Friday, 31 December 2010

July's People by Nadine Gordimer

My last 1001 book for the year! I was aiming for 30 this year and I just managed it.

July's People is set in South Africa at the time of the black uprising, white families houses were being destroyed, parts of the cities were bombed and many were killed. This novel tells the tale of the servant July's plight to save the white family he has worked for. He transports them to his home village were they take up residence in one of the mud huts. The focus of the story is on how this family, both parents and young children cope living in a traditional village, living without the conveiniences of a fridge, television and society life.

I enjoyed looking at this glimpse of a white family in a different setting - often novels focus on the servants reaction to the big city. However, I would have prefered to see more of the African's ways of life, they form a background rather than a character, even July of the title only comes and goes. My biggest gripe, and something many books annoy me with, is the writing of the children. Their speach and actions were way too old for the ages they were meant to be. A baby asking eloquently whether he can go to the ciniema, a three year old who communicates in full sentences and can be suspected of having stolen a car!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

Years ago I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and loved it and did something that I used to do which was go by a selection of books by that author. I think I brought four books I now on the third - its no wonder mount tbr is so big!

Sexing the Cherry is a fantastical novel. It starts with the discovery of a child, Jordan, abandoned in the Thames in the 17th century, he is discovered by and brought up by a giant of a woman. Early in his life he sees the first banana brought to the shores of Britain, from then on he journeys the real world and the unreal worlds of him mind.

This novel is a complete work of fantasy, times and worlds change, weightless dancing girls, worlds which don't understand gravity and meetings with the king. I loved it this time around but when I attempted to read it a few years back I quickly gave up, certainly the type of book you have to be in the right frame of mind for.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

A good 6 months ago my Mum handed me this book and told me that I would love it, it duly sat in my tbr pile waiting for me to get to it, and as I was home for Christmas I thoght I'd give it a shot.
The book tells the tale of two Mormon wives both trapped in polygamous marriages but split across a 100 year time divide. The earlier wife's tale is told through a story and extracts from her biography, letters and diary entries of the time and someones Masters thesis. She was the first wife to go public to the rest of America and reveal how the lives of these women were ruled.
The story set in modern times is actually told through looking at her gay son who has been rejected from the faith and by her many years before. She is suddenly arrested for the murder of her husband and he goes back to his old home to try and discover the truth.

My mum loved this, I thought it was okay. The story of the earlier wife was more credible, but because of the various sources I felt it would have woked better on its own as a single novel. While the second story would belong more to the trashy novel type of book - the story was okay, but a little to easy for him to solve, and way too many coincidences.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

8 years ago I was meant to do a university module on post-colonial literature focusing on immigration/emigration, this was on the reading list, I got put in a post-colonial literature class but not the one I'd applies for. This book has stayed on my mental tbr list for all that time and today I finally got to it.

The Lonely Londoners focuses on a group of immigrants from Trinidad, who arrive in dank foggy London just after the war (why is London always foggy in books? I've been there loads of times and never recall it being foggy). Mainly young men, this novel looks at the lives that they create for themselves, in a country that once wanted them but quickly turned its back on them.

The writing is vernacular, which I know some people struggle with, but I quickly found a nice voice in my head so it didn't hinder the speed I read in. Focusing on a small group of men the story focused a lot on their white girlfriends and the way that the men all swindle each other and others around them for money. The strangest part featured a 4 page, no punctuation account of these black men being paid to sleep with white prostitues so white men could watch - this seemed very out of place in style, and I just wanted them to get angry, rather than see it as a free 'treat'.
The style of the novel shows a way of life, but never goes beneath the surface and really shows you how the characters felt about their treatment. Having said that I enjoyed it, but thought that 120 odd pages was enough - no story, character stood out to keep the novel moving for much longer.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I think I've found a new favourite author. After I had read We Have Always Lived at the Castle I knew that I wanted to read more of this author who I previously hadn't heard of. This was the next book that the library had available.

