after previous relative whose qualities or bad bits they resemble.

Eshlaini is the one child who is left to her mother, being there to hear the midwife warn that another childbirth will kill her mother. When her mother gives birth to twins after this and is clearly dieing Eshlaini, with her 9 year olds mind, thinks that if the babies die her mother will survive. She is caught lowering a pillow over their mouths, and quickly branded by her father Rohila - after his mad mother.

Her life then follows, one of seclusion and servitude to her father till his death and her cance to reclaim herself and her real name.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Short Story Sunday: 'Crocodile Tears' by A.S Byatt

Picture of Nimes where the story is set.

This is the first Short Story Sunday I've done in a while. I saw this book on Eva's pool for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and remembered that I had brought a copy of this a few months ago in the library sale, so I dug it out for this week Short Story Sunday.
'Crocodile Tears' is from A.S Byatt's collection Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice. Patricia is out happily enjoying Sunday lunch in a village pub, she wanders off after having a few cross words with her husband only to return and find him dead in the middle of the pub. Without saying a word she quietly leaves the pub, returns home and packs leaving that very day for the South of France without a word to anyone.
She lives out a pretty anonymous life in the South of France, staying in a hotel and having only regular contact with one person. Nils Isakson, a Norwegian also apparently living in the hotel becomes a companion, they spend each day seperatly but meet each night for a drink after dinner. He is also on the run from his real life and his responsibilities and they form a companionship based on this shared escape.

Join me in reading at least one poem for National Poetry Month (April)

Saturday, 21 March 2009

My Thoughts: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Another 1001 book ticked off the list. This tiny book, only 147 pages tells of one day in the life of a Russian prisoner. One good day in his life.
The prisoners are subjected to working outside for 11 hours a day at -11 degrees, the men have little to keep them warm and have to strive to keep every morsel of food and clothing to themselves.
The men work together like a family, constantly trying to scrape something extra for themselves at the risk of being put in confinment.
999 (1001)
Nobel Prize
Olympic Challenge: Russia
A-Z (Title)
1% Well Read Challenge
Orbis Terrarum
Through the Decades (1960s)
Lost in Translation
Guardian 1000 novels

Short Story Weekend: Godmother Death by Jane Yolen

My first short story read for Carl's Once Upon a Time III challenge.

You think you know this story. You do not.

You think it comes from Ireland, from Norway, from Spain. It does not. You have heard it in Hebrew, in Swedish, in German. You have read it in French, in Italian, in Greek.

It is not a story, though many mouths have made it that way.

It is true.

How do I know? Death, herself told me. She told me in that whispery voice she saves for special tellings. She brushed her thick black hair away from that white forehead, and told me.

I have no reason to disbelieve her. Death does not know how to lie. She has no need to.

Death is tapped on the shoulder one day and asked to be the Godmother to a peasant child just about to be born. Shocked at the request she complies and promises to look after her godson when he becomes a man.
Despite his peasant background Death transforms the young man into a world famous doctor, a doctor who knows just who will die and who will not. For years this is successful until the doctor is rushed to the side of a beautiful dieing princess, struck by her beauty he tries to trick Death.

This story can be found on the wonderful Endicott Website here

Friday, 20 March 2009

Once Upon a Time III (March 21st - June 20th)

This is a challenge I knew I'd be signing up to, Carl is hosting the Once Upon a Time III challenge, last year I came back to my blog too late to participate although I really wanted to.

Carl gives a number of options, I'm going for Quest the First, which is to read 5 books from either the fantasy, folklore, fairytale or myth genre. I'm also going to participate in the Short Story Weekends. I will also try and read Midsummer Nights Dream in June as this was the first Shakespeare play I ever read, at aged 11, I loved it but have never read it since.

This is my pool, I'd love to read them all and hopefully the easter break will give me a chance. And it would wipe a large lump off of my tbr pile.
Beauty Sleep, Cameron Dokey
Son of a Witch, Gregory Maguire
The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke
The Court of the Air, Stephen Hunt
The Wild Wood, Charles de Lint
Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
Night's at the Circus, Angela Carter

I look forward to reading everyone's posts.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Sunday Salon: National Poetry Month - Get ready for April

April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate or even discover poems. I've enjoyed poetry for along time, but as it's often hard to read and 'get' immediately I tend to shy away from it. I thought that this would be a great time to push myself to reach out for a poetry collection or anthology and I was looking for other people to join me.

Whether you create one post with your favourite poem in it or review a collection or anthology it would be great to see people over the blogging world participating. And there will be no stuffiness, yes the Romantics are considered amazing but that doesn't mean a fun nursery rhyme or lyrics for a song should be discredited.

