Thursday 30 June 2011

June and Month Ahead!

I have had quite a good month I think although my blogging itself hasn't been quite as regular. I am busy just now and likely to get busier so I'm not able to take part in as many memes. There are still one or two that I will take part in if I can.

In June I started a new challenge which was hosted by Gabe over at GabeReads. The challenge is to basically read the books in my tbr pile. I picked voracious reader which means I have to read three books from that pile each month. I managed it this month and read;

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
Exit Ghost - Philip Roth.

I was disappointed with the first too. I had been expecting them to be better than what they were. Especially since Dickens is one of my favourite authors. Funny though a friend told me the other day that Hard Times was one of her favourites. Just goes to show that everyone is different. Exit Ghost was my favourite of the three. Surprising since it's in the middle of a series and I haven't read any others.

I also took part in my first give away. This was hosted by Judith over at Leeswammes' blog. There were over seventy of us giving away books with literary merit. The range of books being given away was amazing. I decided to be boring and stick to classics but it was such a pretty one too. Sadly I couldn't have everyone win but to celebrate my birthday at the end of August I am going to have my own giveaway.

I didn't read quite as many books as last month but I think I still managed a respectable number;

Sister - Rosamund Lupton
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Hard Times - Charles Dickens
Sizzling Sixteen - Janet Evanovich
Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
Bedpans and Bobbysocks - Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton
The Poison Tree - Erin Kelly
Anno Dracula - Kim Newman
Nurse! Nurse! - Jimmy Frazier
When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman

I actually have several favourites in this list which are; Sister, The Help and When God Was A Rabbit. I think the last one wins it by just a fraction though. My least favourite was The Poison Tree.

June was also the month that I started Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as part of a readalong. I am loving it so far and this will continue into July.

In July I also have three more books picked out from my list for the challenge. If all goes well I plan to read;

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
Lullaby Town - Robert Crais
Mary Tudor - Mary Whitelock

I do reserve the right to change my mind though :)

Nothing much else planned for July. I am tempted to read a couple of kids books I have sitting there. Whilst my break away hasn't been quite six months I do feel I need something light. We'll see though.

What are your plans for July and how did last month go for you?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Literary Book Blog Hop Giveaway!

This was a giveaway hosted by Judith over at Leeswammes blog. Big thank you to Lesswamme for hosting. I have enjoyed taking part. Also a big thank you to all of you who followed and signed up for the competition. I am overwhelmed by the number of people who decided to take part. Thank you. If I could you would all win. If you come back at the end of August though I am planning a birthday giveaway.

The winner is Bibliojunkie! I'm glad this is going to someone who will appreciate it.

Monday 27 June 2011

When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman

There is a five year gap between El and her brother Joe but that never stopped them from being close. He looked out for her and she worshipped him. Even though they had a loving family and good friends it was always them together against the world. Even when all grown up and separated by an ocean nothing got between them. Then disaster strikes and threatens that close relationship. El realises that who she is and all her memories are wrapped up with her brother. It's for that reason that her family believes that she can bring back her brother to them.

There are no words to describe how lovely this book is. I always have a soft spot for books where the main relationship is between two siblings. It's generally sisters that effect me emotionally being close to my sister myself. In this case though it was that between brother and sister. Both are unusual characters. They have always felt different amongst their peers and found difficulty making friends. For El that never mattered because she always had Joe.

I liked that the first half was written from the point of view of El as a little girl growing up and the second half when she was a grown up. You could instantly see the differences in little El and grown up El yet that bond with her brother was just as strong. I did think that something was going to come out of the woodwork. Something that happened between both sections that we didn't get to see. Nothing did but what happened near the end was enough to have me in tears.

One of my favourite books this year. A lovely story and I dare anyone not to be moved by it.

Nurse! Nurse! - Jimmy Frazier

Jimmy has decided to give up his career to become a nurse. Not just any nurse but a Children's nurse. On his first day he enters the campus bookshop to discover that there are no books about modern day student nurses and so he chronicles his own time as a student. He describes what it's like to try to balance a life with the life of being a student. He talks about tough teachers, tougher placements and tougher still mentors.

Another book to give me a taste of what it will be like to be a nursing student. This one was definitely more relevant than any of the others I have seen. Whilst younger than Jimmy this will be my second degree and my second career so I could relate to a lot of what he went through.

He did talk about the course work which gave an indication of what to expect. Mostly though he talked about his placements. This is something that I think all nursing students are nervous about. Whilst it didn't cover every eventuality he talked about his own experiences, both good and bad, and how he got through them. I learned quite a lot from this book and I think it's worthwhile read for anyone considering going into the field. It's especially relevant for anyone considering specialising in Children's or Mental Health nursing. Since that's not my plan only some if was useful.

Even for those who aren't going thinking of changing their career it's a good read. It give an idea of some of the things nurses have to battle with every day. It might give some people a new found respect for nurses.

The only down side was the ending. I was a little disappointed with it and a little let down too. Not at all what I was expecting. Not going to give anything else away for anyone else who wants to read it. The only thing that I will say is that if you are thinking of picking up this book then please do as any royalties made go to charity.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading!

This is a book meme by Sheila over at book journey where we all share what we read the week before and what we are reading now.

This week I read;
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. This was for my book group. I did enjoy it but was very disappointed with the ending.

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. I really like this one.

Nurse Nurse by Jimmy Frazier. I enjoyed this too.

Just now I am reading;
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Last weeks section ended at a cliffhanger. MUST know what happens next. This is for a readalong.

When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Heard lots of good things so far. Really liking the narrator.

Next I plan to read;
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. In my attempt to read more classics.