The Haunting of House Hill follows four people brought together to stay in a haunted house. Previous residents have all fled after just a few days declaring business elsewhere that has made them abandon the house, but never declaring that they were scared. The main character Eleanor, a lonely woman who had previously spent all her life nursing her sick mother feels the full force of the haunting.

The book grabbed me from its very beginning, the oddly angled house, the odd way that the characters interact with one another and the mystery of what it is that possesses the house ring out from the pages. It is scary, but I never was scared when reading it. I found it strange rather than scary, perplexing. Apparently this book is the basis for two films both called The Haunting, neither of which I've seen I'd like to know how they portray the characters when much of the book is pschological fear.

Chelmsford Cathedral

As I walked past the cathedral today I snapped a few pictures on my phone - new camera for Christmas, I can't wait! I will go back with a decent camera to photograph some of the detail. My favourite is the tree.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

TSS: Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

I've been hibernating and generally wasting the day today - damn my lack of motivation! However I did manage to read this wonderful novella. Way back Darren from Bart's Bookshelf reviewed this book and straight away I reserved it in the library, and it finally came in!

The novella starts:
I once believed that life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Is that greed, or only youth? Is it hope or stupidity?

What a beautiful way to start the story. Green is a timid teenager living with her family at the edge of the wood. She is left one day when they go off to the city and never come back after a big fire - we are told very little of this fire, the few bits we do get sound a little like 9/11 but the setting and time is wrong.
Left along with her grief Green stops caring about her looks, shrouds herself with thorns and nails and black tattoos to cover herself.

I can't tell you much more without ruining the story except you should go read this book. The language and imagery is beautiful with a fairytale feel. The book is marketed as YA, but I would say its for anyone who appreciates beautiful language.
I wanted to buy a copy for my sisters birthday but can only find second hand copies available, although I may buy one anyway and explain why. There is a follow up to this novella which was released this year and its already been added to my wishlit.

More than just a wonderful story the presentation is gorgeous, as well as the gorgeous cover abover, the chapter openings are a gorgeous shade of moss green and illustrated. Page breaks have three teeny delicate leaves.

Even the publishing details are laid out like a stem.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Exodus by Julie Bertagna

Day one of the holidays and book one down! I'm trying to finish all my library books before the TBR Dare starts. England is bitterly cold and once more covered in beautiful white snow which fell very quickly - bot sure my brother would agree though is he is stuck in his car on the way home from shopping, typical England!
Back to the book...

Once upon a time there was a world...
... a world full of miracles. From the whirl of the tiniest particles to its spinning orbit in the unthinkable vastness of space, this world danced with miraculous life. Ur, the first people called their beautiful world, and the sound of that early name would carry down all the years, until aeons of time and tongues ripened Ur into Earth.
The people feasted upon their ripe world. Endlessly they harvested its lands and seas. They grew greedy, ravaging the planets bounty of miracles. Their waste and destruction spread like a plague until a day came when this plague struck at the very heart of the miraculous dance. And the people saw too late, their savage desolation of the world.

As you can see above this novel starts off full of beautiful language and images, well crafted, but also a warning to us all. Exodus is a novel about Mara a young girl who lives on the island of Wing. As the polar ice caps have slowly melted the world has been taken over by the sea. Unsure whether they are the last island on earth the inhabitants of Wing battle for survival against the elements.
Playing a computer game Mara meets an unexpected person amongst the ghosts on the internet and discovers that a New World exists, a city built above the sea, anchored to fend off the elements.
Mara convinces the inhabitants of her island to set off in search of this new land, in search of a new life.

This book started off really well for me, but then 10 pages in I nearly gave up when the computer game suddenly appeared. Luckily it lasted only a few pages and the novel was back on track, although it still took a good 50 pages for it to grab my interest again. I'm glad I continued as I loved some of the characters and the various communities that we meet in this novel.
I thought that the book may be preachy, but the message was far more about fighting for change in the new world, rather than the faults of the past. If you enjoyed The Pretties, The Knife of Never Letting Go (and who couldn't, that was an amazing trilogy) and The Giver this is a novel you should definitely check out.
I saw this novel in an In My Mailbox post over at Fluttering Butterfly, and I'm glad that I noted it down and checked it out of the library.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted as I've been busy tackling this book, traffic and work.