I'm planning on reading Rilke's On Love and and Other Difficulties, a mix of prose and poetry. I may even find some poetry which links into the Once Upon a Time III challenge

Monday, 16 March 2009

My Thoughts: The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

I'm bogged down in Bookring reads at the moment, you sign up to read a book in the space of four weeks and don't see a bookring book for ages and then 6 appear at once, hopefully they'll fit into challenges so I don't get too far behind.

The Gum Thief, will be my second Canadian read for the Canadian Reading challenge, this would be great but the challenge finishes in July and I'm so unlikely to even make it halfway!

I read Microserf's last year so I was ready for the quirky style of this novel. Roger, a wannabe novelist, divorcee and all roud depressed guy works at Staples and spends his time drinking out in the loading bay and most importantly writing his diary. Bethany his co-worker finds his diary and starts to read, then realises that he often writes his diary entries as if he is her writing a diary. After this discovery she starts adding letters to the diary and the two form a friendship on paper. The novel is told mainly through these letters and the odd notes sent by other people in their world.
Alongside this we also have instalments of Roger's first attempt at a novel, Glove Pond , a random story about an alcoholic couple who are in a major crisis with their lives, and also Bethany's attempts to write a descriptive piece of the life of a piece of toast. Yes I said it was quirky and I meant it.

This was a nice easy read for the weekend, and while it was mainly humourous their were lots of insights into the dark side of the characters lives.

A-Z (Title)
Orbis Terratum (Extra list)
The 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge
What's in a Name? (Profession)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

My Thoughts: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave

I've been listening to this audiobook on my iPod for the last month, this is my first full length audiobook, I'm finally catching up with technology! I'll have a Kindle in about 20years time.

The title of Narrative ...... speaks for itself. The book starts from Frederick's young life when he explains how slave owners separated children from their mothers in order to stop bonding among slaves. As he grows older and is placed in different slave owners homes, he chances to have a mistress who had never owned a slave before. She teaches him the rudiments of reading, before being discovered and being informed that slaves should be left illiterate. However her lessons had stuck and Fredrick teaches himself gradually how to become a more accomplished reader and then how to write.
As he moves to different slave ownerd he is mistreated and whipped untill one day he holds his own, this event then changes the whole off his life and his views on his oppressors until he finally finds a way to escape and live the life of a free man in New York.

999 (Non-fiction)
A-Z (Title)
The Well Seasoned Reader
In Their Shoes

Sunday Salon: The End of the World Challenge

Becky is hosting The End of the World Reading Challenge II over at her site, the challenge started on March 10th and runs till October 9th.
The Rules - copied from her page:
Read at least four books about "the end of the world." This includes both apocalyptic fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. There is quite a bit of overlap with dystopic fiction as well. The point being something--be it coming from within or without, natural or unnatural--has changed civilization, society, humanity to such a degree that it radically differs from "life as we now know it." (Aliens, evil governments, war, plague, natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, depletion of resources, genetic manipulation, etc.) Here is a wikipedia article on the subject. Also see here. These changes can be small-but-still-significant or huge-and-life-threatening.

Books can be classified as children's, young adult, and adult. (Not many children's books go there. But many teen books do. And they're great.)

Graphic novels can count for this challenge.

Audio books allowed.

Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.

You may have one reread that counts toward the challenge. But most should be new-to-you. (Exception: If you read it several years ago, and you can honestly swear that you don't remember anything about it...then I won't stop you from counting it towards the challenge. I know I've forgotten books I read a decade ago.)

I tried resisting this one, but realsied that a lot of books I'm already needing to read could be incorporated - I tend to find if books overlap I get there much faster.
I come up with 6 books, not sure if I'll read them all:
Z for Zachariah (I've been meaning to read this for ages).
On the Road, McCarthy
Do Androids Dream of Sheep? A 1001 book
Uglies, Scott Westerfield - will be reading for Becky's mini-challenge
Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut - A 1001 book
We, Zamyatin - 1001 book

Saturday, 14 March 2009

My Thoughts: Sky Burial by Xinran

At just 168 pages I didn't expect this book to include as much as it did. The novel is a story the author tells about the life of a wonderful woman she once met briefly. The Chinese women Shu Wen falls madly in love with another doctor, they marry as he is off to help the Chinese army in their trip into Tibet. Going along as the medical aid rather than a fighter doesn't seem all that dangerous, yet 100 days into her marriage and Wen's husband is dead. What is worse, the army have no body to send back to be buried or any details of how her husband died.
Wen decides to join the army herself as a medical aid, in order to be able to travel to Tibet and try to discover just what happened to her husband. Just a few days into her travels in Tibet Wen is seperated from the army and with a rich Tibetan woman she finds herself in the wilderness of Tibet, staying with a Tibetan family who survive from the land and move from place to place according to the season and their needs.
I loved the insight that was given into this society and culture, Tibet is one of those countries that I caould name on a map and know that there are problems with China but that is about it. Since reading this book I have an urge to discover more about the history, people and culture of Tibet - through both novels and non-fiction. If anyone has any recommendations share them here.

