Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Top Ten Books I've Read in 2012

A week long event to wrap-up 2012, since we're so very nearly at the end. Click on the banner above to join in.

We start with my favourite list - the top ten books I've read this year. Click here for last year's list. These are in no particular order and weren't necessarily released this year.

1) 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Obviously. I rambled about this enough in my 2012 Book Survey for this to be a given.

Like I said, it's rare to be able to pick one clear winner for the Best Book of 2012 but if I had to, this would be it.

This is the book the word 'amazing' was created for.

2) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I can't believe it took me so long to get round to reading this book. I liked Lord of the Rings but found it a little heavy at times, which is why I've been putting off this one, I think.

I just couldn't believe how accessible it was. I know it's aimed at a younger audience, but it made a huge difference. I was captivated at every moment and was more than a little disappointed when it ended.

 Long story short - even if you didn't like Lord of the Rings, read The Hobbit.

3) The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

Part sci-fi, part philosophy, part mind-fuck.

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked up The End of Mr Y - I'd heard wonderful things but found Our Tragic Universe to be interesting but basically plotless.

Obviously I ended up loving it (else we wouldn't be sat here talking about it now), but I was unprepared for how much I'd love it. It was so clever, yet so accessible and genuinely interesting to boot.

I pretty much want to read everything Scarlett Thomas has ever written.

4) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Another surprise. I read this for my (almost over) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge, and to be honest, it was kind of grudgingly. I felt like I should read at least one more off the list and grabbed this one because I'd never read it before.

It's really good! Completely, completely different to the musical and 2004 film. It's much cleverer and creepier and generally, well, better. 

And now I've read it, it's clear that the cover to the left is much more appropriate than those white mask and rose covered ones. 

5) The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe

Because hey, we were starting to get a little serious there.

I love this series though. Apparently they were created only to amuse the author's girlfriend, but the result is a set of hilarious, light books that I'm more than willing to reread again and again.

The film wasn't brilliant, but half the charm is in the narration so how could it be anywhere near as good?


The above five books are the ones that jumped into my head when thinking about this list. I didn't have to consult LibraryThing or scan my shelves - I just knew that they were the best of the best. They're the 'Gold' books, shall we say.

The books below still comprise the remainder of my Top Ten - it's just that they didn't stand out quite as much as the above.

6) Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I'd been warned off this by quite a few people actually. I'd been told it was weird and over-dramatic, but I ended up really liking it. It may just have been my low expectations, but I found the atmosphere thrilling and loved every minute. 

It's doubtful I'd ever watch a theatre or film version, but it's likely I'll be returning the book at some point. I can understand why it's not for everybody, I suppose, as some parts are pretty horrific but for me, that's kind of the point - the atrocities committed by children (and therefore people) in the name of authority and structure.

7) Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

And now for something completely different! You just couldn't get a more opposite book to the above than this one, which is funny considering that I read this right after it.

Once again, I didn't even want to bother. I was sent it as an unsolicited review copy and only read it out of that sense of obligation we all get from time to time.

To my surprise, it was amazing. I can be picky with YA, but I just fell in love with this one, cutesy teenage book though it may be.

8) The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Another YA book, although with more of a dystopian/horror twist.

This is (very) loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, so it's obviously very dark. Add in plague, creepy masks and unexpected backstabbers and you've got an unbelievably good story.  

I stayed up until past 2am reading this, and then sent it to a friend who did exactly the same thing. I think the next book to this series is my most eagerly anticipated book EVER.

9) Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I laughed so hard I cried with this book, on more than occasion. I don't normally laugh out loud at books, so the fact that I did so frequently here says a great deal. It's almost beyond funny.

I admit to losing interest once or twice with the more serious matters (hey, I'm fickle) but on the whole it's a hilarious memoir involving ethical taxidermy and clinical depression.

10) The Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

I wasn't that fond of the book before this in the series, so it took me a while to get round to this one. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that Percy Jackson himself is back and so are a good number of the other characters.

It's much, much more interesting and nearly as good as the original series. It also ends on such a cliff-hanger that I'm desperate to read the next one!


