Tuesday 31 January 2012

January Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who took part. We now have a winner. AJ over at Reading Rambo has won her own copy of The Eyre Affair. I hope you enjoy. Sorry that not everyone could win (that's the only downside to these giveaways). I will no doubt host more in the future though.

January Overview/ Month Ahead

Compared to December I had a fantastic month reading wise. It's amazing what having a couple of weeks off can do. Particularly when you have been having book withdrawal. I managed to finish everything that I had planned to read and then a few extras. So far I have kept up with my challenges and completed the one that ran for January. I am also 1/4 of my goal of 60 books on Good Reads (I might have to increase the goal number). Here's what I read this month;

Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness
Antony and Cleopatra - William Shakespeare
Zoo City - Lauren Beukes
Macbeth - William Shakespeare
Waking the Witch - Kelley Armstrong
Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare
King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - John Steinbeck
Audition - Ryu Murakami
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
Before I Go To Sleep - S. J. Watson
As You Like It - William Shakespeare
The White Road - John Connolly
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

I think 15 books is fairy respectable and I don't really expect to keep that up over the next few months. I have to say that I enjoyed every one of these books. My favourite though is the solitary non-fiction of the bunch. I could rave about Bill Bryson's biography all day. The only book I didn't like isn't listed here because I was unable to finish it (I disliked it that much). That was Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James.

Challenge Overview

Like I said I finished one challenge and that was the Shakespeare Reading Month. I managed to read;

Antony and Cleopatra
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

That's two more plays and a biography than I had originally planned. I very much enjoyed taking part and I hope that another one is set up at some point. Obviously my favourite was the biography and that was quickly followed by the comedies. I didn't dislike any of them but if I had to chose one for the bottom of the list it would be Antony and Cleopatra. Mainly because Antony irritated me.

This is the challenge which has categories to get you out of your comfort zone. I am reading one category a month but have managed to read two in January so am taking February off for this one. So far I have read Classics and Biography

Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

I had added the extra challenge of making it by authors I had never read before. I cheated with the biography as I have read one other Bryson. It's the only one I plan on cheating on though.

The challenge is to read a sci fi book a month. You can choose one of your own or join in the group choice. This month I decided on the group choice which was Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. I had been wanting to read this since I saw it reviewed last year. It was a good start to the challenge. For February I am once again going with the group choice as it's one I planned on reading for this challenge at some point anyway;

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick

The point of this is to read the books which star each of the characters. Again I am reading one a month. First up was King Solomon's Mines starring Allan Quatermain. I enjoyed it although it wasn't quite what I had been expecting. It was a whole mix rather than a straight forward adventure story. Next up is a re-read for me and I am looking forward to it.

Dracula - Bram Stoker (starring Mina Harker)

For this months classics challenge I read The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. Not a usual choice for a classic but I loved it. I also enjoyed taking part in the prompt for this challenge. This month it was about the authors we were reading. I have already made a start on next months choice and I'm liking it so far. Also looking forward to seeing the February prompt,

The Bell - Iris Murdoch.

The only other thing I did this month was set up a giveaway which is still open. It closes tonight and I'll announce the winner tomorrow. If you want to win a copy of The Eyre Affair you can leave a comment here.

Other than what I have lined up for the challenges I am making no other plans for this month. I am hoping to just rake through my tbr pile and see what I am in the mood for. Since the Shakespeare challenge has finished it should leave me with a little more time to read other things.

How has January been for you. Looking forward to reading anything in particular in February?

Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

Bryson doesn't pretend to be writing a complete biography of the Bard here. Instead he goes through all the myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the author and clears them up. In between he does reveal some facts that we do know about Shakespeare.

I have to be honest that I am pretty much a clean slate when it comes to Shakespeare. Until now I had no interest to learn more about the man behind those wonderful plays. I had of course heard of all the conspiracies surrounding him. Is he a man or a woman? Is he really Sir Francis Bacon? Did he steal the plays from others? I had no interest in reading into all those theories and simply washed them from my mind with a shake of the head. Shakespeare was simply Shakespeare. The man who has tortured school kids for decades. Having said that I obviously had some interest in his plays otherwise I wouldn't have taken part in the challenge. I think though that my ignorance was a good thing as it meant I could read this book with out having believed all those rumours surrounding Shakespeare.

The only image I did find it difficult to get out of my head was the Doctor Who version of Shakespeare. When Bryson mentions the bards exotic dark ladies in his plays and the dedicated sonnets to a dark lady I just kept thinking, bet that was Martha. Then when he mentioned the theory behind the play "Love's Labour's Won" I was again thinking of Doctor Who and that episodes story behind it (don't worry I am well aware that Dr Who is a fiction, it just amused me).

The entire book was very interesting. Lots of little fact about the man and it surprised me just how little we know about him. Something that Bryson says really isn't that unusual. He says that there were lots of play-writes back then and we are lucky to have the plays by Shakespeare that we do have. Imagine if his two friends had not created that first folio of his work? The part that entertained me was the small section on language. I knew Shakespeare had contributed a lot of words and sayings to our language but didn't realise how much. Astounding considering that English was relatively new back then and Latin was still the preferred choice. Words like "horrid" and "excellent". Also, sayings such as "vanish into thin air" and "with bated breath". These are just a few examples but it makes you realise just how grateful our authors of today should be to the Bard.

