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: The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the JackalI put off reading Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal for a long time, but when I found a copy lurking in my parents’ bookcase, decided to bite the bullet and give it a go. It’s not my usual style or genre, but the fact that I finished it in under a week speaks for itself. I really enjoyed it, and am still a little shell-shocked about that.

The Day of the Jackal tells the story of an anonymous mercenary hired by the OAS to assassinate President de Gaulle in 1960s France. It begins with a failed assassin attempt on de Gaulle (based on fact), then moves on to the hire of the Jackal, an unknown killer based in London. When the French government learns of the plans against de Gaulle, they set out to find the Jackal, with no known information about him or who he could be. Led by Commissaire Lebel, a small international team slowly uncover the identity of the Jackal, but by the time they discover who he is, he has changed his identity and is travelling closer to Paris in disguise. The manhunt that ensues crosses Europe, and the story ends in Paris on Liberation Day, the day the Jackal has designated as assassination day.

The pace was fast; it was an exciting, precise, well-researched thriller, and the manhunt had me turning pages faster than I imagined possible. In parts, it switched between the hunters and the hunted in quick, short paragraphs, which added to the suspense and thrill of the gap closing and widening again.

It was clever, in plot and characterisation, and the ending was pure genius. In the beginning, I felt more for the Jackal, a hired killer; by halfway through, I was rooting for Commissaire Lebel, the detective racing to find him before he assassinated Charles de Gaulle. By the end of the story, I truly disliked the Jackal.

Forsyth’s style is very precise, methodical, almost military, which works well with this story. However, there were a handful of poetic lines, at odds with the rest of the language used, which added to the mystery, such as:

“From there he drove half a mile into the forest, the headlamps lighting the gnarled shapes of the trees like ghosts reaching down with angry branches at the trespasser.”

I can honestly say I’d happily read more of Forsyth’s work if any of them are as good as The Day of the Jackal.

BBC Big Read #109

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

You could be forgiven for thinking I’ve given up on my BBC Big Read Top 200 challenge. I haven’t…I’ve just been…distracted by books that aren’t on the list. And it’s been quite nice reading things I want to read instead of things I feel I have to, ya know?

Currently reading:
The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier. This is on the list (#156), and I think its spot well-deserved. It is a children’s book (aimed at pre-teens, I would say), but I think my plowing through it has as much to do with the tale as the length and ease of read. It tells the story of three siblings who flee from the Nazis in war-torn Warsaw, and their journey to be reunited with their parents in Switzerland.

Before that:
Tiny, Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. A book based on an advice column, this was recommended by a friend and is the kind of book that should be must be neeeeeds to be shared. Strayed isn’t a therapist or a counselor, but she has lived an interesting, colourful, tragic life and her responses to the myriad of “Dear Sugar” letters are heartfelt, poignant, genuine, poetic, thought-provoking, honest and insightful. It’s the kind of book that will touch every reader differently, and every reader will take something away from Strayed’s responses.

Before that:
And the Mountains Echoed
, by Khaled Hosseini. From the author of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, this book had big shoes to fill. It’s different to the other two, and I actually preferred it, surprisingly. It doesn’t depress or shock in the way the previous books did, and although the subject matter – the ultimate repercussions of war and the effects of displacement on generations of Afghanis – is grim, the characters are such that they pull the story out of possible despair and into hope.

And before that:
Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor. The book following Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Wowsers. I can’t find the words to describe how much I loved this book, so instead, I’ll direct you to the reviews of Angela and Sarah. They loved it too, and if my brain was working properly right now, my review would say pretty much was theirs do. I will say this: Tiny was almost late to kindy one day because I simply HAD to finish this book. Had to. Sigh. Hanging out for the third book to be released in April next year.

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.

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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.

Review: Magician – Raymond E. Feist

It is with a sigh of happiness that I finished reading Magician, by Raymond E. Feist, last night; happiness because I really enjoyed reading it, not because I was glad to be finished.