Honourable mentions (or Bronze, if you like):

What's Left Of Me by Kat Zhang, White Cat by Holly Black, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Starters by Lissa Price, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

What are your best books of 2012? Join in the fun here.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Review: The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

Book cover of The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
Bex from An Armchair by the Sea has been telling me to read Scarlett Thomas for at least a year and a half now, but despite owning The End of Mr Y for slightly less than that time, I never bothered to pick it up. It was only when I was stranded (slightly over-dramatic, but you get the point) at my boyfriend's with only Our Tragic Universe to read that I eventually gave it a go. I really, really liked it and it inspired me to finally pick up this one, which I absolutely fell in love with.

Plot summary: A cursed book. A missing professor. Some nefarious men in gray suits. And a dreamworld called the Troposphere? 

Ariel Manto has a fascination with nineteenth-century scientists; especially Thomas Lumas and The End of Mr. Y, a book no one alive has read. When she mysteriously uncovers a copy at a used bookstore, Ariel is launched into an adventure of science and faith, consciousness and death, space and time, and everything in between.

Seeking answers, Ariel follows in Mr. Y's footsteps. She swallows a tincture, stares into a black dot, and is transported into the Troposphere; a wonderland where she can travel through time and space using the thoughts of others. There she begins to understand all the mysteries surrounding the book, herself, and the universe. Or is it all just a hallucination?

I've recommended The End of Mr Y to quite a few friends since I finished it (only a few years behind everybody else, mind) and I've been describing it as part sci-fi, part philosophy and part mind-fuck. It's not for everybody, to be fair, but if you're willing to be patient it's absolutely amazing.

The over-riding theme of Our Tragic Universe was books, literature and the different components therein. The End of Mr Y has more of a physics theme to it which can be a little hard to follow if you're not much of a science person (like me). There are physics points that are fundamental to the story and then some that aren't - the former is explained reasonably well, enough that you can follow the story if you concentrate, while you're kind of left to fumble around with the latter yourself. 

I’d read Lahiri’s best-selling popular science book about the end of time, and knew he wouldn’t approve of Lumas even if he had heard of him. Popular science can say some pretty wild things these days, but the supernatural is still out, as is Lamarck. You can have as many dimensions as you want, as long as none of them contain ghosts, telepathy, anything that fucks with Charles Darwin, or anything that Hitler liked (apart from Charles Darwin).

Mixed in with the narrative of Ariel, the main character, are excerpts from a rare book she comes across in a second-hand book store - The End of Mr Y, of course. This book tells the tale of a man driven crazy by his self-imposed quest to track down a man he knows has the secret to visiting another world. However, a page is missing from Ariel's copy - conveniently, the one containing the mixture necessary to travel to the Troposphere, the afore-mentioned other world.

Because of this, it emerges as a story within another story and it works very well. The excerpts from the book Ariel is reading have a completely different tone and style, and the change is quite refreshing. Furthermore, the plot occasionally requires the POV of a passer-by and the switch-over is perfect. They all have different voices, but they 'talk' exactly as if Scarlett Thomas had climbed inside their heads and diligently recorded all their thoughts. It's... well, perfect.

Sometimes I like to think that I live with ghosts. Not from my own past—I don’t believe in those sorts of ghosts—but wispy bits of ideas and books that hang in the air like silk puppets. Sometimes I think I see my own ideas floating around, too, but they usually don't last long.… Some of the most friendly ghosts I live with are those of my favourite nineteenth-century science writers. Most of them were wrong, of course, but who cares? It’s not like this is the end of history. We’re all wrong.

I do have a few criticisms, but they're small ones. See, this is clearly literary fiction and it's fairly well-known among readers, but it falls down at some of the most obvious Young Adult hurdles:
  •  InstaLove
  • A complete lack of surprise/disbelief at the existence of a world they never knew existed
  • STUPID decisions, especially not telling people things they really do need to know 
What is it with these points? Surely these things annoy authors when they read other books, so why don't they edit them out of their own? It just surprised me that these common problems with YA novels would feature in a literary novel like The End of Mr Y, especially when the author has written more than one book about books.

The ending feels like a bit of a cop-out and it doesn't really make sense. I can't explain it without giving too much away, but their intended plan wouldn't work in the way they decided it would? Yeah, that's sufficiently vague. I know the whole premise isn't exactly realistic anyway, but Scarlett Thomas put so much effort into explaining everything else that this part felt a little flat.