I don't feel the need to know every detail of Shakespeare's life. I know for some it is an obsession (one that Bryson claims has led to a lot of conjecture). I am happy with the little information the author was able to provide. However, I am not saying I won't read other biographies. I am more interested in reading other authors views on him and on his language. I think this is a fantastic book for any fan of Shakespeare. I also think though it's perfect for people like myself who managed to walk through life picking up very little.

I read this as part of Shakespeare Month 2012 hosted by Allie of A Literary Odyssey. The deadline has been extended to 10th of February but I am going to stick to the first one which is today. I don't want to sicken myself on him and not want to read more later. I will be open to joining another challenge later on if someone were to start it up. If you are interested in reading what others have to say you can see links to their posts here. I also read it for the Mixing It Up Challenge 2012 hosted by Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl. This was for the biography category. Oh, and if you are interest (and why wouldn't you be) the Doctor Who episode I was talking about is called "The Shakespeare Code" and you can read more about it on the BBC website here.

Sunday 29 January 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This is a fun book meme by Sheila over at Book Journey. A great way to share your reading week.

As predicted things have slowed down reading wise. Actually this week was busier for me than I expected and it took me a week to read a book that would normally only take me a day or two. Just meant I had longer to enjoy it of course. Before I share I just want to remind everyone that I am giving away a copy of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. One of my favourite books that I recently discovered I had two of. All you have to do is leave a comment on the original post and you have until tomorrow night to sign up.

This week I have read;

The White Road by John Connolly. I finished it just last night so have still to review it. Took me a week but I very much enjoyed it. This is the fourth book in his Charlie Parker series.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare. I read this for the Shakespeare month challenge and this is the last play I will be reading for it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I seem to love his comedies.

Just now I am reading;

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson. I am reading this for two challenges; the Shakespeare month challenge and the Mixing it Up challenge for the Biography section. Enjoying it so.

Next I plan to read;

The Bell by Iris Murdoch. I am reading this for the Classics Challenge. I am very excited about reading this one. My friend who recommends only classics to me (as that's what she mainly reads) has nagged and nagged at me to read a Murdoch. I do like the sound of them so looking forward to picking this up.

I'm not going to pick another book for this week as there is always a chance that my workload will increase again. My course likes to surprise us with extra work sometimes.

How has your reading week been? Were there any favourites in there?

Saturday 28 January 2012

As You Like It - William Shakespeare

Rosalind's father was once Duke but has now been overthrown and exiled by his brother. The only thing that is saving Rosalind from the same fate is the love of the new Dukes daughter, Celia. Orlando is at odds with his older brother, Oliver, who is holding him back in life. Orlando and Rosalind meet at a wrestling match where they both instantly fall in love. However, Orlando is exiled by his brother and joins the old Duke in the forest. The new Duke has a fit of jealousy and exile Rosalind. Celia doesn't want to be without Rosalind and so joins her as does the clown, Touchstone. They all go in disguise so as not to be attacked. Rosalind is now Ganymede and Celia is Aliena, a brother and sister who now live in a shepherd hut. There Rosalind finds poems dedicated to her by Orlando. She decides to keep her disguise in order to test his love for her.

This is the second comedy I have read. Like "Much Ado About Nothing" this was very easy to read and follow. I didn't have to look at the back very much at all. It seems the less tragic the story the less difficult the language. There were also fewer characters which made it easier to follow. No flicking to the front to remind myself who is who. It was also similar in that the primary theme is love and no one dies in the end. In fact everything miraculously rights itself.

Like I said the main theme is love and this is where the comedy sets in. In her disguise as Ganymede she tells Orlando that she will cure him of love. In order to do that Orlando must pretend that he is Rosalind. Which of course doesn't work. Meanwhile a young shepherd, Silvius, is pining over the shepherdess, Phebe. However, Phebe has fallen in love with Rosalind's disguise and poor Rosalind has a hard time convincing Phebe that she should appreciate what she has in Silvius. It isn't until the end scene when Rosalind reveals who she is that Phebe is happy and all couples (of which there are two others) get married.

Having written it like that it sounds confusing but it's not at all. It was actually rather amusing and my favourite scene wasn't actually the end one but the scene where Rosalind tries to convince Phebe that she should accept Silvius.

The Shakespeare challenge is continuing until 10th February. Allie from A Literary Odyssey decided to extend it a little. I could probably fit in a few more plays but I have several other books I want to read and my reading has slowed down noticeably this week (as I expected it would). So this is my last play for this challenge. I am however going to read a biography which will also be for another challenge. I'm not giving up on Shakespeare though. I will read more eventually as there are so many others I would like to try. So if there is another Shakespeare month challenge I will be signing up. Or I will maybe make every January Shakespeare month for myself. If you want to see what others have been reading you can do so here.

Friday 27 January 2012

Just a Few Days Left!

