Sunday 30 December 2012

Classics Challenge Overview

For the last 6 months of 2011 I had already been challenging myself to read a classic a month. I was enjoying it and knew I would continue into 2012. So when I saw this challenge being set up I felt I had to join in. Instead of just reviewing the books we were given some questions each month. The challenge was to do at least 7 of those prompts. I managed 12 books and 9 prompts so I am quite pleased with myself. I actually read more classics than that but I read 12 specifically for the challenge.

So here is what I had planned to read;

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - John Steinbeck
The Three Musketeers - Alexander Dumas
Villette  - Charlotte Bronte
Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima
The Leopard - Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Bell - Iris Murdoch
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

And here is what I actually read;

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - John Steinbeck
The Bell - Iris Murdoch
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
The Leopard - Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Scarlett Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Villette - Charlotte Bronte
A Connecticuit Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain
The Return of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo

The Spring Snow is the only one on the list I originally put together that I decided against. I will read it eventually but there were quite a few that I saw reviewed and then felt I had to pick up. Thanks to not completely sticking to a pre-arranged list I read quite a few unexpected surprises. There are a few authors here I will be returning to. I'm not going into which was my favourite and which wasn't as I mentioned all this in the last prompt.

Anyway, thanks to Katherine of November's Autumn for organising. It was another fun challenge and I particularly enjoyed the unusual way it was organised. These prompts made an interesting change to just reviewing.

Friday 28 December 2012

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Victor Hugo

It's 1482 in Paris and a young Gypsy girl has stolen the hearts of most of it's citizens. She entertains the crowd with her dancing and her pet goat. Several men in particular are enthralled. One has stolen Esmeralda's heart. The second is torn by his love and loathes both himself and Esmeralda because of it. The third is the famous Quasimodo, bell ringer of Notre-Dame. He is devoted to the beautiful gypsy after she shows him more kindness than anyone else has. As a result he is devoted to her. When Esmeralsa's love is found dead she herself is blamed. Only Quasimodo saves her from a hanging as he hides her away in his beloved towers.

I am sure I picked this up before and didn't get very far. Determined this time I forced myself through the first 50 pages which seemed to have nothing to do with the main story whatsoever. It took time for any of the main characters to turn up. However, it does make sense eventually and it's worth sticking to. Even as I was annoyed at what seemed to be unimportant description I was impressed by the beautiful writing.

The story is actually slow paced. It spands over 500 pages and nothing much happens in most of it. Instead we are given back ground information to some to the characters. We are also seemingly given unimportant detail of other people but it all connects up and even if it hadn't I was too mesmerised by the writing to care.

I loved each of the characters. Esmeralda's story was just as sad as that of Quasimodo's (well, almost). I even felt sorry for the villan of the book who was so torn by his own beliefs. I'm speaking of course of the Archdeacon who had lived a celibate life and belonged to the church. Esmeralda was everything he couldn't have and yet everything he wanted. The only character I had little sympathy with was that of Esmeralda's love, Captain Phoebus. He seems typical of a lot of classic books. The vain and lazy military man who has no money and so has to marry well. Wants his bit on the side too. I am sure there is one of him in a lot of classic literature.

Over all I loved the book and it was a good last choice for the classics challenge. Since the December prompt for this one is a wrap up I am going to do that separate from this review. If you want to see what others did you can see it here on Katherine's blog, November Autumn.

Monday 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Hope Santa brings you much book goodness.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Sci Fi Challenge Overview!

Ellie from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm set this challenge up last year in order to encourage more people to give the genre ago. For me it was a genre I was familiar with but one I had abandoned for a few years. When I realised I had only read three sci fi books last year (which is shocking since I went through a phase of reading it almost exclusively) I decided to join the challenge. The plan was to read some sci fi that I had been wanting to read for years but never got around to. I think I succeeded and got to read some great books. I even joined in one or two of the group choices. I stuck with just one book a month. Here is my list and a link to each of my reviews.

Zoo by Lauren Beukes
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Cities In Flight by James Blish
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds
Manhattan In Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton
The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Enders Game by Orson Scott Card
Ringworld by Larry Niven
The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

A bit of a mixed bag I think. Some new authors, some classics and a couple of old favourites. I think I didn't do too badly. There are still some books out there that I want to read but I think that I read all of the ones that I had set out to. The main one would be Enders Game. I knew as soon as I signed up for this that it was going to be on my list. Getting hold of a coupy proved to be a little difficult. They must be getting ready for a re-print with the new film coming out. As it was it was months of a wait to buy and so I ended up going via the library route. That also meant a wait but it was worth it. A great read and not at all what I had been expecting.

