Reading Without Pressure

Since deciding to abandon a time frame for finishing my BBC Big Read challenge, I have, typically, rekindled my interest in getting through those last few books. At the library a couple of weeks ago, I checked out three from the remaining nine, and have finished one already, leaving just eight to go. (I’ve now crossed The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy) off the list. I enjoyed it, more than any other Hardy I’ve read, even though it was filled with typically melancholic Hardy moments.)

It’s amazing what removing a little pressure can do, right?

Ms Oh Waily feels the same way; she and I both lost our 1001 Books mojo in the second half of 2014, but a third pair of hands coming on board has given us both a renewed sense of reading purpose for 2015. That’s not to say we’d turn down any other reviews/reviewers…..hint, hint, HINT.

Reading Right Now

So….I’ve been sidetracked from the last dozen-or-so books I’ve got to read from the BBC Big Read Top 200….by The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.

Having loved The Secret History, I knew it was risky starting such a big novel at this point in the challenge, but now….I can’t put it down.

Unsurprisingly, it is good. Sooooo gooooooood.

Could this be my undoing?!?!

Reading and Reviewing

I’ve been embracing technology recently, reading e-books while I sit beside Pickle’s cot for a few moments when he goes to bed. I think I will always prefer to hold a physical book in my hands, to turn each whispering page, to place a book on my bookshelf, but I’m happy to admit that reading on a phone or tablet definitely has its place. We’re off on holiday soon, and to minimise our luggage, I’m certainly going to download a few more!

The latest e-book I read was Artemis Fowl (Eion Colfer); and it was okay. I didn’t like it as much as the past few Young Adult books I’ve read, but the story was unique and clever, and I did enjoy it as an easy, cot-side read.

This brings my BBC Big Read Top 200 total up to 175, and I can see the end of the list in sight. I’ll be so pleased to be finished – it has taken me, afterall, almost seven years to get this far – and will relish the chance to read more of the stack beside my bed that aren’t on any lists. However, there are still 800-odd books for review on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, so I won’t be short of reading suggestions for quite some time to come.

Reading and Reviewing

I just finished reading All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, and wow, what a profound book. I didn’t expect it to have such an effect on me, but it has, and I’m still processing my thoughts. It was a sobering read, often humourous, but mostly thought-provoking and quite challenging.

Other recent reads:

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman. This young adult dystopian fiction is number 61 on The Big Read, and even though this isn’t my usual genre, I was pleasantly surprised. The style was okay – it was definitely written with a much younger audience in mind – and it was an easy read; the concept was interesting and the ending was not at all what I expected (in a good way).

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was my first reading of Sherlock Holmes, and it was very enjoyable, if a little predictable. The story was clever, and I liked how the culmination of the story (ie: the solving of the mystery) was left until there were very few pages left. I found myself reading faster and faster with the knowledge that the famous detective had to tie everything together in so little time, and this sudden excitement made for an enjoyable end.

My review of House of Leaves has been published here, along with my thoughts on The Forsyte Saga.

Reading and Reviewing

We visited our local library a couple of weeks ago and I found a few books from the BBC Big Read; I tend to forget about the library, but the boys love going there, and the best thing is – the books are free.

Many of the books on the list are ones I have no prior knowledge of (some I’ve heard of, but don’t know much about the story), and The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, was no exception. It tells the story of a young man who flees his London flat after finding a new acquaintance – a man embroiled in some sort of political plot – dead in his home. He escapes into Scotland, and meets a variety of people along the way from whom he seeks help. He eventually returns to London to seek out an important political figure who will offer him safety and secure his innocence, and with whom he hopes to foil an enemy ploy. I thoroughly enjoyed it, for its clever plot, and the enticing, exciting way in which it is written. The characters are varied, dramatic and interesting, the journey of our main man is intriguing, and the chase is tremendously thrilling. It was an easy, quick read, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

My sister was astonished to hear I hadn’t yet read Goodnight Mister Tom (by Michelle Magorian), as it was a book she read at school. I’m not sure how it slipped through the cracks with me; I’d certainly heard of it, but never picked up a copy until now. It is a beautiful, emotional, poignant story, set in England during World War Two. Tom Oakley looks after a young evacuee, William Beech, who has been sent away from London by his abusive, deeply religious mother; in Little Weirwold, through a great deal of nurturing, he discovers his true personality and strength, which enables him to deal with ultimate tragedies in his young life. Such a stunning story, and one I wish I’d had the pleasure of reading earlier.

The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy, held great promise for me – it sounded exciting…but sadly failed to deliver. Others have raved about this book, but it honestly didn’t do anything for me. I tried so hard to get into it, but struggled with each page and breathed a sigh of relief when it was finished. I’ll be writing a review for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die…and it won’t be a positive one.