Everyone has just until Tuesday night to sign up for an unread copy of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. All you need to do is leave a comment with a way of contacting you on the original post here. There is no real reason for it other than I discovered I had two copies. As much as I love this book it seemed a bit greedy having two. It's one of my all time favourites. Imagine a world where there is a literary division in the police. The main character is part of that division and her current case is to find who kidnapped Jane Eyre from her book. I'll announce the winner on Wednesday.

I know it's been quite over the last week. I promise to do more blog visiting next week.

Monday 23 January 2012

Before I Go To Sleep - S. J. Watson

Christine wakes up one morning. She doesn't recognise the room she is in or the man that's in her bed. He is older than her usual tastes and believes she must have been partying harder than normal. Slightly embarrassed she leaves the room and heads for the bathroom. As she washes her hands she doesn't recognise them. They are older and then she looks up into the mirror to see a woman 20 years older than she used to be.

An Accident 20 years before leaves Christine unable to remember who she is every morning. Every day her husband has to tell her that she is married and then when she sleeps she loses her memory again. She has begun seeing a Doctor secretly who believes he can help. He encourages her to keep a journal and to read it every day in the hopes that it will bring back some memories. The one thing that is becoming clear is that the one person she has to trust with her memories is lying to her.

I was warned before I read this that it would be one that I would have trouble putting down and they were right. I read this in two sittings. It would have been one had I not been strict with myself (that was some serious will power). It was written from Christine's point of view so we are experiencing her confusion. We feel her distrust of her husband one minute and then her complete trust the next. As she has flashes of memory we know that there is more to what happened to her and to her life than her husband is willing to tell. He has his reasons but you feel as frustrated as Christine who just wants to know the truth. As time goes on though and the more she adds to her journal the more mixed up she is feeling to the point she doesn't know what is real and what isn't. As each new day begins she has to learn afresh and sometimes it's almost as if Christine is a different person as she takes what she reads differently each time.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for Christine. The idea of not remembering your life like that is horrifying and sadly some people do suffer from this condition. The author did some research and based Christine's condition on two different cases. To realise every day how many years you have lost must be devastating and I truly felt for the character. I think the author captured this aspect of it very well. Although I am not sure how realistic Christine's case is in terms of flashes of memory. Without that though there wouldn't have been a story.

The down side to it though is that it felt a tiny bit repetitive at times. When the character starts the day having to be told about her life it would be hard not to be. However, the author does manage it well and I was maybe only irritated by it once. For such a good read I can most certainly put up with one very minor irritation.

Sunday 22 January 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This is a book meme by Sheila of Book Journey. It's a great way for everyone to share their reading week.

I have had another great week. Managed to read quite a bit. I did however give up on my first book this year. I got 70 pages into Death Comes to Pemberley before quitting in disgust. If you are interested you can read my thoughts on it here. Any reviews I have done I have linked to each book

This Week I read;

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. I read this as part of the Classics 2012 challenge. I loved this book. Could have read more tales of the Knights of the round table.

Audition by Ryu Murakami. Quite a dark story with a long build up. I loved it.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I read this as part of the Shakespeare month challenge. Not my favourite play so far but I still liked it. Oh, and if you are interested Shakespeare month has been stretched to 10th February. I haven't decided if I am going to keep going beyond January.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. I haven't reviewed this book yet (will do that later today). I can tell you that the hype is right. This is a great read. A book that isn't made for putting down.

Just now I am reading;

The White Road by John Connolly. I am only a few pages in so can't really comment yet. I have liked all his other books so far so I am expecting to like this one. This is the fourth book in the author's Charlie Parker series.

Next I plan to read;

As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Once again this is for Shakespeare month. I had only thought I would read four of his plays so this is an extra. I decided to try another comedy since I enjoyed it so much last time.

I haven't decided what I will read after that. Connolly is an easy read and As You Like It is quite short so I expect I will have moved onto something else. I am torn between a recent purchase and one that's been lying on my tbr pile for a few years.

There is another week to leave a comment if you want the chance to win a new copy of Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

I have a full day today so might not get round to visiting everyone's blogs until later tonight. Gives me something to look forward to though.

What do you plan to read this week?

Saturday 21 January 2012

Death Comes To Pemberley - P. D. James (or the one I gave up on)

A month or so before Christmas I listed this book as one I was looking forward to. The idea of a murder story involving one of my favourite books sounded like fun. Especially since Mr Wickham is the victim. Who could resist reading the murder of one of Jane Austen's most hated characters (love to hate)? I couldn't and I had planned on picking this up as soon as it came out in paperback. My mum is a huge P. D. James fan though and she received this as a Christmas present. Which meant I could borrow it once she was done with it.

My mum raved about this book. She said she couldn't put it down. My mum is a huge fan of P&P too so I thought she must be right. Turns out I struggled to get to page 70 of this 30 page tale and then I gave up. The majority of those 70 pages is spent rehashing the events of P&P but seen through the eyes of local gossips. We also get to hear the life story of characters and their families that seem to only have a minor role in the book. Not only that a lot of this information is repeated. Several times we are told the same thing twice.

In the 60's we finally discover that there is something wrong. Denny has supposedly killed Wickham and at that point I was routing for Denny to come and put us all out of our misery. The story up till then was extremely flat and it felt like the author was trying to hard and failing to capture the feel of P&P. None of the characters felt like the original. Although it has to be said it was hard to tell as there was very little dialogue.

