Sunday, 16 July 2017

What I've been reading this week....

This week has been a fairly productive reading week for me. I've read two short stories, finished two books, and started another. Not bad at all by my slow and easily distracted standards! This also included two items for my Hugo Awards goal - I'm up to 5 now (plus half-way through reading two other), so well on track to have read at least ten by the time of the awards in August.

I've really enjoyed everything I've read this week, which is always a wonderful feeling. Hope you have had a excellent week too :)

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
I always worry when reading a follow up to a book I adored that it won't live up to my expectations. Fortunately, this book didn't disappoint. I found it to be a heartwarming, enjoyable read from start to finish. The characters were vivid and warm, and the book's exploration of identity, purpose and belonging for both organic and AI characters was really compelling. I loved the way the Sidra and Pepper's stories wove together - beautiful stuff.

Home by Nnedi Okorafor
I am so glad I have discovered Nnedi Okorafor - the strength and scope of imagination in her writing is such a joy to read. I love the way this story blends the traditional, the magical and the technological in its world building. (Maths! Spaceship fish!) And Binti is such a wonderful character and her story is gripping and moving, exploring themes of trauma, personal identity, and family expectations. I can't wait for for the next instalment.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
This story is short but my god is it mighty. I am in awe of what the writer managed to do with so few words. It's beautifully raw, the imagery stunning, and the no-nonsense way it reclaims the narrative of the victim is incredibly powerful. I also loved listening to this one as read by Erika Ensign on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 13A, and the interview in the same episode with Brooke Bolandar was a fascinating insight into her writing processes and inspiration.

The Evening and the Morning and the Night  (from Bloodchild and Other Stories) by Octavia Butler
This story is haunting. I found it an engaging yet chilling read, a tale of social exclusion and neglect of the sick and vulnerable. It presents a frightening yet (sadly) all too believable world. This is the second story I have read so far in this collection (the other being Bloodchild itself - what a story!). I really enjoyed reading them both, but I especially loved the afterwords by Octavia Butler, exploring the inspiration behind her ideas.

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
I haven't read much of this collection yet (just the first section - "Level Up"), but what I have read I've really liked. It's fierce, passionate and honest. I especially like the discussions of the importance of persistence and community. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of this book and can already tell I'll probably checking out some of Hurley's fiction in the near future too.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

3 mid-year reading goals

Well, hello there! It feels like a long time since I have written in this blog.... and it has been - over two years now. Shocking! I have no idea where that time has gone. (Probably to the same place all my good intentions for blogging went, those elusive little buggers.)

The beginning of this year was a slow one for me in terms of reading. I was in the middle of an ugly reading slump that was proving difficult to shake off, and didn't really start to disappear until mid-March. Because of this, I didn't set myself any reading goals or projects at the start of the year, so have decided to set myself a few mid-year readings goals instead. I feel in the mood for a more focused approach to reading again.

So, without further ado, here are my new reading goals....

Read at least 10 items from the list of finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards:
I've always been interested in SFF, but this year I've really started to engage with the genre much more. This was the one thing, more than anything else, that helped me fall in love with reading all over again. I decided therefore that this would be a good project to help me explore and grow into the genre further. I already have A Closed and Common Orbit waiting for me on my bookshelves, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe downloaded to my Kindle, Monstress on order from the library, and a number of the short stories bookmarked to read. I can't wait to get started.

Read at least 5 sci-fi classics:
I'm not exactly sure how best to define a "classic", however my aim here is to complement my first project with some backlist reading. I want to finally read some of those books that I've always said "I really must read that some day..." about, to explore the titles that have shaped the genre. I read The Left Hand of Darkness a couple of months ago and will definitely be including another of Ursula K. Le Guin's books in this list, as well as at least one by Octavia Butler. The rest I haven't decided on yet, but I am interested to see what journey this project takes me on.

Re-read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials:
This final project has been on my to-do list for a while, but with the publication of La Belle Sauvage this October now is the perfect time for it. I have really fond memories of first time I read Northern Lights as a young teenager, and I still have the same (now somewhat battered) copy I read then, which has a picture of Iorek Byrnison on the front. It's probably the book on my shelves I have owned the longest.

I am really excited and giddy just thinking about all three of these goals (in my own quiet, introverted way). If you have any suggestions (or things to avoid!) for the first two, I'd love to hear them. I really want to get back into blogging to expand my reading horizons, so recommendations are always welcome :)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ferbuary/March Round-up (8 mini reviews)

I have been a very bad blogger recently. Not a single post since the end of January! To get me back in the swing of things, let me tell you a little about what I've been reading over the last couple of months....

1. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (★★★ 4 stars). This book perfectly captures everything I love about J.K. Rowling and her writing - powerful storytelling with lots of heart and a social conscience. The characters are so well crafted and each narrator utterly believable. I loved the way that for each POV character, Rowling explored their most raw thoughts, feelings and prejudices, invoking both outrage and sympathy. This book shines a light on some truly abhorrent attitudes and prejudices. At the same time, it asks the reader to take a difficult step towards questioning our own attitudes, to let go of judgements and misconceptions, to be a more decent, compassionate human being. This book is bold, honest and challenging - highly recommended.

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (★★★ 4 stars). This book is one of my favourites of the year so far. I have a real weakness for post-apocalyptic stories, so I knew this book would be my cup of tea as soon as I heard about it. I certainly wasn't disappointed. I loved this book's exploration of what a world following the collapse of civilization might look like, but I also really enjoyed the sections of the book set beforehand, in our own familiar, modern world. One of the things I like best about this book was its subtle examination of what it means to live and survive in each of these two worlds. This is a story about survival, not only in some hypothetical future, but in the here-and-now, in a world that can at times seem very impersonal and superficial.

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (★★★ 4 stars). This book is a very satisfying read, one of those beautifully-told stories you can get absorbed right into and makes you feel utterly content when you finish it. It is wonderfully atmospheric with a gripping mystery at its centre, lots of past secrets and tragedies to uncover, and a fantastic cast of characters. It is also a book about books - something I am always a fan of. I'm very glad I finally got round to reading this one (it has been on my shelves for years) - well worth it.

4. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (★★★ 3 stars). I read the first book in this series a little over a year ago (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - reviewed here). This book continues the tale of Jacob and the other "peculiar" children and is equally enjoyable as the first. It is fast paced, exciting and original, and at times rather creepy. I did find it a little hard to get into at first, but once I did I was hooked. This book is great fun - nothing mind-blowing, but an entertaining and fantastical read with lots of suspense.

5. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (★★★ 3 stars). I was really excited to be reading this book. Although ultimately it didn't captivate me as much as I'd hoped, it is still a powerful and intelligent read that explores a lot of interesting questions relating to personal and collective memory, identity, war, love and death. It doesn't provide the reader with the answers they might crave, but is instead thought-provoking, inviting them to ponder these themes for themselves. A very imaginative, intelligent and heart-felt read.

6. Children of Men by P.D. James (★★★ 4 stars). I have wanted to read this book ever since seeing the film adaptation (which I loved). Although I knew that the book was very different, I was surprised just how different it was. However, for me this was a good thing as it meant the story was completely fresh and unknown. I found this book to be a very inventive and gripping read. The plot was interesting, but what I loved most about this book was its very believable world-building and the exploration of humanity's response to its own slow demise.

7. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (★★★ 4 stars). I picked this book up on a whim at the library and I'm very glad I did. This book is a fascinating, intelligent read that at times I found very hard to put down. The narration style is unique and the story jumps back and forth in time to slowly reveal and explore the secrets of Rosemary's very unique childhood. This book is a highly original, moving look at family, love and separation. It's hard to go into much more detail without spoiling a central twist, but I thoroughly recommend this book if you haven't read it already.

8. The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter (★★ 2 stars). I loved the idea of this book and really enjoyed it to start with, but sadly I found myself growing frustrated with it as it went on. The plot was a bit predicable and unoriginal and the pacing rather uneven, painfully so at times. That's not to say I hated this book. I really liked many of the characters (Joanna is awesome!) and was enchanted by the magical, alt-history Regency-era setting. But unfortunately, for me, that just wasn't enough to make this book an enjoyable read.

All in all (with the exception of the last one), I have read some great books recently. I hope you have too and would love to hear any recommendations. I have just started reading Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, which I am very much enjoying so far.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

What I've been reading in January

Wow, how is it the last day of January already? This month has flown by! The start of 2015 has been a bit of hectic one for me, lots going on, some of it good, some of it much less so. Thank goodness for being able to curl up under my cosy blanket of an evening with a good book and a cup of tea. I think I'm trying to hibernate.

So far this year, I have finished three books, all of which I have enjoyed (though to very varying degrees). Here they are....

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (★★★★★ 5 stars). I loved this book. It's a big, old doorstop of a novel, packed full of rich, vibrant storytelling and utterly gripping from start to finish. It was a perfect blending of fantasy and historical fiction, two my favourite genres. I also really enjoyed the fact that this book is written in the style of the period in which it is set. For me, that made it all the more absorbing. Overall, one of the best books I have read in ages. Can't believe I didn't get round to it sooner!