As I said in the early days, I don’t usually read the fantasy genre, so I was surprised to find myself drawn, so quickly, into the world of Midkemia. The characters were likeable, their relationships believable, and their interactions plausible.

I enjoyed Feist’s style; he offers sufficient description of people and places to allow the reader to use a little of their own imagination, to fill in the blanks. I did find myself comparing this to Tolkien’s Middle Earth on occasion, and struggled to place the action as taking place anywhere other than the landscape of New Zealand.

I did struggle with the occasional “romantic” passages in the novel. They felt clumsy and adolescent (and this may have been deliberate, given the age of the characters), uncomfortable and unnecessary additions. However, they were so few that I was able to get past those feelings fairly promptly.

I liked the development of Pug, the orphaned keep boy who becomes master magician, and the struggle of Tomas, the nobleman’s son who becomes a warrior of horrific proportions. The various non-human characters were interesting – and mostly humanlike in character – and seemed to play out the way similar characters have in other fantasy novels (for example, the dwarves in Feist’s Midkemia are almost identical in character to those in Tolkien’s Middle Earth).

I’m pleased to say that I did enjoy this book, having been reluctant to try it a second time; it came highly recommended by this lovely lady (and her husband), and I’m so glad I liked it, because returning it with a sheepish, “I didn’t like it”, would have been quite unfortunate.

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We’ve now reviewed over 150 books on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, which means it’s competition time!
All you need to do is choose an unreviewed book from the list and submit a review for publication by the end of September, and you could win the book of your choosing!

Reading Right Now

Me:
I’m still reading Magician, and still enjoying it, although the “romantic” parts make me cringe a little in their clumsiness.

Tiny:
We went to the library late one afternoon while waiting for an appointment, and while my boys played, I browsed the kids’ books. However, of the six we came home with, only two were of my sole choosing – the remaining four were picked by my biggest one. He’s enjoyed Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency (by Cressida Cowell) and Willie Wants to Wee Wee (by Murray Ball), but his favourite, by far, is Bertie was a Watchdog, by Rick Walton.

IMG_3484 It is such a clever story; it’s fun to read and has a nice little message. The illustrations are simple and amusing, and Tiny loves it – he giggles in all the right places, and it has obviously been written by someone who knows what tickles little people’s fancies!

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Pickle:
The baby is still loving any book he can get his hands on – and now that he’s able to pull himself to stand, there’s a whole new world of books for him to discover! The book I got him from the library is one of my favourites, The Noisy Book, by Soledad Bravi.

IMG_3522The pictures are cute, and the author has interspersed the usual suspects (“The cat says meow”, “The lion says roar”, “The dog says woof woof”…) with far more interesting pictures and words.

IMG_3523IMG_3525I always get a good giggle out of this one, because they certainly do say this in our house right now:

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What We’re Reading Right Now

MeMagician: Magician, by Raymond E. Feist. This is the second time I’ve started this book. Last time, I stopped reading the copy I got from the library because of something…unsavoury I found between two pages; I simply could not continue. This time, I’ve loaned a copy from Angela (who will be pleased to know that no such unsavouries have been found!), and I am really enjoying it. I generally have an indifferent relationship with fantasy novels, in that I will read them, but they aren’t my favourite genre (I tried really hard to be a David Eddings fan when I was at high school, but I just couldn’t get into his novels). So far, Magician has seemed more “real” to me, and while I’m getting through it very s-l-o-w-l-y, I’m finding it quite compulsive reading.

Steve JobsTall: Steve Jobs: the exclusive biography, by Walter Isaacson. Apparently he wasn’t very nice to his employees.

 

 

There Are No Cats In This BookTiny: There Are No Cats In This Book, by Viviane Schwarz. Oh my. This book. Fun and interactive; I love listening to my boy whispering, “I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish…” Such a clever concept, and amusing too.

 

Pickle: any basic picture book. Animals are a favourite – he’s at the age where he’ll start making animal noises soon (I’m pretty sure he can say “woof” and “quack quack” already).