A-Z (Author)
Orbis Terrarum
Lost in Translation (from Chinese)

Monday, 9 March 2009

My Thoughts: The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela

This was my second Orbis Terrarum read. The chain so far = House of Spirits -> The Hive (as they are both homes)

This is one of those books were I'm not really sure what to say. The book centers around a busy cafe in Madrid, with a rather bossy owner, she is domineering, unapproachable to both staff and customers and is so frightening that the staff makes tons of mistakes out of fear. I'm assuming that she is a metaphor for the Spanish dictator during the Spanish civil war, as the book is set just after the war.
The novel is hundreds of short segments each featuring glimpses into customers and employees of the cafe and their relatives. As over 100 characters are introduced it is often hard to follow a story through, so I'll give you a few ideas of the types of common themes. Many of the young girls turn to prostitution or are having affairs, the men are ofte immoral, sleeping with prostitutes or weaklings afraid of the matriarch. There are also a lot of comments on the dysfunctional family, who appear happy on the surface but has much going on below the water.

I read this fairly quickly and thought it was ok, but as there were so many characters (in just 250 pages),I wasn't ever that gripped or particuarly drawn in.

Orbis Terrarum 2/10
Banned and Challenged 1/4
A-Z (Title)
The Decades Challenge (1950s)
My Year of Reading Dangerously 2/12
Lost in Translation (from Spanish)

Sunday, 8 March 2009


This is a test post as I seem to have lost my front page

Saturday, 7 March 2009

My Thoughts: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

I feel like I haven't posted a book review in ages, this book is that reason - 2 weeks it has taken me to read it, something that never happens. I like to finish books quickly because it gives me a sense of acheivement but also because I have so many other books waiting to be read, so this was a slog BUT worth it.

This is my first read for Exploration: Latin American Reading Challenge, my own reading challenge so I'm really behind! I've got till April 30th to read 3 more books.

The House of Spirits is a family saga set in an unnamed country in South America. The family is full of characters will spiritual abilities, some (apparently) gorgeous women with green hair, and many love affairs.
The novel focuses primarily on one man and his wife, daughter and granddaughter. The women are all stubbon and rebelious in their own ways, often failling to speak to their family for months on end.
As the years pass the patriach is faced with the creeping interest in socialism all around him, what starts as a whispered dream gradually comes to rule the country creating disruption and poverty for many.

I enjoyed reading about the characters and their strong love affairs that defied social expectations, in particular Alba the granddaughter out of the the women she was the strongest, her rebellion was open and for the help of those weaker people around her. Her grandmother Clara's spiritual communications also meant that we always had a hint as to what would hapen in the future.
However, I struggled with the paragraphs, my copy had tiny text and despite this a paragraph often spanned over a page. The detail was very intricate and often took a lot of concentration, I have to say that I prefered Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia.

Exploration: Latin America 1/4
A-Z (Author)
1% Well Read Challenge 1/10
Orbis Terraum 1/10
Decades Challenge 2/10 (1980s)
999 (Always been meaning to read)
What's in a Name (Building)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Sunday Salon: Challenge Update

I have a fairly busy week, the inspectors are coming to school so I should be busy panicking at the moment, but just not in the mood. Not likely to get much reading done either, I started The House of Spirits early last week and still have tons to go, hopefully I will have finished it by next Sunday.

I thought I should do a challenege update as we're at the end of the month.

A-Z Challenge (Authors) 4/27
A-Z Challenge (Titles) 9/27
In Their Shoes 2/4
The Dream King 2/12
1% Well Read Challenge 0/13 (Starts today)
Orbis Terrarum 0/10 (Starts today)
The Genre Challenge 6/10
The Decades Challenge 2/10
The Carribean Challenge 0/6
My Year of Reading Dangerously 1/12
The World Citizen Challenge 0/3
Y.A Challenge 2/12
Deweys Book Reading Challenge 0/6
100 Shots of Short 49/100
The 2009 Pub Challenge 0/9
Themed Challenge 2/4
999 Challenge 12/81
Book Awards 2 4/10
2nd Canadian Challenge 1/13
Latin American Challenge 0/4 (One book underway)
The Rescue Challenge 0/6
The Graphic Novel Challenge 4/12
Manga Challenge 1/4
War Through the Generations: WWII 1/5
Lost in Translation 2/6
Notable Challenge 1/6
What's in a Name? 1/6
The Well Seasoned Reader 1/3
The Chunkster Challenge 3/6
The Guardian 100 novels 0/10
Banned Book Challege 0/4

A few challenges I need to do a lot of work on, particually The Well Seasoned Reader which finishes this month and The Canadian Challenge, I need to read 12 books by 1st of July.