I really did love this book though. It's so different to Our Tragic Universe and yet I still want to run out and read everything Scarlett Thomas ever wrote. I think they're so great because she mixes in a lot of 'real people' stuff - like being inside people's heads in The End of Mr Y and the chatty, tangent-y style of the other book. It's just kind of perfect really.

Read my review of Our Tragic Universe or visit Scarlett Thomas' website here. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

2012 Book Survey

I just can't believe it's been a whole year since I did this survey. Looking back at last year's survey, those books seem so long ago!

Now though, we're back with a whole different set of books to choose from! Like last year, I'll be looking at only books that I've read for the first time in 2012.

1) The Best Book of 2012

This is usually ridiculously difficult. This year? Not so much.

11.22.63 by Stephen King is one of the best books I've read ever, never mind in 2012. It's not just a time-travel book - it has romance, mystery, creepiness and a healthy dose of mind-fuck to keep you entertained. It's beyond amazing.

It seems strange to have one clear winner for this category, but there just wasn't a book that could match it this year.

I'm not going to bother with honourable mentions because no doubt I'll be doing a 'Ten Best Books List' soon, and honestly, just go read 11.22.63.

2. Most Disappointing Book/Book You Wish You Loved More Than You Did?

I'll probably be alone on this one, but that's fine. 

Last year How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran featured prominently on this list. I loved it and immediately wanted to read it again - possibly out loud and to everybody in the vicinity.

Moranthology though... I was expecting more than a collection of the unrelated essays already published in The Times. She talked a lot about TV shows that I hadn't seen, name-dropped in almost every article and occasionally bordered on outright offensive.

It did have a few redeeming qualities like her moving article of euthanasia, but otherwise I was more than a little disappointed.

Oh, and another book I'll definitely be alone on, The Fault in Our Stars. We really didn't get along.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Now this one has a few contenders!

I only finished The Hobbit a few days ago and fell completely and utterly in love with it. I liked Lord of the Rings but remembered it as being quite difficult to get through at times. Not so with The Hobbit! The time flew by and I now feel bereft that I never again get the pleasure of reading it for the first time.

Lord of the Flies needs a quick mention here too. I'd been warned off it by a good few people and only picked it up out of some strange sense of duty. I don't really know what I was expecting, but I found a tense, atmospheric story that still haunts me now.

From a lighter genre, Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer was a huge surprise. It arrived as an unsolicited review copy that I wasn't particularly excited about, but it turned out to be so amazing that I trekked to Manchester to get it signed.   

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

This has to be a tie between 11.22.63 and The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe. 

I know of a few bloggers who finally relented and read the latter due to my incessant prompting and I've been encouraging people to read 11.22.63 ever since I turned the last page.

I've been recommending both to pretty much everybody I know - I even pulled out a copy of Pirates! to show a barrister at a Middle Temple function!

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?

Hmm. Well, The Masque of the Red Death and What's Left Of Me aren't series yet (in that the second books haven't been released), but I'll be first in line when they are.

Then there's The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists series and the Curseworkers books, starting with White Cat.

Oh oh, how could I forget? The best series I discovered this year has to be the Riyria Revelations by Michael Sullivan series - high fantasy, beginning with Theft of Swords.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012? 

Scarlett Thomas! Bex from An Armchair by the Sea has been telling me to read her work for a long time, but I finally relented when I was alone at Lewis' with only Our Tragic Universe to entertain me. I immediately went on to read The End of Mr Y and fell completely in love with it, so Scarlett Thomas is now a firm favourite. 

Stephen King also needs a quick mention, if only because I'm getting withdrawal symptoms for not dropping his name for two questions.

The Gunslinger was the first book of his that I read... and I wasn't impressed. Now that I've read 11.22.63 (I did mention that, right?) though, he seems like a completely different author in my eyes, and I'll definitely be reading more.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I suppose Anna Karenina was out of my comfort zone - I'm used to reading classics, but not 800 page Russian ones. I was more than a little intimidated when I picked it up, but I ended up really liking it. 

Otherwise, I read most genres so I don't really have a comfort zone as such. 