A big thank you to everyone who has followed me. I promise that when I have more time I will follow you back. Also thank you for signing up for my giveaway. I was originally going to post at the end of the 29th (UK time) but I am now going to post the winner on the morning of the 30th. This will give people more time to sign up. Good luck! If I could I would have you all win.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Anno Dracula - Kim Newman

Van Helsing and his team failed to stop Dracula. As a result Dracula has married Queen Victoria who has also turned and becoming a vampire is now a popular persuit. Many want to join the ranks but for some it's not quite the picnic they thought it would be. Despite vampires being socially accepted for the most part there are those who believe it is wrong and unnatural. Most of them voice that opinion through rallies and political talks others keep quiet for fear they will disappear one day. One person though takes matters into his own hands. Silver Knife (also known as Jack the Ripper) has begun killing female, vampire prostitutes. Elder vampier Genevieve Dieudonne teams with warm blood Charles Beauregard to track down this killer.

I confess I was a little wary about this book at first. It' rare for a good vampire book but rarer still for a good one where Dracula is involved. I needn't have worried though as Dracula himself only plays a peripheral role. I believe it's the same in all but the last book. The book itself is mainly about silver knife and the political unrest within London that he escalates (although completely unaware of it). We know who the killer is and learn his reasons for it.

With the political aspect as well as the story revolving round Jack it made for an interesting read. Although, knowing how much Victoria loved Albert it's hard to believe that Dracula was able to persuade her to come out of mourning. I let that one go by though for the sake of enjoying the book. What I loved about it though was the list of both people and fictional characters who made an appearance or were mentioned. All the characters from Dracula made it in there, including Bram Stoker himself who was imprisoned for daring to write the book. A few others included; Oscar Wilde, Dr Jekyll, Moreau, Tennyson and Billy the Kid. There were actually a lot more than that and I wouldn't be surprised if I missed a few. Having looked into the follow ups I believe that in this way they are all similar.

The only negative thing about the book I can think of is that in the first few chapters the reader is inundated with names. It's a little off putting at first but if you keep with it this calms down. I'm looking forward to reading the others in the series although apparently the author has been working on the last book since 2000.

Friday 24 June 2011

Literary Book Blog Hop Giveaway!

Yep, it's the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop time which is being hosted by Judith over at Leeswamme.

Although the book just has to have literary merit I decided to go for a classic. I am giving away an untouched penguin cloth edition of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. I love these books but sadly this classic is not my favourite. I know there are many of you out there who love it or will love it and it feels kind of selfish to hold onto it just because it's pretty (although it is very pretty).

I have no real rules for joining. All I ask is that you are a follower. Leave a comment on this post if you want to be in with the chance to win it (I am fine with posting overseas).

If you don't fancy this book then there are many other bloggers taking part and maybe you can sign up for one of those. The links to those are below. Otherwise I will announce the winner on the 29th. Good luck!

List with all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)

  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)

  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)

  4. Teadevotee (Int)

  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)

  6. Bibliosue (Int)

  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)

  8. write meg! (USA)

  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)

  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)

  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)

  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)

  13. Book Journey (Int)

  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)

  15. Col Reads (Int)

  16. The Book Diva's Reads (Int)

  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)

  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)

  19. Lizzy's Literary Life (Int)

  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)

  21. Book'd Out (Int)

  22. The Readers' Suite (Int)

  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)

  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)

  25. Miel et lait (Int)

  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)

  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)

  28. Book World In My Head (Int)

  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)

  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)

  31. Nishita's Rants and Raves (Int)

  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)

  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)

  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)

  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)

  36. Gaskella (Int)

  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)

  38. chasing bawa (Int)

  39. 51stories (Int)

  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)

  1. Silver's Reviews (USA)

  2. Nose in a book (Int)

  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)

  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)

  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)

  6. Caribousmom (USA)

  7. breienineking (Netherlands)

  8. Let's Go on a Picnic! (Int)

  9. Rikki's Teleidoscope (Int)

  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)

  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)

  12. Elle Lit (USA)

  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)

  14. The Book Stop (Int)

  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)

  16. Joy's Book Blog (Int)

  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)

  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)

  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)

  20. Tony's Reading List (Int)

  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)

  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)

  23. Kinna Reads (Int)

  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)

  25. Books in the City (Int)

  26. Lucybird's Book Blog (Europe)

  27. Book Clutter (USA)

  28. Exurbanis (Int)

  29. Lu's Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)

  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)

  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)

  32. Lena Sledge's Blog...Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)

  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Poison Tree - Erin Kelly

Karen is finishing University. It's only as the friends she had made during this time begin to pull away from her that she begins to realise just how dull her student life had been. That's when she meets Biba and is immediately sucked in to her world. Biba is an actress and is living the life Karen wants to be a part of. She falls in love with Biba's brother, Rex, and the summer seems never ending. This world comes crashing down around her when two people end up murdered.

Yet another book told from the present and the past. Definitely seems to be a trend this year. I quite like this method though so once again I wasn't bored of it. It has the desired effect of keeping me guessing. In fact for the first half of the book I was impatient to get to the end and find out what happens.

The hole premise though is a little unbelievable. Biba doesn't come across as the strong character needed to attract so many people into her life. Neither is Rex although it's primarily Biba people are fascinated with. Karen on the other hand comes across as the strong one which makes it more unbelievable that she becomes so needy to be accepted. She even changes who she is for her previous friends but then doesn't care when they push her away. If Karen had come across as weaker and Biba stronger and domineering then I wouldn't have had a problem with it.

I also found the relationship between Karen and Rex hard to take. You know it happens because you see events in the future as the past is unfolding. There doesn't seem to be much of an actual relationship though other than their mutual obsession with Biba. It's all they really have and it's hard to see anything surviving on that. Despite knowing about it, it also seems to spring up from nowhere. It's only saving grace is that Karen has doubts as to whether she loves Rex. In that it seems a bit more realistic.