2. A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond (★★★ 3 stars). This book is a unique, lyrical re-telling of the classical Orpheus myth. This is one of those books that draws you in right from the very start, with a first page that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the tale:
"I need to cast the story out and live my life. I'll tell it fast and true to get it gone, right now, while darkness deepens over the icy North and the bitter stars shine down. I'll finish it by morning. I'll bring my friend into the world one last night then let her go forever. Follow me, one word then another, one sentence then another, one death then another."
This book is beautiful, heart-breaking and raw. The supernatural/mythological elements are spell-binding and beautifully written. However, one of my favourite things about this book is how grounded it is in the real world. David Almond's descriptions of the characters' haunts in Newcastle and the wild Northumberland beaches are so vivid. His characters also feel powerfully real; the voices, thoughts and feelings of young people on the cusp of adulthood captured beautifully. While overall there were things about this book that just didn't work for me, it's nonetheless still a great read and beautifully written.

3. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (★★★ 3 stars). I've heard lots of good things about this book and thought it would be my cup of tea. Sadly, although I did enjoy it for the most part, it didn't "wow me" as much I'd hoped. I loved the setting of "New World" and the concept of Noise was fascinating. There were also some incredibly powerful and bold scenes. However, as the book progressed I found the constant cycle of danger and escape became a little tedious. Also, there was a lot of information that Todd, as narrator, withholds for much of the book that is too easy to guess, meaning there isn't that sense of shock when it is ultimately revealed. This said, however, I am still more than intrigued to know what happens next so I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

My current read is The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. I'm only on page 96 but I am really enjoying so far. After that, I'm hoping to read either Station Eleven or Hollow City, depending on which arrives first at the library. Then on to tackle my TBR pile in earnest!

Hope you have had a good start to 2015. What have you been reading and what are your plans for February?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Wednesday is Library Day

I like Wednesdays. Wednesday means the week is more than half over, the weekend a little bit closer. But more importantly for me, on Wednesdays my local library is open later, until 7pm, which means I get the chance to stop in at the end of the day. I find this the perfect antidote to a busy/tedious day at work. Nothing lifts my spirits more. I love the feeling of hurrying home with more books in bag than I left the house with, more stories waiting to be explored.

At present, I have two books on loan and two reservations pending.

  • A Song For Ella Grey by David Almond. I am just about to leap into this one. It sounds amazing, though I confess it was the beautiful cover that first drew me to it.
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I have heard lots of Good Things about this one, so I'm very eager to see if it lives up to the hype (I think it will).
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel. I know I have already said it, but I can't wait for this one to arrive. I have seen so many great reviews and it does sound exactly my cup of tea. I'm now very near the top of the waiting list for this one - yay!
  • Hallow City by Ransom Riggs. This is the sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children which I read at the end of 2013 (reviewed here). Although I found the first book flawed, I nonetheless really enjoyed it and can't wait to see how the story continues.

That little stack should hopefully keep me busy for a while. What library books do you have out at the moment, and are there any you're excitedly waiting to arrive? Oh! And while I'm on the topic of libraries - don't forget Saturday 7th February is National Libraries Day here in the UK. Check out their website for more information and events near you and follow on Twitter for bundles of library love and appreciation.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Two more challenges (and some rambling)

Well, apparently it seems I can't resist the the temptation of signing up for another couple of challenges for 2015! The first is the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted at Books and Chocolate. This one appeals to me as I have a lot of unread classics on my shelves, some of which have patiently been waiting to be read for a number of years, as I mentioned in my last post. The challenge is to read at least six classics that fit into one of twelve categories (e.g. a 19th century classic, a classic in translation). I am tentatively going to aim to read a classic from nine different categories. I have always enjoyed reading classics in the past, but often get distracted by other things, so this challenge is just the thing to inspire me.

The next challenge is the What’s In A Name Challenge at The Worm Hole. This one looks like lot of fun! The aim is to read six books that fit into the following (title-based) categories: a word including ‘ing’ in it, A colour, A familial relation, A body of water, A city, An animal. I love that these categories allows for a lot of creativity, and I look forward to seeing what books I can find to fit each. I can't think of many from my shelves that fit the categories, so I'll probably be relying on the library for this one. Any suggestion welcome!

That's it (I think!) for the challenges I will be signing up for this year, though I do have one or two other personal reading aims I am going to persue (in addition to my book-buying ban). More on this soon. For now, I want to write a little about the challenges I took part in last year, but have decided not to this year, namely the Goodreads Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.