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?  

*waves at 11.22.63*

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Oh, good one. Hmm. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson made me laugh so hard I cried on more than one occasion, so it's a safe bet I'll be re-reading that one at some point. It has its faults, but it's well worth a reread just for the funny parts.

I might reread Between the Lines if I'm in the mood for something lovely and light. It's one of those instant happy books and I'll keep it in mind for the next time I'm feeling a bit glum. Even thinking about it makes me smile!

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

11. Most memorable character in 2012?
It just has to be Bilbo Baggins. I know I said in my review that he annoyed me, but he was somewhat loveable regardless. He always tries to do the right thing and genuinely tries to carry his own weight on adventures, however much he might wish he was safe at home.   

Without getting started on a Hobbit Film Rant (I'm good at those), I concede that Martin Freeman is the absolute perfect choice for Bilbo. I just can't imagine anybody better suited.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012? 

I struggled with this one and I tried so, so hard not to choose 11.22.63. But yeah, I'm going to anyway.

Did I mention there is nothing wrong with this book? Even the prose is stunning. It's formal yet accessible and makes the settings and characters come to life in a way I've never seen before. I still feel like I know those characters.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?     
Look, I'm trying I really am.

But there's no getting away from the fact that 11.22.63 broke me. It took my heart, ripped it into tiny little pieces and stamped all over them, while gently stroking my hair as it did so. You know when your long-time boyfriend leaves you and you're devastated, but at the same time you kind of understand that it's for the best?

Yeah, that.  

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?  

The Hobbit. *sighs* Why I thought this list would end up as something other than bleating about the same three books again, I don't know.

But, as I said in my review, I loved Lord of the Rings, the books and the movies. They can be fairly heavy at times though, and I just haven't been in the mood for studgy epic fantasy - hence, I avoided The Hobbit.

I just can't believe how much I loved it and how long it took me to get round to reading it!

16. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 

Pfft. I don't really keep track of quotes - I scribble down page numbers in my notes, and occasionally they make it into a review. I don't keep a Master List of Quotes, although I'm beginning to wish I did.

As such, I shall leave you with the following, from Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: 
It was at this exact moment that the 'dead' rattlesnake suddenly started angrilily striking at Victor's leg. Uncoincidently, it was also the exact same moment that I ducked back into the truck, taking the spotlight with me and leaving Victor in the pitch-black darkness on an abandoned road, as the angry rattlesnake he was holding tried to murder him.
   "BRING BACK THE LIGHT," he screamed.
   "I TOLD YOU NOT TO GO OUT THERE!" I yelled angrily, as I quickly locked the doors (for some reason) and rolled up all the windows. I was worried about him and wanted to help him, but I couldn't help but think that he had brought this on himself.
    "BRING BACK THE LIGHT OR I WILL THROW THIS DAMN SNAKE IN THE CAR WITH YOU," he screamed, which was surprising, both because he sounded very vital for someone dying of snakebite, and also because he'd wrongly assumed that I hadn't automatically locked all the doors. He knows so little about me,  I thought to myself.
   After a minute to slow his breathing, Victor's voice was only vaguely controlled. "You left me alone. In the dark. With a live rattlesnake."
   "No. You left me alone. In the car. For a live rattlesnake," I countered. "So I guess that makes us even." There was a long pause as he stared at me. "But I forgive you?" I said.
17. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?
Even this requires repeating myself, can you believe it?
The longest was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and the shortest was Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe. I sped through the latter in not much more than an hour, but it doesn't diminish it's value in the slightest.
 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Part of the reason I forced 11.22.63 on so many people was so I finally, finally had somebody to talk about the ending with. Since I finished it, all I've wanted to do is babble frantically about it to anybody who'd listen.