So this is the first book I am giving up on. Life is too short to continue and to be honest I don't care enough to read on and find out who was really behind Wickham's death (assuming that it's not Denny).

Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Every night the ghost of Hamlet's father makes an appearance. Some soldiers see it and try to communicate but the ghost disappears. They tell Hamlet hoping that since the ghost has his father's appearance it will speak to him. Hamlet goes to the ghost and he discovers that his father was murdered by his uncle. His uncle is now King of Denmark and married Hamlet's mother soon after the death of the old King. Hamlet is already upset about this incestuous marriage and is determined to have his revenge on the King. His anger and reaction to others and the one he supposedly loves, Ophelia, leads the King and Queen to believe that he has gone mad and so set him up to find the cause. Meanwhile Hamlet decides to have players visiting to put on a play about the betrayal and murder of a King in the hopes of finding out once and for all if the ghost is telling the truth.

The scenes at the start of the soldiers seeing the ghost was a great start. It certainly set up the atmosphere of the play. It reminded me of the creepy start to Macbeth. Whilst I enjoyed it, for me it didn't keep up the atmosphere through out unlike Macbeth. I felt that there was too much in between rather than getting to the point. Hamlets doubts were slightly irritating and I wanted him to just get the thumb out and go and confront his uncle. If he had mind you it wouldn't really have been a tragedy. The King and his mother wouldn't have thought him mad and felt the need for covert operations in order to discover why. Which wouldn't have led to so many deaths.

I found that I had to rely on the back of the book to explain things to me more than any of the other plays so far. It didn't quite take all the enjoyment out of it but as a result it was a little more slow going and I was impatient to get to the good bit. The last few scenes were probably the best for me. When Hamlet finally does get his revenge and of course doesn't really have long to enjoy it. If you aren't aware before (sorry for the spoiler) this is one of those plays in which almost no one survives. Good news for Norway whom the King was in dispute with at the start of the play.

Hamlet refers to his mothers marriage as incestuous but I think he was more bothered by the fact that it happened so quickly (well, until he found out what his uncle did). Interestingly although the King and his new wife weren't actually related  it would have been classed as incest back then. Henry VIII was only able to get dispensation from the Pope to marry his brother's wife because the relationship hadn't been consummated (although Henry disputed that to get out of the marriage 20 years later). I think it's a safe bet though that this wasn't the case with the Hamlet's parents.

Overall I did like it. I liked the atmosphere and I liked the fact that both sides were plotting against each other. I think though this is one that I will get more out of watching than reading.

I read this as part of Shakespeare month hosted by Allie of A Literary Odyssey.  You can see posts by others taking part here. She has also posted an update about the challenge here. We have a few extra days to read more.

Remember to leave a comment here if you want to win a copy of The Eyre Affair. Hamlet doesn't make an appearance in that book but he does later on in the series and there are many other characters from classics to enjoy before he does.

Friday 20 January 2012

Audition - Ryu Murakami

Aoyama has mourned his wife for seven years now. He spent most of that time with his son and throwing himself into large projects. Now his son is almost grown up and he himself has settled. It is then that his son suggests that he marries again. Aoyama decides that his son is right but the problem is he has a very specific idea of what a wife should be and no idea how to find her. His best friend Yoshikawa suggest that they hold auditions for a film with Aoyama's specifics in mind when calling out of people to apply. Thousands apply for this fake role but Aoyama is immediately fascinated by the beautiful Yamasaki Asami. Yoshikawa is unsure of her and there are a few strange things hidden in her past that would make anyone else wary. Aoyama ignores all that as he is already imagining their future life together.

I have read a few by Ryu Murakami and whilst I have enjoyed them all this one has to be the best to date. The build up alone was fantastic. The vast majority of the book is spent planning the auditions, Aoyama's day dreams and the wooing of Yamasaki Asami. The warnings through out are actually fairly minor (for the most part) and she easily explains them away. We the reader are aware that something is going to happen. This build up isn't for nothing but I don't think Aoyama can be blamed for being unaware until it is too late. Yes his best friend tried to warn him but it was just a feeling and some rumours about people in her past.

The climax of the story only occurs over the last few pages and the wait is well worth it. By this point Aoyama knows that there is something wrong with Yamasaki but he still is unprepared for what happens next. I did know what was going to happen as my friend had read the book before me (and told me quite a bit of it). I am sure though that most readers would guess what was going to happen though. Having said that I still got caught up in the story and found myself riveted to those few pages.

I'm not sure I liked Aoyama as a character. He is harmless enough but is more than a little sexist and patronising. Although I doubt he means to be. He is probably more a product of his generation. The fact that he believed that there were too few people out there good enough for him and so he had to hold auditions for these women to (unknowingly) prove their worth left a bad taste in my mouth. Of course it wasn't his idea but he still went along with it and any guilt he felt was really only in the possibility that it might cause his mission to fail. Then there was the added fact that all his imaginings of Yamasaki in the future involved her in a domestic setting whilst he sat relaxing and watching. It annoyed me a little but not enough that I didn't feel sorry for him.