“There came Death hurtling along the Boulevard in waning sepia light.
There came Death flying as in a children’s cartoon on a heavy unadorned messenger’s bicycle.
There came Death unerring. Death not to be dissuaded. Death-in-a-hurry. Death furiously peddling. Death carrying a package marked *Special Delivery Handle with Care* in a sturdy wire basket behind his seat.
There came Death expertly threading his graceless bicycle through traffic at the intersection of Wiltshire and La Brea where, because of street repair, two westbound Wiltshire lanes were funnelled into one.
Death so swift!

How can you resist a book with a start like this? Blonde is the fictionalised story of Marilyn Monroe's life, from birth to death. Oates stipulates very clearly at the beginning of the book that several areas haven't been written about whilst others have been moulded to fit her version of events, but its certainly left me wanting to read a biography of the star now.
As a child Marilyn is abandoned by her busy mother and left to be cared for by older relatives, it soon becomes clear that the mother's behaviour shows signs of mental instability. Soon Norma Jeane (her real name) is left to live with her mother in a small apartment. She has to deal with her mothers drinking which several times nearly led to the bed they shared being burnt down. Alongside many other issues, such as men, obsessions, neglect etc until her mother finally tries to burn her in a scolding bath. Her mother is sent to a hospital whilst Norma Jeane enters an orphanage.
We then watch Norma Jeane pass through school, foster parents, an early marriage, modelling, divorce and finally becoming Marilyn. And so continues with the rest of her life, the high profile marriages and relationships, the battle with drugs, stage fright and the need to be loved.
The varied narrative styles all form to create the picture of Marilyn as a lost soul, a shy child desperate to be loved who relies heavily on her body in an attempt to gain the love and affection she so desperately wants. Oates weaves a fantastic but dense tale, never creating a Marilyn who is easy to pigeon hole, feel sorry for or love. Her version is a woman that doesn't know herself, so we are left with the numerous versions that she plays out.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The 1001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge

Now, although this is a new challenge and I'm signing up I'm not counting it in my alloted challenges because each year I try to read 30 books of the 1001 list, and participate with a group of readers over at bookcrossing who do something similar (in fact some of them aim for 50 or 100 books from the list a year!) But I saw that the 1001 challenge was being hosted at Pub Writes and signed up as I'm hoping other readers reviews will push me towards some of the books on the list I'm not aware of.
The challenge over on this blog is to have read between 5-16 books, I'm aiming for 40 as that is a doable amount, and making it harder I'm trying to spread my reading across the centuries. Here is a list I'd like to work through, those in bold I own.
21st century
1. The Red Queen, Margaret Drabble
2. Youth, J.M Coetzee
3. Adjunct: An Undigest, Peter Manson
4. Soldiers of Salamis, Javier Cercas
5. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
20th Century
6. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
7. Great Apes, Will Self
8. Cocaine Nights, JG Ballard
9. Written on the Body, Jenette Winterson
10. Jazz, Toni Morrison
11. Wild Swans, Jung Chang
12. Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, Louis de Bernieres
13. A Disaffection, James Kelman
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
15. The Swimming Pool Diary, Alan Hollinghurst
16. Nervous Conditions, Tsisti Dangarmbga
17. Shindlers Ark, Thomas Keanally
18. The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
19. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
20. Do Androids Dream of Sheep, Phillip K. Dick
21. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
22. Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe
23. The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa
24. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
25. A Kingdom of this World, Alejo Carpentier
26. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
27. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
28. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
29. Orlando, Virginia Woolf
30. Amerika, Franz Kafka
31. The Forsythe Saga, John Galsworthy
32. Gabriella, Clove, Cinnamon, Jorge Amado
19th Century
33. Hunger, Knat Hamsum
34. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
35. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
35. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
36. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
18th Century +
37. Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe
38. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
39. Don Quixote, Migel da Cervantes Saavedra
40. Metamorphoses, Ovid
41, Aesop's Fables, Aesopus
42. The Tale of Genjii, Mueraski Shikibu
43. The Thousand and One Nights
44. Ooronoko, Aphra Behn

As you can see it is an ambiyios list but if managed I would lighten up a good few book shelves, as most of these books would be sent out through book crossing to find other readers.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The TBR Dare

C.B James has come up with a great idea, not a challenge but a dare to only read those books from mount tbr for a fixed duration of time. Here's what he says:
This is not a reading challenge. It's a dare.