That is the main book that I've most wanted to talk about, but I'd also like to bitch about the ending of Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I didn't like this book that much, but the book has such a wishy-washy, cop-out ending that I'd really like to discuss it with someone and get another opinion, especially with the film coming out so soon.
18. Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
I haven't actually got round to reviewing Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune yet, but you'll survive.
So I don't like romance in books, pretty much... ever. 97% of the books I've read could quite easily have done without it, especially when it's shovelled in to appease teenage girls. Percy and Annabeth though... I don't know, I love their relationship. It helps that the series is primarily aimed at boys and so the romance is a tiny, tiny subplot as opposed to the over-arching theme, but I like how subtle it is. It's been building ever so slowly for seven books and it just works perfectly.
19. Favourite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters books are like coming home for me. The second I see those tiny rows of text and recognise those familiar characters, I feel instantly at peace and ready to read.
Unnatural Issue came out last year, but I've only just got round to reading it. It's not quite as good as the earlier ones but it's a close thing.
Everybody with even the mildest inclination for fantasy should read these books.
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else
Hi Charlotte.
Remember when you told me about this book, the one about somebody finding Anne Frank living in their attic? Yeeaaaah, I read that book.
You know what it also has? Exploded chipmunks and people sticking their hands inside half-dead deer.   
I accept that you never represented to me that it was a good book especially since you've never actually read it, but I hold you responsible regardless.
Oh well, I love you anyway :) 
Join in the fun with the 3rd Annual End of Year Book Survey! 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Hardback book cover of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I just can't believe how heavily I fell in love with this book. I read it every spare second of every day and when I couldn't read it, I wanted to. I liked The Lord of the Rings, but somehow The Hobbit seems to transcend even that. I've spent the last few days deciding exactly where to get Smaug tattooed on my body; my foot seems like the best option, although at the minute my forehead isn't completely out of the question. God I love this book.

Plot summary: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End.

But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo is most reluctant to take part in this quest, but he surprise even himself by his resourcefulness and his skill as a burglar!

I'll save my film rant for another day; suffice it to say that there is no way in the deepest pits of Hell that this needs to be three films. Part of the beauty of The Hobbit, for me, is how succinct it is and dragging it on and on and on through three horribly stretched out films almost ruins that. Alright, well, I'll save the rest of my film rant for another day, but it's true! Argh.

I got so into this book that I forgot what the fundamental point of the story was, so when Gollum and The Ring popped up I was pleasantly surprised. There are lots of references from here in the LotR books and movies - Bilbo's mithril armour, for example, or how Gandalf came by Glamdring. It's not essential, but it gave me a nice 'Ahhh!' moment every time.

Bilbo is a little irritating, but then I found Frodo just as useless in LotR. Gandalf though... ah, Gandalf. I really think he could have defeated Smaug, stolen the treasure and destroyed the Ring himself, probably without even stopping for tea. Why he feels the need to potter about sending other morons, I'll never know. It was surprisingly easy keeping twelve dwarves all straight in my head, although Thorin annoyed me to a ridiculous extent towards the end. Selfish bugger.

Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was. He was a Gollum - as dark as darkness, except for two big pale round eyes in his thin face. He had a little boat, and he rowed about quite quietly on the lake; for lake it was, wide and deep and deadly cold. He paddled it with large feet dangling over the side, but never a ripple did he make. Not he.
I got so into this book that I actually squeaked while reading it in Meadowhall Bus Station. I'd got to a part where I was desperately screaming for the men of Lake-town to "FIIIIGHT!" in my head that it came out of my mouth as little "eeeeeep!" and scared the boy next to me so much he literally moved away. The point is, with The Hobbit, you get underneath the book where you care so much that it stops being just a story and starts being a piece of you, almost. Maybe that boy will read it one day and understand.

There are some great turns of phrase in this book and they're genuinely a pleasure to read. Obviously there are plenty of action and mystery scenes, but some of the best lines come from where the characters are sat around smoking a pipe. Because of this, and because there are much fewer 'walking scenes,' it's much more accessible than Lord of the Rings. This originally started out as a series of bedtime stories for Tolkien's children, and it shows.

"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don't want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water."  By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.

"What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!" said Gandalf. "Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won't be good till I move off."

"Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don't think I know your name?"

"Yes, yes, my dear sir - and I do know your name, Mr Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don't remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I should have lived to me good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!"
I'm actually disappointed now I've finished it - I'll never have the excitement of reading this for the first time again. And anybody who suggests 'Yeah Hanna, but at least you have the excitement of watching the films for the first time!' gets a swift knock upside the head.