All of Murakami's books have their fair share of blood and violence. This one was no different but it occurred during the climax of the story and so was more effective as a result. I would say that if you have a weak stomach then this maybe isn't for you.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - John Steinbeck

King Uther falls in love with the beautiful Igraine who is married to one of his Dukes. Merlin has the power of insight and does everything he can to ensure that Uther and Igraine come together. From their first coupling they produce a baby boy who will one day become the greatest King and bring peace to the land. Merlin has him taken away and brought up in Wales though. When Uther dies Chaos rules the land until Arthur is of age to come forward and take on his rightful role as King of England.

I think I have been raving about this book for a while now but in case you have missed all that Steinbeck re-wrote Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. This was the first book he read and loved and it gave him a new insight into reading. Before that he hated books (thank you Steinbeck's Aunty). He wanted his sons to read and enjoy it and so wrote this version. I haven't read Malory so I honestly couldn't compare how good a job he did. I can only say that I liked it. The book was published after he died. Despite starting it in the 1930's he never did finish it and didn't edit any of what he did write. No one quite knows why he gave up on it. For me the editing part didn't really matter as I enjoyed it regardless. It just seems such a shame that he didn't finish re-writing the other tales. Instead it finishes with the first tale of Sir Lancelot.

As to the stories themselves, I loved them. Full of chivalrous knights, damsels in distress, noble quests, fellowship and of course magic here and there. The Knights are oath bound to protect all ladies and if a lady should ask a favour of the Knight he must do it or face dishonor. Poor Lancelot was irritated greatly by this as everyone always wanted his help, being the greatest Knight in the world you can see why. He even voices his irritation to one fair maiden but still does his duty. They must also accept all challenges or face dishonor. In a lot of instances the Knights joust, one wins and the other admires him for his strength and ability. The start of a very beautiful friendship. It did seem that many Knights set up pavilions all over the place just to have the chance to fight someone. Quests are a way for the Knights to prove their honor, especially if they need to clean their name or prove themselves to their King. Arthur's nephew did this to prove he wasn't as treacherous as his mother Morgan Le Fay. So much sexism in there but I couldn't help but love it.

As for King Arthur himself he proves himself in battle over and over as he tries to prevent uprisings. He relies on Merlin quite a bit in his decision making (foresight is a wonderful thing) and becomes a little bit lost when Merlin is no longer there. I liked Arthur and I would have liked more stories of him and his infamous sister. However, I enjoyed reading about the exploits of his Knights more as they battle giants and evil. Morgan Le Fay could easily become one of my favourite characters. She isn't mentioned much at the start but she quickly grows to hate Arthur and is jealous of his right to rule. Although she is happy for a man to rule she wants to be the one pulling the strings.

The only character I didn't like was the fickle Igraine. She says no to Uther and lets her husband know that he is after her and that they had better run off. Not knowing that her husband is dead she then sleeps with Uther who is disguised as her husband. When she realises her husband is dead she marries Uther and when she discovers the truth of that night she is relieved and then moves on with her life. I can't imagine anyone else being happy with Uther's antics.

I've read that although Steinbeck hadn't planned to he did flesh out the tales quite a bit. He humanised them and made the characters rounder. As I said I haven't read the original so can't compare but it seems to me to be a good thing. I enjoyed the characters and maybe I wouldn't have quite so much if Steinbeck hadn't added his magic touch. I very much enjoyed the book and I will definitely be reading more Arthurian tales in the future (Mark Twain's looks interesting).

I read this as part of the classics challenge which is hosted by Katherine of November's Autumn.
I did this months prompt so if you want to learn a wee bit more about Steinbeck you can see my post here.

Lastly a wee reminder that I am giving away a copy of one of my favourite books, The Eyre Affair, to sign up for it all you have to do is leave a comment here.

Monday 16 January 2012

The Classics Challenge January Prompt

Every month Katherine, who is running the classics challenge, is posting a prompt. We don't have to answer them all but it is suggested that we answer at least a few of them. It turns the challenge into more of a blog hop. Makes it more fun too. This months prompt is about the author.

The book I chose for the first month is John Steinbeck's "The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights". This is probably his least well known book but I had to read it as soon as I heard that it existed.

Steinbeck was born in California in 1902. His place of birth can easily be recognised from some of his more famous books. You can see his handwriting here;

He is probably more famous for Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and, my personal favourite, East of Eden. He attended Stanford University in 1919 and was there off and on until 1925. He had taken many courses in writing and literature but didn't actually complete a degree. He had many jobs in New York before selling his first story. One of those jobs included journalist. In 1962 he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath.

For me Steinbecks strength is in his characters. They are among the most memorable I have come across. He manages to make you feel such sympathy with them even when they go down the wrong path. The only character I was never able to sympathise with was that of Cathy Ames from East of Eden. She was one of the most horrible people I have ever seen in print. One of those that you love to hate and hope from page one that she gets what's coming to her. Whilst I enjoyed his shorter books it's his larger novels I love best as they draw you in from the first page and you never want them to end. Steinbeck loved to try new things and so his books cover many things such as his California books, family sagas, war, travel. He even tried his hand at film and had an interest in marine biology. I think he would have been a fascinating person to talk to.