Despite all these flaws I still found myself enjoying the mystery. As I said I was impatient to get to the end and find out what happens. I knew there had to be a twist at the end. This is where I found true disappointment. I was able to predict every twist. I almost threw the book across the room in frustration at its predictability. I can't say much more with out spoiling it but there was one part in particular that Karen would in no way get away with. Although that event would take place after the book.

Good mystery with a predictable ending. The author has another book coming out but I don't think I will be reading it.

Monday 20 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Why I love blogging/being bookish

This is a meme from The Broke and The Bookish. This one is to celebrate the one year blogoversary. Initially I wasn't going to take part in this one as I didn't think I would have anything to say that was different from anyone else. However, it is a blogoversary and I couldn't take part last year as I am really not into awww moments. Plus I doubt I will take part in the next one as I don't have 10 favourite books websites or apps. So in no particular order;

1. Straightening thoughts. It's a great way of straightening thoughts in my head. I try to review all the books I read. When it comes to that book that I just can't get out of my head it's a great way of getting all those thoughts out there. It helps me to move on to the next book. Not just books but issues affecting books or the publishing world or even just questions that pop into my head (although I haven't done one of those posts in a LONG time - I do have one planned for this week).

2.Debate. I don't mind disagreeing with people about books or having people disagree with me. Life would be boring if we all liked the same things. Sometimes there is nothing better than a good debate and if one of us walks away rethinking it's worth it. Many a time I have decided to consider reading a book again because a friend convinces me to give it another chance. I like the fact that I can be honest here and that others can be honest in how they felt about the same book. We may not agree but the one thing that I have noticed that is universal in the book blogs I follow is that everyones opinion is respected.

3. Like Minded. On the other side isn't it great when you find someone who likes the same books as you? It gives you someone to rave with. I think people who don't read books can't understand that feeling. It puts a spring in my step for the rest of the day. Especially when it leads to talk of other authors we each may like. When I dislike a book too I sometimes wonder if it's maybe just me. Especially when it's a book that is held in high esteem. I still put my thoughts down but love it when someone chirps up that they felt the same way. Takes the edge off my guilt of hating a book I should love.

4. Book Recommendations. I have no problems going into a book shop and finding at least one book (or ten) that I want to read. That doesn't stop me from enjoying book recommendations. I probably would have read The Help eventually but it was thanks to the reviews that I saw all over the blogosphere that I decided to pick it up sooner. Glad I did as it's now one of my favourites and I'll be passing it along to a number of my friends (much like my copy of One Day which has been read by so many people I have lost count). I also have a huge list of authors that people have recommended either through directly suggesting or through their own reviews. There is not enough hours in the day to read all these books but I will have a go at it.

5. People to Share. All through school I was a big reader but rarely had anyone to share that love with. Very few of my friends were readers. I had one best friend in primary school who read a lot and then in high school it was rarer still. In fact one or two I knew were readers hid that fact because they thought it was uncool. I never hid that fact though and was always quite proud of it. At university there were fewer people again who were readers (this surprised me). So when I finally got the chance to work with books and lots of people who loved them it was hard not to be excited about it. Sadly those days are gone now but thanks to blogging I still get to share and others share with me. It's maybe not quite the same as in person (although I do get to meet with my work colleagues every now and then) but I still love it.

6. Learning. I love to read for so many reasons but one of the reasons is that I get to learn about so many different places. The number of times a family member or friend has asked where I learned something and I have answered 'in a book'. I especially love reading books set in countries I have never been before. At the moment I am reading Shantaram and I am LOVING learning so much about India. I learned an awful lot about Japan through various Japanese authors. It's also increased my need to go and visit all these wonderful places. I still haven't read as many translated books as I would like but it's something I am working on.

7. Escapism. I know a lot of people who can't concentrate on books when they have a lot on their plate but I don't have a problem with it. It's a good way of escaping from it all. Granted if I have a lot on it's probably best that I read something light and fluffy but that just shows you there is a book for every mood.

8. Inspiring. I find a lot of books or authors to be quite inspiring. The first time I came across this was reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 9 or 10. I read this book over and over again and I was in awe of the young girl who wrote it. I'm not one for keeping quotes that help me through tough times or reading self help books. I'm very much the kind of person that worries about something for a time and then decides to do something about it. Books though do have an effect on my life now and then.

9. Challenges. I usually challenged myself even before I blogged. I would challenge myself to read more female authors or more Scottish authors. Every year I would challenge myself to read more books than the year before. Then there was the a-z challenge my friend and I did. Since becoming a blogger though I have came across so many. I have to resist joining them all. I have joined one which is encouraging me get through my tbr pile (a badly needed challenge). I know if I was to join them all I would be setting myself up for failure plus it would also mean buying more books which I'm trying not to do. I am enjoying the one I am taking part in and I do enjoy reading about others challenges. Something I would miss if I wasn't a blogger. I also know that I can take part in more later.

10. Readalong. I have taken part in two. The first one whilst I enjoyed the book the readalong itself was disappointing as there wasn't much interaction between bloggers. It still got me reading a book that I was putting off because I thought it might be too challenging and for that I liked it. The one I am doing now I am loving for the interaction. The book I would have read anyway (as it's also a challenge book) but it's nice having others to talk about it with. Plus we are reading 100 pages a week which is a slower pace than I would normally read. I am enjoying that fact though. Will definitely be taking part in more of these.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading!

This is a book meme by Sheila over at Book Journey.

This week I had quite a good one book wise (not so much blogging wise). I read;

Hard Times by Charles Dickens. I love Dickens and so was very disappointed by how much I disliked this one.