I wish I had taken part in the group choices more but I had promised myself I would cut down on the book buying and I had a few in my tbr pile that I wanted to read. I did read three from the book choices though; Zoo, Do Androids Dream and Flowers For Algernon. Zoo I had been wanting to read since I saw it reviewed and couldn't resist. The other two were on my bucket list.

I don't think there is one book on that list that I completely disliked. The ones that probably will never be a favourite had their good points so I can't say that I disliked them. They were; Cities In Flight, Century Rain and Ringworld. Century Rain was probably the one that I was most disappointed with but only because I loved other books by the author. Again, I didn't completely dislike it.

It's also hard to choose a favourite. There were so many good ones and each of them different. I very much enjoyed going back to Peter F. Hamilton. I was reminded of why I loved this author. Do Androids Dream and Flowers For Algernon were fantastic classic sci fi. They reminded me that I need to go back and try more. Oh, and Wyndham is also an old favourite. The Kraken Wakes wasn't his best book but it was still a good one.

Thanks Ellie for organising this. Hopefully I will keep up with my sci fi reading next year! Oh, and if any of you are interested Ellie is hosting another challenge for next year. This involves reading translated books. Called 2013 Translation Challenge and has another fab lego gif.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

Helva was born with a body so deformed that she normally wouldn't have survived. However, her brain was perfect and used to eventually become part of a ship. Helva is intelligent, witty and still feels human without a human body. All she needs is the brawn (human counterpart) to team up with and she can visit worlds, save lives and live the next 200/300 years as one big adventure. However, Helva soon discovers that being human also includes loss and loneliness.

I didn't realise it at the time but this is actually a collection of short stories or rather five novella's. Not that it makes any difference since they are all connected. I don't think you could really read one of those stories without reading the ones before it.

I chose this as my last book for this challenge because I wanted a lighter sci fi book. I wanted something that I could read as a distraction and that I could put down and pick up again without any problem. Anne McCaffrey immediately popped in to my head as the perfect choice. Plus I had been meaning to go back and read some more of her work since she passed away last year.

These stories, whilst a little un-PC, were a great read. They were light, full of adventure and just a touch of technology. Well a big touch since the main character was wired in to a ship but it wasn't as hard core as some. You didn't have to necessarily understand the technology to get it. In each story it's Helva who saves the day. She's a little different from the other ships because she can sing. At first this is something she is ridiculed for but eventually becomes part of her legend. A ship who will do what she can to keep those under her care safe no matter what.

The un-PC aspect is a little tough to take in today's world. The fact that Helva's parents had to make a choice. Have their disabled daughter euthanised or wired in to technology. You can see where the un-PC aspect comes in. I have to say I didn't particularly like that part of it. McCaffrey did confront it from the beginning by having characters who believe it to be inhumane to visit the facility and see that all the brain children are happy. Still, it leaves with a bit of bad taste in the mouth.

If you can get over it like I did though you have some fun stories to read.

As I mentioned earlier on I read this as part of the sci fi challenge and this was in fact my last book for it. If you want to see what others read this month you can do so over at Ellie's blog Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. The suggestion was to read a festive-ish sci fi book but once again I went with my own choice. Have enjoyed the challenge overall and I will review it later on in the week.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Mixing It Up Challenge Overview

Before I start with my overview I just wondered if anyone else was having problems with spammers? It's just been recently and maybe my little time away from my blog had something to do with it. It's also only on very old blog posts that require me to moderate the comments anyway. Since it's annoying me though I am no longer allowing anonymous comments. Sorry people.

Okay, so this challenge was hosted by the lovely Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl. Way last year she set a challenge to encourage people to come out of their comfort zone. You could enter at different levels and each level had a certain number of categories to complete. The highest level meant all 16 categories. I chose one of the lower ones and 12 categories so that it would mean one book a month. I've listed the 12 categories I chose and the books I read for them below;

Classics - Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Biography - Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
History - Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
Modern Fiction - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Graphic Novels & Manga - The Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Crime and Mysetery - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
Horror - Miss Peregrines's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Science Fiction & Fantasy - A Sorcerer's Treason by Sarah Zettel
Travel - A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
Poetry & Drama - The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Journalism & Humour - Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
Science & Natural History - The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins

As some of these categories weren't much out of my comfort zone I decided that I would only choose books by authors I had never read before. Obviously I completely forgot about my addition to the challenge by the end as I had read Bill Bryson and Caitlin Moran before (in fact Bryson appears on this list twice). The rest of the authors were new to me though so I'll let myself get away with it.