I dare you to pledge you will read only the books in your TBR (To Be Read) stack for as long as you dare starting January 1, 2011.

One hour, one day, one book, one week, one month, or until the dare ends on April 1. (I never make open-ended New Year's Resolutions. Every goal should have a end date.)

There is a blog here with fuller details.

I reckon I could be strong enough to last out till April 1st if I can include bookrings that I'm already signed up to, as they are on my tbr pile just currently living at someones house. The hardest thing for me will be not reading library books, rather than not buying books.
But rather than setting a date I'm going to pledge to read 25 books from mount tbr, as this gives me a nice aim. Some of the books I'd like to tackle are listed below, I'm not writing a definitive list as I have Christmas and a *horrible* bithday arriving before the end of the year.
Recommendations from this list are welcome.
1. Greene, The Human Factor
2. Pamuk, My Name is Red
3. Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma
4. Gaskell, North and South
5. Elliot, Adam Bede
6. Murakami, Wild Sheep Chase
7. Kafka, The Trial
8. Do Androids Dream of Sheep
9. Rynd, Anthem
10. Tomorrow: When the War Began
11. All Quiet on the Westen Front
12. Gilead
13. 39 Steps
14. Howards End
15. Driving Over Lemons
16. Krakatoa
17. Allende,Zorro
18. Murakami, Hard Boiled Wonderland
19. Faulks, Heart Song
20. Maidenhome

5 reasons why I .....BookCross

As you can see from yesterdays post I won't be finishing a book for a while so I thought I'd go for a different type of post.

I joined Bookcrossing in 2007 and have loved and participated in it ever since religiously. I thought I'd give a quick 5 reasons why I bookcross for anyone who has ever considered participating.

1. I'm a romantic - I love the idea of my books travelling person to person across the globe.
2. Bookrings - a bookring is when when one book gets passed from person to person, each person makes a jounal entry about their thoughts on the book. These allow me to here other readers views, and to try books very cheaply (I sent two bookrings onto the next person yesterday, costing me less than the price of my Burger King meal).
3. Chelmsford Bookcrossing Meet-Up - I've meet fellow book readers in the local area who I would never have met, although these women are vastly different from me in age - I'm the youngest by a good 15 years - its great to meet up with people who have a similar reading taste to you, and also just to have a chat with a different bunch of people once a month.
4. RABCKs/Random Acts of Bookcrossing Kindness - these are books that people send to you without expecting anything in return. Sometimes you've been offered a book off of your wishlist, requested a book or just arrive home to find a mysterious parcel with a book a fellow bookcrosser thinks you'll enjoy - either way getting a parcel is lovely, and opens up a new world of books.
5. Wildreleasing - wild releasing is when you leave books in public places for strangers to find. I've left many books that I've never heard back from - yes they may now be in a dustbin, but I hope they are in someones home. Some of the books I have left have been found read and then wild released. The strange thing is hearing where the person found the book as its often no where near where you left it. My most random discovery was a book left in London, found about 5 miles away on top of one of those short lamp posts, the lady then went and left it in Spain.