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich. A big improvement on number 15. Looks like 17 is going to continue the story for a change.

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth. A sad story and it didn't bother me that I was reading out of sequence.

Bedpans and Bobby Socks by Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton. A fun read but more of a travel writing book than nursing memoir.

Just now I am reading;
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. This is part of a readalong and I am very much enjoying it.

This week I plan to read;
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. This is for my book group.

The end of this week I will also be announcing the book I am giving away for the blog hop Literary Giveaway. Check back on Saturday if you want to sign up for a classic. The book itself is a lovely edition and new.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Bedpans and Bobbysocks - Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton

Gwenda and best friend Pat decide to go work in Cleveland for a year. They do it for the adventure and to see how different nursing is in the US. During that year the buy a car and take trips to nearby cities and States. Not happy on just seeing this alone they decide to travel America once their year is up. They pack up the car and take three friends with them. Somehow they manage to get to Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico, to name a few places, before heading back to Cleveland and preparing for home.

I picked this up because I start college after the summer in the hopes that it will lead to nursing. I have been curious about what others think of the profession and I thought it best to get my reading in now. I am sure once I start my course it will be the last thing I want to read about.

I was under no illusion that this would be more of a travel book than a nursing memoir. There was some references to nursing and their having to get used to some of the differences. For example, coming from the NHS it felt odd to them that patient care was determined by what they could pay. They did do some private nursing which also felt a little odd to them (I am sure private nursing isn't that much different here). They were also shocked when they came across racism (although not directed at them). This irritated me a little as racism is also a problem here in Britain and especially during the 1950s. It's hard to believe that having worked in both Newcastle and London they didn't come across it once.

Other than that it was a good travel book. I enjoyed reading about their journey across America and the friends they made. I imagine that journey would be very different now. It was an easy read and good fun. I think I was almost as sad as they were once the adventure was over.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Exit Ghost - Philip Roth

Writer Nathan Zuckerman has returned to New York. The death of his friend has showed him that he should maybe enjoy the years he has left and so is going for an operation to make life easier. Being back in New York has given him an almost new lease of life and he decides to swap apartments with a young writing couple for a year. Unexpectedly he becomes attracted to the wife. It's supposed to show him that he still has life in him yet. Instead, after coming across someone who wants to write the biography of his mentor, he is faced with his own mortality.

This has been on my shelf for close to four years which is why I picked it for the 'books I should have read by now' challenge. It was first published in 2007 and the copy I have is a proof edition which shows how long I have had it. I didn't realise until I picked it up to read it that it was in the middle of a series. I was almost going to put it back and change it on the list for another book. I decided against it though and would try reading it anyway. As it turns out I didn't feel once that I was reading a book out of sequence. I wasn't given the impression that I should know Zuckerman and his life story. The book covered everything in his history that was relevant to the story itself. For me it read very much like a standalone.

The story itself is extremely sad. Zuckerman had disappeared to the country ten years earlier after receiving death threats. If it wasn't for his friend he would have turned into a complete recluse. I think loneliness forced him back to New York to get this operation and loneliness encouraged him to stay against his better judgement. As he tries to save the reputation if his old mentor he meets a dying woman who is beginning to lose her faculties. He feels for her but as the book goes on he realises that he is getting to that stage too. He has whole conversations with people and he can't remember them. As a reader you see it from his point of view and so you are made to feel just as confused as he is. It meant that I felt a great deal of sympathy for the character.

I also came away wanting to know more about the character. I would love to read about him back when he was in his prime. I wonder if the earlier books start then. I am glad I decided in the end to read this book. Rather than leave me confused and missing something it has left me with a great deal of curiosity. I want to know more about this character and I will definitely try reading the first book in the series.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Sizzling Sixteen - Janet Evanovich

Once again Stephanie's job is in danger. This time it isn't from not being very good at catching skips. This time it's because her boss Vinnie owes money to some bad people. He has been kidnapped and unless the money is delivered to them Vinnie is a dead man. It's up to Stephanie to find Vinnie and help him escape or raise the money which is increasing daily. Luckily she has the help of spandex wearing Lula and stink bomb expert Connie.

I almost didn't bother buying this book. The last one was so unmemorable that all I can remember is that Stephanie and Morelli are on a break after a fight about peanut butter. I do remember being irritated by many inconsistencies and boredom. Turns out being over half an hour early for a train results in some book buying.

I am glad I did. I don't know if maybe it was because the last book I read was so dull and depressing that I needed something light but I very much enjoyed this. It was almost as good as the earlier books in the series. That's not to say I felt that way straight away. For the first fifty pages I was sure it was going to be more of the same. Thankfully it picked up and I even found myself laughing aloud (embarrassingly most of those out loud laughs was on the bus). One of them involved my favourite character, Grandma Mazur, who stated at one point that she loved to see naked men.

Lulu has never been my favourite character. In fact she usually irritates me as she gets the same lines in every book. There was still much of that but she also had a few funny moments. One involved cows and the other an alligator (I'm saying no more than that). I also enjoyed Connie being part of the team for a change. She is usually stuck behind the desk so it was nice to see her join in and this also led to much hilarity.

I wasn't expecting the ending for a change. I quite liked it and it could be an interesting turn in the books. Of course that's if the next one decides not to ignore the events of this one (that's happened a few times). I cheated though and looked at the blurb for 17 and I am happy to say that it does continue with the events at the end of this one.

It was a very easy read. The print was large and spaced out. I've seen kids books with smaller print than that. I could have read it in an hour if work wasn't in the way. It also did have some of the repetitiveness that the last few books have had. The love triangle between Morelli, Stephanie and Ranger has been dull for at least 8 books. There was also not enough Grandma Mazur for my liking but then I think she should have her own series. Plus there was only one real scene with Stephanie's parents. I would have liked more.