According to the introduction, The Acts of King Arthur was written for his sons. Steinbeck says that he struggled with learning to read and feels the pain when watching others learning. He believes it's one of the more difficult things children learn to do. He resented books as a result until his aunt bought him a copy of Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. Despite the archaic language he loved it and was a fan of those tales from that day on. He decided to re-write the stories for his son. He wanted them to enjoy them as much as he did.

I know little of what Steinbeck's peers thought about the book I'm afraid. I get the impression that it is thought highly of. He manages to keep the tone of the stories whilst fleshing them out. Sadly he never finished it and what he did finish was published only after his death. Whilst winning prizes is not the be all I think he must have been highly thought of to have won two highly prestigious prizes.

This challenge was set by Katherine of November Autumn. To see some of the other authors highlighted those taking part just click here.

Edit - I have since finished the book and I have posted my review here

Oh, and if you want the chance to win a copy of The Eyre Affair, a book which highlights many fantastic classics, just leave a comment here.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

 This is a book meme by Sheila of Book Journey. A fun way for everyone to share their reading week.

I managed to slow my reading down a little last week. I have been mainly having a clear out and working on some unfinished craft projects. So not quite as much reading done as the week before.

Last week I read;

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. A lovely story of the ladies of Cranford. I could have read more and more of this. This was my chosen classic this month and the first book for the Mixing it up challenge.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. I read this for Shakespeare month. I was surprised by how much I loved it. Very funny and engaging.

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. A great adventure story with quite a lot packed in to 200 pages. I read this for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge.

Just now I am reading;

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. I picked this book for the classics challenge. I picked it up last night only meaning to get started. Next thing I know it's midnight and I'm 1/3 of the way through. Needless to say I am loving it.

Next I plan to read;

Hamlet by William Shakespear. Again this is for Shakespeare month. This is the last book I have for this challenge. Although I might go out and get a few others since I am reading them faster than I expected and very much enjoying them.

Audition by Ryu Murakami. This will be my first non challenge book this month. This has been sitting on my tbr pile for a while now and I feel like reading some contemporary fiction for a change.

I also found I had two copies of my favourite book The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I have decided to give one of them away. You can sign up for that just by leaving a comment here.

How has your reading book week been? Any possible favourites for 2012 in there?

Sunday 15 January 2012

King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard

Allan Quatermain is born of England but makes his living as an old hunter in South Africa. Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good seek him out and request his help based on his sensible reputation. Sir Henry is looking for his brother who two years before had left on a quest for the mines of King Solomon. Quatermain has heard a lot of tales about these mines and has some idea as to where they might be. Not one for adventures though he has to seriously think on it before accepting a task that is likely to see all of them dead.

When I picked this up I was expecting an adventure story. After a very slow start and adventure story was exactly what I got. despite the fact that it seemed to take it's time to kick off and for the characters to set out it managed to fit an awful lot into a short space. There was a disastrous hunt, a trek across a desert, a painful climb across a mountain, a revolution and a war, a treasure hunt and forbidden romance. Each one of these was a tale in itself. The section with the war and revolution actually read like a very different story than say the great hunt.

The narrator, Allan Quatermain, comes across as a likable man. I don't remember his character in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (my reason for reading it) other than the fact that he was one of the good guys. So I had no expectations of him. He is fairly modest and cautious and know his own limits and faults. His sole concern is that his son should have enough to finish his degree in medicine. Although his wife is dead it sounded like he was very much a family man. A little surprising considering he is also meant to be a famed hunter. He did seem to stray from the story quite a bit which explains the slow start. As soon as any action took place though he was more focused and I was riveted to the story. Had it been like this from page one I think it wouldn't have taken me a week to read it.

As well as adventure it also had it's humour. Picture a man being forced to walk about without trousers so that an entire tribe of people can admire his beautiful white legs. It's especially funny since poor Good is so modest and is very vain about his attire. It also has its share of creepiness in the form of the evil witch Gagool.

Yes there is racism in there and it's a little sexist too but I was able to ignore most of it since it wasn't completely in your face. It was more hints of it than anything else. I think when reading adventure stories dated from this time you are going to have to expect it and ignore it. If you can manage that then it does actually make for a fun book. As much as I enjoyed it though and as much as I liked the character Quatermain I don't think I will be reading any others in the series any time soon (although never say never).

I read this as part of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge hosted by Hannah of Booking In Heels. The point is to read the books starring each of the characters that appeared in the film. This one was read for Allan Qutermain. If you want to see reviews by others taking part you can do so here.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare

Claudio has come back from war and once again meets the beautiful Hero and allows himself to fall in love. This causes much amusement for Benedick and Beatrice who both proclaim that they will never marry and instead like to spar with each other. When Claudio and Hero agree to marry they decide to trick their friends Benedick and Beatrice. They make them both believe that one loves the other. In doing so they come to believe that they are really in love. Meanwhile Don John, the Bastard brother of their friend Don Pedro, is up to mischief. He is unhappy unless he is causing trouble and decides to cause make the young couple miserable. He convinces both Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero might not be so innocent and pure after all.