First of all my least favourites of the list would easily be the Preacher and The Greatest Show On Earth. Neither books would stop me from reading from those genres again though. With the Preacher it could have been a good story and it did pick up for me near the end but the constant violence put me off. As I am sure I mentioned in my initial review I am no prude when it comes to a bit of violence in my reading but this was violence for violence sake. Basically I was bored by it and wanted story instead. As for The Greatest Show On Earth I found it to be a little preachy and a little dull. I did learn things from it but in the end it wasn't a book for me. I like my science books a little lighter than that.

Whilst I enjoyed all of the other books one stands out from all the rest. That book is The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This stands out not just because I loved the book but it's also one category which was definitely out of my comfort zone. My first foray into drama since school was some Shakespeare for another challenge at the start of the year. So this was only my second attempt and with something completely different. Like with the Shakespeare books it was easy to forget the format it was written in. I got just as much from it as I would have done from any novel and I couldn't put it down. I was surprised by how well the atmosphere of the play was built up given the restrictions to the format. I don't think I will ever dismiss the play again when it comes to reading material. For that one book alone the challenge was successful.

If you want to see what I thought about all of the books you can do so here. This is my original sign up post and I have linked all my reviews to it. If you want to see how others did with the challenge Ellie has posted a sign up on her blog.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Pure - Andrew Miller

In the time just before the French Revolution a young engineer is looking to make his way up in the world. Jean-Baptiste Baratte has been called by one of the King's ministers for a special job. Baratte is to go to Paris to clear out Les Innocents Cemetery which has been poising that area of the city despite being closed. Not exactly a glamorous job but Baratte intends to do it well. What he didn't expect was people to be upset by his task. As well as overcoming the problem of how to clear the cemetery Baratte must overcome all the people who are against the destruction of the cemetery. For some it is part of their world. It's where they work and live.

I had been looking forward to this but after the first few chapters (which are short) I was less than overwhelmed. I thought it was going to be extremely dull. I thought it was going to be a book reflecting on the run up to the French Revolution. Instead it was droning on about a cemetery and one very naive engineer. Thankfully it picked up and political unrest was there in the background.

I disliked Baratte at first for his naivety. I cringed as he allowed people to take advantage of him. He was naive about his place in life too believing that he was finally moving up in the world. Just a little pompous without any real reason to be. It didn't last long mind you and it took a crack on the head for him to wake up to the real world.

As work on the cemetery finally begins the pace of the writing and the story picks up to. The pace of political unrest also picks up but again this seems to be more a part of the back ground. For the sake of Baratte, who had grown on me, I couldn't wait for the task to be finished. At the same time I didn't want it to be over as it would mean saying goodbye to some very interesting characters. Bit of a change from my feelings about the book at the start. It will never be my favourite historical fiction but it grew on me and it still hasn't left my head.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon

Grady Tripp is a writer. He has had a few well received books and is now working on his latest called Wonder Boys. The problem is that he has been working on it the last seven years and can't seem to end it. Instead it keeps growing and at 2611 pages it's still nowhere near the end. Meanwhile he is teaching at the local college, his wife has left him and he is having an affair with his boss's wife, Sara. When Sara tells him she is expecting Grady has one of the strangest weekends in his life with one of his students in tow.

I've only ever read on other Chabon novel and I loved it. I knew this one was going to be very different so I read it with no expectations. Not as good as Kavalier and Clay but I still liked it. Grady isn't one of the most likeable of characters and yet I did. Everything that went wrong in his life was his own doing and yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. You want to give him a bit of a shake and tell him to grow up but then if he did this crazy weekend wouldn't have happened.

There isn't much of a line between Grady and his students. It's almost as though by going into teaching he is re-living his own student days. One of the girls has a crush on him and is living in his basement. Another is dragged along on Grady's mad weekend (to be fair this student did create a good bit of the madness). He spends most of his time working on his novel and smoking pot.

Chabon actually wrote this because he was was struggling with another novel himself. In that way alone he was Grady. The character of Grady was based on a teacher he had himself in the 80s. Scary but not hard to imagine that such a teacher existed. Mind you he must have been good at teaching as all of these students did seem to look up to him (well, all but one). Grady manages to keep his envy of these young talents to himself. Although to be fair to Grady it's not the destructive kind of envy.

The story itself is one of those that has you laughing and cringing at the same time. You want to hide your eyes from the situations Grady manages to get himself into and yet you want to carry on reading. It's well paced and over all too soon. If like me you have read Kavalier and Clay please don't even try to look for similarities. There are none other than it's a well written book. Looking forward to seeing what else Chabon has in his back list.