If you are thinking of giving up on the series I recommend that you read this one before you decide. Sure it's not perfect and it will never beat the first 5 or 6 but it does pick up the series a little.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Hard Time - Charles Dickens

The people of Coketown are taught that pure facts is the only way to live. School teacher Mr Gradgrind is a firm believer in this and instills it not only in the classroom but also in his own home with his children. Eldest daughter Louisa is aware that her childhood was missing something and is therefore miserable with no happy thoughts of her future. Her brother is the only person to light up her life. It is for him that she marries Mr Bounderby who is at least thirty years her senior.

I am a huge Charles Dickens fan. I have been since a young age. I picked this one up because it was on my 'books I should have read by now' challenge list. The book is meant to be miserable (hence the title) but filled with wit. Maybe I missed something but for the first time I struggled with a Dickens book. The generic industrial town of Coketown was so flat. It seemed that it containted the school, the bank and the mill. All those living there worked for Mr Bounderby and no one else. It made for very dull reading.

The characters themselves were also dull and flat mirroring the town itself. There are two people in the book that the reader is supposed to sympathise with, Louisa and Stephen. I found this difficult since both characters were extremely boring. There wasn't much to them and so they came across as very one dimensional. Maybe if the book had been extended (I think this might be one of the shortest Dickens) the author could have built up the characters more and therefore I would have liked them better.

The one thing it did do was create characters that I found easy to dislike. Mr Bounderby was the pompous old man with something to hide. I think I disliked him as soon as he made an appearance in the book and I was supposed to. Mrs Sparsit, his housekeeper, was just as unlikeable. She's the typical spinster woman who wants to catch Louisa in a wrong as she feels she has been replaced. Lastly there is Tom. Whilst I didn't like him his character was just as flat as the others. He was supposed to be a drunk and a gambler. Yet there was only one drunken scene and the gambling was only hinted at with mention of his debts. I feel that I missed out on more drunken/gambling scenes.

In case you can't tell I was extremely disappointed with this book. Most of the other books I have read by Dickens have been large tomes. This makes me wonder if maybe Dickens needs the length to make his characters come alive (although this wasn't the case with A Christmas Carol). I think if this had been the first book I had read by him it would have put me off reading more. Thankfully that is not the case but the other Dickens I have on my TBR pile is now at the bottom.

Monday 13 June 2011

Shantaram Readalong - Part 1

This readalong is actually split up weekly unlike The Iliad which was fortnightly. It's 100 pages each week and since the book is over 900 pages it's going to take a while. I just finished the second part so I am now 200 pages into it. I am also reading this book as part of the 'Books I should Have Read' challenge. It's been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a couple of years now so it's about time I picked it up.

It's because of reading this book at the same time that I didn't like A Fine Balance quite as much as what I probably would have. It's set in India only five years later (or in the middle of the time of A Fine Balance since it one jumped ten years near the end). It's written in the eyes of someone who is visiting the country and the city of Bombay (also where Fine Balance is set) for the first time. Since I have never been there I guess I can relate to it more. Maybe relate is the wrong word since I haven't had to escape from prison. I certainly felt as though I could see the city through the eyes of the narrator better.

I'm not sure what I was expecting this book to be like. I seem to have a nack for avoiding any mentions of books that are on my tbr pile and therefore discover for myself exactly why a book is so popular. I am also lucky that the few people I know who have read it have only said that they loved it and not let anything else out. My only expectations of it were what it said on the jacket on the back. What I got was a beautifully descriptive narrative. Some people might consider it over descriptive but for me it's perfect. Funny though since I think this book is more descriptive that A Fine Balance and yet I thought that one could have been cut down quite a bit.

What I am really loving about the book is one particular character. Prabaker who is guiding the narrator through the city. I was a little wary of him at first since Lin met him straight off the bus but I quickly grew to trust him as Lin did. The unlikely friendship has led to quite a few funny moments. I have even started placing little post it tabs on the pages that have made me laugh so much. Prabakers reaction to the way Lin does things or wants to do things is hilarious. Plus Prabakers way of doing things is just as alien to Lin (and to myself mind you) and has resulted in a few sarcastic comments from Lin. I am one of those people who do like sarcastic wit at times (I think it's a big part of Scottish humour) but this isn't what makes these moments so funny. It's Prabakers reaction to it. He either doesn't get sarcasm or he deliberately ignores it. I personally think he it's the second but I could be wrong. Sometimes his answers do seem too innocent.

Needless to say I am very much enjoying this book and I think I have reached the stage where it is going to pick up a little speed. Despite the weekly break up of the readalong I'm not going to update that regularly or schedule them. I think with 9 weeks of reading everyone who isn't on the readalong would quickly get bored of seeing these updates. Instead I am going to post when I feel I really need to talk about the book in detail. Meanwhile I have the group on good reads to update on.

Sunday 12 June 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading!

It's Monday is a book meme by Sheila over at Book Journey.

I am sorry that things have been a little quiet around here. Not just on here but I haven't been able to visit everyones blogs as much as I would like. Things have been hectic and it doesn't look like it's going to lighten up any time soon. I will still do my best to visit you all at some point during the week. You may find though that I am not taking part in quite as many book memes as I used to.

What I read last week;
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (I did like it but felt it could have had quite a bit cut out).

The Help - Kathryn Stockett (loved it).

What I am reading now;
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (as part of a readalong and books I should have read challenge. Very much enjoying this. The last few chapters have made me laugh quite a bit).

Hard Times by Charles Dickens (as part of books I should have read challenge. Only a few pages in.)

