Sunday, 28 February 2010

Lord of the Rings Readalong: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien

I'm surprising myself today and found enough time (ok, I confess I didn't do any marking, and I know I'll regret i when I'll have to do it tomorrow evening) to finish off two books, A Suitable Boy (which I reviewed earlier) and then The Fellowship of the Ring which I had just over 100 pages left.

I'm guessing your all clear on the story so I won't rewrite a version of it here, I'm just going to answer these questions instead:

Since we’re dealing with a third of a novel, instead of the first novel in a series, do you find anything different?
The main diffference is that the book clearly leads on to something else, I think you'd be extremely disappointed if you wasn't wanting to read the next part.
Who’s your favorite character so far into the novel?
Sam. He was when I saw the film and he is again in the book. He is so simple and loyal to Frodo, I guess everyone likes him because they want a friend like him.
What surprised you the most?
What was most surprising was that I got through it this time. I've started this twice before and always given up when they leave the Shire and enter the Old Forest, this had always seemed to drag at this point whilst this time I read through it easily enjoying each page.
What was your favorite scene?
My favorite scene was probably the last scene as Frodo and Sam swim off together. I also loved everything with Tom Bombadil, from his rescuing them from the tree to his house.

My Thoughts: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

A Suitable Boy has sat glaring at me on my shelves for a good 8 years. On at least 2 or 3 occasions I have started it and given up quickly. I'm one of those people who love the sense of satisfaction of finishing a book, so a 1500 page book is always a struggle. Determined to finally read it I organised a read-a-long on where we read a section a week (sections are on average 70-100 pages long. I'm not only excited that I finished the book but that I also managed to host it on time each week.

A Suitable Boy is set primarily in the fictional city of Brahmpur, but travels across Delhi, Calcutta and various other parts of India along the way. The novel's central core is the search for a suitable husband for Lata, the youngest member of the Mehra family. Yet Lata's search is just a segment of the rich tapestry of this novel. The novel reaches out and tells us the stories of her family members and friends, her suitors and also of those who they know. In this way the book becomes more than just a love story, but also a tale entwined with politics, society, relgion and life in the various castes.

There is far too much in this book even to try and explain the plot line(s). But, I have to say that I loved it. Each section managed to vary, to keep you wondering what would happen next, and how else all the characters would be related to each others lives in someway. Some characters I loved from the very beginning such as Malati, her outspoken bestfriend and Kabir, the man she loves but who is of the wrong religion for her family to consider a marriage. There were some characters I grew to love and some who I continued to dislike until the very end. The writing was fresh and poetical (in places) ensuring that things never became dry.
I'll certainly be looking out for more of Vikram Seth's work in the future, I've read that he is a poet so I'll be searching out some of his poetry as well as his novels.

The Sunday Salon: February's Reading

Photo Credit

Another month is nearly complete so I'm updating on my reading status. I only managed 5 books which is really poor as 4 of them were novellas, I've been in one of those strange moods most of the month were books aren't holding my attention. I've watched stacks of TV instead, which is something I rarely do. On a positive I read 3 books from the Caribbean and they seemed to pull my out of my slump for a while, so I've got a few Caribbean books lined up to hopefully grab my attention.

Last night I went to see Sherlock Holmes, I was surprised how good it was, and how busy the cinema was as this film was out before Christmas. Oh, and I also had a mediocre pizza which I managed to have a mini allergic reaction to, the whole way through the evening my face, particularly around my mouth itched and was puffy - luckiy the cinema is dark!
Today I woke to the sound of heaby rain again, thankfully I've done most of the jobs I need to do outside the house so I can be a bit of a hermit today. I have the joys of marking to get done but then I plan to read away. I have the penultimate chapter of A Suitable Boy to read for a readalong, and then I'm going to takle the last 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the last 130 pages of The White Tiger. Plus read a few Caribbean short stories and some more poems from my current anthology.

EDITED as I've just finished A Suitable Boy, but I won't call it 6 books for the month as I've been reading this a book a week for the last 18 weeks, and what a great journey it was :)

How's your reading been this month?
Summertime, J.M Coetzee
The Fire Gospels, Michel Faber
Ruins by Achy Obejas
Whole of a Morning Sky by Grace Nichols
Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

My Around the World Reading map is starting to look a little healthier.

visited 11 states (4.88%)
Create your own visited map of The World
South Africa
Summertime, JM Coetzee

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
Ruins by Achy Obejas
Whole of a Morning Sky by Grace Nichols
After the Dance by Edwidge Danticat
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Dr Zhivargo by Boris Pasternik
Sorrow Mountain by Ani Prachen