Which is your favourite: The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Review: Lord of Misrule (Morganville Vampires series #5) by Rachel Caine

Book cover of Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine
This is the third Morganville Vampires book I've read this year and hopefully I can squeeze in at least one more before Christmas. That said, there are a lot of books I'm hoping to 'squeeze in,' so perhaps not. Anyway, I love this series. I'm as sick of vampires as the next person, but these books really do stand on their own feet as something special.

Plot summary - Morganville. Texas. Just south of normal. In the college town of Morganville, vampires and humans coexist in (relatively) bloodless harmony. Then comes Bishop, a master vampire who threatens to abolish all order, revive the forces of the evil dead, and let chaos rule. 

But Bishop isn't the only threat. Violent black clouds promise a storm of devastating proportions. As student Claire Danvers and her friends prepare to defend Morganville against the elements - both natural and unnatural - the unexpected happens: Morganville's vampires begin to vanish one by one. Discovering why leads Claire to one last choice: swear allegiance to Bishop...or die. 

The only problem with these books is the complete and utter lack of recapping. It wasn't that long since I read the fourth book, but I still spent at least the first few chapters desperately confused and completely out of my depth. Feast of Fools broke off right the middle of the action (as they all seem to) and we rejoined the story in exactly the same place in this book. It's hard to follow.

I genuinely believe that there doesn't need to be this many books in the series - every two books could easily be condensed into one with (much) smaller font and an only slightly thicker book. Instead of each book containing its own separate story, it has a chunk of the overarching plot and these don't always seem entirely distinct from each other. There's little passage of time or story progression inbetween. So, although I love these books, they can be a little frustrating to read.

The afore-mentioned overarching plot really is good though. The tone, language and relationships are definitely YA, but it wouldn't take much to ramp the story itself up to adult. It's quite complicated and sophisticated, with new twists and turns in every installment. I've genuinely never seen a paranormal series quite this interesting. 

The fundamental point of irritation with the Morganville books though, is something I rant about in every single review. Claire is not twelve. She is not mentally handicapped or in anyway disadvantaged in society. So why does everybody else in the book insist on treating her like she's made of porcelain? They're always going on about how she's too young or how they promised her parents she wouldn't be allowed to do that... they're a year and a half older than her. I'm pretty sure a small group of 18 year olds would let a 16 year old say 'bitch' if she wanted to. For God's sake.

Out of interest, for everybody that's read any of these books, what does Amelie look like in your head? To me she looks kind of like Angela Lansbury, only less smiley. I only ask because I read a phrase in this book that implied she looked much, much younger but that just doesn't gel in my head in the slightest.

However, these books do have a knack of ending on the most thrilling cliffhangers. I'm glad I have the first eight books all lined up as I immediately want to get my hands on the next one.

Read my reviews of Midnight Alley (#3) or Feast of Fools (#4).

Sunday, 9 December 2012

In My Mailbox #38 - in which I (re)discover NetGalley.

Sorry for the crappy picture. In my defence, there isn't much natural daylight in Yorkshire, England during Winter and so you'll just have to deal with horrible camera flash, okay?

These books have made there way into the Whitehead household over the last... I don't know, three weeks? I've been fairly restrained lately, so there didn't seem much point in doing one every week.

Anyway. Firstly, On The Map by Simon Garfield was an impulse buy from that pokey little bookshop in King's Cross Station because I thought my Kindle was going to die on the train home from a Law event. As it happens, it managed to survive and I dragged my fellow Law-ees around the store for twenty minutes for no reason. Still, it was already on my wishlist and I love maps in general, so I'm happy. My friends might not be, but hey ho.

The three books underneath that in the picture were the result of a binge on Read it Swap it. On a festive note, I'm planning to read Santa: A Life closer to Christmas (or, as I like to call it - 'that brief period in the middle of exams.') I discovered it while browsing through Ellie's reading analysis with an Amazon tab open in the browser - perhaps not the best of ideas.

Under that is Look At Me, by Jennifer Egan of A Visit from the Goon Squad fame. Below that is one of the books I'm most excited about from this haul - Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I haven't even seen the TV show but I've been informed by multiple sources that it's amazing. It's the crappy TV-show cover, but I'll rebuy it if I end up falling in love with it.