What I plan on reading next;
Exit Ghost by Philip Roth (as part of the books I should have read challenge. The copy I have is actually a publishers proof which shows how long it's been sitting there).

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

It's 1962 andSkeeter has come back to Jackson from University full of hopes of becoming a writer. Everyone else though, including her friends, expects her to find a husband and start working on kids just as they did. Skeeter reluctantly goes along with their schemes and meanwhile wants to know why the maid who brought her up has disappeared. No one will tell her though. She gets a job at the local paper which gives her an excuse to question her friends maid, Aibeleen. Through this and her friends bathroom reform she decides to write a book from the perspective of the maids. The problem is that if discovered not only will she lose her social standing but the maids who talk will be put in great danger.

I wasn't expecting this book to be written from three different points of view. Mainly because of the clips I have seen so far of the film. I liked it though and for me this fact made the book. I think had it been from just Skeeter's or even Aibileen's point of view so much of the book would have been lost. Instead you see what three women might be losing should it be revealed that they are writing this book. Skeeter's potential losses almost seem trivial to that of the maids as they aren't just in danger of losing their jobs but also their lives. Still you can't help but feel for her as her social world slowly falls apart.

I have since read a few reviews that mention that these characters are very much stereotyped. I can see a little of that but as I have very little knowledge of Mississippi at all or that way of living I certainly didn't find it too noticeable. I can see why this might irritate people though. It irritates me when I read about Scot's being stereotyped. The author though was from that state and was herself brought up by a maid so that also takes away any irritation I may feel. She has lived that life and can certainly talk write about it at least from the perspective of Skeeter.

I have been wanting to read this book since I first saw it on the shelves a few years ago. Again it was one of those ones I noted but too many other books crowding for my attention. I finally bought it after reading so many reviews and then seeing a few clips of the film. The film did look good but now that I have read the book I fear that maybe it won't do it justice. The same fear I always have when I love a book. I think I might have to see what other reviewers think of it before I go ahead and see it.

Thursday 9 June 2011

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

It's 1975 in India and there is a lot of unrest due to the Emergency. Circumstances during this time bring together four unlikely people. Together they find companionship, friendship and a brighter hope for the future. The world has other ideas though and something threatens their happy life.

I read this book because a friend of mine raved about it. I have to say that it took me a while to warm up to it. First of all it's quite a depressing story. It starts with giving the detailed backgrounds of each characters past. In each and every one there is a bright hope that things will turn out well which is always snatched away from them. You find your own hopes rising that everything will turn out okay only to have it snatched away from you. And this was even with my friends warning.

I actually don't mind that though. Even a depressing book can be a good book. What bothered me was the amount of detail the author went into. A lot of it just didn't seem relevant to the story. I found myself constantly feeling impatient with it. I wanted to shout "just get on with it". The characters are also a little hard to take. Sometimes it's difficult to find anything likeable about them. It isn't until they begin to find their own balance with each other that they mellow a little and you can see their good points.

Around 400 pages in the book became unputdownable. A bit of a long wait to get to the point but I felt by then it was worth it. It was around then I became emotionally attached to the characters.

Don't be put off by my account of the book. I still gave it four stars despite all my criticisms. I think part of the problem is that I am reading Shantaram at the same time for a readalong. I should maybe have left off A Fine Balance until I finished that. They are both set in the same city five years apart and both are over descriptive. Shantaram does it right though and from page one I was fascinated. I couldn't help but make comparisons and I probably wasn't fair to Mistry's book at times. I still enjoyed it in the end but I will say that if you are looking for a feel good story then this isn't for you.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Book Settings.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme over at the Broke and the Bookish. This week it is top ten book settings.

1. Fictionland in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. Specifically the version in his latest "One of Our Thursdays Is Missing" because it now forms an actual island. You can get taxis to your favourite books. There is even a place for fan fiction (although the characters there will look a little strange) and vanity publishing. I really want to go there!

2. I know this is going to be on every ones list but there is a reason for that. How cool would it be to visit the wizarding world of Harry Potter? I want to see a wizards newspaper, visit Diagon Alley, drink butter beer and see real dragons.

3. Pern by Anne McCaffrey. I devoured these books years ago and loved them. Have went off them a bit since the son has taken over but I enjoyed them at the time. I love dragons and this is why Pern is one of my favourite settings. I just wouldn't want to be there during thread fall even if that's when the dragons are at their best. Actually, I probably would. I bet it would look spectacular.

4. New York. I love books set in New York. I am generalising here since it's a real place. I loved my holiday there a few years ago and really want to go back. Recognising places through books is about as close as I'm going to get for now.

5. Japan. Generalising again. I went through a phase of reading lots of books about Japan. It's one of the many places I want to visit and I love it's literature. My heart breaks for the people there after that disastrous earthquake.

6. Confederation timeline - Peter F. Hamilton. It's the technology that fascinates me. Allowing people to live forever by storing their memories, organic ships and so much more. His Commonwealth timeline uses technology in a similar way but it was the confederation series I fell in love with first.

7. Tudor Britain. I have a fascination with this era of history just now and I know there are a lot of good historical fiction books out just now set then. I know some of them glamorise the era although I think if you were to turn up there you would find little glamour. I just love the drama behind the era. Our own monarchy is quite boring in comparison (no offence).

8. New Orleans. Another generalisation I'm afraid. I've read quite a few books set in New Orleans and I have always enjoyed them. They have all depicted different aspects of it and it seems like one of those places that has so many sides to it. Another place that has sadly had it's share of disasters. I would love to go there one day. Meanwhile I will continue to enjoy reading about it.

9. Shantaram's India by David Gregory Roberts. I have only just begun the book and I am already fascinated. I haven't read that many books set in India but this one has truly caught my imagination. The descriptions are so detailed it's hard not to picture everything and believe you are there. I am not sure I would want to visit a lot of the places described by Roberts since he is visiting a lot of risky areas but it's certainly making for a fantastic book.