Out of all the Shakespeare plays I picked out this is the one I was probably least excited about. After reading the last two I had thought that the tragedies were going to be my favourite. I didn't know how the comedies could possibly compare. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. No sooner had I started reading was I caught straight into the story. I was able to forget completely that I was reading a play. It was both funny and a fantastic tale.

Unsurprisingly the characters which stood out for me were Benedick and Beatrice, Benedick especially. Yes, their banter was funny. They both seemed to love baiting each other. Beatrice in particular seemed to very much enjoy giving Benedick the sharp side of her tongue. It amused me how easily they believed the stories they overheard of one being in love with the other. The image of Beatrice supposedly crying over her love of Benedick was especially funny since I couldn't actually picture her character doing that over anyone. Their change of hearts was extremely quick which makes you think their jabs at each other were really a cover for how they truly felt. Hidden even to themselves. The best part for me though was that Benedick had changed his mind so completely that he was even willing to kill someone for her.

The rest of the plot was a fun read too. I was also sucked into the story of Don John and his villainous plan. Even though I knew how it must turn out (for it's not a tragedy) I still found it exciting to read. I have to say though if I had been Hero Claudio would have got a punch in the face for believing the lies so readily despite the false proof. Her father too who wished she were dead rather than have this be true. Only the Friar and Beatrice seemed ready to believe her innocence. It made for an exciting ending though as the guards saved the day.

I feel a little guilty for this but I actually think I enjoyed this one a little more than I did Macbeth. Feel like I am betraying my favourite witches and Lady Macbeth. This one though was extremely entertaining without any of the deaths and I could actually rave about it all day.  I think that this would be a good one for any beginner like myself as there was also a smaller cast. I didn't have to go back and forwards to the list of characters at the start. I also discovered that Joss Whedon of Firefly Fame has directed this as a film starring some a lot of actors who have worked with him before. Will be interesting to see what he does with it.

Read for Shakespeare month organised by Ellie of A Literary Odyssey.
You can read other posts by those who have signed up here.

Don't forget that I am giving away a copy of one of my favourite books, The Eyre Affair. All you need to do is leave a comment on the post.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Booking Through Thursday - Interview

A weekly meme about books and reading. You can find it here.

1. What’s your favorite time of day to read?

I don't really have a favourite time of day. I can read at any time. I mostly read at night though before I go to sleep. It's usually quite then and it helps me sleep.

2. Do you read during breakfast? (Assuming you eat breakfast.)

No, on the rare occasions I have breakfast I usually watch the news.

3. What’s your favorite breakfast food? (Noting that breakfast foods can be eaten any time of day.)

I'm quite boring and love toast.

4. How many hours a day would you say you read?

It really depends on how busy I am. I would always try to read an hour a day but usually I can fit in a little more. Last week I was able to devote whole days to it.

5. Do you read more or less now than you did, say, 10 years ago?

I probably read about the same as what I did ten years ago. I think I am more excited about reading now though. I have more people to share it with. More of my friends now read and of course I am now aware of the book blogger community. I have also since been exposed to a wider range of authors and genres and opened my mind to trying most things.

6. Do you consider yourself a speed reader?

I don't. I have a friend that I worked with for a while last year and she was a big reader like myself but I read maybe two her three books to her on. She always saw me as a fast reader and yet I have friends who read far more books than in a week than I ever could. For me it always comes down to how much time I have and what I am reading.

7. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

To be able to walk through things as I am the clumsiest person in the world.

8. Do you carry a book with you everywhere you go?

Not always but most of the time I do. I tend to just carry one around with me in my bag.

9. What KIND of book?

Usually whatever I am reading at the time. If I am reading a hardback though I tend to leave that at home and pick up a paperback to carry around with me. The paperback will always be completely different to the hardback. It keeps them separate in my mind.

10. How old were you when you got your first library card?

I don't remember. My parents started us out as soon as we were old enough to get one so I honestly don't remember a time of not having a library card.

11. What’s the oldest book you have in your collection? (Oldest physical copy? Longest in the collection? Oldest copyright?)

I'm not actually sure. My mum gave all my childhood books away years ago. She doesn't believe in holding on to anything (hates clutter of any kind). I think probably The Diary of Anne Frank. It originally belonged to my dad and when I was 10 it made it's way into my books. Other than that it will be books I used for school such as To Kill A Mockingbird.

12. Do you read in bed?

I do. I always try to read a little before I go to sleep.
13. Do you write in your books?

No, never. To me that's a book crime. I would never write in my text books either. That's what post its were invented for. If I want to keep a not of something I use a post it or my note book and I NEVER turn the corners of the page down to keep my place. Friends joke that they can never tell if I have read a book or not because I keep them so well. Not all of them though. With larger books you can't always help but break the spine. Plus the longer it takes me to read a book the more damage it takes when carried around in my bag.

14. If you had one piece of advice to a new reader, what would it be?

Just enjoy it. Don't be afraid to try new things. Don't be afraid to give up on something that isn't for you. Life is too short. Don't worry about what other people think of what you read or should be reading.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

January Giveaway

Well as most of you know I had a huge book clear out last week. I was pretty ruthless about it and sent to the charity shop everything I wouldn't read again. I think it was somewhere between 150-200 books. Not to worry though as I am sure there are more than that on my shelves still.