The Netherlands
The Fire Gospels, Michel Faber
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Alice in Wonderland by C.S Lewis

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Library Loot: A Varied Bag

I popped in to the library expecting to pick up one or two holds to find there were 6 books waiting for me! I was definately glad that the super grey clouds (England seems to have hit rainy season, I hate it and just want the sun to come out again) had made me decide to drive to town rather than taking my normal 3 mile walk.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (Audiobook), I've wanted to read this for ages so grabbed it when I saw the audio version which I'll listen to on my drive home from work each night. It will also be my Olympic Challenge Pakistan read.
The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories edited by Mervyn Morris and Stories from the Caribbean edited by Andrew Salkey, I grabbed these to carry on my Caribbean readings. The Andrew Salkey one has fewer authors but 2 or 3 stories from each author whilst the Faber collection has a wider range of authors. Hopefully I'll find some new authors to read more of in the future.
The God Who Begat a Jackal by Nega Mezlakia, this is set in Ethiopia so perfect for the Olympic Challenge.
Selected Poetry by Derek Walcott, this will be my second poetry book for the Clover, Bee, Reverie poetry challenge, hopefully I'll enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying the first. Also, you guessed it, he is a Caribbean author!
Wicca by Vivianne Crowley and The Bible: The Biography by Karen Armstrong, both of these are for The World Religion Challenge.

The other two books were sent to me as a Surprise RABCK (Random Act of Book Crossing Kindness) to help me with the Olympic Challenge, Moving Through The Streets by Joeseph C Veramu is written and set in Fiji (it looks like it was typed on a typewriter so will be a short but eyestraining read) and Night, Again: Contemporary fiction from Vietnam edited by Linh Dinh which I'm really looking forward to.

I'm off to finish The Fellowship of the Ring and The White Tiger so I can get started on my library pile :D

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Sunday Salon: New Challenges.

Here I was just mindlessly going through my Googlereader and I came across 2 of Eva's posts and now I'm signed up to two new challenges!
Clover, Bee and Reverie: A Poetry Challenge, how could I resist with a brilliant name like this! I may have a degree in English Literature but I always avoided poetry as much as possible at university and I've read very little since I finished university. But, I do enjoy reading poetry and teaching it. I love the selection which I teach for the GCSE pupils, a mix of multicultural poems, a selection by Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and a handful of pre 19th century poems added in to boot. I think the reason I struggle to read poetry at home is because I feel I can't really get a feel for the individual poems if I read a collection in one sitting, but if I try dipping in and out I soon forget that the book is sitting there.
There are 4 levels of participation, and I'm going for the hardest one the 'Sonnet' in which you have to read 14 collections of poems, which includes completing two badges (2 collections which are connected in some way), and one at expert level (4 books which are connected in some way).
I'm thinking that my two badges will be Modernist (Ezra Pound, T.S Elliot or H.D - an area I'm comfortable in as I've studied some of the key poems and wrote my dissertation about the wonderful 'The Wasteland'), and something by The Beat Poets who I've always meant to read but never got around to.
For the expert level I'm looking at reading poets from around the world, hopefully at least one from 4 different continents (this would probably be completed using anthologies so I get a real feel for a place).
I'm hoping to revisit a few favourite writers such as T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carol Ann Duffy, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Les Murray and Thom Gunn.
And I also want to try a few of these who I've always meant to get to: ee cummings, WH Auden, Philip Larkin, Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickenson.
Poetry Read:
1. Robert Herrick
2. Polish Fables
3. The Virago Book of Wicked Verse, ed. Jill Dawson

I'm also joining The World Religion Challenge 2010, as my knowledge of religion is minimal and this is going to be a steep learning curve. This challenge also has different 'paths' and I'm going for a toughy, The Universalist Path which requires reading about the 5 main religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and more books about any or all of the following: Shintoism, Animism, Taoism, Confucianism, Wicca, Mythology, Atheism, Occult, Tribal Religions, Voodoo, Unitarianism, Baha'i, Cults, Scientology, Mysticism, Rastafarianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism, Agnosticism, Gnosticism, Satanism, Manichaeism, Deism, Comparative Religion, Religious Philosophy, Jungiansim, Symbolism, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc., etc. etc. (you may also read about another aspect of one of the 5 Biggies)
Any type of book is valid whether it is fiction, non-fiction, poerty or a religious text (I may even read the Bible, something I've always meant to do). You are also encourage to find out more through movies, attending a service, taking part in a celebration etc.
I'm not really sure where to start with this in terms of books to choose, I think it'll be a case of looking at other people's choices and recommendations and sitting in the library and flicking through some books to get a feel for the way the texts are written - I don't want anything to academic. I'm really interested in reading about religions such as Wicca, Scientology and Mysticism as well as learning more about the main religions.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