Friday 14 December 2012

His Last Bow & The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

More short stories featuring the famous Sherlock Holmes. In this case the stories are two volumes brought together. Once again Watson has been diligently recording his friends most famous cases, including some that had previously been banned by Holmes from public viewing. We hear of Holmes' last case and what he does after he leaves London for the country. As it is approaching WWI when Watson publishes these there are a few that involved Holmes' protecting State secrets. He even heads into the world of the supernatural and uncovers the truth about a vampire. Lastly, after years of berating Watson, Holmes has a go at writing up one of his cases himself.

I am actually quite sad that I have now finished all these tales. True there is a new one out written by Anthony Horrowitz but somehow it won't be the same (that's not to say I won't try it). I feel like I am saying goodbye to am old friend here and yet I read the vast majority of these books this year.

I am more pleased with the way Holmes left his career this time than I would have been had Final Solution been the last story. Better to have Holmes still out there somewhere. In this case he is in the country bee-keeping. In fact there is one story in there after his so called retirement. Holmes has to write this one out himself since Watson isn't on hand to do it for him.

I think I enjoyed these short stories slightly more than all the others. Possibly because I knew they were the last and so prized them more. However, I think it's also because they were slightly darker. The tales always did have a dark edge to them but with the approaching war Doyle was able to move away from trivial problems to ones that put the country in danger. Only Holmes stood between Britain and disaster. I quite liked that edge to them.

Now that I have finished them all I can go on to the films and tv adaptations. I have been looking forward to those but wanted to hold off. It will be interesting to see how they compare. If you haven't read any of these books I recommend that you do. Especially, the short stories. Don't be put off if you aren't a fan of classics or crime. I think most readers would get something out of them. I dare you not to pick it up and fall in love with Holmes.

Thursday 13 December 2012

League of Extraordinary Gentleman Challenge Overview

Bet you didn't think this post was every going to happen. Only been promising it for the last two months or so. However, I thought I would break up my review catch up a bit with this.

Way back in 2011 Hanna of Booking In Heels set up a challenge for 2012. The challenge was to read the books starring the characters from The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Although not a film I enjoyed I am a fan of the genres most of the characters came from. It was basically a chance for me to re-read some old favourites and to try some new ones. Here is a list of the books I read with the main character highlighted. Have also linked the titles to my reviews of them.

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (Allan Quatermain)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Mina Harker) Re-read
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Captain Nemo)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer) Re-read
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson (Jekyll/Hyde) Re-read
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (Dorian Grey) Re-read
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (the phantom) Re-read
The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (Invisible man)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (Moriarty)

Only nine books and most of them weren't that long. I read one each month which meant that I finished the challenge in September. I was going to read the graphic novel however I am having to be careful with the pennies and in the end it just didn't appeal to me.

Over all I enjoyed the challenge. It was fun to return to old favourites. I was particularly reminded of how much I love Dracula. I also enjoyed trying Jules Verne again. Oh, and I have loved visiting all the Sherlock books in the build up to the one listed here (of course I kept going with those after the challenge title had been read). I even discovered that a book I wasn't too fond of before that I actually quite enjoyed this time round (looking at you Phantom). I was also surprised that I liked The Invisible Man as H. G. Wells has been a hit or a miss with me over the last few years. The only book I disliked the first time and still do was Dorian Gray (please don't hate me Oscar fans). In fact it's the only book on the list that I disliked at all and it was the one that put me off the challenge. As time to read it got closer I started to struggle with the challenge and could see myself giving up. Thankfully that didn't happen.

Would be interested to here what others think of these books on the list. Big thank you to Hanna for running the challenge. It has been interesting.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

The Valley of Fear - Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock is at home when he receives a letter from someone who works for Professor Moriarty. The letter is in code but it's not long before Sherlock has it all worked out. It's a warning that a Mr John Douglas is about to be murdered. He then receives a visit from Scotland Yard who come to deliver the news of John Douglas's death and ask him to come and unfold the mystery surrounding it. Holmes quickly agrees and travels to the Douglas home along with his good friend Watson. There they hear the stories of the dead mans wife, servant and friend. All the stories are the same and yet something doesn't quite add up. Of course it doesn't take Sherlock long to work out what exactly has gone on.

Supposedly not the best of the Holmes books. It's the last one that takes the form of a novella. However, it is criticised because Holmes is only in the first half of the book. Like the first two novella's Holmes uncovers the truth and then we get the back ground story of the individuals involved. In this case was travel back to America and a small town which is held in fear by a group belonging to the order, The Freemen (a play on the Freemasons).