The small brown vertical book is a 1951 edition of The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves, and it's in perfect condition. I love Greek mythology and old books, so I couldn't really have done any better when I saw it in a charity shop in York.

My Kindle isn't new; far from it. Unfortunately though, I have just discovered NetGalley. But Hanna! I hear you cry. You've been blogging for a year and a half! How have you only just discovered NetGalley!? Well I haven't, not really. I've signed up twice before, not requested anything and then my profile was inactive and was promptly deleted. But now, oh dear. I've been requesting.

 I don't think four is too bad, not really. Not when I've already read, reviewed and loved What's Left Of Me. My fear with NetGalley is that I'd request everything, read nothing and neglect the physical books I own, but I'm doing okay so far. It helps that I'm kind of picky with YA, I suppose.

Finally, I've added to two of my collections this week. Unlike some people, I managed to not buy ALL THE BOOKS during Penguin's half price sale, but I did treat myself a clothbound edition of Persuasion. I also found a Pride and Prejudice that not only didn't own, but that I'd actually never seen before, and that's becoming quite rare. Say hello to Pride and Prejudice #52!

What's in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Book cover of Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The upcoming Life of Pi film is released on the 20th December in the UK and it looks absolutely amazing. See the trailer here if you're interested (and you should be). The thing is, I knew even before I read the book that Life of Pi was a damned weird story to turn into a movie - it's a boy on a a boat, generally musing about the fact that he is, in fact, on a boat. After reading the book? Yeah, I'm not that much wiser. 

Plot summary - One boy, one boat, one tiger ...After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. 

A brief summary, you might think. Oddly enough, that is pretty much the entire story. That's the reason why it's such a strange book to base a film on and, although I hate to say it, the movie does look way more interesting than the novel. Basically, the ship carrying Pi and the animals belonging to his family's zoo capsizes during a vicious storm and Pi survives - albeit on a small lifeboat with a hungry tiger. Not much happens as such. It's hard to explain. Things happen but as a series of short, insignificant events lost in the overarching theme of loneliness at sea.

The problem with Life of Pi is that I didn't particularly care about reading it. I was happy enough once I'd actually picked it up, but I just didn't feel the urge to go back to it once I'd put it down. It seemed like way more of an effort than it should have. Now I've finished it, I feel profoundly apathetic, if such a thing is even possible.

I'm taking a blindfold to see this film. I do not like fish at the best of times - I've been known to have panic attacks in pet stores. Half-dead fish, in particular, terrify me. I understand that this means, should I ever be stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat, I will promptly die. I am okay with this as frankly, it would be the preferred cause of action. Therefore, I don't particularly enjoy reading lists of the things that can be done to half-dead fish before they are eaten and I doubt more sane and logical readers would either. I've read a lot of gross and graphic books in my time, but this one really... ugh.
Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up. At such moments I tried to elevate myself.

I would touch the turban I had made with the remnants of my shirt and I would say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S HAT!"

I would pat my pants and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S ATTIRE!"

I would point to Richard Parker and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S CAT!"

I would point to the lifeboat and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S ARK!"

I would spread my hands wide and say aloud, "THESE ARE GOD'S WIDE ACRES!"

I would point at the sky and say aloud, "THIS IS GOD'S EAR!"

And in this way I would remind myself of creation and of my place in it.
It does have its good points, although generally they aren't related to the story itself. It has quite a rambling 'voice' which works quite well - Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with only himself to really talk to, so he can go off on rambling tangents occasionally. It's actually quite interesting - I learnt more about the running of a zoo and the habits of animals from Life of Pi than I did from We Bought A Zoo, and I adored that book. There are also pages and pages about the zoo debate from the pro-zoo side, which you don't often come across in books.

The ending. Ohhhh dear. Looking through the Amazon reviews, it seems to be that either you love it or you hate it. It seemed like a bit of a cop-out to me, although I am curious how they're going to pull it off in the film. I'm 85% certain that they'll change it completely as, in my opinion, it defeats the purpose of the entire book. It was as if Yann Martel couldn't quite figure out how to end it, so he tried to pull off a profound, clever thing... and missed.