My Thoughts: Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

My reading around the Caribbean continues (it will certainly last a while longer as a bookcrosser kindly sent me A House for Mr Biswas which arrived this morning and I have 2 Caribbean short story collections and Derek Walcott's poetry sitting reserved for me at the library), this time I'm popping over to Atigua.
Annie John is a delightful novella about a precocious little girl, Annie. As a child she is adored by her mother, she follows her from place to place, is indulged with attention and love (and food - her breakfast would last me a good couple of days). Her mother takes her with her to markets, during household chores and on visits and each one is filled with a story from either her mother's or Annie's past.
At the age of 12 Annie's life changes, suddenly she is no longer the apple of her mother's eye, when her father is present they act close and loving yet when they are alone they battle. Annie suddnely feels unloved and unwanted, like she can do nothing right.
This book follows Annie's relationship with her mother, through her schooling where she is the brightest but also the naughtiest girl. And, my favourite part, through the Antiguan culture filled with obeah's, descriptions of meals and rituals, habbits and customs. The language is beautiful, I wanted to star so many passages, and if this was my own book I would have, so I could flick through and savour the words again. I've picked out one of my favourites below:
My father came in, looked at me and said, "So, Little Miss, huh? Hmmmm." I knew that he would say this before the words came out of his mouth. When the words reached me, the "So" was bigger than the "Little," and the "Miss" was bigger than the "huh," and the "Hmmmm" was bigger than all the other words rolled into one. Then all the sound rocked back and fourth in mt ears, and I had a picture of it; it looked like a large wave constantly dashing up against a wall in the sea, and the whole thing made me feel far away abd weightless.

I first saw this book reviewed by Eva so have to thank her for bringing this great book to my attention, I'm hoping to read more Kincaid in the near future.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

My Thoughts: Whole of a Morning Sky by Grace Nichols

Sticking with my recent Caribbean readings I plunged into Whole of a Morning Sky earlier today. Set in Guyana, this novel starts in Highdam a small country village where the different races live side-by-side happily. Archie, headmaster of the local school has had to work hard to implement a normal school routine in the village - teachers can no longer go home to cook a meal midway through the lesson, children are not allowed months off at harvest time. His family, despite his best attempts to keep distant, have become fully integrated in the village. They mix with the villagers, listen to the local womens dreams, spirits and beliefs.
Archie decides to move the family to the city of Georgetown in order to get his younger children a better standard of living. When he arrives he quickly sees that life here will have more influence on his children than ever before. Politics quickly impeeds their lives. His eldest daughter Dinah is soon spilling the words of a communist. His younger children are fed with the little their family can get and miss school because of the strikes and each night they watch as another neighbours house is burnt to the ground.
This novella was a great read, it started off seeming like a very simple story and came as a shock when the politics kicked in.

A creative week

Half term was supposed to be a chance to catch up on work, and I have done some (honest!), but I also used the week to read, create a watch tv.
Below are the creations which I have been making for the yahoo minibook group. The first is the winter fat page swaps (these were meant to be finished a month ago!). The idea is to create one page for each member in the swap, that way each member has a little book with everyones work in it, and as they are heavily embellished the book is nice and fat.
I made simple flowers (simple but time consuming) out of red felt, added an oversized button and stuck them on some patterned paper and then card. I was hoping for something wintery without being too chistmasy.

Here you can see the winterfat page book I have so far - its already getting fat and I'm still waiting for 5 more pages to arrive.

The next swaps aren't due to be completed for a few weeks so I'm actually ahead of myself for once. The first is a under-the-sea themed skinny book with a pocket containing a tag on the front of it. I really struggled to find sea themed stamps or paper which I liked, so I decided to draw my own - I really can't draw so I resorted to zentangles as they are easy for us non-artistic types. Unlike the fatpages above we are not sending these to the individual members but to one person who then divides them up (saves on postage), so I won't get to see everyone elses designs till at least the end of March.
I've included a snap shot of them all and them a close up of the pair of them, as you can see each design is individual, just hoping the recipients each like their mermaid.

I then spent this morning folding these tiny oragami birds for moo cards (the size of a business card), I had a few left over so made a couple of ATCs as well to swap with people on a different site. The birds were easy to fold, the hardest thing was tackling them and the double sided sticky tape!