Reading and Reviewing

I began the year with the goal of finishing the remaining 34 books on the BBC Big Read Top 200. I wasn’t feeling too confident about achieving this, but a visit to the library this week has renewed my belief that I can do it!

If I don’t make it, I blame* Angela for distracting me from the list with the final installment in Laini Taylor’s amazing Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I have never ever ever anticipated the release of a book so much as with Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and it did not disappoint. I loved it, and though beyond-sad to have finished, think she exceeded expectations and ended the trilogy in the perfect way. It was funny, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, teeth-clenching and tear-inducing all at the same time; I had papilio stomachus (fans will know what I’m talkin’ about…others will just have to read the series) on numerous occasions. I loved feisty Zuzana (our little rabid fairy) and generous-of-spirit Ziri, and Liraz…beautiful, beautiful Liraz emerged as a surprising-yet-not-surprising favourite. There were parts I didn’t see coming, and situations I’d have liked to see (but didn’t change the story at all, or reduce my enjoyment of it), and Laini didn’t disappoint with her style of writing, story-telling or cleverness. Visit Angela and Sarah to find out what they thought (spoiler alert: they LOVED IT TOO).

After finishing DOGAM, I returned to House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. This took me much longer to read than I expected, purely because it was the strangest book I think I’ve ever read. It was good-strange in story, and confusing-strange in style, and on one occasion I had to resort to using google to reassure myself that it really was a work of fiction. I’ll be writing a review for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, so keep an eye out for more on this crazy novel soon.

After finishing House of Leaves, which left my brain feeling a little bit ouchie, I started on Kerre Woodham’s Short Fat Chick in Paris, which is a much easier, less thinky read. It’s not on the list, but I needed something banal after working so hard previously. It’s actually better than I expected, and interesting to read as someone who always entertains the idea of getting back into running but never quite makes it past the first run.

After our visit to the library, I’ve just finished The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I had no idea what this was about, and when I saw the slim little book on the shelf, I was doubtful as to its place on the Big Read list. However, only a few pages in, I understood. The Old Man and the Sea is a fable, set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana. It features an old fisherman, Santiago, his young friend, Manolin, and a beautiful, gigantic marlin; in just 99 pages, I ran through a gauntlet of emotions ranging from excited happiness, to deflated grief. It is amazing how much of a story can be told in so few pages, and with so few characters. You can read Tori’s great review on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

*not really. I could have said, “No thanks!” Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

What I’m Reading

At the moment, I’m reading The Pickwick Papers (part 1 of 3), by Charles Dickens. The copy I have belongs to my mum, and the stamp inside tells me it was purchased by Musselburgh School in 1926. The pages have a beautiful sheen to them and are wonderfully thick. But that’s by-the-by, because you want to know about the content, right?

It’s probably the funniest of Dickens’ work that I’ve read. This version is an abridged collection of the full book (which I also have), and the snippets of stories are witty and delightful, with characters that are so full of life and spark. The Pickwickians are a group of men who document their “adventures”; the situations they find themselves in are often seemingly-mundane but there’s always a quirk. Loving it.

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My review of The Master and Margarita, which I also loved, can be found here, on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Reading and Reviewing

I don’t make resolutions, but I do like to set myself goals for the year ahead. One of my goals for 2014 is to finally finish my BBC Top 200 challenge. At last count, I have just 34 books to go, and I think that’s perfectly doable in a 52-week period. I might just have to say a firm “No!” when someone suggests I read something off-liste (didya see what I did there??).

Currently reading:
The Master and Magarita (Mikhail Bulgakov), which is proving to be a surprisingly intriguing and enjoyable read so far. It’s a bit crazy, and a bit whimsical, but I like a bit of crazy whimsy, so it’s good.

Previously read:
Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes), which started off so well, and was really enjoyable…until the final few chapters where I got bored, and then confused, and then over it.

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), which I hoovered over our four-day holiday in Central Otago. It was so clever, well-written and intriguing, although I was slightly disappointed with the ending. Curiously, this was my Christmas gift as part of Advent Swap 2013, and when I checked my list of “Must Seek Out” books, this was on there. Whoop!

The Princess Bride (William Goldman) which was, for the most part, a lovely, beautiful story. I loved the movie (which was very true to the story), and was able to picture and predict many of the scenes, which only served to enhance my enjoyment of it. The only part I didn’t like were the “interjections”, which were irritating and in my mind, superfluous to the story. It was a great story to get lost in while sitting beside Pickle’s cot, waiting patiently for him to succumb to sleep after weaning.