As you'll probably gather, I was less than impressed with Life of Pi. It was okay and I don't resent the time I spent reading it, but I doubt I'll ever feel the need to reread it. I will see the film (with afore-mentioned blindfold) because it still looks amazing, and who knows - maybe they've actually managed that mythical concept of improving a book!  

This book was featured in - 

Visit out more about Yann Martel.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

TBR Pile: December 2012

So it's the last chance to complete my 2012 reading challenges! It's so unlikely to happen it's ridiculous, but that's okay and I may as well have one last stab!

I actually did reasonably well with my November TBR pile, so hopefully I can do something similar this month.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - this is actually for my own challenge, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen one. This is one of the few books on there I haven't read ever and it's also on my Filling the Gaps project list. If I'm honest, I have little (if any) interest in it but I always meant to get round to it eventually.   

One Day by David Nicholls - alright, so I do actually want to read this one. I don't think I've ever heard a bad thing about it and it's been on my TBR for over a year now.  Not to mention I want to see the film, but flatly refuse without reading the book first.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - this one is more curiosity than anything else. It's not my usual type of thing, but once again it's been collecting dust for more than a year. If it's anything near as good as the reviews claim it is, it should be amazing!

Snuff by Terry Pratchett - I'm actually halfway through this already, so I should at least finish one of these books by the end of December! It's not amazing, but it's readable.

Fables: Volume One - I'm really excited about this one! I've had it for almost forever, but it's too large to keep with my other TBR books so I keep forgetting it exists. But not anymore, oh no! This month it will get read!

I've just realised I managed to sound like I want to read hardly any of the above books in the slightest. I do, I swear! 

Join the fun at Booksessed!   

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Review: 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Book cover of 11.22.63 by Stephen King
You have no idea how much effort it is for myself and other British bloggers to type out that book title. It's painstakingly slow - 'One-One-Two... No, that can't be right. There is no 22nd month. Two-Two-One... Is that right? It must be. Oh wait, no. One-One...' I swear I'm going to start a damned petition to give this book a logical name.

Plot summary - WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11.22.63, the date that Kennedy was shot - unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 - from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life - a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

As the Lit Addicted Brit so famously (kind of) said - 'THIS is why I read!'

This book is amazing, and it broke me. There may as well be no other books. It's long and occasionally heavy, but it genuinely stopped being just a story for me. I cared more than was reasonable about all the characters and felt so tense over certain plot twists I could have been sick. This is a story about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But not really. It's also a story of time travel, morality, romance, science fiction and friendship, with a little bit of creepiness thrown in for good measure. This is Stephen King, after all.

Being British, I had very little knowledge about Kennedy's assassination - the extent of my Presidential information tends to revolve around their vampire hunting skills. However, this is not a hindrance to 11.22.63 in the slightest. It doesn't presuppose you know anything at all, but judging by the amount of care and detail that has clearly gone into researching this book, you'll be an expert by the end.

That said, it's written very accessibly. It's definitely not for children (however much you may want them to learn their history), as some of the more violent scenes even made me feel ill. The tone is vaguely similar to The Gunslinger but as we all know how much I liked that (stop talking about your penis, Roland), it's fairly obvious the two aren't otherwise much alike. 

I actually wrote in my notes how it was less creepy than Stephen King's other books, but then I felt obliged to cross it out after a week of being convinced something was Watching Me from the darkness. It is creepy, but it's hard to ascertain why. It's certainly not meant to be a horror book; at face value it's merely a historical novel. There is something though - something that maybe means you turn the hallway light on instead of wandering down it alone at night. It still haunts me now, so there are definitely two levels to 11.22.63 - the basic time-travel story with a darker layer slipped underneath.

The ending broke my heart and mind into so many little tiny pieces that I could barely function. I just kind of... sat there for a very long time, contemplating how everything could have ended up the way it did. It's perfect and it fits the story, well, perfectly but oh how it hurt me! I hated it. Well, I didn't hate it; I understand it. But I kind of hate it.

I know this is a rambling (and probably useless for everybody who isn't me) review, but I have literally nothing bad to say about this book. Every word has a purpose and every character is historically and fictionally relevant. It would make a brilliant film and it's easily, easily the best book of 2012 at Booking in Heels.

Read my review of The Gunslinger or visit Stephen King's website.


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