Off to finish reading Annie John, then work behind the bar for a 75th birthday party - doubt I'll be finding a future husband there this evening!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Library Loot: The Well Travelled Edition

Unlike the rest of Britain, which is apparently freezing cold with heavy rain or snow, Chelmsford is blissfully warm and sunny today so I decided to take a stroll to the library to pick up my holds. I went down for 2 books and came back with 6!
As I'm trying to tackle my Olympic Challenge which is held over at and challenges people to read one book from every country (preferably by a writer from that country) taking part in the 2012 Olympics, I went for a multicultural selection of books.

Iola by Frances Allen (which isn't pictured) (For the Women Unbound challenge)
Yaraana: Gay Writing from India edited by Hoshang Merchant (For The Challenge Which Dare Not Speak its Name)
Annie John by Jamacia Kincaid (for the Olympic Challenge)
Polish Fables by Ignacy Krasicki (for the Olympic Challenge)
Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen (for the Olympic Challenge and because I love Isben)
Water Wars: Is the World's Water Running Out? by Marq de Villiers ( for the Social Justice Challenge)
Inca Land by Hiram Bingham (for the Olympic Challenge)

The Library Loot is over at A Striped Armchair this week.

Monday, 15 February 2010

My Thoughts: Ruins by Achy Obejas

After reading After the Dance by Danticat Edwidge I thought I'd try and complete the Caribbean section of the Olympic challenge (I have a long way to go). When Ruins arrived from the library I realised I already read a book for Cuba (The Aguero Sisters) but the premise was good and the book short so I gave it a go.
Ruins is set in Havana in 1994, in the years when many Cubans were evacuating the place in anything which they could find. Usnavy, a man loyal and law abiding watches as his friends either leave or break the law to earn dollars illegally.
The place is dirt poor, houses are falling to pieces in the rain, women are selling spice and gravy soaked pieces of blanket disguised as steak to earn a few pounds and they wash in a communal area using bottles of boiled water.
Usnavy is determined that he and his family will live above the law, until he discovers ways to make money wih the discovery of a Tiffany lamp. At first he abstains from temptation, but as his wife and daughter slowly desert him he is forced to see that his beliefs are destroying his home life.
I really enjoyed this look at Cuba, we forget just how impoverished places in the Western world really are. Obejas shows the way that immigration has affected the Cubans lives, they can see what their relatives have in America and so live always wanting more, reaching in places that they wouldn't normally as a means of achieving it.

Do you have a suggestions for a Caribbean read?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Sunday Salon: The Fire Gospels by Michel Faber

This is my 4th Michel Faber book; perviously I've read the glorious The Crimson Petal and the White, and its follow up, The Apple a collection of short stories set in this Victorian world, and then I read the very different bizzare but fantastic dystopian novel Under the Skin. The Fire Gospels was sent free from the publishers Cannongate over a year ago and I kept meaning to get to it but for some reason puttine it off. As soon as I picked it up and was 20pages in I was shocked that yet again Faber had created a completely different style of novel.

The Fire Gospel's is a Dan Brown style novel. A young historian travels to Iraq to help them salvage museum articles after the museum had been raided. Whilst their a bimb hits the museum unearthing the discovery of 9 scrolls which had previously been sealed inside a statue. Rather than reporting his discovery he sneaks them out of the country and translates them back at home. He then decides to punbish the scrolls, which turn out to be an account by an unknown disciple of Jesus.

The scrolls reveal Jesus as a more ordinary figure, they also dispel some of the images created of his crucifixtion. The public have mixed reaction to the publication of the book, some desperate to kill the author. And so continues his plight.

This was a easily readable book, and very short and compact. However it didn't amaze me, I would probably only give it 3 stars out of 5. It isn't my usual taste in fiction and unlike Dan Brown didn't manage to have that gripping nature.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

My Thoughts: Summertime by J.M Coetzee

Summertime is the third in a series by Coetzee, wheich I didn't realise when I first agreed to read this book. Summertime is a novel in which a biographer is collecting notes and interviewing people in order to write a biography of the dead John Coetzee. A strange scenario from the beginning.
Coetzee the character is a novelist who found fame late in life. This novel looks at a period in his life just before he became successful. His cousin, lovers and an acquaintance are interviewed about him, in some cases what is presented is more a story of the interviewed than of him. What we do learn is that he was a cold man, hard to love and unemotional, yet seemingly always embroilled in an affair of some sort. He teaches, yet doesn't enjoy teaching and he writes with almost a desperation.

I was surprised at how easy this was to read. The interviews I really enjoyed, but I lost interest in the last 20 pages when we are given snippets from his notebook in which he writes about himself in the third person. By then I felt enough was enough.
An biography about a character with your name who wrote the books which you have published is a strange old concept to take in, but he seems to pull it off.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Ukraine's Got Talent

Saw this today at school, its amazing she creates a story with sand see here