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco), which I nicknamed The Book of Snore. Seriously, it was so boring and unenjoyable that I shelved it for a few days before deciding to plow on through so I could review it for 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Otherwise….it would have been gently recycled.

Reading and Reviewing

I finished The Silver Sword – typically – the night before last week’s post. I enjoyed it immensely; despite being set during WWII, it was an uplifting story strong with hope and love. And even though it’s officially a children’s book, I’d recommend it to any adult. Furthermore, it was a quick read, and I thought Ian Serraillier’s style was perfect for this type of story.

Now I’m reading another BBC Top 200  and 1001 Books to Read Before You Die book: The Name of the Rose. This couldn’t be more different to The Silver Sword, both in subject matter and style. I’ll be honest and tell you that the prologue sent me off to sleep; someone needed to take Umberto Eco aside and tell him to write shorter sentences. After the hard slog of the prologue, the first few chapters have been bearable, but each time I pick it up (usually at. 9.30pm – perhaps not the best time to attempt this one?), I open the marked page with a hint of dread that it’s going to be tough. But I’ll persevere for 100 pages and re-evaluate the book then.

I’ve also just taken delivery of two books from my sister for Christmas; I’m so proud of myself for simply checking the packing slip to make sure they had her details as the billee, then tipping them into a gift bag without looking to see what they are. I know, I’m impressed too.

Tiny is currently obsessed with the Lego Christmas sticker storybook we were sent as part of Advent Swap 2013 (that’s got to be the best thing about having a school librarian as my gifter!), and Pickle adores Caterwaul Caper, by Lynley Dodd. He makes the most adorable woofing and meowing sounds.

Reading and Reviewing: ‘Eat Up, Little Donkey’ and ‘Toucan Can’

We were recently sent two new books for review by the lovely team at Gecko Press, and both have been read to Tiny every night since. No exaggeration: every night and a thousand times each day too. Poor Pickle has had to be content with stealing a look when his brother’s at kindy.

Eat Up Little Donkey Eat Up, Little Donkey, written by Rindert Kromhout and illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, is a lovely little story about Little Donkey’s refusal to eat his lunch, and the consequences that follow. The illustrations are simple but very sweet, as are the words and message.

Eat Up Little Donkey4The pages are gloriously thick but it still feel like a bigger kid’s book; Pickle has had a good play and enjoys the act of turning these pages immensely. He’s simply not interested in board books anymore.

Eat Up Little Donkey2The story is aimed at toddlers, but Tiny, at three-and-a-half, absolutely loves it. He knows the consequences of not eating meals, thus the story appeals to him on many levels. After just one read-through, he was flicking through, re-telling the story; the language is at the perfect level for him to repeat word-for-word.

Eat Up Little Donkey3

When I asked what he liked about this story, he grinned and said, “I like that Little Donkey wants to throw his plate like a plane!”

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Toucan Can

Toucan Can, written by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Sarah Davis, is such a fun story! It’s great fun to read, with tongue-twisting lines that make us giggle every time. The illustrations are as hilarious as the rhyme, and there’s a cute craziness about it which appeals to adults and kids alike.

Toucan Can4The illustrations are stunning; each page is a feast for the eyes. The kung fu pages are my absolute favourites, while Tiny likes Aunt Samantha’s panthers. There is so much to look at, and we find something new at each reading; I look a book that feels fresh with every turn of the page.

Toucan Can3In the earnest way of a pre-schooler, Tiny nods along and tries to do everything Toucan can; watching him dance in his bed with Toucan, Ewan and the aunts is pretty cute. This is a delightful, energetic and hilarious read, and has become a firm favourite in a short space of time.

Toucan Can2(Please note that Eat Up, Little Donkey and Toucan Can were provided to me for the purpose of review, but the opinions expressed here are my own)

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I’ve recently finished yet another Haruki Murakami novel: Norwegian Wood. Having been confused and intrigued by the others of his that I’ve read, I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much because I was constantly (a) waiting for it to turn all tricksy, and (b) wondering if I’d missed some vital chapter or line which took the story into his usual metaphysical realm. It was an ordinary story, comparatively – by design, according to the note at the back of the novel; Murakami sought to “test” himself by writing a straight, simple story – but still colourful and a bit far-fetched at times. It had some rather graphic sexual passages which I didn’t really like (I’m no prude, but found this a bit much), and the characters were still most definitely Murakami-characters in that they were quite unusual. The narrator is supposed to be an 18- to 20-year-old university student, but he is written well beyond these young years.

I’m also reading War of the Worlds on my phone while I sit beside Pickle’s cot, helping him get to sleep of an evening. I’m really enjoying it – more than I thought I would, actually.