Like in the previous two books I liked this division. It had a different style to it as we learn of John Douglas and how he became a hunted man. It was almost like reading a different book but at the same time you are constantly aware that it's about to reveal more of Holmes's initial mystery. I can agree that there wasn't enough of Holmes but at the same time I think the story would have lost something if this second section had been cut. It was very much part of the intrigue.

The parts of the book that did annoy me (very mildly) was when Moriarty was mentioned. The mystery must have been set before The Final Problem as the stand off between Moriarty and Holmes wasn't mentioned. Plus, according to Watson, this is the first he himself has heard of Moriarty. Yet, Watson was also first introduced to Moriarty in that short story. It was something I could live with and maybe my memory isn't as good and Watson had heard of Moriarty before the final stand off.

I still prefer the short stories but the novellas are still worth reading. It's an opportunity to see what else the author could do.

Monday 10 December 2012

Will Be Up To Date Eventually!

The last few months have been a struggle for me. Not in a personal sense I've just been struggling to juggle everything and this blog has suffered. It's been a constant game of catch up. Instead of admitting defeat and taking a time out I have tried to get myself up to date. Which of course I failed at miserably. Next time I will do what I did last year and take a time out.

I have had placement (almost finished), an essay (almost finished) and I am onto my second bout of the cold which actually left me in my bed for two days. I've never been so run down and I think stress has been a big part of it. To make matters worse I spilled tea over my laptop and had to re-do my essay from scratch. Thankfully the computer I managed to save but not until I had already re-done the essay. 

Sounds like a big long whine but that's not what I mean. Just explaining my absence. Fingers crossed I will be back to normal next week and I WILL catch up on all those reviews. More than that I am actually looking forward to picking up a non-nursing book. Hope everyone is enjoying the run up to the festive period. Looking forward to seeing what you have all been reading and what challenges you have signed up to for next year.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Ringworld - Larry Niven

Louis has left his own party celebrating his 200th birthday. He is bored and is thinking that it might be time to take one of his own adventures. As he contemplates this as he travels round Earth he somehow ends up in a room with a Puppeteer, an alien everyone believed had disappeared a long time ago. The Puppeteer, Nessus, has a task for Louis. He wants him to travel to a sun which has a metal ring constructed around it. The Puppeteers are a fearful race and they want him to find out if it will be a threat. Along with Speaker (a Kzin) and Louis' 29 year old girlfriend, Teela, they head out. There Louis and friends meet the unexpected and the strange. A world constructed by unknown beings and filled with plants and animals from other worlds.

I have to say that this wasn't my favourite sci fi book  that I have ever read. Having said that the more time passes the more favourably I look on it. My thoughts at the time were that it was far too simply written. I was expecting a piece of classic sci fi. What I got was something that was almost written for children (if you take out the discussions on mating). The dialogue and the language itself was very simple. On the plus side it did make it for an easy read and it made the technological aspects of it easier to take (for those who don't like the technobabble).

We all know that in sci fi and fantasy we have to sometimes take things with a pinch of salt or to just let reality go. I could do that with a metal world constructed round a sun with it's own oceans and mountains. I could do that with an alien race called Puppeteers (although it turns out that name is quite apt). I could do that with a 200 year old man having a relationship with a 20 year old (that really isn't new when you read Peter F. Hamilton). I could do that with sunflowers which store up sunlight and shoot at anything that moves. What I found difficult to take was that the human race had evolved luck. A lottery in place to allow people to have a second child (for population control) has meant that those who win it are lucky and this luck grows as it is passed genetically on to their children. That had me almost wanting to through the book across the room.

Glad I didn't though as I did enjoy the four characters travelling across the Ringworld. This part of the book was an interesting plotline. Ringworld is clearly a technological marvel however society has broken down on it. It makes for an interesting read. I also liked the interaction between the four characters and any of the people they found on Ringworld. People who have forgotten that their ancestors created the world they live on.

I do have to defend it a little from one review. I read one that said that they found it very sexist in terms of the relationship between Louis and Teela. I can see how they came to feel that but it wasn't the impression I got. Human's now have access to longevity treatment and so age differences in relationships don't matter so much. Like I mentioned earlier this really isn't new. Peter F. Hamilton and other authors have done something similar in their books. I also don't think Teela was portrayed as just a silly young girl. She said came across as just as intelligent and actually seemed to get things far faster than some of the others. I think that the point the author was trying to get across is that she is young with no responsibilities other than to enjoy everything out of life.

I read this as part of the sci fi challenge hosted by Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. It was for November's choice and I did read it last month. This is just the first opportunity I have had to get typing. If you want to see what others read last month you can do so here. Decembers choice is to read a sci fi book with a Christmas theme. I haven't picked my book yet and at this point in time I'm not sure I will have a chance to read one.