Yes its not for everyone, and actually many people choose not to use bookrings ect because of their personal preferences - I personally prefer to bookring or RABCK my book as I know they'll be going to a reader - but this is a great way to recycle books, keep your bookshelves lighter, and share your favourite reads.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

On a female kick

I keep starting new books, one book leading me to the next, before having finished anything! I went looking for a book for a Celebrating the Female Bookswop which I orgainised over at bookcrossing, but rather than just finding one to read and then post on I've managed to start three, and two of them non-fiction.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates a fictionalisation of Marilyn Monroe's life, I'm about 50 pages in and really enjoying it, though my edition is off putting - the book is super bending and super shiney and as large as a paperback so not all that easy to keep hold of, especially as my hands are all achey at the mo. Having to prop the book up with a cushion on my lap.
The Duchess by Amanda Foreman This is a biography of the Duchess of Devonshire, whose story was palyed out in a film by Kira Knightly a few years ago. I enjoyed the film and I'm enjoying the book, which at the moment is largely centred around her involvement in British politics and the medias damnation of her (nice to know the English press has always been so awful!)
And finally Anything but ordinary: The Nine Lives of Cecile by Cecile Dorward and Ron Davidson an autobiography that I am loving. I'm about 100 pages in, at the moment I'm reading about her marriage, but know that when her husband died she set off travelling the world despite being 60+, I'm really looking forward to those sections.

Other than reading I'm staying indoors hiding from the weather (a trip to the postoffice and library took 4 hours earlier, should have taken 2 as I was walking but the paths were slippy as could be), which is thawing out, and thus horrid and slushy. Cooking sausage caserole and having mulled fruit pie and custard with a friend, whilst we act as if we are way older than we are and stay in watching Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor - no wonder we're both single!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Being cooped up all day and feeling a bit restless I knew that if I was going to read it needed to be something light, and immediate. No lingering descriptions, social comments etc, so a YA book it was.
Shiver was sent to me last year by a fellow bookcrosser, I'd been looking out for the book at the time, but then I read lots of mixed reviews and its position on the tbr pile lowered. I'm glad that I finally got around to it.
Shiver, in the same vain as Twilight, has an ordinary, if slightly (apparently) shy and isolated teenage girl as a lead character, and a mythical (in this case a werewolf) love interest. As in Twilight the boyfriend should be a killer, a threat to the humans, yet he hates harm to humans and killing anything bigger than a rabbit distresses him. The couple have had a fascination with each other for years as the girl watches the wolf who once saved her from an attack, then they finally meet and their lives become entangled.
Yes, the story has that same intense teenage love to it that Twilight has, it has its sequels and you can kind of guess the outcome of the end of the novel way ahead of time, but it hit the right spots. The alternating narration, the inclusion of beautiful poetry by Rilke and the gorgeous coverwork all work in its favour, as does a plotline than moves along at a nice pace.
I will seek out the next book in the series, although not for a while yet. Was good to read some YA fiction, its been a while.

Snow Day Reading

I'm now on my third day off of school due to the snow, and as it is still snowing fairly hard I think I may be off again tomorrow! TYpical England! I'm liking being on and loving the snow but wish it would brighten up a little so I could get some decent pictures, the light is poor so the few picures I took turned out boring.
I've used my time to create a scrapbooking page - something I haven't done in ages, waste tons of time on the net and two read two books.

The Celestial Omnibus by E.M Forster which I thought was a novella, but then discovered was a collection of short stories, so not applicable for the novella challenge. I dipped in and out of the collection this morning and have to say that out of the 6 stories I loved four of them, gave up on one and skimmed through the last.
The stories all feature mystical worlds or happenings, with a heavenly feel to them. 'The Other Side of the Hedge' is a lovely little story about the race that life is and its end. My other favourite was 'The Celestial Omnibus' about a young boy with horrid parents who travels on a magiacal omnibus up to a world filled with authors and characters from novels, poems and mythology.

I also sat down and read 'The Magician's Nephew' by C.S Lewis which will be able to count for the November (I'm a few days late) Novella Challenge. I have the Chronicles of Narnia in one big book, and I'm hoping to tackle one story a week, and then move on to other children's classics that I somehow missed.
I have read this before and enjoyed it just as much this time. I love the idea of the yellow and green rings, the world of Narnia and when the animals plant the Uncle thinking he is a tree.

I've been told I'm expected to complete work at home today, so I should really tackle the stack of homework sat on the stairs. I'm also planing on reading Shiver by Maggie Stievater a book that I saw reviewed on lots of blogs last year, the wintery weather certainly feels like the perfect time for a wolf novel.