Last year, I challenged myself to read eight "chunksters" (which the challenge defines as books over 450 pages), and managed to read nine. While I enjoyed taking part in this challenge very much, I did at times find it hard to balance with my Goodreads goal of reading 50 books in 2014. Some of the chunksters took me three weeks+ to read, so I had to follow them up with a few much short books to get myself back on track. Not that this was an entirely bad thing by any means (it did mean I finally got round to reading Philip Pullman's Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North), but I did find it a little frustrating at times. Anyway, below are the nine chunksters I read last year:

1. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (513 pages)
2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (622 pages)
3. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist (768 pages)
4. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb (880 pages)
5. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway (464 pages)
6. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (613 pages)
7. Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint (544 pages)
8. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (526 pages)
9. Fool's Assassin by Hobin Hobb (630 pages)

My favourite of these was Life After Life, closely followed by Ship of Magic. It was also a joy to read the last two books in Laini Taylor's wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. My least favourite (also my least favourite book of the year) was The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. I really enjoyed this book for the first few hundred pages, but after that I found the plot got a little repetitive and ultimately felt like quite slog.

In total, I read 51 books last year. My favourite of the year remains (by far!) Hannah Kent's breathtaking Burial Rites. (If you haven't already, I implore you: READ THIS BOOK!!) I have decided not to tie myself down to an "I will read x number of books in total" challenge this year, but instead look forward seeing what the year brings and what adventures my other challenges take me on.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Signing up for "The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge"

Since I have decided to work my way through my TBR pile this year, it just seems rude not to sign up to The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. The goal for this challenge is nice and straight-forward. "To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months)." Should (I hope) by a good challenge for me given my personal goal of not buying any more books until I have worked my way through all my unread ones.

The challenge asks for list of the 12 books to be read, so here is my list below (with a few ramblings...) I will be returning to this post throughout the year to add updates and links to reviews, etc. Good luck to everyone who is taking on this challenge too!

1. Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853). This one has been on my shelves for over ten year. About time I finally got round to reading it. A friend of mine said she preferred this one to Jane Eyre - high praise indeed!

 2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847). Another one I have had a while. I'm ashamed I have never read it (might have something to do with the fact that every time I consider it, I just want to dance around listening to Kate Bush instead. Who doesn't!?)

3. The Wood Wife by Terri Windling (1996). This one has been on my shelves for a much shorter time, probably only around 18 months. I haven't read anything by this author before, though I have read a great collection of short-stories she edited (Queen Victoria's Book of Spells).

4. The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint (1990). This is the last of the Charles de Lint "Newford" books I have on my shelves waiting to be read. I have been slowly working my way through this series, but skipped this one out. Finally going to go back to it this year.

5. The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys (2007). I first read about this book of vignettes on a blog (I wish I could remember where) and found the idea so enchanting I brought a copy straight away. Should be a good winter read, just need some really chilly weather.

6. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897). I have a shameful confession to make: this one has been sitting on my bookshelves ever since I stole it from English class at secondary school. I feel incredibly guilty not only for stealing the book, but for then not reading it! Time to make amends (and perhaps I'll post it back when done).

7. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002/2005 - in English). Another one that has been gathering dust quite a while. It's a hardback copy and I remember buying it new, so I'm guessing it dates back from around the time the English translation was first published in the UK. (I have a vague recollection of buying this one in the long-gone Borders in Brighton.)

8. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001/2004 - in English). Also had at least ten years. I tried reading it when I first brought it, but either couldn't get into it or was distracted by something else and never went back to it.

9. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012). I have had this one on my to-read list ever since it was published, though the copy I own is only a few month "new to me". My husband finished reading it recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

10. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire (2008). I adored Wicked, really enjoyed Son of Witch, but couldn't get into this one when I first tried it. Time to give it another go.

11. The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb (1998). I brought the entire Liveship Traders trilogy secondhand about 18 months ago and read the first book last year. I can't wait to get started with the rest of this series.

12. Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb (2000). And the final book in the same series! Since Robin Hobb's storytelling is something that makes me insanely happy, these two are the books I am most looking forward to on this list.

An honorary mention should go to my current read: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004), which has been on my to-read list ever since my sister gave me a copy during my first year at university (which I am terrified to realise was now over ten years ago!) I started this one before the end of 2014, so I can't count it as part of the challenge, but I thought it deserved a mention as a long-standing member of my TBR pile, and also because it's fabulous! Nearly half-way through and loving every minute of it.

P.S. Oh! I almost forgot to list a couple of "alternates". Mine are: 1) The Meri by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (1992), and 2) Automated Alice by Jeff Noon (1996).