10. Mexico in Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. Again the city is beautifully painted in this book. So vibrant and colourful. I loved reading about it through the eyes of the narrator who saw Mexico as his home but was always aware of his American heritage. How amazing would it be to see Diego or even Frida Kahlo at work?

I am sure I am missing something. I will no doubt come across a number of lists and wonder why I didn't think of that. I will visit everyone's blogs tonight as I have done this in between work and running back out the door again. Will give me something to look forward to.

Monday 6 June 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading!

It's Monday is a book meme by Sheila over at Book Journey.

This Week I Read;

We - Yevgeny Zamyatin (great dystopian, supposedly the first)

The Iliad - Homer (as part of a readalong. Very much enjoyed it).

Sister - Rosamund Lupton (for my book group. Wouldn't have picked it myself so glad it was chosen).

Just Now I Am Reading;
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts (as part of a readalong. This will appear here for a while as we are reading about 100pgs a week. Loving it so far).

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry (as part of Books I Should Have Read By Now challenge. Possibly a mistake reading another book set in India but I am liking it).

Next I Plan To Read;
The Help - Kathryn Stockett (have read too many reviews on this one by other bloggers. Can no longer resist reading it).

I am also looking for recommendations. Know any good books (fiction or non fiction but preferably not romance) about nursing?

Saturday 4 June 2011

Back to School! In Need of Book Recommendations.

Recent circumstances have meant that I have had to have a change in career. It took me a while to work out what I wanted to do but I finally came to a decision about 6 months ago and have been working towards it. Today I found out I have been accepted into an access to nursing course. Completely different to my time in the book industry but I have to say I am looking forward to it.

Whilst in the local supermarket today I came across two nursing memoir books (set during the 50's so not really relevant) and had to pick them up. I confess I picked up "Bedpans and Bobby Socks" by Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton mainly because theses two nurses travelled across America and that appealed to me. The other, "Yes Sister, No Sister" by Jennifer Craig, is about student nurses during the 50's. I'm not sure how good they will be. I tend to avoid the memoirs to be honest but I am looking forward to them.

So here is my request. Does anyone else have any recommendations of books about nurses? I don't mind a mix of fiction and non fiction. I am not really a romance person so would prefer no romance books. I don't mind it in a book so long as it's not the overall theme. Thank you!

Sister - Rosamund Lupton

Despite the miles and the age gap Bea and her sister Tess are close. When Bea's mother calls to tell her Tess is missing Bea drops everything in New York and rushes back to London. Whilst there she discovers that there were some surprising things about her sister. She doesn't like the accusation that maybe they weren't as close as they thought. Determined to prove everyone wrong and to find out what happened to her sister Bea begins to investigate herself. Whilst her own life falls down around her Bea ignores everyones advice and searches out the truth.

There have been a number of books I have read this year that flashes back and forth between the present and the past in order to tell the story. When I picked up this book my first thought was 'not again' but it turned out it was integral to the story and once again it worked. In this instance the time difference was not long at all.

This initial reaction to the story method did put me off at first (that's not to say I didn't enjoy it in the other books it just seems to be a fad just now) but it wasn't long before I was sucked into the story. I have a sister myself and we are very close. So I felt Bea's outrage and frustration that other believed that they weren't that close after all. I did think that this was going to be one of your generic crime stories. I couldn't have been more wrong. I wasn't expecting the reason behind the crime at all.

In the end I did guess who was behind it all but there was an extra twist at the end which came as a complete surprise to me. It certainly was a great end to the book. I read this for my book group. It's probably not one I would have picked up myself had it not been chosen (at the time I was hoping The Help would be picked). I'm glad they did chose it as I would have missed out on a good read.

Friday 3 June 2011

We - Yevgeny Zamyatin

D-503 is a member of our society 1000 years from now. After two hundred years of war it was decided that living mathematically is the best way to achieve happiness. As a result everyones lives are governed by mathematics and nothing is hidden. In fact the city itself is made from glass so that everyone movements can be watched. D-503 believes that he is happy and that his entire life is dedicated to the One State. He is an engineer and is building a ship and which will tell the stars how they should live their lives by mathematics. Then I-330 enters his life which makes him question their world and the State's right to control him.

I liked the idea behind this book. A society that is so compartmentalised because of mathematics. Every hour is accounted for and every movement of every individual is precise. They even want to cure imagination. This would be my nightmare. Even worse, there is no privacy. Everything is made of glass so that you can even see what your neighbours are doing and so that the guardians can see what you are doing. Any odd behaviour is rewarded by a visit to the doctor or a visit to the Benefactor and the gas bell jar. Yet no one seems to mind this way of living. Even the narrator enjoys it. It was these descriptions of the way they lived I enjoyed.

Of course D-503 soon discovers that maybe this way of living isn't the best. He discovers he has an imagination and although it terrifies him he wants to keep it. This is where I have a problem with the book. It's his reason behind wanting to keep his imagination. He becomes completely obsessed with one woman I-330 and it's down to that he doesn't want his imagination taken away from him. He is scared of being caught only because he knows his obsession will disappear along with it. It's I-330 who believes that the Benefactor and the Guardians should be overthrown. It's her that's a member of a movement who are working towards that end. D-503's reason for joining them has nothing to do with the belief that this movement is in the right. It's actually only in the last few pages that the reason behind this is made clear. I can't mention why without spoiling it for you. Trust me though there is a reason that the book is focused more on his obsession than on the uprising. It hits home the control the state has.