Among all my books I discovered I had two copies of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. This is one of my all time favourite books and so I thought I would give one of them away here. The copy I am giving away is a paperback and is completely unused. You have until the 31st January to sign up for the giveaway. The only rule is that you leave a comment with a way of contacting you on this post. You don't have to follow me and you don't have to be from the UK either. A winner will be chosen at random and announced on 1st February.

If you want to learn more about this book you can see what goodreads say here.

Monday 9 January 2012

Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell


This can be any classic work, from Alcott to Zola.  Always fancied trying Great Expectations, or finally feel like tackling Jane Eyre?  Now's your chance!  From the fun to the frightening, the gentle satire to the all-out swashbuckling epic, there are hundreds of years' worth of books to choose from.

I read Cranford as part of my own challenge of reading one classic per month and as part of Ellie's Mixing It Up Challenge. This is for the first category on the list which is (funnily enough) classics. I'll be doing one of these a month. You can see how I get on looking back on my first post where I will be linking all my reviews as I go.

Miss Mary Smith was once a resident of the small town/village Cranford. Since she moved away with her father she has missed her home and spends a good deal of time staying with friends. Whilst there she keeps up with the goings on of the small village. Cranford is primarily resided by ladies. Any men who move in generally find some reason to disappear whilst the ladies stay. This is the way they like it and woe betide any man who comes along and interferes with the way their society should run. The ladies have very strict rules of etiquette which they all follow or risk being snubbed. Mary Smith follows the problems and challenges these ladies face in keeping things just the way they like them.

Many a book I have read that I didn't want to end because it was exciting. This book I didn't want to end because it was just so lovely and I very much enjoyed reading it. My one and only criticism is that it was too short. I am greedy and wanted more. The book is based on a small village that the author herself lived in for sometime. In fact I think many people saw it as autobiographical with Elizabeth being represented by the narrator Mary. The chapters are short and each contains a small story about an event in the village that concerns one or more of the ladies. I was completely enamoured by it. The chapters did link in some small way but most could be read on their own and I believe that they were initially published as periodicals.

From the first page I was immediately struck by the humour. These women clearly have no tolerance for men and this is made clear from the very first chapter. One of the funniest moments was a man who enters their circle and manages to break every one of their rules of societal behavior. Yet somehow in the end he becomes much loved by them all. A lot of the stories ran along this type of humour. One of my favourites is the chapter involving a rumour of burglary turning into a crime wave around Cranford. All the ladies imagined the worst and were sure they were next to be burgled. They came up with all sorts of ideas to prevent it. The best one was rolling a ball under the bed to ensure no one is hiding there. The best scene involved the ladies running along a dark road so that they wouldn't be attacked by ghosts. Sounds ridiculous now that I have written it but it's definitely a chapter I plan on reading over again.

It wasn't all humour though. There were many sad moments too. Moments of lost loves and friends dying. Hard to believe that there was so much in that small book. I was able to feel a connection to the characters too. I loved poor Miss Matty and laughed at Miss Pole and felt sorry for Mr Hoggins.

I'm glad I picked this up in the penguin clothbound. I haven't read all of the introduction as it warned that it would spoil the story. I plan to go back and read that next. There is also a fantastic appendix which gives lots of facts about the time and fashions that were mentioned in the book.

A lovely read and an author I very much intend to read more of.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A fun book meme by Sheila of Book Journey. A fun way for book bloggers to share their reading week.

I have been off Uni the last two weeks and have another week before I go back. As a result I have made up for the lack of time spent reading running up to Christmas. Basically I have done very little else. So it's been a good week and a good start to the New Year. I also had a book clear out and made up for it by buying 13 books (I needed them - honest). And I signed up for yet one more challenge but it links in to my personal challenge so I am confident I won't fail it.

Last Week I Read (I have linked them up to my reviews);

 Discovery of Witches by Deborak Harkness. This is the first part of a series. I enjoyed it but it wasn't quite as good as I was expecting it to be. Good enough though that I want to read the next one when it comes out.

 Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. The first play I read for Shakespeare month. Also the first I have read since school. Very much enjoyed it and a good start I think.

 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. This was for the sci fi a month challenge. Another great start. I very much enjoyed this book and I'm glad I read it. Highly recommend it too.

 Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Again for Shakespeare month. I LOVED this one. I can't rave about it enough. Wonder how the others will live up to this.

 Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong. The 11th book in the Women of the Otherworld series. This time narrated by Savannah. I enjoyed it but nowhere near as good as the early books. Read more like a YA.

Just now I am reading;
 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I am reading this for Mixing it Up 2012 challenge and for my own personal classic a month challenge. I am loving this book. I have almost finished it and I'm quite sad about that.

Next I plan to read;
 King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. This is for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge. I'm looking forward to this. Curious as to what it will be like

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. This is for the classics challenge I just signed up for. I could have just used Cranford but I am very much looking forward to this so picked it instead. I love Steinbeck and when I discovered last year that he had written a book about King Arthur it went straight onto my TR list.

How was your reading week? Hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.