I found the book itself a little tough going at times. Maybe because I wanted it more focused on the State and those trying to overthrow it. It's still a good read though. Whilst it certainly isn't my favourite dystopian it's certainly near the top.

Thursday 2 June 2011

BTT! - Book Reviews.

This is a meme over at Booking Through Thursday.

Do you read book reviews? Whose do you trust? Do they affect your reading habits? Your buying habits?

I do read book reviews. I quite enjoy reading them. I trust the book reviews of fellow bloggers or friends. I don't religiously read them. The book has to catch my eye in some way first. Or if the book reviewer and I have similar tastes then I always look out for that persons reviews. There are some I have learned not to trust. A few years ago (long before I took up blogging myself) I came across a fairly popular book blogger. I picked up a few books because of those reviews and I didn't enjoy them. These things happen mind you but I did eventually realise that every review on that blog was a positive one. Every book was amazing. You can't love every single book and I have learned to trust those who seem to give an honest opinion.

Book reviews do affect my reading habits a little. In the last few months my tr list has grown significantly because of it. I finally bought the Help because of lots of bloggers book reviews. It's a great way of discovering new authors or getting you to finally pick up that book you've been in two minds about.

Authors A-Z Challenge

A good few years a go a friend challenged me (and herself) to do an A-Z of authors. There were some restrictions though. For each letter it had to be an author we hadn't read before and it had to be fiction. The second rule was basically because she was very much a non fiction read and this was her way of expanding. At the time I mainly read fantasy and sci fi so it was also a good way for me to try more general fiction authors. Initially we were supposed to do it within a year. Things happened though. We worked together at the time which allowed us to keep each other going. Not long after we moved to different jobs and I fell away from it as I didn't think she was doing the challenge any more either. Last year we were messaging each other back and forth and she mentioned it again. So I decided to start again. To cut a long story short I have finished it and here is my list.

A - White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
B - Death of A Ladies Man - Alan Bissett
C - The Other Hand - Chris Cleave
D - Stone Junction - Jim Dodge
E - Mr Toppit - Charles Elton
F - Dead Lovely - Helen Fitzgerald
G - UFO In Her Eyes - Xiaolu Guo
H - Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemmingway
I - Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
J - Dubliners - James Joyce
K - How Late It Was How Late - James Kelman
L - Hospital - Toby Litt
M - Company of Liars - Karen Maitland
N - Jezebel - Irene Nemirovsky
O - The Museum of Dr Moses - Joyce Carol Oates
P - The Collected Dorothy Parker - Dorothy Parker
Q - Ishmael - Daniel Quinn
R - Midnights Children - Salman Rushdie
S - Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
T - A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
U - Witches of Eastwick - John Updike
V - Around the World in 80 Days - Jules Verne
W - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe
X - Miss Chopsticks - Xinran
Y - Revolutionary Road
Z - We - Yevgeny Zamyatin

There were a couple of letters that gave me very little choice in what to read such as Q and X (at least my local book shop gave me very little choice). I enjoyed doing this challenge but I don't think I will do it again. I found that when I was going book shopping I was picking out books mainly based on this challenge. When I can go guilt free shopping again (I will work my way through my tbr pile) it will be nice just to saunter round picking out what catches my eye. I don't regret doing it though. There are a lot of books there that I enjoyed. I don't think I can possible narrow down my favourites. My least favourites were The Bonfire of the Vanities and Ishmael. I think my friend gave up on the challenge again but I'm happy that I kept going.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

May Round Up and Month Ahead!

So last month I took part in too challenges. The first was one of my own and that was to read one graphic novel a week. This was in a bid to get through some of those graphic novels I've had lying around collecting dust. It was also in part to finally decide once and for all if I like them. I completed it and managed a total of five. I still have a few more lying around but I graphic novelled out, for now anyway. It felt strange reading them and I finally found a couple I did like (Watchmen and V for Vendetta). Whilst I probably won't go out of my way to read more I won't say never to them either.

The other was to take part in my first readalong. I class it as a challenge because it was a book that intimidated me. When I noticed the Iliad was being picked for a readalong I took the opportunity to pick it up. The result was that I enjoyed it and I found it easier to read than I thought. At some point I plan on reading The Odyssey.

I also read the following books;

Roadside Crosses - Jeffery Deaver
The Iliad - Homer
City of Fallen Angels - Cassandra Clare
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming (I always have to stop myself writing Alexander rather than Ian)
Heroes Vol1 - Various authors
The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike
Around the World In 80 Days - Jules Verne
The Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe
Heroes Vol2 - Various authors
Sweet Valley Confidential - Francine Pascal
Miss Chopsticks - Xinran
Watchmen - Alan Moore
Annexed - Sharon Dogar
Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
V For Vendetta - Alan Moore.

My least favourites were probably the Heroes graphic novels. Although if I had read them back when I watched the show I might have said differently. Sweet Valley and The Bonfire of the Vanities aren't that far behind them. I am having problems choosing one favourite too. I had such good fun reading Casino Royale and yet Miss Chopsticks was such a moving story. I think Miss Chopsticks wins it by a margin just because it was so well done.

I also joined Goodreads which I am having fun with (although pinterest is slowly taking over my obsession with it).

This month I am taking part in another readalong. I am reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts which is being hosted by Helen and Aths over at Reading on a Rainy Day. I bought this book about two years ago now so it's been long overdue a read.

I am also taking part in a challenge set by Gabe over at GabeReads. It's a challenge to read 'Books I Should Have Read By Now'. A great opportunity to get through some of my tbr pile. Actually, Shantaram is on that list too.

I have signed up to take part in a blog hop giveaway. If you click the button at the side it will take you straight there. Look out for that on the 25th when I announce the book I'll be giving away.

My reading has slowed down a bit this last week or so but I am looking forward to the month ahead.